When a fresh-faced director takes the helm of his first full length film, there’s always a degree of anticipation, and maybe even hope, surrounding the project. Will he (or she) steer us into familiar waters, or spin the wheel with wild abandon, taking us boldly into new, exciting territory? Dave Green, whose debut feature Earth to Echo just hit screens, has unfortunately done the former, but that isn’t a reason not to keep an eye on him. While Earth to Echo is ultimately not much more than a decent family adventure flick, there are enough glimmers of creativity to make it stand out, and to indicate there’s hope for Green yet.
It is hardly a novel concept to bring up realism when talking about animated films. From noting the “fingerprints” on the toy-based characters of The Lego Movie (2014) to remarking upon Pixar’s advancements in replicating hair and clothing, popular criticism of computer animated movies are as apt to discuss advancements in realistic CGI as they are plot or character development. Throughout the history of feature animation, be it hand drawn, stop-motion, or computer generated, there has been an ongoing endeavor to capture reality. The first animated feature by Walt Disney Studios is no exception. Released in 1937, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was a technical marvel as much as it was an artistic and financial success. But aside from merely taking steps to emulate reality,Snow White exhibits traits that mirrored emerging trends in realist live action filmmaking, including deep focus photography and simulated camera movement.
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This is what’s called serendipitous timing, folks. If you’re downloading this episode the day it drops on iTunes, then we’re just one day away from the Academy Awards, and the film we’re talking about on the new episode of Mousterpiece Cinema may very well walk away with an Oscar this year. No, we’re not going over Frozen again; instead, it’s time to discuss Hayao Miyazaki’s newest, and possibly final, film, The Wind Rises. Gabe and Josh are joined by Film School Rejects‘ Rob Hunter to debate Miyazaki’s fictionalized biopic of Japanese airplane designer Jiro Horikoshi. Did Miyazaki need to be more strident in his criticism of the man who helped Japanese fighters fly in World War II? Is this film more than just a bunch of beautiful animation, or hollow aside from the visuals? And is the English-language dub going to be worth watching aside from hearing Werner Herzog as an animated character? Find out on the new episode!
The Little Mermaid is usually credited with kick-starting Disney’s first animation renaissance, but this often-discussed period started 3 years prior with The Great Mouse Detective. Similarly, Disney’s second animation renaissance has been credited to Frozen and Tangledwhen it started years earlier. While it is convenient to think that all Disney needed was Idina Menzel and a great power ballad to rediscover their movie musical roots, the path that led to Frozen’snearly $1 billion box-office gross worldwide has been rough and messy with one major loss for the company along the way.
In its storied history of technical trailblazing and making dreams come true for those of all stripes, Walt Disney Animation Studios has been inconsistent at best when it comes to character complexity and thematic significance. That is, until recently.
Disney’s most iconic animated characters of the pre-Renaissance are marked by passivity, or, at their worst, one-dimensionality. Interchangeable heroes innocuously save the day. Archetypal villains enter frame with a single antagonistic goal and leave without having undergone legitimate arcs. We see these tropes evolve, but they are not the ones plaguing the most idolized and cherished of this canon.
Discovery is the primary point explored in Bambi. The film begins with his birth, which is particularly of interest because it holds some resonance to even the youngest viewers. This universality of reflection is the bare essence of good art for children, and even after we transition into adulthood, so far removed from the initial experience of the film and with a healthy skepticism towards the revisit, it’s hard not to be spellbound. Children can recognize each of these moments, even if they cannot explicitly remember them, from Bambi learning to walk to the standout schema-accommodation sequence (bird, butterfly, flower). The film is also composed in simple, focused, and cogent frames, cutting to a close-up of the action within the shot (in the first, youthful half, it smartly seems to disappear) to reflect childish egocentrism. Its psychological verisimilitude contextualized by an animated film with talking animals is what ultimately makes Bambi worthwhile as a legitimate art piece.
Walt Disney passed away December 15, 1966, and in the decade that followed, the Walt Disney Company struggled to define itself. Should the company stay beholden to Walt and his vision, asking themselves what Walt would do, or should they take the opportunity to try something new? The decades that followed Walt’s death were a mix of trying to recreate old magic and experimenting with new genres and styles.
Good things might happen to those who wait, but the Disney/Pixar masterpiece Ratatouille tells us great things only happen to those who act fearlessly.
“Anyone can cook,” is the quote most viewers leave the film with, and director Brad Bird lets the themes represented by this philosophy—nothing is impossible, anyone and everyone is capable of reinvention—run wild throughout the picture. But there’s another quote, one that comes very early in Ratatouille, that sums up both what the film is about and the true breadth of Bird’s accomplishment. After all, this is a film about a rat who tries and sort of succeeds in becoming a gourmet Parisian chef, and his journey is completely, objectively believable.
When the work of the Walt Disney Company is referenced in popular culture, it is often generalized and boiled down to princesses, Mickey Mouse, and fireworks over Cinderella’s castle as music swells. (“Get your Disney World vacation planning DVD today!”) Unfortunately, this is an extremely simplified image of the company and its legacy in feature films. In the 77 years since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Walt Disney Company’s feature films have gone through distinctive eras. There was the rise of Disney live-action, the decade following Walt Disney’s death, the era of acquisition (Marvel, LucasFilm), and the first and second animation renaissance periods, to name a few.
“I think we’re all glad that they changed the name to Fantasia,” states Steve Martin dryly during his introduction ofFantasia 2000 regarding the film’s predecessor, which was originally called The Concert Feature. (Fantasia may be a slightly cooler-sounding title, but it’s not much more inviting to the average audience member than The Concert Feature.) That single line of dialogue represents the key to the creative struggle at the heart of Fantasia 2000, a perfectly entertaining film with no identity of its own. Though Martin is funny in his few moments on screen (all of the celebrity introductions in this new film are mildly charming in their own way, though they vary in tone from Martin’s wacky fourth-wall-breaking humor to regal sincerity, as with Angela Lansbury’s climactic appearance), the fact that a recognizable comedian needs to be one of our ushers into a world of strange and fascinating new animation is a tip-off that Fantasia 2000 doesn’t even hope to achieve the same lofty ambitionsFantasia had. The shorts themselves do not reek of hipness and irony, but with Martin’s appearance (even though he was once a cast member at Disneyland, well before he was a stand-up), the movie appears to be catering more to a presumed audience of kids and young adults that tacitly refuses to accept sincerity in art.
The concept of the work of art that is unappreciated by the masses immediately, but gains a passionate and overwhelming following decades later is almost as old as time itself. A book, or piece of music, or painting, or sculpture, or film is unveiled to an indifferent public, save a few devout fans, and is only revived once newer generations approach it with fresh eyes. So many films we now consider to be the greatest of all time were not as warmly received (if they were received warmly at all) upon their initial release. Some classics, such as Citizen Kaneand Vertigo, benefit now primarily from home media releases, repeated airings on Turner Classic Movies, and the impassioned voices of critics and historians to emphasize to general audiences how important and daring and dramatically satisfying these films truly are. Then there are the films that received a second wind of adoration thanks to theatrical re-releases years after the fact, well before home media releases were possible. Such is the case with Fantasia, the 1940 animated film from the fledgling Walt Disney Company, a 125-minute opus that may be the most ambitious cinematic project of Walt Disney’s career, if not one of the most ambitious American films ever produced.