The Oscars are coming up this weekend and I have seen every animated film that came out in 2014. I’ve seen all the big, medium and tiny films I could get my hands on. 20 in total. Needless to say I love animation. It is my favorite medium of film because it literally is art on the page and for the most part it is family friendly and well rounded (comedies, dramas, comic book movies, the whole 9 yards).
So, I’m going to give some of my own awards for animation this year. Here goes…
There you have it! All the animated films of 2014. What tremendous variety and what a great experience I had watching them all. It will definitely go down as one of my favorite years ever. Happy time to be an animation buff.
Do you like baseball? More to the point- do you like the Yankees? If the answer is no than Henry and Me may not be the film for you. I wouldn’t say I’m a baseball fan but I don’t mind it on occasion and I appreciate baseball’s place in movie history. I’d say of all the supports baseball has produced the best movies although Hoosiers and Hoop Dreams are tough to beat.
Baseball has such a nostalgia and history attached to it that it produces a wide spectrum of movies- everything from comedies like A League of Their Own and Major League to tender sentimental gems like Field of Dreams and Pride of the Yankees. Recently baseball has taken a big hit and lost some of its luster with steroid scandals and star players getting suspended but the history and connection to great American cities is perfect for storytelling.
The animated film Henry and Me taps into that nostalgia big time and produces a pretty sweet, sappy but pleasant movie. Red Sox fans will hate it but I found it very appealing. It is about a boy named Jack who is fighting cancer (another pretty sad animated movie for 2014). He has started to get discouraged as he is sent to another surgery with IVs and surgeons all around him.
Jack is a die hard Yankees fan and we see brief glimpses of his room covered in Yankee memorabilia A nurse played by Cyndi Lauper gives Jack some medicine to knock him out and tells him he will have ‘great dreams’.
Next we see a man named Henry voiced by Richard Gere who has a magic Yankees pin that takes Jack on a train where at first he refuses to engage fearing he is not well enough.
Henry finally convinces Jack to believe in himself and the train stops in old Yankee stadium surrounded by corn. Here Jack meets a young Babe Ruth who gives him some advice for facing trials.
Then we get to a different version of Yankee park and Jack is put as pitcher for Mickey Mantle. He must strike him out but he doesn’t believe he can do it.
Then the story continues as Jack battles with the cancer and meets George Steinbrenner (voiced by his son Hank), Lefty Gomez (Luis Guzman) and Thurman Munson (Paul Simon).
Then there are a slew of former and currently living Yankees that do their own voice work including Reggie Jackson, Nick Swisher, Yogi Bearra, Hideki Matsui, Michael Kay and Joe Girardi to name a few (evidently they are now selling the film at Yankee’s concessions and I totally see why). It was neat to see all these great ballplayers in animation and doing their own vocals! And of course there is more to Henry than Jack first realizes.
It’s a short movie at only 68 minutes and it is pretty simple. Just a kid who gets a chance to meet the Yankees and be inspired by those interactions. It’s corny and sentimental but I liked it. The main point is to give hope to a kid with cancer and I teared up on a number of ocasions.
The hand drawn animation looks great. I wasn’t as thrilled with the CG backgrounds which looked odd with the hand drawn pasted over it but I’ve definitely seen worse in 2014. I liked the Cyndi Lauper music as it seemed to fit the overall tone quite well. Here’s one segment that is pretty emotional.
It is a bit of a downer for long sections with one segment actually sending Jack to Heaven to look around and see what it is like. He also gets frustrated and angry at his treatment which is understandable but tough to watch at the same time.
What can I say? I enjoyed it. It’s kind of like Fox and the Hound but with baseball instead of pets. Not a masterpiece but sweet and simple and easy to enjoy. If you like baseball and especially if you like the Yankees than it is the film for you.
Henry and Me would make a nice Sunday movie when you are looking for a very clean film with a nice inspirational message. Like I said they even go to Heaven in it (but it is not a Christian film- more of a baseball heaven (phrase I never thought I would write)).
If any of you get a chance to see it let me know what you think.
Overall Grade- C+
Now I have seen all but 2 of the animation films submitted to the Academy for consideration. The other 2, Cheatin and Giovanni’s Island are proving a challenge to find but doing my best. Cheatin doesn’t get into American theaters until April so I may go-ahead and do my overview of the year in animation before seeing it. If there is anything I am missing let me know and if there is an animated television show you would like me to review put it in the comments. I’ve heard great things about Gravity Falls and Over the Garden Wall but not sure where and how to watch them. Let me know!
I have been hunting down the hidden animated gems from 2014. Today is probably the most prominent hidden gem as it has an Oscar nomination: The Song of the Sea. It is from Cartoon Saloon and distributed by Gkids Films directed and written by Tomm Moore. It is the same team who made the lovely Oscar nominated Secret of the Kells in 2009. As wonderful as Kells is I think Song of the Sea is even better.
I can’t remember the last time I cried so much in a movie and in a good way. In a ‘I love these characters and I’m involved in the story’ kind of way. It is the 3rd animated film in 2014 to deal with subjects of death, grief and loss in a mature and beautiful way. I was really moved by it and wish more people would see it.
There will be some spoilers but I will try to keep it to a minimum.
The main story is about a family that lives on a small island running a lighthouse. At the opening little boy Ben loses his mother to childbirth with his sister Saoirse. We then quickly move up and find out she is an odd child who at 6 has never learned to talk. Ben resents his sister and he constantly carries around his mother’s book of Celtic legends.
The stories focus on a myth called the selkie which if you’ve ever seen The Secret of the Roan Inish it is the basis for that movie as well. The selkies live as both seals and humans and they have a power which animates everything including other magic like fairies.
The characters then go on a journey where they face peril, meet an Owl witch, some more friendly fairies and learn much more about Saoirse, Ben and their Mother. (I really don’t want to give much else away).
As you can tell from the photos on this post the animation is gorgeous. It flows and never makes the easy choice. Everything has the feel of a wave because that is the power of the selkie myth.
There is a scene where Ben must say goodbye to his Mother and just writing about it now makes me tear up. It really moved me. The only thing I can think to relate it too is in Harry Potter when Harry has to stop looking in the Mirror of Erised and has to say goodbye to his parents. It’s that kind of emotion.
In front of me at the theater there were two little girls maybe 4 and 6. They were very chatty but it was kind of interesting to hear their reactions. It definitely scared both of them at certain points and they were pretty upset. Song of the Sea also has some jump scares and very tense moments that build. They were asking their Mother if so and so character was going to be ok, very worried. That’s really the only downside to Song of the Sea is it is pretty sad and scary in spots. Characters go a lot of the movie heads hanging down in mourning.
This would not be the movie to put on for the kids birthday party or for a lively sleepover. However, it would be good for a Sunday night movie viewing where there is time to discuss more challenging concepts with kids and get their thoughts. Save comedies like Lego Movie, Penguins of Madegascar or Spongebob for the parties and use Song of the Sea for a quieter softer parenting moment.
If you can get out to the theaters and see it I would implore you to go. Support hand drawn and smaller animation at the box office. Movies like Song of the Sea deserve a wider audience. I would love if we could get out of having a 2 system animation world and embrace lots of different studios and ideas. That would be amazing!
I loved it. I was really moved by it. It made me cry and laugh on occasion. It’s sad but it is not a downer. It is so hopeful and peaceful even in the sad moments that you don’t feel manipulated with your tears.
It was stunningly beautiful and even though I got lost from time to time in the Celtic lore it didn’t really matter because I knew enough of what was going on to root for our heroes. The voicecast is also good with David Rawle, Brendan Gleeson, Fionnula Flanagan, Lisa Hannigan and Lucy O’Connell.
I just wish more people would see it. I went into Song of the Sea wondering if it was worthy of the nomination over Lego Movie (which I loved). They are so different but yes Song of the Sea deserved it over Lego (Boxtrolls which I also loved should have been left off). Song of the Sea is one of the best animated films I’ve ever seen. Yep. I will use that hyperbole. I loved it!
The music by Bruno Coulais and Kiia is pitch perfect. Like I said the only thing to really consider is if it might be too sad for very young children and when is the best time for a more thoughtful picture for our kids. I bet they will love it too! I think it is better than Princess Kaguya in both artistry and story and that’s saying a lot.
Overall Grade- A+
My youtube review. Got emotional talking about it.
One of my goals this year is to watch the hidden animated films of 2014. I have already reviewed Jack and the Cuckoo Clock Heart, Wrinkles, Miniscule: the Valley of the Lost Ant, and Tale of Princess Kaguya. I am planning on seeing Song of the Sea this weekend so look for that review to be coming. All these smaller films have been beautifully animated with unique stories you won’t get from the major studio. I highly recommend taking a look at the reviews and finding the film that looks the most interesting to you.
Today we are going to talk about the adult animated film Rocks in My Pockets. This is an extremely challenging film and it is definitely not for everyone but I’m glad I saw it.
It is the work of Latvian artist Signe Baumane and it is practically a one woman show. She writes, directs, animates the entire film. She even provides the narration which is problematic as she is clearly not a native English speaker and it comes off very robotic. At first I actually thought it was a computer translator not a person.
Rocks in My Pockets is the tale of Signe’s family history of mental illness. It is done using hand drawn and paper mache stop motion. It is brutal, disturbing, vulgar and upsetting at times. That’s why I say it is definitely not for everyone but I also found it moving, raw, honest and beautiful in the way disturbing art can be.
She starts with the story of her Grandmother who tried to commit suicide in a river but did not have rocks in her pockets so she failed in her attempt. I don’t know if I’ve seen a movie that so accurately describes the panic, madness, and strange peace that happens inside the heads of those dealing with mental illness. I have never had that serious of an incident but I have had panic attacks so I related to all her descriptions.
In the former Soviet block nation of Latvia the psychiatrist hands out pills, mainly valium or puts the mentally ill in an insane asylum; thereby either trying to dull or hide the problem. We have come a long way in a sense but we still have a long way to go on the stigma and treatment of mental illness in America today.
Signe then tells the stories of 4 of her cousins and in the most painful segment her own story of battling schizophrenia. Like I said it is disturbing and brutal stuff but I was strangely moved by it. I guess it felt like someone sharing their soul through art and I appreciated that.
The section on post partum depression was interesting. Signe says it is the ‘legitimate’ mental illness. I never thought about it but that is really true even if it is still not treated with the weight and importance it should. There is a very disturbing section where her Grandmother see’s a rabbit eating her own babies and she looks at her 8 children and for a second is envious of the rabbit.
When Signe has her own baby and it is a transcendent experience for her but it doesn’t make the mania inside her go away it was a very poignant moment. Her cousins have the same problems wanting to love desperately but feeling unable to do so.
The animation is gorgeous and constantly daring and surprising the viewer. I loved how it moved and felt like a sketch from inside Signe’s mind. Since all the stories are about women the female bodies are intentionally drawn in a way so they look nude despite being fully clothed (except for one scene where a back is shown). You get a feeling Signe feels naked while drawing this story and that leads to her visuals.
With mental illness Hollywood tends to either make the sufferer scary and erratic or loveable and sweet. Signe does none of that. She tells their story in all its rawness yet still has great love and sympathy for the characters. It defies every cliché you could imagine and that moved me.
It is also unafraid to talk about self harm and other destructive techniques of ‘indulging your insanity not fighting it”. The end of the film she talks about her day to day life and how she has learned to cope with her illness finally summarizing her survival method beautifully.
“I am a working artist. This is my work in progress. I have to continue to live to complete it”
That’s not to say it is perfect because it’s not. Signe’s narration is a huge problem. Like I said it is robotic and very off-putting and since there is no other dialogue that is unfortunate. I don’t know if we needed to hear about every cousin and Signe and the Grandma. It’s a 126 minute movie, pretty long by animated film standards. I would have cut it down to 90 minutes. As it is you leave the experience exhausted. You are stimulated and maybe even inspired but exhausted.
Signe also doesn’t give us any answers. She just tells the story but maybe in a way that is the answer? “You will never be able to walk and talk again without the yellow green and pink pills” said the doctor without giving her a diagnosis. Her sister then says ‘Maybe it’s good to tell everybody so that they know what’s in their genes…It’s in the genes. You were designed to be crazy”
Maybe we just need to let people tell their stories?
Like I said not for everyone but I was moved by it.
The score by Kristian Sensini is also extremely strong and moving.
Overall Grade- B (mainly because the narration is a big stumbling block. If they changed that to a professional actor it would get an A).