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Entries in The Tale of Princess Kaguya (8)

Friday
Feb132015

Interview: Tomm Moore on "Song of the Sea" and the Oscar Race

Tomm Moore, 38, is enjoying his second Oscar nomination for Animated FeatureOne of the semi-unexpected joys of the birth of the Animated Feature Oscar category in 2001 has been the steady stream of international cartoons that the Oscars have spotlighted. The first truly big surprise was a nomination for a film few had heard of at the time called The Secret of Kells (2009) -- that "what's that?" nomination has become something of a tradition in the category since then. The Oscar nomination for that hypnotic and singularly gorgeous tribute to Irish folklore did a lot to put Cartoon Saloon, an Irish animation studio, on the map.

Cartoon Saloon's co-founder and Kells co-director Tomm Moore has crafted another magical Irish winner in Song of the Sea, an adventure about a boy who discovers his little sister is a "selkie" and holds the key to saving all the faerie folk who are slowly turning to stone (long story!). 

I had the pleasure of speaking to Moore by phone where he was in San Francisco on his Song of the Sea tour and about to meet with Pete Docter (Up). He peppers his conversation with plentiful references to other animation giants (also sharing a story about hanging out with the Big Hero 6 team). It all paints a wonderful picture of a very tight mutual-appreciation niche within Hollywood's larger ecosystem.

We talked Oscars, storytelling, and Cartoon Saloon's next project...

NATHANIEL:  This is your second time nominated for the big show. Does it feel different this time?

TOMM MOORE:  For sure yeah. It’s more fun because we know a little bit more what to expect and am able to enjoy it a bit more rather than just be like “what?”

NATHANIEL: It’s been five years since your last movie.

TOMM: In the meantime I’ve joined the Academy myself and I understand a little bit better how it all works. 

Moore's favorite film of 2014 and the responsibility of kids movies after the jump...

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Jan152015

Tim's Toons: The newly wide-open animation race

Tim here. As you’ve probably heard, unless this is literally the first thing you’ve read on the internet all day, the Best Animated Feature category at the Oscars got thrown for a loop when the prohibitive frontrunner, The Lego Movie, was unexpectedly denied a nomination. In the blink of an eye, one of the most boring races suddenly turned into the most unpredictable of all 24.

So why don’t we start hacking away at the five titles, and see what we can make of them, now that we’ve suddenly got some excitement on our hands?



BIG HERO 6
Directors: Don Hall (1st nomination), Chris Williams (2nd nomination)
Studio: Walt Disney Animation (8th nomination)

Nathaniel kind of liked it, I kind of liked it a bit less. Which mostly describes the reception that the film has received from everybody: nobody much dislikes the genial adventure-comedy about a boy and his charmingly soft robot, but it hasn’t inspired the kind of culture-devouring passion that Disney’s Frozen was enjoying a year ago at this point.

Path to victory: If the glow of the Disney brand name, so recently rejuvenated by Frozen’s enormous success, convinces people that this one was probably good enough to get by in an uncertain year.



THE BOXTROLLS
Directors: Anthony Stacchi and Graham Annable (1st nomination for each)
Studio: Laika (3rd nomination, 4th if we include the pre-Laika Corpse Bride)

With The Lego Movie out of the picture, this has abruptly become the critics’ baby in the race. And it’s not an unfair position for the film, which bears its rough, handmade aesthetic with pride that shades into showing-off. Those of us who love stop-motion animation really love it, and the studio has done an outstanding job of positioning itself as the home for high-tech revisions to the most ancient of animation forms. The Boxtrolls is certainly not their most sophisticated piece of storytelling, but it’s a technical masterwork. For more praise, check out this top 10.

Path to victory: It’s in a great position to do some of the "look at our wonderfully fussy homey craftsmanship" campaigning that Laika does so well, and CEO Travis Knight has deep pockets. The film will have to work for it, but it’s work that I think can be done.

 

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2
Director: Dean DeBlois (3rd nomination)
Studio: DreamWorks Animation (11th nomination)

A sequel that many people liked and only some people particularly loved. A lot of that is the side effect of having two movies' worth of plot crushed down into one, cramping things and having unfortunate repercussions in the department of making Cate Blanchett's awesome character feel like an afterthought. It's also a little too desperate to make things feel grander and more epic, at the expense of the character-driven charm of the first. Still...

Path to victory: ...it feels like the default pick, right? DreamWorks proper hasn't won since the category's very first year in 2001, and voting for HTTYD2 can retroactively feel like rewarding the original, which surely would have won against any competition less fierce than Toy Story 3. The box office and the critics are fine without being in any way exceptional, though, so this is less the one that's surely going to take the Oscar, than the one that only takes the Oscar if nobody else can be bothered.

 

SONG OF THE SEA
Director: Tomm Moore (2nd nomination)
Studio: Cartoon Saloon (2nd nomination)

I must confess to having not seen it. Both Nathaniel and Margaret were pretty high on it, though, and on the strength of 2009's The Secret of Kells, I feel that following Moore down the rabbit hole of brightly-colored Celtic mythology is a pretty safe bet. Hopefully, I'll get a chance to look at this one a bit more closely in the next few weeks.

Path to victory: Margaret puts it bluntly: "breathtakingly stunning artwork". Being the most traditional, and probably also the most striking, of the nominees can only help. The big uncertainty here is that distributor GKIDS ended up with two nominees, and it's hard to guess if they have the resources to handle two campaigns. One of them almost certainly has to give.

 

THE TALE OF THE PRINCESS KAGUYA
Director: Isao Takahata (1st nomination)
Studio: Studio Ghibli (4th nomination)

As you perhaps know - because I won't shut the hell up about it - Takahata is one of the great living directors of animation, and Princess Kaguya is a gorgeous, challenging (potential) swan song. Retelling the most ancient story in Japanese storytelling using digtital animation techniques designed to mimic pencil sketches and watercolors, the film is a smart blend of fable and domestic drama without any anachronistic modern attitudes but also without old-fashioned fustiness. It's my favorite animated feature of the year, so I get a little over-passionate about it; it's also the only one of the nominees mostly meant for an adult audience.

Path to victory: See the above issue with GKIDS' split loyalties. These seems like the stronger play - it has more critics' awards, it's probably the last Ghibli film that will have a real shot at winning, the same for Takahata - but the category hasn't favored grown-up animation yet. And this is way Japanese. Besides, how many Academy members can possibly find "But Takahata might not ever make another movie!" a compelling argument?

 

Alright, so if you had to pick, right now, what do you think will end up winning? And was The Lego Movie robbed, or is that just the cost of making a feature-lenth toy ad? Sound off in comments!

Saturday
Jan032015

Tim's Toons: The Best Voice Acting in 2014

Tim here. Year-end listmaking mania tends to skip right by animation, with only a glance in the direction of a solitary film that doesn’t tend to reveal much imagination on the part of the listmakers (probably, if you are a critic in 2014, your favorite animated feature was The Lego Movie, unless it was The Lego Movie. But I hear some folks really liked The Lego Movie). The Annie Awards do what they can, but they’re weirdly over-politicized.

All of which is to say, it’s the perfect time, before 2015 has a chance to warm up, to throw a little more light on animated film in the year that was than just rubber-stamping a Best Animated Feature award and moving on. May I present to you this unranked list of

Six Great Vocal Performances from 2014

Alison Brie as “Princess Unikitty”, The Lego Movie
Yes, the exact same Lego Movie I just complained about showing up everywhere. It’s a chronological list, it had to come first. And of the many things that make this movie so delightful, Brie’s sugary embodiment of the flightiest fantasies of children’s playtime is the one that’s stuck the most for me, all through the year. Manic enthusiasm delivered at machine-gun, and outbursts of scorching anger in the same high-pitch register: it’s a straightforward comic turn, but a singularly enjoyable one.

Will Arnett as “Batman”, The Lego Movie
Okay, so I’m a hypocrite. Anyway, Arnett’s self-amused, gravelly take on the Dark Knight is as much a parody of Christian Bale’s growly Batman as anything else, which is a big part of the joke. But it’s also a pretty great performance of the iconic comic book character by itself. Mocking and sarcastic, of course (that is the primary mode of the film’s humor), but with enough puffed-up importance and overclocked drama that it’s absolutely easy to believe that this is a entitled rich guy putting on a show to fight crime.

Cate Blanchett as “Valka”, How to Train Your Dragon 2
Not every A-list award winner has what it takes to do voice acting, and history has witnessed more dreadful celebrity roles in animated features than wonderful, revelatory ones. But Blanchett brings nuance and depth by the bucketful, making a frustratingly under-written part one of the densest animated characters of the year. The social awkwardness that comes from years away from humans, and nervous romanticism while meeting her long-lost husband are all Blanchett’s contribution, not the script’s, and she carries it off while nailing a Scottish accent.

Signe Baumane as “Narrator”, Rocks in My Pockets
Stretching a definition: Baumane is also the film’s writer and director, and it’s not entirely clear that what she’s doing is “acting”. It’s more like sitting down to hear her tell us a story. But what a storyteller Baumane proves to be! Jabbing at punchlines with ebullient good humor, clucking at tragedies with mournfulness that doesn’t turn into outright misery, and pulling out a whole ensemble of affected voices to give life to her characters, Baumane’s treatement of her family history is even more involving and energetic because of her words than her images.

Ben Kingsley as “Archibald Snatcher”, The Boxtrolls
A gutter-born Cockney accent is enough to make Kingsley’s crisp voice almost totally unrecognizable, which is impressive enough to begin with. What elevates this beyond mere success as a bit of celebrity casting gone right is the pathos with which Kingsley invests the character: villains in children’s movies aren’t known for their ambiguous shading, but Snatcher, as performed by Kingsley, has just enough self-deluding desire to fit in with a world that doesn’t want him to come across as deserving our pity as much as our scorn. If I were going to rank these performances, there’s an excellent chance Kingsley would be my #1. (With a shout-out to Sean Patrick Doyle as well who did his singing, too.) 

Takeo Chii as “The bamboo cutter”, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
The late Chii’s final performance in a career stretching longer than 40 years is a nimble execution of a stock character rather than an attempt to seriously expand the limitations of that character. He’s a blustering, overbearing dad who bullies the world in attempt to get his daughter all the things she doesn’t actually want. But even through the language barrier, the sweetness of Chii’s performance, and the desperation as he tries to impress and bluff his way into social respectability, come through with touching sincerity and simplicity, the adjectives that best describe Princess Kaguya as a whole.

Who did I miss? What were your favorite vocal performances this year? For the record the Annies nominated these four for Best Voice Acting in an Animated Feature:  Cyndi Lauper as the voice of Nurse Cyndi - Henry & Me; Andy Garcia as the voice of Eduardo - Rio 2 ; Sir Ben Kingsley as the voice of Archibald Snatcher and Dee Bradley Baker as the voice of Fish in The Boxtrolls

 

Thursday
Dec182014

The Animated Feature contenders: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

Tim here. This week's look at one of the 2014 Best Animated Feature Oscar contenders takes us someplace entirely new: to a film that might actually be able to swing a nomination. The film is The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, the penultimate film made by the late Studio Ghibli, and probably the final work directed by the great Takahata Isao, who hasn't officially announced his retirement, like friend and colleague Hayao Miyazaki; but when a director is 79 years old and has reached the "enormous gaps between features" stage of his career (his previous film, My Neighbors the Yamadas, came out in 1999), it's time to make some assumptions.

If it's a valedictory work that Princess Kaguya is to be, it's a brilliant one, right down to an ending about the pain of saying farewell when we're not ready to. The film adapts "The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter", a folktale that is thought to be the oldest extant work of Japanese literature, telling of a little girl found in a glowing stalk of bamboo by an old bamboo cutter one day. Convinced by this and other signs that he has been tasked by giving her the life a noble princess, the bamboo cutter focuses on pushing her into the upper crusts of society despite how clearly the girl, Kaguya, resents this life, and would prefer to be left in the peaceable wilds of her adoptive home.

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Oct192014

Box Office: Fury Attacks with a Tank Full of Gas

Amir here, reporting to box office duty. America finally flocked to the theatres to quench its months-long thirst for knowledge: just what the hell is Brad Pitt’s hair cut about? Most of you have surely found out by now, but I have to wait until Tuesday to see Fury, because my favourite actor present or not, I’m just not willing to spend more than the $7 for ticket plus popcorn deal on a war movie in a tank.

What did you see this weekend? Let us know in the comments how you liked it.

TOP TEN WIDE
01 FURY $23.5 NEW
02 GONE GIRL $17.8  (cum. $107)  Jason's Review
03 THE BOOK OF LIFE $17 NEW Interview
04 ALEXANDER AND THE... $12 (cum. $36.8)
05 THE BEST OF ME $10.2  NEW
06 DRACULA UNTOLD $9.8 (cum. $40.7) 
07 THE JUDGE $7.9 (cum. $26.8)
08 ANNABELLE $7.9 (cum. $74.1)
09 THE EQUALIZER $5.4 (cum. $89.1)
10 THE MAZE RUNNER $4.5 (cum. $90.8) Nathaniel's Review

TOP TEN LIMITED
Excluding Wide Releases Losing Theaters

01 ST. VINCENT $.6 68 theaters (cum. $.8) Michael's Review
02 KILL THE MESSENGER $.4  427 theaters (cum. $1.8)
03 BIRDMAN $.4 4 theaters NEW composer interview | opening night party 
04 DEAR WHITE PEOPLE $.3 11 theaters NEW Michael's Review
05 MEN WOMEN & CHILDREN $.3  608 theaters (cum. $.4)

The weekend’s other wide openings, a Día de Muertos-themed film called The Book of Life and a Nicholas Sparks adaptation The Best of oh, who even cares?, both snuck in the top ten, though critical and public enthusiasm seems rather low. I’m happy for Reel FX bouncing back from the train wreck that was Free Birds, though. Meanwhile, the biggest news of the weekend was the per screen average gross of Birdman, where it ranks among the top 20 of all time.

This year’s best average gross still belongs to Wes Anderson’s Budapest Hotel, but Birdman is the bigger surprise. Anderson is one of a series of active filmmakers whose films always pull the same trick, opening on a few screens to massive numbers before expansion – his namesake P. T. Anderson and Woody Allen always do the same to great degrees of success. Yet, for Birdman to pull of similar numbers is genuinely surprising. My guess is that the film’s appeal remains limited outside of the major markets, but I reserve the right to retroactively edit this prediction out if the film does well.

Other films of note opening this weekend: Listen Up Philip, Dear White People, and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, a film I have surprisingly thought about so often since TIFF that it has forced itself into my top 10 of the year. Go see it! It’s magical.  

Friday
Oct102014

Tim's Toons: the Best of Isao Takahata

Tim here. The Tale of Princess Kaguya , which could well compete for the animated Oscar this year, opens next week. But at that point I will be deep down in the pits of film festival madness (the Chicago International Film Festival starts today). So I want to talk about this now, lest I forget.

And that is the last thing I’d ever want to do, since Kaguya’s director, Isao Takahata, is (was?), along with Hayao Miyazaki, one of the twin gods of Studio Ghibli, though a director whose work was never as widely-known in the English-speaking world as his colleague’s. They're smaller in scale and less fantastic; one of his absolute best Ghibli-era works has never been released in the States, because the rights lie with Disney and one scene involves a discussion of menstruation, and we can’t have filthiness like that in our animation here, now can we!

He is, regardless of the difficulty in seeing his films, an unequivocal genius who deserves more attention for the wide range of styles he's explored in his films, and the graceful humanity of the stories he's told within those styles. Thus I have put together this little primer to celebrate the 78-year-old's newest film, and the career that led up to it.

[His three best films after the jump]

 

Click to read more ...