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