Archive for the Animation Category

Brave * * * * 1/2

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Family, Fantasy with tags on August 7, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Directors: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman.
Screenplay: Brenda Chapman, Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Irene Mecchi.
Voices: Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson, Julie Walters, Steven Cree, Callum O’Neill, Piegi Barker, Steve Purcell, John Ratzenberger.

Ever since “Toy Story” in 1995, Pixar Animation Studios have consistently delivered the goods. The only possible exceptions being “Cars” and it’s sequel. On the whole though, they have gained a reputation for delivering high quality and innovative story-lines. However, they have now reached a point where they are in danger of becoming victims of their own success. Nothing but the best is expected. This one attempts to go against their usual standard of storytelling and although some have criticism for it’s change of direction, I personally found it as appealing as ever.

In the Scottish highlands, bold young princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) defies and rejects the services of her mother Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), who has arranged for her to be married. Merida would rather hunt in the forests with her skills in archery and when her mother refuses to back down on her betrothal, Merida flees from the kingdom where she seeks the help of a witch (Julie Walters). This impulsivity brings a curse upon Merida’s family and one that she must undo before it’s too late.

Not only have Pixar changed their formula in having their first female protagonist in Merida, but they also had their first female director in Brenda Chapman. It was Chapman who conceived the project under it’s original title “The Bear and the Bow” but due to creative differences she was replaced by Mark Andrews. Added to which, Merida was originally to be voiced by Reese Witherspoon, who declined due to scheduling constraints. These post production issues could be the very reason why some critics claimed this film to be uneven. However, one of the silver-linings was the dropping out of Witherspoon as that meant that Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald could replace her. As it is, she’s perfectly fitting. What aids this film immeasurably is it’s authenticity in terms of it’s language and voice cast. It’s predominantly filled by Scottish performers and their delivery is pitch perfect. There are Scottish words and references peppered throughout, that although it’s not a requirement to understand them, the “patter” and idiom are well served and add a very personal touch that strike a chord and deliver many good laughs. Some characters are certainly stereotypical but they’re fun and endearing nonetheless and surprisingly, for a Pixar movie, there’s a lack of furry animals and cuddly toys to grab the attention of children – although Merida’s three little brothers are adorable. What this mainly has, is heart, passion and the welcome change of a leading female character with a strength and independent spirit. The mother/daughter relationship at the films core, possesses a real depth that Pixar are not usually known for. 2009’s “Up” touched upon it but human relations don’t tend to feature heavily in their films. This is a different direction Pixar have taken but it’s not, altogether, an unsuccessful one. Admittedly, the story is a tad light and formulaic and ultimately, it gives way to the films colourful pallet. But what a pallet it is; it’s simply astounding. The whole film is exuberantly done and visually it’s an absolute kick in the eyeballs; from Merida’s flowing, fiery red hair to Angus her mighty Clydesdale steed and the vast, abundant, Scottish landscapes. The attention to detail is near flawless and it marks a highly impressive new achievement in Pixar’s animation.

Okay, it might not reach the heights of the “Toy Story” trilogy in terms of imaginative storytelling but this is visually beyond anything Pixar has done before. At one point in the film, a character lifts up his kilt and playfully exposes his arse to another clansman, taunting him with the words “Feast yer eyes“. These are the very words that I would choose to recommend this sumptuous film… “Feast yer eyes” indeed.

Mark Walker

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My Neighbour Totoro * * * 1/2

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Family, Fantasy with tags on July 19, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Hayao Miyazaki.
Screenplay: Hayao Miyazaki.
Voices of: Dakota Fanning, Elle Fanning, Tim Daly, Pat Carroll, Paul Butcher, Lea Salonga, Frank Welker.

Anyone familiar with the animated works of Hayao Miyazaki will be aware that he takes you into a fantasy world full of imagination and delight. I’ve managed to work my way through a lot of his film’s but this one had always eluded me. However, maybe it was my anticipation for this that left me feeling more underwhelmed than I normally am with his films.

Satsuki (Dakota Fanning) and Mei Kusakabe (Elle Fanning) are two young sisters who move to a rural house in Japan to be closer to their ailing mother in hospital. Upon their arrival, they begin to explore their new surroundings and find that there are strange little creatures who inhabit the old building and further exploration into the forest brings them closer to a giant furry sprite named Totoro, who they go magical adventures with.

Miyazaki’s film takes it’s time to get going. It starts off positively and there is an early introduction to his fantastical nature but he never fully explores it. It was more of a human drama than it was a fantasy adventure. However, no-one does it quite like Miyazaki and his film’s always possess a refreshing vitality. This still delivers on that front but isn’t as accomplished as “Spirited Away” for example. I think the main problem rests in the pace of the film; it too lethargic for children and a little too heavy on the drama. The fantasy element is wonderful when it gets going but it’s not explored as in-depth as I would have liked, leaving my concentration to wander. The fact that this is included in the IMDb top 250 is high praise indeed but it shouldn’t be held any higher than “Howl’s Moving Castle“.
I also found the English language version a little off-putting. I mean, how hard can it be to add dubbing over hand drawn animation? It’s not as if there should be a problem with lip-syncing but for some reason, this didn’t seem to fit. Speaking of the animation though, it is quite exquisitely crafted and proof that Miyazaki has been at the forefront of hand drawn material for quite some time now.

Not as entertaining as I would expect from Miyazaki but still a wonderfully endearing and affectionate tale from the hand-drawn Sensei.

Mark Walker

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Mary And Max * * * * 1/2

Posted in Animation with tags on June 6, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Adam Elliot.
Screenplay: Adam Elliot.
Voices: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Toni Collette, Bethany Whitmore, Eric Bana, Renee Geyer.
Narrator: Barry Humphries.

Back In 2003, director Adam Elliot released an animated short called “Harvie Krumpet“. It went on to win an Oscar and like most animators after receiving this accolade, he went on to make a feature film. If this little film is anything to go buy, then it won’t be the last we’ll be seeing of this talented artist.

It tells the story of two, not so different but very unusual, pen pals; Mary, an 8 year old Australian girl living in Melbourne and Max a 44 year old man from New York. They both struggle to get on in life and have difficulty connecting with people yet miles apart, manage to strike up a heart-warming friendship that spans 20 years.

As we are introduced to young Mary Daisy Dinkle (voiced by Bethany Whitmore as a child and Toni Collette as an adult), we are told she has eyes the colour of muddy puddles and a birthmark the colour of poo. She gets teased at school and her parents are always busy. Her father is either working on taxidermy or attaching the strings to teabags and her mother is constantly ‘testing’ the sherry and listening to Cricket on the radio. The people around her have very little time for her. As a result, she randomly chooses a name from an American phonebook and writes a letter to Max Jerry Horovitz. Max (voiced by an unrecognisable Philip Seymour Hoffman) is just as lonely and finds the world very confusing and chaotic. He has trouble understanding people, is hyper sensitive and has trouble expressing his emotions. However, he decides to respond and an unlikely friendship develops between them. It’s the commentary on their individual lives and personal experiences that provides this film with some off-beat and darkly humorous ideas. Mary is able to ask questions like: Do sheep shrink when it rains? Why old men wear their trousers so high and if a taxi drives backwards does it save you money? She also tells Max of her neighbour who’s scared of going outside – “which is a disease called homophobia”. She’s sweet and innocent and like Max, shares that inability to fit in. Max is also allowed a rare chance in his life to open up. He tells her of his top five favourite-sounding words; “Ointment, Bumblebee, Vladivostok, Banana and Testicle”. He also informs us, that when he was young, he invented an invisible friend called ‘Mr. Ravioli’. His psychiatrist said that Max didn’t need him anymore, so ‘Mr. Ravioli’ now just sits in the corner and reads self help books. The humour is easy-going and possesses a freshness and originality. The use of animated clay dolls and monochrome and sepia settings are also brilliantly done, helping the humorous characters and dialogue perfectly compliment each other. Despite a lightness of touch though, it also addresses some deeper themes; alcoholism, mental illness, body image, suicide and depression which make this a film more suited to adults but that doesn’t stop it from being a delightful and highly inventive piece of work.

It’s been a long time since I seen Adam Elliot’s short “Harvie Krumpet” but I’ll be keeping an eye out for it again after this creative, emotional and poignant little treat.

Mark Walker

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The Adventures Of Tintin * * * *

Posted in Action, Adventure, Animation, Family with tags on February 3, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Steven Spielberg.
Screenplay: Edgar Wright, Steven Moffat, Joe Cornish.
Starring: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Toby Jones, Mackenzie Crook, Daniel Mays, Gad Elmaleh, Joe Starr, Kim Stengel, Sonja Fortag, Tony Curran.

Herge, the writer and creator of “Tintin” apparently once said that Steven Spielberg was the only director who could truly capture his creation on the big screen. Thankfully for him then that Spielberg has got himself involved, along with visionary support in Peter Jackson.

Uniting elements from Herge volumes ‘The Crab With The Golden Claws’, ‘The Secret Of The Unicorn’, and ‘Red Rackham’s Treasure’, valiant Belgian reporter Tintin (Jamie Bell), along with brainy mutt Snowy, is on the trail of a lost family fortune, involving future friend and rambunctious soak Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis).

I do hope that when (or if) Indiana Jones 5 arrives that Spielberg has a better story to work with. The story here by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish is familiar Indy fare for Spielberg but it doesn’t have enough in the tank to grab you, leaving him to stage one action set-piece after another to keep the excitement flowing. These set-pieces are undeniably exhilarating though and his handle on the animation side is entirely successful. Before him, director Robert Zemeckis tried (and failed) with similar motion-capture animated features “The Polar Express” and “Beowulf” but Spielberg and Peter Jackson have cracked it. The motion capture is flawless and every pixel of animation is refined to perfection. The problem that Zemeckis had was achieving believable and realistic eyes in his characters. That problem is now gone here. It’s so good that it’s hard to accept that real actors are responsible for the performances. Jamie Bell is impressive as the eponymous man-boy reporter and Daniel Craig is a delight as the villain Sakharine, but the real treat here is Andy Serkis as Captain Haddock the bumbling seaman, complete with Scottish brogue and drunken mishaps.

Classic boys-own adventure and the stuff that Spielberg has been churning out for years. Unfortunately, the script doesn’t hold up to the exquisite visuals and rollicking action but it’s still a treat nonetheless.

Mark Walker

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Rango * * 1/2

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Comedy with tags on February 2, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Gore Verbinski.
Screenplay: John Logan.
Voices: Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Ned Beatty, Alfred Molina, Bill Nighy, Stephen Root, Harry Dean Stanton, Timothy Olyphant, Ray Winstone.

When director Gore Verbinski and star Johnny Depp collaborated before they brought new life into the swashbuckling genre with “Pirates of the Caribbean”. This time they bring a different take on animation, with very mixed results.

A pet lizard (Johnny Depp) falls out of a car in the desert, and earns himself a heroic reputation in the makeshift animal town of ‘Dirt’ as gunslinger “Rango”. Dirt’s water-supply is controlled by a turtle mayor (Ned Beatty) and his gang, but Rango rallies the decent folks when it seems the community will be destroyed.

Partly the problem I had with “Rango” was it’s stunningly good opening. For the first 10mins or so it looked like it was going to be something very special indeed but as it progressed it fell somewhat flat and ended up as dry and barren as the landscape in which it was set. The voice cast were impressive, particularly Depp. He has a good range and if you didn’t know beforehand, you probably wouldn’t know it was him. The animation was also very well done but the desert creature characters were so realistic that they were also a bit freaky, leaving them less endearing than they should be, which has you wondering why Verbinski chose the style he did. Choosing the great cinematographer Roger Deakins as visual consultant was a good move though, as the landscapes and western style were brilliantly achieved.

A valiant effort to produce something different but the characters were just a bit too far gone and the story seriously ran out of ideas early on.

Mark Walker

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A Town Called Panic * * * * 1/2

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family, Fantasy, Foreign Language with tags on February 1, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Directors: Stephane Aubier, Vincent Patar.
Screenplay: Stephane Aubier, Vincent Patar.
Voices: Stephane Aubier, Bruce Ellison, Benoit Poelvoorde, Jeanne Balibar.

Stop-motion animation still has a place in film today despite the computer generated brilliance of Pixar and Dreamwork etc. “Wallace and Gromit” are still a success and with the arrival of this inventive adventure, it shows that there’s still some mileage left in the old stop-motion style yet.

Papier mache toys Cowboy and Indian’s plan to surprise Horse with a homemade birthday gift backfires when they accidently destroy his house. No sooner have they built a new home only for it to be stolen from beneath their noses by a stealthy and cunning assailant. Strange adventures ensue as the trio travel to the centre of the earth, trek across frozen tundra and discover a parrallel underwater universe where dishonest subaquatic creatures live.

As long as there’s still imagination and creativity in the world, there will still be works of art produced regardless of being at a disadvantage. This little animation is proof that millions of money isn’t necessary to produce something that works. Stop-motion animation is probably the most difficult and painstaking of techniques, making you wonder why they even bother in the first place. Fortunately they do bother and we are treated to this fantastic little gem. It’s basic in it’s setup and characters, with second rate little toys brought to life, injected with hilarity, detail and crammed full of creativity and imagination that it’s hard to resist. An absolutely wonderful little treat and very unlike most animation today. Yes, “Wallace and Gromit” are famous stop-motion characters but they are still miles from this surreal Belgian adventure from Stephane Aubier and Vincent Patar.

It’s a pure joy that will shamefully be overlooked by many and deserves a wider audience for it’s originality alone. Added to which, it unashamedly boasts…”shown in glorious 2D.” Superb!

Mark Walker

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9 * * * * 1/2

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Fantasy, Science Fiction with tags on January 29, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Shane Acker.
Screenplay: Pamela Pettler.
Voices: Elijah Wood, Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, John C. Reilly, Jennifer Connelly, Crispin Glover.

These days kids are spoiled with an endless supply of high quality animated films. As a nipper I was content with an episode of “Thundercats” but the beauty of modern film animation is that some are aimed at adults also. This happens to be one that falls into that category.

In a post-apocalyptic future, sackcloth doll numbered “9” (Elijah Wood) wakes up to find that human beings have been eradicated from existence. As he explores the desolate land, he finds a small society of his handrafted kind struggling for survival against terrifying machines. Self-proclaimed leader “1” (Christopher Plummer) keeps his troops in hiding, but when “2” (Martin Landau) is abducted, “9” convinces them that they must attack to survive. Along the way they discover evidence from their deceased creator that they personally hold the last of what’s left of the human soul and preserving themselves is to preserve humanity.

This animated feature has had it’s fair share of criticism but at a running time of 1hour 19mins it’s hardly a massive commitment. In fact, I found it to be quite a pleasure. Where the criticism has been directed is in the story. Too shallow for adults and too dark for kids apparently. Granted, the old tried and tested post-apocalyptic earth, where silly humans have gone and eradicated themselves again, is nothing new and a bit tired, but this is just a vehicle for director Shane Acker’s imaginative little creations to come to life. And come to life they do. The animation is absolutely striking and each little hand crafted ‘stitchpunk’ is given individuality with painstaking attention. The emotional depth and expression of such similiar designed little characters is stunning. I found them very appealing indeed, and a pure joy to watch them on their adventure. This originally began as an 11minute short film (also called “9”) that director Shane Acker won an Academy Award for in 2005. This Oscar success obviously drew the attention of producers Timur Bekmambetov and Tim Burton who have indulged Acker’s vision with money, allowing him to elaborate on his story, and thankfully for us they did. This is animation at it’s finest and on a par with the best that Pixar have produced.

I’m very surprised at the criticism this little gem has come in for as this is a deep, beautifully realised science fiction yarn and a post-apocalyptic world that I hope to visit again soon. A pure visually arresting delight.

Mark Walker

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