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Stop-motion animation is refreshing change of pace

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Jason Wallis

Posted: Friday, May 4, 2012 7:32 am

This week, we venture even further into “The Cabin in the Woods” with an in-depth examination of the film’s deft deconstruction of gender-based archetypes. I kid, I kid ... as much as it would please me to spend the next many weeks harping on (thus far) the year’s best film, surely it is time to move on.

We shall do so this week with a (very) brief look at the surprisingly engaging kiddie flick “The Pirates! Band of Misfits,” as well as a quick rundown of the summer titles slated for review over the course of the next couple months. (My madness-inducing work schedule and generally complicated personal life will probably prevent me from reviewing more than one movie per week, as I sometimes like to do during the summer and awards season crunch times, but I will try to shoe-horn in an extra review or two whenever possible.)

And yes, you can expect a glowing review of “The Avengers” next time. Haven’t seen it yet, but c’mon ... you know that thing’s gonna rock.

I tend to shy away from reviewing family films, and the reasons are threefold. One, I am neither a child nor a parent, and do not fit within most of these films’ target demographic. Two, there is rarely much to say about them, and I don’t like to “pad” reviews when I can avoid it. And three, most of them are awful, and serve no purpose other than to turn our youths into mindless zombies with damaged retinas due to too much 3D exposure. So you’ll excuse me if I’m less than enthusiastic about the state of contemporary family entertainment, and prefer to ignore the issue rather than constantly rant and rave about it.

That said, there are few things more satisfying than a high-quality family-oriented film that exhibits genuine charm and wit. Bonus points if it’s well-animated, and appears to be the product of actual effort and innovation. “The Pirates! Band of Misfits” fits the bill on all fronts, and is probably the best U.S. or U.K.-produced, non-Pixar animated film I’ve seen since “Despicable Me.

The stop-motion animation is a refreshing change of pace from the traditional CGI that populates the vast majority of family films, and the characters (including such historical figures as Charles Darwin, Queen Victoria and even Joseph “The Elephant Man” Merrick, who make appearances throughout this tale of a down-on-his-luck pirate attempting to claim the elusive title of Pirate of the Year) are well-rendered, both by the animators and a voice cast that includes Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman and Imelda Staunton. And as directed by Peter Lord (a cohort of Nick Park and a longtime partner in Aardman Animation), the film will appeal to adults — perhaps even more so than their kids, who may be put off by a story set in 19th century London that focuses on dead people they’ve never heard of.

I usually do an annual summer preview ranking my most anticipated releases, but honestly, I’m not sure how excited I am about most of the season’s general release schedule. There are certainly some very cool titles on the horizon, but it looks like we’re going to have to wade through a lot of trash to get to the sweet stuff. Instead, please refer to this tentative review schedule for the first half of summer:

“The Avengers” (now playing) — As I said, there’s just no way this movie is going to disappoint. Positive word of mouth is spreading like wildfire, and with Joss Whedon (co-writer and producer of “Cabin in the Woods”) in the director’s chair, I’m inclined to believe the hype.

“Dark Shadows” (opens May 11) — No. Just … no. I’m an avowed Tim Burton fanboy, but this uneasy mix of slapstick and generation-gap “comedy” looks like it’s going to be a chore to sit through. Maybe I’ve just been thrown for a loop because I was expecting a drastically different tone and overall approach to the material, but for whatever reason, the trailer for this film may the single most off-putting preview of the season.

“The Dictator" (May 16) or “Battleship” (May 18) — I have very low expectations for both of these, so my choice will depend on a) which movie gets “better” reviews, and b) which is the shortest. I’m betting on “The Dictator,” Sacha Baron Cohen’s send-up of Middle Eastern tyrants and post-9/11 America, but who’s to say?

“Men in Black 3” (May 25) — The first sequel was terrible and the original wasn’t even all that great to begin with, but hey, why not? It looks like Josh Brolin absolutely nailed his Tommy Lee Jones impression, so at least there’s that … .

“Piranha 3DD” (June 1) — Am I ashamed that this is easily one of my five most anticipated summer releases? Nah. The first one was a whole lot of naughty fun, and I see no reason why this allegedly amped-up sequel should be much different. Drunken partying, boobs, dead teenagers, severed appendages … and all in 3D! What’s not to like here? Nothin’, that’s what.

“Prometheus” (June 8) — After watching all the trailers (some more than once), I’m still not entirely sure what, exactly, Ridley Scott’s return to the “Alien” universe is supposed to be about. But no matter. The film looks polished and clearly makes use of Scott’s unique eye for set design, and Michael Fassbender is on board as the resident android. Since that last bit ensures that my girlfriend will make me see it anyway, I might as well log a review.

“Rock of Ages” (June 15) — I first saw the previews for this rock-oriented romance months ago, but not much stands out in my mind. I do, however, recall the presence of Tom Cruise, and the prospect of him singing will be enough to get me in the seat.

“Brave” (June 22) — It’s Pixar, and you know Pixar means quality. “Cars 2” may have been a step in the wrong direction, but they have still failed to flat-out disappoint after nearly 20 years in the animation business. And this original story — catered to the girls, for a change — may be one of their most innovative efforts yet.

“Magic Mike” (June 29) — Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaugey star in director Steven Soderbergh’s look at the world of male strippers. Again, my lady friend will drag me to it. But since the alternative is the “G.I. Joe” sequel, I don’t think I’ll put up too much of a fight.

Jason Wallis is a News-Sentinel copy editor. He can be reached at jasonwallis@comcast.net.

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