Howdy! Let’s chat about Illumination. The animation studio responsible for (*groans*)
these things! Illumination’s one of the newer studios to join the wild landscape of Western animation. Competing against the likes of Disney for the attention of theater viewers. Its competitors also incude Blue Sky studios. Which is now a division of Disney. And Pixar which is.. Also a division of Disney. Gru: Wait what? I’d love to see the mountain piles of money they must’ve offered to Dreamworks by now to buy them out! Anyway, Illumination’s main memorable trait is that, well.. They have Minions. And they’re masters at creating films that are perfectly ideal for Commercialism. For the worst of them, an Illumination film can feel a bit like watching a feature length toy commercial. Commercial: Fire Stewart’s fart blaster! And Dave’s rocket launcher! Strider: But putting that cynicism aside… Let’s see if we could find some diamonds in the rough. While also pointing out the true garbage piles of the bunch. Let’s check out the
Top 3 Best and Worst Illumination movies! But I warn you, we will be seeing more Minions. For the third worst… “Sing”  Eh… I really wanted to like this one. I mean, technically, there’s a diverse range of characters, and an interesting enough world being built. I think this movie could’ve been a lot more fun if not for its bloated story and some really dislikeable characters. Despite being pitched as a “musical comedy”… The musical segments are mostly sandwiched to the opening and closing of the film. Which kinda disregards the whole “Sing” namesake. The story’s about a very dislikeable Koala named Buster, who tries to save his theatre from closure by holding a who tries to save his theatre from closure by holding a singing competition. Using the tiny bit of money he has left as a “grand prize”! But because of a typo, all these hopeful singers arrive looking for a $100,000 reward. So Buster’s forced to con a bunch of, mostly, nice folks out of their money so that he can not lose his theater. Buster: Yep, and you know what’s great about hitting rock bottom, Eddie? There’s only one way left to go! And that’s.. UP! Strider: And this was probably point of the movie for me. No matter how good the other side-character’s stories are… And I do really like some of them… You can probably guess what’s going to happen in the end. Buster’s annoyng and wastes a ton of screen time to this stupid lie. Taking much of the focus away from the American Idol style prepping and singng. And that is what the movie originally promised me on the cover. And characters like Mike the Rat are just plain awful. It’s basically just Seth MacFarlane playing a jerk for the whole movie with no redeeming moments. Mike: Hey, by the way, I love your act! Seriously, the part where you fall flat on your face, (*laughs*) that-that cracks me up every time. Strider: I feel like the film could’ve been a whole lot better if they dropped this whole tacky plotline and just better if they dropped this whole tacky plotline and just became a parody of singing talent shows. It’s a waste because a lot of the characters do have these nice slice-of-life stories being told. We have Rosita the pig, breaking free from her mundane motherhood routine. Ash the porcupine finding her voice amidst breaking up with her jerk boyfriend… Or Johnny the gorilla, who wrestles between his love of singing, and his dad pushing him to following a life of singing, and his dad pushing him to following a life of crime. Big Daddy: How did I end up with a son like you, eh? You’re nothing like me. Strider: Each character is well performed and some by the countless celebrities this movie had involved. And with some exceptions, it does create a colourful and diverse cast that is engaging to see grow as we wait for diverse cast that is engaging to see grow as we wait for the musical finish. And to me, this is where the animation shines. While it’s certainly no Zootopia, the sets and character designs all do look good. And we get a nice range of creatures and critters. From mammals to reptiles, and even gastropod. Over-all, I didn’t think Sing was particularly good, but it’s not terrible either. So the scheduled “Sing 2” in 2021 does have me curious if they can get the balance right this time. If they can lose the bloated padding, I think this musical could be on-key. And for the third best… “The Secret Life of Pets”  Illumintion has a reputation for Commercialization… So they *gotta* have a cute animal movie. That’s, like, a rule! And the Secret Life of Pets does live up to its namesake. Simply being the lfe stories of the pets and animals in Manhattan. You can.. Probably already picture the story in your head pretty well. The cute animals get into a variety of wacky shenanigans when their owners aren’t around. Think every kooky animals 90’s movie mixed into one. But within its fluff, there’s a surprising amount of characterization going on here. Which I did enjoy! The movie focuses on the neurotic terrier named Max…. Whose owner one day beings home the huge mongrel dog named Duke… Causing a jealous rift to form between the two! Who is most loved? And who gets to stay? All that usual pet jazz. And even though I’m personally not a big pet person,
I did find the characters quite charming. So, both the animals get lost in Manhattan, and chased down by other animals! As they have to learn to work and live together to make it back home! Sound familiar, huh? So yeah, some people do compare this to the Toy Story situation… Where there’s a jealous rivalry, and the two leads get lost need to work together to get home. But as I said, it’s not without its charms. Its art style is actually pretty distinct from any of Illumination’s other films. Looking surprisingly colourful and splashy in its comedy and action. And this interesting combination of boisterous and fun really shows off the characters’ chemistry. Though it does get a bit weird at times. Talking hallucination: Come on, boys! Strider: There’s just an over-abundance of oddities that clash with the pacing. Like, out of nowhere set pieces and a villain that is one part over-the-top, and just one part random. While the characters and animation are fun… We’re not exactly getting deep story telling here. Just some interesting distractions. The chracter chemistry is actually what makes Secret Life a much more satisfying ride. If you can look past the cliches of your typical cute adventure story… Then Secret Life of Pets might be worth a peak. Rich guy: You be a good boy, Leonard. Strider: And… for the second worst…. “The Secret Life of Pets 2”  What a cruel, but not unexpected twist of fate. One of Illumination’s better films is tarnished by its sequel. Snowball: Good morning, New York City! Strider: A sequel which gets turned into one of the most convoluted, busy, and incoherent movies of 2019. Bunny girl: OH! Snowball! Strider: As I mentioned, the original is just your typical unlikely friends roadtrip story. Nothng wrong with that. But then you get this sequel. Which is more like a long line of separate stories than anything connecting or coherent. Plot one follows Max, as his owner has a child whom he becomes over-protective of. To the point where Max basically has a mental breakdown. Duke: You okay there buddy? Max: Was the world allways this dangerous? Fortunately, a cool and tough dog named Rooster, played by Indana Jones himself, Harrison Ford… Rooster: Name’s Rooster. Strider: Teaches him out to control and understand his fear. Then we get plot 2. Where Gidget loses Max’s favorite toy in a..
Crazy Cat Lady’s apartment… And she must disguise herself to get it back. Gidget: Oh dear, sweet Busy Bee! Strider: And plot 3 follows Snowball, who’s going through a superhero phase and helps to rescue a tiny White Tiger a superhero phase and helps to rescue a tiny White Tiger from an abusive circus Have you kept up? Because all three plots have little to no connection until the very end. Which leaves the movie to feel like it drags in terms of pacing. Plot 1 with Max is meant to be where the moral and heart of the movie is. Yet plots 2 and 3 are constantly fighting for its screen time. Not that I actually like the main story… Because here is essentially the movie’s moral about being over-protective of your children. Rooster: Kid gets hurt he learns not to do it again, you know how many electric cords I chewed? Strider: I get where the movie’s coming from… But how about the toddler who’s in reach of bleach and other poisons? They might not necessarily get this second chance you’re talking about. So maybe finding that balance of freedom with a little extra precaution’s the message they should’ve aimed for. And the other two stories only felt like they existed to be cute! This movie’s kinda like Secret Life 1… Except without any consistent theme or moral that makes any sense. And for the second best… Despicable Me  Gru: How’s the family? Good? Alright! Despicable Me has become a cornerstone! The Minions have become renowned figures with Illumination. The same way Mickey Mouse is for Disney. Minion: What? Strider: This is the movie that laid the ground work for Illumination to exist at all alongside Disney and llumination to exist at all alongside Disney and Dreamworks! The film itself stars a man named Felonius Gru, who desires nothing more than to be the top evil villain! And his goal is to.. Steal the moon! To prove his mettle! As you do… Gru: Next, we are going to steal… The MOOOOON!!! Strider: However, as the story unfolds, we learn that Gru really is not all that evil. Sure, he’s cantankerous, grumpy, cynical, and sarcastic… Gru: Unless they’re dead. I’m joking! Strider: But really, he’s just lonely and needs some love in his life. Huh… Sound familiar? Guess ths is who they modeled their version of the Grinch off of. Through some shenanigans will become staples of Illumination… Gru adopts three girls and becomes a father by the end. Making for a nice, heartfelt story. And I gotta admit, through all three movies, this family dynamic is pretty dang adorable. Edith: It’s so fluffy! Strider: Despicable Me is predictable, but it’s not trying to be subversive. It really just wants us to enjoy the ride. It follows a crystal clear redemptive villain story, and it follows all the heartwarming, schmultzy beats of it. We often get scenes of Gru’s compassion towards his three little girls. And even the Minions themselves. And as silly a scenario as it might be, it does make Gru to be a much more endearing character. The only downer I found is we’re essentially given a super-villain who doesn’t really get the time to BE a super-villain who doesn’t really get the time to BE a super-villain! As soon as the movie’s first act is finished, Gru throws away any sort of villainous feelings in favor of endearing away any sort of villainous feelings in favor of endearing sweetness. Which I get…. I mean, at least they didn’t try to sell us on the idea that genocidal maniacs can “just be reasoned with”! And have redemptive arcs! It makes more sense that Gru’s pretty much a softie from the get-go. Here, Gru’s simply a snarky cartoon supervillain with a heart of gold. Despicable Me is a real delight, with strong main characters and very heartwarming writing. And before we get to the number ones, let’s go through some quick honorable mentions. “Hop”  “Hop” is definitely the odd one out in Illumination movies. It’s not fully animated. On top of being an Easter re-skin of The Santa Clause… It ended up feeling like a very middle-of-the-road movie. Nothing terribly done in terms of writing or characterization. But it only stands out for its more unusual look. At least it has the funny quirk of having an identitcal scene to the one used in the Sonic movie. So identitical in fact that it’s not only a perfect recreation of the scene, but is done by the same actor. “Despecable Me 3” I actually saw this one on an impulse at the theatres and I really enjoyed it. The movie does everything I liked about the first two movies. But then it has to include a sub-plot for the Minions because, well, they had to have their own movie. So they get even more screen time to their wacky shenanigans even though it’s Gru’s movie. I’ve heard a few complaints about Gru’s brother, but, I didn’t mind him personally. He’s your basic inverted version of the hero in looks and personality. Dru: Uh.. It’s nice I guess, sure. I’m not really into things. Strider: It’s a similar cliche to what we had in the Simpsons with Homer and Herb. It’s more of the same, but frankly, I just enjoyed another romp with Gru, his wife Lucy, and their nice kids. Dr. Suess’ The Grinch [2018; NOT Jim Carrey] Strider: As I said in worst and best book-based animated movies, Illumination’s stab at the Grinch isn’t terrible. But it’s simplifying the Grinch into that “bad on the surface but really just lonely” model that Gru is given. It certainly does fall into the trappings of a typical Illumination film. The Grinch’s design, for example, is clearly meant to be more fluffy and as endearingly toy-etic as possible. Which does conflict with the disgusting descriptors in the song. I can understand why some folks don’t like this film. As it changes the Grinch’s character into just a lonely introvert who just needs a hug. Narrator: He reminded himself… Grinch: It is better this way. Strider: Though I also get why you might enjoy it, as it’s inoffensive and the characters are likeable enough. “The Lorax”  Again, as I mentioned in book-based animated movies, Illumination simplified this one down grossly. The whole point of The Lorax is that there’s no great villain. The Onceler is just a guy trying to start up a sustainable business. And The Lorax just wanted to keep his home. But both ended up sad at the end for what happened. Showing a complex message to kids about not always finding an easy answer on who is to blame involving finding an easy answer on who is to blame involving life’s challenges. But Illumination, of course, simplified this down! Giving this movie a “Big Bad Corprorate” villain. And just telling people to “~Let it grow!~” Crowd: Let it grow! Le-het it start to show!~♫ Strider: I really didn’t enjoy this one. Anyway, onto the number ones. And the number 1, worst Illumination movie is… “Minions”  Honestly, when it comes to this movie, there aren’t really that many nice things I can say. I mean, the animation is very sound, it looks good.
It certainly feels professional grade. But the movie falls apart in almost every other way. This is the movie I most think of when I think of toy-etic corporate marketing of Illumination. And in that regard anyway, this movie is corporate garbage. You see, The Minions have found a way to root themselves in every demographic… Like a particularly contageous disease! And we’re all still searchng for the cure! Probably not helped by the fact that its producers have spent $593,000,000 in marketing these darn things. But you know, I don’t think the concept of this Minions movie is that bad. The movie poses the question “Where to the Minions that serve the supervillains come from?” And I was kinda curious myself. I mean surely, there’s room for plenty of comedic exploration with that. The issue comes from the fact that Minion movies don’t explore *anything* really! You see, it turns out that Minions worked for other villains before Gru. I guess that can be interesting? Except the trailer showed us a majority of movie puchlines before we even get to see the dang movie. Like working for Dracula… The Pharaoh… Or.. A T-Rex. So three Minions go on a trip to find Scarlet Overkill. A villain far less charismatic, and far more boring than Gru. In fact, Gru even cameos at the end of the film and steals the show. Literally! Narrator: He was… Despicable! Strider: This pandering trainwreck demonstrates the Minions clearly do not work as stand-alone characters. The three main comedy team here doesn’t work, because, unlike The 3 Stooges, the Minions don’t have because, unlike The 3 Stooges, the Minions don’t have any unique personality or traits. They’re just all the same. They can work passable as shorts before a movie… But seeing them in a full feature length film is just draining to watch. Withut Gru, there’s no individual to connect with. And the Minions are just downright annoying and devoid of any individuality without their boss. They don’t have a personal stake in their own lives because, well, they’re Minions. It’s in their freaking name! You might as well call it “NPC, the Movie!” Worse yet, it apparently did well enough to warrant..
A sequel coming out in 2020 called A sequel coming out in 2020 called
“Minions: The Rise of Gru.” Now, apparently, we’re doing the little Gru and Minions story? Because we’ve never seen that before. After this bloated waste of time toy commercial, now we have to explore little Gru. Well, I hope it’s better than I’m expecting. But personally, I’m not holding my breath for these walking potato men. And I think the number 1, best Illumination movie is…. “Despicable Me 2”  Now this is more like it. To me, this sequel strikes a great balace of comedy, character, creativity, and excitement. Even though the set-up feels like a pretty traditional animated sequel. I think those individual elements are really pleasant and charming. From the character relationships to just fun scenes. So after the events of the first Despicable Me… A scientific serum named PX-41 is stolen by an
unknown villain. And this dastardly PX-41 formula turns good things into rabbid, indestructible EVIL monsters. Now Gru is wrapped up into spy escapades to find the formula. I guess the set-up could be called cliche with this being the movie that Gru gets a grlfrend. But I felt their relationship development actually happens very gracefully. Lucy’s one of those additional characters I was glad to see introduced to the series because I think she and Gru see introduced to the series because I think she and Gru work off each other well. Both as a secret agent team, and as a couple. I think it’s that heart in the writing. The kind we just see in the chats between Gru and his daughters, those quiet moments. It helps elevate an otherwise pretty cliche spy movie
to be really memorable. All the original cast return, plus some additions, like Lucy. She’s played by Kristen Wiig, and she’s basically recapturing her portrayal of Lola Bunny recapturing her portrayal of Lola Bunny
on the Looney Tunes Show. And here as well, I found her charming and hilarious. She brings that familiar sense of insanity, incompetence, yet skill that Despicable Me is known for. Even the romance between her and Gru feels very natural and charming. Gru: Yeah, as far as dates go I think I’m pretty good at just the one. Strider: The movie also really shines with its main villain, El Macho! Gru: He’s ruthless. He was dangerous! As the name implies, very macho! Strider: Who feels leagues above the previous film’s main villain Vector. Who was basically just a generic slightly evil-er Steve Jobs. El Macho feels suave, engaging, and he introduces the idea of superpowers into the Despicable Me universe. Which blows the door open for potential stories in the future. Really, the only blight on this movie are the Minions, which go into full merchandising mode in this movie. Not only have they been promoted from side-dressing to main plot points… But unfortunately, there’s a fair few scenes just dedicated to them bumbling about. And I feel like their evil colour swap in this movie is just another tactic to push out more toys. I would’ve liked to see more of that time focused on Gru being a single father. Because personally, I find that the most endearing and memorable part of these movies. The exploration of Gru balancing being a single father, carrying the job of being a super-spy, and reformed carrying the job of being a super-spy, and reformed villain, is way more interesting than these sad, walking villain, is way more interesting than these sad, walking potato sacks! Fairy Gru-parent: You are welcome, little girl. Edith: I know it’s really you Gru. I’m just pretending for the other kids. Strider: That being said, I’m probably not the primary audience for the minions, so my opinion of them audience for the minions, so my opinion of them probably doesn’t mean squat. But anyway, there’s more than enough good writing, clever dialogue, endearing character moments, and clever dialogue, endearing character moments, & downright funny scenes for me to comfortably call downright funny scenes for me to comfortably call Despicable Me 2 the number 1, BEST Illumination movie. Edith: I brought you an umbrella! Gru: Ah, thank you. But like Sony, I do appreciate Illumination just being there, releasing movies. Because among all the merchandise, there’s original ideas here, and characters I remember well. Sure, they’re catering to a toy-etic loving audience… But I’d choose to rewatch any of the imaginative Despicable Me movies or Sing over a Disney live action Despicable Me movies or Sing over a Disney live action remake any day. I apologize for playing the originality drum again, but it just feels very refreshing to just check out many just feels very refreshing to just check out many Illumination movies for the reason of them being Illumination movies for the reason of them being original. For a studio with just 10 movies under their belt as of this video, they have made their stand to show that they this video, they have made their stand to show that they certainly aren’t going anywhere. And I think I’ll be sad if Illumination eventually does become a subsidiary of Disney. Hopefully for a while yet, they can keep their creatively written, if marketable, movies entertaining kids and written, if marketable, movies entertaining kids and maybe even some adults. Do you have any personal favorites or non-favorite Illumination movies? Are you looking forward to sequels like
Sing 2 or Minions 2? If you like, feel free to let me know in the comments below. And as always, thanks for watching. And I’ll see you next time. [Subtitled by Jadrek Myers.
Commissioned by Phantom Strider] [No fun fact today, just wishing everyone a good day 🙂 ]