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Top 10 Animated Films

Or, rather: my top ten favourite animated films… at the moment. Unlike my favourite live-action films list, there’s only one childhood favourite here. These are all films I either watched for the first time in the last four years or have recently revisited. Many of the films on this list are relatively recent releases.

What does that say about my tastes? I really don’t know. But I really love animation.

10. Ocean Waves

This is a list I’ve been planning to make for a while – and for a time I was bothered by the lack of Asian entries. Sticking Spirited Away on here would have felt more tokenistic than anything else – especially since as much as I like and admire Spirited Away, I don’t love it.

Then a while ago Channel 4 did a marathon of Studio Ghibli’s films in the week before Christmas. I managed to tune in only once, on Christmas Eve, when – probably intentionally – the scheduled film was the somewhat obscure Ocean Waves. The plot summary they gave didn’t grab me, but I stuck with it when the Studio Ghibli logo came up. I stuck with it through the immensely awkward subtitles. I stuck with it when the rest of my family sat down for pre-dinner drinks. Thankfully I have an understanding family.

For all Ocean Waves is completely different from your average Ghibli film, it’s the one that made me want to watch more. It was something about the incredible level of detail in the animation – and just how evocative it is. Ocean Waves is a TV-movie romance, but it’s more than that. It’s a film about being on the cusp of adulthood – about being asked to bear responsibilities you don’t feel ready for, but simultaneously feeling fenced in by your youth. It’s about nostalgia. It’s about issues and arguments and emotions that seemed world-shaking turning out to actually be… not that big a deal.

It’s a film with a very clear age-bracket when it comes to appeal. The Christmas I watched Ocean Waves was only a year or two after I started university. For me it was beautifully evocative.

9. Belleville Rendez-Vous/The Illusionist

I can’t choose between these two films. They’re both so good, but in very different ways – and since they were made by the same director, I can’t really give them two slots on this list.

Both films are near-silent – Belleville Rendez-Vous has two lines of dialogue, one at the beginning and one at the end; The Illusionist has dialogue scattered throughout in three different languages and only one line which must be understood to follow the plot. But that’s really all they have in common.

Belleville Rendez-Vouse is a cynical, surreal satire of – well, basically everything. French people. Americans. Cyclists. Gangsters. Dogs. You name it. It’s about a grandmother raising her recently orphaned grandson. The only thing she can find that cheers him up is cycling – and this comes to define their relationship as she becomes his cycling trainer.

But when he finally enters the Tour de France, he is kidnapped by the sinister bicyle Mafia, who spirit him away to Belleville (New York). His Grandmother follows him across the atlantic in a pedalo and, with the help of the Triplets of Belleville, a group of aging Vaudeville performers, searches him out.

It’s a strange and at times nightmarish film (some people I’ve shown it to found it intensely creepy rather than enjoyable) – but also weird and wonderful. It’s an exercise in visual storytelling, in making the grotesque endearing – and in making an adventure story about a group of old ladies.

The Illusionist is squarely in the real world. It’s set in late fifties (or possibly earlier sixties) France and Scotland: the story of an old-fashioned stage magician trying to sustain a career in a world that no longer has space for him. He travels to the Hebrides to perform at a party celebrating the island’s brand new electricity connection, where he befriends a young girl who takes him for a real wizard.

And I shall stop there, because I don’t want to spoil the rest of the film. I went into The Illusionist almost completely blind: I’d watched the trailer, which consists largely of the magician’s rabbit misbehaving intercut with Scottish scenery, but I deliberately hadn’t looked up the plot.

I got the DVD for my birthday and since I was spending the day alone – largely by choice – I sat down to watch it in the evening with pizza. This was probably a mistake. For you see The Illusionist is one of the bleakest films I’ve ever seen. It is soul-crushingly sad, to the point that I’ve not yet been able to rewatch it. The cake afterwards didn’t help much with the misery.

I think Belleville Rendez-Vous is in many respects a more interesting film – The Illusionist, though it has some fascinating themes, dips into emotional manipulation at times. But The Illusionist excels at visual storytelling where Belleville Rendez-Vous sometimes flags and I probably enjoy watching it more – when I can stomach the bleakness.

8. Pinocchio 

I sometimes think that, even after seventy plus years, Pinocchio might be the best film Disney ever made. If nothing else, together with Fantasia it’s the pinnacle of pre-WWII Disney.

As best I can tell, it was after the Second World War that Disney animation – and possibly Western animation in general – really became a children’s medium. With the exception of Dumbo, Disney’s very early films are all highly artistic, surreal, often frightening and occasionally sexy.

Pinocchio is a strange and unsettling film from start to finish. It’s full of absolutely stunning hand-drawn animation that in places easily tops a lot of more reason computer-supplemented animation.

All of Disney’s early films have an amazing ability to provoke truly intense emotional responses in people. Dumbo and Bambi are known for their tearjerks; Snow White is known for its horrifying transformation scene. Pinocchio manages the full spectrum of emotional responses, from comedy to fear to tears, making the ending incredibly cathartic. And few films capture as well as Pinocchio the experience of being a child.

7. Prince of Egypt

As much as I love The Prince of Egypt, it makes me a little sad. It’s Dreamworks Animation’s best film – and also their first. In a sense it was all downhill from here. But that’s not fair – I love many of Dreamworks’ more recent films, but none have the pure, breathtaking epic quality of The Prince of Egypt.

Though slightly hampered by its short run-time, Prince of Egypt is a true Biblical epic in the vein of The Ten Commandments. But it’s also a very human drama, and in some respects it is all about the importance of human relationships and interactions. An interesting little detail: in The Ten Commandments, Moses is given the robe and staff that mark him as a prophet on his exile from Egypt. In The Prince of Egypt, he gains both during his time living among the desert tribe – they initially mark him as a shepherd, not an exile, and signify his inclusion into his new community. Given the clear influence of The Ten Commandments on Prince of Egypt, this is quite probably deliberate.

Prince of Egypt places its primary focus on the relationship between Moses and Rameses, here imagined as brothers. The break-down of their relationship is the heart of the film – and it really does hurt. Upon the death of Rameses’ son in the final plague, upon finally being released from Egypt, there’s a moment of awful realism: as soon as he is alone, Moses breaks down in tears, grieving for his brother.

And visually, this film is stunning. It takes advantage of its medium so well, with its vast, otherworldly images, that it might just be the best-looking Biblical epic ever made.

6. The Secret of Kells

I talked in a previous post about the frequent disparity between animation quality and writing quality. The Secret of Kells is a prime example. Visually it is beautiful, with a distinctive style and some wonderfully creative images – watch Brendan’s battle with Crom Cruach on youtube and you’ll see what I mean. The animation style is illuminated manuscript meets Butch Hartman (The Fairly Odd Parents, Danny Phantom).

Sadly, the writing doesn’t quite match up. Or in a sense it does – the narrative of Secret of Kells is distinctive and creative and highly original. It’s not by any means bland or uninteresting – it’s just poorly structured. It took me two watches and some research into the historical Book of Kells to work out why it ends as it does.

The Book of Kells, by the by, is an illuminated manuscript of the Four Gospels and one of Ireland’s foremost national treasures. I recommend reading up on it before watching the film as it’ll make the experience immensely richer. The Secret of Kells is a (very heavily) fictionalised account of its creation, drawing together various different theories and traditions – and throwing fairies and Pagan gods into the mix.

The fantasy elements tend to raise a few eyebrows – but it really is seamless. Aisling, the forest spirit, is not mere fancy; she symbolises Pagan Ireland, nature, and chaos. She’s a foil for the Abbot of Kells. The interplay between the sets of opposing forces is interesting – though somewhat confused.

5. Under the Red Hood

It’s a direct-to-video animated Batman movie. Hear me out. Under the Red Hood currently holds a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes – that’s higher than The Dark Knight and higher than Batman and Batman Returns. It’s a really good Batman film – unfortunately one that requires a higher degree of familiarity with comics canon than most. But reading the relevant Wikipedia pages is probably enough to see you through.

Under the Red Hood is adapted from two Batman storylines, Death in the Family and Under the Hood. It’s the story of Jason Todd, Batman’s second – and least successful – Robin. Jason Todd is mostly known for (stop reading here if you want to avoid spoilers) having been killed off following a telephone poll in 1988… and then coming back from the dead.

Like many of DC’s animated films, Red Hood exists in its own little bubble of canon, allowing it to throw out and streamline plot elements as it pleases. The narrative is split between achronological flashbacks showing Jason Todd’s time as Robin and unfolding events in present-day Gotham as a mysterious figure called the Red Hood cuts a bloody swathe through Gotham’s criminal population.

More than anything else, it’s an action-packed psychological study. Under the Red Hood is dedicated to the question of what drove Jason Todd to become the Red Hood. Was it his death at the hands of Joker? His unnatural resurrection thanks to Ra’s al Ghul? Was he just born that way? Or was it Batman’s influence? Or all of the above?

Under the Red Hood mostly leaves the answer ambiguous – but if anything is certain in the final scenes, it’s that Batman will always blame himself. And he is probably right to do so.

4. Ratatouille

For whatever reason, I tend to prefer Pixar’s less popular films. I absolutely love A Bug’s Life. I thought Cars was pretty good. And Ratatouille is probably my favourite and I don’t know why.

Even for Pixar, this is a weird concept. It’s about a rat who wants to be a professional chef – because rats are actually sapient and capable of communicating with humans, they just pretend not to be. He has visions of the ghost of the dead chef who is his hero, then befriends a man working in the kitchen of the chef’s old restaurant. They’re able to form a partnership because the rat can control the human by… pulling on his hair? Not direct him – actually control him, like a puppet. It doesn’t make a lick of sense.

But other than some logical hiccups, it’s such a fun film. It’s full of beautifully animated food, frankly adorable character designs, and a message that, though not novel, is sweet and sincere: ‘true greatness can come from anywhere‘.

It’s a film about striving to succeed in a creative field that traditionally locks you out. You could probably replace the rat/human divide with a class, gender or racial divide and the plot would work – but Pixar, being Pixar, went with rats and did not go for any allegory in particular. The rats are rats. The problems they face interacting with the human world are rat problems. It’s a story that is applicable and identifiable, not allegorical.

There are better Pixar films that Ratatouille, but for me this one is the prettiest, the sweetest, and the most fun.

3. Fantasia

I loved Fantasia when I was a child to a degree that was probably unnatural. Fantasia isn’t really a children’s film. It doesn’t have a plot or any real characters – and I think that’s why I loved it so much. Fantasia was a blank canvas for my imagination. As far as I was concerned, Fantasia was one long story – just not a linear one.

If I’m remembering right, this was my reading: Fantasia is the name of the world where the film is set. The various shorts show different parts of this singularly awesome fantasy world where wizards and centaurs and hippos in tutus reside. The opening short, Tocata and Fugue in B Minor, was not so much a part of this world as a gateway to it. Its imagery was what you would see as you passed through the wormhole and its various gateways – then some of the features of the world itself. Or, alternatively, Tocata is the creation of the world of Fantasia out of chaos.

I’m not really sure how I arrived at this conclusion, and even at a young age I knew it wasn’t really how the film was meant to be read – the narrator practically says as much – but I still loved watching the film and trying to work out how the various shorts could be slotted together.

But despite my love for it, I almost never watched Fantasia to the end. Night on Bald Mountain terrified me beyond belief. I always had this sense that it was something I should not be watching – that it was full of strange, grown-up things that I didn’t fully understand. Watching it back now, I’m not sure why I thought that, because it really is just a bunch of scary images put to music. Maybe it was the clearly visible nipples on the harpies.

Even if I got through Night on Bald Mountain, Ave Maria just bored me to tears. A while back Sporcle.com did a quiz asking you to identify the final shots of Disney films. I didn’t get them all – because Fantasia stumped me. Seriously.

2. The Hunchback of Notre Dame

As much as I try to avoid admitting it, Hunchback is my favourite Disney film. Not because it’s very good – quite the opposite.

Hunchback is a mess. I do not understand what possessed Disney to adapt the book; of all their adaption choices, this is the one that makes the least sense. It was never a children’s story, there’s no cute animals – why, Disney?

The result of that thoroughly weird decision was a film that is an absurdly light and fluffy adaption of the novel – but a weirdly dark Disney film. It’s a thoroughly flawed film – but flawed in a way that is quite fascinating.

At times, Hunchback is very true to its source material – Hellfire, for instance, which is one of the darkest sequences Disney has ever put to film. But then there’s the singing gargoyles, and the slapstick, and A Guy Like You – it’s unbalanced, mismatched, and downright weird. I find it fascinating that Disney decided to make this film, and fascinating that they then insisted on so much comic relief.

It also has a fantastic soundtrack. I could listen to it over and over, songs and instrumentals both – I have listened to it over and over. With a few exceptions the songs are both brilliant and quite un-Disney, and I love each and every one of them.

1. How to Train Your Dragon

This is not the best film on the list in terms of animation or narrative, neither is it the one I enjoyed the most on first viewing – but How To Train Your Dragon is the one I could watch over and over and get the same emotional notes every single time.

It’s a pretty straightforward coming-of-age nerd fantasy film: awkward teenage boy earns respect of his father and his peers and gets a hot girlfriend. Instant plot, just add dragons!

But it’s all done so well. Hiccup’s relationship with his father has so much realism to it; Stoick is, from the start, just a decent guy trying to raise a son he doesn’t understand, not a bad father. Hiccup’s conflict between his own culture, the dragons, and his conscience is beautifully realised.

Then there’s the dragons and the dragon-riding. Dragon-riding is not by any means a new trope – The Dragon-Riders of Pern is probably the ur-example – but How To Train Your Dragon is, I think, the best depiction of dragon-riders on film (though given that its main competition is Eragon, that may not be saying much).

The dragon-riding scenes are beautifully animated, creating a strong sense both of motion and of mechanics: we see Hiccup design the system that will let him ride Toothless, and so come to understand exactly how and why it works.

Plus the dragon-designs are so inventive – not so much the dragons themselves as the fire. On the DVD commentary the creators talk about animating dragonfire and point out – this I hadn’t noticed – that dragonfire on film is traditionally based around what can be created easily on a film set: i.e. fire that burns very intensely, but very quickly, without damaging anything.

But How To Train Your Dragon is an animated film, and the creators realised they didn’t have to follow convention. The result is a dragon that spits Napalm, intensely destructive fire, and a real sense of danger.

That, I think, is what is so good about How To Train Your Dragon: everything about the world it creates feels real and solid. You fully believe in the viking village and its culture, in the dragons, and particularly in Toothless and his relationship with Hiccup. It’s so sincere and so very touching, from start to finish.

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Top 10 Favourite Films

For some reason this list always seems like the big one – even though I’m not that much of a film person. You can tell by the way I have a reasonably secure top ten list!

It’s an eclectic list, and one with surprisingly few SF entries. Most of them are films I watched for the first time as a young-ish teenager, which isn’t that much of a surprise. There’s one big exception (in the number three slot) and the fact that it makes this list continues to boggle me. Most of them are genres and types of films I don’t usually like. I don’t know what that says about me!

A few quick honourable mentions: The Princess Bride (1987), West Side Story (1961) and The Amazing Spider-Man (2012).

narnia10. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)

I don’t know why I like this film so much. On some level I actually kind of hate it, its weird saccharine tone blended with with out-of-place attempts at grittiness – it’s an awkward film.

It’s also my go-to comfort film. I don’t know quite why; it just seems to hit all the right emotional highs and lows. It pushes all the right buttons. It’s brightly-coloured and upbeat and I love it to bits. I’m not going to lie: I once watched it three times in one day.

Not exactly one of the best fantasy films ever made – but it’s a really good adaptation of one of my childhood favourites. Throw in some brilliant casting – James McAvoy could not be more perfect as Tumnus – and you’ve got a film I can’t help loving.

dirty dancing

9. Dirty Dancing (1987)

Is this my favourite romance film? Yes, I think it is.

I’ve come back to Dirty Dancing a few times as I’ve gotten older and it reads differently each time. When I first watched it Baby was a grown-up, sophisticated teenager I admired; then I began to appreciate the romantic and sexual side of the film more and she became subject to a cheerful kind of envy; now it seems very much a film about being right on the threshold of adulthood. (As I write this, I’ll be formally graduating from university in about eleven hours…) Who knows – maybe in a few years I’ll come to appreciate the sense of nostalgia more.

The romance; the music; the dancing; the wonderful pinkness of it; I love this film.

truman8. The Truman Show (1998)

The Truman Show is one of the most frightening films I’ve ever seen. I was probably too young for it when I first watched it. It’s chillingly paranoia-inducing. And…  it’s  a Jim Carey Comedy.

This is a brilliantly constructed film. The television set that is Truman’s prison is beautifully realised; you can tell, after watching this film, just how it’s organised, how it’s funded, how actors and crew members move around it without ever alerting Truman to the truth.

It’s also one of the few films that manages to get the same emotional response out of me every single time I watch it. The sense of creeping paranoia, the gradual slippage of reality, and then the beautiful moment of catharsis that is the ending – ‘say something, damn it! You’re on television!’

7. The Blues Brothers (1980)blues brothers

This film was part of my childhood long before I watched it. My parents had the soundtrack and liked to play it in the car. I remember it as a strange and disjointed collection of songs I didn’t understand.

Then I was finally allowed to watch the film – it’s rated 15 – and my god is it funny. I always forget till I re-watch it just how funny car pile-ups can be. Or how weird and wonderful Carrie Fisher’s murderous cameos are. And of course as I get older I understand more and more of the jokes – naturally.

But it’s the music, I think, that really makes this film as good as it is – the music and the sheer calibre of the performers who were on board. It’s not just a comedy, it’s a musical comedy – a musical comedy of the highest order.

grosse6. Grosse Point Blank (1997)

Grosse Point Blank is like The Princess Bride – more or less every scene in it is memorable and quotable, to the point that I sometimes wonder why none of them have gone memetic. Oh, well. Popcorn!

It’s primarily a comedy, but it’s also a thriller; it has genuinely good action scenes; it’s a romance and it’s a redemption story. Martin Blank is a fascinating and complex lead – as well as one of the most relatable cold-blooded killers ever put to film.

And it has a great soundtrack. The slightly discordant selection of eighties songs permeates the whole film – I could make a list just for film soundtracks and Grosse Point Blank would be up there.

 

station5. The Station Agent (2003)

I always find it very difficult to explain what it is that makes The Station Agent so good. ‘You see, it’s about a man with dwarfism who loves trains, and then his only friend dies and leaves him a disused train station – and then he meets a woman who’s just lost her son and a man who runs a roadside food truck – and then, well, things happen‘.

It was not just my introduction to Peter Dinklage but, I think, the first time I’d seen an actor with dwarfism in a serious role. It’s certainly the only film I know of that treats dwarfism as a serious subject. It’s very quiet. It’s low on dialogue and high on visual storytelling. It’s very gentle – but also, at times, emotionally harrowing.

jesus4. Jesus Christ Superstar (2000)

I’m cheating a little with this one because it’s technically a filmed stage version rather than a film – and a direct to video version, at that.

Admitting to preferring this film to the more acclaimed 1973 production can get you a lot of flack in some circles – but I saw this version first, I grew up with it, and I love it in all its cheesy glory. For the longest time I didn’t even know there was another film.

I love Jesus Christ Superstar in all its guises, but for whatever reason the 2000 revival has the edge for me. Maybe it’s just nostalgia, but I love the post-apocalyptic, gritty visuals, I love the Darth Vader-esque Roman soldiers, I love the soundtrack, and I love the way it blends film and stage musical. It has close-ups and camera tricks, but also the surreal tone and visuals of a stage production.

3. Spartacus (1960)

spartacus

Best Roman epic of all time or best Roman epic of all time?

Spartacus might be the oddest choice on this list. I’m a queer woman – and Spartacus is an unapologetic testosterone-fest. But it’s a self-aware testosterone-fest.

The Classical Epic is generally an idealistic genre. And Spartacus is idealistic, but it’s also realistic. The realism in part comes from the constraints of history – the Spartacan revolt was ultimately a failure and the mass crucifixion depicted here really did happen, though Spartacus himself was mercifully spared on account of already being dead – but the film just owns it.

It’s also a great piece of visual storytelling, neatly sidestepping the wordiness of many Classical Epics. The silent shots of the Roman army advancing speak louder than words ever could. It’s a truly great film.

serenity2. Serenity (2005)

I’ll be honest: my love for Serenity is partly due to my love for Firefly, the tragically cancelled sci-fi series it’s sequel to. Which is strange, because as a sequel to Firefly I find it quite unsatisfying.

But as a science fiction film on its own terms, Serenity is incredible. It’s a dark thriller, a western and a sci-fi epic. It masters the ‘used future’ and what I’d call the ‘useable future’ – you can imagine what it would be to live in this world: what you would eat, how you would get around, what your life would be like.

I’d read Serenity as a meditation on the nature of evil. There’s no single villain here; the closest is the Operative, but as he himself acknowledges, he has little real agency. What there is instead is the Alliance, a group of politicians who honestly and earnestly believe that they are doing what is best for the people – by creating monsters.

empire1. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

What can I say? I’m that kind of nerd.

The second act of the trilogy is usually the strongest and this is no exception. Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars film. Anyone who says otherwise is wrong. In fact, I’d say it’s the only truly objectively good film in the series. After the shaky awkwardness of A New Hope but before the odd Ewok-filled wackiness of Return of the Jedi – perfect.

What I love about Star Wars in general – and Empire in particular – is that everything feels big. It feels heavy. You look at the spaceships knowing they’re models, but they feel heavy and metallic. You can imagine how they fit together. There’s a strong sense of space (ha) throughout the film; it’s like Serenity in that you can imagine what it would be like to be in the space ships and buildings depicted. Everything feels solid.

And to me, that’s the essence of SF: making the unreal feel real.

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100 Animated Films IV: Computer Generated Assortment

Chicken Little

I hated this film. Honestly, truly hated it.

Chicken Little came out shortly after Home on the Range and in some respects they’re not dissimilar. Home on the Range is the story of the Pied Piper – in the Old West with cows! Chicken Little is, well, Chicken Little – with aliens! To the film’s credit, the aliens are actually the film’s strongpoint. The designs of both aliens and alien technology are inventive; the alien invasion scenes are nothing new but tensely enjoyable.

My problem with this film is more or less everything else. The original Chicken Little was a female character. Here he (!) is voiced by Zach Braff. I gather a female voice actor had not only been cast but had recorded all of her dialogue before the decision was made to genderswap the lead character – because a female lead would alienate little boys. Because it’s not as if a male lead could potentially alienate little girls, or as if many of Disney’s most popular and successful animated films have had female leads.

If that weren’t enough, I found it very difficult to sympathise with the townspeople, even as they were, to all intents and purposes, being massacred by aliens. (They’re fine – that was a transporter ray, not a death ray.) The entire town seems to honestly believe that Chicken Little is delusional – and their response is to simultaneously alienate and abuse him and capitalise on the story for tourist revenue. Let them have it, aliens. They are not nice people.

 

Meet the Robinsons

I’m very glad I watched Meet the Robinsons after Chicken Little rather than before – it meant ending the official Disney canon on a high note! While it’s not exactly one of Disney’s greats, Meet the Robinsons is a whole lot of fun – and as befits a film about an inventor, brilliantly inventive. It has an oddball sense of humour that I really like; it’s colourful and all-round pretty looking; the use of time travel is interesting; and the ultimate message is good and positive and one that should see more mileage in children’s films.

Meet the Robinsons is very much about family – as it turns out, adoptive family. Wilbur, our protagonist, comes to realise that he will never be able to meet his birth mother – and that’s okay! It’s rare – and gratifying – to see a film be this positive above adoption.

It’s chaotic and a tad confused in places, but overall Meet the Robinsons is probably one of the stronger films Disney’s made recently – certainly one of the most interesting!

 

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

I wanted to run away that day, but you can’t run away from your own feet.’

I’d say the above line was the point I realised I was really going to enjoy this film. I did not go into Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs  with high expectations – I dismissed it as pure silliness when it came out and was very surprised when it popped up on a list of ‘best animated films of the year’ when I was putting together my 100 films line-up.

As it turns out, the science is, well, unscientific, few of the characters are particularly likeable – but this film is funny. Properly laugh-out-loud funny. The cast is full of SNL and ex-SNL performers, the animation is very much old-school designs in 3D… and there’s a monkey voiced by Neil Patrick Haris.

It’s not Pixar – I’d put it more on a level with Dreamworks’ better films – and it may be lacking in some areas but Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is a really good comedy and worth checking out.

 

 

Flushed Away

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was a pleasant surprise; Flushed Away was a disappointment. It’s not a bad film – overall it’s actually pretty decent – it’s just not what I’d expect from Aardman Animation. The people who’ve made some of my favourite animated films of all time made Flushed Away, which might as well be one long potty-joke.

Many aspects of the film are good. The voice acting is excellent. I like the visuals, which owe a lot to Aardman’s traditional claymation – not just in the character designs (which you can see on the poster), but also in the scenery, which is not dissimilar to Chicken Run. It’s just sorely predictable.

The romance subplot, the damselisation of the female lead in the third act, the evil plan, the male lead with his boring arc and lessons to be learned – it’s an awfully generic film from an animation company that has always been the opposite of generic.

 

Arthur Christmas

Now this is the computer-generated Aardman film I wanted. It has all their characteristic humour and flair and attention to detail – but on a much larger scale than you could do in stop motion. The opening scenes of the S-1 in action are funny and epic all at once. Like Flushed Away, the conclusion is a little predictable – but unlike Flushed Away, the journey there isn’t.

It lacks a true villain; all the characters have understandable and sympathetic motivations even as they do not-terribly-nice things. It’s very much a family drama (there’s something very depressing about the notion that not even the Clauses can manage to get through Christmas without arguing) – with space-ships and magic flying reindeer!

Bryony the Wrapping Elf makes for a strong and unconventional female lead – and a female lead who is not anyone’s love interest, I should add. Add in the hyper-competent Mrs Claus and you have two interesting and funny female characters, even if it doesn’t quite manage to pass the Bechdel Test.

And what can I say? I have a weakness for Father Christmas films, and Arthur Christmas – with it’s multi-generational succession of Santas and sleigh-shaped space-ship full of elves – is one of the most developed ones I’ve seen to date.

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Favourite (Children’s and YA) Book Series

I used to love book series. I used to like collecting every book in the series and lining them up on my shelf – I still hate when they change the cover designs midway through so it doesn’t match any more.

I think I started buying books that are part of series less because I love them too much. I tended to get slightly obsessive about completing them. The only two adult series I really love enough to put on this list are Discworld and Temeraire by Naomi Novik – so consider those a couple of honourable mentions!

 I tried to rank these based on a combination of how much I enjoyed them as a child (or a teenager) and how much I enjoy them now –  which means that, as with many favourites lists, a lot of the objectively better books rank lower. Make of that what you will!

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Top Ten Favourite Books

With the exception of the number one slot – I’ve had the same all-time favourite book for about a decade now and I don’t see it changing any time soon – this is not an easy list to write. Partly because of the various tricky issues that kept coming up – is this favourite books, favourite authors, or favourite series? If I love a series or an author am I obliged to include at least one of their works, even if there are standalone books I prefer? – and partly because, well, I have a lot of favourite books, though I doubt that comes as much of a surprise.

Eventually I decided to make a separate list for favourite book series, and thus to exclude all books that are part of a series from this list… except for book series which I happen to own in one volume, naturally. And books that are part of a series in name only. And the book that occupies the number one slot. And I’ll just start the list now.

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Current Writing Projects

I’m very bad at committing to things. As such, I tend to have stupid numbers of writing projects on the go at once and oftentimes I struggle to finish any of them because I can’t decide which to prioritise first. So here, for future reference, is a list of projects which are currently in the writing, editing or submission stages:

Note: (w) indicates a working title.

Novels

Four Seasons Quartet. Current status: two books written, one in the editing stages, one on-hold.

Or at least I think this wants to be a quartet. The titles of the first two are Summer and Autumn so logically there should be two more parts, but I only have a detailed plan in my head for one more. However, I do have a vague idea for a fourth one, so we shall see.

Summary: Pseudo-Victorian era fantasy. More detail on this later.

(w) Ever-Present Novel. Current status: three-quarters of the way through the first book in the trilogy.

This one is definitely going to be a trilogy – it has a neat three-act structure to it – but the end of the third book is not even close to being the real end. This one doesn’t even have a real end. As of right now I have the lives of the characters roughly plotted out from the ages of twelve through forty. The third book ends when they are around eighteen. I’ve yet to come up with any kind of logically plan as to how to write the rest.

Summary: Urban fantasy. See above.

Works-In-Progress

The Show Must Go On. Current status: ~200 words. I haven’t really started this one, I just wanted to get something down on paper.

Summary: Fantasy/sci-fi. Proserpina lives in a world which revolves entirely around the giant Theatre and its show that never, ever stops. Once she is Scouted as a dancer in the chorus, she begins to realise that she has allowed her identity to be subsumed by the collective.

Down the Rabbit Hole and What Alistair Found There. Current status: ~ 150 words. See above.

Summary: Surreal fantasy. A transgender teenager, Alistair, falls into a giant library populated by miniature clockwork robots which may or may not be powered by human souls, and ruled by a mysterious and shadowy Librarian.

Glimpsing the Walkers. Current Status: ~10,000 words, on hold.

Summary: Surreal fantasy/sci-fi/horror. Sophie is mysteriously sent away to live with mysterious relatives in a town where mysterious things happen and everyone seems to be on the brink of going mad. Most mysterious of all are the Walkers, people who aren’t quite alive and are’t quite ghosts, and who no-one will talk about. Sophie decides to investigate further and discovers that once glimpsed the Walkers are not easily forgotten.

(w) Tanaquil. Current Status: ~15,000 words, on hold, in need of much editing.

Summary: Benjamin falls out of his bleak and monotonous life into a world that is actually five overlapping worlds, Tanaquil, Quark, Fae, Corioli and Niflheim. Niflheim is forbidden and unknown territory; the only person to have gone there and returned has been driven mad. He is convinced that the dark and deadly forces of Niflheim are on the brink of spilling over into the other four worlds and that Benjamin’s arrival is a harbinger of doom; Benjamin is the only person genre savvy enough to listen to him.

(w) Island. Current status: Still in the planning stages.

Summary: Historical fantasy. Aodh is a young man attached to a remote island monastery, cast out by his family due to his violent, surreal visions which occasionally come true. He sees a blond man washed up on the beach over and over; sure enough, one day he finds a shipwrecked Saxon prince named Gar.

Editing

Some FixingCurrent Status: ~6000 words.

Summary: Sci-fi. In the middle of a battlefield that used to be a city some time in the future, a lowly technician discovers a several damaged Cyborg-Soldier which has someone regained its memories of being human.

The Goat Boy and the Prince. Current status: ~12,000 words.

Summary: Fairy tale. A long, long time ago, the land was full of magic. It crackled under the earth and the sea, in every living thing, glistening on every leaf and every bird and in the wings of every dragonfly; it blazed in the heavens at dusk, painting the sky red and gold. Listen and you could hear it singing. The world was new and bright.

(w) The Lift. Current Status: ~28,000 words.

Summary: Sci-fi. In a world contained entirely within a twelve-storey building where everything runs like clockwork, a young woman is suddenly approached by a man who flaunts all the rules and seems convinced that she is the key to unlocking everything.

The Fifth Dream. Current status: ~14,000 words.

Summary: Magical realism set in Ancient Greece. A potter starts dreaming that statues of Athene are talking to him and starts to realise that he may be descended from Zeus; meanwhile, Athens is on the brink of war and his visions are set upon as an omen of Victory.

Submission

I Am. Current status: ~9000-13,000 words. There’s two different drafts, the former is abridged as most magazines won’t accept anything over ten thousand words.

Summary: A man wakes up inside a machine with no air and no memory of how he came to be there. Unfortunately, once he escapes everyone he meets seems to know exactly who he is and everyone seems to want him dead.

Locked Rooms. Current status: ~10,000 words.

Summary: A boy starts to realise that his idyllic rural life may not be all that it seems.

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Anti-Procrastination Station

My revision schedule this year had forty-four days on it. I started studying two days after my final essay deadline and finished at 9 o’clock this morning, that’s dedication for ya! I’ve had two exams in sports halls (huge, echoey, soul-less), three in function halls (distractingly pretty) and curiously one in the university health centre (intimate – only thirty people or so), but now, finally, finally I am finished. This would be fantastic but for two reasons:

1. I have a cold. The university library is a germ factory during exams so this really isn’t much of a surprise but I wish it had held off a little longer – I very nearly ended up sitting an exam with a fever yesterday. Hooray for paracetamol!

2. I now have no idea what to do with myself. This frightens me more than it should, especially since there’s the ever-present worry that if I’m this worried by the thought of three months without university, how in sweet hell am I going to cope next year in the face of actual, real-world unemployment?

On top of that, it’s not even really true. I have plenty of things to be doing with the next three months, so in the name of making myself accountable, here is my to-do list!

1. Job-hunting. still have two unfinished job applications sitting around, plus various things bookmarked to apply for, and I need to do something about it because my CV is quite distressingly sparse right now. On the up side I got interviews based on the applications I already sent out. On the down side, the remaining applications are unfinished because they have ‘~100 words on why you would be a good employee’ sections (is anyone good at those? Seriously?) or ‘~100 words on the last show you went to see’. Or both.

2. Dissertation. Ideally I’m not going to be working till August so I should have time for this. My stepdad advises me to start as soon as is humanly possible but given that I already did quite a bit of the reading last autumn and I have a fairly good idea of what my argument will be I think I can afford a break.

That said, I’m currently reading Diana Wyne Jones’ Reflections on the Magic of Writing and I keep feeling like I should be making notes because it’s so useful. And backs up my argument perfectly, huzzah!

(I shall remain cryptic about my argument until my supervisor has told me it isn’t, y’know, terrible.)

3. Create Soc. I am now creative writing president. Currently the crafting committee is considerably more proactive and generally competent which on the one hand is good for getting stuff done, but on the other hand does not reflect very well on us writers, so, um. I need to get hold of some material to post on our shiny new society profile but getting your average writing society member to voluntarily hand over something they’ve written to be posted publicly is like blood from a stone, I swear.

But anyway. I’m thinking haiku, they’re pleasantly bite-sized.

4. Writing. This is the big one, as far as I’m concerned. I have this blog to update (somewhere amidst all the revision notes waiting to be recycled there’s a list of potential blogging topics, I need to rescue that), plus a half-finished short story that is proving trickier than I anticipated (it’s historical fiction – there’s a reason why I stick to fantasy sometimes)… and then there’s my ever-present novel.

I made a resolution back in January to finish book one this year, which by all logic should be doable. I’m currently over three quarters of the way through and there’s major edits to be done earlier on – it’s been, what, two years since I started now? I’ve changed my mind about some things, anyway – but it would feel so good to have this finished.

I would say I’m looking forward to writing book two, in which the action proper starts a lot of fun characters get to interact with a lot of other fan characters, but in my experience the correlation between ‘things I look forward to writing’ and ‘things I actually enjoy writing’ is not as strong as you’d think.

However. In the less distant future, I have a room to vacuum (I swear I’m actually pretty good at keeping my flat clean most of the time), a stack of unread books that continues to grow (not my fault, there were books from my childhood going cheap on Amazon) and some films I bought on DVD and haven’t got round to watching yet. Not to mention the sleeping. Lots and lots of sleeping to do…

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