or, Do You Believe in Magic?
The Illusionist (2010)
(not to be confused with the recent live action film from 2006)
I enjoyed this film from France a great deal. It is beautifully drawn (old-school handmade, cel-animation), touching, and quite melancholy, with a wonderful soundtrack (and I generally hate accordion music - between this and Ratatouille I may have to rethink my position on that particular instrument. See also Bob Dylan's 2009 Together Through Life which I like a lot). Perhaps too sad a tone for young children, which is too bad because some might gain something from it. But it seems to be made mainly for adults as it concerns passing from the age of tactile, intimate entertainments to our more crass, commercial modern times.
It has been nominated for an Oscar in 2011 alongside How to Train Your Dragon and Toy Story 3, and frankly (French pun) it doesn't stand a chance of winning. But it is lovely and should be seen by all lovers of classic animated films.
But while viewing it reminded me of some ideas I first encountered via the great John K.'s blog (he of Ren & Stimpy infamy).
An inveterate defender of the fine art of cartooning, he has some (perhaps) radical opinions about the current trends in the form. (And for the record, I am not quoting him but merely expounding on some concepts that were brought forward on his blog.)
• Naturalism. Starting from the premise that in animation one can literally portray anything imaginable on screen, what is the point in trying to replicate the real, natural world in an animated feature? Why not shoot it with real-live actors in real settings? (Or the dreaded motion-capture process?)
This became a concern for me during the The Illusionist because we are shown a number of magic tricks performed by the lead character, that never seem all that miraculous because we are watching a cartoon. Of course a rabbit can emerge from a top hat. The crux of the film is that this man is fooling a little girl with sleights-of-hand that all have a basis in reality. Why is this tale being told via a form that can transform a thing into anything else? There's little actual wonder shown on screen.
• Character design. In real-life, the eyes of a human are roughly centered on the skull. Even the classic Looney Tunes characters keep this trait (the eyes may be enlarged, as in manga, but they usually start at the midpoint of the head). But this, and recent works from Disney/Pixar/Dreamworks have a skewed view of humans where their features look deformed, with eyes too close to the top of their heads. "Where is the brain?" I must ask.
(Of course, there are many examples that break this non-existent rule, but in an otherwise naturalistic film this design decision stood out for me.)
A quibbling nitpick, I admit, but one perhaps worthy of debate among animaniacs.
I also wanted to mention two outstanding Japanese anime I saw last year, Redline and Summer Wars. AICN did feature write-ups for each with links to their trailers.
• Redline - brilliantly blends the aesthetics of late-1960's Jack Kirby and Jim Steranko with current design styles.
Close, but not hi-res enough to get the full effect. Rent it if you can, it's directed by Takeshi Koike.
• Summer Wars - which I called the "best sci-fi/fantasy film about a family dealing with an out-of-control cyberspace invasion by an A.I. creation developed by a rogue member of the family I saw in 2010. It's colorful, inventive, funny, heartfelt, and human." (i.e., more satisfying than Tron: Legacy)
Feature with a review and contest.
A bunch of cool screenshots here. This movie has the annoying cuteness found in many anime's but the dynamism of the action scenes and the heartfelt family story moved me.
I highly recommend both of them as they represent what I love so much about the medium, respectively: kinetic art design and narrative conceptual innovation.