The Little Prince Review

The Little Prince

Whimsy and beautiful animation is often not enough to carry a film beyond its initial couple of minutes – which is something that The Little Prince tackles directly. Opening with muted colours and a child with her whole life planned out, the film explores what it means to be a child and adult alike. Even with deeper explorations of themes than most family films, this is still a wild adventure that makes up for a lack of subtlety by the time it reaches its heartwarming conclusion.

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Anomalisa Review | VIFF 2015

Charlie Kaufman is one of America’s preeminent writers of existentialism and nearly all other forms of humanity. Anomalisa is another example of Kaufman’s look into the droll life of a man, but with his usual quirks and outlooks on love and infidelity added in. With this film being served to the audiences in Kaufman’s first use of animation, there is sure to be some worry among his fans on whether his style can be translated in a different visual medium. It’s safe to say that being lost in this droll, ugly world has never looked so beautiful. Continue reading

From Up on Poppy Hill Relays the Struggle for Identity in Post-war Japan

From Up on Poppy Hill Japanese Poster

From Up on Poppy Hill Japanese Poster

TitleFrom Up on Poppy Hill
Genre(s)Animation, Drama, Family
Director(s)Goro Miyazaki
Release Year2013

Studio Ghibli is the best animated company out there right now, consistently providing the best in hand-drawn animated films since Castle in the Sky. However, it has become apparent that Hayao Miyazaki is where all the talent resides in the film studio, not to say that other directors have not had success, but that Miyazaki seems to be where all the more imaginative films stem from. His films fall less on the realistic side and more into the surreal and fantastical. Then you have the other films in the Ghibli canon like From Up on Poppy Hill, which places Hayao’s son Goro Miyazaki in the director’s chair with a script co-written by his father and Keiko Niwa (who co-wrote Goro’s debut Tales From Earthsea with him). This film grounds itself in the past, as a 1963 Japan prepares itself to host the Olympics and a backdrop of post-war change lingers throughout the nation.

The plot is extremely simple, with Umi Matsuzaki (Masami Nagasawa) slowly falling in love with Shun Kazama (Junichi Okada), as they work with the rest of their school to fix the school’s clubhouse and save it from being demolished in preparation for the Olympics that are coming to Tokyo. The plot is not what matters here though, but the cultural significance of the questions it raises. The school is being demolished because it represents the past, something which the government wants to transition from, but the students feel there is room for the past in this changing world. The clubhouse represents Japan’s own past, and the demolition of it would wipe years of memories away, and represent the degradation of Japan’s history and culture. Meanwhile, as the struggle to retain elements of the past continues, Kazama is at odds with himself as he tries to find out the identity of his real father. This creates an internal conflict as Kazama wonders who he is. Subsequently, the film uses Shun as a representation of Japan’s hunt for its own identity.

Read the Rest of the Review After the Jump.

Wreck-it Ralph wrecks the curse of video game movies.

Wreck-it Ralph Theatrical Poster

TitleWreck-it Ralph
Genre(s)Animation, Comedy, Family
Director(s)Rich Moore
Release Year2012
IMDB: 7.9/10
Rotten Tomatoes84%

If I’m not watching films, writing, at work, or at school, I’m probably playing video games. Growing up, it was the escape from reality that I would crave, which I now only moderately indulge in. The stories can be on par with many films we see nowadays, examples including Bioshock, Metal Gear Solid, and Heavy Rain. The odd thing is, never has this medium been able to be successfully adapted to a movie with its original source completely intact. There are movies like Scott Pilgrim vs The World and The FP which have borrowed elements from gaming culture, but never truly adapted an entire game properly. But even the former is an adaptation of a graphic novel, so the gaming material has been pre-chewed for easy development. With Wreck-it Ralph though, it’s the closest movies have gotten to creating a delightful game adaptation, while still not actually taking a real property and wholly adapting it. It borrows elements from many other pre-existing games which will please many gamers, but it creates a handful of original properties to incorporate within its universe that feel like games I’ve played many times before. Beyond the many references to other games and elements of gaming culture, there’s a deeper appreciation that can be had if you can get past the typical beats of any other animated film, and some forced moments that could have easily felt more natural.

Wreck-it Ralph tackles the issue of bad guys in video games through its protagonist Ralph, voiced by John C. Reilly. He has one role in the game Fix-it Felix Jr, and that’s to wreck a building and try and stop Fix-it Felix (voiced by Jack McBrayer) from being able to fix the wreckage. It’s essentially an iteration of the Donkey Kong arcade game from the ’80s, which is clever because Donkey Kong was the bad guy in that game and later became the flagship star and good guy of the Donkey Kong series. That is exactly what Ralph wants to do: break convention and be the good guy for once. To do this, he jumps through a few games, and many mishaps occur in his plot to become the good guy. It’s a very typical film once you get past the video game references and unique story, but because it utilizes unique elements from games like glitches, hidden levels, and different genre elements, it manages to be engrossing, albeit very predictive.

Check out the rest of the review after the jump

Frankenweenie is just an analogy for Tim Burton’s career, really.

Frankenweenie Theatrical Poster

Genre(s)Comedy, Animation, Horror
Director(s)Tim Burton
Release Year2012
Rotten Tomatoes100%

Is it safe to say that Dark Shadows, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Alice in Wonderland were terrible? I don’t think I’ve ever quite enjoyed a Tim Burton-directed film, besides the original Batman, Beetlejuice and moments in Big Fish. That being said, his animated films which he’s been associated with tend to be incredible and exciting, breathing fresh air into the stop-motion genre with each film. I didn’t enjoy Corpse Bride but The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach remain classics for me. The most recent of which was 16 years ago, begging the question, what has been going on with Burton? To say he’s lost his creative spark probably wouldn’t be too far off, but it’s something more. Every film of his has been going through the motions, but they still retain that Tim Burton-vibe so it has always seemed like Burton has just been prying for cash with every film. Well, while he may still be milking his movies for all they’re worth (or more than that), he finally has released a film I can get behind.

Apparently all it took was for Burton to look back into the past and pull up some of his old material for a good movie to surface. If you’ve followed Tim Burton’s career, you probably have seen his original 1984 short called Frankenweenie, a film that evokes the style of Burton completely. It was an omen of what was to come from him. Coming back 28 years later, Burton decided to revisit his old short and turn it into a feature length film. The concept stays entirely the same: Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan) loves his dog Sparky (Frank Welker) more than anything in the world and when he dies, he doesn’t want to move on and decides to resurrect his dog. What the feature length film is able to do is it takes the scope and goes bigger with it, tackling monster movie after monster movie. The third act of the film is almost a barrage of ‘Know Your Scary Movie’ trivia, not giving much uniqueness to the story. But that’s fine, because the way everything is tied together works perfectly within the confines of the film. I noticed one plot detail didn’t get answered by the end of the movie, but it’s a minor detail that doesn’t affect anything by not being solved.

Check out the rest of the review after the jump.

Review – Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs Theatrical Poster

TitleCloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
Genre(s)Animation, Comedy, Family
Director(s)Phil Lord, Chris Miller
Release Year2009
Rotten Tomatoes86%

Pixar has been the staple of animation, with their films always being lauded as better than the previous ones (in terms of animation, Cars 2 and Brave were not better than the rest of their films, I know). Dreamworks Animation has definitely been doing an excellent job at rivaling Pixar, but one company has been out there attempting to do some excellent work and that’s Sony Pictures Animation. While not boasting the most films in their repertoire, they’ve done some huge films like The Smurfs and Open Season, and more recently The Pirates! Band of Misfits and Arthur Christmas. Their animation is almost always great, but the films themselves rarely end up critically praised by viewers, often becoming more like kiddie fare than anything else (with the exception of the two recent efforts mentioned). A film that perhaps doesn’t receive the amount of appreciation it should is Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs that came out in between two straight-to-DVD releases, and may very well be one of the best animated films released, topping the animations of even the behemoths that are Pixar.

Based on the children’s book of the same name, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs follows Flint Lockwood (voiced by Bill Hader), a guy who just wants to make his town, once famous for their sardines before the cannery closed down, famous again. From a young age he has invented many devices that always went wrong in some way, whether it be a hybrid animal of rat and bird (“Ratbirds”), a hair-unbalder, or shoes that simply spray on your feet. His most recent invention mutates water into food, showcased in the raining of cheeseburgers. The premise is ridiculous, and the fact that Flint figures out a way to make it rain whatever food he wants is hard to believe, but this movie relishes (no pun intended) on its absurd plot. The humor is very much an encapsulation of the style used in Saturday Night Live skits, and the film even hosts three cast members from the show (Hader, Andy Samberg, and Will Forte) who lend their voices to this hilarious film. The movie is never afraid to shy away from a joke that the audience might not get, referencing other movies in its animation, or even just making callbacks to previous inventions or situations in the film (the “ratbirds” make a recurring appearance throughout).

This can all be attributed to Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who both wrote and directed the film, and who I first enjoyed with this year’s 21 Jump Street, a film that definitely owes a lot to Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs’ visual direction and absurd humor. The two are powerhouses when it comes to this style of comedy, but they are also able to write a cohesive story that can be both ludicrous and heart-warming at the same time. Flint is completely and utterly selfless, never doing anything for himself, and although him and his father (voiced by James Caan) have a hard time bonding, you can tell there’s a relationship there that is waiting to blossom again. Even the romance sub-plot between Flint and Sam (Anna Faris) is handled well, only coming to the forefront of the film in one memorable Jell-o sequence, allowing the film to satisfy the basic Hollywood film tropes while poking fun at those same tropes.

Seriously, think bouncing castle, but with the characteristics of Jell-O. Then refuse to bounce in anything not made of gelatin.

What really makes this movie excellent though, is the animation. There’s so much happening on screen at various points in the film, that it’s hard to believe how it was achieved with such fluidity and detail. To be honest, the art style wasn’t for me when the movie came out, and that’s why I was never really interested, but once you get used to how the characters look, you’ll forgive their very animated looks and only watch the animations. For a movie where food rains from the sky, it is very important that it contain some incredibly gorgeous shots. But there’s even small little details like Flint’s hair blowing in the wind when someone makes a lot of movement near him, or just the way the clouds move and keep their shape that make the film so beautiful to look at. It’s hard to remember a time when I was so engrossed by a film’s animation, with perhaps the only other really well-animated film coming to mind being Rango (once again, not a Pixar film, but incredible nonetheless).

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is a visual masterpiece, that may not be the deepest of films, with it still catering to a family friendly audience, trying to walk the line between adult and childish humor, but there’s something so endearing about the movie. The tale of a selfless hero is always one to enjoy, but it really is the art style and animation that make this film the whimsical experience that it is. Whether this is my favourite animated film, I do not know, but I would be hard-pressed to find a movie that has more beautifully animated sequences than this, and I definitely look forward to Lord and Miller’s upcoming Lego film as well as anything else they attach themselves to.

Overall: Recommended

Review – Brave

Brave Theatrical Poster

Genre(s)Animation, Adventure, Fantasy
Director(s)Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell
Release Year2012
IMDB: 7.9/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 71%

Brave comes out this Friday, but I managed to see an advanced screening of the film bright and early Monday morning. My excitement for this film had always been wavering since the first trailer for the film was released. That’s not to say I was ever not excited about the film, but it definitely had been decreasing with every glimpse of the trailer. Fortunately, the trailer delivers very little of the plot, but an inkling of what’s to come, making the film become so much more of an enjoyable experience. With films constantly revealing major plot points in their trailers, it’s refreshing to experience a movie spoiler-free and actually enjoy myself that much more.

Brave delivers a fantasy world that I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more of it in future Pixar films as it’s seldom explored throughout the film. That being said, the movie’s length doesn’t give much freedom to explore the world besides a few shots of horseback riding, making the film seem somewhat rushed and slightly claustrophobic, mainly taking place in one setting. The latter isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but a disappointing thing with a film that seems to have put quite a bit of effort into creating a beautiful world that demands more attention. Brave’s fables and lore create an enriching universe that usually is explored more deeply by Pixar films (Wall-E, Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo, and A Bug’s Life all explore their worlds much deeper than this).

The music in the movie also played a huge factor in me wanting to explore this world so much more. Wonderfully scored by Patrick Doyle (Thor, Rise of the Planet of the Apes), it’s a majestic, Celtic sounding score that fits the Scottish tone of the movie so wonderfully. And Scottish it definitely is, featuring the voice talents of Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly and Craig Ferguson, on top of other well known stars like Emma Thompson and Julie Walters. The film offers such a fairy-tale experience, it’s hard not to appreciate it with all of its charm and laugh at the humor littered throughout the film. Unfortunately, that humor does tend to be more on the childish side but the film itself seems more gravitated towards children as well. Because of this, the film lacks more of the signature adult themes from previous Pixar films. This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad since it is Pixar’s first attempt at a fairy tale story and the story itself does what most fairy tales do: present a story with an overarching theme that can apply to everyday life. In this case, it’s probably something to do with choosing your own path in life.

I can’t believe Pixar made Cars 2 either.

Overall though, Brave is a step in a relatively new direction for Pixar, and I do hope that they do more of these fairy tale stories in the future because they definitely could be good as well. It’s nice to see Pixar bounce back from the disappointment that was Cars 2, but hopefully with their next film, Monsters University, they manage to explore more adult themes and provide a film with a more deeper experience. That being said, I will likely end up seeing Brave again before its theatrical run is over,a nd will most likely buy it on Blu-ray when it is released. I would also like to add that if you are going to see this film in theaters, see it in 3D as it is definitely worth it with very few gimmicks.

Overall: Recommended