Saturday, December 18, 2010

Animation Spotlight: Despicable Me, How to Train Your Dragon & Tangled

Despicable Me: Directed by Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud
How to Train Your Dragon: Directed by Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders
Tangled: Directed by Nathan Greno & Byron Howard

Two of this year’s top contenders for the Best Animated Feature Oscar are now available on DVD, while a third remains in theatres following a Thanksgiving opening date. In a year that’s been somewhat sparse on animation (the only animated film reviews you’ll find on so far are for “Toy Story 3” and “My Dog Tulip,” both also eligible for the Oscar), here’s a brief look at three of this year’s most notable animated features. Look also for a review of French animated contender “The Illusionist” around the time it opens in limited release on December 25th.

“Despicable Me” is the least impressive of the three, mostly in terms of narrative storytelling. The film’s two teaser trailers from last summer presented wholly different pictures of the film’s plot, one the story of a mysterious villain seeking to steal massive monuments and the other a tale of two competing super-villains. The film doesn’t do all that much to clarify, presenting a rather underdeveloped and lackluster narrative about a selfish mastermind named Gru (entertainingly voiced by Steve Carell) who adopts several orphans in order to complete his lifelong dream of succeeding in super-villainy. “Despicable Me” also fails the perhaps unnecessary and unfair qualification that adults should be able to enjoy its content just (or nearly) as much as young children.

“How to Train Your Dragon” falls into that same category to an extent, though it certainly contains more believable, complex characters and an intriguing storyline about a young boy in a Viking community who realizes that the dragons his people have spent their lives hunting aren’t actually dangerous. “How to Train Your Dragon” works better metaphorically than literally since it doesn’t prove to be much more than a parable about trying peace before exercising violence. While simplistic, it’s visually enthralling and accompanied by a score that gives the feel an authentic and distinctive feel.

And then there’s “Tangled,” the simply wonderful classic Disney film that re-imagines the famous story of Rapunzel and her lengthy, magical hair. From its start, “Tangled” is magnificently energetic and entirely captivating, telling a familiar tale in a new, creative way with typically dazzling storyboarding and animation. Its use of original songs is extraordinarily effective as well, giving its characters and voice actors the opportunity to perform dance numbers that enhance an already top-notch story. The best part of “Tangled,” as It turns out, is its talented voice actors. “Chuck” star Zachary Levi is charismatic and hilarious as vagabond Flynn Rider, and Mandy Moore is charming and endearing as the sweet, sheltered Rapunzel. If “Toy Story 3” hadn’t been realized this year, “Tangled” would easily be the best, most enjoyable animated film of 2010.

Despicable Me: C
How to Train Your Dragon: B-
Tangled: A-

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