Fritz the Cat (1972)

Oh boy, I’ve chasing this film for five years, and now that I finally managed to find it, I could now experience it in all its freaky glory…and it was amazing. I’ve said a few times on this site (and many elsewhere in life) that I’m a big fan of Ralph Bakshi, and the reason why is that unlike the other animators of his time, he was taking animation to stranger, more mature territory. Of course, he is most famous for Fritz the Cat, the first X-rated animated film, at least in America. Controversial on release, the film broke all the rules of cartoon films, and it proved that animation could explore adult themes and turn a profit, and thus a cartoon classic was born.

The story involves Fritz the Cat, a character created in the 1960’s by the cartoonist Robert Crumb, who also wrote the other characters in the film (as a side note, Fritz was one of Crumb’s most popular characters, and became a countercultural icon during the run of Crumb’s comics). Fritz is a hedonistic university student in the late 1960’s who constantly tries to get in bed with as many women as possible. After a night of sex, drugs and avoiding “the fuzz”, he drops out of New York University and embarks on a journey through New York City in order to find himself.

The film’s story was quite a wild ride. You have Fritz going through the entire city to get his funk on, and he gets chased by cops, gets caught in the middle of a riot (which he started), and ends up in the middle of the desert and hanging out with a group of dangerous revolutionaries. It’s a surreal tale of ecstasy and emptiness, with the kind of political commentary that characterises Bakshi’s classic works of the early to mid 1970’s. Fritz also offers a window into the radical time in which it was made in its own way, poking fun at both the radical left and the radical right, while painting a deliciously satirical, and poignantly accurate picture of the hippies of its time.

Fritz is interesting character, a freewheeling college student who doesn’t like the pretentiousness of the hippies (despite aping them with the whole “quest for truth” schtick). He starts out as a completely selfish character, and to be fair he sort of remains that way throughout the film. He may be crass and horny, but he’s smart in his own way. His philosophy seems to be that the only way to learn about life is to see it and grab it for yourself. In effect, he is an embodiment of the counterculture of his time, and his interaction with the world around him often leads to hilarious results.

I’ve always loved Bakshi’s animation style, mainly because of the penchant for artistic innovative he displays. In Bakshi’s directorial debut, you see a traditional sort of style, though with a looser style than one might see in Walt Disney’s films. In addition to that, the film makes use of backgrounds made with watercolour painting, and city skylines based on tracings from photographs. There’s a nice mixture of styles blended together in a way that brings out the seediness of Fritz’s world. The film also has an excellent psychedelic music score so infectiously ecstatic it that takes you into another state of mind.

The film may have garnered a reputation as a cartoon porno (which is funny considering the sex wasn’t really that graphic) simply because it was full of brazen nudity, but it’s really far more than that. It’s a satirical exploration of the depravity, confusion, hedonism and self-delusion that permeated the late stage of the 60’s-70’s counterculture. It was an innovative work of art that pioneered the concept of adult-oriented animation, and damned if I wasn’t entertained by it.

  • Score: 89%
  • Grade: A
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Fantastic Planet (1973)

Among the great animated triumphs of the 1970’s sits René Laloux’s Fantastic Planet, a film well known among animation aficionados as a classic of surreal animation. Indeed, it’s not so much a piece of film as much as it is a work of art, and I think it was a work that was ahead of its time. Back in 1973, there were only a handful of animated sci-fi features, let alone of the kind that were mature enough to deal with heavy subjects such as authoritarianism, captivity and revolution, bundled in with the kind of utopian themes that you usually find in sci-fi from that point in time.

In this film, humans from Earth have been captured by blue giants called the Draag (who call the humans “Oms”), and brought to their planet of Ygam as pets which they dress up in garish costumes. The Draags have a technologically and apparently spiritually advanced society, and they live much longer than humans, but reproduce less. Not all humans are domesticated. Some humans live out in the wilderness, and the ones that do are considered savages, which the Draags regularly exterminate as their form of pest control.

The story focuses on a human named Terr, who since his infancy was raised in captivity by a young Draag named Tiwa, the daughter of a Draag leader named Master Sinh. He learns a great deal of Draag knowledge while living with her, but when she starts to grow distant from him, he runs away and steals the headphones that transmit knowledge to her mind. With his knowledge, which he spreads to the undomesticated humans, he leads his fellows to rebel against their Draag oppressors.

I think my main criticism with the story is that the film is rather short, running at only 72 minutes. That’s not necessarily bad, but with 20 more minutes I think the film could have explored more territory, but that’s not to say the writers did a very good job in 72 minutes. After all it’s undoubtedly a strong story. The film basic premise is essentially a variation of the David and Goliath archetype (in a Planet of the Apes sort of fashion), and built around that is a sophisticated, wonderfully bizarre tale of an advanced, yet self-absorbed society in danger of bringing about its own ruin.

The voice acting was pretty good, and the characters were very well-formed, though I think a longer runtime may have been better for character development. The main protagonist, however, is the most well-done character in the movie, which is no surprise considering that you get to see him from infancy to adulthood (it should be noted that humans seem to age faster than their alien captors). In a way, his intelligence and resourcefulness represents the potential of mankind, the potential that certain people in power don’t want people to display, and I think that’s part of the film’s message, that we have the power to bring about a better world for ourselves, but we have to make those in power see that we are be taken seriously.

Of course, Fantastic Planet is absolutely a visual treat, with its highly detailed, hand-drawn art style evoking a distinctly antique feel. The art style is something of a mixture of Terry Gilliam, Max Ernst (arguably), Salvador Dali, and other surrealist artists, and the result is simply magnificent. I find that the film has a kind of illustrative style, and there’s a scene that vindicates my point in which you see a montage of what look like rough, conceptual style sketches. I would say that this is as much a film for art students and budding illustrators as it is for cineasts. The film also had a great, progressive rock style music score, courtesy of Alain Goraguer.

On the whole, Fantastic Planet was a great film that desperately needs more exposure. It presented a vision of animation vastly different from what we’re used to today, one that emphasised the artistic potential of the medium and pushed the boundaries of what animated works were capable of. Where are such ground-breaking animations nowadays? Much has changed in over 40 years, but the classics of animation still endure, setting an example of the direction that animation should take.

  • Score: 88%
  • Grade: A

Angel’s Egg (1985)

I’ve long been a champion of animation, if not here then on Stef’s Cave, where I have a history of expounding the supremacy of animation over live-action filmmaking. This is one of those films that proves that I am right. What live-action film is there that is like this in terms of strange brilliance, sense of adventure, and ambition? Only the Czechoslovakian rendition of Alice in Wonderland is comparable, but this is an even greater mystery. We have in our midst a film whose meaning can, no, must be deteremined by the viewer, as not even the film’s creator, the famed anime film director Mamoru Oshii, seemed to have any idea what the film was about.

Here’s what I can get out of the film. An unnamed girl is travelling a vast, decrepit gothic city searching for food and water, all while carrying a large egg, seemingly with an intent to look after it. She eventually crosses paths with a boy carrying a wooden cross, who accompanies her for the remainder of the film. Neither seem to have any clue of how the world got to the way it is, but while they’re together, they reflect on their amnesia and discuss the bizarre few things they recall seeing.

The film’s most obvious trait is that there is little if any dialogue. In fact, out of the film’s entire 71-minute runtime, there may as well only have been about a few minutes worth of dialogue. The rest of the film is tension building and ominous atmosphere, all seemingly without a linear plot. You would think that I would be repelled by such a prospect, but the director seems to have done a good job of creating a film that sucks you in despite the lack of a clear plot. It makes you wonder about the world the film explores, and you ask yourself how long it might have been around in the context of the film, wondering whether it has been around forever or is the product of someone’s imagination.

The characters, though they don’t talk much, still have you invested in them. You want to know if the girl will ever see the egg hatch, and you want to what the boy’s true intentions are. Some questions are answered, but the most obvious ones are left unanswered, adrift in a sea of religious symbolism. Speaking of which, Oshii left a number of surreal, evocative imagery throughout the film. Why is the soldier boy carrying a cross? Is he the messiah, or perhaps a false prophet? The boy recounted his own, fatalistic interpretation of Noah’s Ark, and later on the entire city is flooded. Is the film’s plot a surrealistic version of Noah’s Ark? It’s worth noting that Mamoru Oshii used to be a Christian, but lost his faith before the film was produced. This has been called Oshii’s most personal film, and by that token, is this perhaps a reflection of his lost faith? An allegory of belief?

Given the lack of a coherent plot and sparse dialogue, the film has been treated as a work of animated art rather than a conventional film, and that fits because the film is a triumph of animated art. The art style is distinct in its brilliance, with characters and illustrations by the one and only Yoshitaka Amano. The dark and dreary colours represent the ominous mood of the film, which is captured by a beautiful, spare music score. The film itself leaves a great deal of answered questions in its wake, and a shock ending, but it’s very much worth it as a piece of bold, avant-garde animation. If you insist on only watching anime films for your whole life, please make this one of them.

  • Score: 86%
  • Grade: A

Blood Reign: Curse of the Yoma (1989)

curse_of_the_yomaThis film is a strange case, mainly because, believe it or not, it wasn’t originally released as a film. It was originally two episodes of an original video animation (or OVA) back in 1989, but they were later compiled into a single movie when released on DVD, so for all intents and purposes, this is a made-for-TV anime movie, and in many ways, it certainly shows.

The overall plot concerns the rise of demons (or Yoma in this film), fuelled by the spilt blood of warriors slain amidst a terrible war ravaging the land. A skilled ninja named Hikage seeks to end the bloodshed and stop the Yoma from wreaking destruction on humanity, but he must fight his deceased friend, a fellow ninja named Marou who was killed in battle, and resurrected in order to serve the Yoma.

That summary alone glosses over a very muddled and disorganised plot that essentially jumps from one formulaic and impotent fight scene to the next, in a sort of “monster of the moment” fashion, with no real thread tying everything together. In an action-oriented anime film, you’d think that it’d be a good thing to have lots and lots of violent action scenes, but the film does this so sloppily that it’s downright boring, and that’s such as shame because it seems as if it could easily have been good if done properly.

Another problem is the characters. They’re incredibly hard to take seriously, and that’s mainly because of the horrendously bad English dub, which makes the characters sound very ridiculous with wooden acting. As I may have mentioned in a few other reviews, this is pretty common in older anime films, and in this one, it makes the film sound comical. Sadly, this isn’t the kind of film that sought to take advantage of accidental humour. I’m sure the original Japanese voice acting is much better (I hope), because in English, it sounds like everyone’s shouting out what the protagonist should do next, either because the script was poorly translated, or because it was bad in the first place.

The art style isn’t bad. It’s typical of anime from the 80’s and early 90’s, but it looked pretty good, but the problem is the choppy animation. In at least one scene, Hikage is seen talking to and old man, and the old man’s lips don’t even move. Very often it seems as if this was sloppily made, as if rushed in order to meet a rather slim deadline. I guess the music sort of makes up for it, in its own somewhat cheesy way, but it doesn’t make up for everything else. The action scenes should have been very good, but because of the choppy direction and bad writing, they’re boring and ineffectual.

Why they decided to merge two TV episodes into a movie simply baffles me. It certainly has all the hallmarks of a mediocre TV production, and barely qualifies as a movie. Either way, this film should have been better, and I was hoping it would be good, but apparently the producers were a bit too incompetent for that to happen, and what we have is an inferior film that leaves very much to be desired.

  • Score: 52%
  • Grade: D

Cool World (1992)

Cool_WorldFor the past few years there’s been one animator who I’ve come to admire, the legendary Ralph Bakshi. Unfortunately, while I admire much of his work (for instance, Wizards was particularly influential on me and remains so to this day), I can’t exactly say the same for his last feature film, which was something of a legendary flop. Savaged by critics and gunned down in the box office, Cool World was intended to be an animated horror film, but it ended up being a cautionary tale about the horrors of executive meddling, and the disaster that ensued effectively drove one of the great geniuses of animation out of the business. If you ask me, that might as well be the film’s sole accomplishment.

Before I talk about what the film ought to have been, let’s look at the film as it is. The film revolves around Holli Would, a sultry cartoon temptress who resides in the eponymous Cool World, the realm of the cartoon characters. Holli wants nothing more than to be human, and she gets her chance when a cartoonist named Jack Deebs gets sucked into her world. The only way she can achieve her dream is if the two enter in carnal embrace with each other, thereby breaking the oldest law in Cool World (“noids and doodles can’t have sex”), and drawing the attention of detective Frank Harris, who wants to stop Holli.

Now I’m sure anyone looking at this will no doubt think of this as essentially a mediocre clone of the technically superior Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and they’d be right. The premise is much the same (Cool World is essentially a sleazier version of Toontown, but with original characters), right down to the noir-style detective story. To top it off, it uses the exact same combination of live-action film and hand-drawn animation that Roger Rabbit made famous. It’s as if the producers couldn’t think of anything better than a dumbed down version of Roger Rabbit, and compared to what Ralph Bakshi originally had in mind (which I’ll eventually talk about), it comes across as wasted potential more than anything else. The film also suffers from a disjointed plot broken up by the occasional antics of the minor toon characters, and the end result is a chaotic mess of film noir clichés and half-baked Looney Toons characters.

The acting isn’t completely bad. If anything, Kim Basinger, though not the director’s first choice, does a good job at conveying the intensely sensual character that is Holli Would. Brad Pitt, the man who plays the detective, spends the whole film pretending to be a 40’s gumshoe, complete with the obviously typical accent, but he’s not a very convincing character. The villain from Roger Rabbit was more convincing, and he was essentially a caricature of a villain. The rest of the characters are all unlikable, and everyone else is a background character. The film itself is often billed as a comedy, which I find ironic because the jokes are so dull that much of the laughs will probably be coincidental.

The animation style, as I said before, is identical to Roger Rabbit, with animated characters pasted into a live-action world, and vice versa. I actually like the way they’ve drawn Cool World. It’s a far more surreal counterpart to Toontown, and I personally feel that they could have done plenty with that sort of world. They certainly took the time to animate original characters, but the vast bulk of them are purely background characters that often whiz around the screen like wild spectres, and the end result feels unfocused. I kind of like the music they composed and selected (including David Bowie’s brilliant “Real Cool World”), though I think some of the songs they picked were selected just because they sounded trendy at the time, and don’t exactly sound right.

I can go on and on, but ultimately I would be saying the same thing. Cool World was ultimately a disappointment. Now the question is how exactly did we end up with this? I mentioned in the preface that Cool World is essentially a cautionary tale of the horrors of executive meddling, and that’s exactly how Cool World was made. In 1990, Ralph Bakshi began working an avant-garde animated horror movie which he pitched to Paramount Studios, who quickly bought Bakshi’s idea. The original Cool World was supposed to involve an underground cartoonist and a cartoon woman who have sex and produce an illegitimate hybrid child who hates herself for what she is, and visits the real world in order to try and kill him.

This version would have been a gritty, sex-laden horror film of an avant-garde breed, and if you look at the original storyboards, it seems as if it could have been a great work of art. For a time, everything seemed to be going well, but one of the producers, Frank Mancuso Jr., had the script completely rewritten without Ralph’s knowledge, and the two got into a fight. At this point, Ralph would probably have quit, but Paramount, which was run by Mancuso’s father at the time, threatened to sue him if he refused to finish the film. Added to that, Kim Basinger wasn’t even Ralph’s first choice to play Holli. He originally wanted the character to be played by Drew Barrymore, with Brad Pitt playing the role of the cartoonist. However, Basinger was cast, and she basically wanted to turn the film into a PG film (which ended up being rated PG-13) so that it could be shown in hospitals, and for no real reason other than it might further her career. Nonetheless, Mancuso agreed, and under threat of litigation, Ralph was basically forced to make a movie that, if I’ll be totally honest, probably wasn’t even his anymore.

Well, there you have it. Cool World may have been a disappointing film, but it’s not as if Ralph Bakshi could help it. After all, the film was practically forced from his hands. Had Ralph been left to his own devices, I’m sure it would have been a very good film, but sadly, that isn’t the case, and what we’re left with is a disjointed, mediocre clone of Roger Rabbit that embodies the twisted committee thinking of Hollywood.

  • Score: 53%
  • Grade: D

A Wind Named Amnesia (1990)

Kaze_no_Na_Wa_Amnesia_(pamphlet)Another day, another obscure anime film that piques my interest, this one being a post-apocalyptic film from the supposed golden age of anime and manga. Nonetheless, this film is interesting own way, perhaps mainly because of its premise, though not quite in the same way as the last film I picked.

In the film, which is set in 1999 (but made in 1990), a mysterious wind blew all over the planet, and then suddenly most of humanity lost all of their memory, forgetting their names, how to speak, or even how to use the tools of modern civilisation, and thus mankind has been reduced to a primitive state. Two years later, a re-educated American man who now goes by the name Wataru travels across the country with a mysterious woman named Sophia, hoping to help people rediscover the knowledge their ancestors left behind.

Before I saw the film, I thought the title was pointlessly highbrow, but when I actually watched the film, the premise, though it made for an interesting story, made even less sense. I know it’s a sci-fi film and so I should be inclined to engage in the suspension of disbelief, but there’s a lot that isn’t very well explained, including how this wind is supposed to affect people’s memory. Usually sci-fi films at least try to explain what happens, but then when the film finally does drop the explanation (Sophia being a representative of a race of “higher beings”), it only makes even less sense. The main thing I took from the story is that, in this film at least, higher beings are retarded, and have no idea how to help humanity.

The characters leave quite a bit to be desired, and to be fair, the film’s length doesn’t help matters much. At 81 minutes, the film is much too short and it doesn’t do a whole lot with its characters. Right at the beginning, the main character sounds like a jibbering idiot (which makes sense given the context, though compared to most of the denizens of his world he might as well be a genius). In fact, a lot of times, the film comes across as an accidental comedy due to how silly the characters often seem, and it’s mostly because of the bit parts. It doesn’t help that the English dub for the film is rather cheesy, which, unfortunately, I kind of expected.

Of course it’s not a totally bad film. In fact, I was thoroughly entertained by the film’s accidental humour. And of course, like many other anime films of the time, the art style was very good, with detailed, hand-drawn characters and objects. I also like the musical score they composed for the film, at least film producers had some taste back in the day. To be fair, it does make a for a fairly good adventure film, and it could have been amazing overall, but in my mind, I think they should have worked on the plot a bit more, because I think the film itself is a bit too silly, and is often more of an accidental comedy than it ought to have been.

  • Score: 69%
  • Grade: C

Escaflowne (2000)

escaflowneNot a day goes by when I don’t think that I haven’t watched enough anime, and so I thought of a number of anime films and series’ I may have wanted to try out, and amongst them was Escaflowne (sometimes billed as Escaflowne: A Girl in Gaia), an anime film I found and became interested in last year. Apparently based on a TV series called Visions of Escaflowne (which I must check out before I croak), I’ve heard that it differs from it in various ways, making it a fairly loose adaptation, but on its own, I’d say it was pretty good, with its engaging story in a well-crafted fantasy world.

The film revolves around Hitomi Kanzaki, a depressed high school girl plagued by unusual dreams that cause her such sorrow that she wants to disappear from the world, and her wish is heard in the alternate world of Gaea by a man named Lord Folken, the leader of the Black Dragon Clan who wishes to conquer Gaea and bring about its destruction. In Gaea, she is the prophesied “Wing Goddess” who will revive the Escaflowne, a doomsday weapon that can either destroy or save Gaea. As she develops a close friendship with the rebel leader Van, she becomes more hopeful, and in overcoming her sorrow, she wishes to save Gaea from being destroyed by the man who brought her there.

The story goes in a somewhat familiar direction, and I don’t like that it meanders a bit during the beginning, but it’s not without its character or charm. It has elements of both traditional fantasy and mecha-oriented sci-fi, with hints of romantic drama throughout. It’s quite an eclectic mix of genres, blended together into a neatly paced 98-minute film. Even if it has its flaws, I definitely enjoyed the story from beginning to end, and chiefly because it was simply an entertaining watch.

It has long been established that English dubs of old anime films tended to be mostly cheesy (that was certainly true in the dub of Vampire Hunter D), but I don’t think that’s a problem in Escaflowne. Judging by the Ocean Studios dub, the acting wasn’t that bad, and I liked the characters quite a bit. The main character didn’t appeal to me much, but the film’s deuteragonist, the rebel leader Van, was a much more striking protagonist, mainly because he shows great power, and like many familiar fantasy heroes, is unafraid to unleash it if he thought he was doing good by it. There are a number of interesting side characters, some of them are part animal (including Merle, a likably eccentric catgirl). However, I felt that Lord Folken was a particularly strong character. In fact, he reminds me of a character I wrote and drew for one of my one fantasy stories.

Though I personally think Escaflowne’s art style is as well-drawn as other anime films and series’ (I’ve seen images of the Escaflowne TV series, and they look quite good compared to this), I still think the film looked good, and it definitely had the mark of an imaginative fantasy film, with fantastical characters, costumes, and locations that appeal to my blatant sensibilities as a fantasy fan, complete with the showdown between two mechas (one of them obviously being Escaflowne, which at some point turns into a dragon). I’ve always held the belief that animation as a medium is an enabler of greater creative freedom, and this film certainly proves that.

Even with its flaws, I can’t really critique Escaflowne that much. After all, I genuinely enjoyed that film, and would certainly be interested in other films like it. I can’t help but think that one day, I may be a connoisseur of films like Escaflowne, as I seem to find them innately appealing, with this film being a good example of why.

  • Score: 75%
  • Grade: B

The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)

achmedSeveral months ago I had heard of a unique curiosity from the early days of animation. Made exactly nine decades ago, it has the honour of being one of the oldest films I could find (the oldest being Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror), and in all honesty, I found it to be a very enjoyable, if rather cryptic piece of animation history.

Given that it’s one of those silent films from the 20’s, there’s pretty much no speaking, and so the film’s primary method of conveying the story is the art of visual communication, and through intertitles. Of course, the intertitles are all in German, so unless you can read German, you pretty much have to watch the events unfold on their own.

From what I know, the story is loosely based on elements of One Thousand and One Nights (and another story “The Story of Prince Ahmed and the Fairy Paribanou”), and from what I can tell, it sees the main character, Prince Achmed, on a quest to save his sister from a devious sorcerer, and meets a beautiful queen named Pari Banu, who also abducted by the sorcerer, and rescued by Prince Achmed, with the aid of Aladdin and the witch of a flaming mountain.

It’s all a very imaginative story that, strangely enough, manages to express itself without the need of words, but this has more to do with the technique of animation (which I’ll discuss later), rather than the actual plot. I also notice that the story is divided into five acts, and though they share the same aesthetic style and all follow a linear plot, somehow they all have their own charm that I can’t exactly explain. The film itself is around 65 minutes long, but somehow, that’s just fine.

Let’s talk about the style of animation the film employs. The film was written, directed and animated by Lotte Reiniger, a film director who pioneered the technique of silhouette animation, which is a kind of stop-motion animation that involves manipulating cutout characters and objects made out of cardboard and sheets of lead under a camera. It’s a bit like shadow puppetry, only the figures are moved frame by frame. It is one of the earliest examples of stop motion animation, and it also has the distinction of being the oldest surviving animated film in history (others were made but are apparently lost).

This kind of technique, though the film itself looks visibly dated in some parts, really brings the story and characters to life, and the film’s Arabesque art style matches it in quite an incredible way, and it’s made all the more striking by the fact that the film only uses two colours at a time. Sometimes the background colour changes, but the figures are always silhouettes, and thus remain black. The film is also backed by a whimsical orchestral score. I should point out that, when originally released, it had a different musical score, but the DVD release uses a new score, conducted I believe by a man known as K. Leikenbroecker. I felt the score accompanied the film quite well, and it especially worked with the animation style.

Overall, while it might not seem very substantive compared to modern films, it’s worth watching to see a work of animation unlike any other before or since, and it has certain qualities that make it very entertaining on its own.

  • Score: 77%
  • Grade: B

When the Wind Blows (1986)

When_the_Wind_Blows_1986Based on a graphic novel by Raymond Briggs, When the Wind Blows is one of the more interesting films of the 1980’s, both in terms of its concept and the way in which it had been executed. In a time when the threat of nuclear war loomed over our shoulders, this film, made with the same team that brought you The Snowman, offered a bleak, realistic portrayal of what might have happened if the nuclear bomb were dropped.

The film tells this story through the perspective of a retired English couple. Jim and Hilda Bloggs live in a tidy cottage in rural Sussex, while Jim keeps reading the newspapers and listening to the radio to keep track of the deteriorating international situation. Much to his wife’s dismay, he prepares for the worst as instructed by the famous Protect and Survive pamphlets. Even after the bomb strikes and the fallout takes effect, the Bloggs couple remain adamant that they will survive the war as they did four decades prior.

The story starts off on a fairly calm tone, but as the film progresses, it quickly becomes a picture of stoic British optimism gradually descending into bleak pessimism, for even as Jim and Hilda continue struggling to the bitter end, their efforts merely see them waiting for the inevitable. The ending leaves what happens next to your imagination. For all we know, they may well have survived, but it’s likely that they don’t.

The film certainly takes an uncompromising approach, and it captures not only the visceral horror of what was then the hypothetical worst-case scenario, but also the human drama that is there continued perseverance, with a healthy dose of that quintessentially British “keep calm and carry on” mentality. Interestingly enough, Jim and Hilda Bloggs are the only two characters with speaking roles, and they are fittingly placed in the centre of the story.

I honestly liked these characters a lot, and it’s not because of their idealism. That’s to be expected. What I liked about them was that, no matter how misguided they may have been, they kept going until the bitter end, and they kept their cool along the way. That, to me, demonstrates a lot of character that I feel sorely needs to be promoted more in our culture. I also liked the humour and lively character that the two characters often demonstrated, and I felt that I could empathise with Jim Bloggs in some way (namely the fact that he always keeps abreast of world affairs).

The film also demonstrates a very charming style of hand-drawn animation, but I would say that it’s the darker and more experimental counterpart to The Snowman. I say this because it combines traditional hand-drawn animation with stop-motion animation (the objects in the Bloggs’ home rarely move, but are animated with stop-motion techniques when the do), and sometimes including real life footage, which adds to the bleak, sometimes haunting atmosphere that the film evokes. To add to this, the film opens in a very positive tone, to the tune of David Bowie’s song of the name (“When the Wind Blows” is a Bowie track that remains one of my personal favourites), and slowly progressing towards the bleak futility of the Bloggs’ death throes.

There have been many films that expressed the futility and horror of nuclear war, some of which were apparently shocking enough to have given people nightmares when they were new, but this film conveyed is in a way that it remains emotionally resonant. It’s a powerful and brilliant work of art that I feel is sorely underappreciated.

  • Score: 85%
  • Grade: A

Titan A.E. (2000)

Titan_AE_One_SheetDon Bluth used to be one of the most respected animators in the film industry (and probably still is), where he became famous for his work on many popular Disney films such as The RescuersThe Fox and the Hound and Robin Hood. He then went on to form his own company and direct his own films. This led to one his greatest films, The Secret of NIMH, but unfortunately, it also led to this lazy abomination of a film called Titan A.E., which disappoints in every possible area. Though I doubt you could expect much from a film like this, but believe me, it somehow manages to be even more boring sci-fi fare than it looks.

The premise revolves around an invading race of energy-based aliens called the Drej, who at the start of the film destroy Earth, leaving the surviving humans drifting throughout space and being ridiculed by other races. The rest of the film sees its protagonist Cale Tucker guiding a crew of humans and aliens towards the Titan space station, which was built with the purpose of creating a new planet in the event that Earth was destroyed.

The film’s plot is very standard sci-fi riding on all manner of story clichés, including the obligatory betrayal by a supporting character. It’s the kind of film that tries for space opera territory but runs of fuel right before it could get there. The writers and producers tried whatever they could to keep it afloat, but failed miserably. In this regard, a lot of is to do with the fact that the writers did very little to explain the things that needed to explain it. For example, why do the Drej not want the Titan space station to be found, and why would any human sell out the future of his own kind?

Speaking of that, the characters are so flat and lazily written that not even an star-studded cast could save them. They simply come across to me as cookie-cutter Stargate characters in a movie that’s somehow out of even their league. The acting isn’t even that great to be wholly honest, as if the Hollywood stars they got to work on this film were only in it for the money. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were. The dialogue is also really lazily written, with the Drej suffering from the laziest writing the film has to offer.

As for the visuals, the film’s animation style is a mixture of traditional hand-drawn animation and extensive CGI. The end result definitely looks polished, but a polished turd is still a turd. The film looks like a bigger, shinier version of a Saturday morning cartoon from the 1990’s. At the very least it accomplishes the easy feat of presenting itself better than Heavy Metal 2000 (another animated atrocity from the year 2000), but could somebody tell me why the producers thought that a Don Bluth film needed music from contemporary rock bands? The music is awful, and it reflects badly on the mindset of whoever decided to put it in the film.

To be honest, I think the film might have had some potential, but the producers just squandered it without a care in the world, and the consequences are rather apparent given mixed critical reception and disappointing box office returns (the film made $36.8 million against a $75-90 million budget). It’s also rather telling that after this film was released, Don Bluth never directed another movie, which is such a shame because of what he made before. If the plethora of cheap direct-to-video sequels (made without his involvement) didn’t tarnish his name, then this film surely did. Even if it’s not terribly bad, it’s a creative low point for someone who was clearly a talented visionary in the field of animation.

  • Score: 50%
  • Grade: D