Illustration by Hilton Dresden
Foreplay: The Angry Birds Movie (2016) So many people have played Angry Birds on their cell phones it’s no wonder Hollywood animators took the next step and turned their boredom, excitement and digital addiction into cartoon characters. Imagine using that brightly-colored world of collapsing houses for social satire. The easily triggered animals are given the voices of top comedians: Jason Sudeikis, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph play Red, Bomb and Matilda, contented birds on their own island who get angry when their bubble is invaded by Green Piggies. (Think “Piggies” from the Beatles’ White Album.) It’s a clever parody of phone-gamers trying to reclaim childhood in their own private world, a comic community of Millennials. Let the envy wars—and the laughs—begin.
Press Play: Toys (1992) People who hold on to their affection for the toys of their childhood will respond instantly to the look of Toys. It’s an imaginary world writ large—like living inside a 20th century toy chest or Santa’s workshop. But this nostalgic concept never carries over to Barry Levinson’s attempt at political satire. He stars Robin Williams as a child-man who competes with his militaristic brother (Michael Gambon) for the family’s toy-making company. Levinson wars with the idea of innocence; his preachy seriousness is at odds with the movie’s dream-like environment. Toys was the last film designed by Ferdinando Scarfiotti, the visionary genius responsible for the look of Scarface, The Conformist and The Last Emperor. His toyshop set designs salute Surrealist artist Rene Magritte as well as Walt Disney and are more impressive than Levinson’s jarringly violent anti-war message. (L.L. Cool J makes a charming Hollywood debut as a boyish soldier.)
Playtime: Harry and the Hendersons (1987) Steven Spielberg produced this good-natured fable about a family who takes in Sasquatch. It’s the same affection as if the Henderson’s had run-over Bambi and took the deer into their own home. But Harry, the hairy benevolent beast (played by six-foot, five-inch African American actor Kevin Peter Hall) is more than a pet; he’s an alien—like Spielberg’s E.T.–who has a tough time being domesticated by the customs and peculiarities of human family life. Like Bambi and E.T., Harry belongs to his own world, a life lesson learned by the Hendersons (John Lithgow, Melinda Dillon and their two kids). Director William Dear repeats Spielberg’s affectionate humor, creating a world of cartoon-like sweetness. Think about its theme: It’s a secular Christmas movie in time for the holidays.