a theatre, film & pop culture review
I was rather bored with all but one of the nominees, but folks seem to think this is a really strong category this year, which is exemplified by the fact that there are a full five nominees for only the fourth time in the category’s 11-year history. Strange, but true.
Needless to say, the frontrunner here doesn’t have much of a lead: One of three Disney entries, Rich Moore’s Wreck-It Ralph follows the barrel-chested, small-brained bad-guy video-game character who, in a desperate effort to be well-liked by all the good-guy characters, enters another video game (a big no-no), befriends a “glitch,” and proceeds to learn how to open his heart thanks to this new spunky, young friend. Despite some clever old-school video game references (if you grew up in the ’80s, you’ll appreciate the cameos by Pac-Man, Sonic the Hedgehog, and the Super Mario Bros.) and a couple terrific performances (Jane Lynch, Mindy Kaling), the 3D film is visually dull and emotionally simplistic. Yet, it won the PGA and Annie, so those are the indicators we’re workin’ with here.
Pirates! Band of Misfits is by far the whackiest entry, but then again, it does come from Aardman Animations, the same studio that brought us the 2005 Oscar-winning Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit, and we know the Academy loves it some Wallace & Gromit. This rollicking tale of high-seas hijinks is a mix of English humor (Queen Victoria and Charles Darwin are (the funniest) side characters) and a posh (instead of drunk) Jack Sparrow-like buffoon voiced by none other than the fop-master himself, Hugh Grant. (There’s also a rather sad cameo by Mr. Mercury-Poisoning, Jeremy Piven.) Some delightful jokes about evolution and the English monarchy are sprinkled throughout, but really, the pirates and their beloved Polly are just happy to be at the party.
Golden Globe-winner Brave is the only Pixar film with a female heroine (take a moment to let that settle in) — and it’s the most conventional to boot. Coincidence? Well, let’s consider: it starts off nice and feisty, with a fabulously plucky and redheaded tomboy-princess who just wants to shoot arrows and not have to wear dresses (while being menaced by her hilariously tiny and devilish triplet brothers — the comic highlight of the film). So far, so good. But then, her mom turns into a bear (?), and it turns out she just wants to be like her mom after all (feminine, gentle, refined). So much for Miss Independent. But as per usual with the winning team of Pixar and Disney, the film looks great, with colors that pop and eyes as wide and as blue as the sea. It doesn’t hurt that it was also the biggest box office hit of the bunch, but it also doesn’t really help either: Brave isn’t going to win.
Sam Fell and Chris Butler’s ParaNorman, about an off-beat, friendless outcast who saves his town from a zombie attack is essentially an amalgamation of Coraline (his parents and snarky-stupid sister don’t “get” him), The Sixth Sense (he sees dead people), and (the superior) Frankenweenie (zombies, Frankenstein… it’s a veritable Halloween party up in here). There’s even a touch of The Crucible thrown in for good measure (who doesn’t like a good witch hunt?). The 3D stop-motion animation is visually clever with lots of fun horror movie references — George Romero being a favorite, of course — and the film has garnered eleven awards from various critics circles, which is far more than any of the other nominees. Yet it would seem Norman’s not giving Ralph much competition.
Tim Burton hasn’t won an Oscar yet. Isn’t that strange? While I’ve never been a huge fan, I was won over with this lonely but lovely tale of a misunderstood little boy (hello again, ParaNorman) who, devastated by the death of his beloved pooch Sparky, devises a way to bring him back to life, all Mary Shelly-style. A stop-motion animated feature based on Burton’s 1984 short film of the same name, the lushly black-and-white Frankenweenie boasts Burton’s trademark style of goth-quirk with twitchy characters with skeletal limbs and pool-like eyes encircled with dark rings. This eccentric tale of a tender bond between a boy and his dog, sprinkled with winking homages to classic monster movies, is the one possible spoiler to Ralph‘s big night. Let’s hope Sparky comes back with a big bite.