Category: Animation

Yona Yona Penguin

What did Rintaro do to deserve this? I think that Yona Yona Penguin is a trick that the French played on the Japanese.

“We’ve got an idea about a girl who dresses as a penguin, who gets taken to the land of the Good Fellow Devils to defeat the evil being who rules their land!”

“It would never fly here … Maybe you could get the Japanese to animate it? We can pretend it was their idea!”

Rintaro made Metropolis, which was a great movie. He also made X, which was an incoherent movie. In Yona Yona Penguin he’s made a bland movie, and he’s compounded the issue by making it ugly.

Coco loves penguins. She loves them so much that a goblin thinks that she is the legendary flightless bird, and takes her to his village so that she may defeat the great evil. First, however, they have to deal with the fat kid Zammie who has been terrorising the village.

There’s not a lot to say about Yona Yona Penguin. It features unimaginative CG and ugly character designs. It lacks a lot of the sort of charm that this type of film needs to get off the ground, and amounts to nothing.

The big swelling realisation of the lead’s inner power is kind of offset by the fact that she ends up taking the credit for the work of the gods, and…

…Basically, this is a children’s movie made solely for children with no redeeming features for anyone else. It is not well crafted, nor is it nice to look at. I would not have seen it, but it had Rintaro’s name attached.

The French weren’t tricking the Japanese: this was an elaborate (and expensive) plot against me.

Welcome to the Space Show

Welcome to the Space Show showed at the Sydney Film Festival before it saw its wide release in Japan. It is an impressive piece of science fiction work, albeit not the same film that I was expecting from the synopsis provided by the program (but then, is a film ever the same as its listing?), and one that is perhaps overloaded with ideas towards the end, but I came out of it glad for having seen it.

The Illusionist

Beautiful but disaffecting is probably the best way to describe a film like The Illusionist. It is very pretty to look at and can be quite funny in places but it feels a bit hollow. The back story that I was unaware of lends it slightly more depth, but I will be honest in my philistinism here: my limited exposure to Jacques Tati has not left me enamoured of him.

In 1959, A magician travels from job to job until he meets a young girl in Scotland, who then joins him. The magic business doesn’t run so well, but the girl is convinced magic is real – so the magician picks up odd jobs here and there in Edinburgh to keep the girl in material possessions.

True to Tati’s form, The Illusionist has almost no dialogue. The character of the magician is modeled after Tati himself, and the girl is apparently supposed to be based on a daughter that he allegedly abandoned.
What follows, based on what we can piece together from the largely emotive animation and gibberish speak, is a literal object lesson: nothing comes from nothing, all people in entertainment are suicidally depressed (and this is apparently funny), and young Scottish girls fail to understand the way the material world operates.

It would be a disservice to silent films to say that the lack of dialogue means we can never really know these characters: it is the disjointed nature and repetition of the film that means that we don’t really know that much about them or care much for them. They are simple caricatures who don’t really have many emotions beyond a baseline affection for one another.

While it’s engaging to look at, there’s something ever so slightly off about the film. One of the aspects of this offness is that in many places it’s simply annoying: the depressive clown, the ventriloquist, the effeminate mincing “Britoons”, aren’t so much a joy to watch as they are a protracted distraction to endure.

While Sylvain Chomet was awarded for his Triplets of Belleville, this is a simple case where nostalgia for a much-loved filmmaker triumphs over “proper” cinematic sensibility.

I fully expect to be contradicted by the professional critical establishment when The Illusionist reaches wider attention. I enjoyed it “enough”, but I didn’t think there was much more to it than the fluidity of its mostly excellent animation.

Postscript: On the advice of commenter Matt I append some more context for the film: Roger Ebert has publicised two sides of the argument. First is “The secret of Jacques Tati“, the second is “In defense of The Illusionist“. The key quote in the defence is the following:

The Illusionist” is a work of the imagination that seeks only to stand or fall as a film in its own right.

Personally, I think it falls. And that is all that really matters to me: it’s a movie that doesn’t quite work.

Ponyo

Miyazaki Hayao is one of the stalwarts of Japanese animation, and possibly the only director known by filmic people in the Western world. After a thirty year career of increasingly telling humanity how terrible and polluting they are, Miyazaki finally returns to the spirit of wonder evident in the heroines of My Neighbour Totoro. In Ponyo he has made a movie about the relationship between a five year old boy and a magical fish girl. In his old age, the man has truly become the freewheeling Miyazaki.

Up

Pixar is one of the greatest film studios presently in operation. They are a studio with a consistent vision and a strong distaste for making the same film twice. Above all, they don’t just make great animation, they almost always make great films. Pixar is a studio captained by people with a deep respect for every aspect of their craft, and they have impressed once again with Up, which finally sees release in Australia this month.

Macross Frontier

You may recall that I used to maintain an anime blog. Becoming disillusioned with modern trends in animation and fandom in general, I cut down my consumption and severed myself from all involvement with the community. Since then I’ve become a little more comfortable with my place and figure that it can’t hurt to say a little every once in a while.

These words exist in my own canon, and perhaps one day I’ll be able to participate on a world stage once more. I’m absorbing future anime writing into the body of Batrock.net for a less splintered presentation of my interests.

The original Macross series is one of my favourite of all time. The combination of civilian life with space warfare and compelling villains, with more emphasis on music than was usual at the time, made for a memorable series that has endured far longer than its arbitrary “brothers”, Southern Cross and Mospeada. Due to the convergence of several sets of circumstance, a couple of weeks ago I got the chance to watch the 25th anniversary series, 2007’s Macross Frontier.

My stance on Macross Frontier is complicated: sometimes I thought that it was a Macross series only cosmetically, and at others I thought that it captured key themes perfectly. Despite the lack of depth to the villainy and the frequently workmanlike action sequences, I think that overall it captured very well the essence of animated science fiction.

I do not consider the following to contain very specific spoilers, but I do comment on the outcome of the love triangle.

My God – it’s devoid of stars: Futurama to be recast?

Cliché image, yes, but iconic.

The news of Futurama’s return to television was a good thing, yes? If something worthless like Family Guy can claw its way back to prime time, surely a more deserving property like Futurama could be given another chance to shine?

The revival has hit a rather sour development with the release of a casting call sheet. When I saw the news on io9 I was prepared to discount it. Delving deeper and seeing that call sheet, however, is pretty damning. I’m expecting this to explode all over certain quadrants of the internet, and for good reason: Billy West, Katey Sagal, John DiMaggio, Phil LaMarr and Maurice LaMarche are the crew of Planet Express and the people of the universe at large. They are an inextricable part of the show.

This is not like Daniel Craig succeeding Pierce Brosnan as James Bond. This is like someone killing one of your loved ones and replacing them with an android: it looks exactly like your dear old Grandmama, but it lacks her distinct personality and sounds ever so slightly off; an impersonator; an insult to the memory of someone important to you. Did no one at Fox see Changeling?

I don’t see how Fox thinks they can get away with this. Part of the reason Futurama is coming back, perhaps even the entire reason, is that it has a following; people like Futurama. It has a strong and storied cast that endeared itself to audiences over 72 episodes and four movies (that I did not see) and it was genuinely funny a lot of the time.*
People who like Futurama like the cast, and anyone else is nothing more than a pale imitation. I understand replacing a voice actor for reasons of necessity:

  • Death (see: legacy characters like Mickey Mouse);
  • Retirement (see: Christine Cavanaugh);
  • They turn out to be a serial killer who has used their position to abduct fans at conventions and then murder them.

I can’t see a legitimate reason for replacing an entire, more than amply talented, ensemble (not to mention Tress MacNeille and Lauren Tom!).

“Money” is not a legitimate reason, because I can imagine that people – myself included – would not be keen to watch a Futurama that has been senselessly neutered, and therefore a large amount of the anticipated revenue stream will have died.

What is the point of watching a science fiction cartoon composed of strangers whom no one would bother ever allowing into their hearts? This is a question I ax in all sincerity: I mean, seriously, what the hell? This is arse-backwards creative philosophy. Who cares if these actors don’t write or animate the material? They are still their characters, and their job is more than simply standing in front of a microphone and speaking their lines. If your cartoon is good, then your actors are going to care about the characters they represent and that care is going to translate itself to the finished product.

The call sheet is particularly insulting:

“Descriptions of these established characters follow, along with links to clips of previous episodes for reference.”

(Emphasis mine)

Who established these characters? The fact that they’re providing clips of previous episodes for reference confirms that they’re not seeking a new direction: they’re searching for cut-price impersonators. It’s my impression that voice actors have a certain professional pride: who could honestly trample over the work of people who are plainly still capable of performing the work they’ve become known for?

Entirely apart from not understanding the situation, understanding why people get emotionally attached to a property, it seems that Fox don’t even understand that some people have sensitive ears and will not simply deafly accept a change.

People obsess over voice actors; they follow their work across the years. I do it in both cartoons and anime, as another one of my hobbies: when I saw a trailer for Secret of Monkey Island featuring LeChuck’s first mate, I said aloud “Hey, it’s Rob Paulsen!”- and it frustrates me to no end that I can’t find a cast list for the game to confirm my suspicions. This would not go unnoticed by weird hobbyists like me, and even less fanatic types would be bound to notice a replacement of the entire cast of a cartoon with a large following.

It’s particularly amazing that this would happen on a Matt Groening property. Does no one recall the multiple times that they have attempted to kill cast members of The Simpsons? Even The Simpsons remembered it, in largely unremarkable episode Homer to the Max:

Homer: Networks like animation ’cause they don’t have to pay the actors squat!

Ned:    Plus, they can replace them, and no one can tell the diddly-ifference!

They then summarily jerked around Maggie Roswell, who ended up paying for the privilege of appearing on the show (her pay cheque wouldn’t cover the cost of travel to recording). Marcia Mitzman-Gaven, her replacement, was probably a good voice actress in her own right, but as Maude Flanders and Helen Lovejoy she plainly sucked. They got around this problem by largely shutting Helen up and killing Maude in Alone Again, Natura-Diddly. Roswell is back now, but Maude is still dead.

Since then there has been a variety of industrial actions and talk of strikes, but the voice actors have continued to win out. I’ve heard The Simpsons is improving again (I haven’t particularly cared to find out), but for the longest time there the established cast was all it had going for it.
Futurama is plainly not the juggernaut that The Simpsons has proven to be, but there are clear ethical, professional and fanbase considerations that apply. I’d like to think that the Futurama fan base is strong enough to convince Fox that this is an awful decision and they’d better turn this ship around instead of charting unexplored and counter-productive territory.

*This is entirely not the time to confess that a while back I went through a listing of all of the episodes and only really appreciated about half of them, the third and fourth seasons largely, but not wholly, falling flat for me.

Monsters vs. Aliens

The optimism with which I approached Monsters vs Aliens was not cautious. I was not expecting great things, but I had a quiet confidence in Dreamworks, despite my abiding hatred for Shrek and its hideous bastard offspring.  When the opening credits finished with the line “and Stephen Colbert as The President”, I lost it. I was determined to enjoy Monsters vs Aliens, and that’s precisely what I came away with.

I should probably make clear once more that I am a fan of animation. While that means I can be a harsh critic of “cartoons”, it also means that I’m more inclined to like them than Joe Q. Public who is indifferent to the whole exercise. It’s an important distinction, because it’s not a form (animation is not a genre) that I simply view as “take or leave”. Wall-E and The Incredibles are included among my favourite films in general, not just in the field of animation.

Having said that, Monsters vs Aliens is not a Pixar level film (then again, neither was Cars). That doesn’t stop it from being a consistently entertaining movie with a semi-clear to somewhat muddied moral. As a general audience movie, I don’t know how it would fare and, as is always the case with this sort of stuff, many of the best jokes likely won’t be understood by the target audience of children. (Axel F., for crying out loud!)

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa

The strangest thing about the Madagascar franchise, I feel, is that the funniest jokes in both of them are Twilight Zone references – and they both happened on planes – the other strange thing is how anyone can think that the character designs of the four leads are anything approaching pleasant.

Madagascar: Back 2 Africa is not only an example of obnoxious number substituting for a word (at least Step Up 2 The Streets did it with class), it’s also a prime example of franchising a property whose title is thematically incompatible with any sequels. Even if there are more Kung Fu Panda films (freakin’ five of them), they could either make sense due to the continued presence of Po or present a series of films named for separate members of the Furious Five.

Escape 2 Africa, however, is a vaguely racist, all-over-the-place movie that once and for all proves that black people zebras all look the same and share a uniculture, and once again showcases a theatrical son whose father is disappointed he isn’t a “real lion”. Hmm indeed.
I guess it’s not terrible, though, so that’s probably something.

Persepolis

The biographical graphic novel has proven, over the last thirty years or so, to be an effective way to tell a life story. Craig Thompson’s Blankets and Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor are grand, and greatly different accounts of their author’s lives; Art Spiegelman’s Maus blends Spiegelman’s own relationship with his father with his father’s account of World War II – with the twist that everyone is represented as an animal. Name recognition may stretch to two of those three titles, if I’m being optimistic, but I’m pretty sure that most people had never heard of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis before it became a film – and even then, most people still haven’t heard of it.

I don’t have particularly fond memories of American Splendor as a film, possibly because it was not so much personal as it was blazingly meta, but Persepolis benefits from a presumably direct translation into the animated form and, like Frank Miller’s Sin City, is co-directed by Satrapi herself. In black and white, Satrapi captures not just her own childhood, but the spirit of an age: Iran going from one peril to another, and how Europe reacted as outsiders looking in. In a few words, it’s pretty dang good.

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