Tag Archives: animation

Gore Verbinski’s Rango

Gore Verbinski’s Rango is a wonder among animated films. Naturally the colourful, larger than life medium lends itself to the eyes, ears and hearts of children, which is the direction most of them take. But Rango presents a mature, raunchy, surreal, absurd spectacle rife with a mischievous buzz and peppered with laughs just bordering on the inappropriate, even though they’d go right over their heads anyway. This film broke the record for how many times my jaw hit the floor seeing what they could do with the visuals. It’s detailed, meticulous, gorgeously rendered and beautifully crafted, not to mention speckled with subtle references to other films, literary works and themes that Verbinski no doubt holds dear and uses to amplify the story nicely. Johnny Depp gives wit, endearing naivety and a sense of childlike wonder to his creation of Rango, a little lizard in the big desert, violently thrown from a car wreck into the greatest adventure of his life, and the archetypal heroes journey. He wanders through the baking Mojave desert into the town of Dirt, inhabited by sassy, loveable creatures modelled after all our favourite western characters and carefully constructed from the biological blueprint of wildlife in that area. He blunders his way into becoming the sheriff, and leads the whole town on a quest to locate their most sought after resource: Aqua. Verbinski directs with a snappy, take no prisoners sense of humour, throwing joke after joke after one liner after tongue in cheek nod at us, until we feel so bombarded with fantastic imagery, brilliant voice acting and just plain fun, that we more than feel like we’re getting our money’s worth. Each animal is beautifully designed, from the evil Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy having a ball with a mini gun tail and evil amber eyes), to Beans (a fellow lizard and love interest for our scaly hero), to the sleazy mayor (Ned Beatty, that old turtle), to a rampaging band of bank robbing moles led by a blind Harry Dean Stanton. The cast includes everyone from Timothy Olyphant to Stephen Root, Ray Winstone, Abigail Breslin, Isla Fisher, Lew Temple, Ian Abercrombie, Gil Birmingham and Verbinski himself in multiple roles. There’s just so much going on here visually, from a dusty cameo by The Good, The Bad & The Ugly’s Man With No Name to eerie trees that wander the desert searching for water, a cameo from Hunter S. Thompson’s Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo themselves and don’t even get me started on the batshit crazy aerial chase scene set to a mariachi version of Ride Of The Valkyries. The film is so full of detail, beauty and ambitious artistry that it has taken me at least three viewings to feel like I’ve noticed every character, one liner and cheekily brilliant little touch. It’s that good. Among the whacky antics there’s a theme of owning up to ones identity, becoming responsible for people you save, and finishing the work or task you set out to do, lest you leave your legacy unwritten. A classic.

-Nate Hill

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Space Operatic: An Interview with Stephen van Vuuren by Kent Hill

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I applaud anyone who makes their way on this crusade, some might say foolish crusade, to make a film. It can be a long, arduous, laborious. And thinking on that word laborious, now consider making a film that has to be stitched together using over 7 million photographs with animation techniques pioneered by Walt Disney on Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. No CGI. And I know that sounds sacrilegious in this day and age where a film without CGI is like a day without sunshine.

However, the film that Stephen van Vuuren has, albeit laboriously, constructed In Saturn’s Rings, is a unique master-work that is as beautiful and immersive on the small screen I watched it on as I can imagine it being played in its large format form.

Sparked by Cassini‘s arrival at Saturn in 2004 and the media’s lack of coverage, van Vuuren produced two films. Photos from space missions — including images of Saturn taken by Cassini — were included. But van Vuuren was not satisfied with the results so he did not release them.

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While listening to the Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber one day in 2006, van Vuuren conceived the idea of creating moving images of Saturn based on a pan-and-scan 2.5-D effect. The technique involves creating a 3-D perspective using still photographs.

After discussion with audiences at IMAX conferences, van Vuuren decided the film title Outside In (the title of the short version) was not a good match for the film’s sensibility. The Giant Film Cinema Association had been publicising the film and surveys it conducted supported this. It was during a discussion in 2012 about the film’s climax where he was describing Earth “in Saturn’s rings” that van Vuuren realized he had found his new title.

Although narration had originally been removed in 2009, by 2014 van Vuuren realized that a sparse narration was necessary for the film. This amounted to 5 pages and about 1200 words in total. After listening to many voice actors one stood out and he asked LeVar Burton (Star Trek: The Next Generation) to be the narrator for the film.

The culmination of these elements, plus a lot of hard work, has resulted in something that is essentially more than a film. Like Kubrick’s 2001 which inspired him, van Vuuren has crafted an experience of what it may by like to drift through the far reaches of space to the planet that has always been the physical embodiment of his childhood fantasies. And I for one am grateful he stuck to his guns and made a movie that, even though it’s not a tale from a galaxy far, far away, it is the universe at its most wondrous…

Disney’s Big Hero 6


Disney/Pixar’s Big Hero 6 is the perfect example of what we should expect from animated films: dazzling, imaginative, passionate fables set across times and dimensions with no shortage of expanse or varied themes and visual splendour. It does seem that with each new outing (they’ve recently outdone themselves with Inside Out) they reach further for the stars and pull something out of the hat with qualities that somehow get better and better each time around. 6 is a miracle of innovation and future-house scientific pyrotechnics, a story that calls on everyone who ever wanted to try their hand at robotics, engineering or dazzling computer tech to take a look at the images on display here. In the futuristic metropolis of SanfranSokyo, the search for scientific progress and new discoveries reigns supreme, free from other pesky constraints like the R word (the way it should be in every society, tbh), and everybody is a pseudo Asian American brainiac devoted to brilliant new ideas and ingenuity, basically one giant year round science fair that doesn’t quit. Young Hiro (Ryan Potter) worships the endeavours of his prodigy of an older brother, who whips new inventions out of his sleeve every day, until one of them garners the attention of a shadowy arch villain, hijacking it for himself, resulting in his bro’s death. Left behind for comfort and companionship is giant Michelin Man robot Baymax, an adorable fatso who uses his Inspector Gadget level itinerary of utilities and rotund charm to befriend Hiro, while coaching him through the dangerous waters of seeking revenge. He’s joined along the way by many friends with voices from TJ Miller, Jamie Chung, James Cromwell and more, blasting off into one of the most visually stimulating Sci Fi adventures the world of animation has ever seen. Every kind of tool, gizmo and tech marvel is on display somewhere, and not just plonked in there as Dr. Seuss-ical sideshow diversions either, everything has a logical and specific purpose to fit it’s garish appearance and style. Baymax is the highlight, a big baby with a heart as big as his waistline who knows just when to lay down the comic relief when things get heavy. They do get heavy too, this is a mature film that treats subjects like loss, anger and moral corruption seriously, it’s a fantastical world inhabited by humans that couldn’t be more real or fleshed out, a recipe that Pixar has been perfecting for sometime now, since the first human leading characters showed up in The Incredibles. The Sci Fi is laid on thick enough for any geek to run with, and we’re reminded of everything from Stranger Things to Astro Boy and more with this package. If Pixar plans to keep climbing uphill in terms of quality, this is one hell of a brilliant plateau, and I can’t wait to see where they ascend too from it on rocket powered boots of inspiration and magic. 

-Nate Hill

SING by Ben Cahlamer

Voice.  No, it is not the sounds uttered from your vocal cavity; it’s the inner courage to stand up for yourself; to be better than the “you” you were before a journey started.  Finding your voice is ultimately the catalyst for change and is one of the many key lessons in Garth Jennings’ vivid animated hit, “Sing”.  Christophe Lourdelet co-directs.

As a kid, Buster (Matthew McConaughey) was introduced to the theater, and fell instantly in love.  Following his heart into adulthood, he owns the Moon Theater, but can’t put a show on to save his life.  With the help of his friend Eddie (John C. Reilly), a doubtful Suffolk sheep and his trusty green iguana assistant, Karen (Garth Jennings), Buster sets up a singing competition, drawing every animal with a dream to Sing, including an overworked, but inventive piglet, Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), a streetwise mouse, Mike (Seth McFarlane), Ash (Scarlett Johansson), a young punk porcupine with big aspirations, Johnny (Taron Egerton), a mountain gorilla with a voice trying to find a path away from crime and Meena (Tori Kelly), a teenage Indian elephant with a desire to sing.  Gunter (Nick Kroll) is Rosita’s effervescent dance partner; Norman (Nick Offerman) is Rosita’s workaholic husband.  Jennifer Hudson, Rhea Pearlman, Leslie Jones and Larraine Newman round out the supporting voice cast.

Jennings’ script tries to establish each of the supporting character’s emotional states by interweaving their backstories with Buster’s struggles.  Some of the character’s stories work, certainly Johnny’s and especially Meena’s.  Unfortunately, these side stories overwhelmed the emotional impact of Buster’s story.  The songs chosen for each supporting character allows them their moment to shine during the third act, supporting their underlying emotion.

Similar story challenges arose in the inferior “The Secret Life of Pets” and “Minions”.  Hopefully, this is not a continuing trend for Illumination, which has a stellar track record in the 3D animation department; a strength in “Sing”.

Illumination Mac Guff delivered the 3D animation in spades, showing a range of motion and emotion.  Complex dance sequences with facial expressions, right down to the quivering lips carrying a note, thanks to the masters of animation, the entire experience is vibrant.  The movie was converted for 3D theaters in post-production.  The 2D image was stunning; one can only imagine what it looked like in 3D.

“Sing” is all about the audio.  And not just the music, but the ambient sounds, the voices; all of it conveys a sense of exuberance.  Then there’s the music!  Joby Talbot’s original score is breathtaking in its own right.  From Christopher Cross’s “Ride Like The Wind” to Van Halen’s “Jump”, Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors”, Queen’s “Under Pressure” to an heartfelt rendition of “Hallelujah”, every song throughout the movie hit all the right notes in terms of finding your inner self

Despite a challenged script, “Song” ends on a high note and is Recommended.

Disney’s Frozen: A Review by Nate Hill 

I avoided watching Disney’s Frozen for a long time, no lie. I hate overblown hype despise maniacal product placement, and unfortunately kid’s movies suffer through the worsr of it (remember Tangled? Ugh). I did finally get around to seeing it though, and it’s an utter delight. A little thin in the plot department, mind you, but that’s where the Disney wizards compensate with stunning visuals, effervescent voice acting and of course that legendary, now iconic song, belted out by Idina Menzel’s  Elsa high atop a snowy peak. I heard that song played into oblivion before I ever saw the film, and didn’t ever think I’d be able to enjoy it again without getting the ol’ eyelid twitch, but seeing the real thing in the context of the film, with a little help from my home theater system, well…. let it go indeed. Menzel and Kristen Bell are touching as the two sisters, Anna the doe eyed princess with the world at her feet, Elsa the fierce and independent rebel who doesn’t fit in. Her magical abilities with snow and ice allow for some unbelievable computer effects, and the ice palace she creates is a gem of a set piece, intricately woven and detailed to the max. Their castle down below is designed with traditional Germanic decoration in mind, a nod to the inspiration they have no doubt received from Hans Christian Anderson’s original storybook, The Snow Queen. Like I said before, what’s there in plot is spread pretty thin, but it’s no matter, because this one is fuelled by visuals. Sweeping mountains packed it powdery snow drifts, ornate castles, beautifully designed costumes, sleds, dresses and animals, including Sven the rambunctious reindeer. It’s a jewel of ocular achievement. Oh and I might add, that Swedish sounding dude who runs the little shop way up the mountain is probably the funniest character Disney has created in years. 

Titan AE: A Review by Nate Hill 

Titan AE is one of the best 2D animation ventures out there that isn’t Disney. Science Fiction and animation just seem to inherently go hand in hand (affirming my belief that Treasure Planet is the best one that Disney ever churned out, but that’s another story), perhaps because of the dazzling possibilities in a form of creation like that, tools which make the visual patterns of the artist’s dreams and beautiful renditions of the cosmos a reality. This one nails the visual aspect, but it was story that hooked me ultimately. Along with the artwork there is a boundless creative surge, a very human plotline that’s relatable to anyone who’s ever felt lost or like they don’t fit in. In the year 3028 A.D., a marauding race of aliens called the Drej decide that us humans are a threat, and obliterate earth, leaving few survivors. Dark way to kick off an animated movie, amirite? That’s another great thing about it, it’s not exactly for kids and reaches for themes that are a little more than your standard animated flick, getting fairly intense in the process. One of the few human survivors is young Cale (later played by Matt Damon), whose scientist father (Ron Perlman) was working on an idea that could have greatly advanced our civilization. In the years following the destruction, Cale has been left to wander the galaxy with the sparse, impoverished remains of the human race, now looked down upon by other alien tribes for essentially being homeless. When human Captain Joseph Korso (Bill Pullman) comes to him telling of a mysterious device created by his father long ago, Cale is reluctant, resenting his him for disappearing on the Titan ship so many years before. Soon it becomes clear that Perlman’s device is the key to creating a new earth, and reuniting humanity. Thus begins an epic race across the universe to find it before the Drej do. Drew Barrymore lends her sassy voice talents to Akima, Korso’s tough lieutenant, and there’s also work from John Leguizamo, Nathan Lane, Janeane Garofalo, Charles Rocket, Alex D. Linz and rapper Tone Loc who has a perfect voice for this kind of thing, playing a kindly alien mentor named Tek. This one is timeless, feeling fresh and vital with each passing decade it’s allowed to age through. A celebration of imagination and the creative force of will that lies inside each and every one of us humans, no matter how dire our situation. Classic stuff. 

Battle For Terra: A Review by Nate Hill

  
Battle For Terra is right up there with Titan AE as one of the most underrated animated films out there. It was shunted to the area off the beaten path of the genre, released quietly and inconspicuously back in 2009, sneaking just past people’s radar. Not mine. I waited eagerly for a theatrical release, which never came, and grabbed the dvd as soon as it hit shelves. It’s a dazzling science fiction parable not unlike Avatar, but a little softer, reverent and easy on the pyrotechnics. The story takes place some years after the remainder of the human race has been left to wander the stars in a giant spaceship called The Ark, left homeless after devastating the resources of earth, and three subsequent planets after. Soon they set their sights on a newfound world they dub Terra. Terra is populated by a peaceful alien race who spend most of their time in harmony, studying their heritage and bettering their existence. They now face annihilation, however, as the humans wish to settle, mine resources and deeply unbalance their way of life. One young Terran girl named Nala (Evan Rachel Wood) is a plucky young inventress and wonderer who finds one of the human astronauts (Luke Wilson) crash landed and stranded in her neck of the woods. They form a bond which may turn out to be the only way to find peace between humanity and the population of Terra. The story is wonderful, universal and carried out in a childlike manner full of earnestness that anyone can relate too. The Terrans resemble something like upright tadpoles crossed with sock puppets, and are fascinating to look upon. More interesting still is the natural world they inhabit; they sort of swim/glide through their thick atmosphere, and coexist with the many strange creatures and bioluminescence around them, including gigantic blue whale type things that fly around with them. I’m describing this to try and impart to you the level of thought and detail which went into creating this world, so you can see how high the filmmakers have jacked up the stakes in attempt to let you see the length humans will blindly go to further their survival, without voluntary compromise. The world the Terrans live on is a lush paradise in perfect balance, and the humans aboard The Ark, no matter how desperate, threaten it. They are led by stern General Hammer (Brian Cox), who is an antagonist, but not a villain in the least, a determind leader who will go to extremes to protect his people if his lack of empathy is allowed to go unchecked. The supporting cast is stacked high with incredible talent, and one can practice ones skill for identifying voices by listening for Danny Glover, Ron Perlman, Danny Trejo, Justin Long, Rosanna Arquette, David Cross, Beverly D’Angelo, Chris Evans, James Garner, Mark Hamill, Amanda Peet and Dennis Quaid. What a lineup. Imagination, storytelling ambition and visual genius govern this overlooked piece, and anyone who is a fan of animation (which is brilliant here, I might add) or science fiction needs to take a look.