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.
In terms of tone this is a small, delicate film reminiscent of something like "My Neighbour Totoro" or "Ponyo." Like in "Secret of Kells", the visuals are absolutely breathtaking and Moore's style always reminds me of stained glass come to life. The backgrounds are so heavily stylized and richly textured that you never run out of places to look. The characters themselves are uniquely designed and very appealing with my favourites being the owl witch and the hermit with all the hair.
Where I felt "Secret of Kells" lagged a bit was with its story. The visuals were amazing, but the story felt like it was meandering along in service to the visuals. "Song the Sea" feels like a much more cohesive piece. It is, at its heart, a very simple story about a boy learning how to be a good big brother and the love the eventually blossoms between these two siblings. The magical elements in the tale only serve to enhance the story and provide grounds for the visual tapestry to unfold.
This is truly a not-to-be-missed film and one worth tracking down and seeing on the big screen if you can.
Its sequel is another.
I went into that theatre tonight with fairly moderate expectations given how often sequels have disappointed me in the past. I was excited to see Hiccup, Toothless and the world of Berk again, but that was about it.
Truthfully this is a different kind of movie than the first. The original is the story of a boy and his dragon--sort of "The Black Stallion" if the horse had had wings and breathed fire. The sequel is more about how does that boy, his dragon and their dragon-riding people fit into the wider world. It's a much bigger story which feels at times less intimate and it teeters on the edge of trying to pull off too much. If I have any quibble with this movie, it's that I feel like there's some level of expectation that viewers will have seen the "Riders of Berk" TV series. There were a couple places where it seemed like they were referencing Hiccup's background as a 'peacekeeper' and to adventures and habits that we don't get the opportunity to see in this movie.
So why did I still give it four stars? Because it's funny, because it's amazing to look at... and because, when all is said and done, it ultimately came down to being about a boy and his dragon. The sequel honours all the best qualities of the first movie while "growing up" into something more--just as both Hiccup and Toothless have done.
And because, when the credits rolled, I wanted to jump to my feet and cheer... and there just aren't enough movies that do that anymore.
The real peril in "Frozen" doesn't come from any moustache-twirling villain or an evil incarnation of the snow queen herself, but has its roots in the best intentions of loving parents. When the movie opens with the princesses as young children, Elsa accidentally injures her sister, Anna, with her developing icy powers. Their parents race Anna to the domain of the trolls where she is saved but the memory of Elsa's magic is removed from her. The wise old troll tells Elsa that her powerful is beautiful, but dangerous and she must work to learn how to control it. Her father however takes this message too literally.
He isolates his daughter from Anna and the rest of the world and tries to teach her control by encouraging her to rigidly lock down her emotions. Elsa is taught over and over to fear her powers, but this fear only makes her power that much harder to control.
The story does a great job of painting the father-daughter relationship as completely loving. The king absolutely has the best intentions even if his advice is ultimately misguided. And, when tragedy takes both of Elsa's parents from her, she's left alone with both her secret and her fear until it sets off the catastrophe that's the centre of our tale.
Meanwhile, poor Anna spends her entire childhood effectively locked inside the castle bored out of her skull. She wants adventure and, more importantly, she wants love. When the gates are opened for Elsa's coronation, she's overjoyed and filled with wild fantasies of meeting and finding true love. Because of this, Anna flings her heart at Hans, the first handsome prince that crosses her path. Sure, they seem compatible enough and have a great time together at the coronation party, but is this REALLY true love?
Anna rushes to get Elsa's blessing on the union, but Elsa responds so sensibly that it nearly tips the Disney fairytale on its head. You can't marry this guy! YOU JUST MET HIM!
Yes, it tickles me with delight to think about all the other Disney princesses to whom this advice easily could've been given to... Cinderella? Snow White? Sleeping Beauty?
So Anna freaks out, tells Elsa she doesn't know anything about true love and their fight inadvertently exposes Elsa's dangerous/freakish/monstrous powers! Elsa flees, but not before setting off an eternal winter across the kingdom.
Oh, and it's worth nothing that there's A LOT of singing in the first half hour of the movie. The songs feel like they fall one after another in the beginning and in general I would say all the songs in the movie are a bit of a mixed bag. Elsa's song, the Oscar-winner "Let it Go", will raise goosebumps with its combination of Idina Menzel incredible vocal power and some rather jaw-dropping animation. The whole song is available from Disney on YouTube and, if you see nothing else of this movie, at least watch that.
On the other end of the scale I would put that duet between Hans and Anna... not really because it's a bad song, but there's just something about Hans' singing voice, provided by Santino Fontana, that felt so over-the-top and modern that I actually laughed out loud in the movie theatre when he started singing.
Anyways, getting back to the tale... with Elsa outed as an ice and snow wielding sorceress, she runs off to the mountains in an effort to be some place where she isn't going to hurt anyone. Instead of feeling sorry for herself though, she begins embrace her powers and relish in them. She lets go of the control that her father encouraged to always maintain and, for the first time, truly finds herself and finds joy in being herself. She might be alone, but she's free for the first time in her life.
Anna heads out after Elsa. She insists she's going to talk Elsa down and everything will all be right as wet, non-frozen rain again. This too is kind of an important point since pretty much everyone else in the story wants to just kill Elsa in order to bring back summer.
Incidentally, there were a lot of comments before the movie was released that Anna and Rapunzel looked very, very similar. I would say that there are similarities, but probably no more than there are between other Disney heroines designed during the same time period. From a personality point of view, there are fewer similarities. Anna is very feisty, but also clumsy and quite endearing.
Joining Anna on her quest are Kristoff the ice-delivering, mountain man, his reindeer Sven and the requisite child-friendly sidekick, Olaf the talking snowman. Kristoff has lived in isolation for most of his life and there's a whole bit where he talks for Sven in an odd voice which... well, honestly wasn't as cute as I think Disney was hoping it would be. Still, he has great chemistry Anna and the two make a good team. This is important to note because Anna saves Kristoff's ass almost much as he saves hers.
Sven is another dog-esque animal that we can conveniently use as mount and Olaf is... well, he's not as irritating as I feared he would be. This is probably because he's not as prominent in the story as the advertising campaign prior to the movie would suggest. We get a few good laughs from his antics but, thankfully, the story's focus remains on the two sisters.
Anna's efforts to talk to her sister do not go well and she's accidentally struck again by Elsa's powers. Kristoff rushes her off to his pseudo family of trolls, who I kinda wished had gotten more screen-time because they were really cute. Unlike before, the wise old troll cannot heal Anna because Elsa's icy blow has struck her heart and only an act of true love will be able to thaw it.
This is where the movie actually uses our expectations of what a Disney movie SHOULD BE in order to twist the tale in an unexpected direction. One of the trolls suggests that a true love's kiss might heal Anna.
Right. Snow White. Sleeping Beauty. We got this! So Kristoff whisks Anna off on Sven to take her back home where Hans is waiting. Remember Hans? The guy she agreed to marry after knowing him for a couple hours? Must be true love.
Kristoff drops her off at the castle and then leaves--albeit with a sad, kicked-puppy expression on his face. Anna tells Hans she needs his kiss of true love to save her... only Hans turns out to be a cad! That lightning-fast marriage proposal wasn't because he was head over heals in love with her, but because he wanted a chance to rule over her and Elsa's kingdom--after he'd gotten rid of the two of them, of course.
And now with one sister dying from an icy blow and the other sister captured and soon to be condemned for being the one to strike it, all Hans has to do is wait and the kingdom will be his. He locks her up, leaving her to die, and goes off to tell everyone else the "bad news." Anna is heartbroken that she was wrong about Hans, but only until Olaf points out that Kristoff must love Anna because he sacrificed his own happiness by bringing her to Hans.
Ooooookay, so now we gotta get true love's kiss from Kristoff! She's still Snow White and we STILL got this! This gives us an exciting if slightly ridiculous sequence with both Kristoff and Anna wandering around in a blizzard trying to find each other.
Meanwhile, Elsa manages to use her power to escape, so our super manipulative Hans focuses his attention on getting her out of the way once and for all. He tells her that she's killed her sister in order to get close enough to strike her down himself. Before Hans can land the blow though, Anna chooses to give up her chance at a heart-healing kiss and place herself between Hans' sword and Elsa's unprotected back.
Tadaa! An act of true love!
It saves Elsa. It saves Anna. It also helps Elsa realize that all she really needed to thaw out her frozen kingdom is to embrace love instead of fear.
You'll notice what didn't save Elsa, Anna or the kingdom? KISSING SOME GUY!
When I saw the promotional material that pictured both Kristoff and Hans, I kept trying to figure out how the princesses were going to pair off. While Anna does finally get to smooch Kristoff, (with no suggestion of immediate wedding--thank God), Elsa doesn't get a man out of this story. I think with the exception of "Brave"'s Merida, she's the only Disney princess who isn't on the arm of some guy as the credits role.
What does she get? Elsa gets to be herself and to be loved as herself--snowy powers and all. I loved that the movie ended with her sharing her powers with the people of her kingdom in a way that everyone could enjoy.
Oh, and there was a HUGE grin on my face as I said it.
This film is hilarious. I can't think of the last time I went to a movie--animated or otherwise--where I laughed so hard. There are pop culture gags that are genuinely funny. There are sight gags. Toward the end, I just about died over the whole "SPACESHIIIIIIPPP!! SPACESHIP! SPACESHIP!" thing.
(Don't worry, you'll get it.)
The animation and effects are just insane. Going in I knew Lego would be everywhere, but I never anticipated Lego smoke bricks rolling off glowing clear plastic Lego fire bricks. I'm also fairly certain someone lost many years of their life figuring out how to making a roiling, sloshing Lego ocean. Effectively the Lego itself becomes a continuous sight gag, but it's one that is so well done that you can't wait to turn the corner to see what else the animators come up with.
If the film stumbles at all it's over the whole convoluted plot of involving the Special, the Piece of Resistance and the Kraggle.
I know, I thought that too. It does eventually come together in a way that makes sense, but I spent a good chunk of the first part of the movie rather confused, thinking that I'd heard some key plot point wrong. The reveal is quite funny so I won't spoil it, so just enjoy all the colourful Lego bricks flying about until you get there.
It was the second viewing for the friend that I went with. Usually I'm the one who is going to see an animated film for a second (or third) time, so the fact that she wanted a second viewing definitely lit a fire under me to go. Make sure you see this one in the theatre at least once too.
But hey... Netflix, a week long cold and sheer morbid curiosity lead to strange results... watching this being one of them.
I was almost comforted by the fact that Twilight Sparkle didn't just pop into the human world with her pals in tow and shout "hey girlfriend!" at her new high school mates. No, the writers made it hard for her as it should have been. Unfortunately they quickly undercut this by dropping in human clones of all her pony friends instead.
I mean, wouldn't it have been a greater demonstration of the whole power of friendship if Twilight Sparkle had to make *new* friends with people who were completely different from the friends she already knew?
Yea I know... way too much work and not enough fan "yipee!" in that scenario.
Once her human-pony-clones come into play though the story goes from mildly predictable to extremely predictable. At that point I almost wish she'd been allowed to drag the rest of her pony pals into the human world because then it would've made these human versions seem like less of a cop out.
Anyways, it's not a terrible movie per say, but I think I shared Twilight Sparkle's overall feeling at the end of... "well, I'm certainly glad that's over with."