Monday, September 29, 2014

Another Week, 5 More Animated Films I Had Never Seen Before

The last time I did this it was so fun, that I decided to do it again. I need to learn how to write better post introductions. Here are my thoughts on five animated films that I recently watched for the first time, all suggested by the super-duper fans of the Rotoscopers!

1. The Great Mouse Detective (1986)

I'm slowly knocking out those last few Disney Animated Classics that I haven't seen. The Great Mouse Detective was pretty solid! Y'know sometimes Disney uses anthro-animals to directly portray human characters (Robin Hood) but sometimes they do this thing where the animals are like parallels of in-universe humans. Such was the case here, and I had a good chuckle with the Sherlock/Watson cameo.

For me the star of the show was Professor Ratigan, because Vincent Price. Ratigan plays a perfect Moriarty-esque foil to Basil; kind of a Dark Knight Rises thing where the villain is just as clever as the hero but has the added threat of a huge physique. Ratigan also has his own villain song, which I had forgotten. IMO he ranks well against Clayton and Gaston in terms of nastyness.

I guess The Great Mouse Detective comes from that weird pre-Renaissance era, but it's still a classic. I like the Disney-noir setting. Also did you notice that the whole thing seems to take place in one night? But maybe that's just London. At any rate, I think a GMD world would be perfect for the next Kingdom Hearts.

A few highlights: the dramatic intro, horrifying Fidget jump scares, Ratigan's Mr. Hyde-esque transformation during the climax and the risque hoochy mouse singer from the pub. Don't you just love the 80s?

2. Mary and Max (2009)

Don't really know where to begin with this one. I thought the overall use of (non) color went well with Mary and Max's dark comedy/tragedy tones. The dramatic pacing of the film really played on the realities of mental illness and depression: some days are good, some days are horrible, and some days don't make sense at all. It all boils down to a single bitter-sweet ending. The fact that the movie engaged me from start to finish is a good thing.

The film was very bleak, perhaps most so when it focuses on Mary's story. I don't think the film would have worked without Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance as the incredibly interesting Max (I didn't even know it was him until I saw the credits). Hoffman's delivery along with director Adam Elliot's script made it impossible to not laugh but simultaneously cry for Max. From experience, Elliot's depiction of Max's Asperger's is realistic. One especially fascinating part of the film was Max's outrage when he realizes that Mary used him as a study on Asperger's, and used the study to publish a book with hopes that the research will lead to a "cure".

Apparently Mary and Max was "based on a true story", but I think it's more like Max was inspired by an actual person, specifically a pen pal of Elliot's who had Asperger's, was Jewish, and a member of Over-eaters Anonymous. So you can take away whatever you want from that.

3. Ernest and Celestine (2014)

Hey look, another "unlikely friendship" type animated movie! In sharp contrast to Mary and Max, Ernest and Celestine was a soft, delightful, and cute film that could easily pass as a kid's movie. The art design was well-crafted; the whole thing looked like a moving watercolor painting.

Nick Offerman does an amazing job as a bear. I mean he's so bear-like in real life. This role seemed like a natural fit for him. Sometimes I roll my eyes when I see popular actors/actresses voicing roles in animated films, but the voices seemed pretty cohesive in this film. I didn't even notice it was a dub. The unlikely worlds-apart two-against-the-galaxy duo of Ernest and Celestine was heartwarming.

I think what sold the characters to me was the use of animation timing in the film. The animation had that perfect amount of bounce, flow and rhythm that made all the characters' motions fun and interesting. Celestine's animations were beyond adorable. The only disappointment that I had with the animation was that the animation timing seemed like it was done in post, meaning instead of doing the timing during the drawing phase, the drawings were made and then timed in an editing program like After Effects (just an example), probably using a spline curve to calculate the timing. The result was an obviously uneven frame rate for some characters' animations to really nail down the timing. But what do I know? I might be mistaken.

I also have to comment that while the art style and writing of Ernest and Celestine were superb, the film's story was extremely dull. I found it ironic that for a "European animated film and all that it implies", the plot was not original at all. How many times have we gone through the same "Can't we all just get along?!" plot line? Like, am I evil for being tired of the typical overused "soaring tale of friendship brings forth a profound social commentary told with subtle metaphorical actions which resonate brilliantly with out own state of human affairs" that we see in every other animated film?

4. Sita Sings the Blues (2008)

This film was brilliant for about the first thirty minutes. A groovy, spectacular intro that transitions to a cartoon couple in the U.S. with relationship problems to a casual (yet hilarious) re-telling of the Ramayana to an animated music video of a forgotten blues singer done in Adobe Flash. And all four of those sequences were animated in different visual styles. It was fresh and funny and I totally got it.

Then they repeated the same formula like eight times, with almost nothing new to offer. The U.S. couple's story became predictable, the blatant "men are dirt" mantra became overdone and every time a new Annette Hanshaw song started playing I began to check Twitter more often than actually watching. I was glad when it was over.

I get that director Nina Paley was trying to present a woman's view of the tale of Ramayana and bring things into Sita's perspective. And it was interesting to hear a candid retelling of Ramayana from contemporary Hindi adults, bringing to mind how stories change with the people who tell them.

Which brings me to the best part of the film. The actual presentation of the Ramayana by the film's three shadow puppet narrators was BRILLIANT. I'm guessing it was only loosely scripted, and the candid-ness of the narrators as they all try to tell the same legend at once was extremely entertaining. While they argue over the details of the Ramayana epic, the animations change and react to the rapidly-changing established facts of the story. If Nina Paley made a YouTube series that was only that, she'd get my subscription for sure.

5. Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland  (1989)

If there was ever an animated movie that had the specific goal of being a "kids' movie", Little Nemo would be it.

The production history isn't that simple, however. 'Pparently there were like ten scripts and a handful of test films that were made before the final theatrical version was produced? A ton of animation greats were either approached for or were involved in the film's production, including George Lucas and Hayao Miyazaki. I was also surprised to see the names Frank Thomas and Oliver Johnston in the opening credits as "story advisors".

The result is a fairly long Japanese-animated American-written 80's pipe dream revolving around an old Winsor McCay comic strip with cigar smoking galore and enough dream-within-a-dream mind f***s to make even Chris Nolan jealous. Quite the hodge-podge.

Shouldn't Snarf be somewhere in this scene?
Little Nemo is almost unbearably juvenile, from its settings to the characters (a guy named "Professor Genius"? Really?) to Nemo's constant annoying squealing (PAJAMA AJAMBA JANEMBA TOPANGA PAJAMAAAAAAA!!!). The amount of drama in the film is about as much as you'd have during an average game of Candy Land. I wouldn't place Little Nemo in my top 8, and I think when people say they love the film, 90% of the time it's for nostalgic reasons.

Not that the movie didn't have it's strong points. Mickey Rooney was great as the trickster/anti-hero Flip, there was a surprise Gertie the Dinosaur cameo, and watching the princess falcon-punch Flip in the face NEVER gets old.

Monday, September 22, 2014

1 Week, 5 Animated Films That I Had Never Seen Before

So a few weeks ago I asked the Rotoscopers fanbase to tweet me their suggestions for what animated films I should watch, and after compiling their answers and cross-checking them with what was available online for free, I came up with these five animated films that I watched for the first time.
  1. Hercules (1997)

    It's true! I had never seen it! On the podcast I'm famously known for having never seen Disney's Hercules all the way through before (watching it in high school AP English over the course of three days doesn't count), and the fact that I can't quote along with Morgan and Chelsea whenever they reference it is kind of a thing.

    So there I was, watching Hercules all the way through at long last, thanks to Netflix. I loved the anti-heroine, Megara. The main character that stood out to me the most was James Wood's Hades (whom Andreas Deja did not animate? Huh.). Y'know I really think ol' Hades and Izma should hook up. They're kind of the same strain.

    I was overall entertained but the sassy mini Gospel choir was confusing when juxtaposed next to the concept of Greek mythology. Maybe I'm taking the whole thing too seriously. I got a real Emperor's New Groove vibe out of the whole show, although Groove surpasses Hercules in its comedy and flow by far.

    Actually, you know who really stole the show for me? This guy:

    Stromboli aside, I had never seen a more delightful display of squetch (squash + stretch, try to keep up with me here) in my life. That guy was such a hilarious giant ball of fat that I had to rewind and re-watch his scenes again. Brilliant brilliant brilliant.
  2. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

    This one was also a notorious film in my life. I remember going to see it in theaters as a kid, but either the theater broke and we had to leave or Mom didn't like it and we ended up walking out.

    I knew that Hunchback was one of Disney's darker animated features, but I wasn't expecting the opening-sequence murder, the attempted abortion of the film's hero, and a villain song centered around a priest's intense feelings of lust for a gypsy dancer. All of these revolve around Frollo, who takes the cake IMHO as Disney's darkest villain.

    Phoebus, the seen-it-all-before soldier-turned liberator, deserves credit as a runaway hit character. I ended up liking Hunchback more than Jerkules because of the masterful animation, drama, and craftmanship of the film. I remember seeing this one layout drawing at Epcot and my jaw dropped. DaVinci - level skills.

  3. The Secret of Kells (2009)

    Cartoon Saloon? Never heard of it, although I could have sworn Genndy Tartakovsky had something to do with the animation. Turns out it didn't, although the overall style reminded me of Samurai Jack or something like Danny Phantom (not Tartakovsky but still).

    This was beautiful European gem that really channelled the magic of Medieval illuminated manuscripts, from the colors to the tricks with perspective. Even though the story delved more into pagan tradition than the history-savvy side of me would have liked, the faerie Aisling stole my heart and even got me all teary-eyed during her song. Not sure why but I guess that's how pagan magic works. I guess the only historical problem I had was that the Book of Kells was actually the four Christian Gospels, and the film merely hinted on this important element.

    Kells had brilliant character design (especially with the vikings) and gorgeous art design. Oh yeah, and the film has Hagrid. Bonus!
  4. ParaNorman (2012)

    I had regrettably missed this one too. From start to finish, ParaNorman had me giggling at the clever production design that effectively channelled the camp of old Romero zombie flicks. Even the zombies' musical cue was bleeding Romero. LAIKA's obvious passion for authenticity and perfection helped me get over its okay-ish typical teen scream/social-outcast-turned-unlikely-hero plot.

    The plentiful allusions to retro horror were great, and Norman's final confrontation with a certain vengeful spirit was classic LAIKA in terms of creepyness and raw sense of danger. And I laughed out loud watching the jock Mitch (fittingly voiced by Casey Affleck) doing his thing in ever scene that he did his thing in.
  5. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)Yes, yes yes. YES. Fantastic Mr. Fox was so good! It's LITERALLY a Wes Anderson film, complete with all the essential ingredients (awkward pauses, Bill Murray, and that's kind of it), in stop-motion form.
    As if Roald Dahl's source material didn't already set this film up for hilarity, Wes Anderson's unique take on the art of film makes it an instant alt-crowd hit. First off, the dialogue was masterfully crafted with, I'm assuming, zero tolerance for cheesyness that plagues animated films featuring big-Hollywood voice talent. I don't know exactly what Anderson did (something about dragging the cast out in the forest and forcing them to do improv?), but every other studio needs to take note of what he accomplished. The hilariously refined lives of the film's critters, who exist somewhere between Disney's Robin Hood and The Busy World of Richard Scarry in terms of amount of clothes worn, make so much sense when you combine them with the recorded lines. George Clooney, as always, creates the charming protagonist while Bill Murray manages to really channel his inner Bill Murray as the Bill Murray-esque badger. Bill Murray.

    The Americana style of the critters goes well with the too-British-for-Britain performance supplied by Michael Gambon as the film's antagonist. Willam Dafoe and Meryl Streep also did very well with their characters.

    Notable scenes included Mr. Fox's weirdo son's awkward love/hate/mostly hate relationship with his cousin Kristofferson, the end encounter with the wolf, and any scene that has the rat. Also, this: