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Director: Eric Armstrong
Release Date: July 3, 2002
Rating:
Review:

The ChubbChubbs! © Sony PicturesThe star of ‘The ChubbChubbs!’ is a humble alien who swipes the floor of a nightclub on some planet.

When the nightclub is threatened by some monsters, the alien repeatedly tries to warn its clientele, but only manages to ruin the singer’s act three times. In the end the alien disposes of the approaching army of monsters with help of some yellow animals, the ChubbChubbs of the title. These turn out to have rotating razor-blade mouths, belying their cute appearance.

‘The ChubbChubbs!’ was a sort of test film for Sony Pictures Imageworks, and thus it’s not a very deep film. In fact, the film feels rather childish and immature, and the only source of humor stems from the cameos of familiar science fiction movie characters, like Darth Vader, Yoda, Alien and E.T.. The rest of the cartoon humor feels forced and overtly cliche.

The film isn’t helped by a trite story, a too talkative soundtrack, ugly voice designs (especially of the alien itself), ugly color designs, mediocre animation, and very inconsistent computer art, blending an array of styles from cartoony to realistic into a far from convincing world. That this utterly forgettable film managed to win an Academy Award is beyond me, especially when considering that one of the other nominees was Kōji Yamamura’s classic short ‘Mt. Head’.

Watch ‘The ChubbChubbs!’ yourself and tell me what you think:

https://vimeo.com/5603230

‘The ChubbChubbs!’ is available as a bonus on the DVD ‘Surfs Up’

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Director: Juan Antin
Release Date: October 3, 2002
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Mercano el marciano © Juan Antin‘Mercano el Marciano’ is a curious feature film from Argentine about an ugly little Martian who gets stranded in the evil city of Buenos Aires, where he ends up living in the sewer.

Here he builds a virtual Mars to play in for himself on the internet, but soon it is discovered and exploited by businessmen. Together with a nerdy boy and a trio of alternatives Mercano takes revenge. This leads to a silly musical finale.

The film uses original designs and is nicely animated. Unfortunately, it is also hampered by slow timing, poor gags, graphic violence, ugly colors and bad sound design. The result is an original, yet mediocre film, which is not too surprising, when one considers the film was made with a budget of only $250,000 (for comparison: a contemporary Hollywood production like ‘Monsters, Inc’ cost $115 million).

‘Mercano el Marciano’ seems to be an early example of an international movement in animation film, which favors urban settings, violence and rather adult material (e.g. ‘The District!’ (2004)  from Hungary, and ‘George the Hedgehog’ (2011) from Poland).

Watch ‘Mercano el Marciano’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

 

Directors: Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders
Release Date: June 21, 2002
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Lilo & Stitch © Walt DisneyStitch is a genetic experiment (called ‘experiment 6-2-6’) designed to destroy, but sentenced into exile by an intergalactic councel.

All too soon our fluffy little mutant escapes and he ends at the Hawaiian island of Kauai, where he befriends lonely little Lilo, who lives a difficult life with her older sister Nani after the death of their parents. Here Stitch learns to tone down his inclination to destruction and how to love and care.

‘Lilo & Stitch’ is a very appealing film. Its designs, based on Chris Sanders’ idiosyncratic story drawings, are round, cuddly and original. Adding to the friendly atmosphere are the lush watercolor backgrounds, the first in a Disney feature since ‘Bambi‘ (1942). The animation is superb throughout, and Lilo, Stitch and Nani are round and instantly likable characters, who have nothing of the wisecracking arrogance of many other animated characters from the era. The film’s familiar family theme never gets cloying and is countered by a lot of humor. The result is a film full of love and joy.

Probably, because it was made in Orlando, Florida, far from the main company, the film also eschews the rather tiresome Disney musical convention, and features an original soundtrack featuring Elvis Presley songs and Hawaiian chants, instead. True, the plot borrows freely from ‘Men in Black’ (1997), and the science fiction setting feels a little awkward in a Disney film, but the story of loneliness, love and acceptance is well-told, and equally appealing to the young and old.

Moreover, the film proves that one can perfectly well make a good movie out of original and typical elements. A film maker like Hayao Miyazaki knows this, off course. But unfortunately, this message has been lost on the American animation studios, as very few of the subsequent American feature films succeeded in displaying this level of originality in characterization, soundtrack and design. Thus ‘Lilo & Stitch’ remains as Disney’s best attempt at an ‘author film’ (not counting the almost forgotten ‘Teacher’s Pet’ from 2004).

Unfortunately, ‘Lilo & Stitch’ seemed to be Disney’s last masterpiece of traditional animation. Even though it was followed by yet two other 2D animation features, it marked an end of an era lasting 65 years. Disney soon jumped the computer animation band wagon with rather mediocre results, arguably only hitting their stride in 2010 with ‘Tangled‘. Luckily, in 2009 the studio made a surprising, but unfortunately isolated return to the traditional medium with the excellent ‘The Princess and the Frog’.

Watch the trailer for ‘Lilo & Stitch’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Chris Wedge
Release Date: March 15, 2002
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Ice Age © Blue SkySet in the last ice age (ca. 20,000 years ago), a mammoth and a ground sloth try to return a human baby to its tribe, helped by a saber-toothed tiger with a hidden agenda.

The Ice Age itself is depicted well, with lots of crispy ice and snow, and fauna that matches the period. We watch various North-American ice age mammals, like mammoths, ground sloths, saber-toothed tigers, Glyptodonts, and even the South American species Macrauchenia (which looks like a llama with a trunk). The only mishaps are the two Brontotheres, mistakenly referred to as “rhinos”, a group of species that had died out 34 million years earlier. Fortunately, the makers didn’t fall for the trap of making dinosaurs co-exist with early humans (although we see one trapped in the ice, in a scene that is nonsensical anyhow).

‘Ice Age’ was Blue Sky’s first feature film. It was made for 20th Century Fox, who had just dumped Don Bluth’s Phoenix Studio. With this film Blue Sky/20th Century Fox posed serious competition to Dreamworks and Pixar with a different, yet equally interesting style of computer animation, which was more based on caricature, exaggerated animation and angular designs. The latter unfortunately lead to rather ugly designed humans.

The story of ‘Ice Age’ has uncanny similarities to the computer animation successes of 2001, ‘Shrek’ (a moody giant and an annoying chatterbox travel together), and ‘Monsters, Inc.‘ (strange creatures trying to get a little human kid home). So in this respect, the film tells us nothing new. Its extras can be found in the cartoony character Scrat, whose antics bridges the main action, and in the numerous gags on evolution.

The highlight of the film, however, is the 2D animation of mural paintings depicting Mannie the mammoth’s painful memory of the loss of his wife and son. This is a stunning tour-de-force of both daring and emotional animation, still a rare feat in computer animated feature films.

‘Ice Age’ was a huge success, and has spawned a number of sequels, none of witch mastered to keep the lean storytelling of the first film. Moreover, the stories had less and less to do with the ice age setting. Even worse, in ‘Ice Age 3’ dinosaurs had to come along, after all…

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

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