32 posts categorized "Animation"

February 27, 2012

DR. SEUSS' THE LORAX

Save the Trees
Ecology Politics For Kids
By Cole Smithey

Lorax“Welcome to Thneedville, a city they say that was plastic and fake. And they liked it that way! No nature, no flowers. No one seemed to mind. But a secret was waiting for someone to find.”

Pro-ecology agitprop has rarely if ever been so eloquently expressed as in Dr. Seuss’ 1971 story. Funnyman Danny DeVito is the voice of a mystical orange creature called the Lorax from Dr. Seuss’ popular children’s book. The Lorax is the protector of the “Truffula Trees” that once populated a lush countryside teeming with wildlife. Inspired by the wishes of a cute girl named Audrey (voiced by Taylor Swift), 12-year-old Ted (Zac Efron) goes off in search for a “real, living tree." Yes, a tree. It seems that the town where Ted lives has forgotten all about nature. You won’t find a spot of soil anywhere. Only a strange hermit called the Once-ler living beyond the city limits can help Ted restore trees to his all-fake town. Delivering one of the Lorax’s special trees might just be what it takes to win Audrey’s heart.

Lorax

Beautifully animated and performed, “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax” fulfills yet another pitch-perfect filmic rendering of a children’s classic by the late Theodor Geisel—one of the most prolific and gifted authors of children’s stories. While the film’s 3D effects are largely extraneous, the movie breezes along like a Swiss watch with a sweeping second hand. Most significantly, the apocalyptic tale makes a point of inspiring young people to take an interest in protecting trees and planting more. This is call-to-arms-cinema at its best. The logging industry won’t find much funny about this terrific children’s movie, but kids will enjoy it immensely. It’s refreshing to see such an exquisitely devised piece of anti-commercial, anti-capitalist narrative put forth in the interest of a humanitarian ideal. This is healthy animated cinema for children.

Lorax

The film has caught flack from rightwing pundits such as Lou Dobbs who damns the movie—and de facto Geisel’s 30-year-old-book—as “leftist propaganda” meant to indoctrinate young people into becoming eco-terrorists. Forget about the fact that nearly all children’s books are geared toward teachable lessons children can interpret for their own good. It’s fascinating that any kind of responsible ethical stance toward ecological issues is branded as a “leftist” ideal. If that’s the case, then so be it—the 99% of Americans who think it better to have forests than desolate miles of scorched earth are “leftist” humanitarians. They’re certainly not the greedy selfish carpet-bagging industrialists represented by the Once-ler in “The Lorax.”

Lorax

Personally, I’d much sooner align myself with a genius like Theodor Geisel. It’s just funny that Dr. Seuss’ clearly stated theme that trees are good and blind industrialism is bad is considered a controversial idea in 2012. I suppose Dr. Seuss really was ahead of his time.

Rated PG. 94 mins. (A) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

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July 11, 2011

WINNIE THE POOH



Winnie_the_poohOne of the most deservedly beloved children's stories of all time gets an affectionate filmic rendering notable for its delicate sense of restraint. Executed in the same elegant hand-drawn style of Disney's '60s and '70s era Pooh films, "Winnie the Pooh" retains an innocence of style and substance. Winnie (impeccably voiced by Jim Cummings, who also performs the voice of Tigger) interacts with pastel-colored storybook pages to bring the book's literal text to life with an appreciation for the words Pooh speaks. Still, "long words bother" him.

Winnie the Pooh (2011) - IMDb

Based on the fifth chapter from A. A. Milne's second Winnie the Pooh book "The House at Pooh Corner," the story involves the stuffed little honey-loving bear Pooh and his pals — Owl, Tigger, Piglet, Rabbit, Roo, and Eeyore — out on a journey to find, or at least replace, Eeyore's missing tail. Perhaps an umbrella, a balloon, or a chalk board will do. The gang also attempt to capture an invented monster known as a "Backson" — the result of a misspelled note left behind by Christopher Robin in which he meant to be back soon.

Winnie

From an educational perspective, the lighthearted story places gentle importance on things like the value of proper spelling and putting friends and family first. The animals represent various character archetypes that range from slothful Eeyore, to impossibly energeticTigger. Piglet is the well-meaning youngest member, while Owl possesses an overblown sense of ego and wisdom. The otherwise inanimate toys need their boyhood master Christopher Robin to guide them into action. The filmmakers do an admirable job of making a palpable connection between Christopher Robin's stuffed animal collection to the imagined "Hundred Acre Wood" where his motley animal friends frolic. The closing title sequence reflects on the adventure with the stuffed toys placed as a child would play with them.

Winnie

Gentle musical contributions hit a perfect pitch in line with the film's truly gifted vocal cast that includes John Cleese (the narrator), Craig Ferguson (the voice of Owl), and Jack Boulter (as the voice of Christopher Robin). The actors are clearly doing their best impressions of the franchise's iconic voices created by the likes of Sterling Holloway, Paul Winchell, and Sebastian Cabot. Zooey Deschanel's delightful singing on the theme song "So Long" is sweet enough to make you want to go back for more.

Winnie

At just over an hour long, including an opening short cartoon "The Legend of Nessie," "Winnie the Pooh" is an ideal movie for the under ten set. This "Winnie the Pooh" is an instant classic.

Rated G. 63 mins.

4 Stars

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

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March 07, 2011

MARS NEEDS MOMS

The Uncanny Valley

Third World Mars in 3D Motion-Capture
By Cole Smithey

MarsneedsmomsBased on a children's book by cartoonist Berkeley Breathed (known for his "Bloom County" comic strip), "Mars Needs Moms" is a tone-deaf animated disaster. Executed with the same creepy motion-capture animated design that gave "The Polar Express" its disturbing sense of near-realism, this 3D movie resists all brand of narrative logic.

Mars-needs-moms

Milo (performed by Seth Green) is a nine-year-old bratty kid who hates to do what he's told. During a spat with his doting mother (Joan Cusack), an alien space ship lands outside their suburban home to abduct Milo's mom. Milo's dad is rained in at an airport. The little red planet doesn't need "Moms" plural so much as it needs a singular example of matriarchy to call its own. A population of group-think Martians needs to wheedle out nurturing instincts from her brain to properly raise its own female Martian babies. Robots don't make great mothers. Male babies are automatically exiled to a literal trash heap for some unexplained reason. Mars doesn't need dads. Milo sneaks onto the spacecraft with his incapacitated mother. On Mars, Milo falls in with an eccentric older boy from Earth called Gribble (Dan Fogler), whose own mother was kidnapped under similar circumstances back in the '80s Reagan era. There's no telling why Gribble's mom couldn't deliver homey continuity to the drab society. Speaking of creepy, Gribble is not the kind of infantile adult male you'd want your kid spending any appreciable amount of time with. Martian civilization is a regimented militarized world of constant surveillance. Robots run the show under the command of an excitable, vaguely Asian hag "supervisor" whose ugliness informs her status as the story's primary antagonist.

Marsneedsmoms

Japanese roboticist Doctor Masahiro Mori coined the term "the uncanny valley" to describe the negative psychological reaction against robotic designs whose human-like qualities get too close for comfort. If a robot--or a character in an animated movie — starts to look a little too real, there is a natural human rejection of said entity. Such is the nature of audience reaction against the "human-like" characters in "Polar Express" and in "Mars Needs Moms." Mori lists a "moving corpse" as the lowest point of in the "valley" of disapproval. While I wouldn't necessarily describe the motion-capture characters here as human corpses, they do seem closer to dead than alive.

Mars-needs-moms

An interesting experience I noticed while watching the film was my disapproving emotional response to the rebel Martian girl Ki (Elisabeth Harnois). With dyed red dreadlocks, Ki is the only female Martian representative with any personality other than the Martian supervisor (voiced by Mindy Sterling). Having watched some Scooby Doo-like American television show, Ki spouts '60s era pop slang. "Right on" and "dig" are favorite phrases children will be tempted to repeat ad infinitum. Ki is a graffiti artist who constantly flings multi-colored paint balls to splatter blotches of color onto the monochromatic landscape of the Martian industrial complex. The male Martian populace are portrayed as a primitive native culture not far removed from the blue-skinned population of "Avatar." Dancing seems to be their main activity.

There's more than a trace of racist ideology at play in an animated film that is far from innocent. Why all Martian males are represented as developmentally challenged characters is up for discussion. At best, "Mars Needs Moms" is a poorly thought out story. At worst, it represents a wrongheaded sociopolitical allegory. Either way, this is one sinister animated movie that doesn't stand up against much more competent children's fair such as "Rango" or anything from the brilliant Aardman house of animation.

 Rated PG. 88 mins.

1 Star

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

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