Gargoyles

Gargoyles: Eye of the Beholder

Okay, let’s get the important business out of the way.
IT HOLDS UP. LIKE, DAMN.
Rewatching Gargoyles for this review I was expecting a sugar rush of nostalgia and maybe a melancholy recognition that it was good for its time but not the masterpiece I remembered from childhood. I did NOT expect to get hooked and embark on an epic binge watch that had me wondering whether I could squeeze in just one more episode at four in the morning.  For those of you who never saw it, and you zygotes who are too young to remember, let me explain what Gargoyles was.
Take the shadowy urban action and moody aesthetic of Batman the Animated Series, add the “team of superhero creatures fighting evil in secret in modern day New York” setup of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, stir in some exceptionally high calibre voice talent, stellar writing and the finest animation Disney had done for TV up to that point, ladle in generous portions of Shakespeare and world mythology and add salt to taste. Boom. You got salty Gargoyles.
By the mid-nineties, there was something of a renaissance in television animation underway as studios moved away from the cheap, thinly disguised toy commercials of the eighties and started to create shows of a higher calibre. I described this in the Ducktales review, and while this renaissance was kickstarted by Disney, by the mid-nineties their TV output had in many ways been surpassed by rivals Warner Brothers, who had brought the thunder with such classic shows as Tiny Toons, Animanaics and of course Batman the Animated Series. This last one is the most relevant because Gargoyles is very much an attempt to beat Warner Bros at their own game and create their own BTAS. This led to some bad blood between the two shows, with Batman creator Bruce Timm dismissing gargoyles as “namby pamby…with all that Celtic fantasy crap.”
"Hi. Mr Timm? Unshaved Mouse. Huge fan. Go fuck a stoat."

“Hi. Mr Timm? Unshaved Mouse. Huge fan. Go fuck a stoat.”

Which of the two series is better was a subject of fierce debate when I was growing up but having re-watched both I have come to the profoundly unsatisfying conclusion that they were both superior in different ways. Batman pushed the envelope of what was possible in kid’s animation artistically. In its Art Deco style, its mood, and its use of shadows and camera angles it’s hands down the more visually arresting show. But, while Gargoyles might look a little generic compared to Batman, I think the former beats the latter in terms of narrative ambition. Remember, Batman had a cast of characters that had been part of pop culture’s consciousness for almost sixty years at that point, but Gargoyles creates a new cast of characters, mythology and history out of whole cloth and uses them to tell a story with a depth and scope that hadn’t been seen in children’s animation in the West up to that point. The characterisation is also phenomenal. While at first glance the gargoyles are stock character types, peel them and you’ll find the layers have layers. And that’s not even getting into the villains. Most cartoons are extremely lucky if they can boast one of the all-time great cartoon villains. Gargoyles has at least four.
So what’s our premise? Well, in 10th century Scotland Castle Wyvern is guarded by a clan of gargoyles. Stone by day, big scary demonic lookin’ bastards by night. The gargoyles are led by Goliath (Keith Motherfucking David at his Keith Motherfucking Davidist). The gargoyles have lived in peace with Castle Wyvern’s human inhabitants for years, but they’re still distrusted by them because this is the dark ages and they look like the devil. The gargoyles get caught up in a load of court intrigue and betrayal and counter betrayal complicated enough for an entire series of Game of Thrones and the upshot is that Goliath comes back from patrol to discover that almost his entire clan was smashed to pieces by humans while they slept during the day. Only seven of the Castle Wyvern clan survived and they were placed under a spell by a vengeful wizard who thought they had killed someone who they actually hadn’t killed long story. The spell caused the gargoyles to turn to stone and stay that way, day and night, forever. The only way the spell could be broken would be if Castle Wyvern were “raised above the clouds” and if you’re getting a real “til Birnham Wood come to Dunsinane” vibe off this then that’s entirely intentional. This series could not be more indebted to MacBeth if they made MacBeth a character on the show which by the way they totally did.
"My friends call me Scottish Play."

“My friends call me Scottish Play.”

Anyway, flashforward a thousand years and David Xanatos (Jonathan Frakes), billionaire playboy philanthropist has Castle Wyvern disassembled, and rebuilt, brick by brick, at the top of his Manhattan skyscraper just to see what would happen. The spell is broken and Goliath and his surviving clan of gargoyles become the defenders of New York from all threats both human and supernatural.

I went back and forth over just how to approach this review. At first, I was going to do a general review of the whole series before remembering that there were 65 GODDAMN episodes.

Kitty

And that’s not even counting the third season that never happened and which we shall never speak of again.

I then thought about reviewing one of the story arcs like “The World Tour” or  “City of Stone”. But “City of Stone” focuses more on two side characters than the main Gargoyles and also there’s a lot of flashback stuff that would get really confusing and probably be boring to read. And as for “Word Tour”,  I had (again) forgotten that Goliath and Eliza were putzing around on that damn boat for nineteen episodes so once again…

Kitty

So finally, with the deadline approaching like an oncoming walrus on a bobsled I decide to just review one single episode which I think encapsulates the things that I most loved about this show.

lAZY MAN
That episode is Season 2’s “Eye of the Beholder.”
Let’s take a look.

(more…)

Steamboat_Willie

Steamboat Willie (1928)

When talking about Steamboat Willie it’s almost more important to talk about what it’s not than what it is, as so many myths have sprung up about these seven minutes of animation. So, for the record Steamboat Willie is not:

  • The first Mickey Mouse cartoon.
  • The first Walt Disney cartoon.
  • The first cartoon to feature sound.

Willie’s real claim to fame is a little less sexy. It’s the first cartoon to use fully integrated sound and visuals, where the sound and pictures were recorded on the same film. There were other cartoons that used sound and music before this, but that basically involved playing the movie and the music on two separate tracks and hoping that they’d keep in sync like Wizard of Oz and Dark Side of the Moon. It doesn’t sound like it should make a huge difference but it really does. Take a look at Inkwell’s My Old Kentucky Home from 1926.

Wow, second sentence. You are so out of date in so many different ways that its almost impressive.

Wow, second sentence. You are so out of date in so many different ways that its almost impressive.

Now take a look at Steamboat Willie.

Synchronisation completely changes how you experience the cartoon. When you’re watching My Old Kentucky Home your brain thinks “I’m watching the dog move his mouth while a recording plays.” When you watchSteamboat Willie your brain thinks “The mouse is whistling.” With this marriage of sound and image all the elements are finally in place. This film, rough, scratchy and monochrome though it may be, is nonetheless the first modern cartoon.
Steamboat Willie was a sensation when it was released, making household names of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse. And of course it also made a star out of Ub Iwerks who actually animated the damn thing…
Homer Laughing
Sorry Ub. To quote another Disney character, “Life’s not fair, is it?”
But, aside from its monumental historical and technical influence is Steamboat Willie any…y’know…good? Well, it’s probably not the best work of any of the people involved. And it certainly doesn’t fill me with the wonder of Winsor McCay’s shorts of almost twenty years prior. But it’s not without its charms. If Disney’s new series of Mickey Mouse shorts have taught me anything it’s just how deceptively versatile and charming the original Mickey Mouse design is. And there are some scenes, like Minnie running alongside the boat, that are actually quite technically challenging and impressive. But we will never really be able to understand the impact this short had on its original audience. We’ve spent our entire lives so immersed in sound and images that we’ve lost that innocence.
Our minds literally cannot conceive of how jaw-dropping this little short about a mouse goofing off on a boat must have been.
***
Unshaved Mouse has been shortlisted for best Film and TV blog at the Blog Awards Ireland 2016. Please click on the link below to vote for Mouse!
Littlewoods-Blog-Awards-2016-Website-MPU_Vote-Now
Nothing! Nothing.  Sorry. Jesus. Never.... uh.... nevermind. You go about... I mean, I'll go... good to see you.

Frog Reviews – Suicide Squad

Well, well, well. What have we here?

Huh? Me?

                                      Huh? Me? 

No, not you, Sandy Claws. Me. Frog. I’m reviewing films now for my old partner in crime (not real crime, though – just the kind against theatre, and even then they were more misdemeanours)  Unshaved Mouse.

I’ll be posting probably about once a week with a new rant / rave (likely rant) about the most recent film what I saw. I’m new to the blogging world, so let’s all go on a journey through my damaged psyche, because the first film  I viewed for you lovely internet-people was… well…

(more…)

Winsor McCay, the Famous Cartoonist of the N.Y. Herald and His Moving Comics (1911)

If you ever want to earn yourself some serious animation nerd cred, the next time someone asks you who your favourite animator is, fix them with a steely gaze, whisper the words “Winsor McCay”, drop the mike and then moonwalk out of the room.

 

I carry a mike around with me at all times for just such an eventuality.

I carry a mike around with me at all times for just such an eventuality.

 McCay is not a household name, but he is almost certainly one of the greatest animators of all time, one of the two most influential animators of all time and most amazingly of all, possibly the first animator of all time. Okay, obviously, we will never know who was actually the first animator. Probably the first kid in class who realised that with a little doodling in the edges of your copybook you could make it look like your teacher was being eaten by velociraptors. But to start this decade by decade look at animated shorts I need a big, flashy, incandescent Big Bang and by God, McCay fits the bill.

McCay was a celebrated cartoonist probably most famous for the Little Nemo comic strip, which combined incredible detail with gorgeous, trippy surrealism.

Look at this

Inspired by the flip books that his son brought home one day, he decided to create an animated version of Little Nemo, drawing four thousand rice paper cels by hand and  pioneering many animation techniques on the fly, all while carrying on with his regular comic strip work. That’s right. He virtually invented modern animation. He did it single-handedly. And he did it in his spare time. Today’s short is Winsor McCay, the Famous Cartoonist of the N.Y. Herald and His Moving Comics and because it’s public domain and up on You Tube, we can all watch it together. Great, right? We never do stuff together any more.

 

So the movie begins before animation has been invented which is why it’s in live action (joking, joking, I know about Blackton and Cohl, I can read Wikipedia too). Winsor McKay is betting his fellow artists that he can create a comic strip that moves. And can I just point out how insanely lucrative newspapers used to be? Those tony-looking motherfuckers with their fancy suits and monocles and brandy and cigars aren’t newspaper owners, they aren’t even journalists. They are COMIC STRIP ARTISTS. That’s how much money was in the newspaper business in the nineteen tens. I mean, look at these guys! They don’t look like artists, they look like the guys who owned the fleets that hunted the blue whale to the brink of extinction! Anyway, they of course scoff and mock his idea and presumably tell him to try something more sensible like circumnavigating the globe in eighty days. This is a recurring plot in McCay’s cartoons incidentally, which could be titled Watch My Idiot Friends Lose Money by Betting Against Me, Winsor Goddamn McKcay. 

Undeterred, McCay draws one of his characters, the Little Imp, to show his friends how this whole “animation” thing is going to work.

"I shall begin with racism, gentlemen, as this is 1911 after all." "Of course!" "Quite right."

“I shall begin with racism, gentlemen, as this is 1911 after all.”
“Of course!”
“Quite right.”

One of the things you notice watching the live action scenes is that compared to a modern film the pacing is absolutely glacial. When McCay draws Little Imp, you see him draw the entire thing from start to finish, no cuts, no edits. We’re talking about a period where film is so new and exciting that even watching something as mundane as a man drawing a picture is fascinating in and of itself. You’d watch it because you most likely had never seen that before. Anyway, McCay bets his friends that he will draw 4,000 images in one month and make them move. I especially love the moment where one of McCay’s friends tries to leave and he literally pushes him back down in his chair.

"Oh, Im sorry, is my INVENTING A NEW ARTFORM BORING YOU SIT YOUR ASS DOWN!"

“Oh, I’m sorry, is my INVENTING A NEW ARTFORM BORING YOU SIT YOUR ASS DOWN!”

 We now get a sequence of delivery men bringing barrels of ink and massive slabs of paper to McCay’s office and I honestly don’t know if that’s supposed to be a joke or an accurate representation of the material that was required. McCay directs them as they bring it while wearing a fedora and smoking a cigar like a goddamn Ink Mobster. There’s some pretty unfunny business with Winsor’s son knocking over a huge pile of papers and the middle of the film drags pretty hard once you’ve gotten over the culture shock of watching people from over a century ago. But at last, McCay unveils his animation. And it is…

"No words. Should have sent a poet."

“No words. Should have sent a poet.”

Chuck Jones described Winsor McCay thusly, as if the first living creature to emerge on Earth was Albert Einstein, and the next was an amoeba. He’s like the Antikythera mechanism, something that should not exist as early in history as it does. He’s the first to do this, or close enough, so he doesn’t know what you’re not supposed to be able to do. He doesn’t know that you have to keep the character models simple. He doesn’t know that you’re supposed to keep the perspective unchanged and flat. When he swings the “camera” around to show an incredible, meticulously detailed dragon from the side, the front and then the rear before it slouches off into the distance he doesn’t know that you’re not supposed to be able to do that. There is no story, not really. It’s simply characters coming to life and exulting in their existence and creating new characters to play with. It’s dreamlike, and surreal, and moves with a grace and fluidity that most animators living today will never be able to match. The Titanic was being built when Winsor McCay created this, single handed. It wouldn’t be until the eve of the Second World War that Walt Disney, with a team of dozens of the most talented animators in the world and a budget of over a million dollars, would be able to create animation that rivals it. It’s beautiful. It’s amazing. It breaks my goddamn heart.

Jones went on to say that the two most important names in animation were Walt Disney and Winsor McCay and that he honestly didn’t know whose name should go first. Walt himself might have bowed out of that contest. When McCay’s son visited the Disney studios in the fifties Walt gave him the tour and told him “Bob, all this should be your father’s.”

***

Unshaved Mouse has been shortlisted for best Film and TV blog at the Blog Awards Ireland 2016. Please click on the link below to vote for Mouse!

Littlewoods-Blog-Awards-2016-Website-MPU_Vote-Now

Who reviews short shorts? Mouse reviews short shorts!

So once again those cunning bastards at the Blog Awards Ireland have thwarted my plans and caught me flat footed. The shortlist has been announced (that flew in, didn’t it?) and I’m happy to announce that Unshaved Mouse has escaped the cull once more.
DATA
Here’s where I’ve been thrown all afluster. The voting actually starts today and will only run for ONE WEEK. Which, fine, it’s great that I don’t have to keep hassling you guys to vote cos honestly I hate doing that but it also means that now I have to unveil that big project I was talking about for September.
So I am hereby announcing pause for dramatic effect…
SHORTSTEMBER (now in August)!
Yeah, so while I’ve reviewed my fair share of animation on this blog it’s all been feature length animation or occasionally a TV episode or two. But some of the most important, iconic and groundbreaking work in the field was done in short subjects. Why have I never reviewed shorts before now?
Idiiot
Anyway every week I will be (hopefully) posting a mini review of a short animation, starting in the 1910’s and working my way forward a decade at a time until we get to the 2010’s. We’ll see how it goes, honestly, my jaw is already starting to pre-emptively ache from having bitten off more than I can chew with this one. Anyway, hope you enjoy and I’ll be posting a link so you can vote as soon as I can. First up? We’re going old school.
Nemo

News round up!

Hey everyone! Great to be back, I missed you. Couple of news items to get through so let’s crack on.

Unshaved Mouse has been longlisted for the Blog Awards Ireland 2016.

DATA

This means that I will be (hopefully) by doing a new limited series of mini reviews, one post every two days throughout September (if I live). More details closer to the time.

Unshaved Mouse is now four years old and wears big boy pants.

Big thanks to everyone who’s stuck with me for the last four years. You guys rock and without your support I doubt very much I would have stuck with it this long. Four years is a long time. But do you know what’s also a long time? Two weeks. Two weeks is a hell of a long time to wait between reviews and so I’ve decided to do something about it. Which is why…drumroll please, I’d like to introduce you to the blog’s new movie reviewer!

Announcing the Bald Frog reviews!

So my good buddy Finbarr Doyle, playwright, actor and owner of an unlimited Cineworld membership is going to be doing regular reviews of new movie releases, meaning that the blog will no longer be a barren wasteland thirteen days out of every fourteen. Give him a warm welcome. He’ll be favouring us with his wit, his artistic insight and inchoate rage starting next week.

frog

“You’re welcome, plebs.”

(And, as always, thanks to Julie Android for the awesome artwork.)

movie_poster_zootopia_866a1bf2

Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse #55: Zootopia/Zootropolis

 

"Mr Disney? There's a Mr Chernabog here to see you?"

“Mr Disney? There’s someone here to see you?”

"What? But the world thinks I've been dead since the sixties, who even knows I still work here?"

“What? But the world thinks I’ve been dead since the sixties, who even knows I still work here?”

"He said his name was Mr Chernabog?"

“He said his name was Mr Chernabog?”

"CRAP. Tell him I can't see him."

“CRAP. Tell him I can’t see him.”

"I would sir, but I'm not really here. I'm just a hallucination caused by your black-magic addled mind."

“I would sir, but I’m not really here. I’m just a hallucination caused by your black-magic addled mind.”

"DISSSSSSSNEY I WOULD HAVE WORDSSSS WITH THEE."

“DISSSSSSSNEY I WOULD HAVE WORDSSSS WITH THEE.”

"Cherny! C-Train! As the world Cherns! How the fuck are you?"

“Cherny! C-Train! As the world Cherns! How the fuck are you?”

"YOU HAVE BETRAYED ME, SSSSSORCEROR. AND THE LORD OF BALD MOUNTAIN KNOWSSS NOT OF MERCY."

“YOU HAVE BETRAYED ME, SSSSSORCEROR. AND THE LORD OF BALD MOUNTAIN KNOWSSS NOT OF MERCY.”

"Whoah! Hey! Walter Elias Disney is a man of his word, so how bout you settle down and tell me what this is all about?"

“Whoah! Hey! Walter Elias Disney is a man of his word, so how ’bout you settle down and tell me what this is all about?”

"WE HAD A PACT, YOU AND I. I GAVE YOU IMMORTALITY AND IN RETURN YOU AGREED TO CREATE FOR ME AN ARMY OF THE MOST DEPRAVED, HELLISH CREATURES EVER TO WALK THE EARTH."

“WE HAD A PACT, YOU AND I. I GAVE YOU IMMORTALITY AND IN RETURN YOU AGREED TO CREATE FOR ME AN ARMY OF THE MOSSSSSST DEPRAVED, HELLISSSSSH CREATURESSSS EVER TO WALK THE EARTH.”

"What? Furries?"

“What? Furries?”

"I MUSSST HAVE MORE FURRRIESSS! MORE! THE CROP GROWSSS THIN! THE CROPS GROWSSSS THIN!"

“I MUSSST HAVE MORE FURRIESSS! MORE! THE CROP GROWSSS THIN! THE CROPS GROWSSSS THIN!”

"What are you talking about? We made Robin Hood!"

“What are you talking about? I made Robin Hood! That should have kept you balls deep in furries for years!”

"THAT WASSSS OVER FORTY YEARSSSSS AGO!"

“THAT WASSSS OVER FORTY YEARSSSSS AGO!”

"Fuck. My. Ass. Yikes, sorry. My bad. I'll get right on that."

“Fuck. My. Ass. Yikes, sorry. My bad. I’ll get right on that.”

"BE WARNED! IF I DO NOT RECEIVE AN ARMY OF FURRIESSSS BEYOND RECKONING I SHALL EAT..."

“BE WARNED! IF I DO NOT RECEIVE AN ARMY OF FURRIESSSS BEYOND RECKONING I SHALL EAT…”

"Eat my soul, yeah, got it. Laurie? Get on the phone to the boys in animation and tell them we need a movie so chock full of furry bait that half the country will be yiffing by Christmas."

“Eat my soul, yeah, got it. Laurie? Get on the phone to the boys in animation and tell them we need a movie so chock full of furry bait that half the country will be yiffing by Christmas.”

"I already told you, I'm not really here!"

“I already told you, I’m not really here!”

"Just do it woman!"

“Just do it woman!”

***

Some blogs might tell you that Zootopia/Zootropolis came about as part of an ongoing effort by Disney to address the more troubling and regressive aspects of their legacy and take on a pressing real world issue. But only I will tell you the truth, namely that it was part of a desperate ploy to pay off a faustian bargain made by immortal warlock Walt Disney by creating an army of furries for a demonic lord of evil. That is why, after all, the people come to Unshaved Mouse.

But first of all, let’s talk about the elephant in the room.

Not that one.

Sit down, Francine.

Namely, why the hell is this called “Zootropolis” on my side of the pond? Well, Disney haven’t actually given a reason for the name change. One possibility of course is that, as sophisticated Europeans, we would know that any utopia, even a zootopia, is impossible in an imperfect world and refuse to see the movie purely on the grounds of philosophical consistency. Also, there’s the fact that a zoo called “Zootopia” is opening in Denmark soon and maybe Disney’s lawyers didn’t want the hassle. Who can say?

Anyway, if you read this blog you’re probably aware that Disney have been on one hell of a hot streak for the last few years, producing movies that are both critically lauded and hugely successful. That in and of itself is nothing new, the Disney canon goes through peaks and troughs and this is just one peak of many. But one thing that is different this time around is that Disney is more and more comfortable making movies that actually have something relevant to say about the world. I once called Walt Disney the most apolitical American artist of the twentieth century. His movies were beautiful, funny and charming but they almost never had any kind of political message or agenda beyond the most broad “be nice, everybody” kind of sentiment. They were meant to appeal to the broadest audience possible in their own time which in practice meant that they were very conservative and very, very white.

Fast forward to today. In my review of Princess and the Frog I called the current era of the Disney canon “The Redemption Era”. Unlike the Lost Era that preceded it, where Disney was trying to definitively break with the past, new types of story, new styles, new animation techniques, the Redemption Era wears its classic influences with pride. It loves and respects the canon. But it is not blind to its flaws, either. The Redemption Era is a Beatles fan who has every album but never forgets that John Lennon beat his wife. It doesn’t simply ignore the more troubling aspects of the Disney canon but makes challenging them a core part of its identity, whether that’s doing a Restoration Era fairy tale with an all-minority main cast or a Renaissance Era musical where the princess doesn’t marry a prince at the end.  Zootopia takes this to a new level. Regular commenter Kahnamanko called it the most topical and socially relevant movie Disney has made since their World War 2 propaganda shorts and I think that’s probably true. But does that make it a good movie? Does the simple fact that it’s willing to tackle such a pressing and hot-button issue as racism make it a classic that will stand the test of time? Let me answer that question with a question, do you feel a burning desire to watch any of the following movies; Brokeback Mountain, Philadelphia, Crash or Lions for Lambs? Yeah, didn’t think so. Movies that directly address the great issues of the day are often very worthy endeavours but they rarely end up being particularly beloved movies. Does Zootopia defy the odds? Let’s take a look.

***
(more…)

The Devil’s Heir-Chapter 15

CHAPTER 15: THE LORD’S PROPHECY

A Deva, a human being who has crossed over body and soul to the afterlife, is a hardy creature. He or she will not age, will not succumb to disease and does not need to eat or drink. They do sleep, but less than when they were alive, and when they do they do not dream.

And yet, they can die. A Deva whose skin is pierced will bleed the white/pink sand that fills them. This is the remains of their bones, organs and bodily fluids that were compacted when the body and the soul fused at the crossing over. And once it has bled from them, the Deva dies. Finally. Totally. There is no after-afterlife. Those who die in Heaven, Hell or Purgatory cross into the final realm, from which even angels cannot return. The final night, that no dawn shall ever pale. They say that those who go there linger for a few brief moments over everything, and can see the whole infinity of creation, the endless lattice of light and dark, the Yoli-awhey and Goli-awhey snaking and curling and cascading over and around and through each other. It is said that from that cold perch, far above all that is, they finally know a true wisdom, one beyond the knowledge of angels and devils, even of Yol and Gol themselves. And with a sad smile, they nod, and turn to face the final night, and pass away to shadow.

  (more…)