AniB’s 2019 Oscars Preview for Best Animated Film

As many of you may know, I do this annual piece on the Best Animated Film category for the Oscars every year. Shockingly, this is already the 3rd time I’m doing it (where does the time go?) and as usual, I’ll delve into a bit of the history behind this particular category and of course, my own prediction.

This year’s field is a far more interesting bunch, with last year’s category being dominated by the truly incredible Coco. While that film would be a favorite in pretty much any year, this crop is headlined by a truly excellent Spider-Man adaptation (Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse), two highly anticipated sequels (Incredibles 2 and Ralph Breaks the Internet), the seemingly annual stop-motion original flick (Isle of Dogs) and this year’s foreign film, Mirai, from Studio Chizu of Japan. A well-rounded field with 5 strong movies is never a bad thing for the category, though predicting a winner will likely comes down to some historical trends and perhaps more realistically, how many eyeballs just happened to watch each movie.

Here’s my annual preamble on the Oscars, which prefaces the next part:

Generally, I only care about results when it comes to award shows, much the same way as when I watch shows. I don’t follow the Oscars for their over-bloated pageantry, self-aggrandizing celebrities who pat each other on the back and give meaningless compliments to other influential people they know, or to watch people on the Internet have meltdowns over “x amount” of diversity or lack thereof. I’m just interested in the movies themselves, the people who put the work into said films, and the statistics behind it. So, here’s a list of the past 10 winners, with studios, to give a recent historical representation of this category (and note, the year is when the movies came out, not the award ceremony date, which is always the following year.)”:

And true to form, here’s the latest list of the past 10 winners:

2018: ?

2017: Coco (Pixar)

2016: Zootopia (Walt Disney Animation Studios)

2015: Inside Out (Pixar)

2014: Big Hero 6 (Walt Disney Animation Studios)

2013: Frozen (Walt Disney Animation Studios)

2012: Brave (Pixar)

2011: Rango (Paramount Pictures)

2010: Toy Story 3 (Pixar)

2009: Up (Pixar)

2008: WALL-E (Pixar)


It’s weird to think WALL-E came out 11 years ago, but it really hits you a bit more as you continue down the list of winners even past the 10 listed here. Incredibles 2, which is in the race this year, had its Oscar-winning predecessor debut back in 2004, and while the category is still young by Oscars standards, it’s rapidly approaching 20 years old. As has been the case throughout this decade, Disney and Pixar have continued to dominate the category, which historically bodes well for the the aformentioned Incredibles sequel and Ralph Breaks the Internet– but counteracting that point is all but one of these films were original franchises, the lone exception being the peerless Toy Story 3 back in 2010.

Historically, these trends continue to bode poorly for Isle of Dogs and Mirai. While both films are actually legitimate competition in this year’s field (unlike last year’s laughable nominations of Ferdinand and The Boss Baby), the last time a foreign film or a stop-motion film won was one and the same year: 2005, where as I’ve mentioned before in these Oscar pieces, was when Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit was the victor. While I’d like to see a bucking of convention, in a strong field this feels unlikely to be the year that bucks the trend, though it would be less of an upset that the theoretical ones that were proposed last year, given 2017 winner Coco’s mortal lock on the prize.

The really interesting case of the bunch is of course, Spiderverse. It’s truly an excellent film (yes, I do hope to release a review sometime) and easily the strongest and most surprising thing to ever come from Sony Animation, a studio best known for stuff like Cloudy with A Chance of Meatballs way back when (and unfortunately, The Emoiji Movie from a few years back. Bleh.) This film has done well on the awards circuit, winning the Golden Globe for this category, and in tackling the Oscars, it’s a good bet to try and break a couple of trends working against it: a general lack of superhero films winning big here, the Disney-Pixar hegemony at the top, and Sony’s frankly surprising performance to deliver an incredible adaptation that is frankly unexpected given the genuinely unremarkable track record of films they’ve produced prior to this flick.

So who is my pick? I think in a strong field, originality will win out and Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse is your likely winner, though not a complete lock at the time of writing. Incredibles 2 is my dark horse based on historical trends, and while I’m fond of Ralph, I can’t see it winning against a stacked field, as charming as it is. Even Isle of Dogs and Mirai have a shot, albeit a narrow one- and this should be a fun race to look back on. I can only hope 2019’s crop of animated films proves as entertaining for a race.


Like what you see? Have thoughts on the Oscars? Leave a comment!

Also, check out the movie reviews tab at the top for more in-depth looks at Incredibles 2 and Ralph Breaks the Internet!

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Week 3: Fantasia

The origin of a famous mouse’s feature-length debut and much more.

This week’s Disney movie watch is none other than Fantasia, a bold experiment that started initially as a way to promote a certain famous mouse.

The Lowdown:

Film: Fantasia

Studio/year released: Walt Disney Animation, 1940

AniB’s thoughts:

Ah, Fantasia. The third film from Walt Disney was both an ambitious undertaking and unfortunately, a financial flop- but to this day endures as one of the most iconic and noteworthy pieces of animation ever created. As the war in Europe was in full swing at this point (the German blitzkrieg overrunning France at this point in time), this was the primary cause of the financial woes for the film and the studio at the time, given the inability to screen the production overseas.

As for the movie itself, it was a groundbreaking achievement in the field of animation. Crafted as a meeting of classical music and the animated form, Fantasia was crafted to “picture the music…not the music fitting the picture,” according to Disney himself. Originally conceived as a way to get Mickey Mouse back in the spotlight (yes, at one point the mouse had flagging popularity and needed a popularity boost), the now-iconic sequence with the Sorcerer’s Apprentice evolved from an elaborate Silly Symphony into the centerpiece of an entire feature film. For the first time here, Mickey was redesigned with pupils in his eyes- to give him more expression- and this was clearly the most classic animated short in what amounted to the first feature-length animated anthology film.

The visualization of music that Walt Disney foresaw was some groundbreaking work, forged as a collaboration between Leopold Stokowski, the conductor of the Philadelphia Philharmonic, and the studio, was not only borne of a mutual desire, but the ballooning costs of the already ambitious Mickey Mouse-standalone piece. In turn, the idea for what would initially be called the “Concert Feature” came into being as a feature length film, with each animated segment being see to famous classical pieces, complete with a master of ceremonies in Deems Taylor, a famous music critic at the time.

From this writer’s perspective, Fantasia continues to hold its luster nearly 80 years later, as innovative and creative now as it was then. Water animation- a technique unveiled earlier in the year by Pinocchio, was on full display in a number of the shorts through this film, and extensive research was done for each segment, from the dances in Nutcracker Suite to the animal designs in Dance of the Hours. Each segment could probably be a whole essay in itself, but each embodies the idea Disney saw fit for the film- and is truly a unique sort of animated film even now.


Animation: Classical 2-D animation, with highly innovative techniques for the period. There was a real push to bring the music to life in animated form, and Fantasia succeeded at that; there was a mix of classical and abstract ideas together on the screen and the animation laid all out clearly; it worked in lockstep to drive each story with the music. This film is still a masterpiece in that regard. 5/5 points.

Characters: In contrast to the majority of films (not just animation), this category is difficult to evaluate for Fantasia largely because of how the movie is structured and the content of each segment. It’s more of classical music set against these sweeping set-piece ideas, and aside from Mickey Mouse himself in the one segment, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to evaluate characters in the traditional sense.

However, the ideas performed on screen, and the innovative marriage of a live orchestra doing this program set to all these worlds and ideas was truly something else from Walt Disney. In lieu of a traditional character evaluation, I must give credit to the sheer creative ambition that was executed on screen in bringing these ideas to life with cutting-edge animation of the day and the musical collaboration. 5/5 points.

Story: This is actually an anthology film- the first of its kind in animation. Each individual segment focuses on a different famous classical song (or two) and sets its action in a way that personifies the music. It’s much more of a thinking man’s kind of movie in that it’s not actually about something insofar as it is about creative ways in which music tells its story. Think about this example: people always are thinking about what music means, or what images it stirs up in their head, or what the message might be. This is a visual representation as done by Disney and that is creative to this day. Now that said, some segments are definitely stronger than others- though of the non- Sorcerer’s Apprentice ones A Night on Bald Mountain may be the most famous. 4.5/5 points.

Themes: This thematic evalution is what you make of it, and what you get out of the music, I suppose. There isn’t a lot of themes, per se to dig into aside from whatever the action on screen portrays, and while entertaining, I’m not sure there’s a lot to pull from dancing hippos or happy cupids. 2.5/5 points.

Don’t Insult the Viewer: Creative, masterfully animated and meticulously crafted, there’s no doubt of the care that went into this film. It’s got some minor pacing issues for the modern viewer probably, but overall it’s meant to be essentially a full concert program set to animation. 4.75/5 points.

Overall: 21.75/25 (87%): A visually stunning masterwork for its time, this film is quite unlike any other Disney production before or after, and perhaps embodied the spirit of Disney’s innovative nature better than any other film in the canon. While difficult to evaluate in its entirety, it is an essential piece of animation history and a key part of the Disney story.


Like what you see? Are you a Fantasia fan? Leave a comment!

 

Week 2: Pinocchio

When you wish upon a star, sometimes you get a review.

Continuing on in the Walt Disney Animation canon, Pinocchio is yet another beloved film in the series, and a truly iconic film: it was another groundbreaking effort, and one that was fun to jump into again.

The Lowdown:

Film: Pinocchio

Studio/year released: Walt Disney Animation, 1940

AniB’s thoughts:

Another week, another Walt Disney-era classic, and in this case, quite possibly the most famous of the lot. The classic tale of Geppetto’s wooden puppet coming to life still is a vivid, intense movie, with a lot of animated gold spun into it, from ambitious new techniques used on screen, to the vivid, different settings brought to life with vigor.

Pinocchio, despite its legacy and fame in the animated canon, was initially a box-office flop- a fact that would hold true for quite a few films in the early years until Cinderella came along. A 1945 re-release saw greater success for the film though, and via constant re-screening and other related methods, Pinocchio continued to ingrain itself in the public’s conscience. It also was a big award winner back when it was released, and of course, it was where the timeless classic “When You Wish Upon a Star” originated from. To this day, Disney continues to use the piece as a de-facto sort of theme song- and can you blame them? Its lyrics basically embody the ideal creative ideas of the company…or at least, the general enthusiasm of generations of Mouseketeers.

From my point of view, it had been quite a while since I’d seen the movie, and by “a while” I mean probably close to 20 years. You tend to remember some of the more famous details- Pleasure Island, Jiminy Cricket’s role as Pinocchio’s “conscience,” and even Monstro the whale- but the how and why gets fuzzy. In turn, revisiting the film is almost like watching something completely new all over again, and that brings its own excitement. I was pleasantly thrilled by the smooth animation and the sort of mastery and love that was obviously put into this film, showcasing a glimpse again into the brilliance of Walt Disney the animator and producer- which carried over from watching Snow White previously.

One other surprising note I wanted to make was actually on the role of Jiminy Cricket in this film. Famous for being the voice of reason and conscience for Pinocchio (and within Disney-themed things), he’s actually shockingly inefficient and negligent at his job in plenty of ways, at least in this film. He’s still a good chap, but I suppose that’s what happens when a hobo cricket is given the role by a kind blue fairy. Still love the guy though- and he’s a fine narrator as well!


Animation: Classic, hand-drawn 2-D animation. As only the second full-length animated film in history (after Snow White), Pinocchio was ambitious, from portraying various locales and environments, be it Gepetto’s shop crammed full of clocks and other woodworks, to the deadly trap known as Pleasure Island, and even to the bottom of the sea. The film also was cutting edge, experimenting with water effects and even the illusion of 3-D movement within a 2-D picture, which added depth and dynamism to the picture. Even today, the movie looks great, and given that it was still yet another step up from Snow White, a groundbreaking film in its own right, it deserves some major plaudits. 5/5 points.

Characters: The first of Disney’s famous duos originated here- the puppet boy Pinocchio, brought to life by a wish, and Jiminy Cricket, a lucky down-on-his luck cricket who happened to be in the right place at the right time to become the boy’s conscience.

Pinocchio himself is the picture of naive innocence in this film, which is largely a number of trials which sees the good-natured puppet led astray by a variety of shady characters, from the ironically named “Honest” John, a crooked fox involved in black market trading, to Stromboli, a greasy, greedy puppeteer with little concern other than money and food. Despite a variety of hardships, Pinocchio does continue to try and reach his goal of being “a real boy” via certain virtues, and in the end, is successful during his bold rescue plan to save Gepetto from the belly of the whale Monstro, all while learning valuable lessons about life.

On the other hand, Jiminy is an “aw-shucks” kind of guy, and in a way, his often short-sighted and negligent behavior may have in some way embodied Cliff Edwards, his voice actor (and one-time famous singer) who was noted for having issues in his personal life. It is Jiminy who sings the rendition of “When You Wish Upon a Star” in this film, and this in turn may be Edwards’ most lasting memento.

Prior to Pinocchio coming to life, Geppetto lived quietly with his two pets, Figaro and Cleo. The duo, a cat and a goldfish, were the first “animal companions” in the Disney library, and served as faithful partners to their master through the film. Figaro in particular had an interesting history- Walt Disney himself took a liking to the kitten to the point that he became Minnie Mouse’s official cat outside of this film, and also made subsequent appearances in other Disney-related productions.

The film also has a variety of villain characters rather than just one fixed big bad, like the Queen from Snow White. This was likely in part to show the variety of temptations and sin that Pinocchio could stumble down, and was embodied in characters like “Honest” John and his cat cohort, Gideon, or Stromboli, the evil puppeteer.

(There’s also poor Lampwick, perhaps the most unfortunate soul in one of these Disney films with his fate. Yikes.) 4.75/5 points.

Story: Simple and straightforward, but with plenty of meat to it, Pinocchio is an adaptation of the children’s story “The Adventures of Pinocchio,” an 1893 story. The Disney version here has a lot of whimsy and color to it, pushing the naive puppet boy into wildly different and harrowing situations, with Jiminy Cricket in tow and a rightfully concerned Geppetto out in the hopes of finding his Pinocchio. Perhaps the most harrowing encounter (aside from the movie’s big climactic escape from Monstro) is Pleasure Island- a place with horrifying implications even today, between the transformation of boys into donkeys, and then said donkeys being shipped off for literal slave labor in salt mines (it does stay this explicitly in the film). It’s a remarkably ambitious sort of moral lesson for a kid like Pinocchio to learn- and one that both leaned towards innovation and a willingness to tell a much richer story as it saw fit. 4.5/5 points.

Themes: The joy of a wish and parenthood. The implications of having a conscience, and the difference between a well-informed one and a naive one. The startling implications of going down the easy path of temptation into harrowing, prickly situations. All these ideas are laid out clearly, but vividly and in an entertaining story even years later, and it still shines through today- the mark of a truly effective film. 4.25/5 points.

Don’t Insult the Viewer: This is an intense film, especially for the youngest viewers if I had to guess. Pleasure Island in particular has some imagery you’d never get away with now in a film, such as Indian tobacco and drinking on screen by minors, but overall the film is superb and a great slice of animation history. 4.5/5 points.

Overall: 23/25 (92%): While Walt Disney was at the helm for quite a few of the early classics in the canon, Pinocchio staked its claim early on as one of the studio’s greatest films; revolutionary in its day, only betrayed by an initially bad box-office performance, and beloved by generations for its iconic characters and keynote song. When you wish upon a star…you might just get a classic film.


Like what you see? Big Pinocchio fan? Enjoying the Disney animation countdown? Leave a comment!

What’s In a Character: Vanellope von Schweetz

The spunky Sugar Rush racer revs up her engine for the spotlight.

With the new year comes new character pieces! It has been quite a while since one of these appeared, but between reviewing both Wreck-It Ralph films and the brief highlight on Vanellope in my end-of-year character pick-5, I found myself extremely compelled to write about the little candy racer. So “why” Vanellope, aside from being “a real racer”? There’s plenty of reasons, and hopefully, you’ll find several sweet layers here, like the layers of a jawbreaker.

(Major SPOILERS for Wreck-It Ralph and Ralph Breaks the Internet.)

 

“I’m already a real racer. And I’m gonna win.”- Vanellope, when Ralph tells her she just has to cross the finish line in her first race to reset Sugar Rush

Part sweet little girl, part candy and part sharp-flavored adventure with a hint of Sarah Silverman, Vanellope is a handful, regardless of your own opinion on her. A crack racer and the unlikely best friend of 80’s arcade villain Wreck-It Ralph, her story is interesting precisely of how relationship dynamics form and emerge in her story, playing an integral part in her development as a character and an individual.

A large part of the reason Vanellope has so much to analyze is that she gets two movies’ worth of character development as opposed to just one. In turn, her story shifts from a plucky outcast to someone who comes of age in the hopes of gaining a bigger dream- but in the process, forced to make some tough decisions as well. At the center of these decisions is ultimately her relationship with Ralph- and how that is impacted, both through her actions and those of the wrecker, neither of which necessarily occur in a vacuum.

“You’re not from here, are you?”- Vanellope von Schweetz, upon first meeting Wreck-It Ralph

The first film sees Vanellope as she initially was- an individual hardened by the life she was forced to live under King Candy’s sugar-coated fist in Sugar Rush. Beyond just being an outcast, she was also a full-on criminal as decreed by the corrupt regime, and so regardless of what her initial disposition might have been like (we have no idea, her game has been plugged in 15 years by that point), she’s got a sharp tongue of sarcasm and wit no doubt honed from dealing with hostile individuals constantly. Therefore, her initial meeting with Ralph makes perfect sense- she had a) no perspective on the wrecker or why exactly a medal would be so important to him (she even asks what the big deal about the “crummy medal” is later in the film) and b) she had never encountered anyone vaguely kind to her, by virtue of being isolated in Sugar Rush for her whole existence, along with King Candy’s attempt to delete her code, which left her with her signature “glitch” and a stigma of ostracization.

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“C’mon, do we have a deal or not? My arm’s getting tired.”- Vanellope, when her and Ralph agree to work together for the first time

The duo bonds over the unlikely bond they wind up sharing in feeling socially outcast from the games they hail from- Vanellope, for reasons already outlined and Ralph due to his treatment as a “bad guy” even outside of game hours, where he’s really not a bad guy, per se. However, it takes some time for this partnership to actually develop into a meaningful relationship, given that it’s a agreement initially born of mutual interest, even moreso to Ralph, self-absorbed in his medal quest- but the language Vanellope uses to strike the deal (“what do you say, friend?”) suggests that while she also has a mutual goal (become a real racer with a real kart) she was more open to the idea towards actually wanting a relationship, given it was likely the first act of kindness she’d known- in this case, Ralph scaring off the other Sugar Rush racers who had destroyed her homemade cart.

While Vanellope’s tale is largely one featuring her relationship with Ralph, the first movie also see her in an interesting dynamic with King Candy- the treacherous ruler of the game who in turn is actually the old rogue racer Turbo alluded to throughout the film. The villain goes to extreme lengths to try and literally kill her, first by attempting to delete her code, and when that fails, turns her into a state criminal while also locking up the memories of everyone else in Sugar Rush to suppress both his own misdeed and Vanellope’s true identity as the princess of the game. While Candy is ultimately defeated by Ralph at the climax, his megalomaniac tendencies are brought into an even sharper light by the hard-luck but innocent Vanellope, and nowhere is this in sharper contrast when Turbo is finally revealed in the climax of the final race.

 

If it was really one and done for films with Wreck-It Ralph, Vanellope would have still been a fine character with a satisfying arc that occurred, but she, along with Ralph, got a chance at a sequel which allowed for an even more in-depth exploration of the relationship that had been built by the end of the original film. In this way, the little racer hit the jackpot: a followup movie which actually did exactly what you’d hope to see in a developing relationship dynamic, and the fact that said followup film was both quite good (here’s the review) and that Disney rarely does official sequels. Talk about luck.

“Do you ever think about how we’re just bits of code, 0’s and 1’s? What if there’s more out there?”- Vanellope, pondering greater possibilities to Ralph.

With a slight real-world time skip of 6 years (the exact frame between Wreck-It Ralph and Ralph Breaks the Internet), Vanellope and Ralph have developed a comfortable routine- one that is genuinely perfection on some level for the latter, but starting to get boring for the former. It’s true the duo greatly enjoyed each other’s company, but Vanellope had long since grown bored of the place where she’d once been imprisoned, and as the game’s best racer, she’d become the proverbial “big fish in a small pond.” Enter one broken steering wheel and the introduction of WiFi to Litwak’s Arcade, and the impetus for things to take off was in place.

It’s clear from the start the candy-haired racer is open to change in her life, from her excitement at going into the internet, to her eye-opening interest in Slaughter Race, and even her humorous foray into a room full of Disney princesses. It’s true that she set out to save her game with Ralph, but in the process, she’d found a bigger world, and like a young adult searching out careers and dreams, she wanted to take her racing talents to a bigger level and a platform that would keep her excited every day. Of course, with that realization came the difficult fact that her relationship with Ralph- who she virtually spent all of her time with- would have to change, and while Vanellope accepted this would have to happen quickly enough, the Fix-It Felix, Jr. bad guy had quite a few more struggles with it.

Ralph’s genuine care for Vanellope as his friend devolves to a certain point where the original goal (the steering wheel) is in question whether it’s for Vanellope or his own self-interest. The wrecker is content in routine and happy in his own way. He can’t comprehend Vanellope finding a different dream or something bigger than what she knew, and resistance to that major change fuel Ralph’s childish and ultimately dangerous actions, or namely, his emotional insecurities, which become visually represented by the monstrous viral Ralph clones, and later, the King Kong Ralph homage.

“You really are a bad guy.”- Vanellope, after Ralph crushes her kart in Wreck-It Ralph

Ralph’s betrayals hurting Vanellope on a fundamental level in both films makes a lot of sense, not only from a realistic human perspective, but given the amount of faith and trust she put into the big guy for it to be betrayed. Between the crushing of the candy kart and the reveal that Ralph unleashed the dangerous virus upon Slaughter Race, both scenes are two of the most emotionally painful things between both films, and both times, Ralph acts out of a certain ignorance- but the intent differs. In Wreck-It Ralph, Ralph truly believes he’s done the right thing, and Vanellope’s pain comes from the one person she now saw as a hero (she gave her homemade medal right before, which really makes this hurt) betray her and destroy her dreams at the time. By contrast, the betrayal in Ralph Breaks the Internet is not caused in part from an outside party, like King Candy- but rather, Ralph’s own-self centeredness and insecurity over the idea of losing Vanellope. And in turn, the reaction is even more crushing, when the same medal that Ralph kept all those years is chucked into the abyss of the web, broken in two, symbolizing a permanent change in that relationship. In both instances, there is forgiveness- but again, the context differs as a contrite Ralph returns to help Vanellope after admitting his mistake with a fixed kart and a sincere apology in the first film, while the sequel instead sees Ralph accept change and in turn, allows Vanellope to do her own thing.

By the end of Ralph Breaks the Internet, Vanellope has transformed into someone who’s grown up a bit, even if her physical appearance hasn’t changed. Perhaps in a way that’s a metaphor for parent who always see their kids as they were, rather than how they look grown-up, and indeed, while she and Ralph are the best of friends, the relationship is more like that of an older brother and sister or even a father to a daughter at times. The long-distance relationship the duo maintains by the time the film ends hits hard after the emotional buildup and goodbye in this movie- while mirroring the ending of Wreck-It Ralph’s parting hug in Sugar Rush, this occasion is much more bittersweet. It’s the real human connection of change- and it’s inherently not easy to digest, even if it represents real growth in one’s own life or relationships. Furthermore, it represents something much more quiet and contemplative than anything else we’d actually seen from Vanellope and Ralph over the rest of the two films, with a maturity that is surprisingly complex.

The dynamic duo. Changed, but stronger for it.

Whatever her circumstances,  “the glitch” proved to have both a mental fortitude and conviction that served her well. There was something natural in a way about her leaving Sugar Rush by the end purely from a character perspective standpoint- here was a game she was once unable to leave at all, she grew to dominate its raceways to the point of boredom, and now she left it it for good, with a much bigger world out there to explore. Her friendship with Ralph, integral to her character, was both organic and beautifully executed, showcasing both a loving bond- but also one that was severely tested and continued to change with the characters. But Vanellope was also adorable, which didn’t hurt, but looks alone don’t win you an in-depth character piece, or a chance to pursue dreams, or even the ability to be an incredible race car driver. Make no mistake, the deuteragonist of Wreck-It Ralph and arguably the co-lead of Ralph Breaks the Internet is a remarkably developed character, with an arc that is worth watching and re-watching again.


Like what you see? Big fan of Wreck-It Ralph or Vanellope? Leave a comment!

 

Week 1: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Once again, a happy new year to everyone! I’m kicking off the year-long project to watch the entire Walt Disney Animation Studios film canon, and of course, it begins with the iconic Snow White, a film with more than a little historical significance, not only to the House of Mouse, but also cinema on the whole.

The Lowdown:

Film: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Studio/year released: Walt Disney Animation, 1937

AniB’s thoughts: “Hi ho! Hi ho! It’s off the work we go!” Indeed, the dwarfs’ iconic mining song seems apt to describe the beginning of this journey, which goes back over 80 years now (at the time of this writing) and points to the first of several iconic Walt Disney-era films. There was a lot of firsts in fact, when it came to this film:

-the first feature length animated film; prior to this release Snow White was seen as “Disney’s folly” and something that couldn’t be done;

-the first American movie to feature a soundtrack for release with the picture; Bourne Co. Music Publishers actually owned the rights (and still does!) to the music in this film as Disney hadn’t conceived its own in-house studio yet and wouldn’t yet still for a number of years.

-the first Disney princess movie: Snow White established all the archetypes and hallmarks for these films in the animated canon moving forward, and aside from Snow herself, the ideal princess in a lot of ways, it also gave us the first in a line of deliciously fun and evil Disney villains- the Queen.

 

So what of the film itself? In my honest opinion, its fame and praise is warranted, even long after its peak in the limelight faded and animated films went from an almost unimaginable dream to commonplace fare in the modern era. The animation still pops, perfectly synced in with the lively orchestral score, and everything just feels fluid and impactful as it was form the time it was made. No, it’s not some technological marvel like today’s Disney flicks are, but it’s a timeless hand-drawn, professionally crafted work of art with a simple, unforgettable tale at its center, and the innovator for all the films that came after it in the canon order.


Animation: 2-D classic, hand-drawn animation. Both an innovative and unprecendented film at the time, the quality of the work here by Disney animators is still quite a treat despite the many, many years that have passed. Facial expressions are fluid, the actions on screen sync perfectly with the orchestral score, and Disney created a set of iconic character designs here, from the dwarfs to Snow White and her iconic dress, and even both of the Queen’s appearance- as royal ruler and haggard witch. 5/5 points.

Characters: Fairly straightforward cast, based off the Brothers Grimm story, but as far as advancing animation and its foray into the movies, this was a super important set of characters.

Snow White is the first in the line of Disney princesses- and in many ways, serves as both the ideal and archetype for this character in the canon. She’s “the fairest one of all,” has a beautiful singing voice, a kind countenance beloved by all, from charming princes to woodland animals and even the surly dwarfs, and practical skills, from cleaning to cooking and a warm sense of caregiving. She’s innovative in her simplicity, but also as a model that set the template in place.

Then there’s the dwarfs- Doc, Dopey, Sleepy, Sneezy, Bashful, Happy, and of course, Grumpy. Each one is a great literal interpretation of their names- and allowed the animators some liberty to craft a good deal of humor around those naming schemes and actions. The dwarfs are really the most “classic cartoon” characters in the film between their actions and roles- from their simple lives mining priceless gems in an unnamed mine, to Grumpy’s tough exterior melting at the undeniable kindness and charm of Snow White, and even to Dopey’s charming clumsiness, or Doc’s well-intentioned bumbling. The first major supporting characters in a Disney film, you could even argue these guys are collectively the “deteuragonist” role.

Of course, no Snow White review or analysis is complete without talking about the Queen- the first in a long line of iconic Disney villains. Vain and self-absorbed, this wicked ruler orders a huntsman to bring back Snow White’s heart in a box- and when that fails, she dons the dark magical disguise of a hag to deliver the iconic poisoned apple. The Queen set the tone for how Disney villains were to be by and large: truly awful people with megalomaniac tendencies and a lot of innovative scheming. Others would innovate more though, in the tradition of having charisma to go along with the rest of the recipe.

Finally, there’s the prince. He’s more or less a plot device for “true love’s first kiss” and the “happily ever after” sort of ending, but in this film, it works…because again, context matters. As a result, this cast gets a bit more credit for being innovative at the time. 4.75/5 points.

 

Story: Again, with the basis off the fairy tale it comes from, Snow White is a familiar story to most people- the fair princess, hated with a furious envy from the Queen, is set up to be killed by the huntsman, only to flee into the woods and find the dwarfs’ home after the former spares her. It’s a simple, timeless tale with simple, timeless morals, motivations…and in this film, it was executed as a very high level, which still shines forth today. It’s still impressive to watch the action unfold (and might I say the entire chase sequence with the dwarfs racing to rescue Snow White from the witch is still incredible?) Sometimes, a film can be innovative by being a masterpiece of technical work, and I think that was evident from Disney’s first film. 4.25/5 points.

Themes: From “jealousy never leads to anywhere but doom” with the Queen to Snow’s waiting for “love’s true kiss,” this is a simple thematic exercise, with a lot of ideals built into Snow’s character herself, while the Queen is set up as the antithesis in every imaginable way. There’s also some stuff about compassion and caring from the dwarfs as they develop a bit in the narrative, and it’s just an enjoyable set of clear thematic aims without pretense or pomp, and easy to digest. 3.5/5 points.

Don’t Insult the Viewer: The old witch might frighten some of the youngest viewers still to this day, as well as Snow’s escape into the forest scene, but overall, this is a family-friendly experience with straightforward writing and characters. The score also includes some classics, such as the dwarfs’ mining song and “Someday My Prince Will Come,” the first princess “theme song,” if you will. All around, a classic experience. 5/5 points.

Overall: 22.5/25 (90%): Walt Disney’s first feature-length film still holds up over the annals of time as a true testament to excellence and innovation in cinema. For the modern viewer, it may feel a bit simple, but it still proves to be an entertaining watch with superb technical execution and the establishment of key archetypes and building blocks for Disney films as they moved forward. A true classic.


Like what you see? Excited for all the Disney films that will be covered? Love Snow White? Leave a comment!

Happy New Year! 5 Characters I liked from things I watched in 2018

A quick pick of some good characters .

Alright, so today’s a more informal post for the first time in a while. I’ve been banging out a lot of reviews, so with the year coming to a close and 2019 starting, it seemed like a fun idea to look back on 5 characters I really liked from things I watched this year. That could be movies or shows, East or West- but animated, as always. (Before anyone asks: Killua is an all-time favorite. There’s also a character piece I did. Check it out if you haven’t!) There was plenty to choose from, as it’s been an action-packed year of viewing, so here we go!


Vanellope von Schweetz (Wreck-It Ralph, Ralph Breaks the Internet):

Honestly, I could (and probably will) give the sweet little racer from Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph films the full “What’s in a Character” treatment at some point, especially with 2 full movies’ worth of excellent character development, but Vanellope re-entered the scope of my mind with the sequel. A superbly fun character (voiced by Sarah Silverman, of all people) with a terrific dynamic that she has with Ralph, the regent of Sugar Rush is a surprisingly complex character, bundled into an adorable bundle of messy hair, a signature green hoodie, and boundless energy.

Yukko Aioi (Nichijou):

Nichijou, while a 2011 release in real-time, came into my life in a big way in 2018. While the many charming, quirky characters on the cast might all warrant some kind of mention, Yukko’s brand of terrible luck, persistent attempts at humor and futile battle against schoolwork all while never giving up is something to behold. Silly as Nichijou can be, it has smart moments of some pretty deep and touching stuff, and while Yukko isn’t a genius, she is someone who can be a great friend- and it’s through her actions that the robot girl Nano Shinonome is able to find comfort in the transition to being a schoolgirl, and her surprisingly up and down relationship with Mio Naganohara is a great joy of humor to watch unfold.

Anti (SSSS.Gridman):

Beyond the anime public’s adoring gaze upon Rikka Takarada and Akane Shinjo, the breakout character of this cast was none other than this man- a one-time kaiju whose initial casting drew a strong resemblance to Viral from Gurren Lagann. As time went on though, Anti’s varying hardships, coupled with his persistence in his goals (which originally was a single-minded, and I do mean single-minded obsession to destroy Gridman) found him both a strangely sympathetic character and a likable one who also delivered some major hype in a show you’d expect to have plenty of it. By the end of Gridman, Viral has undergone a complete character arc and transformation- and that, perhaps more than anything else in the show, is why he’s on this list.

Jack-Jack Parr (The Incredibles, Incredibles 2):

The youngest member of the Parr family had his big-screen coming out party this past year, where he transformed from a bit part in the original Incredibles film to a more active role, with a great deal of comedy and humor. From his backyard brawl with a raccoon to his unlikely heroics at the climax of Incredibles 2, Jack-Jack was about as humanly entertaining as you can make a baby character without him becoming annoying. No small feat there.

Kōhei Inuzuka (Sweetness and Lightning)

Father to the adorable Tsumugi in this sweet little slice of life anime, Kōhei struck me as interesting precisely because of his balancing act between being a good father (in the stead of his recently deceased wife) and his career as a teacher, which was handled with a lot of tact and care. While this show released back in 2016, it’s still worth going back to take a look (and here was my review of it.) This man’s selfless care, despite all the challenges he faces regularly, is a treat to watch, and a character archetype that seems far too scarce at time. Good dads (and parents) are never out of style!


So there’s my pick-5 for the past year. I hope everyone had a great 2018, and here’s a happy New Year as we get into 2019! I’m looking forward to another fantastic year here on AniB Productions, and to the excitement of my readers as they continue to grow. Feel free to leave a comment!

Movie Review: Ralph Breaks the Internet

The wrecker’s second outing proves to be a different, yet enjoyable sequel.

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my readers! A big thank you to those who read the many days of the Advent Calendar that got out, and the warmest wishes to everyone that they have enjoyed the holidays as they continue into the new year. It’s been a terrific 2018 here at AniB Productions, and while I may slip in another piece or two before the calendar flips to 2019, it has been a pleasure to keep this blog going for you, the readers. And now…for a review of a film I’ve wanted to tackle for a month, but finally got to sit down and see in theaters at last- Wreck-It Ralph 2, or more formally, Ralph Breaks the Internet.

The Lowdown:

Film: Ralph Breaks the Internet (Wreck-It Ralph 2)

Studio/year released: Walt Disney Animation, 2018

AniB’s thoughts: There’s a lot to unpack from Disney’s first official animated sequel since The Rescuers Down Under, and also a followup to what is one of my personal favorites in the original Wreck-It Ralph, which was a film full of personality and character. (Here’s my review for that here.) While sequels are usually not up to the standards of the original film that inspired them, Ralph’s second outing proves to be a good one, featuring a deep dive into character dynamics and relationships, splashed against the background of perhaps the best take a film has done yet on the beast of an idea known as the Internet.

Set 6 real-world years after the events of the first film, Ralph Breaks the Internet starts off by showing the routine of two best friends had established at the arcade- but also some lingering want for something more from Vanellope, who while happy with her friendship with Ralph, had started to grow bored of the same thing every day. Ralph on the other hand, fully enjoyed his life as it was- and we wouldn’t have a film if this pattern held, which it doesn’t, as Sugar Rush, the racing game prominently featured in Wreck-It Ralph, has the steering wheel of its arcade console broken through a certain event- and coupled with Mr. Litwak’s (the arcade owner) purchase of a Wi-Fi router, the hunt is on for the surprisingly rare part to save Vanellope’s game- along with a world bigger than the duo ever imagined.

Unlike past horror shows like like The Emoiji Movie, this film actually manages to tackle the Internet’s vastness with a good deal of savviness and creativity. Product placement is fairly unavoidable- but in this case, feels authentic, much like the game characters from the first film, and plenty of clever references abound (my favorite might be a certain area where an AOL logo pops up. You’ll know when you see it.) And Ralph might just be the perfect universe to actually approach this subject material- especially as it continues the series trend of keeping the narrative character and story-driven, while using the internet to frame it in clever and inventive ways.

(SPOILER SECTION:)

 

Vanellope’s character arc represents someone who had grown far beyond her initial encounter with Ralph in the original film. Finally allowed to realize her original dream of being a real racer and having the best friend in the whole world for 6 years, she had grown past the point of mere contentment, although she was starting to dream bigger. Forget about the Internet for a moment- the opening part of the film in the arcade foreshadows it, from Ralph’s failure to pick up on Vanellope’s longing for more in her life, to her attitude towards Sugar Rush– which while still her domain, had long since grown past the point of challenging her, enough so that even in the middle of a race she dozed off. By preserving the real-world time that elapsed between the two films, there was an emphasis that the world had changed- though Litwak’s Arcade, not so much. It was a surprising and bold move to actually have Vanellope stay in Slaughter Race at the end of the film, partially because I never thought they’d actually do it- and in turn, it’s a genuinely emotional and bittersweet moment that still has me reflective on how this actually happens in life too. Super impressive writing right there.

Ralph on the other hand, was content because he’d ultimately achieved his version of happiness by the end of the first film. That said, while his bond with Vanellope remained the glue and backbone of this film, his aversion to any sort of change with Vanellope and general jealousy of her own developing dreams was a lesson personified about obsession. Yes, the King Kong inspired final act was a bit heavy handed, but the character dynamics rang true in that scenario, and I think it touched me deeply on some profound level about how life changes- and relationships evolve. This is a message that will go over much more strongly with the older crowd now and into the future. It was also fairly ambitious to not go for a traditional antagonist- instead using the surprisingly complex web of relationships (pun maybe intended) and the initial steering wheel issue to kickstart the plot as a much more abstract series of problems.

There was a bit of a natural arc with the dynamic duo- Vanellope went from being “the glitch” without a place under King Candy’s iron fist in Wreck-It Ralph, to living her dream as a “real racer”- but now she needed literally and figuratively, a bigger racetrack than what Sugar Rush could provide- and in the ultimate twist, wound up leaving the game that once imprisoned her for good. She’s had an interesting, often heartwarming and also bittersweet roller-coaster of a relationship with Ralph over two films, and in the end, it’s hard not to acknowledge the duo’s chemistry as one of Disney’s best, simply because of the way their dynamics continued to evolve over both films.

(End SPOILERS.)

Was this film better than the original? Hard to say, as they represent very different plots on a number of levels, but in this critic’s opinion, they are both worthy of praise in their own rights, and this is a sequel worth seeing if you haven’t already.


Animation Quality: Modern 3-D animated film. As always, these films have been gorgeous this decade, and Ralph is no different, continuing to show the savviness to detail that its predecessor established. Everything pops, the character models work well for what they are doing (Vanellope is somehow even cuter than the first film, I think), and everything comes together so well to help tell the story they want to tell. That’s impressive. 5/5 points.

 

Characters: I pretty much expounded on the main 2 characters in my spoilers, but to reiterate: Wreck-It Ralph is the big, hulking bad guy of 80’s arcade game Fix-It Felix, Jr. and best friends with Vanellope von Schweetz, the star racer of Sugar Rush, where the duo established a relationship in the first film that carried over into this film. The two are co-leads in this film- and as Vanellope is a fully established character from the start in this movie, it actually allows a much deeper exploration of her character on some interesting levels.

Aside from the main duo, new character mostly step up to fill other roles in this film. Yes, Felix and Calhoun still make appearances early in the film and at the end, but aren’t the major supporting characters in this go round. Neither are the Sugar Rush racers, who find themselves under the care of the couple after their game’s hardware malfunction (and I can sense a mini-film featuring what happened there to be hilarious.) Instead, there’s colorful Internet denizens who step into key roles, such as J.P. Spamley- a seedy personification of clickbait ads on the web, or Yesss- the head algorithm of “BuzzTube” who determines trending content. There’s also Shank- a beautiful, tough woman racer voiced by Gal Gadot in the online game “Slaughter Race,” which appears to parody both online MMO’s and franchises like Grand Theft Auto. It all comes together in a way that works- and yes, the Disney Princess cameos you’ve all probably heard about or seen are terrific. Just a lot of fun from this cast, but this is ultimately held together by Ralph and Vanellope- and it delivers an emotional punch on that level. 4.5/5 points.

 

Story: A simple premise launches Ralph 2’s plot- a broken arcade cabinet wheel, which proves to be rare and expensive to find, to the dismay of both Mr. Litwak and the denizens of Sugar Rush. Vanellope in particular takes it hard, sensing a loss of what made her her, despite recent complaints that the game had gotten painfully boring for her- and so, the journey to the Internet launches a grand quest.

Premise-wise, this was always going to be convoluted on some level, but it works within the framework of the story, which is character-driven. The narrative takes drastic shifts in stride, although the final act is a slightly mixed bag (though the emotional, character driven bits are still absolutely on point there.) It had a decently tough act to follow Wreck-It Ralph’s narrative- and it did reasonably well. 3.75/5 points.

 

Themes: This movie was surprisingly complex in terms of exploring interpersonal relationships, along with the positive and negative impacts of the web. Sure, I wonder how well this film will age considering the subject material, but the character stuff is meaty and lasting, and honestly this will resonate strongly with mostly an older audience, which is great. The younger audience will still find plenty to like as usual, but the endgame plot may be a little complex (and for the very young ones, terrifying)- but overall, good stuff. 4/5 points.

 

Don’t Insult the Viewer: For my money, an entertaining family friendly film with some fun musical stuff in there, some very funny bits (and very few cringy ones, at that), and a narrative that felt more complex that the first film. It’s a treat. 5/5 points.

 

Overall: 22.5/25 (89%): A worthy followup act to Wreck-It Ralph, this film takes the best part of the first film- Ralph and Vanellope’s relationship- and pushes it to another level against some really difficult subject material, and does it well. It’s definitely worth a look!


Like what you see? Big fan of the first or second film? Leave a comment!