stop motion

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?

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Moomin and Midsummer Madness (2008)

(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 trying to understand the appeal of the Moomins, you first have to look at their creation back in…
Hello?
Hello?
Anybody?

Anybody?

"Congratulations Mouse. You’ve finally done it. You’ve finally succeeded in completely alienating your entire readership. Bravo. Genius. Take a blog that’s largely supported by Disney fans and devote it to obscure European cartoons, Irish politics and a film that was literally never even released."

“Congratulations Mouse. You’ve done it. You’ve finally succeeded in completely alienating your entire readership. Bravo. Genius. Take a blog that’s largely supported by Disney fans and devote it to obscure European cartoons, Irish politics and a film that was literally never even released.”

WHAT HAVE I DONE!? Surely its not too late?!

“WHAT HAVE I DONE!? Surely its not too late?!”

"Nope. They’re gone. You had your one chance at internet stardom and you blew it. That was it."

“Nope. They’re gone. You had your one chance at internet stardom and you blew it. That was it. Let’s go boys.”

"No! Wait, where are you going?"

“Wait, where are you going?!”

"Back to the Google images page you stole us from. Farewell, Mouse."

“Back to the Google images page you stole us from. Farewell, Mouse.”

"See you, Mouse. It was fun except for that time I was almost fed to wyverns."

“See you, Mouse. It was fun except for that time I was almost fed to wyverns.”

"Peace out, dawg."

“Peace out, dawg.”

"No…my readers. My maps. They’re all gone…"

“No…my readers. My maps. They’re all gone…”

“There’s a grief that can’t be spoken.” “There’s a pain goes on and on.” “No more views and no more comments.” “Oh my blog is dead and gone.”

“There’s a grief that can’t be spoken.”
“There’s a pain goes on and on.”
“No more views and no more comments.”
“Oh my blog is dead and gone…”

Guys, I swear, I will review a movie you’ve actually heard of as soon as I’ve done this one. Contractual obligations and all. If it helps, I’m as much in the dark about this one as a I think most of you are (with apologies to my Scandinavian readers). That’s not to say that the Moomins are unknown in Ireland, I know quite a few people who are fans, but the whole Moomin phenomenon just kind of completely passed me by. My blind spot on the Moomins honestly extends to most things Scandinavian. I just don’t know that much about those countries apart from the fact they constantly conspire to keep Ireland out of the top five on the Human Development Index, the Nordic Marcia Brady to our Gaelic Jan.
 Nordic Marcia
"Sweden did it again! Sweden, Sweden, Sweden!"

“Sweden did it again! Sweden, Sweden, Sweden!”

 

Okay. So. The Moomins. What are they? I don’t know. I mean literally, I have no idea what they’re supposed to be. Wikipedia describes them as “fairy tale” characters, which is just wonderfully specific. I suppose, since they’re called “Mumintrolls” in Swedish they’re supposed to be trolls from Scandinavian folklore but…
Yeah, how did I not get that?

Yeah, how did I not get that?

Well anyway.
Okay. So. The Moomins. They’re a family of white, hippo…things. Who hang out. And have whimsical adventures tinged with an unmistakeable air of melancholy. They were created by a Swedish-speaking Finn named Tove Jansson who wrote and illustrated nine books featuring the characters between 1945 and 1993 and who also takes a hell of a stylish photograph.
Who you know fresher than Tove, riddle me that?

Who you know fresher than Tove, riddle me that?

There have also been EIGHT cartoon series based on them, and numerous movies with the most recent being released this year. They are, like all things that are cute but difficult to explain, huge in Japan.
And yes, they have their own theme park.
"Because Europe."

Because Europe.

So, now we’re ready to talk about the movie? Oh, we have not even begun to unpack all this.
So, one of those eight (!) cartoon series was  Opowiadania Muminków, an Austrian, German and Polish co-production that ran between 1977-82. Then, in 2008, a Finnish company took that series and edited into a single movie called Moomin and Midsummer Madness, the English dub of which I am reviewing today. So, to recap.
  • Swedish speaking Finn writes a book.
  • Germans, Austrians and Poles adapt it into a TV series.
  • Finns adapt TV series into movie.
  • Americans dub movie.
  • Man kills God.
  • Man creates dinosaurs.
  • Dinsosaur kills man.
  • Woman inherits the earth.
 Got that? Okay, let’s do this.

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Mary and Max (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.)

The Unshaved Mouse stared at the blank screen and tapped the keyboard lightly with one paw. His tiny brow furrowed and he twitched his whiskers anxiously. This, he knew, was going to be tough one. The movie he had to review was Mary and Max, a somewhat obscure but critically beloved Claymation film from Australia. And Mouse had not enjoyed it. Giving a bad review to a well-regarded film was always tricky, Mouse knew, as he would have to be doubly sure of every point he was making. And then there was the inconvenient fact that Mouse knew, deep down, that Mary and Max was not a bad film. So why did he dislike it?  Well, he knew that one of the things that rankled him about this film was its severe over-reliance on third person…
“Who said that?” Mouse exclaimed, looking around the room in a flurry of tiny mammalian panic. The narration continued smoothly, un-phased by the protagonist’s unprofessional behaviour.
“Okay, that is really, really intrusive and needs to stop right now” said Mouse indignantly “I do my reviews first person. Quit it.”
One might have reasonably wondered what Mouse intended to do about it, as the narration continued and Mouse realised that he would just have to learn to live with it.
“You’ll get yours, buddy.” Mouse squeaked, but in his heart of hearts he knew he had already lost. And then the thought dawned on him. Why not do the review in third person? It would be a way to shake things up, to inject some new energy into the blog and perhaps attract some news readers. The latter especially merited consideration, as Mouse was well aware that his viewing figures had cratered ever since he’d stopped reviewing Disney movies.
“That was uncalled for.” Mouse whispered, his spirit at last broken.
And perhaps there was another reason to do the review in such a manner? After all, how better to demonstrate his frustration with what he saw as the movie’s biggest failing? And maybe, just maybe, reviewing the film at such a…remove, would allow him to better confront just what it was about the film that made him so uncomfortable?
He resisted the idea at first.
“No.” he said aloud “I can’t. The joke will wear thin almost immediately. They’ll hate it. They’ll eat me alive!”
He couldn’t really do it, surely?
He couldn’t review the entire movie in third person?
Could he?

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The Wrong Trousers (1993)

(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.)

The story of the most beloved characters in the history of British animation begins with the invasion of the Falkland Islands in 1982 by the Military Junta of Argentina. Corporal Nick “Rottweiler” Park of Her Majesty’s Northumberland Fusiliers returned home from the war as a hero with over nine hundred certified enemy kills and was lauded in the press and both houses of parliament as the man who had almost single-handedly won the conflict for Great Britain. However, Park found it almost impossible to adjust to civilian life and, after an argument with a local grocer over the price of a packet of Cheese and Onion crisps, ended up taking the entire rural village of Dutchington-on-Fenth hostage. Incarcerated in Dartmoor prison, Park’s life was changed forever when a relative gave him the gift of a camera and some plasticine. Park later said that he was able to channel his uncontrollable urges to kill into plasticine figures, which he would use to stage horrendously violent scenes with the camera, teaching himself the basics of stop-motion animation in the process. “Once I got all that out of my system” Park would later say “I started experimenting with films where the characters didn’t kill everyone who ever crossed me, and Wallace and Gromit kind of came from that stepping outside of my comfort zone.” Upon being released from prison…

"Um...excuse me? Mr Mouse?"

“Um…excuse me? Mr Mouse?”

Oh, hello Nick Park. To what do I owe the pleasure?

"Um...excuse me? Mr Mouse?"

“Well…all that stuff you said about me.”

Yes? What of it?

"Well, I think you may have gotten some bad information. I never served in the Falklands. I've certainly never been in prison. And that business with the Cheese and Onion crisps has just been blown out of all proportion."

“Well, I think you may have gotten some bad information. I never served in the Falklands. I’ve certainly never been in prison. And that business with the Cheese and Onion crisps has just been blown out of all proportion.”

Ah. See, I don’t know how to tell you this Nick but…you’re too nice. The animators I cover on this blog tend to be half mad geniuses tormented by demons the likes of which normal men can scarcely conceive of.  I mean, have you even met Walt Disney?

"Um...I believe Mr Disney has been dead for many years.""

“Um…I believe Mr Disney has been dead for many years.”

Oh. Oh, you sweet summer child. But anyway, you’ll understand if I had to jazz up your life story a little for the intro. Sorry. Anyway, Wallace and Gromit.

It feels almost gauche to refer to Wallace and Gromit as a “franchise”. And yet, these characters are a pretty massive enterprise. Four short films, one feature, numerous spin-offs, comics, computer games, all manner of merchandise and huge global brand recognition. And yet, Wallace and Gromit have never felt “big”. The series has always had a kind of cosy, intimate charm that is thoroughly English while somehow appealing to a worldwide audience. The premise of the series is simplicity itself: Wallace (Peter Sallis) is a cheese-loving inventor with more technical skill than common sense. Gromit, his dog, is his loyal, long-suffering straight man. The first movie, A Grand Day Out, was begun by Park in 1982 when he was still in film school and finally finished eight years later with help from Aardman Animation who had hired Park to work for them. Today’s movie, The Wrong Trousers, is the second Wallace and Gromit short and is pretty unanimously considered to be the best of the series.

Why is it so good? Let’s take a look.

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Coraline (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.)

"Tell me vat happened, Mouse. In your own vords."

“Tell me vat happened, Mouse. In your own vords.”

"Paper Alchemist...it was her fault! She told me to watch it...I thought she was my friend. Those eyes. Button eyes..."

“Paper Alchemist…it was her fault! She told me to watch it…I thought she was my friend. Those eyes. Button eyes…”

"I don't understand. You had made such fine progress. Ven last ve spoke you had overcome  your fear of Pinocchio and were reviewing the entire Disney canon. You seemed in good mental health. Vat triggered zis relapse?"

“I don’t understand. You had made such fine progress. Ven last ve spoke you had overcome your fear of Pinocchio and were reviewing ze entire Disney canon. You seemed in good mental health. Vat brough on zis relapse?”

"Pinocchio? That's right. I used to be afraid of that movie. God, I was a fool."

Pinocchio? That’s right. I used to be afraid of that movie. God, I was a fool.”

HELLO!

HELLO!

"Hey."

“Hey.”

"Then tell me, Mouse. What triggered zis episode?"

“Then tell me, Mouse. What triggered zis episode?”

"I remember it like it was yesterday. When in fact, it was the day before yesterday. I'd finally decided to start reviewing non-Disney movies regularly. Walt tried to warn me against it..."

“I remember it like it was yesterday. When in fact, it was the day before yesterday. I’d finally decided to start reviewing non-Disney movies regularly. Walt tried to warn me against it…”

"You're a fool mouse! Everytime you review a non-Disney movie you invite terrible doom!"

“You’re a fool Mouse! Everytime you review a non-Disney movie you invite terrible doom!”

"But I thought it'd be fine! After all, I reviewed Nightmare Before Christmas at Halloween and nothing bad happened!"

“But I thought it’d be fine! After all, I reviewed Nightmare Before Christmas at Halloween and nothing bad happened!”

"Ja...of course."

“Ja…of course.”

"You don't know that!"

“You don’t know that!”

"I am sorry, zis is a private session. I will have to ask you to leave."

“I am sorry, zis is a private session. I vill have to ask you to leave.”

"And who the stuttering fuck might you be?"

“And who the stuttering fuck might you be?”

"I am Herr Doktor Ernst Fiedelman. I am ze Mouse's  psychoanalysist."

“I am Herr Doktor Ernst Fiedelman. I am ze Mouse’s psychoanalyst.”

"Fiedelman? What is that, Jewish?"

“Psychoanalyses? Mouse why are you wasting your time with this flim flam? Some good old fashioned voodoo is all you need, where’s my cauldron?”

"Out."

“Out.”

"I think I am beginning to understand. You reviewed a movie horrific enough to undo years of intensive psychoanalysis. Something by Adam Sandler I am guessing?"

“I think I am beginning to understand. You reviewed a movie horrific enough to undo years of intensive psychoanalysis. Something by Adam Sandler I am guessing, ja?”

"Nein. Coraline."

“Nein. Coraline.”

"Mein Gott!"

“Mein Gott! Mouse, ve have no choice. You must face your fear, and talk me through the review. Only then can we undo the psychological damage.”

"Really? Because that sounds like it would make things so much worse."

“Really? Because that sounds like it would make things so much worse.”

"Ve're talking fifty fifty either vay. Now begin!"

“Ve’re talking fifty fifty either vay. Now begin!”

Well. Okay. Here we. go. Coraline.

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Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse #666: The Nightmare Before Christmas

(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.)

***

Hi everyone. So, unfortunately I’ve got some bad news. I know you were all looking forward to my review of Emperor’s New Groove but I’m afraid I just wasn’t able to get it done on time. Sorry. I’ve actually been going through a lot of personal problems recently that’ve been making it hard to write. You all know of course that I recently suffered a severe trauma.

Why God?

Why God?

But reviewing Dinosaur was just the straw that broke the mouse’s back. I’m just…

I’m tired of this. I’ve reviewed over forty movies now and it’s just getting so hard to come up with new jokes every two weeks. It’s just the same routine over and over again.

And I! Mouse! The Un-shaved king…have grown so tired of the same old thing…

Oh, don't say that meu amigo. You just need a little break.

Oh, don’t say that meu amigo. You just need a little break.

Hmm…you seem vaguely familiar. I feel like I know you, but blocked out the memory for some reason. Weird.

I get that a lot. You know what you need? You need to review something a little different. Like this!

I get that a lot. You know what you need? You need to review something a little different. Like this!

The_nightmare_before_christmas_poster

The Nightmare Before Christmas? Well, it is a great movie. And it is Halloween. But…no, I couldn’t. It’s not part of the canon!

You've reviewed plenty of movies that aren't in the canon. You even reviewed An American Tail when you were in the Bluthverse.

You’ve reviewed plenty of movies that aren’t in the canon. You even reviewed An American Tail when you were in the Bluthverse.

That’s true…wait, how could you know that?

Let's just say I'm well informed. Come on Mouse. Review the movie. You know you want to.

Let’s just say I’m well informed. Come on Mouse. Review the movie. You know you want to.

No, no. I can’t. All the reviews I do are in strict chronological order. Nightmare Before Christmas came out in 1993, I’m already into 2000.

And what a great decade that was! You're right. I'll leave you to review Brother Bear, Chicken Little, Home on the Range...

And what a great decade that was! You’re right. I’ll leave you to review Brother Bear, Chicken Little, Home on the Range

Okay! Okay! You’ve talked me into it. I mean, it’ll be fine. So I temporarily forsake my sacred oath to review all the canon Disney classics in order? What’s the worst that could happen?

What indeed?

What indeed?

Okay. So, The Nightmare Before Christmas. Little basic housekeeping out of the way first, this movie was in fact neither written nor directed by Tim Burton.

Yeah, NO idea why you might think that.

Yeah, NO idea why you might think that.

You’ll remember from the Fox and the Hound review that Tim Burton was an animator at Disney before leaving to become a big time Hollywood muck-a-muck. He came up with the concept for the film, based on a poem he himself wrote in 1982, and designed most the of the characters but when the time came to actually shoot the thing, Burton was too busy making Batman Returns and handed directing duties off to Henry Selick, and scriptwriting chores to Caroline Thompson and Michael McDowell. However, I don’t want to undersell Burton’s contribution as this is still probably the most “Tim Burtony” film ever made. That’s really down to the fealty with which Selick treated Burton’s designs and ideas. I mean sure, they put Burton’s name over the thing because he was the bigger draw, and that kind of sucks for Selick…but at the same time,  it does very much feel like Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas. But of course, the clues are there that Burton didn’t actually direct it. Because Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter aren’t in it and Burton never does anything without Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. And I’m not just talking about movies, either. Burton doesn’t go to the bathroom without Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter (Depp pulls the fly down, Carter pulls it back up).

Nightmare has two big influences, the old Rankin/Bass stop-motion Christmas specials and even more so, the 1966 animated version of Dr Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  Jack Skellington was envisioned by Burton as being a kind of anti-Grinch, a macabre character who adores Christmas instead of loathing it, but whereas the Grinch changes once he comes to understand Christmas, Jack never does and the movie implies that really that’s okay. Christmas is not for everyone.

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