Commentary 25 May 2007 08:35 am

Animated Hope

- I have to admit that there are finally a couple of animated features I’m interested in seeing. They sound adult, intelligent and thought provoking. No, I’m not talking about Surf’s Up with it’s tedious, jerky, completely unoriginal style of animation. I shouldn’t comment so negatively about a film I haven’t seen. But the point is I won’t see it; there’s nothing about this film that attracts my interest.

However, Persepolis has my hopes flying, and Paprika allows me to hope for the best.

Persepolis just opened at the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday, and it will hit the US later this year. Read the opening paragraph from Lisa Nesselson‘s review in Variety:

    Any stragglers still unconvinced that animation can be an exciting medium for both adults and kids will run out of arguments in the face of “Persepolis.” Like the four-volume series of graphic novels on which it’s based, this autobiographical tour de force is completely accessible and art of a very high order. First-person tale of congenitally rebellious Marjane Satrapi, who was 8 years old when the Islamic Revolution transformed her native Teheran, boasts a bold lyricism spanning great joy and immense sorrow. In both concept and execution, hand-drawn toon is a winner.

Sounds good enough to get me excited about animation again. It’s been a long time.

The film had already created a political stir when Iran, this week, officially protested the screening of the film at Cannes. This made for a very heated Q&A for Marjane Satrapi, the film’s creator and co-director, at Cannes. She refused to speak to the “irate Iranian journalists” and defended herself by saying, “I simply didn’t want to nourish this dispute. It has blown up out of proportion and I don’t want to add fuel to the fire. I accept criticism. I believe in freedom of expression and speech.” There’s a fuller article about this controversy at Bloomberg.

I’m a bit surprised that I didn’t read about this incident on any of the big animation news sites I visit.

See part of the press conference here.

See the trailer for the film here.

By the way, Marjane Satrapi wrote an Op Art/editorial for the NY Times in November, 2005. You can still read this on the Times’ site.

The Japanese film, Paprika, has an enticing trailer, and I’ve liked the two other films I’ve seen by the director, Satoshi Kon. Three Godfathers and Millennium Actress both were thoughtful and mature, and both were entertaining enough to make them more riveting than the average Anime. They both felt a bit too wedded to live action films for me to be completely satisfied with them, but they represented a clear voice whose work I want to follow.

The film’s reviews today are sterling. All of the New York papers glowed with praise. Here are a few quotes:

    NY Daily NewsElizabeth Weitzman writes: Whatever it is you’re looking for – comedy, horror, parades of singing frogs and dancing kitchen appliances – you’ll find it in Satoshi Kon’s anime adventure, a jaw-dropping feat of imagination.

    Manohla Dargis in the NY Times wrote: A mind-twisting, eye-tickling wonder, this anime from the Japanese director Satoshi Kon bears little relation to the greasy, sticky kid stuff that Hollywood churns out, those fatuous fables with wisecracking woodland creatures selling lessons in how to be a good child so you can grow up to be a good citizen. Model behavior isn’t on the menu in “Paprika,” and neither are dinky songs and visuals.

    and Gene Seymour of Newsday & AP wrote: Whether viewed as science-fiction in the manic, shape-shifting tradition of Philip K. Dick or as a hyperbolic analogue to the movie industry, “Paprika” is like little else you regularly experience in animated or live-action movies. Those for whom the pictorial style of Japanese anime holds no charm won’t care about its densely layered narrative or about how clever it is with its cinematic references. The rest of us can once again wonder why so few animators in this country even try to take their art to such exotic extremes.

The story about manipulating wild dreams isn’t something I’m interested in, but I’ll take the leap for the sake of this director.


Perhaps someday I’ll be enthusiastic about the opening of an American film in the same way.
Shrek 3 was one I chose to pass, despite the invitation I’d received to a screening. (Shrek #1 was ugly albeit funny; #2 was uglier and not funny; I’ve wasted enough time on this franchise to see #3. Sorry.) They’ll make enough money off it – always a positive thing when an animated film is successful – even if I don’t want to see it.

The aforementioned Surf’s Up looks like a bad blend of Madagascar and Happy Feet.

Ratatouille is probably the only one of the Hollywood films I’ll see in a theater. I do like Brad Bird‘s work. The Incredibles actually had a couple of fine acting performances that Bird had pulled from some animators. (I wish I could name the animators, but the system in cgi just doesn’t allow us to connect any hand, other than the director’s, to animated acting.) However, the nine minute clip I’ve seen from Ratatouille looks entertaining and obvious and completely impersonal in its construction. I won’t judge it, though, until I’ve seen the whole film. I do also have to say that it’s going to take some doing for me to sympathize with a rat as the lead character. (I am amused by a film, whose marketing feels compelled to tell you how to pronounce its title. That doesn’t read big box office to me.)

If you’d like to see the recipe for Ratatouille success, go here.

6 Responses to “Animated Hope”

  1. on 25 May 2007 at 9:52 am 1.Cassidy said …

    Thanks for the link to that article on Persepolis– I had no idea about the controversy!

    Regarding your comment about cgi: “I wish I could name the animators, but the system in cgi just doesn’t allow us to connect any hand, other than the director’s, to animated acting.”

    This seems to be a common complaint from people outside the CGI industry, but it puzzles me. Have you tried asking someone who worked on the film?

    To put it differently: without the reams of drawing examples, historical notes and biographical info about the great 2D animators of times past, how would any of us know who did which scenes? You’re only able to “connect the hand” of this animator to that scene by virtue of all that additional information. Without that, I doubt anyone would have a clue who did what.

    So it puzzles me to hear this as a complaint about CG animation in particular. I, for one, have no trouble recognizing the hand of certain fellow animators in their shots in our movies. Many of us have a signature “tell”, a certain style of movement that gives away our shots every time (often despite our efforts to blend in!)

    It seems to me that the “system” you’re complaining about has little to do with CG, and everything to do with the public relations and marketing for big studio animation in general. Fortunately, we don’t have to rely on that as our sole source of information. If you want to know who did a particular shot on Incredibles, just ask! I’m sure one of your readers will know.

  2. on 25 May 2007 at 10:16 am 2.Michael said …

    Yes, I agree. You’re right; I’m uninformed and should ask who animated what scenes, and I’ll try doing that in the future. It was my assumption, actually, that a group of people animated any scene in cgi. I’m sure I’m wrong, so I’ll comment accordingly in the future.

    I have to also point out that the thesis of my commentary here was more about the writing overall than about the individual animated scenes. That comment was just a sidenote, but I agree that I’ve swiped too easily.

    The one shot that comes to mind off the top of my head that I enjoyed in The Incredibles was the scene toward the end where the villain is walking to his flying vehicle, he wipes his nose (from a poor choice of camera angle looking up from the ground) and continues on walking to the vehicle in LS. These two scenes are simple shots, but I liked the approach to the character. Does anyone know who handled these two scenes?

  3. on 25 May 2007 at 6:56 pm 3.Avi said …

    Those shots you asked about were done by Victor Navone.

    Also, I think Surfs Up looks like fun. It’s kind of interesting that the marketing is taking notice that there have been a bunch of penguin movies recently. I remember seeing an ad with the audience complaining that it’s another penguin movie.

  4. on 26 May 2007 at 8:34 am 4.andrew said …

    Victor Navone video taped fellow animator steven hunter for reference, and based the timing of the walk and the arm loosening action on that. he first made a cycle, got director approval then went on and animated the final scene.

    also I think the up-shot on the villain actualy serves the story very well, at this scene, the villain is feeling really good and is at his best, feeling the most powerful becasue all of his plans are going the way he wants them. Brad wanted the audience to get this feeling, that nothing would stop this guy, that he may be too powerful for the heros afterall, and as you know a low cam looking up at a character gives a feeling of larger than life.

  5. on 26 May 2007 at 9:44 am 5.Michael said …

    Thanks for all the info on these two scenes. It’s nice to see this information getting out there, and I hope I can encourage more of it. I’ll try to focus on a couple of scenes that I find particularly interesting in future films, and maybe that’ll engender equally good comments.

    I have to stick to my guns on that shot with the camera looking up. It was technically excellent in its execution, but you always have to ask yourself who does the camera represent. Is it an ant looking up at the villain walking? Why is it there (other than to make it easier to capture an emotion
    - rather than letting the acting do it.) I don’t think there was ever such a shot in John Ford, Howard Hawks or pre 70′s Disney. These aren’t comic books we’re making, and everything has to have logic within the film as a whole rather than as a scene for itself. I guess I’m just an old school kinda person who believes the rules were meant for a reason.

    Thank you Avi and Andrew for not only adding to our knowledge of the scenes but giving Victor Navone the credit he deserves.

  6. on 28 May 2007 at 12:39 am 6.Galen Fott said …

    A lot of CG animators, including Victor Navone, post showreels of their shots from films:

Subscribe to the comments through RSS Feed

Leave a Reply

eXTReMe Tracker
click for free hit counter

hit counter