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Where the Wild Things Are (2009)
I normally advocate thinking about a movie's themes. . .
and dissecting every element, and I was all set to do that with this movie. In fact, once it became clear that the monsters were likely representations of the Max's real family, I found myself looking at each one as Max (Carol), his sister (the one with the owl friends), his mom and his unseen dad and all that. But the longer the movie went on, the less clear the designations became. Part of this is the fact that, since so little of Max's family life is portrayed, the monsters become more fully developed than the "real" characters and began to eclipse them. Because of this I worry that repeat viewings may only highlight this unevenness rather than clarify the filmmaker's vision, and it would be a shame if some faulty structural elements ruined the experience of this movie, since it really delivers the emotional goods. I doubt there's been an American kid's film this melancholy since the Neverending Story.
I think what really sold me on the movie was the science teacher's almost giddy depiction of the end of the solar system upon the death of the sun while the children listened on in silent horror, a fear that leaks into Max's monster fantasy. As a long time Woody Allen fan it reminded me of young Alvy Singer's dilemma in Annie Hall (he doesn't want to do his homework because he learned the universe is expanding and will someday break apart), although I'm not so certain that Max truly fears the end of the universe as much as the end of his family, which to a kid would seem like the same thing.
Another interesting thing is the fallibility of the monsters Max has imagined. To allude to Woody Allen again, in Crimes and Misdemeanors, there is a (suicidal) philosopher who posits that no religion has ever created a completely benevolent image of god(s). If we create our gods--be they Zeus, Superman, or Carol--with our imagination, then what does it say about us that human folly so often is included in our myths about them? Perhaps, as the movie seems to point out, loving each other isn't always easy, but we do it anyway. And maybe that's a better image of benevolence than even our wildest dreams can conjure up.
The bad: Did a movie about monsters really need to try to fake reality through shaky cam? It was fine in the opening shots, but not in the fantasy.
April Showers (2009)
A movie about survivors, not killers.
I just watched this movie at a screening at the high school where it was filmed. To be honest, I expected some kind of low-budget, Sundance-style film, or worse, a surface level re-enactment of the Columbine tragedy, with pretty faces ready-made for the next High School musical television special. Well, except for the fact that most of the characters are in fact gorgeous, especially the April character, I can now assure you that I was quite wrong.
First of all, April Showers is not a simple fictionalization of the Columbine tragedy; some of the most famous stories have been eliminated or altered, and elements of other shootings, including a video by the killer that is more reminiscent of the Virginia Tech killer's manifesto than the Klybold/Harris homemade movies, creep in here and there. These changes are unnerving both in the way it shakes up your expectations (nobody is shot for saying yes, though religion is an important theme, both for good and bad) as well as the way it gives the proceedings a more universal feel (it helps that Columbine is not mentioned in the obligatory "based-on-facts" header). That said, it still gives an insider's look at the very specific aftermath of Columbine, as the director showed in his open answers in the Q/A session that followed the screening. I can only hope for a commentary track will be included when the inevitable DVD/Blu-Ray comes out.
Secondly, like all good art, it strives to do more than simply relay facts to the audience. At its core, April Showers is a tragic love story--though I hate to compare it to a monster movie, it kind of reminded me of Cloverfield for some reason. I suppose in some ways, the two movies have the same theme--you don't know how long you have together, so make the most of it--except that this movie actually made me believe it.
If I had any concerns about the movie, it would be that while the filmmakers didn't go out of their way to portray the killer as a monster(it's too easy to hate these kinds of killers as it is, and the restraint is refreshing), they also failed to show him as a human being--literally. He is only portrayed in the manifesto video and through security camera footage that is horrifyingly similar to the infamous Columbine footage. I have mixed feelings about this choice. I applaud the filmmakers for not trying to force answers to the country's single, numbly-asked question, "Why?" That may well be the film's greatest strength, that it doesn't cater to our need to make sense of senseless acts. If nothing else comes out of seeing April Showers, I hope it will help me ask the right questions ("if 'bullying' (substitute your own word--video games, rap music, etc.) alone can cause people to kill, then why doesn't it happen more often?"). Still, never seeing the Klybold/Harris surrogate on a normal day leaves the audience only with the collective media memory of the Columbine attack to fall back on in order to fill in the gaps. I suppose I was hoping for the chance to empathize or sympathize with the killer's emotional plight, if only in the same way that I would for Humbert Humbert from Lolita or Jack Nicholson's character from The Shining or even Alex from A Clockwork Orange. Or maybe I've just seen too many Kubrick films. Still, despite the lengths I've gone to in trying to explain my concern, it is still a minor one. Interestingly, two of the survivors almost fulfilled that element for me, though that may have only been because of my mistaken assumptions. Before I saw the film, I had assumed that Daryl Sabara's character was the killer, and in his opening scene, he is being bullied, something that supposedly was one of the triggers for Klybold and Harris' rampage. Another character, a very close friend of the killer, is arrested, and for a while it's unclear why--I half expected that he was another gunman, but he wasn't.
My only other complaint, after only seeing the movie once, was that Sabara's character's story arc seemed a little obvious and/or heavy-handed compared to that of the main character.
All in all, it was a very well made film about survivors, not killers. The cinematography includes some judicious shaky camera work that leads to a rather surreal-looking, jerky running scene--almost like the old silent films when the frames per second wasn't standardized yet and so runs faster on modern equipment. I know that sounds like a complaint, but it's not.
The Lion King (1994)
Just some thoughts on Scar (possible spoilers)
This is probably why J.R.R. Tolkien was so against the use of allusions: has anybody noticed paradox of making Scar--through a song and dance routine, no less!--a Hitler-figure? If he were really akin to Hitler, wouldn't he be creating a scapegoat race--or in this case, a scapegoat species--and run around killing all of them (or more likely having them killed) for the sake of the purity of the species? Instead, he makes an agreement with the hyenas--who are hated by everybody in the pure Prideland--and actually honors his promise to them until the tide finally turns so far against him that he has no other way to survive than to finally make them the scapegoat. Also, Hitler was a great propagandist (I mean that in the most derogatory way possible), and I'm sure he built up the hatred against the Jews/gays/blacks/gypsies/etc. for a number of years before the genocides actually started. As a propogandist, Scar makes a lousy Hitler (again, spoken sarcastically): he brings in the SS hyenas immediately, as if he expected them to suspect his murder of Mufasa and retaliate against him; instead (though in the script they don't) everyone should have suspected him, as his little speech and the sudden appearance of the hyenas could only have been planned well ahead of Mufasa's death (*smack*smack*smack* quick round of knocking the lions' heads together for their stupidity). Someone as slick as Scar is supposed to have been should have known better than that; it is only the sheer dumbness of the lions and their supposed fear of the pitiful little hyenas that allows his assassination/coup to come off without a hitch.
Going along with that, Scar is portrayed as being far too obviously evil, so much so that it's hard to believe nobody but Mufasa and Simba though that he was power-hungry and back-stabbing before he murdered Mufasa (though if Mufasa didn't realize it during the confrontation scene after Simba's ceremony, then somebody needs to have smacked him upside the head and yelled, "Duh!"). I suppose you could call that a gaping plot hole (or at least a major lack of good judgment of character) that Mufasa would expect for his brother to help him. Obviously, Scar is meant to be a Shakespearean-type villain, like Ursula and Jafaar before him, but he is really too lacking. NEWS FLASH TO DISNEY: Yes, Shakespeare's villains are obvious to the audience, but that's because there were scenes where their deceptions are revealed only to the audience, not to the characters being deceived!
At least Ursula made her snide comments under her breath in asides.
Besides Scar, a great movie. Look for his amusing cameo in Hercules--a fate worthy of Hitler.
Junkers Come Here (1995)
Excellent even for anime haters
Just imagine! It took around eight years for this movie to reach America? Why? This isn't an anime genre piece like Perfect Blue or Gundam or Battle Angel that people outside of anime circles would mock or not understand or be disgusted by; this is a wonderful fantasy grounded in a very realistic, contemporary, America-like Japan. With the exceptions of the samurai drama and the parody of a classic shojo-manga theme (falling in love with your teacher or older person--not unheard of in America but not something that routinely appears in children's cartoons), Junkers Come Here could take place in any upper-class American town, or in England, or in France, etc.
The title character (though not main character) is a Schnauser named Junkers. Junkers is magical, reminding me a bit of Elliot from Pete's Dragon. He can talk and has the power to grant three wishes. As far as characterization, he's very laid back and easy-going, and he just loves period samurai TV shows (which makes me wonder if he's not some sort of reincarnated samurai himself), especially the over-the-top ones that are reminiscent of Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns.
The focus of the movie is Junkers' owner, Hiromi. She's a smart, well-behaved twelve-year-old who tends to take care of herself, since most times her parents are away on business, leaving her in the care of the daytime cook and a live-in college student who pays the rent by tutoring Hiromi. Of course, she falls in love with him, and that is probably the most cliched part of the story (though a dream she has of Junkers officiating her marriage to him is about as funny as can be). However, over the course of the movie, as it becomes clear that Hiromi's parents are heading for divorce, cracks in her projected self-reliance begin to appear.
I don't want to spoil much more than that. Just know that her wishes are neither spectacles like Aladdin nor twisted (much) to make her miserable, like in "The Monkey's Paw." While the ending is predictably happy (but just fanciful enough to make it self-evident that this is still a fantasy and couldn't happen in real life), there is an intensity of emotion (in both the Japanese and the English versions) that puts it on a level high above the likes of "Irreconcilable Differences."
The animation, though slightly "limited" like most anime, is not so distracting as even some newer anime (some of the crowd scenes in Perfect Blue come to mind, not to mention the Pokemon and Digimon movies). In fact, it has a beauty similar to the works of Studio Ghibli (most notably, Whispers of the Heart and I Can Hear the Ocean). Which is exactly why it is so universal, and why it is so surprising that the movie took so long, in this anime-obsessed nation, for it reach America. It is a wonderful film, even for those who normally dislike anime.
Mezon Ikkoku (1986)
Not as wild as the comic
The anime version of Maison Ikkoku doesn't have quite so much of the sexual humor as the original comics by Rumiko Takahashi, and for some reason the actor who plays Godai tries to hard to be funny and ends up overplaying him sometimes. Actually, a lot; but there are times when he nails the character. Sumi Shimamoto (one of my favorite voice actresses) as Kyoko Otonashi is just too perfect. She doesn't come across sounding like her strong Nausicaa voice or her soft Clarice-from-LupinIII voice--she sounds like a young woman who is trying to live on.
The animation, while it seems crude, was actually pretty good for back them (I think the Guyver came out about the same time--Maison Ikkoku is better). And every once in a while, the writers stretch a passing joke of Takahashi's well past the breaking point, until your willing to do anything if they would only stop for a minute so you can stop laughing.
Makes the whole Matrix phenomenon worthwhile.
I'm not a rabid fan of The Matrix (too many logistical flaws), though I have seen the two live action movies and plan on seeing the third (though I have to wonder why it is that so many movies lately are transition movies--Star Wars Episode 2, Matrix 2, X-2, etc).
My main reason for purchasing the Animatrix was that I am an animation lover, and not just of Disney or anime. I love Looney tunes, peanuts, Max Fleisher, Watership Down, Ralph Bakshi, Fantastic Planet, Wallace and Gromitt, Rocky and Bullwinkle, The Simpsons, etc. You get the picture. Of these nine stories, I can only say I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Not only is it beautifully animated, it has an imagination that rivals Miyazaki's. "Beyond" adds to the matrix mythology the essential element that it has been missing from the beginning: humanity in concrete terms. Unlike most of the rest, including the live action movies, it doesn't *talk* about what it's like to be human, because the characters are too busy being humans. It isn't about the mumbo jumbo of freeing one's mind to escape this seeming prison; instead, it shows someone, raised to believe the prison is not a prison, and she reacts realistically to it. Unlike the movies, it creates the sense that the people aren't automatons and are worth saving. (Not to take it too seriously, but just think of how many people they waste in all those shooting sprees--what, are they not worthy? Just because they don't buy into Morpheus' truth? Shouldn't they, ethically, knowing how these people will react to them, try to avoid conflicts with the caged humans, or at least attempt to use less-than lethal force? After all, is someone still a hero if they have to become the villain to save the world?).
The only real problem with Beyond is that it depicts animals as being as real as the humans (they're not, remember the deja-vu scene). But then, with the ending of Matrix Reloaded, perhaps there will be answers to this in Matrix Revolutions.
9/10. Seriously. You should see this even if you hate the matrix.
Beautifully made, but very disappointing in the end (spoilers)
Like most of the other posters here, I loved Rain for most of the movie--no, it's nothing earth-shattering, but then, most coming-of-age stories aren't. The young lead does a great job portraying a somewhat cliched character (young girl who "seduces" older man because she feels boys her age are immature), giving her an amount of vehemence that is startling at times.
Unfortunately, there's the ending which has already been mentioned, so I won't spoil it again. However, I will say that, with the current ending, it pretty much negates any importance the movie would have had. If the filmmaker's were adamant about keeping that part of the story, if that's what they thought was important, then I feel that the whole movie could have been done in ten minutes. In fact, I've seen several movies that begin where this movie leaves off.
2.5 out of 5 stars
Rumik World: Warau hyôteki (1987)
Oh god! the Brits!
First of all, I love the original comic, and so of course I bought this OAV. It's sort of a Carrie for Japanese teens, only with sexual abuse (by kids her own age when she was little) being (one of) the cause(s) for her psychotic behavior. The comic was very tight--tighter than FireTripper and Maris the Chojo--despite being about 60 pages, and slowly built up not only fear but pathos as well. In the end, no matter what this Japanese Carrie had done, you're left feeling ambivalent about her death, not really certain just how much of the evil was her and what part was the hungry ghosts, and even feeling sorry for her because of her abuse.
Of course, the ending of the OAV takes away from that, but I won't explain except that it ends with the usual horror cliche. Then there are the supposedly british voices for the dub--to me, they don't really sound British, but more like Americans trying to sound british. I've never understood why so many dubs try to sound british, and it's downright annoying at times in this one.
Only fun for those who have seen the series, if then
First of all, I watched this movie once before I even saw any of the series, so I was fairly confused--especially by the amount of characters who appear for a few minutes and then disappear. I knew it was supposed to be a retelling and not a summary of the series, but even on that level, I didn't really "get" Hitomi's reason for caring so much for Van all of a sudden, why that blonde captain (Allen, as I learned later) was even there, or what the hell Dune (or Folken, take your pick) was all about. The confrontation with Dune was so incredibly anti-climactic that I almost hoped for that old horror cliche of the villain coming back to life a few times to up his kill stats. No such luck, though.
Having just gone through a marathon session with the series (all twenty-six episodes in two days), I decided to watch the movie again this morning. Well, I had fun identifying all the characters from the series, who were all--down to the cat girls--developed into realistic characters throughout the television series, and it was kind of interesting to compare Hitomi's character (in the movie, she's totally depressed but realized the pain she was causing others; in the series, she was lively, but in being so, she missed the signs that she was hurting people). However, the story (which recasts Hitomi as a "Winged Goddess" figure instead of a girl with skills at fortune telling, and Van into an uncontrollably violent person, but sweet and gentle when he's not killing people) isn't all that interesting (and seems to have been more influenced by the Evangelion series and movies than by Escaflowne), and 96 minutes is far too short a time to tell what should have been a sweeping epic. Instead, despite the claims that it is a retelling, it ends up feeling even more like a truncation of the series.
That said, I thought the animation was good (in an anime genre sort of way--I wouldn't expect a lot of other people to care too much for it, the way that even anime haters tend to like Studio Ghibli films), and the design for Hitomi, though not as kawaii as the series, really did fit with the darker tone of the movie.
Makes the same error as the original, plus some!
Apparently it is just as easy--and quick!--to write an illuminated manuscript as it is to fall forever and truly in love! In one afternoon, Belle creates an illustrated fairy tale for the beast--written in French in perfect type, except by hand! That shows the kind of time-carelessness that plagues Beauty and the beast as well as many other of Disney's movies.
Of course, this movie is slid into a time period in the first movie that I always suspected existed but that, through careless or ill-advised editing, was erased from existence--either on purpose or more likely on accident. In either case, the original as it stands spans a week at most--more likely three or four days. Not enough time to slip Enchanted Christmas into it, even if the original begins on December 22, without making the whole character arc an erratic mess (as this movie is). This is no sequel but a "what if there was more time" theorum.
That said, there were some good moments of eye candy animation that kept things from being so bogged down in absolute sappiness. Still, I couldn't help thinking that it was a grand folly to typecast the Beast as The Grinch in a cheezy, too-serious disneyfied remake of Dr. Seuss' book and Chuck Jone's classic cartoon that were both funny and touching in perfect balance.
Dot and the Kangaroo (1977)
Cheap, repetitious, recycled animation--sweet, charming story.
This is one of those movies that I watched when I was a kid that looked much better then than it does now (okay, not really, but I *remember* it looking better). In fact, this movie was probably the reason I'm into Australian animals so much.
The animation is a little better than Gross' other features, and the songs are all entertaining (at least the first time through), but I have to admit the best scene in any Gross feature is the live action carnival scene at the beginning of Toby and the Koala. Storywise, though, Dot and the Kangaroo is the best--mildly satirical, witty, and, in the end, sadder than any of Disney's tearjerking movies since Old Yeller (since most of them, from The Black Cauldron to Beauty and the Beast, walk up the road to tragedy then jump back at the last possible second--even after characters "die"). *(Spoiler)* DatK doesn't do that, or at least not so shamelessly, since kangaroo is only injured at one point, and she never finds her little joey. She merely helps little Dot get home, as if it were her way of dealing with her loss. *(end spoiler)*
In the end, though, the animation does become distracting and detracting. Just about every song is repeated twice in a row, with almost exactly the same animation, and often animation is repeated or recycled (sometimes using "speaking" animation when the character is no longer talking!). And Dot's voice is a little grating at times (I think it's an adult woman trying to sound like a little girl, but with little success--I wish animators would more often take the route of Isao Takahata's "Grave of the Fireflies" and hire children for the voices of children!).
Dôwa meita senshi Windaria (1986)
BAD DUB!! SIT!! HEEL!!
Like a lot of Eighties anime released in the US (Warriors of the Wind, Robotech, Space Warriors, Journey through Fairyland), this one was dubbed "down" to a child's level, with pandering voice acting and low intelligence expectations, in spite of the original's maturity. This isn't to say that Windaria is a particularly extraordinary feature even in the original version--it has pretty good animation, but it seems a little too derivative of Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind (and yet I can imagine Miyazaki laughing at the mystical parts of this movie). That said, the story in the English version, though missing sections important to the plot and character development, isn't so awful as to make it unwatchable. Hell, compared to Lin Minmei's voice on Robotech, this movie is rather pleasant!
Yousei furorensu (1985)
Interesting Animation, Horrible dub and odd story
Another anime movie released through Just for Kids (in 1995, ten years after the original Japanese version) that panders to children.
Actually, I had rather high hopes for this movie for the first ten minutes--the guy's voice wasn't grating and the human girl was actually kind of interesting, for what little time she spent on screen. However, the movie then introduces the fairy from *sigh* "Flower Land" (*barf!*). I can only hope that the Japanese version didn't have such lame dialogue; however, I have to blame them for relationship between the boy and the fairy, which would be annoying even without words. The animation itself was pretty interesting (no Fantasia, though), and it was nice to see a whole section that was basically an homage to Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind by Hayao Miyazaki. I even laughed a little when Hello, Kitty made her compulsory appearance (it is a Sanrio film, after all).
The worst part of the movie--and it just about ruins it--is the dubbed voice of the fairy girl, who keeps talking as if she's Marilyn Monroe in Seven Year Itch throughout the entire movie (the voice was funny in that movie, but in Journey, it's just grating as hell).
A breath of fresh animated air
I drove 200 miles with my brother just to see this movie in Kansas City, and it was worth the trip. I still don't know why Disney is expanding the release so slowly, as this is one of the best theatrical animated movies to come along in years, even in its dubbed form.
The dub is all right. I thought that Daveigh Chase did well most of the time, but I liked her better as Lilo (but then, that character was basically created around her). Lin's attitude was a bit cliche (like a hard-nosed heroine from the 1940s), but it wasn't distracting or detracting. Yubaba and her sister, though initially irritating, grew on me by the end. Haku was rather dull, like a zombie, but it turns out that maybe that had something to do with a certain plot element that I won't spoil. Anyway, at the end, he sounds like a different person, and that worked for me.
The animation is amazing, with the characters having far more to say with their body language than in any of Miyazaki's previous films. The character designs are fantastic and beautiful. I can sort of understand why everyone keeps comparing it to Alice in Wonderland, except that most there are fewer references to that book in Spirited Away than there was in My Neighbor Totoro. Besides, the gods/spirits/monsters are very Japanese (take the concept of the river spirits being dragons, or the Noh spirit ("the No Face") that eats people that was used by Rumiko Takahashi in Inu-Yasha) and have less to do with the illogic logic of Wonderland than it does with traditional Japanese folklore. I'm not Japanese, so I really can't say, but I'd just about bet that most of it makes sense to the Japanese, even whatever stuff Miyazaki made up.
Spoilers: One interesting thing I noticed were the references to Night on the Galactic Railroad by Kenji Miyazawa, especially the ride on the train with the see through spirits. This reference really helped me get a better idea about the alternate world Miyazaki created, and why it is what it is (the little girl spirit at the train station was extremely eerie for me).
Anyway, Miyazaki supposedly created this movie because he saw the young daughter of an aquaintance who seemed dispassionate about the world, but, I'm not sure how successful this movie will be about changing the minds of girls like her (I don't know who came up with the idea of "love" breaking the spells, because I seriously doubt it was Miyazaki, who generally doesn't rely on those kinds of abstract ideas (he would prefer to show, I'm sure--where in Mononoke Hime does San or Ashitaka say they love each other, yet you know they do by the end). It's interesting, though, that at the end Chihiro seems scared to be returning to her own world, holding onto her mother exactly the way she held onto her at the beginning of the movie, and there's something oddly hopeful about that.
9 out of 10 stars, for the dub version.
Return to Never Land (2002)
Better than I thought it would be (but I thought it would be crap)
I consider myself a fan of Peter Pan, and I'd have to say that the worst part of the movie is BBMak's rendition of the Lovin' Spoonful's "Do You Believe in Magic." Not only was it too obvious a song (despite being written some twenty years after World War 2, when the movie is set), but the changes were unoriginal and dumb, rendering the song as ineffectual as the McDonald's commercial version (i.e. it removes all the sexual references)! In the event that you haven't read the actual book, there is an amount of sexuality (or at least sexual tension) in the story of Peter Pan, if in no other scene than when Wendy and Peter exchange "kisses." I've never understood why Disney never utilized that bit, even as they sexualized the mermaids and Tiger Lily.
(Mild Spoilers) Oh, while I'm still on my be-true-to-your-book high horse, I would like to know whether I'm the only one who remembers that Tinker Bell is supposed to be saved by clapping (surely I'm not, because Spielburg utilized it in the similar "Hook.")? Jane, the daughter of Wendy, tells Tink to her face that she doesn't believe in fairies (this is, of course, akin to shooting her in the stomach, by the way--I actually found it hard to forgive her for that, since it's supposed to be part of the Peter Pan folklore, so much so that in the book, when Tink needs to be saved from Hook's poison, the whole world (except a few nasty children) claps for her (it explains the "I don't believe in fairies" bullet elsewhere)). Later, she cries at Tink's bedside, and this revives her. This make me think that the writers either weren't really fans of Peter Pan, or they thought Jane's crying was an effective way of eliciting sympathy and pity for her. It was, in the beginning. But I haven't seen an animated character cry so much since The Land Before Time, so by the time I reached this point, I was pretty tired of it.
Oh, the dialogue was pretty bad at times, and so was the acting for Pan. The animation for Captain Hook looked like it was traced out of the original, especially the slapstick stuff, so it all seemed way too familiar and unfunny (to be honest, it wasn't that funny to me in the original, either). On top of that, nothing in Jane's adventures really made things better for her at home (this was remedied by the customary and mandatory return of the father, though it doesn't mention whether the kids get sent off to the countryside after all or not), except that she wasn't so stressed out. In the end, it was as if her parents had sent her to a day spa so she could relax and blow off some steam. Go west, young man, and all that stuff. Even while in Neverland, Jane doesn't have an emotional arc--she has an emotional step ladder, on which she hops suddenly and unexpectedly to the next rung, reaches the plateau, then jumps off before we even have a chance to prepare for the denouement.
All of that was what I had expected, having watched a couple of Disney's other sequels, so I can't say I was disappointed. But, because of the god awful teaser trailer, I had also expected really shoddy digital and CGI animation (digital animation, as opposed to CGI, is a 2-D medium, basically just coloring the drawings with computers to save money, a common practice in Japan right now and was also utilized for Waking Life). The CGI was terrible, some of the most obvious shots since Blue Submarine 6. I don't know whether the characters were digital or not, however. They seemed awfully bright and colorful, which makes me think digital. In either case, the animation in general was actually pretty wonderful for what was originally going to be an OAV. It looks more like The Iron Giant than a regular Disney movie, and I don't consider that an insult. There were scenes and bits (such as the opening sequence in the clouds or Jane running through the streets of London or Jane falling towards the ocean like Ripley in Alien 3) that made me happy to be watching the movie, in spite of the story and the short running time.
Blue Seed (1994)
Similar to Neon Genesis, but not quite as artistic
Blue Seed is a revisionist updating of the Susano-Oh/Yamato-no-Orochi tale, and it is in some ways like Neon Genesis Evangelion (for instance, a main character in each is played by the incredible Megumi Hayashibara). Giant monsters rampage through Japan (in this case, totally isolated to the country of Japan, unlike Neon, where the entire world is in danger), bent on recreating the world in their own plant-like image. Like Neon, teenagers are at the center of the struggle-Momiji and her older sister Kaede are the secret weapons against the plant-monster Aragami, who will be banished from the earth if either one of them dies while still a virgin (that's why the mother is safe! LOL).
If the major complaint with major complaints with Neon Genesis could be summed up with the fact that so many animation sequences are re-used over and over (I got so sick of that damned penguin eating that same fish), then Blue Seed's major fault is that it sticks to the monster-appears/introduce-new-characters/new-weapon-is-created/monster-is-defeated formula for at least ten episodes after the initial two-episode introduction. Not that they're bad episodes, but they really don't add much to the overall story (though the relationship between Momiji and Kusanagi is deepened). Neon, even when introducing more characters and sticking to the same formula, was constantly evolving every character and revealing more and more of the government conspiracy and the motivations of Shinji's father. On the other hand, Neon was much more confusing and didn't really answer all the questions it posed, whereas Blue Seed is more straightforward (this could be a bane or a blessing, depending on your tastes).
However, the one thing that Blue Seed has that Neon doesn't is the Omake (`Extra') Theater, a set of thirteen 3-minute self-parodies/music videos that were apparently made for the show when it appeared on video. Seeing Kusanagi sell semi-nude pictures of Kaede and Momiji to TAC leader Kunikida is so freaking hilarious that I almost died laughing, just as Kusanagi does in a different Omake. The Susano-Oh OH-NO short and the Jong Jong Majong were also crazy!
Ima, soko ni iru boku (1999)
Some time back, I read an editorial about how the Japanese government was trying to `cleanse' their past by editing certain facts out of textbooks about the Japanese occupation of Korea (among other things), which included the capture of young Korean women and girls, who were then forced to be prostitutes for the soldiers. The writer condemned Japan for this, saying that if nobody remembers, the crimes will occur again and again.
It is works like the series `Ima, soko ni iru boku' (`Now and Then, Here and There'), the comic `Kaze no Tani no Naushika' (`Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind'), and the movies `Jin Roh,' `Grave of the Fireflies,' and `Seven Samurai' that convince me that, if nothing else, the Japanese literary world won't let the nation forget, and proves that many Japanese have in fact learned from their past.
NAT HAT, unlike such anime as `Urotsuki Doji,' is disturbing without being shocking or intentionally repulsive, which actually makes it even more unsettling (it doesn't allow the comfort of saying the villains are demons, either). In fact, I can't think of very many anime that were as powerful as this (basically, the ones above, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Perfect Blue).
I went into this series with absolutely no knowledge about it, except that it was supposed to be the best thing since Serial Experiment Lain. I didn't even realize that it was done by AIC until the credit popped up. In some ways, NAT HAT is like another AIC series, El Hazard: a `modern' Japanese boy (read: pacifistic) is transported to an alternate Earth (one close to being consumed by the sun) when he tries to rescue a girl from robot-riding kidnappers. Honestly, at that point I was beginning to regret the purchase of the series, since I was wanting something serious, and almost the entire first episode showed how much of a klutz our hero, Shu, is.
After he arrives in Helliwood (a sometimes-floating city reminiscent of Bespin-there's even a bit of a parody of Luke's battle with Darth Vader, which ends about the same way), forget about Shu's bumbling-ness and the robots. There still there, but they play such a minor roll in the rest of the 300 minutes that I'm almost tempted to call the first episode a waste of time (it's not, however, as by the end, everything including Shu's klutziness are twisted into the character-driven drama).
I don't want to spoil anything else about this series, but I must say that the 16+ warning on the back of the box is there for a reason. The world portrayed is one where young boys are captured and forcibly drafted into a Hitler's Youth-kind of army and young enemy girls (one is an American girl from Shu's time) are subjected to sexual slavery and are forced to give birth to children who will grow into future soldiers or prostitutes for the cause of a mad, cowardly dictator who bears a striking resemblance to Adolf Hitler with a bowl cut. Though there is no nudity to speak of, beyond seeing one girl in a slip and panties, the show is unflinching, especially in its portrayal of violence. These themes are both a reference to Japan's past and (inferred by the title) a reference to the fact that these things have and can happen anywhere, anytime, Now and Then, Here and There.
The animation appears to be done digitally (which is to say, it was drawn by hand, digitized, and then `painted' on a computer, which makes the colors a little flat), and the character designs take some getting used to (they are totally different than the artwork shown on the package, and even the characters who are supposed to be in high school seem to be around eleven or twelve), but it looks amazing, and only rarely does it ever seem cheap or rushed, which is pretty impressive considering this was supposedly made for Japanese television. While not as visually creative as Neon Genesis Evangelion or as beautiful-looking as AIC's Tenchi OAV's, NAT HAT is truly a must-see anime for adults.
The Brave Little Toaster (1987)
Not really a Disney movie, but a rough gem of a movie nonetheless
Though animated more like a saturday morning cartoon than a feature and featuring rather bland character designs, "The Brave Little Toaster" is still better than a lot of other cartoons. It has a visual creativity (part-Looney Tunes, part Silly Symphonies, and (a small)part MTV) that makes up for its limitations. Plus, the story (about animate appliances going on a road trip to find their master) beats Toy Story to the punch by about seven years (though I suppose animate inanimate objects were just about the first things put into cartoons). The songs are fun, if not performed perfectly, and fit better with the story than in a lot of recent Disney movies. The scene where the appliances all clean the house to Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti" is a lot more entertaining than the "whistle While You Work" scene from Snow White. The best thing about "BLT," though, is Toaster himself, who is the most convincing of the characters as he transforms from a bit of a coward and a follower into a full-fledged hero in the end. The scene he has with the flower is really beautiful.
I was ten when this movie first came out, and I watched it whenever I could on the Disney channel. It's still one of my favorite English-language cartoons from the eighties.
A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969)
The best of the Peanuts movies, a very honest feature (major spoilers)
Basically, A Boy Named Charlie Brown falls into the genre of competition movies for children, such as Little Giants, The Mighty Ducks, and Angels in the Outfield. However, this movie is by far the most honest and felt movie to come out of the genre. Unlike all the others, which show haggard, underdog teams of non-atheletes defeating more skilled teams (most of whom are mean or cheaters), to supposedly prove that winning isn't everything and just have fun and heart (or worse, in the case of Angels, that God decides who wins in sporting events), Charlie Brown is simply involved in a spelling bee in which he, though an underdog according to his friends (they call him Failure Face), amazingly makes it to the final round in the national bee because he keeps getting words that have to do with "failure," something he is quite accustomed to! The ending is more honest than any victory celebration could have been, and leaves the viewer with a truer sense of the overall importance of these competitions.
The only real problem I have with the movie (which has some stiking animated sequences that reminded me of the Woodstock movie (the festival, not the bird)) is that the songs are pretty bad, which makes me ever so grateful that the filmmakers hired the Mary Poppins songwriters for Snoopy Come Home.
Yellow Submarine (1968)
I've been reading a lot of reviews lately in which critics (animation haters, I swear) congratulate computer animation on how smooth and detailed it is and how it should someday replace traditional animation. Personally, I hope they're wrong, because if Shrek (nice in some scenes, but there are many more where the characters move as if they are computer games, especially the princess) and Final Fantasy (amazingly detailed but unconvincing movement and downright boring facial expressions, judged by either live-action or animation standards, and it takes too few chances to exhibit what animation is good for) are the wave of the future, than animation is just the walking dead.
I'm sure the style of animation in Yellow Submarine has been commented on before, but I thought I'd throw my two bits in before moving on to the important stuff. First of all, even Disney's films had started to become cheaply animated and less than creative. Secondly, non-Disney animation seemed to be more interested in Pop art style than Disney's "realistic" style or even the wacky Looney Tunes gags. Just look at what came out within the next couple years--A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969), Fritz the Cat (1972), and Heavy Traffic (1973). Now, I'm not particularly knowledgeable about pop art nor am I a really big fan of it, but there's no denying that Yellow Submarine and these other films brought a freshness to animation. Some of the sequences are absolutely amazing, even in this age of computer animation (Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Nowhere Man, and Only a Northern Song being my favorites).
I like the Beatles, and Yellow Submarine includes some of my favorite songs (Yellow Submarine not being one of those). However, for those who don't like the Beatles, this movie could very well be a chore. Even I don't buy into the theme of the movie (which is pretty much expressed in the song, "All you Need is Love"), which allows for the happy ending (which, in my opinion, isn't a whole lot more convincing than a Care Bears movie). What makes the movie work for me, as far as the non-musical moments are concerned, is the mixture of dry British humor and silly puns (some of which even draw groans from the characters themselves).
Majo no takkyûbin (1989)
Great film for pre-teen girls. Good dubbing for a change.
(This is the review I wrote a long time ago, when the English dub and the original Japanese version were listed seperately).
Though not as entertaining for real young children as Miyazaki's My Neighbor Totoro, pre-teens with a long attention span (nearly two hours) and who prefer pacing and atmosphere over flashing lights and singing characters will likely love this movie. Though certainly not a feminist movie, KDS provides a positive (if old-fashioned) role model for young women. Unlike most American films, the movie shows a girl realizing her own power as a person not chanting feel-good slogans ("I am not a victim" American Beauty) but through hard work and being herself.
As part of her witch training, when Kiki turns thirteen she has to live away from home for a year. After some sweet (but not saccharine) scenes with the mother and father, Kiki flies off on her broom, careening off trees and bridges. She falls asleep in a train and finds herself near a town on the sea. Since there are no witches there, Kiki chooses the town. As it turns out, though, not everyone is fond of witches. Don't worry, this isn't Salem. They only do what Japanese tend to do with unwanted guests--they ignore her. After finding a foster home, Kiki decides to set up an air delivery service.
For the most part, the movie is only thinly plotted (or heavily plotted, depending on your view). The main focus is on Kiki's emotions, although to Americans they may seem rather subdued because they are not underlined (this is a Japanese movie, after all). In one of the more overtly emotional scenes, she sheds a couple of tears because of a mixture of happy and sad emotions and then suddenly smiles. Kiki does get overly excited at times, just like most girls her age, and in the Japanese version she continually says "taihen" ("tough" or "difficult") whenever she's running late or has trouble controlling her broom. Her less overt emotions are caught on closer inspection: watch for the bathroom scene, the "oh my god I almost died" scene, and the scene when she walks by a group of giggling girls.
Also, keep an eye out for references to The Wizard of Oz.
Kirstin Dunst as Kiki does a great job pretending that she's thirteen instead of about sixteen. And the sound technicians do a fantastic job varying the voice track so that it doesn't sound flat (I never knew what an important job sound technicians had until I watched the dubbed version of Ghost in the Shell and compared it to the original version). Phil Hartman (in his last role) does a very strange take on the normally high-pitched Jiji, Kiki's black cat. Matthew Lawrence as Kiki's boy friend isn't bad, and neither is Debbie Reynolds as an elderly client. Honestly, none of the dubbing is bad (except the never-seen father of a young boy, who is just over-the-top in a scene that was subdued and thoughtful in the Japanese version).
Lilo & Stitch (2002)
Cute and Fluffy (Spoilers)
Well, maybe the movie is more than that, but who am I to argue with Stitch, who refuses to let his creator rearrange his structure to be less "cute and fluffy"? "Lilo and Stitch" is a beautiful animated and sweet movie (which, believe it or not, actually accurately portrays the way a child exhibits symptoms of grief and loss) with a lot of manic humor. It proves to me, once again, why hand-drawn animation is better than computer animation (even though it does use some, itself).
If I really wanted to, I could probably argue out the alien concept (and Stitch, too), since really the heart of the story is Lilo and her sister and just about anything could have been substituted in Stitch's place (a real dog that had been abused by it's owner (they exibit the same tendencies), a lost koala, the Tazmanian Devil or something), but, what the hell, if it doesn't really matter then why not an alien science project? Besides, there's just something neatly absurdist about it all, like the old Looney Tunes aliens.
A good example of "mood" anime (like Night on the Galactic Railroad), where the animators are more interesting in creating a certain feeling (in Night, depression and sadness and fear; in Jin Roh, emotional emptiness or extreme sorrow that comes from being in a fascist society). Probably about the fifth anime feature film (Wings of Honneamise, Akira, Metropolis, Ghost in the Shell) that I've seen where there's a bunch of political factions or terrorists or street gangs or corporate conglomerates going off on each other and in the end nobody really wins.
The movie is set in an alternate Japan in which (unlike Kiki's Delivery Service's idealized "new" world) the world has been taken over by the Nazis. Everything about this movie reminds me of George Orwell's "1984," especially the ending where perhaps it turns out that Fuse himself is having his humanity conditioned out of him. A very disturbing movie, to say the least, but not at all condoning of the violence it depicts.
Ningyo no mori (1991)
The best looking of the Rumik World OAVs
I love Takahashi's Mermaid Saga and the two OAVs, they have a certain sense of morality that reminds of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and other gothic works. What I don't understand, though is why the original storyline, "A Mermaid Never Smiles," was never animated. It not only introduces Mana's predicament, but also the entire concept of the Mermaids being truly monstrous in a classical sense, not just victims fighting back as in the Mermaid Forest OAV. Mana, for those who haven't read the stories, was kidnapped at birth by a band of earthbound mermaids to be slaughtered at the age of 15 to regenerate their youth. Losing that somehow takes the bite out of Yuta's rage against all things Mermaid.
Ranma ½ (1989)
One of my favorites
I pretty much got into manga and anime because of the first season of Ranma 1/2 (my first manga was the first appearance of Ukyo, and then a friend of mine loaned me his copies of the first season back in 1996). It's funny, clever, emotional, and well-animated. The dubbing was terrific--and after all these years, it's still the best dub I've ever seen, except for the Tenchi series (which, for some reason, I liked better than the Japanese voices)--but I just bought the DVD box set and watched the entire series in Japanese, and it's even better! I've been a big fan of Megumi Hayashibara (Girl-type Ranma, Tenchi's mother, Lina Inverse, Rei Ayanami, Momiji from Blue Seed, etc.) and I was not disappointed with her voice acting (I can't wait to hear her do the "Ranma's Declaration of Womanhood" episode). A bigger surprise for me was that the voice-actress of Nabiki also was Kiki from Majo no Takkyubin. Wonderful voices all around, but the Japanese Ryoga's voice is so strong and deep that I found it hard to believe he was as stupid as he is (interesting to note that he also plays the Jusenkyo Guide--I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen the credits!). Also, the subtitles gave some information that was important that was left out of the dub, and sometimes (such as repeatedly in the "Pelvic Fortune Telling" episode and that scene in Akane's lost love when they fight after eating hamburgers), I didn't understand what was really going on until I watched the subtitle. Still, I did find myself missing some of the Americanized jokes, especially in the episode where Akane loses her memories of Ranma and lists off a bunch of things that he must be ("That 1986 remake of King Lear directed by Akira Kurosawa" "That's Ran!" "That song by the Beach Boys!" "That's 'Help Me Ronda'"). Anyway, this is a wonderful series that doesn't have too much nudity and isn't too "kawaii" like Pokemon or Mon Colle Knights.