My final coursework deadline came and went last week – so naturally by Friday evening I was tired out and just wanted to sit down and watch a film. I just wasn’t sure which film. Preferably something animated. I am indecisive. I Googled ‘greatest animated movies’ and considered.
Long story short, I now have a spreadsheet with a list of animated films of varying degrees of artistic and cultural significance that I have not seen. And I mean ‘varying’ in the strongest possible sense – there’s a lot of Japanese films on the list, including Akira and Grave of the Fireflies, which I haven’t seen yet because quite frankly both films intimidate me. There’s quite a few art films. There’s a film called Princess Iron Fan, which was the first ever Chinese feature-length animated film, and which I might not be able to watch at all because as of yet I haven’t found a version with English subtitles. There’s also the dregs of the Disney canon (Home on the Range, oh dear), Cars 2, and the Soviet version of The Snow Queen.
In total: one hundred films, and I intend to watch them all. Why? Because I really like animated films. And because I have exams starting in three weeks and I need something to tide me through revision.
I’ve been looking forward to watching Paranorman for a while, and I’ll get my reasons out of the way first: Paranorman has the distinction of being the first major animated children’s film to feature a gay character. This was I believe the cause of some controversy among conservative-types who didn’t blink and miss the line in question.
As pleased as I am that he was there, I don’t like the way the character in question was handled. Actually, no, I’m not going to avoid ‘spoilers’: the character in question is Mitch, the film’s stereotypical jock, and the ‘reveal’ should have come earlier in the film. As it is, it came across to me as the punchline to the running gag about Mitch constantly being oblivious to Norman’s older sister flirting with him. Could have been handled much better.
That out of the way: Paranorman is a very good children’s film. It has a hell of a lot going for it. The monster-movie homages are great, the animation is incredible (I’ll get to that in a moment), the message is good and if not necessarily original certainly presented in a new light, and the climax is incredible, with a genuinely moving twist to it. Unfortunately its let down by the somewhat lacklustre characters – Norman in particular is just a blank slate until the last few scenes.
So that animation. This film is stop-motion. I had to double-check that little detail a few times because I couldn’t quite believe it. It doesn’t look like stop-motion – it’s just so detailed and so fluid that after a while you forget. The result is a huge amount of love and energy and skill poured into producing something… kind of generic-looking. Somehow Laika has managed to make animation that is actually too good. Maybe dial it back a bit next time.
This is a Hiyao Miyazaki film. I have nothing bad to say about it. I wouldn’t dare.
Really, though: this film has all the best of Miyazaki and I don’t know why that surprised me. The atmosphere! The attention to detail! The sense of nostalgia! The female empowerment! I wish I’d seen this film when I was younger, because it captures the experience of being an awkward teenage girl so well, and it does it with magic and broomstick-flying.
I probably shouldn’t be looking at these two back to back, because they are quite similar. This is another film I wish I’d seen when I was younger. Miyazaki scripted Whisper of the Heart, and I don’t understand how it is that he’s able to so skillfully capture what it’s like to be a teenage girl. What’s your secret, Mr. Miyazaki? I want to know.
Whisper of the Heart is about a fourteen-year-old girl who loves books setting out to write a fantasy novel of her own. It’s also a beautifully-executed modern fairy tale – it didn’t really hit me just how much of a fairy tale it is till the final scenes.
And now for something completely different.
Honestly, I don’t know what I can say about Yellow Submarine that hasn’t already been said. It’s trippy. The music is fantastic – and more neatly integrated into the plot than I expected. It’s enormously creative. It’s Yellow Submarine and really I’m not sure what else to say.
I did find that it dropped off a bit at the end, though – the journey to Pepperland was so creative and so intense and so utterly bizarre that the climax felt relatively mundane. But really: it’s all a trip.
Sita Sings the Blues is a series of episodes from the Ramayana focusing on Sita… interspersed with the story of the break-down of Nina Paley (the creator of the film)’s marriage. It has four different styles of animation. It’s eclectic but also very unified.
I have very mixed feelings about this film. On its own terms it’s creative and heartfelt and very skillfully put together – but there’s also a very strong argument to be made that it’s culturally appropriative. It was certainly controversial in India – and I don’t even remotely have the cultural background to judge whether the response was reasonable and justified or if this is a Monty Python’s Life of Brian situation. I just don’t know. Though Nina Paley has been strangely dismissive about the whole thing and all in all the whole business makes it hard to me to enjoy the film.
Which is something of a downer to end this post on! Sita Sings the Blues is worth a look, because it really is a very creative film. And it has some great music.