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Showing posts with the label CG

A StoryBots Christmas (2017)

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When we finished watching this new special from Netflix, we were left with a conundrum. Had we just experienced a kids show with a surprising scattering of subversive humor and references? Or a hit-and-miss parody of children's entertainment? Or a piece of tedious moralizing aimed at the very very young?

If it sounds like all those things couldn't possibly be contained in one 25-minute special, you understand why we were perplexed. We didn't hate it, but we didn't enjoy it either. We spent most of it staring at the television, heads slightly cocked to one side, saying, "Huh?"

The best I can put together without doing any research is the Storybots are animated characters from a children's series of the same name, and they answer questions from videos of young kids. They live in a place that is either another dimension or a hollow-earth world, which is connected to Earth via a series of vacuum tubes. In their own world, they're two-dimensional animatio…

Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas (2011)

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There's something I find especially frustrating about specials like this. The production values are high, the design and animation and voice acting all well done. But the writing is idiotic, so it's still a boring, tedious slog.

Unlike the specials affiliated with the Dreamworks movies Shrek, How to Train Your Dragon, and Kung Fu Panda, I went into this one never having seen any of the movies in the franchise.

Although I hesitate to admit it, the only things I didn't find dull as a dead tree discarded for trash pickup were some of the Scrat sections (you've seen the prehistoric squirrel obsessed with acorns if you've ever seen a trailer for one of these films). The silent animation was decently paired with Christmas music. Of course, I also hated those sections because a character being beat up constantly through no fault of their own is a form of animated "comedy" that I particularly despise.

The story opens with Manny (the mammoth. Get it?) hauling ou…

PJ Masks: Gekko Saves Christmas/Gekko's Nice Ice Plan (2015)

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The only thing we knew about the animated show PJ Masks before turning on this episode was that it has a lot of toys targeted at the preschool set.

The premise is that three kids turn into animal-themed superheroes at night (once they don the pajamas of the title) and defeat super-villain kids while learning simplistic morals. It's based on a series of French picture books, and the show is a collaboration between Canadian and French animation companies and is distributed in the U.S. by Disney.

It's visually and structurally somewhat reminiscent of Super Why. Each 15-minute story has a clear moral from the beginning and a repetitive structure that will have some kids yelling at the characters in frustration.

In Gekko Saves Christmas, the villain Luna Girl is stealing all the Christmas decorations and presents. Catboy and Owlette easily stall the villain several times, but they need Gekko to take her hoverboard. He's too frightened of failing to really try to stay on the bo…

Saving Santa (2013)

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Saving Santa is a 2013 direct-to-DVD computer animated movie that's something of a paradox. I suppose that's appropriate, since the movie is about "a time-traveling elf," but that's not the kind of paradox I'm referring to - I'm talking about the writing, which is at once utter crap and impressively nuanced.

More on that in a moment. First, the plot.
Bernard D. Elf, astonishingly only the second-worst-named character in this movie, wakes up late for an appointment showing off his new invention to the North Pole's tech company. He races across town and gets them to watch, but in the process momentarily blacks out the elf city's power.
The time the grid's down is just enough for Neville Baddington (and that'd be #1) and his evil package delivery company to determine the cloaked location of Santa's operation. Unaware they're on their way, Bernard heads to his day job, shoveling reindeer dung out of Santa's stables.
No, really.
Wh…

Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures: Santa Pac's Merry Berry Day (2014, 2015)

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I've long championed the theory that any premise, regardless of how seemingly juvenile or misguided, can be elevated to greatness if the core concept is simply taken seriously and complex emotion is added. Movies like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and shows such as My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic lend credence to this idea.

It is a good theory, or - more accurately - it was a good theory. In the space of 44 minutes, this idea was tested and soundly, undeniably refuted by a corporate cash grab so cloying, the very core is beyond salvation.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me tell you about the show, Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures.

This is a CG science-fiction/superhero adventure based on the characters from the 1980 arcade game. This isn't the first time someone's attempted to adapt Pac-Man into a television series, but it might be the first time someone tried giving it a relatively serious tone.

Note I said relatively serious - this is still supposed t…

Sid the Science Kid: Sid's Holiday Adventure (2009)

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Sid the Science Kid is an animated show for preschoolers, so there are specific questions you might need to ask before judging it.

Question 1: Is it at all interesting for adults without kids?

I enjoy a lot of children's television, but this is not a show that holds any value for adults who don't deal with children, except on a technical artistry level. The show is produced by the Jim Henson Company, and the animation is actually generated in real time from motion capture and digital "puppeteering."

This allows them to film fast and give the characters a lot of physicality. On the other hand, it doesn't always translate to fine control. for example, I noticed one secondary character manipulating a prop in a particularly clunky way.

Question 2: Is it interesting for the target group?

I haven't polled anyone, but it's won some awards. I was rather struck with how real the kid characters' dialogue seems: the kids respond too literally or somewhat vague…

Spirit - Riding Free: Lucky and the Christmas Spirit (2017)

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I have never seen the Dreamworks animated movie Spirit - Stallion of the Cimarron, but Wikipedia tells me that the point was that it was about a horse whose rightful place was running free, untamed by man. So I'm not sure why the Netflix spin-off series follows a girl who befriends a wild horse (also named Spirit) such that he follows her around and hangs out in town all the time. Seems... wrong.

But hey, there's money in dolls that ride horses.

We also couldn't figure out when this takes place. The lack of cars, one-room schoolhouse, and prevalence of farming seems to imply a vague "frontier" time, but the clothing and the writing seemed plausibly modern. Based on this episode, we decided that it could take place anytime between the 1880s and the 1980s, but if someone pulled out a cell phone, we wouldn't be that surprised.

The episodes seems to follow the lead girl, her friends, Spirit, and the friends' horses as they go on inoffensive Babysitters-Club…

Olaf's Frozen Adventure (2017)

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We covered Frozen back when it came out, despite some disagreement on whether it should count as a Christmas movie. (We've since decided it should be classified as Christmas in July.)

But with this new special there's no room for disagreement or confusion. It's Christmas in Arendelle.

The premise is that it's the first holiday season since the events of the movie, and so it's the first opportunity that royal sisters Anna and Elsa have for a holiday celebration both in public and together.

They decide to throw a party, but after a public ceremony, the local folks all have their family traditions to get back to. The sisters realize that their lives have been so circumscribed by hiding Elsa's powers that they don't really have any traditions of their own. Olaf sets out to save the day by collecting traditions from the townspeople. Naturally, complications ensue.

I loved this. I sat through it with a big stupid grin on my face the whole time. I liked the story…

The Amazing World of Gumball: Christmas (2012)

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Well, that was odd.

We’d never seen an episode of The Amazing World of Gumball before, and it seems unlikely that we ever will again. Not that this was bad or anything, it just seems like the kind of thing you might watch if A) you had cable and B) you had a lot of time on your hands and were prone to watching whatever came on next.

I mean, it’s on Hulu, but so are a lot of other things.

This show seems to follow a family of animals - the mom’s a cat, the dad’s a rabbit, and there are three kids: a cat, a rabbit, and what Wikipedia tells me is an adopted goldfish. Eh, all the character designs are round enough that the distinctions don’t seem to matter.

The animation style is the most striking thing about this show - highly stylized cartoony characters are layered over real-world backgrounds and combined with occasional CG and stop-motion.

This episode opens with a little Christmas singing, abruptly cut short when the dad hits a man with his car who’s dressed a little like Santa. The…

Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir: Pire Noël (2016)

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If you like crazy Christmas stuff the way we do, or if you like zany superhero/magical girl hijinks, you should probably go ahead and see if you can find a copy of this on YouTube. This was a ton of fun.

Miraculous (for short) is a CG show from France about two superhero teenagers. Marinette is an aspiring fashion designer, and she transforms into Ladybug. Adrien is a young fashion model, and his superhero identity is Cat Noir. They don’t know each other’s secret, which leads to a classic secret identity plotline where Marinette has a crush on Adrien, but Cat Noir has a crush on Ladybug.

Their powers come from little (alien?) creatures and are channeled through items known as the Miraculouses: Marinette’s earrings and Adrien’s ring. There is a villain (Le Papillon in the original French) who wants to steal these items. In each episode, the villain senses someone feeling a strong negative emotion (anger, fear, jealousy, etc.) and sends an evil butterfly to possess them.

That’s what yo…

Super Why!: 'Twas the Night Before Christmas (2008)

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At one point while we were watching this, Erin turned to me and asked in disbelief, “You’ve watched this before?” What can I say, I used to work a lot of nights before we had Netflix; on many afternoons PBS was my background-noise companion.

Super Why! is one of the least interesting of the PBS kids shows that I’m familiar with from this era. It’s not so annoying that I would necessarily turn it off, you know, if my hands were covered in paint or something, but I wouldn’t seek it out.

The show follows Whyatt and his fairytale friends who live in Storybrook Village (which is a CG land hidden behind a secret door on a library bookshelf). In each episode, Whyatt (his big brother climbed a beanstalk), Pig (of the Three Little), Red (Riding Hood), and Princess Pea have a question to answer. They seek the answers by becoming the Super Readers, magically flying into another storybook, and helping the characters there.

And yes, we’ve got a bit of book-within-a-book-world going on. The story…

Doc McStuffins: A Very McStuffins Christmas (2013)

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If you don't have small children or regularly shop for toys, you may be unaware of this popular show. On a moral and personal level, I think it's awesome that this show is popular. It wears its feminism and positivity on its sleeve, which is great. It's kid-friendly to a fault, though, and the songs weren't very good.

The main character, “Doc,” is a little girl who has a knack for fixing broken toys. (She is following the example of her mom, who is a doctor.)

With that premise, of course there's a Christmas episode. As someone who spent a lot of time and love fixing toys as a kid, I found this show somewhat charming, despite the simplistic writing. Erin felt less charitable toward it than I did.

The main premise of the episode is that an elf named Tobias dropped a toy he was supposed to deliver for Doc’s little brother, breaking it. He's distraught about the implications for his career, (seriously, he won’t shut up about it) and Doc and her cadre of stuffed a…

Sofia the First: Winter’s Gift (2014)

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Sweet, another fantasy holiday revisited! The first holiday episode strained our tolerance, but this one was actually adorable.

Sofia is excited that it’s Wassailia once more, and she’s made a special gift for Cedric, the court magician. It’s a wand case she made by hand. When she and her rabbit Clover approach his study to deliver the gift, however, she overhears him ranting to himself about the useless trinkets people burden him with every Wassailia. Sofia decides that her gift isn’t special enough and she’ll need to find something better.

A chance comment tips her off to a magical flower - an Ice Lily - that sounds like a great gift, so she and Clover head out. Clover calls on a friend who knows the forest, a fox named Whiskers. (I don’t know why the fox and the rabbit are friends either, but you forget about that because the fox is busy being super sassy about the rabbit’s cushy life in the castle.)

On the way to find the Ice Lilies, they hear some beautiful music and stop to in…

Strawberry Shortcake's Berry Bitty Adventures: Happy First Frost (2010)

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This is only a Christmas episode if you squint, but we think it counts. The characters specifically say that it’s the shortest day of the year, that everyone has different traditions to celebrate, and theirs involves gift-giving. One or two of those wouldn’t do it, but all three and we’ll give it a pass. This is despite the fact that the animation company didn’t bother to give any of the backgrounds or characters any sort of winter look.

The plot mostly follows the aforementioned gift-giving. Strawberry Shortcake and her candy-colored friends have a Secret-Santa-like tradition where they pick names out of a hat and give secret presents. They are preparing for this when a caterpillar (named, I kid you not, “Mr. Longface”) visits, and they invite him to join in.

Strawberry picks his name and sets out to find the perfect gift. Blueberry has Lemon’s name, and decides to give her a huge book about organizing books. Unfortunately, this is a terrible gift for Lemon, who owns only two other…

Mainlining Movie Discussion: Home (2015)

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Home is a CG science fiction comedy from last year that’s ambiguously a Christmas movie. It’s loosely based on the 2007 novel, The True Meaning of Smekday. It’s not a clear enough example to be covered in the normal season, but we felt it deserved a spot in our archives.

We’re trying something a little different on this one: instead of posting a review written by one of us, we’re presenting this as a discussion.

Let us know what you think of the format: we're thinking of adding it to our standard repertoire.


Erin: Let’s start with the story. The movie is set immediately after the events of a disappointingly bloodless alien invasion where the human race is transported to Australia. A girl’s left behind, and she befriends an outcast alien who’s inadvertently endangered the planet by sending a party evite to another alien race.

The girl’s trying to find her mom, and the alien’s trying to undo the damage he’s done. You get the idea.

Unlike me, you actually read the book. How’s the premis…

Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas (2004)

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We went into this with a lot of trepidation, between the snooze fest that was the predecessor and the cruddy-looking CG. However, this special was actually much better than the first!

It follows basically the same format - short pieces linked by pedantic narration - but the pieces themselves are far superior. It’s as though the people writing them actually liked their jobs, liked the characters and cared about the humor (again, completely unlike the first special).

Furthermore, the special is the same length, but there are five pieces instead of three. The shorter format is much stronger.

The first piece combines artistry and humor as Minnie and Daisy try to outdo each other as the stars of an amateur skating show. They each have backup skaters from the Fantasia Dance of the Hours sequence. It’s sweet and funny without getting too sappy, and we were surprised with how decent the animation was.

(Complete side note: I don’t know if shipping Minnie and Daisy together is a thing, but i…

Bratz Babyz Save Christmas (2008)

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It was awful.

I mean, we expected awful. It's called "Bratz Babyz Save Christmas," and it's a sequel to a direct-to-video movie based on a toy line spun off of another toy line that was essentially a knock-off of Barbie: this was never going to be brilliant film making. But we weren't ready. I'm not sure anyone could have been ready. I'm going to do my best to prepare you, in case you're foolish enough to try and watch this yourself, but the task of trying to depict in words the experience we just endured is a daunting one. This thing, on all levels, in all ways... it was awful.

Based on the four minutes I was willing to invest researching this, it seems to be the third movie in the CG Bratz Babyz direct-to-the-dumpster-behind-Best-Buy-because-no-one-was-actually-stupid-enough-to-buy-the-video series. Did I mention it was awful?

It was. Let's start with the animation. You know how crappy attempts to create CG humans result in a doll-like quality …

The Swan Princess Christmas (2012)

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The Swan Princess Christmas is the third of four direct-to-video sequels to The Swan Princess, a movie which failed to make ten million dollars during its entire theatrical run and has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 44%. This is the first and only installment of the franchise I've ever seen, so I can't attest whether the abysmal writing, direction, and animation were par for the course, or if this fails to live up to the series's pitiful legacy. Assuming Wikipedia is right, this was the first in the series to be computer animated.

For the majority of this movie's run time, the plot is essentially incomprehensible. The two leads, Derek and Odette, are getting ready to spend their first Christmas together. They have three talking animal sidekicks who almost never interact with them: a puffin, a turtle, and frog trying to get women to kiss him. And there's a cat who's working with the ghost of the villain from the first movie.

To get a Christmas tree, Derek goes snow…

Sofia the First: Holiday in Enchancia (2013)

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Aww, Sofia. I wanted you to be fun. I wanted you to be clever. I like the idea of a Ur-princess narrative. But you were only sticky-sweet and not-too-terrible.

Sofia the First is an animated series from Disney Junior, about a girl whose mother marries into the royal family of a fairy-tale kingdom. According to Wikipedia, she is the bearer of a mystic amulet that connects her to advice from other Disney princesses.

In this episode, we're introduced to their traditional winter-gift-giving holiday: Wassailia! It's a fairly simple fantasy Christmas. There are presents, decorated evergreen trees, and traditional foods. The most prominent point unique to Wassailia is the lighting of a special candle in honor of the season that...it's not quite clear, but it seems to bring blessings on the family.

The kids (Sofia and her step-siblings James and Amber) sing about how they celebrate the holiday to open the episode. Sofia is excited for her first Wassailia in the castle, but the p…

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer & the Island of Misfit Toys (2001)

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Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer & the Island of Misfit Toys was a direct-to-video CG sequel to the original stop-motion special. Before we go on, I'd like you to stop for one moment, close your eyes, and count in your head all of the direct-to-video CG movies made in a five year period around the year 2000 that didn't utterly and completely suck.

Take your time: make sure you're not forgetting any.
I'm going to go out on a limb and say you were able to think of zero examples. Once you add Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer & the Island of Misfit Toys to the potential pool, you'll find the final tally hasn't changed.
Let's start with the animation. I appreciate this was a different era and CG animation was still new. But this was just pathetic. The characters were lifeless, the movement was constricted, and even elements you'd expect to be easy - camera movement and crowds - were lacking. I'd be extremely surprised if this thing's director had…