Controversy, confusion, bemusement. Which word describes the latest film from Studio Ghilbi? Earwig and the Witch marks a bold departure for the Japanese studio that’s ruffled a few feathers but is actually quite a sweet film.…
Finally! After only more than a year did I finally get the chance to watch this film. Long did it tease me with its development, release in Europe and sneak peeks in Canada. There’s even been a guest review featured on this blog! Today though, I can finally post my own thoughts having seen the film thanks to the good people at Shout! Factory. So without further adieu, here’s the A Monster in Paris review from the Animation Anomaly.
The quality of the animation seriously belies the film’s modest budget ($28 million). Given that we are used to being blinded by the dazzling efforts of both Disney and Pixar, one would expect that a film made for much (much) less would suffer from the smaller budget but thankfully that is no true. Early 20th century Paris is rendered as beautifully as any Pixar film and the love that has gone into making it look as good as it does ensures that stylistically, it is superior to much of what the large American studios put out.
Think about it. Pixar threw around $350 million at Toy Story 3 but did they honestly need to spend that much for a film that essentially takes place in the real world? If A Monster in Paris can replicate the glory of a past city so beautifully, why are Pixar and Dreamworks apparently so shackled visually?
The character animation is a bit jerky, but given the film’s comedic undertones, it is certainly understandable. Wackiness isn’t as outlandish as you might expect but it’s all in the classic Looney Tunes vibe of only noticeable when necessary.
A Monster in Paris tells a fairly simple story; a giant flea escapes a laboratory and supposedly terrorises Paris until a singer discovers his hidden talent. While that does not sound like much, A Monster in Paris manages to weave it into the characters so much so that thei involvement seems quite natural.
There are jokes aplenty and although it’s nice to hear lots of jokes, it’s fun to see them too. Thankfully A Monster in Paris has plenty of both.
A Monster in Paris brims with many of the characters that you would expect the Paris of old to have. Our heroes, Emile and Raoul are truly the odd couple, differing, bickering and making up again. Their chemistry is balances by the cast of characters who they interact with. While Emile tries to woo Maude, Raoul has nothing but disdain for our heroine Lucille. These two relationships are played against the larger problem of a giant singing flea complicating their lives thanks to being wanted by the police.
Overall, A Monster in Paris is an enjoyable film. It’s distinct European flavour give the impression that it skips to a different beat than many American films and that would be correct. It eschews the pretensions of contemporary Hollywood films in favour of pure entertainment of the kind not seen much any more.
While the voice-acting (at least for the English dub) is a bit over the top, it is more than balanced by the music and original songs (written by Julian Lennon). The DVD is also a bit bare but given that the film never received the theatrical release it deserved in the States, it’s understandable that the home video release can’t be too lavish.
Delighting in its beauty, A Monster in Paris is highly recommended.
Last night we went to see Paranorman. Admittedly I hadn’t read or seen all that much about it before heading in (which is unusual but it happens) so while I was prepared for a Coraline-like experience I was pleasantly surprised, although not along the lines I thought I would be.
Paranorman is at the end of the day, a simple film. There isn’t anything super complex or layered that will confuse the kids. It’s reminiscent of the old-school storytelling that existed before Pixar. That is to say, there are little detours from the goal that is made explicit early on. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that per se, but it does mean the audience doesn’t have to think for themselves; a feat that helps connect them to the film.
The jokes come fairly thick and fast throughout the film with a strong emphasis on the physical side. Plenty of laughs were had from both the young and old in our screening at various points although it was disappointing that the writers decided to go more for the low-brow end. It’s a tad disappointing because what bones they did throw to the adults were not near as subtle and therefore as clever as something Pixar or even DreamWorks is capable of putting out. (Let’s just say the “Witchy Wiener” sign has a missing ‘W’ and that it’s downhill from there.) That’s all well and good but I couldn’t shake the feeling that someone felt it was necessary to make up for something else.
The film is also fairly heavy on the rhetoric both political and cultural which was something I was not expecting. Points about ‘fitting in’, ‘being accepted’ and ‘facing your fears’ were all rather blatant and in-your-face. Again, this ran the risk of detracting from the story and probably would if you were more inclined towards that kind of thing. It all got plenty of laughs of course, but it added little to the film or the characters and in hindsight feels a bit unnecessary.
What can I say, the animation is stunning. Laika have taken stop-motion to new heights with Paranorman, The sets are wonderful; large, lush and vibrant with a quirky, goolish theme. The Massachusetts setting could not have been replicated better. A nod should also go some of the posters in Norman’s room the hilarious retro horror flick titles and opening scene.
Characters move with sublime smoothness. It’s a wonder that stop-motion can create such movements that are on par with CGI if not better. No doubt it is helped by the 3-D printers and a bit of CGI FX along the way, but at its core, it’s a testament to the skills of the animators. While the film did have some CGI, it was only complimentary and for stuff that would be very difficult to do in stop-motion anyway. Is it getting too close to CGI? I don’t think so but Paranorman doesn’t make the lines any clearer at the same time.
Overall, I was disappointed by the characters. They were all a bit flat save for Norman. Some stereotypes were naturally employed, but at the same time, it would have been nice to see a bit more depth to the likes of Mitch or Courtney instead of having them fill stock roles (or in the case of the latter) embody tropes like this, this and this.
Norman is great character with a lot of weirdness to him that makes him a great character to watch but leaves him as the odd one out amongst his friends and neighbours in more ways than one. It isolates him and it feels that those around him are brought into his fold by force.
If anything Paranorman’s characters are devoid of the backstories that they really need. We get a hint of one with Uncle Prendergast but everyone else is just, there, existing without much rhyme or reason given. If there is a major failing in Paranorman this is it. The emotive reasons to like the characters beyond Norman barely exist (and in the case of the townspeople, downright don’t exist). As a result, the characters are a bit flimsy and are unlikely to provide inspiration beyond the film.
Overall, Paranorman is a very enjoyable film that will keep you entertained for the hour and half but will not leave any lasting impression outside of the animation, which is gobsmackingly stunning.
Over on AWN, Joe Strike has posted a review of BroNYCon, the get-together for fans of, yes, My Little Pony that took place at the end of June. The entire thing is very much worth reading whether you’re a fan of the show or not. It’s a positive, neutral look at the show and the community that surrounds it as well as a description of the event itself. I found the article quite intriguing on a number of levels; here’s a few things I realised after reading it.
Fans Are Fantastic
Every show needs fans, a fact that is well-known and well-documented countless times over the years. Fans are however, finnicky. Just because a network throws globs of money at promotion, etc. doesn’t mean that fans will necessarily follow. When they do though, the signs are very good indeed.
Bronies are no exception. They watch the show, they buy the merchandise, they discuss it, the expand the universe, they write fan-fiction for their own amusement and they ultimately put a lot of money into Hasbro’s coffers. So do the target demographic of kids, but their purchasing power pales into insignificance in the face of grown adults.
Devoted fans like Bronies are what every show needs and desperately wants but are notoriously tricky to conjure up out of the masses. My Little Pony now has its own convention. Surely proof that fans can make a big impact.
Good Shows Will Smash Demographic Boundaries
This is another aspect to shows that is often rarely discussed. Networks don’t like it when shows grow beyond their demographic because the effects are much more difficult to measure and hence plan for. Having MLP garner an adult audience is great on one level, but will that same audience feel alienated after the hype has died down or the network declines to tailor the show to them?
That said, many shows have smashed demographsic boundaries. The Simpsons, while ostensible aimed at an adult-heavy, primetime audience became immensely popular with kids. The reverse could be said of Avatar: The Last Airbender, with story arcs and characters that many argue are better than the bulk of adult-oriented TV shows.
Breaking though the demo barriers is only a good thing for a show. In the case of MLP, it gave the newest incarnation of a toyetic show a life of its own beyond the TV set.
Lauren Faust is Soooo Underrated
Lauren Faust and Craig McCracken are a creative powerhouse that together have worked on some of the most undeniably brilliant animated TV shows of the last 20 years. However Lauren seems to get the short end of the stick when it comes to her own creations. Many animation fans know she worked on the PowerPuff Girls, but how many know she has her own girl-centric creation, Milky Way and the Galaxy Girls? How many own something from that? (Hint: this blogger is at least one).
That’s not to belittle Craig, he awesome too, but Lauren spells out the challenge pretty clear in this quote from Joe’s article:
And what about her dream project, the one she pitched to the Hasbro executive who instead asked her to reconceive My Little Pony? “The Galaxy Girls is the bane of my existence. It’s in stasis until I can do it right. I’m looking for the right partner who shares my vision for it.”
Here’s hoping an animated version sees the light of day soon.
Full Cast & Crew Support is Essential
Another thing that Joe’s article makes clear is that the cast and crew of the show are behind it 100%. They see it more than just a job, they see their success depending on its success, and if they can help it to succeed, they will! Voice-actor Tara Strong is particularly fond of her Brony fans, often tweeting to them and answering questions in addition to meeting them in person at cons.
A lot of TV shows rally behind their creator, such as Family Guy and Seth McFarlane, but others like Adventure Time and MLP focus on the team behind it rather than just one individual. This has benefits for everybody involved, and gives the all-important fans something even more to relate to.
Trust In Third Parties Is A Win-Win For Everyone
The one big thing that Joe’s article made me realise was the WeLoveFine and other outfits like it are perhaps the keystone in the link between a show and its fans. A quick cursory glance of the WeLoveFine website reveals more than a few famous shows have merchandise for sale there.
What makes companies like this so relevant is that they are simultaneously at the forefront of the fan movement while being actively engaged in the licensing/merchandise part of the network’s marketing machine.
Even better, WeLoveFine uses fan-made designs, running competitions with cash prizes. What better way to get fans excited than to give them the chance to have their very own T-shirt! The Hub naturally has to approve the design, but it’s a rubber-stamp process and basically eliminates a lot of risk involved with selling merchandise; let the fans tell you what they’d like to buy! Genius!
Apparel and clothing are very popular forms of merchandise because they let fans express their favourite show without permanence and with the ability to adapt to changing weather conditions; very important for temperate climates I assure you.
By trusting third parties and with careful monitoring, networks can ensure that they gain the best of both worlds. A fandom whose appetite for merchandise is fulfilled and a network who wishes to earn revenue from their content.
Via: Nerdy Feminist
“You’d better say it was excellent.”
Such was the direction I received from the fiancée 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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
Image (naturally) yoinked from The Dead Homer Society
A couple of years ago (and the exact circumstances escape me), I stumbled across the Dead Homer Society and have bee a loyal reader ever since. It’s not uncommon for websites and blogs to sprout up to save a beloved series, but it’s quite rare to see one dedicated to completely and totally ending a current, beloved, popular and iconic TV show. That however, is the stated purpose of the DHS, whose manifesto proclaims:
Dead Homer Society was formed for two reasons:
1) To create an on-line home for Simpsons fans who outright despise most, if not all, of the double-digit seasons but revere the old ones the way religious types do their stupid books.
2) To create a central place for people who want to see the show finally taken off the air.
So no beating about the bush there. Although the site continues to dissect episodes both old and new, it has also been a great source of analysis as to how and why the show went downhill. Cue the latest piece of literature from the DHS: Zombie Simpsons: How the Best Show Ever Became the Broadcasting Undead.
Although it’s not of biblical length, Charlie Sweatpants has managed to squeeze in a ton of information and analysis into this pseudo post series/ebook. Personally, I always laid the blame for the show’s decline on their move into more outlandish and cartoonish plots without regard for the characters. After reading Zombie Simpsons though, I can safely say that there was much, much more to the decline than that.
Broken down into chapters for your convenience, Zombie Simpsons begins with a look at why it’s a topic that needs to be discussed and why the fall from grace is so gut-wrenching to behold. From the deathly bland nature of the three major networks in the 1980s that gave the upstart FOX network an excuse to be different to the frustration of the viewing audience, we see that The Simpsons was not so much a product of insane brilliance as it was in the right place at the right time.
Moving on, we delve into the inner forces at work behind the TV screen. Deaths, writer changes and ultimately the shift within the FOX network itself from scrappy young fighter to established player have all played a part in how The Simpsons have changed over the years. Zombie Simpsons does a fine job of spelling out how the slide was gradual and ultimately, inevitable.
On top of that, there’s a comprehensive appendix that deals with such trivial things like production and broadcast numbers and some not-so-trivial things such as the often misplaced blame on Mike Scully.
A fine text in itself, it is well worth taking the time to read and ruminate on. It is highly likely that we will never see something the likes of the Simpsons again so as horrible as it is to read about the fall of an icon, it is essential if we are to appreciate the golden years even more.
Via: Good Reads
Admittedly (and ashamedly), the Spirited Away book by Andrew Osmond published by the British Film Institute (BFI) sat in my cart on Amazon for quite literally years before I finally got around to buying it. I know, I know, but that’s just the way it happened.
In any case, the wait was absolutely worth it. Far smaller in size than I had originally imagined, its dimensions are no indication of the stature of the writing. Presented as sort of an overarching summary of the plot intertwined with details of the production and overarching themes, the BFI Spirited Away book serves as a comprehensive guide to one of my very favourite films.
Delving deep into the beginnings of the production, Osmond teases out the reasons for its very existence; why Hayao Miyazaki decided to make it when he did, and why it stands as one of his best films to date. Analysis comes in the form of the various themes (environmental and social) running throughout the film as well as focusing on the character of Chihiro and her development during the course of the film.
Osmond has done a fine job of conveying the sometimes complex traits of the film that have confused many Western (and Japanese) audiences since the film debuted in 2001. He also does quite a good job when it comes to the background to the film, and to Miyazaki himself, going into some detail about his career to date and how is personal experiences helped shape the film.
Overall, the book is a definite must-read companion to the film. It does an excellent job of stripping away some of the layers and, at least for myself, has lead to a clearer understanding of the film. You can buy it on Amazon and consider it the best $15 book you buy this year.
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.
First of all, a Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you all. Remember, Guinness is Irish; corned beef and cabbage is not.
Irish animation has been on a roll the last few years as the combination of a strong talent pool. entrepreneurs willing to take a risk, continuous production demand, excellent products and a little help from the government in the form of tax incentives has made the country a very favourable one to do business in. In other words, the hard work continues to pay off.
Production now extends across the entire content landscape, from shorts through TV all the way to feature films. This growth has caused the industry to continue its expansions and growth at a time when the Irish economy as a whole has been struggling (to put it lightly).
No one studio seems to have eked out a significant lead as the larger ones have managed to succeed by going in different directions. Kilkenny-based Cartoon Saloon hit it right out of the park a few years ago with The Secret of Kells. As of 2012, development continues on their much-anticipated next feature, Song of the Sea.
Brown Bag Films has cemented their position as the studio to watch on the international stage. Besides announcing the sale of their first original series, Happy Hugglemonsters, they’ve also maintained their production series The Octonauts. Now employing over 100 people, Brown Bag have seem poised to continue their growth for the coming year.
Besides these two well-known outfits, other studios such as Jam Media, Kavaleer Productions (which recently celebrated 10 years in business), Boulder Media (currently winning accolades for their work on the Amazing World of Gumball), Telegael, Monster Animation and Caboom all continue to propel the industry to worldwide attention and admiration.
Noted newcomers this year include Giant Creative which has marked themselves out as a crowd to keep an eye on over the coming years.
Perhaps the largest sign that Ireland is making waves in the animated seas is the fact that this year’s Annecy festival will have a central focus on the country and what it can offer. Big things are expected to be announced come June.
Overall, the outlook for Irish animation is extremely positive for 2012 and beyond. Here’s hoping next year’s post will have even more good things to say.