Tag Archives: animated films

75th Anniversary Film Favorites: Fantasia


phaseIn honor of their seventy-fifth anniversary in 2015, I present a pair of reviews for my two favorite Disney animated releases, both released in the same year, 1940, and both far more challenging and transformative than any feature film the company has yet released since. The two introductory paragraphs of the reviews are identical or nearly identical, but the meat of the reviews are film-specific.

Fresh off of reinventing cinema with the 1937 release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Walt Disney and his band of merry auteurs certainly made enough money to rest on their laurels and produce what would have assuredly been a hugely successful similar film. Another princess, another band of silly sidekicks, another all-time expressionist cinematic villain, you get the deal. Things would have gone down smoothly, and Disney and friends would have been laughing all the way to the bank.

Except for one thing: for all his grubby corporatism and power-hungry megalomania, Walt Disney genuinely loved film, and he genuinely loved testing the waters for what film was capable of, and no one, not even the corporate masters he answered to, was going to tell him otherwise. He was a man of boundless vision, a child in a cinematic toybox, a person driven by ego and pulsing personal joys and for whom his company was a means to immortalize his dreams and nightmares on celluloid for everyone in the world to see. He made films because he wanted to watch them, and after Snow White, he didn’t want to watch another princess story. He was hungry, and having changed things forever, he wanted to do it yet again.
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75th Anniversary Film Favorites: Pinocchio


pinocchioIn honor of their seventy-fifth anniversary in 2015, I present a pair of reviews for my two favorite Disney animated releases, both released in the same year, 1940, and both far more challenging and transformative than any feature film the company has yet released since. The two introductory paragraphs of the reviews are identical or nearly identical, but the meat of the reviews are film-specific.

Fresh off of reinventing cinema with the 1937 release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Walt Disney and his band of merry auteurs certainly made enough money to rest on their laurels and produce what would have assuredly been a hugely successful similar film. Another princess, another band of silly sidekicks, another all-time expressionist cinematic villain, you get the deal. Things would have gone down smoothly, and Disney and friends would have been laughing all the way to the bank. Except for one thing: for all his grubby corporatism and power-hungry megalomania, Walt Disney genuinely loved film, and he genuinely loved testing the waters for what film was capable of, and no one, not even the corporate masters he answered to, was going to tell him otherwise. He was a man of boundless vision, a child in a cinematic toybox, a person driven by ego and pulsing personal joys and for whom his company was a means to immortalize his dreams and nightmares on celluloid for everyone in the world to see. He made films because he wanted to watch them, and after Snow White, he didn’t want to watch another princess story. He was hungry, and having changed things forever, he wanted to do it yet again.
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Stocking Stuffer Reviews: Ernest and Celestine and The Place Beyond the Pines

Ernest and Celestine

Ernest and Celestline is a children’s film, and damn proud of it. Light, frothy, and bolstered by the elegant simplicity of a storybook brought to life by watercolor and sketchbook, it has absolutely no airs, and yet it exists with its head in the clouds. The story is note-perfect in its simplicity: a bear, Ernest, and a mouse, Celestine, are both outcasts – Ernest a poor loner who lives on the outskirts of his society and Celestine a young, seemingly orphaned dreamer who dares to interpret bears through a lens of whimsy rather than fear. The two meet up and form a friendship, become a furry, feral Bonnie and Clyde, and discover a home in the process. Continue reading

Film Favorites: Up

Ratatouille was in love with whimsy and fable and Wall-E with romance, minutiae, and slapstick humanism, but Up is at its proudest when it is having the most fun in the world being itself. It all begins with a boy, Russell (Jordan Nagai) asking curmudgeonly old drag of a man, Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner), to help him earn a merit badge, but it most certainly doesn’t stay there for long. Pixar’s trip through surrealism, Warner Bros’ Bunuel-inspired Wackyland, Road to movies, ’30s adventure serials, and filmic flights of fancy more generally, Up sees the then-world’s most recognized film production company end their residency with practically owning filmic invention in the 2000s by paying tribute to all that allowed them to be what they had been so well and so singularly for fifteen years.
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Film Favorites: Ratatouille

If Ratatouille suffers in any meaningful way, it is simply because it does not redefine the possibilities of cinema like its immediate successor Wall-E, a contender for film of its decade and one of the two greatest American animated films since the original Disney Golden Age (yes, the original Golden Age, the one that ended in roughly 1942 and saw Disney fundamentally reorganize the state of film no less than four times).  That aside, it is an impeccable work, and although I suspect the if is more definitive, that is damning as enormous, transcendental praise.

Brad Bird came to Ratatouille with two films under his belt, the incomparably underrated tribute to ’50s genre cinema The Iron Giant and the morally questionable but zippy and whiplash recreation of American comic book history The Incredibles (if I felt Bird was some sort of radical, subversive genius, I might claim this film a mockery of the rampant elitism and individualist bootstraps twaddle inherent in Superhero lore; they don’t call it America’s Modern Mythos for no reason). Yet, while Brad is not looking to stoke the flames of film technique to redraw the lines of the form, or to indict that which he invests time in to with the fury of a New Wave auteur, what he is absolutely interested in, capable of, and brilliant at, is having fun with classical cinema given to new airs. With Ratatouille, he channels his talents into classical Hollywood fluff and has a grin on his face so big it’s ready to jump of and kiss the audience while he’s doing it. Continue reading

Genre Riff New Wave Animated Edition: Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Long-time coming for the ever-hungry child-in-a-toy-store director that is Robert Zemeckis, Who Framed Roger Rabbit was his repayment for bringing the monstrous box office success of Back to the Future to the screen with pop and pizzaz aplenty. If Back to the Future was a delicious cotton-candy confection with a hidden rambunctiousness filtered into deconstructing space and time, Who Framed Roger Rabbit was Zemeckis’ ultimate tribute to cinema as a visual art form. It’s also the film he’d been building toward, Back to the Future having couched his clear dreamer’s eye technicality in a more subdued package. For, nowadays, when one thinks of Robert Zemeckis, one thinks of technology and advancement, in that order. He’s always been more interested in cinema as a plaything than anything else. It was a means to an end for him. If in recent years this has seen his reach exceed his grasp as he pursued avenues less filmically formed, he never achieved an “end” more loving and lovely than Who Framed Roger Rabbit, his 1988 dissection of genre and reality all curled up in just about the snuggest, most effervescent package you can find.
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Review: Summer of 08: Wall-E

In a nearly dialogue-free sequence blanketed together by long-shots that cut only when absolutely necessary, capturing feeling and physical space with stunning, sparing clarity, we learn just about everything we could possibly need to know about the state of Wall-E‘s world with an awe-inducing elegance that casts its gaze on inspired little moments of action and (mostly) inaction. We are also treated to the finest cinematic homage to bright, feeling, humanist silent cinema snark this side of …well, the heyday of silent cinema.  While Pixar’s follow-up film, Up, pulled out all the stops for a life (or two) in a minute, Wall-E is wonderfully content to just chill and explore its world a little in the most wonderfully non-narrative fashion, invested less in “arc” than in the little visual moments that define character. The opening scenes of the film are, quite literally, just a slice-of-life drama, except there’s nothing alive to be found. There’s just a robot, and his name is Wall-E.

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Review(s): The Adventures of Tintin and Super 8

The Adventures of Tintin

2011 was not a particularly notable year for American film. It did, at the least, however, see the return to action of the modern American director who had done the most to influence modern American directing: Steven Spielberg.  Mostly absent for about six years, with only the middling (but quite honestly entirely competent and occasionally inspired) Indiana Jones 4 to wet his whistle in the middle of that period, 2011 saw Spielberg returning to a tried-and-true formula long known to him, and long successful: releasing two films in one year, one a sentimental, somewhat saccharine historical drama for the middlebrows and the other a big ol’ supped-up children’s adventure for the young’ins who find sentiment just a tad too … respectably suburban for their tastes. December brought us both the arch-Oscarbait of War Horse and the self-conscious Indiana Jones pastiche The Adventures of Tintin, itself most notable, if anything, for being marketed to a distinctly more European audience than a normal blockbuster of such import and backing. Naturally, that’s fitting for the material: a family comic series by Belgian artist Herge centering the youthful adventurer Tintin and his band of merry companions all throughout the racialized, Orientalist world. Continue reading

Review(s): Laika, Part One (Coraline)

It’s an easy thing to see the success of Coraline the film resting squarely on Neil Gaiman’s shoulders. Indeed, his sly storybook writing is the base of the film’s narrative, which sees young Coraline (Dakota Fanning) stuck in the day-to-day doldrums of a dreary, lifeless existence in suburbia. Every detail of narrative is very much Gaiman-esque (which, if not yet coined, most certainly will be soon enough). One day, Coraline finds a portal to another world, alike in some ways but different in many others, as though it was built by the same architect in an altered state. There she meets her “other” parents, alike in every physical detail except one: black buttons sewn in where eyes once were. Emotionally and mentally, however, the new parents are polar opposites. While her old ones are overworked and uninterested, her new mother and father spend every waking moment perfecting Coraline’s world. It’s a dream come true, but young Coraline is about to discover that behind every dream lies a nightmare waiting to burst out. Continue reading

National Cinemas: My Neighbor Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies

When today’s youth approaches the world of Japanese filmmaking, the most ubiquitous name is not Kurosawa, nor Ozu, nor Mizoguchi, but Miyazaki, the marvelous maestro guiding his Stuido Ghibli toward the clouds lifting up human imagination, and particularly childhood emotion, rendered sublime. It’s perhaps fitting that Miyazaki has taken up the mantel, for he combines the best of the past into a whole equal parts grandiose and sweeping (Kurosawa), spiritually elegiac (Ozu), and mournfully mythic (Mizoguchi).  It seems inappropriate to discuss Japanese cinema without him, and it seemed inappropriate to not take the opportunity to review his two most achingly personal, most emotionally pure movies. That the two were released simultaneously in a theatrical double-bill, and that they are linked by so many diegetic features only to be as tonally opposite as any two films ever were, is an all the more fascinating testament to Miyazaki’s exploration of humanity at its most unrestrained and least affected.

My Neighbor Totoro

Jake and DefneMy Neighbor Totoro is at its best when it is at its simplest, which thankfully is every single frame of every single scene in the whole film. It is a deeply streamlined work, lacking superfluous event to the point where it is almost non-narrative in its impression of childhood amazement. The narrative mostly boils down to eight year old Satsuki (Hidaka Noriko) and her, for lack of a better term, adventures in the forest next to her new rural home. Continue reading