Nope. Not gonna do it. Not gonna watch it. Not gonna blog about it. Not gonna contribute to THE DISCOURSE. Not, in short, gonna give the bastards the satisfaction.
Here is what I am going to do. I am going to talk about my new boo.
Redline, a 2009 animé movie released by Madhouse, instantly became one of my all time favourite animations and it didn’t even break a sweat doing it. Which is not to say that it’s one of my favourite movies, necessarily, but as a perfect sugar rush high of the purest joy animation can deliver I struggle to think of its equal. This thing took 7 years to make, comprising 100,000 cels of some of the most gorgeously detailed hand-drawn animation I’ve ever seen.
The movie is the debut feature of animator Takeshi Koike, whose Animatrix short World Record I reviewed a few weeks ago (all part of my cunning plan). But what is this “Red Line”, you ask. What’s it all about, eh?
Okay, so take 2000 AD comics, the works of Jack Kirby and Moebius, Mad Max and pretty much every Franco-Japanese Saturday Morning cartoon from the eighties and put them in a blender. Take enough LSD to turn into a pineapple and serve. That’s Redline. It is AWESOME. If I had seen this when I was ten years old I might have actually died from excitement.
In a sparring programme, Captain Thadeus of the Zion hovercraft Osiris and his first mate (in more ways than one) Juen swordfight while blindfolded. This doesn’t, as you might expect, result in horrific injuries but instead with them just getting progressively more naked.
They’re interrupted when the Osiris comes across an army of half a million machine sentinels and a big fuck-off drill, burrowing into the Earth’s crust right over Zion, the last human city. Rushing to warn Zion, the Osiris flees the pursuing sentinels. Juen volunteers to enter the Matrix leave a message in a dropbox. The sentinels overpower the Osiris but Juen manages to relay the message before the ship is destroyed and she drops dead.
How was it?
Probaby the least “animé” of all the shorts, this one feels most of a piece with the original trilogy. Everything from the score to the colour scheme to the dialogue feels like it could just slot very neatly into the films. One thing I really admired about the Wachowskis was their commitment that everything mattered. There was no “expanded universe”, every part (whether film, short film or computer game) was equally canon. Sure, you don’t have to see Osiris to make sense of Matrix Reloaded but if you have seen it you’re never in any doubt that it happened in this universe. The events here are referenced and are always consistent with the rest of the franchise. I like that. The animation was some of the most jaw dropping CGI I had ever seen in 2003 and in 2022 it holds up amazingly well. Sure, the sword striptease might seem like shameless pandering (and it is) but it’s also a demonstration of technical power. The flesh of these characters moves realistically and organically, these bodies tense and flex and sweat organically. It’s mighty impressive today. Twenty years ago it was bloody witchcraft.
It’s light on story, lighter on dialogue and pretty insubstantial. But as a visually stunning, slick little thriller it gets the job done.
Well, okay, it’s not. But it used to be. In those weird few years surrounding the turn of the millennium the Matrix was an absolute phenomenon, genuinely one of the most influential movie franchises of all time. In fact, I’d argue that it was a victim of its own success. Its aesthetic was so instantly iconic and easily replicable that it quickly became cliché. Movies don’t look like the Matrix anymore because so many movies released around that time aped its look and suddenly it wasn’t cool anymore. And make no mistake, the Matrix was all about being cool. Less a story than a vibe.
No, that’s not fair. The Matrix’s intellectual depth may have been exaggerated but if you’d never heard of Descartes it could and did give an entry point into various philosophical ideas. Its language and concepts have filtered into our discourse (red pills, bread pills) and has gone on to inspire many a modern science fiction writer (DID I MENTION RECENTLY I WROTE A BOOK?). It’s a damn impressive legacy for a series that, if we’re brutally honest, consisted of one good (if by no means flawless) film, two mediocre sequels and a filmed cry for help.
Oh, and it also gave us the subject of this years Shortstember, the Animatrix. This is an anthology series that came about when the Wachowskis visited Japan to promote the first Matrix and visited some of the animé studios that had been such a huge influence on their work. They then commissioned those studios to create nine short films set in the world they had created, which were then released on DVD and on online to promote the second film, Matrix Reloaded. For something basically created as an advertisement for another movie, The Animatrix went on to become the most critically acclaimed part of this entire franchise with the exception of the original film.
So join me this Shortstember as we review the Animatrix. Which ones are good, which ones are bad, and which ones are like wiping your arse with silk.
Milligan: Ohhh yes! If we build this mountain on England, England would sink under the weight.
Seagoon: Sink? In that case, this mountain would be invaluable, people could climb up the side and save themselves from drowning!
Milligan: Mercy, you’re right. Hurry and build it, before we all drown!
The Goon Show: “The Greatest Mountain in the World” (1954)
Alright, let’s just dispense with the usual dancing around.
Encanto is great. It’s a great piece of animation. It’s an excellent musical and it’s without a doubt my favourite canon movie in a long-ass time. It’s walking out of here with a good grade, don’t nobody worry ’bout that.
I have to confess that what really fascinates me about Encanto is how it keeps making the most basic, obvious mistakes in screen-writing you can imagine (trying to build a mountain that will cause the country to sink), and instead of just fixing them in a sensible way (just not building the mountain) by doubling down and solving those problems in the most ridiculously over the top way possible (actually building the mountain). And it works.
The best example of this is the first song Welcome to the Family Madrigal.
There are twelve named speaking Madrigal characters, all with unique personalities, powers and familial relationships to keep track of. That is, quite frankly, bananas and any sensible screenwriter would have gone through the cast with a machete looking for who could be cut.
Way I see it, for this story you need Mirabelle, two older siblings to establish the pattern that Mirabelle broke by not getting a gift, and then a younger sibling to get a gift to show that Mirabelle really was a fluke. You need Abuela, obviously, Bruno and Julietta. Augustine doesn’t need to be there and Pepa’s entire family is extraneous. And yes, obviously, that would really suck to lose those characters but that would be the sensible choice. The sane choice. But that would not be the Encanto choice.
Encanto instead decides that it’s going to have an opening song flat out admitting “yes, our cast is far too big and complicated and our premise is weird and clunky so here is a song to help you remember”. It shouldn’t work. It really shouldn’t work. But simply by dint that it is a phenomenal song it does. They built the goddamn mountain.
Going in, there were more red flags than a China versus Vietnam World Cup Final. A straight-to-DVD CGI movie I’d never heard of from a studio I’d never heard of helmed by one of the directors of Shark Tale? Yeah, let’s just say I went into this in full Anton Ego mode.
But I dug a little deeper and I started seeing a few green shoots of hope. For you see, director Bibo Bergeron (of, I believe, the Sackville Bergerons) is not just the co-director of Shark’s Tale. As an animator he worked on Fievel Goes West, A Goofy Movie and The Iron Giantwhich is a pretty damned impressive filmography before you even factor in that he co-directed The Road to El Dorado!
Why, it was only last January that I was telling you all how there was a new Covid Variant which was causing our local school and créche to close, meaning I had to mind the kids all day, which meant I was getting absolutely no writing done. And now, look how far we’ve come!
The FUCKING variant has a FUCKING different NAME.
OH BRAVE NEW WORLD.
Anyway. Yeah. Shorter review than usual. Not my fault. I wish this virus was a person so I could punch it in the dick, yadda yadda yadda.
Back in my review for Roller Coaster Rabbit I called Steven Spielberg the “Forrest Gump of American Animation”. Pick any seminal development in the history of the medium over the past forty years or so and chances are Spielberg is involved somehow, showing LBJ his ass. But the problem with history is that a lot of it is really, really, really sad and few things ring a tear from my dusty old eye ducts like the collapse of traditional hand-drawn animation in the face of CGI like a proud old Mesomamerican Empire succumbing to hordes of plastic-faced, eyebrow-raised, pop culture spouting Spaniards. Perhaps the earliest death-knell of the hand-drawn animated feature was heard all the way back in 1995, ostensibly when the Disney Renaissance was still going strong. Balto, the third and (as it would prove to be) final film produced by Spielberg’s Amblimation studio was one of the biggest box office flops of the year, tanking so hard that Amblimation closed as an animation studio and now lives in quiet seclusion as a Self-Storage company based in Acton. Because, well, let’s just say 1995 was a bad year to be competing in the market of feature length animation.
This was the first of many high profile examples of hand-drawn animation competing and failing against CGI movies which ultimately led to the near extinction of traditional hand-drawn feature animation, at least in America. But I think Balto’s failure can’t just be attributed to its unfortunate status as the first notch in CGI’s gun barrel. For starters, I know for a fact that I actively avoided this film. See, from the moment The Little Mermaid lit the touch paper, every studio in Hollywood had been trying to cash in on Disney’s success with their own Disney-esque movies. And I steered clear of them because Disney inculcates brand loyalty like a psychotic mother stroking her child’s hair and whispering “no one shall ever love you as I do, little one, least of all whatever whore you end up marrying”. In my defence though, most of the wannabe Disneys were god-awful and the more “Disney-like” they tried to be, the worse they tended to turn out. And Balto, even from a cursory look at the poster, wants to be Disney so, so hard it’s honestly a little sad. So I think that many people, like myself, had learned to distrust non-Disney movies that were clearly trying to be Disney movies. For as wise Mr Beaver once said: “if you meet anything that’s going to be Disney but isn’t yet, or used to be Disney once and isn’t now, or ought to be Disney but isn’t, you keep your eyes on it and get ready to leave a bad review on Rotten Tomatoes”.
As unexpected as the movie’s initial failure was its equally remarkable afterlife. Its home video sales were robust enough to spawn two sequels, meaning that there was definitely an audience for this film, just not one willing to go out in public to watch it. Which I find inexplicable.
I know, I know, I know I said I’d do Black Widow. But that was before I realised a couple of very important things:
Not doing a horror themed post on Halloween is super lame.
In the 1980s Toei animation did two animé movies based on Marvel’s versions of Dracula and Frankenstein.
One of these movies is regarded as one of the worst animé ever made, which, as you can imagine, is a title with competition that is not merely “stiff” but positively turgid.
Both of these movies are just sitting on YouTube, misshapen shambling things made and then abandoned by their creators to the cruelties of an uncaring world like…someone…I can’t think of a good analogy right now.
I mean c’mon! A crappy animated Marvel Bats versus Bolts on Halloween? How could I not?! I was BORN for this post. Seriously, this is what it’s all been leading to. My magnum opus. My masterpiece.
Our story begins in the late seventies when Toei Animation acquired the rights to the Marvel comics horror series Tomb of Dracula and Monster of Frankenstein. Now, I know what you’re thinking: Who the hell buys the rights to a property based on Dracula or Frankenstein? That’s like paying for a Pornhub Account. They’re public domain for chrissakes! Why not just do your own version of the characters? Well, friends, you’re missing a crucial piece of relevant context, namely that Tomb of Dracula and Monster of Frankenstein were the mutt’s nuts. TOD in particular was one of the very best comics produced by Marvel in the seventies, with one of the all time great portrayals of the Count in any medium. From this acquisition came today’s movies Dracula: Sovereign of the Damned and Kyōfu Densetsu Kaiki! Frankenstein. They are…my God. Words fail me…
These movies are special. They are dear to me. Come, come.
Can we just take a minute to appreciate how deeply weird DuckTalesis? How would you even explain that show to someone who’d never heard of it?
“Richie Rich if he was an old duck?” That’s not even a premise, that’s a meaningless Mad Lib. And yet, DuckTales was a massive, massive deal. It ran for one hundred episodes, kickstarted the modern era of high quality TV animation and spawned a veritable multimedia empire. What gives? How did a show with such a weird, clunky premise achieve that kind of success? I think it comes down to a few different factors:
Carl Barks was given a job drawing funny little Donald Duck cartoons and decided to use that opportunity to write the Great American Novel. His duck universe cartoons were used as the basis of DuckTales and that’s some damn strong source material.
Mark Mueller’stheme song is so insanely catchy that I can just type “Ducktales!” and your brain has already gone “Woo hoo!”
Scrooge McDuck is basically the Doctor.
Here’s what I mean. The reason Doctor Who has lasted so long is that it’s an inexhaustible premise. There is an alien with a box that can go anywhere in time and space. You will never run out of stories to tell with that setup. In the same way, Scrooge McDuck has something almost as powerful as a Tardis: A metric shit-ton of money.
And this is why the show was able to run for 100 episodes. Scrooge is so rich he can basically buy his way in to any genre you can think of. Over the run they did space-opera, western, time travel, romance, pulp adventure, giant mech battles, horror. That’s the beauty of Scrooge McDuck; he’s a strongly defined character who nonetheless can slot into almost any kind of story. Case in point: the time they made him a superhero.
Right, so in Season 3 Scrooge gets so sick of the lying or “fake” news media making people think that the gold-loving billionaire is a bad guy so he decides to become a vigilante and wooooooow this hits different in 2021. Anyway, in order to improve his public image he becomes a superhero called the Masked Mallard.
Okay, fast forward a year after DuckTales ended and Disney are prepping a new reboot of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show only to discover that they don’t actually own the rights to Rocky and Bullwinkle.
So a hasty, last minute replacement had to be found and they decided on expanding the Masked Mallard concept into its own TV show. The Mallard was re-worked into “Darkwing Duck”, a fedora wearing, cloaked, nocturnal crime-fighter clearly modelled on…
And so, as the first stop on our look at Disney cartoon animation for Shortstember, I’ll be doing mini reviews of four episodes of this childhood classic. Let’s get dangerous.
Before we get into the review, I want to address something. Certain commenters (who shall, by virtue of me being the bigger mouse, remain nameless) stated in my last review that I have been “negative” and “harsh” on the Disney canon of late.
Let’s call this out for what it is: VICTIM BLAMING.
It’s a pernicious practice, and I will not tolerate it particularly if I’m the victim. Have I been harsh on Disney recently? Scathing? Even cruel? Yes. But who threw the first punch?
Raya is a historically significant film and definitely represents a demarcation point in the history of the canon. This is, after all, the first canon movie to go straight to streaming (although it did receive a restricted theatrical run). It also, to me, represents the irrevocable “shrinking” of movies. There are no big releases any more, there are no big unifying cultural moments. A few years ago I remember walking home one night and hearing a group of girls on the other side of the road spontaneously bursting into a chorus of “Let it Go” but it kinda feels like that kind of culturally ubiquitous megahit can’t happen any more. There’s too much content. We’re all watching different things. A movie being released in the cinema was kind of an imprimatur of significance, but the cinema might not have survived the decade even without Covid shoving it into a shallow grave. Gloria Swanson was right, she was just off by half a century.
Sorry, this is all frightfully maudlin. I guess for me Raya is less a movie and more a totem of a strange and tragic moment in history.
Also, I don’t really want to talk about it because it sucks and apparently that’s a dangerous opinion. Lindsay Ellis talked shit about this movie and I’m pretty sure she’s dead now or in witness protection or something.
Anyway. Raya and the Last Dragon. Thank you Covid, for sparing me the price of a cinema ticket. I don’t care what they say, ya ain’t all bad.