Tag Archives: Stop Motion Animation

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Directed by Wes Anderson
Produced by Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Allison Abbate &
Steven M. Rales
Written by Wes Anderson & Noah Baumbach (screenplay)
Roald Dahl (book)
Starring George Clooney
Meryl Streep
Jason Schwartzman
Bill Murray
Michael Gambon
Jarvis Cocker
Owen Wilson
Willem Dafoe
Helen McCrory
Music by Alexandre Desplat
Cinematography Tristan Oliver
Editing by Andrew Weisblum
Studio 20th Century Fox Animation
Indian Paintbrush
Regency Enterprises
American Empirical Pictures
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date November 25, 2009
Running time 87 minutes
Country United States
United Kingdom
Language English

It is difficult to watch any film, let alone an animated film, after just seeing a movie as brilliant as Toy Story 3, but as I am so fascinated in stop motion animation and because I have wanted to see this film for quite a while, so I decided to watch Fantastic Mr. Fox.

The film is OK and the stop motion animation is excellent, but it cannot compare to the emotion of the Pixar Toy Story 3. The film is an Americanized version of Road Dahl’s book, which is not as bad as it sounds as there are still some very British elements in the movie. All I can say is that it is a good but not great film.

Advertisements

Coraline

Directed by Henry Selick
Produced by Claire Jennings
Written by Henry Selick (Screenplay)
Neil Gaiman (Novel)
Starring Dakota Fanning
Teri Hatcher
Jennifer Saunders
Dawn French
Keith David
John Hodgman
Robert Bailey Jr.
Ian McShane
Music by Bruno Coulais & They Might Be Giants
Cinematography Pete Kozachik
Editing by Christopher Murrie
Studio Laika
Distributed by Focus Features & Universal Pictures International
Release date February 6, 2009
Running time 100 minutes
Country United States
Language English

I love stop motion animation. I think that it is fascinating to think that the animators are able to painstakingly pose and film lifeless puppets so that on film the look like they are real living things. It is really quite amazing and I think that I appreciate this form of animation even more than the traditional ink and cell form that was the dominant form of animation until a decade ago. (I hope that all makes sense!) 2009 saw a bit of a renaissance for stop motion animation with both Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox and this movie, Coraline, being nominated for the Academy Award for best animated film. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to see Mr. Fox, but I have seen Coraline and think that it is very good.

The film is at times a little dark and really young kids may find it a little scary. I suppose that this perhaps to be expected as it is directed by Henry Selick, who previously directed Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas and James And The Giant Peach for Disney and is based on a book by Neil Gaiman.

The plot involves Coraline, whose parents are too wrapped up in their own lives to take much notice of her. They’ve just moved to a new house where Coraline discovers a secret door to an alternate reality and her other family. This new family are just like her own but perfect, except for their button eyes. They cater to Coralline’s every whim, especially her Other Mother but things start change after Coraline wishes that she could stay with her other family forever. Upon hearing this the Other Mother states that if Coraline really wants to stay she should become just like them and allow her to sew buttons onto Coraline’s eyes. Naturally the thought of this revolts Coraline who then discovers that the Other Mother is really a monster.

The film is particularly creepy in parts, especially the character of the ‘other Wybie’, the other world’s doppelgänger of Coralline’s friend. Unlike the real Wybie the other one has had his lips sewn together so that he doesn’t speak. It is in my mind really amazing how this lifeless puppet can express so much emotion without speaking a single word. He does look as though his soul has been tortured whenever he’s on screen and expresses such a great mix of defiance and defeat that it is a great credit to the director and the puppet makers. It is here that it is easy to forget that this is a stop motion film and has not created using computer generated graphics. I can only imagine how painstaking the film-making process must have been to make the film this good.

There is but one criticism that I can level at the film and that is that the animation is not as smooth in some places as it should be. In a few scenes, mostly at the beginning of the film, the animation looks a little jerky, as if there are additional frames added to the film. I guess this was done to enhance the 3D version of the film but as I was watching the 2D version it just made the film a little jerky in places.

The DVD contains both the 2D and 3D version of the film and comes with those funky red/blue glasses that people in the 1950s used to use when watching 3D films, not the more modern Roy Orbison glasses that are used today. I still think that 3D is a gimmick and will die out unless some poindexter can invent a way to watch these films without the silly, uncomfortable glasses. It also doesn’t help when today’s cutting edge 3D filmmakers use cheap tricks like having objects fly at the camera for no reason at all  just because it is a 3D film. This sort of gimmick becomes boring after a while and is not so cutting edge, as the same thing used to be done in the 50s (House Of Wax’s scene with the spruiker batting the ball at the camera!!!). Anyway the rumour is that 3D is just a fad designed to get cinemas to update their projection equipment to digital and that in a few years it will go the same way as the first 3D era in the 1950s. I still laugh at the thought of people buying 3D TVs and hearing Gerry Harvey say that they are the way of the future. Sorry but I cannot really see people sitting around watching the TV with those ridiculous glasses on. 3D TVs will be just like those internet refrigerators that people like Gerry Harvey were predicting that we’d all have a decade ago.

After that rant all I can say is that  Coraline is a very good film and was worthy of its Academy Award nomination. It is a little scary in parts but it is very well made and enjoyable.


20 Million Miles To Earth

Directed by Nathan H. Juran
Produced by Charles H. Schneer
Written by Bob Williams & Christopher Knopf
Starring William Hopper
Joan Taylor
Frank Puglia
Cinematography Irving Lippman & Carlo Ventimiglia
Editing by Edwin Bryant
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date June 1957
Running time 82 minutes
Country United States

I must make a point of the fact that of all the movies that I have watched so far this month, 20 Million Miles To Earth is the first one that I have watched with a pen and notebook in hand to jot down anything of importance that I may want to add to this blog. For all the films that I have watched so far, I have written my thoughts after the movie has finished. Sometimes I have waited around 12 hours before putting my thoughts down.

20 Million Miles To Earth is another 1950s Sci-fi film. It features one of Ray Harryhausen’s most memorable monsters, the Ymir, although he is only referred to as the creature throughout the film. I believe that the armature (skeleton) of the Ymir was later used for another Harryhausen monster, the Cyclops from The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad.

The plot begins when a secret US rocket ship crash lands in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Sicily. They were on a return flight after a secret mission to Venus, yes, the planet Venus, when the space craft is hit by a meteorite that causes it to crash-land. The crash landing looks quite dodgy and extremely primitive from a special effects point of view. There are only two survivors of the flight as we soon find that most of the crew have succumbed to a strange disease caused by poisons in the Venusian atmosphere. Soon after the crash, one of the survivors also dies of the fatal disease.

After the ship crash a canister that the astronauts collected from Venus ends up washed onto the shore, where it is found by the young and annoying Pepe. Inside the canister Pepe discovers some ectoplasm containing something or other. Naturally he sells it to Zoologist Dr. Leonardo. The thing inside the ectoplasm soon hatches and it is the lizard-like Ymir. At first he is quite small but ugly, but he grows rapidly and before long is wrecking havoc throughout the Sicilian countryside. He is eventually captured and taken to Rome where he escapes, attacks an elephant, runs amok and then finally climbs the Coliseum in what was homage to the original monster movie, King Kong. He is finally brought down by modern weapons of war.

This is a fun little movie and quite enjoyable. Most of the stop-motion animation is first-rate although it is not as polished as some of Harryhausen’s later work. Some scenes such as the rocket ship crash look very awkward, while the scene of the battle royal between Ymir and Jumbo the elephant also seems a bit primitive and fake. Perhaps it is because there a too many switches of shots between the live-action and animated elephant and it is very easy to identify which is which. Still, if you can overlook this you will find 20 Million Miles To Earth a very enjoyable film to watch.

20 Million Miles To Earth is a part of the Ray Harryhausen Gift Set with It Came From Beneath The Sea and Earth Vs The Flying Saucers. The special gift set featuring a Ymir figure is available from Amazon for $69.49. You can purchase it by clicking here…

If you just want the Gift Set with 20 Million Miles To Earth, It Came From Beneath The Sea and Earth Vs The Flying Saucers and a book but without the Ymir figure, it can be purchased from Amazon for $44.99. You can purchase it by clicking here…

20 Million Miles To Earth is also a part of the Fantastic Films of Ray Harryhausen – Legendary Science Fiction Series DVD box set with It Came From Beneath The Sea, Earth Vs The Flying Saucers Mysterious Island and H.G. Wells’ First Men In The Moon. It can be purchased from Amazon for $43.49 by clicking here…

Buy the 50th Anniversary edition of 20 Million Miles To Earth on DVD or Blu Ray from Amazon by clicking here…

Please note that this is a region 1 release that requires a region free DVD or Blu Ray player to be viewed outside North America.


The Puppetoon Movie

Directed by Arnold Leibovit
Produced by Arnold Leibovit
Written by Arnold Leibovit
Starring Dick Beals, Art Clokey, Paul Frees, Victor Jory, Dal Mckennon
Release date(s) June 12, 1987
Running time 90 minutes

Tubby The Tuba

I bought this a while ago and it has become a DVD that I have come to cherish. The Puppetoon Movie was released in 1987 as a tribute and retrospective to stop-motion pioneer George Pal. Pal was responsible not only for the Puppetoons, but also for assisting another young stop-motion animator, Ray Harryhausen, who would soon make his own mark on the film world. After he was finished with the Puppetoons George Pal then went on to producing a number of hit live action films, such as War Of The Worlds and The Time Machine, for which he also created the special effects.

The Puppetoon movie features eleven of the Puppetoon short animated films from the 1930s and 40s. The film is hosted by Art Clokey’s little green clay man Gumby, and his pals Pokey and Arnie the Dinosaur. Arnie explains to Gumby the significance of George Pal and the Puppetoons to stop-motion characters like himself, and then shows Gumby some of the Puppetoons.

Eleven of the Puppetoon animated films are shown in all, but the first four of these, The Little Broadcast and The Big Broadcast of 1938,  Hoola Boola and South Sea Sweethearts and only shown in part.

My favourite Puppetoons are John Henry and the Inky Poo, which retells the African-American folk tale of how railway worker John Henry beat the Inky Poo (a railway track laying machine) in a competition to see which was more efficient at laying railway tracks, but died of exhaustion at the end, and Tubby The Tuba, which tells the story of a Tuba who longs to be able to play a melody rather than just going oompah, oompah. (My explanation doesn’t really do justice to  these films.)

Puppetoons included in the movie are:

1 – The Little Broadcast/The Phillips Broadcast of 1938
2 – Hoola Boola/South Sea Sweethearts
3 – The Sleeping Beauty
4 – Tulips Shall Grow
5 – Together In The Weather
6 – John Henry and the Inky-Poo
7 – Phillips Cavalcade
8 – Jasper In A Jam
9 – Tubby the Tuba

Included with the DVD are 12 bonus cartoons which are all a joy to watch.

They are:
1 – What Ho She Bumps
2 – Mr. Strauss Takes A Walk
3 – Olio For Jasper
4 – Phillips Cavalcade (full film)
5 – Jasper’s Derby
6 – Hoola Boola (full film)
7 – Ether Symphony
8 – Aladdin and His Magical Lamp
9 – The Magic Atlas
10 – Jasper and the Haunted House
11 – The Phillips Broadcast of 1938 (full film)
12 – The Ship of Ether

Hopefully there will be a second Puppetoon DVD soon, as I would like to see some more of these wonderful films, including the two Oscar nominated adaptations that George Pal made of Dr. Seuss stories. These are great pieces of entertainment and it’s is fascinating to see the infancy of stop-motion animation. With the renewed interest in this art form thanks to the likes of  Fantastic Mr. Fox and Coraline we can only hope that Arnold Leibovit and Paramount can see fit to release more of these great films that served as inspiration to today’s stop motion animators,  onto DVD where everyone has the ability to see them.


The 7th Voyage of Sinbad

Directed by Nathan H. Juran
Produced by Charles H. Schneer & Ray Harryhausen
Starring
Kerwin Mathews
Torin Thatcher
Kathryn Grant
Richard Eyer
Alec Mango
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date December 23, 1958
Running time 88 min.

The Cyclops

I originally bought the DVD of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad back in September 2008 but had not gotten around to watching it until today. I primarily bought the DVD because I had heard so much about the special effects of the legendary stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen and I wanted to see just how good they were for myself. I am also a great fan of stop-motion animation and I wanted to see just how Harryhausen’s work compared to that of his mentors Willis O’Brien and George Pal, as well as modern stop motion animation by the likes of directors Tim Burton and Wes Anderson. I was not disappointed as the stop-motion in Sinbad is great.

The film’s plot involves the legendary Sinbad, who is on his way to Baghdad with his fiance Princess Parisa. On the way there they discover the mythical island of Colussa where they see the incredible sight of the magician Sokurah fleeing from a giant one-eyed cyclops. When the cyclops turns on Sinbad and his men Sokurah rubs his magic lamp and orders the genie to create a barrier between Sinbad and the giant monster. However whilst fleeing the cyclops Sokurah loses the lamp which is subsequently picked up by our one-eyed friend. The magician tries to get brave Sinbad to return to the island, but the legendary sailor doesn’t want to put the lives of his crew at risk for such a folly.

Whilst in Baghdad Sokurah once again tries to convince Sinbad to return to Colossa. Even the Caliph of Baghdad, who is Parisa’s father, feels that if Sinbad agreed to Sokurah’s wishes it would spell disaster, even after the magician amazes the court by conjuring up a snake-woman. The only way that Sakurah can convince Sinbad and the Caliph to the trip is by shrinking the lovely Parisa to the size of a doll with an evil spell. He tells Sinbad that the only way to reverse the spell is with the shell of the egg of the two-headed Roc, which naturally enough only resides on Colossa. Sinbad has no choice and agrees to this, travelling with a crew made up of his bravest men as well as some of  the most desperate convicts from Baghdad’s prison. The convicts mutiny but are repelled when they are driven insane by screaming demons before finally reaching Colossa.

Once Sinbad and his crew finally reach Colossa they once again encounter the cyclops, who takes them prisoner. Whilst ol’ one eye is cooking one of Sinbad’s men on a spit, the beast is distracted by Sokurah, who had earlier split off from Sinbad and had snuck into the cyclops’ cave to look for the missing genie’s lamp. When the cyclops goes to investigate the tiny Parisa slips between the bars and unlatches the cage that has imprisoned Sinbad and his men. The cyclops is blinded after Sinbad pokes him in the eye with a spear, before it is tricked into walking off a cliff.

Sinbad takes possession of the lamp but does not know how to use it. Princess Parisa enters the lamp and finds a very unhappy boy genie who tells her the secret words to summon him, but only on the condition that she try to free him from his bondage.

The party finally reach the roc’s nest and Sinbad takes the part of the egg-shell he needs to break the magician’s spell. His starving men decide to quell their hunger by killing and eating the roc chick that emerges from an egg, which inevitably infuriates the bird’s mother who attack the men and takes Sinbad to her nest. In the confusion Sokurah kills Sinbad’s faithful men and abducts the Princess, taking her to his underground fortress. Sinbad follows, slipping past the dragon chained to quard the entrance. Sokurah finally transforms Parisa back to her normal size, in return for the magical lamp. However once he has possession of the lamp he reneges on his deal and brings a sword wielding skeleton to life to fight Sinbad. Sinbad defeats the skeleton in a very exciting sword fight before he and Parisa flee the underground lair. As they cross over a river of molten lava, Parisa recalls part of the prophesy the genie told her about. She persuades Sinbad to throw the lamp into the lava, freeing the genie from his slavery.

As Sinbad attempts to leave the cave he sees another cyclops blocking the exit. He releases the dragon to kill the cyclops but Sokurah then orders the fire-breather to attack the hero. Sinbad and his crew use the giant crossbow that they had built to slay the dragon, which kills the evil magician when it falls on Sokurah. Sinbad, Parisa and what is left of Sinbad’s crew depart but they soon find that the genie has been freed from his bondage to the magic lamp, as he is now Sinbad’s new cabin boy.

I must say that this was a film that I enjoyed watching a great deal. The stop motion animation may be quaint when compared to today’s CGI creations, but I appreciate the huge effort that Harryhausen put into not only building his fantastic creations, but for meticulous attention to detail he must have needed when animating each sequence. Apparently it took Ray a total of 11 months to finish all of his animation work on this movie. Whilst some of it does look a bit dodgy now, especially the scenes of Parisa where her size seems to change a bit, this was state of the art special effects in the late 1950s. I especially like the giant cyclops as well as the sword fight between Sinbad and the skeleton, which became a sort of Harryhausen trademark. Some of the acting is a bit wooden, in that cheesy 1950s way, but overall I think that The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad is a great movie suitable for everyone who loves adventure and imagination.