Two Films I Watched At The Weekend

Apologies for the lame title of the post (Monday morning, etc, etc.). Anyway, here are two films I watched at the weekend. I have thoughts on both which I will share later on in the week. In the meantime, have you seen them? What do you think? Were they any good? Are they just rip-offs of the Disney style or do they stand on their own?

No 1. Anastasia

Via: The Internet Movie Poster Awards

No. 2 The Swan Princess

Via: The Internet Movie Poster Awards

Anomaly Appraisal: Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest

Via: The Internet Movie Poster Awards

Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest is one of those films that I must have seen when I was younger. I was smack in the middle of the target audience at the time and I definitely did see Aladdin when it came out mere months before/after.

Yet I had forgotten about it for years until last week when I was at Wal-Mart. Having picked up a bicycle seat (as you do), I strolled past the DVD section. Lo and behold! There was a $5 bin stuffed to the gills with DVDs.

Since I like animation in all shapes and forms, I have become accustomed to rummaging through such bins because you never know what you’ll find. Naturally I came across Fern Gully. For $5? How could I not! So I did, and the other night, I watched it.

What can I say? It’s a decent enough film that left me pleasantly surprised. The animation is superb with plenty of lovely traditional animation and hand-painted backgrounds. There’s also some 3-D CGI that is as good as anything Disney put out at the time. Hans Perk (of A. Film L.A.) did some animation, as did Ralph Eggleston. So it seems that at least a few famous folks were involved in making this film as beautiful as it is.

The plot is fine, if somewhat generic. Sure, it plays on the whole ‘environmentalism’ fad that was happening at the time (remember this was the early 90s) although it is quite believable in the context of the setting. The script itself is slow. A large portion of the movie is devoted to the main characters travelling around the world they live in. It may be a side effect of the short running time (80 mins) that leaves the actual plot to do with Hexus as something of an afterthought.

The music (as excellently composed by Alan Silvestri as it is) is now rather dated, as is the film itself. Besides the music, the big giveaway is the language. “Tubular” and “bodacious” are just two and are far from the only examples. Yes, this film is very much from the late 80s/early 90s.

Indeed, Fern Gully has company in this regard. Tangled walks the very same, fine line that divides a film between being timeless and being time-framed. I have no doubt that in ten years, Tangled will look much the same age as Fern Gully looks today, unfortunately.

As for the characters, they are certainly likeable. There’s nothing wrong with that except that their development is cut short by the running time. They are the usual motley crew that inhabited animated films before Pixar came along. I.e. the smart one, the good-looking dumb one. the hangers-on, the hero, the villain. Nothing makes most of them stand out from the crowd. Having said that, I did find two characters who did.

Crysta, our protagonist, is by far the most interesting of all the characters. There is a lot on her shoulders (as we learn throughout the film) that weighs upon her mind. She is strong character that is determined in her ways while at the same time caring for the bewildered human (Zak) who has literally fallen into her life.

She has that happy-go-lucky charm that imbues all the virtues of a good female character while being assertive enough in her ways to avoid being labelled a pushover. Look at the screencap below.

Now there’s a great shot. The crossed arms, the lip-bite and the dozens of eyes staring out just scream the inquisitive nature of our heroine. How about another one:

I’ve seen that face literally dozens of times. She does exactly that with my face as well and every time it makes me wonder whether I’ve missed my calling as a clown.

Crysta is the most developed of all the characters, so much so, that without her, the film would be indubitably more boring.

The second characteris given some criminally short screen time. That would be Hexus, voiced by the one and only Tim Curry, who manages to bring out so much of the sleaze and evilness in the character, it makes you wonder how awesome the film would be if he’d been given more screen time.

Tim Curry provides a superb balance to Robin Williams who hams it up as Batty. Hexus is effortlessly sublime to Robbin’s lunacy, which is far more abrasive than his other performance of the year as the Genie in Aladdin. Of note is something Brad Bird posted over on Cartoon Brew a few years ago (how I manage to find these things I do not know):

Very few people remember that Williams was also the voice of a key character in FERNGULLY that same year and it didn’t help the film’s boxoffice.

Sadly it didn’t, although the film is no worse for it. Williams is given a wild script but it is clear that he was not given the same freedom that he was for Aladdin, where the character of the Genie was so dependent on him being who he is.

Interestingly enough, Fern Gully is set in Australia and was partially produced there. As such, I asked Australia’s favourite son and my good chum, Elliot Cowan what he thought of it:

Fern Gully is an enormous pile of shit that is about as Australian as Abraham Lincoln.

So The Secret of Kells it isn’t. That should not detract you from seeking Fern Gully out though. You will be rewarded by a lovely looking film with some very 90s songs that may provide a bit of a respite from all the CGI that is being thrown your way these days. Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest is available at Wal-Mart and Target for the low, low price of $5 (plus tax).

An Open Letter To Mr. Tom Lowe

Not that I want to keep coming back to the same topic, but waaaay down in the comments for Amid’s recent post on Cartoon Brew about making money from your short film, are some responses from a Mr. Tom Lowe who would seem to be involved in Bob Gofrey’s official website.

In case you’re curious, here are his comments:

Each video on YouTube had around 4000 hits, and there were around 5 videos up, so around 20,000 hits in total. Not much by YouTube terms.

We are looking in to DVD-to-download options, as the inital cost of DVD mastering would be way too much at the moment.

As for the films initially being free, can I ask where you got that information from, or have you just made it up?

As for free and extra content, we have an interview with Bob talking about Henry 9 ’til 5 which is free before the paywall for the film. More films will include these interviews with Bob, for free.

As for an iPad app, I’m not going with a closed-system run by Apple. As for services like Netflix or LoveFilm, they only deal with distributors, finding one of those isn’t something I have any inclination to do, as we would lose control and certain rights. It may generate more revenue, but it’s simply not an option for us.

As for a better designed site, we’re working on it. We are trying to perfect it and make it as user friendly as possible, so please keep comments coming, we are listening.

In the mean time, if you do want to use the site, we offer weekly subscriptions from £2.99 (around $5) a week.

And here’s his response to a few other comments which pointed out where you could still watch the shorts online.

Here’s his final comment after all of the above:

Amid, I must say it’s a shame that you want to rubish our Pay-per-view site and break copyright law, rather than contact us, talk to us about it and maybe come to some agreement about giving your readers a discount, maybe even giving you a percentage. This would be far more constructive for everyone involved.

With all that fresh in your mind, may I present my open letter to Mr. Tom Lowe:

Dear Mr. Lowe,

The career and legend of Bob Godfrey as an animator will never be forgotten, as long as people such as myself are alive who have fond memories of growing up on some of his greatest works (I have an affinity for Roobarb myself). His many short films and the numerous nominations he received for them solidify his place in animation history without a doubt. What I am concerned about, is that his legacy is at risk in this new, digitally connected age.

The frontier that is the internet has been drastically altering the entertainment landscape for some time now with no end in sight to the revolution we are currently going through. It has been tough on many aspects of the film and TV businesses as they have struggled to try and find their place in the new landscape. You are not alone in your attempts to preserve the legacy of Bob Godfrey for all to enjoy.

You face a considerable challenge in this regard, and I admire you for making the effort necessary to bring Bob’s films to the attention of people who may not be familiar with his works. Naturally it is desirable to do so in a profitable manner that is sustainable, yes? After all, no-one could they be expected to incur the considerable costs of providing streaming content by themselves, I know I sure wouldn’t.

However, your comments as posted to the recent Cartoon Brew posts are somewhat disheartening, especially so when considered in light of your comment on Amid’s post back in 2010 where he revealed that the shorts were online. There is a great air of optimism about it! You seem excited that fans are enjoying the YouTube channel and its videos. The comments above are such a turnaround from then, yes?

Four thousand hits on YouTube is actually pretty decent, considering the videos were only up for a couple of months. Great films such as those are lucky in that they are not constrained by the need to feel ‘new’ or ‘hip’. They are timeless and as a result, could remain on YouTube for many years without ever going stale. Twenty thousand hits overall may not be much by YouTube standards, but there are millions of videos on that site that have maybe hundreds of hits, and there are plenty with none at all!

You also mention providing free content and use the documentary as an example. While this is “extra” of the films themselves, it regrettably does not provide someone who has not seen Bob’s films with a big enough incentive to pay for them. Think about it. If the latest Harry Potter film came out and instead of a trailer, they posted a documentary about the actors instead, would half as many people want to go see the film? I doubt it very much.

People (in the US in particular) have become accustomed to most things available online having no direct cost to them. That is how things have played out over the last 15 years or so and once people know they can get stuff for free, the become extremely reluctant to being paying for it. While your plan to charge £2.99 (or $5) a week is commendable, it absolutely pales in comparison to the tens of thousands of hours of content I can view on Netflix for $8 a month. The problem is not so much how much you charge, but how little substitute services like Netflix charge in comparison. You are not so much competing for my wallet as for a combination of time and choice.

You are in a strong position, Tom. There are plenty of other avenues to pursue besides charging people to watch the films. I’m sure there are many items that could be sold instead. How about limited edition drawings, sketchings, posters, etc? Sure physical objects like these cost more, but they make more per sale too. Besides that people sometimes buy more than one. I’m sure you can figure something out, in the meantime, why not help spread the word about  Bob’s films? Cartoon Brew has already done so and introduced many more people who would otherwise not have known about Bob or his amazing films. Even this letter, which I am posting to my blog, will introduce my readers to a legendary animator who they not have known about.

Lastly, it is important to be acutely aware of the distinction between copyright and theft. If sharing copyrighted materials was theft, it would already be covered by the many laws already in place that cover physical property. Copyrighted materials do not come under such laws and in legal circles they take pains to avoid confusion. Unauthorized reproduction of copyrighted materials is considered infringement for this very reason.

Surely it would be much better view people who want to see Bob’s films as fans, yes? And if they want to view the films, why not let YouTube take care of the cost of hosting and streaming them? They’re willing to do it for free, why should you take on the burden and cost of doing so? Let YouTube carry take the risk!

I sincerely hope that you find a way to keep Bob’s shorts online in a way that caters to his fan’s needs and helps attracts new people to Bob’s timeless films.

Sincerely

Charles Kenny

Poetry in Animation? Sure, why not?

At least Tim Minchin thinks its an acceptable way to narrate a film. Below is his short, Storm the Animated Movie in which he regales the tale of a dinner party with an Australian hippie named Storm. Very funny and very worth your time.

Note: Slightly NSFW due to one or two bad words.

5 Fundamental Differences Between Fantasia and Fantasia 2000

Via: Collider

It has been well noted how one of the greatest animated film ever made managed to spawn a sequel many, many years later in the form of Fantasia 2000. What has not been well noted are the fundamental differences between that film and the original.

1. The Opening Sequence

Not to denounce the choice of music (Beethoven’s 5th is a favourite of mine) but to focus instead on the animation. In the original, it was animation meant to represent the music visually, with plenty of clouds and streams of light.

The sequel instead took the same visual concept and turned it into a story.

Such a move has the effect of distracting the user from the music and the visuals as they try to determine who the characters are, why they are flying about and why are they being attacked. At the end of the day they are a distraction that draws the viewer away from the attempt to link artistically the music and and the animation.

2. The Colours

The original was full of bright, vivid colours that literally jumped off the screen. In Fantasia 2000, the Pines of Rome segment has by far some of the dullest and flattest colours I have ever seen. At one point I was straining to make out the whales from the background.

While some segments have undoubtedly vivid colours (the yo-yoing flamingos comes to mind), on the whole, the sequel contains much more muted colours and palettes than the original. It is, as a result, less exciting, less eye-popping and ultimately just a wee bit less interesting.

Plenty of wacky cartoons on TV manage to look extremely vivid, Fantasia 2000 simply lacks a similarly broad palette.

3. The Use of Multiple Hosts

The original had a single host, Deems Taylor, which had a purpose as that film was intended to be a roadshow where audiences of the day would have expected a single host for the evening. The sequel uses multiple hosts.

This has the effect of making the film seem like a seminar or presentation. A single host would have unified the viewing experience and provided some continuity between segments. With multiple persons and multiple personalities filling the space, there is a tendency for the film to lurch at each scene as each presenter has a different style.

4. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Yes, it is in both films and is perhaps the most recogniseable segment of the original and that is the difference. Mikey’s appearance in the original had a reason (he needed a new vehicle in the years rolling up to the Second World War) whereas it’s inclusion in the sequel appears to be an attempt to provide some validity to that film’s very existence.

What irked me more than anything though, is that the soundtrack appeared to be re-recorded, at least to my ears, although I was listening to it through some old speakers. Besides the dubious sound, they also re-recorded Mickey’s voice for his interaction with Igor Stravinksy. Unforgiveable perhaps, but ultimately a poor choice for a supposedly ‘new’ film.

Another aspect of the sequence’s inclusion is that it steals the thunder of Donald Duck, who is given his own sequence to Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance and must content himself to remain in the shadow of his friend instead of in the limelight where he should be.

5. The Conclusion

The original end sequence was very much a statement on the constant battle between good and evil and the ultimate triumph of good over evil. It is exceedingly spiritual on many levels and has been noted for the many profound effects it has on viewers.

The sequel is also in a natural setting and on a mountain, but instead it focuses more on the battle between natural forces in their fight to control the landscape. As admirable as this is, it does allow for a certain amount of disconnect from the audience. It is about nature, not about us, and I can’t help but feel that a certain amount of the meaning is lost in that gap.

How To Enjoy ‘Cars’

According to this headline:

5-Year-Old Critics Agree: Movie ‘Cars’ Only Gets Better After 40th Viewing

You know, I do kinda miss that ability to watch a movie over and over and over again day in and day out without ever getting bored of it.

Why The Tangled DVD Is A Waste Of Your Money

Via: Amazon.com

It’s not secret I like Tangled. It’s fun and although the story and characters are slightly less than mirror-polished, it’s an engaging film that manages to astound with it’s visuals, as Jim Hull managed to put it on twitter:

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/jameshull/status/54014060982841344″]

It’s true, the visuals are stunning and its the main reason I like the film. However, I am one of those folks that has an old-style TV. You know the ones, with a square screen and that take up as much space in the living room as an elephant. Am I behind the times? Yes, I am and I realise it. However for me, if it came down to it, I would rather spend the couple of hundred dollars on a flight to Ireland than a new TV. It’s not that I don’t like watching the boob tube [snicker], it’s just how I prioritize things.

Despite the fact that I like the movie, I was disappointed by the Tangled DVD. The only extras included on the disc are some original “storybook” version of the film’s opening and a countdown of films that makes Tangled the (supposed) 50th feature released by Disney.

Here’s my problem, and it’s likely to be your problem too. Why the heck would you pay $14.99 for a DVD with basically just the film on it? If you’re a truly insane or disadvantaged in who supplies your DVDs, you would have to pay the $29.99 that Disney recommends!

First of all, $14.99 is expensive, even for a DVD (when stores can sell CDs profitably for half the price, you know there’s something up). The extras included were and are available online so you do not gain anything by having the DVD. The ultimate insult is that for an extra fiver on Amazon.com, you can get the Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack but that is a matter of economics and I’m sure most people plumped for that version despite the fact that it offers only a few more extras and even then only on the Blu-Ray disc, the DVD is exactly the same as the stand-alone version.

So ask yourself: “why should I pay money for a plastic disc with just the movie on it? Why not save my money and download it from the internet? It’s not like there’s a lack of choice there”:

Snapshot of just some of the torrents available out there.

I do not advocate downloading films from the internet. The practice is quote/unquote “illegal” and if the MPAA thinks they’ve caught you, it can be a legal nightmare trying to get it sorted out. If you have ethical feels about it, there are always plenty of free (as in speech) and public domain films out there just gagging for your attention.

The point is, why on earth would I fork over a pile of money for something I can just download from the internet (legality aside)? It doesn’t make any sense to sell films like that any more because there is absolutely no incentive to the public to buy the film. If it came with some kind of extra that I could not download form the internet (read: a physical item) than there is a chance that people would be much more likely to purchase it.

I think that’s something that content producers cannot get their heads around. People no longer consider content a physical good whose reproduction can be controlled. People today (myself included) generally assume that if we can get it from the internet, then it probably should be free (there’s an economics background to this that can wait for another day, but trust me in the meantime).

Just to add insult in injury, there was a time when DVDs came stuffed to the gills with extra features. Since the introduction of Blu-Ray, we’ve seen those features gradually get pulled as the studios have attempted to incite use to get Blu-Rays instead. Unfortunately a new HD TV is a heck of a lot of money to spend and a few extras that I used to be able to get aren’t going to be the deal-breaker for me.

With less features on the DVD and with a nominal difference in price, why the heck would I buy the single DVD? If I just want to see the film, there is a heck of a lot of reasons why I should just go and download it or watch it through other means and I’m pretty sure that’s what plenty of folks are doing to the detriment of the studio and the artist who work in the industry.

 

Can You Spot What Makes This A Poor Quality Movie Trailer?

For Fievel Goes West

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=szGthsNti6Q

PS. Apologies for the relatively patchy quality of posts this week, the work schedule is all over the place but should improve tomorrow.

Five Reasons Why The Animated Film Market Isn’t Saturated

With the recent failure of Mars Needs Moms, there has been some speculation that the market has become saturated as everyone seeks a slice of the the lucrative pie that is animation (the link is behind the New York Times subscription wall so nuts to them) . While it would certainly appear this way, I doubt that that is the case. Here are the reasons why.

1. On Average, less than one animated film a week comes out

Sometimes there appears to be a deluge, but for the most part, oftentimes animated films have it all to themselves when they are released. They are more likely to have to compete against a live-action film aimed at their audience than another animated one.

2. The market is tightly controlled

The cinematic market for films is tightly controlled by both the large studios and the large cinema chains. They are the gatekeepers in terms of what can be shown and when. While competition between the studios is good, there is often agreement when it comes to when films are shown, to avoid clashes that end up splitting both films audiences.

3. The big boys have a schedule

The two most prolific animated studios, Disney and DreamWorks, have a set schedule that they do not tend to differ from. Disney has one Pixar film a year with normally at least one Disney-branded one as well. DreamWorks had hoped to to about 2.5 films a year (that’s 3 in five) but that has since been pulled back to something more manageable for Jeffrey Katzenburg’s studio. The point is that both studios don’t really differ in the amount of films they offer.

4. Standards are being raised

Arguably, ever since Pixar burst on the scene in 1995, the standard for animated films has been raised spectacularly, and I’m not talking visually here. Storytelling, character and direction have all fallen under the Pixar influence. Nowadays the audience fully expects to see films as complete and complex as what John Lasseter and Co. put out and they have become merciless if they feel disappointed. Witness the recent failure of Delgo (Elliot Cowan’s favourite film) or the relatively poor performance of Battle for Terra. The list can go on, although no studio should be under the illusion at this point that the audience will accept anything.

5. The Core Audience Isn’t Changing

Unlike the customers for other forms of films, the core market for animated films isn’t really moving. Kids that are watching these films generally aren’t the ones downloading them from the internet. That may change someday, but for now, the vast majority of parents are more than willing to take their kids to the cinema. Unlike say, an R rated film, whose potential audience may just decide to download the film from the internet before it is even released and skip themselves a heck of a lot of hassle. The point is, the market is actually growing (slowly) so until we see a rapid upswing in the number of animated films, it is highly unlikely that the market is saturated.

 

The Brilliant Opportunity That Mars Needs Moms Offers Disney

Via: Mayerson on Animation

At this point, we should have all read the headlines and the aftermath of what appears to be one of the biggest flops in recent years. However, from what I have read, it would appear that things are mostly focused on the rather unnerving presence of the characters in the uncanny valley more-so than any other aspect of the movie. Rotten Tomatoes has a good smattering of both sides. It seems the story is actually pretty decent and overall, it’s not the worst film ever released. It’s just the characters are so darn fugly.

With the prospect of writing off somewhere in the region of $150 million or more, there would appear to be very few options open to the studio for this rejected project.

Such a statement is true, if looked at in the traditional sense of release windows, DVD sales, cable TV rights and so forth (yeah, broadcast networks figure in ‘so forth’ although they would take the place of cable in Europe).

What if say, Disney looked at this ‘failure’ as an opportunity? “Impossible!” I hear you say. Ah, but such failure can often force companies to experiment and explore new methods of revenue.

For example, the film’s already lost money at the cinema, and is unlikely to reap back its cost in DVD sales either. Would you not agree that this represents a great opportunity for Disney to experiment with online streaming? No, not the kind it does already, but with real, honest-to-goodness online streaming, where everyone can watch and share without restriction?

The film’s already lost money so that is now a sunk cost, they’ll never get that back, but they can focus on exposure. Again, from what I’ve read, the film isn’t as bad as it’s made out to be. Perhaps it’s just because the film’s core audience has not been found yet.

Such an experiment is unlikely to cost them much and it would be useful in allowing the company to figure out where revenue can be made online. They could even play around with things. Like say, “watch Mars Needs Moms online and earn the chance to purchase a signed poster!” or something like that. There are plenty of ways of offering incentives to fans and sadly, a conglomerate like Disney has long since lost the knack of seeking out and exploiting such revenues.