I won’t lie guys, that exclamation mark frickin’ terrified me. Unless a movie is a prestigey old-timey musical, an exclamation point has no place in its title. You know what other independently produced CGI movie has an exclamation point in its title?
Fortunately, Hoodwinked! is not as bad as The Abomination and it’s not even the worst movie I’ve reviewed this year (although that is more an indictment of the year than an endorsement of the movie).
So what is Hoodwinked!?
Gah, see, this is the problem with having an exclamation point in the title. It looks like I’m screaming in panic.
Now Hoodwinked! was a movie that I was tangentially aware of. I’d never watched it, but I’d occasionally see it across the crowded room that is the modern animation landscape. And it would wink at me. And I would pretend I hadn’t noticed because it looked like the ugliest fucking Shrek rip-off I had ever seen and there wasn’t enough booze in the world for me to go home with it. But, like anyone who creates content on the internet for long enough, soon enough you find yourself doing things you never would have imagined doing. I watched Hoodwinked!
Some of you in the comments have noted that I’ve been a little, shall we say, down on the movies I’ve reviewed this year.
And some of you likewise professed that you enjoyed my review of Batman ’66purely because it was nice to see me actually praising something for once. I get it, I do. Negativity can be draining.
But, if it helps, this review will be less “negative” than “absolutely incredulous”.
What. The. Fuck. Is. This?
You know what’s weird? I remember seeing trailers for this movie! I remember thinking it looked quite good!
This was not some obscure direct to video release, this was in theatres! With a pretty top-tier cast!
This is not an amateur production, this clearly had a lot of money behind it and was released in the early nineties, an absolute golden age for feature animation where even lesser known (or, to be frank, lesser quality) films still have passionate fanbases of ageing elder millennials desperately clinging to the nostalgia of their fading childhoods in the face of an increasingly bewildering and terrifying present (no judgement, we’re all in the same boat).
And THEN I learned that this is the first and only film written and produced by Jon Acevski, a British businessman who decided to make an animated film based on stories he told his son about his toy frog (his son’s toy frog, I mean. I don’t believe Mr Acevski has a toy frog and if he does it is none of my business). And that’s sweet, that really is.
See, the thing about making movies is, they’re very expensive. And the people who back movies usually give their money to people who have demonstrated at least some competence in their field. But every so often, every so often, someone comes along who has no experience with writing, directing or anything really to do with the film-making process. But they do have money.
And when that happens? Oh, my friends, when that happens. That’s when you get the shit that makes my life worth living.
The facts of the case, they are simple. Strange World, the youngest heir of a very long, very respectable line of animated features, went missing from the box office in the winter of last year. A few months later, it was found, face down in a cold stream of content. There are many possible suspects. The movie boasted Disney’s 98th first gay character. Perhaps this was a hate crime? Or perhaps Covid 19 was to blame? But no, I believe there can be only one killer. Monsieur Disney, J’ACCUSE!
(Man, I have GOT to write a Knive’s Out style murder mystery with sentient Disney movies, I have to do that.)
You’re all asking the wrong questions, you know.
The mystery is not “Why did Strange World flop?” I can tell you that right now.
Last year I sat down to plot out my review schedule for the next decade or so (I will never, ever, ever auction reviews off again. That was stupid. I was a stupid Mouse).
And this was an honest to God chain of thought I experienced:
Oh hey, I should probably put aside a slot to review the next canon Disney movie.
Oh damn, what even IS the next canon Disney movie?
Oh shit. Strange World? I haven’t heard anything about this. When is it coming out?
Oh fuck. It’s in theatres NOW.
Yeah. I’ve been reviewing the Disney canon since Obama and I both still had black in our hair and even I knew nothing about this thing. It didn’t fail because it as too gay or not gay enough or because every time Disney tries to make a sci-fi animated movie the monkey paw exacts a terrible price, NO. It failed because Disney didn’t market it and bad word of mouth delivered the coup de grace.
But what I can’t really get my head around is why Disney buried this so hard. I mean, it’s definitely bad, but it’s a kind of bad that Disney can and have managed to sell before. To take the most recent examples, Rayaand Wreck It Ralph 2 ate the box office alive and those are both, I remind you, hot effing garbage.
Was it really the fact that the main character is gay? I’ve always found that line of thinking flawed and conspiratorial. If a studio doesn’t want to release a movie with a gay main character, they can just, y’know, not make the movie and save the estimated €180 million dollars. But in this case…I dunno, maybe? It definitely feels like Disney has dropped bigger turds than this and yet was able to convince a sufficient amount of the population that it was selling them chocolate ice-cream. And hell, the reviews for this were actually very positive (not from me, I’m gonna dance on this thing’s fucking head) but most mainstream critics dutifully cooed “representation”, dropped a handful of stars and clocked off for lunch. It really was the audience reaction to this that was sharply negative. Maybe that was a homophobic backlash? Or maybe it was just the burgeoning realisation that most of Marvel/Disney/Pixar’s recent output has been trending worse and worse and people are now treating the brand less as a mark of quality than a warning label.
I don’t know and I’m not going to try to guess. I am DONE trying to game this kind of stuff out. Back in my Raya review I said that the age of Disney movies being big, unifying cultural events was over only for Encanto to come along and be that exact thing. I cautiously mused that Encanto might be the Disney ship righting itself only for Strange World to come along, cough once and die on my carpet so fuck it. I am just going to review the damn movie and leave the big pronouncements to people who actually know what they’re talking about.
It’s probably a testament to just how jaded I am that my first thought when watching The Polar Express was “actually, this animation isn’t half bad”. The Polar Express is notorious for being the start of Robert Zemeckis’ turn to the dark side, where one of the most respected directors of genre cinema became a professional corporate necromancer.
And The Polar Express was his first attempt at making an all CGI mocapped film and is infamous for being utterly, skin-crawlingly unsettling in its depiction of human characters. And yet, maybe it’s because I‘ve seen the absolute depths to which this accursed path would lead Zemeckis I found myself not minding the animation too much, for the most part at least. It just looks like a computer game cutscene. And, if I’m being scrupulously fair, there are even shots that I think are honest to God beautiful.
My, this review is trending rather positive isn’t it? I wonder if that will last.
Heavy Metal began in 1977 as an American translation of Metal Hurlant, a French science fiction fantasy magazine that featured seminal work by such legendary creators as Moebius, Enki Bilal and Jean Claude Forest and had a massive influence on the entire comic book medium because TITS.
Was there some genuinely thought provoking and visually spectacular sci-fi in its pages? Absolutely! Playboy also published plenty of great articles, what’s your point?
Heavy Metal, the 1981 anthology animated film that adapts many of the magazine’s most iconic stories, has tits. It has many tits. It has big tits and small…actually no, it only has big tits. In the ancient swamp of the pre-internet age, that really was enough. The marketing campaign could literally have been the words “CARTOON BOOBS, YA DIG?” plastered on every available surface and this movie would have been a success.
But for a jaded, modern reviewer who sees boobs once (maybe even twice) a month, it’ll take more than that. So, is there more to Heavy Metal than awesome bewbage? Let’s take a look.
Imagine you go to a Burger King and the guy at the counter serves you with a smile, promptly brings the food to your table, thanks you kindly for your custom and wishes you a good day. Someone, in short, who doesn’t have to put nearly this much effort into their job but does it anyway because, gosh darn it, if you’re going to do a job you might as well do it well.
That’s Nelvana. Nelvana is an extremely prolific Canadian animation studio who produced basically any cartoon you saw in the eighties or nineties that wasn’t made by Disney, Hanna-Barbera, Filmation or Warner Bros. They’re probably most famous (if you’re my age, at least) for their many, many licensed animations for properties like Care Bears, Strawberry Shortcake and My Pet Monster. Nelvana were front and centre in the saccharine, corporatised swamp that was the American TV animation scene in the Reagan era. Like many of their peers, Nelvana had to make ends meet in the burger joint by cranking out barely concealed animated toy commercials. Unlike many of their peers, Nelvana actually seemed to give a damn. Their shows were, broadly speaking, better than they needed to be and demonstrated real skill and craftsmanship in their animation. There were always hints that, if given time and a budget and a premise slightly less anodyne than “Will Grumpy Bear ever get that stick out of his ass?”, Nelvana had the talent to make something truly special. And, if ever there was a time to do it, it was the early eighties.
The late seventies/early eighties were the “Warring States” period of American Feature Animation. The senile old king, Disney, had fallen from his throne and seemingly every animator who could hold a pencil was scrambling for the crown. This was the heady time when Rankin Bass, Ralph Bakshi and Don Bluth battled for control of the artform, right up until 1989 when the old king came back and was like “I’m feeling a lot better now everyone, thank you for your concern“.
But all that was in the future. Nelvana was formed in 1971 by Patrick Loubert, Clive Smith and Michael Hirsh with the stated intent of creating a Canadian Disney.
After several well received Christmas specials and animating literally the only part of the Star Wars Holiday Special that deserved to be spared the flame (the cartoon that introduced Boba Fett), the studio began work on their first feature length animation; Rock and Rule. It’s an obvious passion project, clearly made by a young team just bursting with talent and ambition and love for what they were doing. It’s also something that was very obviously begun without a complete script or even a set plot. It’s weird. It’s uneven. It’s a wild, uncontrolled shambling mess of eighties animation that failed when it was dumped into theatres with no marketing by a distributor that neither loved nor understood it. Which obviously means that it was made for me, Mouse, personally.
If you’ve spent any time reading about animé you will have come across the name “Osamu Tezuka”, almost certainly accompanied by the phrase “Godfather of animé/manga”. And that’s true, as far as it goes. Tezuka absolutely kickstarted post-war animé as a genre. But…it kinda feels like we’re missing something, doesn’t it? How exactly did we get from this:
Well to understand that we need to talk about the other godfather of manga and animé. For Osamu Tezuka created animé as a beautiful, innocent garden. But into that garden, there came a serpent. There came Go Nagai.
Hired as a writer and illustrator for Weekly Shonen Jump in 1968, Nagai became an instant cultural lightning rod and enfant terrible of manga with his series Harenchi Gakuen. An erotic comedy set in a school, the series attracted massive controversy in Japan (damn prudes!) with its boundary smashing depictions of nudity and sexuality in a comic ostensibly aimed at children (sometimes have a point!). Nagai’s entire career has been one long game of seeing what he can get away with. His work is categorised by coarse humour, extreme violence, body horror and a pessimism often bordering on nihilism.
Also, Nagai is notorious for a, shall we say, somewhat cavalier attitude to the ethics of depicting sexual assault against women. To put it another way, much of his work is rapier than a full orchestral production of Blurred Lines at the Global Fencing Championships. Shit. Gets. Messed. Up. And his influence cannot be overstated. If you’ve ever watched some disreputable animé late at night and found yourself wondering…why?
Go Nagai. Go Nagai is why.
Go Nagai is why so much of animé is so violent, so weirdly horny and frequently so goddamned awesome. It’s a…complex legacy, to be sure. And much of Nagai’s work is definitely not for me. But he also blazed a trail that was followed by many of the most important and respected creators in the medium, like Katsuhiro Otome and even (I would argue) Miyazaki.
Now, the most important part of Nagai’s oeuvre is the massive Devilman franchise, a constellation of manga, animé adaptations, remakes and spin-offs. There’s a lot of overlap and differences between the various iterations but it usually goes like this; Akira Fudo is an ordinary Japanese schoolkid who gets recruited (or sometimes just duped) by his childhood friend Ryo Asuka into a war to protect humankind from demons. In order to do this, Ryo has Akira become possessed by an ancient warrior demon named Amon to fight other demons. Akira then becomes a superhero named “Devilman” (pronounced “DEEEEEEVILMAAAAAAAAAAAAAANNN!!!!”). From there, the story usually proceeds through a few monster of the week episodes with certain series-standard demons appearing to get the ever-loving demonic shit kicked out of them before taking a sharp left turn with humanity becoming aware of the existence of demons whereupon things get fucking dark.
Very violent. Very horny. Not for everyone. Go Nagai.
Now, there have been several animé adaptations of the original 1972 manga. There was the ridiculously toned down seventies Toei series which was kinda like if The Human Centipede was remade as a Saturday Morning Cartoon about a bunch of people who change into a giant centipede to fight baddies through the power of friendship. Then there was the far more faithful (and pretty damn kickass) OVA in the eighties, a couple of other OVAs in the nineties and early aughts and finally the subject of today’s review Devilman Crybaby, a mini series created by Science SARU for Netflix. Now, one of the reasons I pushed this review back to Halloween (other than just to have a horror themed review for Halloween) was that I knew nothing about this franchise and had a suspicion I would need the extra prep time. And I’m glad I did. Devilman Crybaby was an absolute juggernaut when it was released, becoming one of the most watched and successful animé series in years with a rabid fanbase. The kind of thing you really need to research and read up on before you come out with something like “I watched it and I didn’t really care for it”.
This is one of those reviews where I feel like literally every single person interested enough to read it already knows far, far more about the topic than I do and is just waiting for me to make a massive ass of myself. I never watched Sailor Moon growing up and was only vaguely aware of it as the animé that most people think of when they hear the word “animé”. So I went on a rather fascinating tvtropes binge (did you know that the entire Japanese magical girl genre was inspired by the American sitcom Bewitched?) and I’m proud to report that I’ve gone from being absolutely clueless to loveably befuddled in record time.
Okay. So. Let’s start at the end and work our way backwards.
What is Sailor Moon R: The Movie?
Sailor Moon R is a movie based on Sailor Moon R.
What is Sailor Moon R?
Sailor Moon R is the second season of the Sailor Moon animé.
What is the Sailor Moon animé?
The animé adaptation of Naoko Takeuchi’s manga about schoolgirl Usagi Tsukino who discovers that she is the reincarnation of an ancient warrior princess from a kingdom on the Moon. As Sailor Moon she battles evil monsters with the help of other girls/reincarnated warriors such as Sailor Mars, Sailor Venus, Sailor Mercury and Sailor Jupiter. It’s a fusion of the magical girl genre with the sentai superhero genre.
What is best in life?
To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you and to hear the lamentation of the women.
Why don’t girls like me?
Because you’re not actually a person, you’re just a rhetorical device I’m using for this review.
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.