Saturday, November 07, 2009

Quick reviews: Astro Boy and Ponyo...

Yeah, I know, this is awfully late, and these are going to be really cursory reviews. Still, I thought both of them had their really good points, and one of them is a must-get when it comes out on DVD. The other one? Well, let's get to the really stand-out one first.

The dub wasn't sick-making, first off. I wish I could have heard the Japanese performance and read subtitles throughout, but this wasn't too bad. This is Miyazaki in his Totoro mode, with winsome magical creatures, and a benevolent nature guided by the Kami vs. malevolent human destruction of the natural world.

I also like what he did to the Little Mermaid myth. In the original a love-struck mermaid gives up being immortal and a sea creature to be the human bride of a handsome prince, always tortured by her forever aching feet but glad to be with the man of her dreams. Instead of love, Ponyo is motivated by a need for friendship and for belonging to a family. Isn't that something everyone wants, anyway?

As always with Ghibli films Ponyo is a visual feast, and exists in that Ghibli universe where Modern Japan and Old Europe meld and mingle into a single beautiful place. Even the flotsam and jetsam in the ocean is gorgeous. This is coming out on DVD in March 2010, although there is another DVD I've seen in some places in Little Tokyo that actually has English (British English) language subtitles. I'm thinking it has its origins in Hong Kong. If you are impatient I'm sure the latter is available online. But for crying out loud buy the R1 Disney release if you do. I recommend this one highly.

Astro Boy
I can't say the same for Astro Boy. The director of Aardman's Flushed Away has turned his attention to the founding myth of Japanese animation: the legend of Tetsuwan Atomu, the robot who wants to be a Real Boy. I don't think Tezuka Osamu would entirely recognize this version of his creation, but it's got enough of it to be sensible.

It is interesting that this was made by Hong Kong-based Imagi Studios and had a Brit at the helm, because much of the added elements in the movie were very British in their origin. Once you get off of the floating island of Metro City and onto the surface of Planet Earth, you wind up in a broken-down world run by the Fagin-esque Hamegg and his horde of scavenger children who look for usable parts in the ocean of junk cast off from Metro City. And in the midst of the Dickens-in-the-future life on Earth, a rag-tag band of revolutionary robots bicker Pythonesque between direct acts for robot liberation.

There are so many direct quotes from other animated movies and TV shows it's not funny. It's yet another attempt to try to arrive at the same success as Shrek with referential humor. (Or Humour in this case!) Visual quotes from everything from Wall-E to The Iron Giant are everywhere.

Nevertheless I was entertained for an hour and a half by this. I have searched in vain for a DVD release date on this, but I suspect that since it hasn't exactly been a barn-burner in the theatres it will likely go out on DVD and Blu-Ray quite soon. I would characterize this as a rental and not a buy, though.

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