Cartoon

Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land (1959)

A thought occurred to me going into this review: I’ve probably written more about Donald Duck than any other cartoon character. Throughout the life of this blog he’s been following me around like a little, white, feathery stalker:

Saludos AmigosMelody TimeFun and Fancy Free, Der Fuehrer’s FaceAdorable Couple, Fantasia 2000, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and of course The Three Caballeros, the movie that turned a regular dime-a-dozen review blog into the seething cauldron of madness it is today.

And I think that speaks to the character’s versatility. Donald’s got layers, man. He can be a skirt-chasing lady’s man, a plucky underdog, a swashbuckling adventurer, a child-like innocent, a scheming trickster, an acerbic straight-man, a devoted and loving parent, a hard-ass authoritarian or a cow-murdering psycho killer and it all feels like the same character. He’ll fit into a lot more situations than Goofy, say, while at the same time retaining a distinct personality and never succumbing to samey genericness like Mickey. That probably explains why he’s the hardest working cartoon character around, he can do it all. Even teaching kids about maths.

“You mean “math”.”

“I mean SHUT YOUR BURGER HOLE YANKEE PIG DOG!”

“Wow, that escalated quickly.”

“Hey who are you?”

“Who are you?”

“Who are you?”

“Who’s this new continent, what’s he gonna do?”

“Um…I’m North America? I’ve been here for ages, guys.”

“North America what?”

“Uh…North America the continent?”

“No, no, no, you need a gimmick. Like Gangsta Asia, or Otaku Oceania or Gullible Latin America.”

“I thought I was Handsome Latin America?”

“Of course you are.”

“Oh good.”

“Come my friend, it’s continent makeover time baby!”

“Guys, c’mon, I got a review to do.”

“Yeah. And we’re padding things out to hide the fact that it’s only 28 minutes long, you have no idea how to start this review and you don’t know anything about maths.”

“It’s math.”

“SILENCE YOU EAGLE FONDLING RUNNING JACKAL!”

Which brings me neatly to Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land.

“Smooooth…”

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Spirited Away (2001)

Great art isn’t east. The great artists simply make it look easy.

Princess Mononoke is many things. A work of art. A masterpiece.  One of the biggest box-office successes of Japanese cinema.

But for Hayao Miyazaki it was an absolute nightmare, a gruelling, punishing slog of back-breaking labour which may have had something to do with his insistence on practically drawing the entire damn thing himself but what do I know?

So awful was the experience that when it was over, Miyazki threw up his hands and yelled “FUCK THIS! FUCK ANIMATION! FUCK EVERYTHING ABOUT IT! FUCK ITS ENTIRE HISTORY FROM WINSOR MCCAY THROUGH TO DISNEY AND RIGHT UP TO THE PRESENT DAY NOT FORGETTING THE CONTRIBUTIONS OF NON-WESTERN GIANTS OF THE MEDIUM SUCH AS OSAMU TEZUKA! FUCK SQUASH AND STRETCH AND THE ILLUSION OF MOTION GIVEN BY RAPIDLY CHANGING STATIC IMAGES! HAYAO ALPHONSE MIYAZAKI IS DONE! I AM RETIRING! FUCK YOU ALL AND PEACE OUT!”*

And everyone said “Uh huh. Suuuuure you are.”

Because Hayao Miyazaki has been talking about retiring since digital watches were still nifty and he can’t stay away. Five years after The Wind Rises, his really-no-fooling-this-is-it-I’m-really-doing-it-you-won’t-have-Hayao-to-kick-around-any-more final film, he’s got another one due for release in 2019. The dude can’t quit.

Thank Christ.

Because every day I wake up, behold the beauty and majesty of God’s creation and say: “Needs more Miyazaki.”

Long may he continue working.

“But you’re killing me…”

“Yeah. Well. Eggs and Omelettes.”

Today’s movie came after Miyakzaki had retired for like the seventh time or something, when he decided to make a new film after meeting the young daughter of one of his friends. Which shows just how committed he was to his retirement. I mean, what else could convince him to come out of retirement than an encounter with that rarest of creatures, a human child? I mean, you could go your whole life without seeing one! So Miyazaki came back and was all “Okay, okay, one more movie” and everyone was all “Whatever helps ya sleep at night, man” and he went and made Spirited Away, a nice, safe, uncontroversial pick for GREATEST ANIMATED MOVIE OF ALL TIME.

Does it live up to its reputation?

“Yeah, s’aight.”

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The Road to El Dorado (2000)

Early Dreamworks was an odd beast wasn’t it? I mean, let’s look at their first five movies. You had the worse version of the worst early Pixar movie starring Woody Allen which was a selling point in 1998. They then followed that up with the SINGLE MOST BEAUTIFUL TRADITIONALLY ANIMATED MOVIE EVER MADE BY A NORTH AMERICAN STUDIO FIGHT ME. After that was Road to Eldorado which we’re reviewing today and then a Claymation remake of the Great Escape with chickens. And then you had something called Shrek. I have no idea what Shrek is, but apparently it was a big deal at the time. Shrek. What is that? Sounds like a Care Bears villain from the eighties.

“Good work gang! We stopped Shrek from stealing the happy crystals!”

“Grrr, I’ll get you next time you meddling bears, or my name’s not Shrek!”.

Sorry, where was I? Right, the wildly inconsistent early lineup of Dreamworks. And here’s the thing, I know I rag on Dreamworks a lot, but today I want to rag on us.  I think we failed Dreamworks. I think we messed up. Dreamworks was like a little boy who came home from school one day and said “Look! I wrote a concerto!” and we were all “You idiot! You’ll never amount to anything writing concertos!” and the next day he came home and said “Today I sold some meth!” and we were all “That’s our boy! You keep selling that meth!”.

The kid had talent. The kid had potential. But we encouraged the wrong behaviour and now we have a meth dealer. Yay us.

HOW IS THERE A POSTER ALREADY?

And here’s the thing. We’re still doing it. We’re still rewarding bad behaviour and punishing good work. There’s a growing consensus among movie critics that sites like Rotten Tomatoes are a cancer on the craft. I’d never really bought into that until I casually checked Road to Eldorado’s RT score for this review.

FUCK YOU ROTTEN TOMATOES.  YOU DIE IN A FIRE AND WAKE UP IN A GODLESS VOID.

I know, I know, everything’s subjective and everyone’s entitled to their own opinion but COME ON. This is Road to Eldorado people!  ROAD TO ELDORADO. RTED. I’m starting to think I’m the only one who understands the significance of that!

The film was originally conceived by Jeffrey Katzenberg, a man who specialises in films that make you go “Hmmmmmm…”

As in:

Hmmm

Hmmmmmmmm

HMMMMMMMMMMM

HMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM.

So stop me if you’ve heard this story. An animation studio plans a big, epic drama set in a reimagined Incan civilization. A big time rock star is brought on to write the songs. But then, oh noes! The studio decides to go in a radically different direction and turn the whole thing into a comedy, the story has to be reworked from scratch, directors come and go like Trumpian wives and everyone involved has a thoroughly miserable time. That’s right, Katzenberg was so dedicated to ripping off Emperor’s New Groove that he even ripped off its troubled production history.

Now THAT’s commitment.

I kid, I kid. Seriously though, the production was a hot mess and the first director, Will Finn (an animator with a “holy shit” list of credits that includes NIMH and the entire Disney Renaissance) talks about the movie the way Ahab talks about the white whale, as an eternal nemesis who took something from him he’ll never get back. Also, he doesn’t think it’s a good movie. Which brings me back to my earlier point.

BECAUSE IT’S ROAD TO FRICKITY FRUCKING EL DORADO.

Let’s do this.

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State of the Mouse 2018

Hey Mouse, how you been?

Good, good. Great actually. After last year’s unpleasantness I feel like I’ve rebounded in a big way. I’m feeling a lot more confident and hopeful for the future, been writing loads and, long story short it’s good to be Mouse (for now).

Aw, that’s great. Well, see ya…

Not so fast, my bold-faced friend. This is the part where I use you as a sounding board to tell the readers all my news.

Aw c’mon, dude, it’s like half five in the morning, I got work tomorrow

Here is my news!

Marvel Rankings

Yes! So, with the Homecoming review now gone up and Ragnarok not out on DVD until February, seems like this is a good time to put up a page where I rank all the Marvel movies like I have with the canon Disney films. Gasp in wonder and ooh and aah and say “But I really liked Doctor Strange” and “Thor is HOW HIGH? This dude’s crazy!”. Basically, your thoughts are an open book to me. Speaking of…

New series of reviews

Hmm…so we’ve reached the end of the canon Disney movies and we’re almost at the end of the MCU movies. What to review next? It has to be something with a lot of variety. I don’t want to be constantly praising or panning week in, week out. It has to be a series that wakes up each morning and flips a scarred two-headed coin to decide whether its going to suck like it was built by Dyson, or be literally Oscar worthy…

Oh yeah. That’ll do…

Shortstember

So, we’ve finally wrapped our series of reviews of WW2 propaganda shorts (spoilers, the good guys won. For about seventy years. Now it’s a little up in the air.) If you missed them, the reviews are here:

Der Fuehrer’s Face

Jungle Drums

The Ducktators

Reason and Emotion

Fascist Jackboots will not Trample our Motherland

Momotaru no Umiwashi

Nimbus Libéré

Das Dumme Ganslein

Hope you enjoyed them, and if you have suggestions or preferences for another series of short reviews, holla atta mazerunner.

12 Gigs in 12 Months

So I’ve decided to go back to doing stand up and I’ve set myself a challenge for 2018: 12 gigs in 12 months. Gig #1 is already in the bag (it was at Cherry Comedy, no footage I’m afraid) and #2 is in the Ha’penny Inn on Wellington Quay on Tuesday 20th January at nine if you’re in Dublin. If you’re not, do please head over to Facebook and follow Neil Sharpson-12 Gigs in 12 Months where I’ll be posting updates and footage of how I get on.

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Mouse Goes to War: Das dumme Gänslein (1944)

Studio: Fischerkoesen-Film-Produktion

Country of Origin: Nazi Germany.

First Screened: 20 July 1944

I find it terrifying to consider that, ten or even five years ago, I would have had absolutely no hesitation in writing this post. I mean, of course if I’m doing a retrospective on WW2 animation shorts I’d look at Nazi animation. Why wouldn’t I? The Nazis were, after all, kinda involved in the Second World War, right?

But that would have been in a simpler time when it seemed obvious that, whatever else we might disagree on, we were all more or less on the same “Nazis are bad” page (it’s a good page, nice font, excellent paper quality, highly recommended). But then…

Well, it’s been a year. That it has.

So yes, I did honestly consider scrapping this portion of the series but ultimately I decided against it. One of the goals of the Mouse Goes to War series is to inform and I’ve always believed that knowledge is not dangerous, only ignorance. And today’s short is a fascinating demonstration as to how fascist themes and messages can be worked into seemingly benign texts.

Y’know.

Just in case that becomes a useful skill at some point in the future.

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Avatar: Sozin’s Comet

Okay, before we even start the starting I need to talk about Azula.

Azula, for those of you who knoweth not, is Avatar’s secondary antagonist. She’s the daughter of Fire Lord Ozai, the main villain, and the brother of Zuko. She’s an incredibly skilled fire-bender, a brilliant tactician, and a straight up psychopath.

Now a good few years ago I remember I got talking to some dude at a party about Avatar, and we were just fanboying over it as you do, and he looks me straight in the eye and says three words: “Azula. Best villain.” And he didn’t mean “best villain in the show”, he meant “best villain in any piece of fiction, period.” And I nodded at that, and didn’t even really consider what it was that I was agreeing to.

And it’s ridiculous, when you think about it, right? How could the greatest villain of all time be from a frickin’ Nickleodeon show from the early 2000s? It’s stupid on the face of it.

And then I re-watched the series for these reviews and a slightly scary thought started to creep over me:

Azula. Best villain.

Actually…maybe?

Something happened here. Something happened in the planning, creation and execution of this character. Doubtful if any of the parties involved tried to replicate it again it would work but…goddamn they hit something when they created Azula. I’ve spent far too much time obsessing over this one character and why she work and far too little time thinking about Sozin’s comet (full disclosure, I was in hospital this week with yet another of my periodic bouts of intestinal insurrection so this review might be a little short) but I want to just set out why I think Azula works so well.

From the very beginning, I’ve always maintained that a good villain is an absolutely crucial element in whether a story works or not. Some movies don’t have antagonists, that’s true, but most do. And when they do, whether or not the villain works is a pretty reliable yardstick as to whether the movie works too. But what makes a “good” villain, if you’ll pardon the oxymoron? Well, there’s no one way to be a good villain but there are, broadly speaking, three.

  1. Be entertaining. These are the flamboyant moustache twirlers. Not particularly deep, but by God they have style. Think of Jafar, Maleficent, Hella from Thor: Ragnarok. You can practically hear little children hissing whenever they’re onscreen.
  2. Be believable. Here we have your down to earth villains. They’re real people, with understandable, compelling motivations. They’re evil, sure, but in a way that’s perfectly logical for a person in that situation. Usually found in gritty kitchen sink dramas. If a villain reminds you of someone you’ve encountered in real life, they probably belong here.
  3. Be absolutely fucking terrifying: Straight up monsters. The kind of characters that tap into deep, primal fears. Xenomorphs, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers.

No, not him.

There we go.

Thing is, most great villains manage one of the above. Some of the true titans manage two (Heath Ledger’s Joker is a solid 1 and 3). But it’s almost impossible to find a villain who fits into all three categories. In fact, it sounds almost impossible. How can a villain be entertaining and grittily realistic and absolutely terrifying? It would take an incredible feat of writing and performance to make a character like that seem anything other than poorly defined and schizophrenic.

There’s a scene in the first episode of Season 2 of Avatar that sums up how all three elements of great villainy combine in Azula.  She’s been sent by the Fire Lord to tell her brother Zuko and her Uncle Iroh that his banishment is over and that he’s to come home. But in reality, Zuko and Iroh are to be executed for treason. She tells Zuko that he can come home and Zuko says nothing, rendered speechless upon hearing that his banishment is over at last and his father wants him back.

“You should be happy.” Azula says coldly “Where’s my “thank you”? I want my thank you.”

It’s funny, in a dark way, that Azula is so psychotic that she wants gratitude from her brother for luring him to his unwitting death. But there’s nothing campy about it. There’s something just so chillingly believable about Grey De Lisle’s vocal performance. You know this girl. And if you don’t, you are damn lucky.

And lastly is the sheer menace that the character exudes, with more than a little assist from the excellent score.

Honestly, the only other villain I can think of who hits all three elements so perfectly is, well…

Yeah. High praise.

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The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya: The Endless Eight

“Hello, Mr Mouse. I’d like to make a donation to your blog.”

“MOUSE LIKE MONEY.”

“Would you be willing to do a blog post setting out your thoughts on the latest developments in the field of Quantum Chemistry?”

“Well I don’t know anything about Quantum Chemistry and in fact had never even heard of it before but I’m sure an hour or so of research on the internet should be all I need to get up to speed.”

“I’ve made a HUGE mistake.”

Replace “Quantum Chemistry” with The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and that’s pretty much where we’re at, folks. I…I misjudged this one, not gonna lie. I thought “Sure, I’ve never heard of it, but it’s a cartoon! I can review cartoons, I do it all the time!”. But The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is a cartoon show in the same way the Bible is a novel. I didn’t know what it was before, and after many hours of research I still feel like I’m missing pretty vital information. This is a show with no clearly defined genre packed with references to advanced scientific and mathematical concepts. This is the kind of stuff I was coming across when researching these episodes:

Ah. Of course.

Okay, let’s start with the facts. The Melancholy of Haruhi Susumiya is the animé adaptation of Naguro Tanigawa’s series of light novels featuring the eponymous schoolgirl. Haruhi is really bored with her everyday life and the boring people around her and founds a school club with her friend, Kyon, to find aliens and other supernatural creatures and…just…hang out with them. Oh, and Haruhi is actually an all-powerful reality warper  who has to be kept in the dark about her abilities in case she does untold damage to the world around her.

Ah, that old saw.

The TV adaptation was first broadcast in 2006 and became one of the biggest hits in the history of animé, achieving worldwide success and becoming an unstoppable cultural behemoth. Apparently. Because, as I hinted before, I HAVE NEVER HEARD OF THIS THING AND NOW I THINK I’M GOING CRAZY. DID I SLIP INTO AN ALTERNATE UNIVERSE?

“WHY DOES NO ONE REMEMBER THAT NELSON MANDELA DIED IN PRISON AND WHY CAN’T I FIND SHAZAAM ON NETFLIX?!”

But apparently yes, this show was huge. So after the first season was released the show seemed unstoppable. The second season was announced in 2007 and the fandom was whipped into a frothing lathery frenzy. And then…

Hooooo boy.

What followed was one of the most spectacularly misjudged testings of fan loyalty that I have ever heard of. Within a single story arc, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya managed to piss away every last drop of audience goodwill it had accrued over the years. The franchise carried on after this for a while but it was a dead toon walking. No third season has been announced, and the franchise is now effectively dead. The arc in question was called The Endless Eight. So, what did this animé about a Japanese schoolgirl do to honk off its fanbase to the point that they abandoned it en masse? Did it involve tentacles? Surprisingly, it did not.

The Endless Eight is a story that sees Haruhi, Kyon and their friends trapped in a time loop in the last week of summer. The first episode ends with them still in the timeloop. The second episode is the first episode repeated. Because they’re still in the time loop, y’see. And each week, increasingly bewildered and enraged fans would tune in, only to be forced to watch the same episode again and again and again and again and again and again and that is not hyperbole because no lie they did this EIGHT GOD DAMNED TIMES. For real. Eight weeks of the same episode. And here’s the thing, it’s not like they just re-screened the same episode. Each episode was re-animated from scratch, each line of dialogue recorded eight times but the script remained the same with a few changes here and there. Every time.

I…just…that’s brilliant? Is it? No? I…no. It’s stupid, isn’t it? It’s real stupid. But at the same time…the balls that takes, right? But still, no. That’s just…no. But, isn’t it brilliant? But…GAWD. That’s the kind of reckless, devil-may-care creative choice that I can’t help but admire.

So here’s the thing, I know nothing about this franchise. I do not have the time to devote to exploring its mysteries and subtleties and its place in animé history. So I’m just gonna throw myself into this headfirst and review all four hours of the The Endless Eight because, fuck it. You only live once. Or eight times. Whatever.

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Disney (Re)Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse#1: Snow White

I know, I know.

“What’s the point of this Mouse?” I hear you cry. Your feelings about this are probably the same as mine towards the Beauty and the Beast reboot; All questions of quality aside, who asked for this and why does it need to exist? Why do another review of Snow White when there are so many fantastic/terrible movies I haven’t had a chance to savour/suffer for your amusement/amusement? Well, a couple of reasons. Firstly, a confession.

When I initially reviewed Snow White back in 2012, I hadn’t seen it in literally years and I based my review on memories as faded and unreliable as an old VHS tape. I’m sorry, I was young, I was reckless. Mea Culpa. Second, oh my God, FUCK 2012 Mouse.

“Hey, listen man…”

“FUCK YOU!”

That guy was an asshole. So I thought that the fifth anniversary of the blog was a good opportunity to go back and revisit my first review and show that hack who’s boss. And lastly, because when I finally got Snow White  on DVD I noticed something really enticing.

Oh yes. Oh yessssssss…

Yeah. You all thought that when I talked about Walt Disney being an immortal warlock it was just a bit. So how come there’s a DVD commentary by him when he SUPPOSEDLY DIED BEFORE DVDS WERE INVENTED?! HMM? HMMMMMMM??

“YOU FOOLS! YOU CALLED ME MAD!”

Alright let’s do this. Snow White versus Mouse 2. Place your bets.

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Mouse Goes To War!: The Ducktators (1942)

Hey guys, sorry for the missed update. Still up to my furry little armpits in other writing at the moment so I’m afraid the Snow White review is gonna have to be pushed back until next Thursday. By recompense, here is the next of the WW2 propaganda short reviews. Enjoy!

***

Studio: Warner Bros

Country of Origin: United States

First Screened: August 1, 1942

As I mentioned in my last series of short reviews, you can break down the history of the Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies shorts into four eras roughly corresponding to the nineteen thirties, forties, fifties and sixties. Call them the Poor Man’s Disney, Wiseass Disney, Apex and Nadir eras, respectively. WW2 broke out in the middle of the Wiseass Disney era, where the studio had successfully reinvented itself as the sarcastic, irreverent joker to those squares in Burbank with their high falutin’ ideals of animation being art. While Disney were getting Deems Taylor to introduce abstract animation to the strains of Bach, Warner Bros were slouched in the corner smokin’ ceegars and yellin’ “Ah, yer muddah wears lederhosen!”. The Warner Bros shorts of this era are acclaimed by many fans as the greatest of the series but, with respect, those fans are liars and fools and once grown, their children shall change their names out of shame.

“Mouse, what did we agree?”

“Sigh. No telling people that their children will change their names out of shame just because they disagree with me on the respective merits of different eras of animated shorts in the Warner Bros filmography.”

“You lasted ONE DAY.”

Okay, that’s harsh. There are many fantastic cartoons from this era but, honestly, the shorts from the fifties (including but not limited to What’s Opera Doc, One Froggy Evening and the Hunter Trilogy) leave them in the dirt.

The shorts of the forties had a lot going for them, namely some of the finest animators, directors and voice talent to ever work in the medium, but compared to the later fifties shorts they’re sorely lacking in one thing.

Class.

To be blunt, there’s a nastiness to a lot of the Warner Bros shorts of this era, and not just because of the racism (although, jeez louise, it’s like they thought there was an Olympics for racism and they had their heart set on winning gold for their country). Propaganda is dirty business, but some cartoon studios came out a lot cleaner than others, if you catch my drift.

Of all the major American cartoon studios, Warners seemed to succumb to their worst instincts the easiest. Disney, Fleischer et al certainly produced cartoons in this era that make for uncomfortable viewing but Warner’s took it to another level.  For a good example, let’s take a look at the Ducktators.

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Disney(ish) Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse: The Hunchback of Notre Dame II

It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it. Execution is more important than concept.

Consider Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Doing Victor Hugo’s classic melodrama as an animated Disney musical is an objectively terrible idea. Awful. Comedically bad. You would have to really sit down and think to come up with a classic novel less suited to the genre. Dracula has more potential as a Renaissance Disney movie than Hunchback (Magical villain with a cape and animal sidekicks, heroine who yearns for more than her safe, stale existence, funny comedy relief foreigner and a happy ending, what more do you want?).

But the thing about Hunchback is that, despite the inherent cruddiness of the core concept, everything else is JUST SO GOOD. That animation! The character designs! The backgrounds! The acting! The direction! The singing! The music! YE GODS THE MUSIC!

So what if the final product resembles Hugo’s work so loosely that Disney might as well have claimed it was original IP and called it the “The Adventures of Maurice the Not-So-Pretty Bell Man”? Gorgeous movie is gorgeous.

But what if…what if all that was taken away?

What if you took away the animation, the character designs, the backgrounds, the acting, the direction, the singing, the music ye gods the music?

What if all you had left was that initial terrible, terrible idea?

Probably something like The Hunchback of Notre Dame 2, produced in 2000 but only released in 2002, presumably out of shame. This movie is why we have words like “nadir”.

Let me be clear. It’s not simply terrible compared to the original. It’s not simply terrible as a movie in its own right. It is terrible compared to other Disney Sequels.

Scared?

By God, you should be.

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