unshaved mouse

“When did we become the joke?”

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 Iron Man 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 Thor my 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.

“See? This guy gets it.”
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The Polar Express (2004)

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.

Oh shit, I acknowledged its existence. Someone fetch my flail.

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.

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Heavy Metal (1981)

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.

Tits tits tits. Melons. Gazongas. Knockers. Hooters. Tatas. Jugs. Boobies. Yayas. Bosoms. Chesticles. Mazumas. Badonkadonks. Big ol’ greasy Baps.

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.

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Rock and Rule (1983)

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.

“You fucking hoosers, eh?”

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.

“I shall take this movie, and raise it as my son.”
“Poppa!”
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Shortstember: The Final Flight of the Osiris

Studio: Square Pictures

Director: Andy Jones

Writer: The Wachowskis

Wha’ happen?

In a sparring programme, Captain Thadeus of the Zion hovercraft Osiris and his first mate (in more ways than one) Juen swordfight while blindfolded. This doesn’t, as you might expect, result in horrific injuries but instead with them just getting progressively more naked.

This ass is important to the story, shut up.

They’re interrupted when the Osiris comes across an army of half a million machine sentinels and a big fuck-off drill, burrowing into the Earth’s crust right over Zion, the last human city. Rushing to warn Zion, the Osiris flees the pursuing sentinels. Juen volunteers to enter the Matrix leave a message in a dropbox. The sentinels overpower the Osiris but Juen manages to relay the message before the ship is destroyed and she drops dead.

How was it?

Probaby the least “animé” of all the shorts, this one feels most of a piece with the original trilogy. Everything from the score to the colour scheme to the dialogue feels like it could just slot very neatly into the films. One thing I really admired about the Wachowskis was their commitment that everything mattered. There was no “expanded universe”, every part (whether film, short film or computer game) was equally canon. Sure, you don’t have to see Osiris to make sense of Matrix Reloaded but if you have seen it you’re never in any doubt that it happened in this universe. The events here are referenced and are always consistent with the rest of the franchise. I like that. The animation was some of the most jaw dropping CGI I had ever seen in 2003 and in 2022 it holds up amazingly well. Sure, the sword striptease might seem like shameless pandering (and it is) but it’s also a demonstration of technical power. The flesh of these characters moves realistically and organically, these bodies tense and flex and sweat organically. It’s mighty impressive today. Twenty years ago it was bloody witchcraft.

It’s light on story, lighter on dialogue and pretty insubstantial. But as a visually stunning, slick little thriller it gets the job done.

Shortstember: The Animatrix

What is The Matrix?

The Matrix is everywhere, it is all around us.

Well, okay, it’s not. But it used to be. In those weird few years surrounding the turn of the millennium the Matrix was an absolute phenomenon, genuinely one of the most influential movie franchises of all time. In fact, I’d argue that it was a victim of its own success. Its aesthetic was so instantly iconic and easily replicable that it quickly became cliché. Movies don’t look like the Matrix anymore because so many movies released around that time aped its look and suddenly it wasn’t cool anymore. And make no mistake, the Matrix was all about being cool. Less a story than a vibe.

No, that’s not fair. The Matrix’s intellectual depth may have been exaggerated but if you’d never heard of Descartes it could and did give an entry point into various philosophical ideas. Its language and concepts have filtered into our discourse (red pills, bread pills) and has gone on to inspire many a modern science fiction writer (DID I MENTION RECENTLY I WROTE A BOOK?). It’s a damn impressive legacy for a series that, if we’re brutally honest, consisted of one good (if by no means flawless) film, two mediocre sequels and a filmed cry for help.

This movie has a scene where Lana Wachowski’s self-insert cries in the bath because Warner Brothers (WHO ARE MENTIONED BY NAME) are forcing him to create a fourth Matrix. I am not making a word of that up.

Oh, and it also gave us the subject of this years Shortstember, the Animatrix. This is an anthology series that came about when the Wachowskis visited Japan to promote the first Matrix and visited some of the animé studios that had been such a huge influence on their work. They then commissioned those studios to create nine short films set in the world they had created, which were then released on DVD and on online to promote the second film, Matrix Reloaded. For something basically created as an advertisement for another movie, The Animatrix went on to become the most critically acclaimed part of this entire franchise with the exception of the original film.

So join me this Shortstember as we review the Animatrix. Which ones are good, which ones are bad, and which ones are like wiping your arse with silk.

“You break the rules and become a hero. I do it and I become the enemy. That doesn’t seem fair.”

“And I know he’s here…”

I had a realisation when I heard that line. In the eighth episode of Wandavision, “Previously On”, Wanda Maximoff enters SWORD Headquarters to try and retrieve the body of her lover, the Vision. And something about how Elizabeth Olsen delivers that line. Some mixture of ragged sorrow, aggrieved entitlement and barely contained rage…like a soul that’s been crushed into diamond-hardness by life’s cruelties. It’s absolutely terrifying. And that’s when I realised that Elizabeth Olsen is the best actor in the MCU.

Now, a while back I said that I would be reviewing all of the Disney Plus Marvel shows as part of this series, but, in my defence, that was before I had seen most of them. In fact it was right around the time that Wandavision had me convinced that it was one of the most exciting, radical genre TV shows I’d seen in years. That’s…not how it turned out. The Wandavision finale wasn’t terrible, by any means, but for something that was shaping up to be the MCU’s answer to Twin Peaks to end in just another CGI blob fight in the sky…

Well, I wasn’t angry. But I was disappointed. And it turned out that Wandavision was the highpoint, so let’s just breeze quickly through the rest.

Not bad, really liked the John Walker arc, the Isiah Bradley stuff was cool but the villain was just nails-on-a-chalkboard and the two leads were the least compelling part. C+

Didn’t see it. I mean, I watched it but the whole thing was so underlit I don’t even know what happened. Picked up a bit towards the end with the Kang reveal but the writing needed to be a lot sharper for a show about the MCU’s wittiest character. C-

Damn, Marvel just does NOT like Star Lord, huh? This one’s hard to judge, any anthology show is going to have ups and downs. Overall, I think it balances out to be a B-.

Quit after episode 3. Automatic F.

Okay, a Hawkeye series is a tough lift. Fair enough. But how do you fuck up Moon Knight? I quit this twice. I tried to power through because I love the character but life is too damn short. Two Fs.

And I haven’t seen Ms Marvel or She Hulk yet.

Oh, but it looks GREAT.

So that’s us all caught up.

Multiverse of Madness is basically a thrown gauntlet to the audience. Prior to this, the TV corner of the MCU (whether that was on ABC, Netflix, Hulu or Disney +) was completely vestigial to the films. In fact, prior to Charlie Cox showing up as Matt Murdock in No Way Home, I can’t think of a single instance when the TV properties were even acknowledged in a main series movie (prove me wrong in the comments, folks). MoM though? If you are not at least fully caught up on Wandavision, Loki and What If?

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Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse #60: Encanto

Seagoon:
Any objections?

Milligan:
Ohhh yes! If we build this mountain on England, England would sink under the weight.

Seagoon:
Sink? In that case, this mountain would be invaluable, people could climb up the side and save themselves from drowning!

Milligan:
Mercy, you’re right. Hurry and build it, before we all drown!

The Goon Show: “The Greatest Mountain in the World” (1954)

“Mouse, you explain that opening quote RIGHT NOW!”
“What, I can’t reference classic British radio comedy to open my review?”
“Listen to me. Encanto is the one good thing to come out of this miserable fucking decade and if you try to ruin it for me…”
“Ooookay, how about we take a deep breath?”

Alright, let’s just dispense with the usual dancing around.

Encanto is great. It’s a great piece of animation. It’s an excellent musical and it’s without a doubt my favourite canon movie in a long-ass time. It’s walking out of here with a good grade, don’t nobody worry ’bout that.

But…

I have to confess that what really fascinates me about Encanto is how it keeps making the most basic, obvious mistakes in screen-writing you can imagine (trying to build a mountain that will cause the country to sink), and instead of just fixing them in a sensible way (just not building the mountain) by doubling down and solving those problems in the most ridiculously over the top way possible (actually building the mountain). And it works.

The best example of this is the first song Welcome to the Family Madrigal.

There are twelve named speaking Madrigal characters, all with unique personalities, powers and familial relationships to keep track of. That is, quite frankly, bananas and any sensible screenwriter would have gone through the cast with a machete looking for who could be cut.

Way I see it, for this story you need Mirabelle, two older siblings to establish the pattern that Mirabelle broke by not getting a gift, and then a younger sibling to get a gift to show that Mirabelle really was a fluke. You need Abuela, obviously, Bruno and Julietta. Augustine doesn’t need to be there and Pepa’s entire family is extraneous. And yes, obviously, that would really suck to lose those characters but that would be the sensible choice. The sane choice. But that would not be the Encanto choice.

Encanto instead decides that it’s going to have an opening song flat out admitting “yes, our cast is far too big and complicated and our premise is weird and clunky so here is a song to help you remember”. It shouldn’t work. It really shouldn’t work. But simply by dint that it is a phenomenal song it does. They built the goddamn mountain.

But I get ahead of myself. So about that premise.

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Live Action Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse: Alice in Wonderland

Guys, be honest.

Am I just an unpleasable asshole?

A rule I really, really try to stick to in reviewing movies is this: never criticise someone else’s work unless you can articulate what you would have done differently. This is not to say that I have no constructive criticism of 2010’s Alice in Wonderland. I would, in fact, venture that I have quite the stack, teetering precariously in the corner as I write these words, ready to crush my tiny little mouse bones at the slightest inopportune breeze. And yet, I can’t help but feeling that a lot of what I am about to say might come across as a touch hypocritical if you are a long time reader of this blog.

“Mouse! Good news! We’ve remade Alice in Wonderland!”
“That’s bad news! I famously despise Lewis Carroll’s inexplicably beloved original novels!”
“Good news! The movie simply takes the setting and characters and works them into a new live action adventure!”
“That’s bad news! The only screen version of this story I enjoy is the original 1951 Disney feature and I hate your modern live action bastardisations of classic cartoons!”
“Good news! The movie borrows NOTHING of the original cartoon and attempts to forge a bold new path with its own aesthetic and continuity!”
“Did I…did I make you happy? PLEASE tell me I made you happy!”

So I kinda feel like I’m not reviewing this in good faith. I mean, is this movie a travesty of Carroll’s original work, crunching it into a generic Lord of the Rings rip-off slathered in a thin veneer of anachronistic corporate feminism to appeal to the broadest possible global audience so that Disney can bank another €1 billion dollars for the death ray fund?

Yes. It is that thing I said.

But how the hell am I supposed to make that argument? If this is a bad Alice, then what would meet my definition of a “good” Alice, considering I can’t stand the source material? (It occurs to me that I haven’t actually read either of the novels in two decades. I may need to go back and give them another go).

Well, I suppose it would be a movie that was able to do what the 1951 movie did, make me like the story of Alice through sheer artistic brilliance. I love the ’51 Alice not because it’s an Alice movie, but because it’s a Disney movie, possibly the most Disney movie of that era.

You’ve got Mary Blair on backgrounds. Verna Felton, Ed Wynne, Sterling Holloway and J. Pat O’Malley on vocals. The Nine Old Men directing animation. Music by Oliver Wallace. The movie works because it takes Carroll’s novel, sands off the creepier and more unpleasant elements, and uses the episodic nature of the story to allow some of the most talented men and women to ever work in animation to go buck wild. So I suppose, that’s what I want from an Alice in Wonderland adaptation. Something that can overcome the weaknesses of the source material by just being really, really beautiful.

“OH SHIT!”
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Now, because I choose to.

Ten years…

Jesus Christ.

Ten years ago, I tried to start a blog on That Guy with the Glasses. I decided I was going to review all 52 canon Disney movies. I had no real background in film criticism. I didn’t know much about animation other than I liked it and could express opinions with colourful profanity and pop culture references. I had a juvenile, 2010s sense of humour. Back then, it was all it took.

After a false start where I realised that the TGWTG website was a clunky unusable mess (and because I suspected this Doug Walker fellow was a bad egg), I struck out on my own and threw together a simple wordpress site. And here we are.

It’s hard to succinctly sum up something that has taken up over a quarter of your life. Mouse has changed almost as much as Neil Sharpson has. When I first wrote that Snow White review I had hopes and fears. I hoped, madly, that I’d become a huge internet star based on a text blog (highly unlikely in 2012, absolutely impossible now). And I feared that the blog would just vanish into obscurity or that I’d get bored or disillusioned or quit a few weeks in. Neither happened.

Instead, it just lived. It just kept going. Through highs and lows. Mine and everyone else’s.

It’s been a wild ten years, hasn’t it? I mean wild in its original meaning. Feral. Untamed. Unpredictable. Red in tooth and claw. One long journey through Bahia.

This blog used to be my lifeline. Back when I was a young, frustrated man desperately wanting to be told I was funny or clever or a good writer I needed this blog so badly. I wrote because I had to. Because I needed, desperately to be seen.

I don’t need the blog any more. I write for a living. I’m doing the thing I always dreamed of doing, and amazingly, it’s every bit as wonderful as I hoped. But the blog won’t be going anywhere. Because I still love it. And I do it now, because I choose to.

If I hope anything about this blog, it’s that it was for you what it was for me. A little safe harbour on the mad churning sea of the internet. A place where no one was trying to make you angry or sell you something. A place where we could be people. Or mice. Same thing, really.

Ten years. Did it matter? It mattered to me. I hope it did to you, too.

“Thank you all. From the bottom of my heart.”
“Well, you know how you can thank us all?”
“Oh fine.”

NEXT TIME: