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Entries in animated films (209)

Thursday
Nov202014

Tim's Toons: Surprisingly, the new Peanuts teaser isn't a toxic affront to humanity

Tim here. Before I start, I want to briefly point you all in the direction of Cartoon Brew’s gallery of animated TV commercials featuring the comedy duo of Nicols & May, assembled in honor of Mike Nichols’ unexpected passing yesterday.

With that said, and not to shift moods too abruptly, but how about that teaser for the 2015 Peanuts movie that came out this week?

The film Experience is not in the habit of spending too much time with teasers, so no “Yes, No, Maybe So” treatment for this one yet (though if I were, the verdict would be Maybe So, written out like “maaaaaaaaybe so?”). But I wanted to talk about it a little bit anyway, because strictly in terms of animation it’s one of the most fascinating things to have been released by any of the big studios all year.

Click to read more ...

Monday
Nov172014

The legacy of The Little Mermaid, 25 years later

Tim here, to celebrate the silver anniversary of one of the most important films in the annals of American animation. 25 years ago today – some of you are going to have to brace yourselves, because you’re about to feel very old – Walt Disney Pictures released The Little Mermaid, in one fell swoop rewriting the landscape for family entertainment and animation alike.

As hard as it is to believe now, once upon a time, Disney was an embarrassing underdog, whose theme parks were solely responsible for keeping its saggy movie division propped up. 1989 was only four years removed from the disastrous release of the pricey The Black Cauldron, and the takeover of the company by executives Michael Eisner and Frank Wells, who managed to stabilize the live action filmmaking division, while putting the animation studio under the command of Peter Schneider.

It was Schneider who managed an ambitious and terrifyingly foolhardy plan, concocted by Jeffrey Katzenberg  to restore the luster of Disney animation after a generation or more of mismanagement, by releasing a new animated feature on an annual basis. The first film produced on that model was 1988’s Oliver & Company, a rock-solid hit, but hardly the triumphant return of Disney animation that everyone was hoping for. That came with the second film in Schneider’s plan, The Little Mermaid, and the rest is history.

Click to read more ...

Friday
Nov142014

AFI: 5 Reasons to see 'Song of the Sea' and 'Clouds of Sils Maria'

Margaret here, reporting from the LA festival beat with short takes on upcoming indies before they head to a theater near you.

FIVE REASONS TO SEE... SONG OF THE SEA
An Irish animated film from Oscar-nominee Tomm Moore about the mythical selkies-- women who turn into seals, or vice-versa-- and a small seaside family in Western Ireland.

1) Breathtakingly stunning artwork. This is quite possibly the most beautiful animated film I've ever seen. The lush backgrounds (reminiscent of Klimt paintings!) are all handpainted-- director Tomm Moore compared moving his designing from paper to digital with "Dylan going electric." Much of the team from 2009’s The Secret of Kells reunited here, though Sea's visuals are a bit softer and have more of a Japanese influence.

2) A refreshing lack of cynicism. Song of the Sea is a rare thing: a children's feature with no winking adult jokes, pop references, or corporate tie-ins-- just a lovely story, simply told.

3) A complex villain. As Nathaniel pointed out in his quick TIFF review, not only is "The Owl Witch" memorably designed, her motivations and development are unusually knotty and compelling for a simple folktale-type story.

4) Hauntingly beautiful score. The music has a key role in the plot, and perfectly serves the film's romantic mysticism. I defy anyone to leave a viewing without the selkie song looping in their brain.

5) It's got a strong shot at an Oscar nomination. While it's true that this is a competitive year for Animated Feature, Moore's previous film The Secret of Kells landed a nomination with much less recognition -- that heightened profile and the fact that it really stands out visually form the pack gives it a boost.

FIVE REASONS TO SEE... CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA

A multi-layered meta-fiction about acting, aging, love and attraction from Olivier Assayas, featuring Juliette Binoche as an actress returning to the play that made her famous, and Kristen Stewart as her personal assistant.

1) Juliette Binoche. Her Maria Enders is just delicious to watch. She's magnetic, emotionally rich, and adept at the aging woman, the brilliant actress, and the self-involved star. One devastatingly catty line ("He's a great actor") is tossed off with such a light touch I was almost on the floor.

2) The chemistry between Binoche and Stewart is insane. Their easy rapport, their mutual jealousy, their co-dependency is instantly convincing. When Stewart's Valentine runs lines for Maloja Snake with Maria as her younger lover, the textures of attraction and intimacy they play (Is this part of the text? How much of what we're seeing between them is real?) are fascinating.

3) Chloe Moretz... if you're into that sort of thing. She has a key role as the unpredictable tabloid-fixture actress cast to play opposite Maria Enders in the revival of Maloja Snake, and reliable sources tell me that she is good in it. I cannot be objective (she just bothers me) but that visceral dislike actually worked for the movie.

4) The Swiss countryside (and its clouds) are magnificent. Much of the film takes place in the Alps, and there is no skimping on sweeping landscapes and beautifully streaming light. Cinematography is by Yorick Le Saux, who also lensed I am Love.

5) That third act. Who saw that coming? How do we feel about it?

Song of the Sea is due in December, and Clouds in March (such a long wait time after its Cannes debut. And why?). Now, who still needs convincing?

Friday
Nov072014

Review: Big Hero 6

Tim here. Something feels unmissably “off” about Big Hero 6, the 54th film in the Walt Disney Animation feature canon. It’s a film that wants to offer a little something for everybody, and succeeds, but this comes at the cost of feeling erratic and imbalanced, and curiously adrift. By now, we’re used to superhero origin stories that use up all the oxygen on setting up the heroes’ powers and briefly sketching in their personalities, but even by that standard, as Big Hero 6 started to move into what was unmistakably its endgame, I found myself sinking into outright dismay that this inconsequential scrap against a nondescript bad guy with wicked plans barely large than a city block was actually where the movie was headed, after its strong opening.

But that’s all part of the scheme: the filmmakers (including directors Don Hall, of the 2011 Winnie the Pooh) and Chris Williams, of 2008’s Bolt) know that some people want emotional tenderness, and some want big action scenes, and so they deliver both. But not in a way that’s completely satisfying to either group. It’s the same problem of every CGI animated American movie of the last decade and a half writ large and done with shockingly little attempt to disguise the joints between it narrative modules.

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Nov062014

Your 2014 animated Oscar contenders

Readers, an apology. Here I am, the Film Experience's resident animation expert, and I'm late with news twice over. First, on Tuesday, the Academy annouced the full list of 20 contenders for Best Animated Feature. Nathaniel prepared a post discussing this development, but wasn't able to publish it before traveling to California. Here are his thoughts on the subject:

As expected we will have a full five-wide Best Animated Feature category this year. It only takes 16 contenders to trigger that and we have 20. This branch is definitely not the most predictable when it comes to nominees -- or even, sometimes winners (remember how competitive the Brave year was?) --  often opting for a few little seen critical and foreign darlings. The internet seems to be rooting for The Lego Movie which is by a significant margin the most popular animated film of the year in the US. What's interesting is that it's uniquely American appeal means that internationally the numbers are much different and How To Train Your Dragon 2 is, globally, the biggest cartoon of the year. It's also probably the frontrunner for Gold but you never know. It's not as undeniable as Toy Story 3 (a universally acclaimed capper to a hugely beloved trilogy that wasn't able to be honored with the competitive Oscar until then since the category hadn't existed).

Disney's Big Hero 6, opening this week, I can't personally see winning the category but it's a likely nominee and, what's more, the short before it called Feast, which tells the tale of a human's love life through his hungry puppy, is a strong contender for the short film Oscar. It was love at first sight for me and I'm not even a dog person.

THE ELIGIBLE 20 (plus 10 eligible animated shorts after the jump)...

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Nov052014

Threads: "I love her to death"

Jose here, each Wednesday in "Threads" we'll be obsessing over a single costume we're fixated on that week. This week, because we're coming down from a Halloween candy sugar rush, we discuss the exuberant elegance of La Muerte in The Book of Life (which Nathaniel had already suggested as a great Halloween costume). 

 
Clad in tight-fitting red fabric from top to bottom, La Muerte’s (voiced by telenovela superstar Kate del Castillo) outfit only truly comes to life through its accessories; particularly that larger than life hat adorned with hanging skulls, flowers and candles, all of which are dazzling to behold from an aesthetic perspective, but are fascinating because of their symbolic meaning. La Muerte, which is Spanish for “death” is a festive representation of the Mexican Day of the Dead, in which family members visit the graves of their deceased ones and bring them offerings which include chocolate skulls, sugar bread and tequila.

This particular vision of death, not as a Grim Reaper, but a beautiful, even sexy skeleton, became iconic after illustrator José Guadalupe Posada created it as a satirical representation of Mexicans who had adopted foreign traditions and were betraying their culture. The Catrina, as it’s known in Spanish (“catrina” also means “well dressed”) featured in the film combines several cultural elements (notice the Aztec prints on her dress and the altar on her hat) and also pays homage to one of Mexico’s greatest screen legends: María Félix, who was known for her larger than life personality, unique sense of style and her memorable performances.

Félix inspired artists like Diego Rivera, Bridget Tichenor, Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent and the jewelers at Cartier, who designed a now legendary snake necklace just for her. She also inspired Francis Cabrel to write the song “Je l'aime à mourir” for her, literally “I love her to death”, talk about coming full circle...

Related: this year's Oscar race for animated feature
Anne Marie interviewed Book of Life exec producer Guillermo del Toro and director Jorge Gutierrez
Previously on "Threads": Snowpiercer 

Wednesday
Nov052014

The Way Big Hero Looks in the Moonlight

As you read this I am en route to L.A. to join Anne Marie & Margaret at the AFI this week so expect coverage of A Most Violent Year and The Gambler premieres, a sneak peek at Selma, a Sophia Loren tribute, and more. But before that all start, and as I fly over some of you, brief thoughts on...

THREE SCREENINGS

THE WAY HE LOOKS 
Opens November 7th in limited release
Glenn has already smiled upon this Brazilian coming-of-age film in our ongoing Oscar foreign film race coverage but I wanted to offer my own thumbs way up, too. Like all niche audiences, LGBT people are sometimes too forgiving of bad movies so long as they meet their particular niche needs. But you can love The Way He Looks without any of the guilt that sometimes accompanies pleasure because it's very good.

This affecting high school drama is a love triangle of sorts that plays, smartly, more like a friendship triangle... since all three of its leads are still feeling their way toward their own futures, figuring themselves out. That's particularly true of Leonardo, who is blind and painfully aware that that limits his options. He still dreams of moving out of his parents house and really wants to do a foreign exchange program. His two best friends are Gabriel, a new boy in town who immediately puts him at ease, since he's unphased though sometimes a bit confused about the blindness, and Giovana his best girlfriend since childhood who walks him home every day from school and is so protective that she's become entirely codependent. Giovana resents Gabriel's growing place in Leo's life and nobody ever understands quite what anybody else if feeling. They're all immediately bruised by each other but still walking tightly arm in arm which makes for a hugely sympathetic totally relatable tale of first loves, young friendships and heartbreaks. It's endearing and, like Big Hero 6 (discussed next) it admires the good natures of its characters and their capacity for kindness and love. I don't mind sounding Pollyanna about this: I love seeing basically decent loving people dramatized on film.  That seems to be out of fashion in film and television characters so it's a special treat now when you see it, like a unicorn. B+

BIG HERO 6
Opens November 7th
Daring the long long shadow of The Incredibles, one of the best animated films and one of the best superhero films of all time, this initially very charming movie is about a genius robotics nerd named Hiro (voiced by Ryan Potter) whose older supremely good-natured brother Tadashi (voiced by Daniel Henney), also a tech wizard, convinces him to develop his skills at college instead of wasting them on robot fights. Take that Real Steel! Tadashi's best invention is that white inflatable marshmallow like A.I. you've seen in the trailers named Baymax. A fateful series of events, which I won't spoil though I'm betting the trailers I haven't watched already did, changes everything and suddenly Hiro is furiously reconfiguring Baymax with armor and jetpacks and taking him far from his original purpose as an inhome nurse. Hiro teams up with his new college friends (hence the plurality of the title) to fight off a supervillain in a kabuki mask. The second half of the movie is quite a deflation, sadly. You can feel the pandering for all demographics and senses of humor and like so many visual effects movies the climax is just a mess of OVERLONG NOISY ACTION SETPIECE without much character weight, steering this movie towards "fun but predictable/disposable action-comedy".

But, you know, the things it does well are awfully hard to shake. And boy does that initial brotherly bond stick in the heart. The movie is decidedly pro education (nice to see in a movie), the animation is beautiful, and it's nothing short of wonderful to see a blockbuster family movie led, unambiguously, by people of color. They even used Asian actors for the voices. Well done.  B


MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT
Coming to DVD/BluRay in December
I had remembered this getting relatively mild reviews, inspiring neither loving nor loathing, so it was a surprise to discover a quite emphatically bad movie dully staring back at me. I didn't buy one single moment of it from Emma Stone's strangely lackluster star turn, to Colin Firth's mannered fussiness to the various relationships and plot "twists". I amend: I didn't buy one single moment of it that didn't involve Eileen Atkins as "Aunt Vanessa" who is the film's sole bright light, totally charming and authentically aunt-like both emotionally involved and appropriately removed from whatever is ailing her incorrigible celebrity nephew's heart and soul. That's really too bad because the core idea of the movie is "fun" if you will and there's a whole slew of good actors standing around with nothing good to play with. What's more the real life magician its riffing on, an Englishman who was globally famous, not as himself but in yellowface as a Chinese illusionist named Wei Ling Soo, is also richly fertile ground for a screenplay. It's easy to imagine a pretty great movie emerging from that historical figure and obviously several pretty great movies have emerged in the romantic comedy genre by pitting competing agendas against each other in the form of a man and a woman for whom falling in love is a gigantic inconvenience. But it doesn't remotely work, the romance especially (Firth & Stone have zero chemistry) and the smothering atmosphere is one of laziness... like no one is trying at all (particularly Stone & Allen) or like they're trying too hard (Colin Firth, Hamish Linklater) sensing the inconsequential piffle around them or like they're standing around wishing someone would ask them to try at all (Marcia Gay Harden). D