I finally got around to seeing Howl’s Moving Castle, which I’ve had sitting around since the Netflix came last week and with that, I have now seen all the 2005 Oscar “Best Animated Feature” nominees. All three of them.
There are spoilers here, but if you waited longer than me to see these, you deserve spoilers.
Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Wererabbit is very cute in an unexplainable stodgy British way. Much like the bow-tie wearing creators accepting their Oscar, it’s refreshingly unhip and somewhat embarrassing for the fun it seems to be having without consequence.
I love how there are echos of classic (‘30s-’50s) film genres in all the Wallace and Gromit films (Trousers: heist film, Close Shave: suspense/’Rebecca
type thriller, WereRabbit: Universal monster/horror), flavoring them, but the essential feel and nature of W&G is consistant between them. I think The Wrong Trousers, the second W&G short, is pretty much the pinnacle and neither subsequent offering comes close to its action, suspense and humor. I liked Were-Rabbit and it didn’t feel “long” despite it being a feature. I also thought it was interesting, after watching some of the bonus features, that even as it was being animated they were changing the plot and trying to figure out where it was going… there were at least 5 different endings at different points.
The downside, alas, Curse of the Were-rabbit felt a bit predictable at parts and seemed trying to “redo” bits from the shorts in a less effective way—“Hutch” the Rabbit was much less endearing than “Shawn,” the airplane chase at the Manor was very similar to scenes in A Close Shave, and Gromit looked constipated/depressed most of the film.
Howl’s Moving Castle was certainly interesting, but not nearly as engaging as Spirited Away. I’m pretty lukewarm on the Studio Ghibli output… I love their intentions but if I were to tar all of their output with an overly simplistic slam-brush I’d go for “boring.” Their plots seem to ramble along without any direction for a lot of the time. Despite the very “Japanese” mileu for Spirited Away (matsuri, public bath house, shikigami, dragon-river spirit, ) it seemed to me to have the most ‘Western’ plot structure, falling lockstep in with the model of Alice in Wonderland and Wizard of Oz.
Howl is an adaption of a British fantasy novel, which I’ve never read and know almost nothing about. I’m curious about it actually and might want to pick up a copy (but I went out and bought The Golden Compass at Strand instead… close enough). According to Wikipedia—“Roughly the first third of the plot is similar, after which the movie branches off into original territory, flavored with many of Miyazaki’s familiar themes: airships, redemption, cute non-human sidekicks.”
So, the stuff that I thought was great about the story—the plain but practical girl heroine (such a rarity in most kid flicks, save Miyazaki’s, of course) who becomes an old woman (a crone as the hero of a kid flick! Not since The Peanut Butter Solution!)—were undercut by “airships, redeption, cute non-human sidekicks.” Miyazaki also flopped the gender of the main antagonist to a woman for an unknown reason. Disney seems to do that too… the hero and villian are usually of the same gender. A lot of stuff happens that doesn’t seem to matter (Howl freaking out over his hair turning orange and then melting into green slime, the penultimate villian is vanquished and then invited to live with them for no reason as a senile invalid) and the ending just… happens.
So, I guess the pattern with my reviews is… these were OK, but go see the earlier stuff from the same people. Now, watch me throw a curveball—
The Corpse Bride was almost unwatchable. There’s a great internal balance in film-goers for Tim Burton’s output that waffles between “creative visionary” and “Hot Topic hack” and a 16 ton weight was dropped on the latter, neatly atop Ape-rham Lincoln. It goes without saying that Nightmare Before Christmas is a huge thing to follow in the frame-by-frame animated footsteps of and I fully expected Corpse Bride to be in some areas difficient—crappy story, great visuals – fine; slower pace, more mundane setting—ok; fewer songs, bad ending—I’ll suck it up.
I’m hard-pressed to find one nice thing to say about this stop-motion turkey. The character designs were awkward—buggy “shocked” eyes, tiny un-expressive mouths, unbalanced bodies. The way they moved was jerky and stiff. The background characters were poorly cribbed from the waiting room of scene of Beetlejuice. The mercifully few songs sounded like word-heavy rough-drafts of the “Oogy Boogy” number that managed neither to explain what was happening, be pleasing to the ear, or distract from the crude day-glo “dancing” that accompanied them as the film expected them to do all three simultaneously. One nice thing…. there weren’t any Smashmouth songs.
The worst offender, as is usually the case, was the writing. Aside from not being “funny” when joking, the basic thrust of the plot doesn’t make sense. Victor, a bland simp, has been arranged to marry a girl he’s never met (Victoria) but immediately after meeting her for a five word scene, he’s tricked into marrying The Corpse Bride, who he also has barely said five words to either. So, it’s a love triangle between three strangers. Why do we care?
There is also a green worm doing a bad Peter Lorre impression.