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

Director: William Joyce
Release Date: January 30, 2011
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

In ‘The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore’ a young man is swept away by a storm to an unknown land where he come to live in a mansion full of living books.

‘The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore’ is a gentle, wordless film that seems to want to say something about the magic of books, and that reading good books will lead to more reading, and a lifetime of adventure.

The short is full of references. The young man himself looks a little like Buster Keaton, while the storm scene is a direct visual quote from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ (1939). Like that film ‘The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore’ plays with color and black and white, this time to illustrate how books can color your life.

‘The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore’ is well made, and makes good use of the animated medium to tell a fantastic story, but the art design is, to be frank, very conventional and unadventurous, and the story rather puzzling, which actually hampers the message. Moreover, John Hunton’s music, with its ‘pop goes the weasel’ theme is a bit obnoxious and very in your face. Many critics clearly think otherwise, as ‘The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore’ won the Academy Award for best animated short of 2011.

Watch ‘The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore’ is available on the DVD box set ‘The Animation Show of Shows Box Set 7’

Airing Date: December 18, 1996

Spacecase

Directors: Paul Rudish & Genndy Tartakovsky
Stars: Dexter
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

This episode starts with Dexter activating an alien communicator.

Almost immediately he gets a visit of three aliens in a flying saucer. Unfortunately, they’re mostly interested in taking Dexter with them for further examination, but Dexter manages to send Dee Dee with them, instead. First he enjoys the bliss of her absence, but before soon remorse kicks in.

The scenes in which Dexter is taking in by guilt are a great echo of other guilt-cartoons like ‘Pudgy Picks a Fight‘ (1937) or ‘Donald’s Crime’ (1945). Also very entertaining is the heroic sequence in which Dexter ascends his space ship, which borrows elements from both Battlestar Galactica and Star Wars.

The Justice Friends: Ratman

Director: Genndy Tartakovsky
Stars: The Justice Friends
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

In this episode Krunk and Valhallen clog the toilet, so they have to go down in the basement to fix things. But something is lurking there.

‘The Justice Friends: Ratman’ is pretty silly, and overtly tongue-in-cheek, but also all too talkative. I’m not sure about the addition of the laughing track, which does add to the corniness, but which is also pretty annoying itself. Best is Tartakovsky’s staging, with the Justice Friends frequently taking dramatic poses.

Dexter’s Debt

Director: Genndy Tartakovsky
Stars: Dexter
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

In ‘Dexter’s Debt’ Dexter gets confronted by a bill from NASA of 200 million dollars.

Dexter’s attempts to raise the money are feeble, indeed, and what’s worse, Dee Dee outdoes him every time. ‘Dexter’s Debt’ greatly plays on the relationship between brother and sister, while both Dexter’s mom and dad get more screenplay than usual. Highlight, however, is the entrance of the two NASA men.

‘Spacecase/The Justice Friends: Ratman/Dexter’s Debt’ is available on the DVD ‘Dexter’s Laboratory Season One: All 13 Episodes’

Airing Date: November 20, 1996

The first season of Dexter’s Laboratory took a five month hiatus, only to reappear on the screen in November for another seven episodes. ‘Star Spangled Sidekicks etc.’ is the first of these, and the most obvious change is that Dial M for Monkey has been replaced by The Justice Friends, which are introduced in this episode.

Star Spangled Sidekicks

Director: Genndy Tartakovsky
Stars: Dexter, Major Glory
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

‘Star Spangled Sidekicks’ opens with an episode of Major Glory beating the evil Doctor Diablos. When Major Glory wins the day we cut to Dexter and Dee Dee watching the show on television dressed in Major Glory fanwear.

When Major Glory announces he will recruit a new sidekick at the local mall, both sister and brother apply. Dexter, of course, has the most advanced suit, but it’s Dee Dee who wins the superhero’s heart.

‘Star Spangled Sidekicks’ treats Dee Dee and Dexter as real children and greatly blends fantasy and reality. Highlight is Dexter’s pompous speech in which he declares his aim to become Major Glory’s sidekick.

The Justice Friends: TV Super Pals

Directors: Craig McCracken & Genndy Tartakovsky
Stars: Justice Friends
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

‘The Justice Friends’ were the successors to ‘Dial M for Monkey’ as the bridging episode of the ‘Dexter’s Laboratory’ series. The Justice Friends were first introduced in the Dial M for Monkey episode ‘Huntor‘ and consist of the Captain America-like Major Glory, the purple Incredible Hulk-like the Infraggable Krunk and the Thor-like Valhallen, who looks like a longhaired metalhead. The premise of these bridging sequences is that the three superheroes have to “face the challenges of every day life”.

Their first episode opens with Major Glory defeating a Joker-like “disgruntled postman’, while Valhallen confronts a Minotaur villain, and Krunk tries to rescue a kitten from a tree. But they all have to go home to watch their favorite program on tv by half past five. Unfortunately, they all want to watch a different program.

Highlight of the show is ‘Puppet Pals’, the incredibly lame show Krunk wants to watch. ‘Puppet Pals’ stars two muppets that tell corny jokes, which all end in the two clobbering each other.

Game Over

Directors: Craig McCracken & Genndy Tartakovsky
Stars: Dexter
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

‘Game Over’ opens with Dexter and Dee Dee playing a computer game called ‘primal fighter’, which Dee Dee wins. But then Dexter gets an old computer game called ‘Master Computer’ from his dad…

‘Game Over’ is one of the most inspired of all Dexter’s Laboratory episodes. It’s chock full references to computer games and films, including Pac Man, Tron and Star Wars, while showing the development computer games had made in the past fifteen years. At the same time it plays nicely on the competitive brother-and-sister relationship between Dexter and Dee Dee. Rarely the genre of cyperpunk was such much fun.

‘Star Spangled Sidekicks/The Justice Friends: TV Super Pals/Game Over’ is available on the DVD ‘Dexter’s Laboratory Season One: All 13 Episodes’

Director: Jan Švankmajer
Release Date: August 1996
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Although the move from animation to live action clearly was a gradual one (after all, ‘Alice‘ contained quite a bit of live action, while ‘Faust‘ was a live action film augmented with puppetry and animation), ‘Spiklenci slasti’ (Conspirators of Pleasure) can be regarded Jan Švankmajer’s first non-animated film, even if it stills contains a few bits of stop-motion and pixilation.

The change of technique doesn’t mean a change of style, however. The film is 100% Švankmajer throughout, with its complete lack of dialogue, its sound design (which is very reminiscent of that of animated films, indeed, with its emphatic sounds – we even hear the nonexistent sound of blinking of eyes), its idiosyncratic use of music (each individual has his/her own accompanying piece of music), its extreme close-ups, its sets of old buildings in a state of decay, and of course, a high dose of surrealism.

‘Spiklenci slasti (Conspirators of Pleasure)’ is an erotic film without sex. The titles are shown on a background of 18th century pornography, but the movie itself contains very little nudity, which is male only.

Main protagonist of the film is an unnamed bearded bachelor (played by Petr Meissel and identified as Mr. Pivoňka by Švankmajer). The film starts with him buying a sex magazine, but soon the magazine makes way for far more disturbing and puzzling acts of pleasure, involving a cupboard and a chicken. Mr. Pivoňka’s antics are interlaced with that of a postwoman, a mustached man, his lonely and abandoned wife, who’s a newsreader (Anna Wetlinská, who really was a newsreader), and the shop owner from the first scene, who’s secretly in love with Anna Wetlinská, and who builds an elaborate contraption around the television set she appears on.

The first 45 minutes are one big build-up to the pleasure acts themselves, and this is the most satisfying part of the film, because Švankmajer keeps the viewer puzzled where all the efforts of these people go to. Unfortunately, the acts of pleasure themselves are less compelling, as they’re not necessarily perverse as well as weird, and maybe this section is a bit overlong.

The shopkeeper’s machine is the absolute highlight, but the postwoman’s actions are absolutely grotesque, and that of Mr. Pivoňka and his neighbor, Mrs. Loubalová, sadomachistic, very violent and even morbid. Their acts involve the most animation, as their acts involve animated stuff dolls coming to life. But by now one could argue that the animation is more of a special effect than an element of style, although the pixilation still is used as a mean of surrealist story telling.

As the film comes to a finale, the boundary between reality and fantasy gets crossed. Anna Wetlinská seemingly takes over the shopkeeper’s machine, and comes to a climax herself. In the end the people’s fetishes get mixed, while Mr. Pivoňka’s mysterious ritual appears to have severe real life consequences indeed…

Nevertheless, one would like to know more about the postwoman and her incomprehensible rituals, as she seems to be some kind of facilitator of the desires of others. Also Anna Wetlinská’s bad marriage deserved a little bit more attention.

‘Conspirators of Pleasure’ is a very original and entertaining movie, but the film remains on the shallow side and lacks the layered surrealism of ‘Alice’ or ‘Faust’.

Watch the trailer for ‘Conspirators of Pleasure’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Conspirators of Pleasure’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

Director: Craig Welch
Release Date: 1996
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

In ‘How Wings Are Attached to the Backs of Angels’ Craig Welch combines traditional animation, cut-out animation and pixilation to tell a puzzling but ominous tale about a man obsessed with contraptions and redesigning humans into angels. In one of his contraptions he attaches wing bones to a skeleton, but then a real woman (the pixilated actress Louise Leroux) appears…

Most disturbing is the scene in which the man caresses the woman’s shoulder blades, imaging their inner workings. The discomfort is enhanced by the use of a real woman. Welch’s cinematic style seems to be influenced by that of Raoul Servais and Terry Gilliam, and shares a high level of surrealism with these celebrated film makers. The animator certainly knows how to show and don’t tell; his film retains a morbid atmosphere throughout, all by suggestion and by clever cutting.

Watch ‘How Wings Are Attached to the Backs of Angels’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘How Wings Are Attached to the Backs of Angels’ is available on the DVD ‘Desire & Sexuality – Animating the Unconscious Vol.2’

Directors: Donovan Cook & Bob Hatchcock
Airing Date: July 6, 1996
Stars: Duckman
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

The final episode of season three sees the return of Duckman’s arch nemesis King Chicken, not seen since ‘Color of Naught‘, episode four from the same season.

This time King Chicken is not behind some evil scheme, but simply turns out to be the father of Tammy, Ajax’s new girlfriend, whom Duckman, Aunt Bernice and Ajax are visiting one night. During the episode we never see Tammy, but the visit turns out to be surprisingly interesting.

For this finale episode the creative team once again returned to comedy based on the personas and their mutual relationships, and the result is rewarding. The awkward visit proves to be much more interesting than mindless absurdism of the previous two episodes. The team even manages to make the ending a particularly poignant one, ending the series on a surprisingly emotional tone, at a time I thought they were forgotten how to do that.

Watch ‘Cock Tales for Four’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Duckman episode no. 42
To the previous Duckman episode: The Amazing Colossal Duckman
To the next Duckman episode: Dammit, Hollywood

‘Cock Tales for Four’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Director: Henry Selick
Release Date: April 12, 1996
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Based on the children’s book by Roald Dahl from 1961 ‘James and the Giant Peach’ is, in fact, a hybrid, starting and ending as a live action movie, with the middle forty minutes (ca. half the movie) being done entirely in stop-motion.

The opening scenes set ‘James and the Giant Peach’ as one of the great fantasy films of the nineties. The sets and atmosphere are magical and dreamlike, with no attempt at reality. James’s horrific aunts, too, are grotesque and deeply rooted in caricature. They are excellently played by British actresses Miriam Margolyes and Joanna Lumley, who are allowed to play their personas as broadly as possible. Young James, in contrast, remains perfectly normal, and Paul Terry’s performance is on the brink of boring.

Despite the great opening scenes, the real fun starts when James descends into the giant peach. During this scene he transforms into his puppet self, and inside he meets a sextet of giant ‘insects’ (in fact, three of them are insects, the others being a myriapod, an arachnid and an annelid), with whom he decides to fly to New York, cleverly using sea gulls to propel the peach into the air.

Except for the all too bland glowworm, the arthropods are delightful characters: there is a very American sounding boastful and bragging centipede (Richard Dreyfuss), a motherly ladybug (Jane Leeves), an aristocratic and knowledgeable grasshopper (Simon Callow), an anxious and gloomy earth worm (David Thewlis), and a femme fatale-like but friendly French female spider (Susan Sarandon). The design of these is less eccentric than that of the protagonists in ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’, but still have some freaky touches, most notably Miss. Spider’s eyes, which each consist of two yellow eyeballs. Moreover, they all have the correct number of legs, with Miss Spider’s eight legs all ending in elegant boots. The animation, too, retains some creepy-crawly quality, and Miss Spider remains a little scary, despite her friendliness.

The voice cast is excellent, and most of the humor originates from the interplay between these characters, but there is plenty of action anyway, with the bugs having to battle a mechanical shark, defend themselves against a ghost ship, and fight starvation.

Unfortunately, after 59 minutes we return to live action, when James and his friends land in New York. True, this New York remains a fantasy-product, with very stagy and crooked sets, but lasting a staggering 30 minutes this finale turns out to be overlong and weak. It does not really help that the film makers decide to make the aunts survive the crushing of their car and to follow James into New York, an idea not in the book. Believability is certainly breached in these scenes, because of the fake character of the sets, some wooden action of the crowds, and the strange interplay between the grotesque aunts and the more down-played Americans. Moreover, the insects are mostly absent from these scenes, which only show that young actor Paul Terry cannot carry these scenes on his own, which seem to drag without inspiration.

Another letdown of this film are the four songs by Randy Newman. All four are weak and forgettable. Even worse, they are clearly superfluous, and they threaten to stall the action instead of helping the story forward. Luckily, there are only four of them, making ‘James and the Giant Peach’ much more tolerable as a film than ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ was, but nevertheless I regard this film yet another victim of the unwritten rule that every animation film should be a musical, which was prevalent in the 1980s and 1990s.

The overlong finale and unwelcome songs prevent ‘James and the Giant Peach’ to become an all-time classic, and certainly it was not well received back then, becoming a box office bomb. With this the short Disney adventure into stop motion ended. This is pity because the stop motion animation is excellent and delightful to watch throughout.

There is also a fair deal of computer animation, surprisingly executed by Sony Pictures Image works, who did an excellent job on the rhinoceros, some dancing clouds, and the mechanical shark. The latter, especially, is a great piece of computer animation, as it blends surprisingly well with the stop-motion and never loses its fantastical character.

Disney thus may have stopped making stop motion films, but both Tim Burton and Henry Selick continued to follow this path, with Tim Burton making ‘Corpse Bride’ in 2005 and ‘Frankenweenie’ (again for Disney) in 2012, while Henry Selick joined Will Vinton’s LAIKA studio in 2005 to make the widely acclaimed ‘Coraline’ (2009).

Watch the trailer for ‘James and the Giant Peach’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘James and the Giant Peach’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

Airing Date: May 4, 1996

Dexter Dodgeball

Directors: Craig McCracken & Genndy Tartakovsky
Stars: Dexter, Dee Dee
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

In ‘Dexter Dodgeball’ Dexter gets a substitute coach at school, who doesn’t care for the boy’s excuse note to excuse him from gym class. Instead, Dexter is forced to ‘play’ dodgeball every day of the week, which means he’s bombarded by bullies every day of the week. But then next week Dexter takes revenge…

The substitute coach is a direct echo from similar personas in Ren & Stimpy, while the scenes of Dexter’s Revenge have clear mecha anime influences. Like many other episodes of Dexter’s Laboratory the episode ends rather abruptly and a bit cornily.

Dial M for Monkey: Rasslor

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

In ‘Dial M for Monkey: Rasslor’ an alien wrestler called Rasslor challenges all earth’s superheroes to combat him. If they lose, he will destroy the Earth.

Rasslor is voiced by real wrestler Randy Savage (1952-2011), but more interestingly, this episode introduces the Justice Friends, which eventually would replace Dial M for Monkey as bridging parts of Dexter’s Laboratory episodes. Thus we can already see the Captain American-like Major Glory, the Thor-like Valhallen and, yet unnamed, the Hulk-like Krunk, as well as numerous other superheroes. None of these manages to beat Rasslor, and the alien wrestler refuses to combat Monkey…

The result is one of the more enjoyable Dial M for Monkey episodes, even if the speed drops as soon Monkey enters the stage.

Dexter’s Assistant

Directors: John McIntyre & Genndy Tartakovsky
Stars: Dexter, Dee Dee
Rating: ★★★
Review:

In ‘Dexter’s Assistant’ Dexter conducts an experiment in which he needs somebody to press a button at the bottom, while he is on top of a giant machine. Because Dee Dee clearly isn’t able to do the job, he makes an assistant out of his sister by replacing her tiny brain for a giant one…

This is a fun episode, but it unfortunately has a rather predictable story line, and as often in this series, it ends rather inconclusively. The best scene may be that of Dexter with long hair, courtesy of Dee Dee’s hair lotion invention.

‘Dexter Dodgeball/Dial M for Monkey: Rasslor/Dexter’s Assistant’ is available on the DVD ‘Dexter’s Laboratory Season One: All 13 Episodes’

Director: Genndy Tartakovsky
Airing Date: March 10, 1996 & June 2, 1996
Stars: Dexter, Dee Dee
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

The Big Sister’ is the second of four pilot episodes of ‘Dexter’s Laboratory’ that appeared on Cartoon Network before the official series was launched. ‘The Big Sister’ then would reappear as the third part of the sixth episode.

This sequence starts with the zoom into Dexter’s lab that was later reused to start the end titles. In these we follow a smell that turns out to be from chocolate chip cookies made by Dexter for his laboratory rats. Of course, Dee Dee wants one, too, but the cookies contain secret formula X27, which turns Dee Dee into a giantess, rampaging the city. It’s up to Dexter to save the world!

This episode contains nice references to both King Kong and Japanese mecha films. The episode clearly borrows from the mecha anime visual style, something that would permeate the complete Dexter’s Laboratory series, blending surprisingly well with the 1950s cartoon modern style to create something new and fresh. Nevertheless, highlight of this episode is when Dexter’s fantasy runs away with him.

Watch ‘The Big Sister’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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

Director: Jeff McGrath
Airing Date: April 6, 1996
Stars: Duckman
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Pig Amok’ starts at a funeral, where Duckman gives a highly inappropriate speech. But this is topped by the late-arriving Cornfed, whose behavior is puzzling, to say the least. More or less forced by his family Duckman sets out to help his friend…

For animation lovers ‘Pig Amok’ has much to offer: this episode contains some wild takes on Cornfed when he bursts into wild convulsions, as well as a beautiful piece of surprisingly independent looking metamorphosis animation when Cornfed swoons. Also entertaining is ‘Cornfed’s Problem’, the documentary Cornfed shows on VHS, which shows his ancestors inserted in black and white photographs.

Watch ‘Pig Amok’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Duckman episode no. 33
To the previous Duckman episode: The Mallardian Candidate
To the next Duckman episode: The Once and Future Duck

‘Pig Amok’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Director: Peter Avanzino
Airing Date: February 17, 1996
Stars: Duckman
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

In ‘A Room with a Bellevue’ Duckman suffers from the daily annoyances, like traffic jams and unhelpful services, making this episode akin to the live action feature ‘Falling Down’ from 1993. But instead of going rampant, Duckman ends up in an asylum, which turns out to be an oasis of peace and relaxation for him.

‘A Room with a Bellevue’ is a particularly talkative Duckman episode, containing two very long rants by Duckman himself. However, there’s also a rare occasion of an animated background when Duckman wanders through the asylum. Highlight, however, are Cornfed’s bizarre escape plan and Duckman’s transformation after electroshock treatment.

Watch ‘A Room with a Bellevue’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Duckman episode no. 28
To the previous Duckman episode: Sperms of Endearment
To the next Duckman episode: Apocalypse Not

‘Sperms of Endearment’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Director: Jeff McGrath
Airing Date: February 10, 1996
Stars: Duckman
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

‘Sperms of Endearment’ is one of the deeper Duckman episodes, this time revolving around Aunt Bernice, instead of Duckman. Cornfed’s presence is even reduced to just a short cameo, and only because, as he tells us, it says in his contract he should appear in every episode.

In ‘Sperms of Endearment’ a little girl triggers Aunt Bernice’s child wish, and after some bad dating experiences, she turns to a sperm bank, run by Terry Duke Tetzloff, the sleezy salesman from ‘Cellar Beware‘ and ‘Grandma-ma’s Flatulent Adventure‘. But with whose sperm will she be inseminated?

Highlights of this episode include little Suzie, Tezloff’s supposed daughter, and Aunt Bernice’s romantic daydreams of her with the insemination tube.

Watch ‘Sperms of Endearment’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Duckman episode no. 27
To the previous Duckman episode: Color of Naught
To the next Duckman episode: A Room with a Bellevue

‘Sperms of Endearment’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Director: Raymie Muzquiz
Airing Date: January 6, 1996
Stars: Duckman
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

The third season of Duckman opens with an obvious film noir parody filmed in black and white.

It starts with a shot of a drunken Cornfed walking the rainy streets followed by Cornfed’s voice over in a confession to a priest. Cornfed’s voice over alone is full of film noir tropes.

Cornfed’s story involves a Veronica Lake-like “dame” called Tamara La Boinque, who turns the two partners Duckman and Cornfed into rivals. Duckman and Cornfed (in trenchcoats) visit the Casablanca-like nightclub in which she works, where they encounter caricatures of Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet and Humphrey Bogart in their roles in that particular film. When Cornfed unmasks Tamara he throws in references to several other film noir titles.

This episode only features regular stars Duckman and Cornfed. Unfortunately, the comedy relies too heavily on parody, and the episode’s story in itself is hardly interesting. One even gets the feeling the studio could have done more with the film noir theme.

Watch ‘Noir Gang’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Duckman episode no. 23
To the previous Duckman episode: Clip Job
To the next Duckman episode: Forbidden Fruit

‘Noir Gang’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Directors: Max Lang & Jan Lachauer
Release Date:
December 25, 2012
Rating:
 ★★★½
Review:

One of the most interesting series to emerge in the 21st century were the BBC half hour specials based on children’s books by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. This series was produced by Magic Light Pictures and mostly animated by Studio Soi in Germany.

Starting with the extraordinarily succesful ‘The Gruffalo’ (2009) these films prove not only to be very faithful to the source material, but to bring an unsurpassed plasticity to the computer animation, giving the characters the solidity of stop-motion. This is partly done by the animation itself, which practically never goes beyond what’s possible with stop motion puppets (for example there’s practically no squashing and stretching), and partly by giving them a clay-like texture.

But the makers’ secret ingredient is their use of real sets, thus placing the computer-created characters in fitting stop-motion worlds. This is so well-done you keep on wondering whether what you see is stop-motion or computer animated. This unique blend gives the film their specific and utterly charming character.

‘Room on the Broom’, the third entry in the series, is an excellent example. The story tells about a friendly witch who flies on a broom with her cat, but at times she drops something on the ground. This is then found by an animal who asks for a place on the broom. The repetition and rhyme no doubt work excellently for small children, but elder viewers will delight in the cat’s wordless reactions to his mistress’s enthusiastic invitations. His body language and facial expressions form the pinnacle of pantomime animation, but there are touches of wordless comedy on all the characters.In the end a ‘Town Musicians of Bremen’-like story twitch is introduced.

Even if ‘Room on the Broom’ isn’t the undisputed classic ‘The Gruffalo’ certainly is, it’s still a delightful film, able to enchant both the young and old alike.

Watch the trailer for ‘Room on the Broom’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Room on the Broom’ is avalaible on DVD

Director: John Kahrs
Release Date:
November 2, 2012
Rating:
 ★★★½
Review:

It’s nice to see the Walt Disney studio does not completely forget about traditional animation, and deploys it once and a while, albeit it a short only six minutes long. ‘Paperman’ clearly is made with a computer, but mixes 3D animation with 2D for once (in a novel technique called ‘final line advection’), and tells a charming love story.

A young office worker meets a girl at an underground platform in 1940s New York, but loses her again. When he sees her again from his office, in a building across the street, he tries to grab her attention by throwing paper planes into the direction of her open window, to no avail. But then something magical happens.

‘Paperman’ is told without dialogue, letting the facial expressions and body language of the characters speak for themselves, thus giving the animators plenty to work with. They succeed in making the girl friendly and lovable and the man clumsy, but determinant. They’re both likable enough to make the viewer yearn for their reunion. Unfortunately, the animation of the ‘magic planes’ is less convincing, and this magical scene overstretches the plausible believable quite a bit.

The film is shot in black-and-white, except for the girl’s lips and lipstick, whose reds stand out. The shades of grey especially succeed in enhancing the dull atmosphere of the man’s office.

In all ‘Paperman’ is quite delightful, and it managed to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film, the first Disney short to win an Oscar in that category since ‘It’s Tough to be Bird’ from 1969.

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

‘Paperman’ is available on the Blu-Ray and DVD of ‘Wreck-it Ralph

Director: Tim Burton
Release Date:
September 20, 2012
Rating:
 ★★★½
Review:

‘Frankenweenie’ was the third horror-themed animated feature of 2012, after ’ParaNorman’ and ’Hotel Transylvania’. Based on a short live action film director Tim Burton made way back in 1984 when still working at Disney, Again made at Disney, the new ‘Frankenweenie’ is obviously an ode to classic horror cinema, and to ‘Frankenstein’ from 1931 in particular.

Indeed, the references to other films are all over the place, and as horror is not my specialty, I’m sure I have not nearly caught half of them. It already starts with the town’s name, ‘New Holland’, which is a direct reference to the Dutch settlement in which Irving Washington’s tale of horror ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ (1820) takes place.

Main protagonist Victor’s surname is Frankenstein. His eccentric science teacher takes after horror actor Vincent Price, while Edgar, one of his school mates, looks like the hunchbacked Fritz in ‘Frankenstein’. Another school mate looks like a mix between Buster Keaton and the monster of Frankenstein, and so on and so forth. In the finale Burton even throws references to 1950s movie monsters into the mix, unfortunately diluting the theme on the way.

In any case ‘Frankenweenie’ suffers from a lack of focus. Not only can’t Burton stick to the Frankenstein theme, but his film is also stuffed with ideas that lead nowhere. For example, there’s an evil neighbor, whose role is hardly played out. He lives up to a festival day called ‘Dutch Day’, but again very little is done with the concept. This neighbor guards one Elsa van Helsing (yes, there’s another reference), a probable love interest to Victor, but this story idea isn’t developed beyond conception. Then there’s the father who worries Victor becomes too weird – and again, this story idea is only used to get the story at the point at which Victor can revive his deceased dog, after which this subplot never returns.

There’s a particularly large number of villains in this film: the neighbor is evil, Edgar is evil, Toshiaki (yet another of Victor’s schoolmates) is evil, but like the other story elements their particular stories are touched, not played out. We mostly learn that reviving animals apparently is deadly easy. Best of the oddball characters that fill the film is a wide-eyed girl with a cat that prophecies in its poo.

Tim Burton certainly has indulged in stuffing his film with references, but what he wanted to tell with his story is less clear. There’s even a completely idiotic message (voiced by Victor’s science teacher) that science can only succeed when you put your heart into it. Really?! If you’d believe this, you’d believe science is more like magic than a method.

Despite the weak story, the film’s finale consists of twenty minutes of pure action and excitement, ending in a burning windmill (yes, echoing ‘Frankenstein’). This sequence is full of stunning cinematography and complex sets. There’s even a moment of real horror, including a scare moment. Unfortunately, after the action sequence the films ends forced and cliché with e.g., an applauding crowd, missing an opportunity for a more intelligent and daring ending.

It’s a shame ‘Frankenweenie’ doesn’t deliver story-wise, for the film’s looks are a delight. In design ‘Frankenweenie’ is clearly the successor of Burton’s earlier and similarly horror-themed stop-motion films, ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ (1993) and, more obviously, ‘Corpse Bride’ (2005). Like in those earlier films, the puppets are top-heavy, with long slender limbs. But unlike these two earlier films, ‘Frankenweenie’ is no musical, and Burton made the bold move to film this movie in black and white, enhancing the classic feel. The cinematography is at times no less than marvelous, like in the reviving scene, or the scenes at the graveyard.

The animation is fine, but sometimes on the bland side, especially on Victor’s parents and secondary characters, whose expressions are too often rather empty gazes. Moreover, nowhere do the animators manage to blow genuine feelings into the puppets (most of the characters are just weird anyway), and the film lacks proper emotion, even in its most desperate scenes.

‘Frankenweenie’ is not a bad film, it’s too well crafted for that, but when compared to Burton’s earlier movie ‘Corpse Bride’ or to Laika’s contemporary and comparable ‘ParaNorman’ it just falls short on its potential. Especially ‘ParaNorman’ does well what ‘Frankenweenie’ does not: staying focused, spinning a tale with a clear message, building characters you care for, and giving the film a surprising twist. At least we should be thankful that 2012 brought us no less than two stop motion features, keeping the old technique alive and kicking in a sea of computer animation.

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

’Frankenweenie’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

Director Tomohiko Itō
Airing of first episode: January 8, 2016
Rating:
 ★★★½
Review:

‘Erased’ (the Japanese title translates as “The Town Where Only I Am Missing”) is an anime miniseries consisting of a mere twelve episodes and telling about young adult Satoru, who’s apparently often transported a few moments back in time to prevent some horrible disaster.

This is a weird concept to start with, especially because it’s never explained nor used consistently during the series. But this is the starting point of the complete series. Anyhow, when a mysterious killer goes rampant, threatening Satoru’s own very existence, he’s suddenly sent back not a few moments back into time, but way back to February 1988, when Satoru was eleven years old. Moreover, Satoru’s transferred to a different place, as well, his childhood hometown of Chiba, near Tokyo.

Satoru, who keeps his adult mind, knows he must do something about his classmate Kayo, a girl who has visible bruises because she’s molested by her mother, but who also is the first victim of a child-abducting serial killer that terrorizes the neighborhood, something Satoru knows beforehand, because he relives the past. He has only a few days to set things right. Will he be able to rescue Kayo and the other children from the clutches of the murderer, this time?

The series thus plays with the wish to go back in time to do things differently than you have had before. Satoru certainly changes the behavior of his eleven-years old self, changing from a rather distant, lonesome child into one who becomes a responsible and valuable friend, discovering the power of friendship along the way.

Now this is the first anime series I’ve seen in its entirety, so to me it’s difficult to assess the series’ value compared to others. In the distant past I’ve seen episodes from ‘Heidi’ (1974), ‘Angie Girl’ (1977-1978), and ‘Candy Candy’ (1975-1979), as well as ‘Battle of the Planet’s (1978-1980), the Americanized version of ‘Gatchaman’, but that’s about it – the only other more recent series I’ve seen is ‘FLCL’ (2000-2001), but I’ve only seen the first couple of episodes, so I cannot judge that series in its entirety.

Nevertheless, ‘Erased’ receives a high rating on IMDb, thus is clearly valued as one of the better series. And I can see why. The series is very good with cliffhangers, and there’s enough suspense to keep you on the edge of your seat most of the time. Moreover, apart from the time travelling and killer plot, there’s a sincere attention to the horrid effects of child abuse. Even better still, the series shows how being open and friendly towards others can make a significant positive change to their lives, as well as to your own. This is a rare and very welcome message, which the series never enforces on the viewer, but shows ‘by example’.

I particularly liked the fact that each episode starts with an intro, which is not an exact recapture of events in the previous episode, but which contains new footage, subtly shedding new light on the events. Nevertheless, ultimately, the thriller plot, which its red herrings, false alarms, and rather unconvincing villain, is less impressive than the subplots on child abuse and friendship.

Indeed, the series’ best parts all play in February-March 1988, not in the present, with the gentle eight episode, ‘Spiral’ forming the series emotional highlight. The creators succeed in giving these school parts an air of nostalgia, as exemplified by the leader of the series, which is intentionally nostalgic, focusing on Satoru’s childhood, before becoming more confused, indicating a lot, without revealing anything. Oddly, the intro is accompanied by neo-alternative guitar rock, suggesting more the early nineties than late 1980s.

Anyhow, when focusing on the relationships between the children the series is at its very best. In fact, I wonder why the creators didn’t make this series without the rather enforced killer plot. In my opinion the series needn’t any, although it certainly accounts for some chilling moments, like when Satoru becomes a victim of child abduction himself…

Unfortunately, the creators of ‘Erased’ are better in building its subplots than ending them. The last three episodes become increasingly unconvincing. They quickly lost me, making me leave the series with a rather sour taste in my mouth. The finale certainly stains the whole series and diminishes its power.

I have difficulties to say something about the design and animation. The animation, typically for television anime, is rather limited, but still looks fine, as does the staging. The character designs and background painting, however, don’t transcend the usual Japanese conventions, and are indeed pretty generic. In that respect, ‘FLCL’, the only other anime series I can say something about, is much more cutting edge.

In all, ‘Erased’ is a gripping series with a very welcome attention to the horrors of child abuse and the benefits of friendship. I’d certainly say it deserves a watch, even if it can turn out a little disappointing one, given the series’ potential.

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

‘Erased’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

Director: Julia Gromskaya
Release Date:
2012
Rating:
 ★★★½
Review:

‘Fiumana’ shows that Georges Schwizgebel’s particular way of animating has made school. Julia Gromskaya adapts Schwizgebel’s painting techniques and constantly shifting perspective to tell a tale of a woman waiting for her man, while drowning in her memories.

Gromskaya’s film is much more stream-of-consciouslike than Schwizgebel’s films, however, and has strong surrealist overtones, with some original metamorphosis going on while the images flow into each other. For example, at one point the woman’s eyes change into boats on a river, which in turn changes into the smoke of the man’s pipe.

Gromskaya’s painting style, too, differs from Schwizgebel’s, and is much more fauvist and naive. Her flow of images is supported by a gentle chamber music score by Francesca Badalini. The result is a puzzling yet beautiful film that is over before you know it.

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

‘Fiumana’ is available on the DVD-box ‘The Animation Show of Shows Box Set 7’

Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Release Date:
June 25, 2012
Rating:
 ★★★½
Review:

Director Mamoru Hosoda rose to prominence with the feature films ‘The Girl Who Leapt Through Time’ (2006) and ‘Summer Wars’ (2009), both made at the Madhouse studio.

To make his next film, ‘Wolf Children’ he created his own studio, Chizu, allowing him to make ‘author films’. And indeed, Hosoda has proven to be a strong voice in Japanese animated cinema, especially with ‘The Boy and the Beast’ (2015) and ‘Mirai’ (2018). Many place ‘Wolf Children’ in the same league, but I’d disagree, as I will explain below.

‘Wolf Children’ tells about Hana, a student who falls in love with an enigmatic boy, who turns out to be half man half wolf. She bears him two children, who have inherited her boyfriend’s dualistic nature, but then he dies, and she must raise the two on her own. But how will she manage as her children are both human and wolf?

The film encompasses a long time period, up to ca. twenty years, and from time to time a voice over (by Hana’s daughter Yuki) takes over. The film thus is very episodic, but also remarkably low key, poetic and tranquil. Several scenes are mood pieces, only carried by music, letting the images do the work. Moreover, most of the emotions are seen from a distance, and the most dramatic moment of the movie, Yuki’s rescue of her little brother Ame, isn’t even shown.

Unfortunately, the episodic nature also means that the film lacks focus. The story doesn’t stay with Hana but diverts to the experiences of Yuki and Ame and back, story lines are introduced and dropped as well as characters. For example, when Hana moves to the countryside, several scenes are devoted to her relationship with the villagers, most importantly one grumpy old Nirasaki. But later this theme is dropped, and the characters are not seen again.

Hosoda does succeed in showing how little events in children’s lives can change their character and outlook on life forever. Indeed, Yuki and Ame go different directions in life, proving that one upbringing can have very different outcomes.

Despite the film’s interesting message, the lack of focus, the episodic nature, the slow speed, and the sheer length (the film clocks almost two hours) all hamper the film. One wishes Hosoda dared to be more concise, killing more darlings.

Moreover, stylistically the film doesn’t deviate from the general anime style. As all other anime films of the era, the movie exploits very realistic and intricate background art, and the character design feels generic and uninspired, despite being designed by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto of ‘Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water’ (1990) and ‘Neon Genesis Evangelion’ (1995) fame. In fact, with their rather ugly line work and flat colors, the characters contrast greatly with the often beautiful background art, and are simply subpar.

The animation and cinematography, on the other hand, are excellent, and there’s some clever use of computer animation, especially during the scene in which Yuki and Ame run through a snow-covered forest.

‘Wolf Children’ is certainly an interesting and by no means a bad movie, but for a director being able to do his own thing, Hosoda certainly could have been more daring artistically, and more focused storywise.

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

‘Wolf Children’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

Director: Anna Kadykova
Release Date:
September 2012
Rating:
 ★★★½
Review:

A little mole, living in a grey, polluted city discovers images of the sea in an abandoned magazine. He longs to go there, and travels, like moles do, underground to go there. Unfortunately, the beach is as crowded as the city was.

‘The Mole at the Sea’ (also known as ‘Moe Goes to the Beach’) is a charming little film, with lots of little jokes, many of which are slightly on the surreal side. Kadykova’s style is instantly likable, and her timing excellent. Especially the scenes of the over-crowded beach are nice to watch.

Watch ‘The Mole at the Sea’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Mole at the Sea’ is available on the Belgian DVD ‘Haas & Hert en andere verhaaltjes’

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