April 20, 2017
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Recent Animated Films
by Karl Cohen
In the award-winning and dialogue-less 'Red Turtle', a shipwrecked man meets the title character. photo courtesy M. Dudok de Wit
The Red Turtle
“The Red Turtle” opens in the Bay Area at the end of January directed by Michael Dudok de Wit, who won an Oscar for his wonderful, sensitive short “Father and Daughter” and an Oscar nomination for “The Monk and the Fish”.
“Red Turtle” has won the Prix Special du Jury, “Un Certain Regard”, at Cannes in 2016; it was the opening night feature at the Festival d’Annecy, in 2016; and it was shown at the 39th Mill Valley Film Festival last year. See
About a man’s struggle to survive as a shipwrecked survivor alone on a tropical island, “The Red Turtle”combines Dudok de Wit’s sensibilities with the skillful artwork of Studio Ghibli, Inc. the renoun animation studio in Tokyo. This results in a handsome work of art that, at times, is a gentle meditation on life and, at other times, is action packed, motivated by a struggle to survive.
Unlike the crazy pace of a big budget blockbuster, this breathtaking work of art unfolds slowly, at a natural pace. And when there is drama or action, it occurs in a natural, logical way.
If you prefer animated features full of stupid, hyped-up action and corny gags, don’t see the “Red Turtle”. But if you want to see an impressive story unfold languorously, “Red Turtle” may get you thinking about meaningful things.
Also winner of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle’s Best Animated Feature prize, you can see it in San Francisco starting Jan. 27 at the Kabuki and Metreon and on Feb. 3 at other Bay Area locations (Shattuck in Berkeley, Piedmont in Oakland, Aquarius Twin in Palo Alto, Regency Cinemas Six in San Rafael, Cine Arts in San Jose, and Century 16 in Pleasant Hill).
In Disney's 'Zootopia', a woman rabbit police officer and a red fox con artist team to up to crack a disappearance problem in the animal city. photo courtesy Disney Studio
Disney Animation Seeks Young, Populist Audience
For years, features usually began by carefully introducing the chief characters, building empathy with them and establishing the basic conflict that will somehow be resolved.
While “Zootopia” is an excellent entertaining work with two nicely rendered characters and a rich original script, albeit on relying on the traditional formula, “Moana” and “Finding Dory” take a different approach to create successful works that will please a younger audience (perhaps five to ten year olds).
Their new style seems to be designed for an audience growing up with hectic lives and short attention spans, people who won’t miss longer, well-developed characters and stories. Like text messaging, these films are dumbed down to extremely short, simple premises and characters with very basic personalities.
Dory is a very cute and lovable but absent-minded fish on a straight-forward quest to find her parents. A series of short episodes shows her getting lost, making wrong turns and getting into over-the-top situations. Since it doesn’t build upon itself, the small episodes are just little situations that somehow get resolved.
While Dory is a sweet fish, her main personality trait is an inability to remember. Since it appears to be a serious mental disorder, perhaps attention deficit disorder, she isn’t someone I would choose to spend 94 minutes with. Dory can’t shut up and, since she has little intelligent to say, I found her conversations slightly irritating.
Since I never emphasized with Dory, I found much of the film somewhat boring. You assume from the start that the missing parents will be found so not much suspense there. While Dory finds two sidekick fish—she desperately needs someone to talk to, they are just like her, sweet and dull, although you also probably know the climax. Any Pixar feature worth its salt will climax with a fun chase.
As well as the expected fun, fast-paced chase, just before the film ends, “Finding Dory”’s saving grace is an amusing octopus. I was also impressed with the scenery (all three animated features for 2016 have excellent backgrounds).
While Dory’s quest was simple and the writers had to limit the possibilities to make the film fun and believable for youngsters, the quest layed out in “Moana” was over the top from start to finish. Unfortunately, as I didn’t find her that likable either, I didn’t care. Sure there was plenty of action and adventure, but the film didn’t draw me in and “Moana” resolved into more a fast-paced computer game.
Scene from 'Finding Dory' about a forgetful fish looking for her parents. photo courtesy Disney Studio
While I’m glad it found an audience, I was underwhelmed.
“Zootopia” got off to a poor start for me, as some of the dialog comes from a squeaky-clean, young rabbit, who decided he wants to be a policeman in a city full of much larger and rougher animals. It took me a while to get used to the rabbit’s voice and my immediate reaction to the film’s premise: this is absurd.
O once Hop gets a job in the big city and is confronted with challenges, my feeling changed for the better. Soon I was loving “Zootopia” as Hop turns out to use her brain, not brawn, to resolve situations and become a detective, not a strong-armed cop, in this solid delightful comedy adventure.
While there are dull spots and it is odd that they only introduced the film’s a sociopathic murderer about 10 or 15 minutes before the film’s end (appearing to be tacked on at the last minute), most of it is a nicely paced and quite entertaining.
While “Finding Dory” and “Moana” also feature female leads in adventures, that fails to make either film more interesting. “Zootopia”, meanwhile, calls attention to Hop being a tiny female rabbit, faced with enormous challenges, and that DOES increase my ability to empathize with her.
While “Moana“ is a spoiled princes who seems to have special powers, leading us to expect her to do unusual superhero things which we can’t take seriously, Hop is a lowly rabbit. I can relate to her learning how to succeed and cheered her on, a reaction missing in the other two features.
Note: Animation scholar Jim Korkis reminded me that a growing trend in Hollywood is to feature impressive women as leads and men in secondary roles. At Disney, you also have “Frozen”, “Inside Out” and other recent examples. Heroic women star in two recent Star Wars films and in several series on SYFY, including “Van Helsing” and “Z Nation”.
Another major element I found impressive in “Zootopia” is the intelligent lessons to be learned about tolerating animals different from you. Another lesson: You may succeed in life if you don’t give up and you stick to reaching your objectives. In “Zootopia” people’s attitudes and personalities change as they learn to accept each other’s special abilities and problems.
I suspect the new Disney aesthetic in “Moana” and “Finding Dory” is directed at a populist family audience that watches too much TV and/or constantly amuses itself on the Internet with handheld devices. I suspect the films are aimed at people that tweet, not people that love to read long novels.
This 21st century and audiences may not crave being mentally challenged by film. They are satisfied with popular entertainment that keeps their minds busy absorbing mindless stuff.
Indeed, it may no longer matter if the stories make too much sense, are very meaningful or have any depth to them. From the box office numbers it is obvious “Moana” and “Finding Dory” are successful, suggesting there has been a real aesthetic shift in what Disney thinks audiences want.
'The Little Prince' concerns a pilot whose plane crashes in the Sahara where he meets the Little Prince. photo courtesy Netflix
Now I Know Why Netflix is Distributing The Little Prince
As a voting member in the Annie Awards. I received several DVDs, just in case I didn’t rush out and see all the feature length entries. Yes, I missed seeing “Little Prince” when it was released along with “Sausage Party”, “Storks” and a few other recent releases.
I watched my “Little Prince” DVD with a friend and neither of us would recommend it. It was pulled from theatrical distribution weeks before it opened and Netflix took on the distribution of it. It has several nice moments, and a delightful old man in it for comic relief, but it is two stories that don’t really fit together well.
There is the original story that is quite short so they constructed a contemporary one around it to make it into a feature. The new story stars a child with a mother that programs every minute of her day. It was so exciting I apparently dozed off at one point. It is not a bad film, but not one I would recommend.
Now if you want to experience a totally boring animated film there is Storks. It is a story about storks giving up delivering babies. Gosh, now they are delivering packages for a big box chain. Frankly it is quite stupid. It might be entertaining to very young drugged out kids, but I dozed off at least twice and wished I had never put it on. As the film is about to end we do find out why they stopped delivering babies. Yawn…
“Sausage Party“ is probably a lot of fun if you are a 15 year old “cool” kid. It is everything you could ask for: non-stop sophomoric gags, a loud soundtrack, fast paced dialog and cutting of images, the word “fuck, “ in one form or another is the Best Animated said once or twice almost every minute, close-ups of round butts on females, lots of… I must have watched at least ten minutes before I turned it off.
Expect a sequel soon, as this crap was quite profitable. It cost only $19 million to make and it grossed a lot of people out (they spent almost $98 million for that pleasure). It was the 27th most successful film released in the US in 2016 (out of 728 films released that year).
For the record, some of the others were “Star Wars” at #1, “Dory“ #2, “Secret Life of Pets“ #4, “Zootropia“ #7, “Sing“ #10, “Moana“ #11, “Trolls“ #17, “Kung Fu Panda“ #18, “The Angry Birds Movie“ #24, “Storks“ #42, “Ice Age: Collision Course“ #48, “The BFG“ #58, “Kubo and the Two Strings“ #68, “2016 Oscar Nominated Short Films“ #186, “The Little Prince“ #218, “Nuts! “ 470, and “Phantom Boy“ #495.
Karl Cohen is an animator, educator and director of the local chapter of the International Animation Society and can be reached
Posted on Jan 23, 2017 - 11:57 PM