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Archive for the ‘Cartoons and Shit’ Category

Seoul Station

Thursday, April 2nd, 2020

By now most horror fans have experienced or heard about the greatness of TRAIN TO BUSAN, the 2016 South Korean fast-zombie-plague movie. If you’re in the latter category, I know it’s easy to believe the hype but still feel no urgency to see it, because yeah, I get it. Zombies on a train. So I’ll just say again that while it’s impressive that it made me think “Okay, it turns out I do want another fucking zombie movie,” the real achievement is making me so attached to the characters and attuned to the tragedy of their horror movie circumstances that I produced actual tears near the end. Have I ever cried from a horror movie before? Not that I remember.

When I went to write the review I was surprised to learn that writer/director Yeon Sang-ho’s previous movies were all animated. He’d been doing animated shorts since the ‘90s, before the features KING OF PIGS (2011), THE FAKE (2013). Even more interesting, TRAIN TO BUSAN is sort of a sequel or tie-in to an animated feature called SEOUL STATION that Yeon did immediately before it. I didn’t realize it had come out in the U.S. until I noticed it streaming on Shudder. (read the rest of this shit…)

Frozen II

Friday, February 28th, 2020

A while back somebody asked me if I was gonna review FROZEN II. I’m sure they lost interest by now, but I work on my own schedule. I didn’t review the first FROZEN (unless you count this unrelated movie with the same title) but I liked it at the time. These days the all-consuming cultural force of THE DISNEY CORPORATION is kind of off-putting to me, but back then I was more open to their magicTM. If you read some of my old reviews like SAVING MR. BANKS and POCAHONTAS, hopefully they can explain my interest in the history of the animation studio and the way their story formulas have slowly evolved over the years.

To me FROZEN was another step in the evolution of the Disney Princess. I appreciated their previous movie, the Rapunzel adaptation TANGLED, for allowing its heroine to be flawed, with self-esteem issues coming from her complicated relationship with the villain, who is also her mother figure. FROZEN is maybe less nuanced, but I liked the bait and switch where she needs True Love to break the spell and it turns out the prince you assumed it was talking about is a piece of shit, so sisterly love saves the day instead.

Several years went by, FROZEN’s ubiquity in pop culture (let it go, let it gooooo) sanded off much of its novelty, and much like INCREDIBLES 2 I looked at the posters and it looked like the same movie and even though I thought I should see it I felt no urgency to. Then I finally watched it on Blu-Ray and I got about two minutes before I realized that since I only saw FROZEN once, and have no kids in my life to hear obsessing over it, I had to pause and read the entire Wikipedia entry to remember what the fuck it was about. Like, oh yeah, Elsa (Idina Menzel, UNCUT GEMS) with the snow powers was kind of the bad guy at first. I forgot the main character was actually this non-snowy redhead character Anna (Kristen Bell, POOTIE TANG, SPARTAN, SCREAM 4, HIT & RUN). And I was still going, “Okay, yeah, I sorta remember that” in the last couple paragraphs. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Lion King (2019)

Wednesday, November 6th, 2019

I honestly wanted to see the LION KING quasi-live-action remake in the theater, but never managed to. Turns out it did okay without my money. But by waiting until now to review it I missed out on timely discussions of related issues about a pioneering studio turned monolithic corporation treating their legacy of hand drawn animation as just a shitty licensing library to be resold (and possibly replaced in the imagination of new generations) with more realistic imagery. I guess I addressed it in my review of the (actually) live action ALADDIN. Basically, I’m open to to enjoying these remakes on their own terms, but the whole idea of them is a bummer.

Now let’s get to a more controversial topic: I have never thought the original LION KING was very good. I know it’s a beloved classic, one of the highest grossing animated movies of all time, etc. I watch it once every 5-10 years hoping to like it better this time, but I always strike out. I liked the dramatic stuff, like everything having to do with Mufasa’s death, but I always thought the musical numbers, in addition to not being really my jam, were more of a distraction than a story. And I was not really into the farting warthog. (read the rest of this shit…)

Highlander: The Search For Vengeance

Tuesday, June 4th, 2019

HIGHLANDER: THE SEARCH FOR VENGEANCE is by far the best animated version of Highlander that they’ve made. Okay, that’s not saying jack shit, but I did sincerely enjoy this 2007 DTV (or OVA) anime spin-off. Like HIGHLANDER II and Highlander: The Animated Series it brings the Immortals saga into a dystopian future: “After a century of terrorism and global warming, the earth has fallen into chaos and decay,” the opening text says. And I really like this line: “Life is cheap and death comes easy, save for some.”

From the dawn of 1986 they came…moving stylishly down through the decades. Movies, TV shows, cartoons, struggling to reach the time of the reviewing, when Vern will write about the franchise

It’s a well told (if simple) tale and the design and animation are legit. Director Yoshiaki Kawajiri also directed WICKED CITY, NINJA SCROLL and VAMPIRE HUNTER D: BLOODLUST, plus segments in THE ANIMATRIX and BATMAN: GOTHAM KNIGHT. Shit, I’ve seen some of those! He also wrote the live action AZUMI 2. But the screenwriter for this one is David Abramowitz, a writer, producer and creative consultant for Highlander: The Series and Highlander: The Raven. (read the rest of this shit…)

Highlander: The Adventure Begins: The Animated Movie

Tuesday, May 28th, 2019

It’s the early ’90s. Less than a decade ago, HIGHLANDER became a cult hit. Producers William Panzer and Peter Davis managed to make an ambitious sequel, but it was received disastrously. They found more success by lowering their sights to syndicated television, while planning a course-correcting part III. Highlander was now officially a franchise. Time to get the kids involved.

From the dawn of 1986 they came…moving stylishly down through the decades. Movies, TV shows, cartoons, struggling to reach the time of the reviewing, when Vern will write about the franchise

In September of 1994, the USA Network debuted the Canadian/French/American cartoon Highlander: The Animated Series. Like with the live action series, I’m not dedicated enough to watch the whole series. Instead, I took a look at HIGHLANDER: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS: THE ANIMATED MOVIE, a feature length video release made from the early episodes. (read the rest of this shit…)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Thursday, January 3rd, 2019

SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE is the 7th motion picture starring Spider-Man (not counting unauthorized Turkish ones), the second Sony In Association With Marvel movie of 2018, and probly only the third biggest Marvel Comics movie of its year. But I honestly think it’s revolutionary. Not necessarily for super heroes – its story of colliding alternate dimensions is clever, but built on familiar comic book traditions – but for animated features. Somehow Sony, who had been considered so clueless about what to do with Spider-Man that they had to farm him out to Marvel, found people who knew how to celebrate the vast history, meaning and potential of the character in a completely new cinematic way.

So much has been done in computer animation since TOY STORY. There have been many great achievements in the form, including two funny super hero movies in the INCREDIBLES series. But the kineticism and print-inspired graphic playfulness of SPIDER-VERSE feels completely new. The Spider-men-and-women run and flip and swing and glide in exaggerated splash page poses true to the history of cartooning but rarely possible in computer models. They’re (mostly) rendered in three dimensions, but with line art details and outlines and Zip-a-Tone dot shading. Some shots or characters are done in traditional hand drawn animation. Backgrounds sometimes have spray paint coloring in honor of the movie’s graffiti writer protagonist. Comic book description boxes, sound effects and motion lines – most importantly Spidey-Sense wiggle lines – appear on screen. The filmatism includes split screens, pseudo time lapse, jump cuts and hotshot flying camera moves that seem more at home in this cartoony animation than in the special effects movies where they have to pass for live action. (read the rest of this shit…)

Ralph Breaks the Internet

Tuesday, November 27th, 2018

Hey man, I’m not a monster, I enjoyed WRECK-IT RALPH like anybody, and the sequel is fun too. This licensing crossover bonanza shit has kinda become its own genre since WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT invented it in earnest, so we’ve had the toy version (TOY STORY), the other toy version (THE LEGO® MOVIE), the… everything version (READY PLAYER ONE) and the horrific, soul-rattling nightmare version (FOODFIGHT!). RALPH’s video game version does it just right – an elegantly executed premise full of Pixar-worthy well-thought-out world building, funny characters, good jokes, loving homages, minute detail, occasional Q*Bert cameo. I mean they even had an end credits jam by Buckner & Garcia (look it up). Some time later I went to Disneyland and they had playable Fix-It Felix, Jr. games in the Starcade, and especially seeing it in person you realize what a nice tribute it is to the beautiful design of the Donkey Kong game cabinet and the 8-bit animations of that era of video games. It makes you remember that, crude as they seem now, they are an artform.

So now we have the sequel RALPH BREAKS [sic] THE INTERNET, and at least it’s not a rehash. Sentient video game characters Ralph (John C. Reilly, CRIMINAL) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman, THE WAY OF THE GUN) are inseparable friends from frame 1, and when the arcade they live in gets wi-fi they find themselves exploring the big city that is the internet. It has an actual help desk for a search engine, an eBay building where auctions take place, flocks of Twitter birds overhead, and lots of little blocky avatars of internet users walking around trying to avoid people waving pop-up ads and clickbait in their faces. It’s all very clever and observant (they get a big laugh from an auto-fill in gag, and there’s one about “one weird trick”) and designing the behind-the-scenes characters (a messenger who delivers eBay reminder emails) in the style of ’50s advertising icons helps keep it from feeling desperately current. (read the rest of this shit…)

Mulan

Tuesday, July 10th, 2018

June 19, 1998

MULAN is the Disney animated feature of summer ’98. It’s another Broadway-style musical loosely based on an old tale, in this case the legend of Chinese warrior Hua Mulan, as described in The Ballad of Mulan. Fa Mulan – voiced by Ming-Na Wen (STREET FIGHTER), singing voice Lea Salonga (NINJA KIDS) – is a young woman in Han dynasty China in the midst of training to be a great warrior. Oh, whoops, that’s a typo – in the midst of training to be a great wife. She gets all painted up and tries to walk in confining clothes and know all the etiquette for tea drinking and what not. But she’s not up to it, even has to write notes on her hand before a test, and completely fucks it up.

Luckily there is another option. The Huns are invading and every family must provide a man or boy to fight in the army. The only male in her family is her dad Fa Zhou (Soon-Tek Oh, STEELE JUSTICE, DEATH WISH 4), a war vet who is all for going again but he’s an old man who can barely walk and she’s sure he’s gonna get fuckin killed in like two seconds so at night she steals his armor and conscription notice and runs off to pretend to be a dude and fight in the army on his behalf.

Which she’s actually worse at than being feminine. There’s lots of, you know, humor about how she says something in a normal voice and then says “er, I mean” and repeats it in a not even remotely convincing fake-masculine voice. She starts to pick up other things like to spit and do gross things to be accepted as a man. It’s like JUST ONE OF THE GUYS I guess but when they see her boobs it’s off screen. (read the rest of this shit…)

Quest For Camelot

Thursday, May 17th, 2018

May 15, 1998

In the mystical past of summer of ’98, “animation” meant drawings. TOY STORY was the only computer animated feature that existed, so that was still just a novelty, not the entire industry. It wouldn’t be until the Fall that dueling bug movies kicked off the war for computer animation supremacy, so nobody wanted to be Pixar yet. They still wanted to be Disney.

The previous November, Fox Animation Studios had made their Don Bluth directed version of a Disney movie, ANASTASIA. In December Dreamworks would release their Biblical version, PRINCE OF EGYPT. And this was Warner Bros. Feature Animation debuting with their sword and sorcerer version. They took a little bit of the dark fantasy of THE BLACK CAULDRON and early Don Bluth, but mostly tried to make a musical in the vein of the ’90s classics like BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and ALADDIN.

The operative word being “tried.” This is a terrible fucking movie. Nothing can compare to FOODFIGHT!, but as far as professionally completed animated features given a wide release in theaters, QUEST FOR CAMELOT (a.k.a. THE MAGIC SWORD: QUEST FOR CAMELOT in some countries) is one of the worst I’ve watched all the way through. The shamelessness with which they try to copy Disney, combined with the clear lack of understanding of why people like the stuff they’re trying to rip off, and the substandard execution of it, is honestly depressing to watch. Like any animated feature there are surely many talented people who worked on it, but it’s very obvious that the direction at the top came from a bunch of clueless executives who just had no respect for the audience or the art form, and no idea what the fuck they were doing. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Contract

Wednesday, March 21st, 2018

THE CONTRACT is an animated tie-in to LOVE AND A BULLET. It’s easily the least essential part of the Ben Ramsey catalog, but its existence is what inspired me to revisit the other ones. I mean, people don’t usually know what I’m talking about if I mention LOVE AND A BULLET, so how is there a cartoon? I had to find out.

Well, it’s only 35 minutes long and its’ very crude, sub-television level animation. The credits say it was done by Elliott Animation, Inc., a Toronto based company founded by a former background painter from the Droids cartoon. They do all kinds of work for TV now – their main show seems to be Total Drama Island – but this was done as nine circa-early-2000s webisodes, so it’s Flash-type characters in front of pixelated backgrounds.

But it does have Treach and some of the other actors from the movie, making it seem much more legit. And it’s written by Ramsey and Kantz, so it has the same type of dialogue as the movie. In fact, the same dialogue in many cases! For some reason this is not a prequel or an additional Malik Bishop adventure, like what happens when he runs off with Mylene at the end. No, this is an abbreviated version of the same basic story told in a different, cheaper looking medium, with some of the same scenes, conversations and narration (re-recorded, I believe). (read the rest of this shit…)