This year’s animated feature nominees span the gamut from overtly, wildly, disgustingly commercial to overtly, wildly and disgustingly esoteric. And then a bunch of stuff in the middle. Which is not to say they aren’t quality films…well…one really isn’t…but the rest are your worth your time and energy, for sure.
So…here are five of your nominees with trailers for each to follow at the end…
“Kubo and the Two Strings” (USA)
Directed by Dan Krauss
When it comes to the discussion of the most interesting and visually arresting animated films of all time, “Kubo” should absolutely be in the conversation. Bright, dark, dream-like, and masterfully crafted, this film MUST be seen in a darkened theater at best, or on a large screen in a darkened room at worst. Watching this film on a computer, plane or phone should be a misdemeanor offense.
Of course, part of that success is due to the failure of the story and voice performances to match the visual aspects of the film. McConaughey, who seems to be voicing everything these days, is particularly weak, and Charlize Theron adds very little to the proceedings. Cameos by Brenda Vaccaro and George Takei are kinda fun, but come and go in seconds. Only Ralph Fiennes seems to understand both the gravity and reality of his place in the story. As for the the story, while containing the necessary stakes to keep us invested, it does seem to peter out in the third act…as if it ran out of gas, rather than built to a crescendo.
Not that it mattered much to me. The style of the film is what makes it fly and, along with “My Life As a Zucchini”, are the two standout animated features of the year for me.
“My Life As A Zucchini” (Sqitzerland/France)
Directed by Claude Barras
The absolute surprise of the five, is “Zucchini”, which, for me, easily has the most heart and emotion of the five films. While it’s incredibly well-executed, and there exists a beautiful and artistic attention to facial detail, it’s not going to bowl anyone over for its visuals…basically using “Gumby and Pokey” as it’s aspiration. But there is something about the simplicity and innocence of the clay-mation style that brings you deeper in to the emotional shifts of these six orphaned children.
I would, however, suggest seeing it in its original French, as I was lucky enough to. It’s been released here with an all-star American cast, which I think will put way too much emphasis on the adults in the story. This is about kids dealing with the loss of parents and how they do or don’t cope in the most unexpected and heartwarming ways, and the fact that I was never taken out of the film by a recognizable voice may have played a larger part in its success than I can imagine. And, of course, there is nothing more hypnotic than listening to the French language spoken by French actors.
Regardless, there are lessons galore for adults in this lovely and small film, and I hope you get to see it. I would’ve happily given it my vote for the Gold Statuette.
Directed by Daphne Matziaraki
Wow. What a mess. This is a GORGEOUS film with a pencil thin story and, perhaps, the worst voice performance I’ve ever seen in a major Hollywood animated release. As a result, the relationship at the core of the story (a pretty good story, at that), is utterly lost in a sea of eyebrow raises, self-aggrandizement and utter lack of earnest belief. And that is all down to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. He is SO much better than this on screen, which brings me back to something a very smart VO agent once said to me years and years ago, “the only people who really understand the imagination and creativity needed to do animated VO, are musical theater performers”. This may explain why Disney films are usually so successful, since they STOCK them with the above. But, alas, The Rock, ain’t one of them. He is a brand and, not for a second do you believe this is anyone but a cartoon version of “The Rock”. A shame. It’s pretty though, and I’m sure the kids will love it. <sigh> Me? Not so much.
“The Red Turtle” (France/Belgium/Japan)
Directed by Michael Dudok de Wit
Uh…okay…I was so in…locked in…the first twenty minutes are arresting… hypnotizing even. Then it gets weird…okay, an interesting weird…and still arresting…and then the end comes and…huh?! If anyone else has seen this, please contact me, because I cannot for the life of me explain what we’re supposed to get out of this film. It’s still gorgeous and worth the effort, but, really…uh…the only message I came away with was pretty…uh…creepy. And I’m quite sure not what Studio Ghibli creators had in mind.
HOWEVER, this is one of the Top Five scores of the year – good thing, too, since there is not one word of dialogue in the entire film. Emulating a hybrid of Ennio Morriconne and Ryuichi Sakamoto, Laurent Perez Del Mar’s lush and evocative music brings back the best memories of the visual experience and I find myself going back to it time and time again. As with “Kubo”, watch this on a big screen, in the dark, with the volume turned up to eleven.
Directed by Byron Howard & Rich Moore
The most socially relevant film of the five, “Zootopia” is delight as a film, but sadly, its message seems like a pipe dream after watching the ways in which our country is finding ways to tear itself apart. Ah, to be a female rabbit who gets along with male tigers! That it brings up these longings is a sign of how clever it is…and how well the story maintains its focus.
Of course, it helps to have actors who really understand character development and how that translates to animation. Jason Bateman, Ginnifer Goodwin, Idris Elba, JK Simmons and Octavia Spencer do what they do…BELIEVE! Add to that the voice of K-2SO, Alan Tudyk, and the never-to-be-forgotten voice of the character that single-handedly won the “Zootopia” its Oscar, Raymond S. Persi, as Flash, the DMV sloth, and you have something special. This is one of the better Hollywood animated features. Not quite on a par with “Inside Out” or “Up”, but certainly in that next level.
So in which order should you watch these films? Simple:
2) “Kubo and the Two Strings”
4) “The Red Turtle”
oh, and if you must, then watch “Moana”, but it’s just not in the same league as these other four.
“Kubo and the Two Strings” trailer:
“My Life As A Zucchini” trailer:
“The Red Turtle” trailer: