Monday, 2 August 2004

Three animations

Listening to:

Beethoven, string quartet in E flat major, op. 127. Played by the Kodaly Quartet, on Naxos.

Some recent movies:

Spirited away

This is a Japanese movie by Hayao Miyazaki. It’s a children’s film: the plot is mainly about a young girl who has to rescue her parents when they are turned into pigs, and there is not a great deal of nuance in the moral themes that are presented (greed and pollution are bad). To an adult Spirited away’s appeal comes from the absolutely amazing vividness of its images. There’s a relatively straightforward beauty in much of the film, but there are also images that are astounding because they are so surreal, and so appealing. Nor is this simply cuteness, which might quickly pall. Rather, the film presents images like the mysterious, translucent figure whose face is a little like a Noh mask; the multi-armed tender of a furnace, whose pieces of coal run around on little legs of their own; the witch who runs a bath-house catering to various deities and who dotes on her huge and spoilt baby; and a train journey across an empty and strangely beautiful world dominated by an endless ocean.

It got the 2002 Oscar for “Best Animated Feature Film”, and it definitely deserved it.

The triplets of Belleville

This was one of the nominees for the 2003 Oscar, and I’m not sure it deserved to be beaten by Finding Nemo either. This one is mainly in French, but doesn’t even bother with subtitles (unlike Spirited away), because there is very little dialogue. The plot is transparent and easy to follow at a purely visual level. It features a feisty grandmother who has to rescue her cyclist grandson, who has been kidnapped by gangsters to play rather an awful role in a nefarious gambling operation. The grandmother has a dog sidekick, and links up with the triplets of the title when she arrives in Belleville (a thinly disguised New York).

This animation features some pretty cool imagery, and is also quite humorous. The incidental depiction of the people of Belleville (i.e., Americans) as fat and stupid seems unnecessary bigotry, but the film is otherwise full of a charming zaniness if not absolute mouth-dropping weirdness in a few places. Without dialogue, The triplets of Belleville is more simplistic than Spirited away, but probably prompted more laughs. It also has a great title song (sung by the triplets), and some effective snatches of Mozart too. The climax is a little overlong, but it’s still an appealing film. As the film starts you even get to see some mysterious equations. (It turns out they’re Einstein’s.)

Shrek 2

I saw this recently, and went in expecting great things. I’d enjoyed the first installment, and had read a variety of gushing reviews. Sadly I was a little disappointed: it seemed pretty patchy. It took too long to get going (why did they do the donkey as child in the back-seat joke to death so comprehensively?), and the early scenes of marital discord felt like they were from some other movie, one that was taking itself far too seriously. (The animation of the facial expressions in these scenes really didn’t seem up to it.) Being patchy did mean that there were lots of good bits. I particularly liked most of what Puss-in-boots had to say and do, and laughed lots when Pinocchio got to rescue Shrek, exploiting his puppet-nature, and doing it all to some wonderfully apt music. There were lots of “nudge-nudge-wink-wink” references to a variety of other films (including the rescue scene above); some were amusing, others seemed to just be showing off.

Patchy, but very entertaining.