Summer's bountiful slate of animated and visual effects-laden feature films that you must, or hopefully, might, go see.
Colorful as they may be, this summer’s animated and action-packed blockbusters have an awful lot of familiar faces, voices and concepts. See if you can spot the repeat offenders in this rundown of releases from July to September.
Despicable Me 2 – July 3rd
2010’s CG animated flick Despicable Me saw a villain named Gru (Steve Carell) adopt three young girls and attempt to take over the moon with the aid of his tiny yellow minions. Now the former bad guy is being recruited by the Anti-Villain League, who need his understanding of the criminal element to help them save the world. This sequel automatically loses points for apparently neglecting to bring back Julie Andrews as Gru’s mother Marlena, though Ken Jeong, Russell Brand and Kristin Wiig (voicing a new character) do return for another go, along with directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud. Fans of those wacky minions will also be happy to hear they’ll have a spin-off of their own in theatres come December.
The Lone Ranger – July 3rd
Just in time for his 80th birthday, the enduring American icon is getting a brand-spanking new feature film courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures. The big question is whether anyone will turn out to see it, given the other contenders at the box office…and something we’ll call the “Double Depp Factor”. Like the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, this Jerry Bruckheimer/Gore Verbinski bonanza features Johnny in another make-up heavy role (that of the Potawatomi native sidekick Tonto). It also reteams Depp with his frequent costar in Tim Burton’s films, Helena Bonham Carter. Will déjà vu undermine the appeal of this reboot? Or will Armie Hammer’s Ranger ride straight into our hearts with the assistance of The Moving Picture Company, ILM, Lola Visual Effects, New Deal Studios, Match the Motion, LiDAR VFX, Hydraulx, Gentle Giant and Atomic Fiction? We’ll know come July 4th weekend.
Pacific Rim – July 12th
Sci-fi nerds – prepare yourselves. Guillermo del Toro’s latest oeuvre pays serious homage to the Japanese Kaiju (monster) movie genre by having giant Mechas (man-operated robots) face off against Godzilla-like creatures rampaging around the world. So essentially, this one is a glossy, big-budget version of those Power Rangers battles of yore. The trailers alone make it clear that the visual effects teams did the heavy lifting in this one, so let’s take a moment to applaud ILM, Mirada Studios, Hybride, Stereo D, Legacy Effects and Rodeo FX for their considerable efforts.
Turbo – July 17th
If you were impressed by the tortoise’s fabled victory over the hare, this one might just blow your mind. Canadian animator David Soren has devised a story in which a snail not only gains the ability to move with the speed of a drag racer, but then goes on to compete in the Indy 500. The trailers for this DreamWorks flick – which marks Soren’s directorial debut – play up the comedic charms of Ryan Reynolds as Turbo, though Bill Hader, Luis Guzmán and (wait for it) Ken Jeong are also along for the ride. Here’s wishing a fellow Canuck luck in the race for a first place finish at the box office.
R.I.P.D. – July 19th
Sounding a little bit like Showtime’s late, great series Dead Like Me – only with more ammo – R.I.P.D. focuses on the adventures of an afterlife police squad. Their mission? To protect and serve by hunting down some CGI spooks generated by Rhythm & Hues Studios, Image Engine, Proof Inc., Stereo D, Level 256, Framestore and Gradient Effects. Though it’s adapted from Peter M. Lenkov’s Dark Horse comic series of the same name, the trailer gives off a heavy Men In Black vibe by emphasizing the buddy cop relationship between stars Jeff Bridges and (guess who?) Ryan Reynolds. Whether it’ll spawn some MIB-style sequels is anyone’s guess, though we’re sure director Robert Schwentke is keeping his fingers crossed.
RED 2 – July 19th
You can’t keep a good CIA agent down. In RED 2, Bruce Willis teams up with John Malkovich, Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Mary-Louise Parker and Helen Mirren for another explosive mission, this time to prevent Russia from making a big ‘ol nuclear mess of things. Dean Parisot (the director behind the beloved sci-fi classic Galaxy Quest, and episodes of The Good Wife and Justified) takes over for Robert Schwentke to tell this latest story, which winningly features Willis’ Frank Moses being coaxed out of retirement while bulk shopping at a Costco. It’s a safe bet Outback Post, 4DMax, MPC, Bullpen VFX, Luma Pictures, Method Studios, ILM and Pixel Liberation Front focused their attentions on other, more high-octane sequences.
The Wolverine – July 26th
This X-Man may have mutant healing abilities (and some Broadway calibre pipes), but nothing will save him from the wrath of his fans should this second solo adventure prove as disappointing as the first. With memories of the silly X-Men Origins: Wolverine still fresh in our minds, director James Mangold is going to have an uphill battle convincing the public to check out this latest installment in the 20th Century Fox/Marvel Comics franchise. Luckily, eye-candy will not be in short supply. Fan fave Hugh Jackman is back in all his glory, with the fantastic Famke Janssen reprising her role as the late Jean Grey and relative newcomer Svetlana Khodchenkova slinking on-screen as the femme fatale Viper. It’s up to Weta Digital, Shade VFX, Stereo D, Rising Sun Pictures, Method Studios and Halon to combine their powers and make sure everything else looks up to snuff.
The Smurfs 2 – July 31st
Director Raja Gosnell and much of the cast of the original Smurfs – including Jayma Mays, Neil Patrick Harris and Hank Azaria – reunite for this live action/CG adventure set in Paris and filmed in Montreal. This time around, Gargamel is trying to harness himself some Smurf essence with the help of two creatures he calls “the Naughties”, named Hackus and Vexy. Good thing he also has help from PLUG Visual Effects, Sony Pictures Imageworks, Level 256 and Legend 3D, because that plan just doesn’t sound like it’s going to work.
Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters – August 7th
The second novel in Rick Riordan’s mythology-inspired Percy Jackson series comes alive through the efforts of director Thor Freudenthal and Weta Digital, Rhythm & Hues, MPC, Framestore, Stereo D, Factory VFX, Scanline VFX, Prana Studios, The Embassy and Hydraulx VFX. Once again, Logan Lerman plays the titular teenaged demigod, this time on a quest to locate the legendary Golden Fleece. Expect to see some new faces, as Stanley Tucci and Nathan Fillion step into the roles of Dionysus and Hermes (taking over from Luke Camilleri and Dylan Neal, respectively) as well as some startlingly huge sea creatures.
Elysium – August 9th
Neill Blomkamp served as writer, director and co-producer of this tense sci-fi tale set in 2154, when humanity’s elite live on an orbiting utopia and the lower classes rot away on Earth. Matt Damon’s ex-con Max De Costa tries to ascend to Elysium with the help of an exoskeleton and a band of rebels when he finds himself in need of some quality medical care. Unfortunately, that means squaring off against Jodie Foster’s platinum blonde Secretary Delacourt, who doesn’t take kindly to gatecrashers. We’ve already seen numerous versions of post-apocalyptic Earths in recent months, so hopefully Image Engine, The Embassy, MPC, Method Studios, Kerner Optical, Animatrik Film Design, Raynault VFX and Weta Workshop can put a new spin on this one. Of course, any planet with Diego Luna and a bunch of snarky robots sounds pretty fun.
Planes - August 9th
Animation fans have had this flick on their radar for months. A spin-off of the questionably popular Cars franchise, Planes aims to stick eyeballs on airships and give them personalities. Problem? Cars and Cars 2 were produced by Pixar, and this one comes to us courtesy of DisneyToon Studios, which infamously started the trend of Disney Direct-To-Video offerings (The Return of Jafar and Jungle Book 2, anyone?) Moreover, the Mouse House has already revealed this will be the first film in a trilogy, with a follow-up due in the spring. Who knew there was such a demand for anthropomorphic vehicles on the big screen?
Kick-Ass 2 – August 16th
Director Jeff Wadlow takes over for Matthew Vaughn in this sequel to the 2010 comic book caper about self-made heroes. This time, Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) are getting some help from new heroes like Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey) when facing off against the evil Mother-F**ker (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and his newly-formed army of villains. Curiously, in spite of the armies facing off on-screen, the visual effects in this flick are being handled entirely by Nvizible, a team based out of London who previously worked on John Carter and Skyfall.
Riddick: Rule the Dark – September 6th
Vin Deisel returns to outer space in this third chapter in the chronicles of Richard B. Riddick (which began with 2000’s Pitch Black). David Twohy once again directs, with Mokko Studio, Comen VFX, Modus FX, Method Studios, Entity FX, Raynault VFX, Proof Inc. and Oblique FX creating hordes of creepy extraterrestrials for Riddick to fight off. First, though, he’s got to get past a group of bounty hunters. Bet he doesn’t even break a sweat.
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 – September 27th
Any movie with “shrimpanzees”, “tacodiles” and something called “Big Rock Candy Mountain” sounds like quite the visual treat. It’s probably best to eat a hearty meal before seeing this offering from Sony Pictures Animation, or risk dropping a fortune at the concession stand. Neil Patrick Harris, Anna Faris, Andy Samberg, Bill Hader, James Caan, Will Forte and Benjamin Bratt are all back to lend their voices to the characters, though sadly, the dynamic duo who helmed the first film (and also gave us the late, great, Clone High), Phil Lord and Chris Miller, are no longer in the director’s chair. That honor goes to Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn, who luckily seem to have crafted something deliciously entertaining.
James Gartler is a Canadian writer with a serious passion for animation in all its forms. His work has appeared in the pages of Sci Fi Magazine, and at the websites EW.com and Newsarama.com.