Top 5 (Non-Disney) Animations

Posted on February 20, 2011. Filed under: Top 5 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Following on from my post about childhood Disney memories, I thought I’d draw your attention to some non-Disney animations which are just as good, if not better, than some of the Disney standards.

5. Spirit

A film about a horse, with next to no dialogue besides a voice over by Matt Damon.  Not your standard movie pitch, but this somewhat unknown film actually has some great moments.  It’s entirely made by the music; a combination of Hans Zimmer’s dramatic orchestration and original music by Bryan Adams which serve to fill in for the missing dialogue.

It would have been so easy to tell this story with talking animals, just like nearly other animated feature out there, but the  fact that they didn’t makes Spirit just that little but different.

4.El Dorado

Another one by Dreamworks; this is just plain fun.  Voiced by Kevin Kline and  Kenneth Branagh, Spanish con artists Tulio and Miguel set out in search of the lost City of Gold and then have to decide what they value more, money or friendship.  It could be an incredibly schmaltzy story, but in fact it’s packed with laughs, more often for the grown ups than the kids, and with another knockout soundtrack.  This time Zimmer is joined by John Powell and the legendary Elton John, again letting the music tell the story in a way that feels more organic than having the characters bursting into song (although they do once).  Incidentally, this is one of the many outings of Zimmer’s “pirate theme,” which turns up in nearly every movie he’s worked on.

Dreamworks seem to have cornered the market in more “grown up” animations, which is probably why they dominate this list.

3. Happy Feet

This one tends to divide people, but at risk or repeating myself, it’s the music again that makes this one for me. John Powell has written a beautiful score, and I just love the way that various classic songs get mashed together.  The interplay of Mumble’s tap dancing with the music is also a brilliant touch.

But we’re sick of me gushing about music right, so what about the story? I will admit it slows down considerably in the middle where it teeters on the edge of getting that little bit too preachy about global warming, but I’m willing to forgive that on the basis that it’s a really original idea, with some loveable characters (stand up Robin Williams’ array of Adelie penguins) and a lot of heart.  The animation is also very well done, particularly in the rare glimpses of the human world, where, if you’re paying enough attention, you can spot a few famous names who helped with the mo-cap performances.

2. The Iron Giant

When this turned up on Ross McG’s list of films he watched over Christmas it made me smile, even if he did only catch 10 minutes of it. The Iron Giant is a fantastic film which far too few people have heard of.  Directed by Brad Bird, who went on to become one of the Pixar Gods, and with voices from Vin Diesel, Jennifer Aniston and Harry Connick Jr, this film contains lines that I still quote on a regular basis (“Sir, you’re in the road…”).  Set in a paranoid cold war America, the animation has a period feel to it, but the script is razor sharp and the story is heartwarming without being sickly.  If there’s one film on this list that I really want you to go out and watch, this is it.

1. Shrek

I tried to think of a less obvious number one. I really did. But you just can’t beat  Shrek. When it came out, everyone’s jaws dropped in unison…and then we started laughing.  Here is a move which takes everything Disney has been doing for the last 50 years and, as I once heard poetically put in an interview, “bitch slaps it.”  The Knight in shining armour is an Ogre, his side kick is an irritating Donkey who wont stop singing. The villain is knee height and voiced by John Lithgow. Every moment of the film was built for maximum laughs and hits the mark every time.  The first time I saw Shrek inflate a frog to make a balloon I nearly choked on my popcorn.

The thing I love most about Shrek though is the fact that it refuses to conform.  While every other film about someone who doesn’t quite fit in (Disney or otherwise) ends with the lead character becoming just like everybody else, in Shrek, our Princess finishes up the movie as an Ogre living in a swamp.  And that is exactly why it is one of the best animations to come out of any studio in the last decade.

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Top 5 Disney Movies

Posted on February 4, 2011. Filed under: Top 5 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

That’s right folks, it’s another Top 5.

With the release of Tangled, critics are going wild telling us that Disney is finally “back on form,” but what exactly is Disney’s “form?”  When you think about it, and discard the Pixar movies, it’s been a long time since anything worth getting excited about came from the world’s most famous animation studio.  A lot of fuss was made over The Princess and the Frog but it didn’t seem to come to much, and before that we had such shockers as Atlantis to contend with.  It seems in recent years, Disney has been left behind while other studios, namely Pixar and Dreamworks, tapped into the new world of animation, where there is just as much for the adults as there is for the kids.  It’s not something Disney haven’t managed before, but they seem to have lost their way somewhere.   From what I’ve heard about Tangled (and hopefully I’ll be able to back it up soon) they’ve finally got themselves back on track.

If Disney has finally recaptured the magic, what are the movies we’re holding this latest offering up against?  Here are my Top 5 Disney animations, the best of the cartoons that captured mine and many thousands of other people’s childhoods.  Coming up with this list has actually been incredibly hard.  It’s animations only, so no Pirates, but it’s been harder than I thought picking just five films from the vast back catalogue.  The number one spot was easy, but narrowing down all my other childhood (and adulthood) favourites to just four spaces was tough.  Knowing me, I’ll probably want to change it tomorrow.

5. Lilo and Stitch

This is an incredibly underappreciated film, but it’s one of the best ones they’ve brought out in recent years.  The characters are surprisingly realistic (I’m not talking about the aliens, obviously!) and it takes on some pretty tough issues with the kind of honesty that kids have grown to love in Disney.  It also helps that it has a fun script and some great music, mixing Hawaiian tradition with Elvis classics.

4. Mulan

One of the school of Disney films that used a big name in comedy to inject some energy into the script.  Eddie Murphy’s Mushu is perhaps now overshadowed by his Donkey (which sounds weird…) but the former character provides some great laugh out loud moments that I still find myself quoting on a regular basis.  Music is another big factor in this movie, as it is in all of the Disney films since they are essentially animated musicals, with Donny Osmond lending his vocal chords to Shang (bet you didn’t know that did you?) Moments of intense drama are interspersed with show stopping musical numbers and comedy that the whole family can enjoy.

3.  Robin Hood

When I was little, my three Disney loves were Dumbo, Lady and the Tramp and Robin Hood. Trying to pick which one to include was torturous, but in the end I had to pick Robin Hood as it’s one of the first films I can remember watching over and over again and never getting bored.  Casting the famous legend amongst a group of woodland animals is brilliant in a way that you don’t even notice until you get older.  Robin as a fox is a natural, but I also love Little John as a bear (voiced by the equally legendary Phil Harris) and Prince John as an immature Lion, shown up by his full maned older brother.

More great music. More big laughs. Pure Disney magic.

2. Aladdin

This was in my top spot film for two years until the film below came along.  Robin Williams makes this movie.  The genie is an iconic character and the improvised script (also found at the beginning: “it will not break! It will not break……it broke) is full of comedy that both the kids and their parents can enjoy.  Aladdin has also given us one of the classic songs in the Disney songbook: A Whole New World and, along with Beauty and the Beast, was one of the first animations to use computer graphics in some scenes.

1. The Lion King

There really is no better Disney animation than The Lion King. They really hit on a masterpiece here.  The story is compelling and full of heart, the animation is beautiful (the opening sequence is one of the best bits of animation I’ve seen) and the music is just stunning.  Everything about The Lion King works.  Seeing it for the first time in the cinema is one of my clearest early memories, and I love it just as much today.  It’s not just my favourite DIsney film, but it’s one of my favourite films of all time, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

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Movies that couldn’t survive without their lead actor

Posted on July 25, 2010. Filed under: Ramblings | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Some movie characters are iconic.  In some cases the reason for that is more to do with the actor playing the role than the character itself.  There will always be parts that you couldn’t imagine anyone else playing, but arguably some characters are so wrapped up in the identity of the actor that they would be entirely different with someone else in the costume.

The character who I think fulfils this most of all is Captain Jack Sparrow.  Just try to imagine any other actor playing that role.  Can’t do it can you?

Legend has it that Johnny Depp turned up to the audition in that costume, complete with make up, accent and real gold teeth.  Without Sparrow there is no Pirates of the Caribbean and I would argue without Depp there is no Sparrow.  The movie was a real risk-taker, with the appeal of pirate movies long dead and many people  wondering if a film based on a little known ride, made by Disney but not strictly for kids, could make it. Then Jack staggered on to the screen and everyone was hooked.  The whole movie hinges on that one iconic character; a point backed up by the fact that he is the only returner (except Gibbs) in the upcoming fourth movie.  Sparrow is now as famous, if not more so, than Long John Silver or Captain Hook and I really don’t think the movies would have done even half as well without Depp at the helm (bad pun not entirely intended).

Another character who I think is intertwined with the actor playing it is Iron Man.  He basically is Robert Downey Jr.  When he was announced as the man stepping into the suit it seemed a strange choice but it’s turned out to be a career defining role.  I’m not saying that no one else could play Iron Man, because I can think of a few other people who probably could, but I think the characterisation would be very different, as the writers have clearly put a lot of RDJ into Stark.

It’s not just faces on screen either.  Imagine Disney’s Aladdin without Robin Williams voicing the genie.  Doesn’t work does it?  And I’d put a strong case for the fact that Woody and Tom Hanks fit so well together that Toy Story would be a different movie without him.

Pretty much anything in Jim Carrey’s early career is entirely dependent on him too.  Obviously a lot of that is down to parts being written for him, but can you really picture Ace Ventura or The Mask in the hands of someone else?

There is only one incidence I can think of where the same character played by two different actors has an equal impact on the movie, and that’s The Joker.  Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman completely owned the movie and was put down as the definitive Joker.  Or so we thought. Fast forward 19 years and Heath Ledger brings something completely new to the table which has audiences and critics alike lost for words playing a huge part in the success of The Dark Knight.

Usually we think of movies as making or breaking the career of actors, but it works both ways.  One  performance can lift a mediocre movie to a whole new level, or just as easily bring it crashing down.

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Top 5 Magical Movie Moments

Posted on June 6, 2010. Filed under: Ramblings, Top 5 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

Yet another post inspired by channel hopping to films on TV.  Back in October I told you about my Top 5 fight scenes, but today I want to get you thinking more generally about those moments that are just great pieces of cinema.  The ones where the direction, the acting, the score, the cinematography, everything just comes together for a scene that makes you think “wow.”  When I was thinking about what I’d put down, I realised that for a lot of these scenes, it’s the combination of the action and the music that really makes it a perfect scene for me.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, a great score can really make a movie.

Although I’ve called it Top 5, these aren’t necessarily in ascending order.  It’s more 5 great moments.

1.Where does my allegiance lie if not here?

This is the scene that got me thinking.  Now, we all know that I can rave about LOTR until the Orcs come home, but before you start rolling your eyes hear me out.  This scene really is pure magic.

Howard Shore’s score is so perfectly matched it’s scary, building the drama and then breaking away for Billy Boyd’s (self-penned) haunting melody.  What I think really makes this scene though is the foley work.  As the score takes over, we lose some of the sound.  The commands of the men and Orcs are silent screams, but the creaking of the bows remains, really hammering home the suicidal misson that faces the brave riders. It’s just epic.  Add to that the juxtaposition of Denethor almost frantically eating while he tries to ignore what’s happening, with blood running down his chin, and you end up with an awesome movie moment that is just melodramatic enough without over doing it.

2. At the Moulin Rouge you’ll have fun!

I have written about this scene before but I just couldn’t exclude it when talking about my favourite cinematic moments.

Energy and colour are what Baz Luhrmann does best, so when it comes to Moulin Rouge that first scene when you’re taken on a rollercoaster ride through the dance hall is just mindblowing!  In one 3 minute scene we get a mash up of no less than 6 songs culminating in a supercharged Can-Can.  The best thing about the scene is that we’re seeing it from the same position as Christian, so we too are bewildered and enthralled by all the flashing colours (and flashing flesh!)

3. Welcome to Port Royal Mr Smith

Best. Entrance. Ever.

Before he even says one word we know eveything we need to know about Captian Jack Sparrow from his incredible entrance to Port Royal. Who else would stand so proudly on the top mast of a ship which was more than three quarters sunk?  The best part is it doesn’t even seem to faze him.

As soon as he set foot on that board walk I knew I was going to love this film

4. He is The One.

Another great moment for movie music.  This scene is slightly marred by all the crazy superman stuff we see Neo do in the two Matrix sequels, but when he first stands up and stops those bullets I always want to jump up and cheer!  I love how effortless it all becomes for him, he just turns and says “No.” He even fights with one hand behind his back!  It’s a great turn around having just watched him have the crap kicked out of him.  The music is perfect here too, that great strings slide that runs through the film really captures the idea of being in a dream while still sounding artificial, but the addition of a choir brings back the human element, mirroring what’s going on on screen.

5. Oh Captain my Captain

I know it is incredibly cheesy. And I know that it is orchestrated to be a heart wrenching moment. But cynicism aside it’s still a great scene.  Ethan Hawke makes it for me.  It’s not so much the getting up on the desks that has the magic but the obvious guilt and pain of Hawke as everything he has been taught not to believe in is once more forced down his throat.  And Robin Williams is a better actor than he lets on…(may have to come back to a post on that later)

Those are mine, what are your stand out moments of cinema?

**Disclaimer: thank you to all the YouTubers whose clips I’m borrowing.**

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