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Entries in animated films (181)

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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Thursday
Jul032014

Tim's Toons: Celebrating Independence Day with Disney

Tim here. It’s Independence Day weekend here in the States, which means that most of you undoubtedly have something better to do than read about old cartoons. But if I promise to keep things short, hopefully you’ll indulge me in chatting up an odd little animated short perfectly timed to the holiday.

I have in mind Ben and Me, one of the oddest one-offs in the history of Walt Disney Productions. Released in November, 1953, it was the studio’s first two-reel animated short, and one of the initial releases under Disney’s own Buena Vista Distribution label, part of a package deal with the nature documentary The Living Desert. But more to the point, for our present purposes, it’s about how a mouse helps Benjamin Franklin write the preamble to the Declaration of Independence. We can wait a minute if you want to process all the ways in which that’s a perversion of history.

Okay, sure, there’s more to it than that.

Based on a 1939 children’s book by Robert Lawson, Ben and Me follows the life of Amos, a mouse voiced by Disney mainstay Sterling Holloway, who set off from his impoverished home in wall of a Philadelphia church in 1745 to make his fortune, ending up in the home of the absent-minded inventor and writer Ben Franklin (Charles Ruggles). Over the course of one night, the two are able to invent bifocals, indoor heating stoves, and the American news media.

Ben’s penchant for playing tricks on the mouse, sending him up on kites during thunderstorms and such, puts a wedge between them. Eventually, in 1776, they finally mend fences just about the time that Ben’s young colleague Thomas Jefferson (Hans Conreid) is having an impossible time finding the right opening for his otherwise-complete Declaration. More through accident than anything else, Amos ends up providing the legendary “When in the Course of human events…” The perversity having not let up, I will let you take another minute to process (it’s the 31-year-old mouse that bothers me the most).

Daft fantasy nonsense, for sure, but Ben and Me is actually pretty charming. Holloway and Ruggles are delightful in their roles, playing a kind of gentle riff on the traditional odd couple dynamic (Conreid, who voiced Captain Hook in the same year’s Peter Pan, is unfortunately distracting for that reason, but he’s not in it very much). It wasn’t an A-list project, and it lacks anything resembling the visual lushness of Disney’s contemporaneous features, like Alice in Wonderland or Cinderella – the latter of which obviously inspired Ben’s design; he looks exactly like the talking mice helpers from that film, though thankfully without their annoying pidgin English – but the simple style based on 18th Century painting brings the setting to life in a very specific, effective way. It’s not a colorful film, as such, but it has a clarity and warmth that fit the “historical bedtime story” mood.

Given Disney’s corporate proclivity for all-American nostalgia, it’s perhaps a bit surprising that the story ends up being so disinterested in any kind of soaring patriotism or overwrought long-view about Great Moments in History. It’s actually quite an ordinary platonic romantic comedy between a mouse and a man. Most of its energies are dedicated to building solid but hardly revolutionary cartoon sight gags out of 18th Century material (a lengthy printing press scene is by far the most ambitious part of the movie), but that ends up being enough.

At 21 minutes, it’s short enough that having genial humor built on a playfully impossible history lesson hasn’t run out of steam, while long enough to build character relationships with a depth that isn’t possible in a 7-minute animated short that only has enough time to plow through its gags. It’s not one of the timeless masterpieces of Disney animation, or anything equally silly, but it’s one of their best ‘50s shorts and a fun 4th of July pastiche that’s not really like anything else.

Thursday
Jun262014

Tim's Toons: Remembering the Best of All Transformers Movies

Tim here. We are come to the release weekend of a new Transformers movie - this one has Mark Wahlberg replacing Shia LaBeouf and robot dinosaurs replacing the idiotically absurd lack of robot dinosaurs. And with solemn redundancy almost as predictable as the content of the movies themselves, the same critical conversations that happen every time a Transformers opens are happening once more. There's the "if you like these movies, you are objectively wrong" essay; the litany of reviews all bemoaning the length, noise, and visual incoherence of Michael Bay's latest bombardment of ugly CGI and sexism; the handful of weakly noble defenses that it's all actually fun, and don't we like having fun? And I largely agree with at least two of these, and always enjoy when they put in their appearance.

Then there are always the pieces about how the Bay movies are cynical, loud junk that entirely miss the goofy fun of the crudely-animated Japanese cartoon from 1986 that first brought the Transformers to the big screen. And since I wasn't doing this when the last movie opened, it's my pleasure to write about that one this time around.

For Transformers: The Movie (or, formally speaking, The Transformers: The Movie, but that’s a lot of definite articles in just four words) is actually pretty good, considering how crappy it is. [More...] 

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Thursday
Jun192014

Tim's Toons: Thoughts on animation's new reboot fever

Tim here. It’s been a weird week for fans of old animation. Nathaniel already said his piece (which is indistinguishable from mine) on the news that Warner is re-rebooting Scooby-Doo a mere 12 years after the first grisly first live-action/animated reboot of the ‘70s cartoon (the recent death of Casey Kasem, mere days before the announcement, now looms as some sort of grim karmic metaphor). And in the last couple of days, we’ve been hit with the first promotional artwork for an in-development Popeye feature at Sony Animation, and the news that DreamWorks has purchased the rights to Felix the Cat from the family of the 95-year-old slapstick animal’s creator.

More...

 

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