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Tag Archive: Aardman Animations


Review by C.J. Bunce

In that niche area of dystopian dog movies (that’s the adaptation of Harlan Ellison’s A Boy and his Dog and… ?), Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs not only soars to the top of the list, it’s a great film in all sorts of categories: it’s new, yet a classic children’s story, it’s a timely political allegory, and it’s a solid movie about dogs.  We knew Anderson had a grasp on animals in his surprisingly good Fantastic Mr. Fox, but audiences will soon learn he also understands dogs and dog behavior.  The trailers don’t really prepare moviegoers for what lies ahead.  Sure, it’s about an island of exiled dogs so of course audiences are in for a bleak ride, complete with at least one dead canine, lots of dogs in peril as well as many mutilated and diseased.  Yet Isle of Dogs is surprisingly grand in scope, thought-provoking, and even heartwarming.  And epic–don’t be surprised if you start thinking about the closest Martin Scorcese or Stanley Kubrick movie while you’re glued to the screen.  Despite some witty dialogue in places from Anderson’s smart script, this is less comedy and more drama than his past efforts.

The dystopian world is better realized, bigger in scope, and yet more personal than typical futurist visions, beyond that dismal hopeless doom of Mad Max, The Postman, Escape From New York, Twelve Monkeys, Snowpiercer, Looper, Logan’s Run, and District 9.  Isle of Dogs is probably closer to WALL-E and Planet of the Apes in feel.  Isle of Dogs is gloomy and dark and bleak, but it offers a ray of hope for the future from a 12-year-old Japanese boy named Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin) and a freckle-faced, high school exchange student named Tracy from Ohio (Greta Gerwig), both out to defy an autocratic government’s ban on dogs.  That’s thanks in major part to the vivid, eye-popping world of future Japan filmed by celebrated Aardman Animations stop-motion cinematographer Tristan Oliver (A Close Shave, The Wrong Trousers, Chicken Run), and the encompassing sounds from this year’s Oscar-winning composer for The Shape of Water, Alexandre Desplat (Harry Potter series, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, The Golden Compass).  As to the stop-motion, audiences can marvel at how far Hollywood has come since the Ray Harryhausen era.  The film follows Anderson’s design choices first seen in his Fantastic Mr. Fox and only continues to add to the unbelievable magical movements carried forward by Aardman’s achievements.  And instead of a typical Romantic, programmatic score, Desplat’s best choices can be found in his use of loud, almost frightening Japanese taiko drums, Fumio Hayasaka’s haunting theme from Seven Samurai, the more celebratory bits from Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kije, and a simple recurring dog whistle.

Anderson offers up admirable tributes to Japanese culture and film, everywhere from costume design to modern TV reporting stylings, to Hayao Miyazaki themes and Akira Kurosawa landscapes, to traditional imagery like beautiful ukiyo-e on walls and cherry blossoms floating by at the right time.  Isle of Dogs finds a firm footing on the children’s classics shelf of your film library, alongside Roald Dahl’s Mr. Fox but also his Willy Wonka.  It also has much in common in tone with Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal.  The political allegory is thick and layered, a mix of the nuanced and the obvious, a mirror reflection of society that you’d have found years ago in a Frank Capra movie.  Science is mocked, scorned, and worse.  Experts are traitorous and immigrants are exiled.  It’s also graphic in parts at a baser level, showing an animated meal from a dumpster with creepy crawlies that may make your stomach turn, plus an open chest surgery, bloody, torn body parts, and dogs with missing eyes and open wounds.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Oscar-winning filmmaker Nick Park is back with his next entry in Aardman Animations’ ingenious world of classic stop-motion animation.  The family comedy Early Man takes audiences back to the city of Manchester, England, at the dawn of the Bronze Age.  In this slapstick look at history, cave men created football (American soccer) from a fallen meteorite.  The sport fell out of favor, but was picked up again and embraced in the early Bronze Age by a city of moderners, but the cave men are still around and have one chance to save their world if they can only beat the Bronze Age team at the game.  Unfortunately it’s a group of bumbling early humans who must learn the sport and take on a group of arrogant professional players.  But it’s in the genes of the cave men, so amid a non-stop volley of sports metaphors, tropes, and jokes, the cave men have a go at it.

Leading the team and the story is Dug, voiced by Eddie Redmayne (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), along with his companion, an eager early-era wild boar named Hognob, voiced by the film’s director Nick Park.  The duo make for a solid homage, albeit a prehistoric incarnation, of Park’s famous Wallace & Gromit.  The villain in the tale is Bronze Age leader Lord Nooth, lover and hoarder of all things bronze, especially bronze coins.  He’s voiced by a nearly unrecognizable Tom Hiddleston (Thor: Ragnarok) playing an over-the-top, snooty opportunist in full-on Monty Python comedy style.  Game of Thrones and Doctor Who actor Maisie Williams offers her own voice acting talent as Dug’s new friend Goona, and Timothy Spall (Harry Potter series, Alice in Wonderland, Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams) is Dug’s good-natured and encouraging leader, the firmly about the old ways Chief Bobnar.

Little kids will laugh at the silliness of the characters and adult U.S. anglophiles will understand most, but probably not all, of the British comedic references.  And there are many.  Soccer fans will pick up on references to the sport, to Manchester United, zebra crossings, and puns that will work for fans of any sport.  Want to see why Stonehenge was built?  Ever seen the genesis of the electric razor?  The film has already opened to positive reviews in the United Kingdom, but does not arrive in theaters in the States until later this week.

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Aardman Studios is that British animation company known for director Nick Park and his stop-motion clay animation films, most notably the Academy Award winning Wallace & Gromit, and the groundbreaking series Creature Comforts.  Its full length feature Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit also won an Academy Award for best animated feature.  And the studio produced the popular Chicken Run, Shaun the Sheep, and Pirates! Band of MisfitsDirector Hayao Miyazaki, widely considered one of the best animators of all time, counts himself as a fan of the Aardman movies.

Haven’t seen this kind of animation before?  It’s the style every kid in the 1960s grew up with.  Start with the three Wallace & Gromit shorts A Grand Day Out, The Wrong Trousers, and A Close Shave featuring a cheese loving British inventive chap named Wallace and his smart, loyal, and cynical dog Gromit.  The animation, and the quick speeds of certain segments, are simply stunning.  Then try Creature Comforts, a half-hour television series that aired in both the UK and USA, where every day folks were interviewed on the street, then their voices were dubbed into farm and zoo animal characters.  The result is laugh-out-loud funny.

Just released is the preview to the next stop-motion, full-length film, Early Man.  It features the voices of Eddie Redmayne (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), Tom Hiddleston (Thor), Maisie Williams (Doctor Who, Game of Thrones), and Timothy Spall (Harry Potter series).  Check out this trailer for the film:

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Aardman Studios is a British animation company known for its stop-motion  clay animation films, in particular, the Academy Award winning Wallace & Gromit, and the groundbreaking series Creature Comforts.  Its full length feature Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit also won an Academy Award for best animated feature.  The studio also produced the popular Chicken Run and Shaun the Sheep.  The studio’s first computer animated film, Arthur Christmas, is in theaters now.  Japanese animation studio Studio Ghibli animator Hayao Miyazaki, widely considered one of the best animators of all time, counts himself as a fan of the Aardman movies.

If you haven’t seen Aardman movies before, start with the three Wallace & Gromit shorts A Grand Day Out, The Wrong Trousers, and A Close Shave featuring a cheese loving British inventive chap named Wallace and his smart, loyal, and cynical dog Gromit.  The animation, and the quick speeds of certain segments, will have you wishing they’d throw CGI out the window.  Then try Creature Comforts, a half-hour television series that aired in both the UK and USA, where folks were interviewed off the street, then their voices were dubbed into farm and zoo animals.  The result was laugh-out-loud funny stuff.

Just released is the preview to the newest stop-motion, full-length film, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, and it looks to be as incredibly put together as the rest.  Just check out details like the use of stop-motion liquid in this trailer.  The boat whipping across water, actually made from Plasticine, looks both realistic and unreal.

And this film features a top-notch set of character actors that should be familiar to everyone.  The Pirates! Band of Misfits, stars Hugh Grant (Remains of the Day, Bridget Jones’ Diary) as Pirate Captain, Brendan Gleeson (28 Days Later, Beowulf, Harry Potter series) as Pirate with Gout, Jeremy Piven (PCU, Entourage, Cupid, Judgment Night) as Black Bellamy, Brian Blessed (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Flash Gordon, Henry V, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace) as Pirate King, Salma Hayek (Puss in Boots, Wild, Wild West, From Dusk Till Dawn) as Cutlass Liz, Martin Freeman (Sherlock, The Hobbit, Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead) as Pirate with Scarf, David Tennant (Doctor Who, Viva Blackpool, Harry Potter series) as Charles Darwin, and Imelda Staunton (Shakespeare in Love, Chicken Run, Peter’s Friends, Much Ado About Nothing, Harry Potter series) as Queen Victoria.

The film is based on the first two books of Gideon Defoe’s Pirates! series.  Pirates! has a March 28, 2012, release date.

 

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