Author Archives: Slug Togath

ParaNorman, Hotel Transylvania, Frankenweeknie

Guest review by Tommy “Slug” Togath, age 14

There’s been a wave of animated monster movies in the past few weeks. Two stop-motion and one CGI movie have been released. Does this signify a trend, or is it just a coincidence? I don’t know, but all three movies are entertaining and explore different aspects of monster stories.

ParaNorman (2012)
Written by Chris Butler; directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

This movie is from the makers of the wonderful movie Coraline (adapted from a book by Neil Gaiman). ParaNorman is an original story about a boy named Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who can see and talk to ghosts. No one takes him seriously, and as a result his classmates tease him to the point of bullying. When a group of ghosts start terrorizing the town, it’s up to Norman to save the day.

ParaNorman is an entertaining movie, but probably not a movie that will stand the test of time. The stop-motion animation is better than in Coraline, with scenes containing multiple characters moving at the same time. The story, however, is kind of forgettable. The best part of the movie was when Norman had to contend with the body of his teacher who dies. It was one of the funniest and grossest scenes in a movie I’ve seen. I also liked when Norman talked to his dead grandmother.

The overall moral of the story is that everyone is different, and that bullying is bad whether it’s directed towards the living or the dead. It was a bit heavy-handed, but a valuable lesson anyway.

Hotel Transylvania (2012)
Story by Todd Durham and Dan Hageman & Kevin Hageman; screenplay by Peter Baynham and Robert Smigel; directed by Genndy Tartakovsky

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really liked the setup for this movie. Count Dracula (Adam Sandler) builds a hotel in a remote and well protected forest so that his monster friends have a safe place to take their vacations without interference from evil humans. Dracula has a daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez), who is about to have her 118th birthday party with all the monsters in attendance. A teenage boy named Jonathan (Andy Samberg) stumbles upon the hotel and Dracula has to disguise the boy to prevent his guests from panicking. Of course, Mavis and Jonathan fall in love, complicating Dracula’s efforts.

Hotel Transylvania is a funny, slapstick CGI movie. I wouldn’t mind seeing it again. Much of the credit goes to director Genndy Tartakovsky who created two of my favorite TV cartoons, Dexter’s Laboratory and Samurai Jack. Apparently, the movie was in development for many years with various writers and directors, but it was Tartakovsky who basically rescued it with his action-packed style.

The whole movie was funny, and I enjoyed seeing a lot of different monsters, although most of them didn’t get much screen time. The best part of the movie was at the end when Dracula finally realizes that humans aren’t as evil as he thinks. The message is that it’s ok to be different, and that we all need to accept others who may not look or act the same.

I could easily imagine that Hotel Transylvania could be a continuing TV series. There are a lot of potential stories that could be told with different monsters being highlighted. My understanding is that there is already a movie sequel in production.

Frankenweenie (2012)
Screenplay by John August, based on an original idea by Tim Burton and a screenplay by Leonard Ripps; directed by Tim Burton

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this black-and-white, stop-motion parody of the Frankenstein story. I was actually quite captivated by the movie. A boy named Victor (Charlie Tahan) doesn’t have many friends, except his faithful dog Sparky. After Sparky gets run over by a car, Victor decides to bring him back to life using electricity that he learned about in science class. When Victor’s classmates discover what he has done, they try to steal his idea for the upcoming science fair, creating chaos.

I haven’t seen very many Tim Burton movies. One of the movies he made a long time ago was The Nightmare Before Christmas, using the same kind of stop-motion animation. Some of my friends really liked this movie, but I didn’t like all the singing. Alice in Wonderland was only so-so. Frankenweenie is definitely better than those two movies, and I am now motivated to see some of Burton’s other movies.

I could really relate to Victor. I am kind of a science nerd, so I could appreciate him not having many friends. I also have a dog that I love, and I would be heartbroken if he died in an accident like Sparky. The best part of the movie was Victor’s science teacher (Martin Landau). He was kind of creepy and funny at the same time. I really liked when he said that science itself is neither good nor evil, but could be used for good or evil. Science is just a process of learning the facts about the world and the universe around us. I was disappointed that the science teacher did not have a bigger part in the movie. I also thought Sparky was a cool character. He was smart and cute, and acted like a real dog most of the time.

I didn’t come away from Frankenweenie thinking that there was a strong message, other than don’t experiment on your dead dog without permission. But overall, I liked Frankenweenie the most of these three monster movies. The production values were excellent, the story was funny, and I think that it’s a movie that I will understand more when I am older. There were a lot of references to old movies that I didn’t get.

John Carter

John Carter (2012) (IMAX 3D)
Screenplay by Andrew Stanton & Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon, based on the Mars series by Edgar Rice Burroughs; directed by Andrew Stanton

Guest review by Tommy “Slug” Togath, age 13

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After having recently read A Princess of Mars, I was expecting a pretty good action movie, but I was blown away by how awesome John Carter is! They changed a lot from the book, but kept the basic characters and situations. There were some new characters called Therns, which I understand come from the second book in the series, but I haven’t read yet. The movie is more logical than the book, and the story doesn’t jump around as much as the book. Taylor Kitsch as John Carter did a good job looking and acting like I imagined from the book.

I loved all the Martian characters, especially Woola, John Carter’s brave and loyal pet. He ran very fast and was able to help John Carter get out of a couple of jams. The six-limbed Tharks looked just like I imagined them. The other Martian animals looked and moved like I thought they should.

One of the best changes to the story was to make John Carter’s girlfriend Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) into a more important character. In the book she doesn’t really do much but get mad at John Carter all the time for not knowing her customs, even though she loves him. In the movie they made her a scientist and she also was almost as good as John Carter in fighting with a sword. There were a couple of funny scenes where she was able to protect him from enemies.

Another good change was to explain how John Carter traveled from the Earth to Mars. In the book he just mysteriously goes to sleep in a cave and wakes up on Mars. The movie’s explanation made sense and even helped add to the reason for the actions of the Therns.

I loved how the movie showed John Carter leaping long distances because of his Earth muscles. It was funny when he first arrived on Mars and had to learn how to move without hurting himself. There were lots of battles and fights, especially at the end of the movie, that were a lot of fun to watch because he was able to jump around his enemies.

In the book, a female Thark named Sarkoja (Polly Walker) is mean to John Carter and everyone else. In the movie she didn’t have a very big role, and her final fate was very different than in the book. The part where John Carter was captured in the city of Zodanga, then rescued by his friend Kantos Kan (James Purefoy), was shortened a lot from the book, so if you didn’t read the book you might have been a little confused.

Another change was how John Carter learned to speak the Martian language. In the book he spent weeks with the Thark children learning the language. In the movie Sola (Samantha Morton) gave him a potion that somehow let him understand and speak the language. I guess for a 2-hour movie they had to speed things up, but this was one area where the book was more believable than the movie.

I saw John Carter in IMAX 3D. The sound and music were excellent, but I don’t think the 3D was worth the extra ticket price.

John Carter is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, and I can’t wait to see it again!

A Princess of Mars

A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Guest review by Tommy “Slug” Togath, age 13

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Princess of Mars was first published 100 years ago in 1912. I was expecting an old-fashioned story that would be kind of boring. But the reality was that it was exciting and I only had to look up 2 or 3 words I’ve never heard of.

This book is the basis for the upcoming movie, John Carter. John Carter is a former Confederate officer who goes to Arizona to mine for gold after the Civil War. When his partner is killed by Apaches, he narrowly escapes by hiding in a mysterious cave. He goes to sleep and wakes up on Mars, known as Barsoom to the natives. My biggest surprise was how John Carter got from Earth to Mars—no rockets or anything logical, so that kind of detracted from the realism. I know there’s really no life on Mars, and I could suspend my disbelief about that part, but it was hard to look past the mysterious travel between planets. Maybe the next book will address that more sensibly.

John Carter becomes friends with a Martian warrior named Tars Tarkas. Tars Tarkas is a Thark, with green skin, 6 limbs, and very tall. I liked Tars Tarkas a lot, but he really didn’t have much to do. A domesticated Martian pet named Woola becomes John Carter’s companion. I loved Woola because he was brave and loyal to John Carter, just like my dog is to me. John Carter falls in love with a Martian woman named Dejah Thoris. She looks just like an Earth woman, except she has red skin. Dejah Thoris is mostly just a “damsel in distress” and doesn’t do much in the story.

I liked John Carter because he was brave and smart. He had to fight a lot of Martians because he didn’t know their customs. But it turned out all right because the Martians are all warriors who live by the sword and they respect the greatest fighters. John Carter had a big advantage because his muscles were used to the higher gravity of Earth, so he could jump really far and get away from danger.

John Carter made many enemies. The one I liked the least was Sarkoja, a female Thark. She was mean to everybody. Tars Tarkas finally made her leave, but I don’t think we’ve seen the last of her.

I liked the scenes with fighting and battles. The opening scenes in Arizona with John Carter being chased by Apaches were very thrilling. I liked the part where John Carter was captured in the city of Zodanga, then rescued his friend Kantos Kan and escaped. Although I knew he would escape, it was still exciting to read about how he fought against long odds and was able to get away.

I was a little disappointed that the story seemed to jump around a lot—more like a series of connected short stories than a coherent novel. But the book held my interest and I would recommend it to my friends. I will definitely read the next book in the series, and I am more excited than ever to see the movie John Carter.

Stardust

Stardust (2007)
Screenplay by Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn; directed by Matthew Vaughn

Guest review by Tommy “Slug” Togath, age 13

My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Stardust (Paramount Pictures) is an adaptation of a Neil Gaiman novel about a fairy named Yvaine (Claire Danes) who comes to life when her comet persona crashes to Earth.  There’s lots of adventuring with a bunch of larger-than-life characters, including the witch Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) and the pirate Captain Shakespeare (Robert de Niro).  This is a fun and enjoyable swashbuckler, but I don’t think I would see it again. It won the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form in 2008.