Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

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Slinging into cinemas is an animated take on the New York web flying hero we know and love and whilst the MCU may have dusted off Parker for now, this superhero outing is well and truly alive with comedy, colour and creative heart.

Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is a teenager in the Big Apple wanting to follow his artistic side and on a graffiti adventure he’s bitten by a radioactive spider making him a second Spider-Man in the city. As a super collider threatens his world, Morales is faced with a host of other Spidey heroes and learns to be one himself thanks to the teachings of multi-verse Peter B. Parker (Nick Johnson).

It’s this multi (or Spider) verse setup which makes for fun blends of different animation. The artists and illustrators have amazingly captured the details of quirks from the likes of ‘Looney Tunes’ inspired slapstick, brooding noir shades of black and grey and cutesy anime amongst the normal world of circled crosshatching to reflect the patterned texture of real-life comic books. The animation across the board is stunning and some of the best example of computer-animated graphic I’ve ever watched.

The story makes time for great team ups between the meeting heroes and they’re never messy or confused, each version of Spider-Man gets their time to shine and the story is totally engaging and cleverly thought through. Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman add great layers of darkness, humour and heroic morals into the screenplay whilst never losing the central beating heart of Miles and his world.

Vibrancy feels like too weak a word to describe this colourful comic-book flick, which just explodes off the page with flashes of bright visuals and gorgeous style. It’s a darn art masterpiece which takes the breath away and should win every award that goes its way. In all honesty it’s an incredible wonder of workmanship and the whole thing from start to finish is insanely enjoyable. The impending glitch of the villains’ plan gives the film great drive and Morales’ learning curve lends the film that “with great power comes great responsibility” ideal but marvellously riffs on that and a couple of other Spider-Man moments.

Into the Spider-Verse’ is a lively and immensely entertaining animated superhero movie. It’s backed by a cracking soundtrack, spot-on voice performances, sensational style and a unique mirage of shifting shapes makes for one of the best final acts you’ll see. This is no doubt the best ‘Spider-Man’ film and it’s quite possibly one of the best comic book movies.

9/10

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The Breadwinner (2018)

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From the studios that gifted us the stunning fantasy feature ‘Song of the Sea’, comes this equally stunning film. There’s a smart combination of visual wonder and coming of age material, but it’s also a story not scared to tackle the troubling setting of a Taliban controlled city.

On the streets of Kabul, a young girl called Parvana (Saara Chaudry) helps her father sell wares to passersby. A heated argument causes a furious Taliban member to arrest him and he’s taken to prison. Parvana has a mother, sister and little brother back at home, who are running out of food and because women aren’t allowed to roam free by themselves, she decides to change her identity in the hope of helping her family and finding her dad again.

This story based off a book by Deborah Ellis is such an honest, textured look on a world far away from the luxuries of Western living. Ellis and Anita Doron have mastered a screenplay that wonderfully juggles the main narrative with a magical story within a story. What works so flawlessly for this film, is the way they aren’t afraid to show how brutal the place can be and how chained women are; by the words of men and society in general. When the film illustrates these times of powerful masculinity beating down on innocents, it’s a significant weight that bears down on you watching and really makes you think.

The animation is gorgeous and there’s two styles on show. The prominent one is a standard but immersive, grounded and dusty drawing of Afghanistan’s capital, one that’s filled with squared off imagery, browns, whites and muted yellows with the odd pop of candy colour. Then there’s the tale narrated within the story, this like ‘Song of the Sea’, is mystical and bursting with a vivid fantasy set-up. The characters that walk this world look like paper puppetry and the flat visuals roll sideways like a bewitching sideshow act.

There might be some that think a character stepping stone reflects a Disney heroine, but Parvana cutting off her hair is where the ‘Mulan’ similarities start and end. Women are deemed fine to walk the city only if they’re covered up and led by a man, otherwise they best be inside. This stifling way of things leads the well-read and smart young girl to bravely make a change and step out into a place dominated by men. A developing friendship with a fellow child on the streets of Kabul is great to watch and important too, it’s her escape, they can share an innocence and much needed play-about antics, but what’s so well presented is their maturity. Where they’ve grown up has made them wise beyond their years, so they know how to try and avoid the dangerous environment that is presented throughout the film.

‘The Breadwinner’ is a film I won’t forget anytime soon, women live in a world of rules, no breathing room and incoming Western threats which aren’t shied away from. I am devastated to see that on a $10 million budget, the film hasn’t even broken $500’000, because this is a film that deserves to be seen and applauded for it’s beautiful story of culture, humour, war, loss, oppression and transformation.

9/10

 

Finding Dory (2016)

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Thirteen years after the watery world of ‘Finding Nemo’, we’re back under the sea with the recognisable clown-fish and blue tang. This time around the story shifts into following forgetful Dory and though there are distractions of new characters, stunning animation and some fun moments, this doesn’t make you forget that you’re watching something familiar and predictable.

Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) is still with father and son pair Marlin and Nemo (Albert Brooks & Hayden Rolence) but she feels she’s forgetting something important. Flashbacks and tid-bits of her past and parents come and go and she ends up in a Marine Life Institute hoping to finally remember something and find her family.

Now, I must say I wasn’t a huge fan of the 2003 aquatic adventure but I admit it was and still is colourful and quite poignant in places. This sequel, directed again by Andrew Stanton has the same watery wonder but feels very samey and for a Pixar movie, that’s a trend I’m starting to worry about now…what with the less than inspiring ‘The Good Dinosaur’.

Animation speaking, this is one of the finest movies out there. I say this because the detail in every shot that must have been ached over in story boarding meetings come to fantastic life. I can imagine water is hard to get right but they pull it off mightily. This feature and the sweet Piper short beforehand excel in texture and shading. The grains of sand, waves of water, foam, sea-life and plants all look beautifully real.

What I found a little bum aching about this film is that it begins stretching out and even the children of the audience were restless before the third act had kicked in. Maybe it’s because it’s following the most annoying character from the first flick or perhaps it’s that thing after thing keeps happening stopping Dory getting to her goal, which as you’d expect her to get to it anyway it all begins dawning to a yawn fest as she’s tested time and time again.

The memory loss idea is fine to a point and endearingly cute when handled by the bug eyed baby Dory, but then it just keeps going, just keeps going, going, going. Hey, even silly is okay in my books, more so for animations but there’s points in this film that ideas become a tad too over the top and the whole Marine location doesn’t feel as special as it could be. It’s generally the knack of repeatedly telling us about memory, life and being good even if you’re missing of something, i.e memory that don’t need to be so often and so obvious.

I did like the weird yet well written use of Sigourney Weaver as some unseen goddess aiding the forgetful fish. The animation as mentioned is superb, the new characters are fun, from a cool camouflaging octopus to a struggling beluga whale. The moments of darkness are done well and make you near emotional as the film questions Dory’s existence but I can’t help thinking that I’ll forget this pretty soon and remember that Piper was much better than the actual full length Pixar creation.

Ellen DeGeneres is much loved in America and here she must have her fans, so I can imagine they’re loving her non stop forgetful routine and energetic enthusiasm she voices, which I like to a point but there’s a line and it gets grating quite quickly. Albert Brooks is a great worrier as Marlin and it’s nice to hear him back as the parental clown-fish. Ed O’Neill is Hank the octopus and voices cranky very well but makes him a character to still like. Fellow Modern Family actor Ty Burrell is Bailey the beluga whale with echo location problems and though he’s underused he gets some funny nervous lines and excitement nearing the end. It’s nice to see that former Nemo voice artist Alexander Gould gets a role in this movie too.

Spectacularly animated and a decent sequel, but more of something that feels like an unoriginal continuation and nothing different.

6/10

It’s Such a Beautiful Day (2012)

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This 62 minute animation from the weirdly artistic and absurd Don Hertzfeldt is funny, philosophical and unsettling. The notions of life and the crippling fear of losing it is dealt with in a comedic yet dark way that worms into you as you watch.

There are 3 chapters to this movie as Hertzfeldt created three separate shorts before combining them all. The first segment titled ‘Everything Will Be OK’ focuses on stick-man Bill and his medical condition. The second chapter, ‘I Am So Proud of You’ sees more of Bill’s past and his Grandma too. Then ‘It’s Such a Beautiful Day’ wraps up things with Bill in hospital and coming to realise death could be taking him soon.

It’s a great hour-ish feature that involves us with a stick character, more amazingly it manages to get inside our heads about Bill losing his. Bill’s mind is getting frayed and he’s clearly losing it but he’s still engaging and as we see him do things, the film speaks out in a personal way. The grand scare of forgetting everything and moving on is dealt with a blackly comic manner but has droppings of revelations and visionary splendour.

It isn’t just stick creations and black and white, there are real life backgrounds that enhance the story. Trees or skies or cities fill the screen adding a quirky edge to the wobbly drawn lines of Bill and his world. Flashes of colour also speak volumes in actually being alarming and akin to the mental state of Bill. This narrative and the squawks of reds and oranges burst out like the disturbing nature of the ‘Don’t Hug Me, I’m Scared’ videos. Bill’s life is animated at such an absurdist level that shows off the affecting thoughts life can throw up.

Hertzfeldt writes and directs and well pretty much does everything for this film. The story is great for the most part. There’s brilliantly tossed in lines about persecuting Jews, train deaths or inconvenient caskets and general quick fire comments that are random but poignant. The dark humour tag couldn’t be more right for this film, it steps into the same shady landscape of ‘Salad Fingers’ and his unsettling tone. From ex-girlfriends, literal fish heads and a tennis shoe filled with leaves, this movie paints a uniquely twisted look on heartbreak, family, life and death.

Musically this film is backed by many classical composers that do magic in making everything seem grander and more profound. The droll humour of the nonchalant narration adds another grit of sound to the collection of used car noises or screeches in the more nightmarish moments. It’s as if the voice leading the story forward is unbothered but charismatic enough to make the words stick.

If you’ve always been interested in films with a difference than this animated spin on memory, melancholia, loss and life in between should be right up your hand-drawn street. If not then check out the weirdest Simpsons couch gag by Hertzfeldt called ‘Clown in the Dumps’ to see what kind of absurd visuals I’m on about.

6.5/10

 

 

Zootropolis (2016)

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Fluffy and fun, this is seriously one of the best animations from Disney I have seen. The story is captivating and more politically charged than you may expect from a cartoon about anthropomorphic animals. There’s plenty of laughs for both adults and children and it just looks so loved by the detail in every shot.

In the countryside lives Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), an enthusiastic rabbit who always wants to follow her dreams, which happen to be becoming the first cop on the force in busy Zootropolis. There she gets slung to the job of parking warden by Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) but thankfully it lets her meet cunning fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) who may just be able to help with the more alarming spate of disappearances in the city.

Disney have crafted such a rich animation with this movie, it looks absolutely incredible. It’s a very beautiful film, with lots of colour, texture and detail to draw you into this urban landscape of upright walking mammals. It’s 100% a film that warrants repeated viewing, to enjoy the fast paced fun of the story but more so to try and keep up with all the brilliant visual puns that litter the backdrop of mostly every scene. From billboards to pirate DVDs, this film is stuffed full of gags that enrich the environment of this animal world.

Jared Bush and Phil Johnston pen a wonderful screenplay that has enough heart and fun for the kids, but also clever comedy and darker subtext for the grown ups watching. Of course the message about trying and never giving up is nothing original but somehow here with all the additional writing about stereotyping animals for attacks and subjecting them to exclusion is extremely relevant to the worrying topic of what’s happening in the world right now. It’s a political angle that I never expected but gladly accepted because it makes this movie feel so much more necessary and thoughtful than prior Disney films.

Michael Giacchino provides the music, making you feel safe in his capable hands. I mean after a collection of credits such as ‘Inside Out’, ‘Super 8’ and ‘Up’ you know the score is going to be impressive, and it is exactly that. It bounces like Hopps does and it buzzes with intrigue as the mystery of the case begins counting down. On top of this is Shakira’s inclusion as a popstar Gazelle who provides an infuriating ear-worm of a song that may just rival the similarly catchy ‘Let it Go’.

Ginnifer Goodwin makes Judy Hopps come alive with bouncy enthusiasm as she tries to make it in the metropolis. So when she becomes more upset and generally droopy in the ear, her vocal performance makes that contrast more noticeable and you feel for the character. Jason Bateman is great as Nick Wilde, giving him that hustler edge but all the time you know there’s something under the fuzzy orange surface, to make him more human if you will. Idris Elba is booming and fierce as the chief of police, Tommy Chong lands in one of the weirdest yet funniest scenes as clear stoner Yax the yak. Nate Torrence is also a star of the show as an obese cheetah full of camp and admiration for Gazelle and her music.

This is such a magnificent film that serves importantly to children about the message of difference and how to treat that, it’s also funny, clever, well written, paced and animated making it one of the finer Disney releases I’ve seen. Ever.

8.5/10

Recess: School’s Out (2001)

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Positively making me smile like a wild Cheshire cat, this cartoon film is a jolly trip down memory lane even if the story is basic and the songs become a distracting addition. I still wish I went to a school with a playground like they had.

As summer vacation happily rests on the corner, TJ (Andrew Lawrence) and his friends pull off an ice-cream prank; a big show of their close nature and the fact they’re just kids fooling about. Sadly TJ is left to a possible summer alone where he learns Third Street school may be harbouring secrets and for once he may have to save the building instead of causing chaos to get out of lessons.

Based on the popular Disney animated series from the late 90’s, this movie is at the end of the day nothing more than a stretched out episode and it does feel like that. I wish it didn’t because maybe my youthful days remembered Recess as a more exciting escape but watching this film critically made me realise how simple the plot is. That being said there is some smart writing, with jokes landing well and ‘Home Alone’ style madness ensuing as the school children team up to save the day.

The best factor for me is the nostalgia felt when watching the movie play out, obviously that wouldn’t have been the case for kids and adults when watching it upon the 2001 release date but even then I feel the designated audience would have lapped up this fun hi-jink as we see Spinelli, Vince, Gus, Gretchen and Mikey join together to uncover the surreal goings on in the school and stop the bad guy from bringing about an ice age…yes an ice age, that’s the big bad threat of this film.

The music choices feel a bit pushed and perhaps only suited for the grown-ups as more classic songs such as One and Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In play over some of the sequences. They do feel forced as if trying to build some pulse and energy to proceedings when the storyboarding should have done it alone. The vibrant 60’s themed soundtrack is amusing though in the flashback to younger teachers being hippy and loving free love, a quite obvious reference to drug culture of the time I wouldn’t have ever picked up on before, heck the closing credits are a psychedelic ride too.

Apart from a couple of glitchy computer generated moments and a thinly drawn out extended episode of a film, this is by far an enjoyable and comical cartoon excursion that makes me remember the good old days.

6/10

 

The Boy and the World (2013)

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One of the most interesting animations I have ever ever seen, this multi award winning Brazilian movie will stick with me for it’s refreshing originality, message and complexity. I only wish I’d seen it before now but at least I’ve seen it and I hope it reaches a wide audience because it deserves large viewer ship.

A young boy living in a house away from the hubbub of a fictional city with his mum and dad, sees his father leave by train one day. He keeps seeing his dad even when he’s not there so one day the child decides to board a train and try to reunite his family leading him to see more and more of the world.

Ale Abreu’s direction is near flawless; the decisions he makes in expanding this textural world are luscious and seamless. Each scene or new landscape is a transition of pure poetry with lines sprawling into the next white screen to create the next new location. He certainly knows how to direct an animation that speaks volumes even when there is no dialogue.

That’s the thing, with a film of next to no talking this film is rich and weighty and just sublime. There may be a couple of ideas in Abreu’s screenplay that lost me, whether it’s endless dads or the pre-ending home scene but all in all this is a cleverly written script that utilises on a rainbow world for children with grown up themes and very oppressing visuals and subtext to hit home for the adult watchers.

When moving on to the animation, it must be said that you’ve not seen anything like this before, almost guaranteed as we see ever growing worlds filled with technology, absurdity and newspaper cuttings mixed in with the hand-drawn like characters. It’s artwork is mesmerising, just the opening alone with it’s kaleidoscopic and hypnotising lines and swirls draw you into the bright world. A video game looking section as shipping containers get sucked into glass domes or the first train sequence filled with white rails and a black screen shuttling us into the city land are two further examples of how amazingly unique this film is.

Ruben Feffer and Gustavo Kurlat more than make this film too, with their engaging musical contribution. The festival atmosphere and harmonic singing from time to time is distinctive and then there’s the neat sound used. Accordions for car horns or clapping when rain hits the ground. It’s a film fascinatingly magical in colour and sound.

I must also comment on a moment when the cartoon burns and peels away, what an impacting surprise and though there’s been hints to the deep presence of life and Earth shattering changes before now, this is when we fully see one message of this film which raised hairs on my arm and neck. This film is political but not overly so that cute critters and colourful innocence still keep interest for the little watchers.

Apart from a tiny sprinkle of confusion and white screen pain this animation is sensational and I feel better for having watched such an interesting and vibrant story.

8.5/10