Sunday, December 30, 2007

You'll Never Forget, but You Might Just Forgive..

As I have often established, I dislike horror intensely. What sets me off, triggers my PTSD and causes me to become very uncomfortable and angry...are two things about horror. First, the feeling that someone is truly enjoying causing pain and death. Second, that there is no justice, that God either condones this pain...or that God also enjoys it. And those are two aspects that have been the basis of nearly all horror movies made in the last several decades.

But I know the musical Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and it does not have either one. I've never seen it on stage, but I have seen the George Hearn/Angela Lansbury taped version of the original, expensive Broadway production. And in it, Sweeney is not so much enjoying the murders as just doing them, finding they do not salve his emotional pains. And the denouement makes it clear that whoever would choose to take vengeance had better dig two graves.

That's why I had no qualms about seeing what Tim Burton would do to this story. And amazingly, with the active participation of the composer Stephen Sondheim, he made a perfect film. It is a high point in Burton's career, and shows he has greater maturity and depth as a filmmaker than any of us would have guessed. I will attempt to explain what I saw, and hopefully won't repeat the other published reviews of the movie.

First, many of the songs were cut. "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" is never sung in the movie, although it plays under the credits and many scenes in the film. There is no chorus to set the mood; Sondheim lets Burton do it, and he does it agonizingly well. Music needed for stagehands to change scenes isn't necessary in film, and leaving it in would slow the film down.

Second, Johnny Depp doesn't belt his songs the way a theatrical actor would need to do. He isn't playing to the back rows, he's playing to the camera inches away. His Sweeney is the most carefully controlled, quiet performance I think he's ever given. Even when he's dancing with Helen Bonham-Carter in "Try the Priest," the most exuberant song in the musical and the first-act closer, he doesn't need to bellow.

Third, as the photo above shows, most of the film is in Burton's signature blue/black shadings from Corpse Bride. It sometimes becomes yellow or red or other colors, but very much like duotone. When it breaks out into full color in some scenes, it's a shock. It suggests that CGI was used, not so much for spectacular effects, but to "paint" the appearance of the actor's faces in a way makeup and lighting couldn't do.

Fourth, I can only guess that Burton modeled Depp and Bonham-Carter's looks and mannerisms from the more dramatic goths. As Mrs. Lovett, Bonham-Carter exposes a lot of cleavage, but it's all dead, corpse-like flesh. Unlike most Mrs. Lovett portrayers I've seen, she behaves like an abused child waiting - or hoping - to have her father or boyfriend beat the crap out of her. That's an ugly thing to say, but it's the appearance many real goth girls take at conventions. The look will be popular at conventions for years, if the goths can afford the varieties of cloths and leathers it took to pull this off.

Fifth, the blood and grisliness - staples of horror movies - are mostly horrifying because the little orphan child Toby (Ed Sanders) is forced to encounter it. This, I daresay, is the real reason for the R rating. The child is younger than any other Toby I've seen; he is truly a child where most plays cast at least a teenager in the part.

It was an uncomfortable film to see, especially for me, but it was roundly satisfying. A lot of the people in the audience (in a 4 PM showing, a crowded theatre) had never experienced the play. They gasped and were spellbound. They were even surprised that they could laugh at times. But of course, as the second half of the film played out, the laughter stopped. Whatever the box office standings the film will gain, Sweeney Todd will become a classic. It has brought Burton back from his terrible Mars Attacks.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Christmas: Better Animated than Live

I heartily apologize for not posting recently. I've been trying to create a post about Christmas movies for the last few weeks. Unfortunately, I've been unable to get any of the stills to illustrate the article, plus I'm working weird hours, and apparently a nerve in my right arm is making some of my fingers numb...let's just say there are reasons.

However, I want to leave you on this season with this thought: animated holiday films, on the whole, have been more entertaining than their live action counterparts.

Think about it. There are only three main types of live-action Christmas films. By "Christmas films" I mean films that involve the meaning of the holiday. A film that just happens to take place at Christmas, like Billy Wilder's The Apartment, isn't a Christmas film. Here are the three types, in what I consider most interesting to least.

1) It's a Wonderful Life. The last few generations of Americans have made this film important, because it talks about our disease of this season, Christmas Depression - and the feeling underlying it, that all our good works of charity mean nothing. The film is so appropriate and so meaningful, only one person has tried to imitate it. And Marlo Thomas, playing a female George Bailey in It Happened One Christmas, lacked the humanity and humor of James Stewart. The original still stands alone.

2) A Christmas Carol. Dickens's story is fairly simple; a miserly, uncharitable man regains his humanity. This story in all its filmed forms is less involving, since it is so melodramatic and predictable. People who want to prove they are capital-A Actors love playing Scrooge, from Patrick Stewart to Henry Winkler to Jack Palance. That may be the only reason so many versions have been made, each one showcasing Scrooge histrionics. Think about it; do you remember anyone in these various versions who played Tiny Tim or Bob Cratchet, for instance? You crank through these Scrooge-fests, knowing what will happen, hoping for some little variation in the hoary pattern. Even a wiseass, tongue-in-cheek version like Bill Murray's Scrooged held no surprises, except how little we woundup caring for Bill Murray.

3) How I Helped Santa Claus Save Christmas. There is no film with this name, but that is the topic of a lot of inferior holiday films. It involves taking Santa Claus, the immortal and magical spirit of Christmas, and making him a wimp. Something conventional is about to screw up Christmas, like an accountant, a lawyer or an arctic oil-driller, and only Kate Jackson or Ernest P. Worrell can solve Santa's impossible problem. These are the eternal, disposable Christmas films that always fill up TV schedules. Fred Claus, Ernest Saves Christmas, The Christmas That Almost Wasn't, Santa Claus: The Movie...

Now, look at some of the unique ways we have experienced Christmas in animated form. These are anything but cliches.

The South Park Christmas Specials. The whole series began with "The Spirit of Christmas," whose topic seemed silly but cut to the heart of America's Christmas dilemma - is Christianity really deposed by the commercial holiday interests? When the series started, "Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo" showed how Jews feel alienated in the Christmas season - and how political correctness makes "fairness" unfair. Parker and Stone have unfailingly found something each Christmas worthy of comment. Perhaps the greatest moment was in "Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics," with Mr. Garrison singing his song of right-wing Christian intolerance to Muslims, Shintoists and Hindus: "Merry F***ing Christmas."

Olive, the Other Reindeer. On a lighter sense, here is a silly special based on puns, done in a strange computer-animated form that looks like animated 2-D cutouts on a 3-D background. A dog named Olive (voiced by Drew Barrymore) hears on the radio that Santa has lost one of his sleigh-pullers, and will depend on "all of the other reindeer." She sees this as a call to action, and starts heading to the North Pole. Amazingly, producer Matt Groenig restrained the cynicism of The Simpsons and Futurama and worked the Christmas angles completely for fun. When did you last see a live-action Christmas show that was just plain fun?

Moral Orel: The Best Christmas Ever! Adult Swim aired this show out of order; it was intended to be the season-ender, but aired as the first episode to fill a void in Christmas shows. It turned out to be a brilliant move. It established the basics of the Moral Orel universe: the hypocracy of Christians in the town of Moralton, the emotional coldness of the people who attend "God's Favorite Protestant Church" - and how despite it, little Orel still believes in the goodness and mercy of God. The closing shot, of a hopeful Orel slowly being lost in a snowstorm, is the most moving moment I have ever seen in an Adult Swim original program.

The Pinky and The Brain Christmas Special. This Emmy-winning show brought about a change in its characters, the two lab mice intent on world domination. Previously, Brain (voiced by Maurice LeMarche) was simply the obsessed, anal mad scientist who failed through random accident or a mistake from his dumb partner Pinky (voiced by Rob Paulsen). In this special, the Brain's plan almost succeeds - until he reads Pinky's letter to Santa, in which he asks for nothing, only for the Brain to be happy. Smitten by this tenderness, Brain allows his plan to blow up in his face. He became a full character in that moment; arguably, the only fully-fleshed character to come from the Warner/Amblin cartoons.

I could provide pages more of examples, but let me mention a few briefly. The Rankin-Bass stop-motion specials are always memorable, but I don't think it's the animation. It's the music, written by established pop and Broadway composers, that carries these shows. Nobody on the talent level of Johnny Marks is writing music specifically for Christmas specials these days. When Disney made Mickey's Christmas Carol, it brought the character of Scrooge McDuck out of the comics (where he was created by the unsung artist/writer Carl Barks) and into animation. That paved the way for Disney's early animated TV shows.

We Cartoon Geeks, a few years ago, named our favorite specials. Michelle chose the Richard Williams animated version of A Christmas Carol, and it is very different from the live-action and other animated versions. Williams, the troubled and hassled animator, made his Carol dark and moody, even including the ghastly children Ignorance and Want, usually left out of other versions. It also featured Alastair Sim as the voice of Scrooge, the part he played in live action in the acclaimed 1951 live-action version.

Martin chose Bill and Opus: A Wish for Wings that Work. And he's happy this tale was finally released on DVD. The moody and troubled penguin Opus wishes for something impossible - and even in the cynical and dark Bloom County universe, that impossible wish happens.

Tom's favorite is Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, the first special animated for television. In it, Jim Backus's pompous and nearsighted character becomes a dramatic and emotional Scrooge in a stage production. It was the first time I'd ever seen a "funny" cartoon character become serious, and it expanded my understanding of drama and animation.

Think about it, and I think you'll agree - the spirit of Christmas, the one that goes beyond a narrow religious interpretation and has meaning for everyone, is better served by animation than any other way. And in that spirit, on behalf of all of us, may I wish you all the best animated Christmas ever, and a great animated New Year to come.


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Honorary Annies now announced

WINSOR MCCAY AWARD WINNERS (career contributions to the art of animation)

John Canemaker
- Animation historian, educator, Oscar winning filmmaker. Canemaker's tomes on Windsor McCay and Felix The Cat, his numerous books on Disney history (The Nine Old Men, Mary Blair, etc.) are esstential references. Canemaker is Chair of NYU's Animation Program and won an Academy Award for his animated short The Moon And The Son: An Imagined Conversation.

Glen Keane
- One of the leading lights in the current generation of Disney character animators, Keane's artistry has been the bedrock of many classic animated features since 1977. Most notably, Keane was lead animator of Ariel in The Little Mermaid, The Beast in Bauty and The Beast, and animated the characters Aladdin, Tarzan, Pocahontas in their respective Disney films. Aside from Disney he's worked on animated films of Star Trek and Alvin and the Chipmunks.

John Kricfalusi
- Notorious animator Kricfalusi created the influential Ren & Stimpy Show in 1991. He restored an individual look to TV animation, pushing the envelope during the "creator-driven" movement of the 1990s. He also pioneered the use of artist-driven Flash animation. His animated films and design style currently influences a new generation of cartoonists, with which he communicates personally to through his blog.

JUNE FORAY (significant and benevolent or charitable impact on the art and industry of animation)

Jerry Beck

UB IWERKS (technical achievement)

Jonathan Gay, Gary Grossman and Robert Tatsumi – the creators of FLASH computer software


Edwin R. Leonard - promoting the Linux open system for animation in animation studios and gaming software development


Marcus Adams

Jo Jo Batista

Steve Gattuso

Jon Reeves

Gemma Ross

Woodbury University

(Gotta love this list! ^_^)

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, December 03, 2007

Annie Award Noms time!


Best Animated Feature

Bee Movie – DreamWorks Animation
Persepolis – Sony Pictures Classics
Ratatouille – Pixar Animation Studios
Surf’s Up – Sony Pictures Animation
The Simpsons Movie – Twentieth Century Fox

Best Home Entertainment Production
Doctor Strange – MLG Productions
Futurama "Bender’s Big Score" – The Curiosity Company in association with 20th Century Fox Television

Best Animated Short Subject
Everything Will Be OK – Bitter Films
How to Hook Up Your Home Theater – Walt Disney Feature Animation
Shorty McShorts’ Shorts "Mascot Prep" – Walt Disney Television Animation
The Chestnut Tree – Picnic Pictures
Your Friend the Rat – Pixar Animation Studios

Best Animated Television Commercial
CVS Watering Can – Acme Filmworks
Esurance "Homeowners" – Wild Brain
Idaho Lottery: Twister – Acme Filmworks
Oregon Lottery "Alaska" – Laika/house
Power Shares Escape Average – Acme Filmworks

Best Animated Television Production
Jane and the Dragon – Weta Productions Limited & Nelvana Limited
Creative Comforts America – Aardman Animations
Moral Orel – ShadowMachine
Robot Chicken Star Wars- ShadowMachine
Kim Possible – Walt Disney Television Animation

Best Animated Television Production for Children
Chowder – Cartoon Network Studios
El Tigre – Nickelodeon
Little Einsteins – Disney Channel
Peep and the Big Wide World – Discovery Kids
The Backyardigans – Nickelodeon

Best Animated Video Game
Avatar: The Last Airbender "The Burning Earth" – THQ, Inc.
Bee Movie Game – Activision
Ratatouille – THQ, Inc.
Transformers: The Game – Blur Studios


Animated Effects
Gary Bruins – "Ratatouille" – Pixar Animation Studios
Deborah Carlson – "Surf’s Up" – Sony Pictures Animation
Ryan Laney – "Spider-Man 3" – Sony Pictures Animation
James Mansfield – "How to Hook Up Your Home Theater" – Walt Disney Feature Animation
Jon Reisch – "Ratatouille" – Pixar Animation Studios

Animation Production Artist
John Clark – "Surf’s Up" – Sony Pictures Animation
Michael Isaak – "Bee Movie" – DreamWorks Animation
Hyun-Min Lee – "The Chestnut Tree" – Picnic Pictures
Natasha Liberman – "Growing Up Creepie "Creepie & The Candy Factory" – Taffy Entertainment LLC, Telegrael Teoranta, Discovery Communications Inc., SunWoo Entertainment, Peach Blossom Media
Jim Worthy – My Gym Partner’s A Monkey "Meet the Spidermonkeys" – Cartoon Network Studios

Character Animation in a Feature Production
Dave Hardin – "Surf’s Up" – Sony Pictures Animation
Alan Hawkins – "Surf’s Up" – Sony Pictures Animation
Michal Makarewicz – "Ratatouille" – Pixar Animation Studios

Character Animation in a Television Production
Elizabeth Harvatine - Moral Orel "Nature 2" – ShadowMachine
Monica Kennedy – El Tigre – Nickelodeon
Eric Towner – Robot Chicken – ShadowMachine

Character Design in an Animated Feature Production
Sylvain Deboissy – "Surf’s Up" – Sony Pictures Animation
Carter Goodrich – "Ratatouille" – Pixar Animation Studios

Character Design in an Animated Television Production
Jorge R. Gutierrez – El Tigre "Fistful of Collars" - Nickelodeon

Directing in an Animated Feature Production
Brad Bird "Ratatouille" – Pixar Animation Studios
Ash Brannon & Chris Buck "Surf’s Up" – Sony Pictures Animation
Chris Miller & Raman Hui – "Shrek The Third" – DreamWorks Animation
Vincent Paronnaud & Marjane Satrapi – "Persepolis" – Sony Pictures Classics
David Silverman – "The Simpsons Movie" – Twentieth Century Fox

Directing in an Animated Television Production
Seth Green "Robot Chicken Star Wars" – ShadowMachine
David Hartman - Tigger & Pooh "Turtles Need for Speed" – Walt Disney Television Animation
Raymie Muzquiz - Squirrel Boy "Gumfight at the S’Okay Corral" – Cartoon Network Studios
Howy Parkins – The Emperor’s New School "Emperor’s New Musical" - Walt Disney Television Animation
Gary Trousdale "Shrek The Halls" – DreamWorks Animation

Music in an Animated Feature Production
Olivier Bernet – "Persepolis" – Sony Pictures Classics
Danny Elfman, Rufus Wainwright & Rob Thomas – "Meet The Robinsons" – Walt Disney Feature Animation
Michael Giacchino – "Ratatouille" – Pixar Animation Studios
Rupert Gregson-Williams – "Bee Movie" – DreamWorks Animation
Amy Powers, Russ DeSalvo & Jeff Danna – "Disney Princess Enchanted Tales" – DisneyToon Studios/Walt Disney Video/Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Music in an Animated Television Production
Alf Clausen & Michael Price – The Simpsons "Yokel Chords" – Gracie Films in association with 20th Century Fox
Evan Lurie, Robert Scull & Steven Bernstein – The Backyardigans "International Super Spy" – Nickelodeon
Drew Neumann & Gregory Hinde – Billy & Mandy’s Big Boogey Adventure – Cartoon Network Studios
Shaw Patterson – El Tigre "Yellow Pantera" – Nickelodeon
James L. Venable & Jennifer Kes Remington – Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends "The Bloo Superdude and the Magic Potato Power" – Cartoon Network Studios

Production Design in an Animated Feature Production
Doug Chiang – "Beowulf" – Paramount Pictures
Harley Jessup – "Ratatouille" – Pixar Animation Studios
Marelo Vignali – "Surf’s Up" – Sony Pictures Animation

Production Design in an Animated Television Production

Storyboarding in an Animated Feature Production
Don Hall – ‘Meet The Robinsons’ – Walt Disney Feature Animation
Denise Koyama – "Surf’s Up" – Sony Pictures Animation
Ted Mathot – "Ratatouille" – Pixar Animation Studios
Sean Song – "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" – IMAGI Animation Studios
Nassos Vakalis – "Bee Movie" – DreamWorks Animation

Storyboarding in an Animated Television Production
Ben Balistreri – Danny Phantom "Torrent of Terror" – Nickelodeon
Aldin Baroza – The Replacements "London Calling" – Walt Disney Television Animation
Dave Bennett – Tom and Jerry Tales – Warner Bros. Animation
Steve Fonti – Family Guy "No Chris Left Behind" – Fox TV Animation/Fuzzy Door Productions
Roy Meurin – My Friends Tigger and Pooh "Good Night to Pooh" – Walt Disney Television Animation

Voice Acting in an Animated Feature Production
Janeane Garofalo – Voice of Collette – "Ratatouille" – Pixar Animation Studios
Ian Holm – Voice of Skinner – "Ratatouille" – Pixar Animation Studios
Julie Kavner – Voice of Marge Simpson – "The Simpsons Movie" – Twentieth Century Fox
Patton Oswalt – Voice of Remy – "Ratatouille" – Pixar Animation Studios
Patrick Warburton – Voice of Ken – "Bee Movie" – DreamWorks Animation

Voice Acting in an Animated Television Production
Scott Adsit – Voice of Clay Puppington – "Moral Orel" – ShadowMachine
Madison Davenport – Voice of Sophianna – "Christmas is Here Again!" – Easy To Dream Entertainment
Tom Kenny – Voice of SpongeBob – SpongeBob SquarePants "Spy Buddies" – Nickelodeon
Eartha Kitt – Voice of Yzma – The Emperor’s New School "Emperor’s New Musical" – Walt Disney Television Animation
Eddie Murphy – Voice of Donkey – "Shrek The Halls" - DreamWorks Animation

Writing in an Animated Feature Production
Brad Bird – "Ratatouille" – Pixar Animation Studios
James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Al Jean, Ian Maxtone-Graham, George Meyer, David, Mirkin, Mike Reiss, Mike Scully, Matt Selman, John Swartzwelder & Jon Vitti – "The Simpsons Movie" – Twentieth Century Fox
Don Rhymer and Ash Brannon & Chris Buck & Christopher Jenkins – "Surf’s Up" – Sony Pictures Animation
Marjane Satrapi & Vincent Paronnaud – "Persepolis" – Sony Pictures Classics

Writing in an Animated Television Production
C.H. Greenblatt & William Reiss – Chowder "Burple Nurples" – Cartoon Network Studios
Gene Grillo – Back at the Barnyard "Cowman and Ratboy" – Nickelodeon
Ian Maxtone-Graham & Billy Kimball – The Simpsons "24 Minutes" – Gracie Films
Christopher Painter – Squirrel Boy "I Only Have Eye For You" – Cartoon Network Studios
Tom Sheppard – My Gym Partner’s A Monkey "The Butt of the Jake" – Cartoon Network Studios

Labels: , ,