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Entries in animated films (280)


Tim's Toons review: Last Days of Coney Island

Tim here. One of the most important events in animation in all of 2015 happened this week; it is important to stress that this doesn't mean it's also one of the best things. But the first new piece of animation from living legend Ralph Bakshi in almost 20 years is certainly worth spending a moment with, though now that I've seen the 22-minute Last Days of Coney Islandcurrently available for rental on Vimeo, where it just had its world premiere – I can't really claim that I want to stretch that moment out too long.

The film finds Bakshi, whose 77th birthday was October 29, returning to the territory of his most characteristic works from the early 1970s, including Heavy Traffic, the infamous race relations fable Coonskin, and his groundbreaking debut, Fritz the Cat. That is, it's a story about the New York City of Bakshi's battle-hardened memories of youth, involving deeply wearied souls scratching their way through an apocalyptic vision of the '60s counterculture.

The new film has clearly defined characters in the form of explosively violent Shorty (Omar Jones) and the hapless-in-love Max (Robert Costanzo), and it even has something that looks pretty clearly like a plot, though you have to work pretty diligently to carve it from the energetic blast of frenzied activity that makes up the film (it's a condensed version of a feature Bakshi has been trying to make since the '90s; it was shortened without losing any content).

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Wes Anderson Returns to Animation

Tim here, with exciting news for those of us who regard Fantastic Mr. Fox as a high water mark in the career of Wes Anderson. The Playlist reported on Friday that the director will be returning to the realm of stop-motion animals with his next feature, currently in pre-production. There are no plot details nor a title nor really anything, which I don't think should prevent us from going hog-wild with random speculation in comments. 

My guess: an exact replica of the Vietnam War play from Rushmore, only with fussy animal puppets.

We actually do know one thing: the film will be about dogs. Anderson, of course, is noted for his tendency to kill or otherwise abuse dogs in his movies: The Royal Tenenbaums, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Moonrise Kingdom all feature terrible things happening to their various pooches. It remains to be seen whether the new film represents his attempt to apologize to the noble species of Canis lupus familiaris, giving man's best friend a feature film to thrive and triumph. Or maybe it will just be his first movie in which every cast member dies at the end in a hideous Tarantinoesque bloodbath. But, y'know, set to Alexandre Desplat music.


Tim's Toons: The cool worlds of Ralph Bakshi

Tim here with as big a story as animation is apt to produce: Ralph Bakshi will debut Last Days of Coney Island on Vimeo on October 29th, on his 77th birthday no less. It's his first animated project since a pair of short films in 1997.) This makes the second time in 2015 that a triple-A Animation God has used that platform to show the world his newest project. (The first was Don Hertzfeldt's World of Tomorrow in March; but as much as we should all of us love and adore Hertzfeldt and his work, there's no comparing his prominence in the animation ecosystem to that of Bakshi, a figure who earns every bit of the phrase "living legend".)

I write these words as a person who, confessedly, doesn't have much affection for Bakshi's output. Still, it's impossible not to be curious what the mind behind the most visible underground animation in history has up his sleeve, now that the 21st Century and digital distribution have come around to offer him new avenues to showcase his art. 

I'd like to share a short primer of the offbeat corners that the always-ambitious, frequently hapless auteur has explored in his 43-year career (after the jump)

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Tim's Toons: A Genndy Tartakovsky Primer

This weekend sees the release of 2015's latest animated feature, Hotel Transylvania 2, and it is somewhat hard to get excited for it. Being an animated sequel will do that. 

Being a movie where all the shots were being called by Adam Sandler will do that, too. Being an animated sequel under the control of Adam Sandler in the same calendar year that witnessed the deeply repugnant Sandler vehicles The Cobbler and Pixelswill do that most of all. But let me put on my bravest face and try to tell you about the thing that is noble and interesting about Hotel Transylvania 2 despite all the obvious ticks against it: it's a Genndy Tartakovsky picture.

"And who is Genndy Tartakovsky?" you may now be asking yourself
. I very much hope you are, since answering that question is the reason we're here now. The simple answer is that Tartakovsky is one of the great stylists in contemporary American animation.

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TIFF: Bullied Girls and Violent Boys in Sweden

TIFF is such a large beast of a film festival — hundreds of films, dozens of big screens — that everyone can make their own festival within it. Thus it is that I, Nathaniel, of Danish descent (way back) and rudimentary Norwegian language skills (from also way back but at least in my lifetime), invariably program my own Scandinavian mini-fest each year while I'm here. This year I'm seeing five Nordic films so here are quick takes on the three Swedish entries, which all happen to be about teenagers. And since we were just discussing great High School Films, the perfect topic for September, let's continue that thread...

The Hater and the Hated (well, he *did* kill someone)

Report Card: In this super tense drama, John (Ulrick Munther), a convicted murderer, returns home and goes right back to high school with his former classmates -- who are also the former classmates of his victim. The students and even his own family are not super jazzed about his return. This directorial feature debut from writer/director Magnus Von Horn is sensitively shot and tough-minded but its best assett is its slow burn patience (without testing the audience's). It builds and builds towards its inevitable bummer conclusion while trying to get inside the impenetrable head of its young protagonist. It doesn't really stick the landing because... well, what is actually the point of all this depressing shit? Still, the 32 year-old director's work is confident enough that I'd line right up to see a second feature. B

Extra Credit: That double meaning title is smart since all of what's "here" for the town and its characters is entirely predicated on the death that came before. 

Would you want to go to school here? On the bright side it's very liberal -- even former murderers are welcome because  "everyone is entitled to an education". There's no dress code and the lockers are in cute island format. On the other hand it's hickville central, the boys are violent, the girls are bored, and they let former murderers go here. The well meaning but nervous principal/teachers are absolutely flummoxed about how to handle this PTSD pressure cooker that was once a normal school. Can you blame them? 

Report Card: In this drama with supernatural touches, three much bullied teenage besties form a coven of sorts (without calling it that) and end up raising a strange and unusual plant (think Audrey II without the songs or sentience --actually never mind) that transforms their lives. When they drink from the plant's beans these outcast girls are suddenly transformed into boys. The first transformation is the movie's clear highlight but alas, this tale gets bogged in unsteady characterizations and the difficulty of balancing four different topics/causes: trans awareness character arc, closeted gay love, gender inequities, school bullying. Strong on concept but very unsteady in the execution. B-/C+

Extra Credit: You will absolutely marvel at the casting. Somehow they found teenage boys that look exactly like the female leads if they happened to suddenly be transformed into boys. And all six of them are likeable actors. It's the best "same person. different sex" casting of all time after Tilda Swinton and Tilda Swinton in Orlando

Would you want to go to school here? Well their well funded high school has great grounds and is big enough that even if you're unpopular you can have your little tight knit circle to hang with. But the bullying shit is out of control, and and the gym teacher actively sucks, basically telling the girls to grow a pair when they're distressed at the escalating torments.

Report Card: This strange film is a bifurcated affair. One half is an hypnotic stop-motion family history (or tall tales) of twin sister refugees who took much different paths in the world, one becoming a caregiver shut out, the other a wild bohemian prostitute. The other half is the modern story of their shared young granddaughter raised in total reclusiveness by her religious father who is also a shut in. The strawberry blonde is so catatonic and pale she makes Sissy Spacek's oddball young 70s waifs seem positively extroverted and suntanned. She barely seems to exist outside of her head (i.e. the animated portion). The problem here is the balance since one half is entrancing and the other is painfully repetitive and obsessed with its own hopelessness. Animated half: B+ The Other half: C-

Extra Credit: I have a great friend who always audibly groans when the title of a movie gets worked in to the dialogue (I personally love it, though, in part from the reaction it provokes in him). Anxiously awaited the moment, did I. But the awesome title only shows up in visual form during the end credits. Worth the wait.

Would you want to go to school here: Insert that Mean Girls joke about home-schooled religious nutjobs. So, emphatically NO. Plus the teacher is your father and his idea of detention and lunch plan are shudder-worthy cruel.



TIFF: "Phantom Boy" is a Delight

Our TIFF dispatches are off to a very slow start but it's only because both Amir and myself, Nathaniel, have been cramming so many screenings in on the first few days. For now, a brief animated diversion.

French directors Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol were surprise Oscar-nominees just four years ago for A Cat in Paris and they're back with their second full-length feature. You could call this one A Cancer Patient in New York to mentally connect them but that doesn't have a catchy ring to it and wouldn't sell tickets to families.

The subject this time is a remarkable little boy in New York City who leaves his afflicted body in the hospital each night to regularly float above the city. He's become so adept at the astral projection that he helps other patients in the hospital when their spirits start wandering away. 

When his parents leave the hospital each night it's clear that this is now familiar routine as he follows them home where he sees more private moments. When they cry he tenderly averts his gaze from respect at their stiff-upper-lip efforts of composure in the hospital. 

If that makes Phantom Boy sound unusually dour for a cartoon, fear not. It's emotions may spring from its matter of factness about life and death and danger (such a welcome change of pace for a kid's movie) but, as befits a cartoon about a high spirited (sorry) young boy who wants to grow up to be a cop, it's also an funny adventure story. Consider the tagline.

He's eleven, he's invisible, he can fly, and he's got 24 hours to save New York.

Through a series of dastardly crimes and comic misshaps outside the hospital the boy becomes involved in the story of a policemen, also hospitalized, and a His Girl Friday type alpha reporter who are both out to stop a "disfigured" villain (his face is amusingly cubist as opposed to disfigured). The villain is threatening to wipe out New York City with a computer virus.

Though the story begins to feel a touch repetitive towards its derring-do finale, it is never less than pleasant with an engaging story and memorably odd beats. Sometimes the film straight up soars, particularly in its quieter moments when we go flying with the boy, reading a story to his baby sister, or marvelling at the way he slips in and out of his body, sometimes like it's as natural as stretching and other times like he's slipping on clothes that no longer fit as well. Running through the pleasantry and peaks is the always expressive traditional animation, sophisticated sight gags, endearing broadly sketched characters, and a really top-notch long-running joke that keeps threatening to abandon its punchline. Highly recommended.

Grade: B+
Oscar Chances: I wouldn't be at all surprised to see it among the nominees this year if it qualifies. But it's worth noting that their last film A Cat in Paris (2010) didn't show up in the Oscar race until a year after its premiere so this one may float towards the gold in 2016.


Tim's Toons: Corpse Bride, ten years later

Tim here. This past week marked the tenth anniversary of the festival premieres of two very different stop-motion animated features. We've recently chatted a bit about Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, so other than reminding you that it exists, and it's still delightful a decade on, I will pass it by in silence. Instead, I want turn everybody's attention to Corpse Bride, or if you prefer - the boys in marketing clearly did - Tim Burton's Corpse Bride. The second movie's reputation has gone off in a very different direction over the last ten years: while Were-Rabbit remains a touchstone of sorts thanks to its iconic stars, I'll bet that a good number of you just thought, "Huh, Corpse Bride, I forgot all about that".

That’s not unfair. Revisiting it for the first time in most of that same decade, I found it to be visually inventive, and dangerously rushed as a narrative: based on a Russian folk tale of a young man who accidentally weds a beautiful dead woman, the films never quite shakes the sketchy structure of a fable.


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