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starlac

KF Managing Editor
Location: UK
Birthday: November 6
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About me:

Real name: Carl Padgham

Review Star Average: 2.25/4

Keyframe's Managing Editor, animation critic and researcher (and former videogame 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.

For what it's worth, I have Asperger's Syndrome, a form of high functioning autism.

My Star to 10 scale ratio:

4.0 stars = 9-10 - Superb: One of the best films you could hope to see in your lifetime - insofar as I'm concerned, a rare gem in animation achievement.

3.5 stars = 8-9 - Great: That film that entertains all the way through, and never truly flounders, but is still missing the spark that seperates the great from the epic.

3.0 stars = 7-8 - Good: A film, etc, that is good, but not great, something you'd watch again, but might not go hunting down the Blu-ray or DVD - at full price - for.

2.5 stars = 5-6 - Mediocre: Straight down the middle, while it's watchable, you won't call it actually good per sé. On the flip side, neither is it actually bad.

2.0 stars = 3-4 - Poor: Not so bad as you cannot get through it, but you might not care to watch it again anytime soon, or remember anything about it immediately after it finishes.

1.5 stars = 2-3 - Terrible: Maybe there some redeeming factors, but they are few and far in a overwise horrid production.

1.0 stars = 1-2 - Abysmal: Practically unwatchable sludge. or as close to it as makes no odds.

Interests:

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...

Website:

starlacs galactic musings - Blog

Reviews by animation type
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18% of reviews had a rating of 3 stars
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12% of reviews had a rating of 2.5 stars
(12%)
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1.5 stars
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1 stars
14% of reviews had a rating of 1 stars
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Latest Animation Reviews

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animated movie Cars © Pixar
Cars
Rated it: 3
posted: Aug 21, 2017
In animation, anthropomorphic cars - and airplanes, trains and ships for that matter - are really nothing new if you know where to look, from classic shorts - like The Little Blue Coupe* and Tex Avery's One Cab Family† - to the junked cars in the living appliance world of The Brave Little Toaster‡; and, of course, let's not forget Benny the Cab from Roger Rabbit. One element most cartoon cars - and "alive" cars in live-action comedy movies - have is that their headlights are generally the parts that get turned into eyes; mind you a great deal of these cars have passengers to move around, so its justified.

The last part is, of course, one of the things that Cars doesn't have, there are no humans here (or indeed any kind of animals, unless Volkswagen beetles as flies and tractor cows, etc, count); There there's the little issue that certain types of cars don't actually have headlights; like, well, NASCAR ones, so using headlights may be cute, but it certainly wouldn't make the most logical sense. Of course the reason for this in real life is because the less a car has to carry around, the faster its potential top speed becomes: most racing machines, regardless of type, tend to be a bit bare bone.

One other big upshot of having the eyes in the windscreen is that their expressions are easier to read.

Of course the reason I can go on about the cars eyes is that there’s not a lot to say about Cars story otherwise; it as simple a story as the films have ever brought about. Although I haven’t seen Doc Hollywood so I can’t say how similar the two films are outside of their basic plot arch, there’re some niche characters, but no-one comes across as being really that original, which given the animation studio behind it, is more distressing than if it had come from a lesser company.

Cars certainly has one of the most energetic openings of any of Pixar's films, playing through the Piston Cup final race of the season. It soon calms down to deliver a more understated tone as it leaves the showmanship aspects of racing behind and enters the real world outside of the track.

And here it starts to become more of a slice-of-life, series of events movie, than any Pixar film has ever been since the company started making them. The main character’s conflict is the shallowest of any protagonist that the studio's ever produced and non of the secondary characters are all that interesting.

On the other hand, the visuals are impeccable, although really this isn't surprising really, given Pixar's track record. This film's big claim to CGI frame, is that it is the first Pixar film to incorporate ray tracing, a rendering technique concerning how light behaves and reflects off surfaces, appropriate given the high amount of shiny metal the film has. In the commentary it is noted that certain scenic backdrops are actually realistic 2D matte paintings - the kind that Hollywood has used since the 1930's - rather that modelled in CGI: a pretty impressive realisation given how seamless the two are merged. Animation is peerless as usual, the production valves are through the roof and the cinematography on show is top notch, as you'd expect from Pixar.

One touch I really liked is during the flashback sequence, this part of the film is rendered with a degree of noticeable film grain that would have existed if it had been shot at the time that it was set in (on mid level grain 35mm anyway). However, this effect seems to be visible only on the Blu-ray disc as it is slight (I wonder if the effect would have been noticed beyond normal film grain when the film was out in theatres - outside of digital projectors). Everywhere else, the image quality is simply spotless and reference grade quality; if you have the means to get the most out of it, then grab the blu-ray version.

Audio is just as well done, although the 5.1 mix naturally receives the most workload at the start and end of the film; with cars passing every few seconds from different angles, its insane at times (although I am at a lose as to why driving through tires creates more sub activity than a crash of thunder). I was also a little interested when I discovered almost hidden background noise in the back speakers, like muffled audience screams at the start and the old radio the old lady car - forget her name - has; such is the attention on the sound front. 

It’s perhaps telling that Cars tends to get played more for making sure my AV setup is still working properly than actually put in to be watched, that opening sequence is great for making sure the old 5.1 unit is correctly calibrated.

At just shy of two hours, it's quite long for a western produced animated film, nonetheless it goes through well. It's a bit predictable and somewhat derivative story and character wise, but the whole turns out to be pretty much enjoyable throughout its runtime.

Ka-Chow, not quite, but still pretty good...

*Which John Lasseter noted as his favourite classic short in the director's commentary.
†Both these two shorts had their cars with eyes in their windows, I wonder if they had an influence.
‡Which had John Lasseter on the staff, hmm.

holiday animation The Care Bears in the Land without Feelings © Atkinson Film Arts
The Care Bears in the Land without Feelings
Rated it: 1.5
posted: Aug 21, 2017
With a successful line of greeting cards and soft-toys under their belts (and it being the 1980s), it was inevitable that the Care Bears would end up getting depicted in animation, for good or ill.

First came this. The Land with Feelings – and its sequel special – is exactly as bad as you might imagine. To the point where even Those Characters From Cleveland were unhappy with the specials and moved production of the later movies and TV series to other studios. Here the animation was provided by Atkinson Film Arts, of “The Raccoons” fame, but whether due to budget restraints or lack of time, the results are a far cry from their more famous works.

The plot is unimaginative and forgettable; a boy runs away from home to wind up in the clutches of the Care Bears' original antagonist Professor Coldheart. The bears go after him into the titular lands, and wind up getting stopped – more or less one by one – before reaching the professor's castle by way of deus ex machina.

The animation is woeful, the design of the human children especially, looking more like concept work at times than finished animation. The Care Bears like always are identical, apart from colour and the symbols on their tummies. Professor Coldheart meanwhile, gets the closest thing to a pass, as he's the only thing with a personality range.

If you must watch something starring the Care Bears,* watch the first movie; which at least is just a mediocre non-entity rather than a non-starter.

*Or, you know watch something which is more likely to have some effort put into it.

animated cartoon Dizzy Dishes © Fleischer Studios
Dizzy Dishes
Rated it: 1.5
posted: Feb 13, 2015
The debut of many an iconic cartoon character has worn the suit of mediocrity, poor Betty is no exception. This shouldn't be surprising, really. For most animated stars, the ins and outs of their character develop over time, as the studio gets a handle on who they are and what they are capable of.

Also noteworthy is the fact that a review written around 85 years after the release of the short that it's looking at, is bound to have a large measure of hindsight. Betty appeared in many shorts over the years until the character was retired in the tale end of the Thirties (her last appearance being in Poor Cinderella, her only colour cartoon).

Of course, Betty is mostly known as a human, an oddity in itself in classic era animation for a primary protagonist. Here though she resembles a dog, matching the species of Bimbo, who actually is the main character of this short. While Betty became more human, Bimbo remained a dog, which, given their romantic relationship, did pose some questions, especially to the Hays Office, who had more than a few words to say on the subject of the popular heroine's overt sexuality.

The short itself, like so many debut cartoons, is nothing special, more noteworthy for the character it introduces than anything in itself. Bimbo a black and white dog, little more than a Mickey clone with a slightly elongated body at this point, is both a waiter and cook for a restaurant. Taking a order of roast duck from the large and short-tempered Gus Gorilla.

The canine cooks the duck all right, but finds himself entranced by the sight of Betty singing on stage, and getting up and dancing in tow (along with the duck, because this is a Fleischer Studios cartoon). Meanwhile the customer tries, impatiently, to ask about his duck while eating his cutlery and the table, before chasing Bimbo around.

We get a few gags related to kitchen and restaurant work, a lacklustre finale and, not much else in-between. Yet, as with many shorts that bring a star to prominence, this is more interesting historically, than entertaining. Unless you're intend to watch every Betty Boop for some reason - for me it's a archival thing - then you can happily skip a few of her earlier shorts and start with the later - pre-Hay's Code - ones where she is a human and the world she's living in is brilliantly mad.

animated cartoon The Wacky Weed © Walter Lantz Productions
The Wacky Weed
Rated it: 1.5
posted: Jan 07, 2015
It's kind of hard not to feel for the "adult" version of Andy Panda, a character who can be bamboozled by pretty much any character he comes up against. Whereas the child version was a mischievous tyke, Andy lost much of his character as he "grew up" becoming the dull everyman of the Walter Lantz studio as he did so.

This isn't a thing that just happened to Andy Panda alone though. Every studio seemed to create that everyman character that reacted to stuff more than created their own plots. Heck, it could be argued the Disney's own Mickey was as much as a blank slate for stories to be rebounded off of than a character that could be the instigator all his own.

However, Mickey at least had the benefit of interesting side-characters and the lush animation afforded to him from high Disney budgets. A character like Andy, from the lower budgeted Lantz studio, did not and often found himself in lowly stuff such as The Wacky Weed.

After a series of silly, and not entirely successful plant related puns as we look around a garden centre, we get to the plot. Andy has brought a flower - though he was more or less coerced into his choice by the narrator - and pretty much as soon as he's planted it, the titular weed - animate, naturally - comes to his garden with the intend of literately chocking the flower to death.

What we get is a few attempts by Andy to separate the weed from the flower which amount to very little. Andy's attempts to get rid of the weed are suspect at times (at one point he buries it, the weed simply digging its way back out again). And the weed's choking of the plant is a tad too laboured - and repetitive - to be funny.

The Wacky Weed almost feels like it was made because the studio had to make something with it's first breakout star. This was something the studio would get over when they simply dropped the panda from their scheduled short output when the studio came back from a year-long hiatus it had in 1950, sans director Dick Lundy, who was figured the only person who could make Andy cartoons work.

Andy's been in better stuff than this, though his persona's not much disproved from other shorts he's been in, such is the dilemma of the purely reaction character that he became. The Wacky Weed is not memorable, the nicest thing I can say is that the animation's okay, consider the time period and studio, but the whole thing is just bland and safe, much like the poor panda himself at times.

Probably why it's not on either of the Woody Woodpecker sets.

animated cartoon Ain't She Tweet © Warner Bros.
Ain't She Tweet
Rated it: 2
posted: Aug 23, 2014
As I watched this short, it seemed that Sylvester is actually against Tweety because he made fun of him - with a mouse character - and the feline wants revenge. It makes a change from the standard I want to eat the birdie, but after that it sort of faded, because, beyond that, the reasons for the animosity doesn't otherwise make much difference to what is a fairly standard Tweety and Sylvester cartoon.

They're a few decent gags in here I suppose, but I can't get the feeling out of my head that as a whole, it all feels so routine. That's not to say it's bad, not the bird and feline have been in better shorts.

Not good, but nothing really memorable.

I cannot imagine that animating all those dogs was fun, yeah they're on cycles, but they're also a lot of them on screen at any one time, at a time when you'd have to copy and paste or otherwise rotate an image manually... fun.

I hate to write such a short review for a theatrical short, but I need something to write about and well, to use an analogy that I'm sure Sylvester would like, there just isn't enough meat on this one's bones to chew on.

 
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