Review: Little Witch Academia

“Believing is your magic!”- what a charming outing.

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So, I haven’t been writing a lot lately for various reasons, but I have continued to view some new and different fare, and one of those picks just so happened to be another Trigger show- the whimsical Little Witch Academia.

The Lowdown:

Show: Little Witch Academia

Studio/years aired: Trigger, 2017

AniB’s thoughts:

Every once in a while, a watch I choose on a whim turns out to blow past whatever modest expectations I may have had- and the first anime to do that this year for me was Little Witch Academia, a joyous adventure behind the optimistic, headstrong and outgoing Atsuko “Akko” Kagari in pursuing her dreams at Luna Nova, the witches’ academy. Before I delve into the specifics though, it is always a pleasure as a purveyor of animation- or any medium really- to find something that gets you plenty excited that you didn’t expect- and while I had heard in passing good things about this show, it was a blind watch, which in the end couldn’t have been more fun.

LWA revived something nostalgic in how it impacted me. It wasn’t just one specific aspect, but from Akko’s cheerful smile in the face of impossible odds against many odd challenges laid before her, to the sweeping score that evoked at least some memories of John Williams’ work on the Harry Potter films, and even to the clean animation and grand adventure, this show was a heartwarming (and completely original!) adaptation. While there are some flaws, this show probably is the most “complete” work from Trigger- with an undeniable charm and appeal all its own.

This anime was the studio’s big production of 2017- and it shows with a grand scale of adventure, animation that both pops and yet has that unmistakable “softness” (as I’ll describe it) that the studios’ character designs tend to have, along with a rich depth of detail. More importantly though, Little Witch Academia is a grand culmination of the young studio’s considerable experience since starting from Kill la Kill, and the whole package seems to come together here in an indescribably pleasant way, combining a wondrous sense of adventure with a pinch of Harry Potter, a dash of humor, and a generous helping of some really enjoyable character dynamics. I could probably expound a lot further on certain details of this show, but for now, my general thoughts will suffice. Onwards to grading!


Animation: Modern 2-D animation, computer animated. Trigger continued its high quality animation here- and despite featuring a heavily female-dominated cast, was actually devoid of fanservice in most respects. Perhaps that’s a bit shocking from the studio that is inevitably thought of from Kill la Kill, but it’s true. The character models themselves are pleasant and varied, and the locales are also varied and pop, full of life. With a theming that demands this vibrant idea of a magical world brought to life, it absolutely delivers, with some terrific action sequences throughout the show. 5/5 points.

Characters: Little Witch Academia follows the story of Atsuko “Akko” Kagari- a Japanese girl with a wish to become a great witch like her idol, Shiny Chariot. Filled with a strong impulsive optimism about magic and how it inspired her, Akko seeks to fulfill her dreams, which become intertwined with the Shiny Rod- a powerful magical item she finds in a legendary forest- that once belonged to Chariot and is said to contain the “powers of the stars” themselves. Matching Akko’s stubborn will and determination to do anything she sets her mind to is a rash impulsiveness, but also a kind heart- and along the way, friends who keep her going.

Of those friends, two are the first people Akko meets on her journey and eventually dorms with- Sucy Manbavaran and Lotte Jansson. The former is colloquially referred to as the “Mushroom Queen” due to her affinity for the fungi and talent/interest for making highly effective and dangerous potions; while she’s got a wicked sense of dry humor and generally is introverted, preferring not to be bothered, what starts as a grudging annoyance becomes a close friendship with Akko, as well as Lotte.

The latter is a plain, nice girl of Finnish origin. While the level-headed one of the trio most times, Lotte becomes far more animated over her favorite book series, “Nightfall” and is quick to defend her friends in times of need.

Outside of these three, Diana Cavendish is also a key player. The star student of Luna Nova, Diana comes from a royal lineage of witches, and while she seems perfect, there may be more going on there than meets the eye…Viewed by Akko as a rival, Diana’s magical ability is outstanding, and she has the study habits and mind to match.

Serving as Akko’s mentor at Luna Nova, Ursula Callistis is the kind new astronomy professor, who is looking out for the girl’s well-being along with helping her to catch up on many magical skills she lacked the background in. Despite seeming clumsy at times, Ursula appears to be very smart and talented, and knows about Akko’s Shiny Rod and what it is capable of…

There is also the trio of Amanda O’Neill and her roommates Jasminka and Constanze; the former is a classic rebel with a penchant for wild broom riding. Meanwhile, Jasminka is good natured and always seems to be eating something, while Constanze might be one of the most underrated characters in the series- a German girl of very few words who mixes magic with engineering to make some truly spectacular gadgets through the series.

Finally…what of Akko’s beloved Shiny Chariot? You’d have to watch to find out…and if you have, you’d know what happened. There is a multitude of other supporting characters and at least one other major player who serves as an antagonist, and overall the way the cast comes together and develops, through both individual character moments and via the plot, is truly a lot of fun. 4.25/5 points.

 

Story: While the show was split up into two seasons for international release, the entire production is 25 episodes.On some level, this tale is one of two halves: the first focusing mostly on Akko’s integration into and adventures at Luna Nova, while the second delves more into the actual mystery behind the Shiny Rod. Overall, it’s good- but narratively the show seems to find its focus more as it goes along. There are definitely standout standalone episodes as well- such as one featuring the inner world of Sucy’s thoughts- and overall, it’s a solid overarching plot with both a fair share of serious and silly elements. 4/5 points.

 

Themes: At first glance, the message seems simple, but it’s driven home very clearly: the real “magic” within all of us is metaphorical- summed up by Chariot’s catchphrase that Akko takes to heart and beyond- “believing is your magic!” More specifically though, there’s a strong point about working hard to achieve your dreams; the power of having good people behind you on the journey, and to always find a way- because hope is powerful and essential, beyond mere logic.  4/5 points.

 

Don’t Insult the Viewer: A solid narrative, backed by a very likable cast, a lack of fanservice and a killer score? Sign me up. It’s no hyperbole that the OST for Little Witch Academia is outstanding- and it sets the tone well for any situation, backed by a genuinely fun romp of a narrative. 5/5 points.

 

Total: 22.25/25 (89%): This show is quite possibly Trigger’s best effort yet- beautifully animated, vibrant and full of life with a likable lead and cast, no fanservice in sight and a great score, along with a strong underlying set of themes. There’s not much to dislike here- and it’s an easy pickup for anyone looking for a fun watch. Check it out if you haven’t!


Like what you see? Big fan of Little Witch Academia or Trigger? Leave a comment!

 

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!

 

Review: SSSS.Gridman

Trigger’s fall offering revives an old franchise.

Well, the first anime review of 2019 is here! I’m reviewing an show that just wrapped up around Christmastime- Trigger’s S.S.S.S. Gridman, the popular mecha offering of the fall anime season. Let’s get to it.

The Lowdown:

Show: S.S.S.S. Gridman

Studio/year released: Trigger, 2018:

AniB’s thoughts:

Color me surprised at what turned out to be a great little watch. Gridman was a pick that I started solely due to a friend’s suggestion in passing, and in turn I was treated to a show that while vividly strange on many levels, was also satisfying, with an interesting set of characters, some high stakes and a killer opening. Yes, you’ve probably heard about this show in passing if you’re a hardcore anime fan if for no other reason that it contained two of fall 2018’s most popular girls in Rikka Takarada and Akane Shinjo.

Gridman’s core premise at first seems simple, steeped in a mystery: a boy named Yuta Hibiki wakes up with apparent amnesia, only to find his way into Rikka’s home- a junk shop- where on the aptly named “Junk” computer, he recalls he’s the pilot of Gridman- a computerized mecha agent that when connected to Yuta via an “Access Code”, the duo materializes as the actual mecha GRIDMAN, who has the power to slay kaiju and all sorts of stuff you might expect from this sort of show.

The one behind these kaiju though, is none other than Akane Shinjo, with the backing of the mysterious Alexis Kerib- a shady-looking character if there ever was one. Akane’s role in this show is strange in hindsight, but the setting and premise of Gridman is anything but conventional, and so it works, although I don’t doubt Akane’s true purpose might leave you a bit incredulous at first.

To me, this was a show that was full of the unexpected; the pretense of normality set against something very abnormal and foreign all at the same time. There was a sense the veneer of reality could be shattered at any moment in Gridman, and indeed, this juxtaposition was front and center as everyday events existed in this strange world alongside the reality of kaiju battles (which initially, only team Gridman and Akane are aware of). I think the originality of this outing, along with some easter eggs and treats thrown in for the original Gridman fans from the 90’s anime, makes for a fun outing, and it’s certainly an easy enough show to pick up even if you’re not a big mecha fan or deeply into the lore of such series or the genre at large.


Animation: Modern 2-D anime. In this outing, Trigger pulled way back on the fanservice (though not entirely) while preserving their otherwise typically gorgeous animation, which popped. Additionally, there was a healthy amount of 3-D animation with the mech battles…and it worked quite well.  4.75/5 points.

Characterization: There’s a concise main cast, featuring the leads of the so-called “Team Gridman”- Yuta Hibiki, ​Rikka Takarada, and Shou Utsumi; their main opposition in Akane Shinjo, and supporting these four are Gridman himself, the rest of team Gridman- featuring a mysterious group of men and women that help out the mech in his battles, transforming into weapons support, and Anti- a mysterious boy with an undying vendetta against Gridman that is all consuming.

Anyone who followed this show with any consistency knew the growing popularity of the new Trigger girls in Rikka and Akane, and while this is an aspect that really matters not one iota to the actual show’s content, it was something worth noting in the general context of following the series as it rolled along. Akane played a very spoiler-specific role, but appears right away as a popular girl and a kaiju creator. Rikka on the other hand, initially finds an amnesiac Yuta and brings him to her home- the junk shop operated by her mother.

Yuta’s a pretty standard mecha protagonist. There’s not a lot to say about him, although more specific details would be tantamount to spoilers for those who haven’t seen Gridman.

Anti is an interesting character with a spoiler heavy-arc, but as noted, he appears mysteriously one day with a drive to destroy Gridman, and an appetite to match. His role shifts as the series moves on, and while his initial characterization is reminiscent of Viral from Gurren Lagann, he’s a bit unique as well. 4/5 points.

Story: Big, overarching plot that has mecha, sci-fi and some really meta sort of elements to it, Gridman is both complex and convuluted; a mecha show that is at once true to the genre and something else entirely at the same time. How one reacts to the bigger picture here may affect how one views the overall narrative of Gridman, but regardless, it packs plenty of unexpected twists, turns and some incredible action and hype within that package. 3.75/5 points.

Themes: There’s some existentialism hanging out in this watch, and I think a lot of what makes the show intriguing, aside from highlight-reel mech fights is the characters’ struggles with their emotions and their place in a world that seems at once familiar and yet foreign. “Identity”, therefore along with “sense of self” forms a major part of the thematic crux in this show, and the resolutions to these questions often hold the answers as well. 3.75/5 points.

Don’t Insult the Viewer: A frenetically paced environment with plenty of good twists and turns, Gridman is a solid watch, which also had a conscious decision to only play music at very key moments (and this was noticeable.) Trigger also notably held back on excessive fanservice here, which really worked out in hindsight.  4.75/5 points.

Overall: 21/25 (84%): A surprisingly thoughtful sort of anime, mixed with all the action and “hype” you might expect from an anime in this genre, Trigger delivered something that was reasonably good and not dripping in fanservice the whole time either. It’s worth checking out.


Like what you see? Did you watch Gridman this past fall? 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!

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!

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!

Day 21: Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July

Hello everyone! I didn’t forget about the Advent Calendar countdown; rather, it was important to attend to some academic priorities as they wrapped up, and so I still intend to finish up the countdown, albeit slightly condensed. (Speaking of which, Campbell’s chicken noodle soup isn’t a bad pick for lunch this time of year.)

As Christmas draws ever closer, we enter yet another leg of the Rudolph sequel saga- and this time, it’s a full-blown movie with a big time crossover. So is it more of a Rudolph followup again or a Frosty continuation? Let’s find out.

The Lowdown:

Movie: Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July

Studio/year released: Rankin-Bass, 1979

AniB’s thoughts: The red-nosed reindeer’s saga continued on after Rudolph’s Shiny New Year with this ambitious feature-length crossover film with fellow Christmas star Frosty the Snowman. Yes, this film finally crossed the pair in Rankin-Bass lore, and technically counted as the trilogy piece for both characters, considering Frosty also recieved a sequel in Frosty’s Winter Wonderland (which I haven’t covered on this countdown, but it explains in this film why he has a wife and kids.)

This film actually does a fair bit of tweaking and expansion on Rudolph’s origin, while continuing to keep and change equally odd bits of continuity throughout its runtime. While Rudolph’s red nose is simply explained as an odd anomaly in the original special, this film lets us know it was a divine blessing from the aurora borealis. No, I’m not making this up- Lady Boreal is a character in this film, and before she just merely became the northern lights, she carried on her power via Rudolph’s shiny honker. Of course, this begs the question why the aurora borealis needed to be in this film or pass on her powers, and of course, Rankin-Bass brought us another villain equal to this task: Winterbolt.

This wizened old mage of icy heart and evil constitutions was the archenemy of Lady Boreal (as the story expositions), and once the ruler of the North Pole until he was sealed away for centuries. During that point, Santa came into the area, set up shop, and now for plot-specific reasons, this guy wakes up, intent on reclaiming his throne. While conniving, he’s true to the framework of Rankin’s usual Christmas baddies: prone to monologues, quite a bit of bumbling and scheming with precious little in the way of permanent results, and with a fatal weakness. (Not that I assume many of you will seek out this movie with fervor, but this might be the film’s biggest spoiler, no joke.)

The other bizarre major plot point is that somehow all this winds up involving a circus down on its luck at some generic beachside, but man, they must be hiding money somewhere to purchase all the high rent animals and performers they have. Seriously, this circus by the sea has everything you can think of when it comes to circuses, which might suggest they need a better promoter or something…which comes in the form of Rudolph and Frosty. And how might you ask did they wind up here? Milton the ice cream man, of course!….who’s he? Well, this affable fellow has a romance plot going on with the star acrobat of the circus in question, and just so happened to show up at the North Pole when this film takes place, running into Rudolph and Frosty, to talk about his problems. Winterbolt then does some mind manipulation magic and things proceed from there.

Again, in the realm of Rudolph specials (or even Frosty), expecting the unexpected seems to be the rule of thumb. Big Ben, the whale from Rudolph’s Shiny New Year makes a cameo; the “We’re a Couple of Misfits” makes its first reprise since the original Rudolph special, and Winterbolt has some interesting…ideas, such as creating a rival team of flying cobras in contrast to Santa’s reindeer. A weird, quirky film for sure- but still kitschy and charming when it’s all said and done. It’s probably become more obscure in the public eye as time has gone on, but it ties in nicely to the animated history of thes character as established by the studio in question.


Animation Quality: Stop-motion puppetry; Rankin-Bass’s so-called “Animagic” process. If nothing else, the smoothness of how things were executed in this method were much cleaner than in earlier specials featuring it, and this was the most ambitious undertaking at the time using the process, given the length of this film. 4/5 points.

Characterization: Most of the characters are self-explanatory at this point, such as Rudolph and Frosty, and in my thoughts I talked a bit about the film’s villain, Winterbolt, but there’s at least two more characters worth mentioning:

Scratcher is an anemic-looking reindeer with buckteeth, noted for being a reject from Santa’s team due to his habit of “stealing presents and candy canes.” While he serves as a secondary antagonist in this film, he mysteriously disappears after he pulls some dirty work, and it’s never quite explained at all what happened to him- a curious plot hole, for sure.

Lily Lorraine is the eccentric, energetic ringmaster of the circus by the sea. She’s noted for her cowgirl getup, complete with a ten-gallon hat and a pair of six-shooters, and naturally, she’s overjoyed to meet Rudolph and Frosty at a critical time in her buisness ventures. Her rival in the buisness is Sam Spangles- a generic underhanded carny who will use any means necessary to take the circus out from underneath her.

Also of note: Santa reappears here, but curiously enough, this is the Santa from the Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town continuity (Day 5 of this countdown), which means certain references, such as magical feed corn and the seemingly odd change from elves to “little Kringles” helping him out makes a lot more sense if you’ve seen that particular special. It’s worth noting though, because otherwise it seems very strange. 3/5 points.

Story: I already delved into this narrative a bit, but it’s certainly strange and unusual, for sure. I wouldn’t call this a good story, but it’s strangely entertaining in its own right despite being weird and unexpected in a lot of ways. 2.25/5 points.

Themes: Like most Rankin specials, this is more pure entertainment than it is any sort of rich moral tapestry, or complex thematic paragon. The main villain has flying, laughin’ snakes, among other things. Perhaps that should tell you how seriously you ought to take this. 1.5/5 points.

Don’t Insult the Viewer: On the flip side, it’s fairly easy entertainment to swallow, family friendly, charming in its own way and brings back a lot of songs from other specials. General story holes that seem odd though, make you question how anyone over the age of 12 wouldn’t notice them. 4.5/5 points.

 

Overall: 15.25/25 (61%): Ambitious for its time, with some famed characters and a patently silly plot, this film is a bit of an anomaly, and a curious one at that. Still, it’s worth mentioning within the world of Rankin-Bass’s Christmas-themed productions, even if its cherished leads let it have far more staying power than it otherwise would have had.


Like what you see? Eager to see the rest of the countdown as it finished up? Leave a comment!