Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Just 5 Animal Movie Reviews

Written on: May 24, 2011

It recently occurred to me that I once tried writing reviews for nature documentaries, just because I'd watched so many of them. It worked out horribly. Actually, I just worked at it for awhile, then forgot all about it because I hadn't bothered to watch a nature documentary in over a year :P.
Anywho, recently I have rediscovered my love of ranting about things involving animals.
Because I have some time to kill, I think I'll do it by reviewing some animal movies I have recently watched. What they all have in common is this: Netflix believed for some strange reason that I would watch them and love them and call them my own. Yeah right.
So now I shall attempt to review them in no particular order. This may or may not involve spoilers.

The Red Stallion – 1947
The Expectation: Something like My Friend Flicka (not to be confused with Flicka, which is an utterly horrible film and should be forgotten as quickly as possible). Maybe a little slow, and likely more about the kid than the horse, but enjoyable anyway.
The Reality: Really quite boring, actually. I didn't actually finish the film, but the only part to applaud (yay) is that the horse is actually sort of red and has roughly the same markings as an adult as it did when it was a foal. Other than that, it seemed to be a bunch of middle-aged people nattering at each other about things they assume you understand, like how they even know each other. The horse is pretty and it's fun to watch the dog lead him around, but everyone else is really rather blah. Not to mention everything they said and did could be misinterpreted in so many ways it was almost funny.
So was it any good?. No.
The acting was acceptable *cough*, the plot was typical (we must save the farm, Red, because Grandma hasn't been paying her bills etc. etc.), but the pacing was horrendous. I stopped around forty minutes in because I was still waiting for something to actually happen. Beyond that, I couldn't find any character I actually cared about, including the horse and dog. The horse wasn't a character so much as some moveable scenery that knew a few tricks and the dog they kept referring to as male was rather distractingly not and was more annoying than helpful.
“Aren't you being a little unfair?” you ask.
“Why yes, yes I am, thanks for noticing” I reply “in fact, I should be ashamed and should only include films I watched from start to finish from now on”

Princess and the Pony – 2011
The Expectation: a low budget kid's film with bad acting and no real value except maybe to remind you of something you watched as a child (thus, it might be nostalgic).
Yes. Well. Um..... anyway.
This movie wasn't sure what it wanted to be when it grew up and thus flitted spastically back and forth between being sort of like a low-budget, poorly thought-out Spy Kids-like film and some sort of cross-over between old Disney Princess films and Beautiful (the PG-13 one from 2000). Unfortunately, while these films are all very pleasing by themselves, they mix like the average house cat does with boiling water. Actually, that may be the best way to describe this film. A wet cat.
The bad acting and low budget-special effects were very much expected (such as the jumps for the horse changing height and the horse changing shape/color whenever it did anything other than stand around looking bewildered), as were the incredibly stupid attempts at humor (such as the pink bow ties versus the red ones, which made no sense at all and is really best left forgotten).
But the acting was distractingly bad, as was everything else. It was really like everyone involved in the project was actually a hyper-active squirrel which had been provided with a lifetime supply of coffee and chocolate bars, but only if the squirrels could throw something at them that looked remotely like a story with an important life lesson (which is this: don't learn to skateboard in your living room with your butler and your maid holding your hands. Wait no. Circus people are evil?. Yes. We'll go with that one. Wait... what was I talking about?. Oh yes, this movie).
So, in between incoherent flails, Princess and the Pony occasionally stopped off at the Kid's Movie shop and picked up some “important” lessons about morality, patience and other such things which are so often crammed down our throats that we've actually ceased to notice or care.
But it was almost like it was ashamed of having them, like it was apologizing for imposing its morality and sense of right and wrong on us.
In the end, it threw its hands up and gave her the freakin' pony by way of a security guard.
And I'm sort of confused as to what, exactly, it was trying to teach us, because it changed its mind so many times.
It was a film that had the potential of feeling like a fairytale, but kept ripping you out of the comfortable fantasy and beating your head against the modern time it takes place in.
One final complaint: every single outfit/costume in the entire movie looked like someone bought it off the Halloween Costume rack at Wal-Mart.

White Lion – 2010
The Expectation: Either yet another rip-off of The Lion King or something that wanted to be more like Planet Earth than anything else in the world. In other words: dull and uninteresting and probably featuring a lion that was really more brown than white, but just happened to be slightly closer to white than all of the other brown lions lying around.
The Reality: Huh, well that was actually pretty good.
Don't get confused here, the plot is rather stupid and generic, the acting is laughable and the lions don't seem to know what they're supposed to be doing.
On the other hand, the scenery is pretty and the film never gets confused about who the main character is (the White Lion, not that other person). And the lion is actually WHITE.
I'm not actually sure how they pulled off most of what they did in the movie. Somehow, they had a lioness in the beginning that actually looked like she was nursing cubs with a white lion cub that actually looked young enough to be nursing.
Most of the film actually felt like it was filmed in the wilds of Africa, with a variety of animal-life that one might actually expect to see. Hyenas, of course, are cast in a somewhat villainous light, but that's to be expected. Lions and hyenas just don't get along and try to kill each other as often as possible.
The film sort of wandered around until you couldn't figure out if there was a point or not, but then it kept showing you pretty things to distract you.
There were so many opportunities to jump on the over-crowded bandwagon and teach us about how racism is wrong and hunting things is evil, but it didn't really do either.
I'm not sure if that was on purpose or if it just got distracted by the lion walking across the screen.
So was the film any good?. Yes.
You see, White Lion, did something very important: it never forgot what it had in its favor.
It was about a lion and the animals he encountered growing up. White Lion is a scenic film and its really better if you just forget the plot entirely and enjoy it as such.
Also, it actually seemed to go to epic lengths to avoid being associated with The Lion King.

Cool Dog – 2010
The Expectation: A really bad movie with a distinct Homeward Bound II (which I didn't like, by the way)feel about it and bad acting, along with an animal which constantly stares at its off-screen handler and virtually ignores the boy it supposedly loves. Also, liberal application of Cats & Dogs style CGI and Cybermutt type humor. In short: a laughably bad attempt at cashing in on the fact that people love dogs and will watch anything with a dog on the cover.
The Reality: Is even worse. By eight minutes in, Cool Dog had cheerfully stolen easily recognizable bits from Benji (the things he did in most of his movies, not just that one), Because of Winn-Dixie (which was actually good, by the way. The movie, not the theft of its main selling points), Lassie, and virtually every other famous dog movie you can think of. Even the dog, a German Shepherd, is named Rainey. Now, the only excuse for doing that to a dog of that type is because the name sounds like Rinty (which is the call name of Rin Tin Tin in all his films). The CGI is non-existent (except for the shameless theft of Winn-Dixie expressions in the beginning) and the puppets used look like something from the 70s. Actually, this movie wanted really, really badly to be a movie from the 80s, with its repeatedly bad soundtrack choices drowning out any attempt at coherent thought (the “songs” were twice as loud as all other sounds and thus blasted their way out of the speakers and attacked your face with their badness). Perhaps the movie thought that if it beat you to death with its PG-version Hip-Hop, you might actually like it instead of realizing what it actually is. A really bad film.
Most of the editing in the beginning where all of the people “greet” the dog mostly make it look like they couldn't wait to be rid of him. The dog, for his part, seemed unable to get away from people fast enough. Any scene involving him standing near someone seemed to demand that they cling to his outrageously sturdy-looking leather collar like they were afraid he might suddenly decide to remove the camera-man's throat from the rest of his body.
The dog spent most of his time looking in seemingly random directions, like he couldn't care less what the people next to him were doing or what his off-screen handler wanted him to do.
He just couldn't be bothered to care. In fact, the only real tricks he seemed to need were galloping across the set and leaping onto nearby people who seemed to make a great effort to get him to jump on them while yelling things like “stay back”. Essentially, the dog needed to know how to come to his off-screen handler on cue and leap into people's arms like... well... an excitable dog.
Another thing the movie was shameless about (which was everything they did) was their aversion to retakes. It's like they were going “who cares if the 'attacking' dog knocked the person over and immediately scampered off to do something else?. It's not like anyone will notice that giant black leash tying him to the back of the speedboat that jumped onto and is supposedly hiding on of his own accord, right?. Surely no one will question the hole that magically appeared in the corner of that door in one cut so the dog can have a place to hide, yes?”. They weren't even TRYING to hide their many blunders.
It was almost like they are actually PROUD of them.
It didn't really help that everyone delivered their lines like a stunned giraffe, but at least I expected that.
Except that the lines (and their delivery) got increasingly worse, like they were trying to make me complain about it so a bunch of people who love children's films would leap all over me like rabid monkeys and beat me with a stick for complaining about bad acting in a kid's movie. Why should kid's movies be excused from having actors again?.
Speaking of worse, I expected a high level of stupidity from the movie, just from the title. And sure enough, there it was, right where I expected it. All the villains are morons and the dog magically has an unrealistic solution for each one. Again, the movie is without shame and rarely even makes an attempt to look like the dog could physically have done it somehow, unlike most movies.
Most movies want you to believe that the dog actually played some part in it, even though you should know that no animal can actually do whatever it is they're showing you.
Cool Dog isn't even trying to do that. It knows there was no dog behind the hay bales that got knocked over on the evil janitor and, by golly, you should too.
I expected stupid. And I expected that while it told you Rainey was just a dog, it would promptly turn around and have him do things no dog can actually do. I knew it would do that.
It just did it with such fragrant enthusiasm that it started to wear after awhile.
And, not only that, it kept taking things to a whole new level of stupid.
About every five minutes, I would be thinking “alright, that's it. There is no possible way for this to be any stupider”. Whereupon it would probably whirl 'round and slap me in the face for my optimism and jump off the stupid bridge into the river of Too Dumb To Live.
It seems like, after the dog has played a harmonica, a banjo and won a game of checkers, that things couldn't get anymore unrealistic, right?. You'd be wrong.
At one point, the dog actually steals a car and drives it like he's got a license. And what you're left thinking isn't “there's no way a dog can drive”. No. What you're thinking is “how did he start the car when nobody left any keys in it”. This is not a good sign.
I won't go into every detail of this movie's many failures, since that would take a lifetime.
I could pick apart every scene for hours, as they all have so many levels of stupid you have to wonder who actually thought this movie had any good ideas at all.
Instead, I'll skip right to the end, where you think the dog is dead and so does the medic (since apparently the medic is an idiot, which is entirely believable). Normally, one would be thinking “NO!!!... Why the dog!?. Why not the stupid kid!?. WHY?!”. But all you can think is “thank goodness the movie's nearly over. Maybe the kid will get another German Shepherd and actually name it Rinty this time and they'll live happily ever-after in the apartment building that doesn't allow pets”. But no, that might actually be a GOOD thing, which is something this movie avoids like the plague.
Unsurprisingly, the dog suddenly leaps back to life. “It's a miracle!” the medic exclaims, probably to hide his own incompetence.
Rather surprisingly, the movie seems to be happy with the whole Christian thing and allows it to peacefully coexist with their characters. It doesn't need them to be insane or atheist. They pray at the dinner table and everyone's sort of fine with that.
Also, it actually seems to believe that policemen are actually slightly smarter than toast, which makes them the most intelligent people in the movie.
Both of those things should make me incredibly happy with this film. But they don't.
You see, the underlying problem is that the only one who seems to realize how overly bad the movie is, is the dog who keeps trying to walk off the set and leave the shamelessly bad actors to themselves.
At one point, you can actually see the dog trying to walk off without the kid. But, because the boy is clinging to his collar like a drowning man, the dog can't leave. You can actually see the kid giving the collar a solid jerk to get the dog back on course with where he's supposed to be leading the kid to.
Don't get horribly confused, that's the general way to get your dog not to drag you around the block, but you shouldn't see it in a movie.
Especially in a scene where the dog is supposedly guiding the kid.
I could continue, but I won't.
You see, most movies I've hated, I can still sort of see how someone might like them.
But this one is in the category of Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Pterodactyl, neither of which have any excuse whatsoever to even exist.

Paulie – 1997
The Expectation: Some movie about a parrot who talks like a human trying to do that Lassie, Come Home thing, with probably more resemblance to Homeward Bound II than anything. Most likely very little to do with the parrot, truth be known and is really more about parents being mean, Americans businessmen being the root of all evil, and doing animal tests in labs is somewhat akin to lighting babies on fire. That's a bad thing, in case you didn't know.
The Reality: Well I'll be darned. It's actually an alright sort of film.
I was roped into watching this movie because of the many comparisons to it that people reviewing The Real Macaw made. Just on the grounds that people who didn't like the hundred-something parrot, kid on skateboard, treasure and piratey-goodness that is The Real Macaw liked Paulie, I didn't hold out much hope that anything good would happen at all.
Just from the parrot being named Paulie, it seemed like the movie was grasping for originality while at the same time reaching for that sense of familiar-overdoneness.
But that's the only reaching the movie seems to do. I mean, yes everything in it has been done before plot-wise, but it has a sense of freshness that doesn't feel overdone.
The acting is questionable, the storyline is a little wobbly and the characters are predictable and pretty flat and the filming occasionally coughs.
However, this movie knew its one and only strength, which was parrots who could do tricks. Being from the 90s, CGI had yet to be discovered in anything other than explosions and sandstorms and water. I'm not actually sure how they accomplished the movement of Paulie's mouth when he talked. It may have been a combination of primitive CGI and the bird moving his beak on his own.
Parrots, by nature, are excellent showmen. They love to be the center of attention and stirring things up is one of their favorite pastimes.
Paulie knew this and flew with it. It knew that Paulie was the star, not the actors, and should be treated as such. Nobody wanted to see puppets where a trained parrot and a little determination would have done just as well. And nobody wanted to just SEE a parrot.
They wanted to see a parrot walk, fly, spin, bob its head, snuggle up with someone, steal credit cards, and wear a hat while holding a fairy wand.
The humor was in what the parrot did, not the people or their lame attempts at comedy.
The parrot actually has a lot of parrotyness about him.
He's affectionate, but rude. Thoughtful, but full of himself. Honest, but also very cheeky.
And, because they blended all the aspects of parrot personality together so well, it actually worked.
If you replaced Paulie with, say, a dog, it just wouldn't work.
No good dog would ever bite you or steal your jewelry and a bad dog just isn't very likable.
A parrot, on the other hand, can be very good and still take all your valuables and demand that you give it fruit. Parrots are birds.
As such, they don't hold the same moral code as we like to pretend mammals do.
Parrots like to shred your books and ask for a stroke on the head in return for turning Shakespeare into confetti. It's not because they're evil, although they probably are. It's just because that's what they do.
They take shiny objects and throw them about, screech because they feel like it and just generally make a nuisance of themselves. And we love them for it.
Paulie knew all this. It took a bunch of tired characters and an over-used plot and scattered parrot tricks throughout and called it a movie.
The parrot tricks were many and varied and the movie never forgot that the only lasting audience for this film would be someone who loved watching parrots generally behave like parrots.
Is the movie good?. No.
Is it entertaining?. Yes.
Should you watch it?. Probably.
If nothing else, it's humorous and thoroughly enjoys itself, though it probably thinks its better than it actually is, just like a real parrot. And we love it for that.

So in a short review:
The Red Stallion: Has never heard of pace. Or interesting things in general.
Princess and the Pony: Couldn't figure out if it was a mindless spy movie or a modern fairytale with an important life lesson.
White Lion: would actually rather be a documentary and has very pretty scenery.
Paulie: Good, if you like watching parrots be parrots. The Real Macaw was better though, just not for the general parrotyness of it.

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