Spring Movie Preview 2012: Animation and Family Films

The spring usually brings us one or two great family movies every year. Last March, “Rango” premiered; a few days ago, it won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. Will “The Lorax” or “The Pirates! Band of Misfits” from stop-motion masters Aardman Animation be in for a year-long Oscar campaign? Also, a fairy tale comes to life in “Mirror, Mirror” and a heartwarming real story of chimpanzees hits theaters for a limited Earth Day engagement.


The Lorax (Mar. 2)

Directed by Chris Renaud, Kyle Balda
Written by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul, Dr. Seuss (book)
Starring: (voices) Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, Danny DeVito, Ed Helms

Summary: Desperate to win the affections of the girl next door, a 12-year-old boy living in a world where all is made of plastic ventures to a strange place in search of the girl’s one desire: to see a real living tree. There he discovers a man named the Once-ler who tells him the story of a fuzzy orange creature named The Lorax.

The Word: “The Lorax” marks the latest Seuss adaptation since 2008’s “Horton Hears A Who!”, which strangely enough was written by the same duo of Daurio and Paul but animated by Fox’s Blue Sky Studios (“Ice Age”). Although “The Lorax” has a similar look and feel, Universal’s Illumination Entertainment (“Despicable Me”) animated the cautionary environmental tale instead.

My Thoughts: “Horton” and “Despicable Me” were excellent children’s films and I expect the same for “The Lorax”: humor aimed at children but that adults can appreciate—and plenty of heart. Daurio and Paul write silly and cute more so than clever and hilarious, but considering these are children’s films after all, that’s really how it should be.


Mirror, Mirror (Mar. 30)

Directed by Tarsem Singh
Written by Melissa Wallack and Jason Keller, The Brothers Grimm (story)
Starring: Lily Collins, Julia Roberts, Armie Hammer, Nathan Lane

Summary: In this retelling of the classic story, Snow White (Collins) is a princess that will inherit her father’s throne, but the Evil Queen (Roberts) has plans to get rid of her. Snow White takes refuge with a band of dwarves and learns the skills to reclaim her birthright.

The Word: The first of the fairy tale revisions thrust into development after “Alice in Wonderland” blew up the box office in 2010, “Mirror, Mirror” puts a family adventure comedy twist on “Snow White.” Most people expected something darker from visual auteur Tarsem Singh, but the film has a distinctly family-friendly vibe.

My Thoughts: Although I don’t doubt the costumes and the set decoration will be magnificent, the trailers make the film seem dated, as if it were something I would’ve expected to see as a child growing up in the ’90s. Relativity certainly expects Roberts to be the draw, though she seems a little silly. Hammer looks to get it, but I’m not sure about Collins.


Chimpanzee (Apr. 20)

Directed by Alastair Fothergill, Mark Linfield

Summary: A documentary focusing on a family of chimpanzees in the Ivory Coast and Ugandan rain forests. When a three-year-old chimp is orphaned after his family flees, he bonds with another who takes him in.

The Word: Disney’s annual Earth Day documentary continues following specific animal families for a second straight year. “African Cats” followed a family of lions and a family of leopards. The docs have made less and less in North America each year since “Earth” debuted in 2009, and these are not cheap films to make.

My Thoughts: As I say every year when one of these films comes out, they remind me of something my grandparents would’ve taken me to see when I was a kid. With the quality of camera equipment these days, nature docs can be more beautiful than ever, but with a limited entertainment factor, it’s tough to justify a pricey ticket. That said, this is not something to watch on your TV screen, and the fact that it aims to tell a narrative should make it better than most. For the record, I think they use “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” footage for a brief second.


The Pirates! Band of Misfits (Apr. 27)

Directed by Peter Lord, Jeff Newitt
Written by Gideon Defoe (book, screenplay)
Starring: (voices) Hugh Grant, Brendan Gleeson, Salma Hayek, Jeremy Piven

Summary: A less-than-stellar Pirate Captain wants desperately to win the Pirate of the Year Award, so much so that he’s willing to take down any competition. At the same time, he has pirate-hater Queen Victoria on his tail.

The Word: “The Pirates!” represents more traditional stop-motion for Aardman, which is why Sony/Columbia has labeled it from the creator of “Chicken Run” as opposed to “Arthur Christmas,” which had the Aardman look but was made using CGI.” The terrific English voice cast includes Grant, Gleeson, David Tennant (“Doctor Who”), Martin Freeman (“The Hobbit”) and Imelda Staunton (Dolores Umbridge) among others.

My Thoughts: The Pirates!” gives off a “Monty Python for kids” vibe, so it looks like it could be a lot of fun for adults in addition to all the physical humor for children. With “Chimpanzee” being the only other family offering in April and May being suspiciously devoid of animation or family films, “The Pirates!” could have an impressive box-office run into the early summer. I have to admit though, a bit curious why the UK version is subtitled “An Adventure With Scientists.”

1 Comment

  1. Josh says:

    Pirates is the only one I’m really interested in here. Looks pretty funny and Aardman has made some pretty good ones.

    Lorax I just haven’t been hyped up by anything I’ve seen enough to even care. And Chimpanzee, I’m tired of all these animal documentaries frankly.

    Mirror Mirror looks pretty stupid to me. And honestly, I’ve pretty much hated everything Tarsem Singh has done. He’s all style and no substance in my book. Sure, he can make a pretty picture, but the movies turn out to be crap.

    Oh, and Mirror Mirror is going to get busted up at the box office, being a major flop I’m sure. It releases the same week as Wrath of the Titans, plus it’s bookended by Hunger Games and American Reunion. It doesn’t stand a chance. The kids that will be interested in that one will be old enough that they’ll also be interested in the previous movies I mentioned.

    Lorax probably stands the best chance of having a successful run here due to its appeal to an even younger crowd. Then again, it looks mediocre enough that it might not be that big of a hit depending on word of mouth.

    Pirates will also have its legs cut out from under it by The Avengers. I really don’t see Pirates having that much appeal to the younger ones. Or at least a semi-limited appeal. I think it has a bigger appeal to teens and young adults. Though it could have a bit more widespread appeal outside of the U.S. But still, I’d say easily half of its crowd is going to be the same group of people that will drop Pirates and head straight for The Avengers once that comes out, leaving Pirates with a crippled audience.

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