Editor, animation critic and researcher (and prior gaming critic). I'm stingy with my stars, so don’t expect a lot of high scores from me, a profile has to really work to earn its balls of fire facsimiles.
Presently, I review animation based on how they bear up to the peers in their respective categories - features-to-features, DTVs-to-DTVs, etc - rather than try to unfairly compare a high budget feature film with a low budget direct-to-video. Call it a category concession if you will.
I hope to never let nostalgia affect my reviews, but then nobody’s perfect. My favourite animated cartoons tend to fall between the original "Golden Era" and the late 80s to early 90s. My interest in animation goes back years. I enjoy playing video games but tend to find their animated adaptations range from awful to okay - I could say a similar thing to game adaptations of many animation licences.
While I may prefer traditional animation to CGI, I can watch almost anything and think that the story and characters are more important to a film, etc, than the medium of animation used in it.
My Star to 10 scale ratio:
4.0 stars = 9-10 - Superb
3.5 stars = 8-9 - Great
3.0 stars = 7-8 - Good
2.5 stars = 5-6 - Mediocre
2.0 stars = 3-4 - Poor
1.5 stars = 2-3 - Terrible
1.0 stars = 1-2 - Abysmal
Animation, Drawing, writing, reading (animal novels, fantasy, sci-fi, animation history), videogames, and radio comedies. Not necessarily in that exact order.
Animation that I love:
Theatrical Shorts, Animaniacs, Astro Boy (all versions), Count Duckula, Lilo & Stitch, WALL•E...
As for the short itself, it's a total non-entity, much like the other Screen Songs that Famous made (Fleischers were, typically, more creative with theirs). Maybe it wouldn't be as bad if there was any sort of substance along with the blatant racism, but no, the blackface bit is the only thing of note, because there's nothing else to distinguish this from anything else. This includes the mountains of other shorts that you could watch instead, most of which you'll be much better off with. Indeed a part of me would state that you'd be better off watching any of the dozens of samey Herman and Katnip or Baby Huey shorts the studio churned out, at least at their worst they only insulted your intelligence.
A typical gag involves a - very bored looking - blackfaced kangaroo playing the banjo at one point, with the joke being that her joey is the one plucking the strings. And a mouse in a quartet having the deepest voice. At the 3.53 mark the screen blacks out, almost as if it's embarrassed at what's it showing (from memory this happens with most of the Screen Songs when the song part of the short came up).
Then, as this is a Screen Song, we get to follow the bouncing ball, as it follows the lyrics to the titular song, in this case the Minstrel Show ditty, Capetown Races, forgive me if I don't play along with you Famous. It was probably something of a novelty in the theatres, at home by my computer, it's not something I'd indulge in, even with things outside this title's subject.
Animation is okay, nothing more than to be expected from the studio at this point in time. If there was one thing Famous Studios had was decent animation and animators, so I'm inclined not to give them further marks just because the animation is as good as it usually is.
The short should never have existed, yet, of course, it does and we're kind of stuck with it, because to not acknowledge that it happened is to edit history and well, history is there to be learnt from, less it somehow finds a way to repeat.
Coming as a criticism of the fallacy of the government pamphlets (duck and cover and the like), When the Wind Blows - originally a dark and intentionally disturbing graphic novel - tells the story of a naive elderly couple, following such faulty advice and the disastrous effects doing so incurs; as well as tell viewers about such concepts as the MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) principal, and how hopeless such an event would be.
This is a depressing movie, and it's meant to be, as we watch an elderly couple essentially suffer - and slowly succumb - to radiation poisoning. Misunderstanding all the while about the notions of fallout, or indeed the sheer destructive power of nuclear weapons, or, of course that they're dying. The fact they're dying is not really a spoiler, it's almost fundamental to the whole story that you're more aware of what is happening to the main characters than they are. To be fair, the average person watching this should have more knowledge of nuclear weapons and there effect on human physiology than the main characters ever do.
The pitiful state of their lot is not helped by them reminiscing about the Second World War, and how they survived through that and so should be able to do so again; ignorant of the much more insidious dangers that come from a nuclear attack. Drinking contaminated rain water* while failing to grasp that concepts like mutually assured destruction no longer apply to them.
They talk about the flimsy shelters they used in the war, used in the film as a parallel to how they trusted them too, juxtaposed against scenes of houses being totaled from air raids from stock news footage, showing just how ineffective such shelters actually were from direct hits. All the while the two keep an unflappable stance, believing that help will come soon, again with footage of the wreckage of fallen towns and infrastructure hammering home the point that, of course, it never will.
With hindsight, and the better in general knowledge of the subject matter, it perhaps even more jarring to think that there was a time when people thought that these leaflets were actually meant to help them. It scares me more that they are still some people out there that still might be naive enough to have the same such belief.
Yes, the film - and the book it was based on - had an agenda, it was to inform the British people that the advice their leaders were sending about nuclear attack was complete and utter hogwash. While the methods employed maybe not the best way to reassure the populace, it was certainly a needed wake-up call to anyone complacent due to political bungling.
Made a shoestring budget of about £1 million, using Cels overlaid against background made of real models (again to save money, by shooting the rooms of the house at different angles rather than with multiples of paintings), the animation is not going to blow you away like other, better funded offerings (even some other of TVC television-centric productions are more lush). Certainly on a technical level Ghibli's Grave of the Fireflies is more impressive, whilst Barefoot Gen is a more personal account of what living through the bomb was like.
It is a marvel that it never feels overly preachy in its messages, the film, is actually very understated, centered on two believable characters, and does very well on its own terms.
*In a piece of bitter irony, Jim, the husband, guesses early in the film that the water supply might have been cut off due to contamination. The reality more likely being that the pipes/suppliers are destroyed/deceased.
**As a side note, the couple sleep in paper bags for a little bit of the film. While this seems as ludicrous as anything else in the film there was some truth to the notion of paper being a good defense. Paper readily absorbs radiation, in fact Tyvek suits are made of synthetic paper outfits because of this factor, albeit in light work.
To be fair this is more of a problem these days than when these shorts were originally released, as its easy to watch dozens in a row, where upon they just seem to blend into one another. Originally their releases where drawn out over the year, hugely negating the aforementioned issues.
Hot-Reel will probably never find itself on my highest Road Runner shorts list and this delves from the short feeling a bit too cut and paste, with not enough in the way of seriously outlandish devices. Or the usual level of comic mishaps that I've come to associate with the series; something just feels off somehow, routine almost.
It certainly wouldn't surprise if it was the case of a bored Chuck Jones just going through the motions. Jones was becoming more interested in what he wanted to do rather than that which the studio told him to make. Add to that that he actively stated that the Road Runner shorts were the easier to churn out, basically writing themselves Then of course the fiscal budget weren't what they once were. This is a relatively late title in the series run - easily identified by the minimalist, UPA influenced backgrounds found throughout done by Phillip DeGuard (if not the datestamp at the start of the short).
A routine Road Runner, is still worth the watch, at only six minutes you can afford a little leeway. It is, however, a far cry from the series - and studios - best efforts.
Based on the world created by producer/writer William Joyce as part of his The Guardians of Childhood project which encompasses planned and released picture books, novels and visual media - i.e. movies. Rise deals with the induction of Jack Frost to the team on the orders of The Man in the Moon, who essentially acts as the series deity of sorts. The rest of the guardians have had their origins told in picture book form, starting from last year. In any case the film was planned as a story in the cannon and not an adaptation of the source material per se.
The personification of fear known the Bogeyman - and also called Pitch Black here - has returned to the world, and plans to spread fear and nightmares to all. It's up to the titular guardians to stop him, joined this time round by new and reluctant recruit Jack Frost. At a mere 300-years-old, Frost is the youngest of the team, but has plenty of baggage. Most of this is due to a mix of not knowing his reason to be and that mortals cannot see him - and walk right through him - due to none of them believing in him.
This here belief is what the others enjoy, granting them not only the ability to be seen - which seems to go against the concept of remaining unseen that runs through the first half. The belief is the basis for the character's power potential, the more they're believed in, the more powerful they become. So guess what Pitch's plan involves.
The downside to the whole plot, is that I've kind of seen it before, albeit in a different form. I couldn't help but think that it seemed taken elements part and parcel from Terry Pratchett's 1997 Disworld novel The Hogfather, were the Auditors tried to rid the Discworld of the titular god by removing the children's belief in him, by using children's teeth from the tooth fairy's realm and thus rendering him out of existence. Death, the book's secondary protagonist plays as a replacement to make sure that a lack of faith met a brick wall of hard evidence on the way down to negate the problem.
This isn't entirely helped the moment Pitch steals all of the teeth - and all but one of her helpers - from the Tooth Fairy's realm, leaving her needing help from the others to collect the world's children recently shred teeth into order to remain believed in enough. This mission is preceded by Pitch getting under Frost's skin since the former has something the other wants, his teeth, because for some reason teeth hold the memories of their owners like some form of SD cards.
This conflict between Jack, Pitch and the guardians is what drives the overarching plot, though its hard not to see where the film is going on half the time. The two have a wish to be believed in enough to see seen by the mortals and the power that comes from such belief. Both also have a outwardly cold exterior, although its clear that Jack's is more a front to hide behind than something he is underneath his ice powers and that he's more into mischief and fun than anything resembling malicious.
There are a few things that stuck out at me and being a tad inconsistent, such as the belief equal power aspect at the heart. Part of this is that, despite no-one apparently believes in him enough to see him, Jack seems remarkably powerful. The only two characters that seem on par for the most part of the movie are the villain Pitch and The Sandman. The latter comes partly from the fact that he fighting with dream sand, essentially making him the film's Green Lantern with just as versatile toolset as Hal's power ring and that he's probably the most believed in guardian in terms of his historical past compared to his comrades .
Of course the plot is simple and unoriginal in order to enable the film to bring about its many action scenes. And there are plenty of them. Kinetic and fast-paced, DreamWorks shows that it's a force unto itself for computer generated combat. The combat is on par with DreamWork's own Kung Fu Panda 2 in terms of scope, and is truly a visual feast for the eyes.
The visuals are great of course, something which is almost a raging certainly in the media of computer generated imagery from a major studio. And yes the film is definitely worth catching in 3D if you can, treating it as an effect not to be overdone rather than as a gimmick to overuse in place of plot. Outside of some snow effects here and there the film is more interested in depth of vision than poking audiences eyes out.
I cannot say that I didn't enjoy the movie, because I very much did. Yet for all the action and spectacle, Rise of the Guardians overly familiar plot doesn't quite grab my heart in the way that a few select films have done. However it's certainly worth a watch.
Ultimately we're at a point where even flash animation has to achieve a certain level of competence in it. This is mostly due to seeing web flashes were the animator/s at least put in the effort. Falling, like so many others of its type, is almost the antithesis of this. At least a part of this may be due to the time that and manner that the product was made, but then it was prevalent then, very much so, and some of these had something vaguely meaningful to say.
Hey, some of them were made by actual talent as side projects. In 2012, this would be something I'll expect from the worst-side of Indie-gaming, and thrown out with fits of laughter from the inter-webs. Or maybe that's just what I'd like to be the case.
It's not as overtly egregious as The Evil Strawberry, which had no redeeming quality whatsoever, but it doesn't have anything resembling substance either and doesn't offer anything that I can say is, worth seeing.