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00596 - H gets Animated

MovieHype00596 – H gets Animated

Overly long whiny Preface: Cards on the Table

The reason my April Fools’ joke took in quite a few people was because I used my real feelings. It’s tough writing all this material for no pay and not getting any response. I realize that no one makes me do it, but I need a bit more than just the satisfaction of good craft.

Nowhere is this more true than in my movie reviews. Over the last ten MovieHypes, the response rate has been between .7 and 2.2%. Are these the only people reading? It’s hard to tell when no one writes back.

I enjoy doing these reviews, but they are a lot of work, especially the theme ones. For example, just the other day I had the idea of doing a “Now and Then” column, looking at classic movies and their remakes. This requires that I find all the originals, watch them, plus re-watch the new stuff to get familiar, learn about what happened to cause a remake, etc.

It’s an armful, and I’m happy to do it, but not if nobody cares. To my mind, some of my best work this year has been in this column (like the review of SIN CITY), but it doesn’t seem to penetrate the readers. That’s okay. Maybe this isn’t the time to do all this work, and I should concentrate on other things.

So here’s the deal. I don’t expect every one of you to respond to every single column. It’s hard enough to read these damn things, and I know you have better things to do than write me back. But this one time, I want to know who actually is reading, and who wants me to continue. If I can get 20%--just one in five—then I’ll keep doing them, and never complain again. (Well, maybe complain less often). And if I can’t get 20%, I’ll know I need to do something else.

I’m off the soap-box now; let’s get to it.

Today I thought we’d take a look at three animated films. One is the most popular animated movie of all time. The next is an overlooked treasure from a few years ago, and then we have a movie from Hyperion’s childhood, one that affects him to this day. Obviously, the movies get better as we move down.



There is—in a manner of speaking—an utter pointlessness to reviewing a movie like SHREK 2. If you have not seen the first movie, you are unlikely to see the second. And if you did see the original SHREK. You certainly have your mind made up already.

Either it wasn’t for you, so why try again with a sequel? Or, you loved it, and saw it or plan to see it no matter what I have to say. I could aver that your eyes will pop out of their heads if you sit all the way through it, but one doubts you’re likely to listen.

And with that cheery beginning, SHREK 2 is a pretty decent film. It does not have nearly the imagination, biting humor or genuine warmth of the first film, and some of the gags are getting a bit tired. The writing could have used a few more passes too; some of the scenes were so cliché that my eyes wanted to roll right out of my head.

But sequels rarely live up to the original. The best you can hope for is that SHREK 2 doesn’t suck. And it doesn’t. Funny enough to get by, with a few great gags thrown in and some new characters; chief among them Puss in Boots, who is so entertaining I hear they are giving him his own movie. Maybe it’s me, but Antonio Banderas has a voice just begging to be used in animation. It’s a shame nobody has thought of it before.

Our story this time out starts right in after the wedding. Shrek and Fiona are happily married and settling down to those first great few months, where it doesn’t matter how many times she burns the toast or he farts in the hot tub. Then, a summons comes, to meet Fiona’s parents, the King and Queen of Far Far Away.

Those familiar with any relationship movie ever will find a comforting sameness to how this plays out. Will her parents like him? After all, he’s so…different. Because he’s an ogre. Ho ho. Nothing like getting smacked in the head with a metaphor from Captain Obvious.

Donkey and Shrek have an easy chemistry, only augmented by the arrival of Puss, and this is by far the best part of the film. Frankly, I wish they had made a movie just about those three. But maybe that’s me.

The cast of side characters; the Three Pigs, the three blind mice, the Cross-dressing Wolf, angry Gingerbread Man (and his doppelganger, in one of the funniest bits), are all back and used to great effect, but the dragon was missing. Obviously you can’t give her dialogue, but she was written out entirely with a few lame lines from Donkey that about “female” troubles. I don’t know; maybe she held out for more money. [Editor’s Note: There was an interview with Dragon on E! where she claimed there were “script problems.”]

There are lots of songs again, but these fell flat for me, unlike the first movie. Maybe it’s because we’ve been there seen that (think the end of SHREK 1, but four or five times.) I mean, it’s not going to be funny forever. Perhaps also I’m a bit biased because several of the songs were by Counting Crows, and I dig on Adam Duritz like I dig on colon-rectal cancer.

But there are some great one-liners (“Oh stop being such a Drama-King,” “Join the Club; we got jackets,” “Looks like we’re up chocolate creek without a popsicle stick.” “Let’s neuter him right now! Give him the Bob Barker treatment!”), and there’s a great bit about a medieval COPS, called KNIGHTS.

The gingerbread man scene made me laugh out loud, and Puss was just adorable, with more great lines than the rest of the cast combined.

So, there’s a lot to like here, if not love. I definitely didn’t mind watching it, and while I wouldn’t rush out to watch it again, it was pretty sweet. I guess I wish they had done a little bit more, and kept their at-times-mean edge from the first film. However, most sequels are pretty terrible, so perhaps I should be thankful we got a decent film.


I distinctly remember when Disney had its great Renaissance. First there was the forerunner, LITTLE MERMAID, which captured the hearts of all who watched little Ariel struggle to get her man. Then came the Trilogy, the high point in Disney creativity and economic clout: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (which remains the only animated movie to get a Best Picture Oscar nomination), ALADDIN (which many say is the funniest Disney movie of all time), and THE LION KING, which was the first animated film to really be an EVENT MOVIE.

After that, the 2-D animated world of Disney slipped a bit. I don’t mean they started making bad movies. POCAHONTAS was great, TARZAN was spectacular, and when it’s all said and done, MULAN might be my favorite.

But these (and some of the less successful films) stopped inhabiting the cultural zeitgeist of the earlier work. Whereas I don’t know anybody my age who didn’t see ALADDIN or THE LOIN KING, it’s more hit or miss lately.

This may have had to do with the advent of Pixar and computer animation. Pixar has given us some wonderful films like the TOY STORIES, A BUG’S LIFE, MONSTER’S INC., FINDING NEMO, and THE INCREDIBLES, and all of these aren’t even to mention DreamWorks and their donkeys and ogres.

I write all of this as preface to say that I too stopped making every Disney animated movie a must-see. And I was wrong to do so; as wrong as Disney was a few weeks ago when they announced they will no longer make 2-D animated films. For my money, they only thing that changed was Disney didn’t adapt their marketing to the new times. Some—not all, but some—of Disney’s recent 2-D animated films are awesome. I saw LILO AND STITCH last year, and couldn’t believe such a gem could have gone unnoticed by me for over two years.

Also from 2002 is TREASURE PLANET, which I just finished watching. If I was going to review it in a word, that word would be; SWEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEET.

TREASURE PLANET is a futuristic take on Robert Louis Stevenson’s landmark adventure story “Treasure Island.” We still have the ships sailing far away, we still have the buried treasure, and we still have the colorful characters from Stevenson. Only now: the ships sail through outer space, the treasure is on a secret planet, and the characters are just as likely to be scary aliens or wise-cracking cyborgs.

Now: some might say, “Why can’t they make a movie based on the original work, without changing anything? Wouldn’t that be great too?”

Absolutely. But so what? You judge the movie you’re watching, not the movie you wish you were. And there’s nothing wrong with TREASURE PLANET.

I liked all the inside jokes, as nods to adults over what was being done (like calling the ship the R.L.S. Legacy; hee hee). I loved the ships sailing through space, right besides pods of giant space-whales, which I’m absolutely sure actually exist. They never explain why spaceships are wooden ships instead of lead-lined two-hundred-ton spacecraft, and they take it for granted that you can breathe the air in space. My buddy Ajax would have had a heart-attack watching this, but let it go. If you can accept a cartoon in the first place, you can accept what they do.

There were the requisite Disney songs, which didn’t do much for me, but one especially was well-used in expository flashback, so I can’t complain. There also was the cute cuddly quirky side-kick character, in this case Morph, a little pink ball of an alien who can morph into literally everything. Morph should be in every animated movie ever made.

The voices were great, including made-for-cartoon David Hyde Pierce and one of Hyperion’s favorite actors, Emma Thompson. The animation was crisp, with the characters and foreground drawn 2-D, and the backgrounds with computer, but painted, not 3-D. It worked pretty seamlessly to me. The DVD extras are pretty sweet too, if you’re willing to wade through a difficult-to-navigate Special Features section; there are some real finds here.

TREASURE PLANET’S story is almost exactly “Treasure Island.” We get the young Jim Hawkins on a ship. We get the cook Silver, with one leg, the mutinous crew, the hidden treasure. It’s all right there for you.

Only they’re in space.

Works for me.


When I ask people the scariest movie they’ve ever seen, I get two responses more than any other: THE SHINING and THE EXORCIST. Not me. I yawned through both of them, and while THE SHINING was interesting, I never saw what was so scary.

I admit that seeing the original FRIDAY THE 13TH was a bit creepy, as was CANDYMAN, and I got really frightened by THE RAPTURE, but that may have been because I skipped church to see a movie about God coming back and evil-doers being punished (evil-doers who skipped Sunday Night Church), and also because after the movie Bryan Yutzie and I were in Fred Meyer and these trumpets sounded, which was right out of the movie. So we were creeped out.

In the last few years THE RING had some genuine jumpy moments, and personally I had trouble with THE SIXTH SENSE; neither one too bad. For my money, the scariest movie I have ever seen was WATERSHIP DOWN.

This could have been because it was one of the first movies we saw when we came to America. My brother Achmed and I were simply frightened. (When he actually reads this review in 2013, he’ll probably claim he wasn’t scared at all, but I was there, and he was.)

I don’t remember what made WATERSHIP DOWN scarier than any other movie back then; it could have been a bad night, or maybe it was the fact that rabbits get violently killed. Not a normal thing in kids’ movies. Whatever the cause, it stuck with me all these years.

However, things that affected you as a kid have a funny way of—what’s the term?—sucking now. Recent re-watchings of G.I. JOE and CLOAK AND DAGGER were terrible disappointments, compared to the Emmy and Oscar-deserving tour de forces I remember as a youth. Thus, I was prepared to have one more childhood bubble burst when I recently sat down to again view WATERSHIP DOWN.

Luckily (I guess), this movie still creeps me out. The story is about a warren of rabbits. One of the rabbits, a prescient sensitive chap named Fiver senses that the warren is in danger. He convinces a group of them to leave, and they have adventures. That’s all I’m willing to say.

The movie is not without flaws. At first it’s kind of hard to tell the rabbits apart (sort of like watching BLACK HAWK DOWN), and the dry English voices—so similar—don’t help either. The comic relief—a French bird—is the funniest part in the movie, but also can get annoying. The story is obviously severely truncated from the popular novel, which sometimes leaves plot threads crammed together or unexplained. The animation is quaint by today’s standards, and there is an utterly ridiculous Art Garfunkle song midway through that completely stops the momentum and preaches a New-Age mysticism that really doesn’t translate well to modern thinking. But these are fairly minor things.

Let’s talk about what is fantastic. While the animation may not be Disney-great, it has an element of realism that is just spooky. The rabbits look like rabbits, but they act so human, I felt like I was one of them. I don’t how to explain it better than that, but my whiskers twitched by the end.

The movie starts off with what appears to be a Native-American fable, which is unique and pretty cool. We move directly into the film, and the subject matter treats us as if we can figure it out as we go along. I appreciate not having everything handed to me.

The camera and sound work is like a sophisticated movie. Inside those warrens leads to eerie echoes and camera angles that make you feel dread even when there is no immediate threat. It’s like Hitchcock in that way.

Perhaps best of all, the movie is very violent. Why would this be good? Because in so many of today’s animation there is a saccharination process, so that kids only get sanitized views of everything. That is less realistic than the truth. In WATERSHIP DOWN, the rabbits are in real danger, and some of them get bloodily killed. That is life for a rabbit.

The movie made me feel what it might be like to be scared all the time, constantly on the look out for predators. There seemed to be a concentration-camp vibe going on, and perhaps if I watched the movie more times or had the courage to read the book I would catch obvious WWII metaphors or something.

I didn’t care about that too much, though. I generally don’t try to analyze a movie while I’m watching. If possible, I like to enter in and watch a movie on its terms. There have been very few films that I have been able to do that like WATERSHIP DOWN. I felt for these rabbits, and felt the danger they were in. I wanted to be friends with Hazel and Bigwig, and even Fiver grew on me. I rooted for them to win, and I cringed at their losses. That’s a pretty cool thing.

If you have kids at least 6, or even if you are adult, I think this is a great film. It’s creepy, earnest, and completely straight-forward. There isn’t an ounce of post-modern Clever here, like the last 10 years from the Mouse-Hut. All we get is a chilling story, honestly told, and that’s more than good enough for me.


April 29, 2005


Thanks to Koz, who wanted me to point out that if my quality has been lacking of late, it’s because he hasn’t been editing. Welcome back, Kozter

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1 comment:

'Jax said...

I'll have you know I LOVED Treasure Planet. David Hyde Pierce got a little annoying, but other than that, it was pure money.

As for Watership, I own both the book and the movie (VHS only), and couldn't recommend them more highly. Not for the kiddies, but very very good.