Monday, September 21, 2009

Review Of Meatballs

I went to see this movie as a fluke. Kali and I were bored yesterday afternoon, and I said "Is there a movie out that won't make us sick?" We remembered seeing ads for the Meatball movie and I thought, "well the characters look awful bland, but at least they aren't outright nasty" so we went to see it. Now I wish we had seen it in 3d.

Whoever chose the promotional stills can't be very bright, because he chose the most sedentary looking stuff imaginable. There actually is some stuff in it that is pretty interesting to look at, but let's start with how you would usually review a movie:

Characters: The first thing that attracts me to a cartoon is the characters.

That means 2 basic elements:

1) The characters' specific designs.
2) The characters' unique personalities.

This movie has neither. The character designs are stolen from Davy and Goliath - which is as bland as Christian animation can be. The personalities are non-existent. They have the same exact characteristics as every modern animated feature.
The boy is a wimp who has no self esteem.
The girl is mildly sassy but has no individual quirks.

If the characters are bland, why are they good? They aren't, but merely bland is better than completely repulsive:I'm so used to seeing animated characters who look about as appealing as your dad naked, that to see characters who are merely inoffensive is a positive change for the better.

This character is a little too stylized to be believable, but at least it's an attempt to be a design at all.The black characters are stock Cal Arts "Bebe's Kids" that are in a million movies.
The monkey is in every Cartoon Network cartoon, but he looks good in 3d.

The voices as usual are completely uninteresting:Who are these people and why are they in the publicity photos? I've never understood the feature animation theory of using live action actors who have no distinguishable voices to do the acting. What kid cares? Seems like a complete waste of money to me.


The story doesn't work on any level, even according to its own rules. There is about 10 minutes worth of plot, dragged out to a feature length. It's not funny or anything. Well maybe once or twice.

I won't give away the resolution. I couldn't anyway, because there isn't one. The kid does something he thinks is good, everyone thinks it's good for awhile, then it turns bad, then by vague unexplained magic the bad is stopped, leaving a ton of damage - and then everyone forgives him, even though he's ruined his whole town.

No animated features have stories that work, so this is not a fault by comparison with the norm.

Lessons that no one wants in movies:

We learn the same lessons that we learn in every animated movie
It's OK to be yourself - especially if you are bland and wimpy.
We learn that Dads love their kids but have trouble saying it.
We learn that cute girls like wimpy guys.

We shouldn't force kids to learn lessons in cartoons, especially the same ones over and over again that we don't ourselves believe.

So what's good about it? Unfortunately, nothing that is reflected in the stills.
This guy, when he gets really fat is very cartoony and fun to look at. I wish I could show you.


The characters move about 50% Cal Arts formula, and then 50% cartoony.

There are some funny walks and runs. If only they would turn off the motion blur we could appreciate them better. The characters make expressions that the artists just made up for certain scenes. Yeah, you see a lot of stock Pixar faces and actions, but there are just as many original ones.

The poses are refreshingly clear and cartoony and original. Clean silhouettes and lines of action just like in old cartoons.

Not Ashamed Of Being Animated
It looks like a big step towards not being ashamed of being a cartoon. Even though the story and characterizations are stock, the animators went ahead and had fun anyway and they were lucky enough to not have someone stop them each time.

That, in my long experience is a miracle in itself.

The artists are allowed to make fun of the formula
Even when there are the typical stock contrived pathos scenes, the animators or storyboard artists try to keep something funny looking or interesting happening at the same time to take the edge off the insincerity.

The girl moves in uniquely girl ways:
She may be a generic design - right out of The Incredibles and every second Nickelodeon or Nelvana cartoon, but she actually moves very well. It's hard to pose girls naturally, but the animators do an excellent job of it. She makes a lot of unique expressions too - although not in this or any of the stills. In fact, she hardly ever has completely symmetrical expressions like these.

The hands are very interesting in the cartoon. They are designed well for CG and they move in very interesting ways.


Well the budget has to be astronomical, because it's non stop crowd scenes and there are tons of environments. I would rather see less clutter and a better use of composition and individual characters. Money doesn't equal quality, and the movie had lots of obviously talented people working on it that could have spent more time on less noise.

Interesting backgrounds and props:

Unfortunately, I couldn't find the best ones in the stills.

The kid's lab is much more interesting than this still shows below, so I'm not sure why it isn't being featured in the promotion.

This gives a better hint of it:
The best part is the visual cartoony effects:

There are lots of surreal scenes of strange things going on that I can't find a single image of. They mostly happen at the climax that doesn't make any sense but has lots of fun looking things going on. There are weird slimy blobs coming out of who knows what and the textures and lighting are the most creative I have seen in a CG movie yet. Usually the BGs are realistic, which has never made any sense to me.Like, why is this in an animated movie?

My Rating:

I would give this an even zero - which is leagues ahead of any other animated feature today. Most cartoon features are thousands of points in the negative.

It's not like the old days, where cartoons were expected to be entertaining. In the 1940s you might rate cartoons between 50% and 100%, because they had higher entertainment standards to begin with. Even a Terrytoons has some entertainment value - because it's not purposely trying not to, unlike modern animation.

I had a tough time sitting in my seat through Meatballs, because what was happening and who it was happening to was not remotely interesting. It's hard to pace a story around characters with no personality.

But as a cartoonist and designer, there was enough visual interest and unique action throughout the movie that intellectually I found things to stimulate me.

It was an optimistic portent of what could be. It's basically an undirected film - but one that allowed many of the artists to take nothing scenes and add some kind of cleverness, design and action to the formulaic events being told by the story.

This in itself is so far ahead of an overdirected film (overdirected by executives typically, not by directors that actually have a point of view or style) that stops creativity from happening every step of the way, just so that more stock plot points, filler and bad puns can happen.

If I was a kid, I would love the movie, because it at least gives kids some of what they like - weirdness, action, impossible stuff and some zaniness.

Oh, and it's the first CG film where the CG is better than than the accompanying 2d short.

I have to repeat what I said about the stills: None of them show any of the unique and appealing attributes of the film. It's almost as if someone at Sony knows that the film is unique and is trying to hide it from the masses.