By Zac Bertschy
Today, unanimously beloved animation powerhouse Pixar will release their latest work for nerds, movie critics and children around the world to fawn excessively over, Wall*E. It?s a reminder that we live in a golden age for animated movies, where the best of them have universal appeal to kids and adults alike and sometimes are considered among the best films of the year. Unfortunately, we also live in an age where most every major movie studio has realized that there?s a whole lot of money to be made with CG cartoons, so as a result, there?s seemingly some new candy-colored CG confection opening at the multiplex every week. The big ones have some incredibly talented artists behind them, production budgets in the hundreds of millions and global marketing campaigns that sell them as the next big animated masterpiece. And a lot of them really fucking suck. For every Ratatouille, there are three Madagascars, and a surprising number of them are released in such a bombastic, self-congratulatory fashion that you?d believe it might just be the next Finding Nemo.
But the majority of them are turds. Here?s a list of the 10 worst top-shelf computer-animated features of the last decade or so. For simplicity?s sake, we?re sticking exclusively to big-budget titles that were given A-list marketing campaigns, so you won?t find the cheap, unsavory likes of Hoodwinked, Doogal or Happily N?Ever After here. It?s for the best.
It?s tough to trash a Pixar movie but Cars makes it a bit easier. While this is easily the best movie on this list, it?s a rare stumble in the storytelling department. Cars is basically a carbon copy of the Michael J. Fox comedy Doc Hollywood, except with talking automobiles, one of which is voiced by Larry the Cable Guy, something John Lasseter has yet to apologize for. He also hasn?t explained why in the hell a movie about a race car getting to know small town life is fucking two and a half hours long, or why he felt it necessary to spend most of those two and a half hours jerking off the baby boomers in the audience with tired Route 66 nostalgia. What?s worse, the merchandise line for this film is so tremendously popular that not only have they announced Cars 2, a sequel nobody but Mattel wants, they?re also building an entire theme park section at Disney?s California Adventure called Carsland. It?s like a giant monument to the most frustratingly mediocre film in a respected studio?s oeuvre; imagine if Universal Studios decided to add an attraction based on Steven Spielberg?s The Terminal to their theme park.
One of the few non-Ice Age movies released by Blue Sky Studios, Robots is an uninspired story about a robot named Rodney voiced by Ewan MacGregor (who seems to be unfortunately succumbing to the Star Wars career curse) who happens to also be a genius inventor. He goes to the big robot city and works for a big robot company only to find out that there?s a shitload of robot corruption and it?s up to him to save robotkind. On the surface, there isn?t anything at all remarkable about Robots (aside from the fact that someone blew $75 million on this script), but there?s a sinister secret lying beneath. Rodney?s principle sidekick in this movie is voiced by the dreaded Robin Williams in full-on ?obnoxious douchebag? mode. In one of the many making-of documentaries about this film, the production crew actually admits to letting Williams improvise in the recording booth, which is something they should really keep to themselves. Everyone knows that if you let Robin Williams open his mouth without a script in front of him, what results will be a torrent of unfunny stereotype voices, which he performs under the impression that people aren?t completely fucking sick and tired of his ?I?m gay? or ?I?m Mexican? or ?I?m a cowboy? impressions, many of which appear in this film. His presence in this movie is like a heap of rotten strawberries dumped atop a waffle made of cardboard.
8) Ice Age
Another relatively mediocre title from relatively mediocre Blue Sky Studios, Ice Age is predicated on the notion that anyone anywhere would sincerely be entertained by watching a woolly mammoth voiced by a flatlining Ray Romano and a sloth performed by a moist-mouthed John Leguizamo rescue an infant from increasingly uninteresting peril. If the story isn?t boring enough for you, just take a look at the visuals; in addition to the totally bland character design, the world of Ice Age looks like barely-competent concept art rendered in 3D by art students. It?s the CG equivalent of painting a room beige. Ice Age isn?t a horrible movie, it?s just so bland, pointless, unfunny and uninteresting that it has no reason to exist. The only aspect of this film that ever seems to have actually amused someone are the Looney Tunes-ripoff antics of Scrat, a rat who wants an acorn and is thwarted, a concept they have milked so hard in the following sequels that even the folks who thought it was a knee-slapper in 2002 are sick of it. Also the third Ice Age movie apparently has a dinosaur in it. It doesn?t matter how or why, that?s terrible.
7) The Polar Express
Some might argue that this isn?t actually a CG cartoon because it uses Robert Zemeckis? zombifying motion capture technology, put to far better use on the superior Beowulf, but they?re being pedantic dorks. The Polar Express is a cartoon, god dammit, and it?s just awful. Based on the classic children?s book, The Polar Express is about Tom Hanks and his magic train which he uses to travel around and collect unsuspecting children (one of which is played by Tom Hanks) in order to deliver them to the North Pole to visit Santa Claus (played by Tom Hanks). Along the way they get advice from a ghostly hobo (played by Tom Hanks) and a few other colorful characters (many of which are played by Tom Hanks). This film is nearly 100 minutes long and is based on a 32-page picture book, which means a whole bunch of unnecessary filler material is stuffed in to pad the runtime out and allow the lucky audience to spend more time with a horrifying cast of glassy-eyed zombie children, including the creepiest little African-American girl to ever have been rendered by a computer. There?s one hilarious highlight to this film, though; at the end of the movie, Santa?s army of dead-eyed elves are lowering his toy sack into the sleigh and for a few moments it looks exactly like a giantic red scrotum, complete with a seam in the middle and requisite wrinkles. There?s no way this was not intentional; perhaps a petition is in order to rename this film The Nutsack Express.
5 & 6) Shrek 2 & Shrek the Third
The first Shrek is deservedly remembered as a pretty decent movie. It was Dreamworks Animation?s first foray into CG work after a string of financially disappointing traditional features (Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron anyone?), and even though it?s basically Jeffrey Katzenberg taking a giant sour-grapes whiz on Disney for 90 minutes, it was funny and amusing enough. Then they had to go fuck it up by doing a bunch of unnecessary sequels.
Shrek 2 is a better film than Shrek the Third, but it?s basically a slightly more polished turd. Whatever restraint they may have shown in the first film with shoehorning in endless unfunny pop culture jokes is thrown out the window here and the result is tiresome and predictable, with a scant few funny moments shining through, all of which are rendered moot by the pure hatred and anger generated by the film?s final sequence, an embarrassing dance party set to ?Livin? La Vida Loca?. Animated movies have a long history of ending with embarrassing dance parties but this one is like being shat on in the eyeball.
Shrek the Third manages to be even worse, however; perhaps it was the $436 million dollars the second one managed to gross domestically (fuck!), so they just kept plowing this franchise into the ground as far as it could possibly go, this time deciding that the relatively even-handed, somewhat self-contained sarcasm of the first film should be tossed aside immediately and what people really want are endless thinly-veiled pop references surrounded by poop and vomit gags, and the endless merchandise bonanza represented by Shrek?s hideous babies. Presently, Dreamworks has plans to make three more of these movies, a compelling argument that here is no God.
Dinosaur was the ill-fated first attempt by Disney to move into the realm of CG movies. They got a little lazy, though, and rather than designing and animating the entire thing, they just shot a bunch of live-action backgrounds and pasted poorly-designed CG dinosaurs over them.
The story of Dinosaur is simple; Aladar, a dinosaur raised by unbelievably badly-rendered lemurs, flees his home when meteors rain down, meets up with a bunch of other dinosaurs and together they look for a magic valley stocked up with food and water that hasn?t been wrecked by meteors yet, meaning a perfect subtitle for this film would?ve been ?Delaying the Inevitable?. The dinosaurs are apparently clever enough to make up stupid-ass names for themselves, because the meat-eating dinosaurs are called ?Carnotaurs.” Their evolution also seems to have taken gender stereotypes into account, because the romantic interest girl dinosaur is pink. This film failed pretty badly at the box office and wasn?t well-received by critics, and it nearly shuttered Disney?s in-house CG studio for good. It?s unfortunate that it wasn?t bad enough to kill it completely, because the next film they produced was even worse.
3) Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
Some time in the 1990?s, after Final Fantasy VII came out and lit the franchise on fire with a new fanbase and a tremendous amount of popularity, Square Enix decided to open up an animation studio in Hawaii and begin producing feature films. Their first choice? Obviously, it was a no-brainer; make a Final Fantasy movie. The fanboys would eat it up and people unfamiliar with the games would be lured in by the amazing animation!
But instead of doing the most incredibly fucking obvious thing ever?making a movie version of Final Fantasy VII, or VI, or hell, any of the games?they instead decided to draft the world?s dullest and most generic sci-fi script, populate it with boring characters, remove all connection to the Final Fantasy games save for a few throwaway references and slap the franchise name on it. The result? A whole lot of pissed off fans angry at how Square Enix managed to completely and utterly squander the opportunity they had to make everyone happy and print money at the same time, instead opting to make the most forgettable and bland sci-fi snoozefest they possibly could. Naturally they made up for this four years later by going back to the drawing board and producing Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, finally giving the fans all the androgynous supermodel action they could stand. Now all they have to do is shovel every existing copy of The Spirits Within into a landfill somewhere and pretend they never made it.
2) Chicken Little
Chicken Little may, surprisingly, be the worst theatrical animated feature Disney has ever produced. It?s as if they took a look at what lazy nonsense Dreamworks was doing and decided to up the ante. This movie is basically a collection of hyperactive unfunny animals overreacting to uninteresting things, spewing out an avalanche of retarded pop culture references and pandering to the kids in the audience with meaningless dance sequences. The first 20 minutes or so of this 80-minute film revolve around a baseball game that has almost literally nothing at all to do with the plot of the film; it?s like watching a completely different movie about a loser chicken who sucks at baseball. Then there?s another movie that starts around the 60-minute mark that?s a lame retelling of the original Chicken Little story, one that ends with a 10-minute sequence where the characters are watching an overblown action movie based on what happened in the previous 50 minutes. Notably this segment of the film was spun off into its own unsuccessful videogame. The animation is passable but that?s the only somewhat redeeming thing about this piece of garbage. Hell, to make matters worse, the lead character is voiced by Zach Braff. Fuck that guy.
1) Shark Tale
If Chicken Little and the Shrek sequels show the symptoms of what?s wrong with a lot of animated films, Shark Tale is an AIDS diagnosis. It is the sum of everything that sucks about modern cartoons; lame pop culture references masquerading as jokes, a giant slew of distracting celebrity voice talent, and a total reliance on talking animals. Shark Tale takes all of these awful things to the next level; the characters are awkwardly and almost terrifyingly designed to resemble the faces of their voice talent, resulting in a freakish Will Smith fish, a Jack Black shark that looks remarkably like Jabberjaw, and an Angelina Jolie fish with huge lips and a body design clearly intended to make her look voluptuous. I guess they could?ve called this movie Fish Tits. Seriously! But that?d have been a little too on-the-nose.
But even worse than the character designs are the jokes. Shark Tale does what a lot of other animated movies based on talking animals does, which is rely almost completely on lazy-ass ?look, they?re animals, and this is their version of the iPod!? gags. In other words, you?re supposed to laugh hysterically when you see a sign for ?Kelpa-Cola?, because they?re fish, see, and they have Coca-Cola but it?s called Kelpa-Cola because they?re motherfucking fish! Hilarious, right? It is the laziest possible form of humor, infesting so many of these films, but Shark Tale takes it to a whole new level of bullshit.
Dreamworks just released Kung-Fu Panda, which was surprisingly so good and so well-made it almost makes up for this insulting tripe. It suggests that they?re ready to move away from this crap and start making animated films with a focus on quality storytelling and artistry. But then they front-loaded the Panda reels with a trailer for Madagascar 2, which features a celebrity voice cast singing ?I Like to Move It? and a cross-dressing lemur who pops out of a cake. There is no hope.