Sunday, December 05, 2010

Potter Animation, and why ASIFA Won't Celebrate It.

I'm not going to review Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 in full. There's enough about that from other critics. But I wanted to talk about one little bit of it.

During the latter part of this story, our three protagonists - Harry, Ron and Hermione - wind up at the house of Xenophilius Lovegood. For those who need a refresher - you have read all the Potter books, of course - he's the father of the somewhat spacy Luna Lovegood, and the publisher of The Quibbler, the Weekly World News of the wizarding world.

Lovegood publishes all the outrageous rumors about magical creatures and political intrigues. Unfortunately, he is dead right about supporting Harry Potter and the late Albus Dumbledore. Right now, Harry and his friends are being hunted by Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters, who have taken over the Ministry of Magic. Having someone like Lovegood on your side is like having the support of The Amazing Criswell.

Harry and company ask about a peculiar mark they've seen. It turns out to be the mark of the Deathly Hallows, three magical items that legend says were bestowed by Death itself. This is all recounted in the wizarding world's version of Grimm's Fairy Tales, called The Tales of Beedle the Bard.

J.K. Rowling wrote that book as a sideline Harry Potter project, and contributed the proceeds to charities for British children. In the movie, Xenophilius Lovegood starts reading the book, for the benefit of Harry, who never read the book. As he reads it, the camera pans out to a pond outside his house...and the story becomes animated.

I can't reproduce the picture of the animation. I didn't see it in 3-D, since this first part is not in 3-D. But it was hypnotic. It made everyone in our half-filled theater gasp. If I had to describe it, it would be animated paper cutouts, shot in silhouette, the cutouts converted to solid colors, and given wisps of animated smoke that moved through them. All of it was in different shades of white, tan, brown and black.

It is the most abstract piece of animation I've seen in commercial release since the work of UPA in the late 1950's and early 1960's. There may be wilder things in the world of independent animation, but nothing like it has been given popular release. And abstract as it was, it perfectly illustrates the grim story of three wizards who each gained a gift from Death, and how it affected each of their lives...and deaths.

In retrospect, it is absolutely appropriate for the film, which is darker in tone and more dramatic than anything in the previous Harry Potter movies. Unlike most of the graphic and illustration design we've seen in the movies and books - and that I've seen in Universal's The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - it is not done in an antique, turn-of-the-1900's graphic style.

It deserves some kind of notice from ASIFA Hollywood. But it probably won't get it. As you know, ASIFA has voided the voting rights of ordinary civilian members like myself and Michelle. We are ending our memberships with great regret, because we believed that the participation of people like us kept ASIFA honest.

Since this movie's animated segment is perhaps less than one percent of the film, ASIFA will probably ignore it. And since we ordinary civilians don't have a voice in ASIFA any more, we can't suggest even an honorary commendation.

All I can say right now is this: Ms. Rowling and Warner Brothers have provided animation lovers something to love. Maybe she might see fit to animate some other tales from Beedle the Bard in the same, or even more experimental, visual styles.