Saturday, March 3, 2018

OSCAR WATCH: The Animated Films

The general consensus is that this year's Oscar lineup for Best Animated Feature is one of the weakest we've seen in the history of the category. And having finally seen of the nominees recently, I'd have to agree that there are no masterpieces among then. Here are my quick thoughts on them all:

No Animated Feature Oscar race is complete without a Disney or Pixar film in the running and this time, it's Pixar with the slam dunk contender. "Coco" is the story of a young boy's journey to learn the importance of family, as he aspires to be a musician against his grandmother's wishes. Set in Mexico, his adventure incorporates the folklore surrounding the annual Día de Muertos, as he enters the Land of the Dead to learn the truth behind his family's longstanding ban against music. In typical Pixar fashion, the thoroughly engaging storyline involves dazzling animation and stunning world-building. It may not be Pixar's most ground-breaking premise (Fox Animation's "The Book of Life" beat them to the punch a similar concept), but it's big on heart. This deserving frontrunner is the year's loveliest animated feature. Rating: ★★★★

The field of animation has long been at the forefront of innovative techniques in cinema and "Loving Vincent" is a shining example. Indeed, this gorgeous production brings new meaning to the term "art film". Fully hand-painted by an extensive team of artists, it follows a young man on a quest to learn about the life and death of Vincent van Gogh as he asked to deliver the iconic artist's final letter. Unsurprisingly, the film is a marvel to look at, but it's more than just pretty paintings. Its soul-searching plot explores depression, ambition, love, disappointment and heartbreak with enough depth and human drama to work as a live action feature. And these emotions are conveyed beautifully by the excellent voice cast. "Loving Vincent" is truly an artistic tour de force. Rating: ★★★★

There's an interesting concept behind "The Boss Baby", a Dreamworks production directed by Tom McGrath. In it, an extraordinarily precocious baby becomes a nightmare for a young boy named Tim, stealing all the parental attention away from this former only child. As he is trying to win this sibling rivalry, it turns out that this special "Boss Baby" is on a mission of his own, waging a war against adorable puppies. On paper, one could easily see Pixar turning this is into a masterpiece a la "Toy Story", layering it with insight, humor and pathos. Unfortunately, this film doesn't quite reach those heights, but it's an enjoyable adventure nonetheless with lots of laughs and an affecting coda. It's Pixar-lite, but it's a commendable attempt. Rating: ★★★1/2

We usually expect animated films to provide harmless escapism, but with Nora Twomey's "The Breadwinner" we get a story that feels as achingly real. Though it is set in war-torn Afghanistan, this tale of a young girl's struggle to overcome patriarchal oppression is perfectly suited to the #MeToo movement that emerged in our Western society. In a society where women have no independence or freedom, the film's protagonist displays incredible courage as she disguises herself as a boy to provide for her family following her father's imprisonment. Impressively delving into the various traumas she and her family face subsequently face, "The Breadwinner" delivers a startling dash of social realism with a palpable sense of danger. Yet the film never wavers from her child's perspective, balancing the tone nicely with imaginative fables that mirror our heroine's quest to overcome her obstacles. This heatrending and inspiring film truly deserves to be mentioned alongside the over feminist cinematic triumphs of the year. Rating: ★★★★

Based on a children's book by Munro Lead, "Ferdinand" is an animated film with a important message. It tells the story of a pacifist Spanish bull who would rather smell flowers than fight in the ring, even as the world around him is determined to make him into a violent beast. As he grows up, he tries his best to stay true to his personality, which is conveyed with touching sympathy in the film's opening scenes. Unfortunately, the film proceeds undermine that with over-the-top supporting characters and broad humor. And to be honest, I basically tuned out during the formulaic adventure shenanigans. Indeed, you know the writing is lazy when even a kid would exclaim, "what is this movie's obsession with butts?". Eventually, it gets its non-conformist message across, but I couldn't help feeling cheated out of this story's potential to be a much better movie. Rating: ★★★

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