For me great animation is a marriage of two other big loves of mine—beautiful art and captivating storytelling. You nail those things and it's almost guaranteed that you'll have my eyeballs glued to the screen. I grew up on Disney films like Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast so my tastes tend to unconsciously lean that way, however I love seeing animation that breaks new ground and really shows where the medium can go.
drawing, painting, animation, absorbing pop culture, animation, web design, writing, animation...
Animation that I love:
How to Train Your Dragon, Mary and Max, Tangled, Princess Mononoke, The Incredibles, Nightmare Before Christmas, Rescuers Down Under, ... etc. etc.
Was it better than some of Pixar's recent films? Yes... I think.
Did it top my list of Pixar classics like "The Incredibles" and "WALL-E"? No, definitely not.
Did it make me cry? Yes. (Damn you, Pixar!)
...but I actually think that's part of the problem I had with it. While the film is incredibly imaginative and clever, it also felt to me kind of deliberately manipulative. My favourite Pixar movies gently tugged at the heart strings and then the plot moved forward. I feel like "Inside Out" was reaching into my chest and YANKING at those heart strings on such a persistent basis that I got to the end of the movie feeling almost numbed and worn out by it all.
Then, of course, you realize that everything that came before was just to tenderize you to the emotional whammy the movie socks you with at the end. And... well, cue the tears...
I wish I could say I was being funny when I describe this movie as an 'emotional rollercoaster'... but it very much is.
I'd like to see this one again--mostly because it's so meta and there's just so much to take in--however it's not one that I'll likely re-watch in the theatre.
This film is just all over the map in so many ways. Even though a little wikipedia research confirmed that the father-son relationship between Mr. Peabody and Sherman is exactly the same in the original cartoon, I still found myself just not buying into it. Intellectually. Emotionally... it just didn't resonate with me. Unfortunately, since the threat to the father-son relationship is the central pillar in the entire movie, it turned the story into this long and involved... well, dog's breakfast.
Also... the movie just isn't funny. I mean, given the time-travel source material, there was so much potential. As it is Mr. Peabody is such a stuffy, high brow character that he seems out of place in his own movie. Plus the kids are kind of just brats.
All in all... it almost blows my mind that this came from the same studio that brought us "How to Train Your Dragon" and "Rise of the Guardians"... even "Kung Fu Panda" had more genuine humour and heart.
At the Reel 2 Real Festival where I had the opportunity to see "The Prophet", the folks that introduced the film described it as a "Fantasia" for our generation. Inwardly I cringed at this, but I kept and open mind and... wow, this is absolutely a film that must be seen.
The combination of the Mustafa storyline and Gibran's poetry, give "The Prophet" the through line that I felt "Fantasia" was always sorely lacking. I wouldn't characterize it as the most earth-shattering story to be animated, but it gives bones to the film that could easily have turned into another grab bag collection without it.
Liam Neeson also is a superb casting choice for the poet, Mustafa, and listening to him gently impart Gibran's essays on subjects such as work, love, freedom, children and death is a real treat. I would love to hear him do a full audiobook reading of the original text so that I can curl up with his voice every night.
For animation enthusiasts, "The Prophet" is a treasure trove of delights. The segments are beautifully animated and strikingly different from one another. While I easily recognized the ones by Nina Paley, Tomm Moore and Bill Plympton, all of them are of a very high calibre. I was particularly impressed with the one for "On Work" by Joan Gratz and found myself Googling her other films on my way home. Her clay painting technique is extraordinary and utilized beautifully in her segment.
"The Prophet" has been popping up in festivals since its debut at Cannes last year. It should be getting a broader release in the US in August 2015.
See this film.
It isn't just a worthy heir to "Fantasia"... in my opinion, it vastly improves upon it.
Is it a good film? Yes.
Is it a great film? In my opinion, no.
Big Hero 6 has everything you'd expect from a Disney feature film. Big visuals. Appealing characters. Ridiculously fluid animation. There's a scene where Hiro is chasing Baymax through the streets of San Fransokyo with a kind of sloppy, frantic, half-falling adolescent run that would've brought lesser animators to their knees—or at the very least, a psyche ward. But hey, it's Disney and I would expect nothing less.
And the film has deeper messages about grief and loss that certainly put it above your average movie for kids. So it was surprising to me that this film wasn't able to rouse the emotional wallop that I was expecting it would.
In many ways, Big Hero 6 feels a lot like How to Train Your Dragon in the sense that these are both coming-of-age stories about teenagers and the growth they experience thanks to their amazing 'pets'. Where they differ for me though is that, while Baymax has an appealing look and is very funny, he is still ultimately a robot. He cares for Hiro because he is programmed to care for him. He does everything Hiro asks of him because he believes it will heal Hiro's grief—which satisfies his programmed objective. I found this, as well as his complete inability to display emotion, undercut the bond between Hiro and Baymax. Of course Hiro loves Baymax, but Baymax doesn't have the freewill to actually love Hiro back.
Compare this to Toothless and Hiccup where you can get that sense of shared joy, shared anger, shared pain... and that makes their mutual sacrifices pack a far greater emotional punch for me as an audience. At least, this is the only explanation I've been able to come up with as to why I didn't respond to Big Hero 6 as strongly as I thought I would.
The other thing that bothered me a bit was how quickly this team of "superheroes" came together. In the space of what feels like a day, Hiro gives this group of college nerds armor, trains them and turns them into a fighting force. Granted they aren't perfect on their first run out, but their transformation is exceedingly fast. Only Baymax, whose upgrade comes in the form of a chip of downloaded karate moves, I can really buy as being able to go from pudgy healthcare bot to instant fighting machine.
Yes, yes, I'm quibbling here... but I almost feel like in the flood of glowing reviews that are likely to come from all corners, I need to defend my stance that I've seen better movies from Disney in recent years.
Absolutely, it's a GOOD movie and probably the best thing your kids will see in theatres this holiday season. I just don't think it's a GREAT movie and we could still use a few more of those.
After the release of "Toy Story" I felt like we went through a period where all CG movies either looked very similar because that was what the technology could produce or they looked similar because everybody wanted to be Pixar. There was also this other movement to try to make CG animated films as realistic as possible with films like "Final Fantasy". Either approach is exceedingly limiting and eventually gets stale—like saying that a paint brush is only capable of painting like Da Vinci or Picasso.
"The Book of Life" is the result of a 15 year journey taken by director, Jorge R. Gutierrez. He took his vision—an unapologetic love letter to his Mexican heritage—to numerous studios before it was eventually embraced by the young, independent studio Reel Fx. He told them that it always frustrated him when he saw that making-of art books for animated movies were far more imaginative and exciting than the final animated film. So, after giving the studio his extremely graphically-styled characters and environments, Gutierrez threw down the gauntlet. Preserve my vision. Figure it out.
I had the opportunity attend a talk given by Wes Mandell, Reel FX's Head of Animation on "Book of Life" and he talked about how it had taken a character rigger six months to figure out how to bend Manolo's chunky three-block arms. Even after that, there were certain moves that Manolo simply could not do and the animators had to sculpt their acting around those limitations. The whole film—made on a shoe string budget compared to the big studio blockbusters—is filled with these kind of imaginative tricks as these incredibly creative folk fought tooth and nail to maintain Gutierrez unique vision.
The end result however is undeniably spectacular. The film is an absolute riot of colour to the point that it is almost overwhelming.
Unfortunately attempting to do too much is really the place where this film falls down. There are too many characters and too many emotional threads to follow to give any one of them—aside from perhaps Manolo's—enough resonance. The story just comes across as rushed and I came away feeling like the whole elaborate tale was a cake that needed to stay in the oven just a little bit longer in order to set properly.
Still, despite such flaws, the film has so much beauty and heart that it's hard not to appreciate it for what it is. Mandell in his talk said that seeing "Book of Life" is like seeing Gutierrez exploded all over the screen. The film is so intensely personal that even the Manolo's proposal scene to Maria is exactly how Gutierrez proposed to his wife. (No pressure, animators.)
We need more films like "Book of Life" if for no other reason than to show what this art form can do when we throw out all the constraints around what we think it should be.