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Some Abbreviated Animated Film Reviews
June 23, 2009, 6:07 PM
Filed under: film

I’ve been kind of binging on animation this month.  It started as an attempt to rewatch Pixar’s catalogue and somewhere along the way the Disney canon and Miyazaki’s films got invovled and now I’ve forgotten what films with real people in them look like.  I’m planning on doing posts on Pixar and Miyazaki and maybe something else for Disney.  But here are a few offhanded thoughts on some of the films I’ve seen recently that don’t fit into those categories.


Is it unfair to start the review off with that picture?  Yeah, it’s probably unfair.  But, that was the first eye-rolling moment when I knew All Dogs Go to Heaven and me weren’t meant for each other.  Perhaps forgivable in 1949, maybe even 1959, but 1989?  No.  Especially not when the film isn’t entertaining enough to make you want to overlook such flaws.  At first I was kind of intrigued by the noirish plot, something I wasn’t expecting, but it’s really quite cookie-cutter.  The songs are completely unmemorable.  The film would’ve been better were they cut.  I’ve watched The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast recently and the songs are still stuck in my head.  I watched All Dogs after those two, and I can’t remember a single note of the music.  And the heaven stuff pretty much choked out any hope I had of finding something salvagable in the film.  “Be good so you can go to heaven” seems backwards to me as a theme.  How about be good cause it’s the right thing to do?  I’ve heard good things about Don Bluth.  Hopefully his other films are easier to appreciate.


Watership Down, on the other hand, is a great film.  It’s an incredibly moving and layered story and I’m kind of eager to read the novel it’s based on.  Not that the film has any deficiencies.  It’s a wonderful use of animation.  I applaud the decision to make the violence realistic and not in any sense “cartoony”.  The naturalist style suits the themes and story well, and I thought the cave-painting style for the creation myth was fitting.  I’m excited to see Martin Rosen’s other Richard Adams adaptation, The Plague Dogs.


The Adventures of Mark Twain is a strange and charming film.  I remember loving Will Vinton’s claymation television specials as a child, and also being a huge fan of his California Raisins.  This is unfortunately the only feature film he would do.  There is something unique about his claymation techniques that appeal to me.

The film is about Mark Twain and three of his literary creations (Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatchers) traveling in an airship to Halley’s Comet.  Along the way some of Twain’s stories are related to the kids and reenacted on screen.  The first is his famous ‘Jumping Frog of Calaveras County’ but after that it focuses on his later and lesser known works that focus on religion and death (‘The Diaries of Adam and Eve’, ‘Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven’, ‘The Mysterious Stranger’).  The entire film is a meditation on death, and the end seemed a bit inconclusive but I think it may have been inclined towards belief in an afterlife, which Twain seemed doubtful of.

It’s high-minded stuff for a film aimed at kids, and the ‘Mysterious Stranger’ segment is one of the creepier things I’ve seen in a kids film (watch it on YouTube here).  Unfortunately the voice-acting and score make it seem a bit like a PBS special.  However, Twain makes a fantastic character, the screenplay is undeniably unique and Vinton’s claymation is always enough to captivate any audience.


Grave of the Fireflies is one of the saddest and one of the most powerful anti-war films I’ve seen. A film about two children who become orphans during World War II, it was released in theaters alongside Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro and was Ghibli’s first production headed by someone other than Miyazaki-san.  As much as I loved the film, I’m going to say something that will probably seem like blasphemy to some.  I think it would’ve been more affecting had it been done in live-action.  Though, I suppose there is the argument that it would’ve been nearly unwatchable, and the scenes with the fireflies are beautifully animated.  This is a film everyone should see.


What a debut from Brad Bird.  The Iron Giant is easily one of the best films I’ve watched over the last month or so.  Just a sparkling film.  The characters are wonderfully realized and make the film burst with life.  From Harry Connick Jr.’s beatnik junkyard owner slash artist to Christopher McDonald’s paranoid McCarthyesque G-Man almost everything in this film hits.  The relationship between Bogarth and The Iron Giant is completely believable and perfectly handled.  The Superman scenes were very affecting and the climax is excellent.  This also is a strong antiwar film, though I admire Bird not taking the easy way out and making the military the villain.  By working a little bit, and crafting believable characters and relationships, he ends up with something far more meaningful.  Oh, and it’s a ton of fun.


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“You can’t keep a good dog down! Oh no, you can’t keep a good dog down!”

Ah, I should watch that movie again. I had a far more enjoyable impression of it than you seemed to have had.

You’ll love “The Plague Dogs,” but it’s really a film that you need to be in a certain mood for, because it’s one long, downward spiral. But, the animation has improved greatly. After that, you should seek out Michael Schaack’s “Felidae.” Because, damn.

Comment by henryjbaugh

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