Many have called this the worst movie of the year. I haven't seen "The Host" yet, but I'll compare the two of them if I ever end up seeing that pile of garbage. It's kind of difficult to see exactly who would enjoy this kind of thing. Most of the characters are just awful, on a level that most real people couldn't get to even if they tried. We have Kate Winslet as the world's most superficial woman, who is horrified by Hugh Jackman's testicles...on his neck. We've got Naomi Watts as a mom homeschooling her child...with an incestuous lust for her own son. We've got Anna Faris as a woman ready to take the next step with her boyfriend...by begging him to crap on her. Literally. It only gets worse from there. It's getting a higher review than it deserves, but there's clearly potential. If thought had been put into this, it would have been hysterical. The biggest loser out of the entire group is poor Chloe Moretz, whose role is a girl who gets her period for the first time while the men in her life completely freak the hell out. Considering that scene starts with two pre-pubescent kids feeling each other up, it's the sickest sexual act between kids since "Kids." It's at that moment that this movie goes from purely gross to possibly illegal. It's also eerily similar to her role in the horror film "Carrie," except with less bratty teenage girls taunting her in a shower.
Look on the bright side: it's a hell of a lot better than Tim Burton's terrible "Alice in Wonderland" sequel. That movie, aside from a good leading lady, was an awful film that focused more on spectacle that anything else. The visuals themselves made no sense, and nothing worked. Here the problem with the visuals has been fixed, and everything does look quite good, even if the humans in the film don't quite fit with the psychedelic setting. For a Disney movie, there's a strangely sexual element going on here. James Franco's Oz is controlled entirely by his innate horniness, and it is this that ends up causing every conflict in the movie. It's his affair with a circus girl that causes him to be chased by her brother (or boyfriend, I can't tell) into the hot air balloon that takes him to Oz. From there, he seduces one of the three witches, which causes that one to eventually become the Wicked Witch of the West (how this happens is shockingly stupid). She in turn makes all the bad things in the movie happen. France isn't as bad as people have been saying: it makes complete sense in the context of the film that the great Wizard of Oz's one weakness is a piece of ass. Then we have our three witches, played by Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams. Psychologically, Williams is the Madonna and Weisz is the whore. The former is an innocent little princess while the latter spends most of the film trying to get into Franco's pants. The entire conflict between the three, where most of the action ends up happening, is a direct result of a triple-catfight for Franco. It's Twilight in reverse, with an extra suitor, and they're all related to each other. This leads to a LOT of sexual references and some truly hysterical wordplay between the witches and Franco. Weisz literally appears for the first time saying that she'll serve Franco any way he wants. It's all a little bit weird for a kid's movie. It's almost comforting when the classic Disney morality of "ugly people are always evil" kicks in, and the Wicked Witch is attacked by a mob, for being ugly. Fantastic message for the kiddies. As Michelle Williams says, "your outsides reflect your insides." Whether deliberately or just the fault of the director or script, only Kunis is any way likable out of the three. Both Weisz and Williams are annoying as hell, treating the material like pure soap opera, annoying on a Padme Amidala level. Kunis is the only one who survives this. Oz literally seduces her in minutes and then tosses her away in a manner that would make even John Mayer or Kevin Federline jealous. Luckily Kunis is a far better actress than the material she's given, and so she inevitably becomes the character the audience likes. It's sad that to date, this is the closest thing to a serious role she's been given. A big complaint from other critics was how little this one resembled the original movie. That one was a cheery musical, while this one is a fantasy movie with aspects of horror at times. Let me be clear: this movie isn't appropriate for children. There's a surprising amount of jump scares in this one. Whenever the film tries to pay tribute to the original, it just falls flat. A surprise appearance from the Cowardly Lion here, an army of Scarecrows there, and a scene where Oz flirts with who eventually becomes Auntie Em (this is a prequel) all don't work. A sudden musical sequence with the Munchkins, easily the worst thing about the original, made me irrationally hate little people for a few solid minutes. Luckily, Oz actually shuts them up before they can finish the song. Sam Raimi was the WRONG guy to make this movie. He's made his forte on either horror movies like "Evil Dead" (the remake's coming out next month) or superhero films like "Spider-Man." Without the necessary fantasy chops in order to be able to make something like this (Brad Bird would have been a great choice), the film always feels like "Spider-Man" on acid and with half the action. That sort of camp works with a movie like that, but with Oz, it needs a bit more spectacle and a lot less romance. I did like the flying monkey and the glass girl, though.
It seems that in recent years that the former king of animated films, Pixar, steadily lost its own luster and now spends its years churning out sequels no one needed (Cars 2) to original stories aping off old Disney cartoons (the severely overrated Brave). Oddly enough, it's Disney itself, the King Of Awful Movies itself, who's been recently having a strange glut of good movies (Avengers, Wreck-It Ralph). DreamWorks, meanwhile, was off by itself churning out random films, usually about animals, and full of pop culture references. This worked most of the time with the first Shrek film and underrated flicks like Antz and Over the Hedge. DreamWorks' only bad films so far are its sequels, and they spent the last few years doing nothing but them. Now, they and Pixar have switched places, and it's DreamWorks making the mostly good animated movies. Like this one, a mix of the best Pixar films and a Looney Tunes cartoon. What's extremely fascinating about this film is that there's no villain. There's an antagonist in nature itself and the wild animals trying to kill our caveman family, but there isn't a single character with evil intent. The closest you can get is the caveman Grug's constant attempts to kill his mother-in-law, but that's understandable. That was a joke. The Croods themselves are a Neanderthal family, proudly referring to themselves as cavemen, who emerge only to get food and then go right back to that cave. Naturally, the cave-daughter, played by the always amazing Emma Stone, is curious about what else there is. Her dad, Grug, as played by the King of Insane Actors Nicolas Cage, constantly tries to shut her up by telling stories that involve curious little girls who get viciously murdered. Then one day Emma Stone meets a Cro-Magnon (the scientific way to refer to the class of human directly before we showed up) played by Ryan Reynolds, called Guy, and all hell breaks loose. Namely, a giant continental shift that forces all of them out of their cave. The plot is extremely simplistic, being nothing but one chase scene after another, and hysterical descriptions of things that we take for granted ("This is called a pet. It's an animal you don't kill," says Guy. Retorts the grandma: "We call those children."). All of that simplicity works, though. There's no convoluted plot, nothing to distract us from the family. There's literally less than ten characters with speaking roles in the entire film. This may be why critics don't seem to like this one much: it's so damn simplistic. Mixed in with all this is the surprisingly violent interactions between the Croods and the rest of the world. They're merely hungry and stupid, and their constant attempts to either get food or not become food themselves results in their respective asses getting kicked by the local wildlife. There's something oddly relaxing about how one of them gets hit with a giant piece of corn and then somehow gets the rest of them stuck to that same piece of giant corn. Guy himself is grossed out by them, and he's the ancient equivalent of a genius, having discovered fire, shoes, traps, hunting, music, and a sloth he calls Belt ("He's my navigator. He also holds my pants up."). The sloth happens to be the main crowd-pleaser of the movie. The kids in attendance went nuts whenever he made a snarky comment, and his trademark "DA DA DAAAAAAA" whenever something important happened. When the Croods start trying to come up with new inventions to outdo Guy, the results are predictably pathetic (referring to the first wig: "This is a rug. It rhymes with Grug." Referring to a giant rock that doesn't move: "This is a ride. It rhymes with Grug"). This is where it seems like one big Looney Tunes cartoon, and does it a hell of a lot better than "Space Jam" ever could. All in all, much like "Wreck-It Ralph," I liked this a hell of a lot more than I expected to. It's nothing but a cave family trying to survive. Emma Stone in particular needs to be singled out: her cave-girl is everything "Brave"'s protagonist should've been. On a final adorable note: at the very end of the film, that sloth reappears and before chanting his signature "DA DA DAAAAAAA," he brings the cave-baby with him and then teaches her, and the audience, how to yell it properly. This movie gets right something the otherwise decent "Puss in Boots" did: much like that cat which constantly said "OOOOOOOOO," you need a catch-phrase. "DA DA DAAAAAAAA" is a fantastic addition.
I can just imagine it now: the execs at Paramount sadly watching all of the movies aimed for teenagers flopping, one after the other. Aside from Twilight or "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," the teen genre is one that films should mostly stay the hell away from unless they are of a "Superbad" or the aforementioned "Wallflower" quality. Instead of putting a little more effort into the next attempt, Paramount clearly decided to simply go the complete other direction and take a kid's movie as close to an "R" rating as possible. And make a Nickelodeon movie to boot. And they got pretty damn close to getting it right. To the movie's unending credit, the main cast are actually a bit too good for this sort of thing. Victoria Justice is actually much better than I could have ever expected. Despite being several years older than an actual teenager, she actually does hit the mannerisms of a teenage girl perfectly. Even as piss-poor as the script is, which I'll get to, she still redeems herself. Jane Levy, playing the supporting role of "bitchy best friend," is supremely annoying, but in a surprisingly bearable way. For whatever reason, Johnny Knoxville's in this movie too. Apart from them and the two male romantic leads played by Thomas Mann of "Project X" and an Asian guy whose name I don't know, the rest of the film's cast is complete ass. There's a stereotypical bad-boy rock star type, but he's given nothing to do other than understandably pine for Justice. Chelsea Handler plays the slutty mom of Justice's character, and should've won a Razzie. Much like most movies for teenagers, it completely screws up when it comes to how teenagers talk and interact. Jane Levy's character is given most of the crappy dialogue, unfortunately. The plot is also obvious from the beginning, and I literally predicted every plot point almost exactly the way it happened. So yeah, this is decidedly average. Justice has potential, and if she gets lucky, she may even be an actual movie star someday.
One of Disney's more recent trademarks is to take a world that seems ordinary and literally bring it to life. This first happened in the excellent "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" for cartoons, then most of the Pixar movies (toys, bugs, monsters in the closet, cars, rats, you name it). This formula has essentially stopped with Pixar's colossal fall in 2011, and now ironically its the mainstream Disney itself that's here making a film Pixar would normally make.
This time around, it's video games, and those words associated with any film is almost always a bad thing. Disney itself was the last offender, with the terrible "Prince of Persia" still fresh in my mind. This one has the courtesy to merely have all these video game characters as cameos, and set the whole thing in an arcade. The surge protectors with all their outlets becomes the hub of the arcade world, called Game Central Station, which can then travel through power cords to other games. In concept, it's pretty brilliant, and it mostly works in execution.
Disney itself has been on a roll lately. "The Avengers" is Disney, so is Star Wars and Indiana Jones since last year. It's rather smartly decided to drop the cuddly and cutesy act which hasn't been working for years, and simply start making things that people actually like for a change. Case in point, this movie literally appeals to everyone at once, and surprisingly well. The kiddies get the action sequences and visuals, the teenagers get the vaguely sexual humor that makes up the film (yes, it gets a little risque at some moments), and the adults get to point at each other and identify the video game cameos. And for the critics who think video games are responsible for all the evil in the world, there's a moment where Wreck-It Ralph himself has a panic attack and literally screams at a player about how violent video games have become.
At this rate, one of my only gripes is that the real video game characters didn't have much to do other than announce their presence. All of the major characters are made up, and parodies of these characters. Ralph himself is obviously modeled after Donkey Kong, for instance, and he goes to games aping not Halo and Call of Duty themselves, but the numerous terrible games that have been imitating them. Likewise, the other major video game is a parody of every ripoff of Mario Kart that has existed.
The story itself is simple at first, but slowly grows more complex. Wreck-It Ralph is a villain who simply terrorizes his game world because its his job. In fact, all video game villains are just acting. So he goes off to get a medal, which he thinks will somehow make people like him. That's about as much of the story as I can reveal, since it gets very complex later on.
The voice acting is surprisingly stellar. John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman bounce off each other perfectly as Ralph and a glitched secret character in the Mario Kart ripoff. Kenny the page from "30 Rock" and Jane Lynch play the role of the Mario character and the badass space marine respectively.
Another little thing I really enjoyed is how all of the elements of video games are actually portrayed right in this film. Secret areas, glitches, cheat codes, all of them are done perfectly and all benefit the plot. It's nice to see a movie where someone was clearly thinking the whole way through. Add in the political satire (racism against "bad guys" and glitches, even a brief and rather mean remark making fun of airport security).
So yeah, I wholeheartedly recommend this one. It ends exactly the way I expected it to, with a slightly backwards message, but overall, everything works out. Disney has had a good streak so far. I'm curious to see if the next one will be just as good.
One final little tidbit that I find ironic: this movie was made by Disney's animation studio. The same one that has made EVERY classic Disney movie. Seriously, it took them almost a century to make a good movie?