Tag Archives: Animation

Day 29 – 30 Day Movie Challenge

A Movie From Your Childhood – 30 Day Movie Challenge

I could pretend that I had great taste in film even as a toddler, but that’s no fun. I do remember watching movies like Jurassic Park as a kid, but one that I come back to over and over again is Disney’s Robin Hood. For some reason, this treat tends to get the cold shoulder from animation purists whenever it comes up in conversation. For the life of me, I just don’t understand the hostility to this cozy, endearing adventure/comedy.

Released while the studio was still recovering from Walt’s death, this was one of the first Disney productions that didn’t benefit from his personal touch. The studio was still jittery when it came to artistic direction now that their greatest supporter was gone. It’s unusual to Disney films because it stays very tight on its characters. This leaves the plot winding a bit aimlessly at times, so there’s not a big payoff in the end, but the care with which the characters are handled grows on the viewer as the film strolls along.

Looking back, as an adult and a film snob, I can see that the picture is notorious for its corner-cutting animation, it simply doesn’t have the sparkling hand-drawn detail of earlier Disney masterpieces, or the glitzy sheen of the latter ones. It’s certainly one of the more crudely-drawn productions of the company. But even when you stack up the complaints lobbed at this incarnation of the Robin Hood tale, they really don’t matter, because in the end we get a richly entertaining good time, and I’m glad to say that this film is just as captivating to my children as it was to me.

What movies do you remember fondly from your childhood? What do you think about Robin Hood? Let me know in a comment below or on Twitter or Facebook.

Monsters Inc. (2001)

I’m not very good at this whole “watch a movie a week and write a review on it” thing. I easily watch 3-5 movies a week, but the problem is, I would much rather watch another movie than write a review. Especially when it’s a movie like the one that is on the slate for today. But alas, I made a commitment and so I’m gonna keep it.

20110327-173353.jpgThe most difficult part of writing a review for Monster’s Inc. Is that it is an animated film and we tend to treat these movies simply for their entertainment value for kids. But I think that animated films can have great value apart from mindless entertainment. And that is the area in which Pixar films in recent years have excelled above their peers in the animation business.

Everybody is doing computer animation, but the thing that elevates Pixar’s films and recently some of Dreamworks’ offerings (Flushed Away (really, it’s actually pretty good), Kung Fu Panda, How To Train Your Dragon, and Megamind) is the story. It’s not just about hyper-realistic imagery and the creation of a fully submersible world. Those are all pointless if you don’t have a story with characters in which the audience of both children and adults will invest their emotions.

20110327-173258.jpgMonster’s Inc. at its core is the inversion of a horror film. Normally, kids are wetting their beds at the idea that monsters live in their closets and are going to come out to scare them. Monsters Inc. simply admits this epidemic of home invasion as fact and then goes inside the closet to tell the story from the monsters point of view. It turns out that monsters don’t particularly enjoy scaring children, it is simply their job. Monstropolis (the Narnia on the other end of these impressionable children’s wardrobes) runs on the screams of children. But because human children are flooded with violent movies and television shows at increasingly younger ages, they are getting harder to scare and consequently Monstropolis has a scream shortage.

It seems to me that most animation studios would have been content to leave the story there then throw in a lot of cultural references to make the movie funnier. But Pixar understands the value of irony and as it turns out in this universe, these monsters know just as little about us as we know about them, and that makes monsters deathly afraid of human children.

20110327-173112.jpgAdd to that two of the most likable characters in all of Pixar’s movies, second only to Woody and Buzz, and you’ve got a movie that went toe-to-toe with Shrek, and by all counts lost that battle. But I would invite you to rematch both films and decide for yourself which has aged better. I think that Monsters Inc. could do equally well today, but I’m not sure I could say that about Shrek.

Essentially Monsters Inc. is a great buddy comedy. On one side you have the purple spotted horned Bear-cat named Sully. He looks ferocious which makes him great at his job, but in reality, he is just a big softie. John Goodman did a good job voicing him as he is the most dynamic of the characters in the film. And playing the Laurel to his Hardy is the effervescent Billy Crystal placed in the body of a green volleyball with one giant eye and an even bigger mouth. They make an odd couple to be sure and lift what could have been a mediocre movie to Pixar gold.

20110327-173150.jpgAnymore, it is pointless to mention the superb animation that is present in these movies. But in its time, the computer animation rendering of every frame featuring Sully took 11 hours to complete because the movement of each of his 2,320,413 hairs. With a frame rate of 24 fps that is nearly a month of processor time to create a single second of footage.

This might not be the highest grossing or the best reviewed of any of the Pixar movies, but it is a solid and highly entertaining movie that I have confidence my kids will he showing their kids one day.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Well, it is time to get my countdown underway. Let me remind you that I am working my way through the IMDb Top 250 list as it appeared on November 15, 2010. I had to do this because of the flexible nature of this online user generated list. In fact, even after only one week, The Nightmare Before Christmas has moved up to #249, and if you look at it today, the list (particularly here at the bottom) may look much different.  So, I will do my best to add other films that jump on and off the list while I am on this journey and we can watch them together once my journey is through.

This movie was released when I was ten years-old, and I remember wanting to see it not so much because of the animation technique or the big names attached to it, but because I thought the Burger King watches that my friends had were cool. I was not allowed to watch it at that time, because my parents thought that it was too dark and frightening for kids to watch (the same reason Disney pushed its release off to Touchstone Pictures). It wasn’t until I was well into high-school and my goth phase that this movie once again caught my eye.

Burton’s Batman was one of my favorite movies in Middle School. I remember coming home from school popping Batman in the VCR and being thrilled by Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson. When I later found out that the same mastermind who directed Batman, Beetlejuice, and Edward Scissorhands, was the man who dreamed up this film, I had to see it. I remember getting wrapped up in the gorgeously dark scenery so skillfully and painstakingly created through the use of stop-motion animation. I remember tapping my toes to the addictive music of Danny Elfman. I simply enjoyed it, filed it away as a pleasant holiday movie, and went on with my life.

As I watched this magical film again today, I was struck by a few observations.

First, it was NOT directed by Tim Burton. Everyone ties The Nightmare Before Christmas to Tim Burton. While he wrote it and produced it, it was directed by a man whose name isn’t even in most movie fan’s vocabulary. Henry Selick. Do a quick IMDb search, and you will see that Henry Selick had just as much to do with the look and feel of Nightmare as Tim Burton did. He adapted Roald Dahl’s James and The Giant Peach long before Burton tried his hand at Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And he skillfullly directed the wonderfully rich and dark Coraline. Clearly this film is great because of its collaboration. Tim Burton’s concept and characters, the lyrics and music of Danny Elfman, and the hard work and dedication of hundreds of artists are held together and made better by the creative glue of Henry Selick’s direction.

Also, watching this film again, I had all sorts of thoughts about the nature of Halloween vs. Christmas, the commercialization of Christmas, and the feelings of longing for something more fulfilling than the amusement of fright. But the biggest thing that caught my attention was the wordplay in the title. It is a cute and clever twist on the first line of the well known 1823 poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” But it got me thinking if there was something deeper in the title. What is the nightmare before Christmas? Is it referring to Halloween? Jack? Perhaps the nightmare is that sense of longing that Jack and Sally feel. But because I have Movies on the Brain, my mind cross-referenced to a scene in the 1997 Steven Spielberg movie Amistad where one of the slaves is looking through a Bible illustrated with drawings of biblical events. One slave says to the other that he is beginning to understand this book. As he shows the other slave a picture of Christians being attacked by lions in the Roman Coliseum, He says, “Their lives were full of suffering. Then he was born (pointing to a picture of baby Jesus in the manger), and everything changed.”

Do you see the connection? Jack Skellington (The Pumpkin King) is revered in his native Halloweentown, but he has grown tired of the same old routine. While wandering through the forest, he stumbles across and opens a portal to Christmastown. He is intrigued and impressed by what he feels in this magical place. Although devoid of any reference to the Christian origins of Christmas, besides a quote from the kidnapped “Sandy Claws” who shouts, “Haven’t you ever heard of peace on earth, good will towards men?” Jack’s feelings aren’t totally dissimilar to the emotions that accompany the new birth. Much like Jack Skellington, our lives are empty and we continually search for something more until we stumble across the meaning of Christmas. Sadly, the true meaning of Christmas is never unearthed but it still raises all sorts of ideas about the comparison of the death symbolized in Halloween to the life that is found in Christmas. Our lives before Jesus are the real nightmare before Christmas. Our lives were filled with suffering then Jesus was born and everything really did change.

Not all of my posts will be this religious in their thrust. That is just what came to my mind. Join me next time for #249 the Korean Romantic Comedy, My Sassy Girl. I’ll probably watch the American adaptation of the same title as well to compare them. See you then and remember, there is no cure for movies on the brain.