Sunday, March 31, 2013

Animation Week - Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

Atlantis: The Lost Empire
The fourth and final animated film of this week is not based on a comic or any pre-existing material. Atlantis: The Lost Empire doesn't feel like your typical Disney film as it's not based on a children's story, has no musical numbers, and is rated PG. While this is certainly is not a bad thing, I think the change in tone was why Atlantis got a cool reception from critics and audiences during its original release. Atlantis is about linguist Milo Thatch, who tries to finish what his grandfather started and find the lost civilization of Atlantis. An eccentric millionaire who was a friend of Milo's grandfather funds the expedition and puts together an intrepid crew for the voyage.

Atlantis mixes traditional animation with CGI. The animation still looks quite good after more than ten years. I liked the steam punk style as its not something you see everyday and works as a contrast to the more magical world of Atlantis. Michael J. Fox does a good job as usual headlining the cast as our protagonist, Milo. The expedition crew is full of interesting, diverse, and fun characters. My favorite was Vinny (played by comedian Don Novello, best known for his Father Guido Sarducci character), the Italian demolition expert who loves to blow stuff up. The rest of the voice cast includes everyone from James Garner to Leonard Nimoy to Jim Varney!
The story of Atlantis is simple and predictable as its not that far off from Fern Gully, Pocahontas, or even Avatar. But overall the movie is still enjoyable thanks to its art and characters. Atlantis: The Lost Empire is worth a watch though probably not something I'll feel the need to revisit.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Animation Week - Persepolis (2007)

No Batman this time, but Persepolis is another movie based on a comic book. It might seem like a weird follow up but this is oddly appropriate for me since Batman: Year One and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi were two of the first comics or graphic novels I ever read and both made me appreciate the form. I didn't read these until I was near the end of high school and already thought of comics as either kids stuff or only featuring super heroes. Both surprised me and opened me up to a lot of stuff I would not have read otherwise. Getting back to the film, Persepolis is a coming of age story based on the real life experiences of author and artist Marjane Satrapi growing up in Iran in the 1970s and early 80s. As Marjane or "Marji" gets older she clashes with the ideals of the Islamic Fundamentalists in power. This eventually leads her to leave her country to study in Vienna before returning to her home years later. The movie is a French language film and I watched it with subtitles. I kinda want to see the dubbed version sometime though because the English language cast includes Sean Penn and Iggy Pop!

The comic Persepolis is made up of two separate books, while the movie covers the story of both. I've actually only read the first book, which ends with Marjane leaving Iran for college. Persepolis is a pretty accurate adaptation despite being condensed since it has to cover the material of two books. I can understand why this choice was made but still think it would've made more sense to make one movie for each book. The animation looks pretty much just like the comic. Even though some parts of the story were cut it did feel like I was paging through the comic again. I still need to read Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return but so I can't say how close on an adaptation that part of the movie is. But if it is like the first half then it is pretty close but just leaves out some less important parts of time. Persepolis was nominated for Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film in 2007 but lost to Ratatouille. I recommend both the book and the movie. If you've read the book you'll appreciate the film as a good adaptation and if you've seen the movie but want a longer version of the story then check out the comics.

Next up: Animation week concludes with a film that is not based on a comic or an adaptation.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Animation Week - Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010)

Batman: Under the Red Hood
Batman appears yet again in animation week! Unlike The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 and 2, Batman: Under the Red Hood is based on the comics but is not a direct adaptation. Instead, the film features a new story that is influenced by the comics such as the "A Death in the Family" story arc (which I have read) and the "Under the Hood" storyline. The basic plot is that a new vigilante called the Red Hood arrives in Gotham City five years after the death of the last Robin, Jason Todd. Unlike Batman, the Red Hood has no qualms with using guns or killing and starts taking down the criminals of Gotham.

I enjoyed Under the Red Hood a bit more than The Dark Knight Returns movies simply because I didn't really know what would happen. The identity of the Red Hood was pretty obvious but the character and his interactions with the Joker, Black Mask, and Batman were compelling and led to an interesting conclusion. The mixing up of characters and events into a new story worked great as it allows both new and old fans to jump right in while still having some surprises along the way. The voice work was solid all around with Bruce Greenwood (Batman), Neil Patrick Harris (Nightwing), and veteran voice actor John DiMaggio as the Joker as stand-outs. Like The Dark Knight Returns, Under the Red Hood is another very good movie from the DC Animated Universe. I look forward to whatever they have in store next.

Tomorrow: Yet another movie based on a comic, though it does not feature Batman or any super heroes.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Animation Week - Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2 (2013)

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2
Back in October I saw and reviewed Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1, so now its time to discuss Part 2. This is also the first movie I have seen released in 2013. It is direct-to-video but that still counts!
Most of what I wrote for Part 1 applies here so I'll keep this post short. The Joker plays a major role this time and I liked how he was handled. Voice actor Michael Emerson did a good job of fitting his character of the story instead of simply trying to be like Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamill, or Heath Ledger. I appreciated that he tried to do something knew while fitting with the depiction of the character in the comic and it worked out great.

Like Part 1, the second part gets rid of any monologues in order to make it more cinematic. While I appreciate this technique, it did change Superman's character. I think there could have been a way to explain Superman's motivations better while still not using monologues. Someone who has not read the original story could read Superman's story arc pretty differently from somebody has read Frank Miller's comic. But overall both parts were a very good adaptation of the comic to the screen. I need to read the comic again, but honestly after watching these I kind of feel like I already have! I'll be looking forward to any future DC animated movies done by this production team.

Next up: More Batman!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Schedule Update: Animation Week!

My finals are over so in my week off it's time to do some catching up before I get busy again with classes and work. I noticed that about a third of the movies I still need to do write-ups for are animated so that is the theme for this week! To give a hint as to what is coming up without spoiling the surprises, I will be covering two theatrical releases and two direct-to-video animated films. All four have been released since 2001. I've never done a theme week before so this should be fun. Who knows, I may plan on doing something like this again!