steamboatmouse: (Default)
THERE'S only so much one can say after seeing a movie one time (so far), but here's a quick collection of thoughts that came up while I was watching Pixar's new film Up.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that Pixar's tenth feature film will follow the same success as its predecessors. As always with the Pixar philosophy, the story is solid, and so massive that it's hard to believe the film is only 96 minutes long. There never seems to be a point where it's not evolving. But that's not what particularly stood out for me.

What stood out to me is that there is no sugarcoating in this movie. Everything is presented realistically and straightly, with no softening or dumbing down issues presented in the film. After the first ten minutes of the film, we see childhood love turn into marriage, into starting a family, into a miscarriage, into death, into a lonely old man who can't let go of his life with his late wife. Some critics are arguing that it's much too depressing to have that in a kid's film - and here is an issue within animation that's annoyed me to no end.

Remember that Walt Disney did not make animated films for kids. He made them for everyone. In these times, though, "family" is usually immediately connected to "kids" - and by that, something that only younger children would enjoy. Up breaks through this preconception, for which I am all too grateful. In addition to a miscarriage and death, we see blood, guns, a boy who almost never sees his father, and an end for the villain that even surprised me a little. But why should these things be shaded over when appealing to both young and mature audiences? Even if there is a flying house and talking dogs, what the characters have to go through is reality. Taking those issues away loses your chance to get the audience engaged with your characters, no matter what age or background they have. It's a concept that's been lost in animation for far too long now, and I hope Up will encourage others to redefine what "family" is.

The only major criticism I will give is the option of using 3D glasses in select theaters. My theater provided this at certain times and had sleek black glasses to watch the movie with. It was my first experience with this, and in all honesty, I hope it's the last. DreamWorks' preview for the next Ice Age took advantage of this much more than Up, and the film itself didn't seem to use it very much at all. I couldn't help but think of the depth in the backgrounds of Snow White with Ub Iwerks' multiplane camera, but it simply looked odd and distracting to watch. If you're into the 3D glasses novelty, then go ahead, but I'll skip it next time and watch it with my own eyes.
steamboatmouse: (The Sword in the Stone)
SOMEONE asked me if I would ever do reviews for shorts, such as the ones nominated for an Oscar this year, and the answer is absolutely yes. Shorts are so incredibly important, much more than people realize. A film gives you ninety minutes to tell a fully story and introduce all your characters, but a short often gives you less than ten. It's a way for new, rising animators and storytellers to show their talent without going as far as making a full feature film.

Lavatory Lovestory is one of my favorites out of the bunch, and for a very simple reason - it's simple. The story is easy to follow, there is no dialogue, the characters are nothing more than a few lines, and everything except the flowers is either black or white. Despite being created in Russia, the story is something that anyone can understand without the need of dialogue. A woman in a bleak lavatory-cleaning life dreams of finding love and happiness, and suddenly finds bright flowers in her coin jar from an anonymous admirer. Simple as that.

Films such as this are important for two reasons: 1) it shows Europe's and Asia's recent rise in animation, particularly in 2D work, and 2) it shows that animation does not require complicated designs or effects to tell a solid story.

France is definitely showing an animation boom, especially with the release of Persepolis and other shorts that followed. Russia has created much of their own work over the past seven decades, but has remained overall unknown. Hopefully Lavatory Lovestory will open that up, including to the rest of Asia and Europe as well.

In addition to that, existing Eurasian animation definitely aims to have both a young audience and a mature audience. The main character looks like a middle-aged woman, who is surrounded by middle-aged men. The American and British notion is that animation can only be geared towards children - a notion that is both irritating and entirely false. While the story seems like one found in a child's story - boy and girl fall in love at first sight - all the characters are obviously adults. And yet, there's no reason why a younger audience would not enjoy or not understand this short. Simplicity can go a long way.

You can watch Lavatory Lovestory HERE.
steamboatmouse: (Sleeping Beauty)
IT'S a long, tiresome, and repetitive fight in the animation field, and one that many people are already sick of. And yet, at the same time, it's a topic that very few people know about when it comes to discussing it more deeply. Many who do talk about it know nothing about the process of making an animated film. Even some people interested in or working in the animation industry know very little. Thus, we have all this build-up on the idea that 2D animation is not only just dead, but gone, forgotten, and entirely useless for animators now.

This is entirely untrue, and I guarantee you all the workers in Pixar will say the same. We've entered an age where everything can be easily accessed and portable. A copy of Maya on your laptop is convenient to carry around, while carrying a camera, scanner, paper, pencils, erasers, lightbox, and peg bar is not so easy. But this is where we get the problem - people generally think 3D is easier to do, while 2D only takes longer and costs much more.

In many ways, 3D can be easier to animate in, but this is an area often incorrectly talked about. It is more than just getting the computer to do the movements for you. Putting too much faith in the computer's ability to animate will leave actions stiff, robotic, and overall looking lifeless. Sure, 3D is supposed to look more realistic, but nothing looks more realistic in life than believable actions and movements. Pixar's John Lasseter studied the old Disney techniques religiously for the ability to make characters seem realistic through their acting. The medium does not matter.

Mike Disa couldn't have said it better: "The people who are in 3D animation now, if they don’t get very familiar with 2D animation techniques—proportion stretch, spacing, timing, silhouette, that kind of stuff—they won’t have jobs in five years. Knowing the software won’t be enough. That doesn’t mean that a 3D animator needs to know how to draw—not at all. But they need to know classic 2D animation techniques well enough to translate....And what’s going to happen is, they’re not going to work. They’re going to end up doing effects. They’re going to end up doing particles and stuff."

Animators are actors showing expression through art. The techno-savvy young animators polishing their modeling and layout skills will likely find themselves doing nothing but effects for the rest of their days if they don't take time to try out ways of expressing personality and thought.

This, however, is only the petty side of the argument. It is no longer about medium used; that is not important. So what is?

"Story, story, story," is what animator John Canemaker says. "A story well-told can be done with flip books."

Paper and pencil, computer, cut-outs, clay, whatever - nothing grabs the audience better than a good, solid story. WALL-E required thousands of hand-drawn storyboards before it got even close to the computer. What's been adding to this 2D-3D stigma is the rise in studios like Pixar and Dreamworks while Disney's 2D films went on a sudden downhill slope in the new century. With Disney's 2D department faltering in delivery, people immediately assume that 2D has lost its luster if even the original king of 2D animated movies can't keep up. DreamWorks had a brief shot at it with The Prince of Egypt, The Road to El Dorado, and Sinbad - and then quickly made up for all their losses by releasing Shrek (El Dorado, for example, only made half of what it cost to make).

Here is where we enter the biggest problem. Disney's early 2000 movies lacked much in story while DreamWorks and Pixar sped ahead with fresh 3D films. The idea started up that there was no longer a market for 2D, thus making 2D films almost completely scarce from the movie screen. 3D takes advantage of this extra space, grabbing lots of techno-savvy youth to fill in the new career slots to quickly pump out 3D films, regardless of whether or not they understand what makes an animated film great.

The one thing they forgot to include was storytellers: writers, artists, and animators who know exactly what it takes to truly grab the audience.

So let's end this idea that 2D animation is dead, or else all future animation will look dead as well. There is room for all forms of animation, but how that animation is told, not drawn or modeled, is the deciding factor on its success and impact.
steamboatmouse: (Schoolhouse Rock)
IT'S no secret that I'm pretty skeptical when it comes to 3D films, but that's not to say that I won't give it a chance. There are lots that I admire, though it seems many animators are only working in 3D for the sake of working in 3D. Thus, story is pushed down as a second or third priority. Bolt, however, looked pretty darn cool from the trailer, and with the addition of good reviews from my friends, I went to see it.

Bolt could have been an absolutely stunning and moving film, but it simply just wasn't. Now don't get me wrong - it did look just as cool as the trailer showed, and I've always been a sucker for high-speed action, but that's not what makes a film incredible. Explosions are cool, but making your audience feel for your protagonist is infinitely more important. Sadly, that's what was lacking.

Bolt's life is not what he believes it is, and naturally he discovers all the lies he's grown up with on his journey from New York to California. Think now about Buzz Lightyear, a comparison that many people are bringing up for this point. Buzz also went through the same thing, and was visibly - quite visibly - crushed when he learned that he really was only a toy. Despite this, he stills tries to fly, determined to prove to himself that he's not a toy, only to immediately fall. He speaks very little after that incident for quite some time, obviously too depressed from the truth. Buzz's attempt to fly and then his reaction to when he cannot gets the viewers to feel sorry for him. He's done nothing wrong and is a good person; you almost want him to be able to really fly. You understand how distraught he feels and hope things will get better for him.

Bolt, however, spent no more than a minute discovering the truth and then getting over it. The entire film is based around his life, yet the scene where he learns the truth is abrupt and flat. I expected a little more of a struggle, or even hunched shoulders, but Bolt accepted it and then went off on his way.

Still, there is some justification for this. That scene was in the middle of when Mittens needed rescuing from the animal shelter, and friends should always be a priority. Bolt eventually does become crushed when he thinks his owner, Penny, has replaced him for another dog. As the film progresses, it becomes less about his nonexistent powers and more about his relationship with Penny, and perhaps he could accept the fact that he has no powers so easily because the only thing he really needs is to be with Penny. Thus, he only needs to be visibly sad when he thinks he has been abandoned.

It makes sense looking at it like that, but there are still many components that you need to make the audience actually feel sorry for Bolt. Perhaps the scene where he realizes that he doesn't have powers doesn't need to be as important, but brushing over it didn't make me really feel for Bolt as much as I wanted. True, he doesn't need real powers to be with Penny, but he grew up believing that his powers were protecting her from danger. Now that he realizes that he has no powers, he has no way to protect her. It's a critical point that was incredibly glossed over, and as Michael Phillips put it, "I felt abandoned just watching it."

It's a bit surprising that the Disney studios would faze over getting people to engage with the character, something they're usually stars at. Of course, there are points where you do feel sorry for him, but it didn't feel deep enough. Character development should be parallel with a strong story and stunning animation, though that's just a preference of mine.

Simply put, it was an okay film. Though I will say the regional pigeons speaking New Yorker and Californian made my week.
steamboatmouse: (Default)
THE fact that Wall-E has taken the Oscar for best animated feature probably isn't too surprising for most people, even if you aren't a huge animation aficionado. It's no easy task to get your audience interested in an inorganic box of metal, and to grow sympathy for him at the same time. But Pixar has yet to disappoint us after nearly fifteen years, and they've certainly escalated to new heights making us think that this metal box is, simply, adorable.

What intrigued me most, though, was beyond this cute robot named Wall-E and his determination to stay with Eve. What I find even more intriguing is that no person brings this subject up when I'm talking about Wall-E with them: the fact that humans have completely trashed the Earth and must now live in a spaceship where they don't even notice their own surroundings.

It's a bit of a foreboding message, and certainly one under much heated discussion these days. The film starts with a pan past the satellites cluttered around the Earth and swoops into a dusty brown landscape, showing a result that may not be too far from our own future. There are more buildings made of trash than actual buildings left standing, and, of course, cockroaches remain superior.

But exactly what caused the Earth to turn into this barren dustbowl is probably why many viewers are focusing more on Wall-E and less on the scenery. It's never directly said, but the presence of the mega-corporation called Buy 'n Large is difficult to ignore. We see quite a lot of it in the film, from the huge store left standing on Earth, to the glowing ad structured on the moon, to how children on the spaceship are being taught their ABCs using words that only relate to BnL. Everything revolves around the company, and from its name, it's safe to say that their policy is to make things big and sell in large bulk for an extra-low price.

It's a bit uncomfortable because many large corporations in our modern day share this policy, and many of us have participated in it. Consumerism and mass production is a right we have, but its effects are starting to catch up to us. Cheap means easily disposable, but not everything that gets thrown away can just disappear.

With selling lots for as little as possible, you also have monopolies, and Buy 'n Large is definitely the only business left in this future world. Some may think that a single company poses no danger, but that single dominating company possesses quite a lot of power, to the point of brainwashing. They set the trends and there's no alternative to say otherwise and give some variety. It's not too surprising to see that all the remaining humans on the ship are wearing the exact same outfit.

There is where we get to the second critical point. Wall-E knocks off a woman's screen by accident, and only when that's gone does she notice all the lights and displays around her. She sees a pool and the outside stars for the first time now that she's no longer fixated on talking to a screen. This could certainly point out how we're spending an awful lot of time on technology these days, but I think it goes much deeper than that. In the film's world, technology makes all the decisions. The cleverly-named Auto-Pilot takes on most of the Captain's responsibilities, until the Captain finally makes the decision to do what he thinks is right, not what the technology thinks is right. Perhaps it's ironic that it takes an inhuman object to make the humans realize this, though Wall-E's desires are much simpler than those of the newer robots.

Of course, these implications on what we could become are a bit shocking, especially for seeing them in what appears to be an animated film. It does question our way of life. Still, it's a message that we can't ignore forever, and there's no guarantee that a spaceship will take us away from all our problems. But, there is still hope. A small green sprig has lived through it all, so perhaps there will always be a chance to make things right again.

Thus, the message: only our honest, human decisions in what we do will determine the future of the Earth. And a cute little robot can be a big help, too.


steamboatmouse: (Default)
Steamboat Mouse Animation


A journal on a young animation student's thoughts on animated films, shorts, and the industry above it.

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