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Entries in animated films (262)

Friday
Jul312015

Tim's Toons: Auteurs and animation

Tim here. This week brought us the roll-out of the Venice Film Festival lineup, including one animated film, and it's a biggie. Charlie Kaufman's sophomore directorial work and first project of any kind since 2008, Anomalisa, is also his first foray into animation: it's a stop-motion feature for adults, on the same topics of loneliness and frustration that Kaufman has mined for his whole career. In celebration of the Venice announcement, the studio released the first still image from the movie, from which it is possible to draw no conclusions whatsoever.

Kaufman is the latest in a recent trend of established filmmakers dipping their toes into the world of animation. So in his honor, I'd like to share this capsule history of some of his predecessors, who made the jump into a new medium to see what they could do outside of the confines of live-action.

Richard Linklater: Waking Life (2001) & A Scanner Darkly (2006)

Using a brand new form of computer-aided rotoscoping to paint over videotaped footage with bright, unreal colors and subdued realism alike, Waking Life took Linklater's established gift for capturing moments in the lives of a huge ensemble, and amped it up. Instead of the laid-back Austin of Slacker, the setting here is the human subconscious, where the director's characteristic musings on all the little moments that happen in the gaps between plot are transformed into surreal explosions of psychologically loaded imagery. It's a great marriage of form and content, which is less true of A Scanner Darkly, a Philip K. Dick adaptation that's much more consistent and sober in its style, save for a few reality-bending moments. Still, kudos to Linklater for recognizing that a thin veneer of digitally heightened reality would create a more receptive mood for the story's druggy weirdness.

Robert Zemeckis: The Polar Express (2004), Beowulf (2007) & A Christmas Carol (2009)

Now that Zemeckis's dream of a perpetual machine of motion-capture films has fizzled out and died- nope, I still can't bring myself to say anything nice about his trilogy of dead-eyed humanoids pantomiming great works of literature, or paying obeisance to their terrifying zombie Santa-god. But we must concede that the films fall squarely in line with Zemeckis's career-wide interest in using the newest tools available (in addition to mo-cap, The Polar Express was the first film in the present 3D era) to find fresh ways into classical storytelling. That technology wasn't up to his ambitions is lamentable, but we can at least defend the films' rich fantasy design and-

Oh God, no, that's still just completely hideous.

Wes Anderson: Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

The clearest precursor to Kaufman's new film, Anderson's translation of his shadow-box aesthetic into shaggy, '70s-style stop motion animation netted him a Best Animated Feature Oscar nomination and rejuvenated his career: his subsequent return to live action in Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel won him better reviews and box-office than he'd had for years. Still, there's nothing quite like seeing his world-building turned towards literal dioramas in which every square centimeter can be designed precisely to order. It's fussy as it gets, but perfectly matched to the intricacy of the caper narrative, and the arch tone with which Roald Dahl's children's classic is brought to life.

Zack Snyder: The Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (2010)
Copious, unnecessary slow-motion, a preposterous fetish for military grandeur, overblown and idiotic internal mythology, dialogue that strives for weightiness and lands in shallow pomposity. Look, just because somebody's an auteur, that doesn't mean they have to be good at it. But hey, the owls look nice.

Thursday
Jul232015

Tim's Toons: In celebration of Bugs Bunny's 75th birthday

Tim here. We're coming hard upon one of the most important birthdays in animation: Bugs Bunny is turning 75 this week. It was on July 27, 1940, that the world first got to see the Merrie Melodies short A Wild Hare, written by Rich Hogan and directed by the legendary Tex Avery. And it was in this short that the unnamed comic rabbit character that the cartoonists at Warner Bros. had been noodling around with for a few years reached the final form of his personality. Though not, in fairness, anything close to his final design.

An ever-changing face notwithstanding, it was here that voice actor Mel Blanc premiered the sarcastic Bronx accent and the instant catchphrase, "Eh, what's up, Doc?", that separated the one true Bugs from the Bugs-like characters tormenting the primitive form of Porky Pig and Elmer Fudd in a few cartoons up to that point. And while refinements were still to be made – he wasn't yet an effortless in-command wit, but still a manic slapstick creation; it would also be five years before he'd take his first wrong turn at Albuquerque – it's remarkable how stable the character has been through all of the intervening decades.

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Thursday
Jul162015

Tim's Toons: 1995, the year that changed animation

Tim here. We're celebrating 1995 this month at the Film Experience, and I'm ecstatic to bring the conversation around to that year's animated films. 1995 was, y'see, the most transformational year the animation industry had experienced in a generation, the dividing line between a 60-year-old tradition on one hand and the entirely different landscape of animated features in the twenty years since.

We have to begin even farther back. You can't tell a story about a revolution without looking at the ancien régime, and in '95, Walt Disney Feature Animation was as ancien as it gets. After having spent almost twenty straight years wandering around in the wilderness following namesake Walt Disney's death, the studio finally began righting itself through a painful learning process that started with the 1986 release of The Great Mouse Detective. Beginning with that movie, almost every subsequent Disney feature would improve upon the box-office take of its immediate predecessor.

This was the Disney Renaissance, when the studio just couldn't stop itself from cranking out one new classic after another. There was Beauty and the Beast, the only animated film nominated for the Best Picture Oscar in a field of 5; Aladdin, the first animated film to break $200 million at the U.S. box office; and then, the hit of all hits, 1994's The Lion King, a blockbusting monster that is, for many, the defining film of contemporary American animation. The company was at the all-time height of its influence and prestige. There was nowhere to go but down.

And down things went, with Pocahontas in June, 1995...

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Friday
Jul102015

Tim's Toons: The minions, then and now.

Tim here. This weekend, all of you with small children will be busy going to see Minions, and oh, how all of us without children will laugh at you, and mock you. The minions, of course, being the yellow lozenges with legs and arms from the Despicable Me movies as what speak using some kind of pan-European pidgin, concocted and delivered by co-director Pierre Coffin. I don't know why I'm bothering to explain this. If you know enough pop culture to read a movie site, you encounter the minions, probably multiple times per day. They have turned into an online meme, pitchmen for unrelated products, and if you have a sufficient imagination and enthusiasm for manufactured outrage, they're also teaching five-year-olds the F-word.

Frankly, the fact that there's a minions movie seems almost irrelevant, as pointless as making a movie out of Hello Kitty. Which they are doing, because the universe is cruel.

more...

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Thursday
Jul022015

Tim's Halfway Toons: The year so far in animation

½way mark - part 3 of ? 

Tim here. We're spending the first few days of July looking back at the first half of the movie year, and now it's time to glance over the animated features of 2015 so far - about half of the total number of wide releases we should get, including the immediate carved-in-stone frontrunner for the Best Animated Feature Oscar until further notice. Here are some of the noteworthy achievements in the year's cartoons so far.

Best Design
Inside Out
's horizonless world inside the mind, full of bright and soft physical depictions of complicated psychological notions, providing a space for the thematic concerns and the grandiose adventure alike to both play out. Bonus points for the unstressed way that, from a sufficient height, it resembles the folds of the brain.

Funniest & Most Accurate Joke
The cat in Inside Out. My fellow cat owners understand why.

Most Creative Animation
The abstract through sequence in Inside Out, a simple but elegant mixture of styles and textures and depth that shows off without distracting from the movie itself.

Best Proof That There Are Other Good Animated Movies Besides Inside Out
The current last ever Studio Ghibli film, When Marnie Was There, is a catalog of all the things that studio does so well: generosity towards all its characters, complex young women dealing with real life issues, lush backgrounds that more resemble fine art than a movie. If this is really the end, the studio left on a high note.

Best-Looking Film That's Ugly as Hell
Strange Magic
, the misbegotten George Lucas production whose striking, photorealistic images are in service to designs that look like somebody got bored halfway through making Dungeons & Dragons fanart. Please forgive me for reminding the universe that Strange Magic exists.

Worst Ad Campaign for a Good Movie
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water
is, for almost all of its running time, a charming throwback to the beloved TV show. It uses the surrealist jokes strung along a dizzy, fantastic narrative, with proudly old-fashioned 2-D animation that's severely colorful and defiantly flat, powerfully reminding us of the elegant pleasures of hand-drawn animation instead of the ubiquitous rendered models of CGI. Then, for about 15 minutes at the end, it morphs its characters into CGI effects interacting with the real world in what feels as much of a parody of garbage like The Smurfs as an attempt to hop on the bandwagon. Naturally enough, the trailers and TV spots drew almost exclusively from that last 15 minutes.

Unlikeliest Sure-Fire Way to Make Everybody Bawl Like a Child
The goofy-ass lyrics "Who's your friend to likes to play? Bing Bong, Bing Bong!" sound like something a three-year-old made up on the spot, because that's exactly what they literally are in the world of Inside Out. But I'll bet half of the people reading up are already misting up just thinking about that song. Also, I'm done talking about Inside Out.

Most Surprising Hit
Pretty much every box office analyst out there was set to write-off Home as the film that would finally murder DreamWorks Animation. There was even a two-part history right here at the Film Experience based on that assumption (which I otherwise remain very proud of). Instead, the film broke out to become one of the studio's biggest hits in years, after several consecutive underperformers and bombs.

Most Disappointing Hit
Sadly, Home is also tepid junk.

Best Movie That Hasn't Come Out in America
In the United Kingdom, Aardman Animation's Shaun the Sheep Movie had an enormously successful winter release that gained critical raves and an enthusiastic audience for its humor, invention, and warmth, a top-notch kid's movie that's smart and energetic enough for anybody. It's already on DVD in that country, in fact, which is how I know what I'm talking about. Here in the States, we have another month to wait. On the other hands, the Brits still haven't seen Inside Out, so it all comes out in the wash.

Previously: Best Lead Performances & Oscar Chart Updates in Acting

Thursday
Jun252015

Tim's Toons: The state of animation in 1948

Tim here. We're talking about 1948 this week at the Film Experience, and it's my turn to take you back to the world of American animation in the aftermath of World War II. It was a fertile period: of the three studios that had dominated the medium prior to the war, Fleischer had been absorbed into Paramount and disappeared, while Disney had been badly damaged by an animators strike in 1941 and the loss of overseas markets, and spent the second half of the decade in desperate survival mode. That left a vacuum, which was filled by a sprawling variety of competitors that thrived even after Disney managed to find its footing again.

Pictured: Disney in 1948. Literally: it's from their film Melody Time.

In tribute to this unusually diverse marketplace, arguably not matched again in theatrical animation until the early 2000s, may I present three of the most unique and important animated milestones of 1948 after the jump... 

Click to read more ...