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Adapting "Guardians" -a screenwriting interview

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Entries in animated films (184)

Thursday
Jul312014

Tim's Toons: A field guide to animated raccoons

Tim here. Tomorrow, the much-hyped latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Franchise Expansion Plan opens, Guardians of the Galaxy. While reviews have promised a broad, inventive space comedy/adventure, the marketing to date has focused on two specific things:

1) Chris Pratt plays Han Solo.
2) Bradley Cooper voices Han Solo as a raccoon.

And since I take it as axiomatic that two Han Solos is better than no Han Solos (as graphically demonstrated by the Star Wars prequels) I’m actually perfectly okay with that. Anyway, it’s pretty clear at this point that Disney wants the Raccoon – Rocket Raccoon, to give him his proper name – to be the film’s big breakout character, so the time was perfect to launch into a brief history of the talking raccoon throughout animation history.

RJ, Over the Hedge (2006)
To date, the most visible of all anthropomorphic raccoons has been this character in DreamWorks Animation’s noble but somewhat ineffective attempt to break out of their “pop culture jokes ‘n’ celebrity voices” ghetto with a movie looking back to the madcap slapstick of the Looney Tunes shorts...

Disney, Canadian, and Japanese raccoons below the jump!

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Saturday
Jul262014

Live from Comic Con: The Boxtrolls and Sin City's Sequel

Anne Marie here, surviving on pop tarts and coffee and delivering film news live(ish) from SDCC. This next bit covers two very different panels that were placed side-by-side: kid-friendly The Boxtrolls and blood-and-guts comic book noir Sin City: A Dame To Kill For.

The Boxtrolls
The latest picture from the studio that brought us Coraline and ParaNorman is another stop-motion animation that made the chattering crowd of Hall H stop and stare. The trailer gave us everything we expect from Laika; a creative world, seamless animation, and humor. But they really got the audience's attention from a preview of a nearly wordless scene featuring the Boxtrolls searching through the garbage and playing with a trashed teddy bear. Have you ever heard 6,000 people "aww" at the same time? It's both loud and cute.

The panel assembled creators Travis Knight, Anthony Stacchi, and Graham Annable, along with voice talent Elle Fanning (bubbling over and wearing yellow eyeshadow), Isaac Hempstead, and Sir Ben Kingsley. The Boxtrolls is based on Here Be Giants, and has been 8 years in the making (as long as Coraline, as the head of Laika informed us). Stop-motion animation is hardcore! Knight and Stacchi described a bit of the time-consuming frame-by-frame process, which puts animators through a physical wringer, burned fingers handling lights, contorted bodies fitting in tiny sets, sliced hands handling puppets. Knight admitted the sets get destroyed too, as the man-sized cameras push through the doll-size set pieces. The sacrifices look worth it, though. The Boxtrolls looks utterly unique. 

Sin City sequel after the jump...

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Thursday
Jul242014

Tim's Toons: The voice of Sandra Bullock

Tim here. The mission statement of this column is “something to do with animation” (I suck at writing mission statements), which would seemingly preclude me from taking part in Celebrating Sandra Week here at the Film Experience.

But wait! As it turns out, there was exactly one time that Sandra Bullock voiced an animated character, in 1998’s The Prince of Egypt (as opposed to Gravity, where she was the only thing onscreen that wasn’t animated).

An adaptation of the Biblical story of Exodus, this was only the second film ever released by DreamWorks Animation (after 16 years, it remains one of their best). It was also the second DreamWorks film to favor a voice cast chosen for marquee value over skills in voice acting, building on a tradition that the studio would proudly continue for the rest of its existence. And in this case, it continues the longstanding Hollywood habit of populating stories from Hebraic scripture almost exclusive with non-Jews: Jeff Goldblum is the sole Jewish lead in a film whose voice cast includes Val Kilmer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Patrick Stewart, and Ralph Fiennes (the latter two aren’t playing ancient Hebrews, at least), alongside Bullock, one of the most famous subjects of the “Is she Jewish? I guess not” game of all time.

More to the point, that list of people includes nobody other than Stewart and Goldblum whose voice is so obviously distinctive that they’d necessarily make sense to put into an animated movie, but that’s DreamWorks for you. Among such company, Bullock doesn’t stand out as particularly grating or out-of-place (apologies to Nathaniel, but Pfeiffer pretty effortlessly takes Worst in Show, as far as that goes). In fact, watching the film for the first time with a particular ear for Bullock’s work, I’d go so far as to call her one of thebest members of the cast. Compared to Kilmer’s generic mid-Americanisms in the lead role, it doesn’t take all that much for anybody to stand out in the cast, of course, but Bullock is especially noteworthy in that she has the exact same liability as Kilmer – a voice carefully trained to sound like it comes from absolutely nowhere in particular, but probably Ohio-ish – and still manages to shade her line readings just enough to suggest a kind of formal pre-modern attitude, something that none of the other Americans in the cast ever really manage.

That being said, she has hardly any time to make an impression, with a role whose brevity is matched only by Helen Mirren’s (so, not an actressexual-friendly movie, basically). Bullock’s own unenthusiastic description from the officially sanctioned making-of featurette of 1998 is that her character, Moses’s biological sister Miram, “is sort of the believer, the one who holds on to the faith… She helps her brother cross over, and see where he came from.” And if that sounds like a stock character who gets nothing interesting to do, that’s because it’s exactly what she is (she’s also the lead singer of the Oscar-nominated song “When You Believe”, but Bullock didn’t do her own singing).

Still, she puts some heart into it, and a lot of earnestness, and it’s enough to put the character over as a real personality, even if she’s a bit one-note in her “Moses! Are you gonna lead the chosen people yet?” characterization.

It’s more then Goldblum doing Goldblum in ancient Egypt can claim. It’s a lot more than Martin Short and Steve Martin doing nothing at all but cashing checks can claim. The problem with the DreamWorks casting trend (that has since infected virtually all animated filmmaking in America, not just that studio) is that movie stars typically look more interesting than they sound, as true for the bulk of The Prince of Egypt as anything in the Shreks or the abysmal casting of Brad Pitt as the white-breadiest Sinbad in film history. And by all rights, it should apply to Bullock as much as anybody; but she pushes herself just enough to make sure that doesn’t happen. It’s a largely unimaginative performance of a role that means only a little bit to the movie as a whole, but she manages to make a real impression, and given what she was working with, that’s a real, if small triumph.

more Sandra | more from Tim

Friday
Jul182014

Tim's Toons: Why the animated Batman is the best Batman

Tim here. During this week’s edition of Hit Me with Your Best Shot, it came as, I assume, no real surprise that my pick came from the animated Batman feature, Mask of the Phantasm. But it’s not just a fixed obsession with animation that led to that choice: it’s my earnest belief that there has never been a better adaptation of Batman in any audio-visual medium than the dark, broody cartoon series that filled in the gap between the theatrical releases of 1992’s Batman Returns and 1995’s Batman Forever. So before we fully leave off our tribute to Batman’s 75th anniversary, I’d like to invite you to join me in a brief appreciation of Batman: The Animated Series.

That animation would be a good fit for a superhero comic adaptation shouldn’t be surprising on any level, of course: drawings to drawings, rather than drawings to real-world actors, limited by the rules of physics (just think about how much easier it is to make masks look expressive when you’re not bound by things that masks can actually do). And a weekly TV series is more akin to the structure of a monthly comic book, with shorter stories based around more clear-cut scenarios than superhero tend to boast. But there obviously has to be more to it than just that, or I could just as easily make this same argument in favor of The All-New Super Friends Hour, and apologies to the Wonder Twins fans, but no. Just no.

NO

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Thursday
Jul102014

1973 in animation: Disney's Robin Hood

Tim here. We’re celebrating 1973 at the Film Experience all throughout July, and in terms of animation, that can mean one of only two things: the Czech-French allegorical science fiction film Fantastic Planet, a peculiar head trip of a movie made with highly-detailed paper animation, or Disney’s all-animal Robin Hood, a film regarded as one of Disney’s most perfect classics by a small group of people while being largely forgotten by most younger people, making it one of those films that’s simultaneously both over- and under-rated. All my love and respect to politically laden avant-garde Eastern European animation, but our current path seems clear enough: Robin Hood it is.

I will first confess that the film has never been one of my favorites in Disney’s canon; it exemplifies a very particular aesthetic that dominated the studio’s work for just a short while, seven features released between 1961 and 1977. These were the Xerox Years, when the old process of inking individual cels by hand over the animators’ rough pencil drawings had been replaced by simply photocopying the pencils directly onto the clear celluloid. This cut down significantly on the cost and time of putting together a feature film, and it also had the effect of giving the finished animation a much scratchier, hand-hewn look. For many fans of animation, and many animators, the direct one-to-one mapping this results in between what the artist drew and what we see makes it more valuable than the glossier, more polished, and arguably more lifeless work in Disney’s more expensive productions. For myself, all I can see is the cost-cutting.

But let's shelve the technical chatter and move on to the film itself...

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