At some point in the early years of the 21st century a bunch of Hollywood executives must have gotten together and decided that animated films should be made for all audiences. The goal was perhaps to make movies that are simultaneously accessible to the older and younger sets with colorful imagery that one expects from children’s films and two levels of humor: one that’s quite literal and harmless and another that’s somewhat subversive. The criteria has resulted in cross-generational hits like Wall-E and Madagascar and though it’s nice to be able to take my nephew to the movies and be as entertained by cartoon characters as he is I can’t help but wonder what happened to unabashedly innocent animated classics like A Goofy Movie and The Land Before Time?
Disney’s Winnie The Pooh is the answer to the Shrek’s and Hoodwinked!’s of the world: a short sweet simple and lighthearted tale of friendship that doesn’t need pop-culture references or snarky dialogue to put a smile on your face. Directors Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall found some fresh ways to deliver adorable animation while keeping the carefree spirit of A.A. Milne’s source material in tact. Their story isn’t the most original; the first part of the film finds Pooh Piglet Tigger and Owl searching for Eeyore’s tail (a common plot point in the books and past Pooh films) and hits all the predictable notes but the second half mixes things up a bit as the crew searches for a missing Christopher Robin whom they believe has been kidnapped by a forest creature known as the “Backson” (it’s really just the result of the illiterate Owl or is it?).
The beauty of hand-drawn animation all but forgotten until recently is what makes Winnie the Pooh so incredibly magnetic. There’s an inexplicable crispness to the colors and characters that CG just can’t duplicate. It’s a more personal practice for the filmmakers and should provide a refreshing experience for audiences who have become jaded with the pristine presentation of computerized imagery. The film is bookended by brief live-action shots from inside Robin’s room an interesting dynamic that plays up the simplicity of youth ties it to these beloved characters and brings you right back to memories of your own childhood.
With a just-over-an-hour run time Winnie the Pooh is short enough to hold the attention of children but won’t bore the parents who will love the film mainly for nostalgic musings. Still it’s the young’uns who will most enjoy this breezy bright and enchanting film that proves old-school characters can appeal to new moviegoers.
Walt Disney animation’s first foray into 3D ‘toon making isn’t just a technical triumph it thankfully also tells the clever story of Bolt (John Travolta). He’s a superstar TV canine who believes the superpowers he displays weekly on his series are for real --especially when it comes to the protection of his master and co-star Penny (Miley Cyrus). One day however the dog is accidentally shipped from his Hollywood soundstage to New York City. Lost alone and confused on the streets of the Big Apple Bolt is still living the show vowing to get to Penny who he believes has been kidnapped by the “green-eyed man.” And so he embarks on a cross-country journey to L.A. to save Penny. Along the way he is joined by an abandoned wily housecat Mittens (Susie Essman) and a TV-loving hamster Rhino (Mark Walton) who believes everything he sees on the tube is ALSO real. Of course Bolt is in for rude awakening when he finds out he is just a regular dog but he still needs to get to Penny -- even if it means she might not be there for him when he returns. Disney is not a studio that generally depends on superstar voices for their animated films but in casting Travolta and tween queen Cyrus they have scored a bullseye. Travolta’s Bolt is a delightful cross between the self-assured superstar and a pooch in denial. The actor doesn’t phone it in but instead creates an original and loveable dog that stands proudly in Disney’s large canon of canine greats. The action scenes created for Bolt’s TV series are lots of fun and the interactions with his traveling companions are choice. As Penny Cyrus is sympathetic sincere and she even gets to sing a duet with Travolta “I Thought I Lost You ” which she co-wrote. The show is nearly stolen though by comedian Susie Essman (Curb Your Enthusiasm) as Mittens -- a smart determined and emotionally wounded pet cat abandoned by her owners and forced to wander the streets alone. And by Mark Walton as the hilarious Rhino the obsessive fanboy hamster who rolls around in his ball. Walton is actually an animator in real life who happened to be so good at voicing Rhino during tests they just gave him the job. Disney vets Chris Williams and Byron Howard capably usher the venerable Disney label into the brave new world of 3D animation and the results are promising -- putting the audience right in the center of Bolt’s universe. The TV series action set pieces are particularly effective in using the technology. It’s not even necessary to see the film in 3D because the whole CG process has come a long way in a few short years and Bolt is one of the best looking most accomplished animated films in memory -- glasses or no glasses. Williams and Howard expertly blend humor pathos and blockbuster-style action scenes effortlessly giving “Bolt” an appeal beyond just the target kid demo.
In any romantic comedy the ending is something of a forgone conclusion and in this case it's cheesed out to the max with soft focus lensing and cheap repetitive dialogue. With that criticism out of the way the fun of How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days is in how the story gets to its inevitable and overplayed climax--and this one's a doozy. Andie Anderson (Hudson) and Benjamin Barry (McConaughey) are two ambitious young creative types. She's a columnist for Composure magazine assigned to write an article about how to lose a guy in 10 days--and she has to do it by perpetrating every dating atrocity known to womankind on her gullible guy. He's an ad exec aspiring to leave beer and sports equipment accounts behind in favor of luxury items like diamonds--and the only way he's going to get there is to win a bet with his boss by making a girl fall in love with him before the big pitch to the client a diamond consortium in 10 days. Andie does everything she can think of to make Ben (aka Benny Wenny Benji Muffin etc.) fall out of love with her while Ben's effort to make her fall in love means he tolerates her every girlie invasion of his life from chick flick marathons to Vagisil in the bathroom to a Celine Dion concert on the night of the MBA finals. The result is an ever-escalating joke that the audience is in on from the outset and it works. Of course I'm a sucker for romantic comedy and if you can give it a quirky twist so much the better I say.
Hudson and McConaughey have marvelous chemistry in this film and you'll love watching them make out make up and generally make each other's lives a mess. McConaughey's such a convincing Casanova that it's easy to see why Andie can't resist Benjamin and even his plotting and manipulations are tinged with a Southern charm that's impossible to fake and easy to love. Hudson too plays her dual role charmingly capturing the Sex and the City coolness of her character's ambitious side while really letting it all hang out as she tries multiple maneuvers to make Ben drop her like a brick--including calling his mother leaving 17 messages on his answering machine in about 17 minutes and buying him a little doggie with a diamond collar and a penchant for peeing on the pool table.
Director Donald Petrie's How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days based on the book by Michele Alexander and Jeannie Long succeeds because it makes it easy for us to see ourselves in the roles of the leading characters. How many women have sent a potential Mr. Right running for his manly life by calling too often too soon? I can't think of any that haven't. How many men have stuck around in spite of it? Probably not as many as we'd like but certainly enough that we believe the possibility. And that's really the trick to a good romantic comedy: it has to make us believe that we all have a shot at the fairy tale--at true deep meaningful love--without seeming like a fairy tale itself. The movie has to make us believe we have this chance in spite of--even because of--the obstacles in love's path since in real life they are myriad and often overwhelming. But it's not just the women who can live the fairy tale in this film--men will appreciate the fact that the real Andie Anderson is a rowdy Knicks fan a ravenous eater of bacon cheeseburgers and a fantastic card player. And what guy wouldn't want to identify with McConaughey (who incidentally takes his shirt off to great effect at least twice in the movie)?