Category Archives: Animation

FilmSnap: A Monster Calls

FILMSNAP: A film review that is 300 words or less.

Here’s something refreshing: a story involving a cancer patient that doesn’t baselessly lie to its audience (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, though I do love that film in spite of it), nor dumb down the tragedy into palatable mush (nearly every other filmic incarnation involving a patient with a terminal illness). J.A. Bayona is certainly accustomed to tearjerkers, having directed the deceptive horror-drama The Orphanage and the tsunami-weepie, The Impossible. A Monster Calls is no different, building on his penchant for sob stories with a thrillingly original perspective.

Based on Patrick Ness’ book of the same name, A Monster Calls follows Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) as he summons a beautifully-rendered Monster (Liam Neeson) in order to come to terms with his mother’s (Felicity Jones) imminent death. It’s Pan’s Labyrinth-esque escapism, though less gothic and more colourful than the 2006 fantasy. Through the animated sequences in the film, their brash, painterly styles contrasting superbly with the sedate real world, O’Malley unearths parables on morality and blame that ease him towards accepting what the Monster refers to as ‘the truth behind his nightmare’. Whether these stories firmly relate to O’Malley’s sufferings when held up to scrutiny is questionable, but if you disregard their lack of focus, these segments serve as delightful interludes to the morbidity Bayona musters up in his primary narrative.

When the ‘truth behind his nightmare’ does finally reveal itself, however, these fantastical elements suddenly seem so distant. The film doesn’t need a wobbly subplot concerning bullies to conjure up the raw emotion Bayona is seeking; the film delivers on its smartly-paced buildup with its powerful, unexpected reveal, and Lewis MacDougall’s astonishingly convincing emotional release, rising above its genre’s ilk by managing to be emotionally devastating without being visibly manipulative.

-Gus Edgar

Big Hero 6

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There’s been talk of a Disney renaissance; hot off the heels of Frozen’s commercial – and critical – success, the studio released Big Hero 6, a charming flick that was met with a similarly superb response. So much so, it went on to beat the likes of The Lego Movie and The Tale of Princess Kaguya to the Best Animated Feature Oscar. The accolade was clearly indicative of the golden period Disney now finds itself in – away from the depths of the 2000s; the award was sweet, a success story, a signifier of great things to come. The award was undeserved.

Big Hero 6 is undoubtedly a pleasant, likeable film. Baymax, the sidekick of main protagonist Hiro (Ryan Potter), is irresistibly adorable and wonderfully voiced by Scott Adsit. Together these two heroes attempt to stop a mysterious masked villain in control of a creation owned by Hiro himself – microbots -, a figure of formerly ambiguous motives. To conquer this villain, they team up with a group of scientists/thinly-veiled caricatures, each given an upgrade via Hiro’s genius that tailors to each character’s specific skill set. To give any more plot points away would risk delving into spoiler territory – it’s a shame then that you’ll see each plot development coming a mile away. Disney has certainly benefited from their control over the majority of Marvel, and Big Hero 6 is a way to flaunt that control; adapted from the Marvel comics of the same name, the series offers a huge array of creative sequences to choose from. And Big Hero 6 certainly excels in its world-building – the film takes place in the city of San Fransokyo, an imaginative hybrid city that looks beautiful and is much a character of the film as any of the other characters. If the movie shines in one department, then its most obviously the world created, and its sumptuous visuals.

The creativity of the city isn’t translated into plot however, where somehow the writers manage to turn an animation – a cinematic form that has endless possibilities – into a formulaic, albeit enjoyable romp that’s inseparable from a large proportion of live-action movies: A protagonist is introduced, a traumatic event occurs that spurs on the emergence of a hero from within the protagonist, a villain arises and the protagonist, with the help of some lazily-written sidekicks, battle this villain in a huge showdown of mass destruction. It’s disappointing, and frustrating, to see a plot mishandled and shaped into a generic Marvel formula when there’s potential for so much more. It’s not just live-action Marvel films that Big Hero 6 seems to be copying- the animations wears references of The Iron Giant on its sleeve, the similarities bravely shuffling on the edge of ripping-off as opposed to endearingly referencing.

The dialogue itself is a mixed bag – some jokes hit, others are miscalculations, a large portion of the characters are poorly written and used more as plot devices than for realism, and there are many, many expositional problems at the start of the film (“Our parents died in a fire when I was 3, remember?”). Where the script succeeds is in its truthful, adult moral message, and how the film conveys that message. It’s touching, heartfelt, and admirably separates itself from feel-good animations that may end up serving as lies given to younger viewers. This is fast becoming a trend in 2015 – Inside Out deals with a similarly mature, acceptance-themed message too, and is made all the better for it. The ending of Big Hero 6 hits hard (although it’s then hindered by a following scene), despite the likelihood that you may see it coming, and proves to be a high of a film that’s otherwise a little flat.

Big Hero 6 is one of the most beautiful films animated, yet its visuals and resoundingly satisfying message can’t quite make up for poor plot-characterisation, poor plot writing and simply a poor plot. How this won the Oscar over The Lego Movie is anyone’s guess.

– Gus Edgar

Grave of the Fireflies

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For all the praise I’ve seen Studio Ghibli receive, I’ve never been all too interested in watching their animations. Aside from Spirited Away, which I saw, enjoyed and forgot about a fair few years back, my investment in any of the studio’s films has waned. So then, I realise I’ve made a horrible mistake. Recommended to me with the confidence that it’ll be a ‘cry-fest’ (Just look at the title!), Grave of the Fireflies has assuredly reinvigorated my interest in the studio’s peculiar, heartfelt animations that have a certain type of charm to them – a charm not found in any 3D animation that Disney Pixar, Disney and DreamWorks churn out.

The film takes place in Japan during the final few months of WWII, where American air raids tore through the Japanese towns and villages. It follows Seita, a 14 year-old boy, and Setsuko, Seita’s (very) little sister, through their travails to survive bombings, poverty and malnutrition. It begins by revealing that the two protagonists die during the course of the film – portrayed as spirits shrouded by a red hue, the opening is both harrowing and visually stunning in equal measure. Which really does sum up the film – devastating, though the emotional punch not as powerful as I expected, yet exceedingly beautiful and a perfect portrayal of both the horrors and the idyllic nature of the Japanese countryside.

The score used for Grave of the Fireflies is equally powerful, tragedy conveyed by simple melodies. It’s use brings many moments of genuine joy – Setsuko running around with a group of fireflies is an exceptionally heartwarming moment – but also accentuates incredibly touching sequences – Setsuko’s tear-jerking instances of happiness particularly moving.

That’s not to say that Grave of the Fireflies is a perfect movie. While the animation is fantastic in places, it’s similarly rough and shaky in others. The voice acting feels forced (well, at least the English version) as do many of the characters’ actions (Seita’s aunt’s resentment towards the two protagonists is too drastic a shift in her feelings towards them). And while Setsuko’s death is moving, the fact that the audience expects it negates some of its intended effect.

Yet these few negatives don’t burden this sweet Japanese animation drastically – it remains a touching story with a mesmerising animation style; one that has reintroduced me into the quirky world of Studio Ghibli.

– Gus Edgar