G-FORCE – Blu-ray review

Talking animals and I don’t get along, usually. That’s because, other than the occasional winner like “Babe,” they tend to disappoint in so many predictable ways. Often it’s the annoying way that their mouths are animated, so that they’re about as much in synch as a bad ventriloquist and his dummy. Sometimes it’s the way that the animals seem to stand out like cartoon characters in a human live-action film. But mostly it’s the way that talking animals bring out the worst in writers, so that either they figure the critters can say just about anything if they’re cute enough, or else the writers fall back on sophomoric, scatological humor.

While my kids were hot to see “G-Force,” I was still smarting from Disney’s last two talking-animal ventures, “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” and “Santa Buddies”–neither of which made it past a 5 out of 10 in my book. So why would I go for a film that featured CGI guinea pigs dressed up as James Bond-style agents and rigged with more gadgets than Q could dream of? I watched. I braced myself. And I waited for this film to bomb. After all, it was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, the master of explosions. But you know what? “G-Force” turned out to be a great family movie, with crisp action, top-flight animation, clever scenic construction, decent special effects, and talking animals that turned out to be more fun than usual. I saw it with my family in 3-D aboard the Disney Magic in the ship’s digital theater, and enjoyed it . . . though not as much as my kids, who are ready to exalt it as one of the year’s best family movies.

Watching it again, though, my first thought was, What happened to the 3-D? This Blu-ray release comes with a 1080p Hi-Def version, a DVD, and a Digital Copy, but none of those silly glasses and no option to have things pop out at you. I’m fine with that, but for those who saw “G-Force” in the theaters in 3-D and were hoping for a home repeat, well, that’s not going to happen.

But maybe it’s just as well. “G-Force” plays fine with 3-D animation and no glasses. In fact, without those specs, the focus is on the animation and the effects that this film has to offer, rather than a gimmick.

“G-Force” is about a genetically engineered “super” strain of guinea pigs who are being trained by the government in a top-secret operation. David Seville had his Chipmunks, and the government trainer who rides herd on this feisty bunch of guinea pigs is a fellow named Ben (Zach Galifianakis) and his assistant, Marcie (Kelli Garner). And the G-team?

There’s Darwin (Sam Rockwell), the team leader; Blaster (Tracy Morgan), the weapons expert; Juarez (Penelope Cruz), the guinea pig fatale; and Hurley (Jon Favreau), the pet-shop-variety guinea pig who ends up tagging along on the most important mission in the life of this elite team. Of course, it’s also the only mission they’ve had. That’s because after all of their training, the government decided to pull the plug, and FBI agents led by Kip Killian (Will Arnett) swooped down to confiscate everything and bring the secret project to a halt. The timing couldn’t be worse. Surveillance and investigation has led them to one big discovery: Saberling Industries, which makes just about every electrical and electronic appliance imaginable, is planting a microchip inside every product. The goal? What else? World domination. Or destruction. Or something Orwellian like that. The plot is nothing special, for we’ve seen it countless times before . . . but not with guinea pigs in the Bond or “Mission Impossible” role.

As for the villain? Bill Nighy, who squiggled and squirmed across our screens as Davy Jones in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, plays billionaire industrialist Leonard Saber, who hopes to hack into every household in the world.

But G-Force isn’t only about gravity or guinea pigs. A key player is Speckles (Nicolas Cage), a mole who handles their computer chores, and Mooch (Dee Bradley Baker), a fly. Yeah, you’ve got to suspend your belief at the door to watch this film, but once you do, the animation is really wonderful to behold, and there’s just enough humor to add color to an otherwise action-based narrative. The guinea pigs look plenty real, especially the Peruvian Hurley, with his tufts of hair. But Speckles looks pretty awesome too, especially with that star-shaped nose of his. Now, things get a little weird at the end, with logic getting trampled on a bit by BIG scale action, but it’s nothing the kids will notice or care about. And parents? They’re just going to be grateful that these talking animals aren’t as dumb as most, and that the movie elements surrounding them–the script, the voice acting, the set and costume design, the staging, the special effects–are also better than we usually see in talking animal films.

“G-Force” gets its tension from a double race against the clock. They elude the F.B.I., who are on their little furry tails, but they’re also on deadline to stop the microchip computer interfacing thing or whatever technospeak is used to describe the countdown to disaster. Along the way, they get caught and deposited in a pet store, where they pick up Hurley and meet a cantankerous hamster named Bucky (Steve Buscemi) and three mice that may as well be blind, for as clueless as they are.

I wouldn’t call “G-Force” a great movie, but I think it’s gotten a bad rap so far, probably from critics who don’t have kids or hate talking animal movies even more than I do. But for PG-rated family entertainment (some mild action and rude humor), the film accomplishes what it sets out to do.

Video:
“G-Force” comes to Blu-ray sporting a handsome AVC/MPEG-4 transfer to a 50GB disc, accompanied by a DVD and Digital Copy. You’ll notice that there are a lot of scenes where cameras focus on the guinea pigs, creating soft-focus backgrounds, and those tend to pick up a little grain. But that’s by design, and no flaw of the transfer, which has left no artifacts or residue. Colors are bright and bold, skin-tones (when we actually get humans) are pleasingly rich, and black levels are strong. Nothing is lost in darkness or shadow, and the level of detail is consistently strong throughout the film.

The DVD is also quite good. You mostly see the Hi-Def difference in edge delineation, but there’s a nice amount of detail in the standard def disc as well. Colors are also pretty good.

Audio:
The featured Blu-ray audio is an English DTS-HD MA 5.1, and it pretty much rocks, especially during the action scenes. Things get a bit muddy during the most chaotic scenes, but for the most part it’s a dynamic soundtrack that is nicely prioritized. The rear speakers get a nice workout, too, with sounds so natural that you wonder if someone’s at your front door or if something fell in the other room. Additional Blu-ray audio options are French or Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, with subtitles in English, Spanish, and French.

Audio for the DVD is Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English, Spanish, or French, with French and Spanish subtitles. And there’s a drop-off with all of the DD 5.1. It’s just not nearly as dynamic or crisp as the DTS-HD MA 5.1, and the lows don’t have the same resonance.

Extras:
There’s a nice bundle of bonus features here. The Blu-ray contains several exclusive-to-Blu extras, the best of which is the Cine-Explore multi-PIP making-of feature that plays against a backdrop of the film. From conception through initial artwork, and from casting through production, this feature covers all the bases with a nice blend of talking heads and behind-the-scenes clips. It’s more technical than anecdotal, though, so that means it’s also more informative than it is entertaining. Then there’s “Bruckheimer Animated,” which collectively covers all the CGI special effects that Bruckheimer included in his films, with special emphasis on how they got “G-Force” off the ground. Then in Blu-only is “Access Granted: Inside the Animation Lab,” in which director and CGI whiz Hoyt H. Yeatman, Jr., gives viewers a behind-closed-doors tour of the top-secret animation process. Now that the film is out, all secrets can apparently be revealed. Well, or at least alluded to.

Blu-ray content that also appears on the DVDs sold separately includes a decent commentary by Yeatman (which again is more technical than anecdotal), an in-character “Blaster’s Boot Camp” that has Tracy Morgan voicing over as his guinea pig alter ego gives a brief tour of the gadgets the little piggies use. Then there’s “G-Force Mastermind,” in which Bruckheimer and Yeatman talk about how they got the idea for this kids movie from (who else?) one of their kids. Rounding out the bonus features are deleted scenes, a blooper reel, and three music videos (“Jump”/Flo Rida; “Ready to Rock”/Steve Rushtoon; “Go G-Force/ensemble).

Bottom Line:
The filmmakers wanted to create a blockbuster action film starring guinea pigs instead of humans, and by golly, they did–and they did it without falling into the trap of being too cutesy. For its intended audience, “G-Force” is a winner. Only a shopworn plot keeps it from being a solid seven.

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