Feature Film Blog: Alice in Wonderland is Wonderland-ish.

Met with a “lukewarm reception at the box office”, Disney’s first attempt with Alice in Wonderland in 1951 left the Disney team only with a rental success and not a box office one. Now, 61 years later, Disney is taking another crack at the famous Lewis Carroll series but with great names like Tim Burton and Johnny Depp behind its production. Released just last Friday, Alice in Wonderland (2010) is another take on the classic story mixing live action with newly developed animation but it seems that the only reason it will be a box office smash is because of the names associated with the film, not the film itself. Alice in Wonderland is beautifully animated and staged but the plot has little to no substance and is not engaging enough to be seen separate from its 50’s version of the same name.

After seeing Alice in Wonderland, I was left with a sinking feeling that something was missing and that I did not enjoy myself as well as I thought I would. That missing part, after a long time of mental debating, was the plot. Drawn from Carroll’s novels and the 1950s cell-animated version, the story focuses not on a young Alice but a 19 year old Alice who revisits Wonderland and is prophesied to defeat the Dragon, Jabberwocky, and take the kingdom away from the evil Red Queen. This plot seems to be a new take on the story but overall it doesn’t seem to be much after you watch it. Instead of highlighting the characters and the story, the movie rushes through and centralizes all its efforts on the prophecy and highlighting the mega star, Johnny Depp. Besides the apparrent extra amount of film focused on Depp, the movie also highlights extreme amounts of action and danger. Basically the movie is all modern Hollywood and not enough Burton’s usually quirky style of film-making.

The animation on the other hand, is the saving grace of the film. Sprawling fantasy lands and castles, Wonderland is  a true wonderland. But the real focus of the animation was on the characters in the film. We all remember the characters from Disney’s 1951 version and they are still part of the modern one. One of my favorite animated characters is the Cheshire Cat.

Cheshire CatCheshire Cat (2010)

The Cheshire Cat retained his same large smile and wacky pose but was updated with his peircing green eyes and slight color change, allowing him to look more like his landscape and be a bit more mysterious than the original. Another good example would be the Red Queen an Actress, Helena Bonham Carter, who’s head was blow up 3 times its normal size.

Helena Bonham CarterRed Queen

The makeup and the act of blowing up Helena Bonham Carter’s head allowed for the team to encompass the character and make it unique. The animation in the movie is most definetly highlighted by these characters moreso than anything else.

Overall Alice in Wonderland is Wonderland-ish. It wants to be Wonderland but it only made it halfway there, even though it may be enjoyable by Hollywood standards, its just not what it should have been.

Published in: on March 11, 2010 at 5:07 PM  Leave a Comment  

Blog Post #6: Because Physical Violence Can Be Funny… Slapstick Comedy!

After continuously reading about gags in Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons every week, I found one that I was particularly interested in. Slapstick Comedy, a form of “exaggerated physical violence and activities which exceed the boundaries of common sense”, which was first used in Roman and Greek theater and perfected in film by comedians like Charlie Chaplin. This form of comedy became involved in animation as a gag since its conception. Slapstick is a useful and easily done gag to induce laughter and amusement in animation.

My first example of an animation that uses slapstick effectively is Tom and Jerry.

Tom and Jerry features a normal house cat (Tom) who is tormented by a mouse named (Jerry). This cartoon has little dialog and tons of physical violence. In this particular cartoon Jerry is stealing Tom’s milk and after Tom repeatedly attempts to hit and encase Jerry he decides to poison and kill him. This attempt backfires when the milk poison Tom makes actually turns Jerry into a super-mouse and he beats the crap out of Tom. Slapstick gags from a fire poker that is bent repeatedly over Super-Jerry’s head to repeated tail snapping of both characters highlight the amusement related to Tom and Jerry. The humor is based only on the physical violence Tom and Jerry inflict on each other.

Another good example would be Warner Brother’s Looney Tunes.

In this particular Looney Tunes Elmer Fudd plays Cupid and goes around shooting other animals with arrows that make them fall in love. Particular violence of interest is when he shoots the dog chasing the cat and the dog proposes. Afterwards the cat is disgusted and commits suicide 9 times, highlighting its 9 lives. More violence ensues as Fudd attempts to shoot Daffy Duck but Daffy has other plans.

Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry are great examples of what makes slapstick such an amusing hit. Both of the series were insanely popular even though they were violent in nature. It just goes to show that violence can be funny.

I commented on Danyael Rose’s blog and Kristina Wade’s blog.

Published in: on February 27, 2010 at 3:07 PM  Comments (3)  

Blog Post #5: Because “People With Mustache’s Kill People”… Bad Guys Sport the ‘Stache.

Evil characters, best known as villains, have a type. This is because it is easy for the audience to differentiate  the villain from the hero if they are given different types. One thing I have noticed animators give their villain is the mustache. The mustache represents apparent manliness and “don’t mess with me” wisdom and when added to a character who is supposed to foil the hero, allows for the villian to embody that aspect of their character. Therefore making the mustache a tool for the animators to forward their skill and the story with a simple tuft of facial hair.

Mustachioed characters began sporting the ‘stache pretty early on. My first thought while watch Felix the Cat during class was that the Professor had a thick, white mustache.

This mustache gives the professor a look of wisdom. Society has formed our thoughts on people with mustaches and beards, like Albert Einstein, as being extremely smart. Because the professor is supposed to be a scientist who is constantly innovating new machines in order to obtain Felix’s magic bag, a bit of wisdom in the form of a mustache took his character a long way. Looking at him one can automatically assume “mad scientist”. Plus, it was easy to just twitch a mustache to make him talk rather than animated a mouth. This way the animators have an easier time animating the professor and have given him an evil “mad scientist” feel.

Other animated villains had thin, twirly mustaches that brought along the saying that “evil men twirl their mustaches and rub their hands in excitement of the evil they will produce.” Some of these thin ‘stache sporting villains include: Dick Dastardly, Snidely Whiplash,and Captain Hook.

Dick Dastardly Snidely WhiplashCaptain Hook

These thin, handlebar-like mustaches are used so often by animators for villains to twist and contemplate with.Because most of the villians posses a mustache, they are associated with “being evil” in the newer generations. This is why certain novelty sayings or items like the shirt that says “Guns don’t kill people, people with mustaches kill people” come about and are extremely popular. Therefore cementing the mustache as a tool by animators to instantly recognize witch side a character falls on.

Mustaches provide an easy time for the animator, a certain look for the villian, and a cult following for the mustache itself. Without cartoons providing fodder for this type of villian, mustaches would just be facial hair in today’s world and not a part of cartoon history.

I commented on Ian Crawford’s blog and James Davis’s blog.

BLOG SPECIMEN: I smoothed out some sentences and add a conclusion.

Published in: on February 20, 2010 at 3:30 PM  Comments (12)  

Blog Post #4: Because You Don’t Always Have To Talk About It… Silent Points!

In today’s world it is hard to get your point across without flat out saying it. But there are some topics that are too hard to get your point across with words and this is where animation steps in. With the help of animation, tough views can be displayed in a way that is informational but not confrontational. Religion is a subject that few people like to breech. In an earlier blog I showed how pro-religious shows like Veggie Tales help spread their message through a kid-friendly show. Now I am going to talk about the opposite view, anti-religious, and how it can be displayed just as informational and not confrontational but in it’s own way.

Anti-religious views are usually hard to swallow when injected through media. Either its through a crazy liberal pundit who most people find distasteful or through some hard lined documentary like Religulous where someone might feel like they are mistreating the religious people portrayed in the film. Is there a way to amend this extreme? A film student named Roy Margalit did just that by making this animated short for his film school called Spiritualized.

In this short, the main character is the tall bloke in the robe. Robe man comes upon the short Asian man who is meditating and then seems to walk on water, an act made famous by the bible story of Jesus walking on water. Robe man becomes jealous and decides to learn how to walk on water by pulling out a mini-Budda statue and praying to it; then he attempts to cross the water. This doesn’t work at all and neither do all of the other religious symbols (star of David, cross, moon and the star) he pulls out (plus the other junk like the Elvis picture and the Mickey hat). After he is exhausted and used everything he can think of, the tiny Asian man comes back across the water and the water goes out for tide and shows that he had been walking on hidden stepping stones the whole time.

The moral to this story is simple: religion is blind faith and the only thing you can depend on is the tangible. Margalit shows this without the use of dialog and with the use of expression and props. You can see the jealousy on the robe man’s face when he pulls out the Budda and then when he grins wide before attempting to cross the water. The religious symbols are all real images placed into the animation that are familiar to most people and are very useful in conveying the message of the short. The short has no feelings of imposing on religion and it never really truly downs them in any way, it just shows that maybe one should believe in what is real and feel secure that no one should walk on water but everyone should find their stepping stones.

I commented on Danyael Rose’s blog and Bradley Schoolfield’s blog.

Published in: on February 13, 2010 at 12:25 PM  Leave a Comment  

Blog Post #3: Because Video Games Have Animated Features in Them… Cutscenes!

Video games are a large market nowadays. When films and cartoons started to become a large part of leisure time in the early 20th century it was because people could immerse themselves in a story. Very much like fiction novels except instead of imagining what was going on the person could see and process exactly what the makers planned for them to see. Video games were just another stepping stone in that timeline; not only could they see the story but they could also participate in it. The best example of this are RPGs (Role playing games) where the user can play as a character and progress the story by finishing certain tasks. But in order to progress the story properly and make the game more entertaining the animators add a special element called cutscenes. Cutscenes are pieces of animation (or live action) where the user cannot control their character(s) and that progresses the story in a film-like fashion.  There are two main type of cutscenes that I have seen that are used quite well in progressing the story and giving certain aspects in order to keep the user entertained.

The first type of a cutscene is where the user loses control of gameplay and a scene used for the plot is played out. A good example of this is with Pac Man World 3.

Pac Man has been teleported into a sewer type place by Orson and needs to make his way out. Some of this information could be assumed but most of it was very much needed to be said in order to move the plot. Without it the user would just being playing Pac Man and have no reason in order to do that. The animation in this cutscene is very simple with shots of the sewer and Pac Man’s mouth moving while he responds to Orson. Nothing to the extreme is going on here but without it, the user would be lost and there wouldn’t be this little piece of entertainment for the the user (and a break for the user’s hands!).

A slightly different type of cutscene has its own name: pre-rendered. When a cut-scene is pre-rendered it means that it was made away from the normal gameplay animation and is usually is animation of better quality. A good example of this is a a scene from Final Fantasy X (well-known for using pre-rendered cutscenes) where the cutscene starts off as a normal cutscene, same animation and no user controls, but morphs into a pre-rendered scene by a simple cut-away.

The cutscene starts with the normal animation and a plot device (this being Yuna’s attempt to get away from Seymour and save her friends Tidus and Rikku). Yuna’s animation is staunch and seems a bit stiff (best for making user controlled graphics) but after Tidus yells “Yuna!” the scene turns into a beautiful piece of animation. Yuna’s skin looks soft, her hair flows in the wind, and the character’s faces become more smooth. The colors have become brighter and the scene seems like it has come from an animated film and not from a video game. After this piece, gameplay begins again and the user is allowed to attempt to find out where Yuna has gone.

Cutscenes are an essential to the plot of a Role-playing video game. Without them there would be not way to further the plot or bring entertainment other than constant game play to the user. It is as if the user can interact inside of a movie and that my friends, sells.

I commented on Jessica Martin’s and Chuck Soohoo’s blog.

Published in: on February 4, 2010 at 9:50 PM  Comments (1)  

Blog Post #2: Because Violence is Everywhere… Happy Tree Friends!

I believe most people remember a time when happy music and sweetly drawn animals were the focus of cartoons. Made for children, these cartoons usually had sweet little scenarios were the characters participated in harmless fun and learned a moral lesson at the end. But with the series Happy Tree Friends, created in 1999 by Rhode Montijo, Kenn Navarro, Warren Graff, and Aubrey Ankrum, it seems like one of those childhood cartoons but actually it is filled with so much violence and gore that many adults cannot bear to watch it. The series is supposed to only be for adults but because it is an internet sensation easily viewable on youtube, children everywhere are becoming engrossed in graphic violence and there is no way for their parents to protect them from it.

Each episode of Happy Tree Friends starts out with a certain forest animal doing a normal human task and ends with one or more characters dying violently by an accident.  This particular episode is called “Eyes Cold Lemonade” and as a disclaimer, if you do not like gore than you should not watch this clip.

Children should not have access to this, right? Wrong, they do. In fact, the internet has become so accessible to young people over the last ten years. Social networking sites like Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter make sharing information with friends instantly gratifying and its users are becoming younger every year. Videos, like Happy Tree Friends, have become viral because of social networking and so tons of people that are not supposed to be watching this cartoon are. In 2005 Kathrine Ellison, a Washington Post journalist, did an opinion piece on this very cartoon called, What’s Up, Doc? A Bloody Outrage, That’s What. In the piece Ellison complains about shows such as Happy Tree Friends being so easily accessible to her 6 year old son. She is even more outraged when she finds out that “…while watching the cartoon, to see banner ads for companies including Toyota and Kaiser Permanente (which has a new campaign they call “Thrive.” Thrive, indeed!).” Ellison is right to be so enraged. Even though the internet is not under censorship laws there should be some way of warning parents that there are corporately sponsored, violence filled, cartoons sitting right in front of their children’s noses.

I agree with Ellison when I say that Happy Tree Friends should not be ripped from the internet. There are people out there who enjoy such humor and know the difference between cartoons and real life. But when there are children out there who are impressionable and are internet savvy, there needs to be a way to warn parents so they can choose whether or not to block the cartoon. Youtube could make the cartoon only viewable by people with accounts aged 18 or over and another journalist could write blogs and articles about this cartoon in order to inform parents. Otherwise we are just sitting on a developmental time bomb waiting to blow. And if this bomb is anything like Happy Tree Friends, it will be bloody.

I commented on David Dinnison‘s and Brittany Alberry‘s Blog.

BLOG SPECIMEN: I edited a few mistakes and added a bit to the conclusion.

Published in: on January 30, 2010 at 5:25 PM  Comments (6)  

Blog Post #1: Because I Love Religious Studies… Veggie Tales!

I love religion. Not because I am religious personally but because the way religion effects history fascinates me. There is something beautiful in how an idea about an unseen force can move hundreds of thousands of people to do, well, anything. In particular, evangelical Christians are very close to my heart. So I present the class with Veggie Tales for my first blog post. There really is no other animation that could present evangelical views quite like Veggie Tales.

Veggie Tales is a computer animated, straight-to-VHS, television show that targets young kids and teaches them certain Christian morals. Every episode has a certain moral theme to it and the animators use human-like vegetables to convey the morals to the children. This particular short is part of a continuing segment on the show called “Silly Songs with Larry” and is called, “Love Songs with Mr. Lunt: His Cheeseburger”.

My first thought about this video was, wow, way to bring kids to God through a cute, catchy song and video. The animators have made ordinary looking vegetables into cute, lovable characters. The characters are facially animated, the voices are exaggerated, and the colors are vibrant enough to keep a five-year old entertained. Also the song is catchy and is all about getting cheeseburgers. What more could a kid want? That’s where the religion aspect enters. The song has subliminal messages about loving and being together with God.  Some of the lyrics are:

Because he loves you cheeseburger/ with all his heart/ there ain’t nothing gonna tear/ you two apart

In short, God loves you so much that nothing would tear you apart. The writers are attempting to show children that God is not only fun but that he also loves you and wants to you to love him as well. Veggie Tales really is good at proving that an Christian children show can be fun and spiritual at the same time. And besides, who doesn’t want to watch singing and dancing vegetables?

Myca Taylor

ETA: I commented on: Katherine Danoy’s Blog and Samantha Francis’s Blog.

Published in: on January 21, 2010 at 8:47 PM  Comments (6)