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These are very good times for animated movies. Six were among the top 20 films at the North American box office in 2011 as audiences embraced the likes of Puss in Boots, Kung Fu Panda 2, Cars 2, and The Smurfs.
That said, the quality of those movies varied considerably, with something like the mildly entertaining Puss in Boots doing far better than the much more clever Rango. Of course, that's the opinion of a grownup whose children have long since left the nest. But I would like to think that some children were wise enough to see a qualitative difference between the movies I have mentioned and something like Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, which came out Tuesday on DVD (Fox, $29.99 standard DVD, $34.98 on two-disc DVD, $39.98 in Blu-ray/ DVD/digital combo).
The Chipmunks are not only an acquired taste but one that can diminish rather quickly. And Chipwrecked, the third of the recent big-screen features blending live action with animated critters, is not only tiring by the standards of the series but by any reasonable one.
The actors, led by Jason Lee, do not seem to try very hard to simulate conversation with their computerized companions, and a dance-off between the Chipettes and three women is unimaginatively staged and sloppy in execution. Even the opening song, a cover of the Go-Gos' "Vacation," loses its amusement well before it's over. I didn't even want to check out the extras.
Still, Chipwrecked did relatively well with theatergoers, ranking 20th for the year according to Box Office Mojo. In fact, its returns were about double the combined revenues for two films for adults that had their admirers, and which arrived Tuesday on video: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Warner, $28.98 to $35.99 depending on format and package) and A Dangerous Method (Sony, $30.99 to $35.99).
Extremely Loud, based on the book of the same name, was Oscar-nominated for best picture, although it did not win. It divided critics and audiences with its story of a boy in the aftermath of 9/11. Oskar Schell (played by Thomas Horn) is trying to deal with the death of his jeweler father (Tom Hanks) in the 9/11 attacks in New York City. One day, looking through his father's things, Oskar finds a small envelope marked "Black," with a key in it.
There is no indication as to what lock the key fits, but Oskar decides it must involve a person named Black, and begins a methodical search for the right person. In doing so, he is also trying to maintain the memory of his father, and to engage in the sort of mysterious search on which his father sometimes sent him.
As was the case in the book, Oskar is precocious, imaginative, and more than a little talkative. One of the problems with the book was a certain cutesiness that pervaded Oskar's narration; in the movie, the cutes have been eased in favor of a deeper unlikability about Oskar, especially in the way he deals with his mother (Sandra Bullock). In total, the movie both moved and infuriated me.
A Dangerous Method is an interesting idea for a movie, dealing with Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), and a woman (Keira Knightley) who becomes part of both their lives. Directed by David Cronenberg, with a script adapted by Christopher Hampton from his play and John Kerr's book A Most Dangerous Method, the movie is about passion but spends more time talking about it than showing it. As I said when it was in theaters, the movie seems not to have known exactly what it is, so dry and detached from the uncontrollable desire at its heart. But there is a splendid performance by Mortensen, who dominates every scene he is in, his Freud all too knowing about his contemporaries even if he does not entirely know himself.
Other items of interest this week:
The well-received documentary Being Elmo (Docurama, $29.95 DVD) is the revealing story of Kevin Clash, who from a childhood in urban Baltimore went on to become a Muppet manipulator and the creator of Sesame Street's beloved Elmo. Directed by Constance Marks and Phili Shane, the film tells of Clash's rise -- which began very young -- as well as offering glimpses inside the Muppet world (for example, explaining the importance of the "Henson stitch" in Muppet making).
Actor James Franco seems to have a restless soul as he tries out different roles onscreen and off. Tuesday showed his ambition as writer and director in The Broken Tower, an impressionistic dramatization of the life of poet Hart Crane, with Franco also starring as Crane. Unfortunately, his ambition in this case is overwhelmed by a pretentious style.
Producer-director Roger Corman is on view in Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel (Anchor Bay, $26.98 DVD, $29.98 Blu-ray), a documentary covering his long career, with comments from Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, Jack Nicholson, and others who did time in the Corman factory. In conjunction with this release, Anchor Bay also is issuing Camel Spiders ($19.99 DVD, $24.99 Blu-ray), a recent Corman presentation. I have nothing to add to legendary critic Joe Bob Briggs' assessment of the latter: "In the annals of giant face-eating insectoid carnage, no one has ever done it better."