Sunday, February 26, 2012

Animated Thoughts: 2012 Academy Awards

Well, the Academy Awards are tonight. My predictions for the winners are the following:
  • Best Animated Feature film: 'Kung Fu Panda 2'
  • Best Animated Short film: 'La Luna'
Thanks to the miracle of iTunes, I've watched all the feature-length animated films except for 'A Cat in Paris' & 'Puss in Boots' and all the animated short films--though I saw three of them at Ottawa last year and caught 'Chico and Rita' at Waterloo. Yet another reason to go to animated film festivals (shameless plug)!

The films I'd like to see win at the Academy Awards this year are as follows*:
  • Best Animated Feature film: 'Chico & Rita'
  • Best Animated Short film: 'Wild Life'
While I enjoyed 'Kung Fu Panda 2' and 'Rango', since they were decent films that were expertly produced and animated, I would rather see 'Chico & Rita' win for the two following reasons:

1. The subject matter broke out of the age ghetto that animation regularly finds itself in. I love many of the animated films that are produced for a younger audience. However, relegating animated films to the realm of only suitable for children does a disservice to the art form by making the assumption that animation is incapable of telling complex stories for adults. See 'Heavy Metal', 'Renaissance', 'Technotise Edit & I', the 'Illusionist', 'Boogie, el Aceitoso', and a plethora of Japanese animation to numerous to mention here for examples of where animation created for an adult audience can produce decent films--though sadly, they are not always commercial successes.

2. Chico & Rita used (relatively) old school rotoscoping techniques. Now I'm not the biggest fan of rotoscoping, but when it's done right, it's a decent thing to watch and doesn't detract from the story or the visuals (again, I reference 'Heavy Metal' and 'Renaissance').

With the exception of 'A Morning Stroll', which I didn't understand the purpose of, I enjoyed all the short films this year. Why the NFB's 'Wild Life' over Pixar's charming film 'La Luna'? No real reason other than personal taste, although it probably has a lot to do with my having sat through both short films at Ottawa, followed by the Q&A session with the creators. Both Pixar and the National Film Board of Canada are animation powerhouses when it comes to their history with the Academy Awards, so it wouldn't bother me if either film won.

One thing that I think is worthy of note is that 'The Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore' was created by Moonbot Studios through financial assistance from the State of Louisiana. There's a very interesting article on Friday's Marketplace podcast which can be listened to here.

And if you get the chance, Cartoon Brew has a series of interviews with directors from the nominated films on their website.

* Sadly, I haven't been able to watch 'A Cat in Paris' as it isn't commercially available here in the States (yet!). So, I reserve the right to change my opinion on the films I would like to see win the Academy Award. But for now, the previous two films have my vote.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Animated Quotes: Chuck Jones

In memory of Chuck Jones (who died on February 22, 2002), here's some wit and wisdom from the man who brought us hours of Saturday morning fun with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and the rest of the Looney Tunes!

"Anyone can negatively criticize -- it is the cheapest of all comment because it requires not a modicum of the effort that suggestion requires."


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Animated Reviews: Crispin Freeman's "Anime Mythology"

So there I was, braving the cold Michigan winter weather (with a transmission that was having problems), on my way to Ann Arbor where Crispin Freeman was presenting a lecture on anime at the University of Michigan Anime Club's annual 'Con Ja Nai' meeting. For those of you who don't watch much anime, Crispin Freeman is an American voice actor best known for playing Section 9's non-cyberized detective "Togusa" in the anime series 'Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex' as well as the constantly beleaguered "Kyon" from 'the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzimiya'.

While I freely admit that one of the reasons I was driving to Ann Arbor was to have Mr. Freeman autograph a poster from Sony's North American DVD release of 'Ghost in the Shell: Innocence', I was very interested in hearing him discuss his theories on anime story/genre development through his Anime Mythology series. In this case it was his presentation: "Giant Robots and Superheroes." Basically, Mr. Freeman's presentation detailed his theories of why the American and Japanese mythos have developed on parallel yet radically different paths--his theory being that the core religious beliefs of the region have shaped the cultural outlook reflected in their media. For example:

Region: United States of America
Major Religions: Christianity/Judiaism/Islam
Mindset: Good vs. Evil
Result: Superheroes

Region: Japan
Major Religions: Shinto/Buddhism
Mindset: Restoring Balance to the world
Result: Robotic Avatars

After presenting the premise, he then delved into the core beliefs that mark each religion, followed by examples from each region's media which illustrate how the core beliefs have shaped and influenced the development of storytelling within said media.

Rather than try to paraphrase Mr. Freeman's lecture further and risk misstating his ideas, I present the following video which explains Mr. Freeman's background and expounds upon his lecture series and the ideas within.

This was one of those presentations where you feel like you're a very thirsty man drinking from a firehose--there was so much information being presented it was hard to take it all in. On the one hand, you're dealing with the disconnect of seeing a person whose voice you have associated with another face(s). On the other hand, you're sitting through a lecture that fascinates you and is presented by someone who not only knows his material backwards and forwards but also is a polished speaker. I've never been able to copy notes and pay attention to a speaker. Maybe it's because dyslexia runs in my family, maybe I just never learned the skill. Fortunately, I had an acquaintance with me who is very skilled in note-taking which allowed me to focus all of my attention on Mr. Freeman's lecture and still have the benefit of material to review later on while I'm waiting for him to finish writing and publishing the book he is currently composing on this subject.

There are currently five lectures in his Anime Mythology series. If you're at all interested in anime, and more importantly the multi-faceted thought processes and cultural idiosyncrasies that compose their engaging stories, then I highly recommend taking an afternoon out of your schedule to listen to Crispin Freeman. After hearing the first lecture in his series, I'm already keeping an eye out for his next local appearance so I can hear the rest.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Animated Inspiration: Simon Tofield

Since I spend a fair amount of space on this site sharing (and critiquing) the works of "Simon's Cat", instead of doing my usual show a film which I find interesting and/or inspiring, I'd like to share the following interview with Simon Tofield, creator of "Simon's Cat".