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Entries in animated films (199)

Thursday
Oct162014

Interview: Jorge Gutierrez & Guillermo del Toro on "The Book of Life"

Jorge Gutierrez has won two Annie awards and an Emmy, but in order to get his passion project The Book Of Life (which opens tonight!) onto the screen, he needed a little help. Gutierrez found it in Guillermo del Toro. The Mexican fantasy director has been using his production company to foster new visions in genres like horror and animation. A little bit Orpheus and Euridice, a little bit Dia de Los Muertos, and a little bit musical theater, The Book Of Life is anything but ordinary.

Anne Marie here. I was lucky enough to interview Guillermo del Toro and Jorge Gutierrez when they came to San Diego Comic Con in July. But before I could even start asking questions, del Toro noticed the squid design on my necklace, and launched into a rhapsodic monologue about his favorite movie, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. From that point on, I basically just held on to my seat as del Toro and Gutierrez riffed on each other with the ease of good friends and partners. They discussed everything from Ray Harryhausen to the purpose of a director to whether children’s movies need bad guys.

Here's how it went...

GUILLERMO DEL TORO: [20,000 Leagues Under the Sea] is a magnificent movie. And to this day I collect models of the Nautilus.

ANNE MARIE: Of the Nautilus?

GUILLERMO DEL TORO: Yeah. I have, I think I have most every one, except the ten meter one, which is too big for me... But I have the 3 ft one. I have the little ones, the medium ones, the electric ones, the ones that light up [JG laughs] the ones that make a little noise, all of that. That and The Time Machine are my two favorite sort of steampunk-y pieces of design.

JORGE GUTIERREZ: It’s awesome. It holds up, too. Anyways! [Laughs]

ANNE MARIE: You’ve both described The Book of Life as a personal pet project. Can you talk a little about the process of getting it going?

JORGE GUTIERREZ: Absolutely! Fifteen years I’ve been working on this, based on a student short I did at Cal Arts. When I graduated I pitched it everywhere. Everyone said, “Nah, you’re just a kid out of school. No one wants to see this stuff.”

GUILLERMO DEL TORO: “You don’t understand.”

JG: “You don’t understand. We need talking animal movies.” Literally, that’s what I was told at every meeting.

[More...]

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Thursday
Oct022014

Tim's Toons: Latvia's animated submission to the Best Foreign Language race

Tim here. The cut-off date for countries to choose their official submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar was October 1, and while the list hasn’t been officially confirmed by the Academy yet (and there’s a good chance of one or two titles falling out), it gives us something to work with.

And, wonder of wonders, there even happens to be an animated feature among this year’s official submissions, something that has only happened around a dozen times in the past (only once of that dozen times did the animated picture make the final nominee list: in 2008, Israel’s submission of Waltz with Bashir made the cut, losing to Japan’s Departures). The film is the semi-fictional Rocks in My Pockets, directed by New York-based Signe Baumane, and I will suggest right off that it has a an unhappily good chance of being disqualified: spoken entirely in English by the filmmaker, and made on a mixture of American and Latvian money, it has all the feel of those movies that the Academy rejects for being insufficiently native to the country making the submission.

All the more reason for me to sing its praises right now, while it’s still making its nigh-invisible crawl across the U.S. For it’s a pretty special little film, all in all: a personal recollection of Baumane’s history battling depression, nestled into a family history by which she traces how suicidal thoughts and other mentally imbalances have plagued women in her family since Latvia in the days before it was absorbed into the Soviet Union.

Cheery stuff for a cartoon. But one of the best things about Rocks in My Pockets is the way that Baumane brings in a sense of frank humor to discussing terrible subjects, such as the amount of energy she’s put into the way she’d kill herself to avoid making too much mess if her bowels vacated. That’s the series of observations that opens the movie, in fact, setting up some immediate rules for the film to follow: one is that we can expect her to hold absolutely nothing back and refuse completely to hide behind clinical language or euphemisms; two is that she’s not angling for any kind of sympathy or asking to be treated delicately. It’s a film that invites us to dive right in and confront the reality of depression and suicide candidly, but without nervous solemnity.

It helps that the stories Baumane recounts about her family (the film ends with the standard “some characters and incidents were invented” disclaimer, so it’s not absolutely clear how much of this is truth and how much is an interpretive version of truth) are so damn compelling. Most of the film isn’t about Baumane, but her paternal grandmother Anna, whose life as a mother of eight children in Soviet Latvia provides the usual range of anecdotes about the grinding poverty of life in the USSR, so horrifying that it’s almost impossible not to start laughing at the sheer absurd awfulness of it.

And while Baumane’s thick accent ends up forcing her into some weird emphases of words and whole sentences, she’s an enthusiastic, engaging storyteller, relaying even the ugliest stories with briskness and humor, and employing a range of voices to give personality to the various relatives whose lives she relives.

The film’s mixed-media style – papier-mâché sets over which are layered character drawings that have the look of colored pencils, for the most part – pairs neatly with Baumane’s ebullient way of reciting. Weirdly, given the content, Rocks in My Pockets ends up being awfully like a bedtime story: soft figures, lots of bunnies, comic voices, a tendency for the narrator to start laughing at her own punchlines as our cue that it’s okay to laugh, too.

 

And yet for all that, it’s still a really smart, potent discussion about depression. The light style and conversational approach, all making sure that it doesn’t get too grim and confessional, has given Baumane the freedom to share bleak truths without having to dwell on them in anguish. The sketchbook-style artwork allows her to visualize the sensations of depression using visual symbolism and distortions that hammer home the sense of broken perception that comes along with depression. No matter how funny and energetic the film gets, it goes to some really shattering, serious places. Baumane is a terrific memoirist, both honest in her observations and witty in her expression, and while I’d put Rocks in My Pockets as having something like no chance of making it all the way to the Academy’s finalist list, I think that even the little bit of exposure it now has is a wonderful thing it if puts more people in line to watch this insightful and discomfiting psychological portrait.

16 Foreign Oscar Submissions Reviewed To DateArgentinaAustraliaBelgiumBrazilCanadaCuba,FranceGermanyIcelandLatviaMauritaniaNorwayPolandPortugalSweden and Venezuela

Thursday
Oct022014

Bette Davis, Always the Animated Star

Each time Bette Davis's name comes up here or there (surprisingly often) I feel waves of guilt that I never completed that Seasons of Bette series. And here I was planning my own series, as its follow up, inspired by "A Year With Kate" in which I would do 52 episodes on someone. (FTR Anne Marie and I are both brainstorming how to follow up that amazing beast of a project).

But I couldn't let this new episode of Blank on Blank pass by without our attention. If you haven't seen the series it's a terrific time waster from PBS in which celebrity voices play on the audio and an animator interprets them for a unique short film. Bette talks about her intelligence and the gender politics of 1963 in this fun short... 

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Sep252014

Tim's Toons: Why Laika is the most exciting animation studio right now

Tim here, wondering if the time has come to start saying very hyperbolic things. This weekend sees the release of The Boxtrolls, the third feature released by the animation studio Laika, also responsible for 2009’s Coraline and 2012’s ParaNorman. I find myself, almost certainly to my eventual disappointment, wondering if this trio of technically audacious and unusually sophisticated stop-motion films has put the studio in line to fill the hole left when Pixar stopped being the most reliable movie-creating force in America, and instead became that place which makes pretty solid cartoons when they can be bothered to stop focusing on Cars pictures.

It’s begging the question from the get-go: there wasn’t a Pixar before Pixar, so there’s no clear reason that there has to be another one now. But Laika’s work so far has been at a level that encourages such dangerous optimism.

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Thursday
Sep182014

First look at the potential new Popeye feature

Tim here. A couple of months ago, you may recall, I shared my crabby old man thoughts on the current wave of making new CG animated films based on old-school cartoons, among them being Sony Animations still-not-actually-official new Popeye movie to be directed by Genndy Tartakovsky.

Now, without having actually committed themselves to making it, Sony has basically confirmed that they're making it, releasing an animation test preceded by a short interview of Tartakovsky explaining his interest in the material. The animation itself starts at about 2:01, if you're an impatient sort.

What do you think? For myself, I find Tartakovsky's commitment to the physical illogic of vintage rubber hose animation comforting, though the character designs are still kind of horrifying, Olive Oyl's especially. The way that fully rendered images tend to insist on their tactility is completely at odds with the extreme caricature of the movements and shapes of the characters. But I am willing to be persuaded that I'm wrong, because everything else about the colors, the softness, and the slapstick feel pretty right.

Thursday
Sep112014

Tim's Toons: Some voice actors you should know

Tim here. Earlier today, we posted our Team Top 10 for the best voice performances in the movies, focusing on ten individual performances that impressed us the most. But as good as those vocal performances all are, I wanted to follow that post up by singing the praises of a different sort of voice acting. As great as any one performance in a single feature film can be, there’s also something truly exceptional about those people who have created entire careers out of voice acting without necessarily having the kind of showcase roles we were talking about today. With that in mind, I’d like to share this list of some of the most important contemporary voice actors that you should know about. 

Jim Cummings

Why you know him: He’s the current voice of Winnie the Pooh and Tigger for Disney. 

Where else you’ve heard him: An astonishingly prolific Disney workhorse, he’s also active in television and video games, and it sometimes feels like the rarer projects are the ones where he’s not providing background voices or a small character. In recent years, his biggest featured performance was as the Cajun firefly Ray in The Princess and the Frog, but his most widely-heard turns are probably the small roles he had in helping to boost singing voices in The Lion King and Pocahontas. Ever noticed how Pocahontas’s father suddenly sounds like Pooh bear when he starts to sing? That’s why.

 

Maurice LaMarche

Why you know him: He voiced the Orson Welles-sounding mad scientist mouse Brain in Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain, titles which have the status of holy text for a certain generation of cartoon watchers.

Where else you’ve heard him: He also voiced the Orson Welles-sounding Orson Welles played in the flesh by Vincent D’Onofrio in Ed Wood. Mostly, though, his best work is on TV, including his small army of characters on the voice actor lover’s paradise Futurama, where he played the miserable green alien Kit. He was the voice of Elsa and Anna’s soon-dead father in animated musical Frozen, which you may have heard of.

 

Tress MacNeille

Why you know her: She’s a supporting member of the cast of The Simpsons, with her most prominent character being miserable, abusive old lady Agnes Skinner.

Where else you’ve heard her: She voiced the leading ladies on Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers, Tiny Toon Adventures and Animaniacs  (Gadget, Babs Bunny, Dot Warner) back in the 1990s, which on top of The Simpsons makes her perhaps the single most recognizable voice actress in history to a whole generation. She’s also Disney’s current Daisy Duck, in those rare occurrences where Daisy Duck makes an appearance, and like damn near everybody else who does voice acting professionally, she’s had a few iconic roles in Futurama


Frank Welker

Why you know him: He voiced Megatron in the ‘80s Transformers cartoon, and started voicing the mutated form of Megatron, Galvatron, in this summer’s Transformers: Age of Extinction. Now, I know you didn’t see Age of Extinction, because you are classy and have good taste, but a whole lot of other people did.

Where else you’ve heard him: Everywhere. Welker’s stock in trade isn’t voicing characters who speak words, but providing animal noises and sound effects. He was Flit the hummingbird in Pocahontas; he was the footstool dog in Beauty and the Beast; he provided the squeaky voices of the killer Martians in Mars Attacks!; he contributed to the sounds of Godzilla in the misbegotten 1998 Godzilla; he’s been more dogs than I can count. He voiced the anaconda in 1997’s Anaconda, for God’s sake. Who knew that the anaconda even had a voice? Well it did, and it was Frank Welker, and he was AMAZING.

Share your own favorite voice actors in comments!

Thursday
Sep112014

Team Top Ten: All Time Greatest Voice Performances

Amir here, with this month’s edition of team top ten. As the art of acting and our interpretation of it evolve, definitions of what we consider a good performance change. It’s become an annual tradition to discuss whether a motion capture performance or some “alternative” form of acting deserves to be in the awards race. Last year’s topic of conversation was Scarlatt Johansson’s voice work in Her and that's the topic we’ve turned our attention to. (Thanks to Michael Cusumano for his suggestion!)

Voice acting has existed since cinema found sound and it has contributed to the medium in more memorable ways than a list of ten entries can represent. We were not limited in our option to animated films or any genre. So long as the voice performance was not accompanied by visual aids from the same performer (e.g. Andy Serkis’s work in LOTR was not eligible), it was fair game. Naturally, our list is animation-heavy, but there were others firmly in the race like Alec Baldwin's exquisite narration of The Royal Tenenbaums or especialy Marni Nixon – of whom The Film Experience is a big fan – who received several votes but just not enough.

Without further ado, here the collective top ten created from the rankings of each contributor's individual ballot

Top Ten Voice Performances of All Time

10. Peter O’Toole (Ratatouille)
Peter O’Toole’s Anton Ego doesn’t have much screen time in Ratatouille but his contribution to Pixar’s best film outside of the Toy Story trilogy is immeasurable. The final monologue by Ego – what an apt name for the food critic, or any critic, really – has become a reference point for film writers. The text is definitive, reminding us that “in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.” Yet, the bitter truth in the text wouldn’t strike the right chords had it not been for O’Toole’s sombre, elegiac tone. Remarkably balancing his authority with a palpable sense of resignation, O’Toole’s final words elevate the scene beyond criticism.
-Amir Soltani

9. Eleanor Audley (Sleeping Beauty)
Angelina Jo-who? While the voluptuous star brought sexiness and unnecessary warmth to the part of Maleficent in this summer's blockbuster adaptation, she still doesn't hold a candle to the incomparable work of Eleanor Audley in the 1959 animated version. The actress bookended the 1950s for Disney through two of their most iconic creations, having also voiced Cinderella's stepmother in the 1950 version. For Beauty however, she was firing on all Machiavellian cylinders as she brought a sense of immeasurable dread to what was considered to be a children's film. Her Maleficent is barely in the film, but she makes every line count. We don't need to hear her entire (or any) backstory to know that she was truly evil in ways we could only begin to imagine. In a time before villains were cool, she's the most interesting character and when she says "listen well, all of you", you couldn't pay us to ignore her command.
- Jose Solis
(more on this performance

8 more great vocal performances after the jump...

Click to read more ...