starlac's avatar

starlac

KF Managing Editor
Location: UK
Birthday: November 6
Bookmark and Share

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
Reviews by star rating
4 stars
7% of reviews had a rating of 4 stars
(7%)
3.5 stars
8% of reviews had a rating of 3.5 stars
(8%)
3 stars
18% of reviews had a rating of 3 stars
(18%)
2.5 stars
12% of reviews had a rating of 2.5 stars
(12%)
2 stars
21% of reviews had a rating of 2 stars
(21%)
1.5 stars
21% of reviews had a rating of 1.5 stars
(21%)
1 stars
14% of reviews had a rating of 1 stars
(14%)
(click the animation type or star rating to filter review list)

Reviews for Feature Film

Next page
animated movie Fantasia © Disney
Fantasia
Rated it: 2.5
posted: Nov 03, 2013
So the character that pretty much made your company and that you just so happen to be the voice actor for has had his thunder somewhat stolen from him by a rambunctious duck and a goofy, erm, goof. What’s a film producer to do.

Create a new short to bring the fellow back into the spotlight. of course.

Originally Fantasia was one short, a method of bringing Mickey Mouse back to the spotlight that had been taken from him by the now more popular Donald Duck and Goofy. The reason for the change of fortunes for the mouse is fairly obvious if you go through the cartoon that started Mickey’s career and follow through.

At the start Mickey was a rambunctious youth, just as capable of causing mischief as any other character, but his prominence as the face and mascot of the studio caused Disney to tone him down considerably over the years, until he became a character that reacted to the situations that he was put in, seriously limiting his comic potential. He was doomed to be over shadowed by the temper of Donald and the comedic antics of Goofy, they were just more interesting characters that could be put in much more varied roles.

So Disney set of with the intend of putting the mouse in the role of the titular character in an adaptation of Paul Duka’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. A chance meeting between Disney and Leopold Stokowski brought the famed conductor on board, and work on the short began – and then spiraled out of control, taken on a negative cost of $125,000. Told by his brother Roy that the expensive short would never make its money back, Walt got the idea to make a feature film of animation set to music, inviting Stokowski to act as the conductor and radio announcer Deems Taylor to introduce each segment.

Fantasia is a difficult film to analyse, in some ways it’s little more than a writ large version of the Silly Symphony cartoons, with higher production values. It stands as the first package film that Disney produced, yet it has very little in common with any of the series that started with Saludos Amigos and ended with The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad except the marriage of music to animation. It is more of a vast experimental work that would only be repeated by the company some 34 years after Disney’s death, with the release of Fantasia 2000.

I cannot see that there is any other way to review Fantasia than to look at each of the film’s segments as individual pieces of work, go through the merits and deficiencies of each and then see if the parts equal an engaging whole at the end. A method which I will also probably adopt for the package films later down the line.

While the title card doesn’t appear until half-way across the movie (unless you’re watching the 118 minute version), the beginning of the film nonetheless is set up in a way that will be familiar to those who ever been to a concert hall – or these days just watched one on the telly. The orchestra take their seats, tuning their instruments and practising some of the parts of the pieces they’ll play. Soon enough Deems Taylor, a popular radio announcer of classical music at the time of Fantasia’s original release – though probably an unknown these days, is our host and introduces each segment as well as introduces The Philadelphia Orchestra and then world famous conductor Leopold Stokowski.

Toccata and Fugue in D Minor
by Johann Sebastian Bach

Fantasia starts with a piece of music that was – and still is, although maybe not as much – familiar to a lot people and is certainly a good way to start. Stolowski had famously re-adapted the organ-centric piece to be played by an orchestra. The idea of the piece is to express the idea of what someone listening to the audience might picture as they listen to the music. As Deems notes, at first you might be more conscious of the orchestra playing then be actually putting pictures to the music.

However the end result of this theory is that we spend a good chunk of our time staring at the silhouettes of the various musicals before we get to anything resembling animation, which comes along eight minutes into the start of the film (or about three-and-a-bit minutes into the segment).

Given that this is a animated Disney film, is a problem. When we do get to the animation, it stilted by the limitations enforced on it by the intent (and by Disney’s evident dislike of abstract art). Bows and strings fly pass the screen followed by circles, all timed to the music, but it’s a series of underwhelming, though beautifully rendered, shapes and circles. By the time the animation kicks up a notch, with the distinctive figure of Stokowski conducting large abstract waves with his hands in front of a glowing, the piece is all but over.

It doesn’t help that I’m not keen on Stokowski’s re-organising of the piece to fit an orchestra, the results sound weak by comparison to now I’m used to listening to it. Toccata and Fugue will always be best suited to the organ it was wrote for.

The start of Fantasia just leaves me under-whelmed, what could have been an interesting delve into the abstract manages to only subsist of a splash in the pool.

The Nutcracker Suite
by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Unlike the first, Fantasia’s second segment gets right into the animation at the first chance it gets, something much needed after the initial misfire. Bringing us a series of ballets with a nature theme motif. There’s no real narrative to speak of, something that can be said for most of Fantasia, yet The Nutcracker gives us some context, with the changing of the seasons. At the beginning, dew drops are put onto flowers by a group of elegant fairies with dragonfly wings, as if they are painting the drops onto the flowers like delicate artists. This culminates in an scene where a spider-web’s is coated in dew, making it sparkle like a radiant diamond. The animation is beautiful and timed, which is continued throughout the sequence.

Next up, is the most remembered part of Fantasia’s version of the Nutcracker, The Chinese Dance. A group of seven mushrooms – animated by Art Babbit – perform a short version of the titular dance. This small part of the segment is charmingly animated, with a much needed comedic element coming from a small mushroom who cannot quite keep in step with the quickening tune, or his dancing partners, but darn if doesn’t try his best.

Then things get a bit weird, as blossom petals act like spinning tops while dancing downstream along a river, turning inside out as they go, their stems acting as elaborate head-dresses, their petals as a ballerina costume. It’s as well animated as the rest of the segment, but without any context it just plays through and leaves me perplexed.

From here we go underwater to an underwater ballet, some very long-tailed fancy goldfish reminiscence of Cleo from Pinocchio given us the fish equivalent of a Arabic dance (in a manner suggestive of belly dancing). The fish all have eye shadow applied in a strange manner but their form seems more for their elaborate tails, which shimmer delicately as they swim their dance than for any other purpose, still they are beautifully realised.

We get a dramatic tonal shift with the Russian Dance bringing some thistles to life to perform the Cossack Dance with gusto, that are soon accompanied by some orchids that join them for a finale that lasts only slightly longer than the time it take for the audience to adjust before coming to an abrupt end.

Finally we come to autumn, as more fairies come to turn the leaves a golden yellow, at which point they fall off their trees and dance in the wind, soon to be followed by their seeds, also loosened by the autumn sprites, which act as ballerinas, skirts billowing as they float across the landscape. For the finale comes winter, and some more pixies come along to put frost on the fallen leaves and plant life and skate across the pond, covering it with ice.

The animation of this part is as wonderful as anything else in The Nutcracker Suite segment. Yet as one of the more beautiful parts of the film as it may be, the segment feels as though it has little to offer the audience in terms of engagement besides its ethereal beauty.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Paul Dukas

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, is one of the few pieces of Fantasia where the music itself has a definite story, as Deems Taylor is quick to tell the audience. What follows is a short that actually has a narrative for the audience to hold on to.

Mickey Mouse stars as the apprentice of the powerful Sorcerer Yen Sid, and is busy gathering water for his master whilst watching the wizard at work. When the Sorcerer decides to take a quick nap, he leaves his hat behind, which Mickey then uses to bring a broom to life to do his chore for him while the mouse takes his own nap.

The mouse dreams of being a powerful wizard, able to bend the stars and oceans to his whim, but is soon awoken by reality. Finding the broom is too taken by its work and is threatening to flood the dungeon. Mickey finds out too late that he cannot control the broom, and his attempt to stop it by hacking it to pieces – something seemingly out of character for the otherwise wholesome mouse – just makes the problem worse, as the broken shards all reform to create an army of bucket fetching, animate brooms.

Easily a stand out part of the film for me, with a strong narrative hook to keep the animation progressing, and a nice, if straightforward arch, helps to provide something which Fantasia had thus far failed to deliver.

Mickey is sporting a new look created by artist Fred Moore, which due to the protracted development of Fantasia meant that audiences had already seen Mickey’s new design by the time the film came out. While the short was originally meant as a vehicle for the mouse, his popularity continued to fall over the years to come.

The Rite of Spring
Igor Stravinsky

Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, was meant to suggest primitive tribal dances. Disney’s artists changed it into a retelling of the dawn of the Earth. It’s fascinating to hear Taylor stressing “according to science” in his production, as if such a thing was an embarrassment to proclaim – although given the time Fantasia was released, this is probably close to the truth of the matter.

The segment starts of slowly, partly due to the nature of the music, as we travel through the void of space into the Milky Way, pass a star and some nebulous clouds, before making its way toward a barren Earth. While the start is slow and serene, the Earth’s surface offers powerful animation of erupting volcanoes and flowing rivers of molten larva, bubbling with frightful intensity.

From here, we get brief – and I do mean brief – interludes into primitive sea life, starting from single cell organisms. We are essentially getting snapshots of advancement of evolution, that go as quickly as they come, far too truncated to mean anything. A brief scene in his barrage is memorable for the strange sight of a very cartoony electric eel beating captured and consumed by a much more realistically rendered jellyfish. The way its presented seems to be to get to what the filmmakers must of thought was going to be the big hook of the segment….

Namely the Dinosaurs.

At the time of its Fantasia’s release, this was as close as anything had come to bringing these powerful creatures back to life in anything resembling a realistic depiction. Like the rest of the segment, the dinosaurs go about their various everyday lives of finding food and water. We see some newborns hatched from their eggs, and a pterodactyl plucked from the skies in mid-hunt. Yet with nothing really to hold this together, its not particularly interesting beyond the impressive animation of these majestic beasts.

Then we get some action courtesy of Wolfgang Reitherman, who directed the animation of the Tyrannosaurus Rex as it takes on a Stegosaurus in a battle to the death, providing one of the more powerful pieces for the segment, as well as one of the most memorable parts of the entire film, even if, like much of Wolfgang’s work, it delves deeply into the melodramatic.

Next we are shown the dinosaurs pondering their way through a world which has become nothing more than a dust bowl, with the dinosaur trying to find whatever water they can find before succumbing to the draught. Finally we witness the continents shift and change in violent fashion for a climax, during a total eclipse of the sun no less. Yet everything’s dead, and there nothing around for the destruction to threaten, leaving it just as empty spectacle.

Intermission.

At this point the 124 minute version of the film takes an impromptu intermission for 15 minutes, the intend to give the audience and orchestra time to rest. On the blu-ray this lasts a few mere seconds before we’re back to the fold. A few members of the band play a jazzy number before Deems Taylor comes back and introduces us to… the soundtrack.

A simple distraction, the soundtrack segment only serves as padding in an already long feature film. While it is interesting how the animators draw the various instrumentals out, it is a completely superfluous additional to the film.

The Pastoral Symphony
Ludwig van Beethoven

Getting back into the film proper, we have Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, his Pastoral, which was meant to describe the German countryside of his homeland. Here, it has been re-imagined as a land of Greek mythology gardens, full of unicorns cherubs and the like.

We first spend some time with some multicoloured unicorns and Pegasi, who perform ballet to the music as their way of frolicking. As far as I’m concerned, these flying equine make up the highlight of this otherwise pedestrian section of the film.

We then introduced to the centaurettes and their cubby cherub friends who help them get made up to meet with some nearby male centaurs. It feels like American teen characters preparing for the prom, something weirdly out of place in a film over wise void of modern cultural influences (and especially Americanisms).

Bacchus, the god of wine, comes a-calling to a wine party that the cast thus far have come. He rides a horned donkey that gets almost as drunk as he is and is briefly accompanied by two zebra centurettes (who quickly disappear from the film shortly thereafter). Bacchus is something of a womaniser, chasing the centurettes around in a impromptu game of blind man’s bluff as his crown of grapes covers his eyes.

The party is cut short by the arrival of the king of the gods, Zeuz – whose comic appearance predates and possibly influence the Zeuz in Hercules years later – and his assistant Vulcan, forger of lightning. Zeus attacks Bacchus for some never explained reason, and makes the land run red with wine, much to the latter god’s delight.

Pastoral is the weakness link in Fantasia. In comparison to the rest of the film, the animation is quite poor, even if the backgrounds are nice. It feels the most like a cartoon, rather than a part of the art and is the most pronounced in terms of feeling like a silent movie, or a particularity poor Silly Symphony. That it is over twenty minutes in length only allows the film to hammer its own issues home.

The piece is so boring a sequence that I noticed a part of the foreground didn’t track in one scene with the rest during one pan. The whole thing is sickly saccharine and artistically not up to par with anything else in the film.

Dance of the Hours
Amilcare Ponchinelli

Dance of the Hours is the lightest part of the entire film, a comedic parody of ballet starring animals that you wouldn’t have thought of prior to Fantasia as creatures of dance. Ostriches, hippos, elephants and alligators give us one of the more whimsical portions of the film’s run-time.

Starting with a flock of ostriches having a hearty breakfast before bickering over some grapes, the animation makes every use of them to juxtapose the grace of ballet with the lack of such with the gangly birds. A herd of elephants later cause mischief by blowing bubbles every such where (some of which encircle them as makeshift tutus).

The hippos are the clear standouts, elegant in sheer contrast to their bulk. When the lead Hippo does her pirouettes, the animation makes it almost believable. Free from the requirements of the rest of the film, it is also apparent that the animators greatly enjoyed their time on the segment as well.

A group of alligators conclude the segment, coming out to “court” the central hippo before her true suitor, the head ‘gator comes to claim her. The two have a comic duel where the male has trouble with the whole lifting his much heavier dancing partner comes into play. And it all ends with an explosive finale that literally brings the animated house down.

Night on Bald Mountain and Ave Maria
Modeste Mussorgsky & Franz Schubert

Walpurgi’s Night, a event similar to the modern day Halloween, is the setting for Fantasia’s penultimate number, the powerful piece of Night on Bald Mountain. This night Chernobog the Slovonic god of evil, emerges from the titular mountain to raise the forces of evil in a dark and macabre dance of the dead.

Demons, seductive fire spirits and Harpies dance for their demon’s favour, flies across the screen, all at the whim of their master, who throws those who do not please him into his flames to burn. Chernobog himself is a towering and menacing being of malevolent power, superbly animated by Bill Tytla, the best at creating such a physically imposing creature of all the Disney artists.

The demon’s party ends when the church bell tows the dawn, and force Chernobog and his spawn and the restless dead back into the shadows, or their graves. Chernobog himself resigns himself to his lack of power against the bell with impotent rage, before retreating. Maybe thinking that, one day the bell will fail to sound.

This would have been a great way to end the film, with a powerful and dramatic piece that would stay in the minds of audiences. Disney though, didn’t fancy letting the children in the audience traumatised by the dark and scary imagery of Bald Mountain, and a final section was added.

By the time Ave Maria reaches the screen, I’ve generally tuned out or turned Fantasia off. A dull and insipid piece from beginning to end, Ave Maria is a dull wash of blues and greens whilst hopeful choir music plays in the background. After the magnificence of the prior Bald Mountain, it feels like being dropped in a bucket of lukewarm water.

The slow melodic tune that accompanies it seemingly threatens to put viewers to sleep. A coven of nuns moving through the forest on a pilgrim to some holy place seems to move at a snail’s pace, dragging the film to its ending.

Conclusion

Through my viewing for this review I learned that I like a narrative in my animation, something that I can grip onto during the ride. In much the same way as a few of the non-narrative led shorts in the Silly Symphonies cannon, Fantasia leaves me wanting something it just was never really designed to give. The thing that really bugs me is that I feel I really should like it more, being a fan of both animation and of classical music, but the marriage of the two as it is here, just leaves me with a taste of indifference from which the film is mostly unable to reclaim me.

Does this mean that I think Fantasia is a bad movie, no, not at all. At its best moments, like The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Nutcracker and Bald Mountain, it is a powerhouse of animation and music brought together. Yet at its worst, in particular The Pastoral Suite, it might as well be a prolonged episode of the more sugary – and forgettable – of the Silly Symphonies.

I admire the skill of the artists that made the short, from the dew drops on the spider-web to Bill Tytla’s colossal demon king. I love the attention to detail in almost every frame of animation. Yet an animated film is meant to be watched in motion and I cannot say that I enjoy the act of doing so.

Fantasia feels more like a product of its time, at time even more so. In his book, animation historian Michael Barrier compared it to a silent movie with a musical accompaniment, looking to the past even upon its release. A statement which I happen to very much agree with.

It’s not a film for everyone and it’s one I usually only watch when I’m in the mood for it – and even then I skip the bits I least like more than not these days – yet I’m more likely to pop its sequel, Fantasia 2000 into the blu-ray tray than the original and there’s something almost tragic in that.

6

For clarification purposes, this review is mostly based on the 124 min restored Road show version of Fantasia, released on Blu-ray in the UK in 2010.

animated movie The Smurfs © Sony Pictures Animation
The Smurfs
Rated it: 2
posted: Jul 18, 2013
The biggest fault with The Smurfs, is that it is a regurgitation of the same worn plot that was present in both Alvin & the Chipmunks and Hop (the latter also released in 2011), almost down to the letter. And like Alvin, the entire goal of the film is to introduce audiences to the blue critters. The fact that it did well enough to warrant a sequel is worrisome; as we can expect more of the same junky, pop-culture filled trash that fleets through the cinema, but won't mean a thing in years to come.

Yet like Hop ad Alvin, I managed to survive until the end with the notion that it wasn't as bad as it could've been. It's still pretty poor, don't misunderstand me, as bland and uninspired as the TV series it's based on (itself inconsequential filler in a decade filled with worthless material), yet it's ultimately harmless enough to basically pass the time if you need to do so without wanting to ever task your brain.

Hank Azaria's depiction of Gargamel helps, hamming it p for the camera instead of behind a microphone, and stealing every scene he's in (along with his CGI cat). One hopes that he earned enough to weather this project, or is enjoying himself as much as his performance suggests. Otherwise, there's little to recommend with the generic

The Smurf are preparing their village for the celebration of the coming of the blue moon (an actual blue moon, not the lunar cycle of reality). The smurf's keep Clumsy from proceedings, to prevent him, well damaging them. Ostracised by his fellow species Clumsy winds up inadvertently leading Gargamel to the village. In their haste to escape the warlock, a group of smurfs - Papa, Smurfette, Gutsy, Grouchy, Clusmy and Brainy - wind up sucked through a vortex that takes them to Central Park and subsequently, the human couple that make up the film's human protagonists.

You know what to expect, the humans, okay the male lead, resist the smurfs antics, the film makes reference to pop-culture and every visual pun to go with the colour blue it can muster. Brainy, Grouchy and Gutsy might as well not be in the film for all they contribute to it; and to a lesser extent neither really are Papa and Smurfette. Clumsy gets the only real character arc during the run-time and it boils down to cliché, in this case "you more than you think". It's silly and more than a little trite, but the whole thing is inoffensive because it's too bland to be anything else.

Like the TV series it is based on - and no it's not really based on the work of Peyo, or at least no more than said series - The Smurfs is the movie equivalent of filler, never ambitious enough to be meaningful nor bad enough to be truly awful. Unlike the animated series, the animation of even a bad CGI movie is generally going to be adequate, and that's what it

Maybe it's because the movie isn't all sickly and saccharine all the time. There's something therapeutic about watching Gargamel smashing the mushrooms that make up the smurf houses, and it has a time limit for a plot device, which at least put it on a mildly better footing than Hop or Alvin.

Yes, the fact that it's trying to sell me M&Ms and Rock Bank (or was it Guitar Hero), et al. It's annoying as ever, but somehow I got to the end credits without wanting to break some smurf's neck. On the other hand I'll certainly choose dozens of other films in it place. It's a poor effect, bland and uninspired; something to only bother with if it airs on television, rather than put any money towards.

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 movie The Borrower Arrietty © Studio Ghibli
The Borrower Arrietty
Rated it: 3
posted: Jan 22, 2012
The Borrowers has been subject of a few movies over the years. Last Christmas, the BBC had a TV movie with Stephen Fry and Victoria Wood, which I forgot to watch, and then there was that Working Title film from the Nineties, of which the only thing I remember is that it starred John Goodman.

Hiromasa Yonebayashi, newest - and currently youngest - director for Studio Ghibli, now brings us an animated version, something which, to be frank, seems almost something which you would think would have been made before how. In some ways we have had a few surrogates over the years; from the forgettable The Little series and the like, but these are pale facsimiles of the original, or based on a different book.

The movie begins with a small piece of narration from protagonist Sho- or Shawn in the States version, apparently - a twelve-year-old human traveling to his aunt's large house for some peace and quiet. We learn that he needs to rest there due to an upcoming heart operation. It does kind of sound like a reversal of Totoro, of which the story involved the eventual coming of a character from the hospital to the country to recover. Shortly upon his arrival he spots the other prime character Arrietty in amongst the bushes.

Arrietty, a headstrong, 14-year-old borrower, is unaware the see was spotted by the "human bean", and is preparing for a night out with her father, so that he can teach her the ins and outs of borrowing. During this outing, Arrietty winds up in the direct line of sight of Sho, dropping a cube of sugar, that the boy promptly offers them out by the grating nearest where he first saw her.

Curious about this turn of event the two eventually start to talk and be a bit more open with each other, while Arrietty's family decide whether or not to find a new home.

Anything more than that is getting into serious spoiler territory...

MAJOR SPOILERS

Housemaid Haru - a character mostly based on the original novel's Mrs Driver - begins to suspect that little people really are in the house, and well, let's say that she doesn't see them in the same light as Sho. We also never find out the outcome of the borrowers search for a new home, or if Sho survives his operation; basically, the ending's mildly bittersweet, or left to viewer imagination.

END SPOILERS

Like some of their other - and anime flicks in general - Arrietty's animation looks amazing but can also be a tad stiff at times due to it being mostly on twos. The backgrounds are wonderful though, with lust gardens and the house's rustic, aging wood and stone. It up to par with Ghibli's other work, although it's not as epic, or as in depth as the studio's best material.

Ghibli's attention to details in other, less immediately, noticeably ways, is as it always is, impeccable. The studio play with the differential of scale, Arrietty uses a leaf as an improvised umbrella, and a pin she finds as a sword of sorts. One nice touch throughout the whole film is that the water doesn't miniaturize, as it wouldn't in real life, and forms as droplets on the borrowers and comes out of their little teapot in thick globs still held together by its surface tension.* That's not to say that it looks like syrup or something, it does still look like water, when its lying on the floor, or not coming out of things barely large enough for water to travel through.

I watched the film in the original Japanese with the provided subtitles on blu-ray, and then - while I'm was writing this - played the DVD copy with the English language turned on for reviewing purposes. The UK cast† is adequate for the most part, although some of the lines seem a little dulled, or possibly a bit too understated - though I'd rather that than the deliveries be too overdone. Appropriately, the best UK voices are those of Arrietty's and Sho's, with Olivia Colman's Homily third. Mark Strong's Pod delivery in particular is a little too flat for my liking. Dialogue throughout the film is pretty sparse though, and in general this is a fairly low-key film.

A slow motion scene - from Arrietty perspective, during her realization at being spotted - made the ticking of a grandfather clock loud and deep enough to make it seem poised to shake my sub-woofer into near submission (though it was barely audible through my monitor's less powerful - and much less bass-orientated - speakers).

Along with the lacklustre Tales and Howl's, Arrietty will probably be remembered as one of Ghibli's weaker film entries, which I must note is not really a damnation of Arrietty itself, but more a statement of the excellence of Ghibli's library of work in general. Arrietty is a good film in and of itself, it's just that it doesn't exist in a vacuum and its elder brethren has set a high bar, but for the record I enjoyed it.

7.5/10

*The only other animated film I remember doing this was Antz, bizarrely enough.
†Obviously I'm unable to talk about the US version's dub

Reviewed on Blu-ray disc on a PS3 with 5.1 surround.

 
Next page