Archive for Animation

Nova Seed – Nick DiLiberto – 2016

Posted in 2010's with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 23, 2016 by bookofdread

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What is Nova Seed? Nova seed is the most spectacular film of the year. It is a mind-melting cornucopia of psychedelic animation not seen since the early eighties. Films like Rock and Rule and Heavy Metal are obvious forebears, but there are nods to nearly everything from the era such as Masters Of The Universe, Thundercats, and GI Joe The Movie.

But unlike those commercials for soundtrack albums and action figures, Nick DiLiberto’s opus grande is built from the ground up out of his imagination, melding video games and cartoons from his cerebral cortex into a sight never seen before.

Gone is the slick mass produced animation that can only be harnessed by a firm of artists. DiLiberto drew every single frame of the picture and the passion shows. Camera angles whiz around characters mid free-fall, the artist not content to show his viewers anything less than the most cinematic approach.

The story concerns a half Lion man who escapes from a fascist regime who may be the only hope in stopping an evil necromancer from destroying the Earth with the help of a powerful weapon/(individual) called The Nova Seed.

The film hurtles along like one long chase sequence, leaving little time for character asides or monologues. However, characters are frequently talking and characterization is often provided in the stellar voice work of, you guessed it, DiLiberto.

The villain, Doctor Mindskull is one for the ages. Part Skeletor, part Cobra Commander and part Mok, Mindskull is the ultimate reprobate, a mad scientist whose plan involves becoming a giant trash beast and wrecking shop.

Our hero, the Lion man NAC, (Nick?) is the strong silent type, but his animation is so heroic and charming, you can’t help but love the guy. Also, he’s putting his neck on the line for a world that wants him dead so he’s got that Snake Plissken element to him if Snake never talked and was a big Lion Man.

The action is non-stop. The aerial battles are clearly love letters to Miyazaki and produce a thrill that could only be improved with 3D. The big Kaiju action at the end is Toho inspired sequence that will leave any monsterphile giddy.

The soundtrack is an incredible confection of eighties sounding synth composed by some guy named Nick DiLiberto. It’s brilliant in it’s own right and makes the film a fever dream of adrenaline.

Here’s the best thing about Nova Seed. Because DiLiberto wrote, directed, voiced, and scored the thing, and because it’s animated, it’s about as close to falling into a single imagination as I have ever seen. There are no studio notes, nothing to fix. There are all rough edges and idiosyncrasies. It’s that special film that makes it from mind to screen as purely as possibly. We need more like it.

Time Masters – Rene Laloux – 1982

Posted in 80's with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 7, 2013 by bookofdread

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1982’s Time Masters marked the collaboration of two artistic giants, Jean Giraud and Rene Laloux. Giraud had been lauded for his work in Heavy Metal and his design work in Alien, and Laloux had made what is considered a masterpiece of science fiction, Fantastic Planet. Together these gentlemen, (along with novelist Stefan Wul who also wrote the novel Fantastic Planet was based on), would craft a stellar science-fiction children’s tale that is both thoughtful and heart warming. It is also crazy weird and tons of fun!

The film begins with a child stranded on a hostile planet with nothing left to his aid but a communicator. This radio allows him contact to his father’s friend Jaffar, many galaxies away. Piel, the child, does not understand how this contact works but the people on Jaffar’s ship are challenged with helping a kid survive on a hostile planet from a trillion miles away.

The planet Piel lands on is amazingly designed. The swaying and swooping plants are colorful and otherworldly. His alien experience is ours and the originality of the designs begs for our response to such an environment. Worse/better, our proxy on this other world is an innocent child, so our investment level is high. We worry about his welfare on this dangerous planet. The planet is called Perdide, or Perdition.

Jaffar must stop on the way and wait for some planetary alignment before he can continue after Piel. On the planet he stops lives an old man with vast personal knowledge of Perdide. This Old Man offers to help the folks find the boy.

Jaffar is on his ship with his lady friend, the old man, and a stowaway prince who ripped off his kingdom and paid Jaffar for a ticket to anywhere.  Also, there are these amazing characters that are gnomes, little robot looking fairies that fly around and get drunk on the emotions of others. I love the idea of super-empath gnomes and these guys are beautifully articulate and provide much of the comic relief in a Guildenstern and Rosencrantz sort of way.

A word about the planet Jaffar stops on. It’s practically Naboo from the Star Wars new trilogy. The designs here, the waterfront temple stuff, it is all here. Even the watercraft is the same. I’m just saying, Giraud does great work here that GL ripped off.

Back on the ship, the old man has taken up the mic and his helping Piel through the woods. He directs him to drink some mildly sedative berry juice and plays him a banjo song! The design of this scene is cool as well, as the old man sits on a glass floor with fish swimming around underneath while he picks and grins. As Jaffar presses him about the safety of the berry juice the old man tells him, “Believe me, I know from experience!”

Piel meets a funny creature and yells into its butt. The Suessian centaur picks up Piel and puts it astride it and they march through the forest. But before long Piel and his new friend are separated. He is alone again when the shitty prince begins to guide him to the lake and tell him to swim to the middle of the lake in an attempt to drown the kid. I guess this dickhole thinks that if the kid is dead they won’t go to Perdide anymore, but Jaffar catches him and throws his ass in the brig. Then after a long argument about the nature of values and concepts the gnomes decide to release the doomed prince to the one of the weirdest planets ever.  Gamma 10.

See, the gnomes shot Ol’ Princey down to Gamma 10 sure that he would be destroyed by the incredible psychic presence they felt and defined as “Pure Thought”. Only Jaffar thought the Prince was escaping so he chased after him like a fool. The subtext here is rich and I believe it to read that self-righteous actions lead to dangerous grounds of ideology. The inhabitants of Gamma 10 are faceless white Angels who preach unity and sameness. They take capture Jaffar and the prince and take them inside a crazy hive temple thing to feed them to a blob of protoplasm, that “thought” the gnomes were so fearful of.

The prince sacrifices himself and the gnomes help Jaffar escape. It is interesting that the film redeems the evil prince and even promotes self-sacrifice, two notions associated with Christianity, however he uses them as a mode of battle against same-thinking or autonomy. I like to think of Time Masters as the anti-Avatar. Allow me to elaborate.

In Avatar, those cat-giants plug their braids into the ground and animals creating a seamless organic network. Cameron creates an organic analog for what is technological autonomy. Social Networking becomes the hive mind, and Avatar cleverly disguises that “plug-me-in” mentality as something organic. On Gamma 10, once the prince defeats the blob of pure thought, all of those plugged in revert from blank faced angels into a host of alien and human individuals. One film represents a value of individuality over a vacuous host, and another preaches unity and oneness in a glamorous and sexy way.

Overtly satirical aside aside, the plot returns to our lost little boy, Piel. Piel is confronted by a legion of hornet creatures larger than a man. They attack and sting him.

Meanwhile the most stunning revelation of all has come. The old man has died as they arrive at the planet where they are to rescue Piel. The Time Masters purchased the planet. Their unique ability allows them to throw planets back in time and have them be developed and habitable for when they move in. Just as Piel would be killed a man rescues him. He lives a full life and has become the Old Man! The Old Man is Piel! No wonder he could help the kid with such personal knowledge of Perdide! It was he, talking to himself!

I’m not sure about the science of the movie, but the heart is more than in the right place. Great characters, great locations and design and a great adventure make up what I consider Rene Laloux’s masterpiece. Great for kids from 8 to 80!

Fantastic Planet – Rene Laloux – 1973

Posted in 70's with tags , , , , on November 6, 2012 by bookofdread

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Rene Laloux’s Fantastic Planet is a film that was once surrounded in much mystery for me. I remember being a child, in a hotel with my cousin for the wedding of another cousin. We were watching USA Up All Night a nightly program hosted by Gilbert Godfried or Rhonda Shear. They showed crazy films with no rhyme or reason as to what they programmed but it was generally weird.

This night we happened into an animated film with giant blue people and fighting animals and all types of weirdness. My mom came into the room and made us turn it off because the people were naked.

For years I would ask people if they had ever seen that animated film with the giant blue people and no one knew what I was talking about. In fact, it was not until I actually discovered the DVD did I know what the film was called. I saw the image on the cover and some great mystery of my life had been solved. I took it home and watched for the first time in its entirety.

Mind Blown. I was introduced to Rene Laloux, one of the best animated filmmakers ever. This film is so beautiful and trippy and humane. The film is about a planet of Traags, giant blue people who keep humans as pets. Humans also live in the parks as wild animals, who are sometimes exterminated and gassed.

The film begins with a woman running from a giant Traag and being killed, leaving her child behind. A young girl Traag, Tiwa finds the baby human and keeps it as a pet. Soon she has a collar for it that keeps it from running away. Tiwa and Terr get along very well, and through a glitch in Terr’s electrical collar he can listen in on Tiwa’s headset learning sessions. So Terr learns the Traag history and nature of their civilization.

One of the main reasons this film is so effective is the portrayal of humans as pets to creatures like us. Virtually any audience member can identify with the predicament of Terr and the other humans. Rarely are humans portrayed in such a way in films so as to show us in a common predicament. Unfortunately almost all if not all of the humans in the story are Caucasian.

Sometimes the film can get a little bogged down in politics but for the most part the plot skips along fairly well from Terr’s escape to the siege of the park and on to refuge in the human rocket yard. The music is sufficiently trippy and the images are colorful and well rendered. The hand drawn animation is some of the best you will ever see. Occasionally, there are strange asides, such as the whistle crystals, or the tree who smashes birds and these details add life to the strange world of The Fantastic Planet.

This film has a great message about living together peacefully but its so much more than a bunch of hippie crap. It is an artistic triumph of emotionally charged world building where the viewer is both transported to a world strange and alien yet the themes are recognizable and pertinent. And as amazing as this film is its not even the best of Laloux’s films.

Frankenweenie – Tim Burton – 2012

Posted in 2010's with tags , , , , , , on October 17, 2012 by bookofdread

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I grew up on Tim Burton films. Beetlejuice would define a marriage between the morbid and ghostly aspects of storytelling with a dark comedy edge. Many of his early films managed to combine the gruesome with the beautiful and humorous. And then came Sleepy Hollow, a fine and beautiful film, but gone was the humor. For all its fondness for Hammer classics and delightful gore, the film is ultimately a bit too dour and procedural. From then on Burton’s films have gone through a cycle of what I’ll not kindly call unfunny.

Frankenweenie is a gas. I laughed through most of it. Had it been a silent film, I still would have laughed the whole time, but the vocal characterizations are just as funny as the design of the characters. The plot examines a boy re-animating his dog, and then his secrets being stolen by other kids with monstrous consequences. Finally, Tim Burton looks like he is having fun making a movie again.

I love the choice for it to be black and white. I love the 3D of the film. It lets you get up close with the characters rumpled and handmade textures. The direction is spectacular and Burton makes the most out of the fact that he’s making an animated film. (Wholly unlike the Corpse Bride, which feels like it, was made in a shoebox.) It’s a distillation of all things Tim Burton, a closing of the loop, as you will, going back to his original short with all the lessons he’s learned between now and then. It is as if this is the film he’s been making the whole time.

It carries with it all the classic Burton themes. Idiosyncratic, outsider protagonist. Closed minded suburbanites. German expressionist designs. Winona Rider. It feels like a film I would have loved as a kid. (I did actually love the old Frankenweenie when I saw it on the Disney channel as a tot.)

There is a sub-plot about the parents extricating a science teacher who threatens to broaden the children’s minds, and while it gives the film a little meat, it is not exactly like this film is pro-science. In fact, the product of scientific experiment nearly brings the entire town to fiery death!

And really, the suggestion of scientific responsibility is front and center in this tale of re-animated house pets gone awry. With each new discovery is room for exploitation of its power in nefarious hands. Is Victor being responsible when he shows his experiment off? I know he was blackmailed, but there may have been another way. Before long, everyone has Victor’s secret, and in the wrong hands, this science can be devastating.

I love the third act. It’s like having all your toys in the sandbox at once and really giving it a go. All bets are off as Burton goes off the rails and turns the movie into a Kaiju epic! I’m a huge Gamera fan so this stuff really made me smile.

The film really delivers an insane message at the end when Victor, appearing to have learned a lesson says, “Dad, you told me I should just let him go.” Then dad says, “Sometimes parents don’t know what they are talking about”. So….you are just going to endorse your child’s practice of re-animation. I mean Sparky was a good dog, but didn’t this get you into trouble in the first place? Also, what do you tell a young viewer who wants to go home and re-animate their pet. Or worse, re-animate their pet while its still alive?

I’m really just kidding! I loved the film and cried a bit at the end. Sparky reminds me of my dog Ollie, and I’m sure all dog owners will see little bits of their hound sewn into Sparky’s performance. If you love dogs or re-animated corpses or monsters, go see this film and celebrate the return of the funny Tim Burton.

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