animation

5 Centimetres per Second (2007)

“Mouse-san!”

“Oh, hello Otaku Oceania.”

“I am so, so glad to hear you’ve decided to review Makoto Shinkai’s instant classic Five Centimetres per Second!”

“Oh?”

“You bet! I mean, in your last few animé reviews you’ve been beating up pretty hard on my favourite genre! In fact, I was this close to running you through with my limited edition Masashi Kishimoto autographed samurai sword! Ha ha ha!”

“Ha ha.”

“But a glowing review of 5 Centimetres per Second should smooth everything over and where are you going!?”

 

“It sucks! Soz!”

Ohhhh I’m gonna catch a beating for this one. I’ve given bad reviews to popular movies before but, holy moly, 5cmPS is a full on critical darling. It was released in 2007and received rapturous responses, with the film press instantly hailing director Makoto Shinkai as “the next Miyazaki”, an accolade I’m sure that had nothing to do with the fact that Hiyao Miyazaki was the only animé director any of those mouth breathers knew by name harrumph harrumph harrumph harrumph harrumph!

“I didn’t get a harrumph out of that guy!”

“Give Mouse an harrumph!”

“Harrumph!”

“You watch yer ass!”

I’d never heard of the movie before I was requested to review it but I went in expecting to love it. I mean, there is a halo around this thing and all the screenshots I could see looked absolutely smurges. I mean, look at this.

  

But…it…just…movie…good…is…not…

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Wizards (1977)

Ah Bakshi, the man they couldn’t tame.

I’ve reviewed two of Ralph Bakshi’s movies now, and even though my feelings on them were, oh let’s just go with “mixed” I have to say I have been looking forward to this one quite a bit. Why? Well, partially it’s because the animation reviews tend to be more fun to write, and also because, even if I don’t think they’re necessarily good films, they’re always a hell of a trip and fascinating to watch and talk about. Look, the guy walked into mainstream animation and just started throwing petrol bombs and I’ve always said I’ll take fascinatingly bad over dully competent any day.

And yet, the more I read up on Wizards (Papa Bear Bakshi’s third feature) the more anxious I got. Wizards is Ralph Bakshi’s most popular movie, and the one that, by Bakshi’s own admission, no one gave him shit over and genuinely seemed to like. This is the movie that even the squares seem to dig.

“You sold out, man.”

“Fuck you, man.”

Could that work? Could Ralph Bakshi actually make a standard, mainstream animated film? Or would his movie lose that inherent grungy Bak-shit insane quality that’s really the only thing that makes his output interesting? What happens when Ralph Bakshi shaves and puts on some damn pants? Let’s take a look.

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Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land (1959)

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

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

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

“You mean “math”.”

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

“Wow, that escalated quickly.”

“Hey who are you?”

“Who are you?”

“Who are you?”

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

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

“North America what?”

“Uh…North America the continent?”

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

“I thought I was Handsome Latin America?”

“Of course you are.”

“Oh good.”

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

“Guys, c’mon, I got a review to do.”

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

“It’s math.”

“SILENCE YOU EAGLE FONDLING RUNNING JACKAL!”

Which brings me neatly to Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land.

“Smooooth…”

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Spirited Away (2001)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank Christ.

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

Long may he continue working.

“But you’re killing me…”

“Yeah. Well. Eggs and Omelettes.”

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

Does it live up to its reputation?

“Yeah, s’aight.”

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Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002)

Okay guys, this is going to be a short one. Firstly because I fell waaaay the damn behind schedule with this review and secondly because I review movies by recapping the plot and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron has less of a plot and more of an outline. Very, very little happens and less of it is of interest. Because once again, I have tried to love Dreamworks and it has repaid me with treachery.

Thou false jade.

You see, I had never seen this one. In fact Spirit was the last of the early traditionally animated Dreamworks films I hadn’t seen and I was all set to continue my concerto writing meth dealer analogy from the last review, arguing that Dreamworks could have surpassed Disney as the greatest American purveyors of traditional animation if audiences hadn’t been seduced by the glossy CGI succubus (Pixelitia! How I curse thee!) and then…ugh.

So true story, I sat down to watch this with Mini Mouse and at around the hour mark she turns to me, rolls her eyes and says:

“Daddy can we PLEASE watch something else?”

Dreamworks? She’s a five year old girl. If you can’t sell a five year old girl a cartoon with horses, you have FAILED. You have failed more totally than it should be possible for human beings to fail. You have created a masterpiece of ineptitude. You broke the damn scale.

What went wrong? Let’s take a look.

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The Road to El Dorado (2000)

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

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

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

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

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

HOW IS THERE A POSTER ALREADY?

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

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

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

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

As in:

Hmmm

Hmmmmmmmm

HMMMMMMMMMMM

HMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM.

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

Now THAT’s commitment.

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

BECAUSE IT’S ROAD TO FRICKITY FRUCKING EL DORADO.

Let’s do this.

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Mouse Goes to War: Das dumme Gänslein (1944)

Studio: Fischerkoesen-Film-Produktion

Country of Origin: Nazi Germany.

First Screened: 20 July 1944

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

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

Well, it’s been a year. That it has.

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

Y’know.

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

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Mouse Goes to War: Nimbus Libéré (1944(?))

Studio: Les Films Robert Macé

Country of Origin: Vichy France

First Screened: Unclear, sometime in 1943/1944

Since starting this blog I’ve reviewed just north of 150 animated films. I’ve been an avid fan of animation from literally before I could talk. I have watched thousands upon thousands of hours of animation in my lifetime.

Nimbus Libéré (“Nimbus Released”) is the worst cartoon I’ve ever seen and it’s not even close.  If Foodfight! was a perfect 0, Nimbus Libéré is a minus googol. In every technical area, animation, sound, writing, it’s abysmal. In style, it is repellent. In intent, it is pure evil.

English language sources on the cartoon’s origins are thin on the ground and to be honest, I can’t even say for certain whether it was first screened in 1943 or 1944 (going by the subject matter, I’d guess early to mid ’44). Although credited to “Cal”, it was the work of Raymond Jeannin, a young French animator in his twenties whose two surviving works are Libéré and La Nuit Enchanté (“The Enchanted Night”).

La Nuit Enchanté is a fairly terrible mish-mash of awful animation and swiped character designs (Jeannin’s moderate talent in aping other people’s designs were probably what got him roped into doing Nimbus).  But it’s not fascist. I mean, there are some deeply uncomfortable racist stereotypes but, if I’m honest, nothing noticeably worse than what Warners was doing at the time and we don’t go around calling Tex Avery and Chuck Jones Nazis.

But Nimbus…my God in heaven.

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Avatar: The Tales of Ba Sing Se.

I’m going to be devoting a full month to Avatar and I hope I don’t have to explain to why. In terms of animated children’s series this show is about as good as it gets. It’s a classic, and an uncontroversial one, a show whose excellence rests not on being groundbreaking or having a unique premise, but on just doing everything a good TV show should do and doing it really, really well. Top notch animation, great characters, compelling story, phenomenal action, stupendous voice acting and Mako. Every show should have Mako.

Boom. Million times better.

I must be foaming at the mouth to review this, right? Right?

Slight problem. Consider the following facts.

  • Avatar is a beloved classic with a fanatically loyal fanbase.
  • I love Avatar.
  • I have been asked to review the Season 2 Episode Tales of Ba Sing Se.
  • Tales of Ba Sing Se is one of the most beloved episodes of Avatar.

Right, well, this all looks very promising I’m sure there’s not one final bullet point that’s going to blow it all…

  • I really do not like Tales of Ba Sing Se.

Dang. Okay, ready your scalpels folks.

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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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