Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers

This was a very strange movie, but not for the reasons you might think. It honestly felt like whoever wrote the script was taking the piss out of older animation styles. In the movie’s universe, 2D animation is seen as outdated. One of our main characters, Dale, even gets “CGI surgery” to keep with the times. But it doesn’t stop there, as our heroes visit the “uncanny valley” and meet a 2000s era, Beowulf-looking character who repeatedly gets made fun of for the remainder of the film. In theory, I don’t have a problem with lampooning how far technology has come. But they really did not do 2D animation justice in this movie. Most of the “2D” characters are actually 3D models that have been cel-shaded. And their attempts to make the actual 2D characters look like they’re interacting with the real world are extremely lazy, especially when you consider how well Who Framed Roger Rabbit pulled this off thirty years ago!

Story-wise, it’s fine. I like the idea of going meta and having the Rescue Rangers characters simply be actors who struggled to find work after the original cartoon ended. Unfortunately, the real rescue mission that they now find themselves involved in has hardly any meat to it. The Rescue Rangers movie suffers from Ready Player One syndrome, where references to other pop culture are the sole point of its existence. And yeah, it’s fun to see some of the cameos—like Ugly Sonic and a handful of DreamWorks characters—but none of them are used in any creative ways beyond just, “Look who we got!” There is still some decent humor in the movie, but the script has a habit of over explaining its better jokes. For instance, a clay-animated character smacks his head on a newspaper, which leaves an imprint of the words on his face. Funny, but then he says, “Hey, it’s stuck on my face like Silly Putty. You remember Silly Putty?!”

I really want to know what headspace the creators were in when making this, because, on one hand, it feels like they didn’t trust the audience enough to get some of the references. However, they overstuffed each frame with so many other references that you have to pause the movie to catch them all. Then for other things, they didn’t even get the references right. Pogs, for example, are a plot point, but they keep referring to the missing “slammer” from the Rescue Rangers set as just another “pog.” Like, did you even 90s, bro? And, of course, there’s the general disdain for all animation that isn’t cutting edge 3D. Maybe the oddest choice of all, though, is that they made Peter Pan the villain. If you know the story of Peter Pan’s original voice actor, Bobby Driscoll, then this comes across as being in very poor taste. So the creators either didn’t do their homework (and don’t care about animation history), or they were being purposefully cruel. Not a good look either way.

Jumanji: The Next Level

I watched both of these newer Jumanji movies back-to-back, and for the first half of the second movie, I was thinking, “You know what? This is a pretty good sequel.” The humor was a lot better this time around, because the body-swapping dynamics were more interesting. I liked that the teenagers didn’t end up in the Jumanji avatars they wanted, and having two new people—some old farts who don’t understand video games—get sucked into the game with them helped liven things up. The main thing I disliked about the first movie was that Kevin Hart was basically just being Kevin Hart, so it was refreshing to see him dial it down and play against type for once. Jack Black “playing black” was a little cringey at times, but I thought everyone (mostly) felt like their real world counterparts. The addition of Awkwafina as an avatar they hadn’t seen before was also a nice touch.

But then there’s the horse. I have so many issues with this friggin’ horse. First, why would a HORSE be a playable avatar? Oh, and Alex riding in on the horse (who was Bethany, by the way) had somewhat gross connotations. It was also really stupid to swap everyone’s avatars at this point in the movie and put Milo in the horse’s body. Whoever is in the horse is basically a non-character, so it ruined the emotional impact at the end that he was supposed to have with Grandpa Eddie. Also, he chose to stay in the game as a horse?! So dumb… Seriously, the second half of this movie ruins all the goodwill it had by essentially resetting the teenage characters and shoving the older characters out of the way. Every potential lesson these people were supposed to learn is thrown out the window as the movie devolves into an uninteresting, unfunny, generic action flick. And I blame the horse.

Everything Everywhere All at Once

I had fairly high expectations going into this movie, and yet I wasn’t disappointed. I think what (pleasantly) surprised me the most was how culturally relevant it is to the Chinese American experience. I mean, yeah, I knew it was about a Chinese family just from the trailer, but it is a very Chinese movie. About 30-40% of the dialogue is all Chinese, after all, and the themes about generational approval are painfully relatable. My wife (who is Chinese) possibly enjoyed this movie more than I did, and she’s not usually one for violence or wacky humor. What’s magical about Everything Everywhere All at Once, though, is that the violence and wackiness all serve a purpose. Yes, there are many “LOL, random” moments, but they come with a payoff later in the movie and/or juxtapose the deeper feelings the characters are having.

I like to describe this movie as a family drama disguised as a sci-fi, multiverse action flick. The first half of the movie is very action heavy with some great fight choreography that takes full advantage of its multiverse gimmick. The rules of said multiverse are really fun to watch unfold, even going into the second half of the movie when the action slows down considerably. I guess that’s my only complaint with the movie; the more drama-heavy second half goes on for a little too long. It’s a satisfying conclusion to everything that has happened before, but it does requiring sitting through three different monologues from three different characters. Still, this is one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time and, according to my wife, a much better example of Hollywood/Asian representation than Crazy Rich Asians was.

Happily

I knew nothing about this moving going in, other than it had a stellar cast. With names like Joel McHale, Al Madrigal, Paul Scheer, Jon Daly, Stephen Root, Breckin Meyer, Natalie Morales, and Charlyne Yi, how could this not be funny? Well, turns out it’s not much of a comedy but rather a sci-fi-ish thriller that just happens to star comedic actors. And that’s fine, too. There are some fun twists in the story that will keep you guessing as to what’s really going on. I liked the initial setup of the two leads “murdering” Stephen Root’s character only to later realize that Root might have just been part of a harmless prank. This creates a nice mystery where they aren’t sure which friend is responsible for the prank and if it was a prank at all. Unfortunately, it’s revealed too soon that Root is still alive, so you already know something supernatural is at play when the movie isn’t even halfway over yet.

Happily still has other twists up its sleeve, though, like when someone went ahead and injected Joel McHale with the serum that Root was trying to “prank” them with even after the group had agreed to wait to get it tested. Because this movie ultimately has so little substance, though, it takes two minutes from the moment we see the injection scar on McHale to when he opens the briefcase and sees the empty syringe. Yes, it’s that kind of plodding movie. Happily only has a few good twists and not enough content to connect them together. But it’s the final “twist” that ruins it all, if you can even call it a twist. We never learn who Root is or what his motives are. He makes the characters sit in a circle and admit to their relationship problems, then everyone goes home. It’s so anticlimactic, especially since we don’t know most of these characters well enough to care.

The Tomorrow War

The concept of this movie is pretty interesting. I like the idea of needing to go back in time to recruit soldiers since the current/future population has been mostly wiped out. Of course, this brings with it your usual time travel issues that don’t hold up to scrutiny. At least they had the foresight to only recruit people who would be dead in thirty years, anyway, to avoid creating a time paradox. Again, the “future war” aspect of it has a lot of potential, so it’s really weird that they destroy the time travel device halfway through the movie. It basically feels like a second movie at that point (doubly so given the overlong runtime). Needless to say, the latter half of the movie is not as good, doing little to differentiate itself from other alien invasion blockbusters.

The first half of the movie isn’t perfect, either, but more on that in a moment. First, I want to at least say that you do get thrust into the action pretty soon. There’s a lot of initial intensity to draw you in. The aliens are also pretty scary, though the CG effects sometimes don’t look great. The movie has a strange, oversaturated color palette, which might have been their way of easing the alien effects into the real world. It’s also a bit disappointing that the movie sets up a ragtag team of heroes played by actors like Sam Richardson and Mary Lynn Rajskub only to abandon/kill off a lot of them in favor of a “father and daughter do science” storyline. Once that starts to play out, The Tomorrow War loses momentum that it never manages to recover.

Dolittle

Dolittle felt a lot like an animated kids movie, and not in a good way. The pacing, humor, and characters might as well have been drawn up by Illumination in Despicable Me 4: Let’s Go to the Zoo. Dolittle is 70% animated, anyway, featuring a cast of Minions-like computer-generated animals. The animals are by far the worst thing about the movie. They look terrible, for starters. Every time an animal jumped, it looked weightless and cheap. And the animals never shut up. They’re constantly bickering and screaming and spouting one-liners in a poor attempt to entertain you by sheer overload. What’s even more annoying is that none of the voices match the characters. This is celebrity voice casting gone amok. Selena Gomez, John Cena, and Rami Malek should have sat this one out.

This really leaves Robert Downey Jr. to carry the bulk of the movie. I love Downey as much as anyone else, but he’s not good in this. Part of the problem is that he’s doing an accent that makes it hard to understand anything he’s saying. It reminded me of Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean, where incoherent mumbling was often used in place of being genuinely quirky and eccentric. The other problem is that we don’t have any reason to care about Dolittle as a person. He’s immediately thrust into an adventure where he basically plays the conductor in a noisy orchestra. The journey takes him to some interesting places, but the challenges they face are so effortlessly overcome that there’s no tension. Instead, you get fart jokes and screaming squirrels. God, there’s so much screaming…