The Swanpride Award 1999


Taken into consideration:

Toy Story 2 (1999), Pixar, CGI

Tarzan (1999), Disney, Traditional

Fantasia 2000 (1999), Disney, Traditional

South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut (1999), Trey Parker, CGI/Cut-out

My Neighbours the Yamadas (1999), Studio Ghibli, Traditional

The Iron Giant (1999), Warner Bros, Traditional

It was a long and stony way, but the 20th century actually ended at a very good place. We now get every single year a number of animated movies worth discussing. May this never change.

Now, Out of this batch, I decided to remove Fantasia 2000, South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut and My Neighbours the Yamadas. Fantasia 2000 mostly because I think that the guest stars thoroughly ruin the mood of the movie (plus, I already wrote an article about all the Fantasia segments, I don’t think there is a need to discuss them further at this point). South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut is a clever movie (and I say that as someone who usually doesn’t watch South Park), but it is also a movie a little bit too referential to a very specific time and place. I honestly doubt that anyone will truly get why Saddam Husain is in it in a few years. And the story just isn’t good enough to overlook the quality of the animation. Yes, I know, it’s intentional cheap, but still.

I considered My Neighbours the Yamadas a long time, since I am always a sucker for movies with unusual animation, but overall it didn’t really work for me. It is basically a collection of occurrences in the daily live of a family. Each segment has some sort of punch-line, but very few of them worked for me, and I got tired really, really fast of this particular family. So I ended up with three movies this time around.



Toy Story 2 (1999), Pixar, CGI

Tarzan (1999), Disney, Traditional

The Iron Giant (1999), Warner Bros, Traditional

Three of the biggest Animation Studios in direct competition? That should be fun (I hope). And difficult (I fear).


  • The Story: Last time I talked about the Toy story franchise, I used the word “nostalgia”. But I didn’t really explain what I meant by this. There are a few movies which mostly work because they tap in our feelings for what we tend to perceive was a better time of our life. The Toy story franchise certainly belongs into this category. The studio even went as far as letting the toys age with the audience in the third part. Those are feel-good movies. Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing, but I usually prefer movies which challenge my feelings and/or thoughts at least a little bit. Which is exactly why I like Toy Story 2 better than Toy Story.
    I do believe that Toy Story is way better plotted than Toy Story 2, but I nevertheless connect more with the latter one, even though it basically consists of two movies. One which is really, really silly and one I consider outstanding. The silly movie is the part with Buzz. The outstanding one is about Woody confronting the fact that Andi will grow up one day, and what that will mean for his future. It is a harsh reminder that childhood will end and nothing will stay the same forever. It’s like the movie is punching the audience right in the gut. And I love it.

    Disney’s version of Tarzan might be the best adaptation of the source material which was ever done. I nevertheless have some grievances concerning this movie. It is juggling too many plot points at once, and some of them fall short as a result. For example, I never really understood how Tarzan becomes the leaders of the Gorilla’s immediately after his actions put them all in danger.

    The Iron Giant has the most balanced plotting of all of them. There are moments in which it seems like the movie might get off the tangent, but it always ties everything back to the main plot and the overreaching themes, which are mostly centred around criticism of paranoia, just in time.  The message is a little bit in the face, but the movie makes up for it with a lot of adorably strange moments.


  • The Characters: The characters in Toy Story were great, the ones in Toy Story 2 are even better, due to the addition of Jessie. Her story is what makes the movie as good as it is. It also has the best “villains” (as much as Pixar has villains) of the entire franchise, since their motivations are entirely tied to the theme of the movie, instead of them just being there to provide some sort of temporary obstacle for the heroes.

    The biggest strength in Tarzan is the romance. Jane is a wonderful female character and it is entirely understandable why she would fall for Tarzan. The biggest weakness is the villain. Well, him and Terk and Tanto, but they are at least somewhat amusing and mostly serve the plot well. But Clayton? He is so obviously evil, why would anyone hire him in the first place? Plus, greed is the most boring of all motivations.

    Thus said, the villain of The Iron Giant isn’t that impressive either. But I don’t think that he is meant to be. In general, the movie offers a great cast of characters, who are all a little bit corky but still on a believable level. Bonus points for portraying the plight of a single mother, who has to deal with everything live throws at her on her own. That nearly never happens in animated movies. Even Mrs Brisby had the nosy neighbour to help her out whenever she needed a babysitter.

  • The Music: Well, Pixar used Randy Newman again. But: “When she loved me” is not just my favourite Randy Newman song by far, the scene in which it is used is also my favourite scene in the whole franchise.

    Apparently there are some people who hate Phil Collins. I don’t get it. I wouldn’t say that Phil Collins is my favourite musician in the world, but when he is good, he is really good. And for this movie, he created some really great songs (and went out of his way to sing them personally in as many languages as possible, as a thank you to his fans). “You’ll Be in my heart” is the best of them, but I also like “Two Worlds, One Family” and “Strangers like me”. I am not too keen on “Trashing the Camp”, mostly because the whole scene feels like a filler to me. I also agree with the decision to sing most of the songs from the off, mostly because I can’t really imagine Tarzan prancing around and singing about his feelings. Not because he is a hunky guy, but because he is simply not the kind of character who would wear his heart on his sleeve. And the score is a good fit to the songs. I especially love the idea to use obscure instruments in order to create the right feeling.

    The soundtrack of The Iron Giant is a little bit forgettable. I actually listened to it again for this review because I couldn’t remember it. And after I listened to it I tried to find words for it and discovered that I still could barely remember it. Thus said, a soundtrack doesn’t have to be the most memorable thing about a movie. When I watched The Iron Giant, I never noticed the score in a negative manner, and I was moved at the right places, so they must have done something right.


  • The Animation: The clear winner in this category is Tarzan. Disney took full advantage of the medium and gave Tarzan the kind of agility a real person would never be able to display. He is practically surfing through the trees. I could also mention the use of colour. Or the spot on gestures and expressive body language in all the silent scenes. Ups, I just did. Bottom line, when it comes to animation, this is an all around stunning movie.

    The Iron Giant looks a little bit quaint, but there is a lot to love about the animation. It is inspired by American artists and 1950s style drawings. And this is a case of CGI used right! Yes, even though it is a traditional animated movie, there are a number of different technologies used, and the Iron Giant itself is fully computer animated. It’s a masterful blend of the different methods.

    Toy Story 2 looks way better than Toy Story. It is frankly impressive how fast Pixar improved in their early years. But at this point, the technology just couldn’t quite compete with a traditional animated movie – yet.

Of those three movies, Tarzan is the only one I saw in theatres. I watched Toy Story 2 later on, without really knowing how popular the Toy Story franchise was (well, this was before the internet became a thing). The Iron Giant was actually a movie I first missed out on and then avoided for ages. This might sound strange, but I am always a little bit afraid to watch a movie when everyone tells me how good it is. The expectations are just too high. I tend to wait until I feel that I am in the right mind set, meaning in the mood for just enjoying a random movie. But now that I have finally watched The Iron Giant, I have to agree with its fans. This is a truly great movie and underrated gem. It doesn’t have the tear-jerker moment Toy Story 2 has (at least not quite), nor does it have the stunning animation and catchy music of Tarzan. But it does well across the board and has above all a solid story from start to finish.
*sigh* This is another one of those cases where I might make a different decision on a different day. I don’t think that any of those movies have the chance to be the overall winner, but they all deserve to be called the best of the year. Today my vote goes to The Iron Giant, though. And yes, I am well aware that this will mean no pure CGI movie will be in the final selection. But perhaps it is better that way. The 20th century was after all pretty much the century of traditional animation with some stop motion thrown in from time to time.


7 responses to “The Swanpride Award 1999

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