You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘★★½’ category.

Director: Jeff McGrath
Airing Date: May 25, 1996
Stars: Duckman
Rating: ★★½
Review:

‘Exile in Guyville’ is another example of how the Duckman series started to run dry as the third season progressed.

This episode, which incidentally shares its title with a 1993 Liz Phair album, is framed as a story told as one of the Duckman fables Told by a mother to her son in the far future. The ‘fable’ itself is a rather forced and surprisingly stale fable on male-female relationships, drawing on almost every cliché one can possible find on men and women. When the nation divides literally, Fluffy and Uranus turn up as unlikely guards of the dividing wall.

The framing bedtime story has its charm, but the best part may be just before this divide when general mayhem is illustrated by e.g. some random live action footage. Nevertheless, these cannot rescue an episode that was already outdated when it first aired in 1996.

Watch ‘Exile in Guyville’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Duckman episode no. 39
To the previous Duckman episode: The Road to Dendron
To the next Duckman episode: The Longest Weekend

‘Exile in Guyville’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Director: Peter Peake
Release Date: January 7, 1995
Rating: ★★½
Review:

‘Pib and Pog’ starts off as a typical cartoon for preschoolers. It stars two clay characters wearing shoes with flowers on them in a white set with only two props.

The two only make unintelligible sounds, but interact with the voice over (Ionna Wake), who retains an upbeat preschool attitude until the very end of the cartoon. But her remarks get more and more at odds with the visuals. For when Pib craves a shell that Pog apparently has found on the beach, a startlingly violent struggle between the two characters evolves, including the use of a gun, chloric acid and a cannon.

Meanwhile the voice over keeps on blabbering in a childish manner, neglecting the violence on the screen for what it is. ‘Pib & Pog’ thus is disturbing, and it seems to say something about cartoon violence in general, but funny it is not, and the short is further hampered by its very trite ending. Nevertheless, in 2006 the film would sprout five sequels. Earlier, in 1998 director Peter Peake would make a much better and certainly hilarious little film called ‘Humdrum’, which is much more recommended.

Watch ‘Pib and Pog’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Pib and Pog’ is available on the DVD ‘Aardman Classics’

Director: Donovan Cook
Airing Date: May 4, 1996
Stars: Duckman
Rating: ★★½
Review:

‘They Craved Duckman’s Brain!’ is one of the less inspired episodes that started to fill the third season more and more. This episode has a rather aimless and rambling story, which tries to say something about the medical industry, with little success.

The story features a mad surgeon called Dr. Craig Erlich and a frustratingly pointless villain. As this is one of the most talkative Duckman episodes, most of the humor comes from the dialogue. Like when Ajax asks Dr. Erlich after the latter’s introduction whether he’s related to Dr. Dre. The best gag in that respect is when the whole family starts an argument about Star Trek while being captured by the surgeon.

Note the painting in the director’s office, which looks like Gauguin’s ‘Spirit of the Dead Watching’, but with a white woman instead of a Polynesian one.

Watch ‘They Craved Duckman’s Brain!’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Duckman episode no. 37
To the previous Duckman episode: Aged Heat
To the next Duckman episode: The Road to Dendron

‘They Craved Duckman’s Brain!’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Airing Date: April 27, 1996

On April 27, 1996 the series ‘Dexter’s Laboratory’ started in earnest, creating quite a stir, and influencing many television animation film makers with its original blend of 1950s design and animation, and cinematic anime influences. The series lasted four seasons, spread over eight years, but alas, alas, only the first season has been released on DVD.

In the first season every episode consisted of two Dexter’s Laboratory parts, bridged by an episode of either ‘Dial M for Monkey’ or ‘The Justice Friends’. Neither bridging series amounted to much more than filler material, and they were almost completely dropped in the second series.

Dee Deemensional

Director: John McIntyre
Stars: Dexter, Dee Dee
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

‘Dee Deemensional’ opens spectacularly with Dexter trying to battle a giant monster in his lab to no avail. To save the day he sends his sister back into time to warn him. But as may be expected his past self takes little heed to all Dee Dee has to say to him, and even a humiliating surrender won’t help him in the end. ‘Dee Deemensional’ is a delightful play with the concept of time travel, even though Dexter’s attempt to alter the future appears to be doomed.

Dial M for Monkey: Magmanamus

Directors: Paul Rudish & Genndy Tartakovsky
Stars: Dial M for Monkey
Rating: ★★★
Review:

‘Dial M for Monkey: Magmanamus’ introduces an off-spin character from the Dexter’s Laboratory universe. It appears that Dexter’s unassuming test monkey secretly is a superhero. This episode is penned by Craig McCracken of later Powerpuff Girls-fame, and it already shows his passion for superheroes and monster movies. Monkey has to battle an annoyed lava monster called Magmanamus, who only tries to sleep, but who’s pretty annoyed by all human noises.

This episode is noteworthy for its very limited animation, with some shots being practically stills. Only Magmanamus himself is animated quite broadly, but his character unfortunately is all too talkative and rather tiresome.

Monkey never got the same status as the surrounding Dexter episodes, and was dropped halfway the first season, although the character remained in Dexter’s Laboratory, and got one episode in Season Two. Indeed, ‘Dial M for Monkey: Magmanamus’ hardly fulfils its premise, and is more entertaining as a spoof of cheap 1960s superhero shows than as entertainment in itself.

Maternal Combat

Directors: Rob Renzetti & Genndy Tartakovsky
Stars: Dexter, Dee Dee
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Dexter’s mother is ill, so Dexter builds a ‘momdroid’ to help to clean the house. All goes well, until Dee Dee grabs the remote. ‘Maternal combat’ is one of the less inspired Dexter’s Laboratory episodes: part of it is devoted to Dee Dee’s cooking, which is hardly related to the main story, and the episode fizzles out as if the studio was out of ideas. The best part is when Dexter’s Dad returns home, and greets his wife three times, unaware that two of them are, in fact, robots.

‘Deedeemensional/Dial M for Monkey: Magmanamus/Maternal Combat’ is available on the DVD ‘Dexter’s Laboratory Season One: All 13 Episodes’

Director: Genndy Tartakovsky
Airing Date: April 14, 1996 & May 26, 1996
Stars: Dexter, Dee Dee
Rating: ★★½
Review:

‘Dimwit Dexter’ is the last of four pilot episodes of ‘Dexter’s Laboratory’, airing less than two weeks before the full series started. The episode returned a little later as the third part of the fifth episode.

This episode starts with images of Dexter frantically practicing science. This causes a meltdown inside his head, which is depicted as a nuclear reactor, rendering the boy completely imbecile. Dee Dee takes advantage of the situation and dresses him up like a girl. But it’s the idiotic Dexter himself who does the most harm to himself when he runs out on the street in only his underpants, and doing all kinds of stupid tricks, like kissing the butt of a duck, making him the laughing stock of the whole neighborhood.

In showing actions of stupidity ‘Dimwit Dexter’ clearly owes a lot to ‘Ren and Stimpy’, and the scenes of Dexter humiliating himself without knowing are fun to watch, but the episode ends abruptly and without a proper conclusion, rendering it flat. Nevertheless, these abrupt and inconclusive endings would become a typical characteristic of the series.

Watch an excerpt from ‘Dimwit Dexter’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Dimwit Dexter’ is available on the DVD ‘Dexter’s Laboratory Season One: All 13 Episodes’

Director: Tyron Montgomery
Release Date: April 1996
Rating: ★★½
Review:

A sand man lies in the desert with his water bottle, empty. When he hears the sound of water he starts digging and before soon falls into another world…

Made by Tyron Montgomery (direction, photography & screenplay) and Thomas Stellmach (production, animation & story) at the University of Kassel, Germany, ‘Quest’ is a gloomy stop-motion film, depicting worlds of sand, paper, stone and metal. Especially the metal world is well-done, both frightening and fascinating.

There are some comic elements in the acting of the sand man, but the film is neither as funny nor as disturbing as it could be. Part of the problem is the mediocre acting: the sand man’s feelings and thoughts are acted out schematically, more like Fritz the Cat than like post-Disney character animation.

‘Quest’ certainly is interesting, and a very accomplished film for a student film, but in the end Montgomery’s and Stellmach’s tale is too shallow to become a real classic. But that’s only my opinion, because this German short won many prizes, including the Academy Award for best animated short in 1997.

Watch ‘Quest’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Quest’ is available on the The Animation Show of Shows Box Set 5

Director: Peter Shin
Airing Date: March 16, 1996
Stars: Duckman
Rating: ★★★
Review:

With a title as ‘The Mallardian Candidate’ (a nudge to the 1962 film ‘The Manchurian Candidate’) one needn’t wonder that this episode is about conspiracies.

This episode starts with the comedian Iggy Catalpa (see ‘Joking the Chicken‘ and ‘Color of Naught‘) asking Duckman for help in solving a conspiracy theory. Duckman is as clueless as ever, failing to identify criminals even when they surround them dropping clues all over the place. Soon he gets brainwashed and is turned into an automaton with a single killing purpose…

‘The Mallardian Candidate’ fails to play out the conspiracy concept very well. The best parts are Catalpa’s explanation of how his world domination organization works, and the very end of the episode, which in a few seconds shows what’s fundamentally wrong with the concept of conspiracy theories in the first place.

But mostly, the episode plays on Duckman’s mindlessness and uselessness. The parts involving his family are especially painful in that respect. In ‘The Mallardian Candidate’ Duckman is just a caricature, not the more complex persona he can be in other, better episodes.

Watch ‘The Mallardian Candidate’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Duckman episode no. 32
To the previous Duckman episode: The Girls of Route Canal
To the next Duckman episode: Pig Amok

‘The Mallardian Candidate’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Director: Norton Virgien
Airing Date: January 20, 1996
Stars: Duckman
Rating: ★★½
Review:

‘Grandma-ma’s Flatulent Adventure’ for once centers on grandma-ma, the only taciturn member of the family.

After Duckman’s doomed day of caring duty for her, the family decides to take her to a nursing room. Duckman is taking her, but loses his car, with grandma-ma in it, on the way…

‘Grandma-ma’s Flatulent Adventure’ isn’t a very focused episode, and ties different story ideas rather loosely together. It seems to want to say something about our treatment of the elderly, but this is immediately diluted by the rather random nonsense filling the episode. In that respect Grandma-ma’s own adventure is a particular series of nonsensical events.

Highlight, however, is the brief episode in which the family visits three nursing homes, one all too conspicuously called ‘Soylent Green’. Nevertheless, the episode is more interesting for its outlandish staging, with its extreme camera angles and close-ups than for its content. All who are more interested in Duckman’s personal life are treated on some images of his wedding day with the currently deceased Beatrice.

Watch ‘Grandma-ma’s Flatulent Adventure’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Duckman episode no. 25
To the previous Duckman episode: Forbidden Fruit
To the next Duckman episode: Color of Naught

‘Grandma-ma’s Flatulent Adventure’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Director: Michel Ocelot
Release Date:
October 3, 2012
Rating:
 ★★½
Review:

‘Kirikou et les hommes et les femmes’ is the third movie about Kirikou, the brave little infant who lives in some West-African village and who battles the evil witch Karaba.

Like the second movie, ‘Kirikou et les bêtes sauvages’ (2005), but unlike the first movie, the feature consists of five stories, all lasting ca. a quarter of an hour. These stories clearly assume that one is already familiar with the main story, as told in the masterful ‘Kirikou et la Sorcière’ from 1998. They are told by Kirikou’s grandfather, and all take place in Kirikou’s little village or its direct surroundings.

The first story is mainly comical and tells about Kirikou’s mother taking in the stout woman, who’s rather ungrateful, and snores, too. In the second story the old man of the village has disappeared and Kirikou tricks Karaba’s all-seeing fetish on the roof to look for him. The third and fourth story make unwelcome and rather unconvincing leaves from the fairy tale setting of Kirikou’s first film, and suddenly place Kirikou’s village in the real world.

The third story is an all too obvious tale about racism and acceptance, while the fourth is a homage to the art of storytelling. The main problem with this episode is that storytelling itself is rather unfit for cinema, and thus this episode only makes the viewer long for an encounter with a real griot telling you the story of Sundiata Keita, the founder of the Mali empire. The fifth and last story is one about the power of music, in which Kirikou and his friends learn to play some instruments. In this episode Kirikou’s mother turns out to be an excellent flute player meeting gender inequality, as she’s not allowed to play because she is a woman.

All these stories end with the village rejoicing and dancing to the same melody, celebrating Kirikou’s cleverness. Unfortunately, none of these stories is very engaging and certainly not one of these stories comes near the narrative power of ‘Kirikou et la Sorcière’. Much more, by placing Kirikou’s village into the real world, the setting loses a lot of its magic, and in fact it makes Karaba’s presence suddenly absurd. In the end, the film feels superfluous and unnecessary, even unwelcome, spoiling the enchantment of the first film.

What certainly doesn’t help is the switch from traditional animation to 3D computer animation. The film uses a quite unique way of placing 2D designs on 3D characters (a very similar method was developed independently for ‘Couleur de peau: miel’). And, indeed, the makers have succeeded in keeping the ligne claire of the original designs, but nevertheless the 3D animation feels rather poor and remarkably stiff, never coming near the charm of the original hand drawn animation.

Much better than either the animation or the stories themselves are Ocelot’s hand-painted backgrounds, which retain the strange atmosphere of ‘Kirikou et la Sorcière’. Thibault Agyeman’s score is also a delight and makes clever use of traditional African instruments like the kora and balafon.

‘Kirikou et les hommes et les femmes’ is not a bad film, the stories themselves are told well enough. But let’s face it: this is a sequel that adds nothing to the first film and doesn’t do it any service by its unnecessary expansion and unwelcome added realism.

Watch the trailer for ‘Kirikou et les hommes et les femmes’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Kirikou et les hommes et les femmes’ is available on DVD with English subtitles

Director: Keichii Hara
Release Date:
May 9, 2015
Rating:
 ★★½
Review:

Based on a manga from the mid-1980s by Hinako Sugiura ‘Miss Hokusai’ is one of those rare animation films unquestionably directed to an adult audience. The film celebrates Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) and his daughter, fellow artist Katsushika Ōi (ca. 1800-ca. 1866), whose art matches her father’s.

The film is no biopic, however, only spanning a short time, when Ōi is ca. twenty years old. Moreover, the film consists of a multitude of short scenes, mostly seemingly unrelated and hardly building a story. For example, there are two artists romantically interested in Ōi, but this amounts to no romance. Ōi seems vaguely interested in her own sexuality, but also this theme is hardly worked out.

The most substantial story line is that of Ōi’s younger stepsister O-Nao, who is blind, and whom Hokusai refuses to visit. However, there’s no real story arc, and the film fades in and out without much conflict or personal progress. Emotions remain understated throughout, and it’s telling that the film’s most delightful scene involves a boy playing with O-Nao in the snow, a scene in which Ōi hardly takes part.

It doesn’t help that Ōi mostly is a taciturn, frowning, and uninviting character, who rarely smiles. Her father is more colorful, but cold, selfish and equally clammed-up and phlegmatic. Neither of the two is very sympathetic, and the charm of the film lies not particularly with these characters, but with a series of supernatural events related to Hokusai’s art.

The other characters, mostly artists, are too sketchy to be of real interest. To Western viewers Totoya Hokkei, one of Hokusai’s students, is most interesting, for here’s a rare Japanese anime character actually depicted with slit eyes, depicting the epicanthic fold. There’s also a dog, which I guess, is supposed to be some sort of comic relief.

Above all, the film manages to paint a very lively portrait of Edo (19th century Tokyo), especially the busy Nihonbashi bridge, which is rendered beautifully with help of computer animation. This bridge takes a central place in the narrative, and the films starts and ends with it. Hokusai’s famous Great Wave off Kanagawa can also be seen briefly around the 21-minute mark. Computer animation is also used effectively in the scene in which Ōi runs through the nightly streets of Edo.

The traditional animation is fair, but not exceptional, and firmly rooted in Japanese anime traditions. The soundtrack uses very uninteresting modern music and is mostly at odds with the 19th century scenes.

In all, ‘Miss Hokusai’ is too fragmentary, too unfocused, and too bland to entertain. Both Hokusai and Ōi ultimately deserve better.

Watch the trailer for ‘Miss Hokusai’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Miss Hokusai’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

Director: Gert Driessen
Release Date:
October 3, 2012
Rating:
 ★★½
Review:

In this short animation film a man who has recently lost his wife, draws her with chalk on the wall. The chalk wife takes him into her chalk world full of memories.

‘Crayon d’amour’ is a gentle film, but hampered by rather ugly computer animation. The simple, cartoony character design doesn’t really match the 3D animation, nor the far more realistic settings. In fact, the traditional animation of the chalk scenes, not by director Gert Driessen himself, but by Florian de Hoes, Cederic Neven and Olivier vanden Busche, is far more impressive. One certainly wonders why not the whole film was made that way. Nevertheless, the 3D scenes have an attractive color design, consisting mostly of cardboard browns.

Watch ‘Crayon d’amour’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Crayon d’amour’ is available on the DVD ‘Framed – De beste Vlaamse korte animatiefilms 2010-2015’

Directors: Benjamin Renner, Stéphane Aubier & Vincent Patar
Release Date:
May 23, 2012
Rating:
 ★★½
Review:

In a time in which American studio animation has discarded traditional animation practically altogether, only to embrace a rather generic post-Disney 3D computer style (Laika being the notable exception), one must look elsewhere for animation films in a more unique visual style.

In the 21st century France, especially, has emerged as a producer of animation films with an interesting visual style, using traditional means, with films as different as ‘Les Triplettes de Belleville’ (2003), ‘Persepolis’ (2007), ‘Une vie de chat’ (2010) and ‘Le tableau’ (2011) emerging from that country.

One of such films is ‘Ernest & Célestine’, which immediately draws attention with its gentle, children book-like watercolor style. Produced not only in France, but also in Belgium and Luxembourg, ‘Ernest & Célestine’ is based on a children book series by Belgian author Gabrielle Vincent (1928-2000). Vincent’s Ernest & Célestine stories were modest affairs, with the bear and mouse duo singing, picnicking, going to the circus, or celebrating Christmas. But ‘Ernest & Célestine’ the movie is a very different affair, telling a rather Romeo and Juliet-like story of the two heroes bridging two worlds that live in fear of each other. It remains a bit mystifying why producer Didier Brunner didn’t opt for an intimate story, fitting the source material. As such ‘Ernest & Célestine’ could have been a delightfully little film like ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ (1988).

Instead, Brunner asked French writer Daniel Pennac for a scenario. Now, Pennac is best known for his social satire. I’ve read his novel ‘The Scapegoat’ from 1985 and his graphic novel ‘La débauche’ (with Jacques Tardi, 2000) and both combine sharp social criticism with great humor. Yet, Pennac’s urban settings seem miles away from Vincent’s nostalgic worlds, and, indeed, the film doesn’t really bridge those.

In fact, the film’s story is its weakest link, as the film doesn’t entirely succeed in both setting this world and introducing both characters before the main story starts. Pennac makes it over-complicated with little mice gathering the teeth from the bear children, an invention completely superfluous to the main plot. Moreover, as soon as Ernest and Célestine meet each other, the latter suddenly turns into a brave, smart-alecky, rather dominating, and talkative character, something we would never have guessed from the earlier scenes.

It doesn’t help that initially neither she nor Ernest come off as very likable. Ernest, for example is introduced as lazy and well-known to the police, and he absolutely sees no problem in breaking in into somebody else’s cellar. Also, his treatment of Célestine is rude, while Célestine comes over as pushy, popping up rather uninvited in Ernest’s home. Only when the two rescue each other from nightmares, they grow towards each other. But this occurs apparently overnight, and the change isn’t entirely convincing.

Worse, when the story finally comes to the subject of Vincent’s books, with scenes of Ernest & Célestine living together, and having fun together, the film enters still water. Likewise, the finale feels forced and fails to convince. Directors Benjamin Renner, Stéphane Aubier & Vincent Patar (the latter two of ‘A Town Called Panic’ fame) should have known better.

Nevertheless, the film’s message that friendship and understanding can bridge two very different worlds and cultures, is a welcome one, and as said in the intro, ‘Ernest & Célestine’ employs a very pleasant visual style. All background art is painted in watercolors, and the digital coloring of the characters successfully mimics the watercolor style. Moreover, the linework is open, and the edges of the backgrounds dissolve into nothingness, emphasizing the story book feel.

Strikingly, the animation, supervised by Patrick Lambert and done by Les Armateurs and Blue Spirit in France and Studio 352 in Luxembourg, comes across as rather Japanese. Several moves and facial expressions are copied directly from Japanese tropes and are at odds with the European visual style. Indeed, the film makers admit being highly influenced by Ghibli, but unfortunately, story-wise, ‘Ernest & Célestine’ doesn’t reach the Japanese studio’s great heights. This is a pity, for now ‘Ernest & Célestine’ remains a film which is extremely pleasant to look at, but which is also highly frustrating to watch, with its rambling plot, and plodding pace.

Watch the US trailer for ‘Ernest & Célestine’ and tell me what you think:

‘Ernest & Célestine’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

Directors: Fabrice Joubert & Brian Lynch
Release Date: December 8, 2015
Rating: ★★½
Review:

‘Binky Nelson Unpacified’ is the third of three shorts accompanying the Minions feature on its DVD release. Unlike the other two, this short doesn’t star any Minion at all, but focuses instead on the criminal Nelson family the Minions encounter in their feature film.

The short starts with the Nelson just having robbed a museum and returning home. Unfortunately, they’ve left baby Binky’s pacifier at the museum, and the parents tell Binky he has to live with it. But that night, Binky returns to the museum to look for the pacifier, after all.

The best scenes of this comedy short stem from baby Binky’s Mission Impossible-like heist, all done with baby stuff, like diapers, talk powder, and a mobile. Unfortunately, ‘Binky Nelson Unpacified’ is also the most talkative of the three, and Binky’s co-star is a remarkably unfunny night guard with a cowboy hat. Binky quickly gets rid of this night guard, and the film could very well without him.

Watch ‘Binky Nelson Unpacified’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Binky Nelson Unpacified’ is available on the Blu-Ray and DVD of ‘Minions’

Directors: Kyle Balda & Julien Soret
Release Date: December 8, 2015
Rating: ★★½
Review:

‘Competition’, the second of three bonus shorts on the Minions DVDs, is probably the best of the three.

The short takes place in a secret subterranean nuclear lab full of Minions. Two of them suddenly get involved in a series of competitions, resulting in some nuclear blasts (which the two survive).

The film is pretty nonsensical, but fast, with the competition between the two Minions escalating quickly. The short also has the best visual punchline of the three.

Watch ‘Competition’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Competition’ is available on the Blu-Ray and DVD of ‘Minions’

Director: Mark Osborne
Release Date: May 22, 2015
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s ‘Le petit prince’ (The Little Prince) is arguably France’s most beloved children’s book, so it’s no surprise that it would be made into a film someday. Surprisingly, it was the American filmmaker Mark Osborne (co-director of ‘Kung Fu Panda’) to take up the glove. His script, however, is entirely original, and builds around the classic booklet, and is not a direct interpretation of it.

Parts of the original story are still present in the final film, and these fragments without doubt form the visual highlights of the entire movie: these passages are done in a very charming stop-motion style, convincingly capturing Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s illustration style. However, the story of the little prince is interwoven with Osborne’s framing story, and in itself quite hard to follow, especially if you have not read the book yourself. In fact, the surrounding story is more entertaining than these excerpts from the book. Even worse, it takes 17 minutes before this story starts, and half way the movie the contents of Saint-Exupéry’s book are finished, leaving a staggering 49 minutes of original material still to come.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s little book deals with what it means to grow up, and with loss, and Osborne’s surrounding story tries to expand on that idea. This story arc is told in computer animation, and set in a caricature of our world, in which ca. everything is square, including the trees. The opening shots of this world, a bird-eyed view of the city, which looks like a print board in its extreme regularity, form a great introduction to the story. In this world every citizen thrives to be essential, including the nameless little girl, who stars this film, and her mother. For example, the Werth Academy, the school the little girl aspires to attend is covered with posters stating ‘What do you want to be when you grow up? Essential’.

As the girl’s first attempt to attend this school misfires, the mother conceives a new plan that includes moving into a proper neighborhood (one of those ultra-square blocks) and a whole vacation period of intense study for the little girl, laid out in a depressingly detailed planning board. But then it appears their house neighbor is the only oddball in this conformist world: an old man, who lives in an old, cranky house, and whose life is devoted to fantasy and child’s play.
It’s this old man who tells the little girl about the little prince (in fact he’s the pilot from the story, ignoring the fact that the real pilot, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry himself, died prematurely in a plane crash). Thus the old man draws the little girl into his magical world, allowing her to be a child again, instead of a miniature version of an adult.

Now, this is all very well, and the film’s messages that it’s important to recognize what’s important in life (no, it’s not money), and to accept that to love means to lose, is sympathetic, but this, alas, does not make ‘The Little Prince’ a good movie.

As said, the storytelling is erratic, with the passages of ‘The Little Prince’ sensu stricto being dispersed too fragmentary to entertain themselves, and the film’s messages are stated way too clearly, making the film heavy-handed. Moreover, after the story is finished the film devotes much screen time to a very long dream sequence in which the little girl rediscovers the little prince in adult form on a bureaucratic little planet. At this point the film lost me completely, for nothing in this sequence has a grain of the little book’s original charm. Instead, it only seems to destroy it. This is not a very respectful way to treat the original material.

But even without the dream sequence the film is overlong. It plods on with a frustratingly relaxed speed, and knows no surprises. Even then, the final roundup feels rushed, too open, and unconvincing. After all, the little girl herself may have changed, but the rest of the world is the same dull square conformist place it had been before…

The computer animation, done in Canada, is fair to excellent, and the rendering is okay, if not living up to contemporary American standards. I particularly enjoyed the animation of the stuffed fox. As said, the world building is excellent in this film, with its over-the-top squareness. The human designs, on the other hand, are pretty generic, and betray little originality. In fact, the beautiful passages of stop-motion based on De Saint-Exupéry’s drawing style make one regret that the film makers didn’t dare to make the whole film in this much more daring and more interesting visual style. The soundtrack is notable for some period songs, like ‘Boum!’ (1938) by Charles Trenet, and a lovely new song by French singer Camille called ‘Suis-moi’ (Follow Me).

In all, ‘The Little Prince’ is a charming film with some sympathetic messages, but it’s also highly uneven and overlong and could have done with some severe editing and more daring choices. Moreover, one can ask whether this film does the original book the justice it deserves. I, at least, would have preferred a short based on the scenes from the book itself, and done solely in stop-motion, for, without doubt these images are the most gorgeous of the entire film.

Watch the trailer for ‘The Little Prince’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Little Prince’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

Director: Phil Mulloy
Release Date:
1995
Rating:
★★½

‘Thou Shalt Not Commit Blasphemy’ is Phil Mulloy’s personal take on the Noah story. The result is a rather puzzling film with an unclear message.

The story tells about a man who steals a cross from a church and replaces it with a toy boat. He’s caught by his fellow villagers, and condemned to death by being burnt at a stake. But God intervenes, causing a flood, only rescuing the man and his family.

Unlike most of the Ten Commandments films ‘Thou Shalt Not Commit Blasphemy’ does not feature a voice over, but contains a little dialogue instead, in sped-up voice tracks. Like ‘Thou Shalt Not Adore False Gods‘ and ‘Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness‘ this short features an active and visible God. But Mulloy’s depiction of God is pretty blasphemous by all means…

‘Thou Shalt Not Commit Blasphemy’ is available on the BFI DVD ‘Phil Mulloy – Extreme Animation’

Director: Phil Mulloy
Release Date: 1995
Rating: ★★½

‘Thou Shalt Not Adore False Gods’ is number one of Phil Mulloy’s Ten Commandments films, even though it was not the first one made. This episode has a particularly bizarre story that makes little sense.

The short features one of Mulloy’s standard cowboys, who’s robbed by a burglar, and tied to chair in front of his piano. No-one ever releases him, but over the years he learns to play the piano with his nose.

Unlike most of the Ten Commandment films this short contains neither a voice over nor dialogue, apart from a few short cries. God himself is visible in this cartoon, being portrayed as a selfish and vain creature.

‘Thou Shalt Not Adore False Gods’ is available on the BFI DVD ‘Phil Mulloy – Extreme Animation’

Director: Petra Freeman
Release Date: 1994
Rating: ★★½
Review:

‘Jumping Joan’ is a dreamlike short about a girl who seems able to jump inside and outside reality.

The narrative is set around a house in the countryside, next to a forest and a river. Petra Freedman’s images are poetic and intriguing, but also very vague and incomprehensible. If there’s a story to this film I couldn’t detect it. What remains are the soft painted images of the girl moving through a garden and other-wordly places, meeting spirits of the earth, the wood and the sky, or so it seems.

The film turns particularly puzzling when the little girl drops two bunny-like creatures from under her skirt, which dance with a blue spirit, living inside a hollow tree, while the girl seems to change into some electrical firework(?) What this all might mean, remains an utter mystery to me.

Petra Freeman’s drawing style is soft, and a little spiritual. Her animation style is a bit slow, but very imaginative, and she uses a fair amount of metamorphosis to tell her story. The film is dominated by earthly reds and blacks, and the dreamlike atmosphere is greatly enhanced by the sound design, which uses strange sounds, and very little music.

Watch ‘Jumping Joan’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Jumping Joan’ is available on the DVD ‘The Best of British Animation Awards 1’

Directors: Mike Gabriel & Eric Goldberg
Release Date: June 23, 1995
Rating: ★★½
Review:

In the early nineties the Walt Disney studio was on a roll. Since 1989’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ all its features met with both critical acclaim and huge box office successes. Especially, the studio’s previous film, ‘The Lion King’ (1994) rather unexpectedly broke all box office records, being the highest-grossing motion picture of all time until ‘Finding Nemo’ came along in 2003.

Thus, not surprisingly, the expectations were high for Disney’s next feature, ‘Pocahontas’, only to be followed by a huge letdown, even though the feature did rather well at the box office. ‘Pocahontas’ fails in almost every aspect Disney’s previous features succeeded: the film lacks an engaging story, interesting protagonists, a threatening villain, appealing sidekicks, inspired humor or great songs. Of course, being a Disney film, the film’s animation is outstanding, and so is the film’s design, but that’s unfortunately not enough to rescue a film that collapses under its own pretentiousness.

The film is very, very loosely based on the historical John Smith’s accounts of Pocahontas (ca. 1596-1617), and is terribly unhistorical in almost every aspect. Worse, the film is saturated by political correctness to a fault, and can count as a document of historical revisionism. The film tries very, very hard to portray the native Americans as real people, but nevertheless falls into the trap of the ‘noble savage’, reinforcing the myth that native Americans were living in more harmony with nature than Europeans ever did. Of course, the coming of the Europeans was a tragedy to the native Americans, as it started their demise (only a mere handful of the Tsenacommacah, the tribe depicted, still survive today), and it is practically impossible to make a positive film, let alone an uplifting Disney musical, out of such subject matter. In that respect the film was doomed from the outset.

The film starts In London with governor Ratcliffe (1549-1609) wanting to explore the new world to regain status at the court of king James I. We watch Ratcliffe establish Jamestown , and in the finale of the film Ratcliffe is overthrown by his own men, a very unlikely event, by all means (in reality Ratcliffe was killed in an ambush by members of the Pamunkey tribe). While in Virginia Ratcliffe is obsessed with gold only, regarding the native inhabitants as mere pests.

The misunderstanding between the Tsenacommacah and the British almost leads to war, while the love between Pocahontas and John Smith shows that this does not need to be so. The film is one large advertisement for mutual understanding. A welcome message, for sure, but delivered with heavy-handedness and aplomb. In fact, the rather hippie-like message of love conquers all has been stale since 1970, and is in fact rather painful considering the real events following the establishment of the British colony in Virginia.

Additionally, the film suffers from dire dialogue, and an all too obvious emphasis on delivering its message. Most of the movie progresses slowly and sentimentally. What doesn’t help is the uneasy mix between the serious clashes between the human groups, and the fluffy child’s world of the animal sidekicks. Perhaps the film’s best scene is the final one, in which, against all rules of Disney logic, Pocahontas and John Smith part, never to be reunited again…

Part of the movie’s problems are the leads themselves. Admittedly, star animator Glen Keane has animated Pocahontas very well – especially the scenes just prior the first meeting between her and John Smith are outstanding. However, Pocahontas is presented as a brave, mature and independent woman, which contrasts highly with her childish animal friends, and, to be frank, with her rather irresponsible behavior. Moreover, she has very little to do with the historical Pocahontas, who converted to Christianity, while the movie Pocahontas practically converts John Smith to animalism, in a historically very, very unlikely sequence. Even worse, the real Pocahontas later married a planter, and died already at the tender age of 21. These facts are hard to bear when looking at the stout and proud woman Pocahontas is in the Disney film.

Yet, Pocahontas fares much better than her lover John Smith, Unlike Pocahontas, it’s pretty hard to love John Smith, who’s presented as a fearless and almost flawless hero from the outset. John Smith is surprisingly blasé, and pretty vain, too. In fact, in a way Smith has more in common with Gaston from ‘Beauty and the Beast’ than the animators would be willing to admit, and there’s nothing really interesting about him. In fact, Smith remains a remarkably blank character, having a bland design and a weak story arc, typified with the song ‘Savages’, in which Pocahontas teaches him a lesson on the subject of ‘savages’, the worst of the all too clear messages of political correctness in the film. Animator John Pomeroy must have had a hard time breathing some life into this dull character.

More interesting characters are Pocahontas’ friend Nakoma, who, to me, has actually a more appealing character design than Pocahontas herself has, and her father, Chief Powhatan, who arguably is the best designed character in the whole movie. These two Indians are more interesting than all Europeans. Best of these is Thomas, a youngster that is so clumsy he would have died within months in the real world. Governor Ratcliffe is a very unhistorical character, who looks more Spanish than British, and who is foolish enough to try to dig up gold at a random shore. In the 17th century they certainly knew better than that. Ratcliffe is a rather poor excuse for a villain: he’s more vain than scary, and at no point a real threat to anyone, as is proven by the film’s finale. He’s accompanied by a servant called Wiggins, who provides the only convincing comic relief in this all too serious film.

Wiggins certainly is more tolerable than the three animal characters, the overtly cute raccoon Meeko, ditto hummingbird Flit, and Ratcliffe’s pet pug Percy. The three steal considerable screen time, they have their own subplot of enemies befriending each other, and are completely out of tune with the serious subject of clash of civilizations, and threat of war. By the time ‘Pocahontas’ was released, one got the impression that ‘animal sidekicks’ were obligate additions to the rule book of Disney feature film making, a feeling that was corroborated by ‘Mulan’ (1998), in which the animal sidekicks (a dragon and a cricket for God’s sake!) were even more outlandish and superfluous.

Yet, the worst character in the whole movie is Grandmother Willow, a talking tree. Apart from the fact that she’s brought alive by dated computer animation, this is a concept that even in a world full of spirits I will not buy. Grandmother Willow is such an outlandish, unbelievable character, she hampers the whole movie, and makes it very, very difficult indeed, to take the more realistic events seriously. Someone should have vetoed her presence early in the conceptualization of the story.

The soundtrack isn’t of any help either. The songs are by composer Alan Menken, who provided the hit songs for ‘The Little Mermaid’ (1989), ‘Beauty and the Beast’ (1991) and ‘Aladdin’ (1992). Not one of the songs in ‘Pocahontas’, however, reaches these heights. Instead, we are treated by very generic and surprisingly forgettable nineties-musical songs. What certainly doesn’t help are the trite lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, which suffer from the same political correctness as the rest of the movie. The ‘Savages’ song forms the low point of the film in that respect.

No, the film’s unquestionably strongest point is its design, and it’s art director Michael Giaimo and artistic coordinator Don Hansen who should be praised most. More than any other Disney film of the Disney renaissance ‘Pocahontas’ looks back to the stylized designs of the late 1950s. For example, the film starts with a 1607 scene that is very reminiscent of the London scene in ‘The Truth About Mother Goose’ (1957), while in the rest of the film the background art, supervised by Cristy Maltese, is a straight echo of Eyvind Earle’s artwork for ‘Sleeping Beauty’ (1959), including square trees. The human designs, too, are more angular than ever, even to a fault, rendering some of the characters stiff and unappealing, especially some of the Indians, who at times look like technical art school drawings instead of living humans.

In fact, the film is most interesting for its outstanding color design, which with its grand greens, blues and purples is comparable to the best of ‘Fantasia’ (1940) and ‘Sleeping Beauty’, and one must admit that ‘Pocahontas’ certainly is a film worth looking at, if not necessarily one to watch. Indeed, I believe ‘Pocahontas’ will be remembered for its design elements, a clear product of the animation renaissance, especially as an early product of the school that looked back to the cartoon modern age (ca. 1948-1965), as exemplified by several television series from Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network from the second half of the nineties, which were, not surprisingly, often made by former CalArts students of Giaimo.

Watch the trailer for ‘Pocahontas’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Pocahontas’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

Director: John Eng
Airing Date: March 25, 1995
Stars: Duckman
Rating: ★★½
Review:

In this mediocre Duckman episode a guy named Milo, owner of a rehab clinic for the rich and famous, asks the help of Duckman to find out who wants to murder him.

Unfortunately, the man is killed even before Duckman can start the case. But Duckman isn’t focused anyway, and it’s up to Cornfed to solve the murder mystery, while Duckman gets ravingly mad in rehab.

Duckman behaves more cartoony than ever in this episode, and his hallucinatory ride in which he has visions of food and women forms the highlight of the cartoon. But he’s playing second base this time, for much screen-time is devoted to his assistant Cornfed at his most serious. There’s also some random violence by Duckman on his cutesy-wootsy assistants Fluffy and Uranus.

Watch ‘Days of Whining and Neurosis’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Duckman episode no. 16
To the previous Duckman episode: Married Alive
To the next Duckman episode: Inherit the Judgement: The Dope’s Trial

‘Days of Whining and Neurosis’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,111 other followers

Bookmark and Share

Follow TheGrob on Twitter

Categories