When Marnie Was There (2014)

When Marnie Was There Japanese poster.jpg

The final Studio Ghibli production is another adaptation, this time of the eponymous children’s novel by Joan G. Robinson. Transposed from its original Norfolk setting to Sapporo, it’s the story of fostered child Anna (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld) whose asthma attacks prompt her government-paid carers to send her to the seaside where she is drawn to an abandoned mansion across a salt marsh where she becomes faint.  There she sees the blonde-haired Marnie (voiced by Kiernan Shipka) who has blue eyes like her and they form a close bond through their experience of adversity:  Anna’s parents died years ago, Marnie’s ignore her and throw parties, leaving her in the hands of nasty household staff. Marnie wants Anna to keep everything a secret. The mansion seems abandoned still but only comes to life when Anna visits. When Anna meets an artist, Hisako, the woman looks at Anna’s sketches of Marnie and remarks that the likeness resembles a girl she knew when she was young herself … There are revelations of long-buried stories and the teary ending will have you hugging whatever comes in handy as Anna comes to terms with the reality of her real parents’ lives and her origins.  A proper, old-fashioned romance. Adapted by Masashi Ando, Keiko Niwa and Hiromasa Yonebayashi the director, who previously made Arrietty.

Advertisements

The Land Before Time (1988)

The Land Before Time.jpg

Littlefoot and his mom are caught up in the Big Earthshake and he is now orphaned, left to find The Great Valley on his own, but with her tree star (a leaf) and instructions on how to get there. He teams up with other little dinos and they endure obstacles and giant dinosaurs from other tribes as they attempt to survive. This thinly-rendered visual exploration of what could have happened is however charming, well voiced and established and comes courtesy of Don Bluth who established an animation outfit in Ireland for a spell. We don’t learn what species these kids are but we can relate to the difficulty of being in gangs, remaining friends with other kids you fear or dislike or don’t trust and how to cope when you’re all alone in the world. Dazzling score by James Horner. Sweet as anything but not for the gun-totin’ Creationist in the family.

Sausage Party (2016)

Sausage Party.png

I’ve never given those perishables on the supermarket shelves a lot of thought but after this I’m giving them a pretty wide berth. Designed as a satire of Pixar/Disney emotional journeys, this goes places that Francis Ford Coppola was threatening decades ago – big screen porn (thank goodness he didn’t do it). Lewd, foul-mouthed and anatomically correct, this louche fantasia imagines that processed goods realise that they are not going to the Great Beyond but that they are destined for a Holocaust in shoppers’ homes…  Talk about losing your religion. You see the poster, you get where this is going – for 89 minutes, with some of America’s top talent relishing the opportunity to say and do things that frankly nobody does in public unless they’re making sex tapes. Not exactly this generation’s Fritz the Cat. Overdone. Directed by Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan, written by Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg from a story by Rogen, Goldberg and Jonah Hill.

The Lego Batman Movie (2017)

The Lego Batman Movie poster.jpg

Batman (Will Arnett) is having an existential crisis and it’s not just because he’s realised he’s made of Lego. He has no family, the other superheroes don’t want anything to do with him, Gotham’s fed up of him and he still doesn’t quite understand that Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) his butler is his surrogate dad. He accidentally adopts Robin (Michael Cera). Calling Sigmund Freud! When his battle with the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) could end their good-vs-evil universe he learns to team up with everyone to stick it out and fight forever more. Long, with some good jokes and a few exciting moments but with some vocal inconsistencies from the assembled talent, what’s perhaps most baffling is that this little baby cost 80 million dollars. Now that’s funny. Directed by Chris McKay from a screenplay by Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern and John Whittington. You know where you can buy all the products placed …

Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Beauty and the Beast 1991.jpg

This animation brought Disney back to its classic roots with Linda Woolverton’s screenplay (working from a painstaking adaptation by eleven scribes!) of the French fairytale hitting all the right story points at a rattling pace (84 minutes). It was the first animation to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. The songs by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman are pretty great and use a variety of forms including waltz and they are exceptionally well positioned in the narrative:  it helps that they are performed by experienced stage vets, including Paige O’Hara as bookworm Belle, who falls for Beast (Robby Benson) after he’s exchanged her father for her in his enchanted castle. If it falls down anywhere in it’s in the sequences outside – interestingly this is the flaw shared with its progenitor, Jean Cocteau’s magical La Belle et la bete (1946), a live action version whose animated statuary proved a spellbinding lure into the rest of the tale. On a technical level, Disney had abandoned their original hand inking technique in the late 1950s and the new CAPS system developed by Pixar enabled them to utilise a wider and more subtle colour palette in conjunction with digitalisation – just wait for your jaw to drop during the ballroom scene. Angela Lansbury and Bradley Pierce as Mrs Potts and her son Chip (of the teapot Potts) are particularly good, and Lumiere, the candlestick maitre d’hotel (Jerry Orbach) is pretty wild, with a great sidekick in Cogsworth the clock (David Ogden Stiers). All girls should have a library like the one gifted Belle and have the Academy Award-winning title song sung to them. Be Our Guest! Compelling. Produced by Don Hahn, directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise.

Bambi (1942)

bambi-movie-poster

A recent documentary about Walt Disney barely revealed anything about the man. For that, you watch the films. This is the high point of his achievements:  an adaptation of a book by Austrian writer Felix Salten, it is the story of a young fawn (a white tail) whose life in the meadow and the forest is mirrored by the changing seasons, his friendships with woodland creatures, death, dealings with hunters, all animated impressionistically and vividly. I can barely watch this because tears prick my eyes from the moment it starts and those memories of my first childhood viewing never leave me. It is simply stunning, moving, funny, brilliant and devastating, underscored by classical music tropes and songs. Directed by David Hand, leading a team of exquisitely gifted sequence directors, writers and artists, produced by Walt Disney. A film for the ages.

Moana (2016)

Moana poster.jpg

The quest is an ancient and very potent narrative form so it was bound to inform another Disney outing, this time the vastly pleasurable story of a little girl (Auli’i Cravalho) on a South Seas island who is chosen to fulfill an ancient prophecy and be the wayfinder for her people. She’s the daughter of the island’s chief so she already has enough on her plate and by the time she’s a teenager the island’s problems are becoming hers to solve. The early parts are fast and funny, a montage of the passage of time in which she is shown to be picked out by the sea and be part of its estimable powers. She eventually takes off with the blessing of her crazy dying grandmother – with a chicken on board. She encounters the troublesome demi-god Maui (voiced by The Rock aka Dwayne Johnson) and they have adventures that are vividly realised involving coconut pirates, fire-breathing creatures and the curse of the Heart as they both help each other to achieved their intended destinies. The songs (co-written by Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame) are passable but not really memorable and there are some longeurs but these are swiftly turned upside down (often literally) by inventive, graphic animations, both CG and traditional drawings, and a real sense of girl power. Water, eh? Who knew it could be so inspiring?! Written by Jared Bush and co-directed by Ron Clements and John Muscker. Pretty wonderful.

Zootropolis (2016)

Zootopia.jpg

Aka Zootopia. I cannot say I’m a fan of the latterday PC/even feelings have feelings/self-empowerment jag that characterises feature animations. But this Disney outing is kind of cute. Ginnifer Goodwin plays Judy the bunny rabbit who goes to the big city of anthropomorphised animals and gets stuck being a traffic cop until she gets to help solve a robbery. Her ambitions are complicated by departmental shenanigans and the wily con artist fox Nick (Jason Bateman) she works with and who takes her back to her childhood:  they are a most unlikely double act who have to get to the bottom of a conspiracy involving predators that goes to the top of the forces of law and order… There are some good jokes (I especially liked The Godfather ones) and terrific action sequences as Judy realises she is the patsy in a horrible Darwinian plot. Nicely done.

The Jungle Book (2016)

The_Jungle_Book_(2016).jpg

I was indisposed to the idea that the classic Disney cartoon would get a revamp. Part of my problem with photo-real animation is that when things get dark they get very lifelike and sinister indeed, as we found with the beyond-creepy Spielberg takes on Tintin and The BFG (where the villainous giant seemed like a big ole murderous paedophile). So when man-cub Mowgli gets separated from his wolf family and taken away to his own people by black panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) the shifts in tone from good nature (Baloo the bear, Bill Murray) to bad (Shere Khan the tiger, an almost incomprehensible Idris Elba) are very jarring. The musical interludes while entertaining seem like they’re dropped in from another movie. Overall however, it has to be admitted that it all works out in the end. Good stories are sometimes immune to strange interpretations. And how nice is it to hear Garry Shandling voicing the porcupine?  Written by Justin Marks, directed by Jon Favreau.

The Aristocats (1970)

The Aristocats poster.jpg

I don’t know how many films I’m allowed bring to my desert island but they’ll probably all be Disney animations. Since I love my little kitty cats to bits and my favourite sight in the morning is seeing their little wiggly waggly tails bounce down the stairs in front of me on the way for breakfast, well, this is top of the list. Duchess (Eva Gabor) is the beloved white short-hair in Madame’s Paris villa but her kittens Toulouse, Berlioz and Marie drive Edgar the nasty butler to kidnap the spoiled creatures and dump them in the countryside, all to get the bequest he knows is intended for them. He doesn’t count on their being rescued by insouciant alley cat Thomas O’Malley (Phil Harris) and a bunch of jazzy cat associates nor the cunning of resourceful house mouse Roquefort. Somewhat derivative plot-wise of both Lady and the Tramp and 101 Dalmatians, this is however delightfully drawn, beautifully executed and the songs are superb. A film to bring you joy, this was the last project to be approved by Walt Disney. Ev’rybody wants to be a cat!