Holiday Movie Preview 2011: Animation and Family

The holidays bring families together — and often times at the movies. Why? Because you can only talk to those people for so long, and at least this way you’re all “doing something together.” So not surprisingly, we have three animated family films competing for your Thanksgiving weekend dollars. The family genre also has more entries this season than all other genres aside from the films contending for those Oscar things. Also, with Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg directing two of these films, I think it’s safe to say you’re going to see at least one or two of them this year.


Happy Feet Two (Nov. 18)

Directed by George Miller
Written by George Miller, Warren Coleman, Gary Eck, Paul Livingston
Starring: (voices) Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Pink, Ava Acres

Summary: Mumble the penguin returns with a son of his own named Erik, who also struggles to fit in with this webbed-toe-tapping musical penguin world and runs away where he discovers the Mighty Sven, a flying penguin. But greater problems for these emperor penguins arise when walls of ice trap them together in one spot.

The Word: Five years ago, “Mad Max” and “Babe: Pig in the City” director George Miller helped Warner Bros. bring to life the studio’s first CGI animated film and it went on to win the Best Animated Feature Oscar while wooing audiences worldwide with cute singing and dancing penguins. The only surprise about this sequel is it comes five years later, but penguins seem to be the most timeless of CGI creatures. The voice cast for this one has also expanded drastically including Pink, Sofia Vergara, Matt Damon and Brad Pitt.

My Thoughts: The first film delivered a rollicking good time despite a generic plot and strangely political themes/messages relating to the way humans treat the environment. I suppose the same thing should be expected here with Miller directing again and most of the voice cast reprised, especially Robin Williams, who easily sits among the greatest voice actors of all time. With Pitt and Damon voicing a pair of krills among other amusing choices, there’s definitely promise for a solid sequel.


The Muppets (Nov. 23)

Directed by James Bobin
Written by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller, Jim Henson (characters)
Starring: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, etc.

Summary: When an oil tycoon makes plans to drill under their old theater, the Muppets and two human fans named Gary and Mary (Segel and Adams) must reunited the Muppets after years of being apart in order to save it.

The Word: We haven’t seen the Muppets on the big screen since 1999’s “Muppets from Space.” The beloved trademark and brand of The Jim Henson Company looked to be endangered (or doomed to a life of television specials) until Disney bought the rights in 2004. Lifetime Muppet-lover Jason Segel (as evidenced by his all-puppet Dracula musical in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”) pitched his new take to Disney and wrote the film with “Marshall” director Nicholas Stoller. Full of cameos only befitting a “Muppets” movie and armed with a modern sense of humor, this eponymous reboot received a half-year marketing blitz and aims to keep these beloved characters relevant for a long time to come.

My Thoughts: I can’t think of a better way to bring the “Muppets” to a new generation of kids who deserve them. Henson’s creations shouldn’t feel like relics to today’s Disney channel generation; there’s a reason these characters have been around more than 30 years. With fresh blood repurposing these characters for the modern world and modern humor (after all, “The Muppet Show” was geared toward adults as well back in the day) and perfect cast members in Segel and Adams, this could be huge for Disney and the Muppets.

Hugo (Nov. 23)

Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by John Logan, Brian Selznick (book)
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Chloe Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baren Cohen

Summary: A 12-year-old orphan in 1930s Paris has lost his brother and his uncle’s gone missing, so he comes to live in a train station where he becomes preoccupied with finding the parts to make his father’s invention, a robot of sorts, work again. He eventually meets a girl his age who has the key to making it work.

The Word: No matter how many times you try and get used to the idea of Scorsese directing a 3D family film, it still doesn’t make more sense. The revered director has never confined himself to any particular genre, but this would be the greatest departure to date. We do know he can work with young people (see “Taxi Driver”) and Butterfield and Moretz are two of the finest young talents. The question is what did he see with in Selznick’s novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” to convince him to make a 3D family film?

My Thoughts: I don’t doubt that Scorsese will make fabulous use of 3D (he’s had good things to say about the medium since wrapping this one) and a visually arresting film, but I’m not so sure about his skills in terms of making a feel-good family adventure (that includes humor). You definitely have to put a certain measure of trust in him for this one.

Arthur Christmas (Nov. 23)

Directed by Sarah Smith
Written by Peter Baynham, Sarah Smith
Starring: (voices) James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Laurie, Bill  Nighy

Summary: Ever wonder how Santa Claus gets all those presents out in one night? He uses a giant space ship and highly skilled elf operatives, of course. Arthur is the runt of the Santa family, so when he learns of a child who did not get her present, he sees an opportunity to prove himself, but he’ll have to use his grandfather’s “old school” methods to do it.

The Word: Aardman Animations (of Wallace and Gromit fame) and Sony Pictures Animation team-up for this Christmas film with an especially modern twist. Although director and co-writer Sarah Smith is new to this game, Peter Baynham, who helped write “Borat,” “Bruno” and coincidentally the remake of “Arthur” assists her on this one.

My Thoughts: I like Aardman and I think “Arthur Christmas” looks clever and funny despite its overuse of conventions. Although average American parents and kids won’t be too impressed by the voice cast, I most certainly am. “Arthur Christmas” might not win a battle against “The Muppets,” “Hugo” and the second weekend of “Happy Feet Two,” but it nevertheless appears to be a jolly good time.

Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked (Dec. 16)

Directed by Mike Mitchell
Written by Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger
Starring: Jason Lee, (voices) Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler, Jesse McCartney, Anna Faris, Christina Applegate

Summary: Dave and his chipmunk children and their lady counterparts, the Chipettes, go on a cruise vacation, but they accidentally abandon ship and find themselves trying to survive (while singing and dancing).

The Word: After the live-action/CGI reboot of the series exploded globally in 2007, the sequel was inevitable, and in 2009 when said “Squeakquel” made another $100-million or so than the first … well, here are are. “Chipwrecked” retains the writers of the second film but gets its third new director in “Shrek Forever After” helmer Mike Mitchell, not that you could fault anyone for not wanting to make more than one “Chipmunk” movie.

My Thoughts: I guess I must finally admit that despite consistently negative reviews, this series flourishes thanks to cute little fuzzy creatures wailing in high-pitched voices and singing and dancing to Top 40 hits. There’s a definitive appeal in that, especially for little kids. Nevertheless, I wish this franchise would just jump off a boat in the figurative sense of the phrase. When you put the Chipmunks in the company of this season’s other films such as “The Muppets,” “Tintin” and even “Happy Feet Two,” it makes you really wonder how these kinds of films still get made. But with “The Smurfs” also making bank this year, expect another big rake-in for Fox.


The Adventures of Tintin (Dec. 21)

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, Hergé (comics)
Starring: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost

Summary: Investigative reporter Tintin (Bell) buys a little model of the ship The Unicorn, and soon finds that the sinister Ivanovich Sakharine (Craig) is strangely willing to do just about anything including kidnap Tintin in order to have it himself. To get answers, Tintin and his faithful pup, Snowy, embark on a journey aboard a cargo ship that entangles them with the drunken Captain Haddock, whose family history sheds some light on the secret of The Unicorn.

The Word: American aren’t privy to everything, and Hergé’s globally adored “Tintin” comics fall into that category. The comic series has been given new life by none other than Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson through use of motion-capture technology; the entire film was shot this way.  Esteemed British TV writer Steven Moffat along with “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” writer Edgar Wright and his buddy Joe Cornish (“Attack the Block”) adapted the story from various “Tintin” stories. “Tintin” already received a U.K. release back in late October and is doing well in global markets. Although its success won’t be dictated by American box-office receipts, it should have some appeal here and without any animated films slated to come after it for quite some time, it could do well in January too.

My Thoughts: “Tintin” strikes me as being a terrific adventure with incredible visuals. All the right hands had a role in making this happen and it could be akin to “Avatar” in terms of leaving a blueprint for the success of motion-capture, though this one being entirely motion capture of course. With most animated films sticking with animal characters, motion capture ‘s success in this instance could be used to help bring other human-based drawn properties to life in the future.