In the 12 years since James Cameron last directed a feature film (a little art-house number called “Titanic,” heard of it?), much has changed in the growing field of special effects.
When most directors repeat themselves, it’s typically a sign of artistic exhaustion or perhaps unshakable fixation. In Wes Anderson’s case, his visual repetition has become an irresistible thumbprint, and one of the great moviegoing joys I’ve encountered in recent years is the opportunity to watch this supremely gifted filmmaker use his leather-bound imagination to impart varying stories of eccentric outsiders and their enduring emotional wounds, with each film connected by exotic aesthetic degrees of detail-oriented splendor. Now Anderson takes his cinematic language to the hand-woven field of stop-motion animation for “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” and, yet again, the filmmaker shapes a breathtaking cinematic marvel; he finds a magnificent home nestled firmly in the luxurious textures of the animation, the dancing vocal performances, and delicious wry tone that makes for stunningly fanciful cinema.
“The Princess and the Frog” represents Disney’s big comeback to feature-length, traditionally animated filmmaking. Granted, it’s only been away for five years, but a comeback is a comeback, and I’ll take any renewed interest in 2-D storytelling I can get. Playing it safe to rekindle the animated magic that once defined the Disney name, “Princess and the Frog” is a joyful lap around familiar Mouse House artistic elements, looking to help rebuild the kingdom brand name with a cushy tale of a princess, smooch-happy amphibians, and the grandeur of turn-of-the-century New Orleans.
Lest I come across like a curmudgeon who despises all things slapstick, I’ll state that “Old Dogs” is poor slapstick. A spastic, noxious comedy, “Old Dogs” is scattershot and out of control, bludgeoning the audience with all sorts of eye-bulging mugging and dire cliche. It’s insufferable and lazily directed, trusting sheer frontal force will be enough to supply laughs. Shot two years ago, the picture has the feel of a movie that’s been reordered and reworked a few dozen times, shaved down to a pure goof-and-sentiment experience that fails both goals. It’s dreadful, but at least Disney’s been kind enough to suggest as much through their disheartening marketing efforts.
Coming off arguably their finest effort to date with the kung-fu/blaxploitation adventure “East Meets Watts,” Cinematic Titanic returns with a second helping of their burgeoning live act in “The Alien Factor.” Another lackadaisical statement of unfiltered goofballery from the 1970s, the newest target of riff rage proves to be a worthy contender to the franchise crown, with the gang shaping 80 minutes of uninterrupted hilarity, feeding off the frisky stage energy to give this sorry routine of rubber suits, cruddy acting, and endless strolls a needed kick in the behind.