‘Writers Choice’ is a monthly segment. Each month a theme will be chosen and the contributors asked to choose a film to mini-review based around said theme. This months theme is ‘Animation not by Disney/Pixar’
Persepolis is a 2007 French-Iranian-American film based on Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel. The film is directed by Satrapi herself, alongside Vincent Paronnaud. Satrapi’s story is an autobiographical one, as the film follows a young girl growing up against the backdrop of the Iranian Revolution. The decision to make the film in black and white animation, a style similar to the graphic novel itself, was so the place and the characters wouldn’t look like foreigners in a foreign country but simply people in a country. Satrapi goes on to explain that she wanted to show how easily a country can become like Iran. Marjane, voiced by Chiara Mastroianni in the original version, is a clever and vulnerable little girl at the beginning of the film, growing up in Iran. As she grows up, she is shaped by the misogyny she experiences not only from the Iranian governing classes, but from the western world when she moves to Europe. Persepolis is a poignant coming-of-age story, but doubles as a commentary on political upheaval. It is rare to find a film like this one, where political issues are a central theme and they are presented through the eyes of a teenage girl. But millions of young girls all across the world witness the effects of war, revolution and radicalism, and are far too often overlooked. Satrapi and Paronnaud together create an incredible film, with Satrapi devising a thought-provoking plot, and Paronnaud’s stellar animation. –Georgia Berry
The violent collapse of the Russian monarchy, followed by the lonesome exile of a princess and her ensuing pursuit by a malevolent ‘healer’ are not usually considered as the typical ingredients for a children’s movie, however, ‘Anastasia’ is one of the finest animated films out there. Although I spent the vast majority of my childhood watching the adventures of Simba, Mulan and Ariel in awe, I do feel as if some people often forget that there is an entire array of non-Disney, non-Pixar movies in existence that can provide a lot of happiness for kids, including ‘The Iron Giant’ and ‘The Road to El Dorado’; two of my all-time favourites, the former of which actually left me notably emotionally scarred if I’m to be honest.
‘Anastasia’ is, however, far and away the best of these inexplicably underrated films. It has everything that a child could possibly desire; a badass princess in the form of Anastasia herself, a courageous woman perfectly capable of fighting her own battles, a charming, if something of a scoundrel, love interest known as Dmitri and one of history’s best-known villains, a man said to have been capable of cheating death, Rasputin, and a damn good soundtrack to top it all off. The animation is simple yet beautiful, reminiscent of Disney’s ‘Renaissance’ era, while the story never fails to entertain, excite and effectively move. It is a film that leaves us with an optimistic, albeit somewhat corny, message; love is the most important thing there is, be it familial, romantic or platonic and if that isn’t enough to convince you to watch this stunning example of just how wonderful a children’s film can be then all I can say is you must be some kind of emotionless monster. –Hannah Ryan
So, anyone that has seen it knows that the 2000 animation The Road to El Dorado is the best Dreamworks have got. The film is actually pretty predictable as plot lines go, but what does that matter when you’re five. El Dorado follows the exploits of two buddy con-artists, Miguel and Tulio, whom people call… ‘Miguel and Tulio’. They cheat their way into winning a map to the lost City of Gold (a.k.a El Dorado). The usual escapades go down, frantically avoiding the people they have scammed and eventually managing to get themselves imprisoned on a cargo ship. When they finally escape they come to find the lost city, and are somehow mistaken for Gods. The two plan on leaving the city shortly after, post-taking advantage of their new found fame by gathering as much gold as they can. They are trapped for a couple of days however, as they need a boat to leave the city which gives the evil high Priest some time to notice that Miguel and Tulio are not in fact Gods at all. After some more hijinks involving a big whirl pool and an evil stone jaguar, Miguel, Tulio, their new pal Chel and their horse Altivo end up leaving the city behind and sealing the entrance to El Dorado forever (with the evil priest outside its walls of course). Although the movie may not anything revolutionary in terms of animation, it does have a cracking soundtrack (courtesy of Elton John) and is just… hilarious? All there is now is to sit patiently and wait for the live action remake starring Domhhall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac. –Mel Sutherland
The Iron Giant is a gorgeous 2D animation set in 1957, Rockwell, Maine in which a gigantic metal robot washes up on the shore, only to be found by a young boy named Hogarth who’s kind of an outcast at school. Finding the giant turns out to be the best thing that ever happened to Hogarth and as they form an inseparable bond, you can see that the giant is probably the best friend that Hogarth ever had.
In the midst of the Cold War the American government believes the giant to be a Soviet weapon and the army general who’s most determined to find and destroy him moves into the spare room in Hogarth’s house. To evade the general, Hogarth keeps the giant in a junkyard belonging to the sculpture artist, Dean, who helps hide the giant whilst providing him scrap metal to eat. The giant’s internal struggle is whether to be a hero like his comic book idol, Superman or the weapon he was presumably created to be. Hogarth tries to steer him away from being a weapon by telling him that he can be what he chooses to be, but if U.S. army is firing at him, he is programmed to react violently.
Due to a poor marketing campaign, not many people saw The Iron Giant when it was first released but thanks to home video it became a cult classic and feature on many “best of animation” lists. It was recently re-released for a limited time in theatres with new scenes!!! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OSjqF5tR894 This one depicts one of the giant’s dreams that gives hints towards discovering his back-story. –Shaianne Hugh
The Prince of Egypt is one of the most magnificently animated films of all time. In particular, recall the shot of the whale swimming in the parted sea, shadow reflected by the torches’ flames. The Prince of Egypt is so well-done that it can appeal to both the devout and the secular. Putting the baggage that religion can bring aside, the story of Moses is incredibly fascinating. At its heart, it focuses on two brothers, the Egyptian Ramses and the adopted Jewish Moses. Moses and Ramses share a deep bond, which makes their eventual rupture all the more painful. The Prince of Egypt crafts humane characters who are not plain good or evil. They each struggle with their callings vs. their wants. Ramses wants to be a great ruler and to make his father proud. Moses wants to honor God, even though it means going against his brother. A stand out of The Prince of Egypt is of course its music. The final notes of the opening song “Deliver Us” never fails to give me chills. The Prince of Egypt balances the terror and beauty of this Gospel story, from the death of The Plagues, to what I consider one of the greatest scenes in film, the Burning Bush where God speaks to Moses for the first time. The film also rightfully does not white-wash the characters (although they are voiced by white actors…but it is a great cast). Every shot is stunning piece of art. And, whether you go to church every Sunday or have never stepped foot in one, The Prince of Egypt will move you. The Prince of Egypt also made this former Catholic schoolgirl guilty for finding Moses really attractive. –Caroline Madden
THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED (1926)
When I learned the theme for this month’s group post, I thought of Anastasia. Then I thought of Chicken Run, then Antz, then Fantastic Voyage. My mind was already editing itself, and all because I wanted something entirely my own—without any sort of secondhand memory involved. I don’t know my own mind when it comes to animation. I associate so much of it with ex boyfriends that it’s difficult to gauge my interest. How strange and awful and existential. It’s not just animation, of course. I associate a lot of things with ex boyfriends, and it doesn’t seem fair really. Full disclosure: Anastasia is probably my favorite animated film. Rasputin’s eyes still give me the chills. And how beautiful is Anastasia’s hair? So beautiful, that’s how. But this isn’t really about Anastasia. Or maybe it is—maybe it’s about the act of liking something regardless of association. I still enjoy animation on the whole, though I do have other memories tied to it, and these memories prevent me from fully embracing things like Miyazaki or Fritz the Cat. Anastasia has memories tied to it, too. When I was a kid I sung my sister to sleep with a probably awful rendition of “Once Upon a December”. In grade school, my best friend had a blue dress like the one Anastasia wears on the boat, and she would twirl and I’d be jealous. My girlfriend and I stayed up late one night last summer watching the ballroom scene and then read about the Romanovs on Wikipedia and cried for a bit. I’ve already forgotten where I was going with this, and none of it really matters.
Someone’s chosen Anastasia anyway, and they probably have something substantial to say about it. After (too) much thought, I decided to give a shout-out to Lotte Reiniger’s The Adventures of Prince Achmed, because it’s an important work and because female animators rarely get the attention they deserve. That’s no fun to say—I get it. It’s still the truth. The Adventures of Prince Achmed is gorgeous—really. Reiniger was using silhouette animation way before Disney made it popular. Do yourself a favor and look up some of her work. The movie itself is in German (a subtitled version can be found on Youtube) and the score varies from version to version. It’s a loose retelling of several stories of One Thousand and One Nights, and the art holds up well even now—you can tell how much time went into crafting each piece of the characters and making their movement. When you’re finished with that, look up Caroline Leaf, Helen Hill, Joanna Quinn, and the numerous other women animators out there who deserve to have you know them—and who you yourself deserve to know. Finally, go to the Wikipedia page for Antz and read the section on ‘Production’. It’s fucking hysterical. -Juliette Faraone
Un Monstre à Paris, otherwise known as A Monster in Paris, is everything a children’s cartoon should be: aware, funny; strangely canny and with a touch of romance. The film manages to combine its amazing animations with a storyline reminiscent of a fantastic French book titled The Phantom of The Opera, except without all the demonic/kidnapping/etc. bits that make the novel so terrifyingly terrific.
A Monster in Paris follows its headstrong heroine Lucille (voiced by Vanessa Paradis) as she fights off unwanted advances from a powerful egotistical man, overcomes her own stubbornness and – you know, befriends a monster wanted throughout the province of Paris. C’est la vie, non? If that wasn’t enough, we get to see a genuine guy-on-guy friendship developed to its fullest (something I frankly feel films need more of), a crazy scientist; an ingenious but overworked chimp and a mad inventor who won’t accept his fancy faux fur coat is actually made of straw.
As the first non-Pixar/Disney animated film I consciously decided to watch, the original French version wass incredibly intriguing to me and further proof that animation + America don’t necessarily have to be a cartoon’s go-to combo. The second time I watched it was during an English network showing and, although it lost some of its flare, it still managed to embrace its underlying moral message. –Sharon Igbokwe
Following the success of Don Hertzfeldt’s fantastic feature-length Its Such a Beautiful Day, we’ve now been blessed with World of Tomorrow (nominated for Best Short Animated Film) a 17 minute surreal short that’s just recently been put on Netflix (aka watch it). If you haven’t seen his previous works and aren’t familiar with his simplistic and dryly funny animations then this is a nice opener to get a feel and then watch Its Such a Beautiful Day. World of Tomorrow follows Emily, a little girl who is contacted by a 3rd generation clone of herself and taken on a whistle-stop tour through her future. The character of Emily and Emily Prime (her clone) are animated in simple child-like scribbles and the world in which she inhabits is awash with colour and shapes. This might sound like a minimalist piece of artsy trash but Hertzfeldt’s hilarious, honest and wonderfully innocent writing speaks like a Richard Linklater film, a natural journey where colours and pattern allow you to lose yourself and feel like a kid again. –Chloe Leeson