Remember Jack-Jack, the troublemaking, superpowered scamp from the Incredibles motion pictures? So do the makers of Netflix’s new animated function Fearless. The movie’s premise is mainly, “What if an abnormal teenage gamer needed to babysit Jack-Jack, however as an alternative of 1 uncontrollable superpowered child, it was three?” Add on just a few classes about spending much less time in entrance of a console and extra time planning the long run and having fun with the surface world — whereas nonetheless affirming gamer tradition as the trail to real-world heroism — and that’s just about the movie. It isn’t notably subtle both about its messages or the motion it wraps them in. But it does really feel fastidiously calculated about sandwiching a scoldier messages between reward and affirmation for a gamer mentality.
Reid (Miles Robbins) is a highschool senior who hasn’t spent a lot time specializing in college or his offline social life. But he has spent a ton of time taking part in Planet Master, a online game so legendarily troublesome that he’s the primary particular person to ever attain the ultimate degree. In the sport, a superhero named Captain Lightspeed (Jadakiss) fights the evil would-be area overlord Dr. Arcannis (R&B singer Miguel) and his squishy, slug-like flunky Fleech (SpongeBob SquarePants himself, Tom Kenny). Captain Lightspeed has a big selection of powers, and his toddler kids appear to have inherited them; Kira hasn’t manifested her talents, however Xander can create any bodily merchandise he can think about, Green Lantern-style, and Titus has super-strength and might channel it into concussive fields. None of them are very highly effective — they will’t even stroll or communicate but — however they’re greater than sufficient to problem a mean human babysitter. Fortunately, Captain Lightspeed lives in a world the place alien super-sitters can be found.
At least, till Planet Master sends the children by a wormhole to Reid’s world for some unarticulated cause. Fantasy tales the place fiction bleeds into actuality are frequent sufficient, and the crossover is often pushed by some type of magic, expertise, prophecy, or destiny. Fearless doesn’t trouble with even the vaguest of explanations about who constructed universe-rupturing capabilities into Planet Master and why, or how the video-game world, the place Captain Lightspeed fights his battles, interacts with Reid and his controller. Films like Tron and Wreck-It Ralph posit difficult dependent relationships between onscreen avatars and customers, however Fearless covers the identical interplay with out as soon as contemplating any of the partaking fantasy parts concerned in sport worlds being bodily locations filled with strong-willed folks. It quantities to this: The Planet Master world is actual. Reid’s world can also be actual. And then out of nowhere, he’s coping with super-babies, and so is his brainy science-project companion Melanie (black-ish’s Yara Shahidi).
It looks like a boon to the story that Reid and Melanie don’t waste quite a lot of seconds on pondering how Planet Master breached the barrier from the sport world to their very own, they usually settle for the “super-babies from another dimension” improvement fairly readily, with out the countless “But this can’t be happening!” circling that retains this sort of story from attending to the motion. Similarly, when Dr. Arcannis additionally finds his option to Earth, the powerful Army basic (Gabrielle Union) in control of response treats the entire thing like a disaster requiring many important-looking information, barked orders, and clipboards, however not notably like a shock or a possibility. (Union telling a soldier, “I want a clipboard handed to me every two minutes!” is sort of definitely the funniest gag in the complete film.)
But director and co-writer Cory Edwards (Hoodwinked!) doesn’t appear to have given the film’s science-fiction and fantasy parts any extra thought than the characters do, and the strategy takes a number of the potential thrills and intrigue out of the story. Maybe the characters aren’t enthusiastic about alternate dimensions, alien invasions, and fictional overlords threatening Earth, however in concept, the creators and viewers needs to be. Instead, after a sure level, the narrative simply consists of Melanie and Reid logging time with the super-babies till Captain Lightspeed can come assist Earth combat off Dr. Arcannis.
And a part of that time-logging is spent on a rapid-fire, halfhearted deconstruction of gaming obsessions. Inevitably, Melanie is an uptight grind who wants a bit of loosening up, however she’s additionally a pushed super-student who lectures Reid about his life, resulting in an epiphany the place he triumphantly proclaims that it’s time to cease hiding behind his gamertag, Fe@rless. “You know what? I’ve been living my whole life through a screen,” he tells Melanie. “What good is it being Fearless in a fake world? It’s time to start being Fearless out here, where it counts.” “Wow, somebody just got off the couch,” Melanie says, admiringly. Then they go use his online game data to assist save the day.
It’s one in all many halfhearted story beats that don’t get a lot setup or thematic weight, however are introduced as in the event that they’re life-changing emotional payoffs worthy of Pixar’s greatest tales. Fearless total looks like a post-Pixar undertaking, an try and fuse huge motion and humor with a voyage of non-public self-discovery, as a gamer learns to get off the sofa. And it does one-up Pixar in a single regard: the place Pixar has struggled to get characters of shade onscreen in significant roles, all the numerous characters in Fearless are Black besides Reid and Arcannis. The racial variety doesn’t make any vital distinction to the story — aside from some music cues from Black artists (and a minor recurring DJ character voiced by Fat Joe), nothing on this movie meaningfully touches on Black tradition or character specifics. Melanie, the final, and even Captain Lightspeed himself are as thinly drawn as any generic heroes in previous low-budget cartoons.
That competent-but-unexceptional tack is typical for Fearless’ studio, Canada’s Vanguard Films. Vanguard, the house of middling-to-awful animated motion pictures like Space Chimps, Valiant, and Happily N’Ever After, is understood for preserving its budgets low and its turnarounds fast, which reveals within the simple shallowness of movies like Fearless. It additionally reveals within the animation, which is simplistic sufficient to appear to be a Pixar first move. Some smaller studios compensate for lack of funding by stylizing the animation to create intentionally flat however distinctive appears. Fearless simply fills the display screen with copy-pasted timber and generic buildings. It’s a detail-light world to go together with a detail-light story.
Even as a low-key Netflix time-waster, Fearless isn’t that a lot enjoyable, apart from individuals who actually, actually like the concept of super-babies. The infants are cute, and it’s mildly entertaining to observe them wreak havoc on youngsters and troopers who aren’t ready to cope with them. But the Incredibles brief “Jack-Jack Attack” managed the identical factor in lower than 5 minutes, with out self-important speeches and with a greater humorousness. Fearless isn’t horrible, however nobody concerned appears to have put in a degree of effort that looks like they acquired up off that imaginary sofa.