Animated Feature Film:
- O Menino e o Mundo (Boy & the World)
- Inside Out
- Shaun the Sheep Movie
- When Marnie Was There
I am continually amazed at how far stop-motion animation has come, particularly with Laika and their run of films (Coraline, ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls). Instead of Laika's whimsy, Anomalisa occupies an uncanny valley of set design that is so almost real it's disturbing as it makes a very adult-focused animated film. Where Charlie Kaufman previously let us all be John Malkovich, he inverts this gaze and instead of the multitudes occupying one man, one person now occupies the multitudes. I had originally thought Kaufman was trying to write a film on face-blindness and his idea of how difficult that may make human interaction when no one is distinguishable from anyone else. Instead, though, it becomes incredibly clear that this is a fantastically produced take on the Fregoli delusion wherein everyone else is just an iteration on the same person. Kaufman has written several fantastic screenplays, but Anomalisa doesn't hold a candle to his previous work. It goes so far as to bludgeon you with its theme, explicitly telling you exactly what it is about. Originally conceived as a stage production, I have to think that it simply doesn't translate to film.
Gorgeously animated, Boy & the World looks as though someone took The Very Hungry Caterpillar's art style and reimagined it in paint, crayon, and collage and then animated it. Set to an alternatingly despairing, terrifying, and effulgent soundtrack, Boy & the World explores the imposition upon Brazilian culture and destruction of her people by imperialistic Western industrialism as seen through the eyes of an orphan trying to find his father. By using printed collage for modern goods and advertisements, Alê Abreu directly equates them with bland overproduction and reimagines them later as collage trash. This garbage litters the countryside literally turning the nation into a landfill to which the local workforce is displaced when their textile factory is mechanized. A proud, colorful, joyous populace is distilled through the eyes of a child, and by the end of Boy & the World, it and he are reduced to drab colors living out their lives and fighting amongst each other for survival in the waste byproduct of their colonizers. As though the allegory may be too dense*, toward the end of the film, Abreu literally burns the animation to show a countryside in flames and workforce ravaged by industrialism. As much a call out as Seuss' The Lorax, Boy & the World entrusts the hope for preserving the previous generations' achievements and culture into the hands of Brazil's children.
There are a million and one articles praising Inside Out. Boston.com considers it for "Pixar's best movie" while The Telegraph calls it "the best children's film." And then there's Amy Poehler calling it "the best movie ever made." After watching it, I certainly can't fault them for gushing over it. It is, however, likely an incredibly Amerocentric view, but perhaps they just never saw a single Studio Ghibli film. The best things about Inside Out are definitely all to do with the screenplay, so, seriously, go read that. The animation was typical Pixar - gorgeous, fluid, and wonderfully expressive. That's a thing, though: it was typical Pixar and thus doesn't terribly stand above the shoulders of those giants. Wonderfully conceived and realized, Inside Out will definitely be on most best animated films of all time lists from this point forward, but I'm reticent to catapult it to the top.
I positively adored Chicken Run when it came out as well as The Pirates! Band of Misfits when I got to watch it for this project (even though I ultimately didn't write that year), so you can imagine how excited I was for another Aardman production. Shaun the Sheep Movie, though, while being adorably animated claymation, comes off as rather tedious. Even more than Boy & the World, dialogue is non-existent here, but the visual story is hardly engaging enough to make up for it. I suspect it functions well as a children's movie, but it is a little too clunky for most adults who might have to sit through it.
In 2013, Hayao Miyazaki gave us Kaze Tachinu (The Wind Rises), and Isao Takahata, the collaborator with whom he founded Studio Ghibli, gave us Kaguya-hime no Monogatari (The Tale of Princess Kaguya). Despite being two of the most visually stunning films in recent history, animated or not, and dripping with storytelling, neither won an Academy Award having lost to Frozen and Big Hero 6, respectfully. That year, with those two films, both directors stepped back from creation, handing off the reigns of the studio they founded. Miyazaki has been coined time and again "the Walt Disney of Japan," which is probably doing him a disservice, but it would follow to liken Studio Ghibli to Walt Disney Studios. With new creators at the helm, When Marnie Was There is set to answer the question of how the studio will fare without the old heads overseeing production. Maybe it will grow on me, but this is without reservation my least favorite Ghibli film. Admittedly, my exposure has been biased by popularity for most of their production run, but this is absolutely no Princess Mononoke. It's not even Ponyo. As per usual, the non-character animation is richer and more nuanced than nearly anything else in existence which only makes sense seeing as director Hiromasa Yonebayashi has been animating at Ghibli since 1997's Princess Mononoke. Even still, the animation feels restrained, as though Yonebayashi is fearful of stepping out and making a mistake with his first project. This conservativism extends throughout the film as the direction comes off as a little subpar, the acting as mediocre, and the script as bland and uninteresting. When Marnie Was There, however is still a Studio Ghibli production, so it's almost worth a watch just for that. It is clear, though, that Miyazaki and Takahata have left shoes that may be too big to ever fill. Hopefully, these growing pains will pass quickly so that it will at least no longer feel like a child clomping around in their mother's heels.
I legit cried writing this article while I was thinking about Boy & the World's animation. It is so stunningly gorgeous. They say a picture is with a thousand words, and this moving tapestry is millions upon millions of words that more than make up for the minimal dialogue. Without a single reservation, it is my favorite of these films. Having witnessed one stunning foreign language animated film after another lose to the yearly production of American animation powerhouses, though, I also don't have a single reservation suggesting that Inside Out is going to win this one.
Should win: O Menino e o Mundo (Boy & the World)
Will win: Inside Out
* I know I just ripped Kaufman for such direct exposition, but the theme of Anomalisa was more obvious and less in need of such explicitness. Also, it is a film for adults who, theoretically, should be able to deconstruct themes with greater ease.