Sunday, January 18, 2015

Animated Thoughts: A Tale of Two Features

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."
A Tale of Two Cities
Charles Dickens

Never before in the history of cinema have we seen such an explosion of animated feature films (well, outside of Japan that is). Sadly, many of these films will never reach the shores of the United States and thus never be viewed by a wider audience outside of the few of us who can either travel to Canada or who live by the few small boutique arthouse theaters. Fortunately for me, the Detroit Institute of Arts Detroit Film Theater is very open to showing animated films. As such, recently, I had the opportunity to watch two features at the Detroit Film Theater.

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is the swan song of Studio Ghibli director Isao Takahata. As Takahata is in his mid-seventies, it seems very likely that this will be his last feature-length animated film.

Princess Kaguya was visually spectacular. And while the story was good, I found myself drifting off to take in the lush watercolor backgrounds or marvel in the character animation as Takahata's crew effortlessly coaxed the principles of animation out of watercolor-esque characters. If you've ever tried to work with watercolor paint--oriental or otherwise, you know exactly what I mean. While the story is based upon a Buddhist legend, I think that many women will find that it resonates with them as through the narrative, we witness the carefree Princess Kaguya grow from a child to a woman who chafes under the expectations placed on her--a theme common in other films like Disney's Mulan and Pixar's Brave. This is a film worth watching for the visuals alone but the story was very engaging from start to finish and worth a look now that it's available on DVD.

The King and the Mockingbird, by Paul Grimault was a lot better than I had been led to believe. Having suffered a similar fate as Richard Williams' the Thief and the Cobbler, Mockingbird actually had a more coherent story and a visual style that looked like the Disney and Warner Brothers shorts from the 1940's and '50's. The story itself deals with young lovers struggling to stay together against an evil king(s) trying to separate them--all told through the narration of a mockingbird. The animation is solid and the visuals--especially the backgrounds--are top notch. Much like when watching Kaguya, I often found myself drifting away from the story to take in the scenery. It was a fun romp that reminded me of those days back in the '70's where I would devour Saturday morning cartoons and then watch whatever animated feature that HBO would play in the early afternoon.

The King and the Mockingbird is available for sale on DVD, however it's region 2 so won't play on DVD players here in the USA. Luckily for us, it's also available for rent on Amazon Video.

If you're looking for a film for one of those days when you don't want to go outdoors, you can't go wrong with either The King and the Mockingbird or The Tale of the Princess Kaguya.