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.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Animated Thoughts: 2015 Academy Award Nominees
The 87th Academy Award nominees have been announced.

The nominees for the 'Best Animated Feature' category are:
  • Big Hero 6 (Walt Disney Animation Studios)
  • The Boxtrolls (Laika)
  • How to Train Your Dragon 2 (DreamWorks Animation)
  • Song of the Sea (Cartoon Saloon)
  • The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (Studio Ghibli)
I'll be seeing The Tale of the Princess Kaguya this weekend at the Detroit Film Theater but unfortunately I'll have to wait until the first weekend in March to see Song of the Sea. I could watch it earlier, but I don't want to make a nine hour round trip to either Toronto or Chicago in order to watch a feature that I'll get to see in March where it'll be playing an hour away from my house. The gas prices are at record lows, so I am tempted to make a road trip... but, no. I'll exercise some patience and support a local theater--hopefully, they'll be encouraged to bring in more animated features. :)

While this years animated features are pretty strong I have to admit that I'm a little disappointed to see that neither Cheatin' by Bill Plympton nor Rocks in my Pockets by Signe Baumane got nominated. To be sure, independent animated features are a bit of a long shot with the Academy, but both films were strong contenders in their own right. It would have been wonderful to see either of them get acknowledged.

Given their wide theatrical releases, I'm assuming at his point everyone has seen Big Hero 6, Boxtrolls, or Dragon 2. So if you're in the Michigan area and you want to see either The Tale of the Princess Kaguya or Song of the Sea, here's where they'll be shown:

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
This film will be playing at the Detroit Institute of Art's Detroit Film Theater.

  • Friday, January 16, 2015 - 7:00 PM
  • Saturday, January 17, 2015 - 3:00 PM
  • Saturday, January 17, 2015 - 7:00 PM
  • Sunday, January 18, 2015 - 2:00 PM
  • Sunday, January 18, 2015 - 4:30 PM
  • Monday, January 19, 2015 - 7:00 PM
  • Tuesday, January 20, 2015 - 7:00 PM
  • Wednesday, January 21, 2015 - 7:00 PM

  • NOTE: Check the DIA/DFT website for this event before attending as some of the screenings are English dub and others are Japanese with English subtitles. The DIA/DFT link for this film is here.

    Song of the Sea
    This film will be playing at the Historic Howell Theater from March 3rd until March 8th. As it's about a month-and-a-half away, they haven't released any show times yet. But you can learn more about this film and watch trailers here while you're waiting.

    The nominees for 'Best Animated Short' category are:
    • The Bigger Picture (National Film and Television School)
    • The Dam Keeper (Tonko House)
    • Feast (Walt Disney Animation Studios)
    • Me and My Moulton (Mikrofilm/the National Film Board of Canada)
    • A Single Life (Job, Joris & Marieke)
    I caught both Feast, and Me and My Moulton at the Ottawa International Animation Festival last year. I don't recall seeing the other three there, however, we'll all have the chance to watch all five nominees at the Detroit Film Theater's annual screening of all the animated short films.

    As I've mentioned in the past, each year before the Academy Awards ceremony, the Detroit Institute of Art's Detroit Film Theatre shows a program with all the animated short film nominees. Additionally, Shorts International usually sells a digital download on iTunes with all the animated short film nominees. So there should be ample opportunities to view all the shorts before March and pick my favorite.

    Event details for the Detroit Film Theatre can be found here and the schedule at the DIA/DFT is as follows:
    • Friday, January 30, 2015 - 7:00 PM
    • Saturday, January 31, 2015 - 7:00 PM
    • Sunday, February 01, 2015 - 1:00 PM
    • Sunday, February 01, 2015 - 6:00 PM
    • Wednesday, February 04, 2015 - 7:00 PM
    • Thursday, February 05, 2015 - 7:00 PM
    • Friday, February 06, 2015 - 7:00 PM
    • Saturday, February 07, 2015 - 7:00 PM
    • Sunday, February 08, 2015 - 1:00 PM
    • Sunday, February 08, 2015 - 6:00 PM
    • Friday, February 13, 2015 - 7:00 PM
    • Saturday, February 14, 2015 - 7:00 PM
    • Sunday, February 15, 2015 - 1:00 PM
    • Sunday, February 15, 2015 - 6:00 PM
    • Wednesday, February 18, 2015 - 7:00 PM
    • Thursday, February 19, 2015 - 7:00 PM
    The awards ceremony will be broadcast on Sunday, February 22, 2015. Until then, more coverage can be seen on the following websites:

    Animation Magazine

    Animation Scoop 

    Cartoon Brew

    Congratulations to all the nominees and to all the filmmakers who submitted their films for consideration.

    * The Academy Awards and the Oscar are registered trademarks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

    Thursday, January 1, 2015

    Animated Thoughts: All good things, etc, etc...

    As you may have noticed, despite the backdating of my festival review blog posts, I actually dropped off the grid over the last half of 2014. This was due to overwork. What with my working too many hours per week and doing research and interviews for my women of animated film blog, something had to give. Unfortunately, it was my Smudge Animation blog. As I look towards 2015 - 2016 and what my obligations are, life is rapidly becoming a game of resource management where I begrudgingly have to admit that I cannot do everything.

    When I started to see the cracks starting to form a couple years ago, my plan shifted to maintaining a monthly blog where I'd post one animated short that I felt deserved a wider audience and follow it up with an "animated thought" post covering a wide range of topics. So while I'll still post things like my festival visits, woman animator interviews, and projects I'm working on, these blog posts will become a little less frequent over the next year as I get caught up on my Women in animation research and independent animation production.

    Apologies to those of you who followed my musings religiously (hi Mom). But on the bright side, by reducing the number of blog posts, it'll allow me to be more purposeful with my thoughts.

    Thank you all for reading them. :)