Friday, November 22, 2013
I've seen two objectively subpar animated movies in the past ten days - Alpha and Omega and Escape from Planet Earth - and given them both three stars on Letterboxd.
My son saw the Netflix ad for a third objectively subpar animated movie - Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil - pop up after Planet Earth, so he's in there watching it now. I'm in here, typing this, to prevent myself from giving the supposedly terrible Hoodwinked sequel three stars as well.
Something seems clear: I have a harder time recognizing mediocrity in an animated movie than elsewhere.
It's three out of five, not three out of four, but the fact remains that I am giving a passing grade to movies that should probably flunk the test of being worth my time.
I'm entirely too comfortable with rewarding an animated movie for being a "good try." I know that Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks represent really daunting standards to live up to, both in quality of writing and quality of animation, so I'm acknowledging the handicaps that other movies start out with. But that doesn't mean that all other movies deserve the star rating that translates as a modest recommendation.
There are a handful of reasons I think I'm as easy as I am on these movies:
1) The animation, especially these days, is good enough to contain some "wow" moments. Plus, I know how hard they worked on every little detail. Most animated movies are a labor of somebody's love. It's much easier to mail in a live action film.
2) Animated movies tend to get top-flight vocal talent, mostly because it's an easy paycheck and does not carry any particular stigma. Studios will be glad to learn that their money is well spent, as I do tend to be impressed by the fact that William Shatner (who, let's be honest, will do anything these days) voices the villain in Planet Earth.
3) Animated movies are usually smart enough (i.e. safe enough) to stick to conventional plotting with familiar character types. With the amount of money invested in the polished final product, it does not pay to take risks on the story, nor is it possible to slide any remotely objectionable content through.
Vanilla, though, should not be worth three stars. It should max out at 2.5, even if it's pretty well-made vanilla.
However, as I've written before (though never specifically about animated films), I feel like giving something 2.5 or less means it's a thumbs down, an entirely too grumpy dismissal of a movie that's okay to pretty good.
In fact, the last animated movie I remember really slamming was one that did take an apparent risk with its plot -- an impulse I probably should have rewarded, except I thought it was just too wrong-headed of a narrative choice. That movie was Brave, which offered us some cockamamie plot about people turning into bears. I gave it 2.5 stars, but these days tend to think of it as a two-star movie.
So am I saying I like the generic underdog hero story and panoply of colorful sidekicks better in Alpha and Omega, Escape From Planet Earth and (let's throw in one more I saw earlier this year that fits the description) Planet 51? Are they better just because they don't make any egregious errors? Are they better just because the plot was deemed safe enough by every interested financial backer?
I'm a slow learner, apparently, because this is not the first time I've tried to get tougher with my star ratings. It's not even the first time this year. You may recall that back in April, I wrote this post after seeing Trance, frustrated by the instinct that made me want to award it three stars. And I still haven't figured out how to award lower when movies deserve it -- at least not consistently, and especially not with animation.
Maybe this time, I'll do as I write. "It didn't offend me" should no longer be the standard for what gets three stars.
The generosity ends ... now. Again.