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Deathmatch 2017: This aggression will not stand, man.

During the 2016 election there was considerable debate as to whether Donald Trump was simply a con man using nativist rhetoric to win the nomination and who would then swiftly abandon populism and ram through a hard-right platform designed to enrich the one percent, or whether he was actually the racist authoritarian that he played on TV. The answer turned out to be: “Yes.”

Things have gotten real bad, real fast and I think it’s clear that we are living in times that will have large, detailed chapters in future history books. I awoke this morning to learn that a close friend of mine is now banned from entering the United States purely because of her place of birth. The wall is being built. A white nationalist is now sitting on the National Security Council. The nation built by the poor, the tired and the huddled masses is refusing to admit refugees. The most powerful office in the world is less trusted and respected after eight days of Trump than after eight years of George W. Bush. I confess that I am deeply afraid.

As well as being afraid, I am angry, frustrated, appalled and sickened. But one thing I am not is despondent. I am not pessimistic. I am not disheartened.

not-today

Because the last week has reaffirmed what I already knew. The American people did not elect Trump. Trump was elected by a combination of fluke, a rotting and archaic electoral system, voter suppression and intervention by a hostile foreign power. The American people are the ones who voted for Hillary Clinton by a massive margin, who staged the largest demonstration in the nation’s history against Trump’s nascent kakistocracy and who are now fighting against the illegal detention of refugees at American airports.

The good outnumber the wicked and they always will.

This is a time when all people of good will must put whatever skills they have towards resisting Trump. For me, that means writing snarky reviews of movies which I will be the first to admit is not the most obviously useful skill in an anti-fascist resistance movement.

But that is why this year’s Unshaved Mouse Charity Movie Deathmatch is in aid of the American Civil Liberties Union.

So, how does the Deathmatch work?

  1. Make a donation of $5 or $10 to the ACLU.
  2. Email your receipt to unshavedmouse@gmail.com letting me know which movie or series gets your vote (a 5 dollar donation counts as one vote, 10 counts for two)
  3. Deathmatch runs all through February. Every two weeks, the lowest scoring three movies/series will be eliminated in ways not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach.
  4. Highest scoring three movies/series at the end of the month get reviewed and get to go home to their loved ones.

Mouse, I’m wealthy, I’m charitable and I want you to review something NOW.

A $35 dollar donation gets you any movie or episode of a TV show reviewed that you like. $60 gets you two. $100 gets you four and quite possibly a statue somewhere when this all blows over.

What if I buy a review for a movie or series that’s competing in the death match?

In the case of movies, if you give a $35 donation and request a movie that loses the deathmatch, you get the review anyway. If your movie wins the deathmatch then I will contact you and ask you for your second choice and you get two movies that you wanted reviewed instead of one. Fair enough?

In the case of a TV series  that wins the deathmatch, I’ll review an extra episode for every person that gave a $35 donation for that series.

Boring stuff done, so let’s MEET OUR FIGHTERS!

(more…)

WALL·E (2008)

WALL·E  sucks!

“MOUSE WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”

“MOUSE WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”

the-angry-mob

Mob

riot

greece-riots

“MWAH HA HA HA HA! YES!! BURN THE INTERNET! BURN IT TO THE GROUND!

“MWAH HA HA HA HA! YES!! BURN THE INTERNET! BURN IT TO THE GROUND!

 

Sigh.

Okay, fine, WALL·E  doesn’t suck. I was just trying to get out of this review.

WALL·E is the kind of movie I actively dread tackling and the reason why (ignoble automotive abberations aside) I’ve largely steered clear of the Pixar canon in these reviews. They are possibly the most beautiful, perfectly crafted feature length animated movies ever made and that makes them absolute kryptonite to a Snarky Internet Reviewer like me. What the hell am I supposed to make fun of here? “HA HA, look at these idiots and their perfectly crafted and utterly charming meditation on the human condition”? I got nothing to work with here. Nothing!

This is what I see when I look at this movie.

This is what I see when I look at this movie.

Alright. Background. So, one day in 1994  John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter, and Joe Ranft  sat down in the Hidden City Cafe for a cup of coffee, a chat, and to change the history of animation as we know it (as you do). From this legendary brainstorming session came the ideas that would eventually become A Bug’s Life, Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo and WALL·E. No doubt muttering “What the FUCK was in that coffee?” they then paid their bill, and left a generous tip for the waitress along with a cure for cancer that Lasseter had idly scribbled on a napkin. One thing you notice about WALL·E is that it’s not so much one film as two short films starring the same characters. The first is a film about the last robot on earth discovering humanity through its refuse and the second is a sci-fi romp about plucky robots helping the human race overthrow a dictatorial wheel. There’s a reason for that. The first half of the movie, with WALL·E putzing around on Earth,  arrived fully formed at that meeting and never changed all through the writing process. The second half, through, got re-written to hell and back and at one point was going to be about a robot uprising against evil aliens called “the Gels”.

anywayyyy

This means that WALL·E is the rare movie that not only has fans, but has fans of different parts of the movie. There’s probably someone out there who loves the first half of WALL·E utterly but doesn’t regard the second half as canon. That happens a lot with TV shows. Movies? Not so much. What do I think?

I think this movie is going to kick my ass and make me say “Thank you sir, may I have another?” Let’s just get this over with.

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The Iron Giant (1999)

When I was a wee rodent there was a book in the school library called The Iron Man that I read many times. It’s a simple little fable, about a boy named Hogarth who befriends a giant robot of mysterious origin…and then the robot saves the world from a colossal alien dragon the size of Australia.
anywayyyy
I can’t honestly say I loved the book but it definitely stuck with me, as any novel featuring a continent sized extra-terrestrial dragon would and it’s picked up a largish following in the years since it was first published in 1968. One of those fans was Pete Townshend, the lead singer of that famous band.
"Who?"

“Who?”

"Yes."

“That’s them.”

Townshend adapted the story into a musical, the rights of which got picked up by Warner Bros, which had just swallowed Turner Feature Animation whole, along with most of its animators. One of those animators was a likely lad named Brad Bird, who has worked on some animation in his time and is generally understood to know what he’s doing. Bird was put in charge of adapting Townshend’s musical, which he did by making it…not a musical. ‘Kay. Regardless, when it was screened for test audiences the response was absolutely ecstatic. Unfortunately, Warner Bros had neglected to prepare any kind of marketing campaign for the movie because Quest for Camelot had tanked so badly the year before. This had convinced the excecs that audiences weren’t going to go see animated films that weren’t made by Disney.

Alice Facepalm

 Goddamit Warners. Quest for Camelot didn’t tank because audiences wouldn’t take a punt on non-Disney animation. Quest for Camelot tanked because sometimes God pays attention. So of course, released into theatres with zero publicity The Iron Giant crashed harder than a giant alien death machine falling from the sky. In the years since, it has become one of the most critically beloved animated American films of the 1990s. Does it live up to the hype? Let’s take a look.

(more…)

Space Chimps (2008)

Never pick a fight with an Australian. Lesson. Fucking. Learned.

This one hurt, folks. Space Chimps manages to encapsulate so much of what has gone wrong with 21st century animation that I almost feel like if I burned the DVD all those sins would just evaporate as the spell was lifted. It’s awful, but it’s awful in so many different ways at once that it has inestimable value as a teaching tool. I feel like you could teach an animation course on what not to do based on this movie alone.  This is the first movie by Vanguard Animation that I’ve reviewed on this blog as I’ve not had the unalloyed pleasure of viewing Valiant, Happily N’Ever After or Space Chimps 2: Zartog Strikes Back….

Sorry. When I typed that last one I felt an ice-cold shudder and had to go check that all the doors and windows are locked. Anyway, Vanguard is at the rearguard of modern American animation and was founded by John H. Williams who is, as the DVD cover is quick to remind us, one of the primates who brought us Shrek. And I have one question. What the hell is Shrek? Shrek? Sounds like an Eastern European currency. Boris bought a red cabbage and a bottle of vodka for three shrek.

Highest grossing animated film of all time you say? No, doesn't ring a bell.

Highest grossing animated film of all time you say? No, doesn’t ring a bell.

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Fritz the Cat (1972)

“Heeey everyone.”

“Heeey everyone.”

“Oh look guys, it’s Spouse of Mouse!”

“Oh look guys, it’s Spouse of Mouse!”

250px-Operation_Upshot-Knothole_-_Badger_001

“Heeey everyone. I was just hoping we could have a little chat before Mouse starts the review. Just us.”

“Heeey everyone. I was just hoping we could have a little chat before Mouse starts the review. Just us.”

“I know you all think it’s really funny that you got Mouse to review Fritz the Cat. I’m sure you’re all having a big laugh. “Ha” you might say, and also “Ha.”

“I know you all think it’s really funny that you got Mouse to review Fritz the Cat. I’m sure you’re all having a big laugh. “Ha” you might say, and also “Ha.”

“But here’s the thing. This movie messed him up so badly that I don’t know if he’ll ever recover. And I’m a simple mouse who lives by a simple rule. You hurt the ones I love?”

“But here’s the thing. This movie messed him up so badly that I don’t know if he’ll ever recover. And I’m a simple mouse who lives by a simple rule: You hurt the ones I love?”

"I WILL FUCK YOUR FUCKING SHIT RIGHT THE FUCK UP."

“I WILL FUCK YOUR FUCKING SHIT RIGHT THE FUCK UP. IF YOU EVER PULL ANYTHING LIKE THAT AGAIN I WILL TRACK YOU DOWN THERE IS NOWHERE YOU CAN HIDE. PAIN? I WILL MAKE YOU LONG FOR SOMETHING AS SWEET AS PAIN.”

“’Kay? Enjoy the review.”

“’Kay? Enjoy the review.”

***

 Do you know what it’s like to review Fritz the Cat? To sit in the dark watching that cat fuck everything that moves, to feel your brain slowly coming apart from the constant assault of surreal, messed up, toked out, crazy shit? No. You don’t. Because you’ve never been out there, man. Out in the real deep shit. This movie man. You don’t know, man. It’s like, you think you have a handle on things, man, like life and art and truth and beauty man like they’re all just packaged and sold in these neat little Styrofoam boxes, man, and then this movie comes along and it’s like, you know man? Like, what does it all mean, man? I…I…I shouldn’t be doing this man, I should be a pair of ragged claws scuttling across floors of silent seas, man…
“Mouse, relax. You’re going crazy over there, man.”

“Mouse, relax. You’re going crazy over there, man.”

"YOU WERENT THERE MAN!"

“YOU WEREN’T THERE, MAN!”

 Sorry. Sorry. I’m alright. Okay. Let’s do this.
For as long as there have been comics there have been “underground” comics, the kind of comics that aren’t read in a newspaper at the breakfast table on a lazy Sunday morning but are more usually read at night. Under the covers. With a flashlight.
Jerkin’ it.
Pornographic comic books or “Tijuana Bibles” were especially popular in the Great Depression and usually featured well known comic book characters or public figures engaging in what scripture calls “the hard fuckin’”. No one was safe. Popeye, Betty Boop, Superman you name it, someone drew them doin’ it.
Trust me, just be glad it’s Minnie and not Pluto.

Trust me, just be glad it’s Minnie and not Pluto.

By the 1960s the underground comics (or “comix”) scene had merged with the broader counter culture movement. In contrast to mainstream comics which had to abide by the Comics Code Authority, comix were uncensored and didn’t abide by jack shit. These books were absolutely steeped in sixties drug and music culture, often politically radical and transgressive and extreme in their depictions of sex and violence. They also, it must be said, frequently had a streak of misogyny a mile wide. But at its best, the comix scene produced some of the finest American sequential art of the twentieth century (Art Spiegelman, for example, honed his craft in indie magazines in the seventies).
The one creator who is probably more associated with the comix scene than any other is Robert Crumb and his most famous creation is almost certainly Fritz the Cat, an anthropomorphised cat who’s kinda like Felix crossed with Roosh V. The Fritz strips first appeared in the magazine Help! where the editors famously responded to his submission with a letter saying; “Dear R. Crumb, we think the little pussycat drawings you sent us were just great. Question is, how do we print them without going to jail?” The comic became a genuine breakout hit and was read by many a long-haired hippie degenerate, one of whom was our old friend Ralph Bakshi.
Bakshi had set up his own animation studio and was looking to create animation for adults. He came across one of Crumb’s books and bought the rights to the strip. Warner Bros originally were going to fund it but then they saw Bakshi’s early shoots.
Vapors
Instead, the movie ended up being funded by Cinemation Industries, purveyor of such highbrow classics as The Black Godfather, Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song and The Eighteen Year Old Cheerleaders.
It’s important to remember that there was a weird period from the late sixties to around the mid-eighties where porn was pretty much mainstream, and you could just go to the cinema and watch a big budget porno made and financed by a large studio as opposed to some dude with a camera and a couch. Fritz the Cat is very much a part of that. It’s not solely a porno but it’s got relatives who are pornos if you catch me. So before we get into this review please take note that this is a movie with sex and nudity, pretty grotesque ethnic caricatures, frequent homophobic and racial slurs and some generally fucked up shit.
What I’m trying to say is…
“This review ain’t NSFW for nothin’ baby.”

“This review ain’t NSFW for nothin’ baby.”

(more…)

Watership Down (1978)

In the 1970s Richard Adams, a British civil servant and WW2 veteran wrote down a story about rabbits he had told to his daughters. He sent it to a few publishers who rejected it before it was finally printed by a small London based publisher, became an instant international bestseller, won the Carnegie medal and allowed Adams to quit his job and work full time as a writer.
This, and I cannot stress this enough, does not usually happen.
The book’s success was so stunning that it immediately gave birth to a sub-genre of animal fantasy stories. Colin Dann’s  The Animals of Farthing Wood was published a few years later and it feels like half the books I read growing up were about a group of some species of animal trying to get from point A to point B without getting run over by Toyotas. Seriously, there were Watership Down-esque books about hares, owls, squirrels, foxes, otters, even fish.
Yes. This was a real goddamn thing.

Yes. This was a real goddamn thing.

Some were good. Some were terrible. Some were about fish. But none were ever able to match the popularity of the original. Because there is only one Watership Down. Well, until Adams published the sequel in the nineties. Then there were two. Anyway, my point is; other books have fans. Watership Down has cultists. And I’m one of them. I fell in love with this book in primary school and checked it out of the school library so many times that the librarian finally said “You know what? Just keep it.”
Yeah, pretty much.

Yeah, pretty much.

So what makes it so good? Well at the most fundamental level Adams is just a phenomenally good writer with a lovely, clear, elegant prose style that can switch between bucolic descriptions of the English countryside to a muscular blow by blow account of two rabbits kicking the hraka out of each other. Coupled with that, the personalities of the various rabbits are simple but distinct and vivid. Adams based the personalities of the main rabbits on his squad from the war back when he was a smouldering, sensitive young officer with dark unfathomable eyes and a soft voice that could win the heart of any army nurse who crossed his path.
"Jerry's an alright sort. He's just being lead by a bad egg."

“Jerry’s an alright sort. He’s just being lead by a bad egg.”

But the most important trick of any fantasy novel is to bring you into its world. It’s why Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones are so beloved, because the amount of detail and thought that has gone into crafting Westeros and Middle Earth makes reading the books almost like taking a holiday in a foreign country, albeit one filled with rampaging orcs (so, like Lanzarote).
This is the real genius of Watership Down. Adams gives his rabbits a language and a mythology and threads details of it throughout the larger narrative. And while they have been anthropomorphized to an extent, they’re still very much rabbits. They behave and react like wild animals, and they have difficulty understanding sophisticated concepts like art or, say, numbers higher than four.
Today’s movie was released in 1978, a mere six years after the book was published. And given the length of time it takes to get an independently financed feature length animation off the ground we can probably take it that the movie was in the works almost as soon as the ink was dry on the first print run. The film is now regarded as a classic of British animation and Total Film named it as one of their greatest British films of all time. But it’s also been at the centre of controversy ever since the British censorship board rated it “U” or suitable for all ages, a decision that they are still getting complaints about almost forty years later. And loathe as I am to side with the Helen Lovejoys of the world, yeah. No way in Inlé should this have gotten a U rating.
Yes. "Mild" violence. If youre a fucking DROOG!

Yes. “Mild” violence. If you’re a fucking DROOG.

 

  But is the movie really as good as all that? Let’s take a look. Spoiler warnings for both the movie and book ahead.
AD

(more…)

MOVIE (AND TV SERIES) DEATHMATCH!!!

Before we get on to the fun part of unveiling which of the 123 (I’M SORRY I’LL REPEAT THAT AGAIN ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY FRICKIN’ THREE) Movies and TV series that you nominated made the cut, let’s go through how this works again.

  1. Make a donation of $5 or $10 to the Joanna VR Kickstarter page.
  2. Leave a message on the Kickstarter page (or an email to unshavedmouse@gmail.com) telling me who gets your vote or votes ($5 counts as one vote, $10 counts as two).
  3. We’ll be running the Kickstarter for thirty-eight days. Every two weeks, the lowest scoring three movies/series will be eliminated in entertainingly gory ways.
  4. Highest scoring three movies/series at the end of the month get reviewed. Simple as.

Mouse? I’m rich, and I believe the rules do not apply to me.

Hades

How can I get you to review a movie or series I want and skip all this foolishness?

A $25 dollar donation and I’m yours for the night, baby. That automatically gets you a review of any movie or episode of a TV series your heart desires. Anything at all. Doesn’t even have to be animated or a comic book movie. Anything. I will review a damn sexual harassment training video if you want.

What’ll you do for $40?

Two reviews.

A hundred?

Anal.

WHAT?!

Oh what are you, a cop?

Ohhhhhkay… What if I buy a review for a movie or series that’s competing in the death match?

In the case of movies, if you give a $25 donation and request a movie that loses the deathmatch, you get the review anyway. If your movie wins the deathmatch then I will contact you and ask you for your second choice and you get two movies that you wanted reviewed instead of one. Fair enough?

In the case of a TV series  that wins the deathmatch, I’ll review an extra episode for every person that gave a $25 donation for that series.

 

“And that, children, is how the Unshaved Mouse had to review Gravity Falls for the rest of his life.”

“And that, children, is how the Unshaved Mouse had to review Gravity Falls for the rest of his life.”

So, without further ado…LET’S MEET OUR CONTESTANTS!

Darkwing_Duck_(animation)_title_card

Darkwing Duck

Age: 24 (Now don’t YOU feel old?)

Episodes: 91

AKA: “DW”, “The Killer Bill”, “Ol’ Motherducker”

A grim spectre of the night, Darkwing Duck brings peerless martial arts skills and cutting edge gagetry to the deathmatch arena. Coming face to face with DW, many fighters will turn tail and run when they hear three words: “Let’s. Get. Dangerous.” ELIMINATED

Gargoyles

Gargoyles

Age: 18

Episodes: 78

AKA: “Dismemberer of the Night”

A savage and lethal combatant, Gargoyles swoops from the shadows, picking off unsuspecting opponents and tearing them to pieces before they have a chance to react. Temporarily allied with its Disney stablemates, how long can this fighter resist its own beastial nature before it turns on them? Not long. Not really…no, not long at all. Matter of minutes.

A Goofy Movie poster.jpg

A Goofy Movie

Age: 20

Run Time: 78 minutes

AKA: “The Super Goofer Trouper”

In a very Disney-heavy field this perennially overlooked and disrespected film has nothing to lose and everything to prove. And that may just make him the most dangerous fighter of all. “You want to get nuts with Goofy!?” he yells through bloodied teeth “C’MON! LET’S GET NUTS!” ELIMINATED

Gravity_Falls_logo 

Gravity Falls

Age: 3

Episodes: 38 and counting

AKA: “The Inevitable G”

 No movie or series entered this contest with more hype. No other fighter has as much love from the crowd. And perhaps, no other fighter is as big a target or has as far to fall. Beloved though it may be, Gravity Falls should remember the fate of The Iron Giant, another highly popular fighter who was favoured to win and then got blown up by a nuke. Makes you think.

The_Hunchback_of_Notre_Dame_II

The Hunchback of Notre Dame 2

Age: 17

Run Time: 69 Minutes

AKA: “Ol’ Worse Than Cancer”

Guys, I’m just going to drop the schtick for a second. This movie can’t win. Do not let this movie win. Don’t be stupid now. This thing will be the death of us all.

Pacific_Rim_FilmPoster

Pacific Rim

Age: 3

Run Time: 132 minutes

AKA: “The very confused one”

“Help!” Pacific Rim yells, banging furiously on the bars of its cell “There’s been a terrible mistake! I’m not an animation or a comic book movie! I shouldn’t even be here! Let me out!”

“There is only one way out.” a wise old movie tells him “Win the crowd, and you will win your freedom.” ELIMINATED

swat-set

SWAT Kats

Age: 22

Episodes: 23

AKA: “The Hanna Barbarians”

SWAT Kats steps into the arena with cutting edge weaponry, EXTREME ATTITUDE and a total disrespect for spelling convention. It’s like the nineties never went away, baby. ELIMINATED

STTAS

Star Trek: The Animated Series

Age: 42

Episodes: 22

AKA: “The Terror From Beyond the Stars”

“Captain’s log, stardate…unknown. My crew and I have found ourselves transported to a strange alternate dimension where it appears we are to be made to fight for the amusement of beings of incredible power. Of course, the taking of sentient life in arena combat is barbaric and anathema to the code of any Starfleet officer but…well, that’s never stopped us before. Mr Spock, it’s time to choke a bitch.”

“Logical, Captain.”  ELIMINATED

Steven_Universe-all_characters

 

Steven Universe

Age: 3

Episodes: 73 and counting

AKA: “Cruisin’ for a Fusion”

Another highly favoured fighter, Steven Universe will stop at nothing to win the Deathmatch and return Earth to Homeworld Gem control.

Summer Wars

Summer Wars

Age: 6

Run time: 114 Minutes

AKA: “Most Righteous Death Edge of the East” 

Word of the Deathmatch has traveled even to the Far East. A lone warrior, masterless and taciturn, Summer Wars comes to test its skill against the mightiest warriors the West has to offer. Only then, will it finally be able to quell the rage that dwells within its heart.

The_Lego_Movie_poster

The Lego Movie

Age: 1

Run Time: 100 Minutes

AKA: “The Brick Shithouse”

The youngest of our fighters, The Lego Movie eschews speed and skill for pure, brute power. As anyone who’s stepped on a lego brick barefoot  in the dead of night can attest, Lego is lethal business.

Turtles_Forever_Poster 

Turtles Forever

Age: 6

Run Time: 73 Minutes

AKA: “Lean Green Machine”

Combining the techniques both old and new, Turtles Forever is an excellent all round fighter that just might have the skill and tenacity to come out on top. ELIMINATED

***

So there you have it. Head over to the Kickstarter page and let’s get some blood on the sand. Be sure to check in on 04 December to see who’s gone to their eternal reward.

Anastasia (1997)

(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 love reading history. I have a copy of Tacitus’ Annals on my bedside table (because I’m just that kind of pretentious prick) and as a modern reader there’s something really bizarre about reading history written in ancient times.
See, you’ll be into a very serious passage about corruption in the Senate or the war against the Parthians (those Parthians, buncha troublemakers I tell ya what) and suddenly ol’ Tacitus will veer off into describing all the dire portents about Nero’s future rule and it’s all dreams of blood, and visions of locusts and more virgins giving birth to two-headed snakes than you know what to do with.
And then he’ll talk about taxes.
As if the previous stuff was just perfectly mundane. But here’s the thing; for Tacitus it was perfectly mundane. Magic and visions and miracles and supernatural powers were just an accepted fact of life back then. And as a modern reader, sure, we might be a bit sceptical but…we kinda just have to accept all that stuff as part of the historical record. Because Tacitus said it happened and he’s our guy on this stuff, you know? You going to call Tacitus a liar? Did you write one of the greatest works of Latin literature, serve in the Senate and later become governor of Asia?
Yeah. That’s what I thought.
Rome

It’s less impressive when you realise that “Asia” was just a chunk of Turkey back then.

Of course, when you start getting into more recent history, magic and mysticism aren’t part of the picture anymore. Or, at least, they’re not supposed to be.
I think that’s the reason I was always fascinated as a kid by Grigory Rasputin. Here was a twentieth century figure who seemed to come from a time when magic was still real. In the early years of the twentieth century, the Russian royal family had their own wizard.
Wizard
That is awesome.
In secondary school I actually did my final year project on Rasputin and the Romanovs and I’m something of a buff on this whole period of Russian history. And that low sound you just heard is all the Anastasia fans (of which there are a great many) in the audience groaning “Oh God. He’s going to pan it.”
And sure. I can get why you might think that. I mean, if I tore Saving Mr Banks a new one because PL Travers was crying for the wrong reason, I’m probably not going to look too kindly on the February Revolution being started by zombie Rasputin. Or am I? Maybe not. Or maybe yes? Ha ha ha ha! Which door do you choose, Anastasia fans?! Which door?!
“Ugh. Is this some kind of joke? I thought you were going to review one of my good films?”

“Ugh. Is this some kind of joke? I thought you were going to review one of my good films?”

“But…everyone loves Anastasia! It’s one of your most critically beloved movies! It made the most money of all of your films!”

“But…everyone loves Anastasia! It’s one of your most critically beloved movies! It made the most money of all of your films!”

“UGH. Yeah. And google it and see what comes up.”

“UGH. Yeah. And google it and see what comes up.”

Ooooh...thats gotta hoirt.

Ooooh…that’s gotta hoirt.

“Fox asked me to make a Disney princess movie. I was desperate for the cash so I sold out. How was I supposed to make a good movie under those circumstances?”

“Fox asked me to make a Disney princess movie. I was desperate for the cash so I sold out. How was I supposed to make a good movie under those circumstances?”

I dunno Don. But I’ve seen where you can go with unfettered creative control and it often involves trolls and penguins with teeth. If it wasn’t for artists just doing it for a paycheck we wouldn’t have I, Claudius, Sherlock Holmes or half of Shakespeare’s stuff. Maybe, just maybe, you managed to make an accidental classic.
So without further ado, let’s take a look at Disney’s Anastasia.
"UGH."

“UGH.”

Sorry. That just slipped out.

(more…)

Fantastic Mr Fox (2009)

(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’ve got a lot of love for Roald Dahl, even if he was a bit of an unpleasant cuss. He taught me how to read, after all. When I was around four or five years old I was taken to Temple Street children’s hospital for one of my periodic lung re-inflations (I had asthma and smog in Dublin in the eighties was so thick you could chip your teeth on it). While waiting to be seen I picked up a copy of The Magic Finger, which I remember being the first book I ever read through from beginning to end. Dahl was huge when I was growing up. He was our JK Rowling. That probably says something about us, but then again, I think it’s often overstated just how violent and horrifying his stories were. I mean, sure, they were violent and horrifying, but it was all a matter of tone. Roald Dahl was like Rebecca Black, he sounded a lot worse than he actually was. A plot description The BFG or The Witches is arguably more horrific than the books themselves. Roald Dahl took horror and made it so ridiculous and luridly over the top that you couldn’t help but laugh at it. In doing so, he made our terrors ridiculous. I think that’s why so many children loved his work, even nervous kids like me. Roald Dahl didn’t make us feel scared. He made us feel brave.

The trouble with adapting Roald Dahl for screen is that, by necessity, you lose the author’s voice and that tone I talked about often goes out the window. That’s how you get something like the 1989 BFG film which, while certainly not bad, is just cussing terrifying. There have been just under a dozen films based on Dahl’s work (not counting his own screenplays like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) and they range in quality from “terrible” to “one of the greatest movie musicals of all time”.
Chocolate

With the same story at both poles, oddly enough.

Today’s movie, Fantastic Mr Fox, is based on Dahl’s 1970 novella of the same name. It’s probably fair to call the book “minor Dahl”, it’s certainly not as well known or beloved as Matilda, BFG or The Witches but I really loved it as a child. It’s a simple enough story, Mr Fox steals poultry from three horrible farmers, said farmers roll up with some serious firepower and blast Mr Fox’s tail off but he gets the last laugh in the end by tunnelling into their farms and stealing all their cuss and throwing a big cuss-off party. Whatever, I really liked it. But as you can probably tell it’s a fairly slight story which honestly is perfect for adaptation. You see, the best Dahl movies are those where someone with their own distinctive voice comes and builds a story around Dahl’s basic framework. And there are few voices in Hollywood as distinctive as Wes Anderson, who’s work is so distinctive that Slate created a Wes Anderson bingo card.
Would you like to play a game?

Would you like to play a game?

(more…)

DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp (1990)

(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.)

Eighties kids have a tendency to loudly proclaim that the cartoons they grew up with, your Masters of the Universe, your Transformers, your My Little Ponies were so much better than the cartoons made for kids today.

Why do they say that? Lead. Lead was in everything back then. Paint, exhaust fumes, you name it. And lead is well known to have a harmful effect on intelligence. Couple this with the radiation from the hole in the ozone layer frying their brains and the still lingering effects of Chernobyl and quite frankly it’s a wonder that your typical eighties kid can tied their own shoes, much less attempt an objective assessment of the state of made for TV animation then and now. God love them, they’ve suffered through so much. Now, I am an eighties kid by birth but I converted to the church of 21st century animation a looooong time ago so let me put this one to bed. No. Cartoons were not better in the eighties than they are now. Know how I know? Because cartoons have never been as good as they are now. Pretty much every cartoon made for television from the nineteen fifties to late eighties was garbage. Sure, there were talented people working on them, but they were people, not gods, and there simply was no way to contend with the forces of microscopic budgets, corporate mandated toy-schilling and stiflingly conservative broadcast standards and create something consistently excellent or even good. Yes, occasionally an episode of Transformers might get through that still holds up today but these were very, very rare exceptions (I’m talking exclusively about American TV animation I should hasten to add). Contrast that with today: American animation studios are consistently making shows for kids that are better than most of the stuff they make for adults. Pearl from Steven Universe is one of the most fascinating, layered, tragically flawed characters on television right now, period. Gravity Falls is unfolding an ongoing mystery plot with a skill and intelligence that The X-Files and Lost could only dream about. Adventure Time takes Twin Peaks to school with its pure surrealism. Eighties, I hate to break it to you, even our remakes of your shows are a tenfold improvement. You have Transformers? We have Transformers: Prime. You have Thundercats? We have Thundercats 2011. You have My Little Pony? We have Friendship is Magic.  

GIJoeHeader

You have an army?

We have a HULK.

We have a HULK.

So what happened? Whence came this huge leap forward in quality?

Where else?

Where else?

 

So some time in the late eighties Disney rolled up their sleeves and decided it was time to show these chumps who the big dog was. Disney began producing high quality TV animation intended for syndication. Critics scoffed, saying that this was an expensive folly that would bring the Disney company into bankruptcy.
"Ha. Motherfuckers never learn."

“Ha. Motherfuckers never learn.”

Instead, these shows completely revolutionised the American animation TV landscape. Soon after, Warner Bros also got in on the act with Tiny Toons, Animaniacs and Batman the Animated Series to name a few. In essence, all modern TV animation owes its existence to Disney’s gamble in the late eighties, and in particular to their most popular show; DuckTales.
The massive popularity of DuckTales is something that’s always confused me a little. I mean sure, I watched the show and I liked it fine, but what is it about this story about three duck kids and their miserly grunkle that made it to 100 episodes? Couple of things. Firstly, simply by dint of the fact that it wasn’t terrible it was already head and shoulders above pretty much any other cartoon on the air. But I think another key to its longevity was the fact that it’s quite similar to Doctor Who. One of the reasons that show is older than Jesus is because, aside from the fact that they can recast the main actor, the Doctor has a machine that lets him go anywhere in space or time. There is literally no end to the stories you can tell with that basic premise. And in a way, Scrooge McDuck also has a TARDIS. He’s so wealthy that there’s literally nowhere on Earth he can’t afford to go. Want to do a story on the bottom of the ocean? Scrooge buys a submarine. Want to take him to space? Scrooge buys a spaceship. Want to do a story with dinosaurs? Scrooge gets his personal mad scientist to build him a time machine. Want Scrooge to meet Satan? He has a heart attack and goes to hell because it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to see heaven. Again, you will never run out of stories.
Another thing to consider is that DuckTales was based on a hugely popular comic book, by the legendary Carl Barks. Although Donald Duck was of course created by Walt Disney, it was Barks who did more than anyone else to flesh out everyone’s favourite psychotic waterfowl, creating Duckburg and a whole host of supporting characters; Scrooge McDuck, Gyro Gearloose, Flintheart Glomgold, Magica deSpell (it truly was a duck blur). The Duck comics have never really been huge in the States where the comics scene is of course SUPERHEROES SUPERHEROES SUPERHEROES NOW UNTIL THE END OF TIME but they’re very popular in what I like to call “Asterix country”, Europe, Latin America and Asia. In fact, I even tried to get my hands on a copy of The Many Lives of Scrooge McDuck for this review from my local comic shop. This lead to the following exchange. I swear to almighty God I am not making this up.
Comic_Book_Guy_WEE

“Sorry, it’s sold out. We sold the last copy to Killian Murphy.”

“…Killian Murphy? The actor?”

“…Killian Murphy? The actor?”

“The Scarecrow himself, yes. He came in here and asked specifically for anything pertaining for Scrooge McDuck. Who were we to refuse him?”

“The Scarecrow himself, yes. He came in here and asked specifically for anything pertaining to Scrooge McDuck. And who were we to refuse him?”

I SWEAR TO GOD.
But yes, Donald Duck comics are a big effing deal in many parts of the world. Personally though, I always found the entire concept of DuckTales the TV show to be really depressing. Think about it. Hewey, Dewey and Louie get sent to live with their uncle, Donald. I don’t think we ever found out why in the show, but there is no good reason that happens. And then, after losing their parents, Donald passes them off on his uncle, a miserly one-percenter who clearly cares more about his money than his nephews while Donald is off in the navy. Those three little ducks must be carting around a metric ton of abandonment issues. The reason why Donald isn’t present in the series apart from a few cameos is that Roy Disney didn’t want any of Uncle Walt’s classic characters getting TV stink on ’em. Instead, the character of Launchpad was created to fill the role Donald usually did in the comics. Today’s movie, Treasure of the Lost Lamp, came out in 1990 and served as a season finale of shorts to the beloved series. Did DuckTales go out with a bang or a whimper? Let’s take a look.