Paddington (USA/UK: 2014): The polite bear won me over

Michael Bond's classic bear keeps his classic look.

Michael Bond’s classic bear keeps his classic look.

True to the storied bear’s origin, funny and cinematically sophisticated, Paul King’s Paddington is a children’s film that actually works. Great care obviously went into the production, with effects placed into a children’s live action film at levels of quality I have not seen since Hugo. What is “real” and what is the effects team’s imagination blend almost seamlessly.

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Big Hero Six: (USA: 2014): Animation for the boys

Big Hero Six is Disney’s latest foray into the boys’ animation film market. If it can be compared to any recent release, it reminded me of How to Train Your Dragon. Like that movie, the adolescent hero of the story, Hiro (voiced by Ryan Potter), must overcome grief, parental loss and thrusts himself into adulthood quickly to save his city. The emotional weight of the story is carried by his feelings for his lost older brother, Tadashi (Daniel Henney), who dies in a fire trying to save his professor. Whether his memory will inspire Hiro to be one of the good guys, or his loss will turn him towards vengeance is the major conflict of the movie, which has far too few conflicts to sustain it for a full 90 minutes.

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The Book of Life (USA: 2014): A Love Story for the Ages

Jorge Gutierrez’ The Book of Life is a visually stunning animated feature that balances action-adventure and romance themes to tell an epic tale of Mexico. I don’t think I’ve seen so much vibrant color in an animated film outside of Rio. The visual basis for the film is Mexican folk art, specially the dioramas, tree of life statuary and paper mache dolls associated with the Day of the Dead celebration. These rich and brilliant colors take us through a tale of love that becomes so grand that everyone living and dead has a stake in the question of who Maria (Zoe Saldana) marries.

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The Boxtrolls (USA: 2014): Occupy Cheesebridge?

It’s not often that I want to rate a children’s film based on its politics. But since The Box Trolls is a movie about a human boy who convinces a socially despised and persecuted group to fight back, a political consideration is in order. Visually, the movie is outstanding, if a little dark with its brown color palette. There is probably enough goofiness in the movie to amuse children, and there is a little bit of a love story with a message about the importance parenting and being yourself that should make it feel good. But it doesn’t succeed. Those messages end up looking like small curds when what we want is a big slice of cheese.

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