‘The Jungle Book’ is an embarrassment of visual riches that thoroughly entertains on every level.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s 1943 novella The Little Prince has long been acclaimed as a masterpiece of children’s literature, and rightfully so. In spite of the book’s ostensible target audience, Saint-Exupéry tackles adult themes such as mortality and fidelity with the same gusto with which he handles more childish whimsy. The remarkable cohesiveness of the two approaches has largely contributed to the novella’s staying power and broad appeal.
Four years ago, in 2011, the Romanian director Anca Damian first made herself widely known to the international film community by presenting her animated feature Crulic at the Locarno film festival. Based on a true story of Claudiu Crulic that has gained a lot of publicity in 2008, the film consists of a mix of techniques including hand-drawn animation and animated photographs. They are of Crulic’s personal possessions – that he kept while imprisoned in a Polish prison after being arrested for theft, although he had supposedly been in Italy at the time.
It was 2004 and I was fifteen years old when I read Charles R. Cross’ Heavier than Heaven. I remember finishing the last chapters, sprawled on the floor of my family’s cottage as I cried so hard I started to dry heave. At the time I was unaware of the controversy that surrounded the adaptation, both in how Cross took liberties in certain facts (some information was later disproved, or at least not substantiated) and the decision he made to create what was ultimately a fictional take on Kurt’s final days up until the point he killed himself. Like many teenager before and since, Kurt Cobain represented a romantic and ultimately tragic figure to look up to – for better or for worse.
World of Tomorrow presents a sophisticated envisioning of a dystopian future, with a through line of existential sorrow, musings on memory, and occasional dark and playful humor. Young child Emily is at play one day when she’s interrupted by a clone of herself, who has traveled back from over 200 years in the future. The clone takes Emily on an existential journey through her own life and the life of Emily’s clones.
Song of the Sea is a beautiful film. Its vivid art style easily separates it from the prosaic sameness that currently grips much of mainstream animation. That’s the big advantage that animated films made by smaller outfits, such as Cartoon Saloon, have over the Disneys and Dreamworks of the world. But there’s a weakness to them as well, one that Song of the Sea stumbles on: a frustratingly muddled story approach.
An orbiting satellite picks up a beautiful song being played on Earth. Moved by the song, and facing an eternity of lonely obsolescence thanks to the incoming fate of being replaced by new machinery, the satellite decides it wishes to find the source of the tune, and so crashes down to the planet below, where it promptly turns into a teenage girl able to fly with Astro Boy-like rocket feet and fire her arms as weapons. Meanwhile, the songwriter behind the ditty is broken-hearted and so has been turned into a cow, akin to the farmyard beast fate that has befallen other broken-hearted folk. This has led to him and others like him being hunted by a human villain who uses a plunger to extract their organs, as well an incinerator machine that is fuelled by the broken-hearted. Also, there is a wizard named Merlin who makes it his mission to assist the satellite girl and the cow, except Merlin has undergone his own transformation recently and happens to be a roll of toilet paper.
In its frequently sorrowful tale of young Japanese siblings struggling through the tail end or immediate aftermath of World War II, anime Giovanni’s Island faces seemingly inevitable comparisons to both Grave of the Fireflies and the Barefoot Gen features. Mizuho Nishikubo’s film, however, has a spirit all of its own, even if you can trace in it bits of those other films’ DNA, as well as notorious British anti-war animation When the Wind Blows, whose art style it resembles more than the likes of Studio Ghibli. It stands apart in offering a look at an aspect of Japanese history rarely explored in any art form to date, that of the Russian occupation of the island of Shitokan after Japan’s defeat in 1945, as seen through the eyes of two Japanese children among the residents whose lives are upended by the new rule.
Welcome to the first installment of “Living Pictures on the Small Screen,” a weekly column dedicated to animated programming on television. Cultural commentary inevitably comes with bias, and I wanted to create this column in appreciation of the people and shows that helped me overcome my own bias regarding animation.
While Mirrormask has become something of a cult movie, Dave McKean is still better known for his work in illustration than his directorial efforts in film. McKean’s groundbreaking style consistently raised the bar in comic art; his contribution to the 1989 release of Arkham Asylum, written by Grant Morrison, helped change our understanding of the artform. McKean’s style seemed uniquely suited to the mind space of an asylum, his layered mixed media style reflective of thoughts and emotions in conflict. Perhaps his best known work is his contributions to the cover art for Neil Gaiman’s iconic Sandman series, once again cementing the phantasmagoric quality of McKean’s work. His collaboration with Gaiman highlighted the obscured landscape of nightmares which he frightfully recreated through superimposition, collage and drawing.
Treasure Planet should have been one of Disney’s heavy hitters. The modern-day twist on Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island had a lot going for it. Pirate adventure in space filled with interstellar ships and mutinies? Check. Stunning visuals that combine traditional 2D and modern 3D animation? Check. A great cast of characters? Well, that depends on who you ask. Treasure Planet clearly wanted to teach its audience that there is greater value in self-discovery than a ship filled with treasure from a thousand worlds. However, when it came time to test the cut of its sails, Treasure Planet left audiences standing on the docks dreaming of what could have been, if only Jim had found a way to save the treasure.