by D.W. Lundberg

Monday, June 28, 2010





Fairy tales. Fantasies. Good old-fashioned family values. The kid-centric films of the Noughties were dominated by CG animation, performance capture, and Harry Potter. G- and PG-rated entertainment grew scarce, as did traditional hand-drawn animation (revived again, to mostly glorious effect, for 2009's The Princess And The Frog). And while Disney/Pixar continued to capture the imaginations of cinema-goers worldwide (with Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, WALL-E, and Up), their chief rival, DreamWorks, fancied in-jokes over genuine storytelling (Shrek, Madagascar). The ultimate Family flicks must not only do without the heavy profanity, violence and sexuality required of other genres, they must also engage adults and children alike.

The Top Five:

5. Enchanted (Kevin Lima, 2007)

Disney satirizes itself to such a spectacular degree you'd be hard- pressed to look at any of their animated classics the same way again. It's a canny twist on an age-old formula, complete with wink-wink nods to past studio successes and hummable song score from Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz ("That's How You Know," their centerpiece ballad, is a genuine crowd-pleaser). The whole thing actually plays like an answer to DreamWorks' Shrek, with jokes that poke fun at storybook conventions only to succumb to them, proudly, at the end. And while the 12-or-so minutes of featured animation are as sublime as anything Disney's done before, the movie really comes alive during its live-action sequences, with a game cast led by Amy Adams in the very definition of a star-making performance. She's delightful enough all on her own to make you believe in the corniest of fairy tales.

4. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban (Alfonso Cuarón, 2004)

Harry Potter's third year at Hogwarts School Of Witchcraft And Wizardry is also the first to succeed as an actual movie, rather than just a stolid re-enactment of J.K. Rowling's blockbuster novels. It's also the first to create a real sense of urgency, a real sense of magic, and it raised the bar for every chapter that followed. Credit the influence of Alfonso Cuarón, who not only manages to conjure up real performances from his three leads (Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson finally felt as if they'd grown into their roles), but also gives the movie an other-worldly sheen to match its wondrous special effects. Then there's the film's playful wit, its ingenious new characters – I could go on about Azkaban's many pleasures all day. The highest compliment I can give it, though, is how much it finally endeared me to the delights of this peculiar fantasy world.

3. WALL-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008)

So many Pixar gems to choose from – yet none of them as slyly subversive as this. Andrew Stanton's second directorial feature leapfrogs past initial comparisons to Short Circuit or R2-D2: The Movie with its bold conceptual choices, from the photo-realistic animation (veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins was hired as a visual consultant) to its virtually wordless opening 40 minute stretch. And WALL-E himself is an adorable creation, plucky, resolute, and completely oblivious to the way he charms everyone around him. Still, it's the subtext that really sneaks in there. Yes, on the surface it's about a robot who falls in love, and I still don't understand how 700 years can turn humans who look an awful lot like Fred Willard into cartoons, but I can see the point: that mindless consumerism will eventually lead this planet (and ourselves) to rot. That Pixar is able to raise such high-minded stakes without bogging down the kiddies is another testament to their continued domination of the market.

2. Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson, 2009)

Dominated, but hardly cornered. Wes Anderson started the decade with one masterpiece (see 2001's The Royal Tenenbaums, discussed here), so it's only fitting that he ends it with another, this impishly entertaining expansion of the children's classic by Roald Dahl. Anderson's signature style had been wearing a little thin in between, which is why the switch to animation comes as such a welcome surprise; the cadences, minute attention to detail, and droll sense of humor all survive intact, and actually seem better suited to this world of anthropomorphic animal characters than the director's live-action comedies. That said, the stop-motion animation really seems to discourage people from even giving it a chance, and that's a shame – this kind of lovingly-crafted technique is nothing to sneeze at. The puppets (by Ian MacKinnon and Peter Saunders, the same guys behind Corpse Bride, among others) are often hilariously expressive, and every frame is filled with its own special pleasures.

1. The Incredibles (Brad Bird, 2004)

Pixar's first computer-animated feature with human characters front and center is also the only one I completely lost my mind over during the last ten years. The animation is stylized, yes, but remarkably fluid, and the wit and imagination on display are often so exhilarating it begs the question, Why can't other studios treat their big- budget extravaganzas with the same spit and polish? As with any Pixar film (or any great film, for that matter), its surface delights are merely a cover for richer, deeper stuff – here, it's about reclaiming your true inner self, and the importance of family. The surface is pretty swell too, a rollicking superhero adventure in the James Bond mold, and paced so that each action sequence packs twice the scope and excitement of the one that preceded it. Brad Bird's mad genius even extends to the movie's quieter moments, as when Mrs. Incredible warns her children about the reality of violence. Some critics cried foul at this scene, lambasting Pixar's attempts to de-glorify its thrills while reveling in them at the same time. I say it's more a glorious case of having your cake and eating it, too.


And another one bites the dust. Like that one? Any you disagree with? Any I forgot? Please comment below - otherwise I won't know what you think! Up next: Historical Dramas. See you then.


  1. Good use of words! ;) I really liked all of these movies. Enchanted was almost too cheesy to stomach but in the end it grew on me. Fantastic Mr. Fox wasn't as bad as I thought it would be! ;)

  2. You already know what I think, Darin, but I suppose I'll comment anyway.

    I haven't seen Enchanted but I don't think I really need to. I don't think I would have the patience for it. I find that recently I've been getting bored with most movies, sad but true. If I feel that the preview revealed too much or if it reminds me of a movie I've seen already, then I feel like I don't need to waste my time with it.

    I know I saw Prisoner of Azkaban, but I don't remember what I thought. I might have to watch it again. I do know that I don't like most Harry Potter movies.

    Wall-E was well done, but I don't agree with the message it sends, and, if I feel like a movie is forcing it's beliefs on me (political, religious, etc.), then I tend to dislike the movie no matter how great it is. For some reason Hollywood feels they have to inject their liberal beliefs into every film they produce (animated or not). {Sorry if this gets a little political here} As a far right conservative, I don't believe that we, humans, are destroying the planet with our consumerism, or that we're destroying ourselves for that matter. I don't believe in global warming, I don't believe there's a hole in the O-Zone, I don't agree with recycling, and I don't believe that there's an obesity epidemic (I don't see a bunch of 300 lb fatsos waddling around everywhere. Do you? Everyone I interact with seems pretty healthy). What I do believe in is freedom and liberty. Freedom to choose if we want to drive an SUV, or eat a burger with fries, or sit on the couch and watch TV all day. That's our perogative. Doing all that isn't going to ruin the world. It might not be the healthiest lifestyle, but it's still our choice. I guess I'm mostly against the blatant attempt at social engineering. Oh, and Wall-E reminded me too much of Johnny 5 and I kept waiting for him to say "No disassemble Stephanie!"

    Click-click, whew-whew! Great movie! I loved all the details. I just wish it wasn't Meryl Streep's voice.

    The Incredibles was good, too! Not my favorite Pixar movie, but one of their best notwithstanding. 'Nuff said.

  3. The fact that WALL-E is able to drum up such arguments in the first place is what I admire most about it. Hardly any other Pixar movie (or kids' film in general) can claim the same. Director Andrew Stanton started the movie as a story about a loveable trash-compacting robot, and everything just expanded from there. The points it makes about consumerism, and about humans becoming lazy blobs because of it, are just an interesting sidenote to all the beautifully-rendered goings on. I don't think the movie is trying to shove its themes in our faces at all (it certainly isn't saying we're facing an "obesity" epidemic - it simply says that's a possible side effect of an over-dependence on technology), but I can see how someone would think that it does. What I'm saying is, it's a brave thing to even raise such issues in the first place, and in a kids' movie at that (because most kids' movies, let's be honest, are fairly simple-minded and lazy). It got my mind working, gave me something to chew on. That's what I want from the movies I watch. And the "politics" never bothered my kids for a second.

  4. just stopping by to say that I gave you an award over on my blog. Check it out:

    Have a fabulous 4th!

  5. Wall-E is my favorite. I agree Darin, "it certainly isn't saying we're facing an "obesity" epidemic - it simply says that's a possible side effect of an over-dependence on technology"...

    I'll go further to add, IN SPACE. That is a proven fact, that life in a weight free/mostly gravity free, or perhaps gravity simulated environment does lead to bone loss and muscle atrophy. Use it or lose it.

    So long as we, as humans, aren't herded onto a giant space ship, where we'll live and die for the next thousand years in space, we don't even have to worry about our 'far right conservative' beliefs. Just because right NOW, someone doesn't "belive that we're destroying the planet with our consumerism, or that we're destroying ourselves, doesn't believe in global warming, doesn't believe there's a hole in the O-Zone, doesn't agree with recycling, and doesn't believe that there's an obesity epidemic" DOESN'T make ANY of those things not true.

    I'm just sayin'.


  6. Okay now, I feel the need to point out that most of what Bec just said, is her opinion and nothing more. In fact most of the green eco friendly beliefs floating around out there have been disproven and are more or less just rumors and propaganda that the government is forcing down are throats in an attempt to control are lives even more than they already do. Did you know that it actually causes more pollution and cost more money to recycle plastic water bottles than it does to make new ones? Did you know that there are fewer regulations on bottled water, than there are on tap water? Did you know that bottled water is just the Soda companies’ brilliant way to make you pay for something you already get in your homes for next to nothing? And the whole going paperless thing is just ridiculous, because paper is made from trees grown on tree farms, pacifically to be cut down to make paper. They're not cutting down the rainforest to make our notebooks people. Trees grow back, that’s why they're so useful a resource. And growing trees for making paper also provides more oxygen. Also tree farms provide a lot of profit for Oregon and other such places, and thus it improves their economy, and creates more jobs, if we buy and use paper. Anyways I've gone off the subject. My point is that we shouldn’t believe everything we’re told by the press, or the government. If you believe strongly about something, do the research yourself, look into both sides of the argument and make up your own mind which is right or at least which feels right to you. Because in most matters there is not a right or wrong belief or opinion, most things aren’t in simple black and white. Just because you believe in everything the green movement preaches doesn’t make it true, nor does it give you the right to tell someone else who doesn’t believe in those things that their wrong for disagreeing with you. Furthermore recycling and such doesn’t make you better than other people, it doesn’t give you the right to look down your nose at someone who doesn’t. We as human beings should be mature enough to respect each others beliefs and embrace our differences, not belittle, assign blame or point fingers. I just want to say that I have nothing against saving the environment as long as were not putting animals and plants before human beings. God gave us this world, and made it bountiful so that we might prosper and multiply. He made a world capable of sustaining human life for an infinite amount of time, because he is all wise and all knowing. I trust in him, and know that as long as we are righteous he will provide. And that’s my two cents. (Sorry to get all political on here Darin but I had to defend my husband)

  7. And again, this is what makes WALL-E so special: that it can actually raise arguments like this in the first place, no matter what your opinion might be.