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Christmas isn’t Christmas without “PUT THAT COOKIE DOWN”

A box of Ferrero Rocher and a Wallace & Gromit calendar. Y’know, this is probably the one year where I could’ve done with a pen or some underpants instead. I’ve got a serious lack of both. (yes, you needed to know that)

So, yeah, Christmas! I haven’t seen Jingle All The Way on TV, unfortunately, but I really should just get myself the DVD instead of having to whine that ITV doesn’t bother showing it for the umpteenth time. I did catch a few animated flicks, some of which weren’t that bad, so, hey, let’s summarise my thoughts on those, shall I?

Barnyard: You know, I never knew this was an actual movie. I talked briefly about the video game version in a three year old blog entry back when I was ragging on about Play.com; I had no idea it was a licensed game, I just thought it was somebody’s bright idea of a shovelware party game. It’s actually not that bad! When the humans aren’t around, animals get all bipedal and boogie on down, and their farm is protected by a good ol’ cow, until he’s mauled to death by some coyotes. Cue coming-of-age/duty story where the cow’s son (voiced by the main guy from King of Queens) has to take over the leadership role and fend off the coyotes.

It’s a pretty humdrum story and the characters are never exactly astounding (the best guys are the punk rebel cows who go joyriding and human-tipping), but what makes it appealing is that although there’s a few celebrity voices, a lot of the characters are performed by actual voice actors! Rob Paulsen and Cam Clarke (Raphael and Leonardo from the 80s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Cyborg Ninja and Liquid Snake from Metal Gear Solid, you should know about these guys!) play a double-act of a tone-deaf rooster and a rather manic ferret, and while they’re not truly stupendous characters to work with, it’s just pretty neat seeing the two of them again.

The art style is kind of strange and very love-it-or-hate-it – the characters all feel rather blocky and plastic-y and only a few actually have fur and texture. It’s kind of strange seeing the cows and the wolves on screen together, as the cows are basically big blocks with snouts, whiles the wolves are thin, wiry and have fur; it’s like they’re wildly different styles. The barnyard creatures and humans all have a slight The Far Side vibe to them, which personally helps excuse some of the weird aesthetic… but it doesn’t change the fact that all the cows, male and female, have udders. Awkwaaaard. By the end I was like, okay, maybe they can excuse this when the baby cow is born (with udders in full sight) and calling it a girl… but nope, it’s a baby boy.

It’s a decent watch (if just because of the decent animation and visual style), but it ends up rather forgettable afterwards. Despite all the advertising emphasising the “party animal” aspect, there’s a rather sinister dark edge to it whenever the coyotes are in the spotlight, which I wouldn’t surprised if it gave any tykes nightmares. The final battle is played for laughs, but when they fatally wound the cow’s dad early on, it really is a bit grim. I’m glad I saw it, but I probably wouldn’t bother seeing it if it weren’t on TV.

Madagascar: It’s one of those “wahey I’m a talking animal aren’t I just the living end” type films, this time with Ben Stiller. I won’t deny that I’m always going to be biased against CGI funny animal flicks, but this was a relatively decent watch. The characters were entertaining, it got some humourous action going on, and it’s probably the one thing Sacha Baron Cohen has done that I’ve liked. I’d dare say I’d be interested in checking out the sequel, and maybe even the video game adaptation, if just to see how mediocre it is! I will say, of all the characters, David Schwimmer as Melman the giraffe didn’t really have much of a character to work with. I guess as a neurotic permanently-ill giraffe he didn’t do a bad job, but as a main character he doesn’t have quite the depth or the role of the other three; and when you’re talking about a cartoon about animals making pop culture jokes, that’s pretty bad.

I was particularly taken with the animation and art style, especially when contrasting it to Barnyard. Melman had as much character as, I don’t know, a plank of giraffe-shaped wood, but the way he was animated was easily the most striking in the movie, I felt. Gloria’s attitude carried in her movements were particularly great as well (fat chicks in cartoons! awesome!), and the penguins had some great snappy animation. Even little things like the lion’s big blocky fingers and the king lemur’s eyes, it really is a fantastic visual style. I think it’s easy for some CGI cartoons to just botch up one small element and then render the rest of the style weird looking, but Madagascar nailed its style without a flaw. Even something like giving the characters more detailed eyes could’ve muddled up the style, but just having black dots works out fine.

Unrelated tangent, but it seems every family-friendly film Ben Stiller’s been in has been shown this Christmas. I don’t mind Ben Stiller, and would certainly have his face all over Christmas television than, say, that of Matt Lucas. That guy really spoils your appetite, even when Little Britain isn’t on.

The Ant Bully: I missed the beginning of this, but I’m hardly crying over that. I was thinking of this one a few days ago while looking at the complete list of GameCube games – namely, I was thinking “who actually remembers these movie-licensed games after a year or two? Heck, who even remembers this movie after a year or two?” I just hated the look of this movie when it was being advertised. The main character didn’t look appealing, the theme looked like a retread of Antz, and, sorry, but that’s just a really dumb name. It’s perfectly appropriate given the theme of the story, but it’s just not an attractive title, y’know. Maybe it’s too literal. It’s like calling Over The Hedge “The Animal Food Burglars” or Toy Story “The Toys That Come To Life And Go To A Pizzeria”. It just hasn’t got a good ring, y’know.

So I guess some kid is turned small by some ant magic and then he accidentally calls an exterminator and after some mild antics they scare away the exterminator by using more size-changing ant magic. It’s got a couple of okay setpieces like being chased by the frog, but none of it felt very inspiring, personally. The style of the bugs did look better than that of A Bugs Life and Antz, especially the insects they use as steeds in the final battle, but overall it just felt very humdrum. I commend it for not just being another exercise in pop culture references, and Rob Paulsen appears as a jolly beetle who ends up saving the day, but there really wasn’t much of worth in what I saw.

Over The Hedge: I actually watched this one… a year ago? Two years ago? All I know is that I didn’t blog about it for some reason. It’s not bad either! In fact, I’d probably say it’s the best of these flicks. Barnyard is a thin story padded out with amused unrelated scenes, Madagascar is basically a long string of gags, and The Ant Bully… is, well, The Ant Bully. Over The Hedge by comparison has a slightly more filled-out story, a lot more characters (each of which are appealing, unlike others where there’s a lot of side characters who just don’t really do anything), and just has a better mix of everything.

What, you want me to elaborate? Man, watching three movies in a row has me pooped. Maybe I’ll review it the third time I see it.

One Comment

  1. MightyKombat wrote:

    schwarzeneggar makes Christmas for me.

    Monday, December 27, 2010 at 6:27 pm | Permalink