Tag Archives: animated movies

Blood of the Family Tree

Blood of the Family Tree is an experimental piece of animation; they’ll tell you it’s told in 14 instalments, though in fact it flows quite nicely from one vignette to the next. After all, they’re all part of the same story, and that story’s protagonist is blood.

Blood is a mother’s first gift to her baby; it carries life, of course, and her love, and sometimes more besides, hereditary traits and markers for future illness, for example. The narrative, if you can call it that, is as fluid as blood itself, coursing through memory and history, forging familial bonds, and carrying intergenerational trauma.

The film, which feels more like a meditation, is simple but beautiful, reflecting but not dwelling on the relationships between women, strong and beautiful bodies, the acknowledgement of yesterday’s pain. Bodies are trees are nearly interchangeable, a jumble of lines either a root system or a nervous system, or neither, or both. History and wisdom passed through the veins, intimate story-telling and secrets stored in the body.

Director/animator Christine Panushka expresses our inheritance with mesmeric hand-painted animation that looks and feels like poetry. No ordinary movie, Blood of the Family Tree inspires you to look inward and find the pulse of your own story.

Blood of the Family Tree is an official selection of the Ottawa International Animation Festival 2021.

Charlotte

Charlotte Salomon knew how lucky she was to escape Germany during the war, fleeing to the south of France between 1941 and 1943 where she sought refuge at a friend’s estate. She may have left Germany, but she knew she couldn’t outrun everything. Some things follow you no matter where you go.

Family haunted Charlotte from either side of the border, a long string of suicided ghosts making her question her own fate, as well as from the camps of the Holocaust where relatives have disappeared steadily. In hiding from the Nazis, Charlotte meets and marries her love, but she still can’t shake her own sense of mortality. She spends her days painting frantically, motivated to leave a record. Though young, she’s determined to paint her own autobiography, nearly 1000 images, memorializing those she’d lost and paying tribute to her own strife.

Charlotte Salomon was murdered in a gas chamber shortly after her arrival at Auschwitz in October 1943. She was 26 and pregnant. Like so many, Charlotte was supposed to be forgotten, wiped from history, but after her death, her family unearthed the paintings she’d carefully packed away.

This animated film is a tribute to her life and to her work. It honours her memory but remembers her as a real person, a young woman and talented artist who should have had a long future in front of her. Not unlike her own graphic style, the film uses bold, colourful images to recount Charlotte’s short life.

A certain film once posited that every time a bell rang, an angel got some wings. I’m of the belief that every time you watch this movie, a Nazi ghost gets a pineapple shoved up his rear. Do your part. Don’t let her memory fade. Marion Cotillard, Keira Knightley, Mark Strong, Sam Claflin, and Jim Broadbent lend their voices to make this film come alive, and if you need further enticement, I hear the pineapple crop’s particularly robust this year.

Charlotte is an official selection of TIFF 2021.

Chicken Of The Mound

Imagine a somewhere that is not here. Imagine there are crab robots (with pinchers, naturally), and hard-edge robots, and both think they are the ‘humans’ by which I can only assume they believe themselves to be the dominant species, the apex predators, so of course the only solution is to continually invade each other’s planets and try to kill each other off. But in a war of robot versus robot, there are no quick winners, and the robots are eventually exhausted. The hard-edge robots form weird jellyfish cocoons that ultimately destroy the crab robots’ planet.

I can’t logically or lucidly explain why, but this is somehow the precipitating factor in a chicken larva not reaching adulthood and instead of hiding away in a cave, he wanders the planet wearing robot armour. He’s a mystery and a marvel, but he’s the least of your worries. There are robot ladies, big eyes, doll heads, chicken heads, creepy-crawlies, and things that look vaguely Star Wars-like. Robots continue to fight, so I can only assume they continue to battle for supremacy.

I understand how this sounds. You can’t make sense of this because I can’t make sense of it because, I suspect, it doesn’t wholly make sense. It’s like my 5 year old niece Ella, distracted by someone having fun on the trampoline without her, is relating a story to her 7 year old cousin, Jack. Jack is hopped up on sugar and has to pee, but does his best to understand, and then to recount the story to Xi Chen over a Zoom call during which Jack’s first priority is showing off all his trophies and medals. And then Xi Chen, whose first language is not English, animates the thing to the best of his ability but without asking a single clarifying question. It’s delirious stuff. A lot of the robots look like weird hybrids that a child’s imagination might produce given a box of crayons and enough blank paper – a mix of their limited but enthusiastic understanding of robots, and limited by their artistic abilities.

Xi Chen’s minimalist narration, an imperfect translation, is like toneless poetry (perhaps the kind of poetry written and recited by a robot?). They are rare interjections between dialogue-free scenes scored by the kind of beep-boops kids imagine robots voice, and the phaser sounds they make with their sticky mouths while play-shooting each other in the backyard.

Chicken of the Mound is undoubtedly odd and a little austere, but it’s like taking a ride on the magic school bus into a child’s imagination, where all things are possible, few things make sense, and everything can be turned into either a gun or a robot, or better yet, can transform between the two.

Elulu

Elulu is Gabriel Verdugo Soto’s passion project. He worked on it solo for 8 years, pouring it out directly from his heart to the movie screen.

Primarily animated, Elulu mixes real photo backgrounds with animated 2D effects and 3D characters. It has no dialogue to speak of. it is an exploration of grief and goodbye like you’ve never seen.

A man returns to his childhood home after the death of his mother and finds that mourning her is complex and non-linear. In between every day tasks like feeding his cat and pursuing a career in theoretical physics, this man is grieving, inspired by the objects and spaces last occupied by his mother. Her spirit seems to live in them, as if her consciousness had somehow been absorbed by them, a shadow of her life and memories remaining, leaving a gateway for the man to remember and celebrate her. His thoughts devolve into memory, revisionism, and fantasy, the stories recalled from childhood resurfacing, and his mother herself found living in one of his paintings (I did warn you this was going to be different).

As for Elulu, you’ll find that he is a magical caterpillar come to ask something of a grieving man. But he also inspires the man to discover love, connection, past and present from different angles. Elulu is a physical manifestation of string theory. You heard me: a string theory magic caterpillar. Don’t be intimidated; Elulu, the film, is meant to be felt more than understood. It’s like the wind. And while I won’t pretend to define string theory for you, let’s just agree that it at least posits the existence of more than just the dimensions we’re familiar with (length, width, breadth, time). String theory contends that elementary particles aren’t just mathematical points but tiny strings which require not 3 but 10 spatial coordinates in addition to time, but most of these, sometimes interpreted as ‘alternative universes’ are simply too small to observe. But Elulu seems to navigate these, and helps the man drift between physical and metaphysical worlds, finding that his deceased mother still exists in some of them.

I don’t mean to make this sound complicated, I only want to give you a tast4e of Soto’s ambition and the borderless, limitless world in which his protagonist exists. With flashbacks and magical realism, we make the jump between the observable universe in which his mother is dead, into pockets of time and space where she might never die. It’s a comfort and a salve. But the film itself isn’t complicated at all as long as you treat it like a dream in which rules simply don’t exist. The narrative is what we make it, the story can change without notice, the images aren’t necessarily direct representations. It’s what you feel that matters, what the stories and images evoke for you. Elulu is both emotional and cerebral, operating on a higher plane than most other films, but it still feels accessible and looks beautiful and strange. Soto’s meditation on consciousness and grief will have different meanings for each viewer, making it a unique film experience and a wondrous exploration of life’s mysteries and the nature of existence.

Elulu is an official selection of the Ottawa International Animation Festival.

Archipelago

Writer-director Félix Dufour-Laperrière presents an animated film unlike any other. On a black background, the outline of a woman appears. Inside the woman’s outline is moving water, a river, la fleuve. I know it well. I grew up on this river. It’s the St. Lawrence, a great river that flows along the provinces of both Québec and Ontario, connecting the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean, a source of food, of commerce, and of dreams. Leonard Cohen sang about it in Suzanne. I’ve swum in it, eaten from it, skimmed its lively surface while sitting (screaming) in a tube, and once, unadvisedly, I attempted to water ski on it. I fished it for years in my grandfather’s little aluminum boat, it’s how we bonded, and where we loved, and every single person mentioned it at his funeral 3 months ago. The St. Lawrence ran in my grandfather’s veins. You can smell it from my mother’s house. I still think of it as home.

Dufour-Laperrière’s film is moving poetry dedicated to a river, to a land, to islands real and imaginary. Tracing a people’s history along the river, chasing their future and their ambitions, Archipelago is always beautiful, often philosophical, hinting at a truth truer than true.

Two narrators, the woman from the beginning (Florence Blain Mbaye), perhaps the voice of the river herself, as well as a man (Mattis Savard-Verhoeven) engage in a verbal waltz, like a pair of figure skaters dancing across the frozen river, sparring in such an elegant and delightful way that it’s impossible to look away.

This strange work, not a documentary but not not a documentary, reflects on time, community, our sense of belonging, our shared memory, our fractured identity. It demands little from us but suggests much more than simply the sum of its words and images. It absorbs you into its own landscape, its own reality. We may not know who is speaking to us, or from what time, or which place, but the effect is absorbing, and hypnotic. Archipelago is not a movie, it’s an experience.

Bob Spit: We Do Not Like People

Welcome to the Ottawa International Animation Film Festival, a festival which always includes an eclectic lineup of fantastic animated movies, movies that will likely challenge your notion of what an animated movie can be. Most are not kid-friendly. There are no Disney princesses here (though we have seen the folks from Pixar attend, give great talks about their creative process, and host a hiring booth at the career fair). You’re more likely to see something about the war, or Alzheimer’s, or an esoteric exploration of the meaninglessness of life. Although not always dark, these movies are likely to leave you with something meaningful to chew on. So what better way for us to start this year’s festival than with Bob Spit: We Do Not Like People, a meta, self-referential claymation about a popular comic book, and its creator.

Director Cesar Cabral interviews popular Brazilian cartoonist Angeli, who bemoans his current writer’s block, and his evolving style, feeling like he’s no longer the artist he once was, or that others would recognize. The interview is of courses stop-motion animated, there’s nothing live action to see here. Angeli decides to overcome his block by killing his most famous character, Bob Spit, an aging, angry, misanthropic punk.

We deep-dive into Angeli’s head, where character Bob Spit lives in a post-apocalyptic desert with mutant cutesie pop stars who want him dead. A couple of his old followers help him confront his creator (Angeli himself) to make a plea before it’s too late.

Part documentary and part comic book adaptation, where both get equal treatment in clay, Cabral makes an interesting connection between the artist and the art he creates. The relationship is clear; the delineation is not. Bob Spit is Angeli’s most autobiographical character, a character Angeli is now determined to kill off.

This film defies expectation, defies label, defies genre, defies logic. It is, however, eminently watchable. Bob Spit, caught off guard on the toilet by a bunch of homicidal pop stars, picks them off one by one with his trusty shotgun. His pants around his ankles (full-frontal claymation!), the popstars burst with a riot of glitter in place of blood. The Bob Spit universe inside Angeli’s head is a marvel. Angeli himself is a mystery, but it sure is fun to live in his world for a bit. This film needs to be seen to be believed and lucky for you, it’s screening online at the festival right now.

Bob Spit: We Do Not Like People is an official selection of the Ottawa International Animation Festival.

PAW Patrol: The Movie

PAW Patrol is a popular (9 seasons popular so far) children’s cartoon, at least here in Canada, where one small boy named Ryder is the Bosley to an intrepid group of puppies who form a rescue operation in their small town of Adventure Bay. Here, every kid under 5 can tell you who their favourite pup is: most will pick Chase, the police officer German Shepherd, or Marshall, the Dalmatian fire fighter. Sky, the Cockapoo helicopter pilot, Rocky the recycling, handyman Schnauzer/Scottie mix, Zuma the water rescue Lab, and Rubble the construction Bulldog round out the PAW Patrol, contributing when Ryder deems it necessary, each episode a lesson in thoughtful problem-solving and selecting appropriate skills. The pups each live in a special doghouse that easily transforms into their custom vehicles or “pupmobiles” and besides the collars that alert them to emergencies, they also wear pup packs that contain tools related to their jobs, like grappling hooks, zip lines, and jet packs. They assemble in a tall tower called The Lookout which serves not just as their lair but as their phone booth (Superman style, where they get into costume). They each have a catchphrase and over the years they’ve made a number of friends – Everest, who helps with snow rescues, Rex, who operates in the jungle, etc. As the show is incredible toyetic and in fact seems to serve primarily as a merchandising machine, each of these special helpers inspires its own toy line, so even if you already had all the original pups, plus their vehicles, and the Lookout, you’ll aslo need all of their specialized snow equipment, jungle ensembles, archeology outfits, etc, etc. With all of my nieces and nephews at some point whole-heartedly devoted to the show (even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his kids are fans), I cannot tell you how many dollars I have spent on these items. As good aunts and uncles, we watched enough episodes to be able to identify the pups, name our favourite (Rubble), utter the correct catch phrases during play, and scorn the show’s main antagonist, a mischievous mayor from a nearby town named Humdinger, who has a harem of cats, of course.

In the movie, which is only available in theatres here in Canada but may be streamed elsewhere on Paramount+, Humdinger has gone to the nearby metropolis of Adventure City to see what trouble can be caused there. The pups are summoned to provide help when he is immediately responsible for a number of catastrophes, including a fireworks display gone horribly wrong, a “hyperloop” subway that does a series of upside-down loops, and a cloud catcher that ensured good weather but of course was overused and goes rogue.

I happened to be hosting my 5 year old niece Ella this weekend, along with 3 rambunctious boys, her older brother and cousins, and thought it might be nice for her and I to watch the movie together. I was surprised to find that all the boys, who have since grown out of the franchise, were keen to watch at all. Having seen the trailer, they’d determined that the movie looked funny, and was probably made for older kids. Indeed, the movie abandons the 2-D animation of children’s cartoon shows and has transformed the pups for a modern movie experience. The kids debated who looked the most different, but seemed to enjoyed the new look overall.

In the big city, the PAW Patrol encounters bigger challenges than they’re used to in their dozy little bay, really raising the stakes of their rescue operation. They also make a new friend a Dachshund named Liberty who’s got street smarts and city savvy. This is a fortuitous choice for a couple of reasons: first, we have a wiener dog in our own house, a pup named Walt who was enjoying movie time with the kids, having 8 hands to pet his extra-long body, and 4 bowls of popcorn to steal from. Walt is still relatively new here, and the current obsession and constant receiver of round the clock attention from the kids. To find that their cartoon counterparts have also adopted a Dachshund was a thrill for the kids, and the fact that Liberty also happened to be a homeless dog provided an important learning opportunity for all of us. These kids live in a small town like the pups on the show normally do, but as we drove them into the much larger city where Sean and I live, we drove by a couple of homeless people, who the kids never fail to spot and need to talk about. The sight is unfamiliar to them, but the concept is of course absurd to them, to all kids I’m sure, that our society just allows certain people to not have a home. We explain as best we can, but we know our excuses are lousy, and they sound particularly hollow when said out loud to innocent children.

When TV shows make the leap to the big screen, it’s an opportunity to expand on the universe, and setting up the pups to perform in the big city is certainly an excellent use of the medium. For me, though, it definitely brought about an uncomfortable line of questioning. Back home in Adventure Bay, the pups get frequent calls from Cap’N Turbot and Farmer Yumi, recurring characters with familiar foibles, who get into predictable and formulaic scrapes and mishaps. In the city, however, you realize the absurdity when small dogs are careening armoured rescue vehicles down crowded city streets, and normal adult human beings trapped in a burning skyscraper don’t object when the only responders are the same dogs who probably spend their days off sniffing each other’s butts and being distracted by squirrels. Suddenly, you’re asking a lot more from your audience.

PAW Patrol: The Movie may look more like Pixar than it normally does on TV, but it is not a movie intended for all audiences. It’s made for children, and the children who watched it with me rated it very highly. They could not have identified the more famous voice cast (including Randall Park, Tyler Perry, Jimmy Kimmel, and Kim Kardashian), but they did appreciate the new design, and actually got up to dance around to the songs – there are over 75 of them, with original contributions from Simple Plan, Alien Ant Farm, and a real catchy bop from Adam Levine. If you have little PAW Patrollers in your home, the movie is sure to be a hit.

Today’s review brought to you by Ella (5), Brady (9), Jack (7), and Ben (also 7): my loves.

The Loud House Movie

Lincoln has 10 exceptional sisters. He’s great at helping his parents navigate the chaos of having such a large, high-achieving family, but at the end of the day, being a great helper doesn’t get him any trophies, and he’s having an existential crisis about not having his own special talent.

The Premise: In pursuit of Lincoln’s special talent, the Loud family travels abroad to Scotland, hoping to find evidence of some aptitude or skill buried in the family tree.

The Verdict: I’ve never seen the show before (the movie takes place between season 4 and 5) but I can assure you you needn’t be a fan to enjoy the film. An intro song conveniently catches us up on what we need to know. And then the songs continue, over the pond to their ancestral land, Loch Loud, where they stay in their clan’s sprawling castle as Lincoln attempts to dig up some innate knack or flair or interest. Lincoln makes friends with groundskeeper Angus (David Tennant) and learns that there’s royalty in his bloodline (and dragons in the basement). Will the Loud family relocate so Lincoln fulfill his destiny and become Duke? When you inevitably watch to find out the answers to these pressing questions, the movie looks and feels just like an extended episode of a hand-drawn Saturday morning cartoon. It’s unpretentious and the songs are simple, but the creators clearly know how to keep us entertained.

Vivo

Huzzah! Netflix has a new animated film out this weekend, and it’s perfect for a family movie night.

The Premise: An old man named Andrés gets a second chance at love when his old flame reaches out to him in Cuba, inviting him to her final show in Miami for a lovers’ reunion. Andrés is touched, and has just the thing: a love song he wrote for her when they parted ways years ago. Unable to deliver it to her himself, his new partner (in life and in business, but not in love), a singing monkey named Vivo (voiced by Lin-Manuel Miranda), takes it upon himself, with a the help of a little girl named Gabi (Ynairaly Simo), to make Andrés’ last wish come true.

The Verdict: I don’t expect much from Netflix animation, but clearly I need to revise my bias as the last few examples have proven me wrong. I hoped Vivo might be good, but I was delighted to find myself loving it. The animation was quite pleasant, and the songs were nearly first-rate – some of them may even live lives outside of streaming. I even learned a little something: the monkey Vivo isn’t a monkey at all. He’s actually a kinkajou, also known as a rainforest honey bear, a nocturnal, fruit-eating tree-dweller more related to raccoons than to monkeys. They’re also surprisingly good singers and look quite dashing in small hats and foulards. Enjoy.

Secret Magic Control Agency

Fairy tales come together in a new and only mildly interesting way in this buddy cop animated film with a magical twist that’ll only prove satisfying to young and undiscerning audiences.

You may have heard of Hansel and Gretel, who in this film are all grown up and sadly estranged. But they’ve reunited, against their will, to work a very important case. Gretel is a dedicated agent at the Secret Magic Control Agency while her brother Hansel is a criminal who uses magic to swindle folks. But when the King is kidnapped by a disgruntled royal chef who can bring food to life to act as her henchmen, for some reason only Hansel and Gretel together can solve the case and save the king. And, I should mention, in the process they get turned into children, making their mission even harder, as people tend to discount kids and not take them seriously and shit.

This movie didn’t strike me as special or interesting or good in any way, but I do think that sentient spaghetti and cupcake dogs will have a certain irresistible cachet with young kids. For adults, though, or even kids over 8 with good taste, this one’s not quite going to cut it.