School’s out for the summer and so are the blockbuster animated films.
The fight for dominance in the kiddie market have led both Disney/Pixar and Universal Pictures to release the third parts of top trilogies within weeks of each other, as Cars 3 was released June 16 and Despicable Me 3 was released two weeks later. These two tween titans clashed and the real winner was… neither of them. They’re both nothing special or original. 20th Century Fox’s Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, is better than both films, but first let’s break down Cars 3 and Despicable Me 3.
Cars is the ugly, redheaded stepchild of the Pixar franchise. When I first watched the original one in theaters in 2006, I was completely disappointed. The lack of character depth and memorable dialogue was unlike any other Pixar film I had seen to that date. The studio that shaped my childhood with Buzz and Woody from Toy Story was now presenting me with Mater voiced by Larry the Cable Guy, who at times said “Git ‘er Done,” a line that does not belong in a film geared for kids. Pun intended.
John Lasseter clearly wanted to make a film to sell toys. Toy Story 3 was still far into the future of 2010 at the time and none of the other recent Pixar films really had that “get parent’s money” factor as a movie about a product that could easily ruin Hot Wheels. To reaffirm my theory that Cars is made solely to sell toys put this in perspective, the only other Pixar property to get a trilogy is Toy Story, a film about toys…
The first Cars film left me several questions that I was hoping would be addressed in the third part. Note that I did not see the second film for overall health and wellness reasons and the fact that I did not want to start hating Pixar films. But really though, where are all the humans in Cars? Did our own machines replace mankind like in the Terminator franchise? Did we somehow morph into our own technology? Who created everything in the world of Cars seeing that none of them have thumbs, or even hands for that matter?
None of these questions are answered in the third film. Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is outraced by faster and younger cars and seeks the help of young trainer Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) to get his groove back and show the world that he is still a competitor despite being the oldest racer.
To be fair, Cars 3 is not a bad film, but it is rather unoriginal for a Pixar film. Once again, there is not anything new and memorable coming from this franchise except for a new line of toy cars down the toy aisle at the store.
Despicable Me 3 is similar yet different to Cars 3. Like Cars, the film offers the Minions, characters that are easily marketable in toy form. These lovable, yet rather annoying, yellow sidekicks are everywhere. But unlike Cars, these characters are not the central part of the film.
Gru (Steve Carell) returns with his wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig) and their three daughters Margo, Edith, and Agnes for another adventure sprinkled with help from the Minions. This time Gru and Lucy lose their job after a failed attempt to capture super villain, Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker). Gru finds out he has a lost brother, Dru (also voiced by Steve Carell), and together they go after Bratt.
It may not be a memorable animated film for the ages, but Despicable Me 3 is enjoyable and better than Cars 3. The entire franchise as a whole is mountains over the Cars franchise, but pales in comparison to average Pixar/Disney films.
The key element that Despicable Me 3 has over Cars 3 is simple: the human element. It is a movie filled with actual humans who have relatable human problems. Gru never needs an oil change or a fresh coat of paint to get him going. He is instead motivated to get his job back so he can support his family.
But the best summer animated movie of 2017 has been Captain Underpants. Based off of the beloved book series, George Beard (Kevin Hart) and Harold Hutchins (Thomas Middleditch) are two kids who pull off a ton of elaborate pranks at their dreary school regimentally run by their principal, Mr. Krupp (Ed Helms). When Mr. Krupp threatens to separate George and Harold into separate classes, George uses his magic ring to hypnotize Krupp into thinking he is the superhero, Captain Underpants. Together the three of them thwart the evil Professor Poopypants (Nick Kroll), who wants to rid the world of laughter.
Captain Underpants is a highly relatable film to both young and old. We have all been through mundane school days at one point in our lives and passed the time with some humor or imagination. This film does an excellent job of capturing that young, fun spirit that a young child can harness that adults often yearn for.
Unlike Cars or Despicable Me, Captain Underpants is not building from material that has been established with two previous films. Instead it can build a world around endless source material from the books and keep the pace fast and fun that will keep the attention of any age.
As with any animated film, the voice talent often drives the film, and there is no lack of talented actors with Captain Underpants. The actors involved were engaging and high energy in a role that was different than the work I’m used to them doing. Ed Helms is a perfect Captain Underpants despite often performing deadpan or self-deprecating humor such as in the Hangover films.
Still, the big question here is what makes a good animated film? Is it a film kids would enjoy? Is it the animation? The voice talent? It’s “yes” to all of those, but the simple answer is to just make a good film.
Animated films are not that much different than any live-action film. They still are contingent on story and acting talent to name a few elements. Captain Underpants simply has a better story arc, more relatable characters, better music, original animation style, and more creativity. There are more children characters in this film than the other two, which could make the film more relatable to the demographic the film is intended for.
Regardless of the film character’s age or demographic, kids and young adults look for, and notice, the same elements that make up a good movie like adults do; they just don’t know it. We as humans will always take notice of what surprises us and is different and, at the same time, what is memorable and catchy.