I never saw Oliver and Company when I was a kid but I remember seeing the trailer for it whenever we watched a Disney film on VHS. Every time I saw it I wanted to watch it but it never happened. Probably because I’d get too distracted by whatever Disney film I was going to watch. It always looked really fun and, as someone who loved dogs, I was obviously into the idea of Oliver Twist being remade with animals. I mean if The Lion King has taught us anything it’s that taking a piece of great literature and retelling it with animals is a great strategy for storytelling. I mean who’d even heard of Hamlet before Disney introduced us to Simba, right? Plus, there is a whole host of Disney films that prove that dogs and/or cats having adventures together is an instant winner. I’m not a big fan of Dickens anyway so I couldn’t imagine how it could get any worse by involving household pets.
- Classic gothic fiction – where to start?
In my new series of, hopefully, helpful bookish posts, I wrote a handy guide to early gothic fiction. I’ve encountered a few people over the years wondering where to start or having trouble getting into The Mysteries of Udolpho. I use my years studying these novels to suggest a way into these novels.
- Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
- And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
- Vintage Penguins
Another week and another batch of new, old books. This time I’ve found the classic Penguin copy of The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, the iconic Milton Glaser cover of Run, Rabbit Run by John Updike, and, finally, a rare (ish) edition of Island by Aldous Huxley. They’re all gorgeous and I can’t wait to see them in person.
- Netflix Binges: Rick and Morty, BoJack Horseman
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
I watched this for the first time in years for my latest TBT review. Find out what memories it brought up in my review here.
I’ve just got back from a weekend spent at a music festival and, despite really wanting to sleep, I’m finishing off my rundown. Because I’m all about the schedule. It was a three day event that I went to with my sister and her husband. Instead of having to camp I was able to stay at their house near the festival ground. I’ve been to a few festivals over the years and, whilst I don’t hate camping per se, I’ve never been able to sleep in the din of the campsite. Plus, brushing my teeth in front of strangers is never a great thing. So being able to sleep in a proper bed and shower and stuff was a massive plus point. The festival itself was great. I can’t complain about the music, despite not knowing many bands that were playing. And it was one of the nicer grounds I’ve been to. There were plenty of people complaining about the portaloos but really I’m happy if there’s toilet roll, hand sanitiser and no naked strangers when I walk into a festival toilet. But I’ve always been fairly easy to please.
- One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus
- Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
- The 7th Function of Language by Laurent Binet
- How Not To Be a Boy by Robert Webb
I was doing really well this week and not buying books. Then I went on Facebook and somebody reminded me that comedian Robert Webb’s memoir, that also tackles the subject gender stereotyping, was out. I have loved Robert Webb since I first watched him and his comedy parnter, David Mitchell, in Peep Show. I think he’s a great man and have always loved his writing for The Guardian. So I was excited to read this anyway but the added bonus of exploring gender norms just pushed this over the edge. I can’t wait to get this.
- Netflix Binges: Modern Family
Was anyone really crying out for a spin-off Minions movie? I mean anyone other than the film studio who saw another way to wheedle more cash out of poor parents. The tiny yellow creatures were the breakaway starts of the first 2 Despicable Me films so it was decided that they would be given their own film. Cut to months and months of the bloody things turning up on everything. It was a relentless campaign and I ended up feeling like Tippi Hedren in that playground scene of The Birds. Hell, it was only a matter of time before they got their own fucking Tic-Tacs. As I mentioned more than once on Tuesday, I’ve never been a fan and don’t really understand how anyone can find them anything but irritating. However, I do know a fair few people who adore them. My brother-in-law is something of a fan and I willingly added to his obsession by buying him a Minion dressing gown one Christmas. Then there’s a friend that I used to work with who I respect in every sense bar her feelings for these tiny yellow knobs. I don’t get it. As a lover of all things dungarees, I appreciate their fashion sense but that’s about all I can stomach. Their made up language is hardly something that makes me chuckle and I’ve long since passed the age when I find fart jokes and repeatedly saying the word “banana” to be amusing. Then again, I’m not really the kind of person that this film was targeting.
I would have been perfectly happy to have never seen the Minions movie. Despite enjoying Despicable Me and not hating its sequel, I had no interest in the origin story of Gru’s tiny henchmen or having them onscreen for an entire film. It wasn’t the most obvious spin-off as the minions only speak in their own, annoying language and are, essentially, just a series of pratfalls. I really didn’t see how they could sustain a feature film on their own. As I sat down, I was ready to hate every second of what was to come. However, I was shocked to find that I enjoyed the opening sequence. It provides a brief history of the Minion’s search to find a boss and the difficulty they have in holding on to one. Their only stipulation is that they be the most despicable creature around. This means that anyone goes and we see them move from a Tyrannosaurus Rex to Dracula and onto Napoleon in the fantastic opening sequence. It really is the greatest part of the film.
Unfortunately, the film then continues and somebody attempts to place the Minions within a narrative instead of continuing the sequence of tiny skits. Whilst the majority of the group hide in a cave in the Arctic, three of their party (Kevin, Stuart and Bob) head out into the real world to find a new boss. Their journey takes them to New York then to a super villain convention in Orlando and, finally, heading to London. At the convention they meet the rising star Scarlett Overkill (Sandra Bullock) and she hires them to be her henchmen. Their first mission? To steal the crown from Queen of England. The end result? Bob getting crowned as King. It’s all very silly and not always successful but there are humourous moments to be found here. It’s just that it all gets super old really quickly.
There just isn’t enough substance to the usual Minion shtick to carry through a whole feature film. There was a reason they were seen so sporadically in the previous 2 Despicable Me films. There is only so much content that comes from them giggling about nonsense and getting into ridiculous scrapes. This is why they quickly find themselves attached to a super villain so there is a human presence to drive the action. Unfortunately, there is nothing about this plot that really appeals. The characters feel flat and the dialogue is all terrible. It says something when I’d rather hear more of the Minion gibberish than any of the bullshit being spoken by the people.
It isn’t terrible and will no doubt have appealed to all of the young fans of the franchise. It is packed full of sight gags and call backs but, for an older audience, there just isn’t anything about this film that justifies it being made. I wish I could go back in time and talk myself out of watching it.
Let’s get one thing straight, I, like every other sensible adult human being, fucking hate the minions. I’m so sick of seeing those tiny yellow pricks all over the place again now that the fourth film in this movie franchise has been released. Not content with giving them their own film, the annoying little creatures are back with their master in Despicable Me 3. It’s a bit insane that a random animation from 2010 has cultivated so many follow-ups but here we are. I had originally planned on seeing this film with a friend from work but, before we could, she cruelly left me for a better job. So, instead, I had to watch it without her… which is a shame because she was definitely more excited about the whole thing that I was. If I’d seen it with her I might have gone in with higher expectations or, at least, without an underlying sense of dread. I didn’t hate the sequel to Despicable Me but there were moments when it seemed unnecessary and not very well thought out. So I really doubted that a third film would be much of an improvement. However, in my review of Despicable Me 2 back in 2013 (god I’ve been writing this nonsense for a long time haven’t I!?), I decided it was Gru’s lack of villainy that made it fall so short. The trailers have suggested that he is rethinking his moral life so maybe my prayers have been answered?
At the end of Despicable Me wannabe super villain Gru (Steve Carell) had found himself the adopted father of three young girls. After Despicable Me 2 he added a new wife (Kristen Wiig) to the equation. The question on everybody’s lips was “who would Gru acquire in number 3?” Turns out it’s an identical twin brother. Possibly in an attempt to save on wages by making Steve Carell work twice as hard or to save the animators the job of having to create a new character. Who knows? Still, Gru is shocked to discover that his mother has hidden his sibling, Dru, from him all this time. The discovery couldn’t come at a better time for Gru who, at the time he is approached by Dru’s butler, has just been fired from his job with the Anti-Villain League. He has very little time to process this personal upheaval before he is whisked off to his brother’s fancy mansion in Freedonia. Turns out the father he never really knew was actually a super villain and Dru is keen to keep up the family tradition. But, to do so, he needs his brother’s help.
After finally settling into a happy life of crime fighting, can Gru really just get back into villainy? Well, quite possibly considering the humiliating defeat that sees him chucked out of the AVL. Is there really any other response to being beaten by an ex-80s child star than resmuing your life of crime? Yep, 80s throwback Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker) has repeatedly outwitted the AVL and, after Gru allows him to escape yet again he and Lucy are forced out. Leaving Bratt to carry out his plan to steal the world’s biggest diamond whilst listening to classic 80s music. Will Gru take the righteous path and hep stop Bratt or will he embrace the life Dru is pushing him towards?
Then there’s a lot of shitty stuff about Lucy trying to come to terms with being a mother and some more adorable moments of their youngest daughter Agnes being super cute. In terms of narrative, Despicable Me 3 is kind of mixed bag. Lucy gets incredibly short-shrift and I find it hard to see why Kristen Wiig would have agreed to this bullshit. It’s the kind of sentimental and cliched “am I a good mother?” shit that you seen in every terrible sitcom or soap opera at some point. It’s clearly the worst part of the film but just won’t stop. There are some great moments to be had, obviously, and Balthazar Bratt is a far superior nemesis to the previous film’s. His 80s references will keep parents entertained whilst children will just enjoy his over-the-top silliness. He’s the perfect foil to Gru and his insane gadgets are like something James Bond’s Q would come up with if he started creating whilst he was in a drunken haze of 80s nostalgia.
The Gru/Dru storyline doesn’t always work but there are some humorous moments to be had. Dru is even less successful than his brother and there is some fun to be had with their bickering dynamic. It kind of grows old after a while and the chemistry doesn’t always fly. If I thought the emotional struggle in the second film was weak then this is even more of a damp squib. But, as with the previous film, none of that matters at all in the long run. Despicable Me 3 is a film intended to amuse little people; by which I mean children and not someone of diminutive stature but that’s not to say short people can’t be amused by it. Anyway, this is a film that’s main purpose is making children laugh and, when it comes down to it, it never pulls any punches. Every spare second is crammed full of jokes that it doesn’t really matter if not all of them land as well as they should. The target audience isn’t even going to notice.
Especially when the screen is constantly being filled with those irritating yellow tic-tacs every 5 minutes or so. That’s all that really matters, right? Despicable Me 3 is the worst of the 3 films, as it probably should be, but that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to find joy within its running time. There is still enough life in Gru that audiences can’t help but want him to succeed and, more importantly, keep coming back to the cinema to watch him try.
Sometimes I hate this blog, specifically the TBT feature. It forces me to remember how quickly time is passing. I remember seeing Shrek Forever After with my friends from University and, it turns out, that was about 7 years ago. It feels like yesterday. I came to re-watch this after finding it on Netflix recently and having no clue what to write for today. I try to link my Tuesday review with my Thursday one but I was finding a companion for The Best of Adam Sharp a bit of a pain. I think the fourth Shrek film works though: instead of a man looking back on his life and imagining “what if?” it’s an ogre. It was also a rather easy thing to watch when I got home from work yesterday. It’d been a hellish day and all I was really capable of was watching a short film intended for children. Although, I do quite like this series of films. The first one is really good and came up with an interesting twist on the classic Disney fairy tale romance. The second film was equally fabulous. Then there was the third film, which super sucked. There’s always something funny to be found though. So, it wasn’t the worst film I could sit down to watch for your benefit I suppose.
Animated movie sequels have traditionally had a bit of a tough time reaching up to the potential of the original film. I mean look at all of Disney’s straight to VHS sequels to its most popular films. Yes, you love The Lion King but its sequel? Didn’t think so. When it came to Shrek it succeeded with Shrek 2, which was a funny and enjoyable romp with a great cast. It was the all-singing, all-dancing film that had Shrek trying to outwit and the evil Fairy Godmother. It was great. I randomly went to see it with friends despite having never seen the first one so it’s sort of become my favourite. Of course, no matter how good the second one was it was unlikely that it could continue. And it didn’t. The third film was utterly abysmal and unnecessary. So, the announcement of a fourth was hardly something to get excited about.
Although, they try to rewrite history to keep things fresh. What we have is basically It’s a Wonderful Life but with an Ogre instead of Jimmy Stewart. Brilliant! After a going through a fair few adventures, Shrek and Fiona have settled into family life with their triplet Ogre children. They are still friends with Donkey, Dragon and their weird hybrid kids. Although, reaching middle age, Shrek is starting to regret how far removed he has become from the Ogre he used to be. No longer the scary monster people were so keen to destroy, he is finding it difficult to adjust to life as a celebrity. So, he makes a deal with a super sketchy guy to have one day as the man he once was. Obviously, of course, there are some pretty dire consequences.
Those consequences create a universe in which Shrek was never born so all of your favourite characters now live a terrible life. Fiona is still cursed, Donkey is still enslaved, Puss is a fat house-cat, Gingey is a cage fighter. Yes, it doesn’t all make sense but it’s fine. As long as someone out there laughs who cares if anything makes sense. You see, the obviously creepy guy was Rumpelstiltskin who has been trying to take over Far Far Away since way before Shrek saved Fiona in the tower. He blames Shrek and plans to trick him out of a day of his life: the day he was born. Then the shit hits the fan and Shrek spends the rest of the film trying to get Fiona to fall back in love with him before it’s too late.
Shrek Forever After is a fairly interesting concept but it lacks so much of what made the original film so good. Shrek came out in 2001 and was, in a way revolutionary. It was taking the piss out of Disney and it’s well-know animated films. Taking pot-shots and being slightly risque whilst still being child-friendly. Shrek Forever After is just a desperate attempt to get back to some of that with constant references to that earlier film. I mean it’s better than the third film but that’s the least amount of comfort we can take from it. There is some heart and emotion here but it’s all taking too much from the first film and offering little of it’s own. The villain is an obvious link to Lord Farquaad but is not developed enough to make him worth fearing or hating too much. This is one of those films that mostly serves up in-jokes and easy nostalgia without taking too many risks. It’s not the worst in the series but, as the last film, it needed to be better.
I went to the cinema with a friend today and she happened to mention that she’d just seen the remake of Beauty and the Beast. When I asked her what she thought about it her answer was “I really liked it because it’s exactly the same.” Anyone who has read my review from Tuesday will know that, whilst I didn’t hate the film, I didn’t exactly feel blown away by the new film. Especially after we’d been promised such great things by its director, Bill Condon, and its star, Emma Watson. My issue with the film is exactly the reason that people love it so much. The reviews have been great because it is exactly the same as the film they love. The film took no risks and added nothing new to the narrative, except for a wife for Cogsworth and a husband for Mrs Potts. There’s been great feedback from audiences but it’s mostly because it just reminds them how good the original film is. It feels like cheating. Why would you want to watch an imitation when you can still watch the real thing? It’s like tribute bands to real bands that are still touring. Yeah, it’s fine in a pinch but you’d much rather see the real deal. So, for TBT this week, I did.
Beauty and the Beast is getting older now. It’s only 3 years younger than I am and I’m fucking old. However, saying that it’s old does not mean that it is in anyway inferior. You can tell that isn’t because the updated film is almost a shot-for-shot remake of the original animated film. Of course, for all of the nostalgic warmth that Emma Watson and co. may have been able to drum up, there can be no substitute for the real thing. No matter how dodgy the story at the heart of it is deep down. I mean, I know that Coke is really bad for me because of the sugar but that doesn’t mean I’m going to start drinking Diet Coke with it’s shitty tasting sweeteners, does it. There is so much charm within the ’90s animation that just couldn’t be replicated with a cavalcade of CGI household objects.
There’s a reason that Beauty and the Beast was the first animated film to be nominated for an Oscar. It’s possible it could be because 1991 was a shitty year for films but, looking at the evidence, it’s more likely that it was because Beauty and the Beast is a fucking great film. It’s a triumph of animation, voice acting, and soundtrack. Everything comes together perfectly to create a truly magical experience that helped strengthen a new era in terms of Disney’s movies. Emma Watson may be desperately trying to convince us that her version of Belle is a super feminist but, the fact is, Belle kind of broke the Princess mould back in ’91. Yes, the story is all about love but Belle doesn’t spend all of her time mooning over a guy. She craves adventure and bravely steps into dangerous situations to save her family. She’s intelligent, creative and wants to make something of herself. She’s always been inspirational.
But, let’s be honest, the story itself isn’t what made this film so memorable. It’s a story about a girl meeting a guy and the story of how they fall in love. Just like every other Disney film. This film holds up because it is so incredibly well made. When we look back now and remember that, in another timeline, Beauty and the Beast could have been made as a non-musical it seems insane. The soundtrack, created by lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken, is pretty flawless. The compositions are rich and memorable, whilst the lyrics are funny, emotional and really clever. It helps that the voice actors give such solid performances. Angela Lansbury’s version of the title song can not be surpassed for the understated simplicity that makes is so romantic. I love Emma Thompson but she lacked something the ’91 version had oodles of.
It’s one of the reasons that ballroom scene is such an iconic moment in film history. The grandness of the animation next to Angela Lansbury’s almost timid performance is quite spectacular. To be honest, the song didn’t need to be something too extravagant because the visuals were so impressive. This was the first Disney film that used any digital assistance in its creation and it remains an impressive feat even to this day. The details on Belle’s dress as she twirls round the ballroom is still some of the best animation I’ve ever seen. The world of Beauty and the Beast is a classic cartooony Disney world but it was a revolutionary step into their golden age. This was film made by the best people that could be found and it has stood the test of time. Call me cynical or biased but it’s not something I expect to be saying about the latest version in 26 years time.
Let’s be honest, Batman has something of a chequered history when it comes to live action adaptations of the comic book character. Aside from the supremely cheese but colourful television show of the 1960s and the best forgotten Joel Schumacher films of the late 90s, the Dark Knight has provided something of a literal interpretation. The films created by Tim Burton, Christopher Nolan and, Zack Synder are all part of that super cool, edgy and moody brand of superhero film. Batman has long since shed the image of his cartoony caper when Adam West was the man behind the cowl and has transformed himself into an angsty longer who most probably listens to MCR and muttering about people just don’t “get him”. So, when Lego Batman, voiced by the supremely funny Will Arnett, became the breakout star of the 2014 The Lego Movie nobody was sure how his solo outing would fit within Batman’s canon. Especially cause, as we know from the past, comic book fans are massive dicks about this kind of thing. A colourful, family friendly and comedy filled story is hardly on a even playing field with the politically heavy and mature narratives on display in Nolan’s trilogy. After all, the sillier that Batman became the more his fans complain. I mean are we still not ready to admit that there is something so gleefully bad about Batman and Robin that we kind of don’t completely hate it? No? Okay then.
I was excited about Lego Batman and I could never understand the people I met who weren’t. The signs were all there that it could end up being magnificent. The Lego Movie was great, Will Arnett is always super funny and Lego leads to so many possibilities. Like all the other Lego video games I’ve played over the years, the Lego Batman one were full of in-jokes and silliness that made my heart leap. The only thing that could go wrong are the fans. As we’ve seen before, there are certain Batman fans out there that take their shit very seriously. They don’t like the idea of someone taking the caped crusader and making a mockery out of him. Which, when you think about it, is kind of silly considering what he’s put himself through over the years. He is an ageing billionaire who dresses up at night and plays with expensive toys in the streets of Gotham. If that doesn’t deserve even some gentle ribbing then I don’t know what does.
And Lego Batman is full of references to the character’s past. There are multiple references to the comics as well as each film adaptation and the, now, infamous television series. We see flashbacks to previous costumes and mentions of iconic moments. We are in no doubt that this is supposed to be the same characters who, as he points out himself, has aged remarkably well since his first appearance. There will be people who will fan this continual fan service annoying and will become irritated by the endless in-jokes and self-parody. I, however, have always been one of those people that loves it when these Easter Eggs appear.
Of course, none of this means that Lego Batman doesn’t know who it’s main audience is. There are plenty of jokes for the older members of the audience who remember where Batman has come from. However, it is, at its heart, is a children’s film. It is filled with the same sort of action and adventure that the first one offered and it hammers home its major theme with exuberant force. That moral being “it’s better to face things together than alone”. After all, Batman is the solo hero who never plays well with others and avoids significant relationships. There is a beautiful moment, after he has once again saved Gotham, where Bruce Wayne sits alone in his mansion eating Lobster and watching Jerry Maguire. He doesn’t celebrate with her super-friends but microwaves his dinner and reminisces about his dead parents. He’s sad, wounded but has too great an ego to realise it.
Until he finds himself unwillingly taking on partners. When Commissioner Jim Gordon retires at the start of the film his daughter Barbara (Rosario Dawson) offers the masked vigilante a chance to work with the police instead of against them. He, unsurprisingly ignores this offer and, when his nemesis the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) hands himself and his evil colleagues over to the police, Batman, against Barbara’s better judgement, decides it is time to rid the world of Mr J once and for all. When sending him to the Phantom Zone only results in the escape of every famous villain of film, television and literature Batman must finally accept help to get things back to normal.
All the while Bruce must come to terms with his issues with family when he accidentally adopts an orphaned boy, Dick Grayson (Michael Cera). Alfred (Ralph Fiennes), his father figure and butler, thinks it will help him to accept the boy but Batman just uses him in the same way the Lego Star Wars games used young Anakin: to get into small spaces. The back and forth between Batman and Robin is fantastic and their relationship is a perfect melding of both sides of the coin. We have a sidekick who is straight out of the 60s TV show and a brooding hero that has more in common with Christian Bale than Adam West.
There are moments when Lego Batman loses its grip slightly and some jokes that just don’t land properly. There is an awful lot going on and a huge range of characters to contend with. A usual criticism of super hero movies is the final act when the big bad is suddenly joined by more big bads to up the tension. Here, we see every possible bad buy stepping forward to cause chaos and, whilst the end results is exciting as fuck, it proves to be a tricky thing to pull off. It doesn’t quite work on a visual basis and there are perhaps one too many irons in the fire. However, I feel as though it’s worth it for Eddie Izzard’s Lord Voldemort and Jermaine Clement’s Sauron. The final action piece is another of those moments that has so much fan-service to contend with that the story gets lost a little. It could have done with some refining.
Watching Lego Batman is not the same as watching The Lego Movie. But it’s not supposed to be. This isn’t a sequel and it has dropped several of the themes that made the previous film so refreshing and original. It is, instead, a celebration of an iconic character using the same beautiful animation and propensity for fun that it’s predecessor was so loved for. This is a Batman film like we’ve not see before. In a sea of endless bleakness where Bruce Wayne is concerned, this film puts him back in the fun zone and shows us that superheroes don’t need to take themselves so seriously, Who else but Will Arnett could get away with rapping his way to victory? Not Christian Bale that’s for sure. Unlike everything we’ve been programmed to believe, Lego Batman shows us, once and for all, that silliness is best and being broody and dark is not the best way to achieve anything. Wouldn’t you rather microwave Lobster for four instead of one? This isn’t the Batman we know but he is the one we deserve. And, after the abysmal Batman vs Superman, he’s also the one we desperately need right now.
Way back on New Year’s Eve 2016 I posted my list of most anticipated novels of 2017. On them was this debut novel by Kayla Rae Whitaker about two female friends and business partners. It sounded amazing and the reviews suggested it was something to pay attention to. I bought it not long after it’s release at the end of January but didn’t actually start reading it until well into February. At first I sailed through it and couldn’t get enough. I was on holiday so had time to indulge myself and read chapters at a time without any real worries. However, those of you paying attention to my recent That’s What She Read rundowns will know that it took me a long time to finish the novel. The last few chapters just took me ages to get through but I’m happy to say that I finally got to the end last week. It was a great day and I can now get on to one of the many other books that have been piling up for weeks. As I have not watched anything new this week and because I haven’t done a good old fashioned book reviews in ages, today’s review is going to be a rather terrible overview of this book. Apologies in advance.
The Animators is a novel that is concerned with relationships; or at least with one specific relationship. It tracks the first meeting of Sharon Kisses and Mel Vaught and follows their journey from art school students to the creators of a surprise hit film and beyond. Sharon and Mel are both from the rural south and have difficult family histories. They also both share an intense passion for weird and trippy cartoons, having spent their childhoods escaping reality in front of their television screens. As we have so often seen before, their pain is channelled into a more creative stream as they discover a love of drawing. After meeting in class, the two women form an intense friendship and, thanks to their combined talent and compatible personality traits, form an unstoppable working partnership. Mel is the front woman; the showman who gets the ideas started, enjoys the party and flakes out on the responsibilities. She is the fun loving one who would rather spend her nights combining drugs, alcohol and loose women than preparing for panel talks or interviews. Sharon is the sensible one who worries about things and tries desperately to get her friend to stick to the schedule.
Skipping over their formative years, we catch up with the pair as their first feature length animation, based on Mel’s childhood years, has become a smash hit and everyone wants a piece of them. Everything looks set in place for the duo to become stars until a series of personal tragedies befall both women and they find their relationship challenged to breaking point. Although, somewhere within the chaos comes the inspiration for their next project. When Sharon remembers a childhood trauma that had long stayed hidden, Mel pushes her to confront her demons and examine herself and the choices she has made. The novel asks the questions ‘how can you move past a harrowing experience before you possess the maturity to understand and process it? Sharon begins to understand that for much of her life she has been running from the darkness she uncovered as a child and, using her creativity, plans to find the light in amongst it all.
Depsite taking me a fucking age to finish, The Animators is a really well written book. Whitaker has a great ability to write realistic and readable dialogue and she has created a beautiful friendship between two complex and interesting women. She takes an idea that has been used before (the road to fame and the inevitable soul searching that comes with it) but gives it a new spin by filling it with damaged and recognisable women. The characters of Mel and Sharon are both perfect. It offers a genuine dynamic between two modern women where neither are forced to live up to the expected ideals of femininity. The two women are comfortable around each other in a way that you don’t often seen represented accurately. It is a tender but difficult relationship that, as a reader, you can’t help but adore and worry about.
However, there are some aspects of Whitaker’s novel that highlight the naivety as a debut novelist. There is a lot going on in this novel and the author attempts to deal with a variety of issues. Quite frankly, she tries to do too much and doesn’t quite pull it off. Motifs and messages are repeated several times so you kind of feel as though you’re being beaten around the head with the moral of the tale. Sometimes things start to feel disconnected and subplots are given greater focus than they deserve. Just when you think everything has been thrown at this book already, the writer comes back with something new. There are times when the pace drags and it becomes something of a slog. It is a testament to Whitaker’s writing that you want to carry on regardless. It’s not a problem but an age old trap that so many first time novels fall into. Whitaker’s story just about has the strength to pull itself out before the narrative comes to an end.
My major gripe for this novel, however, is the constant need to describe sequences of animation in great detail. I understand that the art in question plays a key role in the story and the lives of the characters. However, there is something discomforting and unappealing about reading vast descriptions explaining what’s going on in both real and imagined animated films. I understand that Whitaker (as well as her two protagonists) are both animation nerds but it felt kind of unnecessary to share an encyclopaedic knowledge of the history of cartoons. That’s almost a Simon Pegg level of showing off.
Still, I really enjoyed The Animators. It was a great read by a new writer. It was a confident, funny and intelligent debut that has only made me excited to read more by Whitaker in the future. To say that it had flaws is not a problem. If trying too hard and being too eager to please is something to get worked up about then there is something wrong with us. I mean really, if you edited down some of the middle section to make it a little less indulgent then I’d definitely be more than happy.
I feel like I’ve had a rough day at work. I can tell because, somehow, it’s 21:30 and I’ve just woken up with no idea where the time went. I think it’s because I had last weekend off so I forgot what it’s like. Still, I am writing this feel a sense of accomplishment because I’ve finally finished another book this year. That means I’m up to about 5. In 2.5 months. That doesn’t feel like a great rate when you put it like that. I need to find more time to read. I used to read on my break at work but I’m getting more sociable. I miss the days when I was a quiet introvert sat in the corner reading. I just need to stop making friends with the people I work with. It’s so distracting to the more important things in my life.
- The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker
- The Best of Adam Sharp by Graeme Simsion
- The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (Illustrated by Alan Lee)
- Netflix binges: BoJack Horseman