Billy Crystal, Kevin Kline, Annette Bening Stage A Mildly ‘Nice Day’: Off Broadway Review

Nearly 10 years ago, Billy Crystal and writer Quinton Peeples started work on a screenplay they’d eventually call Have A Nice Day. Not terribly long in Hollywood development years, but eons removed from our current political climate.
Performed an…

Nearly 10 years ago, Billy Crystal and writer Quinton Peeples started work on a screenplay they’d eventually call Have A Nice Day. Not terribly long in Hollywood development years, but eons removed from our current political climate. Performed and recorded (by Amazon’s Audible) as a staged Off Broadway reading last night and tonight by a starry ensemble – Crystal, Kevin Kline, Annette Bening and Dick Cavett, among others – Have a Nice Day, with its progressive, honest and…

‘Dave’ at 25: Why Kevin Kline Initially Turned Down the Role and Ivan Reitman Walked Away From the Political Comedy

During the production of the romantic comedy “Dave,” which celebrates its 25th anniversary on Monday, director Ivan Reitman would frequently drop by the editing room to see what editor Sheldon Kahn had assembled. Reitman had watched about two-thirds of…

During the production of the romantic comedy “Dave,” which celebrates its 25th anniversary on Monday, director Ivan Reitman would frequently drop by the editing room to see what editor Sheldon Kahn had assembled. Reitman had watched about two-thirds of the movie when he realized one scene didn’t work — when Dave (Kevin Kline), a good-natured […]

Bob’s Burgers returns with a little help from its fans

Bob Belcher is a man of the people. Bob’s Burgers has always been about misfits coming together, flaws and all, to navigate the seemingly insurmountable challenges that comes with menial tasks and surreal life-or-death situations alike. So it’s fitting that the season-eight premiere, “Brunchsquatch,” was animated with…

Read more…

Bob Belcher is a man of the people. Bob’s Burgers has always been about misfits coming together, flaws and all, to navigate the seemingly insurmountable challenges that comes with menial tasks and surreal life-or-death situations alike. So it’s fitting that the season-eight premiere, “Brunchsquatch,” was animated with…

Read more...

‘Dean’ Review: Demetri Martin Sulks Through Insufferable Comedy-Drama

Just when you thought you could retire the adjective “twee,” along comes “Dean,” a film that represents the worst lessons any filmmaker could learn from a steady diet of the works of Woody Allen, Wes Anderson and Zach Braff. In the first few minutes, we get a dead mom, the streets of Brooklyn, writer-director-star Demetri Martin’s moptop haircut (and matching hangdog look), and a contemporary song that sounds like a deep cut from The Kinks circa 1968.

So yeah, it’s like that. And if you guessed that the lead character’s well of sadness can only be overcome with a help of a stunningly gorgeous woman, prepare for no surprises whatsoever.

Illustrator Dean (Martin) has lost his mom, and that puts him in a funk. It also fills his moderately-amusing drawings (also by Martin) with images of the grim reaper. Meanwhile, Dean’s dad Robert (Kevin Kline) deals with his grief somewhat proactively, preparing to sell the too-large-for-one family house, even though Dean tries to block this definitive action at every turn.

Watch Video: Demetri Martin Breaks Down His Friend’s Divorce Over Wine in ‘Last Time You Had Fun’ (Exclusive)

So reluctant is Dean to go home and clean out his old room that he instead flies to Los Angeles to take a meeting with some boorish web-marketing entrepreneurs who want to use some of his drawings. (Cue some really lazy, one-dimensional gags about advertising, the Internet, and L.A. people that not even the talented Beck Bennett can make come alive.) At a party, Dean meets the luminous Nicky (Gillian Jacobs), who finds herself smitten with this dork, even though he immediately knocks over a bunch of cups the moment their eyes meet.

While Dean artificially extends his left-coast sojourn in order to get closer to Nicky, Robert starts spending time with his real estate agent Carol (Mary Steenburgen), as he attempts to gauge just how ready he is to move on after the loss of his wife. Whether it’s Martin’s writing or the superhuman efforts of Kline and Steenburgen, these scenes emerge as the most honest and heartfelt moments of “Dean”; had he ditched the cartoonist and made a movie about a widower and a Realtor, Martin might have been onto something.

READ MORE

See Demetri Martin’s latest POWER MOVE.

PowerRank:

9556

Besides these two seasoned pros, there are some other performances that land: Jacobs gives her thankless male fantasy figure as much of an inner life as she can, and Barry Rothbart inhabits a thoroughly obnoxious lout who shares best-man duties with Dean at a mutual friend’s wedding. Cinematographer Mark Schwartzbard (“Master of None”) also does impressive work, from the way he frames the performers to the distinct lighting choices he makes not just to separate New York and Los Angeles but also to distinguish Santa Monica from Silverlake, or Brooklyn from Manhattan.

Watch Video: ‘Don’t Think Twice’ Star Gillian Jacobs Predicted Donald Trump’s Candidacy

Ultimately, Dean — and “Dean” — becomes frustrating because of the film’s lack of anything meaningful to say about what should be its focal point: the death of a parent. This is the kind of loss that is devastating in adulthood (many of us know this from experience), but Martin’s script offers neither ideas nor emotions regarding this kind of grief. Dean mopes around until he has one very clunky revelatory conversation with Robert, and that’s about it.

The loss doesn’t hit, and the comedy doesn’t land, leaving “Dean” a wasted opportunity that offers a few talented artists the chance to do fine work in the service of an empty vessel.

Just when you thought you could retire the adjective “twee,” along comes “Dean,” a film that represents the worst lessons any filmmaker could learn from a steady diet of the works of Woody Allen, Wes Anderson and Zach Braff. In the first few minutes, we get a dead mom, the streets of Brooklyn, writer-director-star Demetri Martin’s moptop haircut (and matching hangdog look), and a contemporary song that sounds like a deep cut from The Kinks circa 1968.

So yeah, it’s like that. And if you guessed that the lead character’s well of sadness can only be overcome with a help of a stunningly gorgeous woman, prepare for no surprises whatsoever.

Illustrator Dean (Martin) has lost his mom, and that puts him in a funk. It also fills his moderately-amusing drawings (also by Martin) with images of the grim reaper. Meanwhile, Dean’s dad Robert (Kevin Kline) deals with his grief somewhat proactively, preparing to sell the too-large-for-one family house, even though Dean tries to block this definitive action at every turn.

So reluctant is Dean to go home and clean out his old room that he instead flies to Los Angeles to take a meeting with some boorish web-marketing entrepreneurs who want to use some of his drawings. (Cue some really lazy, one-dimensional gags about advertising, the Internet, and L.A. people that not even the talented Beck Bennett can make come alive.) At a party, Dean meets the luminous Nicky (Gillian Jacobs), who finds herself smitten with this dork, even though he immediately knocks over a bunch of cups the moment their eyes meet.

While Dean artificially extends his left-coast sojourn in order to get closer to Nicky, Robert starts spending time with his real estate agent Carol (Mary Steenburgen), as he attempts to gauge just how ready he is to move on after the loss of his wife. Whether it’s Martin’s writing or the superhuman efforts of Kline and Steenburgen, these scenes emerge as the most honest and heartfelt moments of “Dean”; had he ditched the cartoonist and made a movie about a widower and a Realtor, Martin might have been onto something.

READ MORE

See Demetri Martin's latest POWER MOVE.

PowerRank:

9556

Besides these two seasoned pros, there are some other performances that land: Jacobs gives her thankless male fantasy figure as much of an inner life as she can, and Barry Rothbart inhabits a thoroughly obnoxious lout who shares best-man duties with Dean at a mutual friend’s wedding. Cinematographer Mark Schwartzbard (“Master of None”) also does impressive work, from the way he frames the performers to the distinct lighting choices he makes not just to separate New York and Los Angeles but also to distinguish Santa Monica from Silverlake, or Brooklyn from Manhattan.

Ultimately, Dean — and “Dean” — becomes frustrating because of the film’s lack of anything meaningful to say about what should be its focal point: the death of a parent. This is the kind of loss that is devastating in adulthood (many of us know this from experience), but Martin’s script offers neither ideas nor emotions regarding this kind of grief. Dean mopes around until he has one very clunky revelatory conversation with Robert, and that’s about it.

The loss doesn’t hit, and the comedy doesn’t land, leaving “Dean” a wasted opportunity that offers a few talented artists the chance to do fine work in the service of an empty vessel.

Celine Dion Sings New ‘Beauty and the Beast’ Song Live For the First Time (Video)

Celine Dion sang a new “Beauty and the Beast” song for the first time live, 26 years after she recorded the original theme song for the animated film.

During her Wednesday performance at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace, Dion sang “How Does a Moment Last Forever,” one of the new songs from Disney’s live-action remake of “Beauty and the Beast.” Her rendition played through the end credits of the movie; Kevin Kline’s Maurice sings it in the film.

“I was very fortunate to be a part of that magical movie, ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ And it was one of the biggest moments of my show business career,” she said

See Videos: Celine Dion Stops Billboard Music Awards Interview to Sing Along to Cher’s ‘Believe’

The 49-year-old singer said she was very “nervous” yet “excited” to sing the song.

Dion sang “Beauty and the Beast” with Peabo Bryson for the soundtrack of the 1991 animated film — the song won an Academy Award.

Also Read: Celine Dion to Perform New Song for ‘Beauty and the Beast’ Remake

The remake starred Luke Evans, Emma Watson, Josh Gad, Dan Stevens, Ewan McGregor and Stanley Tucci, and hit theaters on March 17. The “Beauty and the Beast” theme song was re-recorded in the updated film by John Legend and Ariana Grande, with Ron Fair producing the new version.

Watch the video above.

Related stories from TheWrap:

‘Beauty and the Beast’ Just Became the Highest-Grossing PG Film of All Time

Emma Watson Has an Idea for a ‘Beauty and the Beast’ Sequel

4 Reasons Why ‘Beauty and the Beast’ Became Disney’s Next Billion Dollar Hit

Celine Dion sang a new “Beauty and the Beast” song for the first time live, 26 years after she recorded the original theme song for the animated film.

During her Wednesday performance at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace, Dion sang “How Does a Moment Last Forever,” one of the new songs from Disney’s live-action remake of “Beauty and the Beast.” Her rendition played through the end credits of the movie; Kevin Kline’s Maurice sings it in the film.

“I was very fortunate to be a part of that magical movie, ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ And it was one of the biggest moments of my show business career,” she said

The 49-year-old singer said she was very “nervous” yet “excited” to sing the song.

Dion sang “Beauty and the Beast” with Peabo Bryson for the soundtrack of the 1991 animated film — the song won an Academy Award.

The remake starred Luke Evans, Emma Watson, Josh Gad, Dan Stevens, Ewan McGregor and Stanley Tucci, and hit theaters on March 17. The “Beauty and the Beast” theme song was re-recorded in the updated film by John Legend and Ariana Grande, with Ron Fair producing the new version.

Watch the video above.

Related stories from TheWrap:

'Beauty and the Beast' Just Became the Highest-Grossing PG Film of All Time

Emma Watson Has an Idea for a 'Beauty and the Beast' Sequel

4 Reasons Why 'Beauty and the Beast' Became Disney's Next Billion Dollar Hit

Broadway Box Office, Part 2: ‘Waitress’ Soars With Sara Bareilles; Plays Struggle

Sara Bareilles’ stint in the title role of Waitress continues to pay dividends for the holdover from last season, which brought her a Tony nomination for the score. Last week the show sold $1.3 million worth of tickets at the Nederlander Organization’s Brooks Atkinson Theatre, almost 30 per cent above its gross potential, at an average price of $156.29.
The final week of the 2016-2017 season (look here for season wrap-up) continued the months-long trend of good news for…

Sara Bareilles’ stint in the title role of Waitress continues to pay dividends for the holdover from last season, which brought her a Tony nomination for the score. Last week the show sold $1.3 million worth of tickets at the Nederlander Organization’s Brooks Atkinson Theatre, almost 30 per cent above its gross potential, at an average price of $156.29. The final week of the 2016-2017 season (look here for season wrap-up) continued the months-long trend of good news for…

Tony Nominees React: “Cookies For Breakfast And A Lot Of Screaming”

Blame Canada: Come From Away, a long-aborning musical about the Newfoundland town that hosted some 7,000 travelers diverted there when U.S. airspace was closed in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, came away with seven Tony nominations, including best musical, as well as book and score by Irene Sankoff and David Hein.
“We’re so thrilled to have our show, our team and especially this story and the people of Newfoundland to be recognized and celebrated like this!,…

Blame Canada: Come From Away, a long-aborning musical about the Newfoundland town that hosted some 7,000 travelers diverted there when U.S. airspace was closed in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, came away with seven Tony nominations, including best musical, as well as book and score by Irene Sankoff and David Hein. “We’re so thrilled to have our show, our team and especially this story and the people of Newfoundland to be recognized and celebrated like this!,”…

Broadway Review: ‘Present Laughter’ With Kevin Kline, Cobie Smulders

Whatever would we do without Kevin Kline? In an age of lesser stars, he’s a bona fide matinee idol of the ideal age and with the urbane sensibility to do justice to sophisticated scribes like Noel Coward. “Present Laughter” is a delicious drawing-room comedy that Coward dashed off in 1942 to amuse himself and his… Read more »

Whatever would we do without Kevin Kline? In an age of lesser stars, he’s a bona fide matinee idol of the ideal age and with the urbane sensibility to do justice to sophisticated scribes like Noel Coward. “Present Laughter” is a delicious drawing-room comedy that Coward dashed off in 1942 to amuse himself and his... Read more »

‘Present Laughter’: Theater Review

Kevin Kline returns to Broadway after almost 10 years’ absence, playing the self-regarding peacock in Noel Coward’s 1939 comedic souffle, also featuring Kate Burton and Cobie Smulders. read more


Kevin Kline returns to Broadway after almost 10 years' absence, playing the self-regarding peacock in Noel Coward's 1939 comedic souffle, also featuring Kate Burton and Cobie Smulders.

read more

Droll Kevin Kline In Noël Coward’s ‘Present Laughter’, Plus Harvey Fierstein & John Leguizamo – Broadway Review

Kevin Kline has loomed, larger than life, over Broadway for more than four decades: as the preening, prat-falling Pirate King opposite Linda Ronstadt in The Pirates of Penzance; the proboscoid panache-flaunting poet Cyrano de Bergerac; the narcissistic hunk Bruce Granit in On The Twentieth Century, among other choice performances. All this while cultivating a unique kind of Hollywood stardom in roles ranging from Meryl Streep’s lover Nathan in Sophie’s Choice to smelly…

Kevin Kline has loomed, larger than life, over Broadway for more than four decades: as the preening, prat-falling Pirate King opposite Linda Ronstadt in The Pirates of Penzance; the proboscoid panache-flaunting poet Cyrano de Bergerac; the narcissistic hunk Bruce Granit in On The Twentieth Century, among other choice performances. All this while cultivating a unique kind of Hollywood stardom in roles ranging from Meryl Streep's lover Nathan in Sophie's Choice to smelly…

‘Present Laughter’ Broadway Review: Kevin Kline and Kate Burton Are Divine

“Present Laughter” is not “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” even though both plays date back to 1939, which was quite a year for comedy. A new revival of the Noel Coward classic about a narcissistic stage actor named Garry Essendine opened Wednesday at the St. James Theatre, and at times it plays like the Kaufman and Hart comedy under Moritz von Stuelpnagel’s not always steady direction. At other times, it is veddy British, proper, and absolutely terrific — especially when Kevin Kline and Kate Burton are on stage, which, fortunately, is most of the time.

Kline has always been the most balletic of actors. The 69-year-old actor no longer does the incredible pratfalls of his marvelous turn ages ago in “The Pirates of Penzance” and “On the Twentieth Century,” but then Garry Essendine is well into his 50s. The marvelous thing about Kline is that he gives the impression he could still do somersaults on stage if required, but instead makes do with the most incredible hand and wrist flips that turn even the donning of a dressing gown into a comic delight.

Essendine is conceited, arrogant and totally full of himself, but Coward makes him likable because everyone around him — from his secretary (Kristine Nielsen) to his valet (Matt Bittner) to his Scandinavian maid (Ellen Harvey) — has no problem talking back to him, except when it comes to waking him before noon or sometime a little thereafter.

Also Read: ‘Amelie’ Broadway Review: ‘Hamilton’ Star Phillipa Soo Brings Movie Heroine to Stage

Bittner displays a cool reserve in his portrayal of the amiably randy Fred. What’s good for the upper classes is just as much fun for the servants. Nielsen and Harvey are much broader in their comic effects, and it’s not quite right that they often receive applause when exiting a laugh-filled scene.

Meanwhile, Bhavesh Patel and Reg Rogers overdo it and fail to amuse in the far more antic roles of the inept writer Roland and the cuckold lover Morris, respectively. Much more egregious are the overwrought English accents coming from the lips of the ingénue Daphne (Tedra Millan) and the chronically philandering Joanna (Cobie Smulders).

There’s too much slapshtick around the edges of this “Present Laughter,” and it doesn’t always appear in some of these supporting performances. (In small roles, Peter Francis James and Sandra Shipley are nicely contained.) In between scenes, von Stuelpnagel lowers the curtain to project not only the time of day but to clue the audience to relax and have fun.

Also Read: ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ Broadway Review: JJ Abrams Presents a British Farce With a Thick Slice of Ham

Fortunately, Kline is divine. So, too, is Burton in the far less showy role of the wife who left him long ago but never got around to divorcing him because they’re such good friends.

Burton is as understated as Kline is flamboyant, but there’s a refined civility that links the characters, and they play their duets to perfection. She’s almost Spencer Tracy to his Katharine Hepburn, only British.

Related stories from TheWrap:

‘Amelie’ Broadway Review: ‘Hamilton’ Star Phillipa Soo Brings Movie Heroine to Stage

‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ Broadway Review: JJ Abrams Presents a British Farce With a Thick Slice of Ham

‘Miss Saigon’ Broadway Review: The Helicopter Is Back, Louder than Ever

“Present Laughter” is not “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” even though both plays date back to 1939, which was quite a year for comedy. A new revival of the Noel Coward classic about a narcissistic stage actor named Garry Essendine opened Wednesday at the St. James Theatre, and at times it plays like the Kaufman and Hart comedy under Moritz von Stuelpnagel’s not always steady direction. At other times, it is veddy British, proper, and absolutely terrific — especially when Kevin Kline and Kate Burton are on stage, which, fortunately, is most of the time.

Kline has always been the most balletic of actors. The 69-year-old actor no longer does the incredible pratfalls of his marvelous turn ages ago in “The Pirates of Penzance” and “On the Twentieth Century,” but then Garry Essendine is well into his 50s. The marvelous thing about Kline is that he gives the impression he could still do somersaults on stage if required, but instead makes do with the most incredible hand and wrist flips that turn even the donning of a dressing gown into a comic delight.

Essendine is conceited, arrogant and totally full of himself, but Coward makes him likable because everyone around him — from his secretary (Kristine Nielsen) to his valet (Matt Bittner) to his Scandinavian maid (Ellen Harvey) — has no problem talking back to him, except when it comes to waking him before noon or sometime a little thereafter.

Bittner displays a cool reserve in his portrayal of the amiably randy Fred. What’s good for the upper classes is just as much fun for the servants. Nielsen and Harvey are much broader in their comic effects, and it’s not quite right that they often receive applause when exiting a laugh-filled scene.

Meanwhile, Bhavesh Patel and Reg Rogers overdo it and fail to amuse in the far more antic roles of the inept writer Roland and the cuckold lover Morris, respectively. Much more egregious are the overwrought English accents coming from the lips of the ingénue Daphne (Tedra Millan) and the chronically philandering Joanna (Cobie Smulders).

There’s too much slapshtick around the edges of this “Present Laughter,” and it doesn’t always appear in some of these supporting performances. (In small roles, Peter Francis James and Sandra Shipley are nicely contained.) In between scenes, von Stuelpnagel lowers the curtain to project not only the time of day but to clue the audience to relax and have fun.

Fortunately, Kline is divine. So, too, is Burton in the far less showy role of the wife who left him long ago but never got around to divorcing him because they’re such good friends.

Burton is as understated as Kline is flamboyant, but there’s a refined civility that links the characters, and they play their duets to perfection. She’s almost Spencer Tracy to his Katharine Hepburn, only British.

Related stories from TheWrap:

'Amelie' Broadway Review: 'Hamilton' Star Phillipa Soo Brings Movie Heroine to Stage

'The Play That Goes Wrong' Broadway Review: JJ Abrams Presents a British Farce With a Thick Slice of Ham

'Miss Saigon' Broadway Review: The Helicopter Is Back, Louder than Ever

Musicals Kick Broadway Box Office Into Spring With $3.8M Boost

Music is in the air as the Broadway roster fills up with new shows, especially the tuners that have been circling the airspace over Times Square looking to land as close as possible to the April 27 Tony Awards cut-off date. Four new shows began previews last week, including two big new musicals that enjoyed strong breaks from the starting gate.
Amélie, with Hamilton star Phillipa Soo in the title role played by Audrey Tatou in the 2001 indie film about a young Paris woman…

Music is in the air as the Broadway roster fills up with new shows, especially the tuners that have been circling the airspace over Times Square looking to land as close as possible to the April 27 Tony Awards cut-off date. Four new shows began previews last week, including two big new musicals that enjoyed strong breaks from the starting gate. Amélie, with Hamilton star Phillipa Soo in the title role played by Audrey Tatou in the 2001 indie film about a young Paris woman…

Broadway Box Office: Kevin Kline Springs Forward With Strong Sales

The new Broadway revival of “Present Laughter” only played  two performances last week, but it might be a show to keep an eye on: Buoyed by a cast led by Kevin Kline, the Noel Coward comedy bowed to notably robust sales in its first previews. With a cast that also includes Cobie Smulders (“How I Met… Read more »

The new Broadway revival of “Present Laughter” only played  two performances last week, but it might be a show to keep an eye on: Buoyed by a cast led by Kevin Kline, the Noel Coward comedy bowed to notably robust sales in its first previews. With a cast that also includes Cobie Smulders (“How I Met... Read more »

‘Beauty and the Beast’ Review: Dan Stevens Stands Out in Overstuffed Remake

The 1991 Disney version of “Beauty and the Beast” was perhaps the best and most melodic hit the studio had during its renaissance period for animated features, and it in turn spawned a long-running stage musical. This new mainly live-action Disney version of the oft-told story directed by Bill Condon feels largely perfunctory. Where it flounders most is on the miscasting of several crucial roles.

The guiding principles in this live-action version of “Beauty and the Beast” seems to be “let’s get this done” and “moving right along.” The opening prologue, where we see a selfish prince (Dan Stevens) transformed into a beast as punishment for his superficiality, is rushed-through in a chaotic and graceless fashion that still manages to provoke a pertinent question: If the beast is supposed to be ugly, why is he as cute as a puppy dog in nearly every film of this story, including the famous semi-surreal 1946 movie directed by Jean Cocteau?

After the prologue, we get scenes that introduce the heroine Belle (Emma Watson) and follow the outlines of the 1991 version without any of that film’s zest or edge. Watson’s gentle and patient presence does not suggest a rebellious and aspirational outsider who longs for more than the “provincial life” of the town she is living in. And Luke Evans is not at all suited to the role of the villainous, sexy, and menacing Gaston, which requires a boisterous, preening actor who can get some hammy laughs out of being vain. Evans can only manage the menace of the part, and even his menace is too monotonous and heavy-spirited. (A young Kevin Kline might have played this role perfectly, but he is wasted here as Belle’s father.)

See Video: Watch Emma Watson Get Invited to Dinner in New ‘Beauty and the Beast’ Clip

This “Beauty and the Beast” improves once Belle reaches a castle where she is imprisoned by Stevens’s Beast and attended to by a motley group of animated household objects, all of which are voiced by name players like Ian McKellen and Stanley Tucci. Most impressive of these voice actors is Ewan McGregor, who uses his soaring tenor to fine effect on “Be Our Guest.” This is the one number in Condon’s “Beauty and the Beast” that feels visually impressive and even spectacular, and it suggests that McGregor would have made a far more apt Gaston himself. The songs here are a mixture of old favorites from the 1991 movie and a few new tunes; none of the latter are particularly memorable.

Cast as the teapot Mrs. Potts, Emma Thompson sings the title song with some sweetness and warmth, but there is a noticeable difference between her “character voice” attempt at a Cockney accent and Angela Lansbury’s far more genuine and grounded Cockney quaver in the 1991 animated version. (Since Lansbury is still very much game and at liberty, it might have been more touching and in keeping with tradition to have had her reprise her Mrs. Potts for this version.) And it does seem a shame to cast Audra McDonald in the role of a trilling wardrobe without giving those storied pipes of hers more to sing here.

Also Read: ‘Beauty and the Beast’ to Roar to Massive $120 Million-Plus Debut Weekend

Most problematic in this version is an attempt to make Gaston’s sidekick Le Fou (Josh Gad) into a gay character who is in love with his friend. This isn’t a bad idea on the face of it, but it seems like Condon and scriptwriters Stephen Chbosky (“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”) and Evan Spiliotopoulos (“The Huntsman: Winter’s War”) are trying to hedge their bets on this issue, and the result is coy and unconvincing. Especially at the climax of the film, when the attempt to match Le Fou up with a proper romantic partner feels very clumsy and shoe-horned in.

Of the leading actors, only Stevens is able to make something of his part as written, and he reveals a strong tenor singing voice of his own here. His Beast is amusingly huffy and sulky and proud, and his blue eyes glow with a kind of warmth that come close to making the romance between the Beast and Belle somewhat believable, if only Condon would give him just a little more time to develop it.

Also Read: ‘Logan’ to Launch Blockbuster Season at Box Office With $80 Million Opening

Condon’s “Beauty and the Beast” is the kind of enormous production in which it seems as if anxious executives were pressuring and second-guessing the decisions of the creative team. The result is a star-stuffed relay race that looks like an assignment more than anything else.

Related stories from TheWrap:

Hear Emma Watson Sing in ‘Beauty and the Beast’ TV Spot (Video)

Tom Hanks Channels Steve Jobs in 1st Trailer for Emma Watson Thriller ‘The Circle’ (Video)

‘Beauty and the Beast’ First Look: Emma Watson Dances With Dan Stevens (Photo)

The 1991 Disney version of “Beauty and the Beast” was perhaps the best and most melodic hit the studio had during its renaissance period for animated features, and it in turn spawned a long-running stage musical. This new mainly live-action Disney version of the oft-told story directed by Bill Condon feels largely perfunctory. Where it flounders most is on the miscasting of several crucial roles.

The guiding principles in this live-action version of “Beauty and the Beast” seems to be “let’s get this done” and “moving right along.” The opening prologue, where we see a selfish prince (Dan Stevens) transformed into a beast as punishment for his superficiality, is rushed-through in a chaotic and graceless fashion that still manages to provoke a pertinent question: If the beast is supposed to be ugly, why is he as cute as a puppy dog in nearly every film of this story, including the famous semi-surreal 1946 movie directed by Jean Cocteau?

After the prologue, we get scenes that introduce the heroine Belle (Emma Watson) and follow the outlines of the 1991 version without any of that film’s zest or edge. Watson’s gentle and patient presence does not suggest a rebellious and aspirational outsider who longs for more than the “provincial life” of the town she is living in. And Luke Evans is not at all suited to the role of the villainous, sexy, and menacing Gaston, which requires a boisterous, preening actor who can get some hammy laughs out of being vain. Evans can only manage the menace of the part, and even his menace is too monotonous and heavy-spirited. (A young Kevin Kline might have played this role perfectly, but he is wasted here as Belle’s father.)

This “Beauty and the Beast” improves once Belle reaches a castle where she is imprisoned by Stevens’s Beast and attended to by a motley group of animated household objects, all of which are voiced by name players like Ian McKellen and Stanley Tucci. Most impressive of these voice actors is Ewan McGregor, who uses his soaring tenor to fine effect on “Be Our Guest.” This is the one number in Condon’s “Beauty and the Beast” that feels visually impressive and even spectacular, and it suggests that McGregor would have made a far more apt Gaston himself. The songs here are a mixture of old favorites from the 1991 movie and a few new tunes; none of the latter are particularly memorable.

Cast as the teapot Mrs. Potts, Emma Thompson sings the title song with some sweetness and warmth, but there is a noticeable difference between her “character voice” attempt at a Cockney accent and Angela Lansbury’s far more genuine and grounded Cockney quaver in the 1991 animated version. (Since Lansbury is still very much game and at liberty, it might have been more touching and in keeping with tradition to have had her reprise her Mrs. Potts for this version.) And it does seem a shame to cast Audra McDonald in the role of a trilling wardrobe without giving those storied pipes of hers more to sing here.

Most problematic in this version is an attempt to make Gaston’s sidekick Le Fou (Josh Gad) into a gay character who is in love with his friend. This isn’t a bad idea on the face of it, but it seems like Condon and scriptwriters Stephen Chbosky (“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”) and Evan Spiliotopoulos (“The Huntsman: Winter’s War”) are trying to hedge their bets on this issue, and the result is coy and unconvincing. Especially at the climax of the film, when the attempt to match Le Fou up with a proper romantic partner feels very clumsy and shoe-horned in.

Of the leading actors, only Stevens is able to make something of his part as written, and he reveals a strong tenor singing voice of his own here. His Beast is amusingly huffy and sulky and proud, and his blue eyes glow with a kind of warmth that come close to making the romance between the Beast and Belle somewhat believable, if only Condon would give him just a little more time to develop it.

Condon’s “Beauty and the Beast” is the kind of enormous production in which it seems as if anxious executives were pressuring and second-guessing the decisions of the creative team. The result is a star-stuffed relay race that looks like an assignment more than anything else.

Related stories from TheWrap:

Hear Emma Watson Sing in 'Beauty and the Beast' TV Spot (Video)

Tom Hanks Channels Steve Jobs in 1st Trailer for Emma Watson Thriller 'The Circle' (Video)

'Beauty and the Beast' First Look: Emma Watson Dances With Dan Stevens (Photo)

‘Beauty and the Beast’: Film Review

Emma Watson and Dan Stevens star in a tale as old as 26 years, maybe more, in Disney’s live-action remake of 1991 animated hit ‘Beauty and the Beast.’read more


Emma Watson and Dan Stevens star in a tale as old as 26 years, maybe more, in Disney's live-action remake of 1991 animated hit 'Beauty and the Beast.'

read more

‘Dean’ Trailer: Demetri Martin & Kevin Kline Deal With Death, Life & The Future

“I want to stop talking about how I’m not grieving right.” Here is the first trailer for Dean, which scooped the top narrative award at Tribeca last year. Written, directed by and starring Demetri Martin, it follows a son and father as they come to terms with the recent loss of the family matriarch — in diametrically opposed fashion.
Martin plays the title character, an illustrator whose unwillingness to deal with his mom’s death means escaping his hometown of New York…

“I want to stop talking about how I’m not grieving right.” Here is the first trailer for Dean, which scooped the top narrative award at Tribeca last year. Written, directed by and starring Demetri Martin, it follows a son and father as they come to terms with the recent loss of the family matriarch — in diametrically opposed fashion. Martin plays the title character, an illustrator whose unwillingness to deal with his mom’s death means escaping his hometown of New York…

All 33 DreamWorks Animation Movies Ranked From Worst to Best (Photos)

DreamWorks Animation has gone through its share of upheaval, with a few big successes (Shrek, Madagascar) and some notable failures. Since its first animation releases in 1998, it has changed, diversified, merged and been acquired by major studios (first Paramount, now Universal). Given those fluctuations it’s not surprising that its roster of 33 movies are of varying quality. With their latest –Trolls– opening Friday, we take a look at the best and worst that DreamWorks has to offer.

 

How to Train Your Dragon (2010): Audiences are joyfully transported watching Hiccup, a gangly teenage boy and Toothless, his beloved, green-eyed winged dragon, soar above the Nordic landscape. It’s a rare movie aimed at children in which the hero faces– but doesn’t fully overcome– peril. While Hiccup is undeniably courageous, he loses a leg. There’s nuance, mystery and narrative heft here amid the brisk pacing and exhilaration. The 3D animation is indelibly beautiful.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014): The rare sequel that feels organic and necessary, building on the original’s charm with resonance, character detail and exciting adventure. It’s more ambitious and darker in scope, with poignant moments of subtle emotion. For instance, the hero’s parents re-unite to a gentle folk song, not a massive production number. It’s humorous, moving, funny and thrilling. Plus, we get to meet a bewilderbeast, who Toothless faces in battle.

 

 

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005): With whimsy, wordplay and eccentricity aplenty, this perfectly paced mystery is inventive and delightful, featuring Nick Park and Ardman Animation’s daft English inventor and his loyal, stoic mutt. Its silly core is irresistible, as is its consistent cleverness. Absurd, good-hearted, meticulously designed and quintessentially British in humor, there’s nothing cheesy about this inspired celebration of fromage and fun.

 

Chicken Run (2000): The first feature film by clay model animation pioneer Nick Park lived up to the promise of his enchanting short animated features like The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave. Who would have guessed poultry, egg farms and heavy machinery would be the fodder for such delicious wit? Add a prison camp thriller setting and the absurdity is complete. It’s an animated wonder that’s possibly even more fun for adults than kids.

 

Shrek (2001): A joyous, swiftly-paced and very funny subversion of classic fairy tales. It sends up the Disney formula, and builds a foundation on an endearingly hilarious bromance between an ogre and a donkey (famously voiced by Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy). Not only is it tons of cheeky fun, but it featured the first–and best–use of Leonard Cohen’s hauntingly beautiful “Hallelujah.” It also incorporated a wonderfully affirming message for girls courtesy of Fiona, Shrek’s love interest (voiced by Cameron Diaz).

 

Kung Fu Panda (2008): The gorgeous visuals in this lively story, with their Chinese-inspired details, make up for the occasionally clichéd comedy and familiar message. Jack Black’s voicing of the titular character adds to the fun. And who can resist an animated movie featuring the voice talents of such venerable actors as Dustin Hoffman and Ian McShane?

 

Puss in Boots (2011): The dashing feline outlaw/lover/flamenco dancer in the insouciant plumed hat was the breakaway star of Shrek 2, so a spinoff was inevitable. With his spot-on comic timing and lyrical Spanish accent, Antonio Banderas’ makes the swashbuckling charmer simply irresistible. The lively, well-written romp includes a romance with Kitty Soft Paws (voiced by Salma Hayek), but a finale that’s over the top.

 

Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016): The animation is gorgeous, vividly hued and immersive– the bucolic panda village looks like a Chinese version of the Hobbit village crossed with Shangri La. The humor is light, if sometimes a bit corny. An engaging, family-friendly tale with a message that we always have more to learn, which feels all the more important in these anti-intellectual times.

 

 

Shrek 2 (2004): Almost as funny, sweet and engaging as the first film starring the big galoot. In this one the lovable curmudgeon ogre and his neurotic donkey pal are upstaged by the dauntless Puss in Boots, charmingly voiced by Antonio Banderas, who later got a spinoff with this character, an adorable parody of his Zorro role.

 

 

Antz (1998): It’s all about those voices, namely the vocal talents of Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, Sylvester Stallone and Gene Hackman. The computer animation is visually striking and the characters well-drawn, beginning with Allen as the fearful and neurotic Z. What kid–or adult–hasn’t wondered about the elaborate civilizations of ants, as we watch their numbers marching resolutely? This story appeals to our sense of imaginative wonder. While the detail is intricately compelling, the self-determination moral is clunky old news.

 

Flushed Away (2006) This witty joint venture between Aardman Animation and DreamWorks Animation blends the daffy humor of Wallace & Gromit with the clever lunacy of Shrek. The tale of a pampered pet mouse flushed down the toilet and into the sewers is equal parts endearing and energetic. Hugh Jackman heads a smart voice cast who play a range of amphibians, insects and other rodents. Puckish British wit is injected into fast-paced pop culture references, but forays into bathroom humor are less delightful.

 

 

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002): The western landscape is exquisitely rendered and Matt Damon gives voice to a wild mustang stallion living in the 19th Century. A poetic saga told with only music and narration (no talking animals here), the striking stallion is living an idyllic existence in the Old West until he’s captured by horse traders and sold to a cavalry regiment. While most humans are bent on controlling the horse, a Lakota brave wants to help Spirit. But the sappy horsey romance montages could have been jettisoned.

 

 

 

Rise of the Guardians (2012): With its focus on childhood wonder, this 3D computer-animated fable based on the series of books by William Joyce is a visually energetic spectacle, if a little overloaded. There’s plenty of fanciful razzle-dazzle in this mash-up of mythical heroes. The notion of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy joining forces like a storybook troop of Avengers action heroes is delightful, but the film grows hectic with all those figures competing for screen time.

 

 

Monsters vs. Aliens (2009): This lightly satirical fantasy pays affectionate homage to ’50s sci-fi horror, while also offering topical one-liners. The U.S. president is voiced by Stephen Colbert, a stroke of inspired casting. He greets an alien spaceship by playing the five signature notes from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, setting the tone for his officious, daffy character. “Do something violent!” he bellows at the military. Dazzling colors, winning characters and energetic visual effects work in concert, even if the 3-D feels unnecessary.

 

 

The Prince of Egypt (1998): One of the earliest of the DreamWorks movies has astonishing visual effects that include an eye-popping chariot race a la Ben Hur and scenes of crowds swarming the pyramids. The musical numbers are un-memorable, but Moses is made a more human and relatable character in this biblical saga. It’s a bit too serious (hard not to be, given the subject matter), but the muted color palette is stunning.

 

 

Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011): Despite the re-tread, things still feel fairly fresh for our pudgy black-and-white warrior, and the animation remains beautiful. Po, the titular martial artist panda, reassembles his supporting cast, Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Crane (David Cross) — to confront Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), who plans to wipe out kung fu. While the story is predictable and the moral is well-worn, there’s a wonderfully inspired dream sequence with a kung-fu fighting radish.

 

Shrek the Third (2007): While the story isn’t as strong as the first two installments about the beloved ogre, the satirical situations, un-Disney jokes and fairy tale re-invention retain their zest and humor. The ironic wit feels familiar, but still satisfying and amusing. It’s a more relaxed experience, as if it’s less intent on proving it’s post-modern cleverness. And the look of the film is undeniably vibrant.

 

Madagascar (2005): The animation is stunning and the stylized renderings of zoo animals are friendly-looking, the manic story feels like a bunch of one-liners strung together, peppered with bathroom humor. The jokes come courtesy of comic voice talents Chris Rock, Ben Stiller, Jada Pinkett Smith, David Schwimmer and Sacha Baron Cohen. The highlight is a song and dance sequence done by lemurs, where Cohen is king.

 

 

Turbo (2013): Watching an escargot go makes for family-friendly fare. And you’ve got to love the voice cast: Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Luis Guzman, Maya Rudolph, Samuel L. Jackson, Bill Hader, Richard Jenkins, Snoop Dogg and then some. But ubiquitous product placement and substantial borrowing from Pixar’s Cars undercut this underdog story. There are a few laughs until it follows the predictable route of “The Tortoise and the Hare” fable.

 

 

Over the Hedge (2006): A raucous, funny and relatively fresh look at the 3 C’s: conservation, consumerism and consumption (of the excessive and conspicuous kind). The story, based on a comic strip by Michael Fry and T. Lewis, appealingly balances comedy and exhilarating action sequences. And parents will appreciate the gentle message about overindulgence and the value of integrity, which avoids straying into schmaltzy turf. Alas, it succumbs too often to banal slapstick antics.

 

 

Megamind (2010): Mod-looking Metro City is a fun visual, and Will Ferrell’s voicing of the villainous titular character has some humorous appeal, but this send-up of superhero flicks feels like a hodgepodge of other animated movies. It suffers from being the second animated movie of that year to feature a bulbously bald dastardly villain. The other was the superior Despicable Me. There’s even a character named Minion. Brad Pitt voices Metro Man, with just the right amount of vain puffery.

 

 

Home (2015): This benign sci-fi comedy hodgepodge about home, heart and outsiders struggling to fit in is brightly colored, but narratively bland. Occasionally diverting, it’s more often forgettable and well-worn, with wannabe cuteness that’s more frantic than endearing. It cribs from Despicable Me, Antz and Lilo & Stitch. Key characters, however, are admirably diverse.

 

 

The Croods (2013): This visually appealing animated adventure–complete with colorful hybrids of prehistoric animals and striking primordial fauna– is hampered by lackluster slapstick humor and a meandering story. Voice work comes from Emma Stone, Nicolas Cage, Cloris Leachman and Ryan Reynolds. And Reynold’s Guy resembles Hiccup, the young protagonist of How to Train Your Dragon, the charming 2010 animated feature also helmed by Croods co-director Chris Sanders. It’s yet another animated feature in which the action sequences need not be in 3-D.

 

Trolls (2016): This is giddy, garish eye candy with a beat–trolls shrilly singing and dancing! A troll poops cupcakes, and that’s about the most original element in this neon-lit, hug-filled, cliché-laden affair. But expectations should be kept low given that director Mike Mitchell also made Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked. Catchy songs by Justin Timberlake (who also voices a paranoid conspiracy theorist) occasionally relieve the kaleidoscopic tedium.

 

The Road to El Dorado (2000) This ought to be a road not taken. Some entertaining moments, but too many flat ones pave this dull turf. Based on the legend of a lost South American city of gold, it’s a film that doesn’t seem aimed at kids or adults, though the voice talent–Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branaugh, Edward James Olmos, Rosie Perez– is impressive. The songs by Elton John and Tim Rice are lackluster and interchangeable.

 

 

Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (2003): Michelle Pfeiffer shows how her sultry purr can be put to use for evil, as well as good, in a role reminiscent of a slimmed down Ursula from The Little Mermaid. Brad Pitt plays the title roguish character with a bit of Aladdin flair. These Disney comparisons couldn’t possibly be intentional, right? This swashbuckling adventure also features an independent seagoing woman reminiscent of Katharine Hepburn, voiced by Catherine Zeta Jones. The effects are competent, but a sense of magic is lacking.

 

Shark Tale (2004): Story is everything and this one is thin, shallow and soupy, despite the improvisational skills of Will Smith and Jack Black. This is a watery urban tale, complete with undersea gangsters, groupies and graffiti artists. Angelia Jolie pays Lola, the fish fatale and Martin Scorsese is a pufferfish, complete with the filmmaker’s signature bushy eyebrows. Shark Tale‘s world is grittier than that other watery animated adventure, Finding Nemo, and decidedly less dazzling.

 

Mr. Peabody and Sherman (2014): Puns plus potty humor equals Peabody. A slave to formula, it updates the TV adventures of the smarty-pants time-traveling dog and his pet boy Sherman. It comes across disjointed and frantically paced, though it does have moments of appealing zaniness. The 3-D imagery feels gimmicky, rather than organic. The pedantic, bespectacled pooch pops off with some clever bon mots, but the movie is predictable and forced.

 

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008): This too-episodic, uninspired follow-up to the fast-paced original crams in a lot of characters– besides the original zoo quartet–then doesn’t give them enough to do. The foursome–giraffe, hippo, lion and zebra–are marooned in Africa where they continue with their incessant jabbering. Meanwhile, life lessons are imparted amid the mayhem..

 

 

Penguins of Madagascar (2014): Penguins are adorable, but they may be victims of over-exposure. In this limp spinoff–the fourth go-round in the Madagascar franchise–they come off charmless and interchangeable. The pacing is frenetic and the animation is unremarkable. The story tries to meld an origin tale, a coming-of-age saga, a slapstick comedy and even a bit of revenge thriller, compounding a sense of joylessness and frenzy.

 

 

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (2012): Fast is not always fun. Nor is sensory overload the same as dynamic spectacle. This third go-round in the franchise is rarely fresh, but it doesn’t stint on energy or vivid colors. The series continues to focus on the value of friendships, new and old, and on imagination and resourcefulness. But the film’s antic, loud style and dull plot isn’t likely to bowl over audiences. Jokes about Cirque du Soleil and Mia Farrow will surely sail right over young heads. But talk of a “stinky poopy circus,” should make some of the youngest moviegoers chortle.

 

 

Shrek Forever After (2010): Never reaching the inspired wit and infectious fun of the original, the action scenes feel recycled. Shrek and Fiona have 3 little ogrelings, and have settled into pleasant domesticity. Then Shrek has a midlife crisis. Really? Is this meant for kids or adults? In this fourth, and ostensibly final, installment, Shrek and company still have some appeal, but their energy is waning and the fun feels forced. Clever pop culture references have been replaced by spurts of slapstick and contrived mania.

 

 

Bee Movie (2007): Would that it were simply a B Movie. It’s closer to a D, grading on any curve. Launched a decade after his mega-hit TV series, Jerry Seinfeld’s foray into animation is surprisingly unfunny, spiritless and belabored. And weirdly, Barry, Seinfeld’s bee character, becomes smitten with a human (voiced by Renee Zellweger). Doesn’t that fly in the face of the laws of nature? The secret life of bees, as told by Seinfeld, is a bore with a capital B.

 

DreamWorks Animation has gone through its share of upheaval, with a few big successes (Shrek, Madagascar) and some notable failures. Since its first animation releases in 1998, it has changed, diversified, merged and been acquired by major studios (first Paramount, now Universal). Given those fluctuations it’s not surprising that its roster of 33 movies are of varying quality. With their latest –Trolls– opening Friday, we take a look at the best and worst that DreamWorks has to offer.

 

How to Train Your Dragon (2010): Audiences are joyfully transported watching Hiccup, a gangly teenage boy and Toothless, his beloved, green-eyed winged dragon, soar above the Nordic landscape. It’s a rare movie aimed at children in which the hero faces– but doesn’t fully overcome– peril. While Hiccup is undeniably courageous, he loses a leg. There’s nuance, mystery and narrative heft here amid the brisk pacing and exhilaration. The 3D animation is indelibly beautiful.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014): The rare sequel that feels organic and necessary, building on the original’s charm with resonance, character detail and exciting adventure. It’s more ambitious and darker in scope, with poignant moments of subtle emotion. For instance, the hero’s parents re-unite to a gentle folk song, not a massive production number. It’s humorous, moving, funny and thrilling. Plus, we get to meet a bewilderbeast, who Toothless faces in battle.

 

 

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005): With whimsy, wordplay and eccentricity aplenty, this perfectly paced mystery is inventive and delightful, featuring Nick Park and Ardman Animation’s daft English inventor and his loyal, stoic mutt. Its silly core is irresistible, as is its consistent cleverness. Absurd, good-hearted, meticulously designed and quintessentially British in humor, there’s nothing cheesy about this inspired celebration of fromage and fun.

 

Chicken Run (2000): The first feature film by clay model animation pioneer Nick Park lived up to the promise of his enchanting short animated features like The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave. Who would have guessed poultry, egg farms and heavy machinery would be the fodder for such delicious wit? Add a prison camp thriller setting and the absurdity is complete. It’s an animated wonder that’s possibly even more fun for adults than kids.

 

Shrek (2001): A joyous, swiftly-paced and very funny subversion of classic fairy tales. It sends up the Disney formula, and builds a foundation on an endearingly hilarious bromance between an ogre and a donkey (famously voiced by Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy). Not only is it tons of cheeky fun, but it featured the first–and best–use of Leonard Cohen’s hauntingly beautiful “Hallelujah.” It also incorporated a wonderfully affirming message for girls courtesy of Fiona, Shrek’s love interest (voiced by Cameron Diaz).

 

Kung Fu Panda (2008): The gorgeous visuals in this lively story, with their Chinese-inspired details, make up for the occasionally clichéd comedy and familiar message. Jack Black’s voicing of the titular character adds to the fun. And who can resist an animated movie featuring the voice talents of such venerable actors as Dustin Hoffman and Ian McShane?

 

Puss in Boots (2011): The dashing feline outlaw/lover/flamenco dancer in the insouciant plumed hat was the breakaway star of Shrek 2, so a spinoff was inevitable. With his spot-on comic timing and lyrical Spanish accent, Antonio Banderas’ makes the swashbuckling charmer simply irresistible. The lively, well-written romp includes a romance with Kitty Soft Paws (voiced by Salma Hayek), but a finale that’s over the top.

 

Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016): The animation is gorgeous, vividly hued and immersive– the bucolic panda village looks like a Chinese version of the Hobbit village crossed with Shangri La. The humor is light, if sometimes a bit corny. An engaging, family-friendly tale with a message that we always have more to learn, which feels all the more important in these anti-intellectual times.

 

 

Shrek 2 (2004): Almost as funny, sweet and engaging as the first film starring the big galoot. In this one the lovable curmudgeon ogre and his neurotic donkey pal are upstaged by the dauntless Puss in Boots, charmingly voiced by Antonio Banderas, who later got a spinoff with this character, an adorable parody of his Zorro role.

 

 

Antz (1998): It’s all about those voices, namely the vocal talents of Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, Sylvester Stallone and Gene Hackman. The computer animation is visually striking and the characters well-drawn, beginning with Allen as the fearful and neurotic Z. What kid–or adult–hasn’t wondered about the elaborate civilizations of ants, as we watch their numbers marching resolutely? This story appeals to our sense of imaginative wonder. While the detail is intricately compelling, the self-determination moral is clunky old news.

 

Flushed Away (2006) This witty joint venture between Aardman Animation and DreamWorks Animation blends the daffy humor of Wallace & Gromit with the clever lunacy of Shrek. The tale of a pampered pet mouse flushed down the toilet and into the sewers is equal parts endearing and energetic. Hugh Jackman heads a smart voice cast who play a range of amphibians, insects and other rodents. Puckish British wit is injected into fast-paced pop culture references, but forays into bathroom humor are less delightful.

 

 

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002): The western landscape is exquisitely rendered and Matt Damon gives voice to a wild mustang stallion living in the 19th Century. A poetic saga told with only music and narration (no talking animals here), the striking stallion is living an idyllic existence in the Old West until he’s captured by horse traders and sold to a cavalry regiment. While most humans are bent on controlling the horse, a Lakota brave wants to help Spirit. But the sappy horsey romance montages could have been jettisoned.

 

 

 

Rise of the Guardians (2012): With its focus on childhood wonder, this 3D computer-animated fable based on the series of books by William Joyce is a visually energetic spectacle, if a little overloaded. There’s plenty of fanciful razzle-dazzle in this mash-up of mythical heroes. The notion of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy joining forces like a storybook troop of Avengers action heroes is delightful, but the film grows hectic with all those figures competing for screen time.

 

 

Monsters vs. Aliens (2009): This lightly satirical fantasy pays affectionate homage to ’50s sci-fi horror, while also offering topical one-liners. The U.S. president is voiced by Stephen Colbert, a stroke of inspired casting. He greets an alien spaceship by playing the five signature notes from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, setting the tone for his officious, daffy character. “Do something violent!” he bellows at the military. Dazzling colors, winning characters and energetic visual effects work in concert, even if the 3-D feels unnecessary.

 

 

The Prince of Egypt (1998): One of the earliest of the DreamWorks movies has astonishing visual effects that include an eye-popping chariot race a la Ben Hur and scenes of crowds swarming the pyramids. The musical numbers are un-memorable, but Moses is made a more human and relatable character in this biblical saga. It’s a bit too serious (hard not to be, given the subject matter), but the muted color palette is stunning.

 

 

Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011): Despite the re-tread, things still feel fairly fresh for our pudgy black-and-white warrior, and the animation remains beautiful. Po, the titular martial artist panda, reassembles his supporting cast, Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Crane (David Cross) — to confront Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), who plans to wipe out kung fu. While the story is predictable and the moral is well-worn, there’s a wonderfully inspired dream sequence with a kung-fu fighting radish.

 

Shrek the Third (2007): While the story isn’t as strong as the first two installments about the beloved ogre, the satirical situations, un-Disney jokes and fairy tale re-invention retain their zest and humor. The ironic wit feels familiar, but still satisfying and amusing. It’s a more relaxed experience, as if it’s less intent on proving it’s post-modern cleverness. And the look of the film is undeniably vibrant.

 

Madagascar (2005): The animation is stunning and the stylized renderings of zoo animals are friendly-looking, the manic story feels like a bunch of one-liners strung together, peppered with bathroom humor. The jokes come courtesy of comic voice talents Chris Rock, Ben Stiller, Jada Pinkett Smith, David Schwimmer and Sacha Baron Cohen. The highlight is a song and dance sequence done by lemurs, where Cohen is king.

 

 

Turbo (2013): Watching an escargot go makes for family-friendly fare. And you’ve got to love the voice cast: Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Luis Guzman, Maya Rudolph, Samuel L. Jackson, Bill Hader, Richard Jenkins, Snoop Dogg and then some. But ubiquitous product placement and substantial borrowing from Pixar’s Cars undercut this underdog story. There are a few laughs until it follows the predictable route of “The Tortoise and the Hare” fable.

 

 

Over the Hedge (2006): A raucous, funny and relatively fresh look at the 3 C’s: conservation, consumerism and consumption (of the excessive and conspicuous kind). The story, based on a comic strip by Michael Fry and T. Lewis, appealingly balances comedy and exhilarating action sequences. And parents will appreciate the gentle message about overindulgence and the value of integrity, which avoids straying into schmaltzy turf. Alas, it succumbs too often to banal slapstick antics.

 

 

Megamind (2010): Mod-looking Metro City is a fun visual, and Will Ferrell’s voicing of the villainous titular character has some humorous appeal, but this send-up of superhero flicks feels like a hodgepodge of other animated movies. It suffers from being the second animated movie of that year to feature a bulbously bald dastardly villain. The other was the superior Despicable Me. There’s even a character named Minion. Brad Pitt voices Metro Man, with just the right amount of vain puffery.

 

 

Home (2015): This benign sci-fi comedy hodgepodge about home, heart and outsiders struggling to fit in is brightly colored, but narratively bland. Occasionally diverting, it’s more often forgettable and well-worn, with wannabe cuteness that’s more frantic than endearing. It cribs from Despicable Me, Antz and Lilo & Stitch. Key characters, however, are admirably diverse.

 

 

The Croods (2013): This visually appealing animated adventure–complete with colorful hybrids of prehistoric animals and striking primordial fauna– is hampered by lackluster slapstick humor and a meandering story. Voice work comes from Emma Stone, Nicolas Cage, Cloris Leachman and Ryan Reynolds. And Reynold’s Guy resembles Hiccup, the young protagonist of How to Train Your Dragon, the charming 2010 animated feature also helmed by Croods co-director Chris Sanders. It’s yet another animated feature in which the action sequences need not be in 3-D.

 

Trolls (2016): This is giddy, garish eye candy with a beat–trolls shrilly singing and dancing! A troll poops cupcakes, and that’s about the most original element in this neon-lit, hug-filled, cliché-laden affair. But expectations should be kept low given that director Mike Mitchell also made Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked. Catchy songs by Justin Timberlake (who also voices a paranoid conspiracy theorist) occasionally relieve the kaleidoscopic tedium.

 

The Road to El Dorado (2000) This ought to be a road not taken. Some entertaining moments, but too many flat ones pave this dull turf. Based on the legend of a lost South American city of gold, it’s a film that doesn’t seem aimed at kids or adults, though the voice talent–Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branaugh, Edward James Olmos, Rosie Perez– is impressive. The songs by Elton John and Tim Rice are lackluster and interchangeable.

 

 

Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (2003): Michelle Pfeiffer shows how her sultry purr can be put to use for evil, as well as good, in a role reminiscent of a slimmed down Ursula from The Little Mermaid. Brad Pitt plays the title roguish character with a bit of Aladdin flair. These Disney comparisons couldn’t possibly be intentional, right? This swashbuckling adventure also features an independent seagoing woman reminiscent of Katharine Hepburn, voiced by Catherine Zeta Jones. The effects are competent, but a sense of magic is lacking.

 

Shark Tale (2004): Story is everything and this one is thin, shallow and soupy, despite the improvisational skills of Will Smith and Jack Black. This is a watery urban tale, complete with undersea gangsters, groupies and graffiti artists. Angelia Jolie pays Lola, the fish fatale and Martin Scorsese is a pufferfish, complete with the filmmaker’s signature bushy eyebrows. Shark Tale‘s world is grittier than that other watery animated adventure, Finding Nemo, and decidedly less dazzling.

 

Mr. Peabody and Sherman (2014): Puns plus potty humor equals Peabody. A slave to formula, it updates the TV adventures of the smarty-pants time-traveling dog and his pet boy Sherman. It comes across disjointed and frantically paced, though it does have moments of appealing zaniness. The 3-D imagery feels gimmicky, rather than organic. The pedantic, bespectacled pooch pops off with some clever bon mots, but the movie is predictable and forced.

 

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008): This too-episodic, uninspired follow-up to the fast-paced original crams in a lot of characters– besides the original zoo quartet–then doesn’t give them enough to do. The foursome–giraffe, hippo, lion and zebra–are marooned in Africa where they continue with their incessant jabbering. Meanwhile, life lessons are imparted amid the mayhem..

 

 

Penguins of Madagascar (2014): Penguins are adorable, but they may be victims of over-exposure. In this limp spinoff–the fourth go-round in the Madagascar franchise–they come off charmless and interchangeable. The pacing is frenetic and the animation is unremarkable. The story tries to meld an origin tale, a coming-of-age saga, a slapstick comedy and even a bit of revenge thriller, compounding a sense of joylessness and frenzy.

 

 

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (2012): Fast is not always fun. Nor is sensory overload the same as dynamic spectacle. This third go-round in the franchise is rarely fresh, but it doesn’t stint on energy or vivid colors. The series continues to focus on the value of friendships, new and old, and on imagination and resourcefulness. But the film’s antic, loud style and dull plot isn’t likely to bowl over audiences. Jokes about Cirque du Soleil and Mia Farrow will surely sail right over young heads. But talk of a “stinky poopy circus,” should make some of the youngest moviegoers chortle.

 

 

Shrek Forever After (2010): Never reaching the inspired wit and infectious fun of the original, the action scenes feel recycled. Shrek and Fiona have 3 little ogrelings, and have settled into pleasant domesticity. Then Shrek has a midlife crisis. Really? Is this meant for kids or adults? In this fourth, and ostensibly final, installment, Shrek and company still have some appeal, but their energy is waning and the fun feels forced. Clever pop culture references have been replaced by spurts of slapstick and contrived mania.

 

 

Bee Movie (2007): Would that it were simply a B Movie. It’s closer to a D, grading on any curve. Launched a decade after his mega-hit TV series, Jerry Seinfeld’s foray into animation is surprisingly unfunny, spiritless and belabored. And weirdly, Barry, Seinfeld’s bee character, becomes smitten with a human (voiced by Renee Zellweger). Doesn’t that fly in the face of the laws of nature? The secret life of bees, as told by Seinfeld, is a bore with a capital B.