Disney-Pixar’s Luca is an Italian Riviera set animation that tells a story of a merman Luca and his family living underwater and having a hostile relationship with the people living on land. Luca is a boy curious about the outside world, though, and soon becomes very interested in the “land” people. He meets a fellow merman, an “expert” in people, Alberto, and together they venture to discover “the unknown” or the “land” things, already having a goal in mind – to get their hands on an Italian scooter Vespa. The duo soon encounters a local bully, Ercole, and an eccentric tomboy, Giulia, as well as try to win a local race. Luca is gentle and sweet, who can deny this? It also has its share of laugh-out-loud sequences and beautiful images of a small picturesque village. Apart from that, the animation is painfully generic and even forgettable. Its narrative is almost too insignificant, and if it were not for all the wonderful visuals and the Pixar/Disney name behind this “cartoon”, Luca would have qualified perfectly to be just yet another daytime television animation geared towards very young children.
Before La La Land (2016), there was Chico & Rita, an adult Spanish animation which was nominated for an Academy Award and won the prestigious Spanish Goya Award for best animation. It tells the story of two star-crossed lovers, Chico and Rita, who meet and quickly fall in love in Havana, Cuba, and whose turbulent professional journeys make their love a real torment. Chico is a talented pianist with high ambitions and Rita is a stunning beauty with a voice of an angel and a desire to make it big. Pursuing the dreams of fame, both do not even realise how far from each other their destinies could take them. Even if crudely-drawn and sometimes frustrating to watch, Chico & Rita is still a charming story worth watching. Paying tribute to Afro-Cuban jazz and imbued with the nostalgia for the past, this animation is as much about trials of love as it is about passion for music.
I got an idea for this post through winst0lfportaland his animation tag post. Borrowing some questions from it, I created my own tag. I love animations, and am a supporter and promoter of international animations (see my previous posts on Russian, French, Chinese and Japanese animations).
1.Favourite Disney animation?
“Beauty and the Beast” (1991).
2. Favourite non-Disney animation?
It is tempting to say “Spirited Away” (2001), but I have a soft spot for “Howl’s Moving Castle” (2004) and would like to make one day an in-depth comparison between it and “Beauty and the Beast” (1991) (a fun one since both are based on other source materials). I also love the works of Satoshi Kon and Makoto Shinkai.
3. Criminally-underseen animation you recommend to everyone?
“The Illusionist” (2010) is a lovely, heart-warming animation from Sylvain Chomet (“Les triplettes de Belleville” (2003)). In “The Illusionist”, a French illusionist finds himself unemployed and travels to Scotland. There, he meets a young girl and their destinies collide.
This new animation comes from the creators ofInside Out (2015), and is about a music teacher and aspiring jazz pianist, Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) who dies by falling into New York City’s manhole. He begins his journey in the world “beyond” (“The Great Before”) and his reluctant companion becomes a yet-unborn soul called “22”. As it turns out, the two have much to teach each other about life, death and human destiny. Soul is best when it is rooted in simplicity, heart-warmness and quiet moments. It certainly loses some of its coherence and has many undercooked ideas, as well as mixed messages, when it tries to present the world of “The Great Before”. Nevertheless, the overall effect is that of one lovely animation, with one lovable character at its centre, which portrays New York City and the jazz scene beautifully. Soul has many redeeming elements, and those messages in the story that finally do get through effectively to the audience make it a wonderful cinematic experience overall.
This song, written by John Bucchino and performed by David Campbell, is from the straight-to-video animated film Joseph: King of Dreams. The song is inspirational and feels very personal. It is sung by Joseph when he finds himself near to despair and at the lowest point in his life. He has to start from the very beginning again and build his life anew. The faith and trust in God enable him to do that. The animation is often compared negatively to the great animation The Prince of Egypt , but the comparison is a bit unjust and Joseph: King of Dream should stand on its own as that thathas many strong points, including the amazing dream sequences and this wonderful song.
Based on a manga Tekkon kinkurito (1993) by Taiyo Matsumoto, Treasure Town is a breathtakingly-beautiful animation about two orphaned boys: street-wise and brave Kuro (Black), and lovable and innocent Shiro (White). Street-raised Yin and Yang of the cruel world around them, the boys defend their only home – the “lost city”, the “city of myth”, the Treasure Town. First their opponents are simply rival gangs, but they soon notice the encroachment of a much more powerful enemy: the yakuza. Members of the notorious Japanese mafia have certain drastic, commercial designs on the city, and the duo of brothers feel that they cannot just give away their decrepit town full of wonder, their small, bizarre universe, their home. This colourful, sometimes violent, but grimly-realistic, animation packs inside much commentary on social issues relevant to Japan, and has both, a touching emotional core (the brotherly love) and a clever structure and plot.
“Anton was a dream” (Jeremy Saulnier, director of Green Room (2015)).
This is a moving documentary that explores the life of actor Anton Yelchin (Star Trek (2009), Green Room (2015), Thoroughbreds(2017)), from his birth in Russia to the champions of figure skating to his last films made. This is an engaging and respectful feature that aims to pay tribute to a person of outstanding acting ability who was taken too soon (died on 19 June 2016 when he was crashed between the brick wall and the fence when his car rolled back on him in his own parking space at home in Los Angeles). Through his own footages, as well as the interviews conducted with his parents, close friends and co-workers, we find out what kind of a person Anton really was – extremely devoted to his loving parents, loyal to his friends, kind, generous, curious, intellectual, funny, goofy and passionate about many aspects of life. He possessed great charisma and acting skills, having started acting at a very young age and then later acting alongside such stars as Anthony Hopkins, Robin Williams, Albert Finney, Jodie Foster and Willem Dafoe, to name just a few. It is safe to say that,given his talent, he was just on the brink of “breaking through” in his career and just needed that one very successful and big movie that will escalate his career much further, a movie that, sadly, will never now come. By recognising him as an absolute star now, we can at least pay tribute to this potential, to the person who was so passionate about acting and films (trying his hand at directing too!) and whose kind, curious and sparkling personality will always be remembered. Read more
Christmas is getting nearer, and I hope everyone is excited! People are probably also excited about Disney’s Frozen II, and, for those who do not know, I want to draw attention to the plagiarism case below, concerning the Frozen (2013) teaser trailer (the first video below) and the short animation titled The Snowman by independent animators Kelly Wilson and Neil Wrischnik (the second video below – access by following the link since it is imossible to watch it on wordpress)). This case was settled out of court in 2015. I previously talked in my review of Frozen how the animation relied heavily on the conceptual story and character vision from Hans Christian Andersen’s tales (which is fine), as well as on the romance from Anastasia (1997) (which is also ok), but it seems that, from the very beginning, the Frozen franchise was off to a start that involved blatant stealing and zero acknowledgement. At the preliminary hearing, Judge Chhabria ruled that “the sequence of events in both works, from start to finish, is too parallel to conclude that no reasonable juror could find the works substantially similar“. With the world’s most creative brains at Disney/Pixar headquarters, they still could not come up with their own concept for a teaser trailer. The similarities are painfully evident, and if Disney did not think so, they would have battled it in court, rather than settling for an undisclosed sum to be paid to Wilson and Wrischnik. And, Wilson and Wrischnik were paid by Disney.
Once in awhile comes one animation which is so powerful in its message and so unusual in its presentation, it becomes quite unforgettable. “Fantastic Planet” is precisely such adult-themed animation, co-produced between France and Czechoslovakia. A winner of the Cannes Special Prize in 1973, this French-language animation has even been named one of the greatest (Rolling Stone). In its presentation, “Fantastic Planet” is highly imaginative, inspired by some psychedelic art and, as some commentators put it, by “cut-outs from Soviet science magazines” (CinePassion). Based on Stefan Wul’s 1957 science-fiction novel, Oms en série, the animation is about blue-skinned giants, the Draags, who keep as pets a human race of Oms on the planet Ygam. The animation may be a tad too disturbing in its content, but, because the world it creates is so fascinatingly strange, and because its concept of the fight to have freedom is so relatable, it is well worth all the attention and praise.
My second post for Debbie’s Winter in July Blogathonis on Disney’s animation “The Sword in the Stone” (1963), and, like my previous post, take note of spoilers! This animation is based on a book (1938) by T.H. White and has a distinction to be the last one produced under Walt Disney himself. In “The Sword in the Stone”, we have merry old England and an innocent enough plot. Wart (aka Arthur) is a young helper to an aspiring knight Kay, before Merlin, a great wizard, comes into the scene and spots Arthur as having great potential and future. After Merlin and Arthur’s initial encounter, Merlin takes the young boy under his wing and teaches him by experience the power of love, knowledge and bravery The snowy scenes come very late into this film, when it is Christmas and the knights’ tournament is held in London. Sir Kay participates with Arthur being his squire. The tournament takes place near the place where the legendary sword in the stone stands. The legend has it that whoever draws the sword from the stone is the true heir to the English throne. When Sir Kay’s own sword goes missing, young Arthur has no choice but to consider taking the sword residing in the stone.
There is nothing like snowy and wintery films to cool us all down in the middle of this summer, and Debbie at Moon inGemini hosts The Winter in July Blogathon for that very purpose. For this fun blogathon, I chose to write on animated films “Frozen” (2013) and “The Sword in the Stone” (1963). While “Frozen” is, essentially, the winter animation, there is also some winter scenery at the very end of “The Sword in the Stone“. These are both Disney-productions, with some fifty years separating the two, but one is computer-generated, while the other one is hand-drawn. My arguments will be that there are good enough animations, but they both fell short of their desired mark. While “Frozen” has great visuals, some music and concepts, the animation’s plot and characters can be criticised. Equally, while “The Sword in the Stone” relies on a fascinating legend and is entertaining, its visuals sometimes leave much to be desired and its episodic plot is uninspiring. My first post will be about “Frozen“, and because I critique it in depth, I am also warning about spoilers!
“All the world’s a stage, [and] all the men and women [are] merely players”, famously stated William Shakespeare. It appears that this quote is given life in the animation “Millennium Actress”. This anime comes from no other than Satoshi Kon, a director known for such great films as “Perfect Blue” (1998), “Tokyo Godfathers” (2003) and “Paprika” (2006). In this story, a team of documentary-makers interview a once top-star Chiyoko Fujiwara as she tells them about her story, her rise to fame and the personal motivations behind her role-taking. Together with the duo of documentary-makers, we explore Chiyoko’s life through a series of events that hint at both make-believe film scenarios and real stories, but which had a very meaningful impact on Chiyoko and her worldview. The historical settings are either Kyoto in the Edo period, Japan in the World War II, or the country in the 1950s, etc. As in other Kon’s films, reality and fantasy fuse deliciously in “Millennium Actress”. The result is that this beautiful animation becomes an engrossing celebrity story, a touching romantic ballad, a historical account of a country through the ages, and a thought-provoking philosophical study all in one.
This fantastical tale is about Chun, a girl who is a member of a tribe of mythical beings (“neither humans nor gods, but others”) living underwater, capable of controlling tides and knowing the secrets of nature. As part of her rite of passage, Chun turns into a dolphin to visit the human world. There, Chun makes a contact with a boy who loses his life “because of her”, and Chun vows to sacrifice a part of her life for him, seeking help to turn the boy into a fish which must grow big enough for his later transformation. The story sounds a bit complex; it requires certain open-mindedness; and the layering is quite deep. However, with the stunning visuals (better seen on the widest possible screen), the simplicity of the main theme is quite evident and heart-warming. The meticulously-constructed scenery, and the relatable themes of the cycle of life, and the importance of friendship and of not losing hope, all make this animation more than worth your time. Moreover, “Big Fish & Begonia” has already done extremely well at the Chinese box office, and, being a huge leap forward for the Chinese animation industry, it may be a contender in the next Oscar season.
Last year, in August, I posted a similar post – Unpopular Opinion Tag(Films), where I talked about three movies that people generally love, but I hated. Now, it is time to do a “reversal” post. Here, I will be talking about three movies that people or critics do not like much, but I actually thought there was merit in them or things to love. I am choosing to write about Premonition (2007), Sleeping with the Enemy (1991) and Joseph: King of Dreams (2000). Be warned, there may be some spoilers ahead.
I. Premonition (2007)
IMDb score: 5.9; Rotten Tomatoes score: 8%.
In 2007, Mennan Yapo shot this film starring Sandra Bullock, and, in my opinion, it does not deserve to be so unknown or all the negative reviews. The film is actually fascinating. It relies on a twisted Groundhog Day/”Deja Vu” (2006) concept to tell the story of Linda (Bullock), a wife and a mother, who finds her world turned upside down when she wakes up one day to learn that her husband is dead and another day – to find out that he is still alive. The truth is that her week days do not follow the natural timeline, but are randomly emerging, and Linda has to find out how her new reality works exactly to possibly save her husband from a deadly car collision. The film is clever (in a way it is a brain-teaser), and it is very interesting to follow Linda on her journey. The film makes you want to pay attention to small details to find out how they may change the next day. The film may lack some fundamental logic and, definitely, plausibility, especially towards the end, but it is so atmospheric, many of its other faults could also be forgiven. It is atmospheric in a way every scene is filled with the feeling that something macabre or threatening is lurking in the background (some unseen force), meddling with the natural clock, and music and the involvement of children make the picture even eerier and more effective. Couple this with the exploration of the issues of sanity and grief, and a few nice jumps, and the result is strangely compelling. It may not be this great thriller, but it is good enough for repeated viewings and Bullock does a good enough job.
“Coco” is a simply delightful Pixar-produced Academy Awards nominee of 2018. Taking the Mexican folklore and tradition on board, it tells the story of Miguel, a boy living with his family of zapateros or shoemakers in Santa Cecilia, Mexico. Years before, the family imposed an absolute ban on music, because a father of some previous generation left his family to pursue a music career. However, in this present time, Miguel, unbeknown to his family, dreams of becoming a musician, practices music secretly and worships his music idol Ernesto de la Cruz. On the Day of the Dead, Miguel desires to enter a local music completion to fulfil his dream of becoming a musician, but, trying to do so finds him in the secret Land of the Dead, where his adventures only begin.
The co-director and scriptwriter of this little gem of an animation is no other than Satoshi Kon, the man who brought to the masses such great animated films as “PerfectBlue” (1997) and “Paprika” (2006), and the story is about three homeless people who discover an abandoned baby-girl amidst the piles of garbage, and decide to embark on an adventure to deliver her back to her parents. The animation may portray harsh realities of living on the streets too realistically for anyone’s taste and may camouflage some other hardships, but the animation is also so fun, well-structured and beautifully-presented, with a touching finale. Moreover, it is so heart-warming, with memorable characters who learn their lessons, it is truly the New Year movie to watch to lift everyone’s spirits.
“The Breadwinner” promises to be a great, inspirational animated film. In my opinion, it looks like an interesting cross between “Mulan” (1998) and “Persepolis” (2007). It will be screened at the forthcoming BFI London Film Festival, taking place between 4 and 15 October 2017.
Based on a manga series by Hinako Sugiura, “Miss Hokusai” is a Japanese animation about the daughter of the famous Japanese painter Hokusai, Katsushika Ōi. A great artist herself, Ōi helped her father in painting, while leading a peculiar lifestyle of her own due to her work demands and her father’s eccentricities. The beautifully-drawn animation highlights some of the most memorable instances from Katsushika Ōi’s life. It becomes impressive in a way it manages to show both Ōi’s life in Edo (now Tokyo) in the 1810s, including her hopes and traumas (as told through a manga series), as well as inspiration behind Hokusai’s major artistic accomplishments, all the while remaining strangely poetic and touching.
“Wolf Children” is a 2012 animation directed by Mamoru Hosoda, the man behind the very creative “The Girl Who Leapt through Time” (2006) and the equally inventive “The Boy and the Beast” (2015). The film is about a young girl Hana who meets a wolf-man and has two adorable wolf-children. After the sudden and unexpected death of her husband, Hana has to confront the challenging reality of bringing up two very unconventional children. Although “Wolf Children” may put off those who are after a conventional story with villains, its meticulously-crafted looks, and the innocence and charm of its plot, with important life lessons, still mean that this is the animation to watch.
“…What drives animation is the will of the characters” (Hayao Miyazaki).
“Only Yesterday” and “Kiki’s Delivery Service” are two completely different in plot animations, but both were produced about the same time by famous Japanese Studio Ghibli, an animation film studio known worldwide for the quality of their animations. While “Only Yesterday” focuses on grown-up concerns and largely targets teenager/adult audience, “Kiki’s Delivery Service” is a completely child-friendly movie, which also has important messages to deliver.
Only Yesterday (1991)
“Only Yesterday” has a plot filled with highly emotional undercurrents and intelligence: a 27 years old unmarried woman, Taeko, from Tokyo, visits countryside while reminiscing over her childhood of when she was a shy and creative fifth grader at school. Through her nostalgia, we get to learn about many situations which have had the biggest impact on her up until her present life, and get to understand her past choices, hopes and regrets. Directed by Isao Takahata (“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” (2013) and “Grave of the Fireflies” (1988)), “Only Yesterday” is a beautiful animation which touches upon such often overlooked in films/animations topics as the “grip” of persistent childhood memories and their traumatic or positive impact on one’s later life and development, the benefit of re-discovering oneself in a different setting, the importance of staying true to oneself no matter the circumstances, and the imperative of letting go and forgiving “one’s former self”, as well as people from one’s past, to be able to carry on and lead a happy, fulfilled life. Read more