Rankin/Bass Month Introduction

Hey guys!  I just wanted to announce my Christmas series I am doing for my blog.  Last year I did Scrooge Month where I reviewed 35 different versions of Christmas Carol.  I thought long and hard about what to do for this year and decided it would be fun to talk about the Rankin/Bass animated specials and films, many of which are Christmas related.

rankin bassMost people will be most familiar with Rankin/Bass stop motion TV specials including Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Coming to Town and The Little Drummer Boy.

rankin bass4I love stop motion so I look forward to seeing all of these shorts again especially the one’s I haven’t seen or haven’t seen in a while.

Most of these films are from the 70s so it will be interesting to see how they age.

They also have traditional animation like Frosty the Snowman including a film I have already reviewed called The Stingiest Man in Town.  I will not be reviewing that again.

snommanRankin/Bass Productions was founded by Arthur Rankin Jr and Jules Bass in 1960 in Japan. Many of the starting animators like Toru Hara would go on to work on Studio Ghibli with Hayo Miyazaki.

They were able to keep working with many of the same talent over the years including Maury Laws who did almost all of the music and Romeo Muller who wrote most of the screenplays.  Paul Frees was also a frequent voice talent for them.

But over the years they also worked with many great stars including Andy Griffith, Burl Ives, Casey Kasem, Fred Astaire, Art Carney, Red Skelton, Walter Matthau, Danny Kaye and more.

rankin bass2Do you have a Rankin/Bass special that you love to watch around Christmas?  I would love to hear about it and I look forward to the series.  Like last year I will not be giving grades for this series as it is meant to be a joyful experience and not as critical as I might otherwise be.  It’s Christmas for goodness sake!

Corpse Bride Review

This post was previously published on my column at ldsblogs.com.  I would love if you all checked out that column and maybe added a comment or two.

Welcome as we get a little spooky here on Family Movie Night!  It is October after all! So in honor of the season we are going to talk about Tim Burton’s 2005 film The Corpse Bride.

During this time of year many parents ask themselves a question about how dark is too dark for their children to see.  I know when I was a child there are 2 films that really scared me and they were both Disney films.  The first was Disney’s Return to Oz- an ugly, mean spirited film where Dorothy gets strapped down and give electro-shock therapy (and that’s before she even gets to Oz!).   There is also a queen that has a hallway with heads that she scalps from people and wears when she wants a new look.  Ah the nightmares.

The other movie that terrified me was as odd as it might sound- The Rescuers.  It is an extremely downbeat, sad film from Walt Disney with a little girl who is kidnapped by a horror of a lady and forced to go down in a dark cave all by herself.  There is very little hope for Penny and at one point she is told nobody will ever want to adopt her.  Geesh Disney!

So those were two films that scared me but there are many kids who like both those films.  So how do you know as a parent?  It’s really tough.   My advice would be you simply have to look at the kid in question and see how sensitive they are.  Also what kind of scares does it have?  Is it a ghost story or does it take on more weighty themes?  What’s the overall tone of the film?  Many of my favorite scary movies like today’s choice actually have a very sweet innocent tone but they are set in a scary world.

267130-corpse-brideIn the end it is a touch call for a parent but I think you know in your gut what your kid is ready for and can handle.  Go with that.

That said, let’s talk about Corpse Bride.  This is a really fun ghost story told with stop motion animation and in a mostly black and white Victorian world.   Our main character is Victor who is being forced by his parents to marry a woman named Victoria, who is also being forced into the arranged marriage.

However, the two betrothed meet and find they like each other and don’t mind getting married. Unfortunately, Victor gets nervous and goes into the forest to practice his vows.  In so doing he puts a ring on what he thinks is a twig but in actuality it is a woman in spiritual limbo named Emily, or in other words- the Corpse Bride.

With a ring on her finger Emily thinks her and Victor are married and swoops him off to the Spirit World where we get a terrific song called Remains of the Day. I love how in the Spirit World the colors are more vibrant, even fluorescent in hue.  It feels like a different world than the Victorian one we’ve seen so far.

Victor of course still loves Victoria and he doesn’t know how to get himself out of the situation.  Emily also is a sweet soul who has the best of intentions but also gets her feelings hurt quite easily.  They are pretty well developed characters for this type of film.

Corpse-Bride-1The story is somewhat predictable but the visuals are so lovely creating a scary yet fun mood.  The cinematography by Pete Kozachik moves through the city feels effortless and smooth.  He even came up with a new way to use digital still cameras when filming stop motion.  There also aren’t any dead zones where I am bored or wondering what is going to happen.  I think that is the good thing about stop motion animation- it is so laborious to do there are rarely any wasted scenes.

My favorite part of the movie is the great Danny Elfman music.  He is particularly good at packing exposition into the songs while still making them catchy and easy to sing along too.  As I said, I particularly like Remains of the Day but Tears to Shed, According to Plan and The Wedding Song are all beautiful.  I also think Victor’s Piano Solo is one of the best instrumental solos I’ve ever heard in a movie.

To see the rest of Rachel's reviews, click here.
To see the rest of Rachel’s reviews, click here.

Overall it is a satisfying ghost story with a nice heart to it, beautiful visuals, and great music.  I would be curious to know how your kids react to it and if it is too scary for them.  Please put it in the comments what they think and if you have any suggestions for picks I could use in upcoming weeks I would love to hear.  Let’s get some comments going!

Did the Right Film Win? 2012 Animated Oscars

So I finally finished my video on the 2012 Oscars.  Sorry this one took me so long (and it was a pain to edit today also!).

In 2012 we had 5 nominees and they all have their strengths.

Brave– I recently talked about that in my Pixar review.  It is a flawed film that doesn’t deliver what it promises in the first 15 minutes.  It is supposed to be an epic legend but turns out to be a domestic dispute between a mother and a daughter.  I don’t mind that but it is a letdown when we are promised something mythic.  I do like Merida, the music and the animation is top notch.  I personally feel they took a lot of the lessons from Brave and used them to make Frozen better.

Paranorman- My favorite Liaka film and a film that made my top 50 animated films (so clearly I like it).  I really like the character of Norman and the fresh take they have on the bully narrative with the bullied becoming the bully.  I think it is very scary and funny with unique world building and character design.

Frankenweenie-  This was a new one for me.  I had avoided it because I really don’t care for Tim Burton’s style of movies.  However, I must admit that I thought it was charming.  I really liked the relationship between Victor and Sparky.  It makes you want to cry when he loses his dog and all the homages to the classic horror films are a lot of fun.  I also enjoy how they made it in black and white.  Overall a very entertaining film with a lot of heart.

Pirates Band of Misfits- One of Aardman’s best films with incredible attention to detail it is an underrated film.  They pack in the laughs and yet still tell a good story with the Captain wanting to win Pirate of the Year and his interactions with both Charles Darwin and Queen Victoria.  If you haven’t seen it trust me it is worth a watch!

Wreck-it Ralph– A film that starts out and ends strong but gets mired in a bland Sugar Rush world in the middle section.  Most people love this film but I think it is good but not perfect.  I like the character of Ralph but Vanellope I find annoying.  With the power cord train station they promise you all the worlds of the video games and yet spend 75 minutes in Sugar Rush, which to me is a disappointment.  But it is still an enjoyable film.  The villain reveal is done very well and I love Sergeant Tamora.

Like I said in the video, I think most people would pick Wreck-it Ralph for 2012 Oscar.  I can totally see that.  Of course, Brave won in a bit of an upset.  I personally would give it to Paranorman but I know I’m in the deep minority on that.  They are all enjoyable films. 🙂

What would be your pick?

Did the Right Film Win? 2009 Animated Oscars

Hey guys!  So 2009 was a very strong year for animation.  It was a year with 5 films nominated for Best Animated Feature Film and all 5 I enjoy.  There were also strong films that I personally think could have gotten a nomination in another year like Ponyo (I know you’all disagree with me on that one but oh well!), 9 and A Christmas Carol, to name a few.

Not only are the 5 films nominated very strong but they are also really different so I had a lot to say about each.  I ended up making 2 videos about them (my editing software was also giving me all kinds of grief so I got up what I could in 2 batches).  The first video is about Princess and the Frog and Secret of the Kells.

Basically I’m hot and cold on Princess and the Frog.  There is a lot I love about it and then things I really don’t like.  I love the animation, the character of Tiana, vocal performances and 3 of the songs.  I don’t like the voodoo elements, the convoluted story or Prince Naveen.  He is not Tiana’s equal.  All in all, that puts it in the middle of my Disney rankings. It’s certainly worthy of the nomination and worth a watch even with some major flaws.

Secret of the Kells is beautiful and looks like illustrations from a book.  It is only lessened in my opinion because I think Song of the Sea by the same team is much better.  Maybe an unfair comparison but I can’t help it when they are so similar.  Nevertheless, Secret of Kells has a beautiful look to it.  I like the story and the lead character Brendon is very appealing.  The Aisling of the forest is beautiful with stirring music from Kila.

The next video has the remaining 3 films- Fantastic Mr.  Fox, Coraline and Up.  You all have heard my thoughts on Up ad nauseam but I did get a little emotional when talking about it and how it reminds me of my Grandpa who I love.  It’s a special movie to me and I filmed the review several times but each time I started to tear up.  That was my honest response so I left it in. 🙂

Fantastic Mr Fox is a very creative film directed by Wes Anderson.  I love the world building and the story is a lot of fun based on Roald Dahl’s book.  I really like the characters like Ash, Mr and Mrs Fox.  The story is unpredictable even for someone who has read the book and it is extremely creative.  It is actually my favorite Wes Anderson film and while I don’t find it super funny I do enjoy it.

Coraline is a film from Liaka and I liked it much more this g0-around.  I always enjoyed it but for whatever reason I really was charmed while watching it this week.  It is directed by Henry Sellick who did Nightmare Before Christmas and it has the same dark tone and style of that film.  I love the character of Coraline.  She is sincere, quirky, endearing, inquisitive and in the end loving.  She ends up getting presented with another version of her family through this magic portal and it leads to some big scares but also a huge heart.  I love that she comes to accept her parents for who they are, even though they aren’t very good people in a lot of ways.  She still loves them anyway.  It’s really surprising and visually inventive.

In this case, I clearly think the right film won because Up is my favorite movie.  If I was going to pick a second place I would pick Coraline, but I can see people’s arguments for all 5.  What would you pick?  Thanks so much for your comments and for watching the videos.  It has been a great series both on the channel and this blog and next up is 2010 where my Tangled got snubbed (wa, wa, wa,….).  I look forward to watching the Illusionist for the first time.  Thanks!

Scrooge 6: Disney’s A Christmas Carol

A_Christmas_Carol 2009

Trailer:

 

Cast

  • Jim Carrey as:
    • Ebenezer Scrooge
    • Ghost of Christmas Past
    • Ghost of Christmas Present
    • Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come
  • Gary Oldman as:
    • Bob Cratchit
    • Jacob Marley
    • Tiny Tim
    • Tim’s voice is provided by Ryan Ochoa.
  • Colin Firth as Fred
  • Bob Hoskins as:
    • Mr. Fezziwig
    • Old Joe
  • Robin Wright Penn as:
    • Belle
    • Fan Scrooge
  • Cary Elwes as:
    • Dick Wilkins.
    • Mad Fiddler
    • Businessman #1
    • Guest #2
    • Portly Gentleman #1

I already mentioned in my ‘Family Movies I Like that Others Do Not’ post that the Disney 2009 version of a Christmas Carol I really enjoy even though many others do not.  Hopefully here I can explain a little bit more thoroughly why it works for me even if it is not perfect.

Differences-

The biggest difference is this is the only stop motion animated version so it has the feel of an animated film with the realism of live action.  For what is basically a ghost story I think it works very well.

flyingI think shots like this are beautiful

flying2

I love the scenes where we are flying through London although some go on a bit too long (As I have said I have a weakness for characters flying in movies.  I almost always love it) .The colors are bright and the way it uses shadows and light is very beautiful.

Another big difference is this version tries to stay extremely close to the text.  There are passages such as the men joyfully shoveling snow off the rooftops that is almost never included but it is here.

snow shoveling

I also love in that same scene when they are flying past a steeple and cross we hear ‘hark the herald angels sing’ and Scrooge (in a direct quote from the book) justifies his lack of faith in Christ by asking the spirit about poor people on the sabbath day. (the same man who suggested workhouses and prisons is condemning the church for being closed on sabbath day! See he’s rationalized his lack of need for faith and Christ’s grace. It reminds me of how the Pharisee’s question Christ in the Bible)

““You would deprive them of their means of dining every seventh day, often the only day on which they can be said to dine at all,” said Scrooge. “Wouldn’t you?”

cross

I have never seen a version that includes this but it is crucial to understanding the message I believe Dickens meant behind the story that not just shutting out Christmas, but rationalizing away Christ made Scrooge cold.

sabbath

The Spirit says in response

““There are some upon this earth of yours,” returned the Spirit, “who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.”

That is such an important moment in the story and almost never included.

Anyway, other differences is that 6 actors portray most of the characters Jim Carrey ( who plays Scrooge remarkably straight), Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Bob Hoskins, Robin Wright Penn and Cary Elwes. All are very good in their differing roles. bellecratchit 2009fred 2009

Another difference is it sticks close to the book in its portrayal of Scrooge.  I went back and read the novella before starting the project and there is absolutely no attempt by Dickens to soften Scrooge or make him sarcastic.  I don’t mind when versions do this but it is not canon.  Listen to how Dickens describes Scrooge:

” Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.”

sinner scrooge

I mean the rooms get colder when he enters.  He is a “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner” (again making the religious fall a part of his bitterness and anger).  I actually think this version captures that Scrooge extremely well.

It is perhaps a more enjoyable movie when we think of it as telling a ghost story and less of a Christmas story.  They include Marley’s jaw coming off and ignorance and want is dark and quite scary.

marley teeth

Strengths- As I said the closeness to the book is a real strength.  I also like the performances and I know some hate the stop motion look but I think it is beautiful.  The music by Alan Silvestri is wonderful including the closing credits song by Andrea Boceli- God Bless Us Everyone.

I wish more people had seen it because I would have loved to see what Zemeckis could have done with other classic stories like Jane Eyre using this medium.

There are many moments which the film gets right that few do.

I love that it is Tiny Tim’s declaration of Christ that first moves Scrooge.  Nothing else has but as soon as he hears Bob talk of Tim he worries and begins to feel again.

“Somehow he gets thoughtful, sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.”

"DISNEY'S A CHRISTMAS CAROL"

A lot of versions skip over this line trying to appeal to those of all faith but it is a loss in my opinion because can a nice pleasant holiday really be enough to get someone to change?  No it is a higher religious conversion, a higher meaning to life and goodness, that  prompts Scrooge to repent his ways.

past 2009

I also like the way the appearance of all 3 spirits is very close to the descriptions in the book. This and the Muppets I believe come closest to the ethereal quality of Past.  He looks like a candle, which is creative.

The ending is good when Scrooge see’s his body on the bed and is desperate for some sense of feeling at this death.  Then we see the couple who is grateful the death gives them more time to pay back their loan (something often skipped) and then the Cratchit’s mourning the loss of Tim.

Weaknesses- Trying no doubt to appease modern viewers they do spend a bit too long in segments zipping through London.  Particularly at the end when they are chased by black horses carrying a hearse it goes on too long and gets old.  I typically fast forward that segment.

Also I don’t see why for the pawn shop scene Scrooge needs to be shrunken down with a high pitched voice.  Another ploy I suppose to appease modern viewers.

It can be pretty dark and scary for kids so it will depend on your child’s tolerance for those kinds of films.  The scene where Present dies is like no other version.  It is very scary but I think it is cool.  Like I said if you look at it as a ghost story (which it is)  like Corpse Bride or something like that than it is less upsetting. But it is the area where the movie takes chances.  It embraces Christmas Carol as the ‘scary ghost stories and tales of the glory of Christmases long, long ago’.

And I know for some who aren’t as in love with the book as I am the strict adherence may be a problem. They want a more nuanced, softer Scrooge than the book gives us.  It quotes a lot from the text and makes no attempt like in Muppets or other versions to explain things in a modern way.

So all in all, I know it isn’t perfect but I really like it.  It’s a definite part of my holiday viewing and I appreciate all the hard work which went into making it accurate, heart felt and visually captivating.  Others do not care for it but that’s their opinion and this is mine. 🙂

Double Feature Part 2: Boxtrolls

The_Boxtrolls_posterThe second part of my double feature was the Laika follow up to the wonderful Paranorman stop motion animated movie The Boxtrolls and it is such a delight.

If you have kids that love slime, ooh and goo and things that are disgusting this is a movie they will LOVE!  But also kids who like creative worlds and fun characters will like it too.

Again I will try and tell you a little bit about it without spoiling anything.

It is set in Cheesebridge, a town where there are heavy class distinctions. The main being those with status get to eat cheese.  The designated cheese-eaters are identified by a tall white hat.

cheeseThe aristocrats are led by Lord Portley-Rind who in a lesser movie would have been a total villain but as it is he’s just in love with cheese (seriously at one point they choose a large gouda over a children’s hospital!).    The Lord has a daughter named Winnifred, voiced by Elle Fanning, who is spunky but not in the typical way we see in these types of movies.  She’s actually not in the movie that much and I could have seen even more of her.

The Boxtrolls

A man named Archibald Snatcher wants to eat cheese more than anything even though he is so allergic he puffs up with boils all over his face when he does.  Mostly he wants status and the importance of the hat and cheese eating.  Snatcher is voiced by Ben Kingsley but he sounds just like Michael Gambon.

snatcherSnatcher makes a deal with Lord Portley-Rind that he will remove all the boxtrolls, a race of stealing trolls, that are the outcasts of the town.  If they are all dead than he can be given a white hat and eat cheese.

boxtrollsThe boxtrolls have been raising a human boy who is abandoned by his father.  They call him Eggs because that’s his box.  Eggs is voiced very well by Isaac Hempstead-Wright.

eggs2The Boxtrolls are creatures of habit.  They operate only according to their nature but Eggs does not and tries to get them to adapt as the story goes forward.

It’s a lot for a kids film to take on- class strife, fighting your nature, loving the downtrodden and seeing value in everyone no matter their label. But fortunately Boxtrolls is up for the challenge.  I really loved it.

It clips along very well and the score by Dario Marianelli is a lot of fun with a little opera and barbershop quartet music thrown in occasionally.  The villain is allowed to win for a lot of the picture.  There’s a long time when I didn’t know how they could dig themselves out of the hole they’d created he was doing so well.

Winnifred and Eggs are very endearing and the Boxtrolls are kind of like grimy versions of the minions- very cute and sweet.

The world they created is vivid and it teaches some great values to kids without it being too heavy-handed.  Very imaginative and fun.  I loved it!

There is a scene with a character in drag showing a lot of skin if that is of concern to parents. And like I said it is kind of gross at times but in a fun way.

Content Grade- B+  Overall Grade- A-

Oh and stay for the credits!

Oh and it is not as scary as Paranorman.  More appropriate for the whole family.