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Well, I promise that this post is the last 2019-centric coverage before I move on to other specific years/ themes (not that this is the end of 2019 titles oh no there are still lots of good ones out there). For this part I decide to pick 3 smaller entries around the globe, with different art styles, aesthetics and target audiences. One from the respected female filmmakers about the harsh lives of people in Taliban, another is a manga-turn-anime tale about growing up, and the last is another addition to an all-time family-friendly classic from the UK. I hope you enjoy the piece.
Out of all the categories in Oscars, I personally feel the most positive about Best Animated Race. Well, the recent change regarding “all Academy members will vote for the nominees instead of Animation branch” is silly, which is another topic altogether so I won’t delve into it this time, but more than any other categories, and more than any Animated Season Awards, the committees do expand their view to champion films that are outside of the US, and pick films based on the merits of quality itself instead of big names big campaigns. Pixar still dominates the category and they still ignore many worthy anime films, which hurts. As for the 2019 race, I’m quite happy with the nominees with each film has its merits to be there. The only surprise is HTTYD edges out Frozen 2 but consider how HTTYD is always a strong franchise, and this 3rd film closes off that franchise on a conclusive note, I have no complaints whatsoever. Next one, we delve one more time to 2019 releases before we head to more theme-specific, or region-specific animated movies. Enjoy for now.
For this #2, we are heading to Western Animation to truly appreciate animation as an artform. This batch includes all install-classic offerings, with innovative and unique hand-drawn art styles that not only rare to find in the age (where CG dominates the box-office), but the styles integrate strongly to the story it’s telling. Two 4-star ratings (little spoilers, as far as all the films I’ve seen this decade I only awarded 14 movies with perfect 4-star, with this third film being the latest addition) and a hard 3-star, that alone speaks to the quality of this second batch. For the next batch we will have a look at other 3 Best Animated nominees from the year 2019. Enjoy.
Let’s start with some anime big boys of the last year of the last decade where they all basically establish their house styles. Shinkai with his obsessions for both background arts and teen romance, Yuusa for his distinctive and unconventional vision and Studio Trigger for their colorful, loud and rush-of-adrenaline qualities. Not all of them are successful, but it’s clear that their ambitions alone make them a worthy watch already. Check the reviews out below:
Nora Twomey: an Irish animator, director, screenwriter, producer and voice actress. She is a partner in Cartoon Saloon. Twomey’s films are often coming-of-age films with pre-teen protagonists dealing with mythic worlds, the importance of stories and finishing them, acceptance, family, and communities. Her films combine traditional and digital art but are often hand-drawn and in a visual style inspired by the worlds of her stories
“The Breadwinner is Deborah Ellis’ book, but it’s also the testimony of all of the women she spoke to in refugee camps in Pakistan, as well as the Afghan caste members who told their stories to inform me and the rest of our cast and crew about the complexity of the story we were trying to tell. It’s people from different cultures; it’s more than the sum of its parts, and way more than I could ever have made as a solo project.”
We should make more movie like this. A family-oriented film that have mature message and inspiring story that not only kids, but adults can enjoy and appreciate. Adapted from a popular young adult novel by Deborah Ellis, The Breadwinner is a gorgeous but uneven tale about Parvana, an 11-year-old girl who disguise herself as a boy to help her family after he father was taken without charges. Set in the early 90s when Afghanistan was still under the control of Taliban, the Afghan women suffer from oppressive misogynist system where they aren’t allowed to show their face in public and where the stores would refuse to let them purchase anything, let alone greeting them. Having her father taken away means that the main source for income, or even for daily social interaction is close to zero. In such a harsh and repressed society, all that Parvana (and the women in general) want is the same opportunity as male’s counterpart. Parvana enjoys her little freedom in the disguise of boy, working all day to get her paycheck, somethings she couldn’t do if she were in girl’s clothes.
But while The Breadwinner’s central message is all fine and dandy, it’s the narrative aspect that it suffers the most. Even ironic how the film itself tries to sell an importance of storytelling as the powerful tool for these characters to cope with the harsh reality of life, and how it provides a glimmer of hope, as well as the power of imaginative in an otherwise dull, wash-out and bleak world. The story development as a whole is filled with many contrived plots, most notably the appearance of one of the relative who just wants to take them away without caring much for them or how it’s the same day as Parvana decides to meet her father and the war broke out and her siblings have to move. One can have a sense of the clunky in plot development when one realizes that many supporting characters have to sacrifice their own benefits (in an unbelievably manner) to help support the girl’s quest. Not only the plot, but the character’s writing is too one-sided in many cases. The authority men are presented as overly aggressive as if they’re one big ruthless character and most of them, Parvana aside, haven’t been developed to their full potential.
The Breadwinner saves its shortage in storytelling department by the sheer power in animation production. They nail it with the visual: the backgrounds get you right into the heart of this Afghan conflicts, the characters are always expressive, especially in their big eyes. The story within a story part particular stands out as it uses vividly cut-out animation art style that contrast very well with its more traditional style. While in term of flat-out gorgeous visuality and wild visual experimentation The Breadwinner can’t compare with its earlier works, it’s the comparison I happily to put aside since it aims for a much more difficult subject matter. While I have complaints with the male cast, the female cast does a wonderful job to show us what it feels like to be victims of their time, and somehow enforce the girls’ strong will to stand up for themselves and do what they like in the name of Parvana and her friend Shauzia. In the end, though the story itself can be inconsistent and heavy-handed at times, the fact that it’s willing to tackle a difficult and dark subject matter for a family-friendly audience, plus its pleasing animating visual make it better a better recommendation than your regular animated fare.
The Red Turtle is a brainchild of the director Michael Dudok de Witt and Studio Ghibli. If you never heard about the director, he’s an auteur animator who directed award-winning shorts Father and Daughter, the short was so acclaimed that many big animation studios approached him to direct their blockbuster movies, all of which he declined. Then one day he received a letter from Ghibli Studio stated that they thought his shorts looked very Japanese and they wanted to make a film with him. If you think the involvement of Ghibli could make this movie a more anime influences, you got yourself in a bind there, because this is unmistakably a Dudok de Witt film with more of European arthouse sensibility, with the slow and deliberate but confident pacing, and the film is more about sense and experience and many details are more open to interpretation than offer any precise meaning.
Looking from the outset, the film sounds like a really challenging work. This is a dialogue-free film about a man who washed away to a deserted island. He tries every opportunity to escape from the island, but always get disrupted by the giant red turtle. Then the man and the turtle form a closer relationship to each other and ultimately the man finds a way to adapt to his new life. And that was just the first 15 minutes of the film. For a full length feature film with no actual dialogue, it’s a feat that the movie maintains the attention to the very end. Indeed, trying to explain the plot of a film, or trying to recapture it in words, is already a disservice to the film. The Red Turtle is a film in its purest form, a visual storytelling that will lost its impact if it gets portrayed in any other forms.
Apparently, Dudok de Witt initially planned to have a main character to speak to himself, like what Tom Hank character did in Cast Away, but then he scrapped the idea since he felt that the dialogue (monologue?) was too unnatural. But without dialogue doesn’t mean this is a silent movie. The sound of the movie, that include both natural sound and the score, is one of its greatest achievement. The sound helps assist us to follow every steps the main character takes, really put us in his shoes as we follow him around. Those sounds create a whole surrounding very detail too, close your eyes and you can hear the wind breezes, the waves of the ocean, the steps of the man and those animals at the same time. The score is equally impressive, at most times it’s slow and tender, but other times thrilling and exciting (like the very first scene or during the flood sequence). Visually, Dudok De Witt implies a very plain character designs against a natural but well-detailed and rich world the main characters inhibit. The background is expressive, with too much details was put on it. From the bush trees, the little crabs who seems to follow the waves, the baby turtles go around the bench, all these really create an atmosphere to the island. The animation and the shot selections are all top-class, which holds much of our attention throughout its 80-minutes length.
The film maybe about a man who float in an island, but the plot never feels plotless. Everything happens contribute to the main themes, which are the connection between human and nature and the passage of time. The film chronicles the man who struggles to find a place in a nature that clearly not for him, to him having a family and has something to hold on to. As the man got older and wiser, he himself realizes he’s just a small part of the world, like every plant, animals around him. His passed away in the end is just as well a part of that cycle of life.
It’s rare today that can give a work that are original, mature and ambitious as The Red Turtle, especially against the backdrop of the dominance of computer animation in feature-length movies for the last 20 years. The Red Turtle, with its simple hand-drawn techniques, already feels like a timeless production, and the film is even more significant given the fact that this is co-produced by the beloved Ghibli, now on its semi-hiatus phase. While this film bears little resemblance to Ghibli’s original outputs, this is clearly a production of both the director Dudok De Witt and Ghibli; in a sense that The Red Turtle would not exist without those two. With so much efforts were put on this picture, it’s the more astonishing to realize that the film had achieved something so difficult to attain: simplicity.