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KF Animation Editor
Location: Tasmania
Birthday: August 27
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animated series Tales of Tatonka © Cyber Group Studios
Tales of Tatonka
Rated it: 1.5
posted: Mar 02, 2015
I admit that perhaps I'm being a little harsh on this show, and if you get the chance to see it, you should make up your own mind, but Ive deducted at least a half star for what I think is a pretty good reason. I'll get to that.

'Tatonka' is a CG French series, set in Yellowstone National park, and following, mostly, the adventures of some wolf Cubs and their friends - a Lynx, bear cub, squirrel, eagle, and sundry other animals. Each episode is introduced by Tatonka, a wise old bison who often comes to the rescue when the Cubs get into trouble, which is nearly all the time. Their parents and other adult wolves feature too, as well as coyotes.

One suspects this series was made on the cheap. The backgrounds are quite nice, but it's pretty rare to see a modern CG series which really screws up in this department. What's not so easy to look at are the fur textures of the various animals - especially the squirrel, who looks like an inflatable rubber toy. A shame because she(?) is probably the best character in the show.

Each episode ends with a real life short documentary on some aspect of wildlife in Yellowstone - rather like the real life segments at the end of eps of 'Mysterious Cities of Gold' (a French thing, perhaps). That's fine, and the segments are genuinely educational. The animated main part of each episode is usually a well paced and enjoyable enough tale, too, but almost inevitably the wolf Cubs run into trouble because they encounter the evil 'renegade' wolf pack, who are baddies because they basically behave more like real wolves, rather than frolicking around with rabbits and squirrels. Kids animation is rife with this 'carnivores are bad, m'kay?' rubbish, and that's annoying enough, but to have it monotonously wheeled out in a show which purports to be educational is plain infuriating. If this trope didn't pop up in virtually episode, the show might just be passable. I mean Kimba tried making carnivores live on insects back in the 60's, and admitted that sadly, it didn't work.


animated cartoon I Yam What I Yam © Fleischer Studios
I Yam What I Yam
Rated it: 2
posted: Feb 15, 2015
I don't really have much to add to Starlac's review of this relentlessly rhythmic very early Popeye short - I basically fully agree with it, and suggest you read it.

Popeye, Olive and Wimpy (in his first appearance) are rowing a dinghy (actually Olive does all the rowing) which eventually fetches up on the shores of the New World - which raises the question of where they were rowing FROM. However it provides the pretext for the trio to be continually attacked by 'Indians'. This in turn provides the excuse for two punning sight gags. In the first Popeye clobbers a bunch of Indians who, flung to the ground, turn into 5c coins. This was baffling to an Australian, until I learned that dimes featured an 'Indian head' between 1913 and 1938. It still doesn't quite explain the gag, though. The second features an excruciating pun,when the chief of the Indians attacks Popeye, is clobbered, and sheds his disguise, revealing himself to be Mahatma Ghandi - an Indian, get it? Ghandi had been in the news a little before for 'leading the Indians' on the famous 'salt march'.

Popeye really came into his own two years later when the muttering, inspired ad-libbing Jack Mercer took over from Billy Costello, who was sacked for allegedly being 'difficult to work with' and for 'bad behaviour'. Ironically, for behaving like Popeye, I suppose.


animated movie From Up on Poppy Hill © Studio Ghibli
From Up on Poppy Hill
Rated it: 3
posted: Jan 23, 2015
Warning: long preamble.

When they first appeared on the West's radar, Ghibli were often referred to as 'Japan's Disney' or somesuch, and the comparison persisted. Recently it's struck me how misleading such analogies are. Leaving aside the different styles of the respective studios, there is simply the matter of quality. At least the consistency of it.

Without actually doing the math, I would guess that my own review average for Ghibli movies is above 3.0. That's remarkable for ME to begin with, but it's even more so when compared with Disney's batting average, which is far too difficult for me to be bothered working out, but - let's face it; Disney have been making movies for nearly 80 years, and in terms of classic periods, what do they really have? The very early 40's, a second, let's say 'silver age', almost as brief, mainly in the mid 50's - and their second golden age, riding the late 80's wave into the early to mid 90's. Since then the odd very good movie or near classic, and previously, occasional against-the-odds miracles like 'The Fox and the Hound' - but these generally being the exceptions.

That blurb probably more properly belongs at the start of my review of 'Frozen', which I watched yesterday, but what makes it pertinent here is the astonishing average which Ghibli have kept up since their inception (or before it, if you count 'Nausicaa' and Miyazaki's 'Castle of Cagliostro'). This now represents an unbroken period of over thirty years, from 'Nausicaa' onwards - a period of quality which Disney never came close to IN TOTAL, let alone continuously for their entire history.

And yet there is one sobering statistic, if my opinion's worth anything. During what I guess I'd have to call Ghibli's peak - from 'Grave of the Fireflies' in 1988 to 'Spirited Away' in 2001, they produced nine movies ALL of which scored either 4.0 or 3.5 stars in my reviews.

By contrast, in the time since 'Spirited Away', none of their movies have bettered 3.0 from me, and a couple of 2.5's have popped up. Still a formidable average, but in my eyes Ghibli haven't made a masterpiece in so long that, with the real possibility of the studio folding, they maybe never will again. I say 'maybe' because there are still several I've not seen, some of which haven't been released here yet.

A closing observation in this overweight preamble: my top three Ghibli movies were directed by Kondo or Takahata, not by either of the Miyazaki's. One of those dudes is dead, and the other has only directed one Ghibli film in the past 20 years (though, encouragingly, his name IS on the upcoming one).

So, the review. Honest!

After the tempest supposedly surrounding 'Tales of Earthsea', which apparently saw father and son refusing to speak to each other, Goro is back for a sophomore stint in the director's chair, though this time with his father responsible for the screenplay. This results in 'Poppy Hill' being a rather more recognisable Ghibli outing than 'Earthsea'. Who knows if they've put aside their differences, but the Miyazakis work pretty well together on this one.

With its awkward teen romance, missing and/or dead parents, conspicuous bicycles, teenage creativity (poems this time, rather than music), and country music (íRed River Valley' this time) it struck me on several occasions that 'Poppy Hill' was alluding to 'Whisper of the Heart', and once or twice, maybe even 'Grave of the Fireflies'. Although it's a pretty and warm movie though, this one doesn't approach the passion, either positive or negative of either of those masterpieces. It's difficult to say whether it was trying to be another 'Whisper' and falling short (it tends sometimes to be my impression), but 'Poppy Hill' lacks the delicate intensity of 'Whisper'.

I wonder if other people have a fascination for movies set in the year of their birth? Here, Japan is preparing to host the Olympic Games. Old parts of the city are being torn down to make way for new facilities, and the main characters in the movie are the first generation to have no link with or memories of The War. If I were Japanese they might have been my parents. Perhaps here we see some of the true themes of the film. A sense of a new, young country and a generation trying to define itself; trying to establish something which does away with the bad parts of the old, whilst hanging on to the better parts (the main characters meet against the backdrop of a student groups campaign to stop the demolition of the old 'Latin Quarter', which includes many school buildings, to make way for new structures. This theme isn't obvious though, and it seems important to me whether Miyazaki the younger achieved the balance he was presumably seeking. Because 'Poppy' does seem unable to deploy the themes I mentioned very clearly. It would have been easy to be hamfistted about the topic, and the Miyazakis avoid that, but in its place we get a teen romance which never gets as engaging as it ought to.

Umi is a teenage student whose father died during the Korean War, working on supply ships for the Americans. Her mother is absent, in America. One of her many responsibilities is to run up the signal flags for the ships in Yokohama harbour. Poignantly these will never be seen, of course, by her father. They are noticed by a flamboyant male student, however. Shun is politically active in the school's newspaper, whose headquarters is in the threatened Latin Quarter. He too has parentage which is mixed up with the war.

Uni is initially attracted simply by Shun, but his passion for convincing the student body to get behind his campaign to save the clubhouse is infectious. She soon finds herself involved, and a romance blooms, only to be threatened when it comes apparent that they share a common parent.

All of this is handled adequately, but without the mature perspective of films like 'Whisper of the Heart' or 'Only Yesterday'. Quite probably this is because the screenplay is based on a famous Manga of a sub variety aimed at teenage girls. Nevertheless it fails to invoke the depth of emotion of the other movies I mentioned.

So what does 'Poppy Hill' do well? As is nearly always the case with Ghibli, the attention to detail, and, in films like this, to local atmosphere and setting is marvellous, now and then bordering on sublime - particularly given the backdrop of mid 60's Yokohama to work with. One scene in particular sticks in mind, where colour and detail is used to depict a delicatessen at night so effectively I could l almost smell and taste it. Ghibli excel at this sort of thing. It makes up for their 'limited' character animation. At least I assume it is. I don't know if Ghibli shoot 'on threes', twos, fours, or more likely a combination of various frame rates - but as I've bemoaned before, the movement of characters in Ghibli seems weirdly cheap and at odds with their amazing backgrounds, and if they are cutting back on their frame rates it can't possibly have been for financial reasons, for a very long time.

That gripe aside, Poppy Hill is a very likeable movie, with rich eye candy and atmosphere, but it's disappointingly ineffectual at conveying really strong emotion, which it appears, at least in part, to be aiming at. It also doesn't help that Goro's character design tends toward the bland, and (from memory I made the same complaint of his previous film) the characters sometimes break out into classic anime visual tropes, like bug eyes and impossibly dramatic facial expressions -which undercut the realism he'd been building up. At least to me.

Good, but it won't be remembered with the same reverence as their classic 90's movies.


animated movie Planes © Disney / Prana Studios
Rated it: 2
posted: Jan 06, 2015
Well, against my expectations I kinda enjoyed 'Cars', and this is set 'above the world of Cars' or some such. But that should have been a warning sign. Nothing about this movie is even remotely original. Instead it's clearly a marketing spin-off ploy by Disney. Everything is horribly paint by numbers, down to the point that around two thirds of the way through, I paused it, and sketched out what I thought the rest of the film would involve, and except for some of the locations being different I was totally correct.

I wonder what it was about 'Cars' which made it work for me to the extent that it did, because as I saw the opening scene of this movie, and the fighter planes have mouths - and then planes with TEETH, I just groaned 'No way!' I mean, seriously, whatever happened to good old mammals. What are they going to anthropomorphise next - abstract concepts? "Coming this summer from Pixar - The Beaufort Scale!"

To give them their due, if you can buy the whole planes with eyes and mouths, and apparently sexual desires, and it doesn't bother you that New York is filled with skyscrapers which presumably nobody inhabits, well they do do a reasonably good job of extracting emotion from the movement of landing struts and propellers and wings, etc, but this is only a fraction of what it would take to have made this film really soar. There are some very nice backgrounds, especially in the Himalayan sequence, but at other times the animators seem to just be slacking off, and though Dusty is a likeable enough character, he's the best of a woefully predictable bunch. I kind of like Ashanti's little speil about reincarnation, but that was just a few seconds of mild cleverness.

I can't swear I've watched every Disney film in between (ok, I definately haven't watched 'Chicken Little'), but this struck me as their worst since 'Teacher's Pet', and at least that tried to be different.

There'so nothing obnoxious about this, and it will probably entertain kids, but I'd have felt bummed if I'd paid to see this in a cinema or even rented it except on half price Tuesday. And I'm getting tired of writing two and two and a half star reviews.

animated movie Astro Boy © Tezuka Productions / Imagi Entertainment
Astro Boy
Rated it: 2.5
posted: Dec 23, 2014
Some people are Tezuka fans, others are Astro Boy fanatics, while a smaller group are Kimba fanatics - and quite often these latter two groups aren't mutually exclusive, it's just common for fans of one show to have only a passing interest in the other.

For whatever reason I was a Kimba fanatic. It seems that the original Astro series, being slightly older than me, either aired before I was watching TV, or simply never aired here. That rather long preamble is just to explain that I don't have a big emotional investment in Astro, and therefore am probably less likely to either forgive all shortcomings, or criticise every tiny point. I remember the 1980 series (which for some reason screened here in 1985) and have a general familiarity with the characters, but couldn't be relied upon to pick up on every point where this movie departs from Tezuka's original manga or the first or second TV series.

Still, there are some obvious changes. Dr. Elephun was a major regular character in the series, but barely appears here (more's the pity, as he's well-voiced by Bill Nighy), but I get that this a close-focus on Astro's origins rather than an episodic chronicle of his subsequent adventures.

I don't think I'd be posting spoilers if I said that the original 'child' on whom Astro is based dies and is brought back in robot form by his father - who rather quickly decides it was a mistake and disowns him. Perhaps departing from the original story (I don't know), Astro ends up on the surface, ejected from the elite, floating Metro City, and winds up with a bunch of street kids looked over by an apparently Faganesque character. Oh, and there's this stuff about red and blue energy wiping each other out (I shouldn't have waited two weeks to write this).

Well I won't say anymore about the plot, except to say.. well, in a minute...

The style of the... I was going to say 'animation', but I think 'art design' is more appropriate - is quite unusual. It doesn't strive for realism at all, nor does it go in the opposite direction and make everything shimmeringly fantastical. This isn't a problem, but it does kind of relate to something which bothered me a bit. Where and when exactly is this supposed to be set? I get that Metro City is set either in an alternative reality, a far more advanced one, or probably both - but there are pop cultural references which situate it here and now. For one thing, they celebrate July 4th. I suppose that's a minor beef, but I'd have decided one on version and stuck with it.

I may as well get a few other peeves out of the way: the way which robots are treated with contemptuously dismissal in the opening scenes seems too cruel for any recognisably human society to behave, given that the bot's behaviour manifestly is not that of mindless automata, and - look, this is perhaps quibbling, because Nicola's Cage does a decent job as Astro's father - but why pay some big name Hollywood live action star, when there are specialist voice actors out there who could do a better job, and probably need the work. In a few cases (Woody Allen in 'Antz' springs to mind) this works, but just as often you end up with great film actors like Robert de Nero appearing in abominations like 'Shark Tale' and making fools of themselves for no sensible reason.

My gripe which is actually a bit more substantial though, is to do with the pacing. The 'reveal' sequence where Astro... well I said I wouldn't give this away, but basically it's blown through far too quickly to be credible. And this came after a middle act which, given the running length, was too long.

But despite all of this, I enjoyed the movie. Just not hugely.. which is, I guess, a bit how I feel about Astro in general. I'm not sure if this film was aimed at hardened Astro nuts, or new converts. It seemed to try to strike something of a balance. It's probably best left to others to say if it succeeded. For me it was an enjoyable eighty-something minutes, but I'll probably not watch it again.


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