Tag Archive for animation

Film Review: The Lorax (2012)

There is something charming about the original television adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax. It has a clear anti-industrial/pro-environmental message, but it doesn’t feel needy. It lets the sad story of ambition gone wrong get the point across in charming pastel style.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the big screen musical adaptation of The Lorax. The boilerplate is the same, but the effect couldn’t be any different. A young boy ventures out to the home of the Once-ler to find out what happened to the natural trees that used to fill Thneedville. The Once-ler tells him all about his encounter with The Lorax, a mythical creature who speaks for the trees. Cue the destruction of the forest out of greed.

theloraxfake 300x258 Film Review: The Lorax (2012)

This is the closest anyone gets to real trees in Thneedville.

It’s hard to place the blame on who, exactly, lost the soul of Dr. Seuss in adapting a tiny children’s book into an almost 90 minute film. Is it Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul’s screenplay that removed it? They’re the ones who put the focus on the boy, now Ted, who only wants to save a tree to win the affection of an older girl, Audrey. All trees have been replaced by plastic imitations in a consumer-driven society built on the foundation of convenience and bottled air. This new framing device for The Lorax works well enough to fill out the story, even if it casts a far broader net of commentary than is necessary.

The original music in the film is more problematic. It’s hard to write a good musical. You need to justify the existence of the songs in some way. This could be heightened emotional states, unexpected conflicts, or a story that by its very nature requires music (think Phantom of the Opera or The Music Man, where the existence of music is the foundation of the plot). The Lorax fails to do any of that.

It feels like the songs were added in not to pad the story but to sell more merchandise. This decision wouldn’t be nearly as off-putting if you could remember any of the songs after leaving the theater. They are bland and repetitive. The only one that sticks in my head is a humming/nonsense song that doesn’t actually end. Animated films do not require big musical numbers to feel complete anymore. Just cramming songs into any animated film makes the final product feel dated and out of touch.

theloraxreal 300x287 Film Review: The Lorax (2012)

The rise of the Once-ler could have been a great film.

The sad part is the quality of the actual animation is good. The characters are very expressive and move in a way that makes sense for a Dr. Seuss-inspired film. Everything looks right in the film, especially the color palette. The truffula tree forest is beautiful and all the little critters–especially the Lorax–feel right. Even the voice acting is charming. The sometimes-clunky dialogue sounds right and natural in context because of the casting.

It’s a shame that a story like The Lorax was handled like this. Conceptually, the adaptation was flawed from the start. The original book does a great job of introducing young children to the conflict between free enterprise and conservation. This film adaptation throws itself in so many different directions that one of Dr. Seuss’ more even-handed social commentaries feels pedantic and charmless. The film treats itself like a piece of popcorn fluff and the weightiest movie ever written at the same time. There is fun to be had at The Lorax, but it is fleeting.

Rating: 4/10

Thoughts? Love to hear them.

Lost in Translation: How Good Anime Goes Bad

At the MangaNEXT convention, part of the team behind Underbelly ran a panel about bad anime. Specifically, the panel became a discussion between everyone in the room about what, exactly, makes a potentially good anime series go bad in translation.

The discussion routinely brought out three core issues found in bad anime. All involve translating material. While a poor dub and questionable localization can make a series go wrong in the international market, a poor translation from page (manga) to screen can be just as damaging.

The American parallel is simple. Think of comic book movies. How often do we really get solid adaptations of a story telling medium meant to be digested in 20 to 24 page installments? Even if you’re being generous, it’s hard to argue that there’s anywhere near a 50 percent success rate. For every Captain America: The First Avenger and The Dark Knight, there’s a Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance or Green Lantern. We’d be lucky at this point if it balanced out to one good comic book film for every bad comic book film.

Now imagine that issue happening in a print medium where new stories are coming out every week. The creators of manga are on a very tight production schedule to get their stories to market on time. This alone can cause inconsistencies or problems with the story as a larger work.

Take those individual stories and adapt them, week for week, into a TV series. Chances are, you can’t animate exactly what happens on the page. Maybe there isn’t enough material in any one issue to fill 22 minutes of TV time. Maybe the action is too extreme or happens in the background so you can’t focus on those subjects without major changes.

pokemonadventures Lost in Translation: How Good Anime Goes Bad

There are over 400 chapters (stories) in the Pokemon manga and over 700 episodes of the anime.

In the case of a lot of anime, there comes a point where the TV series has to continue when the manga is on break. The most popular manga can afford to go on hiatus for a few months as the creator works out where the story is going. The most popular anime, however, don’t get the same luxury. New stories are invented to fill the gaps left where the manga artist stops working.

These filler arcs can be the most problematic part of anime. The creators of the TV show either have to make stuff up or revisit old topics to keep the series going. This can mean new characters introduced who have no bearing on the plot or episodes that basically retell the same story with slightly different circumstances. Did two characters fight on a mountain? Great. They can have the same fight by the beach or in the woods with slightly different dialogue and actions.

The issue of adaptation is not a novel one for anime. Where the concept of bad anime really gets its common talking points is in the international dubs. US production companies buy the rights to air popular anime programs on TV. At that point, you quickly know if a story will sink or swim in America.

The problem with translating for America is that animation is still mainly viewed as a medium for children. Cartoons are for kids. If an anime has excessive violence, bad language, or adult content, it’s routinely altered to appeal to a much younger demographic.

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You won't see this in a 4Kids dub.

The panel at MangaNEXT routinely got drawn back into a discussion of One Piece. This pirate adventure manga and anime series is arguably the most popular property in Japan right now. One Piece characters are used to sell all kinds of products and the series’ presence in the pop culture consciousness is unavoidable in all but the smallest towns. It is a very violent and dark series.

4Kids, the company that previously brought Pokemon and Yu-gi-oh! to America, thought they struck gold with One Piece. They dubbed the series and were eager to premiere it in the US. They also heavily altered the animation, rewrote characters, eliminated important plot points, and acted like the violent war between pirates for domination was a play date at the park.

4Kids was not content to just tone down the violence. Many companies have done that for the US market. They mop out the blood and change death or the afterlife to an alternate dimension.* With the changes 4Kids made, they might as well have animated a brand new show.

Guns were either replaced with less violent weapons or painted to resemble water guns. Any smoking–cigarette or cigar–was wiped away, often leaving a mysterious cloud surrounding the characters. Costumes were redrawn to be less revealing. Blood is non-existent. Alcohol is changed to resemble water or fruit juice. Non-central characters doing violent things are erased completely from the frame. Death becomes jail and any plot involving revenge–a big part of the series–suffers for no longer having a real motivation.

4Kids is one of the rare examples where the meddling became so bad that a company lost the rights to distribute a show internationally. Funimation was left to pick up the pieces and redub One Piece for an American audience. The differences in approach could not be anymore drastic. The new dubs of One Piece actually make sense and restore the original stakes of the series.

Aside from translating and altering content to meet US standards–real or imagined, anime programs are at the mercy of localization issues. For some odd reason, the standard method for translating anime to the US is to change everything to America. Rice balls become donuts. Common gestures are given parallels to American culture and characters say things that go completely against what’s happening onscreen just to sound more local.

The problem is that manga and anime, as media, are deeply rooted in Japanese culture. You take Japan out of the equation and the stories already start to suffer. No, we know that the carefully prepared sushi in the restaurant is not a table full of cheeseburgers. The characters are clearly wearing kimonos, not pajamas, and school uniforms are not the latest style trend that an entire school is wearing by chance. The more the series are shifted away from the daily life and culture of Japan, the more they start to strain their credibility.

Then there is the most tangible aspect of bad anime: the dubbing. Just be thankful at this point that foreign films are available with subtitles if they’re live action. Animation is almost a lost cause if you want to hear the original voices on TV or in theaters.

Dubbing is a tricky prospect because animation on mouth movements are done to match the voice actors. That means, for an effective dub, the words in English have to match the lip movements of the animation cued up to Japanese dialogue.

Underbelly took a good look at this topic last year. The video is NSFW, but it goes into how difficult it is to fill time. These problems can be caused by idioms that don’t translate into English, short phrases that don’t translate nearly as briefly in English, and long phrases that can be handled with only a few words in a dub. And don’t forget how often voice overs are added to explain the animated action onscreen. As in, narration just to add voices to the mix.

Adapting any material from one medium to another is going to pose challenges. Anime just suffers from a lot of meddling by the time it reaches an international audience. Strange things are bound to slip through. It goes from a comic to a TV show, then gets altered and rewritten to appeal to international audiences, followed by dubbing to make the anime sound as domestic as possible wherever you are in the world. The product that reaches America is about as far removed from the original idea as it can be.

When handled properly, a dubbed anime can be an enjoyable thing to watch. That’s rarely the case, especially when the series is targeted toward a younger audience. I know not everyone likes subtitles in anime. I prefer them just so I can hear the original unaltered audio. I may not be able to understand Japanese, but I can understand tone and inflection in a performance.

*That doesn’t make those changes right, but it’s standard practice at this point.

Thoughts? Any other examples? Love to hear them.

The 500th Episode of The Simpsons

For better or worse, The Simpsons will be on the air through 2014 with new episodes. The show will most likely conclude after its twenty-fifth season. The creative team and network have been very good at celebrating the milestone achievements of the show. These included a big marketing blitz for the 300th episode, the year long celebration of The Simpsons called “Best. 20 Years. Ever,” and a special documentary on fandom from director Morgan Spurlock that aired, to the date, twenty years after the first episode of The Simpsons.

thesimpsons500thepisode The 500th Episode of The Simpsons

So nice, The Simpsons celebrated 500 Episodes twice.

Now The Simpsons have been celebrated for another achievement: 500 episodes on the air. Yesterday, the 500th episode aired and it was a fitting tribute to the spirit of The Simpsons. First, the opening sequence paid tribute to 499 episodes of couch gags. Highlights from each season blurred into each other. The gags flew by faster and faster until the most recent Simpsons couch gag was centered. The family waited for the gag to come in, only to be shrunk down bit by bit as the various featured gags flooded the screen all at once. They turned into a photo mosaic that simply reads “500.”

There were other clever little gags inserted into the episode that reflected the length of the show. Instead of Bart doing the chalkboard gag, Millhouse was shown writing “Bart’s earned a day off.” The animators subtitled the title card with “The Most Meaningless Milestone of All!” Bart and Homer are dressed in tuxedos to address the audience directly, only Homer’s too caught up in choking Bart to deliver his lines.

These were minor efforts compared to the episode itself as a tribute to The Simpsons. A big reason the show has lasted as long as it has is the rich community of Springfield. What better way to pay tribute to 500 episodes of the show than to eliminate that variable all together?

thesimpsons500thhomertarredandfeathered The 500th Episode of The Simpsons

How many Internet critics wished they could join the celebration in this moment?

The plot of the episode was simple. The town stages a fake emergency preparedness drill to keep the Simpsons trapped in their storm cellar long enough for a secret meeting to go off. Everyone else in the town has shown up to vote on a referendum banning the Simpsons from Springfield forever. Their shenanigans are costing Springfield absurd amounts of money and everyone is fed up. By the eight minute mark, The Simpsons are being dragged out of town in a huge celebration.

Yet, as the town is able to finally have some peace, the Simpsons themselves are restless in their new off the grid community. Homer and Marge sneak back into Springfield for a visit. They avoid detection through walks, drinking, and even a snuggling session before the town arrives in mob form. The hatred they hold for the family is so great that even Marge turns her back on her friends and neighbors.

In typical The Simpsons fashion, everything has to right itself by the end of the episode. The citizens of Springfield take Marge and Homer’s words about their non-judgmental paradise to heart. One by one, they arrive in the off the grid community and begin to build a new Springfield. The Simpsons eventually accept the construction as a peace offering and the episode ends in the new city of Springfield. If everything goes according to plan, this second attempt to completely relocate Springfield will be unnoticeable in next week’s episode.

The show’s creators know that The Simpsons has survived this long by building this big dysfunctional community. Now the characters themselves realize the same. As much as their antics can upset the order of the town, the Simpsons are an integral part of Springfield. They can easily survive on their own, but the town would not be as lucky.

simpsons500episodes The 500th Episode of The Simpsons

And by deconstruct, I mean the writers admit this is the point of the episode.

If I can deconstruct further for a moment, there is a slightly cynical edge to the story that should be addressed. From the gnashing fans to the moral critiques of the devolution of the characters, the 500th episode of The Simpsons was as much a celebration of the show as it was a commentary on the rhetoric surrounding the show. The people who have something negative to say on the Internet are amplified far more often than people with positive views of the same subject.

How often have you encountered a message board, website, Facebook profile, Twitter account, etc. that routine bashes The Simpsons? I see it all the time. The complaints amount to “not as good as it was before, so it sucks now” more often than not. It’s one thing when another animated show pokes fun at the longevity of The Simpsons as it typically comes from a place of love and a long tradition of inter-show jokes. It’s quite another when people get on their soap boxes and proclaim the death of a program that is still getting solid ratings, good reviews, and awards by the barrel full. Just because a Lisa episode will typically feature similar themes and tones, for example, does not mean that the writers have run out of ideas. It means the show has enough of a history to branch off in different directions that hold true to the point in the show’s history where the characters really came to life.

All cynicism aside, it is quite an achievement for any program to reach 500 episodes. That The Simpsons have managed it with the demands of animation, constantly programming shifts caused by FOX’s sports programming, and a steady surge of new writing talent is nothing short of extraordinary. The show will not be able to go on forever. One day, The Simpsons really will leave Springfield and the airwaves for good. How you choose to respond to the show’s lengthy comedic legacy is up to you.

Thoughts? Love to hear them.

Film Review: The Secret World of Arrietty (2012)

What happens when Hayao Miyazaki writes a film and passes it over to another animator to direct? In the case of The Secret World of Arrietty, magic happens. Director Hiromasa Yonebayashi makes his directorial debut with a lot of style and heart.

The Secret World of Arrietty is based on the novel The Borrowers by Mary Norton. Arrietty and her parents are a small race of people only four inches tall. They live under the floorboards of a big house and survive by borrowing little things no one will miss–sugar cubes, cookies, singular tissues. When a sick boy named Shawn moves in to rest before surgery, he immediately spots Arrietty practicing for her first night of borrowing.

The strength of The Secret World of Arrietty is not the beauty of the animation–it’s gorgeous–or the quality of the voice acting–the dubbed voices sound great and match the actions of the film. The strength is the clarity of storytelling. Anyone can walk into this film and understand what’s happening. It’s not that it’s dumbed down to appeal to a younger audience. It’s simply an honest telling of a lovely story that isn’t afraid to spend time on character development.

thesecretworldofarrietty Film Review: The Secret World of Arrietty (2012)

Arrietty always hides from Shawn

The character development is quite engaging here. Take, for instance, the relationship between Arrietty and Shawn. Arrietty knows that the culture of The Burrowers will require her entire family to find a new home if she is seen by a human. So, every time Shawn and Arrietty talk, she hides herself in some way. She might shout out from a hidden corner or stand behind a leaf. As their relationship grows, she takes more risks in how she chooses to approach Shawn. She still won’t let him see her directly, but she trusts him not to try and steal a glance.

Another interesting trick that Yonebayashi uses to further connect Arrietty and Shawn is perspective. For Arrietty, everything in the human world is grand in scale. Crickets can fight her for a wildflower and rats would have no problem overpowering her. A nail barely sticking out of a wall can act as a step or a fish hook and line can be use to repel down the side of a cupboard.

Shawn is also constantly placed in larger surroundings. His guest bed is large and imposing. The ceilings in the house are tall and the tops of the doors would probably be beyond his grasp. When he’s in a scene with other humans, the camera is kept wide above them. He might as well be living in a wooden box filled with doll furniture like Arrietty for how large and intimidating his temporary surroundings are.

The two characters are trapped in the same situation in The Secret World of Arrietty. Shawn and Arrietty are old enough that they’re trusted to be left alone to do as they please in leisure time, but not old enough to be trusted with any real responsibility on their own. They’re only twelve and fourteen years old, respectively. The adults in their lives still view them as children while they both hope to reach independence in the near future. It only makes sense that these are the characters who drive the story when they pair off so nicely.

thesecretworldofariettyposter Film Review: The Secret World of Arrietty (2012)

Quiet details are the key to The Secret World of Arrietty

The quiet moments are where The Secret World of Arrietty shines brightest. From the elaborate animation of crickets to the slow lumber of a predatory cat, the details that are used to enrich the setting and context of the story are precious. It’s Arrietty’s story, but the world of the title is its own character. The quiet moments that slow down the narrative wisely put the focus on the world that always changes. Even when they linger just a bit too long, the quality of the animation and score make them worth the wait.

The Secret World of Arrietty can be enjoyed by anyone regardless of age. I have never seen a theater that packed with children sit so quietly and still during any film. There weren’t cries of “Mommy, what’s happening?” or “I wanna go home!” every five minutes. There was simply an audience of adults and children taking in a beautiful and honest film that exploded into private discussions as soon as the animated portion of the credits ended.

Rating: 9/10

Thoughts? Love to hear them.

Watch It: Pingu’s The Thing

Did you ever find a video that you wanted to share only to see that someone else beat you to it? That’s the case today with the claymation short film Pingu’s The Thing. Eric Eisenberg at Cinemablend wrote about this video last week, literally the day after it was posted on YouTube. I wanted to spend a little more time developing my ideas and was beaten to the punch.

The first thing to know about Pingu’s The Thing is a bit of pop culture context. Pingu isn’t just any penguin. He’s the star of a Swiss/British animated series. This group of penguins live in a series of igloos in Antarctica where they work and play. Here’s a sample short of Pingu fishing.

Pingu is just silly slapstick fun. The characters have big expressive eyes but do not talk. They go on cute little excursions and don’t do anything more dangerous than the set-up of a gag in a Looney Tunes cartoon.

So the assortment of penguins and seals being torn apart and lit ablaze in Pingu’s The Thing are characters in a well-loved children’s series. This helps create the funny disconnect between adorable penguins and John Carpenter’s grisly vision of frozen alien invasion. It works without the pop culture context, a testament to animator Lee Hardcastle. I just think the context adds a bit more subversive fun to the proceedings.

Despite being animated, I believe the following video to be not safe for work. It is filled with animated depictions of graphic violence.

pingusthething 300x168 Watch It: Pingus The Thing

Pingu tests the blood in Pingu's The Thing.

Hardcastle hits all the memorable beats of John Carpenter’s The Thing. From the discovery of a stray dog to the jumping wire test, the big scenes are recreated in stop motion glory. The simplistic style is an homage to Pingu. This only makes the use of lighting in the final action sequences that much more impressive. Hardcastle knows how to sell this story in a condensed two minute format.

When you have a chance, it’s certainly worth watching Pingu’s The Thing. It’s more comedic than horror in its tone, but the startling storyline of Carpenter’s film still packs a punch.

Thoughts? Love to hear them.

Film Review: The Illusionist (2010)

theillusionistblog Film Review: The Illusionist (2010)

The Illusionist prepares to take the stage.

Sylvain Chomet is one of the most exciting writer/directors working in film today. He is an artist dedicated to the pursuit of thoughtful and gorgeous animation. With a distinctive voice and a knack for purely visual storytelling, Chomet has ridden a mixed-media animation style to four Academy Award nominations.

The Illusionist is his second feature-length film and he more than delivers on the promise of The Triplets of Belleville. Adapted from an unproduced screenplay from Jacques Tati (Mon Ocle, Mr. Hulot’s Holiday), The Illusionist follows an aging stage magician as his career fades away during the rise of Rock’n Roll. The unnamed illusionist meets a young woman at a private party. She becomes convinced the Illusionist is really a magician and joins him on his final tour, receiving gifts through sleight of hand that the illusionist spends all his money on.

What makes The Illusionist so compelling is the hand drawn animation. The characters, backgrounds, and props are traditionally animated. This gives them a very distinctive look in a field dominated by computer generated animation. However, Chomet often incorporates computer animation techniques to enhance the look of the hand drawn animation. Lighting is altered with filters, moving background textures fill out even the most static shot, and all of the coloring is done on computers. What you get is a flawless blend of two seemingly competing art forms that results in something beautiful.

That is the best word to describe The Illusionist: beautiful. Whether the scene is happy or sad, wistful or melancholy, the images onscreen wash over you like a moving painting. It’s quite extraordinary that someone is willing to still spend the time to lead something so labor intensive that runs its course in eighty minutes.

As a character study, The Illusionist thrives. The unnamed magician is a proud and caring figure that slowly comes to term with the shift in the entertainment industry. He lives in an apartment complex with other novelty acts also clinging on to what’s left of their appeal. He can clearly see that the clown and the ventriloquist are succumbing to depression, yet he drums on in the hope that some audience still wants him.

The young woman is not as well-defined, which helps the character study but hurts the film. She becomes a foil to the illusionist. As he slowly realizes that the place for magic in the world is shrinking, she refuses to back down from her belief that magic is real. She is a singularly motivated character: all she wants is gifts from the magician.

This choice by Chomet in adapting Tati’s screenplay drags the narrative into an expanding cycle of recurring images. The illusionist sees the young woman look at something she wants. He finds a way to earn the money to buy it. He performs a magic trick to exchange the old item for the new gift. She finds something else she has to have.

There is a lovely sense of melancholy surrounding that cycle. The Illusionist becomes sad and nostalgic in the best ways possible. You don’t keep watching because the story is great. You watch because the animation is beautiful and the mood gives you something to latch onto. Sylvain Chomet gifts us with a tonally strong animated feature that, once again, relies so little on dialogue that anyone anywhere in the world can enjoy the film.

Rating: 8/10

Thoughts? Love to hear them.

Great Score: Susumu Hirasawa’s Paprika

I love film scoring. I believe, under the right circumstances, that original music can make or break a film. It’s an element that people don’t always notice when it’s done right but know it’s wrong when it goes wrong. In this new series, I will be digging through some of my favorite film scores of all time to explain why I think they work so well and deserve recognition.

Paprika is a Japanese animated science-fiction/fantasy film about a new piece of psychotherapy technology. It allows the practitioner to transport their spirit into a patient’s dreams to guide them through therapy sessions in a safe environment. Paprika is the dream name of Chiba Atsuko, one of the doctors involved in the initial testing of the device. Unfortunately, someone has stolen the technology and is using it to drive people insane. It becomes Paprika’s job to unravel the mystery of the theft before the thief tears down the wall between dreams and reality forever.

The film, from the writer/director of Millennium Actress and Tokyo Godfathers Satoshi Kon, is an aggressive burst of visual stimuli. It takes full advantage of the dream settings, creating noir detective chases, elaborate circus acts, and even a parade of living toys that causes insanity. This film required a wide range of original music and composer Susumu Hirasawa was more than up to the task.

The following is the most common recurring theme in the film. It is one of the two recurring motifs and acts as the theme song for Paprika when she’s traveling in the dream world. The first version is called “Meditation Field.” It’s a driving pop song accompanied in the film by the neon lights of the city as Paprika rides her motorcycle through traffic. It’s a thrilling opening sequence in the film because the music adds so much excitement.

This theme transforms into something much more quiet and contemplative about two-thirds of the way through the film. As Paprika comes closer to the source of the theft and discovers the actual stakes, her theme song becomes a lullaby of sorts. The synthesizer sequences begin looping the first few notes of the chorus and verse as acoustic piano and vocals take a backseat. It’s an intentional dreamlike effect. The song is called “A Drop Filled with Memories.”

Since the film has so much action, it’s only natural that the main use of “Meditation Field” would be a more upbeat interpretation of the song. This version is called “The Girl in Byakkoya.” It’s an acoustic version of “Meditation Field” with more layered vocal effects. Despite its more subdued backing and fuller vocal at the chorus, it’s the closest Hirasawa’s score comes to pure pop music. This could play on the radio or in a dance club without much of a push at all.

The level of variation in the score is staggering. Little bits and pieces of Paprika’s theme weave their way throughout. Whether it’s the instrumentation, the vocal layering, the melody, the harmony, or even just the rhythm, this theme permeates the score. A great film score tends to have one theme that is the basis of everything.

Paprika has two. There is a strong reason for this. Where Paprika is the hero of the film and needs music to follow her throughout the story, the parade of toys I mentioned above is the villain. It, too, needs its own musical vocabulary. What Hirasawa does is create a demented circus vamp. It’s compelling and wrong at the same time. A typical marching band beat of bass drums, snares, and crash cymbals takes a backseat to a male chorus as the driving force. This rhythmic jumping melody almost seems to arbitrarily jump from low to high points to set the listener on edge. The tenor and bass melody on the verse and chorus are smoother and more appealing, but are distracted by digital modification and synth choral arrangements. It sounds like a party that you’re not sure you want to be invited to. The song is aptly called “Parade.”

This isn’t even getting into the circus theme, jungle theme, bar theme, or hallway theme. These are 1 minute cues that get repeated every time the characters enter those environments. The short length is due to how small an amount of time is spent in those locations.

Susumu Hirasawa gives Paprika a rich and robust score capable of supporting the strong visuals at every scene. It’s a score I knew I needed for myself when the credits rolled. It works great with the film and only grows better the more you listen to it without the visuals. The music adds easy to understand context to a film with a varied visual style that needed some grounding and support to soar.

Thoughts? Love to hear them.

The Reboot Effect: South Park

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Don’t you just love it when topics of interest start to work together? First Neurotically Yours hit the reset button. Now South Park has done it.

South Park splits its seasons in half. The first half of season 15 ended on a cliffhanger. Stan Marsh developed a condition where everything literally looked like crap and he was miserable. His parents were getting a divorce and the family moved into new houses. His friends gave up on him and he was stuck with an unexpectedly depressing life.

The second half of Season 15 premiered last night on a wave of promotion asking whether or not everything changes. The episode played off the idea of continuity. Stan winds up in the guidance counselor’s office asking why thinks can’t go back to the way they were. Then the story starts to spin. Stan is diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, only to be informed that Asperger’s is a front for an underground army fighting for social awareness. They, too, share Stan’s special blend of cynicism and fight for the truth to come out. It spirals into absurdity from there.

South Park actually returns to its standard format of insane over the top comedy by insisting on the continuity. The adventure caused by Asperger’s and school vaccination puts the characters into the standard “I learned something today” that always resets the action in the town.

In this case, the reset is more severe. Stan’s parents get back together, Cartman and Kyle stop being friends, and Stan is dragged back into the old life that he was finally willing to give up. Everything we were being groomed to accept as a new direction for the show is wiped away.

It’s as twisted as any other episode of South Park. Refusing to meet expectations of a significant change in format is perhaps the most loyal decision the show has made in years. This was season one South Park mayhem with the more mature approach of recent years. The show has, essentially, gone back to year one by forcing us to consider how the show would change all summer long; it won’t.


Fox’s Hurricane Trilogy

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Last night on Fox, all three of Seth MacFarlane’s animated series (The Cleveland Show, Family Guy, and American Dad!) aired episodes centered around hurricanes. His three fictional families all live on the East coast of the United States and were all ravaged by Hurricane Flozell.

hurricanetrilogyfox Foxs Hurricane Trilogy

So, this is wild, man. What I heard was due to global warmin’, the storm is going to be [in Stoolbend, Virginia] for a while, then in Quahog about in like a half hour, then supposedly after that it would go to like American Dad! town (Langley Falls, Virginia).

The storm is used as a way to investigate deeper issues within each series than the usual sitcom format allows.

In Defense Of American Dad!

American Dad! is the other Seth MacFarlane animated series. No, not the one with the fat dumb dad and the talking dog. And no, not the one with the black family that got picked up for a second season before one episode aired. It’s the one about the CIA employee, Stan Smith, dealing with the problems caused by his hippie daughter Haley, his nerdy son Steve, his ditsy reformed prisoner wife Francine, the alien leading hundreds of other lives Roger, and the goldfish with the mind of a German Olympic skiier Klaus. Yes, that does sound like the husband/daughter/son/twisted eccentric/talking animal formula from Family Guy. It’s used completely different here.

Maybe an example would help things out. The season premiere that aired last night was a parody of Little Shop of Horrors with guest star Cee-Lo Green. He played the voice of a living hot tub that wanted Stan and Francine to do nothing but party with him. He sang seductive songs, tore the family apart, and drowned them to their dooms. It was sharp, funny, exceptionally dry, and filled with double entendres and puns. American Dad! is about the intersection between concept, wordplay, and absurdity. It takes contemporary issues and spins them into bizarre and unrecognizable forms. Where else with the gay marriage debate result in the abduction of three children on a nationwide chase to a state that will gladly put them up for adoption because they don’t recognize any homosexual rights? Nowhere else.

The problem American Dad! faced was a decidedly weak first season. Series creator Seth MacFarlane was so obsessed with creating his political animated sitcom that he pushed character development and joy to the side. Sure, there were funny moments, but the series didn’t hit any of the tones that define it now until many viewers had turned out. The show–like King of the Hill and Futurama before it–has bounced between being heavily advertised by Fox and being on the brink of cancellation.

As far as I’m concerned, American Dad! is the finest linear animated sitcom on television right now.

The Art of TV Animation: Batman: The Animated Series

I’m a sucker for beautifully animated TV. The times I’ve sat down and watched Chowder or Kekkaishi marathons should attest to that. I don’t particularly care for either of those shows except for the art.

The first time I noticed this about me was while watching Batman: The Animated Series. I had no loyalty to DC or the Batman franchise at seven years old. I just knew I liked the dark art. I now know noir would be the right word for it. Lots of shadows, details on cold city architecture, and a focus on extremes of crime and justice, good and evil.

The animators on this show always did an amazing job creating believable Gotham City environments. Just look at this tilt shot from police blimps to the depths of Gotham. *

batmananimated1 The Art of TV Animation: Batman: The Animated Series

Beautiful. Just beautiful.

Neuoritically Yours and the Reboot Button

Did this (NSFW) thing just happen? Did Jonathan Ian Mathers really just jump back 10 years in time with his web cartoon Neurotically Yours to give long-suffering poet Germaine a second chance? Yes. Yes it did.

Are you still clicking this at work? It’s totally NSFW. Whole lot of cursing going on.

A few months ago, I wrote about how much I appreciated this Germaine identity arc. I got what Mathers was going for in an extreme representation of the artistic struggle. I also knew that I was in the minority judging by Mathers’ decision to speed up the process and bring everything to a close by Fall. This is that close.

Watch It: Alarm: Animated Short Film

Moo-hyun Jang’s animated short film Alarm is one of the most highly detailed and crisp looking CGI shorts I’ve ever encountered. From the creases on a mattress to the vibration of a cellphone, this short is all about capturing realistic movement. The story is cute and simple. A young man tries to sleep through the myriad of alarms he has set up all over his bedroom to insure he wakes up on time. It’s cute, funny, and worth taking the nine minutes to watch.

Funny, right? Share your thoughts below.

The Art of TV Animation: Ren & Stimpy

When I was five years old, Nickelodeon launched its first original series of animated shows: Ren & Stimpy, Rugrats, and Doug. These shows aired on Sunday morning (most likely to reduce competition against the more traditional Saturday morning cartoon format) in a 90 minute block. I remember this so vividly because I would wake up extra early on Sunday morning, hoping my family would choose to go to the 7:30AM mass so we would all be home in time to watch Ren & Stimpy. Sure, it was normally the 10AM program, with the less interesting Rugrats and Doug* taking up the entirety of the 9AM mass, but if we went to 9AM mass, we missed the opening sketch of the important show. We eventually set the VCR to record Ren & Stimpy for my brother and me, but it wasn’t the same as rushing home to sit in front of the TV and watch it roll out live for the first time.

Recently, Netflix obtained the rights to stream Ren & Stimpy. It was a joyous day. My brother and I both tried to contact each other at roughly the same time to let the other know the exciting news. We’ve both streamed our way through the entire series once at this point, though I moved a little slower than he did. Why? Because the show, against my fondest recollections, was actually quite beautiful.