As Pixar gets digested by Disney, Blue Sky Studios steps up and takes its shot at the title for innovative animated storytelling. (The CG animation itself is pretty innovative as well, particularly when it comes to water, sunlight, and facial expressions.) The biggest success is at the level of emotion: a teenage girl's alienation from her crackpot father, a leaf-warrior's grief over the loss of his beloved queen, and even a slug's hopeless pining for a pretty girl are handled with surprising deftness. But the story can't match the characters: when your bad guy's motivation is an arbitrary desire to upset the balance of nature, you've got a problem. The circle of life doesn't really allow for the binary struggle between good and evil. Director Chris Wedge sought to turn author William Joyce's source material from "a quaint story" into "a gigantic action-adventure movie," and the stretch marks show. 2013.

2.0 stars

— Matthew Lickona

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