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Entries in animated films (165)

Thursday
Feb272014

A sampler platter of Best Animated Short Oscar winners

Tim here. With the Oscars just a couple of days away, I assume we’re all much too keyed up with anticipation to want to think about anything else. I am, certainly. But to live up to my mission as the resident animation guy at the Film Experience, I thought I might offer up a quick break in the action without heading too far afield from the Oscars. To wit, I’d like to offer up a quick sampling of some of my personal favorite winners of the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film from across the 81 years that the prize has been given out. With a twist: seeking to keep clear of the major studio dominance of that category for much of its early life (and, as last year’s Paperman and probably this year’s Get a Horse! demonstrate, its later life as well), I’ve tried to pick only films which are at least at little bit more obscure than others. Enjoy!

Squeaky children, sex-starved triangles, and Polish apartment dwellers below the jump

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Thursday
Feb202014

Celebrating Black History Month: A brief tour of African-American animation

Tim here. With Black History Month still in full swing, I thought it would be worth spending some time diving into the history of African-American animation and reporting back to everyone with what I found, which turns out to be easier said than done. Despite a history of animation as an independent and avant-garde form welcoming any and all groups trapped without a voice in the mainstream reaching into the silent era, there has been shockingly little overlap between black cinema and animation down through the years. Which isn’t the same as saying that there’s none, and I am certain that there’s probably more than I was able to scrounge up over a couple of days of researching.

Pioneering animators Frank Braxton (L) and Floyd Norman (R)

By and large, though African-American animators have been associated primarily with big studios, beginning in the 1950s, when Frank Braxton signed up with Warner Bros. By the end of that decade, Floyd Norman had become the first African-American employee of the Walt Disney Company, and his association with that studio continued well into the 2000s (and may continue yet – he’s still actively working, with a credit on a non-Disney production as recent as last fall’s dire Free Birds). The first significant branching out happened in the ‘60s, when Norman left Disney after its namesake and founder died, to join forces with new artist Leo Sullivan to create Vignette Films, a studio focused on making short animated explorations of African-American history (of any of these films still exist, the internet doesn’t seem interested in sharing them).

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Friday
Feb142014

A Brief History of the Cartoon as Toy Commercial

Tim here. With The Lego Movie devouring money at a rate virtually never seen in the middle of winter, and receiving some of the most enthusiastic reviews of any animated film since Toy Story 3, any fears that it would be nothing but a craven toy commercial have been firmly put to sleep. Which isn’t to say that it’s not a toy commercial; but, as Nathaniel put it in his review, “Who cares? It’s wonderful!” Besides, it’s one thing to have a hard-core branding effort for some new plaything that nobody wants or needs, and quite another to have a feature-length advertisement for a 65-year-old icon that’s the best-selling toy in history. Lego doesn’t need The Lego Movie.

Still and all, the fact remains that there’s a mercenary heart beneath the film: not only selling Legos, but selling multimedia franchises controlled by Warner Bros. on top of it. This is done painlessly, even cleverly, and that tends to make it harmless; and in this respect, The Lego Movie represents a striking break from the history of cartoon-as-advertisement. For the most part, previous examples of this commercial impulse have been, in fact, unusually painful, dumb, and harmful .

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Wednesday
Feb122014

GKIDS acquires Song of the Sea

Tim here with some great news for everyone who loved the 2009 Best Animated Feature Oscar nominne The Secret of Kells (which should, really, be everyone). GKIDS, the indie that Kells first put on the map, has announced that they'll be distributing diretor Tomm Moore's second feature, Song of the Sea, though they've rather cagily failed to announce a date just yet (the film is still in production). Based on the distributor's past history, I'd expect an Oscar-qualifying run in the fall, followed by a full release sometime in the spring of 2015, which isn't terribly comforting to those of us who want to see it, like, now. Just based on the images available on Moore's blog for the movie, it looks like the animators at Cartoon Saloon have taken the illuminated manuscript aesthetic gone to even richer, more tactile places.

 

Like The Secret of Kells, the new movie tells a story inspired by Irish folklore: in this case, selkies, a race of seal-humans whose previous cinematic appearances include the John Sayles family movie The Secret of Roan Inish and the Neil Jordan romantic drama Ondine. Kells veteran Brenan Gleeson is back to do voice work, and the music will once again by courtesy of Bruno Coulais and the band Kila, whose work was almost as key to the effectiveness of the earlier movie as the imagery was.

Having found Moore's last film to be one of the most fresh and enjoyable animated films in years, I'm ecstatic to have this clear indication that his new project will be treated with care for a North American audience. GKIDS has pushed films to four Oscar nominations in five years, including current nominee Ernest & Celestine; I'd (foolishly?) lay good money on Song of the Sea being part of the same conversation a year from now.

 

Sunday
Feb092014

Review: The LEGO Movie

'If you build it, they will come.' They'll come in droves. It's 2014 and at this point, it's safe to say that Hollywood has mastered the art of pandering to the masses. They deliver exactly what we are pre-conditioned to want. The box office charts each year are now completely filled by franchises and pre-branded efforts. Frozen, for example, isn't a true original, but the 12th episode of the Disney Princess franchise that's been breaking box office records since (gulp) 1937. It's now extremely rare for a non-sequel non-pre-branded film to ever become a mammoth hit; only one "original" per year even cracks the annual top ten now (Gravity in 2013, Ted in 2012, none in 2011) which is a big downturn from the Aughts which themselves weren't as original as the Nineties.

All of which brings us to this weekend's chart topper, THE LEGO MOVIE. With its built-in nostalgia for childhood as well as a huge swath of pre-licensed characters to dangle in front of your 3D glasses (Gandalf, Batman, Han Solo, Wonder Woman, and dozens more), it's easy to approach the new hit expecting the worst. But there's no need! I'll use Bad Cop / Good Cop (voiced by Liam Neeson) to illustrate the situation and my own immediate mood swing as the movie built its case.

[BAD COP] The LEGO Movie would be a massive hit even if it were terrible.

[GOOD COP] Who cares? It's wonderful!

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