Cartoon

It’s Such a Beautiful Day (2012)

It is with the greatest embarrassment that I must admit that despite reviewing and writing about animation for almost eight years now I had never heard of Don Hertzfeldt. I know, I know. That’s like saying you’re really into rock music and never having heard of The Common Sense. It’s like putting yourself out there as an expert on Renaissance painting and knowing nothing about Vincentio.

For crying out loud, it’s like saying you’re obsessed with American history and not knowing about William Batholomew Brockholst.

I mean can you imagine? Not knowing about Brockholst? And all the stuff he did?

Hertzfeldt is one of those guys who makes you go “oh, this fucking guy”.

At 18, he single-handedly animated and scored Ah, L’Amour which won the Grand Prize Award for “World’s Funniest Cartoon” at the HBO Comedy Awards. This launched him into a career where he basically became the indie-animation Pixar, except he’s not an animation studio, he’s just one dude and if anything he’s gotten more critical acclaim and he never made Cars. He’s been nominated for an Oscar twice but never actually won so you know he’s not a sellout. And his films have frequently been named as the greatest animated films of the year, decade or all time. He also looks younger than me despite being six years older and he probably does yoga.

Oh, this fucking guy.

It’s Such a Beautiful Day is actually three of Hertzfeldt’s short films strung together (seems kinda lazy to me, but what do I know?): Everything Will be Okay, I am so Proud of You and It’s Such a Beautiful Day. Despite being made over several years, the three films integrate seamlessly into a flawless whole because of course they fucking do.

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Mars Needs Moms (2011)

Whereas other film-makers are driven to explore certain themes or character archetypes or genres, what seems to get Robert Zemeckis out of bed every morning artistically is the tech: How can this or that new special effects technique be used to tell a story that’s never been told? And while I personally don’t think that’s necessarily the greatest starting point for telling a story, fair is fair, it’s lead Zemeckis to create some truly fantastic films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit and the Back to the Future trilogy and also movies that people insist on thinking are fantastic, like Forrest Gump and Cast Away.

Robert Zemeckis is a true film-making pioneer. And by “pioneer” I mean “person who goes to strange new places that it might have been better for all involved if he’d stayed at home”. Specifically, with his 2004 film The Polar Express he discovered the Uncanny Valley and liked it so much he decided to build a cabin and the spend the rest of his career there. Today’s movie is part of a sequence of Zemeckis directed and/or produced movies that used the gimmick of taking famous actors and slathering them in digital paint to create something that eschews the believability of live action while also avoiding the tedious charm and inventiveness of animation (I know, right? Isn’t that the dream?). Seriously though, I am genuinely agog at the amount of time and money Zemeckis has spent on something that could never be anything other than the worst of both worlds. Motion capture can be a wonderful tool, sure, and many films make excellent use of it. But Zemeckis seems to want this one tool to be the whole movie. It’s like he’s trying to build a house entirely out of spanners. It would be pointless, as there are far better materials to build a house out of and a spanner house would be ugly, cold and utterly unsuited for actual human beings so I think this metaphor is doing trojan work.

In case I’m being a little too subtle up in here, Mars Needs Moms is a bad, bad, bad film. It’s the kind of movie that legendary film critic Pauline Kael would have referred to as “a stinking pile of the devil’s ass biscuits”.

She was a treasure.

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Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

There are movies that I am just aching to review. Where I have jokes and observations and asides all ready and planned literally years in advance. Where I am just absolutely raring to go.

And then there’s movies like Kiki’s Delivery Service, a movie that almost feels engineered by some nefarious super villain to be absolutely impossible for me to review. Every tool in my critical toolbox is rendered useless by this thing. Can I rave about it? Honestly, no. It’s one of the slightest of the Studio Ghibli films, I didn’t grow up with it and I don’t have any particular affection for it.  Can I slam it? Hell no, it’s still Studio Ghibli after all and an absolute technical triumph. I can’t really do story analysis, because there’s not really much story. Is it even interestingly weird? It is quite possibly the most grounded and least weird piece of Japanese animation I’ve ever seen (low bar, I know, but still). Interesting or troubled production? Nope. Apparently it was just…like…a movie…that…got…made. No one went crazy during production. None of the animators were involved in a murder suicide pact. Nothing. Damn selfish, I call it.

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A Silent Voice (2016)

I was gonna do a whole bit. Japan showing up at my door in defiance of the restraining order I slapped on it in the last animé review I did and slowly winning me over today’s movie…

Not gonna do that. Not least because, I feel like kind of an asshole. Even if it’s just for comic effect (And it was. Mostly.), the idea of just writing off a nation’s artistic output in an entire genre because of one bad experience…or two, or three…okay look, animé hasn’t had a great batting average on this blog I’m getting off track. That was an awful thing to suggest, even if I was joking. Which I was. Mostly.


Mysterious Girlfriend X is still garbage, that will never change.

This movie is one that I’ve had on the backburner for years (I think it’s one of the Mauricio reviews? Fuck is it one of the Joanna reviews?!). And even though I had seriously intended to take a good long break from animé after the MGX review I couldn’t in good conscience put this off any more so I sat down to watch it, as they say, with a bit of a hump.

And around an hour in I’m trying to remember the last time a movie affected me this deeply on an emotional level and I’m coming up blank.

Guys, this one hollowed me out and didn’t even break a sweat. This is the real deal. Fair warning, this review deals with bullying, suicide and depression and I’m not going to be making a lot of jokes. It’ll be a bit of a gear-shift from Deadpool, put it that way. This is just going to be talking about a movie that really got to me.

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Disney(ish) reviews with the Unshaved Mouse: Olaf’s Frozen Adventure

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Guys, tell me the truth. Am I going soft?

Do I just not have the same bile and critical killer instinct I once had?

Because I feel like I just don’t hate the way I used to. Maybe the Christmas spirit has managed to claw its way into my chest and lay its eggs along my cardiac wall. To put it another way, I’ve reviewed three Disney sequels/continuations this year and gave a positive review to every durn one of ‘em.

“Hey, it’s Old Man Mouse, let’s throw snowballs at him!”

“Why you little…beat it, you sequels!”

“Ooooh, whaddya gonna do? Give us a mixed to positive review?”

“Gasp! They’re not AFRAID of me anymore.”

It was with this in mind that I decided to review Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, Frozen short (well, I say “short”) that got people’s dander up something fierce two years ago when it was released preceding Coco. Whereas people were expecting a nice light, seven minute appetiser, they instead got a hefty twenty-one minute late lunch and the backlash was fierce enough that some theatres actually had signs warning ticket-holders that the snowman movie would be taking up more of their precious lives than they might have budgeted for. And, because it’s the 2010s and life is hell, the movie was also accused of racism, with the reasoning being that Disney were too racist to trust people to come and see a movie about Hispanic people without it being preceded by a short set in Scandinavia before the movie about Hispanic people that they had spent $175 million dollars making.

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Mysterious Girlfriend X (2012)

“All rise for the Honorable Judge Claude Frollo.”

“Please be seated.”

“Good morning, your honour, my client the Unshaved Mouse is here to file a restraining order.”

“I see, and the target of this restraining order is…the state of Japan?”

“Mouse, please! This is all a big misunderstanding!”

“Don’t talk to me, criminal!”

“C’mon Mouse, we had good times! What about Miyazaki?”

“Oh, you mean your BAIT?”

“Order in the court! Plaintiff, what is the basis for your suit?”

“Well, it all began a few weeks ago…”

***

 “If you sat an alien down and screened for him all the movies made in America in any given year, their first question would be “why do most of these have close up shots of dicks going into various orifices?”  See, a huge percentage of films made in North America are hardcore porn because it’s cheap as chips to make and very lucrative. But when we think of “American cinema”, My Ass is Haunted is not usually part of the conversation. We compartmentalise porn and regular cinema, while filing Japanese hentai simply under “animé”. Japan’s porn tends to be animated, but other that there’s no real difference. The Japanese are no more “weird” or “sick” than we are.

I wrote that back in my review of Akira, the first animé I ever reviewed for this blog. It was a plea for mutual respect and understanding between nations, a plea I must now formally retract because oh my God Japan’s weird guys.

Japan is so, so, so weird.

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Disney(ish) Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse: Tangled the Series/Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure

This review was requested by patron J*. If you’d like me to review a movie, please consider supporting my Patreon.

Yeah, but why though?

TangledYou gave a sequel series to Tangled? Aladdinfine. Big Hero SixCrying out for it. But Tangled?!

Hey, got nothing against the film. Y’all know that. #9 on my rankings. But of all the canon movies to try and spin a series of ongoing adventures out of why would you…

“Mouse?”

“What is it, SMOWE?”

“I just came to say goodbye. I’m going on a journey to find myself.”

“You’re going to…what?”

“What is my purpose? Who am I, really? Why am I called Sarcastic Map of Wartime Europe when most of the time I’m not even that sarcastic? I don’t know where I’ll find the answers to these questions. All I know is, it’s not here.”

“Wait a minute, is this because tvtropes called you a Flat Character?”

“Farewell my friend.”

Well…speaking of characters with hidden layers going off on adventures no one expected or even asked for, what even is this nonsense?

Firstly, what are the two things everyone knows about Rapunzel? She’s got long golden hair, and she’s trapped in a tower. By the end of Tangled, neither of those are true anymore. This is like doing a Robin Hood show where he no longer robs from the rich and has instead become a quantity surveyor. Plus, the movie’s only real villain is dead. And it’s not like this was a particularly rich world that desperately needed exploring.

Nothing against Corona. Lovely scenery, good schools, suspiciously low crime rate. But it’s a pretty generic fantasy kingdom, and fairy light on the fantasy at that. There’s no real magic apart from one flower. No mythical beasts that we see other than a horse who may be some kind of equine god.

And on top of that, we already know how the story ends! Tangled Ever After shows Rapunzel and Eugene getting married with all the main characters from the first movie still alive and the status quo from the end of the first film in rude good health. So what you’ve got is a series where either nothing can happen, or anything that does happen will be reversed and will be ultimately meaningless. Which is why I feel confident in predicting, sight unseen, that this series is garbage and a waste of everyone’s valuable time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m just going to go and validate my obviously correct first impression.

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Disney(ish) reviews with the Unshaved Mouse: Aladdin, The Return of Jafar

“Why do they keep making these?!” was the eternal lament of the Disney fan from the mid-nineties to the mid-2000s when the Disney Sequel walked the Earth in all its terrible glory. Couldn’t Disney see that these filthy hack jobs were tarnishing the reputations of the pure and virtuous Disney canon? HAD THEY NOT EYES?! Well, yes, they had eyes. But here’s what they were looking at.

Consider Aladdin. It comes out in the winter of 1992 and it is the mutt’s nuts. Critical darling, instant pop culture icon and oh yes, the biggest box-office of any movie that year, animated or live action. It makes $504 Million dollars on a budget of $28 Million. Which basically means that for every dollar Disney put into Aladdin, they got $18 back. That’s a heck of a return on an investment. That is a good, good day. That is a win.

A few years later, Disney are working on an Aladdin animated series. It’s not an entirely new idea, The Little Mermaid also had a series. But there’s a lot of hype for Aladdin because instead of being a prequel series like Mermaid, this is going to be an actual sequel series where we get to see what our favourite Agrabahns did after the movie. And some bright spark realises that the three episode arc that opens the series actually kinda works as a movie if you squint. So why not release it as a movie? Not in theatres, God no. But maybe direct to video? VHS is super hot right now and Disney movies sell like hot cakes. So why not skip the theatres all together and just go straight to video? You know? Like porn?

Perhaps understandably, Disney were a little leery of taking their cues from porn. But they did it anyway and here’s what happened:

Return of Jafar became one of the biggest selling VHSs of all time. It made $300 Million dollars. $300 Million dollars for a movie that never sold a single ticket. On a budget, estimated, to be $3.5 Million dollars. Remember Aladdin’s oh-so-impressive return of 18:1? Jafar had a return of investment of $86 dollars to every dollar.  That’s not a heck of a return. That is market changing. That is paradigm-shifting. That, honestly, is a wee bit scary. So if, for example, you were a huge multinational who cared only for filthy lucre…

“How VERY dare you…”

Then the question becomes, not “Why did they keep making them?” but “Why did they ever stop?” That’s the kind of return that turns executives into junkies, chasing that hit for decades. 86 dollars for every dollar spent. That’s basically free money. This thing was huge.

And when you think about it, it still kinda is. Return of Jafar is without a doubt the only Disney Sequel that’s almost as famous as its prequel. Disney are actually considering a live action remake of Return of Jafar to follow last year’s live action Aladdin. Could you see any of the other sequels being considered for that?

Well yes, but only when I’ve been dosed with fear toxin by the Scarecrow.

Return of Jafar has also been a beneficiary of what I like to call “Space Jam” effect, the sharp divide in critical opinion between people who were already adults when a movie came out and those for whom it was as mother’s milk. Best-selling video of all time, remember? There are a lot of millennials out there with fond memories of this one, and even people who utterly despise the Disney sequels will go to the mat for this one. This one’s good, they’ll say. Leave it alone. He’s with me. Go burn some Tarzan sequels.

But does it deserve that loyalty? Is it actually any good? Well, it’s complicated…

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The Phantom Tollbooth (1970)

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In 1959, scientist CP Snow gave his highly influential lecture; The Two Cultures where he posited that Western civilization had prioritised literature and the humanities to the point that even the most educated members of society were functionally scientifically illiterate. Snow argued that we needed to spend less time on the arts and more time on mathematics and the hard sciences.

Flashforward to 2019 and, as I write this, the most pressing question in contemporary culture is which of a series of interchangeable slabs of orange bacon some wan from Longford is going to put her leg over first so good news, Mr Snow!

“Excellent, so presumably you are all now well versed in the noble sciences?”

“Feller, fer an egg-head you sure do say some dumb shit.”

The influence of The Two Cultures can be seen in The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster’s 1961 children’s novel. Originally released to poor sales, it quickly surged on strong reviews and is now considered one of the classics of 20th century children’s literature something something something segue CHUCK JONES!

Okay, when it comes to the question of who was the greatest Looney Tunes director there are no wrong answers as long as that answer is CHUCK JONES! No disrespect to Tex Avery, Friz Freling, Bob McKimson or Bob Clampett (well, a little disprespect to Bob Clampett the credit-hogging cad). Together, these men created some of the greatest, most timeless cartoon characters of all time and also Foghorn Leghorn and Pepe LePew.

But the cartoons by Chuck Jones are just on another level. They’re not only hilarious (though, my God) they are art. They transcend their medium.

But by the late 1960s Jones had left Warner Bros and was working for MGM, trying to salvage the Tom and Jerry series after the studio had rather disastrously experimented with continuing the series with cheap Czech animation.

Yes, that’s what this was referencing.

The Chuck Jones Tom and Jerry cartoons were better received but to be perfectly fair Jones’ subtle poised style was always a bad fit for the frenetic Tom and Jerry shorts. I do love his re-designs for the characters though.

But Jones’ last animation for MGM was their adaptation of The Phantom Tollbooth, which is also the only feature length animation he ever directed (not counting various Looney Tunes compilation films). This movie was on heavy rotation in the mouse house when I was growing up, and when the grainy VHS tape that we had used to tape it off BBC 2 was lost there was much wailing and gnashing of incisors which is why my brother requested that I review it.

“Yeah. I did. FIVE YEARS AGO.”

Sorry bro. This one was an absolute bear to track down. I’ve been waiting to do this review for so long that all the Trump jokes were originally going to be Tea Party jokes.

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Tales from Earthsea (2006)

This review was requested by patron Purr Elise. If you’d like me to review a movie, please consider supporting my Patreon.

Goro Miyazaki breaks my goddamned heart, you know that?

I feel for the guy, I really do. When faced with having to live up to the legacy of his father, a man who will be remembered as the Michaelangelo of the 21st century, Goro wisely tried to forge his own path in a different field and be his own man. He studies landscaping, becomes a construction consultant and even helped to design the Ghibli museum which he then became the director of. At 34. I mean, this guy has done some amazing things, right? That is a damn impressive resume. More than I’ll ever accomplish, that’s for sure.

And then, he gets called in by his father’s studio to contribute some landscapes for a movie. They take a look at them and say “Hey, these are really good and also your father is basically the God of Animation who walks among us in the form of a man, you should totally direct this movie.”

And suddenly, he’s exactly where he never wanted to be, directing an animated movie where he has to be compared to his father and there is just no way he can win. And, despite bringing the movie in on time and on budget, he will forever be known as the guy who directed Tales From Earthsea, the “bad” studio Ghibli film.

And now, this incredibly accomplished young man is viewed as a failure. A fuckup. Someone defined by not being as good as someone else.

And that is just so unfair to the guy. I mean, I know I dunked pretty hard on From Up On Poppy Hill  but it wasn’t bad. Okay, it was boring and uninteresting and unengaging and I guess that does kinda mean it was bad but, shit, like I could do better?

“No” is the answer to that.

This was the question that was dogging me all through watching Tales From Earthsea. How do I justify giving this movie a bad review when it has better animation and more striking visuals that probably a good 90% of the movies I’ve reviewed on this blog. I wanted to like this one. I really did. I committed a cardinal sin of reviewing in wanting to give this one a pass because of the person who made it and not on a fair assessment of the work. Taken on its own merits, without comparison to the rest of Studio Ghibli’s output, Tales From Earthsea is a beautifully animated work  and a veritable feast for the eyes.

It is also, unfortunately, a pretty terrible movie.

Dude, I’m sorry.

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