Posts Tagged ‘animation’
Animation aimed directly at adults has had little to know experimentation in the times that it’s been created, as it’s mostly just been adult jokes, over-the-top violence, and sex but only in animation. Maybe it’s because most people have this misconception that just because it’s Adult Animation is that it’s automatically animated porn; rather than animation that contains a plot, character archetypes, and themes that younger kids would be too young to understand. Although nowadays there are exceptions to this sort of stereotype with adult animation with shows like The Simpsons (well, the old seasons anyway, but that’s debatable), Futurama, The Venture Brothers, South Park (well, at times), and select Japanese animation such as Monster and Paranoia Agent; television shows that are animated, yet also have interesting plots and character development (and in some cases still apply extreme gore/ gross-out humor but in smaller amounts).
However, during the 1970’s up until the early 1980’s, adult animation was experimented with and animators actually attempted to give it substance beyond the stereotype of “Cartoon Porn”. Notably, animator Ralph Bakshi, who’s best known for creating notoriously X-rated animated movies such as Fritz the Cat and Heavy Traffic, was a forerunner of making adult animation; albeit that they were considered pornographic at the time, Heavy Traffic, Coonskin, and Wizards are nowadays considered some of Bakshi’s best made movies. Wizards, in particular is an exception mostly because it’s the only one in that lineup that’s not rated R or X, but surprisingly PG.
I say surprisingly because the story of Wizards is a very archetype fantasy story about a battle between two wizard brothers (one good, one evil of course) representing the battle between Magic vs. Technology; it uses a variety of interesting techniques and artistic decisions to make it much above a typical “Lord of the Rings ripoff” fantasy story. For example, while it does indeed take place in a typical Fantasy setting, it’s actually Earth after a nuclear Holocaust wiped out humanity, reducing those who survived into mutants while fairies, elves, and dwarves, the true ancestors of man (much like what Tolkien says in his Lord of the Rings novels) retake the Earth. The designated hero of Wizards, Avatar, is moreso of an old, grumpy, perverted, lazy, and reluctant deadpan snarker who’d rather sleep than save the world. Also, elements of the story that may have seemed PG-rated worthy in the late 1970’s are quite interesting to see today, since this movie would’ve been undoubtedly R-rated at the most. The evil wizard encourages his troops to fight and exterminate the fey folk by showing them “mysterious mind-controll relics” (in actuality, it’s old World War II Nazi Germany propaganda films, which psyches the mutant armies and confuses/ stuns the elven fighters. There’s also the pretty graphic and almost acid-trip like violence (though the latter comes from the rotoscoping technique) that depicts the battle scenes between the exiled mutants and the fey folk, as well as the fact that the Elinore, a fairy, is dressed fairly explicit for a PG film (not to mention the various sexual innuendos that Avatar says about her attire).
Still, it’s a very interesting film to watch due to the interesting and stylistic take on Magic/ Nature vs. Machine, if not sadly a little on the short side. I would’ve loved to see more character development and interaction throughout the various places, which I personally felt were a tad rushed and overlooked (though in fairness, Bakshi did say that he originally wanted Wizards to be a 3 part movie series). The nudity/ sexual innuendo and violence are very few and far between instead of gratuitous, and when the violence happens, it’s actually quite sudden and shocking (a good example of this would be an attack on an almost Disney-like and peaceful fairy glade). The animation, despite being over 30 years old, is still quite interesting and stylish for its time, and the rotoscoping techniques, though dated, give the battle scenes in Wizards a menacing, almost threatening atmosphere. The music is another highlight of the movie, alternating between medieval fantasy music and 1970’s jazz. All in all, compared to the huge void between “Kiddy Cartoons” and “Cartoon Porn”, Wizards definitely stands out as a good example of how adult animation should try and be: experimental, and putting an interesting concept before sex and violence (though that doesn’t hurt as long as it’s done tastefully/ minimally).
Posted April 20, 2010on:
Invader Zim was created by semi-underground “gothic” comic artist Jhonen Vasquez and made its debut on Nickelodeon sometime around late March 2001, and despite only lasting around roughly 2 seasons and ending in December 2001, has attained a status as a cult animated show (though on a personal level, that has since become somewhat debatable). Although (according to Vasquez) Nickelodeon originally wanted Invader Zim to be a comedic, goofy, sort of sitcom-like show, Vasquez worked with Mystery Science Theater 3000‘s Frank Conniff, Lenore‘s Roman Dirge, and Shutterbox’s Rikki Simons (the latter of the two are buddies with Jhonen and usually work under the same comic book label, Slave Labor Graphics) and gave the show a satirical, hammy, 1950-B-movie-homage animated series with dark humor.
A species of Aliens called Irkens (who are hellbent on conquering any planet that stands in their way and tearing it down from the ground up in order to expand their territory… why does this kinda sound familiar to me?) are preparing to assign a new batch of Invaders (a job classification) their target planet for their invasion plan entitled Operation: Impending Doom II. However, much to the fear, dismay, and disgust of their leaders The Allmighty Tallest (who are leaders simply because, well… they’re the tallest), Zim (who while is extremely tenacious and determined to prove himself is also egotistical, trigger-happy, and nearly wiped out their home planet the first time they tried Operation Impending Doom I) arrives to the meeting despite being exiled on the planet Foodcourtia (yes, he quit being banished) and begs the Tallest that they give him a second chance. The Tallest, seeing this as an opportunity to banish Zim for good this time, tell him to conquer a “mysterious planet” (represented by a circle with a question mark drawn on a Post-It note), which just happens to be our planet Earth. At the same time Zim arrives on Earth (and “disguising” himself to fit in with the populace), Dib, a young human boy who is extremely interested in the mysterious and paranormal, sees through Zim’s disguise and vows to one day expose him as an alien and have him dissected. So, with the “help” of is defective robot GIR, Zim vows to have Earth conquered.
Speaking as someone who has read almost every comic created by Jhonen Vasquez, although Invader Zim started out as a formulaic show (Zim tries to conquer Earth/ Dib tries to expose Zim as an alien, plan fails and endangers Zim/ Dib/ Earth, Zim is foiled either way), the writing dramatically improved and actually began to take somewhat of a satirical, self-mocking, yet still very enjoyable and entertaining story with signs of a developing/ overarching plot (that would’ve all cumulated in a Grand Finale if it weren’t canceled). Although Jhonen admitted that he faced many restrictions working with writing a children’s show (and it would later on to continue to become more and more of a problem), most of the writing around the later half of the first season and most of the second season is cited to be some of the best by fans.
What also worked with the writing was the simple, yet hilarious character personalities of Zim and Dib. Although it’s quite amusing seeing Zim try to conquer the world when the general populace is completely, blissfully unaware of him declaring it open in public as well as his interactions with GIR (which is basically just the weirdest/ funniest banter between two completely insanely stupid/ incompetent beings), Dib is probably the character that’s the most interesting. There’s just something to be pitied from seeing this young boy being pretty much the only sane and intelligent person on the Earth (aside from his father, worldwide successful scientist Professor Membrane, and his little sister, Gaz; though his dad is grounded in “Real Science”, and Gaz just wants to play videogames/ eat pizza) and just constantly being laughed and mocked at by the very moronic people that he’s trying to save. The irony of him seeming to look completely crazy and make wild accusations, only for a few episodes to follow Dib through a day in his life and see that he’s quite normal (compared to the people he meets that are beyond stupid and insane), just horribly misunderstood and under-appreciated.
From an artistic standpoint, Invader Zim is very interesting to look at due to its combination of Jhonen Vasquez’s Cyber-Punk/ Crapsack (possible parody of Los Angeles?) world design, the brightly/ acid-colored color palate, and bizarre/ darkly humored atmosphere. Originally, the show was going to be targeted towards kids in their early teen years, but the writing featured multiple homages to video games, Sci-Fi (especially targeted toward the 1950’s B-movie films and their interpretation on aliens), and Horror (the episode “Bolognious Maximus” is basically an homage to David Cronenberg’s The Fly remake), which attracted a lot of people outside the demographic, mostly high school/ college age kids.
Ironically enough (in a tragic way), the fact that Invader Zim actually found a fanbase within the older-teen/ college age crowd was part of the reason as to why Nickelodeon canceled Invader Zim. Another issue was the rampant Executive Meddling and lack of creative liberties Jhonen Vasquez could have. As early as the second episode which featured the short “Bestest Friends”, in which Zim befriends a human kid so he’ll blend in more in “Skool”. However, during the course of the episode he grows more and more annoyed with the kid hanging out with him and clinging to him, up to the end of the episode which results in Zim making a device that rips the kid’s eyes out and replaces them with robotic ones. At the end of the episode, the kid gets mauled by a squirrel and subsequently falls off a roof and explodes, but shortly thereafter calls out, “I’m okay!” The final episode that aired, “The Most Horrible Xmas Ever”, had scenes that were also cut and changed, among them being a man in the crowd getting comically squished by a present (think Looney Tunes) and a guy accidentally having only half of him teleported to the Tallest (as part of Zim’s plan was to gather up the Earthlings and beam them to the Tallest as slaves). Also, according to Jhonen, since he frequently used many elaborate and lengthy cell-shaded CGI effects (which were still fairly expensive around the time), it was also canceled because the budget was taxing on Nickelodeon Animation Studios.
Interestingly enough, this past March, Nickelodeon showed the complete series of Invader Zim on their alternate channel, Nicktoons Network, and even has a poll asking if people would like to see more of Zim. Sadly, speaking from a personal point of view, even if Nickelodeon were to revive Invader Zim, I have to say that it’s about 5 years too late. Jhonen Vasquez has explicitly stated that he doesn’t want to go back to work on Zim, no matter what kind of circumstance. Rikki and Roman have expressed no interest whatsoever (as they seem to be busy themselves with comics and their personal lives), and with the way Nickelodeon seems to just bring back Invader Zim out of the blue after keeping pretty quiet about it for a long time, one can really only assume that Nickelodeon just wants more money, and Zim has proven to be a hit when it comes to the DVDs and merchandise at Hot Topic. If this is what Nickelodeon is planning on doing, I personally have to say that I don’t want “New Invader Zim“; just let the franchise be as it is: a funny, satirical, disgusting, weird, and enjoyable cult hit that was canceled before its time.
Animated direct-to-video cheap-quels (short for cheap sequels); ask anybody who grew up watching classic Disney movies how they felt when they saw “official” sequels to their beloved films such as Bambi 2, The Hunchback of Notre Dame 2, Pochahontas 2: Journey to a New World, or any of the other poorly made sequels and they’ll probably say how horribly these so-called piece of animation tended to ignore any sort of past plot or character development, have horrible attempts at any sort of humor, and have the animation be horrendously cheap-looking and ugly (fun fact: some of these “animated movies” were actually failed attempts of TV spinoffs that had barely enough material for 13 episodes/ 1 season). However, I’m not going to talk about Disney’s history of cheaply made sequels that they blighted for the sole purpose of making a quick buck; I’m going to talk about another famous animator whose beloved animated films (well, some of them anyway) also fell victim to studios trying to cash in on Cheapquels: Don Bluth.
Poor Don Bluth seemed to never really get a break during his career as an animation artist/ director. His peak as an animator was when Disney was at their lowest, he struggled throughout the 1990’s, a.k.a. Disney Renaissance, and despite his 1997 film Anastasia being the only film to surpass sales of a Disney movie (though that may have something to do with it copying the Disney 90’s formula), his next movie, Titan A.E. was caught in the animator’s trap of being a cartoon (which means it’s for kids, right?), yet containing “mature” material that frightened kids. However, much like Disney, his films An American Tale, All Dogs Go To Heaven, and The Land Before Time (ESPECIALLY The Land Before Time) suffered from studio executives making multiple direct-to-video sequels to cash in on the success of the name (though it’s debatable among people when it comes to An American Tale 2: Fievel Goes West, All Dogs Go To Heaven 2, and The Land Before Time 2-4, because admittedly they do have pretty good animation and continuity). However, one Don Bluth cheapquel was made that has not only pissed off the grand majority of his fanbase, but, on a personal note, traumatized me as a young girl: The Secret of NIMH 2: Timmy To The Rescue.
So, what’s so bad about The Secret of NIMH 2, you may ask? Well… how about I just describe the plot, and stop when it gets stupid? So… the movie starts out by an obvious CGI rendered book with the title of the first movie (oh wow, how original) summarizing Nicodemus’ previously heartbreaking and frightening tale about the origins of the Rats of NIMH and just glossing it over. However, it goes onto say that Nicodemus also prophesied that one of the sons would save Thorn Valley from NIMH’s return, and…
…that’s where the movie proceeds to go off in its own moronic direction and proceed to literally T-bag everything that made the original movie good. So, continuing where we left off, it’s now been years since the whole NIMH incident happened, and it turns out the Timmy is the Chosen One, much to the chagrin of his brother, Martin, who wishes that he was the Chosen One (oh boy, you can see where this is going, can’t you?). Anyway, Timmy then travels to the new location of Thorn Valley (more on that later), and despite being trained and educated by Mr. Ages and Justin is still restricted to the sidelines of missions. On one of these missions, he runs into another mouse named Jenny that can read, and it turns out that Jenny escaped from NIMH… because there were these other mice that tried escaping from Nicodemus’ flashback… that got sucked through the air tunnels but survived… Anyway, the point is that Timmy and Jenny travel to NIMH to save not only Jenny’s parents, but the captured mice as well. Meanwhile, NIMH seems to be preparing something diabolical…
Okay, if you couldn’t tell by the complete lack of explanation or the way that I sort of danced around with my sentences, the number one thing wrong with the plot is that it has more holes than a slice of Swiss Cheese. There was nothing that talked about any of Mrs. Frisby’s sons being a Chosen One of Contrivance, or any sort of that crap. If you recall from the original movie, the reason why Mrs. Frisby went to the rats of NIMH in the first place was because she needed help moving her home so Timmy, then bedridden would be safe and away from the plow during the Farming Season; and the rats helped her because she was the wife of Jonathan, a hero to them, and they felt like they owed Jonathan. In a sense, this… I can’t even call it a plot, essentially has no direction or meaning, and in a sense, shouldn’t even exist in the first place. Nevermind the fact that the newly built Thorn Valley is now completely visible (with a huge, Ferngully-esque tree in the middle of the whole city), which defeats its purpose of the rats hiding from NIMH and risk getting discovered; that the way to get there is (and I quote) “South by South by South”, and not questioning on how in the world Jenny managed to escape NIMH when the others couldn’t. Don’t even try to think of how it these can even make sense, you’ll suffer a massive headache.
Characters… can you even call these characters? Mrs. Frisby is probably the one whose character is ruined the most, as instead of being the concerned, yet strong and determined mother that was just somehow so enduring and frightening to watch, now just appears for 5 minutes to serve as The Worried Mother About Her Grown Up Kid. Jenny is just the Love Interest (and in a disturbing move by the animators… she’s given… assets… *retch*), Timmy isn’t even that much of a hero and doesn’t even really learn anything (although we’re led to believe that he’s learned to think of a plan before just storming in, guns blazing) through the movie. Justin and Mr. Ages are just relegated now to tutors/ cranky old people who don’t understand young people, not retaining any sort of their original personalities whatsoever, and Jeremy, previously a somewhat annoying, yet carefree and adorably bumbling crow is now just flat-out annoying, and doesn’t really serve any purpose whatsoever, except to play second-fiddle to an even more annoying comic relief, a caterpillar named Cecil who tries to scam people for their money/ valuables by dressing up Jeremy as the Great Owl. Yes, the fearsome yet intelligent Great Owl is made into a lighthearted joke in this movie. As for Martin… well, I would warn about spoilers, but spoiling this movie is doing everyone a favor by showing why they should NOT watch it. Anyway, Martin turns evil because of jealousy towards Timmy, and apparently becomes voiced by Eric Idle due to being experimented on (on a sadder note, when he- spoilers again- reforms and sees the error of his ways, he’s voiced by Philip Glasser, aka Fievel Mousekowitz. If your childhood hasn’t shattered yet, it probably did now).
Speaking of NIMH and their experiments, it gets ruined as well in this movie (big freaking surprise)! Now, in the original, the reason why NIMH was such a nightmarish and horrifying place was because it was almost like a REAL ANIMAL TESTING FACILITY. One was able to suspend their disbelief that such a place like NIMH could exist and performs such horrible experiments on innocent animals. In Timmy To The Rescue, NIMH has now been turned into a bombastic Evil Mad Scientist’s castle that is so cliche and done-to-death that the it completely loses its threatening menace (the head scientist even looks like a deranged animated Doc Brown).
The animation is laughable. Bright colors and cheap animation, nothing more; it’s a complete joke, especially when considering that the animation in the original movie had a dark, yet lovely palette, capturing the dangerous atmosphere that was present in the film. Do I even really need to comment on it?
To end on an ironic note, Don Bluth actually expressed an interest in making a sequel to The Secret of NIMH, but with the roles between Timmy and Martin reversed (Timmy would be the antagonist and visa-versa). I can’t really say how well it would’ve fared, but after watching this 79 minute-too-long pile of crap, I can only assume that this was Don Bluth’s evil movie twin from a parallel dimension. It singlehandedly destroys everything that made the original great, and easily makes a complete mockery of Don Bluth’s intricate and well-written plot, that it’s no wonder fans of Bluth and the original movie refuse to acknowledge this movie. It would be easier to just buy the original movie, watch it, enjoy it, and refuse to acknowledge the existence of this blight of animation was ever made.
Animation showcases were a really huge thing during the early to late 90’s, which basically made up a huge chunk of my childhood and possible influence to try and someday work in the field of cartoons, comic, or even animation. MTV (back when it was still playing music videos, yet starting to add its original TV series) had their segments such as Liquid Television and Cartoon Sushi which produced many popular animated shows such as Beavis and Butthead (which would later on create Daria– a spinoff featuring one of the female characters from the cartoon, and King of the Hill– a sort of spiritual successor since there was a Hank Hill prototype character), Aeon Flux, The Maxx, and Celebrity Deathmatch; Nickelodeon had Oh Yeah! Cartoons which begat NickToons’ The Farily OddParents, Chalkzone, and My Life as a Teenage Robot. However, the showcase that I’m going to talk about (as well as the one that I grew up with and watched on a semi-religious basis) is Cartoon Network’s own What A Cartoon! Show.
Beginning in 1995, What A Cartoon! (originally titled World Premiere Toons) was created by Fred Seibert who had the goal of trying to return creative power to animators and artists by giving them a recreation of the atmosphere that gave birth to the popular cartoon characters that were created in the mid-20th century. Each of the totaled 48 cartoon shorts were structured after how a theatrical cartoon was created, with each short being based on an original storyboard drawn and written by the artist or creator.
One of the first accomplishments of the What A Cartoon! show was the introduction of Cartoon Network’s “Cartoon Cartoon” lineup, as it was the origin point for some of the defining cartoons on Cartoon Network (well… before it became what it is today). The Powerpuff Girls‘ pilot cartoon Meat Fuzzy Lumpkins (which is about pink, hillbilly-Muppet-like villain Fuzzy Lumpkins turning all of Townsvile into meat after losing a contest he worked hard to win at) was the first What A Cartoon segments broadcast in its entirety, and later had a second cartoon called The Powerpuff Girls in: Crime 101, which featured the Powerpuff Girls trying to teach the completely inept villains The Amoeba Boys how to pull of a crime. At the same time, Gendy Tartakovsky (who would be collaborating with Craig McCracken in both The Powerpuff Girls and his own cartoon) released the pilot episode to Dexter’s Laboratory, a cartoon about a boy genius (the titular Dexter) with a secret laboratory and his girlie/ moronic older sister Dee Dee who continually ruins his lab/ experiment of the episode; the pilot episode features them battling it over a transmogrifier, turning into all sorts of various animals before school.
Other popular Cartoon Cartoon characters that began on this show were Johnny Bravo (the misadventures of a super-macho/ egotistical, semi-misogynistic but still dopey/ lovable guy who thinks he’s God’s Gift to Women), Cow And Chicken (an extremely surreal, almost Ren and Stimpy gross out-esque show about… well, a chicken brother and his cow sister; it’s worth mentioning that this show also pushed the boundaries just as much as Ren and Stimpy, as the pilot episode alone has The Devil/ Red Guy as he’s later known (voiced by Charlie Adler, who also did voice work for both the titular characters as well) dragging Chicken to Hell and torturing him with cigarettes), and Courage the Cowardly Dog (about a dog and his owners, Muriel who adores Courage and Eustace who likes to scare Courage any chance he gets, who live in the middle of nowhere and usually get terrorized by the supernatural/ surreal; on a personal note, the pilot episode, The Chicken From Outer Space which is about an evil space chicken trying to take over the world, still freaks me out to this day).
The What A Cartoon! Show not only served as a showcase for these eventual Cartoon Cartoons, but also displayed cartoon shorts that were created by animators/ artists who either were involved with other popular shows at the time, were active during the 1950’s- 1980’s, or who would become well known during the Turn of the Century. One of the best examples would actually be Larry and Steve, a cartoon created by eventual creator of Family Guy, which featured prototypes of the characters of the bumbling, moronic Peter Griffin and Brain Griffin, the smarter, more level-headed-yet-ignored voice of reason dog in Larry (the human) and Steve (a dog who’s saved by Larry from being euthanized, though with Larry he’s usually put through a hell on a daily basis). Butch Hartman, who would later go on to create The Fairly OddParents and Danny Phantom, created a few cartoon shorts of his own that showed off his elements of pop culture/ slapstick/ rapid fire- humor such as Gramps (a short about an Abe Simpson-like grandpa telling his bored grandchildren how he saved the world from an alien invasion) and Pfish and Chip (a take on the whole Buddy Cop genre with a carefree shark and a short-tempered/ Scottish-accented lynx as part of a bomb-diffusing squad).
More notable animators that created shorts for the What A Cartoon! Show were Zac Moncrief’s (who now works as a director for Phineas and Ferb) short Godfrey and Zeek in Lost Control (about two best friends- a pig and a giraffe who have to travel to the now-Disneyland-ified sewers after their remote control gets flushed down), Rob Renzetti (created My Life as a Teenage Robot and was involved with Gendy Tartakovsky and Craig McCracken on several of their projects) who created the Mina and the Count shorts (which would eventually be shown on Oh Yeah! Cartoons), Eddie Fitzgerald who created the short Tales of Worm Paranoia, which is very reminiscent of an episode of Ren and Stimpy (though that could be because Fitzgerald worked on a few episodes with John K.), and Ralph Bakshi (who made most adult/ cult-animated films during the 1970’s, such as Wizards, Heavy Traffic, and the controversial/ X-rated Fritz the Cat) who created two of the last (and possibly with the most mature themes) animated segments, Malcom and Melvin, which is about a Jerry Lewis-esque down-and-out named Melvin who tries to become famous in The City with the aid of Malcom, a cockroach who can play a mean trumpet.
Sadly, much like Liquid Television, the What A Cartoon! Show hasn’t made any official DVD releases, but thanks to people circulating the episodes on YouTube, they’re pretty easy to find.
Personally when it comes to the ever-increasing usage of 3D animation over 2D animation in our cartoons and animated films, I find most of what is produced to just be a lifeless, soulless product with Famous Celebrities (and sometimes Top 40 Singers of the Month) providing voice work just because the studio can afford them and use shallow pop-culture references to make up the bulk of jokes; not because the celebrities actually fit the character they’re voicing or, in the case of most of the Pop Singers who voice some of the characters, have talent or skill in acting.
This has become a bit of a case with Dreamworks Studio, who’s now the only standing animation studio that could be called a rival of Walt Disney Animation Studios. When they first started out, the movies they made such as The Prince of Egypt and The Road to El Dorado actually had a lot more mature content story and character-wise compared to the Disney films out at the time (as well as the movies Disney made that tried to have mature themes were flops at the box office); even Shrek, one of their first 3D animated movies was a very clever and well-written movie, and its sequel, Shrek 2, had a nice balance of pop-culture and character-driven jokes along with a clever continuation of the story. However… Dreamworks personally went through a really long, low-brow slump with CGI animated movies, basically much like I described them above, such as Shark Tale, Bee Movie, Shrek the 3rd, and Over The Hedge (though Over The Hedge arguably had more clever/ funny moments). However, Dreamworks seems to have gotten better with the release of Kung Fu Panda, and their most recent film How to Train Your Dragon, which is not only nicely animated, but also written real well and has heart in its story.
How to Train Your Dragon tells the story of Hiccup, whose father, Stoick the Vast, is not only the leader of Berk, their town village, but also is the strongest and most revered dragon-slaying warrior; whereas Hiccup himself is very weak physically, is usually ushered to the sidelines by his father when a dragon attack occurs, and prefers tactical planning rather than just charging in blindly. During an attack on their village by the many species of dragons, Hiccup tries to capture a type of dragon called a Night Fury, a legendary dragon that is rumored to be extremely deadly and elusive. He manages to shoot it down with a catapult net, and tracks it to where it crashes in a remote forest, but can’t bring himself to kill the dragon; instead, he cuts the net and the Night Fury flees. Following the incident, Stoick, realizing that he can’t keep Hiccup sheltered forever, decides to enroll him in dragon fighting classes taught by Gobber, whom Hiccup also teaches under in blacksmithing. Despite initially being snubbed and mocked by the other students, Hiccup begins to learn more about dragons by the textbook; as well as the fact that he again finds the Night Fury in a small canyon area, unable to fly.
The biggest strength in this movie is undoubtedly how the bond between Hiccup and the Night Fury (whom Hiccup names Toothless) develop over the course of the movie. Though this hasn’t been the first movie that features “A Boy and his Pet” plotline, it’s still done very well with plenty of charm and heart (though that also may be credited to Chris Sanders, creator of the Girl and Her Alien Disney movie Lilo and Stitch, who also had a hand in directing this movie). The character of Hiccup is also a big strength of the movie; sure, he’s very awkward and bad at fighting, but for what he doesn’t have physically, he makes up for it with tactics, planning, and knowledge, and uses those aspects to great effect throughout the movie. The art and 3D graphics are also very amazing, especially during the action/ flying scenes; and the characters are nicely designed.
I guess the only minor complaint I could make is since How to Train Your Dragon is based on a book, there’s bound to be some cutbacks, particularly of the minor characters and their character development/ fleshing out. However, and this is probably because I haven’t read the book or the series in general, I barely noticed at all. This is definitely one of Dreamworks’ stronger animated CGI films that they have released, and I wholly recommend seeing it.
Although there was only 3 episodes made, the famous Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Elmer Fudd “Rabbit Season/ Duck Season” cartoons, also known as the “Hunting Trilogy” by Chuck Jones, are considered some of Jones’ best and most important cartoons that he’s directed. Looking back on my childhood, I distinctly remember these three cartoons being the most-played during the days when both Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network used to run their own Looney Tunes block programs. Now that I’m much older, I can definitely see why these cartoons are easily considered some of Chuck Jones’ best and are so re-watchable; although the plot is essentially the same throughout the cartoons, the rapid-fire jokes, set-ups, and interactions between the characters are all perfectly timed and well-written.
The first cartoon that was made, Rabbit Fire (1951), is essentially the classic archetypical “Rabbit Season/ Duck Season” cartoon. Daffy Duck lures Elmer Fudd to Bugs Bunny’s home due to “survival of the fittest… plus, it’s fun!” However, Bugs Bunny tells Elmer Fudd that it’s duck season instead of rabbit season, which irritates Daffy Duck and initiates the whole “Rabbit Season/ Duck Season” debate. Personally, Daffy Duck steals the show in these cartoons, although some may argue that he became stereotyped from his typical screwball personality and into a self-serving foil for Bugs Bunny’s jokes and set-ups. However, his facial expressions and the gags where he gets shot in the face are part of why these are so hilarious. Also worth noting is the ending to this cartoon, which has Bugs and Daffy ripping off papers declaring “Rabbit Season” or “Duck Season”, all culminating with them seeing a paper for “Elmer Season”, teaming up and turning the tables on a now-frightened-for-his-life Elmer Fudd.
The next cartoon that was made was 1952’s Rabbit Seasoning, which takes place in the same location (though it’s now taking place in autumn, while Rabbit Fire took place in spring) with very similar conditions, only this time having Bugs and Daffy argue who Elmer has shoot now (or, as Daffy puts it in one scene as he’s falling into Bugs’ insidious grammar trap, “pronoun trouble”). Much like Rabbit Fire above, the strongest points about this cartoon are the shotgun gags, the banter and interactions between Bugs, Daffy, and Elmer, and for visual comedic effect, Daffy’s hilarious facial expressions.
1953’s Duck! Rabbit! Duck! is the final cartoon in the trilogy, this time having the scenario take place during the winter season and having the main “Rabbit/ Duck Season” argument be what hunting season it really is (of course, it’s Duck Season, but Daffy’s not about to admit that). What makes this cartoon hilarious is its steady buildup to the ultimate punchline: Daffy keeps getting shot as the result of his own arrogance and Bugs’ clever tactics, and finally breaks down, telling Elmer Fudd to keep shooting him. Elmer Fudd, just as confused as Daffy, asks Bugs Bunny dressed as a Game Warden what hunting season it really is, with Bugs simply replying, “It’s Baseball Season!” The scene of a now-mentally snapped Elmer Fudd chasing after and shooting a baseball is still one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen in my life.
The whole Bugs Bunny/ Daffy Duck rivalry that these episodes produced also paved the way for more cartoons in which these two teamed up as comedic foils, as well as the fact that, on a personal note, they stand out as a sort of memorable aspect out of my childhood. It’s just very interesting to know that something that’s so popular and iconic with these two characters simply started with only 3 cartoons, but then again, Chuck Jones certainly knew how to make some of the most hilarious and memorable Looney Tunes cartoons.
Duck! Rabbit! Duck!:
I’m going to admit something that will probably get me flamed through the Internet: Avatar, while admittedly very wonderful in the terms of visual and technical achievement, had a very by-the-numbers, been-there-done-that plot that showed no subtlety in beating the viewers repeatedly in the heads with its Aesop of “White people were cruel, heartless monsters who killed the poor Indians and drove them off their land for wealth and we should feel bad because we’re killing our planet in the name of Money.” Yes, I agree that white people were complete bastards to Indians, Africans, and even snubbed the other European and Asian immigrants that came over later on in history. I apologize on behalf of anyone who’s ethnicity is White/ Caucasian; what more do you want from me? It is indeed sad that prejudice and racism still exist to this day, however I’ve heard every chestnut about how we should respect the ourselves and the world around us. I’m sorry James Cameron, but subtlety wasn’t your forte in this movie. On the topic of subtlety, other movies I’ve seen that advocate this same message, for all of the preaching that they do, have at least shown that there’s no such thing as “black and white morality”, but rather “shades of grey”. Avatar had nothing of the sort; the sides were clear from the start that the “noble, blue-skinned, savage-but-gentle Naa’vi” were the Good Guys, and the “cruel, industrial, trigger-happy Humans” were the Bad Guys.
What point am I trying to make, exactly? Well… to put it simply, you don’t have to be incredibly preachy and dumb down your message to make an environmental themed movie effective. Case in point with critically acclaimed Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki’s 1997 (it came out in America in 1999) award-winning film, Princess Mononoke.
The story of Princess Mononoke begins with a young man named Ashitaka, who’s the last prince of his dying clan, engaging in battle with a giant boar god possessed by a demon attempting to attack his village. During their battle and the subsequent defeat of the demon, the demonic tentacles (a physical mutation which shows the demon has possessed the body of its host) wound Ashitaka on his arm. The local medicine woman tells Ashitaka that the wound is cursed and will continue spread through his body until he dies, and that there is no cure or hope for him. However, she also reveals that the boar was wounded by an iron musket, and tells Ashitaka that if he travels to the West, where the boar came from, and finds out what drove the boar to become a demon in the first place, he might find a cure. Ashitaka travels to the West and temporarily settles in a prosperous town named Iron Town, located around a giant forest that is said to be home to a great Forest Spirit. Iron Town, which is led by Lady Eboshi, is continually cutting down the trees and nearby forests to make charcoal and smelt iron, which leads them to be constantly attacked by animals, mostly with the wolf god Moro and her “human daughter”, San, or “Princess Mononoke”.
One of the best things about this movie are the characters and how they’re developed. Ashitaka, despite being the hero of the movie, doesn’t take any clear-cut side with either San or Lady Eboshi. He believes that each side has their own valid reason (and they do) for their motivations, but believes that if they reach a middle ground, they’ll be able to figure things out; which is a very idealistic way of thinking, but nevertheless he doesn’t take the “Good Side” just because he’s the designated hero.
Even Lady Eboshi, who I guess would be considered the designated villain of the story, is not all that horrible of a person. She created Iron Town and gave people such as lepers and brothel-girls a place where they would be safe and cared for with no prejudice or mistreatment. She clearly cares about her people and their well-being, but in order for them, herself, and their town to be well-maintained and have food, water, medicine, and the like, she has to keep making iron, even if she has to keep destroying the forest. Unlike the humans in Avatar, who explicitly and blatantly love destroying the forest, Lady Eboshi merely sees it as trying to expand her business and keep her town alive. On the other side of things, it’s perfectly understandable to feel concerned for San and the creatures of the forest, since their home and their lands are being torn down at an increasing rate with no signs of stopping. Worse of all, the hatred that the animals are gaining because of the humans killing their tribes and their land stirs within them, so they have to also be afraid of turning into something, as San puts it, “…that is neither human OR animal.” The only characters that I would say that come close to fitting the “Humans Are Bastards” stereotype are a monk and hunters hired by the Emperor to bring back the head of the Forest Spirit (in hopes that he’ll have immortality), but even then, they’re portrayed as just simply doing this as a job.
Watching this movie about 10 or so years later, the animation still looks incredibly amazing, proving that you don’t have to have top of the line computer graphics to convey your story. Miyazaki’s beautiful, almost oil-painting-like detail on the landscapes and scenery of the forest is simply beautiful to look at. The characters and action scenes move fluidly, never choppy, and the demonic tentacles that sprout from the Cursed Gods are disturbing to look at, as they were modeled in CG, but then drawn over in cell-animation. Adding in a beautiful cinematic score composed by Joe Hisashi, and it’s amazing on both visual and auditory levels.
I know that Miyazaki is a bit blatant in his moral that we should respect our forests and the environment around us, but for me, he conveys the message so it doesn’t preach or talk down to us as if we’re just ignorant mud-people. Whereas Avatar has beautiful visuals, but a plotline that’s been done before with a bunch of two-dimensional characters tied together in an Anvilicious moral message, Princess Mononoke has a commonly done plot but with characters that are complex, and a moral message that, while a bit preachy, is subtly and tastefully done. I would highly recommend watching Princess Mononoke to see an environmental message done right, and to see that Japanese animation isn’t just Pokemon and Dragonball Z.
TVTropes: Definition of Anvilicious
Some Anvils Need To Be Dropped– the opposite of Anvilicious