Disney Isn’t Running Out of New Ideas, but it is Allergic To Them

Rather amusingly, the question of whether Disney is running out of new ideas pops up more regularly than you might think. In the latest version, Maya Phillips points out the discrepancy in the variety of content the company used to put out even twenty years ago, and what it puts out today. The reasons aren’t mysterious or secreted away in the vault, they’re much more straightforward. Yet they are indicative of a corporation with an allergy to new ideas and their rewarding results.

Continue reading “Disney Isn’t Running Out of New Ideas, but it is Allergic To Them”

Why Any Great Film Will Imitate This Song

One of the perennial struggles that I seem to have when it comes to feature films is that they often lose my interest well before the climax, or even the third act. The only difference that truly defines films are their length; everything else is relative, and animated films are no exception. However, there’s a simple trick to making a really great film, and all it involves, is listening to a song. Continue reading “Why Any Great Film Will Imitate This Song”

Only 14 Months Late, ‘A Monster in Paris’ Finally Reaches America

Amazon_A Monster in Paris BR cover
Via: Amazon.com

You may or may not be familiar with A Monster in Paris. It’s an animated film produced by Luc Besson that never seemed to make it to American shores despite a limited release in Canada (and a proper English dub too.) It was first mentioned on this blog nearly two years ago, and Irish animater Nichola Kehoe was exceedingly generous in providing a guest review when the film was released there in February 2012. Now, fourteen months after its premiere, A Monster in Paris finally gets an official US release.

The Facts

With thanks to Mike Bastoli over at Big Screen Animation, we learn that the film gets its release through the good people at Shout! Factory. They’re not being picky either, with both a 3-D Blu-Ray/DVD/digital copy combo pack and a plain ol’ vanilla DVD being your choices come April 16th.

I’m excited for this film, and have been ever since the I saw the trailer above (and even more so since Katie Shanahan,  a.k.a. Kt Shy gushed about it after a Toronto screening). It looks fantastic and Luc Besson being the experienced director that he is, the story is sure to be at least competent in concept as well as execution.

Why The Heck Did it Take 14 Months?

Unfortunately, the film did not do great business at the box office despite being a hit with the critics (isn’t that always the case). Yours truly was even admonished by Digital Domain founder Scott Ross for suggesting the film was a model to follow. (It lost ~$10 million.)

In any case, no US partner was involved in the production. This alone would have made getting into that market a lot tougher. Yes, GKids has been known to take on independent foreign films with success. Why they did not do so in this case remains unknown, but their 2012 slate was quite a full one so it’s a possibility that A Monster in Paris simply didn’t get the luck of the draw.

Without a theatrical release, DVD sales are a steep uphill battle (no pre-existing public exposure). Shout! have a bit of a knack for precisely this kind of thing though (they released, and I have, DVD boxsets for the DIC series Sonic Undergound if that’s any indication). Discussions take a while and so finally, more than 14 months after its premiere, we’ll finally be able to see A Monster in Paris in the US without having to resort to ‘special imports’ or The Pirate Bay.

The Questions This Debacle Raises

From a fan’s point of view, it’s ludicrous that we’ve had to wait so long for a film. OK so there aren’t that many of us (or maybe there are, if Google search recommendations are anything to go by), but we do have money that we’d gladly give to see the film. I’m a patient man, but plenty of others are not, and by waiting so long, the producers may well have forgone some revenue. A $10 million deficit is a large amount, but getting some money back is better than none at all, right?

Secondly, what exactly has been going on in those 14 months? I doubt that the producers have been searching for a US distributor all that time. All signs seem to indicate that none was lined up before the film’s completion and all mentions of a US release end around the time of the film’s premiere.

Lastly, how does this delay benefit the studio that produced it? Not being in the US market until now will undoubtedly have hurt their revenues, and not just in the obvious ways. Yup, CGI filmmaking technology continues to develop a rapid pace, and a film released last year (let alone more than a year ago) is going to look outdated no matter how well it was made. By releasing so long after its production, it will run the risk of appearing to those unfamiliar with it (read: the general public) as an inferior, cheaper production than it really is. All told, it hurts the studio’s chances and opportunities for creating another feature film.

How To Ensure It Doesn’t Happen Again

Europe remains a productive creator of animation (both theatrical and otherwise), but I fear that in the case of A Monster in Paris, not enough effort was put into making the film available in other parts of the world. That’s not to say they didn’t try; the film was lip-synched to the English script, not the French one, but of course that won’t bring in revenue on its own.

The US market is massive, and complicated to boot. Unfortunately it is also dominated by a few large chains; chains that are cozy with the large US studios and would far rather show a film from one of those than a foreign, independent one. GKids has so many issues with them, that they almost always avoid them; favouring independent cinemas instead.

This situation is where a service like Tugg would come in useful, allowing independent players the ability to reach mainstream audiences without the cost of a traditional blanket marketing campaign.

Until then, April can’t come soon enough.

Would you have seen A Monster in Paris in the cinema in the US? Why or why not? Let us know below!

Paranorman: A Hearty Recommendation To Go See It

Pic is relevant seeing as some annoying person really did answer their phone during the screening.

Via: Filmofilia

A full review is forthcoming but in the meantime, you should go see it to. It not only met but exceeded our expectations as it must have done for the little kid who gave a hilarious running commentary throughout.

Some Superb Secret of Kells Expression Sheets

Coming via the Art of Animation tumblelog are some wonderful expression sheets from the Secret of Kells. Much the same as the Kim Possible ones I posted a while ago, I love seeing these kinds of things because they give a great insight into a character and on a relatively ‘pure’ level; seeing as they aren’t moving or making an sound. It doesn’t take a genius to see that Brendan is a mischievous little scamp. The poses of him playing with Pangus Ban or Chrom’s Eye clearly show someone who’s having fun. All the same, the sheet with the candle portrays someone who’s clearly up to no good.

Compare them with Aisling’s sheets. She’s jsut as mischievous but in a much more playful and innocent way. The posing does much more work than for Brendan but the effect is the same. We can instantly tell she’s a decidedly more curious character than Brendan; hiding a certain amount but being open and honest all the same. Seeing these is getting me excited for Tomm Moore’s next feature; The Song of the Sea.

I’ll admit it, this one absolutely kills me 🙂

 

Brave Review: Merida is Not The Feminist Heroine Many Were Expecting

Via: Nerdy Feminist

“You’d better say it was excellent.”

Such was the direction I received from the fiancĂ©e for this review. However it is something I simply cannot do for the entire film. For parts? Sure, we’ll get to those in a minute, but as a whole film, Brave is very good, but it isn’t excellent; there are simply too many areas where it comes up short.

First, the good stuff. Yes, the scenery really is as good as it looks. Pixar has done a superb job in replicating rural Scotland, complete with the wild open spaces and the intimacy of the woods, that provides ample eye candy throughout the entire film. Perhaps it is because of my bias (I’m from the part of Ireland that is just as, if not more, wild and rugged) I was entranced by the scenery for the entire film. Well done to Pixar for doing their homework!

Now onto the not so good stuff.

The Plot

The plot, while fine as a concept, stutters in execution. Pitting daughter against mother isn’t entirely original, but at least the ancient Scottish setting was a new twist. Sadly that doesn’t come to pass. Brave can’t decide if it’s a serious drama or a comedy. In the end it tries to be both and thus becomes a film of two halves. I’ll let you guess which half sustained my real interest and which was accepting of my superficial attention.

Unlike How To Train Your Dragon, Brave makes the mistake of proclaiming to be a dramatic film but whereas the latter makes no bones about its comedic side, Brave feels like its being funny in order to hide something and one can’t help but suspect that its to do with the removal of Brenda Chapman halfway through production that caused the, quite frankly, lazy use of comedy to patch up the hole left behind.

The Animation

While the background and scenery animation is superb, the same can’t be said for the character animation. Yes, Merida’s hair is stunning, but that is merely a distraction. Every other character seems to pop around as if on a very heavy dose of caffeine and once the action kicks in, I simply could not have been reminded of Shrek at a worse time.

Characters were simply far too jumpy, case in point is the royal family’s housekeeper (the one that, uh, hides the key in that place). As she runs through the castle and finally gets to the kitchen, there is no grace in her stumbles. They speak nothing of her character, she could have been anyone and the effect would have been the same. What differentiates Pixar from DreamWorks at this point? Nothing to be honest, DW at its best could easily pull off character animation as, if not more, graceful than Pixar has in Brave.

The Characters

This is the acid test for Brave. It was intended to be a ‘different’ Pixar film, one with a female lead, a princess, and a setting in Scotland; all traits that Disney itself would have used in the past. The film was marketed as such with a heavy emphasis on how Merida was something different from what we had seen before; a teenager, a rebel and so on.

Sadly, all the characters are stock for a Hollywood film.

There’s the idiotic father, the prim and proper mother, the rebel teenager and the three triplet boys who are simply incapable of doing anything good. While the father and the boys are merely filling comedic space, the mother and daughter who are the focus of the film, should have been much more complex.

For all the hubbub about Merida being Pixar’s first feminist, there is little evidence that she is anything more than a spoiled child who is in need of a life lesson or two. If anything, it’s Merida’s mother who is the strong female in the film, being more than capable of stopping the men right in their tracks, especially her husband!

Merida attempts to make a case for finding her own way, but with such an emphasis on ‘fate’ and placing your future in someone else’s hands, namely a [redacted spoiler],she spends more time being led down the garden path and having her decisions made for her than discovering them herself. She’s not the strong female protagonist that many (including myself) were expecting.

Even the other princesses in the Disney films seem to come off as stronger characters. Jasmine was coy enough to play along with Jafar to help Aladdin. Ariel knew what she wanted but really had to work in order to win over the prince. Belle had to work at the Beast fairly hard and overcome many obstacles to save the day. Merida on the other hand, simply has to reverse what harm she did and follow the steps laid out for her, and that isn’t a particularly difficult task.

Once the big change comes about, the Queen instantly becames a different character, an unlikeable character, a comedic character. She isn’t the same and the change dramatically shifts the tone of the film, for the worse. Yeah, there are a few genuinely loving moments, but I just couldn’t shake the fact that the queenias an innately funny character. A shame really because her serious side could have easily been kept while keeping the humurous side to her transformation to a minimum.

Conclusion

Pixar has been one of the most successful animation studios over the last 25 years. They’ve been knocking out hit after hit after hit on a more consistent basis than anyone else before them. Many have proclaimed that each new film has the potential to be the first Pixar ‘flop’. Cars and Cars 2 were certainly not the critic’s favourites; in a sense they are ‘critical’ flops.

The reality though, is that we are seeing Pixar slowly slide into mediocrity. They set the gold standard for films and unfortunately for them, everyone else is catching up. Toy Story 3, Cars 2 and now Monster’s University represent Pixar slowly cashing in its goodwill chips at least DreamWorks make no bones about using sequels to make money. Expect to see Pixar films doing well, but to become increasingly ordinary; the spread of the Disney corporate machinery is inevitable after all.

Brave is Pixar trying too hard. It’s fine to portray the film as an epic with a strong female lead but when you’ve built your brand on delivering on your promises, it’s devastating when you come up short. Brave was the first Pixar film where I lost interest during the screening. I was expecting so much more from a studio that has proven the ability to deliver, and it almost hurts when to see a film with such a great premise come out half-baked.

The Lorax: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Last night we went to see The Lorax. Unfortunately it was the only animated film at the cinema and all I can say is that I really did have to sleep on it before writing this post.

Let’s start with the good. We all know it’s based on the book by Dr. Seuss, and that’s grand. Having never read the book, I went into the film with a bit of naivety but an open mind as to how it would pan out.

The set designs and backgrounds are the best aspect of the film. Yes, they’re unremarkable in the grand scheme of things, but they do at least lend a cartoony feel to everything; much the same as that other Dr. Seuss film, Horton Hears a Who. The colours may be a bit saccharine for some (we certainly weren’t prepared for it), but they fit in well with the environment, and the team did a fine job of contrasting the different scenes and eras.

The other standout thing for me was the score. Not the soundtrack (we’ll get to that below), but the score by John Powell, which leads a kind of joviality to the whole thing. Again, it’s nothing remarkable, but it fits the mood well.

I suppose the other good thing was that the kids seemed to like it, especially the one girl behind us who made everyone else laugh with her giggles.

Onto the bad. All I can say is throughout the entirety of the film, I couldn’t help but feel that bits and pieces were missing. By the end, I reckoned there was 20 minutes that were somehow missing and had either hit cutting room floor or were never written to being with.

The entire film seemed like it was going around in a tumble dryer with jumps here and there, back and forth and characters starting in one place and instantly ending in another. In other words, the film didn’t so much run as it was playing hopscotch.

Besides the jumbly story, there were gags to be had in every, single, shot. Now a comedy should have a joke in most scenes, with a sprinkling of gags to sweeten things up. The Lorax on the other hand, didn’t seem to think that was enough and proceeded to have a gag in, quite literally, every single shot. Be it something happening offhand to a character or a spoken blooper, the result was the same. It was OK for the first couple of minutes, but after an hour and a half, things were wearing a bit thin.

Lastly, the ugly.

Hmmm, where to start, how about with the voice talent. The big names like Danny DeVito, Zac Efron and Taylor Swift certainly promised a lot (if you believe the marketing department at Universal) but oh boy did they fail to deliver. They didn’t stumble over themselves and roll off a cliff, no, they weren’t that bad. But if you like wooden voice-acting from people who aren’t famous for their [speaking] voices, well, The Lorax is right up your street.

Taylor Swift, as good great* a singer as she is, just can’t deliver a good vocal performance. It was flat, it was unmemorable, it was a waste of a role! The rest of the cast is similar. Danny DeVito is at least seasoned enough and with a distinct voice that enabled him to carry the role, but only barely.

As for the characters they were voicing, well, they were all terribly boring. Comparing Ted and another young protagonist, Hiccup, there is no comparison. Hiccup at least has depth, he actually has some motivation to do the right thing, for the dragons’ sake. Ted just want to impress Taylor Swift, and the best he can muster is to find a tree, and even then that’s practically done for him!

We learn nothing about him. He’s an axiom of a character, in other words, he is what he is. As is everyone else. Character development is minimal, even for the Once-ler, who has apparently learned his lesson but is for some reason dependent on Ted to fix everything.

The supporting cast are pretty much your usual, American pseudo-stereotypes:

  • Mum who’s the boss – check
  • Granny whose surprisingly active but uses a cane and is voiced by Betty White – check
  • Greedy businessman who’ll stop at nothing to keep his empire – check
  • Cute girl next door who main character has a crush on – check
  • Creepy, disgruntled old-timer who’s going to have a change of heart by the film’s end – check
  • Southern yokels in a Winnebago – check

Let’s not forget the myriad of supporting characters who imbue all the usual quirky traits that are by now seemingly mandatory for any CGI film. From singing abilities to one-trick ponies, they’re all there.

As mentioned earlier, the score is decent, but the songs were even more saccharine than the sets. Lavishly animated, they were over the top to say the least. Coming at supposedly appropriate points in the film, they were nonetheless distractions that didn’t really add much. The film could have been non-musical and it would have been the same.

Lastly, the particulars of the story itself is where the film really fell down. Besides jumping all over the place in the pacing, the story itself made maddingly little sense. The Lorax himself plays a relatively minor character; being missing for almost half the film only to show up again at the very end. The Once-ler servers as the protagonist for half the film before focus shifts back to Ted. Taylor Swift’s character says all of three paragraphs and appears in just about as many scenes and O’Hare is a villain who, quite frankly, does nothing of consequence.

In the end, we go back and forth from past to present before jumping around all over Thneedsville to plant a tree before the whole town turns against the bad guy, Ted gets his kiss and The Lorax shows up to give the Once-ler a hug.

Honestly, by the end, it’s hard to figure out quite what the hell I was watching for the past hour and a half.

What Don Bluth Did After He Left Disney

Ah the fun stuff you discover by accident.

So Don Bluth left Disney in 1979 and set up his own studio. However, his first commercial production wasn’t a film. Nope, it was the video below, which, unfortunately, blended a great soundtrack (from Electric Light Orchestra) and animation with a film that was roundly panned. Anyways, enjoy this full-on example of 80s culture from Xanadu.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q6IaURfFpLQ

And as a bonus, here’s a choice comment that I just had to share:

Guest Post: Great Animated Teasers

Today’ I’m pleased to feature a guest post by Jardley Jean-Louis. Jardley is an artist and illustrator from New York. You can see her portfolio here and her blog here!

Having found an interest in pursuing and strengthening skills in animation after being very single-minded in art & illustration for years, I found sites that catered to those needs and featured a great wealth of creatives making animation in the world today. Some of these animations were teasers that told just enough to build anticipation as to what would unfold. So without too much fanfare, here are some memorable animated teasers I’ve seen recently.

LE MEURTRE teaser from Tom Haugomat & Bruno Mangyoku.

The most obvious: The colors. In my opinion it’s not only memorable because there are only ever four colors or by how rich and deep they are, but how through them, they build each scene. They create an object, fill in negative spaces, and separate one thing from another. While watching, I was reminded of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Body recap by Noel Murray. I’ll quote him here:

…as when Dawn’s art teacher asks her students to explore the negative space around their subject—a body, as it happens.”…”To make out its shape, you’ll have to look at the people gathered around where it used to be.

But, I especially love the scene that starts at :51, I thought I was watching something remarkable. The animators don’t go to great lengths to create it and really, that’s the way it is throughout but here, it’s not too much at all. You get a couple of shapes that’s amplified by a faraway shot and that’s it. Even the dead wolf is a measly shape. But, in the little details the duo does uses, like the clumps of trees and the straggly plants in the ground, for me they’re well received.

Adam and Dog Trailer from Minkyu.

When I saw this, right away I thought it must be associated with Disney in some way. Then I found out Minkyu Lee is a Visual Development Artist for Disney. Jackpot! I’ve never seen nudity in Disney films and am curious if Disney plays a hand in the fruition of the film or if it’s all controlled largely by Minkyu Lee and co. I don’t know much about the workings of animation films, nor have I been following this particular film much to know what’s what. I do know that I’ve interpreted the lack of dialogue, the standalone shots, and this “Adam” and what I assume is his dog, surrounded by this lush but probably lacking in more people environment in the trailer, as a type of film I want to get to know. I’m interested to find out more and the nudity is refreshing because in such an environment it feels like it would make sense. But, that depends on the story.

Playing Ghost TRAILER from Bianca Ansems.

I have no idea how many times I’ve watched this trailer yet only yesterday did I realized that the little girl is playing with the stove buttons to control the fire! I thought she was just far too near the stove and her mother didn’t want that. It’s the little things, these small actions that I feel makes a media so much more especially in Playing Ghost. I think if this film was told with no dialogue whatsoever, and I have no clue if it is or isn’t (The little grunts the little kid makes doesn’t give much away), it would still be one to recommend. I especially love that little sigh she makes at what appears to be her makeshift cemetery. Here you have a film about the aftermath of an event and that to me is already something I’d watch, but shot for shot there’s just so much detail and I’m sitting here staring. So many parts where the animators were paying attention to life and how a room that has been lived in and is marked by what its use is, like the kitchen or the basement, looks. It’s visually a very warm, vibrant, detailed animation. I really can’t gush enough about how much I love these types of animations. Sewing up fabrics, building sets and objects, using found objects, and now with Playing Ghost: paying attention to gestures and personalities of each individual. I don’t think I was more grateful for that than when I saw that little 5 year old stomp her way across the kitchen.

Onward Trailer from John Robson.

Have you ever seen something like this before? I think what sets this animation apart from many I’ve seen is how epic it feels. Yes, it’s about an adventure, a journey but, it seems like much more than an animation. Like it could easily transfer itself to live action but chooses to be an animation because the animators enjoy the craft. Though the strikingly realistic scene of the thunderous darkened clouds and rippling waters stunned me, it’s in the warm glow that covers the face of a bowing Sean to light a cigarette off-screen, that I was sold. It’s a great scene, a great effect. In John Robson’s own words, he’s using a combination of computer and stop-motion animation photography. That might’ve been why I was so surprised with the ease at which the main character speaks and moves his lips? It’s a contrast to Fantastic Mr.Fox, where I noticed the mouths moved awfully fast and not especially relaxed. I’m curious to know if that’s a common with puppet animation that aren’t altered with computer effects. Beyond that, the trailer has the markings of one to be anticipated from the choice in typography to mark it’s title and release date, to the mood and narration of a solitary man on a quest. But here’s the kicker: This animation might be in a different stage than the ones mentioned above in that it still needs funding to continue on it’s way. From speaking a bit to John Robson, there will be a kickstarter campaign (a site that helps to fund creative projects) in the months to come so if you’d like to donate, know more about said campaign’s launch or just promote the animation any which way you can, be sure to follow him and keep updated on his site.

Slow Derek – Trailer from Agile Films.

Last but definitely not least comes Slow Derek. Seriously, I sat there with my mouth open on both viewings of this. It looks like a life that’s finally about to start. I think that’s how I can best sum it up. My assumption is it’s using the very common trope of an unhappy, dull man who lives a life of dreary routine and said life changes through a surge of courage after a particular event but most likely it changes for him. But really what can you know in :20 seconds? Though I’d say it uses those seconds well. I’m pressed to know WHAT HAPPENS and HOW. Through a series of quick shots, a train or car that expects a collision sound effects, and some action shots of Derek himself, there’s a lot to absorb and await. It doesn’t let you breathe and grasp what you’re seeing, it basically pulls us along until the end when the Earth spins and even then it’s going too fast.

I’m sure in the months to come there will no doubt be a wave of teasers making their way to the public and many in the current that haven’t been touched upon in this list so if you’ve got some you want to share, please do.

Making An Animated Feature Film With Elliot Cowan

All-round nice chap Elliot Cowan, known to his legions of fans around the world as the creator of Boxhead and Roundhead, has embarked on the formidable task of creating a feature film featuring the quirk duo.

Below is the video he recently posted detailing how exactly he manages to squeeze making a film into his already hectic day. Besides making us all appear instantly lazy, it’s all done in Elliot’s very affable Australian way.

Don’t forget to stay up do date with the obligatory Facebook page!

Flixist Looks At Spirited Away But Neglects One Very Important Thing

Matthew Razak over at Flixist has a great in-depth look at Hayao Miyazaki’s seminal 2001 film, Spirited Away. That article is well worth a few minutes of your time as it discusses many aspects present in that film that are sadly lacking in many contemporary American productions.

However, while Razak focuses a lot on the animation, the direction and the over-arching themes of the film, he almost completely neglects to discuss the characters.

Yes, he talks about Chihiro and her transformation from a spoiled little girl into a more mature adolescent and his analysis is quite good in that regard. However, he glosses over the supporting characters that help her in that regard.

Like Haku, the faithful, if resentful, servant of the bath house owner Yubaba who is on a quest for self-redemption and rediscovering his identity, or Lin, the worker at the bath house who teaches Chihiro some of the realities of working life. Not to mention Yubaba herself, show imparts a tough impression of the businesswomen and her strikingly contrasting sister, Zeniba.

If it were not for characters such as these, as well as the multitude of supporting characters, from river gods to no-faces, Spirited Away would be an altogether duller film. Visuals and direction can greatly improve a film, but if the characters themselves aren’t complete, the film will feel stifled and wooden.

That is where Miyazaki excels in his films; the characters are never boring, or repetitive or simple. They are complex, flawed and plentiful; just like real people. Their importance should not be overlooked when analysing a film.