Friday, 30 December 2011

2012: The Animation Apocalypse (Or Anipocalypse?)

The holiday season is nearing an end. I hope you all got that special gift you wanted, and gained several jolly pounds from absorbent amounts of feasting. It seems there’s only one thing left to do: ring in the new year! But looky what we have here! It’s the year 2012. And if Roland Emmerich films are to be believed, we’re rapidly approaching the end of the world. Crapballs. 
Well, if the end of the world is coming Dec 21, 2012, there’s really only one question I have…what’s my final year of animated films looking like? So I’m gonna do a quick look ahead at what animated goodies are on the horizon before the ol’ apocalypse, and quickly give my early opinions of each flick. Let’s see if this final year on earth is a worthwhile one for the animation fan! YEAH!

Beauty and the Beast (3D) - Jan. 13
We start out this doomed year by looking back on a classic love story. It’s arguably one of the most beloved animated movies ever; Disney’s Beauty and the Beast get’s a brand new shiny 3D re-release thanks to the top notch ticket sales of The Lion King’s 3D run. Really, my thoughts on this is the exact same as my thoughts on The Lion King in 3D. I’m not going to theatres because it’s in 3D; I’m going cause this is an amazing film. I always found the choice to use 3D on hand drawn animation odd… It’s almost like holding a beveled piece of paper infront of another piece of paper. Exciting, non? Beauty and the Beast is only one of many previous Disney and Pixar movies slated to get the 3D re-release treatment. It’s a shame we won’t get to Finding Nemo! Damn, pesky apocalypse…

The Secret World of Arrietty - Feb 17
Oh snap! We get a Studio Ghibli film before the apocalypse? Sign me up! Yeah, I know this movie was already released in other parts of the world; this is just the dubbed version. And yeah, typically in anime I’m a “subs b4 dubs” kind of man, but honestly Ghibli’s dubs are probably the best I’ve seen in anime. So yeah. I’m excited about this. Plus it’s based on The Borrowers! That just adds to the cool. Will I watch this in theatres? You bet! Will I watch it in the original japanese once I get ahold of my own copy? Also you bet. 

The Lorax - Mar 2
Eeeehhhhh…maybe…I don’t know….just maybe…it won’t suck. I’m hopeful…but I also have this deep seeded feeling that this movie is gonna suck hard. Ok listen. I’m a huge Dr. Seuss fan, but film adaptations of his works range from pure crap to “I didn’t hate that.” The latter being Horton Hears a Who, whom the writer of also wrote the script for this film. And a lot of people working on this also worked on Despicable Me. Hey, I didn’t hate that either! And Danny DeVito as The Lorax? Well, that sounds like perfect casting. Keeping my finger’s crossed on this one… Prove me wrong movie! Prove me wrong!

The Pirates! Band of Misfits - Mar 30
One thing I am grateful of is the amount of stop motion flicks before total global annihilation. Seeing as how long it takes to complete one of these films, it’s nice that these years of blood, sweat and plasticine won’t go to waste. And leading the bunch is the brits with Aardman Animation returning to their stop-motion roots, but without the talents of Wallace & Gromit and Chicken Run director, Nick Park. Park’s absence is a bit off-putting, especially cause the characters are clearly modeled in his style. Regardless, the movie looks like a blast, and Aardman pretty much always delivers the goods. And hey! It’s pirates! They’re still popular, right guys? …guys? …whatever, I’m excited. 

Dorothy of Oz - May…??
No film on this list is as much a wild card as Dorothy of Oz. Slated to release…May-ish…all we have to go on this one is the knowledge that it’s a sequel to The Wizard of Oz and it’s a musical. No trailer to be seen, but there’s some gorgeous concept art. Let’s just hope May-ish is accurate and this one reaches the 2012 mark. T’would suck to enter the apocalypse without even knowing more about this movie. My curiosity on this one knows no bounds!

Ice Age: Continental Drift - July 23
Really? They’re making more of these? Sigh… well what else to say? I liked the first Ice Age, but this Dreamworks franchise is almost as guilty as The Land Before Time for prehistoric themed unwanted sequels. Almost. Also, isn’t the titular “ice age” already over in this franchise? That title really doesn’t make any sense anymore. Ahh, who am I kidding. Do I really care? No. Will I see this movie? Probably not. Compile a version that only has the Scrat scenes in it, and maybe we’ll talk.

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted - June 8
Speaking of Dreamworks and sequels nobody asked for…TA-DAH!! I don’t know…I’ve never really enjoyed this franchise. It seems to embody everything that people criticize Dreamworks Animation to be: a loud annoying film littered with animals doing things animals don’t normally do while making pop culture references abound. I expect nothing less. Also, like the pre-stated ”age of ice,” why is this franchise still called Madagascar? They haven’t been there since the first film. I know, branding and shit, but seriously Dreamworks! If you plan on having umpteenth animated sequels, you should have more foresight in naming your franchises. Seriously. 

Brave - June 22
Now this is more like it! After what many people consider Pixar’s first stumble with Cars 2, I think they’re in need of something very special to get them back into the grove of churning unfiltered dreams into animated gold. And Brave looks very special indeed. It’s a lot of firsts for Pixar: their first female lead character, their first time in a fantasy setting, their first…um…family of gingers? Regardless, this looks epic beyond belief. And it’s not a sequel! Or a remake! Just take my money, Pixar! Just take it! (Also, where in the world are they going to hide the Pizza Planet truck in this movie?!)

ParaNorman - Aug 17
Watch out Tim Burton! There’s more than one stop-motion, slightly creepy, animated movie coming out this year! Trying to jump on board with the same vibe as CoralineParaNorman follows a boy who can see and talk to ghosts as he’s tasked to save his town from a curse. Sounds fun to me! I don’t know the directors or writers of this one, so it can’t really fall back on credentials. But with so many movies being remakes and sequels, I’m always willing to give something new a shot. 

Frankenweenie - Oct 5
I have a love/hate relationship with Tim Burton. His early stuff is the stuff of goth kids’ wet dreams (that’s a compliment, by the way.) Vincent is still one of my favorit animated shorts, ever. But as time went on, I cared less and less if the Burton name was on a project. It didn’t help that most projects he directed were just remakes or reinterpretations of already existing franchises or stories…just making them more “twisted.” (Which, in Tim Burton land, means adding black and white stripes and spirals.) Luckily, Burton is finally getting back to his roots…by remaking his own shit. Ok, to be fair, even though there’s no trailer yet, this film, based on a live action short Burton directed early in his career, looks pretty damn cool. It’s classic Burton style with a classic Burton love of all things weird, creepy and fun, while still playing homage to classic horror movies. Don’t let me down this time, Tim. Hot Topic needs more t-shirt designs, after all. 

Rise of the Guardians - Nov 21
No trailer on this one either, and I knew nothing about this movie, so I consulted my good friend, IMDB, and it said, “Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, Jack Frost and the Sandman band together to form a united front against the Bogeyman.” …soooo…it’s an holiday animated version of The Expendables? …this is either the greatest, or the worst idea for a movie…ever…there is no middle ground here.

And that’s all the theatrical animated releases before the ol’ end-o-days. Overall thoughts? …I’m actually pretty pumped! If this was my last year of animated goodness, we have some great variety in styles (hand drawn, CG, and stop-motion are all accounted for.) And on top of that, we also have a surprising balance between new and old (as in re-releases, remakes or just plane sequels.) There’s plenty of animated goodies I’m looking forward to before the apocalypse for sure! So I’m just gonna bringe on these forthcoming animated treats, and enjoy the apocalyptic ride. Bring it on, 2012!

Happy New Year folks!
- Moo 

Sunday, 25 December 2011

What's Under Moo's Tree...?

Got this awesome book for x-mas this year! Written by animation legend, Eric Goldberg, this is such a great resource for young fledgling animations (like yours truly.) Highly recommended! 

Thursday, 22 December 2011

The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn (A Review)

Tintin is an interesting property indeed. It’s one that, even though people know about it, isn’t all that popular in North America. Or at least, not nearly as popular as it is in Europe. I admit, if I didn’t take French classes as a child, my knowledge of this character would have been almost non existent. And yet, here we are! With a high budget Hollywood adaptation of the property done by, arguably, the poster director for American blockbuster cinema, Steven Spielberg. So how did that happen?
Well, let’s go back in time to 1981, when the first Indiana Jones film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, was released. The adventure flick, inspired by the pulp adventure serials that Spielberg loved as a kid, was receiving excellent reviews, but one in particular compared the film to Tintin. Curious, Spielberg searched for the books, and even though he didn’t understand the language they were in, he became a fan. Likewise, Tintin creator HergĂ© became a fan of Spielberg’s work. The fit between source material and director seemed almost made for each other, and indeed this film works because you can tell Spielberg’s having fun with it. He’s in his element. 
The story isn’t life changing, or deep, or anything like that. But it is a family friendly adventure done right. It’s a basic globe trotting treasure hunt wrapped in a thin mystery with plenty of memorable characters and superbly planned and executed scenes of action, chases and slapstick. In other words: it’s just plain fun! The sets are extravagant and varied, the action is creatively choreographed, and even though the movie is still family friendly it never feels like anything is dumbed down to make things seem “safer.” The enemies are still a threat and very dangerous, and Captain Haddock’s trademark alcoholism is in full effect. 
Speaking of the characters let’s talk about them, because while the plot is a great excuse for moving from one excellent chase scene to the next, it’s these classic characters that will stick with you after the credits roll. The most forgettable of the bunch actually being our titular character. Tintin (played by Jamie Bell) probably wins the award for being the coolest square that ever lived. He’s an ambitious journalist who has an interesting mix of curiosity and bad luck which leads him into some very dangerous situations. But aside from having frequent full-on conversations with his dog, Snowy, Tintin isn’t a very flawed character. And while it’s nice to see a bright and optimistic action hero for a change, it doesn’t really make him all that interesting. The people Tintin does surround himself with, however, are a blast! Nick Frost and Simon Pegg are a true joy as the bumbling inspectors, Thomson and Thompson, but the true star of this film, and indeed the force that carries the plot along to its conclusion, is Andy Serkis as Captain Haddock. The drunken Captain is the only one who actually goes though a true story arc, trying to do right by his family’s name. Serkis’ amazing physicality brings so much nuances to the character that it only furthers my belief that Serkis was born to live inside of a motion capture suit. 
Which brings us to the elephant in the room, and the most controversial part of this movie: the fact that it’s a mostly motion captured film. As the story goes, Spielberg went to Peter Jackson (who ended up producing the flick) to get his VFX company, Weta Digital, to create the CG for the film, including a CG Snowy. Jackson, being a longtime fan of Tintin, suggested that a fully animated version might be truer to the source material. The two settled on a motion capture performance from the actors, which allowed the film to be animated, but also allowed Spielberg to direct the actors in the same way that he’s used to for his live action films.
My thoughts on mo-cap animation is truly mixed. Part of me loves how you’re able to translate a performer’s action into a stylized and animated world, but part of me knows that the technology still isn’t fully here yet, resulting is some shots that just falls flat of looking realistic and as a result breaks the illusion completely (otherwise known as the uncanny valley effect.) That being said, while the tech still isn’t perfect yet, Tintin is the best example of a mo-cap animated film to date. The source material is so cartoony and fun, that a live action cast would still need heavy CG (like an animated Snowy) and instead of having CG bits stick out like a sore thumb (which I like to call the Garfield effect,) I’m glad they went this route and did it fully animated. It led to some great comedic moments which I felt would only work in an animated world, as well as an amazing “one shot” chase scene down a mountain, which can only be seen to be believed. 
What does bug me a little is the design choice, having the character’s faces still look vaguely realistic. I would have preferred the characters to look a little more stylized like they do in the books, as characters who are more stylized like Haddock and the Thompsons are a lot more fun to look at then the eerily baby-faced Tintin. But that might just be a case of personal taste. And to those who wanted this film perfectly in HergĂ©’s style, we already had the Tintin TV show like that, so I’m glad they at least tried something new. 
All in all, Spielberg’s first animated project is a wonderful whirlwind of an adventure which truly harkens back to the olden days of Indiana Jones…but funnier. The set pieces are a joy to behold, and the pacing is so perfect that as soon as you want another dose of action, the film will gladly oblige. If you’re looking for a wholesome adventure that doesn’t skimp on the production value, check it out. And if you’re not familiar with these characters, there’s no better time then now to get acquainted. 
- Moo

Monday, 28 November 2011

The Muppets (A Review)

WARNING: This review is being written by an insanely huge fan of The Muppets, so I’m already kind of biased. That being said, it’s clear that this movie was aimed at crazy Muppet fans like myself, so everything kind of works out. 
Yes, The Muppets. That wonderful gang of fur and felt are back after 12 years without a movie. And after much online love in the form of viral videos, trailer parodies, and other goodies, the true next Muppet movie is here. So how is it? Does this movie have a true “Rainbow Connection?” Or should you be “Movin’ Right Along.” (Muppet fans see what I did there? Wocka wocka!)
The plot fits perfectly for how long The Muppets have been out of the limelight. Basically sometime ago the Muppets split up, and now it’s up to Gary (Jason Segel,) Mary (Amy Adams,) and Gary’s brother Walter (a new Muppet/superfan of the Muppets) to work with Kermit to reunite the old gang and raise enough money to save their theatre before the evil tycoon, Tex Richman (Chris Cooper,) tears down the theatre to drill for oil. The “get the gang back together” story has been done before, but it works so well here because…well….it’s the Muppets! And that comes with what you’d might expect from the Muppets! Tons of forth wall breaking jokes, vaudevillian type slapstick, celebrity cameos up the wazoo, and emotional songs that know exactly how to tug on the heartstrings. It’s hard really to go into too much detail without spoiling some of the jokes, but there were some great moments with some of the new songs, written by one half of Flight of the Conchords, Bret McKenzie, and an extended cameo by Jack Black. 
But of course, the true stars are The Muppets themselves, and the plot makes it so they’re in a situation where they flourish. It’s back to the basics: a bunch of crazy weirdos trying their best to put on a show, only this time the steaks are much higher. I felt a unique blend of excitement, nervousness and nostalgia going into the third act that I don’t think I’ve ever felt from a movie before. 
That being said, let’s call this movie out for what it truly is: Muppet fan servis. There are countless references and in jokes from past Muppet works, specifically to the Jim Henson years of The Muppet Show and the first Muppet movie. Hell! Even the choice of Muppets to get screen time was very specific, choosing not to have newer fan favorite characters like Pepe the King Prawn to have much screen time, instead bringing back characters that haven’t had time to shine in years! Characters like Marvin Suggs and Uncle Deadly!
Yes! Uncle Deadly! This guy! Obscure, yes. Awesome? Double yes.
The point being this was written by a rabid Muppet fan (good ol’ Jason Segel) for rabid Muppet fans. Hell! Even the new Muppet, Walter, is a rabid Muppet fan himself! So of course we’re going to immediately love him.
All in all, the bigger fan of the Muppets you are, I feel the more you’ll love this movie. And if you’re not a fan of the Muppets? Well…you’re reading the wrong review then. I’m also really curious to see how kids will react to this movie; kids who have never even seen a Muppet movie before! I hope it manages to capture the same wonder and fun that I experienced as a child. So go see this movie already! It’s pure concentrated Muppety fun!
Welcome back Muppets. It’s about damn time! 
- Moo

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Green Lantern: The Animated Series (Pilot Review)

It’s really hard for me not to be emotionally tied to the success or failure of this franchise. I suppose a little context is needed: I’m a huge fan of superhero comics. One of my favorite books as both a kid, and now as an adult has to beGreen Lantern. I always wished that the property would expand beyond the comic books, but sadly the travesty that was the 2011 Ryan Reynolds Green Lantern movie taught me to be careful what I wish for. But lo and behold! Mayhaps this cloud has a silver lining after all…
When Tim Burton’s Batman film was released in 1989, Warner Brothers made an animated series to be released alongside the feature to further expose the character to the world and increase the character’s already incredible popularity. The show, produced by Bruce Timm, was simply called Batman: The Animated Series, and it was a massive critical and commercial hit. Personally speaking, it’s probably the best superhero cartoon ever produced, and I dare even call it one of the best animated series of all time. (Totally high praise. I know.) The success of that series led to numerous other DC cartoons, includingSuperman: The Animated Series and Justice League. All were tied in continuity wise with each other and were produced by Timm, making what fans affectionally call the “Timmverse.” Now with Green Lantern arguably more popular now than he ever has been, it only seemed logical to release an animated series of his very own, entitled Green Lantern: The Animated Series. So how is it? Is it as good as the Batman epiosdes of yesteryear, or is it worse than the live action movie?
…ok, I’ll save you some time with that last question. It’s better than the movie, but that’s not really hard to do.
I suppose I have to address the elephant in the room first. This is the first Bruce Timm/DC animated project that is fully done in CG. I don’t really know why. Maybe it’s cheeper to do CG than traditional animation, or maybe they wanted a more “modern” look. It doesn’t really matter why they used it, cause either way it’s here to stay. And I hate it. I wish I didn’t, but to me this art style looks either one of two ways: ugly or boring. Which is odd, cause you can clearly tell that the characters are still designed in that signature Bruce Timm angular, geometric style that I loved so much in previous shows. I guess it just shows that there certainly are strengths and weaknesses in both CG and traditional animation, and what works in one doesn’t always work in the other. It’s incredible how in 2D this art style looks bold and dynamic, yet in CG it looks flat and lifeless.
This is the same criticism I have with the current CG Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series, in which they adapted Genndy Tartakovsky’s character design from the other (and frankly, better) animated series, which was 2D. I see nothing wrong with stylized human characters in CG, but unless you have a high level of detail on par with The Incredibles (which I’m sure would cost much, much more,) the characters will just look too plain and dull. The shininess of the character models doesn’t help either. I want to feel like I’m watching a show about super-powered space cops, but I feel like I’m watching a show about action figures that think they are super-powered space cops. And let’s be honest, Buzz Lightyear did that already.
Ok, ok. Enough raggin’ about the art style. Cause if the show has a solid script, I can at least look past that and enjoy the show on some level. With that said, the hour long pilot episode of the show, entitled Beware My Power, is…not bad. It’s not at the same level of quality as past DC cartoons yet, but it definitely has some potential. Our hero, Hal Jordan, is perfectly characterized here, displaying both his cocky atitude and his hard pressed stubbornness in full force. Also, one of my favorite characters, the tough as nails Kilowog, looks to be a central character in the series, (thankfully making up for his lack of screen time in the feature film.) They even planted the seeds for some very interesting backstory with Kilowog revolving around the tragedy that happened with his home planet.
However, even with the story, they made some very interesting, somewhat questionable, decisions. For one, this show clearly is built on a complete overarching plot. While some of Timm’s past DC works have an underlying, ongoing plot (Justice League comes to mind) most of the episodes were singular “one and done” adventures. It’s by no means a bad thing, but it is different than what I was expecting. Time will tell if it will pay off. I also don’t know if this series is tied into the “Timmverse” at all ( being the only DC show done in CG,) but I sure hope it is. How awesome would it be for Hal Jordan to eventually meet up with other cosmic DC characters like Lobo, the New Gods, or even Superman?
Speaking of over arching plot, now might be a good time to introduce the overarching villains of the show. The franchises’ main over arching villain, Sinestero, looks to be absent from this series in any form, possibly cause the movie wanted to have first dibs on the character if they ever decide (God forbid) to do a sequel, so instead we have the Red Lanterns. Looks like it’s time for MORE CONTEXT!
The Red Lanterns are still a relatively new group of villains in the Green Lantern comics. They are a rage-fueled version of the Green Lantern Corp, who are characterized as being violent and vengeful beasts. In the comics, the Red Lanters mostly act like mindless monsters except for their leader, Atrocitus, who has a personal vendetta against the Green Lanterns. The biggest change made is that all Red Lanterns now have the ability to think, talk and reason with each other clearly. They are also substantially less violent than their comic counterparts; they don’t even do their signature move of vomiting a napalm-like blood (yeah, comics are both weird and badass.) This does make the concept of “rage incarnate” villains feel a little neutered by comparison. I understand that some changes had to be made to make the show “kid friendly,” but without being mindless, angry monsters the Red Lanterns feel much more generic as villains. They don’t really have that spark that makes them unique. But again, it might be too early to judge. The writers might have something planed with the villains, particularly Atrocitus, that could be very entertaining.
All in all, the pilot wasn’t bad. I know that doesn’t sound like a glowing recommendation, but it does look like a show that has room to grow. There are some odd choices put into place so far (the choice to go CG being the biggest of the bunch,) but if you look past that, there might end up being a good show here. Only time will tell if Timm and his team will take advantage of the wealth of great stories and characters that DC’s history has to offer. I can only hope that this will be a good introduction to the Green Lantern universe for new audiences and hopefully new fans. It’s too early to say, but I’ll be watching closely and hoping the best.
No evil shall escape my sight.
- Moo

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Puss in Boots (A Review)

Oh Puss in Boots! You are in an interesting position, aren’t you? You’re a spin-off of the Shrek franchise, which in my eye (for better or for worse) represents Dreamworks Animation as a whole (kind of like how Toy Story is the embodiment of Pixar.) But after 3 progressively worse sequels, and multiple shorts and holiday specials (Shrek the Halls? ugh…) the franchise is looking a little stale at this point. The only logical next step was to have a character spin off from the main franchise in hopes that it might bring a breath of fresh air to the company’s flagship fairy tale franchise. Enter Antonio Banderas reprising his role as the ever charming Puss in Boots, now in his own feature film.
It’s no surprise to say that after this Shrek overload, many people, including myself, have gotten a serious case of franchise fatigue. So does this adorable swashbuckler have enough substance to pull us back into their fairy tale littered world?
Probably the first thing to mention is that the movie isn’t a laugh out loud riot, and it clearly doesn’t mean to be. It’s not to say that it isn’t funny; the character of Puss is still his awesome mix of suave machismo meet cutesy adorableness, but that’s mostly at the beginning of the movie, and a little bit at the end. Most of the time this is a straight up action/adventure flick. That’s not a bad thing, but it does make the film feel slightly bi-polar, not really knowing if it wants to be funny or serious. A great example is my personal favorite segment of the movie, where we see Puss’ childhood growing up with Humpty Dumpty (played with earnest feeling by Zach Galifianakis.) Everything about the segment is great, and it shows some really dramatic moments, but before and after the flashback we have Puss’ new partner for the movie, Kitty Softpaws (a “meh” performance by Salma Hayek,) undermining the story in an attempt to get a small laugh in before and after the extended ”serious” part of the movie. The character’s disinterest (which I’m sure is supposed to be played as a joke) before and after the segment just doesn’t fit with the tone they’re going for in this part of the movie, and as a result it kind of ruins that nice dramatic moment we just had.
For the new characters, it does kind of feel like this film got the “left over” fairy tale characters that the Shrek franchise hasn’t already used, but they definitely made the most of it. The real issue here is the story, which is fun, but I can’t help but nitpick a lot about it. In the film Puss teams up with his ex-friend Humpty and new partner Kitty in a quest to get the magic beans from the “Jack and the Beanstalk” tale, which leads them to a castle in sky where they find a goose that lays golden eggs. There are plenty of good things in this tale, such as Puss’ quest to reclaim his honour. The fight and action scenes are a blast to watch. The art design for the giant’s castle in the sky is breathtaking. But for all this eye candy, the subsense of the story is lacking. Without revealing too much, there’s a twist in the third act that doesn’t make all that much sense, followed by a quick twist back for the final battle. Again, it’s like this movie wants to do something serious, but they’re afraid to stray too far from their formula. 
What it all boils down to is Puss in Boots is a good movie. But with a little more polishing and bolder story decisions could have been a great movie. I always thought Puss would make for a good spin-off character as he never was all that essential to the plot in Shrek movies to begin with (let’s face it, even though he had some of the biggest laughs in the Shrek franchise, he could have been easily taken out of the movies and the plot would have been the same.) Sadly, this movie is pulled between wanting to do a comedy or an adventure instead of finding a happy harmony of the two. And even the jokes get a little tiring after a while, reusing gags over and over again (Kitty stealing from Puss without Puss realizing was funny the first time…and only the first time…) And be prepared for A LOT of cat jokes and puns, of which I kind of got tired of near the end of this 90 minute feature. However, if you are a cat person, be prepared to fall completely in love with every gag and joke in this movie. 
After growing more and more tired of the Shrek franchise, I was pleased that this movie didn’t continue the downward trend in quality of those movies. However, after viewing Puss in Boots I still can’t shake the feeling that there were a lot of missed opportunities here. There’s lots of little things holding it back, almost as if it was afraid to try something new. And they really shouldn’t be! New is what they need! The bombardment of Shrek sequels have gotten so old, stale and crunchy. I’d love something new! And I almost got it with this spin-off, but at the end of the day we still end up with a very “Dreamworksy” animated movie here. One that has tired jokes, and that always has to end with a pop song and a dance montage. Always.
- Moo

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Top 5 Animated Moustaches

Well, November has crept up once again. And what does that mean? Well gents, it means it’s time to grow out a moustache for Movember! For those not in the know, Movember is when gents grow a moustache during the month of November to raise money and create awareness for mens health, mostly focusing on prostate cancer. It’s a worthy cause to grow out the ol’ upper lip, but many guys are hessitent. Well, that’s what I’m here for!
To attempt to inspire more folks to grow out some striking facial hair, I present to you my list of the top five moustaches to grace an animated character! If this don’t inspire you, nothing will! So let’s see who made the list, eh?
5) Captain Hook
The flamboyant Captain may not know a thing about capturing/killing children, but does he ever know a thing or two about moustaches! Look at that sucker! It’s pointing straight up! It’s more expressive and sinister looking than his eyebrows! This gravity defying stache puts Salvador Dali to shame. 
4) Ned Flanders
Stupid sexy Flanders and his stupid sexy moustache. This neighborino’s thick push-broom moustache is such a part of this character, it’s hard to think of one without the other. Truly, he was made for his moustache. Plus, this do-gooder does a great job in reminding us that moustaches not only look good on sinners, but saints as well.
3) Dr. Robotnick 
As photoed here accepting his degree in kick-ass moustachology. More specifically, I’m picking the Robotnick from the inexplicably insane Adventure of Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon, as this Robotnick stache was more manic disheveled. Just like a mad sciences moustache should be. 
2) Snidely Whiplash
So, you wanna be a villain? You want to tie hapless damesels to railroad tracks on a near daily basis? Well then, you best follow Mr. Whiplash’s footsteps and grow one of these curly suckers. Because, honestly, what’s the use of doing despicable villainy if you don’t have a proper moustache to twirl while doing so, ‘miright?
1) Yosemite Sam
It must be tough to be Yosemite Sam. He’s a high-tempered, gunslinging shorty who constantly get outwitted by a rabbit. But hey! When you have a moustache that is more than two thirds your own hight, you must be doing something right with your life. Kudos Yosemite. At least in this category, you came out on top. 
- Moo

Monday, 31 October 2011

Does Today’s World Need Beavis and Butt-head?

I have a confession to make…I never really liked Beavis and Butt-head. I know they’re animation icons of the 90s, but something about them never really clicked with me growing up. I’m a fan of Mike Judge’s other well-known animated sit-com, King of the Hill, as well as Daria, which spun-off from Beavis and Butt-head. But I don’t know. Maybe it was the sheer stupidity of the main duo, or maybe simply I couldn’t stand their grating, inane chuckles. But for whatever reason, I just couldn’t jump onboard the Beavis and Butt-head bandwagon.
And now here we are in 2011, and they’re back on MTV after ending their initial run of 8 seasons from 1993 to 1997 and a feature length movie in 1996. But times have changed since the 90s. The world has changed. MTV has definitely changed. And hell, the two were pretty much poster characters for both MTV and the 90s! So is there still a place in this world for these characters? Or are they just forgotten animated relics out of their time period and element?
The first episode of the 2011 revival features the show’s typical structure of two shorts mixed in with bits where the duo gives their “unique” commentary on videos. The animation remains looking largely the same with its simplistic, limited, hand drawn look from back in the day. Art wise, it still has that “grungy” look that it had before; it’s like these are doodles someone sketched in their high school agenda while they were supposed to be paying attention in class. It’s all very reminiscent and nostalgic of the old series, and hasn’t changed all that much, but what has changed are the topics the show tackles.
Right away you can see Mike Judge has a wealth of new material in which his signature nitwits can interact with. The first short, Werewolves of Highland, directly dives into one of the biggest pop culture phenomenons of present time, and is also quite a popular franchise to lampoon presently, the Twilight saga. I found I enjoyed myself as Beavis and Butt-head tried to understand why girls go crazy for these stories about undead lovers. This leads to their idiotic idea of turning into werewolves to “pick up chicks.” The idea of this kind of parody isn’t exactly new, but the sight gags were certainly creative, and they took this idea to places that truly only these characters would go.
But while Twilight is an easy target, what I was even more interested in was what the duo would do in their random “TV watching” segments that they became famous for. Would they still be watching music videos, like they did in the olden days? Do teens even watch music videos anymore? Cause MTV certainly doesn’t play them anymore. Well, hey then! Problem easily solved! They’ll just watch MTV anyway! Don’t worry, B&B still comment on modern music videos (including some dubstep) but they now also watch many of MTV’s popular shows, including Jersey Shore. And it was during this segment in particular did I have a revelation about this show.
It was when a guy on Jersey Shore (I’m sorry, I’m not doing the research to find out which guy) made a dick joke, and Beavis sarcastically noted the cleverness of it…Beavis did that. A character who has spent most of his animated career making and laughing at dick jokes proved more mature then Jersey Shore. It was then it all became clear to me the depth of this show’s ability to satirize. It uses the characters of complete morons to openly mock everything else that’s wrong with pop culture through comparison. And there is a lot, a lot wrong with pop culture nowadays. 
Looking back with that in mind, it makes total sense. Judge has always been kind of like that jerky street artist who will draw a characterture of someone, but will exaggerate that one feature of their’s they’re ashamed of. He does this both with his design, and his writing. He creates characters that you mostly laugh at, not with. And through that, he’s been able to create some truly complex jokes and jabs. I’ve since gone back and watched some older episodes of Beavis and Butt-head, and sure enough, it’s there too. I think it may have just slipped over my head growing up, and I passed these characters off as just plain moronic. It’s remarkable how as I’ve matured, these immature characters seem more appealing. 
So do we need Beavis and Butt-head in today’s world? Well, in a world with so much crap in pop culture (particularly from MTV) I’d say that these two are more needed now than ever before. Coming back to some of his oldest and most cherished characters, Mike Judge’s writing has only become sharper and more clever throughout the years. I’m very interested to see what the duo will do next. So am I officially a Beavis and Butt-head fan? Well…getting there. I’ll have to still get over the duo’s irritating, yet iconic laughs first. 

Toons of Terror (Part 5: Dem Bones)

Yesterday’s blog was a little heavy, so let’s lighten things up with the happiest place on earth during the scariest time of year. It’s time for Disney’s take on Halloween! Today we look at two old school, black and white Disney shorts. Both featuring dancing skeletons! HORRAY!!
One being the Silly Symphony, Skeleton Dance (1929) and the other being a Mickey Mouse cartoon Haunted House (also 1929.) What are the chances of two Disney shorts involvine dancing skeletons coming out in the same year? Probably pretty good, actually. I’m not sure which came first, but there is some borrowed animation between the two, so there definitely was some collaborative brainstorming going on at Disney. Probably someone said, “dancing skeletons! Let’s do a short about that” And someone else said, “are you kidding?! There’s waaay to much material with a concept like that! We gotta do two!” As least that’s how I like to think it went down…
I’m grouping these two together, because they’re both very similar. One just happens to involve a very popular mouse. The imagery in both is actually pretty creepy for Disney. Being an older cartoon, they were able to actually get away with a little more artistically, I find. But even though the art is chilling, being Disney, these shorts never loose their sense of fun. It’s a kind of “playful scary” vibe that Disney later used in full force on their Haunted Manson ride. 
They’re both excellent cartoons. Skeleton Dance may be the more classic of the two, but I personally love the Mickey one a tad more. There’s something great about seeing this character so terrified that I always loved. And it’s also great that these ghouls just scared the hell out of him so that he would play the organ for them (probably cause skeletons don’t have any organs! Ba-dum tish!)
Ok enough of that. Just check out these shorts, they’re not very long, and even though they look old, the quality of the animation and storytelling hasn’t aged a day. 
- Moo

Toons of Terror (Part 4: Fear Bending)

I am a stone cold advocate of seeing animation as a medium, and not as a genre. Animation has the potential to do any genre in its own unique way that only animation can do. Yet, with that said, there are certain genres it does have trouble with or that I feel haven’t been explored well enough within the medium. One of those genres is horror. I love horror movies, and I love animation, but the amount of truly scary pieces of animation I’ve seen are far to few. So today for our Toons of Terror segment, let’s view a Halloween special that’s dripping with the tropes and tricks used in classic horror filmmaking. The show is Avatar: The Last Airbender, and the episode is simply called The Puppetmaster
I’ll try to keep this review as spoiler free as I can, as this episode is in the final season of the show, and at this point is rather deep into the overarching story. But let me say this: if you haven’t seen this show already GO WATCH THIS SHOW!! It’s one of the best cartoons I’ve seen in recent memory, and one of the best adventure shows of all time.
Now, with that said, this episode in question, while not technically a Halloween special, did premiere around Halloween of 2007 and is creepy as shit, so I’ll let it slide. The episode centers around the Avatar crew as they attempt to solve a mystery of people disappearing from a town every time there is a full moon. It’s a simple set up, but what separates this episode from being less Scooby-Doo like and more like a true horror film is the way they execute the events. It’s all in the delivery.
Now, since this still is an all ages show, they couldn’t get away with anything too gruesome, but that doesn’t mean they wern’t allowed to create the same atmosphere as done in a live action horror movie. In horror, what we can imagine is usually what’s the most frightening. Often times in film (especially early and indie horror filmes,) the budget would usually limit what you could show the audition, and that would actually be beneficial as the audition would fill in the blanks with their own fears. In animation, it’s a lot easier to just show big flashy things, cause it would essentially coast more or less the same than other scenes. But here in this episode, they wisely choose to show less, and tell more, letting our imaginations run wild. The very first scene is the kids telling each other ghost stories, and then Toph (the blind one of the group) tells others she could hear people screaming under the mountain followed by silence. They don’t show any of this, we’re just told. Our imaginations fill in the rest, and that’s just the first 5 minutes of this amazing episode. Creepy sounds and music (or sometimes lack there of) would make things feel very ominous. The storyboarding would show us just enough to wet our appetite for curiosity. Hell, there’s even some very sublet (almost subliminal) creepy imaginy, such as a random old woman’s face in a head of cabbage. 
And if that weren’t enough, the episode is also a big character moment for the character of Katara, and it actually answers some big questions I had about the show’s premis of “water bending.” But that’s getting into spoilerish territory, so again I’ll just say go and watch this one if you haven’t already. It’s a bold move for a “kid’s show” to do a episode meant to be frightening, and I feel it paid off for them in a very, very big way. 
- Moo

Toons of Terror (Part 3: Hey Aliens!)

Trick or treat is a simple concept. You either get tricked, or you get a treat. However, often times the alluring promise of free candy overwhelms the whole “trick” element of Halloween. So, I went looking for a Halloween special whose main focus was a really solid Halloween prank. And oh did I ever find one in Hey Arnold!’s halloween special, simply titled Arnold’s Halloween.
While there’s been many “spooky” episodes of Hey Arnold!, featuring ghost stories and other urban legends and tales, this is the only proper Halloween special that the show seemed to have. And lucky for us it pays homage to one of the greatest pranks ever, Orson Welles’ radio drama War of the Worlds
For those not in the know, War of the Worlds was a radio drama adaption of a piece written by H.G. Wells, directed and narrated by Orson Welles on October 30th 1938. The drama depicted an alien invasion as told from the perspective of a radio broadcaster. However, many people who missed the beginning of the piece (where it started it was fiction) kinda lost their shit thinking that this was a real alien invasion. People called the media and police, fled their homes, claimed they smelt poison gas and saw the flash of lights from the alien’s mothership. Mass hysteria! 
Arnold’s Halloween is a full homage to the classic radio drama and its fallout. After Arnold’s grandfather refuses to let Arnold and Gerald in on the planing for his anual Halloween pranks, the two decide to pull a prank of their own War of the Worlds style, faking a alien invasion broadcast. Even going so far as to have their classmates dress up as aliens. The prank however worked too well, and once the local media picked up on the broadcast, the whole town’s a panic. Again, mass hysteria! The fun is simply watching this good natured prank spiral out of control, having the kids flee for their lives in their alien costumes, and watching the adults totally lose their shit as the city goes into a complete panic. The cherry on the top of this cartoon sundae is voice actor Maurice LaMarche who not only voices one of the show regular antagonists, Big Bob Pataki, but is able to reuse his killer Orson Welles impersonation (that he perfected as The Brain in Pinky and The Brain) as Donald Wells, a report obsessed with alien conspiracies. 
The story of the fallout of The War of the Worlds has such natural comedy potential, it’s pretty surprising nobodies used it before. It’s a fun, panic filled story with tons of little moments, like Principle Warts planing to surrender willfully to the supposed invaders. I consider this one to be a hidden gem of animated Halloween specials. If you haven’t seen it before, give it a gander.
- Moo

Toons of Terror (Part 2: Horrorstar Runner)

Let’s keep the Halloween toons a coming with something a little more indie, shall we? Back in the 2000s, the internet was littered with Flash cartoons. You don’t see them nearly as much anymore thanks to the convenience of online video players and youtube, but a decade ago (yes, I just made you feel old) many websites would be entirely constructed using Flash, and the notion of a weekly webcartoon was quite a reality. Sadly, the time and effort to put into a weekly cartoon was an incredibly daunting task for the creators, so not many stuck around all that long. But out of all Flash cartoons that dominated the web at the time, no website was more diligent than Homestar Runner. And because they became known for their ability to release new shorts on a reliable schedule, you began to look forward greatly to certain anual traditions and trends that would pop up. Personally, I always looked forward to October, cause that would mean we’d get some sweet Homestar Halloween lovin’. 
So what made the Homestar Halloween specials such a treat? 
Well, it has to do with my personal favorite part about the holiday: dressing up. There are a grand total of 10 proper Halloween toons (as well as some bonus Halloween shorts some years) and every year the abstract cast of character would get dressed up in some of the most obscure, and sometimes very creative, costumes I’ve seen in animation. The cartoon’s writing was always a good mix of bizarre, quirky characters with a tad of popculture references, but on Halloween the popculture references would just go through the roof! Whether it would be Homestar dressing up as tennis player John McEnroe, or Strong Sad as a member of Devo, or Strong Bad as Cesar Romero’s Joker (complete with makeup over the moustache) seeing these characters in costume was just a blast year after year.
What I love is that each special is really different storywise, yet constant in theme, which made for some really creative shorts. Some of my favorites include a horror film spoof Jibblies 2, and Strong Sad’s time to shine in his Poe inspiredDoomy Tales of the Macabre. Another thing the site excelled in was the use of Flash’s interactive features, which allow the viewers a chance to find secrets and directly partake in the cartoon. No toon on the site did this better then the Halloween specials The House That Gave Sucky Treats and Halloween Potion-Me-Jig. And that’s not even touching the bouns shorts the website released over the years for Halloween! This included a rather unsettling marshmallow ad, an adorable interaction between puppet Homestar and a little girl, and the judging of real Homestar related costumes by Strong Bad himself (something that would also turn into an anual tradition on the site.) 
There hasn’t been a new Homestar cartoon in about a year, but their website is still up there, complete with all the Halloween goodies I mentioned and many more. I don’t know if Homestar will ever grace this good internet again, but for a good decade I had the joy of receiving sweet, sweet Flash animated treats every Halloween, and I adored the amount of detail and effort that went into every one of them.
And now a picture of the goblin dressed as a Santaman…
- Moo