THE BOSS BABY (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for some mild Rude Humor

Directed by: Tom McGrath

Written by: Michael McCullers

(based on the picture book THE BOSS BABY by Marla Frazee)

Voices of: Alec Baldwin, Miles Bakshi, Tobey Maguire, Steve Buscemi, Jimmy Kimmel, Lisa Kudrow & Conrad Vernon

To be completely honest, I had hopes for THE BOSS BABY. The trailers made this film look like a silly family friendly comedy, some of the jokes made me laugh, and the animation looked visually pleasing. DreamWorks Animation also has a pretty good track record, slight hiccups aside (cough, HOME, cough, SHREK THE THIRD). So I rented THE BOSS BABY with a pep in my step and hoped for the best. 97 minutes later, I’m baffled as to what the director, writer, cast, crew, and producers were even attempting to do with this movie. Despite having a couple of positive qualities, THE BOSS BABY is a mind-boggling combination of bad ideas and uneven storytelling.

Based on the picture book of the same name, THE BOSS BABY follows young Tim Templeton (Miles Bakshi) who’s content with being an only child and receiving all the love from his parents (Jimmy Kimmel, Lisa Kudrow). Tim finds his normal life shattered when his parents arrive with new baby brother Theodore (Alec Baldwin). This suit-wearing infant (who’s constantly carrying a briefcase) isn’t like other babies though, because he’s actually been sent from Baby Corp to stop the rival company Puppy Co. from stealing love away from babies worldwide. Things get more complicated when Tim realizes his new brother’s identity and the two work together to stop evil CEO Francis E. Francis (Steve Buscemi) from killing off new babies forever.

From the plot description, you may be thinking to yourself, “Man, THE BOSS BABY sounds really stupid and weird.” Well, you haven’t heard the last of this movie’s strangeness. In a creative decision that seems clever at first and then becomes confusing, THE BOSS BABY has imagination sequences in which Tim shows off his crazy thoughts and pretends to be on adventures. A smarter movie might have framed the entire “infant secret agent versus adorable puppies” storyline as a product of Tim’s overactive imagination. BOSS BABY’s visual style makes it clear that the imagination sequences have nothing to do with the super-smart infant with a business mindset.

This movie might make sense if the viewer were high whilst watching it (not that I’m advocating that…unless it’s legal where you live). In BABY’s own mismatched logic, the storyline doesn’t make a lick of sense. Of course, this piece of family entertainment also tries to cap things off with a forced feel-good message about brotherly love and family in the final ten minutes. However, this only left me scratching my head and rolling my eyes. After all, how will THE BOSS BABY 2 (scheduled for 2021) ever happen if we’re to buy into the would-be emotional ending that this film tries to sell us?

As far as the voice cast goes, the two big stand-outs are Alec Baldwin as the titular boss baby and Steve Buscemi as the CEO antagonist. Baldwin’s constant mixing of baby language with adult business lingo supplies a few laughs. The film’s humor also has references to GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS and even THE MATRIX for older viewers to enjoy, but constantly goes to the well of toilet, drool, fart, and vomit jokes. Meanwhile, Buscemi’s baddie and his lumbering silent sidekick provide genuine laughs as over-the-top evil characters. I enjoyed watching their scenes and these moments are easily the best bits in the entire film. Every other character is bland and predictable, including main character Tim.

THE BOSS BABY seemingly doesn’t know what audience it’s aiming for and is constantly conflicted about its cinematic identity. There are fart jokes and colorful images to keep the kiddies occupied. However, the plot gets needlessly complex (with a never-explained mixture of imagination and “reality”) and a crazy conspiracy thriller aspect. A Tobey Maguire narrated epilogue attempts to sell this as an emotional tale, but that feels entirely unnecessary and unearned. At the end of the day, the animation is nice to look at and there are a handful of laughs to be had, but those are about the only positive things I can say for THE BOSS BABY. Again, I’m not advocating it (unless it’s legal where you live), but THE BOSS BABY is indeed a children’s film that might make more sense and be far more enjoyable if the viewer was high.

Grade: D+

DESPICABLE ME 3 (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Action and Rude Humor

Directed by: Kyle Balda & Pierre Coffin

Written by: Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio

Voices of: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker, Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Nev Scharrel, Steve Coogan, Julie Andrews & Jenny Slate

One of three unexpected animated sequels in 2017’s summer movie season (alongside THE NUT JOB 2 and CARS 3), DESPICABLE ME 3 falls in the middle of its great-to-okay franchise. I feel that the first DESPICABLE ME is overrated and a bit bland, but has enough sweetness and laughs to barely overcome its many flaws. DESPICABLE ME 2 is Illumination’s best film (so far) and a sequel that easily surpassed its predecessor. MINIONS was an okay spin-off that had great moments, but was aimed far more at little kids than previous two DESPICABLE films. DESPICABLE ME 3 serves as an improvement over the first DESPICABLE film and its yellow pill-shaped spin-off, but falls beneath the still-superior second installment. This is a fun piece of family entertainment. Nothing more, nothing less.

Former-supervillain-turned-good-guy Gru (Steve Carell) and agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig) have been serving as husband and wife crime-fighting partners for the Anti-Villain League. After he’s thwarted by 80s-child-star-turned-evil-villain Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker), Gru and his wife are fired. Things look grim for Gru until he receives an invitation from his wealthy long-lost twin brother Dru (also Steve Carell). It turns out that Dru is looking to get into supervillainy and hopes that Gru will assist him. Meanwhile, Lucy struggles to be a good mother towards Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier), and Agnes (Nev Scharrel).

DESPICABLE ME 3 has colorful, vibrant animation. The designs on a giant robot and certain backgrounds look pretty darn realistic, even though these settings are populated by cartoony characters. The film also excels in its Minion moments. The Minions were the funniest part of the first two DESPICABLE ME films and they (once again) steal the show here. Their subplot, which involves them revolting against Gru and serving hard time in prison, is filled with hilarious moments and one montage that ranks as one of the funniest bits of the entire DESPICABLE series.

The film falters when it comes to the more emotional side of things. The first DESPICABLE film had Gru adjusting to a newfound family life and the sequel had a love-interest for Gru alongside more hijinks of him parenting a preteen who was developing an interest in boys. The third DESPICABLE ME forgoes any emotional arc for Gru altogether as his brother storyline serves as simple comedic means to an end. The only emotional moments to speak of involve Lucy Wilde trying to adjust to motherhood and Agnes facing a blow of harsh reality towards her wild imagination. The former only makes up about five brief scenes of screen time and the latter is wrapped up in the space of 15 minutes.

The series’ more grown-up moments take a backseat for a plot that’s very predictable and feels like your average kids cartoon. Much like the MINIONS spin-off, DESPICABLE ME 3 is aimed for a much younger audience and barely attempts to put the same amount of effort into entertaining older viewers as it does occupying children’s short attention spans. One positive quality that might give adults a few chuckles comes in Trey Parker’s 80s-obsessed antagonist. His break-dance fighting (ripped off from ZOOLANDER), constant reminiscing over a bad TV show, wacky weapons, and references might get an occasional laugh or two, but this villain isn’t nearly as clever as he could have been and DESPICABLE ME 2’s El Macho still serves as the series’ best baddie.

There really isn’t much else I can say about DESPICABLE ME 3. This film ranks higher than the okay first entry, but is not on the same level of smart writing and emotional weight of the far-superior second film. The vibrant animation and fast pace are sure to keep this fun for children, while adults will likely get a few laughs out of it. The Minions easily steal the show, but that’s always been the case in this franchise. Meanwhile, the actual draw of this third installment in Gru’s long-lost brother doesn’t make much of an impact at all. If you liked the other DESPICABLE ME movies, you’ll like this one. However, just don’t expect anything really special.

Grade: B

DESPICABLE ME 2 (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 38 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Rude Humor and mild Action

Directed by: Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud

Written by: Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio

Starring: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Benjamin Bratt, Miranda Cosgrove, Russell Brand, Steve Coogan, Ken Jeong, Elise Fisher, Dana Gaier & Moises Arias

DESPICABLE ME 2 has the benefit of being from the same pair of directors and two screenwriters who made the first DESPICABLE ME. It also serves as an animated sequel that’s superior to its predecessor in every possible way. Because the first film is out of the way and groundwork has already been laid for this franchise, DESPICABLE ME 2 hits the ground running with new material, more imagination, better humor, and memorable new characters. While the first film had a bland plot and just enough charm to barely overcome its faults, DESPICABLE ME 2 is a blast from start to finish.

Having adjusted to family life and newfound parenthood to three adopted daughters, supervillain Gru (Steve Carell) is recruited to The Anti-Villain League and partnered with potential love-interest agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig). Together, Gru and Lucy go undercover at a mall to investigate a possible villain who’s hiding in plain sight. All the while, Gru’s Minions are being mysteriously abducted and eldest daughter Margo (Miranda Cosgrove) finds love in a preteen boyfriend.

DESPICABLE ME 2 has two main plotlines occurring alongside two smaller subplots and hardly receives any time to drag. In careless hands, juggling multiple storylines may have wound up making this family-friendly animated sequel into an overly complicated mess. However, the team of directors and writers seem genuinely interested in furthering their established DESPICABLE universe and wind up with a sequel that’s vastly superior to their previous effort. DESPICABLE ME 2 is smarter, bigger, and funnier than the first film. Some of these qualities can be attributed to all around better storytelling which uses clever twists to produce big laughs and surprising revelations.

While the first DESPICABLE ME suffered from a thin excuse for a villain, this sequel has a much more colorful and entertaining antagonist in play. I won’t go into specifics about this baddie because this sequel slowly reveals their identity for bigger laughs and extra twists, but this person is a far more interesting villain than the last film’s Vector. Another improvement is that Gru’s relationship with his daughters is more believable and focused this time around. He has a unique bond with the cute Agnes, tomboy Edith, and maturing Margo. The interactions between this unusual family result in both heartwarming moments and hilarious bits. It’s especially funny to watch Gru’s escalating distress over Margo’s growing interest in boys.

Gru has a love-interest of his own in Lucy (voiced by Kristen Wiig, who previously played the strict orphanage owner from the first film) and their chemistry feels natural too. Lucy is quirky and Gru is awkward, but the two characters just seem (literally) made for each other. This romantic plotline is further hammered home by Gru’s bad childhood experiences with crushes and aggravated interactions with an annoying neighbor who keeps trying play unwanted matchmaker. It’s also worth noting that DESPICABLE ME 2’s Minions play a major role in the plot. I thought they were easily a highlight of the first film, but they get even funnier in this sequel and contribute to the main story in a big way.

DESPICABLE ME 2 isn’t a perfect animated film in that a few jokes fall flat and older viewers will be able to correctly guess where certain plotlines are heading from a mile away. However, this second DESPICABLE installment packs a few smart surprises for adults alongside big laughs, a soft heartwarming center, and energetic animation that’s always moving. DESPICABLE ME 2 is a sequel that outdoes the original in every way and (at least for me) currently sits as Illumination’s best film yet!

Grade: B+

DESPICABLE ME (2010)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Rude Humor and mild Action

Directed by: Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud

Written by: Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio

Voices of: Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Miranda Cosgrove, Diana Gaier, Elsie Fisher, Will Arnett, Kristen Wiig & Julie Andrews

DESPICABLE ME was released in 2010 to massive financial success, launched the popular yellow-pilled creatures known as Minions, and served as Illumination’s first feature film (the company has since become a major competitor for DreamWorks, Pixar, and Disney). Even though this film made a big impression on the animated film market and audiences, I find DESPICABLE ME to be bit overrated. It wasn’t even the best animated sensitive supervillain film of 2010. That distinction belongs to DreamWorks’ MEGAMIND. However, this film sports colorful animation, some clever jokes, and enough charm to overcome an overly familiar storyline and narrative faults.

Bald supervillain Gru (Steve Carell) has been depressed because another supervillain has recently taken the limelight away from bad guys everywhere by stealing Giza’s Great Pyramid. In order to reign supreme as the greatest supervillain of all-time, Gru decides to enact a plan to steal the moon. To do this, he’ll need to steal a shrink ray from rival villain Vector (Jason Segel) and adopt three orphaned girls Margo, Edith, and Agnes (Miranda Cosgrove, Diana Gaier, and Elise Fisher) to unwittingly assist him. As his plan moves forward, Gru begins to grow a soft spot for his three new daughters, much to the dismay of his mad scientist colleague Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand).

DESPICABLE ME walks the tightrope of trying to be colorful and innocent enough for young children, while also supplying enough dark humor and mature jokes for older viewers to enjoy. While it mostly maintains this balance, things occasionally slip too much into little kid territory. There are really fun jokes revolving around Gru living a totally inappropriate life for a family (including one hilarious bit involving a torture device) and his gradual acceptance of his new children is very cute to watch, but the overall story is too simple and not nearly as clever as it tries to be. The latter is especially epitomized by Jason Segel’s lackluster villain. This antagonist is just plain boring and a would-be conspiracy around him feels like a half-baked development in the proceedings.

Steve Carell’s voice is unrecognizable as Gru, aided by a strange accent. Meanwhile, Cosgrove, Gaier and Fisher are convincing as the three adopted daughters, with Fisher’s adorable Agnes guaranteed to melt even the hardest of hearts. These characters are further aided by vibrant animation that breathes life into a world of supervillainy with regulations. One big plot point revolves around Gru trying to secure a loan from an evil bank to finance his diabolical deeds. The film also succeeds in its yellow pill-shaped Minion moments. Some people may utterly despise the Minions with every fiber of their beings, but I’m in the group that loves these hilarious creations. The Minion scenes have just the right combination of potty humor, immature antics, and fish-out-of-water slapstick.

DESPICABLE ME’s plot may be a bit too basic and the overall film is overrated in the grand scheme of things (MEGAMIND is miles better and its second installment is a bit improvement too). Still, this is a fun piece of family entertainment that’s sure to keep younger viewers occupied, while supplying a decent supply of laughs for teenagers and packing in enough sentimentality for parents (especially seeing that the whole movie revolves around a new parent adjusting to having three new additions to his family and growing a heart). DESPICABLE ME is decent. Not great, not really good…but just decent.

Grade: B-

CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS: THE FIRST EPIC MOVIE (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 29 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for mild Rude Humor throughout

Directed by: David Soren

Written by: Nicholas Stoller

(based on the CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS novels by Dave Pilkey)

Voices of: Kevin Hart, Ed Helms, Thomas Middleditch, Nick Kroll, Jordan Peele & Kristen Schaal

Like most children of the 90s (and the new millennium), I devoured CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS novels in elementary school. These books were the perfect mixture of imagination and potty humor. When I heard that DreamWorks was making a computer-animated film of this endearingly goofy book series, I had high hopes. Having finally sat through yet another one of my nostalgic childhood staples come to life on the big screen (alongside GOOSEBUMPS and POWER RANGERS), I can confirm UNDERPANTS is juvenile entertainment that should appeal to both adults and children. Anyone who liked CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS as a kid will have a great time watching this movie, while crowds of children will also have a laugh-filled blast.

George Beard (Kevin Hart) and Harold Hutchins (Thomas Middleditch) are best friends at Jerome Horwitz Elementary School. Together, they enjoy executing elaborate pranks on teachers, bringing laughter to their bored classmates, and working on their comic books…about the adventures of underwear-clad superhero Captain Underpants. When grumpy Principal Krupp (Ed Helms) attempts to annihilate their friendship by moving them into separate classes, George hypnotizes Krupp and this last-ditch effort works far better than expected as Krupp transforms into Captain Underpants. However, evil genius Professor Poopypants (Nick Kroll) and tattletale Melvin Sneedly (Jordan Peele) plot to rob the world of laughter. It’s up to George, Harold, and the superpower-less Captain Underpants/Krupp to save the day!

DreamWorks has had good animation (MEGAMIND, SHREK) and mediocre animation (HOME, SHARK TALE) throughout their filmography, but CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS looks visually great. This film nails the look of the many illustrations in Dave Pilkey’s books. The film also incorporates different styles of animation for comic books, day dreams, and inner-thoughts (ranging from hand-drawn styles to sock puppets). This blending of animation styles creates a rollercoaster ride for children’s eyes and a visual treat for grown-ups/teenagers.

Besides delivering cool visuals, this movie nails everything that made the UNDERPANTS books fun. There is plenty of silly potty humor, a fast-paced delivery of jokes, and different call-backs to the series that will no doubt make many old-school fans ecstatic (including a hilarious Flip-O-Rama sequence). The film also plays around with fourth-wall breaking as Harold and George frequently address the viewer, stopping the action in freeze frames and even deliberately messing with the film’s narrative structure.

As George and Harold, Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch get lots of laughs and sound convincing enough as kids (even though both actors are in their late-30s). Ed Helms seems to be having a blast as both Principal Krupp and Captain Underpants, changing his voice depending on the character’s shift in personality. The scenes in which Krupp snaps into Underpants and back to his normal self are hilarious, providing lots of well-executed slapstick comedy.

Nick Kroll is decent enough as sinister science teacher Professor Poopypants, playing his character as a one-dimensional baddie right from his first scene as opposed to a picked-upon antagonist who is driven to his evil in CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS AND THE PERILOUS PLOT OF PROFESSOR POOPYPANTS. Jordan Peele is enjoyable as Melvin, setting up a possible villain for a sequel (he does turn into Bionic Booger Boy in the fifth and sixth novels of the series), and Kristen Schaal is amusing as a lunch lady with the hots for Principal Krupp.

Besides excelling at juvenile humor and nailing the goofiness of the source material, CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS even squeezes in a few good messages about friendship, balancing out good pranks with bad ones, and being able to laugh at yourself. These moral lessons are a bit all over the place in execution, but seemed to be included with good intentions and will likely leave an effect on impressionable younger viewers. There is one brief stretch of the film that noticeably seems to drag and not every joke works, but CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS is a surprisingly accomplished animated film nonetheless and I hope it receives (at least one or two) sequels.

If you have any shred of nostalgia for the book series and can laugh at childish humor (ranging from farts to wordplay about Uranus), then CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS should be right up your alley. The animation looks great, the film perfectly captures the source material, and almost all of the jokes get laughs. The kids in my theater were dying with laughter, while the parents and nostalgic adults also seemed to be having a good time with this film. CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS comes highly recommended!

Grade: B+