I can’t say that I was ever a fan of SpongeBob SquarePants when I was younger. It just passed me by and I wasn’t really aware of its existence until I was too old to care. I briefly lived with a guy at uni who had been given the nickname Sponge and had the animated character tattooed onto his person. Still, I didn’t feel like checking it out. I didn’t watch a whole episode until I first subscribed the Netflix and started watching it ironically as an adult. I appreciated the series but I can’t say that I saw what all of the fuss was about. So, I’m not exactly the kind of person who would be rushing out to watch the latest movie but these are Covid times. Nothing really makes much sense right now so I decided to watch it. At the very least, I figured that it would work with my current reduced attention span.
Okay, confession time. Until last night, I’d never seen Coco. Why? I honestly don’t know. I guess it doesn’t help that I don’t often go to see animated films at the cinema these days. I only went to see Frozen 2 because I owed my friend for dragging her to see the awful Joker when she didn’t want to. Of course, there was nothing to stop me watching it once it came out on Blu Ray. Well, nothing but price. Disney Pixar films are always so expensive. But now I’ve got Disney+ and I might as well use it. It’s not as if I’ve been making the most of it in recent weeks. I bought it because I wanted to watch The Mandalorian and I’ve still not done that. And the second season is already here. What am I doing with my life?
I almost didn’t have anything to review today. For some reason, I never got around to watching a film this weekend. I guess I just spent too long trying to get through that bloody Murder, She Wrote book. I didn’t realise until Monday that I’d forgotten. So, I had the choice to write something else for today or watch something and review it in the same night. I had thought about weighing in on the Johnny Depp/Fantastic Beasts news but I didn’t know if that would go against my ban of the writer who must not be named. In the end, I picked the quickest new release on Netflix that I could find. I didn’t know anything about it but someone I follow on Instagram had watched it recently. What did I have to lose?
Yes, we should all be doing what we can to learn more about racism and how to live a more anti-racist life. Watching documentaries is a great thing but, every so often, it’s good to take a bit of time off and remember that life isn’t all bleakness. But if you’re feeling overwhelmed and exhausted by the things you’re hearing and reading about, do remember that Black people have been feeling like that their whole lives. So, it’s important not to let fatigue turn into ambivalence. After all, there are so many other things you can do to keep on living an anti-racist life. That includes watching and celebrating films made by, starring and written by Black people. We all know that there is a huge disparity in Hollywood when it comes to the representation of non-white people in all areas. It’s more than just Oscars so white. So, we need to start proving that people watch films starring BIPOC actors and telling BIPOC stories. And what’s the best way to do that? By watching films starring BIPOC characters.
Years ago, I started watching this film but, for reasons I can’t remember now, I never finished it. I also never went back to it. So, in an attempt to justify my Disney+ subscription, I decided to finally finish it. Plus, it seemed like a good companion for my review of The Willoughbys on Tuesday. The stop motion animation is a full-length remake of a short film that Tim Burton made in 1984. The earlier film got him fired from Disney because it wasn’t deemed suitable for a young audience. Of course, Disney changed their tune after Burton found future success as a director. They released his short for home video release in 1992 and as an extra with the DVD of The Nightmare Before Christmas. After signing a two-picture deal with Disney, Burton made a stop motion animation version based on the original film. I’ll be honest, I didn’t really think much of Corpse Bride when I watched that, which might explain my reticence to watch this. I love Burton’s style but sometimes his narratives can be a bit much. But, I can’t resist a good literary homage.
Like the original short, Frankenweenie is filmed in black and white. Mostly because the film is both a parody of and homage to the 1931 film Frankenstein. Meaning it’s based on the super popular gothic tale written by Mary Shelley in 1818. The narrative follows the basics set out by the 1984 short but with a few exciting embellishments. Victor Frankenstein is a boy without many friends. In fact, he only has one. His family’s dog Sparky. After Sparky meets a grisly fate, Victor has the idea tom reanimate him for his science fair project. The idea was given to him by his science teacher. Victor finds a way to bring Sparky to life but his fellow students find out about his revived pet. What will happen when they start to force Victor to give them the secret to bringing animals back from the dead?
Tim Burton wanted to make the original film using stop motion animation but it was seen as too costly. This time, he had the clout to get it done, so we get to see his original artwork come to life. Burton has always had a flair for the gothic and his designs here are glorious. The film pays homage to the horror films he loved growing up and there are plenty of references to catch. Victor’s science teacher, Mr Rzykruski, has been designed to resemble Vincent Price and one of his schoolmates is called Edgar E Gore. We always knew that Burton was a fan of the genre but this film is everything we could have expected. It’s made with love and care, which makes it impossible not to fall for its charms.
It’s not a flawless film and the ending does get a bit messy and muddled. I guess this is to expected when you make a feature film out of a 30-minute short. However, none of these imperfections is so bad that you can’t ignore them. This is a film that is full of energy and fantastic little details. This was a passion project for the director and the end result is a delightful one. The stop motion animation brings the story to life and the world Burton creates instantly draws you in. It’s not the greatest film that Burton has ever made but it doesn’t matter. It’s a lovely story that clearly meant a lot to its creator. And who wouldn’t relate to the story of a young boy desperate to bring back his childhood pet?
As a children’s film, this works on quite a few levels. It has some horror elements in it but there’s nothing too scary that a younger audience won’t be able to enjoy it. It’s got plenty of humour and happier moments to make sure nobody gets too scared. The story is pretty slick and doesn’t waste any time unnecessarily. It might not look the same as the rest but this is a classic Disney film. You could argue that Burton has reigned in his weirdness here, which is a valid point. But I don’t think that matters. This film wasn’t supposed to be about pushing things too far. It was about his boyhood love of horror films and presenting something that could recreate that feeling for a new generation of children. On that basis, it does exactly what it needs to and it does it really well.
Last year, Netflix proved that it had some great things to offer the world of animation. Both Klaus and I Lost My Body were worthy Oscar nominees at this year’s Oscars. It’s just a shame that Toy Story 4 knocked them out of the park. But it did go to show that Netflix was willing to push boundaries somewhere at least. Yes, the comedies weren’t exactly anything to write home about but they were clearly picking interesting animated projects. So, I was interested in their new animated film even before I knew anything about it. I didn’t know the book it had been adapted from or what to expect. It looked pretty interesting from the trailer so I decided that it would be worth a chance. It looked like Henry Selick but with added rainbows. At the very least, I figured that it would be a pretty film.
Imagine a world in which the Baudelaire orphans aren’t orphans but they’re parents were both as awful as Count Olaf. That’s the best way I can think of to describe the premise of this story. The four Willoughby children were born to two parents that had no interest in raising children. Mother and father Willoughby were so in love with each other that they had none left for anyone else. So, when their children come along, they just leave them to fend for themselves. Tim, the eldest child, always tries to live up to the Willoughby name. His family used to be full of great people with even greater moustaches. He tries to instil these traditions in his younger sister and twin brothers but they just want to get as far away from their family as possible.
Which is how the group come up with a plan to get rid of their parents once and for all. They send them off on a deadly adventure in an attempt to orphan themselves. They are left in the hands of Linda, a caring and happy nanny. The three younger siblings fall for Linda’s charms but Tim doesn’t trust her. To the extent that he calls Orphan Services and the children get taken away. All are sent to separate homes and are even more miserable than before. Can Tim come up with a plan to get the family back together? And just what does the orphan baby left on their doorstep have to do with it all?
The Willoughbys is a very original and exciting narrative. It might look sickly sweet on the outside but there is plenty of darkness here. The story has definite Neil Gaiman and Lemony Snicket vibes to it but it has enough rainbows and love to make it work. It is also pretty fast-paced. The narrative moves along at such a pace that you won’t have time to get bored. It’s constantly moving forwards and it is packed full of references. This is an energetic film that will keep younger viewers engaged and it has enough originality that parents won’t be too put-out having to sit with them.
Yet, compared to Netflix’s past animated offerings, it just feels a bit lacking. There is a sense that the darkness doesn’t quite work for the audience this film is aimed for. Or at least, that it could have gone further had it not been for the young audience. It brushes with death and darkness which is fine but it feels a bit childish still. The film opens by claiming that it won’t have a happy ending but there’s never a real sense of danger here. No matter how hard it tries to convince you otherwise. It would be interesting to see what could have been made had this film been pushed towards an older audience. It could have been more like A Series of Unfortunate Events instead of seeming like a pale imitation.
This is an interesting film but it feels a little fragmented. This is the main explanation for Ricky Gervais’ role as narrator. Playing a cat who oversees everything, the narrator is the thing that keeps all of these things together. Otherwise, the film would have the feel of a series of sketches instead of one complete narrative. I understand that, when adapting a book, having a narrator can feel natural but I’m not sure the cat added anything. It was Ricky Gervais playing Ricky Gervais again. It felt weird and out-of-place. I would have prefered the narrative to flow naturally without it.
Although, this is still an enjoyable film. The voice actors are all energetic and fantastic in their roles. The characters come to life on screen but its limited thanks to the pace of the storytelling. There’s plenty of fun and it is a visually great film. It’s just that there’s too much going on and it all happens too quickly. You can’t really sit back and enjoy the good bits because we’re skipping from bit to bit. It also means the overall emotional message gets lost a little. The film’s final act lacks the punch that it needed. It should have been a lovely moment but it’s just a bit flat. The Willoughbys isn’t the worst thing Netflix has ever created but, compared to some of their other animated films, it just can’t compare.
As I mentioned on Tuesday, Lady and the Tramp was never one of my favourite Disney movies. Sure the dogs are super cute and it’s a very adorable love story. It just never stuck with me. It lacked the silly humour of the other films, it didn’t have the catchy songs, and it didn’t have a larger than life villain. For a Disney film, it’s kind of grown-up and serious. And though it centres around talking dogs, it’s more of a real-world film rather than a fantasy one. Set in the real world and taking much inspiration from society. Let’s be honest, the thing most people remember most from this film is probably the thing that Disney is trying so hard to cover up. The thing that Disney+ warns is an “outdated cultural depiction”. Aside from the meatball nose push, it’s the most memorable thing about the film. It’s a huge shame.
When I first opened Disney+ this week, I didn’t automatically go straight to the original content. I didn’t catch up on The Mandalorian so I could get some context for Baby Yoda. Nope. I started rewatching old episodes of The Simpsons. The animated show that has been going for over 30 years has plenty of great episodes and having them all in one place is too good an opportunity to miss. I know that it gets a lot of bad press these days and it can’t be denied that quality has gone downhill. But it’s not as if it isn’t watchable. There’ll always be something nice and familiar about it. To celebrate and justify my week of watching 90s episodes of a cartoon, I decided to discuss some of my favourite episodes. There are so many of them at this point that it was pretty difficult. This is by no means an exhaustive list because who can remember everything that’s happened in the past 30 odd years? But there are some genuine gems here.
Pixar has been responsible for some of the great family films that have ever been released but they have been pretty focused on sequels recently. They haven’t released an original film since 2017’s Coco and that was a massive hit with everyone. So, it’s safe to say that Onward had a lot to live up to. Pixar has never been afraid to experiment with styles and show children the harsh realities of life. Let’s not forget that Inside/Out offered a better analysis of mental health than anyone had before. Unlike Disney, Pixar is always trying to change the game and do something different. Well, they did before they decided to keep going back to the same old characters and do the same old things. Surely Onward was going to be something special. Plus, it stars Chris Pratt and Tom Holland fresh off of their Endgame high. At the very least, it was something to take notice of.
Seriously, Netflix has been doing great things with animation recently. So, it’s no wonder that they’ve gained two Oscar nominations for Best Animated Feature Film this year. And, though the smart money will be on Toy Story 4 because of all the reasons, there’s every chance that the streaming service could walk away with a prize in that category. After all, Klaus was the surprise winner at this year’s BAFTAs. It was the unexpected hit of their Christmas output. Mixing beautiful animation, a talented voice cast, and a charming story, Klaus brought new life to the oft-told origin story of Jolly Old Saint Nick. But it’s not their only output this Christmas time that really resonated with audiences. The French animation about a severed hand really did prove to be quite a success. Even though that statement just feels wrong.