Instead of doing lots of individual, short news articles I figured I’d gather all the animation news and trailers from round the web that I find, and shove them into one article from time to time and add my opinion on it, too, so it isn’t exactly the same thing that you read everywhere else.
Here’s an exciting piece of news. The director of Aardman’s superb festive film Arthur Christmas wants to launch a new animation studio in the UK. According to this article by Den of Geek, Sarah Smith is looking into a CG animation studio for these fair isles to rival box office giants Pixar, Dreamworks and Sony. Smith says that “We have an amazing special effects industry here, who do very high end work at good prices. We have a lot of children’s literature. I think it’s possible to put it together, but it’s difficult, because it’s an ambitious thing to do in the UK, when much of the film industry is run on fairly small scale lines.” So it sounds like, at this stage, it’s still very much an idea and not an actuality, but I can’t help but be enthusiastic about this.
Britain has such a rich history of story tellers, and our children’s literature is, as Smith points out, a varied, imaginative canon, packed with great novels, plays and poems. The thought of merging these with animation, and getting some strong home grown talent behind it, is an exciting prospect indeed. As British genre cinema is becoming increasingly successful with directors like Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish and Ben Wheatley producing critically acclaimed films, it’s about time we got properly stuck into animated cinema, too. Aardman have been holding the fort for a long time, but any new input into British animation is most welcome. My only minor qualm is the suggestion that it will be entirely CG. It is an undoubtedly successful medium, and big studios are afraid of hand drawn animation or 2D box office flops. Yet I’m always far more excited by anything done in traditional animation, so I would love to see a mixture of mediums from this potential studio. As it is, it doesn’t exist yet, but I can’t wait to see what Smith does next.
Slightly overshadowed by behemoths such as Breaking Dawn and Skyfall, Dreamworks’ latest film Rise of the Guardians has had a modest opening box office. It’s the studio’s weakest opening weekend in years, but perhaps strong word of mouth and critical acclaim, plus the festive theme, will give it a better go at the box office in the run up to Christmas. I’m never really that fussed about Box Office figures, especially when terrible franchise entries earn over a billion worldwide, but it is surprising to see this not do so well. CG animations tend to bring in kids and, of course, parents, but perhaps they are all still going to see Wreck-It Ralph, which is still going strong in US cinemas. Regardless of how well it is doing at the box office, I can’t wait to see it this weekend when it hits the UK. Head over to www.boxofficemojo.com if you are into stats.
Finally, there’s a new trailer for Sony‘s Epic that’s been doing the rounds. I’m quite cynical about this studio, and if this film has a single song and dance routine, I’m going to be exceptionally annoyed; the talking ‘comedy’ slugs are a real worry. Yet, in spite of these concerns, Epic looks to be just that. It’s the kind of film I would have devised as a twelve year old, when I would use sticks as swords to fight my friends with, and I took up archery in my back garden. It looks wonderfully inventive, the animation is impressive, and it has the kind of fight scenes that past me (and present me, if I’m honest) would have gone absolutely nuts for. Just one thing, though: please stop casting Christoph Waltz in villain roles. He’s an immensely talented actor, he can do more than snarling German.
For DVD reviews (not including re-releases) I want to take a slightly different approach to my cinema reviews, splitting them in two: the first section to discuss what I initially thought of the film; the second to talk about what I thought on seeing it again. This way it will hopefully show whether these animations stand up to repeat viewing, as I’m always more enthusiastic in the cinema. It’ll also mix up my usual reviewing style and turn it into a more personal reaction than the cinema reviews (they will be shorter, too, so people might read the whole thing). They will be a sort of re-review. In this case I enjoyed it just as much but keep watching the site for a film when my opinion changed significantly.
First Impression: Watching this in the cinema was an absolute pleasure, as I was surrounded by its target audience – families – as well as my friend who is slightly grumpy. To be in an room full of people laughing and getting excited made this one of the nicest surprises of last year. I’m not normally a fan of Christmas films at all – far too saccharine and often missing a lot of what Christmas is about – but Aardman are an ever dependable studio and Arthur Christmas managed to win over both this cynic and my slightly grumpy friend. It was a smart, funny film with enough jokes to keep it zipping along at the pace of a super-sled, and it ended with a message that everyone should be happy. It was no surprise that I left the cinema with a big grin on my face.
Second Impression: Thankfully, this is just as funny and warm on repeat viewing, and given the dearth of genuinely good Christmas films out there, this looks set to become a seasonal classic. A second viewing also shows the superb craftsmanship that has gone into the film. Aardman, the geniuses behind Wallace and Gromit and, more recently, The Pirates In An Adventure With Scientists, make their second foray into computer animation, eschewing their lovable hand-made look for something a lot slicker. The last time they did this, in Flushed Away (a film I did enjoy), they kept the traditional ‘Aardman look’, of wide mouths and bulging eyes, but in the CG landscapes it looked slightly incongruous. This time, now under the banner of Sony, not Dreamworks, they have gone for a totally different look. And it really works.
Although it feels like a far glossier film thanWallace and Gromit, the creative bods at Aardman have kept two essential elements that make the studio so great: memorable characters and inventive jokes. So although there are no thumb prints on them, the Christmas family are full of character, with lively, interesting faces and superb voice work bringing them to life. The standout is Bill Nighy as the wrinkled patriarch Grandsanta, but the whole cast is an embarrassment of riches, featuring James McAvoy, Imelda Staunton, Jim Broadbent and Hugh Laurie making up the rest of the family and all putting in superb work. Arthur Christmas, therefore, is one of the most impressively cast and realised animations of the last two years. But it’s also really funny, with the elves chipping in loads of hilarious throwaway lines and a string of inventive visual jokes that lovingly poke fun at all the traditions of Christmas. The opening present-delivery sequence alone makes the film worth watching.
That’s whyArthur Christmas works; like the title character, it’s funny and daft, but hasn’t lost sight of the wonder of Christmas, even with ridiculous slippers and jumpers that come with it. It knows that a lot of Christmas is a little bit naff, but it loves it anyway.
Extras: An ‘Unwrapping Arthur Christmas’ documentary that spends the most part of it explaining the characters and the plot. So if you’ve just seen the film and have a basic grasp of narrative, it’s pointless. Some other docs go into a bit more detail that are just progress footage with voiceovers explaining the processes. They are remarkable for one moment when the narrator describes the opening sequence as cinema verité.
There are also two documentaries on the Justin Bieber song that plays over the credits. For obvious reasons, I didn’t watch these.
Friend of the blog, and fellow animation fan, Tim Popple is a Bristol resident, so naturally he made his way along to the city’s Encounters Short Film and Animation Festival. Here he gives us a dispatch from the front line of the festival, and more of his writing on the fest, as well as on films in all shapes and sizes, can be found at That One Film Blog.
Until Sunday 23 September, in Bristol, the 18th Encounters Short Film and Animation Festival is on. Animation has long been a staple part of the Festival. Indeed, prior to its current incarnation when it was just an Animation Festival, a certain John Lasseter was a guest. Upon seeing the train track sequence from The Wrong Trousers, Lasseter reportedly looked worried that they were using a toy train. The reason? A certain film he was doing called Toy Story…
With grouping short films together one never knows quite what one will get. One film may be transformative and transcendent, another may be woeful . I was lucky to see the former, and disappointed to see the latter today. I’m at the Festival all week, although not looking solely at animation. Today, however, was all animation, from all over the world, including some home grown talent from right here in Bristol. Particularly noteworthy were Oh Willy, a truly weird fuzzy animation film about a man’s return to his naturist roots, and a bizarre turn of events part way through. Uncategorisable.
Another film that stood out was Head over Heels, a film that took parts from Roald Dahl’s The Twits and Pixar’s Up, and created a film that used weird to its advantage: the central couple live in an unexplained house whereby one person’s celing is the other’s floor. They live in the same house, but with different gravities. It becomes a metaphor for couples never talking, never seeing eye to eye. It becomes a study on aging couples recapturing lost youth, and working out fundamental differences in their lives. It’s quite something.
There is animation to be seen every day during the Festival. Of note is a screening of Paranorman today, with a Q&A with the director Sam Fell. For the children there is an Aardman Animation Workshop on Saturday, as well as a “Children’s Jury” set of shorts specifically for children. If you are in the vicinity of Bristol, it’s well worth coming down. There is literally too much happening for one person to take in, so there is likely something that will take your fancy. And, if animation is your thing – and if you’re visiting this blog, I would imagine it is – then there is definitely something for you. Not least the rare chance to see some of Aardman’s original models up close. It’s a brilliant atmosphere on the harbourside here in Bristol. For more information go to http://www.encounters-festival.org.uk, or www.watershed.co.uk, or for daily updates on all Festival news, animation and otherwise, visit http://thatonefilmblog.com/encounters.