Marvel Musings: The Most Defining Scenes of Phase 1

I is always difficult to do Top Ten lists of an ongoing series, because as long as new content is added, it will always be subject to change. Thankfully the MCU has this handy little Phases. So I start with Phase 1. And I’ll use a handy tool to do so: Top Five lists. Yes, Top Five, not Top Ten. I’ll do Top Tens once I reach Phase 2, but since Phase 1 consists of exactly six movies (Iron Man 1 and 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers), I think Top Five lists will provide exactly the right groundwork, especially since every movie is allowed to provide exactly one moment. And I am starting with the five most defining scenes of phase.

To clarify, with “most defining” I mean those scenes which define the movie in question, preferable scenes are both memorable, as well as having a big impact in the universe. And you might have guessed it: The incredible Hulk didn’t make the list. Of all the MCU movies, it is the one which can be skipped most easily. If not for General Ross turning up again in Civil War, I would claim that nothing in it carried actually over to later movies. But let’s see what the other movies have to offer.

The Five Most Defining Scenes of Phase 1:

5. Iron Man 2 / Tony watches the old recordings of his father

Now, the picture I connect the most with this movie is Tony sitting in the donut (yeah, that says more or less all about it). But the moment I think resonates the most within the universe is this one. Tony’s complicated relationship with his father was already hinted to in the first movie, but here the MCU opens a whole can of worms. But even more, it opens a door to the past. The MCU would feel way smaller if not for the sense that behind everything we see on screen, there is a rich history behind it. And Howard Stark is the first link to this history, being one of the founders of S.H.I.E.L.D. I don’t think that they will address it in Civil War, but he is also one of the elements which split Steve and Tony apart. For Steve, Howard Stark is a friend, someone who fought by his side. For Tony, Howard Stark is the guy who always ignored him, and who gave him a legacy of death. In a way, he is the embodiment of the fact that every story has more than one angle.

4. Thor / Loki lets go

I could also simply say “Loki” because to this day, he is the biggest unsolved mystery in the MCU, and it all started with this moment. Sure, he spends the whole movie pulling off a convoluted plan in a desperate attempt to get attention from his (adoptive) father.

3. Captain America: The First Avenger / Steve wakes up in the future

Currently there is (again) this discussion going on which Avenger should die in the upcoming movie. I think that death is the most boring of all consequences. After all, if a character is death, his story is over, right? But what happens to Steve is one of the most compelling of all consequences. The world he knew has vanished and he has now to deal with a century with an entirely different outlook on war and heroics. And on him. But the MCU goes for extra-points by now only exploring what his sacrifice meant for him, it also examined what it meant for those who left behind. Especially Peggy and Howard.

2. The Avengers / The Group Shot

There is a reason why this group shot of the Avengers is constantly used by “Honest Trailers”. This was it, the moment all the work Marvel put in Phase 1 culminated into one memorable money shot – quite literally. Before the Avengers became the highest grossing Superhero ever, the very notion of a shared universe was considered to difficult to pull off. Now every studio is trying to built one of their own, with so far questionable success. We will see if any of the attempts pan out, but even if they do, The Avengers will always be the first, the trailblazer for the current age of Comic book movies.

1. Iron Man / “I am Iron-man”

It is hard to believe that there actually is something even more important than the Avengers changing movie making forever, but at least as far as the MCU is concerned, this is the moment which threw down the gauntlet. It says “no, we won’t do the whole secrecy thing”. It says “we’ll write our own rules”. It says “we love comic books, but we know that there are some clichés which have to die”. This scene set the tune for the MCU which is, despite all its craziness, still firmly connected to reality, in a sense that it asks the question: “If there really were superheroes pop up in our reality, how would we react?” And really, why should someone like Tony Stark hide his true identity? Being a rich genius, he is a walking target anyway. So why not be a flying one?


Marvel Musings: Let’s get excited

I have decided to add a new topic to speak about to this blog. Don’t worry, I am still working on my article about the Soundtrack of Beauty and the Beast. But I admit, I am currently neck-deep in the MCU. I just love this franchise, which is kind of a surprise for myself, because I am neither a comic book fan, nor did I ever had a particular interest in Superhero movies. But here I am, all enthralled in this universe which spans movies, shorts, network TV and Netflix-shows. And like every fan out there, I love to talk about my obsession. Plus, I actually don’t think that it is too much of a stretch to add Marvel movies to this blog, considering that it already does cover the work of all the other Disney subsidiaries which make movies.

Currently I am weeping every time I see the ratings of Agent Carter. I just don’t get it. Of all the Superhero shows on Network TV, it is by far the one which offers the most quality. A cast full of movie-level actors, clever writing, not to mention all the effort which goes into the costumes and setting, this show deserves way more love. It will be a crime should it go off the air due to low ratings.

I am also excited about the upcoming second half of Agents of SHIELD. Talk about a show which has steadily improved since it started. I can’t wait to see the secret warriors in action. And they have just announced that a particular character I enjoyed very much last season will turn up again.

I am a little bit more weary about the new season of Daredevil. I am excited about the Punisher as antagonist, but I have the feeling that they go for a Matt/Electra/Karen love triangle which would be just…urgh!!! Please, spare me! Also, it doesn’t look like Marcy Stahl will be in the upcoming season, which would be a shame, I really liked her character.

And then there is Civil War. Moderating my expectations for it is difficult. I think this will be the first time that I will watch the movie on its release date, even if it means that I’ll have to go alone (normally I first have to coordinate a date with my friends, but this time I won’t wait until our work schedules match). I have the feeling that this movie will not only be a game changer, it will also be the first Marvel movie which will end on an unhappy not (with a glimmer of hope thrown into it, to make it not too much of a downer ending). Unlike others I still think that this movie won’t cover the whole Civil War, but only the start of it, causing Avengers to be broken apart until Infinity War I. After all, the tagline of the movie is “divided we fall” – so I want to see a fall, even though it will hurt. A lot.

Well, until Civil War, I intend to cover some ground concerning the MCU. I already shared some of my thoughts when I discussed the female movie characters in it in my other blog, but there is way more to say about it. So I guess I’ll start with a number of top-something lists.

 

 


The Swanpride Award: And the Winner is….

The Top Three:

Fantasia (1940), Walt Disney, Traditional

Beauty and the Beast (1991), Disney, Traditional

Princess Mononoke (1997), Studio Ghibli, Traditional

I think you could give each of those movies the award without any argument. But I do have to pick one, and this time, I’ll go mostly for personal taste in my decision. At this point the movies in questions are too close together quality-wise and too different in structure to do otherwise.

My least favourite of those three is easily Princess Mononoke. It is a movie I appreciate, but I don’t really connect to it on an emotional level. I also have some trouble with the way gore is portrayed in the movie. This might sound strange, but it is a little bit too artsy. How can you really get the point across if the violence shown looks that, well, good? It kind of undermines how dire those situations are.

Now, neither Beauty and the Beast nor Fantasia are perfect. I already mentioned the high number of animation snafus in Beauty and the Beast, but I didn’t mention the fluid timeline. The movie always leaves the impression that Belle and the Beast spend a lot of time with each other, a notion which is underlined by the fact that the movie goes from green pastures to winter in just a few frames. But the whole movie actually happens within a couple of days, maybe four or five tops. In a way, though, it is an impressive trick which makes the relationship between Belle and the Beast more believable. Even though they barely spend time with each other it feels as if they know each other for ages.

The big downside of Fantasia is the pacing. This sounds like a strange complain concerning a movie which consists of a number of segments which could be exchanged at will, but, well as much as I like Fantasia, I always had trouble to sit through the Rite of Spring segment, which is considerably longer than the others. And while I think that Fantasia is wonderful love letter to animation, it sometimes doesn’t go far enough for my taste. I once ranked all the Fantasia segments which Disney ever made and only one of the top three were from the original Fantasia. Even though the movie also provided half of the top ten segments, I can’t help but thinking that Fantasia while good could have been even better. Still, it is one of those “one of a kind movie” (despite its sequel) which will always stand out.

In the end, there is only one decision I can make. The winner of the Swanpride Award for the best movie of the 20th century is:

Swanpride-Award-Winner.jpg

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST!!!

 

Yes, I go with the obvious choice, the movie which was also picked by my readers. In multiple rounds of voting, Beauty and the Beast was the one movie which never got a single vote against it. And it is to this day the only traditional animated movie which ever got an academy award nomination for best picture and it will always the only animated movie which was honoured this way before the academy expanded the list from five to ten.

There were a lot of movies on my way to this final choice, which were endorsed more by me than anyone else. Sometimes because the movie in question wasn’t that well-known (honestly, how many people can claim that they actually saw “The Adventures of Prince Achmed” the way it should be seen, in an old-style movie theatre with a live-orchestra?), sometimes because I ignored the more popular movie in favour for a more challenging one. But Beauty and the Beast is one of the few movies which has everything. It is a movie which pleases the audience while still having a meaningful story to tell. It is a technical achievement which is not all about the new gimmick. It is the kind of movie which will withstand the test of time, because it will always be as meaningful as it was the day it was created.

And I guess it is time to explain why the movie works as well as it does – at least regarding the soundtrack. I am not sure how long I’ll need to finish writing it, but expect one long article about why Beauty and the Beast has maybe the best soundtrack of all musical-style animated movies, soon.


The Swanpride Award: The Forgotten Movie

I know I promised to decide on a winner for Christmas, but before I do this, I do have to give a movie its due which I somehow managed to overlook. I am actually not sure how this happened. Between all the nomination lists I (or one of my readers) should have noticed its absence sooner, but I guess even though this movie was a huge success when it hit the theatres, it doesn’t really play in the big league after all. The movie in question is….

 

A Land Before Time, 1988, Don Bluth, Traditional

 

Now, I don’t think that it would have made it in the final selection, because it was released in a very strong year for Japanese Animation. And honestly, the very fact that I forgot about this movie despite it being one of my childhood memories shows that it is lacking something. Even though you can’t do an animated movies with dinosaurs without someone saying “this is a little bit like A Land Before Time”. Even though (or perhaps because) it had a number of direct-to-video sequels. And a terrible animated series.

Let’s do this a little bit different this time around. Here is what I don’t like about the movie:

The plot is very simply and the protagonists are mostly defined over one character trait. I also think that the religious undertones are a little bit odd. Not bad, just odd. And then there is the T-Rex, who is oddly interested in what it is barely a mouthful. Wouldn’t it make more sense to follow the bigger group of dinosaurs?

And here is what I like:

While the plot is simple and the characters could use some additional layers,  both work really well as a backdrop to address the themes like faith and the value of diversity. Unlike other Don Bluth movies, which are full of random characters, this one focusses on the main group. The animation is gorgeous and the T-Rex is as a result properly terrifying. And then there is the soundtrack. The score is very atmospheric (hard to go wrong with James Horner) and “If We Hold on Together” is one of those songs which are not exactly unforgettable, but which pop immediately back into your mind once you hear the tune.

All in all this is certainly a movie which is worth the watch.

 

Now, even though I didn’t narrow it down further this time around, you can. Pick three, leave the one you think should win.


The Swanpride Award: Top Three

Here is the Top 5:

Fantasia (1940), Walt Disney, Traditional

The Secret of Nimh (1982), Don Bluth, Traditional

The Little Mermaid (1989), Disney, Tradtional

Beauty and the Beast (1991), Disney, Traditional

Princess Mononoke (1997), Studio Ghibli, Traditional

This really isn’t getting any easier, especially since those are very different movies…with the exception of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, which are kind of similar. Same song writers, a lot of the same animators and the same method to address a larger issue in the structure of a fairy tale. Looking at them side by side, though, I think the Beauty of the Beast does it a little bit better. It does have what I consider Alan Menken’s and Howard Ashman’s best soundtrack, perhaps the best soundtrack of all Disney movies, not just in terms of the music, but also in the terms of how the songs are used. It also doesn’t undermine the message of the movie at any point, and it doesn’t take the detours The Little Mermaid takes. I think only one those two should be in the top three, and while The Little Mermaid introduced a great concept for a Disney Princess movie, Beauty and the Beast improved on it on every turn and therefore deserves to be in the top three.

And I guess it is time for The Secret of Nimh to go. All the other movies on the list are highly influential. The Secret of Nimh isn’t. It is mostly retreating the familiar Disney paths, not the ones Disney was walking on in the 1980s, but the ones Disney used to frequent when Walt Disney was still active in the Studio and kept pushing it to new highs. It is a really good movie, easily Don Bluth best, but it doesn’t have the overall impact the other movies (including The Little Mermaid) had. And while it is good, there are some points one has to overlook to enjoy the movie, like the presence of a magical stone in a story about science. So the top three is:

Fantasia (1940), Walt Disney, Traditional

Beauty and the Beast (1991), Disney, Traditional

Princess Mononoke (1997), Studio Ghibli, Traditional

That is actually kind of disappointing because those are mostly the expected choices. But I guess, quality always finds its audience eventually.

So, let’s take a look at the readers choice. Lady and the Tramp, the Great Mouse Detective and The Iron Giant fall out of the competition. This is the list of movies left:

 

By the time I am posting this, the main Christmas Celebration in Germany is already over. I hope you all have a Christmas which is at least as much fun as mine was.


The Swanpride Award: The Top Five

The Top Ten:

The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926) by Lotte Reiniger, Silhouette

Fantasia (1940), Walt Disney, Traditional

Sleeping Beauty (1959), Walt Disney, Traditional

Watership Down (1978), Martin Rosen, Traditional

The Secret of Nimh (1982), Don Bluth, Traditional

Grave of the Fireflies (1988), Studio Ghibli, Traditional

The Little Mermaid (1989), Disney, Tradtional

Beauty and the Beast (1991), Disney, Traditional

The Nighmare before Christmas (1993), Skellington/Disney, Stop Motion

Princess Mononoke (1997), Studio Ghibli, Traditional

Kicking off five movies from this list will be really hard. So, what should the best movie of the century have? It should have great music. Well, all of those movies have great soundtrack, with the possible exception of Grave of the Fireflies, which only has a good one. It should have fluid, top notch animation. Which brings me back to Watership Down, which is easily the cheapest looking in this line-up (not in general, but compared to what the other movies have to offer). And it should have memorable characters in a meaningful story.

Mmm….I already wrote that Grave of the Fireflies is meaningful, but not really in the way it was intended to be. That is an aspect which can’t be overlooked during the judgement. The Adventures of Prince Achmed made it so far because it is a really impressive and in its own way influential movie, but its one big weakness are the characters and the story. This is a fairy tale full of very simple characters and the fact that it is a silent movie can no longer be an excuse for this.

The Nightmare before Christmas is another one which mainly made it that far due to its memorable soundtrack, weird designs and top-notch animation. The story is also quite good but where I kind of struggle is when I look at the characters. I still think that Jack is the only truly memorable one in the movie.

Okay, those are four movies….I still have to kick-off one.  And now I am REALLY in trouble. Because this will be the first time I will decide totally against my personal taste. I love Sleeping Beauty. I think it is a really underrated movie and deserves to be praised to the heavens because it is one of the most unusual pieces of animation out there. There simply is no other movie which has ever been animated like this. It is also a way more influential movie than most people realize (partly because it is always forgotten how old this movie is). More or less every fantasy movie which came after it copied some of the designs. The Swan Princess ripped off this movie left and right. Disney itself reused some of the best parts. The dance in the end turns up again at the end of Beauty and the Beast, Jafar in Aladdin is basically a less threatening copy of Maleficent, The Lion King reused the idea with the tree bridge (and made it more iconic in the process).

If this award session would be based only on personal taste, Sleeping Beauty would at the very least end up in the top three…it might even end up the overall winner. But I need to consider every angle and there is no denying that there are some pacing problems (mainly the scene with the kings being too long) and plot contrivances which I can’t overlook. It is a hard decision, but the top five animated movies of the 20th century are:

Fantasia (1940), Walt Disney, Traditional

The Secret of Nimh (1982), Don Bluth, Traditional

The Little Mermaid (1989), Disney, Tradtional

Beauty and the Beast (1991), Disney, Traditional

Princess Mononoke (1997), Studio Ghibli, Traditional

Well, in the readers choice selection, Sleeping Beauty also was just voted out, alongside with Charlotte’s Web, The Nightmare before Christmas, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and The Prince of Egypt. Tomorrow I’ll add picks to the list one last time, since I don’t think that there will be much of a change in the voting of the past articles. So, last chance to put any movie from the late 1980s forward. And another chance to kick up to five movies off the list.

 

 


The Swanpride Award: Top Ten

Well, those are movies still in the competition:

The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926) by Lotte Reiniger, Silhouette

Fantasia (1940), Walt Disney, Traditional

Sleeping Beauty (1959), Walt Disney, Traditional

Yellow Submarine (1968), Georg Dunning, Traditional

Watership Down (1978), Martin Rosen, Traditional

The Secret of Nimh (1982), Don Bluth, Traditional

The Great Mouse Detective (1986), Disney, Traditional

Grave of the Fireflies (1988), Studio Ghibli, Traditional

The Little Mermaid (1989), Disney, Tradtional

Beauty and the Beast (1991), Disney, Traditional

The Nighmare before Christmas (1993), Skellington/Disney, Stop Motion

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

Princess Mononoke (1997), Studio Ghibli, Traditional

The Iron Giant (1999), Warner Bros, Traditional

Time to narrow the list down to ten. Let’s start with the easy choices: I said that Yellow Submarine wouldn’t have won in any other decade and I stand to my opinion. No matter which movie I would have picked for the 1960s, it would have been fallen out of the competition at this stage for sure.

And speaking of Yellow Submarine, one of the main reasons I consider it inferior is the quality of the animation. I therefore decided to use this as my first criteria and scratch movies off the list which don’t manage to shine through animation. Those which are struggling in this regard, usually because of budget issues, are Watership Down, The Great Mouse Detective, Ghost in the Shell and The Iron Giant. Only one of those four can make it to the next round.   Now, they all have something good about their animation. In the case of Watership Down and Ghost in the Shell, it’s artistic elements, in the case of The Great Mouse Detective and The Iron Giant it’s technical achievements. Technical achievements are impressive, but artistic elements are time-less. So I have to make a decision between Watership Down and Ghost in the Shell.

Mmmm…..I go for Watership Down. Mostly because I think that the gory moments in Watership Down are actually making a point, while the gory ones in Ghost in the Shell often feel a little bit too indulgent. This leaves the following Top Ten:

The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926) by Lotte Reiniger, Silhouette

Fantasia (1940), Walt Disney, Traditional

Sleeping Beauty (1959), Walt Disney, Traditional

Watership Down (1978), Martin Rosen, Traditional

The Secret of Nimh (1982), Don Bluth, Traditional

Grave of the Fireflies (1988), Studio Ghibli, Traditional

The Little Mermaid (1989), Disney, Tradtional

Beauty and the Beast (1991), Disney, Traditional

The Nighmare before Christmas (1993), Skellington/Disney, Stop Motion

Princess Mononoke (1997), Studio Ghibli, Traditional

 

So, let’s take a look at the reader choice…at the moment I am writing this, Snow White, Cinderella, Aladdin and The Jungle book have the most votes and fall out of the competition.

I added a few more to the list (strangle nobody voted for the year 1995, but there was a comment vote for Toy Story, so I added it). Same deal as before: Five possible choices and you have to pick the movies you don’t want to win.

 


The Swanpride Award: Final Selection

Time to see, which movies are still in the run:

The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926) by Lotte Reiniger, Silhouette

Fantasia (1940), Walt Disney, Traditional

Sleeping Beauty (1959), Walt Disney, Traditional

Yellow Submarine (1968), Georg Dunning, Traditional

Watership Down (1978), Martin Rosen, Traditional

The Secret of Nimh (1982), Don Bluth, Traditional

The Great Mouse Detective (1986), Disney, Traditional

Grave of the Fireflies (1988), Studio Ghibli, Traditional

The Little Mermaid (1989), Disney, Tradtional

Beauty and the Beast (1991), Disney, Traditional

The Nighmare before Christmas (1993), Skellington/Disney, Stop Motion

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

Princess Mononoke (1997), Studio Ghibli, Traditional

The Iron Giant (1999), Warner Bros, Traditional

14 Movies and to my big surprise, only six of them are Disney productions, one of them not even done by the animation studio. But that is mostly because Disney tends to release their best movies in a row, so often outstanding Disney movies knocked other really great ones out of the competition.

I am not surprised, though, that most of the movies are traditionally animated. The 20th century was the century of traditional animation. I guess the 21th century will be the century of CGI.

Naturally my readers didn’t always agree with me. In some years, there simply were a number of good movies and sometimes I picked a fairly unknown movie over a very well-known one. I admit, though, that I am very happy that nobody so far has used the “other” option at my polls – well, someone did, but since he or she didn’t bother to comment what should have won instead, I guess at the very least I got the nomination lists right.

Now, tomorrow I will narrow down the list to ten, then to five, then to three and then I will decide on the final winner. I’ll deal with the movies my readers voted for a little bit different. Mostly because it would be premature to close the polls for the last movies I discussed. So here is what I’ll do: I’ll put every movie anyone has ever voted for on a list, but from those articles which have been up at least one week. Everyday you can vote out five which you don’t think deserve the overall win. And everyday I will add new movies which got votes later to the list. I guess this way we should be able to find a readers choice winner by new year.


The Swanpride Award: 1989 and 1990

Taken into consideration:

Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989), Studio Ghibli, Traditional

All Dogs go to Heaven (1989), Don Bluth, Traditional

The Little Mermaid (1989), Disney, Traditional

The Rescuers Down Under (1990), Disney, Traditional

The Nutcracker Prince (1990), Paul Schibli, Traditional

Peter in Magicland (1990), Wolfgang Urchs, Traditional

I am actually not sure why I put The Nutcracker Prince and Peter in Magicland on the list in the first place. Perhaps because they are both Christmas movies, and I needed some cheering up after all the grimness I slogged through in the last week. I guess I have forgotten that I don’t like The Nutcracker Prince at all. Peter in Magicland is a surprisingly well-done German production based on a German children book (well, they did hire some Disney talent), and certainly a good watch the same way the Rankin/Bass holiday movies are a good watch. But let’s stick to the masters of the trade for now.

Nominees-1989-and-1990

Nominated:

Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989), Studio Ghibli, Traditional

All Dogs go to Heaven (1989), Don Bluth, Traditional

The Little Mermaid (1989), Disney, Traditional

The Rescuers Down Under (1990), Disney, Traditional

So, one last time a big break-down of the movies in question. And look, nothing depressing in sight this time around!

  • The Story: I love the premise of Kiki’s Delivery Service. I don’t like the execution of it. Let me explain: The story is basically about Kiki having to learn to stand on her own feet. And she has to do so in the worst way possible, not step by step but she is practically on her own from one day to another. And then the movie does something which really angered me: It starts removing obstacles. In a way, the bakers take the place of her parents, providing her with a place to stay, the basics to start her business, they even find Kiki her first customer. The whole thing is not just utterly dishonest, it creates a giant plot problem. Because the actual challenges were moved out of the way by the writers, they now have to make up problems for Kiki. Some of them work, like her struggling with delivering a package (though I would have thrown that in after she already had a good start). Others don’t work at all. Especially not the part when she suddenly has trouble to fly. And the solution for it is just utterly predictable. Most boring climax ever!

    There is nothing boring about All Dogs Go to Heaven though. Of all the Don Bluth’s movies, this is the bravest one, because it is so gritty. There are criminals which actually act like criminals, there is even a depiction of hell in it. Nothing I would necessarily show smaller children, but then the redemption story-arc isn’t suited for them either. Some of the themes and references in this movie would go over their head either way, you need to be at least old enough to have seen some gangster movies to see this movie as more as just the story of a dog and an orphan.

    I have talked a lot about The Little Mermaid the last two months. To summon it up, I don’t think that the movie is a good adaptation of the source text, but it is a great movie in its own right. It is a very layered story about the relationship between parents and teenagers, an allegorical tale about growing up.

    I consider The Rescuers Down Under as the first sequel to an animated movie which can be considered at least as good as the first one.  Nowadays we have gotten used to good sequels, but back then, not only were sequels to animated movies a rarity, the few which existed were frankly awful (and they only got worse in the 1990s). It does have one problem though that a lot of sequels have: It is the same basic story the first one had. The big difference is, though, that the first one was a detective story with adventure elements thrown in. This one is action adventure pure. It doesn’t have the layers something like The Little Mermaid has, but in terms of danger and suspense, it delivers in spades. My only real gripe with it is the ending. There are too many plot points left open (like the fact that Cody’s mother believes him dead and that a number of animals are still imprisoned in McLeach’s cave).

  • The Characters: Kiki is a very likable character. Even if she is sometimes foolish in her enthusiasm, her determination to do the right and not the easy thing but always the right thing is very endearing. Even if her morals are a little bit over the top at times. There is nothing wrong with allowing someone to pay for a delivery he ordered, even when he has to cancel it in the last minute. But she means well, and that she is a genuinely nice person makes it easy to forgive her when she is acting unfair for foolish reasons.
    Everyone else is just there. None of the characters left a lasting impact on me.

    Anne Marie could have used some of those flaws. She is a little bit too nice and naïve for an orphan. But her character nevertheless works well, because it contrasts with Charlie’s opportunism. Who in turn mostly comes off as likable, because Carface is so much worse. Charlie might be a scoundrel, but there are lines he would never cross. There really aren’t that many anti-heroes in animation, and Charlie is one of the most memorable.

    Well, as I said yesterday, Ariel is great. But what about the other characters? Triton and Sebastian have both their own little arc, which ties in perfectly with main story. They are both flawed, but their flaws are understandable and easily to relate to. Eric has just enough character to be not totally boring. Ursula is exactly the mix of flamboyance and sneakiness I want in a Disney Villain. All the other characters are okay. They work in the story but I can take or leave them.

    When I wrote my article about Miss Bianca, I went into great detail why she gets kind of short-shifted in Rescuers Down Under. But I like all the new characters. Jack might have the role to be Bernard’s rival, but Disney avoided making him a bad person. He is therefore still sympathetic and way less annoying than those kind of characters usually are. Percival C. McLeach is one of the most brutal Disney villains around, but some really good voice-acting turns him into a very personable character.  In the end, though, the movie hinges on the audience liking Cody. What can I say, somehow Disney has managed to make the notion of a heroic child who spends his time rescuing animals in the outback believable. But they also know when it is time for Cody to loose his defiance, at which point even a brave child would be terrified.

    Side note: I always wanted to read a crossover in which all those animated children who speak with animals in a world no-one else can (Penny, Anne-Marie, Cody) meet each other.

  • The Music: I would describe the Soundtrack of Kiki’s Delivery service as serviceable. It’s a nice tune which does exactly what it is supposed to do, but I won’t be humming it anytime soon.

    I love the jazzy tunes in All Dog’s Go to Heaven. But while I like the melody of the songs, I am sometimes not sure about the way they are sung. But they are well placed and usually have a point somewhere in the text. The exception are “What mine is yours” and “Let’s make music together”. Those are only there to fill some time.

    I already wrote a very detailed analysis of the music in The Little Mermaid last month. To summon it up, it can’t get better than Alan Menken and Howard Ashman working together. The songs are perfectly placed, the texts are clever, this is just a nearly perfect soundtrack.

    There is another aspect which is different about “The Rescuers Down Under” compared to the first movie: there are no songs. At all. Even Disney movies which aren’t musicals have usually at least one song in it. But nope, not this one. It is all score, and from the very first minute, it catches your attention. I can’t describe it, I have to show it off:

    That is the perfect combination of music and animation. Just breath-taking!

  • The Animation: As is the animation in itself! The Rescuers Down Under was the first movie for which Disney used CAPS and the result is gorgeous. It pains me that The Rescuers Down Under is one of the overlooked movies in the Disney line-up, because this is the kind animation you should have seen on the big screen at least once.

    Consequently The Little Mermaid is the last Disney movie which was done “old style”. Which is an achievement in itself. The character animation is spot on, the movements under water are convincing and I don’t even want to know how much time was spend on the big battle in the end.

    Not that All Dogs Go to Heaven has to hide. I especially dig the dark colour palette and the detailed backgrounds. That is Don Bluth in his most successful period, and it shows  in the quality of the animation.

    Compared to those three, Kiki’s Delivery Service is just okay. There is nothing wrong with its animation, but there is also nothing about it which impresses me.

Well, I guess it is clear that I consider Kiki’s Delivery Service as the weakest of those movies. The Rescuers Down Under might actually the best when it comes to music and animation, but as a whole, it sadly falls short due to some story-telling problems. All Dogs Go to Heaven is really good. The Little Mermaid is even better. Yeah, I go with the obvious choice this time around.

Since I already covered the 1990s, we are now through with the 20th century. Here is what I’ll do next: Tomorrow, I’ll post a list of the movies still in the competition and then I’ll start to narrow it down step by step by going really nit-picky on the movies, so that I’ll hopefully have an overall winner by Christmas. I will also constantly compare my choices with my readers choices (and comments), so don’t stop voting and commenting.

 

 


The Swanpride Award: 1987- 1988

 

Taken into Consideration:

The Brave little Toaster (1987), Jerry Rees, Traditional

Akira (1988), Katsuhiro Otomo, Traditional

Grave of the Fireflies (1988), Studio Ghibli, Traditional

My Neighbour Totoro (1988), Studio Ghibli, Traditional

Gandahar (1988), René Laloux, Traditional

No, I haven’t forgotten Oliver and Company. I wish I could, though.

I considered Gandahar for a long time. It is the third and last René Laloux movie, and I felt bad for kicking him off the list yet again. It is not that I think that his movies are bad. Those movies are cult classics for a reason and Gandahar might be my favourite of them. They are just not quite good enough to play in the top league. There are always two aspects which bother me about them: For one the quality of the animation. The actual designs are fascinating, but the animation in itself always looks a little bit cheap. And two the scripts. There is way too much exposition in all of them, too much “tell instead of show”. What the movies try to tell the audience is always interesting, but they have the tendency to spell out everything without really saying anything challenging from todays perspective. Either way, if you are interested in animation, you should give those movies a watch for the designs alone.

I also won’t discuss The Brave Little Toaster. I know that this is a beloved movie. I like it, too. It is surprisingly good for an independent production. But it is also a very simple story with some serious tonal issues. It’s a good watch and most likely the best animated movie of 1987, but there were a number of really important Japanese movies in the following year.

Nominees-1987-and-1988

Nominated:

Akira (1988), Katsuhiro Otomo, Traditional

Grave of the Fireflies (1988), Studio Ghibli, Traditional

My Neighbour Totoro (1988), Studio Ghibli, Traditional

Honestly, what is the deal with the animated movies of the 1980s? Why are there so many which are dark and/or depressing? It is not like I mind animated movies addressing serious topics, quite the opposite in fact, but it is really notable how many movies from this period are about nuclear bombs or war in general. Where is this sudden need to address those topics coming from? Was the situation in the cold war that threatening? Or was it Chernobyl? I have no idea. But leave it to the Japanese to address the subject in a meaningful manner.

  • The Story: I admit, I am not sure if I truly understand what the story of Akira is about. And after some research, I have started to doubt that anyone else does either. I did something I usually don’t do and spend some time looking through reviews of this movie. And I noticed that there is a lot of talk about the style of Akira, its role in making Anime better known in the west and the philosophical themes and political commentary in it. But for some reason nobody ever mentions what those themes exactly are and what kind of commentary it is. I don’t dispute that the movie is addressing something, but I have no idea what this something actually is. If someone can explain it to me, I would be really thankful.

    With Grave of the Fireflies, the big question always seem to be if it is a war movie or not. I think that it wasn’t intended to be one. The main theme of the movie definitely is the relationship between society and the individual. Thus said though, due to the war being more a backdrop, the movie makes a way better point concerning its impact than actual war movies. In fact, I think it does a way better job as a war movie, than it does addressing the actual intended theme. I think the main point is that humans can’t survive if they isolate themselves off society. My problem is that I wouldn’t even want to be part of the society which is portrayed in the movie. Why? Well, that’s something I’ll discuss in the character section.

    Compared to the other two movies, My Neighbour Totoro is like a giant bag of cotton candy. It reminds me a lot of Astrid Lindgreen’s “The Six Bullerby Children” in the way it describes the adventures of childhood. Though it does add a healthy dose of mythology into the mix. All in all it is a wonderful plate cleanser after a movie like Grave of the Firefly. It speaks to children because it shows their world, and it speaks to adults by reminding them that the fears and worries of children are just as serious as what adults feel.

  • The Characters:  There is another thing I noticed reading up about Akira: There are often very detailed descriptions of the convoluted story. But in none of them is ever written anything about the motivations of the characters. Because they have none. They have goals, which are randomly assigned to them based on what the story needs. But I never really understood why anyone does anything in this movie. Only at the very end the audience gets at least some background on the relationship between Kaneda and Tetsuo, but at this point, it doesn’t really matter anymore.

    Well, I still owe you an explanation what exactly my issue with Grave of the Fireflies is. Here it goes: I hate the characters. All of them. I hate the mother, who carelessly doesn’t stay with her children but goes ahead to the bomb shelter. I hate Seita for being too proud to accept that he can’t take care of his sister. I hate the aunt for not taking proper care for them, especially not on an emotional level. I hate the cousin and the tenant for ignoring what is going in the household. I hate every single person who sells Seita stuff instead of talking to him and explain the realities of life to him before it is too late (honestly, the great speech about being a part of society is really undermined when it comes from someone who took Seita’s money in the past). I hate the doctor who does nothing to rescue a starving child. I even hate Setsuko for being so unrealistically cute and agreeable. The movie wants to tell the audience that what happens is Seita’s fault, and yes, it is to a large part. But it is also the fault of a society which didn’t reach out to him in time even though it could have, which allowed him to take Setsuko from relative safety and is talking about the “war efforts” as if the war has nothing to do with the decisions their own government made. The society which constantly tells Seita that “he is lucky” when it actually should apologize that they stood by and allowed this war to happen. That is not the kind of society I would want to be part of.

    At least My Neighbour Totoro has well-written characters. Just normal people, easily to relate to, with understandable motivations and some decency in their heart.  And some very cute monsters.

 

  • The Soundtrack: The truly remarkable thing about Akira is not really the score, even though its often dissonant tunes are very unusual. No, what really impressed me is the way the movie uses silence. It has become quite common in anime by now to go silent in the middle of an action sequence in order to get the attention of the audience, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Akira was the movie which started the trend.

    The main theme of Grave of the Fireflies reminds me of a musical box. Every time it is used, it creates a bittersweet mood, partly because of the tune, but partly because the audience knows that no matter how happy the characters are for a short moment, this story won’t end well.

    Happy. That is the first word which comes in my mind when I listen to the soundtrack of My Neighbour Totoro. The tune reminds me of children songs I learned in kindergarten, occasionally  interlaced with some slightly melancholic bits.

 

  • The Animation: The first thing which is usually mentioned about Akira is its graphic depiction of violence. To be honest, I think that this is the least endearing feature of the movie, because the violence often feels pointless and overly gory. It is everything else which makes its animation great. The designs (especially everything involving Kaneda’s motor bike), the colours, the incredible layers of details. Sometimes you watch a scene and suddenly you notice really impressive artwork tucked somewhere in the background. I have one issue with the character designs, though. I think that Kaneda and Kei look too similar. The first time I watched the movie I was incredible confused in the very beginning, because I first didn’t realize that they were two different characters.

    If there is one thing I like about Grave of the Firefly than the way it manages to be realistic without being too gory. There are a lot of bandages, but rarely any visible wounds. Which in a way makes it worse, because you constantly imagine how horrible they are. The whole movie works this way, a lot is just suggested instead of shown, but that makes the impact of it even stronger.

    What really stands out to me in My Neighbour Totoro are the character designs, especially of Totoro. None of the monsters are speaking, and yet it is so easy to understand them.

Of the three movies, My Neighbour Totoro is the only one which works for me the way it was intended to. It is a very quaint movie. The trouble is: while I like watching those movies, they usually don’t end up on my best lists. I always want a little bit more than a pleasing story, some layers which are worth discussing.
I am not sure if Akira does have those layers or just pretends to have them, but it certainly is an artistic statement which I can’t dismiss easily.
And yet I decided to give the win to Grave of the Firefly. Intended or not, this is one of the best anti-war movies out there. None of the others has ever made me that angry and so determined to ensure, that the 70 year long period of peace Germany has enjoyed will never end. And if it does, I want to be able to say that I didn’t raise my flag claiming that throwing bombs was a solution to anything.

Tomorrow I’ll take a break from posting, instead you can head over to Honoring the Heroine for my article about Ariel. If The Little Mermaid makes it into the final cut, well, we’ll see Sunday. Until then, don’t forget to vote. Otherwise you favourite movie might not end up in the second round of the reader’s choice selection.