No one wanted it this way. Marvel didn’t want to make a Black Panther without Chadwick Boseman, we the audience didn’t want a Black Panther movie without Chadwick Boseman and I certainly don’t want to give a bad review to a Black Panther movie without Chadwick Boseman.
His loss was first and foremost a human tragedy and if this movie succeeds at anything it’s in bringing across just the sheer, crushing grief of everyone involved in this. It’s not a fun time. It should not be a fun time.
Is it a good movie? I’m sorry, no it’s not.
But, it has good moments and I’ll be sure to highlight those.
It also has plenty of flaws and, well, I’ll be mentioning those too. But rest assured, I will feel like a complete asshole.
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.
Hey kids, know what time it is? It’s “Mouse uses his folklore degree” time!
I know, I know, I’m excited too.
So, do you want to know what the difference is between a myth, a legend and a fairy tale (or “wonder tale” as the cool kids call them)?
A myth is a narrative relic from a now defunct religion. Thor, Odin, Zeus etc were all once worshipped, so any stories relating to them are myths.
A legend takes place in a real place and time, and may feature real historical figures but is nonetheless fictional or even fantastical. So, Saint Patrick casting out the snakes from Ireland is a legend. He was a real person, Ireland is a real place (I mean, I hope) but the events described are fictional. That’s a legend.
And lastly, a wonder tale takes place in a far off land in an unspecified time and is wholly fictional. Anything that begins with “Once Upon a Time, in a Land Far Far Away” will be a wonder tale. So Snow White, Cinderella, Rumpelstiltskin, you get the idea.
Pinocchio is a book. With an accredited author. Published just a century before I was born. It is not a piece of ancient world folklore. So when Pinocchio and Gepetto showed up in Once Upon a Time, a series puportedly about “fairy tale” characters, I was a bit confused because they have about as much in common with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as Hermione Granger. But of course, we all know why they’re actually here. Because this is a Disney show (well, an ABC show) and Disney made Pinocchio in 1940 (AND WISELY NEVER TRIED TO MAKE IT AGAIN).
And look, I’m sorry, I’ll get into the merits of the show in a bit, but something about this makes me deeply uneasy. Okay, here’s the premise of Once Upon a Time:
In a magical Fairy Tale Land, Prince Charming wakes Snow White and they get married. But the Evil Queen puts a spell on them that pulls them all into the real world and places them in a town called Storybrooke (sigh) where they spend decades living the same lives and never age. Only the Queen’s adopted son, Henry, seems to know the truth, as he has a magic book of fairy tales and has been able to piece together which fairy tale character everyone in town actually is. So what’s my problem?
Well, let’s take Grumpy. Grumpy is just one of the seven dwarves who we see in the background as Snow White’s story plays out. Now, this is very clearly not the 1938 Disney Snow White. The characters all look different, sound different, are costumed differently.
This is not based on the movie but a new version based on the original folk tale, right? All the elements we see here, Snow White, the Prince, the Queen, the magic mirror, the dwarves, are all from the original story. I mean, that’s the clear implication. But here’s the thing.
Grumpy is a Disney character. They created him. In the original story, the dwarves don’t have individual names or personalities. The famous names we know today were all Disney’s invention. And by including original Disney characters like Grumpy and Jiminy Cricket it feels like Disney are trying to Trojan horse them in to the canon of European folklore. It feels like an attempt to make Disney’s Snow White the ONLY Snow White, subtly implying that their version is the definitive one. And yeah, I know that it probably wasn’t intentional. I know the creators probably just thought “hey, we have the rights to Elsa from Frozen let’s use her”. But when has giving Disney the benefit of the doubt worked ever out well for anyone?
Before we begin, please take a look at these quotes:
“So one of the things that surprised me about this movie on re-watching was that it is much better than I remembered, or at the very least far more interesting. Thor exists in a much richer emotional universe than the two IronMan movies or Hulk.”
“Something that I don’t think gets talked about when it comes to [Thor 2] is just how gorgeous it is. Seriously, the art design in this is just jaw dropping, it is hands down the best looking picture in the MCU.”
“A thought occurred to me as I watched Thor and the Revengers speeding towards a giant wormhole called the devil’s anus while blasting spaceships with lasers while Mark Mothersbaugh’s awesome techno score rippled in the background: is this movie the greatest thing ever? Yes. Yes it is.”
“Wow” you might ask. “What pathetic, gushing, blinkered, Thor-fanboy said THAT?”
“Um, me” I reply.
“Oh. Well, this is awkward” you might answer.
“Yeah. Yeah, maybe think before you say something really hurtful” I sob.
Sorry, feeling a bit emotional today. I put those quotes above to give some context. If there’s an internet reviewer who’s been as unstintingly positive to the Thor series as me I am unfamiliar with their work. I have gone to bat for this series again and again. I made Thormy highest ranked of the Phase 1 origin movies. I made Ragnarok my number one movie of the entire MCU. I HAD NICE THINGS TO SAY ABOUT THE DARK WORLD.
So when I say that Love and Thunder is not only the worst Thor movie but the worst movie in this entire 30 film franchise, I hope you understand that this is a big deal. Something that I loved has betrayed me and left me angry, appalled and ready for revenge.
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.