scenarios inc. [10] : Animated

Ah. Animation…one of the things that keeps my imagination up and running. And it is also one of my weaknesses. Nowadays, I always thank God for giving me some time so I can manage to watch some animated films. So far this month, I got a chance to watch a lot and it is so nice how some of those films reminds me how I was when I was a kid, and also they kept telling me that I’m still kid at heart. Speaking of kid at heart, I want to share some of animated films that caught my attention and got a special place on my DVD marathon list.

Let me jumpstart the ride by introducing you, the “Secret of Kells”. The film, a French-Belgian-Irish collaboration, takes place in a medieval Irish town called the Abbey of Kells and revolves around Brendan (Evan McGuire), the young nephew of the town Abbot (Brendan Gleeson). The Abbot has prohibited his nephew from ever leaving Kells, fearing the danger that lies in the forest beyond. But when the famous Brother Aidan (Mick Lally) comes to town and shows off the legendary Book of Iona, Brendan becomes interested in the outside world. Brother Aidan soon takes an interest in Brendan and decides that he is the one to complete the Book (which later becomes known as the Book of Kells).

The world of film is defined by the gorgeous landscapes that surround the abbey and the town. At its brightest — when, for instance, we indulge in the mysterious, densely layered colors of the forest foliage — it’s a treat for the eyes. At its darkest, in the abbey tower and other claustrophobic locations, it’s a gloomy, sometimes frightening film that makes us beg for the light. The rollicking score matches the beautiful images, soaring between the bluffs and over the hills.

Unfortunately, the film falls into some age-old cliches. The Abbot is obsessed with fortifying the town, afraid of the forest and also afraid of The Northmen, a horde of faceless, godless, black-cloaked Vikings that pillage and burn everything in their path. Perhaps they are the perfect foil to the God-fearing, humble people of Kells, but already the cliche of dark-versus-light has reared its boring head.

As that duality might suggest, the film is also heavy on pseudo-religious propaganda. Brendan must complete “The Good Book,” which is repeatedly referred to as having the power to bring light to the darkness and to blind any sinners who look upon it. The movie never explains how this book of illustrations can have such great power, but if you’re a Christian, you know by default.

Still, the film does have some complex characters and themes. There is always something refreshing about watching a boy with such wholesome naiveté going out into the world to make something of himself. The animation is average but the character design made it par compelling, one of a kind, it’s like watching a storybook come to life minute by minute. The only thing is, behind colorful, eye candy character design is a dark storyline, Animators tried it’s best to depict war and its effects in a very nice way, making its viewers estranged on the concept of violence and be concentrated looking forward what will happen after the dark times. Also one of the strongest points of this film is the musical scoring, also the Irish song of Aisling which caught my attention, so relaxing.

Though it has its shortcomings, “The Secret of Kells” is much more than just the weird little movie competing against “Up.”

And there is  stop-motion animated film, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” , featured the voices of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, and Bill Murray. It is the first animated film directed by Wes Anderson, and the first stop-motion animated film to be distributed by 20th Century Fox. For me, it is surreal to hear Clooney in a stop –motion animation, and it is more surreal to see a fox sounds like Clooney.

It is refreshing to watch stop motion like this one. Well, even though it competes with my other favorite stop motion film “Coraline” in the recent Oscars , still I love how the animators gave this film a distinct look, making the setting  realistic and detailed and faithful to its over-all design. I remembered the days I was crazy over GUMBY way back my toddler days when I watched this film. The film reminds me some of the classic novels toned down for kids.

The film was directed by Wes Anderson films have always had the tone of a classic book for young adults.  But what was once a stylish affectation eventually mutated into artistic lethargy.  2007’s The Darjeerling Limited showed that Anderson was now using his style as a crutch instead of a means to effectively tell a story.  But with Fantastic Mr. Fox, based on the classic 1970 Roald Dahl book, Anderson turns what had become his greatest weakness into his greatest strength and makes Fantastic Mr. Fox one of the best films of the year.

Fantastic Mr. Fox opens with a delightful limerick and sets the tone for the rest of the film:

“Boggis and Bunce and Bean, One short, one fat, one lean. These horrible crooks, so different in looks, were nonetheless equally mean.”

Mr. Fox. (George Clooney), Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep), and their sullen son Ash (Jason Schwartzman), live a cozy life in a tiny borough but Mr. Fox wants more.  Feeling trapped by his domestic life, he returns to his wilder days by robbing Boggis, Bunce, and Bean of their goods and then just slapping discount stickers on the items as an inept means to fool Mrs. Fox.  Meanwhile, Ash falls into the shadow of his cousin Kristofferson (Eric Anderson) and becomes even more sullen and desperate to earn his father’s approval.  However, Mrssrs. Boggis, Bucne, and Bean care little for the family matters of foxes and attempt to destroy the thieving Mr. Fox any way they can.  This results in chaos for all the creatures living under the hill and in order to make things right Mr. Fox must discover if he’s really as clever as he thinks he is.

The tale is told through meticulous stop-motion animation, which is of a completely different style than this year’s other major stop-motion animated feature, Coraline.  Anderson demanded his animals have fur, big comical expressions, and inhabit a world that feels like a five-minute story on a 70s children show, but stretched to a full-length film.  However, Fantastic Mr. Fox never feels long and Anderson’s signatures of bright colors, direct angles, folk and classic rock, all enhance the film rather than feeling forced upon it in order to let people know that this is “A Wes Anderson Film”.  You’ll still notice it but you’ll then wonder who else could have done this movie better.

BTS pic..surreal 😀

Thematically, Fantastic Mr. Fox is the same as previous Anderson films with the flawed father figure, the dysfunctional family, and the bizarre coping methods they use to renew their relationship, but with this movie it’s the undercurrent rather than the emphasis.

Above all, Fantastic Mr. Fox is a family film that’s silly without ever being stupid.  For example, when characters want to curse, they use the word “cuss” which adults understand not only as a substitute but as wordplay with the word’s use to describe annoying animals, which is what Boggis, Bunce, and Bean would refer to Mr. Fox and his friends.  It’s a sly and clever tone and it fits perfectly with the main character and plot.

Then there’s this gruesome animation titled “Dante’s Inferno”’ Remember Vigil’s Epic Literature when you’re able to discuss Italian or should I say World literature way back highschool?  Yes that’s where EA and Film Roman guys got the story for this film. Well, to clear things up, it’s a part of EA’s attempt to sell one of their newest game first released in Xbox that carries the same title. One very important thing about Dante’s Inferno: An Animated Epic that should probably be mentioned upfront is that it is not, per se, an adaptation of the classic medieval poem. No, this version is a retelling of EA’s freshly-released videogame “re-imagining”, in which Dante is no longer simply an unredeemed soul seeking salvation, guided through the underworld by the poet Virgil. Sure, those elements are still there, but Dante is now a tortured soldier of the Crusades reliving the bloody sins of his violent past, killing everything in Hell to retrieve the soul of his slain beloved buxom Beatrice from the lusty clutches of Satan himself.  Evidently,  the studio got their attention locked up to a certain part of Dante’s epic and that’s Inferno.

So abandon all hope, ye who thought this might be a straight adaptation.

That said, if you know what you’re getting into – and are a fan of bloody creatures features like Hellsing or Berserk or the God of War games (which this particular adaptation seems to have borrowed a hell of a lot from!), there’s plenty of fun to be had here and even some quality animation from time to time. While not billed as an anthology, the videogame’s story has been handled by 6 different animation directors and 4 different animation studios, and the result – while wildly uneven at times – is really not half bad.

The whole gruesome mess starts out with what is, admittedly, the worst segment of the bunch. Film Roman, a C-list American animation studio that clearly farms out a lot of its work to some backwater Korean studio, handles the introduction and visually it’s really clunky and amateurish. We’re quickly introduced to the story’s new plot, which involves the murder of Dante’s wife, whose soul is quickly whisked away to the lower circles of Hell (always referred to as “Inferno” here, probably to further avoid any discomfort the obvious religious imagery and language might result in) by a smug Lucifer. Dante then meets Virgil, who offers to guide him through Hell. Then Dante kills a whole bunch of demons and even wrecks the boat that ferries lost souls across the river Styx (in fact, Dante spends a whole lot of time pretty much ruining Hell’s infrastructure in this movie). As over-the-top as it all is, you’re pretty much left waiting around for the animation studio to change because Film Roman’s lazy, crappy animation is a pain to watch.

Thankfully, it’s then that Dante enters Limbo, and we get the first studio transition, and the result is pretty brilliant, like you’re suddenly watching a completely different and totally kick-ass anime version of Dante’s Inferno. Film Roman should be kinda pissed off that their segment has to open for this one, because it’s like putting a crayon drawing next to an oil painting. Manglobe‘s installment was directed by Shuko Murase, who is no stranger to gothic visuals thanks to his previous efforts like Ergo Proxy and Witch Hunter Robin and you can definitely see his dark thumbprint here. The animation is very fluid and the fresh character designs (which change depending on the animation studio producing the segment) are a joy to watch in motion. After a brief battle with the aforementioned demonic unbaptized babies who are stranded in limbo (although Cleopatra is nowhere to be seen), Dante confronts Minos, the corrupted king whose job it is to sort out the damned and place them in their particular circle of Hell. It’s a fun battle, really well-animated and over way too fast; after a bit more Limbo, we’re off to the second circle of Hell (and, unfortunately, a new animation studio that is not Manglobe).

The next four levels of the Inferno are handled by the same folks. Stepping up to the plate production-wise is Korean studio Dongwoo Animation, responsible for stuff like BASToF Syndrome, which could be a good thing if you’re the one person who actually enjoyed BASToF Syndrome. It’s not quite back to the poor quality of the Film Roman segment, but it even further highlights the level at which Manglobe was operating and really only makes you wish they’d have just produced the entire film. Still, it’s not half bad – we get a pale, somewhat scrawny Dante and a Virgil who kinda looks like a Tolkien Elf by way of a Troll doll, and we’re whisked through Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Anger, and a whole bunch of Dante’s tortured past animated with passable competency. Dante winds up fighting Cerberus (or at least what they call Cerberus in this thing; I was under the impression Cerberus was a three-headed dog who guarded the gates of hell, not this weird three-mouthed worm thing that eats the cursed bodies of fat people all day) and then, in the fourth circle, his own greedy father who Satan has bribed into trying to kill his own son. The backstory they’ve added in here simply isn’t all that interesting. It’s obvious they’re trying to bring some character into this story and make it more than just a travelogue of Hell, but it all feels a bit tacked on and certainly doesn’t have any real dramatic weight to it. It’s here we learn Lucifer is planning to take Beatrice as his bride, who’s next in line after famous historical hotties like Helen of Troy, but we’re never really told why other than it would really screw with Dante’s head. Dante’s showdown with his big gross daddy is ultimately kinda silly (“Lucifer offered me a thousand years without torture and endless gold if I’d kill my own son!”) and at this point we’re just waiting for the character designs to change again.

Once Dante and Virgil reach the City of Dis, the hellish metropolis that provides entry to the lower circles of the Inferno, Korean studio JM Animation takes over. The production is pretty strong and very stylized; the character designs have a heavy shonen anime feel to them, with Dante suddenly becoming a bulky action hero and Virgil looking more than a little bit like Obi-Wan Kenobi. The action scenes are animated with a certain relish, although lipflap is really inconsistent here and barely matches the dialogue. It’s certainly the strongest effort from a Korean studio in the film. After a battle with a really odd-looking minotaur, JM Animation switches up directors and changes the designs again for Fraud, the eighth circle of hell, and the look is pretty weak and doesn’t stand out next to all the other designs, but it’s over relatively quickly and then we’re off to Treachery, the final circle, and the final animation studio.

Production I.G is up next to finish this thing off and while the animation quality shoots through the roof, their character designs aren’t exactly inspired. This is Dante’s final confrontation with Lucifer, and he must travel through the frozen-solid circle of Treachery (the one place in Hell a snowball might actually have a chance!) to confront Satan in his lair and retrieve his beloved. Things don’t really go as planned – Dante hacks through the icy chains that keep the fallen angel bound, and in his quest to retrieve Beatrice, he accidentally frees Satan (whoops!) and winds up having to fight his true form, which is a pretty cool battle sequence. Without spoiling too much, they manage to suggest that there will be a sequel to this thing. Which is just silly.

Really, “silly” kinda sums up this entire enterprise; the story just can’t be taken seriously because it’s so over-the-top and feels exactly like what you’d expect from an “edgy” videogame adaptation of Dante’s Inferno, but visually there’s enough going on here to make it worth a watch if you can treat this like a talent showcase that focuses on infernal imagery rather than a serious stab at adapting classic literature. It is kind of fascinating to see how each artist will handle the characters and their fantastical environments, and those shifts alone make it worth at least a rental. In those terms, this is more of a success than the thoroughly mediocre anthology film Batman: Gotham Knight (which had a few of the same folks working on it), if only because the artists had a lot more room to adapt. Frankly, the medieval idea of Hell is such a conceptually and aesthetically rich place for an artist to play around with that it’s fun just to see where they go with the idea. So while Dante’s Inferno: An Animated Epic is by no means “good” in the traditional sense and will absolutely offend those who are looking for something even remotely loyal to the source material, anyone with a taste for gruesome hellish fun who is willing to check their more sophisticated sensibilities at the door will probably have a good time with this.

And from the very depressing and gruesome world of hell, let’s go back to planet earth and enjoy cuteness overload but this time with a little dash of adventure and that why I enjoyed LEGO’s new straight to DVD flick; “The Adventures of Clutch Powers!” This is the cutest movie I watched ever …well for a kid. The movie is like toy story but only concentrating to LEGO bricks. Such a CG toon overload. It’s like a guy version of Barbie CG movies 😀

Well to help me introduce the story, here is something from the net:

“Synopsis – For the first time ever, see the creative world of LEGO® come to life in the all-new feature-length DVD movie. Meet Clutch Powers, the best builder and explorer in the LEGO®universe as he heads off on his most dangerous mission yet. Join Clutch and his team of LEGO®experts as their adventure leads them from LEGO® City to the Space Police prison planet to the medieval world of Ashlar where they must help the rightful heir to the King’s throne find the courage to regain the kingdom from the evil wizard Mallock the Malign. Their brick-building skills will be put to the ultimate test as they face off against Mallock’s skeleton army. Get ready for an action-packed adventure like nothing you have ever seen before, The Adventures of Clutch Powers!”

Louie, my little brother liked the graphics a lot. I found the story to be part Indiana Jones and part Star Wars. I loved the bits of humor that were incorporated into the storyline. “Let me get your legs. I’m not half the man I used to be.” “She brings extra hair.” I loved when one character chastised another for not following the directions when a piece was left over after building a structure. Despite the fact that they were “bad guys” I really thought the skeleton Lego characters looked cool. It was really neat to see so many of the Lego pieces I’ve seen over many years used in the film, as everything in the film was made of Legos.

Also, one of the reason why I love this film is that some of  my fave CHUCK casts lend their voices to the film’s main characters. Chuck’s Captain Awesome, Devon , played by Ryan McPartlin voiced Clutch Powers and my super crush [drool] Yvonne Strahovski a.k.a. Sarah Walker, played the Aussie lad Peg Mooring. Yvonne’s natural Aussie accent is quite surreal for me because she speaks English in Chuck like any ordinary  American lad.

And to cap off the animated experience, let’s ride some dragons with Dreamworks’ “How to train your dragon”

Based on Cressida Cowell’s bestselling book for kids, How To Train Your Dragon may be taking a page from the E.T. formula, but with its mix of Viking mythology, action, comedy and heart it feels like no other CG 3D animation effort, at least in recent times. Story revolves around Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), an awkward, teenaged Viking who has a hard time finding his place in the family business, as it were. The macho dragon slayers that include his father and Viking leader, Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler), are not exactly a crowd he fits in with easily, although to keep dad happy he tries. The ‘toon also offers up Astrid (America Ferrera), the de rigueur young female counterpart who is strong and aggressive in every way Hiccup isn’t. His training exercises with other budding teen dragon slayers start to give him a sense of self-worth but his whole world is turned around when he befriends an injured dragon and then must hide the fact from everyone, including his feared father. As the relationship with the endearing creature grows so does the peril that has engulfed Hiccup and his new friend.

Like the book, the movie is rich in whimsical detail from character names to Viking-faced towers with fire in their mouths. It’s also brimming with aah-eliciting cuteness — like Toothless’ gummy grin and the montage of Hiccup discovers one by one the “cute” weaknesses of a dragon. The CGI provided a bewitching mix of breathtaking realism — the waves of a misty silver-gray sea, rosy-gold clouds and blue sky [thanks to their cinematographer : Roger Deakins] — and vibrant cartoonishness, plus a rush of dragon-soaring adrenaline. Also the  quirk character designs they come up for various species of dragon, The dragons were each modeled on several real-life animals, including mammals. The head of character animation describes Toothless as having traits in common with cats, dogs and horses. Then there’s my face next to Night Fury, the  Deadly Nadder “a cross-breed between a parrot, an ostrich and a T-Rex”  How to Train Your Dragon also contains kid-appropriate life lessons such as “be yourself,” but unlike family.

some of the films studies

like Monsters vs. Aliens and Shrek, it’s deficient in witty, adult-aimed double entendres and pop culture one-liners. And the ending’s strange twist might leave parents (and filmmakers) with a lot of explaining to do.[spoiler alert : uhmm.. crutches?]  Cuteness, cheekiness, and CGI are the film’s strengths. And, of course, dragons … it’s a Harry Potter-meets-Avatar adventure that should delight most children and adults.

Well that’s for now, check out this animated films and feel that guilty pleasure of enjoying it.

So Till then and Godspeed 😀


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