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Entries in animated films (217)

Monday
Dec012014

The 2014 Annie nominations

Tim here, with the second wave of the day's "the year is ending! give out all awards right away!" news. ASIFA-Hollywood announced the nominees for the 42nd Annie Awards, honoring achievments in theatrical, telvision, and now video game animation. With 36 categories, we don't have space to look at nearly all of them, but here are three that matter for future awards prognostication:

Best Animated Feature
BIG HERO 6
THE BOOK OF LIFE
THE BOXTROLLS
CHEATIN'
HOW TO TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2
THE LEGO MOVIE
SONG OF THE SEA
THE TALE OF THE PRINCESS KAGUYA

Nomination leader THE BOXTROLLS

Best Animated Short Subject
CODA (on the Oscar shortlist)
THE DAM KEEPER (on the Oscar shortlist)
DUET (on the Oscar shortlist)
FEAST (on the Oscar shortlist)
INSIDE HOMER - The Simpsons Couch Gag, Episode #549
ME AND MY MOULTON (on the Oscar shortlist)
THE RAVEN
SILENT

Animated Effects in a Live-Action Production
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2
EDGE OF TOMORROW
THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG (yep, the one from last year)
NOAH
TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION
X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST

The nominators were enormously kind to Laika and The Boxtrolls: that film comfortably leads the pack with 13 nominations (with multiple nominations in a handful of categories). Next up is How to Train Your Dragon 2 with 10, while Big Hero 6, Song of the Sea, and The Lego Movie come up with 7, 7, and 6, respectively. That could easily be your ultimate Oscar slate, though I expect critics groups to split between The Lego Movie and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, which netted just three nominations.

Saturday
Nov292014

The Animated Feature contenders: Penguins of Madagascar

Tim here. I’m going to spend most of the remaining weeks of 2014 taking a look at some of the 20 films submitted to for the Best Animated Feature Oscar. These will mainly be the little underdogs that don’t really have a chance for a nomination, but deserve our attention as lovers of movies anyway.

But first, a different kind of film that doesn’t have a chance at receiving any Oscar buzz: this week’s new Penguins of Madagascar, the 30th release by DreamWorks Animation, and the last wide-release animated feature of the year. If I may confess my sins to all of you, I was actually looking forward to this, kind of: the penguins of the Madagascar film trilogy have been reliable stand-outs for as long as the franchise has existed: a wacky military squadron comprised of an ebullient Skipper (Tom McGrath), no-nonsense Kowalski (Chris Miller), wide-eyed moron Private (Christopher Knights), and demented, dangerous Rico (Conrad Vernon), executing fearless action film maneuvers with no sense of sanity or reason, and giving the gaping chasm of mediocrity of the first two Madagascar pictures precious comic energy for a few minutes at a stretch.

The thing about the penguins, though, is that they were brilliantly used as little shots of free-floating absurdity, random gag machines delighting in cartoon physics and psychology, not so much breaking the rules as ignoring their existence outright. That’s fine for comic relief, especially in a film whose idle state is so dreary as the first two Madagascars. But those little vacations from reality only work when we don’t actually need to care about the penguins beyond knowing that they are surreal and goofy. Putting them front and center over a long running time and a sustained character arc places a demand on the characters that’s totally unsustainable. These aren’t characters, they’re agents of chaos, and they can’t be used like characters.

Yet the three writers and two directors of Penguins of Madagascar go right on ahead and try to fit them into the normal beats of an American kid-focused animated film, down to the sad bit about the character who just wants to be understood for his idiosyncratic ways (“be yourself, love yourself” is a good lesson for children, of course, but it’s one of the dominate themes of, seriously, like every single DreamWorks film). The characters’ one-note personalities, and the limited number of gags that can be spun out of them, turns shrill and noisome over 90 minutes. There’s a plot behind this, but it barely matters: a James Bondian sort of deal with a penguin-hating octopus (voiced with unexpected brio by John Malkovich) on one side, a team of Arctic animal spies lied by a wolf played by Benedict Cumberbatch on the other. And in between, the four penguins whose history with the octopus spurred his rage act with all the insensible fearlessness their braggadocio can support.

It’s manic as all hell, which isn’t really the problem: it’s the routine sameness of it that drags the film down. One setpiece follows approximately the same beats as all the others, and the penguins are designed too specifically to be inflexible, unchanging characters to remain interesting over the course of everything that happens. Even their expressions barely change: the animators don’t even get to play around much with exaggerated gestures or faces. And while any ten-minute slice of the film has some level of playful, unexpected comedy, all of the slices resemble each other to the point where watching eight of them in a row is soporific.

It’s not devoid of good humor and even real wit. Werner Herzog vocally cameos as a deranged Germany documentary filmmaker in a parody of his Encounters at the End of the World, and it comes close to the “anything goes” feel that made the penguins enjoyable to begin with; and there are just enough gags that seem to have been inserted into the film largely because nobody could come up with a reason not to put the penguins in lederhosen, or to have them infiltrate Fort Knox. It’s not insufferable, but it’s awfully tiring, and the packed house of deadly quiet children and parents I saw the film with would seem to back me up that whatever this film is good for, it’s not providing more than the most generically passable entertainment.

Oscar chances: Oh, no. No, no, no. DreamWorks needs to put it all on How to Train Your Dragon 2 and pray.

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 ...