Review: ‘Hotel Transylvania: Transformania,’ starring the voices of Brian Hull, Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Brad Abrell, Steve Buscemi, David Spade, Keegan-Michael Key and Kathryn Hahn

January 14, 2022

by Carla Hay

Blobby (voiced by Genndy Tartakovsky), Wanda (voiced by Molly Shannon), Wayne (voiced by Steve Buscemi), Griffin the Invisible Man (voiced by David Spade), Ericka (voiced by Kathryn Hahn), Dracula (voiced by Brian Hull), Jonathan (voiced by Andy Samberg), Mavis (voiced by Selena Gomez), Frank (voice by Brad Abrell), Eunice (voiced by Fran Drescher), Murray (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key) with (pictured at far right, in the front row) Dennis (voiced by Asher Blinkoff) and Winnie (voiced by Zoe Berri) in “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” (Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Animation/Amazon Content Services)

“Hotel Transylvania: Transformania”

Directed by Derek Drymon and Jennifer Kluska

Culture Representation: Taking place in Transylvania and South America, the animated film “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with one African American and two Latinos) depicting monsters and humans.

Culture Clash: Count Dracula is ready to retire and pass Hotel Transylvania along to his daughter Mavis, but a mishap with Van Helsing’s invention changes Mavis’ human husband Johnny into a monster and Dracula and his monster friends into humans.

Culture Audience: Aside from obviously appealing to “Hotel Transylvania” movie series fans, “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in lightweight animated films with cliché-ridden and predictable plots.

Johnny (voiced by Andy Samberg) and Van Helsing (voicd by Jim Gaffigan) in “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” (Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Animation/Amazon Content Services)

It’s never really a good sign when a movie studio takes a sequel film from one of its most popular franchise series and sells it to a streaming service. It usually means that the movie is considered not commercially appealing enough for the studio to release the film. It’s also not a good sign when two of franchise’s biggest stars decide not to be part of this sequel.

That’s what happened when Sony Pictures Animation dumped “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” (the fourth movie in the “Hotel Transylvania” hotel series) by selling it to Amazon, which is releasing it on Prime Video. (China is the only country where Sony will release the film in theaters.) It’s easy to see why Sony thought this movie was substandard. It’s also easy to see why original “Hotel Transylvania” franchise stars Adam Sandler and Kevin James took a hard pass on being involved in this movie, whether it was because they weren’t going to paid what they wanted and/or legal issues. (Sandler and James both have lucrative movie deals with Netflix.)

Genndy Tartakovsky—who directed the first three “Hotel Transylvania” movies and co-wrote 2018’s “Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation”—co-wrote “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” with Amos Vernon and Nunzio Randazzo. The first two movies in the series are 2012’s “Hotel Transylvania” and 2015’s “Hotel Transylvania 2.” Derek Drymon and Jennifer Kluskais directed “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania,” which is not a completely terrible movie. But in terms of its story, the movie is lazy and not very interesting.

As the fourth movie in the series, “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” had the potential to go on an original adventure with the franchise’s well-established characters. Instead, the movie is filled with over-used clichés that have already been in other films. “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” is essentially a not-very-funny comedy with this not-very-original concept: Two characters with opposite personalities are forced to travel together and find out how much they have to rely on each other in order to reach a shared goal. Relationships and characters that could have been developed are ignored or shoved to the margins of the story. The ending of the movie is also kind of weak and abrupt.

“Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” is also one of those sequels that doesn’t adequately explain some of the backstories of some of the main characters. If people need to watch one movie to prepare for “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania,” it should be “Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation.” That’s the movie that introduced monster hunters Van Helsing (voiced by Jim Gaffigan) and his sassy great-granddaughter Ericka (voiced by Kathryn Hahn), who started off as enemies to the “Hotel Transylvania” protagonists and ended up becoming their friends. And in Ericka’s case, more than friends, because she and widower Count Dracula fell in love with each other.

The voice of Count Dracula was originated by Sandler in the first three “Hotel Transylvania” movies. In “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania,” Dracula (voiced by Brian Hull) and Ericka (who is a human) are now happily married, but it’s barely explained in this sequel how they got together. The prejudice between monsters and humans, which fueled much of the conflicts in the previous “Hotel Transylvania” movies, is only used as a flimsy plot device in “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania.” Dracula’s vampire daughter Mavis (voiced by Selena Gomez) is married to a human named Jonathan, nicknamed Johnny (voiced by Andy Samberg), who’s had a hard time getting reluctant acceptance from Dracula, who thinks Johnny is too goofy for practical-minded Mavis.

But now that Dracula is married to a human, “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” does not do anything to explore this new aspect of Dracula’s life. Instead, the movie’s story goes back to Dracula disapproving of Johnny, which was the basis of the first “Hotel Transylvania” movie, when Johnny and Mavis began dating and fell in love with each other. In “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania,” Johnny and Mavis have been married for several years and have a son named Dennis (voiced by Asher Blinkoff), who is about 8 or 9 years old and who has very little screen time in the movie.

In “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania,” Dracula still owns and operates Hotel Transylvania (a hotel for monsters), but he wants to retire so that he can have more time to spend with Ericka. Dracula has decided that he is going to give ownership of the hotel to Mavis and Johnny. Mavis, who has hearing superpowers, overhears Dracula telling Ericka about his retirement plans, which he says he’s going to announce at the hotel’s 125th anniversary celebration.

Mavis is excited to find out that she and Johnny will be taking over ownership of the hotel. She tells Johnny, who’s also elated. Johnny immediately comes up with ideas of how he’s going to change the hotel.

When Johnny enthusiastically shares these ideas with Dracula, his father-in-law is so turned off, he changes his mind about wanting Johnny to co-own the hotel. Instead of telling the truth about why he changed his mind, Dracula lies to Johnny by telling him that there’s an ancient law that says hotels for monsters can only be owned by monsters. At the hotel’s 125th anniversary party, Dracula lies to everyone and says his big announcement is that the hotel will get a new restroom in the lobby.

A dismayed Johnny then asks for help from Van Helsing, who has been living as a retired eccentric who tinkers with inventions. Van Helsing has an invention called a Monsterfication Ray, which can turn humans into random monsters. The device looks like a long ray gun with a giant crystal as its source of power. Van Helsing uses the Monsterfication Ray on Johnny, who is turned into a giant green monster resembling a dragon. Even though his physical appearance has drastically changed, Johnny has the same personality, and he can still talk like a human.

Dracula is furious about Johnny’s transformation into a monster because he still doesn’t want to give Johnny ownership of the hotel. And so, Dracula angrily goes over to Van Helsing’s place to take the Monsterfication Ray and use it to turn Johnny back into a human. But the plan backfires when Dracula shoots the Monsterfication Ray at Johnny, the lasers on the ray ricochet off walls, and the rays accidentally hit Dracula, who turns into a human being as a result. Much to Dracula’s horror, he is now looks and feels like an old man, with a balding head, a stomach paunch and weaker physical strength.

Dracula’s four closest monster friends—good-natured Frankenstein (voiced by Brad Abrell, replacing James in the role), worrisome werewolf Wayne (voiced by Steve Buscemi), fun-loving mummy Murray (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key) and sarcastic invisible man Griffin (voiced by David Spade)—have all witnessed this debacle. Dracula is terrified about Mavis finding out about him turning into a human and Johnny into a monster. Dracula orders his friends not to tell Mavis.

Somehow, when Dracula used the Monsterfication Ray, the device got broken, and the crystal no longer works. Van Helsing says that the crystals used for the Monsterfication Ray are extremely rare. Through a tracking device, Van Helsing finds out that the nearest crystal is in South America. Guess where Dracula and Johnny are going for most of the movie?

Meanwhile, a poorly written part of the movie has Frankenstein, Wayne, Murray and Griffin turning into humans too. It’s shown in an awkward scene where the hotel’s DJ—a green blob called Blobby (voiced by Tartakovsky)—gives the four pals a drink that has something in it which automatically turns them into humans. Blobby consumes the drink too, but he’s just turn to a green gelatin mold.

Frankenstein changes into a vain “hunk” with a tall and muscular body, Wayne transforms into a very hairy man, and Murray becomes an old man with rolls of body flab. Griffin is exposed as someone who only wore eyeglasses, so he’s naked the entire time that he’s human. Griffin’s nakedness is used for some dimwitted comedy in the movie.

Just like Dracula and Murray, Griffin is horrified that he looks old and out-of-shape as a human. This movie has not-so-subtle and problematic messages that looking like an elderly human being is a terrible fate that should be avoided at all costs. It’s the closest reason to explain why Frankenstein suddenly becomes an egotistical jerk over how he looks as a young and virile human being. This drastic personality change still comes across as too phony, and it doesn’t serve the story very well.

Mavis, Ericka, Frankenstein’s shrewish wife Eunice (voiced by Fran Drescher) and Wayne’s loving wife Wanda (voiced by Molly Shannon) find out that Dracula and Johnny have gone to South America. And so, Mavis, Ericka, Eunice, Wanda, Frankenstein, Wayne, Murray, Griffin and several of Wayne and Wanda’s werewolf kids go to South America to find Johnny and Dracula. It’s never really explained why some but not all of the werewolf kids (Wayne and Wanda have dozens of children) are along for the ride or why these kids even need to be there in the first place.

Meanwhile, much of “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” shows repetitive mishaps that Dracula and Johnny go through as they wander around Amazon River areas in South America in search of the crystal. Dracula has a hard time adjusting to life as a human. He no longer has to fear being in the sunlight, but he’s frustrated that he gets tired, thirsty and sweaty on this grueling trip. When he jumps into a waterfall that Johnny warns could be dangerous, Dracula gets bitten by several piranhas and is shocked that he can’t recover quickly from these injuries.

Johnny is the same cheerful goofball, but he still gets on Dracula’s nerves. Dracula is also jealous that Johnny now has more physical strength than Dracula does. It goes on and on like this for too long in the movie. As an example of how “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” stretches out the banality, there’s a scene with Johnny singing a Spanish version of Wham!’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” during a bus ride that Johnny and Dracula take with some local people. It’s intended to be hilarious, but it just comes across as dull and cringeworthy.

Visually, “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” does nothing special, although the movie makes good use of vibrant hues in the outdoor South America scenes. The cast members’ performances are adequate. Thankfully, movie clocks in at just 98 minutes, but the story is filled with too many recycled tropes of two opposite personalities stuck together on a road trip; the hunt for a treasured item; and the central characters being chased by people who want to find them.

“Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” doesn’t have much use for the adult female characters, who basically just worry about and react to what their husbands are doing. And because Dracula is separated from his four closest monster pals for most of the movie, that friendship rapport is largely missing from “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania.” This rapport was one of the highlights of previous “Hotel Transylvania” movies.

The movie shows almost nothing about what Dracula is like as a grandfather to Dennis. Wayne and Wanda have a daughter named Winnie (voiced by Zoe Berri, replacing Sadie Sandler in the role), who is Dennis’ best friend/love interest, but that relationship is also essentially ignored in the movie. Instead, some the werewolf children, who do not have names or individual personalities, get unnecessary screen time when they tag along during the trip to South America.

Some people might enjoy “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” if they want to see another “Hotel Transylvania” movie about Dracula and Johnny trying to navigate their tension-filled relationship. “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” is being marketed as the final movie in the “Hotel Transylvania” series. If that’s true, then the “Hotel Transylvania” movie series is going out with a toothless whimper, not a bang.

Prime Video premiered “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” on January 14, 2022.

Review: ‘Sing 2,’ starring the voices of Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, Tori Kelly, Taron Egerton, Bono and Halsey

November 28, 2021

by Carla Hay

Pictured in front row, from left to right: Klaus Kickenlober (voiced by Adam Buxton), Johnny (voiced by Taron Egerton), Meena (voiced by Tori Kelly), Porsha Crystal (voiced by Halsey), Clay Calloway (voiced by Bono), Rosita (voiced by Reese Witherspoon), Darius (voiced by Eric André), Ash (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) and Gunter (voiced by Nick Kroll) in “Sing 2” (Image courtesy of Illumination Entertainment/Universal Pictures)

“Sing 2”

Directed by Garth Jennings

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional U.S. city of Redstone City and briefly in the fictional U.S. city of Calatonia, the animated film “Sing 2” features a predominantly white cast of actors (with a few black people) voicing the characters of talking animals that are connected in some ways to showbiz.

Culture Clash: The owner and star performers of Calatonia’s New Moon Theater take their act to Redstone City, the nation’s entertainment capital, in the hopes of becoming bigger stars, but the ruthless mogul who can give them their big break expects the group’s act to include a reclusive rock star who hasn’t performed live in 15 years. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of “Sing” fans and fans of the movie’s voice cast members, “Sing 2” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching a “jukebox musical” with a poorly constructed, flimsy plot.

Pictured from left to right, beginning second from left: Jimmy Crystal (voiced by Bobby Cannavale), Johnny (voiced by Taron Egerton), Gunter (voiced by Nick Kroll), Buster Moon (voiced by Matthew McConaughey), Meena (voiced by Tori Kelly), Rosita (voiced by Reese Witherspoon) and Ash (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) in “Sing 2” (Image courtesy of Illumination Entertainment/Universal Pictures)

Plagued by “sequel-itis,” the animated musical “Sing 2” sacrifices character development for a plot that sloppily rushes storylines and then turns into a commercial for Bono and U2’s music at the very end. The movie loses much of the charm of 2016’s “Sing” by having the main characters go off on different tangents and by introducing several new characters that are presented in a very superficial way. The “Sing” movie series (which is about talking animals, many of which can sing) also loses a lot of comedic appeal with “Sing 2,” by introducing a murderous villain that drags down the story with soulless acts of evil.

This decline in quality can’t be blamed on a change in filmmaker leadership. “Sing” and “Sing 2” were both written and directed by Garth Jennings and have the same producers (Janet Healy and Christopher Meledandri), as well as the same chiefs of certain departments, such as film editing, visual effects and music. The voice actors of most of the lead characters in “Sing” reprised the same roles for “Sing 2.”

Considering all of the talented people involved, it’s a disappointment that so much of “Sing 2” seems like a lazily conceived cash grab that does nothing innovative. The entire movie lacks suspense (there are absolutely no surprises) and over-relies on stringing together what are essentially separate animated music videos and trying to make it look like it’s all part of a cohesive plot. The visuals of “Sing 2” are perfectly fine, but there should be more to a movie than it just looking good.

Sequels are supposed to tell you more about the main characters, but “Sing 2” fails in this regard because you won’t learn almost anything new about the main characters from watching this sequel. “Sing 2” continues to have an overload of pop hits (original recordings and cover versions), but it’s less effective in this sequel, compared to the first “Sing” movie. That’s because “Sing 2” is essentially a mediocre “jukebox musical,” where song placement is more important than having a well-written storyline and memorable dialogue. Most of the new characters in “Sing 2” have hollow and stereotypical personalities.

“Sing 2” also follows a predictable plot formula for the second movie in an animated series: The main characters travel out of their home environment and get involved in new adventures somewhere else. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that formula if it’s done with an engaging story. (It’s a formula that Pixar Animation has mastered with many of its sequels.) Unfortunately, “Sing 2” does not have a story that’s very interesting.

“Sing 2” is also one of those sequels that doesn’t do a very good job of introducing the main characters to viewers who didn’t see the first “Sing” movie. “Sing 2” assumes that people seeing this sequel are already familiar with the main characters. But that’s an assumption that just makes the screenwriting look even lazier than it needed to be.

Some of the characters in the first “Sing” movie struggled with different personal issues. For example, one character has a criminal parent who discouraged him from being a singer, and that parent ended up being incarcerated for a robbery. Another character suffered from stage fright. If any those issues are mentioned in “Sing 2,” they’re vague references when they should be a little more detailed, to give the characters more depth. In addition, “Sing 2” doesn’t really mention that all of the main characters that are singers met each other through a talent contest that was the focus of the first “Sing” movie.

If you must waste your time on the inferior “Sing 2,” it’s best to see the first “Sing” movie so you can understand the backstories of the main characters and see their real personalities. In “Sing 2,” almost all of the main characters’ personalities are reduced to soundbite-like dialogue in between singing songs. The good news is that all of the cast members who sing do a very fine job with their performances.

In “Sing” (which takes place in the fictional U.S. city of Calatonia), an ambitious koala named Buster Moon (voiced by Matthew McConaughey) owns an inherited theater that’s in danger of shutting down due to his financal problems. In order to get publicity for the theater and increase attendance, Buster holds a talent contest that attracts several Calatonia residents, and some of these characters end up being the stars of the contest. In “Sing 2,” Buster wants to take his productions out of regional theater and into the big leagues of a Vegas-styled musical show.

These singing stars from the “Sing” talent contest make their return in the “Sing 2” movie:

  • Rosita (voiced by Reese Witherspoon), a pig who’s a harried housewife and a mother of 25 piglets.
  • Ash (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), a porcupine who’s a rock singer/guitarist and a feminist.
  • Johnny (voiced by Taron Egerton), a gorilla who can play sing and piano a lot like Elton John.
  • Meena (voiced by Tori Kelly), an elephant who’s shy and insecure except when she’s singing.
  • Gunter (voiced by Nick Kroll), a pig who’s flamboyant and an occasional duet partner with Rosita.

Also returning for “Sing 2” is Buster’s eccentric administrative assistant Miss Crawly (voiced by writer/director Jennings), an iguana with a glass eye that often falls out and causes mishaps. Making cameos in “Sing 2” are two other characters from the first “Sing” movie: Johnny’s gorilla gangster father Big Daddy (voiced by Peter Serafinowicz) and elderly sheep Nana Noodleman (voiced by Jennifer Saunders), who is a wealthy benefactor and former theater diva.

In the beginning of “Sing 2,” New Moon Theater (the venue owned by Buster) is presenting a musical production of “Alice in Wonderland,” with Meena in the starring role of Alice. The show is a local hit that plays to sold-out audiences. During a performance, Buster is excited to see that an important talent scout named Suki Lane (voiced by Chelsea Peretti) is in the audience and taking notes.

Suki (who is a brown dog that can walk upright and has human-like arms and legs ) works for the mega-company Crystal Entertainment in Redshore City, the entertainment capital of the nation. Redshore City is designed to look a lot like Las Vegas. Miss Crawly tells Buster that Suki has been paying attention to the show and seems to be entertained.

After the performance, Buster rushes after Suki to talk to her before she can leave. He asks her what she thought of the show. Suki haughtily replies, “It’s a cute little show, but it’s not what we’re looking for. You’re not good enough. You’ve got a nice little local theater here, and it’s great for what it is, but trust me: You’d never make it in the big leagues.”

Buster is stung by this criticism, but he’s not ready to give up so easily. Even if his productions are considered regional theater, he knows that these shows have value because they frequently sell out. Suki gets in a chauffeured car to leave. Buster chases after the moving car on his bike, and he holds on to the car door to continue to talk to Suki.

Suki thinks that Buster is crazy and tells the driver to speed up, in order to get rid of Buster. Buster is essentially run off of the road, and he lands in a nearby canal. This debacle is witnessed by several residents who are near the canal. It’s a humiliating moment for Buster, but it’s played for laughs in the movie.

A discouraged Buster tells Nana about Suki’s rejection. He moans, “I’m a failure!” Nana scolds Buster for letting this setback make him think that he should give up. She tells him that if he doesn’t believe in himself and what he has to offer, then no one else will. Buster takes this advice and decides to round up Meena, Rosita, Ash, Johnny, Gunter and Miss Crawly to go on a road trip with him to Redstone City. The goal is to convince Crystal Entertainment to let them do a musical at the much-larger and more famous Crystal Tower Theater.

Ash already has a paying gig at a local rock club in Calatonia, but she’s being underpaid. When Buster meets up with Ash to ask her to go on the trip, he sees her backstage after a performance, right before she’s supposed to do an encore. The club owner/manager hands Ash a paycheck, and she’s annoyed because the amount is far less than what other artists at the club are getting paid.

Ash says to the club owner/manager: “I have a rule about not letting guys like you tell me what I’m worth. Unless I get paid like everyone else, I’m outta here!” And with that, she walks out of the building with Buster, without doing the encore.

The owner of Crystal Entertainment is Jimmy Crystal (played by Bobby Cannavale), who is literally and figuratively a wolf. He’s a hard-nosed, ruthless business mogul who insists that people call him Mr. Crystal. He is first seen judging auditioners at Crystal Tower Theater and giving red-buzzer rejections to every act, no matter how talented the act is.

Meanwhile, Buster and his group have arrived at Crystal Entertainment headquarters, but they don’t make it past the reception area because they don’t have an appointment. However, they go in a side employee entrance, find some sanitation worker uniforms, and disguise themselves as sanitation workers, in order to sneak into the auditions.

After a quick change back into their regular clothes, this enterprising group sneaks onto the audition stage. Buster makes an earnest pitch to offer his theater group for a musical show at Crystal Tower Theater. Mr. Crystal rejects them, of course. Buster tries to get Mr. Crystal to change his mind, but Mr. Crystal doesn’t want to hear it and is infuriated that these rejected auditioners don’t want to leave the stage.

Just as Mr. Crystal is about to have them thrown out, he overhears Gunter say that Gunter is a fan of Clay Calloway, a rock superstar lion who has been in seclusion for the past 15 years. Mr. Crystal asks if they know Clay. Buster lies and says yes. Mr. Crystal then changes his mind and says that he’ll agree to let Buster’s group do a show at the Crystal Tower Theater, on one condition: Clay Calloway has to be part of the act too.

Buster continues to lie and says it won’t be a problem because he and Clay are friends. When Mr. Crystal asks what the name of the show is, Gunter comes up with a title on the spot: “Out of This World.” It’s described as an outer-space musical. Mr. Crystal doesn’t care about the details because he just wants Clay Calloway to perform at the Crystal Tower Theater.

Mr. Crystal gives Buster and his group just three weeks to produce the show. He puts them up in the Crystal Tower Hotel and pays for all of their expenses. Buster is elated and decides he’ll figure out a way to convince Clay Calloway to be a part of the show. Ash is a big fan of Clay’s and she wants to go with Buster for this persuasive visit. Ash explains that Clay has become a grieving recluse ever since the death of his wife Ruby, who was his muse.

In the meantime, Buster works with Gunter on the concept for the “Out of This World” musical. They come up with the idea to have Rosita star as an astronaut looking for an outer-space explorer, with Gunter as a robot sidekick/aide. During this mission, she will have to visit four planets that have four different themes: war, love, despair and joy. This idea is as poorly conceived as it sounds.

Meanwhile, there’s more to Mr. Crystal than meets the eye. When an uninteresting movie like this is filled with hackneyed stereotypes, here’s one more: Mr. Crystal is really a gangster. A Vegas-styled hotel/casino owner who’s involved with illegal activities? Where did the filmmakers get this idea?

“Sing 2” starts to go off the rails in how it presents the preparations for this horrendous “Out of This World” musical production, by having the stars of the show go off in different directions with silly subplots. Rosita decides to invite her husband Norman (voiced by Nick Offerman) and their 25 kids to Redstone City. (After all, Mr. Crystal is paying for everything.) And so, there’s a scene of the kids being brats as they invade a food buffet area in the hotel and cause all types of chaos.

Rosita is playing an astronaut who has to do some high-flying stunts on stage. And therefore, it’s not a good time for Rosita to find out that she’s afraid of heights. Around the same time, Mr. Crystal insists that his daughter Porsha Crystal (voiced by Halsey) will be the star of the show. Buster is put in the awkward position of telling Rosita that she’s being replaced in the starring role. Porsha is a spoiled airhead who sounds like she’s spent too much time watching “Jersey Shore.”

Johnny is supposed to play a dancing gladiator-type of warrior in “Out of This World,” but Johnny doesn’t know how to dance. And so, the show’s uptight and mean-spirited monkey choreographer Klaus Kickenklober (voiced by Adam Buxton) makes Johnny’s life a living hell. But what do you know: One day, Johnny sees a sassy lynx street dancer named Nooshy (voiced by Letitia Wright), who attracts an enthusiastic crowd. Johnny is impressed with Nooshy’s talent, so he hires her to give him private dance lessons.

Meena, who is very inexperienced when it comes to dating, is paired with a conceited yak actor named Darius (voiced by Eric André), so she’s dreading the love scenes that they have to do in the musical. “Sing 2” has such slipshod screenwriting, Meena’s and Darius’ character roles in “Out of This World” are never clearly defined, except to show that they’re supposed to play each other’s love interest in “Out of This World.” Darius could have been breakout “Sing 2” character as a hilarious buffoon, but he’s mainly brought out for some underwhelming scenes where the jokes fall flat.

Meanwhile, Meena catches the eye of a mild-mannered elephant named Alfonso (voiced by Pharrell), an ice cream truck vendor. It’s obvious that Alfonso wants to date Meena, but she’s bashful about how to handle it. Alfonso compliments Meena on her singing talent, but she’s afraid to have conversations with him. None of these new supporting characters in “Sing 2” has a backstory or fully developed personality.

Meanwhile, there’s a time-wasting scene where Miss Crawly drives to reclusive rock star Clay’s estate (while System of a Down’s “Chop Suey!” is playing), to find out if she can get access to him. Some more problems ensue involving her glass eye, because the filmmakers seem to want to make Miss Crawly’s glass eye the main gimmick for the slapstick comedy about her. Needless to say, Miss Crawly is unsuccessful in getting to Clay. Buster and Ash decide to give it a try.

The second trailer for “Sing 2” already revealed that Clay (voiced by Bono, lead singer of U2) does come out of seclusion to perform on stage. But even if this major plot development hadn’t already been disclosed, it would be very easy to predict. The movie blandly and vaguely handles how Clay is convinced to come out of seclusion.

“Sing 2” is Bono’s animated feature-film debut as an actor. Bono’s speaking voice in this role is lowered one or two octaves from his real speaking voice. It seems like he’s trying to sound like a husky-voiced American rock star (somewhat like a combination of Bruce Springsteen and Tom Waits), but Bono’s natural Irish accent can still occasionally be heard in the dialogue.

As for the music of “Sing 2,” just like the first “Sing” movie, a lot of it comes in snippets of one minute or less per song. Songs that drop in for a longer than a minute (but still quickly) include Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy,” Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” Mercury Rev’s “Holes,” Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy,” DNCE’s “Cake by the Ocean,” Shawn Mendes’ “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back,” Eve’s “Who’s That Girl” and Camila Cabello and Mendes’ “Señorita.”

The longer musical numbers are serviceable, although there are a few standout moments. Halsey shines in her biggest number, when she sings a rousing rendition of the Struts’ “Could Have Been Me.” Halsey’s version of Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire” is also impressive. Johansson does nicely with her cover version of U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”

However, the Tori Kelly/Pharrell Williams duet of Dionne Warwick’s “I Say a Little Prayer” has no heat. It’s also a very tame song selection for the characters of Meena and Alfonso, who are supposed to be in the early stages of a romance. Their first duet should’ve been more of a passionate love song or a more emotion-filled song about longing for love.

It seems like the “Sing 2” filmmakers bent over backwards to make Bono and his Clay character overshadow the movie’s last 15 minutes to steal the show. In the first “Sing” movie, main characters Rosita, Meena, Ash and Johnny all had their big individual singing moments in the spotlight. In “Sing 2,” everyone seems to have to clear a path for Bono/Clay.

In “Sing 2,” the Johnny character is woefully under-used as a singer. The movie seems more concerned about showing him awkwardly learning dance moves. It’s a shame, really, because Egerton is such a talented singer. His rendition of Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing” in the first “Sing” movie was one of the catalysts to Egerton being cast in John’s 2019 musical biopic “Rocketman.”

“Sing 2” is essentially a vehicle to promote U2’s music in the latter half of the movie. There are four U2 songs in “Sing 2”: the aforementioned “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” “Where the Streets Have No Name,” “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” and “Your Song Saved My Life,” which was written for the “Sing 2” soundtrack. Obviously, “Your Song Saved My Life” is supposed to be Clay’s big moment. “Your Song Saved My Life” isn’t bad, but it’s not outstanding, and it won’t be considered a U2 classic.

If you want to know another reason “Sing 2” is such a disappointing mess, the filmmakers made Bono—one of the most charismatic rock stars on the planet—a dull and dreary character in this movie. The Clay character could’ve been played by almost anyone, but it seems like in order to get U2’s music for this movie, the filmmakers had to cast Bono in this role. It’s too bad that Bono and the rest of the talented voice actors are stuck in this hack karaoke project that has a major studio budget.

Universal Pictures will release “Sing 2” in U.S. cinemas on December 22, 2021.

Review: ‘Encanto,’ starring the voices of Stephanie Beatriz, Jon Leguizamo, Angie Cepeda, Wilmer Valderrama, Diane Guererro, Jessica Darrow and María Cecilia Botero

November 15, 2021

by Carla Hay

Pictured from left to right: Luisa (voiced by Jessica Darrow), Isabela (voiced by Diane Guererro), Abuela Alma (voiced by María Cecilia Botero and Olga Merediz), Mirabel (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz), Agustín (voiced by Wilmer Valderrama), Julieta (voiced by Angie Cepeda), Camilo (voiced by Rhenzy Feliz), Antonio (voiced by Ravi Cabot-Conyers), Pepa (voiced by Carolina Gaitan), Félix (voiced by Mauro Castillo) and Dolores (voiced by Adassa Candiani) in “Encanto”(Image courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc.)

“Encanto” 

Directed by Jared Bush and Byron Howard; co-directed by Charise Castro Smith

Some language in Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Colombia, the animated musical film “Encanto” features an all-Latino cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A 15-year-old girl, who feels ordinary in a family blessed with magical powers, tries to find her special talent while also solving the mystery of what happened to her uncle who disappeared years earlier.

Culture Audience: “Encanto” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in stories that have mystical qualities but are also about life’s realities of finding one’s own identity and self-esteem.

Mirabel (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz) and Bruno (voiced by John Leguizamo) in “Encanto” (Image courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc.)

Disney’s “Encanto” has some unnecessary clutter in the story, and the music could be better, but this animated film has enough charm to overcome its very noticeable flaws. The story gets a little convoluted and might be confusing to some viewers (especially those who are younger than the age of 7), who could still be entertained by the dazzle of the movie’s vibrant visuals. “Encanto” ultimately has meaningful messages about family and self-confidence that make the movie worthwhile to watch and appealing to many generations of people.

“Encanto” is directed by Jared Bush and Byron Howard and co-directed by Charise Castro Smith. Castro Smith and Bush co-wrote the “Encanto” screenplay. Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote eight original songs for “Encanto.” Manuel previously worked with Walt Disney Animation Studios on 2016’s “Moana.” Howard and Bush’s previous Disney film was 2016’s Oscar-winning “Zootopia,” which Howard directed and which Bush co-wrote and co-directed.

With all these talented filmmakers involved in “Encanto,” it’s not too surprising that the movie looks great and has a solid story concept. What is surprising is that some parts of the movie are more jumbled that they needed to be. And most of the songs, while pleasant, are somewhat forgettable. “Encanto” is not a Disney animated film that’s going to have a major hit song, such as “Let It Go” from “Frozen.” People watching “Encanto” might have trouble remembering at least three songs after watching the movie for the first time.

“Encanto” has a large ensemble cast of characters, and they are all introduced in a somewhat haphazard and rushed way. The characters are at least distinctive from each other, but viewers must have patience in the first 20 minutes of the movie as the characters show more of their individual personalities. There’s a big part of the story about magic and mystical spells that could have been streamlined and simplified, considering that many of this movie’s intended viewers might too young to grasp some of the movie’s concepts about which magical spells should be cast in order for certain things to happen.

In “Encanto,” which is set in Colombia, the story is centered on the Madrigal family, which lives in a magical place in the mountains called Encanto. It’s a family tradition that when each child in the family turns 5 years old, the child finds out during a ceremony what special power has been bestowed on them. The given power is revealed when a magical door opens in the house to reveal an enchanted space, where the child enters to get the power that is officially bestowed on the child. The power is then used as a gift to help people in the community.

This tradition in the Madrigal family began about 50 years earlier, when a young, married couple named Alma and Pedro Madrigal fled their home with their baby triplets, due to an invasion of their land, and Pedro tragically died while in captivity. After her husband’s death, Alma said a prayer to a mystical candle, which resulted in the miracle creation of Encanto, a safe and magical place to live. This candle is considered the key to the family’s magical powers.

Alma’s triplets (two daughters and a son) grew up in Encanto. The daughters got married to loving husbands, and they had children of their own. Meanwhile, Alma’s son became estranged from the family because he has psychic powers, and the family didn’t like his “gloom and doom” predictions. He has disappeared, so part of the movie is about discovering what happened to him.

Alma’s 15-year-old granddaughter Mirabel is the movie’s protagonist. Mirabel is energetic and kind-hearted, but she insecure about herself and how she is perceived by her family. In total, there are 12 people in the Madrigal family who are in “Encanto.” It’s a lot of characters to keep track of in the story, and it might be too much for people with short attention spans.

The 12 members of the Madrigal family featured in “Encanto” are:

  • Abuela Alma (voiced by María Cecilia Botero for spoken dialogue and voiced by Olga Merediz for singing) is the matriarch. She sometimes overreacts if she thinks any danger will come to her family.
  • Julieta (voiced by Angie Cepeda), one of Alma’s triplet daughters, has the power to heal.
  • Agustín (voiced by Wilmer Valderrama) is Julieta’s supportive and mild-mannered husband. Julieta and Agustín have three daughters.
  • Isabela (voiced by Diane Guererro), the eldest daughter of Julieta and Agustín, is as close to perfect as possible, in terms of her beauty and intellect. She has the power to make flowers and other plants grow.
  • Luisa (voiced by Jessica Darrow), the middle daughter of Julieta and Agustín, is tall and muscular. Her power is super-sized strength.
  • Mirabel (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz), the youngest daughter of Julieta and Agustín, was not bestowed any special gift/talent/power at 5 years old, and she feels very insecure about it. Mirabel is now 15 and struggling with self-confidence issues and feeling like she doesn’t fit in with her family.
  • Pepa (voiced by Carolina Gaitan), Alma’s other triplet daughter, has the power to control the weather with her emotions.
  • Félix (voiced by Mauro Castillo) is Pepa’s goofy and fun-loving husband. Pepa and Félix have two sons and one daughter.
  • Camilo (voiced by Rhenzy Feliz) is the older son of Pepa and Félix. A natural extrovert and entertainer, Camilo has the power to shape shift.
  • Dolores (voiced by Adassa Candiani) is the daughter of Pepa and Félix. Her power is an extraordinary hearing ability, so naturally she’s become a nosy busybody who likes to find out other people’s secrets.
  • Antonio (voiced by Ravi Cabot-Conyers) is the younger son of Pepa and Félix. Antonio, who is quiet and shy, has the ability to communicate with animals.
  • Bruno (voiced by John Leguizamo) is Alma’s prodigal son who has the aforementioned psychic power. Bruno’s “tell it like it is” nature might be too blunt for some people, so he sometimes has a tendency to rub people the wrong way.

You know a movie might have too many characters when it has to spend so much screen time explaining who everyone is before getting to the real action in the story. It takes a while for it get going, but eventually Mirabel goes on an adventure that involves finding the long-lost Bruno, whom she has never met before. Something happens that causes her family to lose their powers, and Mirabel gets blamed for it. A great deal of the story is about how she tries to make things right and get the magical powers restored to her family.

There are also some subplots about the family dynamics. Mirabel and Isabela have a tension-filled relationship because Mirabel is jealous of Isabel being the family’s “golden child,” while Isbael acts haughty and superior to Mirabel, even though Isabel secretly resents the pressure that she feels to be “perfect.” Meanwhile, Isabela is being courted by a handsome neighbor named Mariano Guzmán (voiced by Maluma), who seems like an ideal match for her. It’s a courtship that gets the approval of Isabela’s parents and Mariano’s parents, but does Isabela really want to get married?

When Mirabel finds Bruno, she discovers he’s not the terrible person he’s been described as by some people. (It’s not spoiler information to say that Mirabel and Bruno end up meeting, since it’s revealed in the movie’s trailer.) Mirabel and Bruno bond over feeling like “outsiders” in the family. The friendship that develops between Bruno that Mirabel is one of the movie’s highlights. Bruno also has a trusty toucan, because a movie like this always seems to have at least one or two helpful animal friends that are sidekicks for the human characters.

Since “Encanto” is a musical, the score and songs are placed in the movie at a pace that flows fairly well. The original songs in “Encanto” are good, but not amazing. Except for a few standouts though (such as the ensemble tunes “We Need to Talk About Bruno” and “All of You”), most of the songs are not as memorable as people might expect them to be, considering that they were written by “Hamilton” mastermind Miranda.

The “Encanto” original songs are pleasant enough, but will they resonate with people emotionally to the point where most people will want to re-watch “Encanto,” just to see the songs performed in the musical scenes? That’s highly doubtful. “Encanto” is not a movie that is going to inspire a sing-along version, like Disney did for “Frozen.” The songs of “Encanto” are just not as interesting as the characters that perform these songs.

“Encanto” offers some stunning visuals, which are the movie’s biggest assets. The movie also has lovely homages to Colombian culture, based on how various Colombian food, clothing and customs are featured in the story. All of the cast members are perfectly fine in their roles, with Leguizamo and Beatriz getting most of the best lines of dialogue in the movie. Overall, “Encanto” efficiently follows the tried-and-true formula of family-oriented animated films where the protagonist starts off feeling like a misfit and goes on a life-changing journey of self-acceptance.

Walt Disney Pictures will release “Encanto” in U.S. cinemas on November 24, 2021. Disney+ will premiere the movie at no additional cost on December 24, 2021.

Review: ‘Clifford the Big Red Dog’ (2021), starring Darby Camp, Jack Whitehall, Tony Hale, Sienna Guillory, David Alan Grier, Russell Wong and John Cleese

November 9, 2021

by Carla Hay

Darby Camp and Jack Whitehall in “Clifford the Big Red Dog” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

“Clifford the Big Red Dog”

Directed by Walt Becker

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the live-action/animated film “Clifford the Big Red Dog” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A 12-year-old girl’s stray puppy, which has an unusual red color, grows into a gigantic dog overnight, and she has conflicts with authority figures who want to take the dog away from her. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of “Clifford the Big Red Dog” cartoon fans, this movie version of the TV series will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching predictable family films with a dull storyline and bland characters.

Jack Whitehall, Darby Camp and Izaac Wang in “Clifford the Big Red Dog” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

With not enough imagination and too many boring clichés, “Clifford the Big Red Dog” clumsily stumbles around more than this elephant-sized dog does in his New York City apartment. This is the first feature film based on Norman Bridwell’s “Clifford the Big Red Dog” children’s books series, which have also been turned into two separate animated TV series. Unfortunately, this franchise’s first movie (which is a combination of live-action and animation) is an embarrassing dud, with almost nothing that’s worthy of its cinematic format. It looks like a lazily conceived TV special, but with a movie studio budget that’s wasted on dull stupidity.

Directed by Walt Becker, “Clifford the Big Red Dog” was written by Jay Scherick, David Ronn and Blaise Hemingway in such a by-the-numbers way, it seems like a computer could’ve programmed this script and probably done a better job. The jokes fall flat, the characters are forgettable, and the plot is so unadventurous and maudlin, you wonder why it took three people to come up with such a drab screenplay. The filmmakers also made the mind-boggling, bad decision to not have the dog Clifford talk in the movie, as the dog does in the animated TV series. Not giving Clifford the ability to talk erases any personality through spoken dialogue that the dog might have had in the movie, which will surely disappoint many fans.

The basic plot of the movie “Clifford the Big Red Dog” is that a 12-year-old girl named Emily Elizabeth Howard (played by Darby Camp), who lives in an apartment in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood, has a stray puppy whose fur is an unusual color: fire-engine red. She names the dog Clifford, and is told that she’s only allowed to keep him for one night. She wakes up the next morning to find that the dog has grown to be about 10 feet tall. Some hijinks ensue, as Emily tries to hide Clifford and tries to prevent people from taking the dog away from her.

But these hijinks have no real creativity and have been seen and done in many other movies where a child is trying to hide a secret and unusual companion that is in danger of being exploited and taken away for scientific experiments or for greedy business reasons. Everything in this movie is so predictable and with such mediocre visual effects, it’s almost offensive that this substandard project was given the budget of a feature film from a major movie studio.

And because Clifford doesn’t talk in this movie, the dog just does basic, run-of-the-mill things that dogs do. The filmmakers instead made the awful decision to make the comedy focused on Emily’s annoying and irresponsible uncle Casey (played by Jack Whitehall), who doesn’t particularly like the dog. Casey’s lines of dialogue are tepid or just downright cringeworthy. It tells you what you need to know right there about this dreck: A movie called “Clifford the Big Red Dog” just makes the dog a giant CGI prop to an irritating human being.

Emily lives with her single mother Maggie Howard (played by Sienna Guillory), a paralegal who’s stressed-out due to financial problems. Maggie is heavily in debt, and she’s barely making ends meet on her salary. Maggie often has to travel away from home when her boss does work outside the area. (Emily’s father is not seen or mentioned in the movie.) And so, in addition to having financial woes, Maggie feels guilty about not being there for Emily as much as Maggie would prefer.

When Maggie is away on business, she has a trusted person look after Emily. And this time around, because Maggie can’t find anyone else on such short notice, she reluctantly asks her younger brother Casey to look after Emily while Maggie is away for a few days. Casey, who’s about 10 to 15 years younger than Maggie, hasn’t told his sister that he’s currently homeless and living in a moving truck.

Casey is the type of flake who shows up 45 minutes late for a job interview at a place called Kerner Comics & Design, where he had hoped to work as an illustrator. Needless to say, because of his tardiness, Casey doesn’t even make it past the reception area because he blew his chance for the interview. Before he leaves, he takes some free candy in the reception area and mumbles something about how this candy is his dinner for the day.

Casey is homeless because he and his live-in girlfriend broke up, and his student debts have made him unable to afford his own place. (The movie never bothers to mention anything else about Casey’s college education to explain why his student loan debts are his biggest expenses.) Casey is first seen in the movie trying unsuccessfully to talk his way out of a parking ticket. Instead of taking the ticket, he ends up running away from the parking enforcement officer.

Casey and Maggie’s family history is briefly mentioned much later in the movie. They were both born in England, but their family moved to the United States when Casey was 2 years old, which is why he doesn’t have a British acccent. (Whitehall is British in real life though.) Maggie and Casey’s mother died when Casey was still underage. Their dad “fell apart” (Casey’s words) after his wife died, so it was up to Maggie to raise Casey. She gave up a chance to go to Oxford University (where she had a scholarship) because she had these guardian responsibilities.

Meanwhile, Emily is in sixth grade at an elite private school, where she attends on a scholarship. Predictably, she’s bullied at school by a clique of snobby “mean girls,” who ridicule Emily with the nickname Food Stamp because they think Emily is so poor, her family must be getting food stamp welfare from the government. Emily is a sensitive and compassionate child who already feels like an outsider because she’s new to the school, having recently relocated with her mother from upstate New York.

In the beginning of the movie, Emily is seen going around the neighborhood to collect recyclable cans for a fundraising drive at her school. It’s just a reason for viewers to see other people who clutter up the story, just so the movie can have a certain number of adults who can later react to seeing gigantic Clifford walking around the neighborhood. The supporting characters in this movie are very generic and have uninspired lines of dialogue.

The neighborhood supporting characters include Packard (played by David Alan Grieri), the cranky superintendent of the building where Emily and Maggie live; Raul Sanchez (played by Horatio Sanz) and Alonso Sanchez (played by Paul Rodriguez), two brothers who own and operate a bodega; Malik (played by Russell Peters), who works in a convenience store; and married attorney couple Mr. Jarvis (played by Keith Ewell) and Mrs. Jarvis (played by Bear Allen Blaine). They all contribute to Emily’s haul of recycled cans.

Casey tries to be responsible when taking care of Emily, in an attempt to make up for mistakes he made in the past when she was under his care. One day, while they’re strolling through a nearby park, they see an animal rescue tent called Bridwell’s Animal Rescue. Emily asks Casey if they can go inside. He tells her yes, but only on the condition that she knows that they can’t take home any of the pets.

The tent on the inside actually looks like a dark Victorian parlor that has some dogs and cats, but they’re outnumbered by wild animals that could be at a zoo. They include creatures such as a sloth, a chameleon and an animal that looks like a baby giraffe. Emily and Casey are greeted by Bridwell (played by John Cleese), the owner who has a mysterious aura about him.

Bridwell steers Emily to take a look at an unusually red stray puppy that he recently found. It’s shown in the movie’s opening scene that this puppy was born into a stray family of yellow Labrador retrievers in a warehouse. His mother and siblings were taken away by workers at a local dog pound, while the red puppy, which wasn’t seen by the workers, was left behind. The puppy escaped into the streets, where Bridwell found him.

Emily immediately adores the puppy and wants to take it home, but Casey is firm in telling her that she can’t have the dog because dogs aren’t allowed in the apartment building. He also knows that Maggie wouldn’t approve of having a dog anyway. “How big is he going to get?” Emily asks Bridwell of this puppy. Bridwell answers, “That depends on how much you love him.”

When she’s at home in her bedroom, Emily can’t find any information about Bridwell’s Animal Rescue on the Internet. But what do you know: Emily finds the puppy has mysteriously ended up in her backpack. Casey allows her to keep the dog, but only for that night. She names the dog Clifford, because that’s the first name the dog responds to in a positive way.

At school, Emily brings a giant plastic bag filled with the recycled cans that she collected. The “mean girls” leader Florence (played by Mia Ronn) and her two sidekicks Isabelle (played by Madison Smith) and Melinda (played by Madison Morris) scoff at Emily and tell her that their parents just wrote checks for the fundraiser. Meanwhile, a fellow student named Owen Yu (played by Izaac Wang), who has a secret crush on Emily, notices that Emily is being ridiculed, so he tries to make her feel better by telling her that it’s admirable that she went to the trouble of collecting recyclables to raise money.

Emily brings her plastic bag into the classroom. The contents accidentally spill out, and many of the students laugh at her. Someone recorded the incident on a phone, and the video goes viral. At home that night, Emily is crying in her bed while holding on to Clifford. Before she goes to sleep, she tells Clifford: “I wish you were big and strong and the world couldn’t hurt us.” Just at that moment, it’s raining outside, and Bridwell is standing on the street outside her building, as if he can hear Emily’s wish.

You know what happens next: Emily wakes up and sees that Clifford is no longer a small puppy and is now a dog that’s 10 feet tall. She’s startled at first but gets over it quickly. By contrast, Casey is thoroughly freaked out. And just at that moment, the building superintendent Packer is coming over to the apartment to fix a plumbing problem. Then there’s the expected frantic rush to hide Clifford.

One of the biggest problems with “Clifford the Big Red Dog” is how most people’s reactions to seeing this giant dog are unrealistically calm. People react with curiosity, with some taking out their phones to film or take pictures of the dog. There aren’t as many panicked reactions as there should have been, which would’ve made this film a lot funnier.

For example, there’s a scene that takes place shortly after Clifford becomes a giant dog. Clifford sees a man walking in a giant plastic bubble in the park, so Clifford runs after the bubble, like a dog that wants to fetch a ball. The man inside is terrified, but most of the people in the park just stare at this dog causing terror. It’s not the way most people would really react, which is to run away from the sight of a giant dog and call for help.

The reaction from the authorities is also toned-down. There’s some effort to find the dog, but it’s not on the level of the dog being seen as a monstrous freak that needs to be captured. No military units are deployed, and New York City doesn’t go on lockdown for people’s safety. Clifford also shows up in Emily’s classroom, and the dog makes her popular with most of the students. Viewers of this movie will have to to assume this story takes place in an alternate world where people occasionally expect to see giant animals walking through New York City.

In fact, the only time that Clifford really seems in danger of being captured is when the corrupt president/CEO of a genetic engineering firm named Lyfegro finds out about Clifford. Lyfegro does scientific experiments on animals to find out how to grow large crops of food, in order to ease world hunger. Lyfegro’s greedy leader is named Zack Tieran (played by Tony Hale), who keeps genetically modified animals at his company lab. (For example: a two-headed sheep.) He doesn’t really care about world hunger or animals. He just wants to get rich.

All of the scenes involving Lyfegro are convoluted aspects of the plot, which should’ve just stuck to Clifford being hunted for capture by military or law enforcement, because it’s unsafe for a giant animal of this size to be walking around any area that’s populated with humans. There’s a very phony-looking press conference with Police Chief Watkins (played by Ty Jones), where he urges the public, “If you see something, say something,” as if this giant dog is the equivalent of a suspicious package.

Owen and Emily predictably get to know each other better and become closer. Owen’s father Mr. Yu (played by Russell Wong) also becomes part of the story because he’s a wealthy businessman who comes up with an idea for this situation when Clifford becomes a “wanted dog.” It’s an idea that might or might not pan out.

Meanwhile, the filmmakers try too hard to make Casey the comedic star of the movie. His panicked reactions are just dumb slapstick scenarios that are too corny to be funny. Casey’s “jokes” are abysmal. He says of Clifford turning into a giant dog overnight: “This is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. And I’ve been to Burning Man.” It’s a weird joke for a movie intended for audiences where many of the viewers are too young to know what Burning Man is. A lot of adults who’ve never heard of Burning Man won’t get this unfunny joke either.

And speaking of terrible jokes, “Clifford the Big Red Dog” sinks to the lowest common denominator in scenarios involving bodily functions and body parts. When Clifford takes a leak (which looks like a small rain shower) on a tree, Casey remarks that he hopes the dog doesn’t “do No. 2.” At another point in the movie, Owen comments on his own anxiety: “I still can’t get my butt cheeks unclenched.”

Owen has a pug dog, so there’s a not-very-funny gag about someone lifting up the pug to Clifford’s level so the two dogs can smell each other’s rear ends when the two dogs meet each other for the first time. Later in the movie, Owen is hiding with Clifford in Casey’s truck, where Clifford farts, so Owen throws open the back door to run out for fresh air, thereby letting the dog out once again to run out on the streets. This is the type of lackluster slapstick comedy that’s in the movie.

The movie wastes the talent of several well-known actors, who are given very hollow characters to play in this vapid film. Kenan Thompson portrays an unnamed veterinarian who examines the giant Clifford at Banfield Pet Hospital. The dog ends up annoying the doctor because the dog wants to lick him on the face during the exam. Then there’s the inevitable dog-chases-man scene in the exam room. This veterinarian is one of many people in this movie who don’t seem too concerned about how big this dog is.

Rosie Perez has a very quick cameo as an employee named Lucille, who works at the pet hospital’s front desk. Lucille tells Emily, Casey and Owen that animals that come into the hospital from Bridwell Animal Rescue seem to have magical powers and that people who own these animals have their lives changed for the better. Lucille mentions two pet owners: one who was mute and began speaking after geting a pet from Bridwell; another pet owner couldn’t move and then gained an ability to walk.

Emily says she doesn’t have any physical disabilities, so she wonders what kind of miracle Clifford could bring to her life. But since this movie spells everything out for viewers from the beginning, it’s said in Bridwell’s voiceover narration: “Two lost souls are looking for one another, but they don’t know it yet.” Considering that Emily and Casey’s personal conflicts with each other take up more screen time than Emily bonding with Clifford, it’s easy to figure out who these “lost souls” are.

The characters of Emily and Owen are the only ones that have glimmers of likability and charm, thanks to the acting talent of Camp and Wang. However, the adult characters aren’t interesting at all, unless you consider it interesting to see an entire movie of Whitehall just mugging for the cameras while uttering badly written lines as the immature Casey. Hale is a noteworthy actor when he’s given good material, but in this movie, his Tieran character is a completely useless and mundane villain.

The visual effects for Clifford never look convincing. The movie might have been livened up a little if Clifford could talk. The end result is a dog that is a lumbering, awkward CGI giant, with no wit or personality. And that’s ultimately why “Clifford the Big Red Dog” is a misfire on so many levels. The movie’s namesake comes across as soulless as the computer technology that created it.

Paramount Pictures will release “Clifford the Big Red Dog” in U.S. cinemas and on Paramount+ on November 10, 2021.

Review: ‘Monster Family 2,’ starring the voices of Emily Watson, Nick Frost, Jessica Brown Findlay, Ethan Rouse, Emily Carey, Catherine Tate and Jason Isaacs

October 23, 2021

by Carla Hay

Emma Wishbone (voiced by Emily Watson), Frank Wishbone (voiced by Nick Frost), Max Wishbone (voiced by Ethan Rouse) and Fay Wishbone (voiced by Jessica Brown Findlay) in “Monster Family 2” (Image courtesy of VivaKids)

“Monster Family 2”

Directed by Holger Tappe

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, Scotland, the Himalayas and outer space, the animated film “Monster Family 2” features an all-white cast of characters representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A British family that can transform into monsters is targeted by an American family in a spaceship that wants to capture all monsters that they think are menaces to society. 

Culture Audience: “Monster Family 2” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the first “Monster Family” movie and people who don’t mind seeing a substandard animated film with a silly story and messy production values.

Maddox Starr (voiced by Daniel Ben Zenou), Mila Starr (voiced by Emily Carey) and Marlene Starr in “Monster Family 2” (Image courtesy of VivaKids)

“Monster Family 2” is one of those sequels that shouldn’t have been made because hardly anyone was asking for it and it’s worse than its predecessor. The 2017 animated film “Monster Family” was a huge flop with audiences and critics. It’s mind-boggling that anyone thought it was a good idea to do a sequel to a movie that clearly was such an unequivocal dud in every sense of the word. But here is “Monster Family 2,” a time-wasting, incoherent and dull movie that fails at any attempt to be funny or interesting.

Holger Tapper, who directed “Monster Family,” is also the director of “Monster Family 2.” The first “Monster Family,” as atrocious as it was, still had a story that was simple enough for people of many ages to follow: Count Dracula (voiced by Jason Isaacs) became infatuated with a married woman named Emma Wishbone who, along with her husband and two adolescent children, got cursed and the Wishbone family all turned into monsters. A lot of shenanigans ensued until the curse was predictably lifted. And (spoiler alert) at the end of the movie, Count Dracula was frozen into an icicle-like cage with his own snowflake weapon.

In “Monster Family 2,” Count Dracula is able to free himself from his icicle prison, but he isn’t in this sequel as much as he was in “Monster Family.” Instead, the family ends up spending part of the movie in outer space because of a convoluted story involving a spaceship-residing human family that wants to capture the world’s worst monsters. David Safier, who co-wrote the first “Monster Family” movie with Catharina Junk, is the sole screenwriter for “Monster Family 2.” Because he’s the only screenwriter this time around, it’s now easy to see who’s mainly responsible for coming up with all the bad story ideas for this movie franchise, which is based on Safier’s children’s book “Happy Family.”

Through a series of circumstances, the Wishbones are turned into monsters again: Emma Wishbone (voiced by Emily Watson) is turned into a vampire. Emma’s husband Frank Wishbone (voiced by Nick Frost) becomes Frankenstein. Emma and Frank’s daughter Fay Wishbone (voiced by Jessica Brown Findlay), who’s about 16 or 17, is transformed into a mummy. Emma and Frank’s son Max Wishbone (voiced by Ethan Rouse), who’s about 12 or 13, is changed into a werewolf. The Wishbone family is British and live in a middle-class home in New York City.

In the beginning of the movie, the Wishbones are at the wedding of Baba Yaga (voiced by Catherine Tate), the elderly witch who put a spell on them in the first “Monster Family” movie. Baba Yaga is friendly with the Wishbones now. Her groom is an elderly man named Renfield. The Wishbones are the only guests at the wedding, which takes place in a church. Count Dracula’s three annoying (and thankfully mute) bats are still hovering around being the pests that they were in “Monster Family.”

The Wishbones think that they have gone back to their regular lives as human beings. The only “turmoil” in the family in the beginning of the story is that Fay—who is constantly on her phone to take selfies and to use her social media—is expressing some teenage rebellion because she’s secretly thinking about dropping out of school. Max, who is an insecure brat, knows this secret and threatens to tell the parents. Emma is generally more level-headed than her husband Frank, who is sort of a bumbling goofball when he gets overly excited.

Unbeknownst to this small wedding party, they are all being spied on by an American family of three people in a spaceship, which is called the Starr Copter. These spies are the Starr Family, whose motto is “I can make the world a better place.” The family consists of a billionaire philanthropist couple named Maddox Starr (voiced by Daniel Ben Zenou) and Marlene Starr and their teenage daughter Mila Starr (voiced by Emily Carey), who is sent to do all the dirty work for her parents.

Actually, the Starrs think that what they’re doing is the opposite of dirty work. These do-gooders are fanatical about finding and capturing the worst monsters in the world. They want to keep these monsters imprisoned in pods on their spacecraft. Mila ends up capturing Dracula. Her parents praise her and tell her to capture Baba Yaga next.

And that’s how Mila ends up literally crashing the wedding, where she states her intentions. She has drones that can lift people in the air. The Wishbone family tries in vain to stop Mila from abducting Baba Yaga and Renfield, but Mila whisks the bride and groom away and holds them captive on the Starr Copter.

During this weirdly slow-paced battle, Mila gets into an argument with Max and insults him by calling him “Pizza Boy.” Mila gives him this nickname because she says that the only thing it looks like he knows how to do in life is order pizza. It’s a mean-spirited dig at Max’s body size because he’s a little chubby.

“Monster Family 2” has some strange comedy that falls very flat, not including the body-shaming jokes that are downright moronic. During her argument with Max, Mila kisses him on the lips, which suggests that she’s actually attracted to him. After Mila kisses Max, they both say in disgust, “Eww!” This kissing scene just looks out-of-place in this movie.

Max is also dressed like a 1980s pimp when he goes to the wedding: He’s wearing gold chains, a brown fur-lined jacket, baggy pants and sneakers. Max’s father Frank compliments Max and tells him he looks great. It’s an odd remark, considering the outfit looks more like a Halloween costume than something an adolescent boy should be wearing at a wedding.

Even more bizarre: There’s an Oedipal moment when Max emerges in this inappopriate attire, he swaggers like he thinks he’s a pimp, and he looks at his mother and touches her face in a way that suggests that he thinks even his own mother could fall for his seductive charms. This is all being depicted for a boy who isn’t even old enough to have a driver’s license. And this hint of incestful thoughts from this boy is just too creepy for a family-oriented movie—or any movie for that matter.

Out on the street before they go into the church, Max happens to see a girl he has a crush on. But right at that moment, his baggy pants fall down. The girl and the friend who’s with her take photos on their phone. Max is naturally embarrassed. It’s a scene that’s awkwardly presented in the movie. And let’s just not discuss the cheesy dancing to MC Hammer’s 1990 hit “U Can’t Touch This” that comes later in the movie.

In the quest to rescue Baba Yaga and Renfield, the Wishbones are turned into monsters again when Max uses a magical amulet that he got from Baba Yaga. Mila’s parents tell her that the Loch Ness Monster and the Yeti (also known as the Abominable Snowman) are next on her list of monsters to capture. What follows is a lot of ridiculousness involving the Wishbone family (in monster form) going to Scotland and the Himalayas.

The action scenes in “Monster Family 2” are poorly staged, with characters in the film moving too slow and/or standing around talking in what are supposed to be high-energy chase sequences. The dialogue is simply awful. The story is extremely tedious. The characters are unappealing, while the voice performances are mediocre. And there’s a truly cringe-inducing moment toward the end where some of the characters sing the Human League’s 1986 hit “Human,” in a scene that’s supposed to be sentimental for all the reasons you think, if you know the lyrics to the song.

The only notable thing that “Monster Family 2” has going for it is that the animation is very colorful. Worst of all, for a movie about a “monster family,” there is hardly anything spooky (even in a comedic way) about this film. Any movie that under-uses an iconic villain such as Count Dracula is a movie that’s not worth seeing.

VivaKids released “Monster Family 2” in select U.S. cinemas on October 15, 2021. Sky Group premiered the movie in the United Kingdom on October 22, 2021.

Review: ‘Ron’s Gone Wrong,’ starring the voices of Jack Dylan Grazer, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Olivia Colman, Ron Delaney, Justice Smith and Kylie Cantrall

October 22, 2021

by Carla Hay

Ron (voiced by Zack Galifianakis) and Barney (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer) in “Ron’s Gone Wrong” (Image courtesy of 20th Century Studios)

“Ron’s Gone Wrong”

Directed by Sarah Smith and Jean-Philippe Vine

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the ainmated film ‘”Ron’s Gone Wrong” features a predominantly white cast of characters cast (with some African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A lonely adolescent boy gets a companion robot as a gift, and he finds out that the robot has flaws that can get him into trouble.

Culture Audience: “Ron’s Gone Wrong” is a family-friendly film that will appeal primarily to people who like stories about how contemporary and futuristic technology could affect humanity.

Ava (voiced by Ava Morse), Noah (voiced by Cullen McCarthy), Jayden (voiced by Thomas Burbusca), Rich (voiced by Ricardo Hurtado), Alex (voiced by Marcus Scribner) and Savannah (voiced by Kylie Cantrall) in “Ron’s Gone Wrong” (Image courtesy of 20th Century Studios)

Can an imperfect computer-operated robot be the perfect best friend for a lonely boy? That’s the question behind the animated comedy adventure film “Ron’s Gone Wrong,” which has some quirks and flaws (just like the robot in question) but is ultimately charming in how it presents issues about how much technology can or should replace a human being. “Ron’s Gone Wrong” gets a little off-track in the last third of the film by trying to cram in too many twists and turns to the story, but it eventually gets back on track to have a satisfying conclusion.

Directed by Sarah Smith and Jean-Philippe Vine (with co-direction by Octavio E. Rodriguez), “Ron’s Gone Wrong” treads on familiar territory in children’s oriented films where the protagonaist is a lonesome child who finds and befriends a “special companion.” The “special companion” is unusual enough that, at some point, the child has to keep the companion a secret from adults who might want to take the companion away from the child. The “special companion” could be a talking animal (“Ratatouille”), a space alien (“Lilo & Stitch”) or a computer-operated robot (“Ron’s Gone Wrong”).

“Ron’s Gone Wrong” might gets some comparisons to the Oscar-winning 2014 animated film “Big Hero 6.” However, that there aren’t many things that these two movies have in common except that they’re both animated films about an adolescent boy who has a computer-operated robot as a best friend. In “Big Hero 6,” the boy and the robot are crime-fighting superheroes. In “Ron’s Gone Wrong” the protagonist and his companion robot are supposed to be awkward misfits who have more misadventures than adventures.

The central human character in “Ron’s Gone Wrong” is an adolescent boy named Barney Pudowski (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer), who is a seventh grader at Nonsuch Middle School, which is an unnamed U.S. city. Barney doesn’t have any close friends or siblings. And he’s the only student who doesn’t have the world’s hottest technology device: a Bubble Bot, also known as a B-Bot.

A B-Bot is a talking robot that is shaped like a giant pill capsule and is about the size of a toddler child. Every single B-Bot has a computer algorithm that can detect from a person’s handprints what that person’s preferences and memories are, in order to make the B-Bot the perfect, custom-made friend to the person who owns the B-Bot. The B-Bots come in a box that has this label: “Best Friend Out of the Box.”

B-Bots have become such a common technology device, kids at school have a special location where the B-Bots are stored while the school’s classes are in session. The B-Bots are allowed to interact with the kids at school outside of the classroom, such as in hallways, in cafeterias, or during recess periods. Just like smartphones, B-Bots have become significant in the lifestyles of people who can afford to have this technology. Anyone who doesn’t have a B-Bot at Nonsuch Middle School is considered a social outsider and “behind the times.”

B-Bots were invented by a computer tech genius named Marc Widdell (voiced by Justice Smith), who is the CEO of the Bubble company that makes B-Bots. The beginning of “Ron’s Gone Wrong” shows Marc introducing B-Bots at a big event that’s similar to Apple Inc.’s product-reveal events. Marc’s goal to have the world populated with B-Bots is not motivated by greed but rather by an altruistic intention to rid the world of loneliness. B-Bots are programmed to not hurt people and other beings.

Marc has a second-in-command executive named Andrew (voiced by Rob Delaney), who’s in charge of the company’s sales and marketing. Andrew is selfish, dishonest and ruthlessly ambitious. He doesn’t really care if B-Bots are helping people or not. He just wants to sell as many B-Bots as possible, because he eventually wants to take over the company and replace Marc as CEO.

Meanwhile, at school. Barney is teased and bullied by other students because most of his toys are rocks. A compassionate teacher named Miss Thomas (voiced by Megan Maczko) hugs him in the schoolyard (much to Barney’s embarrassment) and tells some of the students to talk to Barney. It just makes things worse, because the students just taunt him some more about not having a B-Bot. They call Barney names like “rock boy.” Barney also feels different from most other students because he has asthma.

The chief bully is a brat named Rich (voiced by Ricardo Hurtado), who is merciless in trying to insult and humiliate Barney. Rich has two sidekicks named Alex (voiced by Marcus Scribner) and Jayden (voiced by Thomas Barbusca), who go along with whatever Rich does. Other students who end up interacting with Barney are Savannah (voiced by Kylie Cantrall), a self-centered gossip who’s obsessed with being a social media star; Noah (voiced by Cullen McCarthy), a nice guy who is kind to Barney; and Ava (voiced by Ava Morse), a brainy and empathetic acquaintance who is Barney’s secret crush.

Barney lives with his widower father Graham Pudowski (voiced by Ed Helms) and Graham’s Russian immigrant mother Donka Pudowski (voiced by Olivia Colman), who is a widow. Barney’s mother/Graham’s wife died when Barney was 2 years old. Graham owns a novelty toy and trinket company called Pudowski Novelty Exports, which is an online wholesaler. Graham works from home and does all the sales himself, which means that he works very long hours. He’s often seen on the phone trying to close deals with potential and existing clients.

Donka is old-fashioned and scatter-brained, but she adores her family. She likes to think that she’s still living on a farm in Russia instead of a city in the United States. How old-fashioned is Donda? She will bring live animals, like a chicken or a goat, with her wherever she goes.

It’s somewhat of a corny and outdated depiction of immigrants who come to America, by stereotyping immigrants as people stuck in the backwards ways of the “old country” that’s not as technologically advanced as the United States. And in other stereotype of immigrants who don’t have English as their first language, Donda speaks in broken English.

Barney likes to play with toy trains, but even that’s considered out-of-touch by his peers. He longs to have his own B-Bot. However, Barney’s loving but strict father doesn’t want Barney to have a B-Bot because he’s concerned that Barney will be like other kids who spend too much time being addicted to technology and devices, instead of having in-person human interactions and doing things like playing outdoors. Ironically, Graham has become such a workaholic who’s glued to his phone and his computer, he’s been neglecting Barney.

As for Barney’s grandmother Donda, she doesn’t trust new technology overall. Donda doesn’t mince words when she tells Barney what she thinks about B-Bots: “B-Bot is just a fad. And it costs a fortune!”

Early on in the movie, Barney turns 13 years old. His father and grandmother have a birthday party for Barney. The people who were invited to the party were some Barney’s fellow students, but none of the invited people goes to the party. Barney is also disappointed when he opens the birthday gift that he got from his father: It’s another rock toy.

Graham, who can see how miserable Barney is, feels guilty about not getting Barney the gift that Barney wanted. And so, Graham and Donda go to the nearest store that sells B-Bots to get a B-Bot as a belated birthday gift for Barney. But there’s a big problem: All B-Bots are sold-out and won’t be available for the next three months.

Just by coincidence, as Graham and Donda are leaving the store, they see some delivery truck workers in the back of the store. Graham overhears one of the workers talking about a defective B-Bot that Graham can see in the back of a truck. And the next thing you know, Barney gets a belated birthday girft. He opens up the box, and it’s the defective B-Bot, but Barney doesn’t know yet that the B-Bot is faulty. Graham has presented it as a new B-Bot.

It doesn’t take long for Barney to find out that the B-Bot has a lot of glitches. In one of many mistakes, the B-Bot (voiced by Zach Galifianakis) misidentifies Barney’s name and has programmed itself to think that Barney’s name is Absalom. One day, when Barney comes home, he finds out that the B-Bot has made his room a mess and even set a few things on fire. It’s the opposite of the helpful housecleaning duties that a B-Bot is supposed to be capable of doing.

Barney takes an instant dislike to this B-Bot and doesn’t want anything to do with it. However, the B-Bot is programmed to try to be the best friend possible to its owner. The B-Bot tags along with an annoyed Barney, who hasn’t bothered to give the B-Bot a name.

One day, school bully Rich corners Barney for some more insults and degradation at an outdoor skate park, where Rich has been showing off his skateboarding skills during a livestream for his social media. Alex and Jayden are there too. Rich thinks that harassing Barney during the livestream is hilarious.

Rich also makes fun of Barney for having a defective B-Bot. Rich hits the B-Bot, but he’s in for a shock when the B-Bot hits back. A brawl then ensues between Rich and the B-Bot. Rich’s cronies run away in fear, while Rich shouts, “Cut the livestream!”

But the damage has been done. People who saw the livestream now know that a B-Bot is capable of attacking humans. Barney later finds out that his B-Bot doesn’t have “safety settings” to prevent it from hurting people. And that’s why, to avoid a potential PR disaster and lawsuits, the Bubble company orders that the B-Bot be found, confiscated and destroyed. The police also get involved in the search.

However, Barney is impressed with how this B-Bot defended him like a friend. Barney now doesn’t want to give up his B-Bot. He tells the B-Bot, “I can fix you and teach you to be my friend.” It’s at this point that the B-Bot says his name is Ronbitscasco, but Barney calls the robot Ron, for short.

There’s a great deal of the movie that’s about Barney trying to hide Ron from people who want to take Ron away from Barney. Varous hijinks happen—some more predictable than others. Meanwhile, Ron causes a lot of mishaps along the way, which makes Barney get into even more trouble. Barney than does the most obvious thing that a kid would do who wants to hide.

“Ron’s Gone Wrong” might get some criticism for how the problems in this story are resolved. However, it’s easy to perhaps misinterpet “Ron’s Gone Wrong” as a movie that advocates for replacing human interaction and human emotions with the idea that a computer-operated robot can take care of all of a person’s needs. Instead, the message of the movie, which can be a bit muddled, is that there are certain technologies that aren’t going away anytime soon. We can either be in misguided denial and think that people will stop using this technology, or we choose to figure out ways how that technology can beneift people in a positive way.

The movie makes a point that technology, just like anything else, can be abused and used for the wrong reasons. Andrew is the obvious villain who is the epitome of this misuse. Barney knows that Ron should not be his only friend, but Ron teaches Barney to have the self-confidence to make human friends. And the movie doesn’t put all the blame on technology-obsessed kids, because there’s a part of the story that deals with how adults can unintentionally be neglectful of their children for reasons that have nothing to do with technology.

“Ron’s Gone Wrong” is a children’s oriented movie that slips some borderline adult jokes into the story, so that adult viewers can get some laughs. In one scene, Donda says that she once “mended my own hernia with a bread knife and vodka.” In other scene, there’s a recurring poop joke that becomes a plot device for something that happens to one of the students at Barney’s school. The joke might be offensive to some viewers, so consider yourself warned.

At times, “Ron’s Gone Wrong” goes a little bit too over-the-top with what these B-Bots can do. Without giving away any spoiler information, it’s enough to say that parts of this movie look inspired by the “Transformers” cartoon series. Fortunately, the movie doesn’t go off too much on this tangent. “Ron’s Gone Wrong” has some eye-catching visuals, and the cast members perform their roles well. It’s not in the upper echelon of top-quality animated films, but “Ron’s Gone Wrong” serves its purpose of being escapist entertainment that people of many generations can enjoy.

20th Century Studios released “Ron’s Gone Wrong” in U.S. cinemas on October 22, 2021.

Review: ‘The Addams Family 2,’ starring the voices of Oscar Issac, Charlize Theron, Chloë Grace Moretz, Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton, Nick Kroll, Bette Midler and Bill Hader

October 1, 2021

by Carla Hay

“The Addams Family 2”: Pictured in front row, from left to right: Gomez Addams (voiced by Oscar Isaac), Wednesday Addams (voiced by Chloë Grace Moretz), Morticia Addams (voiced by Charlize Theron), Pugsley Addams (voiced by Javon “Wanna” Walton) and It (voiced by Snoop Dogg). Pictured in back row, from left to right: Uncle Fester (voiced by Nick Kroll, Lurch (voiced by Conrad Vernon) and Grandma (voiced by Bette Midler). (Image courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

“The Addams Family 2”

Directed by Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of the U.S., the animated film “The Addams Family 2” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: The ghoulish Addams Family goes on a cross-country road trip, in an effort to create more family bonding, as adolescent daughter Wednesday Addams goes through an identity crisis about her biological origins. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of “Addams Family” fans, “The Addams Family 2” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching overly cluttered animated films that have a very weak plot.

Wednesday Addams (voiced by Chloë Grace Moretz) and Cyrus Strange (voiced by Bill Hader) in “The Addams Family 2” (Image courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

In the animated film “The Addams Family 2,” the family goes on a road trip while being chased by a lawyer who wants Wednesday Addams’ DNA because he says he needs to prove she’s not biologically related to the Addams Family. That’s all you need to know about how bad this sequel is. You don’t even have to be a familiar with “The Addams Family” franchise to know that the members of this comedically ghoulish clan are supposed to be very tight-knit (despite the occasional inter-family squabbles) precisely because they’re misfits in the real world and have an “us against them” attitude about it. It’s the basis of the comedy of “The Addams Family” franchise, which has included movies and TV shows, both live-action and animated.

“The Addams Family 2” is directed by Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan, who both also helmed the 2019 animated film “The Addams Family.” Wednesday Addams (voiced by Chloë Grace Moretz) is the gloomy, sarcastic and intelligent daughter of cheerful Gomez Addams (voiced by Oscar Isaac) and somber Morticia Addams (voiced by Charlize Theron), who looks and acts like stereotypical witch. With their pale skin and long, straight black hair, Wednesday and Morticia clearly have a physical resemblance to each other and have similar personalities. And yet, “The Addams Family 2” has a very misguided idea to have Wednesday go through an identity crisis just because someone told her that she’s not a true biological member of the family.

Pugsley Addams, who is Wednesday’s goofy pre-teen younger brother, is more like his father Gomez. In “The Addams Family 2,” Pugsley is voiced by Javon “Wanna” Walton, who replaces Finn Wolfhard, who voiced Pugsley in “The Addams Family” 2019 animated movie. Wednesday is such a negative person that she likes to torture and taunt Pugsley with cruel pranks and insults.

Also in the Addams Family are Uncle Fester (voiced by Nick Kroll), who is Gomez’s oddball bachelor brother; Cousin It (voiced by Snoop Dogg), a hair-covered character who grunts and raps; and Grandma (voiced by Bette Midler), Gomez’s sassy and free-spirited mother. All of them except for Cousin It live together in the same foreboding mansion up on a hill in an unnamed U.S. city. Cousin It drops in occasionally to visit; he’s not a major character in this movie.

Also living in the household, but not biologically related to the Addams Family, are two servants: a disembodied hand called Thing and a butler named Lurch (voiced by Conrad Vernon), who resembles the Frankenstein monster and who doesn’t talk but makes other sounds to communicate. In the 2019 “The Addams Family” movie, Lurch came to live with the family after Morticia and Gomez got into a car accident with a car that was transporting Lurch to an institution for the criminally insane. Lurch was able to escape, and he was invited to live with the Addams Family as their butler. The Addams Family also has a pet lion named Kitty.

In the beginning of “The Addams Family 2,” the family is gathered to watch Wednesday participate in the Cyrus Strange Foundation Science Fair. She is demonstrating an invention that she created which is intended to have the ability to extract personalities and intelligence and implant them in other beings through DNA. Wednesday is so confident about her invention, she’s sure that she will be declared the science fair’s winner.

As a live experiment to demonstrate how the invention works, Wednesday shows how Uncle Fester can’t solve a Rubik’s cube puzzle, while a smart octopus can solve the puzzle. She then temporarily implants the octopus’ DNA into Uncle Fester, and he’s able to solve the puzzle. However, for the rest of the movie, Uncle Fester becomes a mutant with the physical characteristics of an octopus. It’s one of this movie’s many terrible ideas, in a failed attempt at making this story funny.

The audience is impressed with Wednesday’s experiment. However, Wednesday becomes furious when she finds out that this science fair isn’t going to name a winner, because everyone who participated will get a ribbon as a prize. Wednesday fumes, “How can you be a winner if no one is a loser? Is this the third grade? It does not count!”

Someone who has been watching this science fair from afar is founder Cyrus Strange (voiced by Bill Hader), who appears at the event as a hologram. Cyrus asks Wednesday if she would like to work with him to further develop her invention. Cyrus says he has the money and resources to help her, but she declines his offer.

At home, Wednesday has been showing typical signs of adolescent rebellion. She doesn’t want to join the family when they’re gathered for dinner. She’s been sulking more than usual. And she’s been expressing that she wants more independence from her family, because she thinks her parents are too supportive of her.

Gomez decides the best way to resolve this issue is for the entire family (with Lurch, Thing and Kitty in tow) to go on a road trip together. Grandma will stay behind to look after the house. In typical Addams Family fashion, the black automobile that they’re using for the road trip looks like a combination of a recreational vehicle and a hearse.

Just as the Addams Family is packing up to leave for the trip, an attorney named Mr. Mustela (voiced by Wallace Shawn) shows up to inform the Addams Family that he represents a family in Sausalito, California. Mr. Mustela says that his clients are convinced that their daughter was switched at birth with Wednesday, and Mr. Mustela has arrived to collect Wednesday’s DNA as proof. He wants Wednesday’s DNA, right then and there.

Morticia and Gomez scoff at the idea that Wednesday is not their biological child. They refuse Mr. Mustela’s request and tell him to leave. But is this the last they’ll see of Mr. Mustela? Of course not. With a mute, hulking goon named Pongo as his accomplice, Mr. Mustela follows the Addams Family as they go on their road trip, which takes them to Niagra Falls, Sleepy Hollow, Miami, San Antonio, the Grand Canyon, Death Valley and Sausalito.

Why in the world would Wednesday and anyone else in her family start to doubt her biological identity? It happens during the road trip, when Uncle Fester confesses that there was a time when he was all alone in the hospital nursery where Wednesday was placed, shortly after Wednesday was born. This story is shown in a flashback.

Even as a baby, Wednesday did not look like other kids. However, Uncle Fester says that he was goofing around in the nursery and he started juggling the babies. Looking back on it, he thinks it’s possible that he could have put some of the babies back in the wrong cribs. However, what’s dumb about this major plot hole of a story is that Wednesday looked so vastly different from the other babies that there’s no way that a seeing person could confuse her with any of the other babies in the room.

As her parents, Gomez and Morticia should know this too, but that doesn’t stop them from having doubts that maybe Wednesday isn’t their biological child. Uncle Fester’s story sends Wednesday into an even more angst-ridden emotional tailspin. For a girl who’s supposed to be scientifically smart, this awful movie suddenly dumbs her down, in service of a poorly conceived story.

“The Addams Family 2” does what a lot of animated sequels do: It takes the characters on a journey to different places, just so it’ll make the movie try to look more adventurous than its predecessor. Sometimes this idea works, and sometimes it doesn’t. In the case of “The Addams Family 2,” it doesn’t work because the entire basis of the “possibly switched at birth” plot is flawed and an insult to how the Addams Family characters are supposed to be.

“The Addams Family 2” also has a bizarre recurring joke of Uncle Fester trying to teach a pre-teen Pugsley how to charm and seduce women. It’s supposed to be funny because Uncle Fester is terrible at dating and has very little experience with romance. But he creepily pressures Pugsley to start looking for a girlfriend who’s close to Pugsley’s age, even though this kid is too young to be dating anyone.

Didn’t any of the filmmakers think how inappropriate and weird this subplot is, considering that Pugsley hasn’t even reached puberty yet? Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Ben Queen and Susanna Fogel are the four screenwriters for “The Addams Family 2,” so they’re largely to blame for coming up with the awful ideas that plague this movie. However, other chief decision makers (including directors Vernon and Tiernan) were involved in making this movie into a stinking mess, so there’s plenty of blame to go around.

The road trip is just an excuse for the Addams Family to go from location to location and get into various shenanigans along the way. Wednesday is crueler than ever to Pugsley in this movie. For example, in one scene at Niagra Falls, Wednesday has a cursed voodoo doll of Pugsley, which she callously throws into the waterfall, therby making Pugsley plunge into the deadly waterfall with the doll. The movie wants to make viewers laugh at all the physical abuse and attempted murder that’s inflicted on Pugsley, but it’s not slapstick comedy that’s genuinely funny. It’s just plain mean-spirited.

Meanwhile, Grandma is at the mansion, which she has turned into a nightclub-styled party house where she’s charging young people $500 per person for admission. It’s a half-baked idea that’s executed in a mediocre and predictable way. It just recycles a tired joke that an old person partying with young people is automatically supposed to be funny.

“The Addams Family 2” isn’t the worst animated movie you’ll ever see. But it’s offensively bad enough because it had so much potential to be a good movie, considering its generous budget and very talented voice cast. “The Addams Family” movie that preceded it wasn’t great either, but it didn’t wildly go off-track like “The Addams Family 2” does. “The Addams Family 2” is an example of what happens when filmmakers don’t respect a franchise’s characters, and come up with an ill-conceived story that doesn’t ring true to how fans know these characters.

Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures released “The Addams Family 2” in U.S. cinemas and on VOD on October 1, 2021.

Review: ‘Cryptozoo,’ starring the voices of Lake Bell, Angeliki Papoulia, Grace Zabriskie, Louisa Krause, Michael Cera, Thomas Jay Ryan and Peter Stromare

September 13, 2021

by Carla Hay

A scene from “Cryptozoo” (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

Cryptozoo”

Directed by Dash Shaw

Culture Representation: Taking place in San Francisco, Florida, Kentucky and the former Soviet Union in 1967, the animated film “Cryptozoo” features a nearly all white cast of characters depicting humans and hybrid/mutant animals.

Culture Clash: A heroic veterinarian teams up with her boss and a gorgon to rescue a baku (a rare dream-eating hybrid creature) before it is captured and sold on the blaxck market by greedy poachers.

Culture Audience: “Cryptozoo” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in adult-oriented animation that’s a throwback to psychedelic, hand-drawn animation of the late 1960s.

Lauren Gray (voiced by Lake Bell), Pheobe (voiced by Angeliki Papoulia) and Joan (voiced by Grace Zabriskie) in “Cryptozoo” (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

“Cryptozoo” brings an intriguing, adult-oriented alternative to the slick kiddie animation that has oversaturated the movie business. The hand-drawn graphics in “Cryptozoo” are sometimes rough around the edges, but the movie has an adventurous and psychedelic spirit that perfectly suits the story, which is set in 1967. Written and directed by Dash Shaw, with animation direction from Jane Samborski, “Cryptozoo” might not interest viewers who prefer their animation to be more elaborate and modern-looking. But the movie is admirable for being committed to its unique vision instead of trying to look like it wants to be a safe blockbuster hit.

“Cryptozoo” begins with a scene that definitely wouldn’t be in a children-oriented animated movie: A hippie couple in their 20s have sex while on a romantic date in an unnamed wooded area in San Francisco. Get used to seeing full-frontal nudity in “Cryptozoo.” The movie has an extended adventure sequence where one of the heroes spends the entire time naked and is neither self-conscious nor apologetic about it. And there’s a sex orgy scene in the movie.

The amorous couple in the movie’s opening scene are Amber (voiced by Louisa Krause) and her boyfriend Matthew (voiced by Michael Cera), who are lost in the woods. Amber and Matthew both consider themselves to be part of the counterculture movement. Matthew talks about a dream he had where he and his peers stormed the U.S. Capitol building and started a perfect society. In terms of personality, Amber is feisty, while Matthew is more laid-back.

Amber says about their jaunt in the woods, “I don’t know where we are. Everyone can go fuck themselves!” When Matthew compliments parts of Amber’s body as foreplay, she asks him, “What about something about my personality?” Matthew replies, “I really love your imagination.” That seems to do the trick, because the next thing you know, they’re having sex.

This bliss doesn’t last long though, as Amber gets nervous about spending the night in the woods. She’s afraid that wolves might attack them. Matthew smokes a joint and tells Amber not to get so worried. They wake up to see a seemingly never-ending high fence surrounding them.

Amber and Matthew, who are completely naked, decide to climb over the fence. They see a castle that Matthew remarks reminds him of something that could’ve been built for Walt Disney. And then, a unicorn appears. Matthew accidentally kicks something at the unicorn, which reacts by charging into Matthew and impaling Matthew with its horn.

A frightened and angry Amber tries to get the unicorn off of Matthew and eventually kills the unicorn by pounding it with a rock. After the unicorn dies, Amber breaks off the unicorn’s horn to use as a weapon in case she encounters any more attacking animals. And that’s when Amber looks around and sees that the place where she’s at has several mutant animals in cages. For example, one of the mutant animals is a chicken with a snake’s head.

Amber doesn’t know it yet, but she’s in Cryptozoo, a special sanctuary for mutant animals, called cryptids, that were rescued from poachers and people who want to sell these creatures on the black market. Cryptozoo is the brainchild of a no-nonsense elderly scientist named Joan (played by Grace Zabriskie) and the zoo’s veterinarian Lauren Gray (voiced by Lake Bell), who is in her 30s. The operation of Cryptozoo is funded by making it a tourist attraction.

Lauren explains in a flashback and a voiceover that she’s been obsessed with this idea of helping these mutant creatures, ever since she was a little girl and met a cryptid called a baku, which looks like a small elephant. The baku is an animal that can eat dreams, and the baku came to her as a little girl to eat her nightmares.

However, this baku (which is a female) disappeared and hasn’t been seen for decades. The speculation over whether the baku is alive or dead has become an urban legend. Lauren, who hopes to one day see the baku again, says in a voiceover, “I dedicated my life to help keep cryptids like her safe from harm.”

The rest of the movie chronicles an international adventure where there’s a race against time to prevent a group of cryptid hunters from finding the baku. The leader of these poachers is Nicholas (voiced by Thomas Jay Ryan), who is ruthless and greedy. Nicholas satyr ally named Gustav (voiced by Peter Stromare), who is hedonistic and untrustworthy.

Lauren and Joan team up with a Gorgon named Phoebe (voiced by Angeliki Papoulia), who hides the snakes on her head by wearing head wraps and wigs. She gives the snakes sleeping medication when she has to be out in public, in order for the snakes not to move around and bring attention to themselves. Phoebe has special powers which are revealed in the story.

Phoebe is reluctant to go on this mission because she wants to spend time with her fiancé Jay (voiced by Rajesh Parameswaran), who is a human and loves and accept Phoebe for who she is. However, Phoebe is convinced to join the mission because Lauren and Joan are both human, and they think it would benefit the mission if a cryptid was also on this journey.

One of the clues to solving the mystery of where the baku might be comes from a recent arrival to Cryptozoo. He is a young male cryptid named Pliny (voiced by Emily Davis), whose entire body is shaped like a human hand. Pliny doesn’t talk, but he can make noises to indicate yes or no answers. However, Pliny has an overprotective mother named Giulia (voiced by Irene Muscara), who has a tendency to interfere with the investigation.

People who enjoy fantasy worldbuilding will find much to like about “Cryptozoo,” which has elements that were definitely influenced by Dungeons & Dragons. “Cryptozoo” is also a rare animated feature film where all of the main heroes are female. The story is somewhat predictable and the dialogue isn’t going to win “Cryptozoo” any animation screenplay awards, but the visuals and some of the scenarios facing the characters are very compelling and presented with a well-paced flair. It’s fair to say that “Cryptozoo” might be one of the most memorable animated films that viewers will see in any given year.

Review: ‘Un Rescate de Huevitos,’ starring the voices of Bruno Bichir, Maite Perroni, Oliver Flores, Dione Riva Palacio Santacruz, Carlos Espejel, Angélica Vale and Mayra Rojas

September 7, 2021

by Carla Hay

Toto (voiced by Bruno Bichir), Willy (played by Carlos Espejel), Toporocho (voiced by Claudio Herrera), Bacon, Di (voiced by Maite Perroni), Bibi (voiced by Angélica Vale) and Confi (voiced by Gabriel Riva Palacio Alatriste) in “Un Rescate de Huevitos” (Photo courtesy of Pantelion Films)

“Un Rescate de Huevitos”

Directed by Gabriel Riva Palacio Alatriste and Rodolfo Riva Palacio Alatriste

Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Mexico and Congo, the animated film “Un Rescate de Huevitos” features a group of talking animals, as well as human Russians and Mexicans.

Culture Clash: A greedy villainess, who collects valuable eggs for a Russian baron, steals two young “golden eggs,” whose rooster father and hen mother go on the hunt to rescue their children.

Culture Audience: “Un Rescate de Huevitos” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching family-friendly animated adventure stories.

Duquesa (voiced by Mayra Rojas) in “Un Rescate de Huevitos” (Photo courtesy of Pantelion Films)

“Un Rescate de Huevitos” (which means “An Egg Rescue” in English) is a lightweight, fun-filled ride for people who enjoy animation with a predictable story arc that’s entertaining, thanks to the variety of characters and amusing situations. The movie might seem to be a little overstuffed with characters for very young viewers or for people with short attention spans. However, the adventurous plot of the movie is very easy to follow, which makes “Un Rescate de Huevitos” a crowd-pleasing film for many generations.

Directed by brothers Gabriel Riva Palacio Alatriste and Rodolfo Riva Palacio Alatriste, “Un Rescate de Huevitos” is the fourth in Huevocartoon Producciones’ “Huevos” animated series of films that follows the life of a rooster chicken named Toto, beginning from when he was an egg in the first movie to now being a husband and father in this fourth film. The Alatriste brothers (who co-founded Huevocartoon Producciones) co-wrote the “Un Rescate de Huevitos” screenplay.

In “Un Rescate de Huevitos,” Toto (voiced by Bruno Bichir) and his wife Di (voiced by Maite Perroni) are living happily on Granjas el Pollon (El Pollon Farms) somewhere in Mexico. These two lovebirds have welcomed two golden eggs into their family: a boy named Max (voiced by Oliver Flores) and a girl named Uly (voiced by Dione Riva Palacio Santacruz).

These new parents (especially Toto) are very protective of their eggs and get some babysitting help from their egg friend Bibi (voiced by Angélica Vale), who is dating Toto’s egg best friend Willy (played by Carlos Espejel), a former military sergeant. Even though the eggs haven’t become chickens yet, they have minds of their own and want to be independent. Max is very resentful of his father Toto being overprotective, and they have disagreements about it.

The farm’s human owner La Abuelita (voiced by María Alicia Delgado) is so entranced with the eggs’ golden appearance that she enters the eggs into a contest for ranchers and farmers can show off their young animals. The eggs win the grand prize. La Abuelita is proud and delighted, but her joy won’t last long because the eggs are about to be stolen.

At this contest is a Russian egg collector named Duquesa (voiced by Mayra Rojas), a ruthless villain who wants eggs as treasures and as delicacies. She’s looking for chicken eggs to complete her collection. Duquesa (which means “duchess” in English; her real name is Guadalupe) works for Barón Roncovich (voiced by Humberto Vélez), who hosts a gala event in Africa for society’s elite from all over the world. At this event, rare eggs are served as delicacies.

Duquesa immediately wants the golden eggs for Barón Roncovich’s upcoming gala, so she offers to buy Max and Uly for $200, but La Abuelita declines the offer. But that doesn’t stop Duquesa, who orders two hired thugs who are bothers—Panzovich (voiced by Héctor Lee) and Gordimitri (voiced by Juan Frese)—to follow La Abuelita and her family back to the farm. The thug brothers send animal moles with mind-control helmets to the farm to steal Max and Uly.

Uly and Max’s loved ones are frantic when they find that out the two eggs are missing. They form a rescue group consisting of Toto, Di, Willy, Bibi, a goofy Cascarón egg named Confi (voiced by Gabriel Riva Palacio Alatriste) and a mute bacon strip called Bacon. The thugs betray the moles by leaving the helmets on, and the moles can’t take them off without help.

Willy and Bibi find track down one of the moles, whose name is Toporocho (voiced by Claudio Herrera), and they free him from the helmet. In gratitude, Toporocho tells the rescue group that the eggs are on a plane headed to the African country of Congo. The rescuers hitch a ride on the plane, but a series of events get them thrown off the plane and into the jungles of Congo, where they have no idea where they are.

Meanwhile, Max and Uly have been placed in a collector’s jar. They are being held captive with other eggs who are in the same predicament: Torti, a slow-speaking turtle egg with powerful jaws. snake egg Serp (voiced by Gabriel Riva Palacio Alatriste); crocodile egg Coco (voiced by Rodolfo Riva Palacio Alatriste); lizard egg Lagatijo (voiced by Gabriel Riva Palacio Alatriste); ostrich egg Manotas (voiced by Gabriel Riva Palacio Alatriste); iguana egg Iguano (also voiced by Rodolfo Riva Palacio Alatriste); ostrich egg Huevo de Halcón (voiced by Armando González); eagle egg El Huevo de Águila Real (voiced by Mauricio Barrientos); famine quail egg Huevo de Codorniz (voiced by Ximena de Anda); and peacock egg Pavi (voiced by Mónica Santacruz).

Other characters that make appearances in the movie include chicken-eating opossums (and partners in crime) Tlacua (voiced by Fernando Meza) and Cuache (voiced by Rodolfo Riva Palacio Alatriste). There are also two monkeys named El Chango Bananero (voiced by Freddy Ortega) and El Chango Petacón (voiced by German Ortega that are talent scouts for a “Congo’s Got Talent” show, with a lion named Rey León (voiced by Jesús Ochoa), also known as Leonidas I.

One of the best things about “Un Rescate de Huevitos” is that it keeps the adventurous spirit consistent throughout the entire movie, whose pace doesn’t lag. The captured eggs are transported a refrigerator, where they face near-freezing temperatures due to a mishap and almost face death. There’s also some sly commentary about humans, such when the “king of the jungle” lion says, “No one can beat humans. They are the worst predators.”

As the chief villain, Duquesa is a over-the-top character, as expected. In terms of visual style, she seems to be greatly inspired by the Disney character Cruella. And her snarls and cackles are hit all the right beats, but she’s more campy than scary.

The animation for “Un Rescate de Huevitos” is very above-average, but not outstanding. The best visual scenes are in the jungle during the “Congo’s Got Talent” contest. What keeps this movie engaging is the way that the jokes flow well and stay true to the characters.

There are no heavy-handed and preachy messages in “Un Rescate de Huevitos.” It’s simply a breezy escapist movie about family and the appreciation of loved ones. Sometimes that’s all you need if you’re looking for a movie that children and adults can enjoy.

Pantelion Films released “Un Rescate de Huevitos” in select U.S. cinemas on August 27, 2021. The movie was released in Mexico on August 12, 2021.

Review: ‘PAW Patrol: The Movie,’ starring the voices of Will Brisbin, Iain Armitage, Lilly Bartlam, Marsai Martin, Ron Pardo, Yara Shahidi and Jimmy Kimmel

August 20, 2021

by Carla Hay

Zuma (voiced by Shayle Simons), Rocky (voiced by Callum Shoniker), Skye (voiced by Lilly Bartlam), Chase (voiced by Iain Armitage), Marshall (voiced by Kingsley Marshall) and Rubble (voiced by Keegan Hedley) in “PAW Patrol: The Movie” (Image courtesy of Spin Master/Paramount Pictures)

“PAW Patrol: The Movie”

Directed by Cal Brunker 

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional Adventure City in North America, the animated film “PAW Patrol: The Movie” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: A boy and his team of rescue dogs must stop a villainous mayor, whose demented plans to control everything end up causing dangerous hazards to people in the city.

Culture Audience: “PAW Patrol: The Movie” will appeal primarily to fans of the “Paw Patrol” TV series and people who want escapist entertainment that can be enjoyed by viewers of of wide age ranges.

Mayor Humdinger (voiced by Ron Pardo) in “PAW Patrol: The Movie” (Image courtesy of Spin Master/Paramount Pictures)

“PAW Patrol: The Movie” is a lightweight, family-friendly animated film with multi-generational appeal. It’s not going to win any major awards, but the movie has positive messages about teamwork, self-acceptance and caring for mental health issues. It also doesn’t fall into a common trap that tends to plague animated films from major studios: trying to cram in as many storylines as possible, and thereby making the film too cluttered.

The simple plot of “PAW Patrol: The Movie” works well because it’s easy for very young kids to follow, and the pacing is just right for this story. A lot of family-oriented animated films seem to forget that many children in the movie’s target audience are too young to understand movies that pile on complicated subplots. And some animated movies get so enamored with world building, it results in too many characters being introduced. Sometimes people just want to see an uncomplicated “good versus evil” story.

Directed by Cal Brunker (who co-wrote the screenplay with Billy Frolick and Bob Barlen), “Paw Patrol: The Movie” thankfully does not assume that everyone watching this movie has seen the “Paw Patrol” TV series, a show that originated in Canada in 2013. The series is televised in Canada on TVOKids and in the U.S. on Nickelodeon You don’t need to see the “PAW Patrol” TV series to enjoy or understand the movie.

What might disappoint fans of the “PAW Patrol” series is that certain dog characters in the movie don’t get the spotlight as they would in the TV series. Newcomers to the “PAW Patrol” franchise who see this movie and don’t know anything about the TV series will come away only remembering the personalities of only three or four (or about half) of the dogs in the movie.

But the filmmakers seem to know this movie’s target audience, because there’s only so much you can put in an 88-minute movie like this one that a TV series would be allowed more time to have. For example, in the TV series, there are 12 dogs and one cat that are part of the PAW Patrol. In this movie, there are six dogs that are part of the PAW Patrol and one dog that’s an aspiring PAW Patrol member.

In “PAW Patrol: The Movie,” Ryder (voiced by Will Brisbin) is a 10-year-old boy who’s in charge of a team of rescue dogs that have the voices of human kids who are around the same age and can do many things thagt humans can do, such as drive vehicles. Ryder and the dogs all live in Adventure City, which is somewhere in North America. Members of the PAW Patrol help the community in various ways, by acting as unofficial police officers and firefighters.

The dog who’s closest to Ryder is a male German Shepherd named Chase (voiced by Iain Armitage), who has a reputation for being the bravest dog in the pack, with a keen sense of sight and smell. Chase is allergic to cats though, which is a hindrance since this movie’s villain has several cats. All of the other PAW Patrol dogs look up to Chase in some way as their “alpha dog.”

In addition to Chase, there’s Skye (voiced by Lilly Bartlam), a bold 7-year-old female tan cockapoo, who has aircraft skills and a custom-made pink-and-grey helicopter. Marshall (voiced by Kinsgley Marshall) is a goofy 6-year-old male Dalmatian with firefighter and paramedic skills and a custom fire engine truck. Rocky (voiced by Callum Shoniker) is a 6-year-old grey-and-white male Schnauzer/Scottish Terrier mixed-breed dog, who is skilled at recycling and handyman duties, and he has a green recycling truck.

Zuma (voiced by Shayle Simons) is a 5-year-old male brown Labrador Retriever whose specialty is water rescues. He has an orange hovercraft that can be used on water or on land. Rubble (voiced by Keegan Hedley) is a 5-year-old male white-and-brown bulldog who is the team’s construction expert, and his custom vehicle is a yellow bulldozer.

In “PAW Patrol: The Movie,” the team is moving to new headquarters that Ryder has chosen for them. Going along for the ride is another dog who eagerly wants to become a member of the PAW Patrol. She’s smart and sassy Liberty (voiced by Marsai Martin), a brown dachshund, who only has a beat-up play wagon as her vehicle. Liberty, who is a new “PAW Patrol” character introduced in this movie, feels like she has to prove herself to be a worthy member of the PAW Patrol. Liberty meets Ryder and the team when she helps navigate them out of a traffic jam—an indication that she has an excellent sense of direction.

Around the same time, Adventure City is about to experience new leadership with the newly elected Mayor Humdinger (voiced by Ron Pardo), an egotistical and cruel blowhard who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. (Pardo also voices the character of marine biologist Cap’n Turbot, a TV series regular who makes a brief appearance in this movie.) Mayor Humdinger likes to wear top hats and loves to get attention for himself.

The mayor also owns several cats, which are the only living beings that he doesn’t mistreat. The movie doesn’t portray cats in a positive way—the PAW Patrol dogs dislike cats and make sour faces when cats are mentioned—but viewers who love cats shouldn’t be too offended, since the cats don’t really do anything wrong in the story. In addition to having cats as his companions, Mayor Humdinger has two boneheaded and bulky henchmen who are at his beck and call: dark-haired Butch (voiced by Randall Park) and blonde Ruben (voiced by Dax Shepard), who frequently argue about which of them is smarter or more well-liked by their boss.

In Adventure City, a brilliant scientist named Kendra Wilson (voiced by Yara Shahidi) has been leading a team to build an invention called the Cloud Catcher, which sucks clouds out of the air. She tells Mayor Humdinger that the purpose of the Cloud Catcher is so that clouds can be studied and examined. However, once Mayor Humdinger finds out about the Cloud Catcher, he orders Kendra and her team to use it so that every day in Adventure City can be sunny.

Mayor Humdinger makes some more awful decisions, such as building an outdoor subway track that looks more like a circular amusement park ride. Not surprisingly, things go very wrong, and a subway train gets stuck hanging upside-down from the track. Its one of several hazardous events that need the PAW Patrol’s help. There’s an environmental disaster that also occurs due to the Mayor Humdinger’s misuse of the Cloud Catcher.

Early on in the movie, during a rescue of people from a burning building, Chase gets stuck on his parachute rope because he didn’t activate the parachute correctly. He’s very hard on himself because of this mistake. And as a result, he loses a lot of self-confidence and starts to have anxiety attacks in stressful situations. It’s a mental health issue that’s handled with grace and sensitivity in this movie, which also hints that Chase has become a workaholic who’s in need of taking a break for self-care.

The movie isn’t all gloom and doom. There are several moments of comedic levity, many of which come from an overly ambitious TV journalist called Marty Muckraker (voiced by Jimmy Kimmel), who wants to get news scoops and uncover scandals at any cost. Mayor Humdinger and Marty both have huge egos. It’s inevitable that both of them will have personality clashes with each other.

If you’ve ever had real-life experiences with a narcissistic, incompetent tyrant who’s been given too much authority and is on a power trip, then you’ll get some laughs out of watching what happens to Mayor Humdinger in this movie. Adults who watch this movie with any underage kids should tell those kids that even though Mayor Humdinger is a fictional character, there are plenty of toxic bullies like him in the real world. A cartoon villain like Mayor Humdinger isn’t too far off from how power-hungry and vain oppressors act like in real life.

All of the voice actors get the job done in a highly satisfactory way, but not in a particularly outstanding manner. What stands out in “PAW Patrol: The Movie” is how well the story makes use of a uncluttered plot, in addition to the real-life lessons that the movie tries to teach, without being preachy. “PAW Patrol: The Movie” also has a very good gender balance in who gets to do the heroic actions. There are certainly more intricately made, higher-budgeted and more dazzling animated films than “PAW Patrol: The Movie.” But for people who are looking for some good, clean fun in an animated movie that doesn’t get dull or overly complicated, then “PAW Patrol: The Movie” is a solid choice.

Paramount Pictures released “Paw Patrol: The Movie” in U.S. cinemas and on Paramount+ on August 20, 2021.