Posts Tagged ‘Animated

15
Mar
16

Song of the Sea

songofthesea

Christ, what an asshole.

Song of the Sea is by the studio that made The Secret of Kells, and it’s funny, warm, beautiful, and sad, as you’d expect, but that’s not what I want to talk about.

Song of the Sea is about Ben, an Irish boy, and his relationship with his Selkie sister Saoirse, and their race to save her life and the lives of every other fairy or magical creature in the world. It does a lot of things right — the quiet way it lets the family’s trauma play out, the awful (but not quite abusive) way Ben treats his mute sister, his dawning self-awareness about how odious he’s been — those are all handled well, but there are two fundamental things the movie does that bug me:

First, the story is about Ben, not about Saoirse, despite it clearly being her story, not his. I understand this is typical of these kinds of movies, to make the audience stand-in the normal person, but Saoirse is a normal person for the bulk of the movie. She doesn’t have any particular knowledge or insight that would be problematic if it was given or withheld from us, she has the same emotional turmoil and catharsis to go through as Ben, she is literally the person who saves the magical world at the film’s first climax, but she’s consistently backgrounded in his favor, literally deprived of her voice, and it’s frustrating and alienating in a movie that is otherwise so deft emotionally; imagine if Harry Potter were written exclusively from Ron’s standpoint. If there were a gap between the characters — if she were significantly older or younger, say, or bigger or smaller, or more magical, or something — it would have gone down smoother, but the movie has an extended piece through the middle where they are literally tied together (because he has leashed her like a dog, which is simultaneously incredibly assholeish and a particularly well-observed bit of eight year old older brother dickishness), made a narrative unit even as he continues to belittle and berate her. You wouldn’t have had to do much to shift the emphasis here, either — simply shooting the same scenes from her perspective would have done the trick — but that might have made Ben out as too much of a villain. I don’t know. He should have been framed as more of a villain, maybe, and I’m sorry the movie didn’t commit to that empathetic leap. My sympathies as a viewer were entirely with her, but the film kept putting me in his place, and that dissonance was continually distracting.

Second, all the magical creatures go off to the Other World at the end of the movie, like they always do, and that always frustrates me. If your story is about leaving fantasy behind, or transcending it, or going through the harrowing process and returning to the other world informed and enlightened, that sort of thing makes sense, but Song of the Sea was explicitly about accepting yourself for who you are and the people you love for who they are, and not shutting things away simply because they’re uncomfortable. Ben and Saorise go through an entire movie to return her to her true, magical self (at which point she’s finally able to speak!), only for her to cast that away five minutes later because it would mean leaving her frankly terrible human family behind. She gets to keep her voice, I guess, but that’s still pretty paltry a reward. Hell, they get their dead mother back, and she goes off into the Distant West almost immediately. What was the point? That nothing comes without a cost? It feels undercooked. Compare the ending here to Labyrinth — which has a similar “you are a terrible older sibling now go save your kid brother/sister and also magic is real” plot, but which ends with Sarah partying with her goblin friends in the real world, having grown from her experience but not having to repudiate it all to return. That’s satisfying.

labyrinth

That’s how you do it.

19
Jan
12

Interstella 5555

There are times when I desperately miss MTV’s Liquid Television, an off-putting showcase of animation bizarre, gross or just plain experimental. A lot of the shorts were dialogue-free, or nearly, relying in true MTV style on the kineticism of the visuals to carry the film. There isn’t really anything like it anymore, although Daft Punk’s Interstella 5555 comes pretty close.

Written by Daft Punk and Cédric Hervet and animated by Toei under the direction of Kazuhisa Takenochi, I5555 is anachronistic as all hell, a slice of early 80s anime that somehow fell through time and space to crash into DP’s Discovery. The story is… well, pretty thin (alien musicians are kidnapped by an Earth cult as part of a plot to conquer the universe utilizing the power of 5,555 gold records?), but so what? The movie reeks of wish-fulfillment, a chance for the band to work with an animator that they loved, and that kind of obsessive labor of love is the pure beating heart of cult.

I’m still waiting on that Jem movie, though!

11
Jul
09

Princes and Princesses & The Adventures of Prince Achmed

princesses_1

I came down with a terrible cold over the 4th of July weekend, which definitely put a damper on my celebration, although it did have the upside of causing me to seek out a good, old-fashioned comfort movie to take my mind off my misery. Whenever I have a bad cold for as far back into my childhood as I can remember, the only positive thing about being sick was getting to stay in bed watching the most charming, soothing movies possible. The Princess Bride, any of the Muppet movies, Mystery Science Theater 3000, you know the kind. This time around I was restricted to what was available via the internets, and since I am a late hold-out against the onslaught that is Netflix (I could write a whole ridiculous, curmudgeonly post about that), I did not have a ton of options with the caveat that I recently found out about the glorious website: The Auteurs, which allows you to watch a ton of old, foreign, arty type movies on the internet for a mere $5 a pop.  Princes and Princesses by Michel Ocelot was one of the few animated and non-Svankmajer films available on the site, so I gave it a whirl and it was exactly what I needed. Compared to the whizz flash of most modern American animated films, it’s sort of mind-blowing to me that Princes and Princesses was made as recently as 2000. It feels like a much older movie from a more innocent cinematic time, way before 3d and digital color and talking sidekicks, a time when kids were satisfied with straight-forward fairy tales.  The stories in the movies are wonderfully crafted, with fantastic twists and funny dialogue, with a silhouette-visual style which lends an elegance often lacking in animation. I also think the silhouette format is brilliant because in a world of constant  stimuli bombardment, this is one movie where the children watching have space to imagine the details for themselves. They can create the character’s expressions, the colors of the clothes, the fantastic settings in their own minds for once.

Naturally this movie reminded me of one of my favorite animated features of all time, which also happens to be credited by many as the first animated film ever made, The Adventures of Prince Achmed by Lotte Reiniger:

PrinceAchmed

This movie was also done in the silhouette style, but if you can believe it, each and every character, every set, every frame in the hour-long masterwork was painstakingly cut out by hand by the director back in 1926. On a pure, visual level, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a more artistic, stunningly detailed, mindblowingly-intricate piece of film-making. Even if you had to watch the film without any of the dialogue, it would be completely worthwhile to see it. Even better though, it’s based on stringing together various stories in The Arabian Nights into one, long beautiful tale that includes everything you could want in a fantasy movie. Needless to say, I recommend you go rent it if you ever get the chance, although it can be a little tricky to find. If you can’t, Princes and Princesses is a fitting modern tribute 74 years later.