Tag Archive for 'Dreamworks'

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Home (3/21/15) L.A. Live Regal Cinemas (2015 ***1/2) Directed by Tim Johnson, based on the book The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex, featuring the voices of Jim Parsons (Oh), Rihanna (Tip), Steve Martin (Captain Smek) and Jennifer Lopez (Lucy). A young immigrant girl from Barbados befriends an eccentric alien who promises to reunite her with her mother. Leave it to my animation studio to create the funnest alien invasion movie ever! And if you think about it, that’s not an easy challenge to overcome. I have great respect for Home‘s director, Tim Johnson, who co-directed Antz (1998) as well as Over the Hedge (2006). I should mention that I didn’t work on Home (though many of my friends did) and in fact didn’t see any early screenings. I’m glad I didn’t because it gave me a more objective appreciation of the film. Though I must admit I tend to be a fan of my studio’s output, in part because I know how much hard work has gone into creating such beautiful films. I hope Home finds a receptive audience. It’s a bit of a gamble, considering it’s essentially a kid’s movie about aliens taking over the world, not to mention the lead character is a girl “of color.”

Penguins of Madagascar

Penguins of Madagascar (11/15/14) L.A. Regal Cinema (2014 ***1/2) Directed by Eric Darnell and Simon J. Smith, featuring the voices of Tom McGrath (Skipper), Chris Miller (Kowalski), Christover Knights (Private), Conrad Vernon (Rico), John Malkovich (Dave), and Benedict Cumberbatch, whose character’s name is classified. The world’s greatest penguins join forces with a super-secret elite squad called “The North Wind” to stop an octopus named Dave from his plans of world domination. It’s always fun to see films produced by my studio that I haven’t worked on personally, though several of my friends and co-workers did. In the case of Penguins of Madagascar, while I was generally aware of the production, I hadn’t even seen any screenings. I was delighted by the final project, which more or less picks up the Penguins’ story where Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (2012) left off. Not surprisingly, there are a lot of great laughs in Penguins, a film that is nominally a spy spoof in the tradition of Matt Helm and Austin Powers. As with any film in that genre, there are comedy action sequences galore, and the Venice, Italy chase scene was absolutely superb!

Mr. Peabody & Sherman

Mr. Peabody & Sherman (3/9/14) Chesterfield 14 (2014 ***1/2) Directed by Rob Minkoff, based on the series created by Jay Ward, featuring the voice talents of Ty Burrell (Peabody), Max Charles (Sherman), Ariel Winter (Penny) and Allison Janney (Ms. Grunion). The world’s smartest dog invents a time machine so he can teach his adopted son world history. (Please see my 3/3/14 review for more commentary about the film itself.) I happened to have planned a trip to the St. Louis area to visit my mother on the same weekend that Peabody opened, and so, thanks to special theater tickets provided by Dreamworks Animation, we went to an early showing. As is always the case, watching the film I’d worked on a second time, I was able to appreciate even more of the hard work and talent that had gone into it by all my colleagues in Redwood City and Glendale.

Mr. Peabody & Sherman

Mr. Peabody & Sherman (3/3/14) DWA Glendale Crew Screening (2014 ***1/2) Directed by Rob Minkoff, based on the series created by Jay Ward, featuring the voice talents of Ty Burrell (Peabody), Max Charles (Sherman), Ariel Winter (Penny) and Allison Janney (Ms. Grunion). The world’s smartest dog invents a time machine so he can teach his adopted son world history. Once again I find myself in the unenviable position of giving an objective review to a film I worked on. In this case, I worked on Peabody (as most of the crew called it) for sixty-eight weeks, working mostly on hair setup. With five historical periods represented in the film, there was no shortage of hair to be rigged. My interest in the project goes back several years, back to the mid-2000s, when I saw some of the early conceptual work in one of the conference rooms. Prior to that, the idea of a feature film based on these two classic characters didn’t make a lot of sense, but after I saw the artwork and saw the visual potential, I changed my mind. As a matter of fact, I asked specifically to work on the film and was quite happy when my request was granted. I had the pleasure of seeing a couple of early versions of the movie, mostly in storyboard form. I knew early on that the film had to do two things right in order to be successful: It had to have plenty of “fun and games” with time travel and it had to tap into the sincerity of emotions between a single dad and his adopted son. I was happy to see that in the end the filmmakers managed to do both, to varying degrees. Having said that, I do wish that the conclusion of the film had been just a little more emotionally satisfying.

Kung Fu Panda 2

Kung Fu Panda 2 (11/6/13) DWA Screening (2011 ***1/2) Directed by Jennifer Yuh, featuring the voices of Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Duston Hoffman and Gary Oldman. Po, the Dragon Warrior, must take on a villainous peacock named Lord Shen, who’s intent on taking over China, one fiery cannonball at a time. This was a special screening for the Kung Fu Panda 3 crew, of which I’m a part. Even though I’ve been working on the film series’ next installment for 40+ weeks, it was a good reminder of the level of detail and artistry that went into the second film (on which I had also worked). I particularly marveled at the sheer quantity of high-speed Kung Fu action. The choreography, animation and camerawork of that was breathtaking. While I still felt a stronger emotional resonance in the first film, the second was a truly thrilling ride and a worthy successor.

Turbo

Turbo (6/20/13) Crew Screening (2013 ***1/2) Directed by David Soren, featuring the voices of Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Michael Pena, Luis Guzman and Bill Hader. A Van Nuys, California garden snail with exceptionally big dreams races in the Indianapolis 500. Once again I find myself in the position of reviewing a film produced by my studio, but on which I did not contribute. The concept of a snail wanting to race at Indy was one I’d been skeptical about in the extreme since the first day I heard it. And yet, somehow the damned thing worked. It’s also one of the most family-friendly films Dreamworks has produced, along the lines of Over the Hedge (2006) and Kung Fu Panda (2008). Turbo‘s story was somewhat simple, but rock solid. I’ll admit I didn’t find myself connecting with Turbo on an emotional level nearly as much as I did with my studio’s previous film, The Croods, but I loved the simple “dream big” message, and the Indy 500 race action was exciting and superbly animated, thanks to Soren’s direction and head of character animation David Burgess’ talented team. In a summer cram-packed with other animated theater fare, I hope this little film with a big heart manages to find the audience it deserves and do big box office.

The Croods

The Croods (3/16/13) L.A. Live — Friends & Family Screening (2013 ****) Directed by Kirk De Micco and Chris Sanders, featuring the voices of Nicolas Cage, Ryan Reynolds, Emma Stone, Catherine Keener, Clark Duke and Cloris Leachman. A family of cavemen face extinction and must learn to trust a slightly-more-evolved homo sapien named Guy. This was my second viewing of this film, and after seeing it again, I was even more moved by its emotional notes. I was also doubly proud of the work that I and my colleagues did on it. I genuinely hope it finds an audience that appreciates its depiction of Grug and Eep’s father/daughter relationship. It would be a wonderful film to watch on Father’s Day.

The Croods

The Croods (2/28/13) Crew Screening — L.A. Live Regal Cinema (2013 ****) Directed by Kirk De Micco and Chris Sanders, featuring the voices of Nicolas Cage, Ryan Reynolds, Emma Stone, Catherine Keener, Clark Duke and Cloris Leachman. A family of cavemen face extinction and must learn to trust a slightly-more-evolved homeo sapien named Guy. The action-packed opening sequence establishes within the first few minutes that the The Croods ain’t no “stone age family” like their Hannah Barbera animated cousins. You know what? I’ve been in this position a few times before. How can I objectively review a film I worked on for eighty-one weeks? The simple truth is, I can’t. But I will say that for most of the “grunts” in production, we rarely know whether the film we’re working on is really any good. After we leave the production, as I did in September of 2011, most of us deliberately avoid watching too much of the film, so that we can better enjoy the finished result. And so, I honestly did watch the film with a pair of fresh eyes, and I was very happy with that result and am sincerely proud of the small role I played. Following the screening, my wife and I drove to the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History for a swingin’ stone age wrap party, complete with custom cocktails, rock candy and temporary tattoos (I got the Tripgerbil). At the party I saw most of my fellow Dreamworkers who’d worked on the film and there was a definite sense of pride. I only hope this film finds the audience it deserves. While I loved last year’s Rise of the Guardians (which I did not work on, though many of my friends did), it didn’t get nearly the critical praise I felt it deserved and its box office was disappointing. Hopefully Croods will fare far better on both fronts.

The Rise of the Guardians (3D)

The Rise of the Guardians (11/10/12) DWA friends & family screening, L.A. Live (2012 ****) Directed by Peter Ramsey, screenplay by David Lindsay-Abaire, based on the book series by William Joyce, featuring the voices of Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Hugh Jackman, Isla Fisher and Jude Law. Jack Frost joins Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Sandman and the Tooth Fairy to protect the children of Earth from the Boogeyman. As I’ve mentioned a few times before, I’ve been at Dreamworks Animation since 2000, and I’m currently working on my tenth film. But this wasn’t one I worked on, so while I am a studio employee and lots of my friends and co-workers worked on it, I still retain a modicum of objectivity. I was blown away by this film from start to finish, and when it was all over I was VERY proud to say I work at Dreamworks and a tad envious of my friends who did work on the film. Apparently Alec Baldwin said in an interview months ago that this film was like The Avengers for kids. And that’s not a bad comparison. There was way more action than I expected, and the fight sequences were amazingly well choreographed. The characterizations were terrific, with each of the Guardians (and Pitch, the Boogeyman) clearly motivated and delineated. The effects and design was wonderful too, with only one exception: I have always been bothered by North’s (Santa’s) overly broad shoulders in this film, and I’m not exactly sure why. The film’s story had a quality that few films have, where it felt just like a slide: Each scene flowed so elegantly into the next and the humor and action and heart was so nicely interwoven with the narrative that before you knew it you’re in the third act. And as for emotional punch… Well, let’s just say I was choked up enough a few times that my wife turned to me and whispered: “Are you all right?” As this was an early screening, there aren’t many reviews for the film yet. I sure hope it finds the audience and critical praise it deserves.

Galaxy Quest

Galaxy Quest (6/25/12) DVD (1999 ****) Directed by Dean Parisot, starring Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub and Sam Rockwell. Jason Nesmith and the actors who played his fictional crew on the classic sci-fi series Galaxy Quest accept the “roles of a lifetime” to save an extraterrestrial race from extinction. This film asked the musical questions: “How would Bill Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and the cast of Star Trek fare if they were plucked from a Trek convention, shot into space and forced to walk a mile in their characters’ shoes?” Ordinarily this premise would have been the stuff of forgettable fan fiction, but somehow Dean Parisot and screenwriters David Howard and Robert Gordon managed to keep the concept’s “fun factor” while delivering something that was entirely satisfying on an emotional level. Though Tim Allen’s Jason Nesmith was clearly the film’s center, the characterizations of the ensemble cast were varied and superb. In particular, Tony Shalhoub’s “Tech Sergeant Fred Kwan” kept cracking me up with his unexpectedly laid-back reactions to bizarre events. Hell, all the casting was pitch-perfect, and it was a blast seeing Rainn Wilson and Justin Long in early, minor roles. In numerous conversations over the past decade, I’ve encountered many people who are simply nuts for this movie. After watching it again after many years, I was pleased to see its brilliance still held up, and as you’ve probably guessed, it’s one of my personal favorites of all time. Now here’s my “big idea”: In addition to everything else, this was one of Dreamworks SKG’s first live-action films. Even though the story was very self-contained, how awesome would it be if Dreamworks Animation produced an animated Galaxy Quest sequel! Wouldn’t that be awesome? Now, if only I knew someone who worked there… (Favorite)