Tag Archives: Warner Brothers

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.

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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 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.