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What lies beneath? An upside surprise
You never know what you're going to get with non-Disney/Pixar animation. It might be an Illumination Entertainment-style effort -- lacking in substance but lots of wise cracks and kid-friendly touches (think "Minions" or "Sing") -- or a Laika-style affair, with depth and darkness to boot ("Kubo and The Two Strings").
Warner Animation Group has form, of course, with "The Lego Movie" combining laugh-out-loud humour for the kids with a knowing, subversive quality to keep the Mums and Dads entertained. It also produced "Storks", a much more pedestrian effort. Thankfully, "Smallfoot" belongs in the former camp.
Boasting impressive CG animation courtesy of Sony Imageworks, "Smallfoot" takes a tale reminiscent of "Monsters Inc." -- two groups ignorant and fearful of the other, in this case yetis and humans -- and twists it with a clever, topical message about the perils of putting dogma and self-interest ahead of critical thinking and the greater good. Ignorance really isn't bliss. This adult-friendly message may elude kids too busy laughing at the many visual gags, including a fantastic sequence involving fraying rope that brings to mind classic Warner animations of yesteryear, but it elevates the movie above most of its peers and ensures that not-so-young audience members are entertained too.
The film isn't quite Disney/Pixar level -- the yeti character designs are a little odd, as though the animators were trying to avoid too close a resemblance to Pixar's Sully, and the featured songs are catchy rather than great (Zendaya's "Wonderful Life" being the stand-out).
Still, "Smallfoot" is a thoroughly entertaining family film that aspires to be different, backed by appealing protagonists, well-judged comic moments, a thought-provoking message, and a rewarding resolution that steers clear of being saccharine. Recommended.
Land's End (1995)
Not your typical syndicated drama
Syndicated TV in the US was in its heyday in the mid-1990s, with Hercules, Xena and other fantasy dramas showing that off-network programming could draw big audiences. Fred Dryer, formerly of NBC's Hunter, moved into syndicated drama with this show, in which he played Mike Land, former LAPD cop and now head of security at the Westin in Cabo San Lucas. Alongside Land were Dave "Thunder" Thornton, played by Tim Thomerson, and Willis P. Dunleevy, played by Geoffrey Lewis -- characters who were drifters in the best sense.
To its cost (it lasted only a year), Land's End eschewed the syndicated-show tropes of flash cars, hot bods, and explosions, and ended up instead as a slow-burning, character-driven comedy drama. More Rockford Files than Baywatch, the show centred on this unlikely trio of middle-aged men and their adventures.
A sample of the decidedly quirky plots: the cross-town chase for a missing cockatoo, the trio's mothers being imprisoned while visiting Cabo, frustrated talent-show contestants throwing a lounge singer into the sea after his feeble rendition of a Cole Porter classic, and a crazed couple's wild ride after stealing Mike's prized Pontiac GTO.
Land's End was perhaps doomed to fail in the syndicated realm, where older viewers were hard to reach and tight budgets meant that the writing and production values were variable rather than consistently top notch. But, thanks to the glorious Mexican vistas, offbeat stories, great chemistry among Dryer, Thomerson and Lewis, and first-rate incidental music from Marco Beltrami, Land's End was always entertaining.