Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Features of The Hubleys

I've now seen all three of the feature films directed by the Hubleys, and my opinions seem to differ quite a bit from those of the masses, with Everybody Rides the Carousel being my initially least favorite of all three. To refresh the memory of readers or let them know for the first time, the other two are Of Stars and Men, and The Cosmic Eye. Time will tell if this remains my opinion, but I found the other two Hubley films to be severely underappreciated while Everybody Rides the Carousel feels a little bit overpraised.

Of Stars and Men was my favorite film of all three, the most inspiring, entertaining, and ethereal. It was a collaboration between John and Faith Hubley, directed by John. It's an analysis of humans as a species and our nature in space, time, and size. I'll admit that the material didn't feel completely new, and the treatment of the subjects was rather simplistic and dated, but it felt the most coherent and well developed of all three Hubley films. The narration provided an amount of structure that the other films didn't have and needed. It should also be noted that of all three films, this was the one with the least amount of character development and the one most accessible to younger children. It was the oldest, from 1964, eleven years before Everybody Rides the Carousel, and twenty two years before the completion of The Cosmic Eye.

Everybody Rides the Carousel was also a collaboration between John and Faith, a television film made for CBS, inspired by Erik Erikson's Eight Stages of Man theory, and is the most educationally valuable of all three. It's the most artistically restrained and minimalistic, which I found rather refreshing after seeing the other two. The biggest problem in my view, as that the movie is much too akward in the initial stages and end where it could have had some of the most impact. The scene of birth just doesn't feel right, and not because of the akward feeling but the lackluster execution. Near the end of the movie, too many shots are reused which gives the whole film a cheap TV feeling that starts to ruin the mood. Nevertheless, the theory in the film is very compelling and the animation is suited for it, and few animated films revolve around such a valuable but relatable concept. It's certainly a very good film, but my least favorite of the three.

The Cosmic Eye is a genuine oddity, probably the most whacked out unusual animated film I've ever seen, and I've seen enough to make a long list which I'll post when I add a couple more titles to top it off. The film uses a large amount of prior footage, short films intended to become part of the feature, but made many years beforehand to gain funding for a large project. By the time of the film's completion, John Hubley had unfortunately died prematurely in 1977, though many of the segments he worked on beforehand, so his influence is still felt. Of all three, this film is the most artistically unrestrained, and is guaranteed to leave the average viewer very cold. The film deals with myths, environmentalism, pacifism, and doesn't have a strong plot, but for the keen viewer, it's a goldmine of semi-abstract interpretation and deep, personal thought. The film feels incredibly dated and doesn't succeed completely as a serious piece of work, but if you take it with a grain of salt, you'll be more than satisfied. The audio is quite akward, but that's part of what I like about the movie The film's faults are what makes it so enjoyable or completely throw you for a curve if you're easily bored and not paying serious attention.

In my opinion, all three films are worth seeing, but the better films here are the ones that get less respect. It's also quite clear just how underappreciated Faith Hubley's work is, that it gets such little respect in comparison while having such comparable artistic merit and its own charm.

Everybody Rides the Carousel is available on a disc with A Doonesbury Special and Faith Hubley's short film My Universe Inside Out. The Cosmic Eye and Of Stars and Men are available on a disc called Art and Jazz in Animation. Both are going for rip-off prices on Amazon, but you can get the latter through Netflix if you have an account or likely through your library.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

What's the Real Point of the Entertainment Industry?

I realize that this post is of a wider scope than animation itself, but it's an important can of worms that somebody needs to open. Why are we paying money to imagine that we're doing something interesting when we're just playing with a piece of plastic, punching keys on a keyboard, or simply staring at a screen? What's the point of periodically deluding ourselves in worlds of fantasy when there's a perfectly good real world that's staring us in the face? We entertain ourselves with preconceived constructs, come up with new innovations for these constructs to better suit or delusions perpetuated by our perceptions of our environment, and animation cinema seems to be one of the forms of entertainment which goes furthest off the deep end.

Animation represents a fictional world that is thrust upon the audience in a way that allows the viewer to knowingly delude their self into believing that it is true and false at the same time. We know that we're seeing something contrived, but don't seem to care so long as it entertains us enough to wish that it were real. Doesn't it take time to adjust to this artificial reality and come back to normality afterwards? On top of that, there's the irony that what we're seeing is somehow based on our environment or we wouldn't be watching it and wouldn't have been made in the first place. When you start getting into the subject of obscure entertainment, the subject gets even more complex.

It's quite obvious that I'm deluding myself while watching animated films, but how does this relate to the entertainment industry as a whole? It's quite obvious, at least to me that in the United States, the desire for profit and other forms of self perpetuated illusions of contentment have overshadowed the desire to create unique films and that the simple minded greed is on both sides of the board, the consumers and the financially motivated entertainers. The self demeaning nature of our industry however, has spread around the world largely thanks to us, and now thanks to greed, artistry has developed where there was none and we've developed fancier and fancier ways of self delusion through animation. But are we really any more entertained than ever before? Since there's an industry selling entertainment, are we working for play?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Uproar in Heaven online with English subtitles

For those who've long waited patiently to see one of China's greatest animated features, it is now finally online with English subtitles on Crunchy Roll. I'll wait until later for a larger write up, but am I the only person who finds it rather odd that Nezha is a villain in this movie and the hero in Nezha Conquers the Dragon Kings? There seems to be a bit of inspiration from The Adventures of Prince Achmed, particularly with the style of the layered backgrounds, the shape shifting battle sequence, and the aura around Sun Wukong after the mountain crumbles which looks like the effects of Aladdin's lamp.

The link for Uproar in Heaven:

There's also the English dub of the later movie, Nezha on Youtube, though it has some major changes from the Chinese version. It's easy enough to find with a one word search.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Chromophobia's Influence on Yellow Submarine

Last night I read a the biography of Raoul Servais on his website, and came across a claim that Chromophobia was an influence on Yellow Submarine. At first I brushed it off, thinking that the two weren't exactly similar, even if they did have some psychedelic themes in common. Then some of the obvious similarities sunk in between these two films, one short and one long, that had somehow eluded me beforehand. Before I go further into this discussion, see if you can find Chromophobia on You Tube, though I won't link to it as you may be visiting this blog from another country where the film is legally sold.

The first, most glaring similarity is that the basic plot is almost exactly the same. Horrible, evil, selfish, mean people invade a colorful land of happiness and content, turning it into a dreary land devoid of self expression. Through an inherent miracle, several unfamiliar figures save the land and its people by witty gags that supported current youth attitudes. If you look closely at the poses of The Beatles while they're saving Pepperland, you'll notice incredibly unsubtle similarities to the Flower Jester(s) from Chromophobia. Also, there's the little cute looking girl in Pepperland that is an obvious reference to the girl in Chromophobia who helps bring the town back to its colorful old life. Then there's the artist in Chromophobia who the Nowhere Man in Yellow Submarine seems awfully similar to, including the gleeful laugh. Then there's the flowers appearing on villains, the depressed expressions on people's faces, the...

Granted, Yellow Submarine is enjoyed more for the music and bizarre visuals than for the plot. The characters are far more developed than those in Chromophobia, as it is a full length movie. There are some moderate tweaks to the basic storyline, and the characters most similar to the ones in Chromophobia are relatively minor. The Blue Meanies are much more interesting to me than the soldiers from Chromophobia. Well I'll cut myself off before I overanalyze everything, but the bottom line is that Yellow Submarine and Chromophobia are as comparable as The Thief and the Cobbler and Aladdin. I'll be back soon with another post when somebody starts reading this blog.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Animated Double Features to Provoke Conversation

There are some films that offset each other in such a curious manner that they're guaranteed to provoke a memorable conversation. If you're reading this with a satanic sense of humor, and want to get a rise out of some of your siblings or friends, here's some double features that won't happen in a million years.

Ratatouille followed by Krysar

Robin Hood followed by The Tale of the Fox

My Neighbor Totoro followed by Belladonna of Sadness-This is about the only combination that is more uncanny than the theatrical double bill with My Neighbor Totoro followed by Grave of the Fireflies. This combination, is of course, not for children though you could put the kids to bed and watch the second while they're asleep.

Bambi followed by The Plague Dogs

Sleeping Beauty followed by Kirikou and the Sorceress

Charlotte's Web followed by Animal Farm

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? followed by Watership Down

The Aristocats followed by The Cat who Walked by Herself

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust followed by Vampires in Havana

A Bug's Life followed by Fantastic Planet

The Lion King followed by Gandahar (English subtitled version from Britain)

Spirited Away followed by Angel's Egg

As much as I'd like to write about each one of these, it would be better to see both, though perhaps at different times so that you can discover my reason for the comparisons.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Benny's Bathtub

While searching for information on films that were listed on Wikipedia's List of animated feature length films, I found one film which I'd consider more unusual than good. This film isn't exactly what I'd call unique, either as it is quite unique in concept, but borrows quite heavily from other films and popular culture. From clips posted on youtube, Benny's Bathtub, a popular 1971 Danish film that's virtually unknown outside of Scandinavia and perhaps rightfully so, strikes me as a bizarre psychological but pop cultural children's film with references that go a little over the edge. There's a bizarre starfish character that changes colors like Alice in Wonderland's Cheshire Cat, some unexpected bits of abstract animation that scream Norman McLaren, references to what seems to be The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, and probably eons more I've missed. The whole film is posted on You Tube, but is untranslated(don't let that stop you, because nothing I've seen suggests any sort of comprehensible plot). The film is based off of an also popular Danish children's book, and that's about as far as words can describe this movie, unless somebody bilingual in English and Danish translates it. Here's a song from the movie on You Tube in what seems to be one of the more interesting segments: link

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Right Under the Nose of He who Knows

There are all sorts of well made and original animated classics that are available now on DVD, but that nobody seems to notice. Here is a list which will be updated that points to as many films as possible which are available on DVD right now. Forget that Disney movie you've been thinking of buying that likely a masterpiece as the ads suggest, or that derivative, overpriced anime show that nobody will care about in 20 years and instead buy something of real value. I have no affiliations with any distribution or production company, nor am I personally accquainted with any animator or filmmaker, or relative of theirs who may have worked on any of these films. If such a situation should arise in the future as I continually update this list, it will be declared upfront.

All of the films on this list are available with English subtitles or language dubbing, though not all are both region 1, region 0, or NTSC format. Should anybody know of any superior, legal versions, I shall acknowledge them on the list, but only should the person give their legitimate e-mail and all contributions will be listed in a separate category under their authority, not under mine.

 Should anyone reading this blog discover that a film that I or somebody else has posted on this list be an illegitimately released, copied, fake, or nonexistent DVD unwittingly, and in their case possibly willingly, that incident will personally be noted on this blog under an errors section. Back up your case with solid evidence, or you'll be ignored and unable to post, make suggestions, or in any other way take part in this blog . That is all and if you are unsure of a release's legality, please refrain from mentioning it here or inquire further from a more trustworthy source. That is all for now, though I reserve the right to change these rules at any time with the acknowledgment of change, and here is the current list of films below:

For Now:
Available directly through an Amazon site:

Jiri Barta's Labyrinth of Darkness (contains feature film Krysar)

The Puppet Films of Jiri Trnka (contains shorter version of feature The Emperor's Nightingale with narration by Boris Karloff)

On Amazon UK:

Rene Laloux's Time Masters

Amazon Japan:

Masaaki Yuasa's Mind Game (has English subtitles and is also available on YesAsia)

Updated below: Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008

On YesAsia

The Wan Brothers' Uproar in Heaven (English fan-subtitles can be found with a quick online search)

Tomomi Mochizuki's Ocean Waves

Isao Takahata's Gauche the Cellist

That's all for the present time, as I need to do some more digging and have several other parts of the blog to update. Thanks for not visiting my blog! I guess it's time to start actually mentioning this blog on some animation websites so I can get some regular readers and other animation obsessed fans who can help to contribute.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

When you're out of cash, but want something to watch

Thanks to a large scale search through the entire Crunchy Roll anime index which I took the liberty of doing several weeks ago due to boredom, here are the feature films which I consider to be good as well as rare. As far as good films go, the database won't last you long, before descending into incredible amounts of derivative mainstream junk. I had nightmares for a week after searching through this hellish geek fetish of a database hoping for a masterpiece or two. Without registering, you'll be able to get through about a movie or two in a day period before you're cut off and forced to register, but the system is easily foiled, so long as you have another nearby computer. 

This obsession with rare films is one that takes a huge toll on your wallet, so here are some good films which you can easily and semi-legally view online for free. All of these films seem to be unlicensed for an English market, except for Robot Carnival which has a company that owns the rights but hasn't bothered to release the film on DVD. If I missed any that have less than 2,000 IMDB votes and are both unusual and well regarded, I'll make sure to update the list. This will probably be the last time I ever link to so many films directly on my blog, but that's what this blog was created for, revealing obscure animated films to readers and discussing them.

Belladonna of Sadness
This film is for mature viewers only and revolves around Belladonna, a woman in the middle ages who is tempted by witchcraft after being sexually abused by her town's Baron on her wedding day as payment for the ceremony. The film relies quite heavily on still images, with full animation sparingly used, which works quite well.
Legend of Sirius
A dark childrens film, the movie is based loosely on Romeo and Juliet as well as Western mythology. A prince of the sea, Sirius, falls in love with a daughter of fire, Malta, and despite the inevitable ending, the movie is beautiful along the way.
Mind Game
You can read a synopsis and reviews at the Internet Movie Database that describe it better than I could: IMDB Page
Ocean Waves
This Studio Ghibli movie, originally made for television, is a slice of life story centering on the life of a high school aged boy. The movie is casual in both technique and ambition, but proves to be a surprisingly engaging film.
Princess Arete
The one movie from Studio 4ÂșC that isn't especially experimental, this movie is a refreshing change of pace from the zany creativity of Mind Game. In contradiction of Disney principles, a young princess is tired of being in her position. In a plot revolving suitors, magic, and quiet personal reflection, Princess Arete reexamines her life.
Robot Carnival
This animator's compilation film has a wide variety of segments, most without dialogue, and all revolving around some sort of robot. The movie is quite a mixed bag, but contains many interesting segments, the best ones seeming to come from the lesser known animators who have attracted little attention since.

That's all for this update, and thanks to all of you for not reading my blog!

Obscure Animated Films I didn't Like

Sometimes, as my potential readers are well aware, you'll become excited about a rare animated feature which turns out to be heavily disappointing. Here are a couple more obscure animated films that I don't like, despite good ratings and general high regard:

The Cat who Walked by Herself 

This movie is an experimental Russian feature presumably based on Russian folklore which relies on too many techniques to name offhand. The film takes the viewer through the history of nature and mankind, with a cat who was there all the way since the dawn of time. For the most part, this is a great movie, but is brought down in my opinion, by a seemingly ever present narration which seems downright militant in crucial dramatic scenes, as the preachy environmental tones are shoved down your throats during the scariest moments of the film. The movie starts off well enough, but at the end seems like a prehistoric bad trip version of Nausicaa in the Valley of the Wind.

The Girl who Leapt through Time

You're probably already aware of the basic plot, seeing the popularity that this movie has gained and the fact that a DVD release is due out in the U.S. next fall. Sometimes a popular film isn't a truly good one, and I think this film is better than most anime, but still an overpraised incoherent soap opera with a pretentious pseudo-poetic ending. The characters are rather typical of anime and despite attempts to broaden their two dimensional personalities with secret crushes and repressed angst, none of the characters ever feels very human. The script clearly needed a few more drafts, and the attempt to combine science fiction with a slice of life story simply didn't work. There are interesting segments of genuine emotion, but they don't fit into the actual movie or come together to reveal any sort of actual message. All the interesting animation is truly wasted and the musical score is mostly Beethoven which only emphasizes the fact that every element of the story has been used better somewhere else.

If you want to see a fast paced movie with drama that combines time travel with adrenaline, watch Run Lola Run.
If you're looking for a casual romance story revolving around a young girl, watch Whisper of the Heart.
For an anime or two that combine romance and science fiction successfully, watch Voices of a Distant Star and The Place Promised in Our Early Days, both directed by Makoto Shinkai.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Twice upon a Time uncut on Youtube

For those of you who've heard of Twice upon a Time but haven't seen it or have only watched the awful John Korty version, the uncut version is available on youtube, albeit with a different ending song during the credits. A brief synopsis and more information can be found on the IMDB page here: Twice upon a Time.

Quick Cocktail Party Notes:
Directed by John Korty, Twice Upon a Time was made using a technique called Lumage, which used backlit paper cutouts and was a very time consuming process. This is the only feature film ever created using the technique, though some clearly similar design can be found in Monsters Inc. as Harley Jessup was the art director for Twice and a production designer for Monsters Inc.

The film is a bizarre parody of fairy tales, and while dated will still certainly appeal to those who enjoyed Shrek and Monsters Inc. The dialogue is quite heavily improvised, and the characters are incredibly abnormal, which might make this film appeal to Yellow Submarine fans. Here's the link, so decide for yourself: Uncut Version

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Kayoko's Diary

Last night I watched this film on Crunchy Roll and it left me with mixed reactions but was an overall positive experience. The movie shows some clear similarities to Grave of the Fireflies and Barefoot Gen, the film I didn't find as overly dramatic as Grave of the Fireflies or as inappropriately cartoonish as Barefoot Gen. However, both of those films have a level of quality of animation that this movie doesn't achieve which keeps this film from having a greater emotional impact. 

Based upon real life, the film revolves around Kayoko, who is at the beginning of the film, a first grade girl and the youngest member of her family of 6 in 1940 Japan. Later, her pregnant mother gives birth to a baby brother. For the first portion of the film, the movie is rather loosely plotted following Kayoko's life and developing the characters. While the perspective of a first grader makes the film somewhat alienating to older viewers, the film does not misstep and is refreshingly sincere with the realistic attitudes of the characters which makes the first half of the film continually enjoyable.

As the film moves on, Kayoko moves to the second grade and her life changes as she is expected to mature to set an example for her baby brother. The film gradually darkens and the presence of the military is felt stronger as the film moves along as the viewer experiences the hardships of wartime life through chants, parades, and personal belongings given to the military. The film's tone darkens more as Kayoko is evacuated to live with her aunt in the country. Then time moves forward skipping several years to 1945 when Kayoko is in the fifth grade and leads to a climax that I won't spoil for the sake of readers who have yet to see the movie.

As a whole, I think that Kayoko's Diary is a refreshingly honest animated film which handles its difficult subject well, but is brought down by rather weak animation and rather derivative character designs. The backgrounds are well designed with attention to detail, but are so well made that the foreground elements and characters don't quite fit into the world which they are placed. Ultimately, the movie is an emotionally engaging experience but not an artistic or particularly unique one. I cautiously recommend this film to those who are interested in an interesting animated historical account but not for those who are looking to be artistically engaged.

Here is the link to the movie at Crunchy Roll:

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Welcome to my blog!

Welcome to this blog, created entirely for the purpose of drawing attention to more obscure animated features. It's not a great blog right now, but it will continue to get better each day, so please come back or I'm just wasting my time. 

The first film that I feel is worthy of more attention(even if I haven't seen it), but as of yet has not been released on DVD or VHS is an avant-garde musical from artist and filmmaker Gyorgy Kovasznai called Foam Bath, which has some amazing artwork. There is an entire research center in Hungary devoted to his achievements and here is their website with five short films and select works of his art from the 50's to the 80's. Be cautioned that there is some nudity which some people might find objectionable.


Further contact information can be found on the site, and to have a snowball's chance of seeing this movie, contact them and see what sort of response you get.

Update: June 3rd, 2008 Below

I've found a short video on Vimeo with several clips from Foam Bath and several of Kovasznai's shorts. Many thanks to Kultplay for uploading this short video. You can find the blog through the Vimeo link, but it's in Hungarian, so I won't link to it directly as it would likely be of little use to the only person who's currently reading this blog.