Tag Archives: Pixar

Nine Properties I would love to see as Animated Series

So, Disney has apparently decided that they should do animated TV-Shows based on their properties again. And why not? DreamWorks already does it, and it worked just fine back in the 1990s. And to be honest, the properties they picked this time around have a lot of more potential than the ones they did back then. I really look forward to the Tangled TV-Series because I really wanted to know how Rapunzel learns to adjust to the life out of the tower (though I do fear that Disney might end up going for something more shallow in an attempt to appeal to the perceived target demographic), and Big Hero 6 is practically made for being a TV -Series.

This got me thinking, though. Are there any other properties I would actually like to see as animated TV series? And what would they look like? So I considered and came up with a small list, not just of Disney movies which would work particularly well as a TV show, but also some untapped book properties as well as some franchises which I think could do really well with a shift to animated TV. I ended up with nine, because I didn’t feel the need to force this into being a proper top ten, especially since this isn’t a ranking at all, I sorted them based on the year of creation. After all, every adaptation can potentially be good – there are just some properties which are more suited for a TV shows than others.


The Letter for the King (1962)

What is it about?

It’s a book by Tonke Dragt, set in a kind of medieval setting. It tells the story about Tuiri, a young man who is about to become a knight. His last test is spending a night thinking about the path he is about to take in a chapel, when suddenly he is confronted with the decision to either fulfil this last test or listen to a request for help, thus abandoning his knighthood. He naturally does the latter (or it would be a really short book), and starts a very dangerous journey, trying to deliver an important letter to another kingdom, while being followed by a number of different enemies.

Why do I want it?

The book has been adapted into a movie once, but that went as well as you can expect when you cram a story about travelling to a number of different places into a relatively short running time. The character moments kind of got lot along the way, which was a shame, since the story is actually not that much to write home about unless you are really invested in the struggle of the character, and a number of different scenarios, which simply can’t be rushed but need room to breath. In addition, the story is a little bit episodic from the get go, meaning Tiuri reaches a place, deals with some sort of hurdle to overcome, and then goes to the next place. It could easily fill 20 to 30 episodes if handled right. And if the first season is successful, well, there is a second book about the adventures of Tiuri, which is just as good if not better.

How should the series look like?

I’ll be honest here: There is no particular reason for this to be an animated series, it could work in live action TV just as well – with a proper budget. And that is kind of the problem, because I doubt that any network would spend that much money on some strange European property, no matter how well-known it is in a number of countries. American networks and studios are a little bit snobby in this regard. But if they do an animated series, I would prefer classical animation in a style reminiscent of medieval art and paintings. It needs to look kind of romantic but also colourful.


Voyagers! (1982-1983)

What is it about?

It’s a mostly forgotten but still beloved by those who know it TV-series about time-travelling. You have a time-traveller, a child who accidentally becomes his partner and one of the greatest time travelling device ever created in the Omni. The episodes are about fixing history – meaning something went wrong at one point and the protagonists have to ensure that history goes the way it was supposed to.

Why do I want it?

While the show had a lot of flaws, mainly due to its very American perspective on history, it was also very educational. It is one of the main reasons I ever developed an interest in history and how it affects us today. I think we need another show like this, which teaches children something in a fun way. I am usually not into time travel at all, but the fact that the Voyagers worked outside of time sidestepped a number of possible paradoxes. I guess you could also simply reboot the show for Live-Action TV, but I am hopeful for it catching on better the second time around. If you go for multiple seasons, you have the problem that the child actor will age out of the role pretty fast (the original one had only three season which run in a less than two years, and the child-actor had already hit a grown spurt by the end of it, which put him pretty firmly in the teen category). So, animated it is.

How should the series look like?

The original show had a few steampunk elements to it, and I would like a remake doubling down on this, at least when it comes to the design of the Voyager Headquarter. I also think that it would be important to portray the historic figures in it as adequate as possible. I am not sure if CGI is able to do that, and Stop-Motion has always a weird feeling to it. So (surprise, surprise), traditional animation is it. I actually think I would like the Disney style, along the lines of what they did in the short “Ben and I”.


The Great Mouse Detective (1986)

What is it about?

Well, animation fans should know this hidden gem from the Disney canon. In short, it is the story about a Mouse-version of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson.

Why do I want it?

It is kind of a no-brainer, really. During the 1990s, Disney made direct-to-video sequels and TV-shows about more or less everything, but somehow they mostly managed to miss out the properties, which were perfect for some kind of sequel. The Great Mouse Detective could be a wonderful detective series for children and young adults, and between the book series the movie was based on and the actual Sherlock Holmes stories, there is a lot of material to draw from. They could even introduce an early version of the Rescue Aid Society at one point, thus suggesting that Basil belongs in the same universe as The Rescuers, just in a different time period.

How should the series look like?

Like the movie, naturally. The style is perfect for TV anyway.


Harry Potter (1997-2007)

What is it about?

Do I really have to explain? It’s Harry Potter, you need to have lived under a rock to not at the very least know the basics.

Why do I want it?

Mostly because I always felt that the movies were really dissatisfying. I loved the sets, the costumes (mostly), and they were an okay watch overall, but there was so much lost in the adaptation that I really, really want a better one. But I don’t think that the audience would accept another one anytime soon, plus, even if you would redo the movies already knowing which details would become important later on and which not, it would still be nearly impossible to cram all the information into movie lengths. So why not a TV series? An animated one, to ensure that the actors don’t grow out of their roles, and to allow some creativity when it comes to spell-casting. Though it would be important that the creators take the book series serious and don’t dumb down the themes in it.

How should the series look like?

Ever seen Harry Potter Fanart? Yeah, something along the line of the most popular artists would be great. I also want to add that while I want a version which allows the different story-arcs some room to breath, it doesn’t have to be a slavish one-to-one adaptation of the books. There is certainly a little bit room for improvement, some details which could and should be added in order to avoid some of the plot holes.


Operation Nautilus (2001-2001)

What is it about?

It’s a book series by Wolfgang Hohlbein, also called Captain Nemo’s Children. It is set around the time of the first World War, and describes how a group of teens end up commandeering the Nautilus (yes, THAT Nautilus), finding traces of the Atlantian Civilisation at the bottom of the ocean while evading the war ships.

Why do I want it?

Well, for starters, the teens in the series all have different nationalities, meaning they are working together while their respective nations are at war with each other. I have the feeling that this is a message which will be desperately needed in the upcoming years. But it is also one of the book series which had a number of great ideas, but doesn’t really work that well as a whole. Really, don’t get me started on how much it went of the rails, and how terrible and contrived the finale was. I would love to see someone take another stab at the concept, using the best ideas of the book and building on them, step by step. Basically I want a more or less original series based on the concept and the characters of the book series.

How should the series look like?

In this case, I can see every form of animation working just fine, as long as the result doesn’t look too cartoony. The story might be fantasy, but it is set in a realistic setting, and the animation should reflect that.


Treasure Planet (2002)

What is it about?

Another of Disney’s overlooked gem. The movie is basically Treasure Island in Space steampunk style. Disney actually did plan a series based on the movie, but after it bombed spectacularly, the series was scrapped.

Why do I want it?

The world of Treasure Island just look infinitely interesting. I own the DVD, and it fascinating how much thought the animators put in the working of the ships. There are a number of details which never made it into the movie. I would love to see a series exploring more of this world. Jim could go on even more travels and crazy adventures.

How should the series look like?

Well, like the movie, naturally. (I have a deja vu….).


Firefly (2002)

What is it about?

Well, Firefly is the Whedon show which infamously run for only one season but still managed to spawn a cult following and eventually a movie. It was a quite interesting concept in that it took the concept of Wild West in space a little bit more literal than even Star Trek did (and that franchse has “Trek” in its name!) going for a very dusty look during a time, in which most Science Fiction shows created a very pristine future. It also frequently experiemented with story-telling, creating some very memorable episodes in its short run.

Why do I want it?

It only run one season. Do I really have to say more? It deserves to get a proper continuation, but with the various actors having aged out of their roles by now, an animated series is the only way to make it possible without it being too grating. It could pick up where the original show left off (ignoring Serenity) and just continue the story.

How should the series look like?

I lean towards traditional animation in this case, because I think it would be easier to capture the feel of the original show in this style. Not that CGI can’t do dusty and dirty – see Rango – it’s the character animation which worries me. That can end up fast in uncanny valley territory.


Supernatural (2005-now)

What is it about?

Supernatural is the longest running Sci-Fi Series in the USA, which is frankly downright impressive. Impressive enough that I recently decided to figure out what the big deal is, proceeding to binge watch the whole show. And I actually liked it quite a lot after I discovered that it is about so much more than just two to three attractive leads experiencing a lot of man-pain (what? We all have our prejudices). There are actually a number of really creative ideas in the show which I adore. I would recommend the first five season of it to everyone – what follows is a little bit more wonky, but still has its moments.

And yes, I am aware that there is already an anime based on the show…I’ll address it later.

Why do I want it?

Unlike Firefly Supernatural is an ongoing show which still utilized the same actors. But I nevertheless would love to see a complete reboot of it. While I do like a number of ideas in the show (careful, I will now go full-on spoiler) especially the concept of not so fluffy angels or a Supernatural series becoming the Winchester Gospel and their take on the apocalypse, there are also a lot of elements which I feel prevent the show from reaching its full potential. Partly it is the format. The writers have to fill a lot of episodes, so they often drag plot-lines out or throw in detours, and since the writers change, there are sometimes elements which are just left hanging in the air, contradictions in the lore and quality shifts. Partly it is the budget. They did a fairly good job with depicting angles (love the shadow wings) and heaven, but hell has been an ongoing disappointment so far. Partly it is simply the writing. I can’t be the only one who actually wanted to see at least half a season with Godstiel being the big problem Dean and Sam have to deal with it, instead of getting one episode and then having to deal the whole season with boring black goo.

I just feel that it would be great to rewrite the whole thing, using the best story-arcs, streamlining some aspects (like the whole “the police looks for the Winchesters” thing), making some elements bigger and dropping a few more questionable decisions. I want the best of the world of Supernatural combined with visuals which aren’t possible to do on a TV budget. I want a more careful world-building, with clearer rules. And doing this in an animated show would allow for doing it without it feeling like a cheap knock-off from the get go.

To achieve that, it would be necessary that it becomes more than just a retelling. It should have its own set of twists.Which is what the Anime kind of tried to do, but more in the single episodes than in the actual myth arc. But that is exactly the place where they should start. Why not actually go for the notion of Sam being part of an army of people with tainted blood this time around instead of doing the whole “one surviver” solution, which, imho, was mostly picked because of budgets restrains? Why not changing around some stuff? Like, the whole idea of Castiel being under mind control from heaven would have actually fit was better into season 6, when there was still one archangel left. This storyline can lead into Castiel being freed of said mind control which would then make his pact with Crowley way more understandable.

Then there is Adam, who is still one big black mark on the series because he is apparently still in the cage and nobody seems to care. His character could be handled better from the get go. For example instead of repeating the whole “Adam is already death” shock (which lead to some problems down the line – death really hasn’t much meaning in the show when characters are constantly brought back as soon as it is convenient), it would be interesting of Adam is actually younger when Dean and Sam meet him, and they make the decision to leave him with a relative of his mother, hiding the Supernatural from him, because they want him to have a normal live. That would naturally cause resentment in Adam, which would be hashed out further down the line when the angels start to use him. Similar elements, different story, and the opportunity to explore some ideas which never got the attention they deserved, that’s what I want to see. In case someone is curious: I also would love to see the fight for the seals in greater detail, a more creative take on the cage, the pagan gods as a third party and more of the fight between the various angels. I also felt that the show really should have explored the relationship between Castiel and Jimmy Novak instead of forgetting about the latter for multiple season just to explain then that he has been in heaven for quite a while. And without the budget restrains, it could create a more complete world, in which the Winchester adventures actually have a large impact. What happens when there is suddenly an increase of paranormal activities which can’t be ignored, when there are people declaring themselves to be god and others who leave their families because they agreed to be a vessel or have been hijacked by a demon? There are numerous options for a rewrite, which honours the original while still being its own thing.

How should the series look like?

I discovered that I actually don’t like the Anime style at all, though my issues are more with the Anime style of storytelling than the actual drawings. See, Anime storytelling is extremely melodramatic, with a lot of telling instead of showing. But that is more or less the opposide of what makes the show work. Yeah, it is sometimes corny, but what makes it so great is the underlying realism, the constant demystificing of our beliefs. Angels are just dicks. Demons exist, but they can be defeated. Yes, it has its dramatic moments, but it can also be funny or just really horrofying. So what the show would need is a drawing style, which allows it a lot of freedom to design certain elements of it really freaky and go all creative with it. Supernatural is also a series which likes to play around a little bit on a meta-level. Therefore I like the idea of mixing different kind of animation. Normally stop motion would clash horrible with traditional animation, but it could be used here for a deliberate “off-feel”. The important part is that they pick a style which allows the characters to show a lot of emotions in their faces, as well as some really creepy imagenary. So perhaps traditional animation with a realistic touch to it is in order, but with an emphasis on the character animation.


Inside Out (2015)

What is it about?

It’s a view into the mind a girl, showing how her emotions struggle with some big changes in her life.

Why do I want it?

Of all the properties I put on this list, this is actually the one I want the least. Inside Out works just fine as stand-alone movie. But Pixar currently has a bad case of sequilities, so they will revisit one of their most successful properties sooner or later. And if they do, I just can’t see them figuring out a story which doesn’t feel like a repetition of the first movie. So, why not go smaller? Focus on small events in Riley’s everyday life, and let the emotions comment on it. And yes, that is more or less like Herman’s Head, but doing the same concept with the perspective of a teen as centre could yield a nice little show for this demographic. Just keep it small, and simple.

How should the series look like?

CGI. That’s the style of the movie and they should stick to it. I can actually see the emotions working if they based them on the concept drawings, but I somehow can’t see Riley in this style, so it would be better to stick to what works.


So, that is my list. There are other adaptations and/or sequels I would like to see at one point, but those are the ones I would love to see specifically as animated TV show. What do you think? Do you agree with my picks? Or do you have some ideas on your own? I would love to hear about them.

 

 

 

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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.

Nominees-1999

Nominated:

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.


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.


A not so small reminder…

My article series for the Swanpride Award starts soon. You have still time to put your own nominations forward. Until then, here a list of the 85 movies I took into consideration. That doesn’t mean that those movies ended up on the nomination list, it only means that those movies got my attention. Feel free to add to the list and/or nominate movies from the list to ensure that I’ll discuss them at least briefly.

Up for consideration (sorted by release date):

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

The Tale of the Fox (1930) by Ladislas Starevich, Stop-Motion

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) Walt Disney, Traditional

Gulliver’s Travels (1939) by Fleischer Studios, Traditional

Pinocchio (1940), Walt Disney, Traditional

Fantasia (1940), Walt Disney, Traditional

Dumbo (1941), Walt Disney, Traditional

Mr. Bug goes to Town (1941), Fleischer Studios, Traditional

Princess Iron Fan (1941), The Wan Brothers, Traditional

Bambi (1942), Walt Disney, Traditional

The Singing Princess/La Rosa Di Bagdad (1949), Anton Gino Domeghini, Traditional

Cinderella (1950), Walt Disney, Traditional

Alice in Wonderland (1952), Walt Disney, Traditional

Peter Pan (1953), Walt Disney, Traditional

Hansel and Gretel: An Opera Fantasy (1954), RKO Radio Pictures, Stop Motion

Animal Farm (1954), Halas and Batchelor, Traditional

Lady and the Tramp (1955), Walt Disney, Traditional

Sleeping Beauty (1959), Walt Disney, Traditional

One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961), Walt Disney, Traditional

Heaven and Earth Magic (1962), Harry Everett Smith, Cut-out

The Sword in the Stone (1963), Walt Disney Traditional

The Jungle Book (1967), Walt Disney, Traditional

Yellow Submarine (1968), Georg Dunning, Traditional

Fritz the Cat (1972), Ralph Bakshi, Traditional

Charlotte’s Web (1973), Hanna-Barbera, Traditional

Fantastic Planet (1973), René Laloux/ Jiří Trnka Studio, Cutout

Robin Hood (1973), Disney, Traditional

Adventures of Sinbad the Sailor (1974), Karel Zeman, Traditional

Mattie the Goose Boy (1976), Pannonia Film Studio, Traditional

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977), Disney, Traditional

The Rescuers (1977), Disney, Traditional

Watership Down (1978), Martine Rosen, Traditional

The Fox and the Hound (1981), Disney, Traditional

The Plague Dogs (1982), Martin Rosen, Traditional

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

The Last Unicorn (1982), Rankin/Bass, Traditional

Les Maîtres du temps (1982), René Laloux, Traditional

Barefoot Gen (1983), Madhouse, Traditional

Nausicaa (1984), Hayao Miyazaki/Topcraft, Traditional

The Adventures of Mark Twain (1985), Will Vinton, Claymation

Laputa Castle in the Sky (1986), Ghibli, Traditional

An American Tail (1986), Don Bluth, Traditional

The Great Mouse Detective (1986), Disney, Traditional

When the Wind Blows (1986), Jimmy Murakami, Traditional/Stop motion

Valhalla (1986), Peter Madson, Traditional

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

All Dogs 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

An American Tail: Feivel goes West (1991), Amblin, Traditional

Beauty and the Beast (1991), Disney, Traditional

Only Yesterday (1991), Studio Ghibli, Traditional

Aladdin (1992), Disney, Traditional

Ferngully: The Last Rainforest (1992), Kroyer/Fox, Traditional

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993), Warner Bros, Traditional

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

Once Upon a Forrest (1993), Hanna-Barbera, Traditional

The Thief and the Cobbler (1993), Richard Williams, Traditional

Felidae (1994), Michael Schaack, Traditional

The Swan Princess (1994), Richard Rich, Traditional

The Lion King (1994), Disney, Traditional

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

Anastasia (1997), Don Bluth/Fox, Traditional

Perfect Blue (1997), Satoshi Kon, Traditional

Princess Mononoke (1997), Studio Ghibli, Traditional

Antz (1998), DreamWorks, Traditional

A Bugs Live (1998), Pixar, Traditional

Mulan (1998), Disney, Traditional

The Prince of Egypt (1998), Dream Works

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


The History of Western Animation in Film

I have decided to broaden the subject of this blog a little bit. Yes, I know, I have barely started with my lyrics analysis, but I already realized that I feel a little bit limited when it comes to talking about animation. So instead of starting yet another blog (I am barely able to do regular updates for the ones I already have), I have decided to use this one for some serious basic discussions about animated movies – and start with the basics.

When people talk about the History of Animation, most of the time they really talk about the History of American Animation. And if the topic is theatrical movies and not animation in general, that is for once fairly legitimate. Like it or not, but when it comes to animated movies, the US is dominating not only the home but also the European market.

I guess this is the moment I should talk about animes. They naturally have their own history and influences. Let’s concentrate on one side of the earth for now. I intend to illustrate something by doing a small overview over the most important development in animation.

The first theatrical animated movie in the world was – no, not “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” – an Argentinean movie with the title “El Apóstol”. Released in 1917 it utilized cutout animation (basically a special form of stop-motion). The movie is lost, but based on what I read about it, it was a satire which was certainly not geared towards a young audience.

The oldest still surviving animated movie is – no, still not “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” – Lotte Reiniger’s “The Adventure of Prince Achmet”. Released in 1926 in Germany, it is the third animated movie ever made and the first which used the little bit more sophisticated silhouette animation. In fact, Lotte Reiniger was the one who invented this technic. It works similar to shadow puppets, but they are not moved and filmed live, but painstakingly arranged. And let me tell you, the level of detail Lotte Reiniger archived this way in breathtaking. A photo can’t really convey it, but the result looks like this:

31994

The feathers and leaves are already impressive, but it is even more impressive if you see it in motion. As you can see, the movie is tinted. It also has its own “soundtrack”, composed specifically for it. The movie has been restored in 1999. It is now available on DVD and has even shown with life-orchestra from time to time. If you get the chance to see it life – do! It’s a once in a lifetime experience, for multiple reasons.

The first stop-motion movie using puppets is either of Ladislas Starevich’s “The Tale of the Fox” or the Russian movie “The New Gulliver”, depending on if you base it on the end of the production or release date. “The Tale of the Fox” was finished in 1930 in France but released in April 1937. “The New Gulliver” was finished and released in 1935.

The first animated sound film was – nope! Still not “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” – but another lost Argentinian movie, “Peludópolis”, released in 1931. The claim which “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” has to fame is that was it was the first full-length cell-animated feature filmed in three-strip Technicolor, and begin of the rise what we call nowadays traditional animation. Released in 1937, it was the seventh animated movie ever made.

From that point onwards, you can just as well call it the history of Disney. First stereophonic sound? Fantasia (1940). First widescreen format? Lady and the Tramp (1955). First movie using the xerography process? 101 Dalmatians (1961). From 1937 onwards Disney was dominating the market – and then became complacent. Between Walt Disney losing interest in the Animation Studios and the general lack of a proper rival, Disney stopped being the pioneer in animation.

I think Disney left gladly the crown for the first “adult animation” to Ralph Bakshi’s “Fritz the Cat” (1972), but the studio also got beat concerning the first animated feature in Dolby Sound by “Watership Down” in 1978, the honour of being the first animated feature using computer images went to “Rock and Rule” in 1983, and the first feature length clay animation movie was “The Adventures of Mark Twain” in 1985.

Then Disney woke up again, setting a new milestone with “Who framed Roger Rabbit” (1988) and then proceeded to perfect the CAP system. “Rescuers Down Under” (1990) was the first movie produced without a camera and with only digital ink and paint. In 1995 Pixar happened. Toy Story was the first fully computer animated feature film and Toy Story 3 (2010) was the first feature film released theatrically in 7.1 surround sound. Meanwhile there was development in stop-motion, too. Coraline (2009) was the first stop-motion movie which used rapid prototyping.

There are two point I want to illustrate with this: Disney didn’t invent animation (not by far), but it was over long periods the forerunner in traditional animation. Also, the world of movie animation is all in all pretty small.

The most notable Animation companies (read: companies which produced more than two or three animated movies and left their mark on the industry) and figures are:

  1. The Disney Animation Studios – naturally. Forerunner in traditional animation and currently on the top of their game in CGI, too. Also the first animation studio which started making animated movies on this list active since 1937.
  2. Pixar – Forerunner in CGI animation, now naturally part of the Disney Company, but still an independent subsidiary. Active since 1995.
  3. DreamWorks – mostly notable in being currently the biggest rival of the two studios above.
  4. Don Bluth – His movies are a little bit hard to pin down to one studio, because he went bankrupt multiple times. At one point he was working with Steven Spielberg, later Fox Animation (which is nowadays Blue Skies). So, technically not a studio, but a notable body of work, and a player on the field from 1982 to 2000.
  5. Jiří Trnka – A pioneer in stop motion animation. Between 1947 and 1959 he made six critical highly acclaimed movies. The Czechoslovakian was considered by many the “Walt Disney of Eastern Europe” even though his style was very different.
  6. Aardman Animations – specialised on stop-motion and therefore in a niche market the US companies mostly ignored for a long time, this British Studio has been around since the 1970s. Its activity in movie making started in 2000.
  7. Blue Sky Studios – owned by 20th Century Fox this studio pushed into the market in 2002 with Ice Age.
  8. Robert L. Zemeckis – he worked on different projects on different companies, but is mostly notable for being the expert in motion capture, especially since the release of “The Polar Express” in 2004. If this is proper animation or not is disputable, but it certainly goes hand in hand with animation.
  9. Laika Entertainment – founded in 2005 this studio has still a fairly small line-up, but with releases like “Coraline” and “Paranormal”, as well contract work for “Corpse Bride” under its belt, it certainly left its mark already.
  10. Steven Spielberg – It is easy to overlook since he is not an animator, but he has been involved as executive producer to some of the most noteworthy animated movies made since the 1980s (and one or two really forgettable ones). This list includes “An American Tail”, “The Land before time” and “Who framed Roger Rabbit”, though he is currently mostly dabbling in motion capture.
  11. Warner Brothers Animation – despite the “big name” overall fairly unimportant in terms of movie making, since the company mostly concentrates on shorts and Television Series. But it is the only animation studio which has been around just as long as the Disney studios. Since 1993 the studio has been dabbling in movie making, too, and while the Lego Movie is the first one, which has been a true box office success, it does have a few other critical acclaimed pieces in its line-up, including “The Iron Giant”.
  12. Ralph Bakshi – His movies are a little bit out of the realm of the other studios, since he has a different target group at all. Since 1972 he is creating movies with the intent to address the adult audience – with varying success. To be honest, I think if any of the other studios had a true interest to outshine him, they would do so quite easily, there is just nobody else truly interested in doing animation which is exclusively geared towards adults if they can do a way bigger cash grab with movies made for all age groups.

 

 

Roughly, I would sort the phases of Movie Animation in the following eras:

1917 – 1930 : The Silent Age

The early beginning of movie animation. At this point the movie makers from all over the world experimented with different variants of stop-motion. But with only three animated theatrical features overall, animation didn’t really take off in movies – yet.

1931 – 1959: The Golden Age

Even before the rise of Disney, the concept of animated movies notably took off. Aside from the ones I already mentioned above, there were additional movie projects which never got finished and are considered lost. The Golden Age also saw not only the rise of Disney, but above all the rise of traditional animation. Stop motion still continued to thrive in Europe and especially Czechoslovakia, but in the US it was mostly used for shorts, TV shows and above all, special effects in live in live action movies.

1960 – 1981: The Dark Age

A dark time indeed. Disney is more or less the only company out there which is still regularly producing animated movies. There are some smaller projects, some of them certainly remarkable, but overall, the animation landscape has become empty, and Disney is doing just enough to not totally embarrass the studio. This only changes in the 1980s, when Don Bluth starts to challenge the status quo. But not only this. Computer technology changes animation forever.

1982 – current: The Multi Age

Multi, because this is the most diverse era for in animated movies so far. Traditional Animation raised to new heights, stop-motion managed to push its way back on the map, CGI movies stormed the market and motion capture became a thing. And if you look at the list above, most animation companies listed there are active in movie making since the 1990th or 2000th. For the first time ever there is proper competition for Disney.

At this point the Multi Age might have been over already, since CGI keeps pushing other methods, especially traditional animation, out of the picture. We’ll see in a couple of years.

And this concludes my first overview. The history of the most important animation studios is another theme though, which I will discuss separately.