Tag Archives: animation

Review Mary and the Witch’s Flower by Jonathan Evans

(3 / 5)

With the fate of Studio Ghibli still uncertain, what are all the talented artist and storytellers to do that worked there to do? Get up, form their own studio and make a movie. Good for them!

Mary and The Witch’s Flower is the movie debut of Studio Ponoc and they take it upon themselves pick up the baton to create accessible movies for children that are just as filled with whit and inspiring images that would wow an adult.

From its first scene, it is here to intrigue and impresses. A hooded figure runs away from other hooded figures, they carry something. They grab a broom and fly away on it, grey, blobby being chased them and the tree city they came from explodes. While being pursued what the hooded figure has is dropped into a forest and so is their broom. We instantly have many questions and there is a lot of color, sound, music and beautifully realised animation to kick off the movie already.

We then see a little house in the countryside and a young girl by the name of Mary (Hana Sugisaki) is moving in. She wants to help but she is a terrible clutz, not even being able to tie a flower or pick of a box of her stuff without causing a mess. While exploring her new home she comes across two cats, one grey one black. They lead her into the forest and there she finds a broom held by a tree with vines and a flower that is so blue it seems to be glowing. One night the broom starts moving by itself and takes Mary through the clouds and to a place like no other, Endor College for witches.

It is the sequence where Mary is introduced to the headmistress Madame Mumblechook (Yuki Amami) and is shown all the facilities of the college that is easily the best part of the movie.

The animation is just like that of Studio Ghibli, with thick lines, blobby movement, and simple but expressive character designs. Being that the new studio is composed of almost entirely former Ghibli staff this isn’t really a surprise.

There is a wealth of generosity paid to the animation. Sure it’s pretty and smooth but the generosity comes in little things that most people wouldn’t even notice but they did and put in the extra effort. Take a moment where Mary is being guided through the school, we see the big establishing shot and when the camera is closer to her face we can still see something going on with someone else. Animation, particularly hand-drawn animation requires one drawing at a time to be produced to create the illusion of movement and when it’s done must be colored in, which is also time-consuming. These little things which take up much time and go by so unnoticed shows that the people working there are passionate about bringing the whole world to life.

Eventually, sinister intentions are revealed, our hero must use her wits and bravery to overcome them and we are left with a satisfying ending.

The movie is the tale of a normal person being swept up into a world of magic and having to maneuver this new world where there are stakes and plenty of creative visuals along the way. It will entertain your children with it’s easy to understand plot, likable character and vivid color pallet. Adults will also be sucked in.

 

Review Isle of Dogs by Jonathan Evans

(4 / 5)

What connects Wes Anderson’s work? His style is instantly recognisable as having characters center framed and facing the camera, staging most of the shots like a play and quirky characters that talk fast. But what does he have to say as an artist? They are all so him while being so different. Isle of Dogs is unlike anything else but at the same time could only have been made by Wes Anderson.

A tale about a time in Japan where a virus has spread among dogs so all the dogs in Japan have been dumped onto a remote trash island and left there. While there, a pack has formed between Chief (Bryan Cranston), Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray) and Duke (Jeff Goldblum). This pack is a democracy, no single dog is the leader so every decision must be voted on. This leads to it being used three times and the third time is the true punchline. One day a little plane fly’s over and crashes on the island. From it, a little pilot emerges. It is a boy named Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin), he is looking for his lost dog Spots, so begins this quest to find this little boy’s lost dog, that he loves so much and face obstacles and meet other characters along the way.

I don’t know how Wes Anderson continually gathers the most impressive cast anyone can possibly have in a movie. There are his usual collaborators here like Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum, and Bill Murray and there are high profile actors that have never worked with before like Bryan Cranston, Greta Gerwig and Yoko Ono. Some of it is surely helped by the fact that he is a high-profile director and working with him would be a rewarding endeavor. Maybe because when he asks these actors to play these characters they would never get asked to play anything like them again so they jump at the chance?

This is one of Cranston’s best roles and performances. We have seen that he is capable of being funny, dramatic and very threatening. Chief gives him the ability to be all. He is a stern leader, a tough fighter that nobody should mess with, the comedic straight-man and tenderly emotional. Through the microphone, Cranston delivers these adjustments in the character in the most controlled way.

This is Andersons second stop-motion movie, the first one being Fantastic Mr. Fox. He enjoyed the process so much that for a while this movie was simply known as “Untitled Stop-Motion movie.” There is something about the texture and mentality of the exact medium of stop-motion that Anderson is suited for. Perhaps it is the mix of cutting down on frames so you can see the skips in the movement? Perhaps it’s how precisely envisions things that animation allows him to execute said vision to a tee? Maybe the handmade quality which makes it more organic? Whatever it is exactly this is an artist working in a medium they revel in.

Usually, with a movie about humans and animals going on a journey the humans are the ones we can understand and its the animals we interpret through behavior. Here, in a delightfully refreshing switch up it is the other way round. I do question how this will translate for the Japanese audience, part of the point is that they cant understand the language but understand them through tone and gestures. In other scenes with just humans, other things like tone and visuals help us understand the information. Will they just bite the bullet and have both dogs and humans speaking the same language? Or will they translate the humans into English or another language? Either way, it will seem odd.

Being that the movie is set in Japan this movie marks a big aesthetic shift for Anderson. His movies have been heavily western focused but now with the large location change he has immersed himself in the culture and narrowed in on the most beautiful aspects that he can also utilise into his own work. The human faces are sculpted to look Asian (and are not offensive), he embraces having kanji over most things and utilized more classic Japanese imagery like Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa. Also, pay attention for a Seven Samurai reference.

Anderson isn’t so much interested in plotting his movies as is traditional (actually nothing about Anderson is traditional). He really delves into settings and scenarios in which he is allowed to highlight character moments and indulges in visuals. The plot doesn’t really play out, more unfold.

So what is the connection with all of this and the others of Anderson’s work? Well, I’m pretty sure he’s pro dog, he really loves people and giving his character’s quirks. They all go on journey’s of some kind of self-discovery but that’s just one of the hallmarks of storytelling. I guess he’s just a man that loves to make things and has a certain style of going about it but allows variation.

 


Review Early Man by Jonathan Evans

 

(3 / 5)

 

Aardman don’t make animated movies like others. They are not Pixar, Disney, Dreamworks or Laika. They specialise in stop-motion and are known for their simple characters and plots but packing them with charm and creativity.

They take the familiar and layer it with the fantastical that animation can bring to things. In Early Man it is essentially a turf war story over a game of football, but told in the age of cavemen. Our story opens in Manchester when dinosaurs were still walking around and cavemen were also present. A meteor hits the earth and wipes out the dinosaurs and the cavemen merely get pushed back by the blast (I feel there are some scientific inaccuracies here!). The meteor is rather perfectly round shaped and the cavemen develop the game of football and make their home in the crater it causes. All this information is achieved without dialogue.

A few years later and the descendants of the original tribe that lived there are happily living their lives by hunting rabbits. The young Dug however believes that they are capable of more, like hunting mammoths. But one day big mammoths come marching in with plating on them, people get out and one of them is Lord Nooth that proclaims “The age of stone is over. So begins the age of bronze.” Dug’s tribe is powerless to fight them off but through story conveniences he learns about football and challenges the bronze people to a game.

Aardman have always been able to come up with creative visuals within their story. For example how does Cavemen alarm system work without electricity? Or where do sneakers come from? What exercise equipment can you get from this early age? There are answers to these and more and they’re all funny.

Behind the puppets are some stars but they way they are cast and perform you would never guess. The performances themselves area good no matter who’s behind them. Some characters are able to have a mix a sharp wit and being a dullard the next moment. Other characters are more basic and have a few lines to read and they don’t really go through an arc, but they read their lines well. But back to the matter at hand, I would have never guessed that Eddie Redmayne played Dug or Tom Hiddleston Nooth or it was Maisie Williams playing Goona. I guess it’s a testament to their talent and versatility.

The story is simple to grasp, the characters are not complex and everything has a lot of effort put into it but refined craftsmen. Young children will almost definitely be entertained by the falling down, expressive faces and easy narrative. Adults will find enough wit and winks to keep them happy in their seats during the run time.

Jonathan Evans

Review My Little Pony The Movie by Jonathan Evans

 

(3 / 5)

 

Probably to the shock and awe of everyone when we got another iteration of the My Little Pony franchise it’s standard of quality was higher than we expected but it also gathered a large audience from not just little girls but boys and not little boys elderly men. They are known as Bronies, so the show had an extra audience that they probably didn’t count on. I know about this because I am one.

Our main group of characters are (bare with me, these names are real I swear) Twilight Sparkle (Tara Strong) the book smart but also neurotic and worrisome, Applejack (Ashleigh Ball) the hardworking, salt of the earth type, Rainbow Dash (Also voiced by Ball) the hot-headed enthusiastic one, Pinkie-Pie (Andrea Libman) the colorful, bouncing, party obsessed funny one, Fluttershy (Also voiced by Libman) the shy, delicate one who will be the last one to start or join a fight, Rarity (Tabitha St. Garmain) the fashion obsessed fussy one and finally is Spike (Cathy Weseluck) the little dragon who is always there for support. These are the typical archetypes that we’ve come to know for a group dynamic but they work here because they’re still distinctive from the other archetypes, few are as mad and fast talking as Pinkie Pie, or quite as intricately paranoid as Twilight. Reusing a formula is OK as long as you make it distinctive, which they do here, so there’s still something to connect and remember.

For the plot our group is gathered together for a special celebration, all is happy and going fine but a dark cloud approaches and from it emerge invaders that take the castle. Our heroes escape and now need to travel the lands and find allies.

The animation is an upgrade from the show, having much wider and detailed range of expressions from the characters as well as wider shots along with more sweeping movements from the camera. None of this is able to compete with Disney, Dreamworks or Ghibli but who says it has to? The show has its own style and it gets more effort put into it here.

This is is up there with one of the most vividly colourful movies I’ve ever seen (equal with Trolls). There is every single bright colour used here, from primary’s to others like turquoises, fuchsia and creams. But it never becomes saturated because each character has their main colour and the backgrounds are distinct so even if you squint you will know who is who. This is a good use of the tool.

This is a musical adventure. Though I must say that the songs are the weakest part of the movie. I can’t recall one of them from memory. They play at moments of plot-points or to expediently have a character tell you a lot about them. They may have other young fans singing them and buying the soundtrack but these aren’t the high-points of the movie.

For the big screen they gathered celebrity casting as you’d expect. The names are impressive with names like Zoe Saldana, Liev Shreiber and Michael Pena as-well as others. But they all fill their roles very well and are not distracting. These are actors that know how to be behind the microphone and create a character using only their vocals. Probably the biggest is super star Sia, essentially playing herself as a big musical star.

The main antagonist Tempest is easily the best part of the movie. Her darker colours contrast the others as-well as the world. The animators clearly put in effort with her facial expressions, most prominently her eyebrows. Emily Blunt puts on an American accent flawlessly and enjoys sinking her teeth into this no-nonsense, very fearsome threat.

For young children this movie will definitely entertain as well as comes with basic but fundamental lessons. For the older fans (which do exist) they will be glad to see their characters on the big screen in a bigger scenario. But the true appeal of the movie is probably what got young girls and older males to become fans, it has a distinct and undeniable charm.

Hanazuki Review

The opening short for this movie is a journey of colour, imagination and friendship. it is actually doing all the movie seeks to do and does it better.

It is instantly accessible, charming beyond belief and tells a full story. I would be glad to see this again as well as have it shown to children.

(5 / 5)

Review The LEGO Ninjago Movie by Jonathan Evans

 

(3 / 5)

I am shocked that an obvious big budget toy commercial are able to create such fun and well made (pun intended) movies. The LEGO Movie was number one on the year it was released and earlier this year I had a blast watching The LEGO Batman Movie. Now we have another and surprise I’m excited for it.

After an introductory opening sequence in live action we are transported to a LEGO constructed world and the city of Ninjago, where on a regular basis (daily) evil forces merge from a nearby volcano and attempt to conquer it, lead by the all black, four armed Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux). Luckily for the cities inhabitants there is a group of ninjas with giant mech’s to fight and win against them.

In the forefront is the Green Ninja, Lloyd (Dave Franco), Red Ninja (Michael Pena), Blue Ninja (Kumail Nanjiani), Silver Ninja (Abbi Jackson), Black Ninja (Fred Armisen) and the White Ninja (Zack Woods) who’s probably a robot for some reason. They all have their special power and design of giant robot as well as distinguishing personality but as the movie goes on they get lost amongst other things. The ninjas are revered by the towns people but it turns out that in his civilian life Llyod is Garmadon’s son (da-da-dah!). This leads to regular hate, blame and judgement from nearly all the other civilians.

Another character is Master Wu played by legendary martial arts star Jackie Chan. This is doubtless the role where Chan is having the most fun, how can he not when he is given a script with so many funny lines. He is the martial arts master that teaches the ninjas how to better themselves. But he comes out with either too blunt or too cryptic ways of going bout it. He is also amazing at laying the flute.

All the other movies have had the initial presentation of a crazy colourful world with comedy at a fast passe. However through the watching it is revealed that there is an emotional center to it that ties the movie together. Here it is the father son relationship between Lloyd and Garmadon. About how a father and son can become astray and the outward devastation that can cause. It’s just presented with larger than life scenarios and jokes tying it together and there’s nothing wrong with that.

The comedy is very tongue-in-cheek and that is the overall style that these movies have adopted. Having their source material and playing within it but never be beyond poking fun of the world or archetypes they have.

The animation still embraces the limitations of the real plastic of the LEGO pieces however they allow themselves some more lapses than the other movies animation. They unhinge the arms from their sockets, squash some other pieces and have water instead of a vast amount of moving blue pieces. It’s a valid artistic choice to make but the previous movies commitment to the real limitations was so impressive that this somehow feel like a letdown.

Something I feel is a drawback for the movie is that it doesn’t have much access to as many resources as the previous LEGO movies did. The first had the entirety of the franchises that LEGO has worked with and Batman had not just the Dark Knight but a a bunch of other DC lore to bring in.

Even if this isn’t as good as the other two movies to come out this ones still fun with a lot of talent and enthusiasm put into it. There is so much creativity put into the setting it upĀ  and has an emotional core that ties it all together.

Jonathan Evans