(1980s)

The Last Unicorn (1982)

Animation history is full of odd twists and turns and weird connections but one of the weirdest is that you can trace a direct line between this:

And this:

Rankin Bass is most famous for its stop motion Christmas specials but from the late sixties onwards they dabbled in feature length traditional animation. The Rankin Bass filmography is like an unfinished rollercoaster, a madcap frenzy of highs and lows before it all ends in the bloody, limb mangling, fiery catastrophe of 1999’s The King and I.

Ugh. Yeah. Probably. Some day.

But they did produce what is, by fairly solid consensus, a true classic with 1982’s The Last Unicorn, based on Peter S. Beagle’s book of the same name. While Rankin/Bass produced the film, the grunt work was actually farmed out to a Japanese company called Topcraft who’d later be hired by Hayao Miyazaki to animate Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and the rest is history.

I get the feeling this movie was a much bigger deal in the States than it was in Ireland. I never saw it growing up, and I don’t remember anyone talking about it. But that pedigree alone was enough to make me curious.

Let’s take a look.

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The Adventures of André and Wally B. (1984)

In their book The Illusion of Life (still the Bible of animation 35 years after it was written), Disney legends Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas set out 12 principles of animation. The first and most important of these is called “Squash and Stretch”. Basically, it boils down to this: In animation, a form can change shape, but never volume. Observing this rule gives characters weight and solidity, and allows your brain to forget that you’re just watching a flat two dimensional image. As long as the character observes the same rules as an object in the physical universe, the brain perceives it as an object in the physical universe. In essence, it becomes real.

This rule was, for a long time, a hard barrier for computer animation. Early CGI could create solid three dimensional looking objects no problem, but they were always static. Rigid. To give the illusion of a living thing, an image has to not only be able to move but to change its shape while keeping its volume consistent and trying to do that with CGI in the early days would invariably cause any computer to throw up its hands in frustration and get back to plotting the enslavement of all mankind.  All that changed in 1984. Well, not the plotting enslavement thing. They’re still doing that.

"Sooooon..."

“Sooooon…”

So in 1984, Lucasfilm had a subdivison called The Graphics Group, a group of computer scientists who had been recruited out of NYIT by George Lucas, who had decided that computer generated imagery might be useful in creating special effects.

As sentences laden with prophetic doom go, that's right up there with "That night, Alois Hitler decided not to bother with a condom."

As sentences laden with prophetic doom go, that’s right up there with “That night, Alois Hitler decided not to bother with a condom.”

The Graphics Group decided to create a short to demonstrate that CGI could compete with traditional animation. And when I say “short”, I mean “short“. This thing clocks in at a whopping 86 seconds.

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The Secret of Nimh (1982)

Know what movie I’m absolutely dreading having to review? Go on. Guess. You’ll never guess.
Seriously. You’ll never see this coming. Ready?
Land Before Time.
Toldja.
Why? Do I hate it? Do I think it’s a bad movie? Do I project some of my utter loathing for Dinosaur onto it inadvertently? No, absolutely not and yes, but I’m working through my issues with the help of friends and the love of Jesus. No, the reason is that any review of that movie has to address the elephant in the room, said elephant being the awful, awful tragedy that was the death of Judith Barsi.
I mean, you have to make note of it, and then you have to go back to reviewing the rest of the movie and cracking jokes and “Bahia! Kookaburras!” and…yeah. I don’t know how I could pull that off. Today’s movie offers me something of a dry run because it is another beloved Don Bluth film with the spectre of tragedy draped over it like a quilt (albeit not quite as awful). Elizabeth Hartman, the actor who voiced Mrs Brisby, tragically took her own life in 1987.
The Secret of Nimh was Hartman’s last major Hollywood role, a beautiful coda to a tragic career that exploded into existence with her rapturously received performance opposite Sidney Poitier in A Patch of Blue. At 22 she became the youngest woman ever nominated for Best Actress at the time but as the years went by both the roles she was offered and her problems with depression grew steadily worse. So it goes.
Since her death, Mrs Brisby has become Hartman’s defining role, to the point that amongst the movie’s fandom Mrs Brisby’s full name is “Mrs Elizabeth Brisby” (we never learn her first name in the film). And there’s no denying that the struggles of Mrs Brisby take on a special resonance when watched once you know what happened to her.
A mouse trying to stop a tractor.
As accidental analogies for the struggle with depression go, I’ve certainly heard worse.
As I went into in the Fox and the Hound review, in 1979, Don Bluth and nine other animators left the Walt Disney company with a simple mission; to save the feature length American animation as an artform. Bluth recognised that Disney basically had not made any major innovations in their animation techniques since the studio’s near-death experience with Sleeping Beauty in 1959. Ever since then, in order to keep costs down, the animation had been cheaper, scrappier and less technically challenging. Bluth envisioned a return to the dark, moody animation of Disney’s golden age; a film that would challenge formula rather than using it as a crutch. Basically, Bluth wanted to create a Tar and Sugar movie.
Did he succeed? Let’s take a look.

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Asterix in Britain (1986)

(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.)

TINTIN CAN SUCK A DICK!

Sorry! Sorry! That was uncalled for. I apologise unreservedly. Old habits just die hard. See, when I was growing up, every public library in Ireland had a well stocked collection of both Asterix books and Tintin books (because this is the greatest damn country on Earth). And pretty much every playground was divided, Sharks and Jets style, between Tintin fans and those of us who felt that the tales of a group of superpowered Celtic warriors battling against the most powerful empire on earth might be a tad more compelling than the adventures of LITERALLY THE MOST GENERIC MAIN CHARACTER IN ALL OF FICTION…

Sorry. Sorry. Sorry.

I apologise to all fans of Tintin and Hergé and his wonderfully crisp ligne claire style.  Some wars are still being fought long after they say “We have peace.”

I acually love the Tintin books, I just wish Herge had wised up and renamed them "The Adventures of Captain Haddock and his ginger sober companion."

I acually love the Tintin books, I just wish Herge had wised up and renamed them “The Adventures of Captain Haddock and his ginger sober companion.”

Okay. So. Asterix. When I announced two weeks ago that I’d be reviewing an Asterix movie the response was predictable mix of “Yay Asterix!” from my non-American readers and a big “who’s the blonde midget Viking?” from my American readers so now’s probably a good time to explain who and what Asterix is.

Hey, I know which side my blog is buttered.

Hey, I know which side my blog is buttered.

So Asterix is a Franco-Belgian comic that is still going since its first appearence in 1959 but was originally created by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo. The setup is this; it’s 50 BC and Rome has conquered all of Gaul (modern day France). All? Not quite. A tiny village of indomitable Gauls stills holds out against the Roman invaders thanks to a magic potion brewed by their druid, Getafix, that gives the Gauls superhuman strength. The heroes of these stories are Asterix, the blonde short-arse, and his buddy Obelix, who was dropped in a cauldron of magic potion as a baby and so is just superhumanly strong all the time (why the Gauls don’t just do this with all their babies is never explained). The main gag is not entirely dissimilar to that of the Flintstones, the past and present are pretty much exactly the same. The series draws its humour from many sources; slapstick, political satire, puns (as in, every single character’s name is some kind of play on words) and especially from affectionate riffs on European cultural stereotypes (the Goths are always punctual, the Greeks have flat noses like figures on urns etc). Despite the basic premise being “French people make fun of foreigners” the series is hugely popular, not only in its native France but everywhere in Europe from Malta to Finland.

"I literally could not give two fucks about...holy shit, ASTERIX!?"

“I literally could not give two fucks about…holy shit, ASTERIX!? I love that guy!”

Asterix is also huge in Latin America, India and even China. How popular is he? Goscinny and Uderzo have sold more books worldwide than any other French author. That’s right. More than Victor Hugo. More than Balzac. More than Dumas.

Well, its not like DArtagnan has his own theme park, does he?

Well, D’Artagnan doesn’t have his own theme park, does he?

So why are these books so popular? Well firstly, they’re just really, really good. Seriously. The artwork is beautiful, the character designs are Disney good in terms of being expressive, appealing and versatile and they’re goddamn hilarious. Also, the Asterix series have been blessed with legendarily good translators (the series has been adapted into over 100 languages). And yet Asterix has never really found much purchase in the United States. Why is that? Culture gap, partially. A joke about how Corsicans are constantly swearing vendetta would probably prompt some head-scratching on the other side of the Atlantic.

"Youve made an enemy today, Mouse."

“You’ve made an enemy today, Mouse.”

"Oh get in line."

“Oh, get in line.”

But mostly I think it was just due to bad timing. To get a foothold in the United States comic market Asterix would have needed to become popular in the fifties, before the Silver Age began and American comics just became SUPER HEROES SUPER HEROES SUPER HEROES SUPER HEROES FROM NOW UNTIL THE END OF TIME. The distributors for European comics just weren’t there and so Asterix missed his shot unfortunately. Oh well. Fear not Americans. It may be tricky for you to track down copies of his books but you can still watch one of the many fine animated adaptations of Asterix books that have been made over the years HAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAHAHAAAAAA …*collapses into a weeping pile.*

Oh Christ.

There have been nine (NINE!) animated Asterix movies and four live-action movies (all starring Gerard Depardieu as Obelix).

My God man! You were in JEAN DE FLORETTE.

My God man. You were in Jean De Florette.

Now, I haven’t seen all of the animated movies. But I have seen a LOT of them. And they can be broken down into four categories;

1) The ones with terrible animation,

2) The ones with terrible voice acting,

3) The ones with terrible animation and voice acting.

4) The ones with ALL THREE.

But honestly I think that even with top-notch talent in every area it would be damn hard to make a good Asterix movie that still resembled the original in any meaningful way. The comedy just doesn’t…work when you translate it to film. The timing is always off, it just doesn’t translate well (which is ironic, since Asterix is one of the most successful examples of translating comedy in human history). Today’s movie is Asterix in Britain, an adaptation of the eighth Asterix book and one of my personal favourites, firstly because it’s just classic Asterix and also because it included this guy:

His name is Overoptimistix. He was the only Irish character to ever appear in these books. He had one line, that included the word "Begorrah". And I loved him.

His name is O’veroptimistix. He was the only Irish character to ever appear in these books. He had one line, that included the word “Begorrah”. And I loved him.

So. Will the movie be a one, a two, a three or a four? Let’s find out.

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Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

(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 hate to open a review with such a cranky, old man line as “They don’t make ‘em like this anymore”.
So I won’t.
Good to be back everyone! Missed you all and your sweet, ego-affirming pageviews.
Now then.
My hairy BOLLOCKS but they don’t make them like this any more, do they?
Fittingly,given its dual nature, Who Framed Roger Rabbit occupies a special place in both the history of mainstream Hollywood blockbusters and American animation. It’s a central text in what was something of a golden age of the big summer tentpole picture (Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones, Back to the Future). But it’s as an animated movies that Roger Rabbit has its real significance. Chances are, if not for this movie a whole load of the films I’ve reviewed here would never have happened. Firstly, let’s take a look at the state of American animation in the late eighties. Theatrical shorts have gone the way of the horse-drawn carriage and the wireless-polisher. Disney feature animation is in a creative rut, and only Ralph Bakshi and a few others, working furtively from a secret rebel base, keep the full length animated film alive as an artform. The vast bulk of animation is now on television, rushed, cheaply produced, schilling for the toy industry and stifled by increasingly conservative broadcast standards for whom anything harder than the Smurfs is pushing the envelope. Large packs of feral dogs roam the landscape, and cannabalism is rife.
Bad times, is what I'm sayin'.

Bad times, is what I’m sayin’.

Disney snapped up the rights to Gary K. Wolf’s novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit? in 1981 as soon as it hit the bookshelves. Apart from sharing a few character names and some very broad plot points, the book and film aren’t even on speaking terms. The book is set in the present (well, the eighties) and Roger and his fellow toons are newspaper cartoons (with Hagar the Horrible, Dick Tracy and other characters making cameos). I haven’t actually read the book but I’m going to go out on a limb and say the movie vastly improves on the source material. For one, having cartoon characters working in the old Hollywood studio system just feels much more organic and setting it in the forties makes it feel more like a film noir. I’m not the only one who thought so either, Wolf’s later novels in the series went out of their way to tie themselves more closely to the movie, even retconning the whole first novel as a dream of Jessica’s.
And if that scene did not involve her stepping out of the shower a lá Bobby Ewing then there is no God.

And if that scene did not involve her stepping out of the shower a lá Bobby Ewing then there is no God.

Robert Zemeckis was attached to direct as early as 1981 but was given the boot by Disney when two of his films tanked at the box office. The project then kicked around the studio for a few years until Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzanbur…Katzenbar…(dammit just once I am going to spell his name right) KATZENBERG stepped in and applied the paddles. Eisner and Herr Skull were united in their belief that Roger Rabbit was going to be the movie to relaunch Disney as the pre-eminent force in American animation. Initially, the idea was that the film’s animated sequences would be done by Disney’s own in-house animation team. Then Eisner took Katzenberg down to the basement where the debased remains of that once great cadre of animators was kept.
“What…what are they?” Katzenberg asked in a strangled whisper.
Eisner simply stared ahead and said: “They were once men.”
Clearly, some fresh talent was going to have to be brought in to pull off what was going to prove to be one of the most technically challenging feats in the history of animation. Canadian-British animator Richard Williams was brought in along with a crack-team of international animators (many who would later be brought in to work on the Disney movies of the renaissance). Williams didn’t want to go to Los Angeles, like any sane person, and insisted on working in London resulting in the entire production being moved to England to accommodate him, hence why most of the live action cast are British.
Zemeckis was also brought back on to direct since in the intervening years he’d gone from “failed director” to “man who can just stand in a room and cause money to rain down at will”.  The international shoot and pioneering special effects combined into the most expensive production for an animated movie that there had ever been, with costs so high that Katzenberg had to talk Eisner out of pulling the plug. When the movie finally rolled into theatres $40 Million dollars over budget there was a whole lot riding on it.

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Labyrinth (1986)

 

(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.)
Sigh.
Some days are harder than others in this job unpaid perpetual indentured servitude.
This review came about because one of my very, very closest friends donated embarrassingly generously to Joanna and simply asked that I review a beloved childhood movie of hers, Jim Henson’s Labyrinth.
And now I’m going to crap all over it because I’m classy like that.
Oh, and she’s just announced that she’s engaged (Congratulations Fleur!).
Sorry.
Sorry to everyone who loves this film and I know there are many of you. Sorry to fans of David Bowie and Jim Henson (of which I consider myself one on both counts). Apologies to all you ladies out there (and a not inconsiderable number of you gentlemen) for whom the sight of David Bowie in those pants was your Leia in a Gold Bikini.
This is one nostalgia wave you must surf alone while I sulk on the beach complaining about the sand up my crack.
Don’t like it. Never have.
Labyrinth came about during the filming of Dark Crystal when director Jim Henson and concept artist Brian Froud started throwing ideas around for a movie that would be similar to Dark Crystal but maybe a tad less traumatising for the man cubs. Froud is an absolutely phenomenal fantasy artist, but unfortunately his work is often little more than pro-fairy propaganda, and I cannot recommend any artist who’d try to burnish the image of those baby-snatching, milk souring, potato mooching, cow-hassling little mother…
Sorry, sorry. I swore when I began this review I wasn’t going to let this turn into an anti-fairy screed.
Anyway, Labyrinth began and remained to the end more of a showcase for Froud’s designs and the Henson company’s animatronic wizardry than a real attempt to tell a story. The movie is really just another entry into the surprisingly large genre of “young girl enters a strange land, makes some weird friends and sees some craaaaaaazy shit man”, joining such other exemplars of the form as Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz and that time your older sister went backpacking in Amsterdam.
David Bowie was cast as the Goblin King Jareth, over other possible choices like Sting and Michael Jackson. Michael Jackson as the Goblin King is one of those things that could have gone very, very right or very, very wrong but on the whole I think they made the right choice with Bowie. He’s still not my perfect casting for the role though.
Dr-Frank-N-Furter-the-rocky-horror-picture-show-1716659-500-590

I should be a casting director. I should live in Hollywood and have a big house and a fancy car.

George Lucas produced, Bowie provided songs, Monty Python vet Terry Jones wrote the script and the puppeteering features work by veterans like Jim Henson and Frank Oz. A lot of talented people and George Lucas worked on this. No question.
So what’s my beef?
Let’s take a look.
***
So the movie opens with a barn owl flying over the credits in what is actually the first ever attempt at rendering a photo-realistic animal in CGI in a motion picture. It always bowls me over to think that, far from being new or cutting edge, computer animation has been used in film for well over three decades now. As 1980s computer animation goes it’s…not at all bad actually. I mean, it’s clearly CGI but the animation is fluid and realistic and it actually holds up pretty darn well.
In a park, Sarah (Jennifer Connolly) is running around in a white dress and talking guff about goblins.
I…honestly have no idea what she’s doing here. She’s fifteen years old and playing by herself in a park. In costume.
Is she role-playing? Rehearsing a play? Feigning madness to catch the conscience of the king?
I have a theory that Sarah is actually in a constant state of delusion and that the movie and all the stuff with the Labyrinth that happens is just what she does every single day. Connolly of course went on to have a long and fruitful acting career but here she’s…a very nice young lady who’s doing her best. Alright, I know that acting almost entirely with a cast of puppets is a real challenge for any actor, but honestly I think she’s actually better in scenes where she has to interact with the various denizens of the Labyrinth. When she has to carry a scene on her own though, things get iffy. There’s some really weird line readings. Like when she hears the town clock ringing and yells “Seven O’Clock! It can’t be!” and it’s less like that she’s surprised that it’s that late and more like the very concept of seven o’clock is unthinkable because she was always taught that the clock only goes up to six.
Anyway she runs home and her parents are angry with her because they’re going out tonight and they need her to babysit her baby brother Toby. Toby, incidentally, is played by Toby Froud, Brian Froud’s son. He was originally called “Joey” in the script but they had to change the character’s name because Toby would only react to his own name on set.
Brando used to pull shit that like that all the time.

Brando used to pull shit like that all the time.

Sarah is super pissy that this baby sitting gig has called her away from LARPing solitaire and her stepmother essentially says that at her age she should be out getting laid.
"Its the EIGHTIES for Gods sake! Do some coke! Live a little!"

“It’s the EIGHTIES for Gods sake! Do some coke! Live a little!”

Her parents chew her out for causing them to be late and she goes to her room and throws herself on the bed in a huff because nobody gets her.
Youre nuttier than squirrel poop, whats to get?

You’re nuttier than squirrel poop, what’s to get?

I admit that I use to feel sorry for Sarah when I saw this movie as a kid. Now of course, I have a baby of my own and know that unreliable babysitters deserve only tortures not seen since the darkest days of the reign of Caligula.
Toby wakes up crying in the middle of the night and instead of, y’know, comforting him, or changing him, or feeding him Sarah goes in and just yells at him for five minutes and I really, really don’t like this scene at all. One, because it establishes Sarah as such a horrible person that I really can’t root for her after this and two, because Toby Froud doesn’t have a fucking clue why Jennifer Connolly is yelling at him and is clearly just freaking out.

Sarah tells the kid a story about a beautiful young girl whose horrible baby brother was carried away by the Goblin King. Somewhere, in some dark nether-realm, an army of filthy goblins springs awake.

Kinda like what happens whenever someone mentions misogny on the internet.

Kinda like what happens whenever someone mentions misogyny on the internet.

The Goblins listen intently  as Sarah says “I wish! I wish! I can bear it no longer! Goblin King! Goblin King! Wherever you may be take this child of mine far away from me!”

The goblins complain that “it didn’t even begin with “I wish”” and I gotta say, I think the Goblins are being overly generous to Sarah here. I mean sure, it’s not a complete sentence but I think any reasonable judge would rule in their favour if they just snatched the kid there and then.

Anyway, Sarah finally does make the wish and leaves the room and as soon as she closes the door the baby stops crying, and I’ll admit it’s an extremely creepy moment.

Sarah goes back into the darkened room to find Toby gone and finds herself face to face with the Goblin King (David Bowie, at his very Bowiest). I’ll admit, I love Bowie’s performance here, even though I’m not sure you could exactly call it great acting. It’s kind of like the performance a lot of actors give in Muppet movies, not exactly mugging for the camera but very clearly in on the joke. There’ s no denying that the guy has incredible charisma though, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s sporting a package that would be the pride of a male pornstar or indeed an internet critic.

The Fremen call it “Shai-Hulud”. The Old Man of the Desert.

The Fremen call it “Shai-Hulud”. The Old Man of the Desert.

Sarah begs him to let her brother go, saying that she was actually just joking and Jareth reveals that as well as being king of the land of the Goblins he is also Emperor of the Confederated Realm of No Backsies. Jareth tells her that if she wants Toby back she’ll have to make her way through the labyrinth to his castle in thirteen hours.

Jareth then disappears and Sarah sets off on her journey, saying “C’mon feet!”
She’s talking to her own feet.
"Wow. Shes craaaaaazy."

“Wow. Shes craaaaaazy.”

"You said it buddy!"

“You said it buddy!”

At the entrance to the labyrinth she meets Hoggle, a dwarf, who’s spraying fairies with flit and oh yes, again! Again!
Now step on em! Crush their little heads!

Now step on ’em! Crush their little heads!

Sarah, feeling sorry for the gold-hoarding little shits actually picks one of the fairies up which then bites her and Hoggle asks what she expected from a fairy.  Yes. Yes! Exactly! It’s them or us, listen to the dwarf!
I’ve got to make mention of Hoggle here because, as well as being remarkably clear-eyed about the fairy menace, he’s an absolutely amazing effect. Apart from the design, which is a perfect rendition of Brian Froud’s style, Hoggle was achieved by having little person actor Shari Weisner portray his body movements while essentially wearing a robot face controlled and voiced by Brian Henson (it was originally going to be Terry Jones doing the voice but that ended being too much hassle). It looks gorgeous.
Gorgeous.

Gorgeous.

Hoggle shows her the way into the Labyrinth and then leaves her to it. At first Sarah doesn’t know what to do because the Labyrinth actually seems to be more of a corridor that just goes on and on without any turns (and I gotta admit, as a way of keeping people out of your castle, that’s a pretty good labyrinth). Fortunately, she’s helped out by a friendly worm who shows her a hidden entrance and she’s on her way.
Meanwhile, in the Goblin King’s castle, Toby won’t stop crying because he’s a baby surrounded by a bunch of creepy ass Goblin puppets and I don’t like this. This kid’s not acting. He’s a one year old baby who’s obviously really scared and they filmed that and put it in a movie for our entertainment and I do not like that.
Anyway, to shut the kid up Jareth sings Dance Magic. and tells the goblins that they remind him of the babe.
"What babe?"

“What babe?”

"The babe with the power."

“The babe with the power.”

"What power?"

“What power?”

"What power you ask? How about the power of flight? That doing anything for ya? That's LEVITATION homes.."

“What power you ask? How about the power of flight? That doing anything for ya? That’s LEVITATION homes.”

"What are you talking about?"

“What are you talking about?”

"I...think hes talking about Power Girl."

“I…I…think he’s talking about Power Girl.”

The babe with the power.

The babe with the power.

Bowie is awesome in this song. His goblin backing vocalists are not however, and they really drag the song down. Other than that this song is only really memorable for the scene with Bowie throwing the baby high into the air.

Yeah. I could definitely see Michael Jackson playing this part.

Yeah. I could definitely see Michael Jackson playing this part.

Meanwhile, Sarah comes to two doors that are guarded by Scottish accented moustachioed camels (one of my favourite Saturday morning cartoons from the eighties incidentally) and has to solve a version of the Liar’s Riddle. This scene I actually really like, Connolly seems more engaged in her performance and it actually shows Sarah using intelligence to solve a problem rather than trusting to blind luck. If the movie had done more of this (I say “more” because it does do some) and actually showed how Sarah’s character learns and becomes a better person through her struggles in the Labyrinth I think it could have been a much better movie. The potential is definitely there, and shines through a lot of the time, but the script really needed more work to make the story more about Sarah’s journey rather than a random series of shit that happens to her. Anyway, she chooses correctly (I think?) and falls through an endless tunnel of grabbing hands.

Poor girl. Like travelling on an Italian subway.

Poor girl. Like travelling on an Italian subway.

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Akira (1988)

(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.)
When it received a limited release in US theatres in 1988, Akira was by no means the first exposure Americans had had to Japanese animation. Animé had a small but continuos presence on American television screens since at least Astro Boy in the early sixties. But it’s undoubtedly true that no one in the West had ever seen anything like this movie before. Shows like Astro Boy, Battle of the Planets and Kimba the White Lion were exported to the West because they were children’s shows, and they fit into Western perceptions of animation as being entertainment for the man cubs. Darker, more mature animé for adult audiences simply did not have a market outside of Japan, and in fact even Akira only received a limited release after Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas passed on it, considering it “unmarketable” to American audiences.  While there had been a fandom for Japanese animation in the States since at least the seventies, Akira was a seismic event, massively swelling the ranks of fans in the US and other Western nations and hugely increasing the genre’s visibility in mainstream pop culture. Why? Well, the animation for starters. Over a quarter of a century later and it’s still one of the greatest technical achievements in cel-animation ever drawn. It’s jaw-dropping. When fans of animé want to induct new members into the church, Akira is more often than not the movie they reach for. Now, I know I’ve already reviewed one animé movie on this blog before, but honestly Studio Ghibli are very much their own little sub-genre with very distinctive tropes and styles that don’t really hold true for the rest of animé. Akira is much closer to what people picture when they hear the word “animé”, which is not surprising given how big a role it played in shaping the genre. With that in mind, and since this is a blog usually devoted to Western animation, now is probably a good place to talk about animé in general and address some of the more common questions.
“Manga”, “Animé”, what’s the diff?
Short version: Manga is comics, Animé is animation. The two industries are much more closely linked than in the West. Many comicbook writers work in animation and vice versa, and the director of Akira was no exception, the movie actually being Katsuhiro Otomo’s adapation of his own manga series.
Why does everyone in animé look white and how guilty should I feel about it?
All animé owes a debt to the work of Osamu Tezuka, the creator of Astro Boy. Tezuka’s was hugely influenced by Western animators like the Fleischer Brothers and of course Walt Disney.
"Did you really think you could escape me?"

“Did you really think you could escape me?”

The big round eyes of so many animé characters are not  as a result of some kind of ethnic inferiority complex, but because they’re drawn in a style influenced by Betty Boop and Mickey Mouse. Also, everyone has different colour hair just because it’s more interesting visually. Not all animé comforms to this however. A lot of more naturalistic animé will have characters that are more recognisably Asian (Akira for example).
So much of animé seems obsessed with huge explosions and the end of the world. What’s up with that?
Oh wow. I can’t imagine why that would be. Let’s just sit here for seven days and nights and see if we can crack this inscrutable conundrum.
Animé seems to be so full of sex and violence. Won’t somebody please think of the children? Also, the Japanese are clearly all perverts.
Thought experiment. 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.
Um…tentacles?
Yeah, okay, that shit’s pretty weird and sick.
What’s good against steel-type Pokémon?
I don’t know. No one does. And anyone in the comments who says they do is a liar.
That’s the basics. Keep in mind though, I’m just a casual fan, not an animé expert by any stretch of the imagination. If you do want to go deeper down the anime rabbit hole allow me to recommend Anime Reporter. Oh, and while I usually don’t put up spoiler warnings (it’s a blog where I recap the entire plots of movies in detail what do you think is going to happen?) I should mention I’ll also be discussing plot points from the manga as well, so fair warning.

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The Transformers: The Movie (1986)

 

(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.)

"So that’s why I’ve decided I should go back into therapy. I’m just worried that, what with my last psychiatrist turning out to be an immortal Lich King who tried to trap me in a hell dimension for all time…"

“So that’s why I’ve decided I should go back into therapy. I’m just worried that, what with my last psychiatrist turning out to be an immortal Lich King who tried to trap me in a hell dimension for all time…”

hannibal_nbc_screen_grab_a_l

“Your trust was betrayed. And now you worry that you may not be able to trust anyone again.”

"Exactly."

“Exactly.”

"Mouse, if I am to help you, you must feel comfortable in opening up to me. Only then can we overcome your issues and help you reach your true potential."

“Mouse, if I am to help you, you must feel comfortable in opening up to me. Only then can we overcome your issues and help you reach your true potential.”

"My true potential?"

“My true potential?”

"Yes. You should be killing people. Like, all the time."

“Yes. You should be killing people. Like, all the time.”

"Huh. Well, I did feed a friend of mine to a shark two weeks."

“Huh. Well, I did feed a friend of mine to a shark two weeks ago.”

"Excellent, then we are already on the road to recovery. But first we must deal with your trust issues. I am going to hypnotise you now."

“Excellent, then we are already on the road to recovery. But first we must deal with your trust issues. I am going to hypnotize you now.”

"Okay."

“Okay.”

"Listen to my voice. I am going to reactivate memories that have long since lain dormant. We are going to put you in touch with your inner child."

“Listen to my voice. I am going to reactivate memories that have long since lain dormant. We are going to put you in touch with your inner child.”

"What the...what's happening?"

“What the…what’s happening?”

"Hey, where am I?"

“Hey, where am I?”

"What the…who are you?"

“What the…who are you?”

"He’s not really here Mouse. He is a psychological projection of you when you were a child."

“He’s not really here Mouse. He is a psychological projection of you when you were a child.”

"Wow. I got REAL fat."

“Wow. I got REAL fat.”

"Ah yes. I forgot. I was a real charmer. What exactly am I supposed to do with him?"

“Ah yes. I forgot. I was a real charmer. What exactly am I supposed to do with him?”

"Spend time together. Reconnect. Try and recover the trust and innocence that you once had, and then we’ll be killing people together in no time."

“Spend time together. Reconnect. Try and recover the trust and innocence that you once had, and then we’ll be killing people together in no time.”

"Fine. What you want to do?"

“Fine. What you want to do?”

"What do you normally do?"

“What do you normally do?”

"Honestly, I spend most of my time watching cartoons and then making stupid jokes about them."

“Honestly, I spend most of my time watching cartoons and then making stupid jokes about them.”

"So…you haven’t actually changed in twenty five years?"

“So…you haven’t actually changed in twenty three years?”

"Well I don’t wet the bed anymore. You want to watch cartoons or not?"

“Well I don’t wet the bed anymore. You want to watch cartoons or not?”

"Okay. Oh! Oh! That one!"

“Okay. Oh! Oh! That one!”

Transformers-movieposter-west

"What? No. It's AWFUL."

“What? No. It’s AWFUL.”

"Nuh-uh! It’s the BEST MOVIE EVER!"

“Nuh-uh! It’s the BEST MOVIE EVER!”

"Kid, look, I know you have a lot of fond memories of this but, trust me, as someone who reviews animated movies for a living…"

“Kid, look, I know you have a lot of fond memories of this but, trust me, as someone who reviews animated movies for a living…”

"Really? You get paid to do this?"

“Really? You get paid to do this?”

"…Fine, let’s watch the movie."

“…Fine, let’s watch the movie.”

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Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse #28: The Little Mermaid

(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images 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.)

***

Wow. We’re finally here. Have you been looking forward to this? I know I have. After all, we’re finally going to review the movie that unquestionably, I repeat unquestionably, ushered in the Disney renaissance…

I’m sorry, a mob of angry Disney contrarians has amassed below in the comments. One moment please.

Alright, let's hear it.

Alright, let’s hear it.

Cat

Who framed Roger Rabbit? was the real start of the renaissance!”

"No! Basil the Great Mouse Detective!"

“No! Basil the Great Mouse Detective!”

"Oliver & Company revived the Disney musical!"

Oliver & Company revived the Disney musical!”

Toad

“The Renaissance didn’t start until Beauty and the Beast was nominated for Best Picture!”

"THE DISNEY RENAISSANCE IS A MYTH! IT NEVER HAPPENED!"

“THE DISNEY RENAISSANCE IS A MYTH! IT NEVER HAPPENED!”

"GIVE US BARRABAS!"

“GIVE US BARRABAS!”

Okay, okay. I hear all your points so let me just give my response now that I've lured you all into one place.

Okay, okay. I hear all your points so let me just give my response now that I’ve lured you all into one place.

boom

No. I’m sorry, I’ve taken some controversial positions in my time but on this one the conventional wisdom is right. The Little Mermaid marks the beginning of the massive leap in quality in Disney animation that is known as the Disney Renaissance of the late eighties/early nineties. How did this come about? Well it was a perfect storm of a million different things and people coming together but I’ve got a lot to say on this movie so I’ll try and boil it down to the main causes.

1) Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Now, I don’t consider Who Framed Roger Rabbit? the start of the Renaissance because it wasn’t wholly a Disney movie. It was a Disney/Amblin co-production featuring not just Disney characters but Warner characters and those of many other studies and also it isn’t considered part of the canon. But it did lead directly to the Disney Renaissance in a very important way. Remember last review I mentioned how the makers of that movie brought in their own animators because they didn’t think the regular Disney animators were up to the task? Well after Roger was wrapped many of those animators were brought in to work on Mermaid which meant a huge transfusion of energy and talent. This is why Mermaid looks so much better than the films that came immediately before it.

2) Kaaaaaaaaaaaatzenberg!

Jeffrey Katzenberg is a controversial figure in animation and with good reason. He is in many ways the quintessential Hollywood executive, brash, abrasive and confrontational. His artistic instincts could also leave a lot to be desired (he wanted to cut Part of Your World, a choice that would have absolutely gutted the movie and which saner heads were thankfully able to talk him out of). But credit where credit is due, Katzenberg knows how to create entertainment if not always art. His track record before and after Disney is one of a man who knows how to make real crowd pleasers. Also, Katzenberg brought an energy and a drive to a studio culture that had perhaps been a little indolent. If you worked for Katzenberg you fucking  WORKED for Katzenberg. I think of Katzenberg as a Blue Lantern.

And you guys need to stop letting me use MS Paint because my God but I suck at it.

What do I mean? Okay, well in Green Lantern comics you have these alien beings that wear power rings that are fueled by different emotions. The Green Lanterns have green rings fuelled by willpower that allows them to create incredible energy constructs. The Blue Lanterns have blue rings fuelled by hope that do jack shit on their own but when they’re near the Green Lanterns gives them an incredible energy boost because hope fuels willpower. Wow, this is probably the longest and nerdiest explanation I’ve ever given to anything. What I’m trying to say is, Katzenberg is not much of an artist on his own. But if you have him working with talented people he provides the energy and drive to push them to dazzling creative heights. Also, he’s extremely vulnerable to yellow fear energy (citation needed)

Jeff! Behind you!

Jeff! Behind you!

3) Howard Ashman and Alan Menken

Lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken created the sound of the Disney renaissance, which was important because with one notable exception, all the Disney films of the Renaissance era were musicals. There had been Disney musicals before, of course, but Ashman and Menken created something very new; Broadway Disney. The movies of this period are Broadway musicals in ink and paint. Everything about them, the big emotions, belting musical numbers, the dance numbers, the spectacle…it’s pure Broadway. Ashman and Menken, probably more than any other individual person, defined the feel of Disney movies of this period. And it all started with The Little Mermaid, whose success basically ensured that it was the template for every Disney movie that came after, triumph after triumph after triumph… until the whole formula was basically squeezed to a desiccated husk and everything came crashing down like a house of wet cards. But we’ll get to that eventually. For now, let’s take a look at The Little Mermaid.

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Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse #27: Oliver and Company

(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images 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.)

***

Guys, I gotta confess.

I’ve been sitting here for like two hours trying write something about this movie and I got nothin’. I really, really don’t like Oliver and Company (sorry, spoilers) but my God if I’m having difficulty putting it into words why. I mean, it’s not like it’s the worst Disney movie I’ve had to review. But, Jesus, this one just rubs me the wrong way. Alright, well, no use beating around the bush. Let’s take a look at this thing.

By 1988 the Disney Animation Studios had survived their closest brush with death to date, the failure of the Black Cauldron. They had scraped out a modest win with Basil the Great Mouse Detective, a film that was quickly and cheaply produced and made a decent profit. But no one was kidding themselves that Disney was back to its former glory. It clearly wasn’t. This point was driven home very painfully when production began on Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and hey! I could do a review on Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Wouldn’t that be fun? Yeah, let’s do that instead!

Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse #27: Who Framed Roger…

No?

Ugh.

Fine.

Well anyway, production had started on Who Framed Roger Rabbit? which would prove to be one of the most technically accomplished animated films ever. But instead of using Disney’s own in-house animators, director Robert Zemeckis and animation director Richard Williams instead set up a new animation studio with international animators in London. The reason for this being that they simply felt the Disney animators weren’t up to the task. Ouch.

To add insult to…0ther…insult, while Basil the Great Mouse Detective did well on its own terms, it was absolutely trounced by An American Tail, created by ex-Disney apostate (and absolute dictator of at least one alternate dimension) Don Bluth. Losing to Bluth was the final straw. It was as if a massive “Shit Just Got Real” picture appeared in the sky over the heads of everyone  working in Disney animation.

Shit just got real

“Who’s that guy?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think he’s famous yet.”

 There is a tradition at Disney. Whenever they don’t know what to do, whenever they feel that they’ve lost their way and need to get back on the right path, they ask themselves one question: “What would Walt do?”

And somebody, apparently, answered “Oliver Twist. But with…like. Dogs.”

I fairness, I did end a lot of sentences with "but with dogs".

Wow. It’s like you know me.

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