Fantastic Mr Fox

17 Nov 2009

2009 has been a fantastic year for animated films. Up, Coraline, Fantastic Mr Fox, Monsters v Aliens, Ponyo, Mary and Max - all contenders for the Oscar and all amongst the most influential and memorable films of the year. The pessimist in me worries that this has more to do with a severe lack of half interesting live action films this year, but it cannot be denied that this year for only the second time in Oscar history, there are 20 films that made the shortlist for best animated feature, and therefore 5 films will receive nominations.

This is made all the more encouraging by the fact that even in a year without an Aardman release, 3 of those films are stop motion, and not one involves a hyperactive CGI rodent sidekick.

Fantastic Mr. Fox:

I've been eagerly awaiting Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr Fox since rumours of it's creation first reached my ears a couple of years ago. Although I see myself as a filmmaker, I am first and foremost a lover of stories, and it is with severe trepidation that I await my favourite stories being turned in to films even by directors that I trust. Wes Anderson is not one of those directors. Quirky and idiosyncratic though his films may be, he seems to find it virtually impossible to tell a narrative that goes from A to B without meandering down meaningless alleyways to develop 1 dimensional characters that are based on lurid caricatures.

The film is, unfortunately, not a huge success. The direction is static, with virtually no camera moves, or interesting angles to move the film along. It reads like a comic book, with every scene shot front on in a series of plateaus. The script lacked the wit of Roald Dahl's words, it didn't savour the language or revel in the telling of the story - it was functional language without adornment or sparkle.

The script was not helped by mediocre vocal performances. George Clooney was fine, but too sympathetic and introspective as Mr Fox. The normally fabulous Meryl Streep was practically invisible as Mrs Fox, and the addition of 2 children (both of whom are having the traditional Anderson emotional problems) was nauseating to say the least.

Obviously the story was going to have to be expanded to make a feature length film, but having a cousin come to stay? The Simpson's team were once told by their network (Fox) that they should 'shake things up a little' by having a cousin come and join the family, so for one episode they did just that and had an inexplicable cousin hanging around. The Simpsons were having a joke. I don't think Wes Anderson was.

The animation on the film was a different style to what we're used to. The rustling of the fur as the animators handled it added a retro feel that worked well with the static shots and the 50s style clothing, and I enjoyed the feeling that I was watching a film made as simply as possible without a large Hollywood studio behind it.

One of the most important aspects of any film, and especially of an animated film, is the willing suspension of disbelief. The audience must stay emotionally involved in the film from the first frame to the last, and not 'come out' of the movie for any reason. Fantastic Mr Fox contained too many moments where I left the world of the movie because of a cheap shot, bizarrely forced perspective or bad line.

THAT SAID, it cannot be denied that the children in the audience seemed to be enjoying the film, and laughed hysterically at parts where I was tutting under my breath. So perhaps it simply wasn't made for grumpy old animators, and perhaps to it's target market it was a flawless piece of cinematic wonder. But I maintain that there was more wit in one line of the book, than Anderson managed to fit in the entire film.

Joanna Quinn's favourite films

I love Joanna Quinn. From the feminist rap of Beryl to the Colonial rant of Britannia, I think that she is a a fantastic animator, and a fantastic film maker.

At Bradford, not only did they have an entire exhibition dedicated to her work (Drawings that Move), but she was also on the jury, allowed herself to be bombarded by student portfolios at 'Speed date the animators' and curated a screening of her favourite films.

Now personally I don't think that they were her favourite films. I think that she liked them, but I think that perhaps she used the opportunity to provide an education on important films that students should see. The list read practically as Animation 101, so I felt that I should pass on this list (with links where possible) as homework for any aspiring animators out there.

2 Sisters - Caroline Leaf
An incredible film, scratched directly on to 70mm film

Hill Farm - Mark Baker
Funny and poignant, try to find a better quality version than this

Your Face - Bill Plympton
Hilarious. The man is one hell of a caricaturist!

Who I Am and What I Want - David Shrigley / Chris Shepard
Psychopathic, but in the best way possible

Reci, Reci, Reci - Michaela Pavlatova
A surprise entry but a great film

Alternative Fringe - Candy Guard
Candy perfectly encapsulates the female experience

Un Jour - Marie Paccou
One day a man entered my belly

Flux - Christopher Hinton
Just plain manic

Egoli - Karen Kelly

The Man With the Beautiful Eyes - Jonathan Hodgson
Based on Charles Bukowski's poem

Swinging the Lambeth Walk - Len Lye
Fantasia style musical interpretation

King Sized Canary - Tex Avery
Because there had to be a Tex Avery one somewhere on the list!

So there you go animation lovers, that's Joanna Quinn's list of her favourite films, a veritable treasure trove of delights!

BAF stings

16 Nov 2009

In my last post I waxed lyrical about the fabulousness of Bradford Animation Festival, but didn't go in to much detail about what makes it the best animation festival in England (admittedly I've never been to Flip, Animex or several of the new ones that keep popping up, but it has to be said that Aurora, Exeter and Canterbury (while outstanding in their own ways) are merely pretenders to Bradford's throne.

I was particularly impressed by BAF's stings this year - a series of 10 second animations that emulated specific genres using the BAFMAN character, before revealing one of the letters in BAF. 'The stings are inventive takes on gothic horror, steampunk sci-fi, golden era Hollywood cartoons, and street-smart urban documentary' according to the BAF website

One of the animators (Kerry Drumm) was a good friend of ours at University, and ran the Animation Archive in Farnham before I took over when she left. She did a fantastic job at representing the Horror genre, with a grisly scenario that looked like a homage to one of the greatest animations of all time The Sandman. Aaron was able to use his meticulous attention to detail and love of model making by helping her with a couple of the props.

Animation being a fairly incestuous sort of world, we are also good friends with the guys who did the music for all 5 stings; Verbal Vigilante Music. They have been our frequent collaborators over the last few days, and scored both my and Aaron's graduation films. They did a great job yet again on these stings, making each one distinctive to the genre it depicts.

Here, for your viewing pleasure, are the BAF09 stings:

HORROR by Kerry Drumm

SCI FI by Gareth Howell

TOON by Caroline Parkinson

MO CAP by Andrew Chong


These stings (created by the Animation Academy at Loughborough) interest me because they help challenge people's preconception about animation as a genre of film making. To my mind, animation is a technique through which genre can be explored, which is exactly what these stings achieve.

Bradford Animation Festival (BAF 09)

We've just got back the Bradford Animation Festival in (surprisingly enough) Bradford. It ran from the 10th to the 14th of November and was, yet again, the hi-light of the British animation calendar.

Where else can students mingle with Oscar winning animators, producers and directors like Joanna Quinn, Priit Parn, Barry Purves, Jonas Odell, Brian Van't Hull and Claire Jennings?

Where else can you discuss animation theory with Paul Wells, watch great films from around the world, and meet other like minded people who share one common passion: animation.

It was a terrific line up, and 5 action packed days. My personal hi-light was probably the opening night film: Mary and Max by Adam Elliot (of Harvey Crumpet fame). It was the closest thing I think I've ever found to a perfect film, and I shall be doing a proper review next time I have a chance to sit down without a million practically identical, but ever so slightly different drawings that need doing.

Another part worth a mention was Brian Van't Hul's wonderfully insightful talk on the challenges that the Visual Effects team faced when making Coraline (the first stop-motion feature shot in stereoscopic 3D). A passionate and engaging speaker, he knew his subject inside out, and was able to summarize not only the obstacles and difficulties surrounding this ground breaking film but also the solutions that they found and the lessons that they learnt. Brian Van't Hul, for those who don't know, won an Oscar for the visual effects on King Kong, and has also worked on Nightmare Before Christmas, Forrest Gump, I Robot and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Tony Fish was honored with a life time achievement award, for his incredibly impressive CV as an editor (which were barely contained in not one, not two, but THREE retrospective screenings). Tony taught both myself and Aaron during our time at the University for the Creative Arts, and it was wonderful to see him being awarded this recognition.

(Aaron (who did his dissertation on Estonian animation) meets Priit Parn, Dangermouse joins Barry Purves to distribute an award, Tony Fish accepts his lifetime achievement award, Coraline puppets)

This is starting to sound a little gushy now, so on to some negatives. It rained almost constantly, and was thoroughly cold and dark when it didn't. The wrong film won the Grand Prix. The Professional film screening was of less quality than the Student films screening, and the Student films screening was made up entirely of films from MA courses (mostly from the RCA and Emile Cohl).

But these things are minor inconveniences when placed alongside 5 days of filmic delights and the odd glass of free wine.

We had a wonderful time at BAF09, and would like to thank the organisers Deb Singleton and Ben Eagle for doing a wonderful job.