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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

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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.

animated cartoon Goofy and Wilbur © Disney
Goofy and Wilbur
Rated it: 3
posted: Jun 07, 2014
It's 1939, and "The Goof" finally gets his own series of short subjects, a series that he would enjoy for many years to come.

The majority of these, where centred around the "How to..." series, that started with "How to Ride a Horse", itself a segment of The Reluctant Dragon, a documentary film that depicted the Disney Studio as a happy, productive place right in the midst of the bitter Disney Strike.* The "How to..." is the more interesting bulk of Goofy's outpoint, but that's a matter for another review.

It hard to comprehend why it took Disney so long to give Goofy his own standalone series, after all the younger Donald Duck got his own series not long after his debut, so what happened to Goofy to keep him from standing alone? Did the animators simply not care?

Maybe part of the reason is that Goofy had always been around, appearing in cartoons since the early-30's as a side-character to Mickey no less (known as Dippy Dawg). He was part of the background noise, an extra that was felt as someone who should stay an extra. Yet he was popular, certainly more so than the likes of Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow, two incidental characters that really had little going for them.

The other thing was getting his personality down pat, and thus limit any confusion about the character among the studio staff and giving them something concrete to work with. This was a time when a character might have a basic outline to describe everything about them, barely a sheet of office paper. Goofy owes much of his development to animator Art Babbit, who - in 1935 - gave a lecture to his fellow Disney team members that defined Goofy's character.

With his personality fully figured out, "The Goof" - the animator's called him this while he was still Dippy, eventually the name was fully adopted - went on to become a major theatrical star, although not to the extent that Pluto and especially Donald became. Mickey was soon lost in the dust by these much stronger characters that could achieve things he - as a reaction-based character - could not.

Goofy and Wilbur is the first cartoon to have Goofy's face in the titles, and it a cute cartoon, though I cannot say that I wholeheartedly think it's a great one, the plot is simply and maybe a bit thin, not a lot really happens that of real interest, the short doesn't do much with the premise and the ending is overly sentimental for my personal taste.

Goofy is of fishing - unable to read or just ignoring a sign that prohibits the practise - with his grasshopper Wilbur, who looks a tad more like a his namesake insect than his fellow insect Jiminy looked like a cricket. The grasshopper is acting as a sort of live bait, leading fish to Goofy's waiting net, with the bug evidently seeing it as a sort of game of wits between him and the fish, some of which are more wily than others.

For the majority of the film, the animation and backgrounds are top notch, but then Disney often spent more on one cartoon's story than other studios did entire cartoons. so the resultant lusciousness is expected as far as I'm concerned.

The animation of Wilbur shows what cocky bug he is, while still never getting to the point where you are still reminded that he is still technically would-be lunch to the fish, if he loses his head.

There one bit that hasn't aged too well, note a section where a fish goes to swallow Wilbur before retreating back as the grasshopper looks back, the scene is latter repeated, albeit mirrored soon after. Today, the take feels far too slow paced a take to really hit home. However this is more a product of the time, born in the fairly early days of animation, maybe I've grown more attuned to the sheer speed of post Avery and Tashlin cartoons.

There's some nice gags here, Goofy using a fish like a old-fashioned phone and Wilbur uses Goofy's glove as if he training to be a prize-fighter are two highlights. Goofy himself gets a few good opportunities to show off his physical brand of comedy, like in the beginning which features some wonderful animation of Goofy as he moves along with his boat on his way to the lake.

As noted, I think that it's a good short, a fair start and has wonderful animation. Then again, there really isn't much to it beyond the visual loveliness and though it's never boring, I can think of a dozen other shorts from Disney that I'd rather watch, Goofy ones included.

*The difference between the film's depiction of studio life and the reality of the strike stopped "The Reluctant Dragon" from redeeming even it costs back.

animated movie When the Wind Blows © TVC / Recorded Releasing
When the Wind Blows
Rated it: 3
posted: Mar 01, 2013
"Molotov's just a cocktail, I think"

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.

animated movie Rise of the Guardians © Dreamworks
Rise of the Guardians
Rated it: 3
posted: Jan 12, 2013
Well this is certainly interesting, an animated variant of The Avengers starring a team of holiday and mythology personas including The Sandman and the Tooth Fairy. There are definitely worse ideas out there.

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.

animated series Phineas and Ferb © Disney
Phineas and Ferb
Rated it: 3
posted: Jul 09, 2012
My first experience of Phineas and Ferb was on one of the relatively few terrestrial channels that have children slots - ITV I'd imagine, who have been the terrestrial channel of Disney shows since the channel's beginnings. Pretty much all of the viewing was scattered parts of scattered episodes, not nearly enough to create a decent opinion.

Having 'recently' acquired satellite and the packages that come with it, including the Disney Channel and sister station XD, I've had plenty of time to get acquainted with the adventures of these two brothers (and the other stuff that's on air).

Phineas and Ferb are stepbrothers who are technical and mechanical geniuses who decide to create an outlandish contraption for the 104 days of - USA - summer vacation. The siblings are generally aided and abetted by their friends/neighbours Isabella, geek Baljeet and amiable bully Buford. At the same time their somewhat highly-strung sister Candace attempts - futilely - to get their mom to see the boys' latest scheme, but either gets wrapped up in their device, or is frustrated at every turn.

Meanwhile, Perry, the boys' pet platypus - a creature chosen by the creators because of the lack of knowledge stateside of the critter and its real life inaccessibility as a pet* - leads a double life as a secret agent for OWCA (Organisation Without a Cool Acronym), fighting the City's inept evil scientist Dr. Doofenshmirtz and his latest plan to conquer the Tri-State Area, mostly out of pettiness to get at his brother the mayor. The scientist is so ineffectual that no-one outside OWCA seems to acknowledge him, or think that he's a lab-scientist due to his attire; despite his frequent outbursts of conquest, or his building having "Doofenshmirtz Evil Inc." written in storey high letters.

If this sounds a bit formulaic, that's because the series is; although there's nothing wrong with formula as long as you can find enough variables. Phineas and Ferb certainly has enough of a mix-up game to lift it beyond its limited building blocks. It revels in lampshade hanging, breaking the forth wall and drawing attention to its own idiosyncrasies. In this kind of series the success of the game plan is in the mix-up, and it pulls it off more than not.

I can't help but think of the titular boys as nicer, juvenile - but not as "juvenile" - versions of Jay and Silent Bob, and that I rather watch them than the aforementioned nefarious duo. Phineas is an optimistic blabbermouth, whose constant positive jabbering makes him the go to character for exposition, but - surprisingly - never becomes insufferable. Ferb - who looks like a character straight out of Doug TenNapel's pen with his mismatched eyes - is the silent type, who is apparently hyper competent at engineering and anything else he puts his mind to. He gets about one line per episode, and it's usually the best line in the episode.

The father, played by Rocky Horror Show writer/actor Richard O'Brien, knows about the boy's activities (though it seems to depend on the episode). I've actually seen episodes where he takes part in a couple, and sees no real harm in his lads' excursions. Mom though is kept completely in the dark, with the cartoon coming up with some strongly contrived reasons as to how she avoids seeing the contraption of the day. The moments were she does see their goings on, are limited to what-if scenarios and where it'll cause no harm to the status-quo.

The real chunk of the comedy is with the endless battles between the inept Dr. Doofenshmirtz and his nemesis Perry; complete with implausible, threadbare back stories, and the futile nature of Candace's attempts to bust her brothers while keeping in a relationship with boyfriend Jeremy. There's also quite a bit of fun to be had in the show's frequent mix-up and subversions of it own rules.

Every episode has a musical number somewhere in its running time, which has run the gambit from awful to great and everything in-between, and seems to have covered every type of music under the sun by this point. Dr. Doofenshmirtz songs are the most cleverly written, but conversely the least well sung, although this to, is played for the laughs. The opening theme is catchy, but I have a soft spot for Perry's slick spy-themed theme that plays in - most of - the end credits.

However formulaic the series may be, its the kind that works more times than not, and while the series won't change your life in any meaningful way, it's certainly not lacking in the department of fun.

*Due to them being highly venomous.

 
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