20th Century Fox

Space Chimps (2008)

Never pick a fight with an Australian. Lesson. Fucking. Learned.

This one hurt, folks. Space Chimps manages to encapsulate so much of what has gone wrong with 21st century animation that I almost feel like if I burned the DVD all those sins would just evaporate as the spell was lifted. It’s awful, but it’s awful in so many different ways at once that it has inestimable value as a teaching tool. I feel like you could teach an animation course on what not to do based on this movie alone.  This is the first movie by Vanguard Animation that I’ve reviewed on this blog as I’ve not had the unalloyed pleasure of viewing Valiant, Happily N’Ever After or Space Chimps 2: Zartog Strikes Back….

Sorry. When I typed that last one I felt an ice-cold shudder and had to go check that all the doors and windows are locked. Anyway, Vanguard is at the rearguard of modern American animation and was founded by John H. Williams who is, as the DVD cover is quick to remind us, one of the primates who brought us Shrek. And I have one question. What the hell is Shrek? Shrek? Sounds like an Eastern European currency. Boris bought a red cabbage and a bottle of vodka for three shrek.

Highest grossing animated film of all time you say? No, doesn't ring a bell.

Highest grossing animated film of all time you say? No, doesn’t ring a bell.

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Anastasia (1997)

(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images and footage used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material. New to the blog? Start at the start with Snow White.)

I love reading history. I have a copy of Tacitus’ Annals on my bedside table (because I’m just that kind of pretentious prick) and as a modern reader there’s something really bizarre about reading history written in ancient times.
See, you’ll be into a very serious passage about corruption in the Senate or the war against the Parthians (those Parthians, buncha troublemakers I tell ya what) and suddenly ol’ Tacitus will veer off into describing all the dire portents about Nero’s future rule and it’s all dreams of blood, and visions of locusts and more virgins giving birth to two-headed snakes than you know what to do with.
And then he’ll talk about taxes.
As if the previous stuff was just perfectly mundane. But here’s the thing; for Tacitus it was perfectly mundane. Magic and visions and miracles and supernatural powers were just an accepted fact of life back then. And as a modern reader, sure, we might be a bit sceptical but…we kinda just have to accept all that stuff as part of the historical record. Because Tacitus said it happened and he’s our guy on this stuff, you know? You going to call Tacitus a liar? Did you write one of the greatest works of Latin literature, serve in the Senate and later become governor of Asia?
Yeah. That’s what I thought.
Rome

It’s less impressive when you realise that “Asia” was just a chunk of Turkey back then.

Of course, when you start getting into more recent history, magic and mysticism aren’t part of the picture anymore. Or, at least, they’re not supposed to be.
I think that’s the reason I was always fascinated as a kid by Grigory Rasputin. Here was a twentieth century figure who seemed to come from a time when magic was still real. In the early years of the twentieth century, the Russian royal family had their own wizard.
Wizard
That is awesome.
In secondary school I actually did my final year project on Rasputin and the Romanovs and I’m something of a buff on this whole period of Russian history. And that low sound you just heard is all the Anastasia fans (of which there are a great many) in the audience groaning “Oh God. He’s going to pan it.”
And sure. I can get why you might think that. I mean, if I tore Saving Mr Banks a new one because PL Travers was crying for the wrong reason, I’m probably not going to look too kindly on the February Revolution being started by zombie Rasputin. Or am I? Maybe not. Or maybe yes? Ha ha ha ha! Which door do you choose, Anastasia fans?! Which door?!
“Ugh. Is this some kind of joke? I thought you were going to review one of my good films?”

“Ugh. Is this some kind of joke? I thought you were going to review one of my good films?”

“But…everyone loves Anastasia! It’s one of your most critically beloved movies! It made the most money of all of your films!”

“But…everyone loves Anastasia! It’s one of your most critically beloved movies! It made the most money of all of your films!”

“UGH. Yeah. And google it and see what comes up.”

“UGH. Yeah. And google it and see what comes up.”

Ooooh...thats gotta hoirt.

Ooooh…that’s gotta hoirt.

“Fox asked me to make a Disney princess movie. I was desperate for the cash so I sold out. How was I supposed to make a good movie under those circumstances?”

“Fox asked me to make a Disney princess movie. I was desperate for the cash so I sold out. How was I supposed to make a good movie under those circumstances?”

I dunno Don. But I’ve seen where you can go with unfettered creative control and it often involves trolls and penguins with teeth. If it wasn’t for artists just doing it for a paycheck we wouldn’t have I, Claudius, Sherlock Holmes or half of Shakespeare’s stuff. Maybe, just maybe, you managed to make an accidental classic.
So without further ado, let’s take a look at Disney’s Anastasia.
"UGH."

“UGH.”

Sorry. That just slipped out.

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Fantastic Mr Fox (2009)

(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images and footage used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material. New to the blog? Start at the start with Snow White.)

I’ve got a lot of love for Roald Dahl, even if he was a bit of an unpleasant cuss. He taught me how to read, after all. When I was around four or five years old I was taken to Temple Street children’s hospital for one of my periodic lung re-inflations (I had asthma and smog in Dublin in the eighties was so thick you could chip your teeth on it). While waiting to be seen I picked up a copy of The Magic Finger, which I remember being the first book I ever read through from beginning to end. Dahl was huge when I was growing up. He was our JK Rowling. That probably says something about us, but then again, I think it’s often overstated just how violent and horrifying his stories were. I mean, sure, they were violent and horrifying, but it was all a matter of tone. Roald Dahl was like Rebecca Black, he sounded a lot worse than he actually was. A plot description The BFG or The Witches is arguably more horrific than the books themselves. Roald Dahl took horror and made it so ridiculous and luridly over the top that you couldn’t help but laugh at it. In doing so, he made our terrors ridiculous. I think that’s why so many children loved his work, even nervous kids like me. Roald Dahl didn’t make us feel scared. He made us feel brave.

The trouble with adapting Roald Dahl for screen is that, by necessity, you lose the author’s voice and that tone I talked about often goes out the window. That’s how you get something like the 1989 BFG film which, while certainly not bad, is just cussing terrifying. There have been just under a dozen films based on Dahl’s work (not counting his own screenplays like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) and they range in quality from “terrible” to “one of the greatest movie musicals of all time”.
Chocolate

With the same story at both poles, oddly enough.

Today’s movie, Fantastic Mr Fox, is based on Dahl’s 1970 novella of the same name. It’s probably fair to call the book “minor Dahl”, it’s certainly not as well known or beloved as Matilda, BFG or The Witches but I really loved it as a child. It’s a simple enough story, Mr Fox steals poultry from three horrible farmers, said farmers roll up with some serious firepower and blast Mr Fox’s tail off but he gets the last laugh in the end by tunnelling into their farms and stealing all their cuss and throwing a big cuss-off party. Whatever, I really liked it. But as you can probably tell it’s a fairly slight story which honestly is perfect for adaptation. You see, the best Dahl movies are those where someone with their own distinctive voice comes and builds a story around Dahl’s basic framework. And there are few voices in Hollywood as distinctive as Wes Anderson, who’s work is so distinctive that Slate created a Wes Anderson bingo card.
Would you like to play a game?

Would you like to play a game?

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