100 Animated Films IV: Computer Generated Assortment

Chicken Little

I hated this film. Honestly, truly hated it.

Chicken Little came out shortly after Home on the Range and in some respects they’re not dissimilar. Home on the Range is the story of the Pied Piper – in the Old West with cows! Chicken Little is, well, Chicken Little – with aliens! To the film’s credit, the aliens are actually the film’s strongpoint. The designs of both aliens and alien technology are inventive; the alien invasion scenes are nothing new but tensely enjoyable.

My problem with this film is more or less everything else. The original Chicken Little was a female character. Here he (!) is voiced by Zach Braff. I gather a female voice actor had not only been cast but had recorded all of her dialogue before the decision was made to genderswap the lead character – because a female lead would alienate little boys. Because it’s not as if a male lead could potentially alienate little girls, or as if many of Disney’s most popular and successful animated films have had female leads.

If that weren’t enough, I found it very difficult to sympathise with the townspeople, even as they were, to all intents and purposes, being massacred by aliens. (They’re fine – that was a transporter ray, not a death ray.) The entire town seems to honestly believe that Chicken Little is delusional – and their response is to simultaneously alienate and abuse him and capitalise on the story for tourist revenue. Let them have it, aliens. They are not nice people.

 

Meet the Robinsons

I’m very glad I watched Meet the Robinsons after Chicken Little rather than before – it meant ending the official Disney canon on a high note! While it’s not exactly one of Disney’s greats, Meet the Robinsons is a whole lot of fun – and as befits a film about an inventor, brilliantly inventive. It has an oddball sense of humour that I really like; it’s colourful and all-round pretty looking; the use of time travel is interesting; and the ultimate message is good and positive and one that should see more mileage in children’s films.

Meet the Robinsons is very much about family – as it turns out, adoptive family. Wilbur, our protagonist, comes to realise that he will never be able to meet his birth mother – and that’s okay! It’s rare – and gratifying – to see a film be this positive above adoption.

It’s chaotic and a tad confused in places, but overall Meet the Robinsons is probably one of the stronger films Disney’s made recently – certainly one of the most interesting!

 

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

I wanted to run away that day, but you can’t run away from your own feet.’

I’d say the above line was the point I realised I was really going to enjoy this film. I did not go into Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs  with high expectations – I dismissed it as pure silliness when it came out and was very surprised when it popped up on a list of ‘best animated films of the year’ when I was putting together my 100 films line-up.

As it turns out, the science is, well, unscientific, few of the characters are particularly likeable – but this film is funny. Properly laugh-out-loud funny. The cast is full of SNL and ex-SNL performers, the animation is very much old-school designs in 3D… and there’s a monkey voiced by Neil Patrick Haris.

It’s not Pixar – I’d put it more on a level with Dreamworks’ better films – and it may be lacking in some areas but Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is a really good comedy and worth checking out.

 

 

Flushed Away

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was a pleasant surprise; Flushed Away was a disappointment. It’s not a bad film – overall it’s actually pretty decent – it’s just not what I’d expect from Aardman Animation. The people who’ve made some of my favourite animated films of all time made Flushed Away, which might as well be one long potty-joke.

Many aspects of the film are good. The voice acting is excellent. I like the visuals, which owe a lot to Aardman’s traditional claymation – not just in the character designs (which you can see on the poster), but also in the scenery, which is not dissimilar to Chicken Run. It’s just sorely predictable.

The romance subplot, the damselisation of the female lead in the third act, the evil plan, the male lead with his boring arc and lessons to be learned – it’s an awfully generic film from an animation company that has always been the opposite of generic.

 

Arthur Christmas

Now this is the computer-generated Aardman film I wanted. It has all their characteristic humour and flair and attention to detail – but on a much larger scale than you could do in stop motion. The opening scenes of the S-1 in action are funny and epic all at once. Like Flushed Away, the conclusion is a little predictable – but unlike Flushed Away, the journey there isn’t.

It lacks a true villain; all the characters have understandable and sympathetic motivations even as they do not-terribly-nice things. It’s very much a family drama (there’s something very depressing about the notion that not even the Clauses can manage to get through Christmas without arguing) – with space-ships and magic flying reindeer!

Bryony the Wrapping Elf makes for a strong and unconventional female lead – and a female lead who is not anyone’s love interest, I should add. Add in the hyper-competent Mrs Claus and you have two interesting and funny female characters, even if it doesn’t quite manage to pass the Bechdel Test.

And what can I say? I have a weakness for Father Christmas films, and Arthur Christmas – with it’s multi-generational succession of Santas and sleigh-shaped space-ship full of elves – is one of the most developed ones I’ve seen to date.

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