Tag Archives: animation

Movie Review: Flushed Away

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Roddy’s troubles are about to begin. Copyright Aardman & Dreamworks (on all images here)

I already mentioned I’ve been on an animation binge lately, as well as a movie binge in general (there’s a reason for this to be blogged about later) and another animation I recently watched was the 2006 British Flushed Away. If you’ve ever seen or are a fan of the Wallace and Gromit films then you’ll probably like this. Wallace and Gromit started as a short animation made with stop-motion plasticine or claymation figures. Wallace is an inventor of the kookiest kind whose kept on track by his faithful dog Gromit. Gromit has the wisdom that Wallace lacks with his genius. Created by Aardman Animations The Wrong Trousers where Wallace ends up in some crazed mechanized pants, won an Academy Award in 1993.

Aardman did several other award winners or nominees and their first full-length animation was Chicken Run in partnership with Dreamworks. Before this they did numerous shorts and TV series in Britain. Flushed Away, while exhibiting the same characteristics of stop-motion, was the first Aardman film done completely by CGI. The ability to rend water properly required this switch. Wiki reports that he production was so arduous and became so expensive that Aardman and Dreamworks split after its production.

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Roddy & Rita are chased by The Toad’s henchmen.


The movie is about Roddy, a pampered pet mouse, who lives a life of leisure in an upper crust mansion. When the family goes out he scampers out of his gilded cage to party. But it’s a lonely life for a solitary mouse who’s invaded by Sid, a fat, slovenly, punked up street mouse. Things go awry and Sid flushes Roddy down the toilet where he emerges into the great underworld of mouse lives in the sewers. Roddy’s terrified and just wants to get home to his cushy life.

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Rita to the rescue. The innovative world of the mice makes this a visual delight.

He’s reluctantly rescued by Rita on her tug the Jammy Dodger. It seems that a jammie dodger is a biscuit with jam in it, and it’s a typical aspect of Aardman humor. Rita’s being chased by The Toad  and his henchrats because she’s stolen a jewel. Roddy points out that its fake and earns Rita’s wrath when he destroys it. The adventure ensues with The Toad’s evil plans to destroy the mouse world, his cousin Le Frog helping capture Rita, Rita and Roddy rescuing each other and a lot of shenanigans.

The characters have the classic Aardman features of a wide mouth full of teeth, big ears and round bulgy eyes. The humor is evident both in the dialogue and plot and in the settings and actions as well. This world is so rich with detail that it’s worth seeing a second time just to stare at all the brilliant images. Being a tiny world on a mouse-sized scale, the rodents have created their habitats out of bits and pieces of human discards; pins, bottle caps, broken pottery, toys, lost buttons, etc.  Roddy begins to prove his worth and his intelligence and eventually makes it back to his aristocratic mouse cage…

The cast of characters include Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Andy Serkis, Ian McKellan, Jean Reno and Bill Nighy. While these arefamous names to me it makes not one iota of difference. When I watch animations, I really don’t care if it’s a big star or not. Half the time I can’t even tell who is playing what part. Obviously the studios believe it will sell the movies but I really wonder how many people care.

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The models for the singing slugs. They add the icing on the comedic cake.

One last thing to mention about Flushed Away. Part of the background characters are slugs that float on lily pads or on other items in the sewers. They have two bulgy eyes on eyestalks, lips and teeth (of course). They shriek at opportune moments but also seem to float by and sink a sappy song at the right or wrong moments. I love the slugs and they’re great filler for comedic moments. I always love the Wallace & Gromit movies though some aren’t as funny as others. Flushed Away was a lot of fun and a pretty good plot,  without Roddy or Rita being the singular hero but a team that worked well together.  I would give this 8 jammie dodgers out of 10.

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Movie Review: Howl’s Moving Castle

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Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings from the 1970s used rotoscope animation .

I like good animations, and Dreamworks as well as some of the Japanese anime can rank at the top. Recently I went through a binge of animation films. Shark Tale and the Monster House weren’t very good, the first being a bad excuse for a cliched plot and fish that acted and moved more like humans than fish. Monster House had some hackneyed stereotypes, iffy reactions and a bizarre plot that didn’t quite suspend my disbelief, even though it was a cartoon. On the other hand, Howl’s Moving Castle was a delight and a wonder.

Wallace and Gromit, claymation, animation, movies, film, humor

The British Wallace and Gromit claymations tend to be shorts, but Flushed Away, done by the same artists is a full length film.

When I was a kid animations were the flat and wooden two-dimensional characters, and at best the rotoscoped movements used in the earlier feature length films such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. With computerization and complex graphics, the world of animation opened up. That doesn’t mean every three-dimensional claymation such as Wallace and Gromit is great because it uses new and/or different techniques (though claymation isn’t that new either). What really makes any animated film is the story and the characterization. It’s one reason Wallace and Gromit were so funny; the characters look goofy and get into all sorts of madcap adventures based on their wacky inventions.

The 2004 Howl’s Moving Castle is based on a book by Diana Wynne Jones and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. It isn’t really a forerunner of new techniques but went on to be one of the most successful animes ever. It uses painted backdrops and the standard two dimensional style in characters, with shading. The style is classic Japanese with the cartoonish eyes and antics, to some degree. But the movements are far more fluid and the images are beautiful. On top of that, the imagination in Howl’s is fantastic. The moving castle is this weird house on legs, part alive, part machine, part home. It’s rambling, chaotic and magical and opens on different times and places.

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Howl’s Moving Castle was nominated for several Academy Awards.

Sophie is a shy young woman who accidentally runs into Howl and is saved but subsequently is cursed by the Witch of the Wastes. Turned into an old woman she leaves the life she knows and ends up at Howl’s castle, bringing discipline and order to the chaos. Howl, like many wizards, has a reputation of being scary and self-serving but he is also extremely vain and there is a reason for this. The castle slowly gathers a host of characters including an asthmatic dog, a devoted scarecrow, the Witch of the Wastes and the castle’s denizens, Calcifer the fire elemental who keeps the house alive,  and Markl the apprentice.

I can’t say much is predictable in this delightful film except for the inevitable romance. It is a tale of discovering one’s self, confidence, heroics, and fear. And it is a tale of war and peace, Miyazaki’s own pacifist twist on the wizard’s involvement. I loved this film so much that I’ll be watching it again next week. I would give this movie 9.5 out of 10 on the wizard scale and it’s worth watching for the beautiful scenery alone. If you like anime, it’s one of the best.

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Howl’s castle moves so that his source of power cannot be discovered.


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Movie Review: 9

Recovering from Thanksgiving meant that one day I did a lot of sleeping. I also went and saw the movie 9 playing in the local Dolphin Theatres, a 2-cinema venue that has no center section of seats but just right and left…oh, and no heat, but it’s cheaper and close. I had seen a trailer for this animation and Tim Burton’s name was involved so I thought it would be good. Of course, ole Tim hasn’t batted 100. I tried to watch James and the Giant Peach (have and love the book) but I just kept falling asleep. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was an unfortunate timing with the child abuse lawsuits against Michael Jackson, and Sweeney Todd was just slow.

So Tim can get it and then miss. But one thing is for sure, his eccentric sense of imagery and pacing often add an otherworldliness to his films. Of course he does like to choose the quirky topics. So 9 is not the first animation that Burton has been involved with, though here he is only the producer along with Timur Bekmambetov. Shane Acker is the writer (screenplay by Pamela Pettler) and it is based on a short animation Oscar nominated in 2005.

The movie opens right away with a hand stitching together a puppet/mannequin. There are no credits, no film title (though there might have been and somehow I missed it in the subtlety). It just begins so the voices of each character aren’t really discernible as a particular actor. At the end you find out the voices of each doll being was played by well-known actors: Elijah Wood, Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, Jennifer Connelly, John C. Reilly, Crispin Glover, Fred Tatasciore (the least known but then the character 8 is an overlarge, thuggish brute who speaks little). I wonder if  Hollywood’s penchant for using famous names in animations actually pays off. I could care less if the voice is Johnny Depp or Joe Blow as long as it suits the character.

So the movie opens with 9 being made and coming alive, a little stitched doll, with humanlike movement, intelligence and expression. He discovers a world destroyed by the vagaries of war and any human shown, the scientist who made him and a dead girl in a car, have no rot. In fact the humans have become inanimate, while the constructs have become animated. Those are really the only people in the film, whether dead or alive, except for some film flashbacks.

The cause of the “presumably” worldwide devastation was a war run by a dictator and a scientist’s wondrous invention that was taken from his control. That there is a close similarity to Hitler’s Third Reich and the inventions of J. Robert Oppenheimer (considered father of the atomic bomb) and the fears of Einstein is no coincidence. Oppenheimer quoted the Bhagavad Vita back in his day: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” Interestingly the actor who plays the scientist’s voice also has the name of Alan Oppenheimer.

The second world war is in fact iconic and symbolic to anyone born in the 21st or 20th century, so it is only natural that it is the template for wars in any movies that aren’t specifically historical. The time is hard to tell because there are advanced technologies (the thinking Fabrication Machine that can build and create new machines) to old phonographs. I would presume the creators wanted to keep it iconic and timeless on purpose. The tale is one of daring and fear, of curiosity and power. 9 worsens the situation but then tries to right his wrongs, at great cost to everyone.

The characters all have male voices except for the bold and fearless 7, played by Jennifer Connelly, but it’s hard to discern a sex per se of dolls that are sewn and sexless. They have no way of reproduction and they have no genitalia. Yet there is definitely the hint of a friendship/love forming between 7 and 9. Which is probably what puzzles me most about this world. The scientist created them. They are the essence of humanity but they have no way of bringing more life to the world, or do they? The ending gives a hint of change.

The story itself is not really new in plot but presented refreshingly enough. 9 can assuage his guilt of the others losing their lives by redeeming their souls. As many tales are, it is a tale of redemption and of good or the just conquering evil. Overall, I found 9 well done; the animation and the textures of each fabric made doll, the shine of broken statues, the dinginess of bombed out buildings adds to the complexity of the scenes. Yes it still looks animated and the humans look least real of all but then it would have been hard to do otherwise.

Technology starts out as a bad thing here, which we often see in mediocre science fiction but it is presented fairly, showing the good aspects (the dolls) and that people, not science can warp machines. Though in truth the machines are imbued with a life and intelligence that makes them sinister and vindictive. The movie was enjoyable and tense at times in evading mechanized monsters. I’d give it a 7 out of 10.

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Movie Review: The Triplets of Belleville

The other night I watched a DVD with a friend. We just had a few to choose from and between The Triplets of Belleville and some war film we decided to go with the Triplets, not knowing at all what it was. Les triplettes de Bellevilleis the true title as it’s French and made by a Canadian, Sylvain Chomet. It begins with a two-dimensional black and white cartoony animation of three women singing and various characters coming on stage like Fred Astaire and Josephine Baker. Josephine’s famous banana costume is attacked by male patrons from the audience who turn into monkeys.

I was a bit surprised when the movie started to see it was a cartoon. I wasn’t ready to watch a long one but the camera pulls back on the triplets, vaudeville singers to show it is on TV and that we’re in the room of a very short old woman, with mustache hairs, one foot shorter and a lift on her shoe, plus an eye that rolls which she must push up. Her grandson is a melancholy child and she tries to find ways to make him happy. His parents are dead and nothing seems to cheer him.

Although this is French with English subtitles, the main characters never really talk. It is only the background announcers for TV and the Tour de France who talk. The actions and images tell all. The style of the animation changes with the grandmother and her grandson, Champion. It is a painted set, with subtle colors, indicating and idyllic life, and shifts again when in Belleville. Grandma buys Champion a puppy, and he is momentarily elated but saddens again, until she discovers he has an interest in bikes and buys him a tricycle.

Bruno, the young puppy, has a traumatic experience with a toy train, and trains continue to plague him throughout his life, for real, and in black and white dog dreams. If a cartoon character could steal the show, Bruno comes close. This cartoon character displays dogness so well that you can’t help but laugh at his antics and his fat body and spindly legs. In fact, the attention to individual detail in this film is what makes it stand out.

Bruno would have won in the endearing category if it wasn’t for Grandma Souza. She loves her grandson dearly and clearly continues to innovate ways to do numerous things. Years span by in a lovely painted style of animation, where they live in a tall brick house, that is eventually encroached upon by building and expansion, until it’s not so lovely. But that doesn’t stop Grandma from helping her grandson train for the Tour de France. Nor Bruno from barking at every train.

Champion is really a two-dimensional character compared to Bruno and Madame Souza, but then all he lives for is bicycling and he is a passive character. Grandma on the other hand peddles along on Champion’s outgrown tricycle (still the right size for her tinyness) using a whistle to encourage Champion on his training. He is skinny except for massive thigh and calf muscles which she massages with electric beater, hand lawn mower and vacuum cleaners.  She fixes bicycle rims with a tuning fork and the use of a miniature Eiffel Tower. She carries her overgrown grandson up stairs, puts him to bed and sees to his every need. For every problem she finds a way to fix it. But she is a terrible singer.

Eventually Champion goes into the Tour de France only be to be kidnapped along with other exhausted bicyclists by the French wine mafia and stolen away to Belleville. However Madame Souza and Bruno don’t give up and through beautiful scenes find themselves trying to trace Champion’s captors in the big city. Belleville looks like it could be in France but there is a chubby statue of liberty and every person on the street is huge and round, probably a tongue in cheek comment about Americans.

Grandma has no money and as she sits under a bridge she finds an old bent rim and begins to play a tune on it when three elderly ladies, the triplets, appear and hum a tune. They take her in but they seem a bit crazy, not letting her use the vacuum cleaner or read a paper. But they too have a way of surviving. They hunt frogs with dynamite and there is frog soup, skewered frogs, cooked tadpoles and frog popsicles, much to Grandma’s dire dismay.

All of these truly funny antics are for a reason. Every nuance or little quirk ties back into the plot as Grandma discovers the mafia’s nefarious plan. She and the triplets, with the help of Bruno and some ingenuity, rescue Champion.

I can’t say when I saw an animated film that was as charming and truly funny as this. The imagery and design are beautiful and quirky. The mystery of the kidnapping is played out well and without words. The actions truly speak stronger than the words. The storyline is intriguing and complex in its way, and the characters are just so much fun to see. It is endearign to a point that I would see it a second time.

I started out thinking I didn’t want to watch a cartoon and was completely charmed by it. This film came out in 2003 and won numerous awards, including a Genie for best motion picture, and was nominated for many more. If you get a chance to rent this film, it’s highly recommended. I’d give it nine stars (or more) out of ten.


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Movie Memories

I’m not sure why this memory has surfaced now but I got thinking about the movies I remembered from my childhood, specifically the ones I saw in theaters. The Jungle Book was definitely in there. To this day, every once in a while, a song will go through my head, or the lines as I remember them. Such great hits as “Bongo bongo bongo, I don’t want to leave the jungle. No no no no.” Or “Ooo Ooo Ooo, I wanna be like you ooo ooo, I wanna walk like you, talk like you…” And of course the truly classic “The Bare Necessities.” Gotta say I loved that film that I saw sometime in the 70s.

I remember my sister, six years older, taking my younger brother and me to see The Sound of Music. It was winter in Calgary, or near enough that there was still snow on the ground. My sister in some vain act of teenagerhood, had worn inappropriate footwear and spent the first part of the film whimpering as her feet thawed. But in the self-centered way of children, I heard her but stayed riveted on the film. I recently had the opportunity to see this again on DVD with a friend. My friend Kit, a sound actress, and once a stage actress, did some of her first stage work as Liesel. She had very interesting other versions of songs, such as “I fell in a pile of goat poop,” which I think is “The Lonely Goatherd.” I can still sing “Do-Re-Mi” even if I’m not a singer.

Movie theaters in Calgary were still these grand affairs, seating 400 people, with large screens and the magnificent, usually red curtains that drew back in majesty. Popcorn was a must and matinees were noisy affairs. I still like the old theaters, of which there are a few in Vancouver, and not always but often, I’ll buy popcorn for the nostalgia. Because I also worked in a movie theater and know that popcorn is cheap cheap cheap I find the exorbitant prices and the oily stuff they often put on instead of butter somewhat lessens the nostalgia for me.

Herby the Love Bug was yet another matinee movie and I remember the least about this film besides a VW bug, yellow I think, bopping about and rescuing people, or something.  For movies in my childhood, those three are it. We didn’t see that many. But there were the drive-ins.

Ah yes, the drive-ins, a unique invention for those big four-child families. We would go in our jammies, with blankets and pillows and homemade popcorn and snacks. That was the good memories. Unfortunately the drive-in was usually prefaced by some huge monstrous screaming (sometimes throwing) fight between my mother and my father. She would bundle us up and off to the drive-in we’d go.

They had those monster teardrop shaped, metal speakers that had to be wedged into the window. If it was a colder time of year, you would roll the window up, and every once in a while turn the heat on to defog the windows and warm the car. Imagine all that exhaust in a vast parking lot with a movie screem.  

The only two movies I ever remember seeing at a drive-in were The Fall of the House of Usher and The House of Seven Gables. They’re blended together in my memory and maybe both were at the same driven-in night. The late, wonderful Vincent Price starred in both. I remember bleeding walls and a tumbling house, which was probably Usher, since it was about a sentient house, based on the Edgar Allan Poe story. There was a bleeding locket and Vinny pickaxing his sister in the forehead, which was from Seven Gables, based loosely on a story by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Perhaps that’s why I grew up with a penchant for weird and fantastical stories and read some of Poe and a lot of Ray Bradbury. My mother didn’t seem to mind letting us see such graphically gruesome films. I think I was six at the time. Definitely the images has stuck with me ever since, but considering what was going on in my family, they really weren’t that scary.

I should ask my brother some day if he ever had nightmares from those movies. I like those early memories from The Jungle Book to The House of Seven Gables, and yet both have strong images for me. I guess that’s why my muse comes from different corners at times, and though I write lighter or even humorous pieces, I often have a dark aspect to my stories.

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