Tag Archives: stop motion animation

Early Man

A tribe of bunny-hunting cavemen has a sudden clash with bronze-age humans a little further up the evolutionary ladder. This strikes me as very fertile ground for interesting and tragic stories despite the language difficulty, but Aardman Animations took it another way. The bronze boobs are all set to enslave the cavemen and steal their land when Dug, a plucky, dreamy caveman, proposes a deal: neanderthals vs homo sapiens in a football match for their lives.

Yeah, I mean obviously it makes no sense. But that’s it, that’s all you get in terms of story. This may be the early bronze age, but plot is in as short supply as dinosaurs in this film, who have just been demolished by a comet that seems to have spared the people, an opening sequence suggests. I love stop motion animation as a rule, and Aardman has had a string of successes, which have fooled me into thinking I might like Early Man. I didMV5BMWQ3MTVjZGItNGFhNC00NzllLWFmMjEtNjk0NjgyMWZhNTRjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_ not. There is little room for imagination, and too little of the gentle humour I’ve come to expect. I suppose a lot is lost on myself, a North American dwelling in a country where soccer is the #1 sport played by children under the age of 8, and the #0 sport for all other humans and dogs. So you can imagine that a historically inaccurate (I’m guessing) origin story featuring a sport that already bores me out of my gourd is not exactly championing its cause. And I’ve actually got plenty of soccer in my life – played by a couple of 4 year olds. Their version of soccer is agonizingly slow, uncomplicated by rules, embellished with dandelion picking and popsicle breaks. And it’s still boring as shit. Thank goodness the players themselves are endearing as hell, in t-shirts down to their knees and wearing shin pads that just shout optimism, as if any of them are actually going to get near the ball, which spends most of its time looking forlorn.

And yet watching children’s soccer is still more entertaining than watching Early Man. Plus it tends to be mostly pun-free, which is something I only wish I could say about today’s movie, which was replete with the fuckers. Featuring voice talent such as Eddie Redmayne, Timothy Spall, and Tom Hiddleston, you’d think they would have spent at least as much time on character building as the average United player spends crying on the pitch, faking an injury. Early Man is another kind of painful, a kind that made me miss Volvo-driving soccer moms and orange slices. And you can guess how many times I’ve said that in my life.

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SXSW: Isle of Dogs

Read the title out loud and kind of quick, and it’s hardly distinguishable from “I love dogs” but the conflict in the film actually comes from not loving them enough. A city in Japan has a dog-hating mayor who selfishly spreads lies and rhetoric about the dog flu, and gets and\or manufactures enough support that he succeeds in banishing all dogs to Trash Island.

As most of you know (because my bursting heart can’t shut up about it), I’m lucky enough to share my life and home with four of the sweetest doggies in the world. I Isle of Dogs 1 via Fox Searchlight Headersometimes wonder if I prefer dogs to people, and I certainly do prefer my dogs to most people. I think dogs are so much better than we deserve. They are 100% heart. So it’s hard for me to imagine a bunch of dog owners so willing to sentence their dogs to a terrible, lonely, miserable life and death. Of the thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of dogs sent to live and die on Trash Island, only one is lucky enough to have an owner come looking for him – a 12 year old boy named Atari. When Atari becomes stranded on the island, a scruffy pack of dogs generously decides to help him find his beloved Spots. Duke (Jeff Goldblum), King (Bob Balaban), Rex (Ed Norton), Boss (Bill Murray), and even the reluctant Chief (Bryan Cranston) band together to reunite boy and dog on a journey that you  might just say belongs in a Wes Anderson movie.

And it is a Wes Anderson movie, horray! So of course it’s got some truly absorbing attention to detail, a sweet soundtrack, and a poignancy verging on nostalgia. Like Fantastic Mr. Fox, Isle of Dogs is beautifully rendered in stop-motion animation. Each dog puppet is a thing of beauty, with fur (made of alpaca hair, apparently) so pettable and little noses that you’re sure are moist to the touch. Their expressive eyes bore into you, and as Bob Balaban so eloquently put it during the Q&A following the film, it could have been a silent film and still been just as affecting.

As saturated as they are aesthetically, some may argue that Wes Anderson movies are ultimately style over substance. Isle of Dogs has some pretty obvious themes about mass hysteria and maybe even fake news, but for me the takeaway is simply to love better – dare I say, more like a dog, fully, and with devotion.

Torrey Pines

So here’s a movie for all you people who like to take some risks with your cartoon watching!

Torrey Pines is stop-motion animated, but there’s no clay in sight, it’s all paper cut outs, which I kind of loved. I mean, I’m a sucker for stop-motion any day of the week, but this one looks like something your or I could do, if only we had tonnes of time and talent and patience and a kick-ass story to tell. Clyde Petersen has all of those things, and this is (sort of) his story.

It’s about Clyde when Clyde was still a 12 year old girl dealing with gender identity and the struggle of finding his way. The film is filled with wild hallucinations and MV5BMjEzNjMwMTc0OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjk4NDg4MDI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1763,1000_AL_psychological projections, so even though the movie is without dialogue, we still feel what Clyde is feeling. When in the car with his mother, we don’t hear them argue, but when a speech bubble features a bear biting off the head of a rabbit, we get the gist. Clyde’s mother is schizophrenic, and what she sees as a fun-filled family road trip from San Diego up to New York, the rest of the world views more as kidnapping. It’s a trip that will change Clyde and his family forever.

My love for stop-motion exists because there’s just no better way to visually represent the love and attention that goes into making a film. Stop-motion will often show us how something works close up, and we see beauty in this new perspective. Torrey Pines doesn’t disappoint; I particularly loved seeing the jointed fingers at work. But it’s also not traditionally beautiful animation. It reminded me of being in high school – my friend Kelly one day said to me that my shoes were so ugly they were cool. Up until that exact moment I’d only seen the cool in them, and forever afterward couldn’t stop seeing the ugly (she was right). The look of Torrey Pines is also ugly-cool (although legitimately both), and perhaps there is no better aesthetic to explore a coming of age story in the 1990s.

I mentioned earlier that there’s no dialogue to this movie, and that definitely proved challenging for Sean. Maybe it’s not for everyone but I liked that this film was a rule-breaker. Music and score play a much larger role in the film because of the lack of speaking roles, and it really moves us along through the stages of the film. There’s a lot to see and think about in this movie, heavy stuff, but really relatable and authentic  with a flavour all its own.

My Life As A Zucchini

Zucchini goes to live in an orphanage after his alcoholic mother dies. The orphanage is not a bad place. This is not a bad-orphanage movie. It’s about the broken children who live inside. The kids are there for many reasons (deportation, mental health, abuse, poverty, etc); some can dream of one day returning home, while others know they never will. For the most part the children band together and support one another as they cope with loss.

MV5BMGU1ZDI5Y2ItOTY2OS00ZjBiLThkYzEtZDIxOTA4NmVmMjE3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjUyOTI5MQ@@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_My Life As A Zucchini is stop-motion animated in a very compelling way. It’s a simple story with colourful characters and a strange title but make no mistake, there’s little silliness awaiting you. It’s a pretty bleak story.

I watched the version dubbed in English, which features voice work by Nick Offerman, Will Forte, Ellen Page, and Amy Sedaris. But even with all this wonderful adult interference, director Claude Barras keeps the story firmly within Zucchini’s corner. The story is told through the eyes of children, almost without taint from the adult world. It is heartbreaking but also tender and compassionate. By focusing on the resilience of children and the difference even one caring person can make, hope shines its rays even on this dark little tale.

I enjoyed this very much. It’s not as heavy on the heart as it sounds, and Barras manages to wrap things up in under 70 minutes. I’m always a fan of the loving work that goes into stop-motion and this one is no exception – perhaps it is exceptional. The expressive characters and honest story give My Life As A Zucchini a sensitivity, like a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. I’m very taken by this and am heartened to see animation tackling such complex characters so deftly. Definitely worth a watch, tissues at the ready.

Kubo And The Two Strings

A little dark, and a little melancholy for kids, but for me, near perfection.

Kubo is a little boy with a magical, ancient Japanese banjo. Well, technically the banjo wasn’t ancient at the time – he lives in ancient Japan. And the banjo isn’t actually a banjo, it’s a shamisen. When he plays his magical shamisen, his origami comes to life and helps him tell awesome stories about warriors and samurai. He’s busking, essentially, and the captivated crowd rewards him with a few coins – a good thing because he provides for his sick mother, who lives outside the village in a cave.  When she’s not in a trance, she’s adamant that Kubo always return before sundown. It was surprisingly sound advice from the mentally ill because THE ONE TIME he doesn’t, hell breaks loose. Ancient Japanese hell.

kubo-and-the-two-strings-530x298Turns out, Kubo’s grandfather is some sort of Moon God. Grandfather has already “stolen” one of Kubo’s eyes and wants to get his hands on the other – in blindness, his grandson can join him in immortality, ruling the sky. He sends his 2 creepy daughters to do the dirty work while his 3rd daughter, Kubo’s mom, struggles to protect him with what little magic she has left.

The movie is a grand adventure with more beauty in any random 30 seconds than The Secret Life of Pets has in its entire running time. As usual with Laika productions (they brought you Coraline), there are darker feelings at play, a sometimes ominous and foreboding tone unusual in a children’s movie, and yet the kids in the audience seemed to tolerate it better than they did Pete’s Dragon. It’s a glorious act of story-telling that feels like something genuinely passed down for generations. Every time Kubo picks up his shamisen, be prepared for some of the loveliest music you’ll hear at the movies. It sweeps you up into the magic of his origami, and the whole thing feels alive and vibrant, steeped in a culture filled with divine tradition.

Kubo And The Two Strings is surprisingly well-balanced tonally, able to incorporate gags meant Kubo-and-the-Two-Strings-just for kids between bouts of horror, humour, and yes, tragedy. It’s quite brave, when you think of it. Suicide Squad pulled back on the Joker’s villainy, and Ben-Hur rewrote some of its savagery. This, a meticulously animated piece of art, has the backbone to trust children with some rather heavy themes. And it does it while also being the most visually arresting thing I’ve seen at the movies this year. It’s a spectacle, and a technical triumph. Having no wordly idea how they pulled some scenes off just adds to the magic. Laika is no stranger to Oscar nominations for animation, and is sure to earn another, but this movie demolishes even their own high bar. Laika doesn’t have the cachet of Pixar so politically, beating Finding Dory will be difficult. But the proof is on the big screen: it is undoubtedly the better film.

The Little Prince

A little girl has a bright future ahead of her. How do I know? She and her mother (Rachel McAdams) have her whole life planned out. A life plan so intense she’s more like her mother’s Senior VP than her daughter. Her mother’s best compliment: “You are going to make a wonderful grownup.”

But the crazy old man (Jeff Bridges) next door draws her out of her mature little shell with his fanciful inventions and his beautiful story-telling. His stories and drawings come to life in animation within the animation: the story of The Little Prince.

Growing up it was always Le Petit Prince to me, but even en anglais, the timeless story warms the heart. The main story, starring the little girl, and the crazy man’s story, starring the little prince, are distinguished with different styles of animation. The little girl is done in familiar CG style; the little prince is stop-motion, done not in clay but in paper. Both are lovely, 210b0b20-a7ab-11e5-88e2-828a3e695a05_1280x720but I confess a fondness for the nostalgia and simple loveliness of the latter.

The voice cast is incredible: Jeff Bridges, Paul Rudd, Albert Brooks, Marion Cotillard, Benicio Del Toro, and more. It’s a real testament to just how cherished the book is, around the world. The Little Prince is a sweet children’s book but it can be read and enjoyed by adults, with many layers of themes to interpret. The same goes for the movie, faithfully and lovingly adapted from its source.

The little girl, too grown up for her own good, rediscovers childhood lp-garden-rgb-5kthrough friendship with the batty old guy next door. But anyone who knows the story knows that along with sweetness, there is also sorrow. The first half of the movie is all poetry and imagination. The second half falters a bit when it gets further away from Saint-Exupéry’s ideas and ideals. The movie is a little less fanciful than the novella, a little more down to earth. But The Little Prince has always been the stuff of dreams, too good, too ethereal for Earth. It’s still lovely though. It’s still one of the loveliest things I’ve seen all summer.

 

Frankenweenie

frank3There once was a dog named Sparky. He was smart, athletic, and a talented film star, at least in his best pal Victor’s homemade creations. Victor is a little boy with no friends other than his beloved dog Sparky, so when Sparky meets his untimely demise, the waterworks commence. And Victor’s not too happy about it either.

We already know that I should never watch movies the feature dead dogs, but did you know that policy should even apply to movies where the dead dog is reanimated?

Yup, still pulls on the old heartstrings. Sparky, meanwhile, has all kinds of strings holding him together, but no amount of stitches prevent his ears and tail from occasionally falling off, which seems rather macabre for a children’s movie.

Frankenweenie leaps from the mind of mad genius Tim Burton – and it’s based on a short film

FRANKENWEENIE - (Pictured) Tim Burton holding Sparky. ©2012 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Photo by: Leah Gallo

FRANKENWEENIE – (Pictured) Tim Burton holding Sparky. ©2012 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Photo by: Leah Gallo

he made back in the 80s. Victor, like everyone else in his world, is a sort of monster, but in his heart he’s just a boy inspired by his science teacher to put the screws to the laws of nature. As soon as he successfully jolts the carcass of his deceased friend to mostly-positive, mostly-alive results, his classmates are blackmailing to do them same for theirs. And not all pets are created equal. If the story sounds a little familiar, it should. It’s a tongue-in cheek homage to the classic 1931 film Frankenstein, based on Mary Shelley’s book of the same name.

This is a beautiful stop-motion feature that used over 200 separate puppets, with roughly 18 different versions of Victor alone. The puppets have human hair and 40–45 joints. Sparky was constructed as rather “dog-sized” and is comprised of about 300 parts, some of them made by watch makers, to bring his mechanical skeleton to life.

It was the first black-and-white feature film and the first stop-motion film to be released in IMAX 3D, and went on to be nominated for an Academy Award for best animated film (it lost to Brave, frank1though it should have lost to Wreck-It-Ralph). It’s got loads of great voice talent from Tim Burton favourites like Winona Ryder (Edward Scissorhands), Catherine O’Hara (Beetlejuice), Martin Short (Mars Attacks!), and Martin Landau (Ed Wood).

For those of us who like our Halloween fun with a little less blood and a little more guts, I’d say this one is a definite holiday staple. What’s your favourite  Halloween thing to watch? Do you have a pet you wish you could bring back? Check out the comments for my own Frankenweenie!

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