The Swanpride Award: 1995-1996

 Up for consideration:

Balto (1995), Amblimation, Traditional

Ghost in the Shell (1995), Mamoro Oshii, Traditional

Toy Story (1995), Pixar, CGI

Pocahontas (1995), Disney, Traditional

Whisper of the Heart (1995), Studio Ghibli, Traditional

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), Disney, Traditional

It’s really great to see how much more movies I now have to pick from. Still, it wasn’t that difficult to narrow down. Balto is a fairly good children’s movie for a small production company, but it really can’t keep up with the best in the business. Disney delivered two movies, which have sublime animation and first class soundtracks (I can never hate Menken), and I am sure I will discuss both of them in detail at one point, but, well, their respective stories don’t really work. In Pocahontas case because it is incredible bland and preachy, in the case of The Hunchback of Notre Dame because it just can’t decide which tone it should pick and therefore switches multiple times between overly serious and overly childish. I therefore nominated the other three movies.

Nominees-1995-and-1996

Nominated:

Toy Story (1995), Pixar, CGI

Whisper of the Heart (1995), Studio Ghibli, Traditional

Ghost in the Shell (1995), Mamoro Oshii, Traditional

Well, I don’t think that I have to explain to anyone what Toy Story is about. It is the first full length CGI animated movie and therefore historical as important as Snow White was. Whisper or the Heart is yet another of Studio Ghibli Slice of Live movies. And Ghost in the Shell is one of the few Manga-based movies which has become somewhat known in the West.

  • The Story: Toy Story is simple structured. It’s a buddy movie (in fact, most Pixar movies are a variation on this trope) which follows the usual beats. There are two characters which clash with each other to comedic effect, there are misunderstandings and an action scene in the end. But the simplicity of the story doesn’t bother me at all, since it has a lot of heart. What does bother me is that the rules of this world are not particularly well explained. Why act the Toys like objects if they obviously don’t have to? I never really got that.Whisper of the Heart is a perfect depiction of the period in our lives, when we are close to leaving the protection of childhood and have to make important decisions about our future. Which is especially difficult if you are insecure which path you should take. Some people know early on where their talents are, others don’t. And sometimes you do know what your talent is, but you also know that there isn’t a simple career path to utilize it. Slice of life movies are usually not what I particularly like to watch and therefore a hard sell, but this one hits exactly the right notes. Well, at least until shortly before the ending, which, I admit, ruined the movie a little bit for me. It spends a lot of time creating a perfect feeling of insecurity, but also a sense that this insecurity is okay. You won’t be able to realize all your plans, you might have to change your path at one point, there are always aspects you won’t be able to influence. It is a reality of life you have to accept, and because of this, you should always go step by step instead of hurrying ahead. And just when the movie reaches this conclusion,  it suddenly throws in a pledge which involves a livelong commitment and feels really misplaced and kind of tacked on. It’s just a weird ending.

    The plot of Ghost in the Shell is difficult to describe. It is basically a long discussion about identity while using Cyberpunk as a backdrop. The movie has a cold opening, which throws the audience into an actually very simple set-up, which is delivered in an unbelievable complicated manner. There is a lot of exposition in this one in order to explain the world piece by piece and yet I never really understood how it actually works. Nevertheless there is something compelling about the story, which might have even been ahead of its time.  I think I have now, that our world is dominated by the internet, a better understanding for this one than I had initially. We constantly put ourselves out there, leave pieces of our personality in the net when we voice our opinions for the world to see. We create a net-persona, a second identity, which is often different from the face we show the world. Sometimes it is just a big lie, sometimes it is closer to our true self, or what we perceive as it.

 

  • The Characters: Toy story is full of memorable characters. It has to. Since the story is not that complicated, it mostly lives off the audience liking the characters. And the writers hit exactly the right balance between making both main characters douches, but likable douches. What really irritates me though is the character of Sid. I’ll be frank here: If he wouldn’t act that mean towards his sister, I wouldn’t be bothered at all by the fact that he takes apart toys, but would instead encourage his experiments.The great thing about Whisper of the Heart is that the characters feel so real. Even the really cheesy moments become believable, because the characters are so normal. And the main character, Shizuku, is very relatable. She is exactly the kind of character you need for a Slice of Live story about growing up. Though it is naturally the one fictional character in the movie which later became a break-out character, starring in its own movie.

    It is difficult to get a grip on the characters of Ghost in the Shell, which is not exactly surprising for a movie which deals with identity. Though Major Kusanagi’s desire to protect herself and is easy to relate to. There is not that much to her character overall, in fact, she often seems to be more machine than human, and yet it is easy to feel for her.

 

  • The Music: I am usually not a fan of Randy Newman, but Toy Story is among his best works. Or at least, “You’ve got a friend in me” is. That one is quite an earworm. The other songs not so much. As a general rule, I like Randy Newman better as a musician than as a lyricist, because he tends to overexplain himself in the text. This habit is especially unnecessary and grating in the context of an animated movie, which already shows on the screen what he is singing about. The instrumentals work way better. The tune is very laid-back but also very playful.This description also fits the soundtrack of Whisper of the heart, though the song which sticks out is “Country Road”. One of the subplots of the movie (which makes the dubbing of the movie into English particularly difficult) involves Shizuku trying to translate the song into Japanese, discovering her talent for writing in the process. It is a really fitting pick which adds another layer to Shizuku’s search for the right path. She might not know where here road will end, but what she is actually searching for is a place in life which feels like home.

    The Soundtrack of Ghost in the Shell is beautiful bizarre. There is really no other way to describe it. Out of context, it is everything but the kind of music I would like to listen to, with the possible exception of “utai”, which is the kind of piece which just demands attention. Overall, though, the soundtrack is right along the line of the kind of stuff headaches are made off. But in context it elevates the movie while giving it an unsettling feeling.

 

  • The Animation: I am not sure why, but unlike traditional animation, CGI doesn’t age well, at least not the CGI from that era. This movie was an incredible technical achievement, and Pixar was smart enough to start with something which was right within their limitations. But there is really no denying that the human characters look like puppets themselves and the backgrounds – well, let’s put it this way: I would never call this movie artsy. But there was obviously a lot of effort put into the character models.The best way to describe Whisper of the Heart is to call it “run of the mill”. It looks good and is as fluid as you would expect from Studio Ghibli, but if you would tell me that this story happens right in the neighbourhood of Only Yesterday, I would believe you. There is nothing particularly distinctive about this movie, with the exception of the dreamlike sequences, which are just beautiful.

    Ghost in the Shell is easily the most compelling of the three visually. It reminds me of Baudelaire in the way it shows the city as a dirty, downright ugly place only to suddenly turn it into something beautiful for a split second, for example by showing sunlight reflecting in glass panels, creating a colourful contrast. It isn’t as revolutionary as Toy Story or as fluid as Whisper of the Heart, but its unusual artwork makes it stick out more than those two nevertheless.

 

Whisper of the Heart is a wonderful movie, but I think between those three, it is the weakest, mostly due to its wonky ending. It is harder to figure out to decide which one is the strongest.
It is by far not the first time that I have to decide if the most influential movie is also the best movie. The thing is, I am not even sure if Toy Story actually is the most influential movie of the year. Yes, it changed animation forever and yes, it started a highly successful trilogy.  But Ghost in the Shell is one of those movies which are often mentioned by movie makers as an inspiration. It influenced movie like The Matrix and I, Robot and currently, there is a live action version in the works.  Toy Story brought technology, Ghost in the Shell brought ideas.

Yeah, you already see where this goes. I actually thought originally that Toy Story would be a shoe-in for the win but when I watched Ghost in the Shell again, I found a new appreciation for the movie. And I have the feeling that Toy Story is a movie to which people mostly connect due to nostalgia, while Ghost in the Shell only becomes more and more meaningful with each passing year. So I give this win to Ghost in the Shell. And go into hiding.

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8 responses to “The Swanpride Award: 1995-1996

  • smilingldsgirl

    I actually haven’t seen the other 2 but I love Toy Story and I very much disagree that I like it mostly because of nostalgia. It’s a great script with wonderful lines and vocal performances that fit the characters perfectly. The human characters are in the movie so briefly that I think the animation holds up very well. But mainly I think the script is so well done. That’s what makes it last and still many people’s favorite Pixar.

    • swanpride

      Maybe. I see it more like Snow White. A really good movie, but ultimately one of Pixar weaker offerings. I nevertheless had a really hard time with this decision (one of the reasons this article took so long to post). It seems like the whole world keeps telling me that Toy story is this perfect movie which stands above them all. But the longer I examined it, the less I am convinced of that notion.

      The thing is that the Toy Story trilogy as a whole stands out because is delivers three really strong movies. But the movies isolated from each other aren’t the outstanding experience some of the other winning movies are. And seeing Toy Story side by side with two equally strong movies (I actually think that you would really like Whisper of the Heart) made rethink the notion that Toy Story is the natural winner in this.

      • smilingldsgirl

        I will have to see Whisper in the Heart. Ghost in the Shell I’ve been hesitant on because of the adult content. I totally disagree on the Toy Story movies being weak. I recently watched all 3 separated out from each other and I love how each one is a different type of story. I love how the characters grow and yet to me they work by themselves as well. To each their own I guess but I think it’s better to say people have different tastes than accuse people of looking through nostalgic glasses because I honestly don’t think it’s true. I have stuff I know is lame but I like it for nostalgia. Toy Story is not one of them. Care Bears I like for nostalgic reasons because I know it’s awful but I liked it when I was little.
        Anyway, I just love the script in Toy Story and vocal performances are some of best ever.

      • swanpride

        I didn’t say that they are weak, I said that they are the strongest when you see them as one whole trilogy, and if you see them as isolated movies, they are really good, but there are a lot of really good movies out there. I am searching for the outstanding one…and I don’t mean outstanding because a movie does something first.

        I also didn’t use the word “nostalgia glasses”, I said that Toy Story is a movie which is connected to nostalgia. There are a couple franchises like this. Take the Harry Potter movies. A lot of us grew up with the Harry Potter books and movies, we experienced the hype surrounding it. Those who come after us won’t see it the same way, because they never had the experience. The Toy story franchise actually works more or less in real-time. You can’t really discuss it without considering the fact that nostalgia, not just for the movie but also for you own childhood, plays a huge role in the perception of this movies. Because Pixar is actually using the fact as selling point.

      • smilingldsgirl

        Interesting. I was in college when Harry Potter came out so I just like them because they are great. I guess to me nostalgia has more of a negative connotation than it does for you. It says to me I am somehow propping something up unjustly because of a connection to the past. There are things I do that with like Care Bears but then there’s other stuff I genuinely think is great. So that annoys me to hear the nostalgia accusation thrown around.
        Anyway I was 14 when Toy Story came out and had kind of turned away from animation and then I saw it and just loved it and when I watch it I find it still holds up. Like I said I love the script. Scenes like “you are a toy!” is so well done or “that wasnt flying. It was falling with style”. I like the core message of our fears of being forgotten by those we love. When we see someone encroaching into our peer group or other situations and worry we will be replaced. That’s what we see Woody deal with and I can certainly relate to that.

      • swanpride

        I actually didn’t see Toy Story back then. It is one of those movies which I watched later on which first worried me because I thought that it might upset the playing field. I was very glad that I actually had to compared it with one movie I didn’t even know beforehand and another one I didn’t like that much when I saw it the first time. That I went for Ghost of the Shell surprised me, but at least I know that it wasn’t because I didn’t partake in the Toy Story excitement back then (my actual first Pixar movie was Monsters Inc).

      • smilingldsgirl

        Fair enough but I will say till I’m blue in the face-My love for Toy Story has nothing to do with having loved it as a teen. There’s tons of stuff I loved back then that dont hold up at all but then other stuff I still like because I still think it’s great. There’s nostalgia stuff and then there’s good stuff I was introduced to in the past. It’s not the same thing.

  • The Animation Commendation

    Haven’t seen Ghost in the Shell, so I can’t comment.

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