Animation: The Sequel

I've written about animated films before, but there are always new ones to discover, as well as older titles to revisit. To beat a live horse yet again (Maximus in Tangled, for example, not Maximus in Gladiator) I continue to be disappointed that adult friends, when visiting for a movie night, reject out of hand any suggested animated titles. Some, I suspect, haven't seen an animated movie since they were 12, an age at which they abandoned anything they considered to be childish diversions beneath their newfound sophistication. But just as live action films can offer things that animated titles cannot, the reverse is certainly true.

The late film critic, Roger Ebert, remarked in his 4-Star review of Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (more on this below), that animation offers a freedom of movement, and from gravity, that live action cannot. True, modern action films are replete with computerized special effects, but I'd bet good money, or at least five bucks, that Tom Cruise never actually dangled on the outside of that airplane on takeoff, or hung by a rope outside that skyscraper in Dubai. But Ebert's comment still has legs.

When I last visited this subject I Listed the following favorites (all in their original versions): The Lion King, Despicable Me, Monster's Inc., Shrek (the first), Chicken Run, Hercules, How to Train Your Dragon, and Tangled. Any one of them should delight (or at least entertain) any viewer from 6 to 90, even those who might consider themselves to be terminally anti-animation. But here are others "equally-worthy. All of them apart from Hunchback are available on both Blu-Ray and 4K Ultra HD:

The Hunchback of Notre Dame
This might seem like an odd choice for Disney to animate. Released in 1996 on the cusp of computer animation, it's nevertheless mostly hand drawn with some CGI sweetening. The latter is clear today in the Festival off Fools scenes, but isn't too obvious elsewhere. It's a musical, of course, but most of the songs, by Disney's then go-to composer Alan Menken, are superb. God Help the Outcasts, sung by Esmeralda in the Notre Dame cathedral, is one of the best, but even bettered by the near-terrifying Hellfire as the villain Claude Frollo wrestles with his demons in front of a raging fireplace that soon turns into a hellscape. But even by including lighter elements, (Quasimodo's stone "friends," his nickname Quasi, a few lighter songs, some humor, and the child-friendly ending), the film can't fully escape the darker elements from the original novel, particularly the most clearly evil villain in the entire Disney cannon. And that's a good thing. While Disney might have bitten off a bit more than it could easily chew here, given its target audience it nonetheless remains, for me, one of the studio's best efforts.

Ratatouille
If a story about rats in a Paris restaurant's kitchen, even very friendly rats, sounds more than a little off-putting, you don't understand Disney-Pixar. At its best, before Disney bought Pixar outright (along with everything else in Hollywood!), Pixar was producing the world's best animation. Ratatouille tells the story of a cooking-obsessed rat, Remy, who finds his way into the kitchen of a chic Paris eatery. In an unlikely (to say the least) turn of events, he teams up with the restaurant's kitchen boy, Linguini. Linguini's skills are limited to say the least, but together with Remy, who hides under Linguini's hat (!!) I), he manages to impress Paris' fussiest reviewer. If all of this sounds ridiculous or at best stomach-turning, it certainly isn't. There are no songs (Pixar doesn't do songs), but the computer animation is flawless. The film is immensely entertaining despite its slightly cringy premise, and remains one of my favorite Pixar films.

Sing
Another oddity, and a take-off on these now ubiquitous TV singing award shows. All of the characters here are animals, and if singing, dancing, and talking animals aren't your thing, give this one a try anyway. Kids will delight in the animals, and receptive adults can ignore the anthropomorphism in a few minutes.

Theater owner and promoter Buster Moon is in financial trouble and to get out of it he decides on holding a singing contest with a $1,000 prize. But his loopy secretary messes up the advertising brochures and prints $100,000 on them instead. A gust of wind carries the whole pile of brochures out of the window before Moon sees them. To his wonderment, a huge crowd quickly forms around the block to audition. We then experience some of the oddest auditions ever (and a few exceptional ones). Moon later finds out about the $100,000 error, but has no recourse except to try to convince his friend's reluctant rich relative, a former popular singer herself, to contribute the prize money.

It's all in great fun, including the final concert that takes place under, um, unusual circumstances. The singing (at least of the finalists), is superb and reportedly all performed by the voice actors themselves, particularly Taron Egerton whose gig here likely helped him get the part of Elton John in the recent live-action film Rocket Man.

Encanto
When a young couple and their triplets flee their Colombian village to escape a civil war, the husband is killed. But the bride and her babies are gifted by a magic candle (by whom or by what agency the candle achieves this is never addressed). Soon a magic house (the Encanto of the title) appears in the village. Each new arrival of the Madrigal family is gifted with a single, different magic power (such as strength, otherworldly hearing, curing ills through food, shape-shifting, the ability to conjure up visions of the future).

All of course, except for the teenage Mirabel, granddaughter of the Madrigal family's stern matriarch, Abuela (Spanish for grandmother). The film centers on Mirabel and her relations with the rest of the family, including her mysterious uncle Bruno, who disappeared years before when his ability to envision the future came too close for comfort. For that reason alone, no one talks about Bruno (addressed here in a song that was popular for a time after the Disney film was first released). As this suggests, the film is a musical with songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda (a composer best known for the score to Hamilton).

The music is joyous and the modern fairy-tale plot is intriguing if a bit convoluted. The brilliant colors and strong but never obtrusive use of high dynamic range (HDR) have drawn me back to the film many times, both for pleasure and as a reference for TV evaluations. The sound is good as well, if a bit subdued in level at normal settings, which appears be Disney's current policy.

Spider-Man Into the Spider-verse
I'm still coming to terms with this relatively new animated film (with two sequels I haven't yet seen). A Brooklyn teen, Miles Morales is spun off into a different universe when he comes to possess a Spider-Man suit. It soon becomes obvious that this new Verse is just one of many when he meets up with several other Spider-Man and other Spidey-like characters that likely themselves came from elsewhere in the multi-verse. Spidey-Morales belongs in this new Verse, but some of the other characters don't, which leads to further complications. That is, if I read this right; my head just might be in one Verse and my feet in another!

It's all a bunch of mysteries trapped in an enigma, but what I can say for certain is that I haven't yet experienced a more spectacular combination of HDR and vivid color in any other film, real or animated. I'll have more to say about all of this when the whole three-film saga passes through my HDMI cables and into my TV-Verse — that is if the bits don't get spun off into the TJN-Verse.

The Nightmare Before Christmas
Leave it to director Tim Burton to achieve the creepiest, funniest, best Halloween/Christmas musical movie ever made, though admittedly that's a very short list. It's done entirely in stop-motion animation, a process very different from the more common hand drawn or computer animated style used in all of the above titles. Released by Disney in 1993, it's like no other entry on this list. But is it a Halloween movie or a Christmas movie? In fact it's both, as Jack Skellington, a BMOC in Halloween Town, accidentally discovers Christmas Town and later tries to explain it to his ghoul-friends friends back home. They later capture Christmas Town's icon or, as Jack calls him, Sandy Claws, hoping to adapt Halloween Town's annual celebration into a more Christmas-like affair. What could possibly go wrong?

The film might be a bit too scary for the very young, but anyone over the age of 10 shouldn't have nightmares after seeing it. Instead, they just might want to watch it again!

COMMENTS
dommyluc's picture

In "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse", Miles Morales is not "spun off into a different universe when he comes to possess a Spider-Man suit". The other Spider characters - Gwen Stacy, Spider-Pig, Spider-Man Noir, etc. - are spun into HIS universe from their respective dimensions.

Gregory Kelly's picture

With themes of religion, fate, justice and the turbulent transition from medieval to modern times, The Hunchback of Notre Dame endures because it tackles profound and universal topics through multi-faceted charcters. You play as a naughty ghost on a mission to scare away the unsuspecting residents of a house in Haunt The House. The game is a unique take on the horror genre, allowing you to embrace your ghostly abilities and have some eerie fun.

DennisWyman's picture

The film marked the name of this beautiful and talented promising actress. geometry dash online always supports her acting path.

harbin2's picture

I still really like fairy tale cartoons and I want to watch them again. It seems like those movies are just old episodes. I hope you will like 2 player games which is a list of games including famous cartoon characters like Sonic.

Ehto's picture

My favourite animated film has to be Hercules. So much deep meaning for what many think of as a kid’s film. Everytime we have a movie night in the office at Gutter Cleaning Bradford, I always suggest it.

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