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I watched four animated films one week early in June. Well, one technically isn't an animated film, but Speed Racer besides the actors, is probably over 50% computer graphics, it's pretty much a live action cartoon. It was actually the 2nd time I'd seen the film, making me one of the few who paid to see it twice in theaters. My son was begging to see it again, and hell, I was so impressed the first time around, that I was willing to see it again. Read my full review on this completely underrated, way-before-its-time film.

(Seen on 6/4/08) I'd been wanting to show my son the animated Transformers: The Movie, for a while, but didn't think my wife would let him watch all the violence. But after taking him to see Speed Racer twice, I figured he could handle it. He ended up loving the film, and has probably watched it at least 10 times since then. He knew about the Transformers before I ever showed him the movie. It's amazing how pop culture invades the minds of kids. He knows about Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, etc.; he and his friends have the funniest conversations about Darth Vader, when they haven't seen a frame of these films.

Since I was little, I've always dug the Transformers movie. They took a cheesy show, that I loved as a kid, and made a fairly sophisticated film out of it. Suddenly there were circumstances to all those laser blasts. Robots are dying all over the place, including the most famous and powerful of them all, Optimus Prime. It was incredible as a kid to see the hero of the film die within the first 30 minutes; in my opinion, they killed him off too soon, it would have been more powerful to see him die towards the end, after we had a chance to get to know him better.

The film is nicely animated, there's good detail and a lot of movement, it's way beyond the TV show, which looking back now, was one of the better animated shows of the 80's. The film has great voice work by Leonard Nimoy, Judd Nelson, Eric Idle, and most amazingly, film legend Orson Welles, as Unicron the planet eating robot. The film is only dated by the music. Its soundtrack is chock full of a cheesy 80's pop-rock songs, and that's the only thing that really bugs me about the film now. It holds up pretty damn well for an 80's movie based on a toy line; I remain impressed by the quality of this film. - Grade: B

(Seen on 6/1/08) I bought Atlantis: The Lost Empire, with a couple other recent Disney films; Brother Bear was the first film we watched. And my son had already watched Atlantis without me, but since I had never seen it, I made him watch it again, which he didn't seem to excited about. For a Walt Disney film, it's incredibly underwhelming. It has their typical animation style, which is always welcome, but the story is boring and the characters forgettable.

Milo Hatch, played by Michael J. Fox, who I really miss as an actor, has a lifetime dream of finding Atlantis. His chance comes when a well funded exploration group asks to him to lead them. Luckily his grandfather left him a book, that only he can translate, which leads them directly there. After taking a huge submarine through the depths of the ocean, than a convoy of military vehicles deep into the center of the earth, they find the lost empire Atlantis. There, Milo meets a beautiful princess, whose society is crumbling around her. The military guys, have alternative motives for wanting to find Atlantis, and they steal everything not tied down. Milo, the princess, and a motley group of explorers he's befriended along the way, take it upon themselves to stop them.

For some unexplainable reason, Atlantis: The Lost Empire never grabbed my attention. It had all the usual Disney elements, in the right order, but I never cared in the least what happened to any of these characters. Some of the animation is really cool, there's a couple of beautiful sequences; I especially liked the submarine vs. the giant robotic sea-monster scene. But something was missing and the film never feels cohesive. And it wasn't just me, my 4-year-old noticed too. For a good film, he'll sit enraptured, and asks to watch again the next day. With this, he was distracted through most of it and hasn't asked to watch it since. - Grade: C-

(Seen on 6/3/08) The last animated movie was something I couldn't watch with my son, the anime film Paprika. My knowledge of anime is very limited, it's pretty much Akira and Hayao Miyazaki's films. (Who my son totally adores.) I've seen 10 to 20 other random anime films, but nothing I can fully remember, half of them involving a monster with a lot of tentacles attacking Japanese school-girls, most of them pretty bad. It's a genre that I've always meant to explore more, but I haven't been compelled to beyond Miyazaki's masterpieces. I'd read some raving reviews for Paprika and when I went to put it in my queue, Netflix had a page full of 5 star reviews, so I hesitantly put it towards the top of my rather long list.

Again I was disappointed. Paprika is some kind of dream warrior-princess, who enters other people's dreams, trying to help them figure out what they mean. For a lead character, with extra cool abilities, she's incredibly dull. She has unlimited powers in the dream world, but doesn't really show them off till the end and doesn't seem interested in helping solve any of the dream world's problems. Even more boring is the cop whose dream ties into everything. Then there's the fat guy, he's hippo large, who invented the gizmo that allows people to go into dreams, he's dull. An old guy who manages the company that makes the gizmo, double dull. And the real life girl who becomes Paprika, she's boring too. None of these characters seem to connect in any human kind of fashion. The most interesting character is the bad guy, but even he's fairly forgettable.

By all rights Paprika should have been right up my alley. The animation is absolutely gorgeous; strange, psychotic imagery fills the screen for most of the film. Much of it takes place in the dream world, something that has always greatly intrigued me, and I usually love to see explored in films. But it literally took me three nights and a morning to get through this 90 minute film. I fell asleep three times, after only getting through about 30 minutes of viewing, then having to backtrack a bit the next night. Paprika moves at a glacial pace at best, I could never fully grasp what was happening, because the plot never seemed to move forward. After finally getting through it all, I found no greater meaning, it seemed like five minutes of story, stretched to feature length.

Which is really too bad, because I'm going to take another break from anime. Here's a film that was raved upon by film buffs, a subject that is very near to my heart, beautiful hand-drawn animation, something I deeply miss, and I was bored to tears. The opening five minutes (which I've posted below) really grabbed my attention, but the characters take forever to move beyond that, they keep exploring that same dream over and over. I did dig the idea of somebody using this dream device to take over the world, by attacking people's unconscious minds, but it seemed secondary, and by the time there was a huge battle between gigantic dream gods in the middle of Tokyo, I didn't care. Obviously the film works for some people, I wish it had for me, but it didn't. - Grade: C-

1 Response to Transformers: The Movie, Paprika, Alantis: The Lost Empire & Speed Racer:

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