Go all out. Unleash your inner pre-teen
English/animation; releasing 15 April
Why: Depp’s histrionics meet the Wild Wild West
It’s a Western, a drama, a comedy, a mystery and a parody—all rolled into an animation package. Johnny Depp’s verbal histrionics befit Rango’s quixotic thespian fancies as he stumbles into the hostile town of Dirt. He crafts his way into hearts, spars with vicious enemies, discovers a lady love, scents a conspiracy reeking of greed and returns to town after a self-imposed exile for a final showdown. He does all this while being a chameleon.
Karma chameleon: Depp excels in his role as Rango.
The triumph of Rango lies in its seamless blend of different genres, and its tightrope walk between parody and homage to the many films it alludes to—Chinatown, various spaghetti Westerns and Apocalypse Now, among others. Depp delivers the crisply written dialogues with aplomb, and is sure to endear himself to audiences with Rango’s many charms and flaws.
Rango marks the first instance of Industrial Light & Magic creating computer-generated imagery (CGI) animation for any feature, and the effort made to get the details just right is there for all to see—the eerily foreboding atmosphere of the town complemented by oblique camera angles and dimly lit interiors lends uncanny beauty to the film.
The joyride that is Rango threatens to derail due to its emotional flatness; in part due to the charisma of the main protagonist who overshadows every other character around him. Yet Depp, the cinematography and the animation will go a long way in enhancing your experience of this film. “No one can walk out on his own story,” the Spirit of the West tells Rango in the film. You surely won’t walk out on this one.
Kung Fu Panda 2
English/3D animation; releasing 26 May
Why:It’s 3D happiness in a 260-pound panda package “Prepare for the return of awesomeness,” says the trailer, and we have every reason to revive the Wuxia film fan latent in us.
The bumbling panda, Po (Jack Black), is back in a more confident avatar in this sequel (no, really, he sings “We will rock you”, among other things). In Kung Fu Panda, which released in the summer of 2008, Po was unwittingly destined to bring peace to the land, much to the chagrin of the more capable kung fu warriors. We now see him living his dream as The Dragon Warrior, alongside his friends and fellow kung fu masters, The Furious Five—Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Crane (David Cross), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu)—and his master, Shifu (Dustin Hoffman). But Po’s newly coined life of bliss is threatened by the emergence of a villain who plans to use a secret weapon to conquer China and destroy kung fu. It is up to Po and The Furious Five to vanquish him.
Kung fu dreams: Po returns as The Dragon Warrior.
When DreamWorks made Kung Fu Panda, the computer animation was more complex than anything they’d done before (remember those lovely cherry blossoms?). The film became the highest-grossing animated movie of the year. After three years, rushes from this second coming lead us to believe it isn’t just another uninspired sequel. These are the guys who gave us Shrek, after all.
English/3D animation; releasing 24 June
Pixar, speed, suspense and great music—a heady concoctHigh-speed racing frenzy and the intrigue of international espionage is scrawled all over Cars 2, the sequel to the 2006 hit from Pixar that hurled us into the world of anthropomorphic cars. Owen Wilson and Larry the Cable Guy reprise their roles as Lightning McQueen, the race car, and Tow Mater, the tow truck. This time McQueen attempts to win the title of the world’s fastest car at the first World Grand Prix and satisfy that most primal of all Hollywood urges— saving the world.
The original film, despite receiving mixed reviews for its lengthy storyline, raked in two Oscar nominations. While it lacked the visual appeal which is the signature of Pixar—Toy Story, Wall-E are good examples—the characters’ camaraderie was heartwarming. With the sequel promising to take the characters “where no car has ever gone before”, Oscar-winning Pixar veteran Michael Giacchino providing the soundtrack, and a pan-European landscape for McQueen and Co. to zoom through, one can expect the magicians at Pixar to come into their own.
Single watch. Escort your nephew or six-year-old if you must
Pirates of the Caribbean:
On Stranger Tides English; releasing 20 May
Why: Jack Sparrow, as always, and a new director’s fresh perspective
Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) returns to set sail in search of the elusive fountain of youth in the fourth instalment of the Pirates series.
Stars: (top) Jack Sparrow and an accomplice.
This film marks a shift in directorial duties for the hugely successful franchise, with Chicago’s Rob Marshall replacing Gore Verbinski—a change that is bound to inject fresh perspective. An interesting trend in the series has been its rising budget and dwindling critical appreciation with every instalment. This time, the budget has come down by almost $100 million (around Rs448 crore), which makes one ponder if the producers are playing it safe.
While the original Pirates of the Caribbean was fresh, the sequels suffered from franchise fatigue and bloat. The second film was an hour longer than it needed to be, and the third was a portentous, 170-minute bore. Film No. 4 doesn’t look like it’s changing much. Rather than fresh wind in the sails, On Stranger Tides might turn out to be another unhelpful puff of hot air.
English/Hindi 3D animation; releasing 8 April
Why: Rainforests and baby macaws
During the opening minutes of Rio, hundreds of macaws in a carnivalesque mood in the Brazilian rainforests disperse to reveal a fledgling macaw that plummets to the ground while attempting to fly. The creators of Ice Age return with the story of Blu (Jesse Eisenberg), a rare blue macaw, and his quest to win over Jewel (Anne Hathaway), as they course through picturesque Rio de Janeiro while dodging poachers. The characters are drawn in keeping with the animators’ tendency to lend them the cuteness that endears them to children, which might be a bit too much for adults. A version of the film dubbed in Hindi will have Ranvir Shorey, Vinay Pathak and Sunidhi Chauhan.
Animated travel: Rio is a cruise through the Brazilian rainforests.
Hindi; releasing 22 April
Why: It stars Darsheel Safary
Darsheel Safary is on the verge of discovering the hero within, in an obvious throwback to Spiderman. The pretext of a boy forsaken by his cruel uncle (Anupam Kher) and left to navigate the world seems trite enough, leaving room for his transformation into a superhero. One can only hope that the special effects aren’t cringe-inducing.
Avoid. Some things are really designed for children—or not
Shin Chan: Bungle in the Jungle
Hindi/animation; released 1 April
Why: Shin Chan is annoying
Bart Simpson was mildly cute. Shin Chan—the foul-mouthed six-year–old Tokyo child— stretches it. First televised in Japan in 1992, Shin Chan made its way to India in Hindi in 2006 and became the highest-rated programme on Hungama TV. The series was banned by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in 2008 for nudity and profanity; it eventually resumed in 2009. Now, its success with Indian audiences has paved the way for a theatrical release by Disney. While the gags are less vulgar in this “family” version, Shin Chan remains a one-child disaster squad. Stay away and keep the children away, unless you want them to go about asking your 80-year-old neighbour, “When are you going to die?”
English/live action, animation; releasing 20 May
Rock ‘n’ roll: EB in Hop.
Why: The chipmunk scarred us This comes from Tim Hill of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and we’re convinced it’s as cloying. The story follows EB, the Easter Bunny’s teenage son, who heads to Hollywood determined to become a drummer. Every film is not a Ratatouille.
THE THINGS YOU USED TO LOVE
Board and video games not for you any more? Two new releases warrant a rethink
THE ISLE OF DOCTOR NECREAUX (board game)
Board games are fine, the flawed thinking goes, when you’re 13 and on summer vacation at your grandparents’. Nothing more. But board games can be fantastic, low-impact social experiences which are built around great design and clever mechanics. Rediscover this with ‘The Isle of Doctor Necreaux’, a cooperative board game by Jonathan Leistiko for up to five players, in which players join forces against the game, and not each other.
In ‘Necreaux’, you play an espionage team sent to the lair of the nefarious Dr Necreaux to rescue a team of scientists. The madman will trigger a doomsday device within 4 hours if his (thoroughly unreasonable) demands are not met. The game has a clever “time” mechanism that counts the amount of time you have left. Dr Necreaux will throw monsters, traps and obstacles at the team, and the game often hinges on difficult decisions (“Go on without me!”) at the end stages. The pulp-inspired artwork is brilliant and each playthrough is a tense 40-minute experience, one that can be replayed many times.
‘The Isle of Doctor Necreaux’ can be purchased online at Amazon.co.uk (which also offers free shipping to India till May on packages worth more than £25, or around Rs 1,800) for $12 (around Rs 540).
DRAWN: THE PAINTED TOWER (video game)
It is perhaps telling that the world’s most interesting video games come out of genre combinations that are deemed wrong. But like all the best mistakes, they’re revealing snapshots of hidden potential in the mediocrity of mainstream gaming. ‘Drawn: The Painted Tower’ builds its house at the border between these two worlds, between mainstream and niche.
From the outside, it is a humdrum adventure game—mixing elements from hidden-object games (a genre barely above ‘Farmville’ in video game respectability) and point-and-click adventures (a genre in coma since its glory days in the 1990s). But step inside and you’ll find an intelligent world, some stellar artwork and music, and gameplay that is never condescendingly “casual”.
The game tells the story of Iris, a girl who can create imaginary worlds by painting them. She’s filled an entire tower with them, opening out into dimensions unseen. But now the tower has fallen to a mysterious dark force, and Iris has disappeared. The game tasks you with finding her. Inflict this one on non-gamers and you’ll find them caught in a video game’s alchemical spell.
Purchase ‘Drawn: The Painted Tower’ via game stores such as Steam (Store.steampowered.com) for $9.95.