Tag Archives: Animation

SLAMDANCE 2024: SLIDE (2024)

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DIRECTED BY: Bill Plympton

FEATURING: Voices of Maureen McElheron, Jim Lujan, Tom Racine, Ana Sophia Colón, Daniel Kaufman

PLOT: Emerging from a desert whirlpool, a mysterious slide guitarist defends the locals—and the local monster—from the corrupt machinations of the mayor of Sourdough Creek.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: Plympton’s absorbingly grotesque animation style, paired perfectly with his oddball storytelling, make his films a shoo-in ’round these parts.

COMMENTS: A bearded hick, launched from his horse-driven observation perch above an incomplete dam, hurdles through the air as dozens of flying logs arc in his direction. He screams, and the camera appears to crash through his mouth, past his teeth, down his esophagus, through his guts, and out again through the… other end. This dramatic journey is animated in Bill Plympton’s signature, jaunty style, and is just one of the countless examples of him playing with lines in motion.

The man in question is Jeb Carver, the mayor of hickturesque Sourdough Creek, the rustic locale where Tinselwood Studios is hoping to film their latest blockbuster. Never one to abstain from milking a chance for all its worth, Carver takes this opportunity to convert his logging town into “Monte Carlo del Norte,” pushing his citizens to deadly lengths to whip up a dam, casino, and resort over the course of a week. The immigrant fishing village gets leveled, the “service girls” work extra shifts, and the band is banned from playing slow music. Enter a mysterious stranger, and his slide guitar.

The silly plot is pushed forward with silly machinations, silly dialogue, and a sinister (but still fairly silly) monster which is disturbed by the deforestation. This silliness serves mostly to allow Plympton to play around with his weird cartooning. Characters chase other characters up interminable stairs; dozens of unnaturally proportioned firearms pop up and fire from trees, fish, and hats; teardrops slide and slosh in extreme closeups; bosoms bounce up and down (and, for the kinky types, side to side) courtesy of the in-film technological marvel, The Sugar Shaker; and Yellow Submarine-esque fantasies play out like nauseous reimaginings of psychedelic whimsy.

Slide is not groundbreaking, it’s not “big” in any sense of the term, and as a pastiche, isn’t “new” per se. But, it is unfailingly interesting to watch (a necessity for a cartoon—something that other animation studios would do well to remember) and oh-so-reassuringly bizarre. Bill Plympton is a talented artist, particularly for having chosen the (difficult) route of animation in his unique style of comical grotesquerie writ (er, drawn) large. Kick back, keep your eyes peeled, and allow Plympton’s latest eccentricity to Slide deep down your pie-hole.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Named after its completely mute lead character and his ‘slide guitar,’ this surreal movie overflows with ideas and mesmerizing imagery…. If Slide sounds bonkers, it absolutely is.” — Josh Batchelder, Josh at the Movies (festival screening)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: THE BOY AND THE HERON (2023)

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Kimitachi wa dô ikiru ka

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Voices of Soma Santoki, , , Aimyon, , Shōhei Hino, (Japanese); Luca Padovan, , Gemma Chan, , Karen Fukuhara, (English dub)

PLOT: A Japanese boy who has lost his mother during WWII meets a mysterious heron who guides him into a fantastic netherworld where the living and dead co-exist in a bizarre ecosystem.

Still from The Boy and the Heron (2023)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: It’s got that otherworldly Miyazaki character design, and enigmatic surprises galore. My high hopes were met in an early scene where the heron conjures a choir of fish and a cloak of frogs; once the protagonist enters the tower, the strangeness doesn’t let up.

COMMENTS: The venerable Hayao Miyazaki may be the only man alive still building new Wonderlands, making animated movies that feel like children’s literature. Disney/Pixar has a clear format: pick a clear theme—high fantasy, the four classical elements, Day of the Dead—add clear villain and clear comic relief, along with a clear moral to nod at. Miyazaki’s stories are psychologically complex and character driven, with bespoke worldbuilding that borrows from nothing but his imagination and the story’s demands. His hand-drawn animations are artistic rather than technically dazzling, and although he directs action nearly as well as his Western peers, his spectacles arise naturally rather than in response to script beats. While perhaps not quite up to the exemplary standard set by Spirited Away, The Boy and the Heron is a welcome return to the “big fantasy” genre, and sits comfortably alongside Miyazaki’s best work.

But, it must be said that The Boy and the Heron is oddly paced. The movie spends the first 45 of its 120 minutes in the real world. This drawn-out prologue is not at all unpleasant; we get to know Mahito extremely well, his relationship with his kind but distant father and his polite resentment towards his new stepmother (formerly his aunt). The seven old women who attend on the family at its estate and squabble over rare tobacco provide comic relief; whereas the other characters are drawn naturalistically, these old ladies are kindly caricatures, squat, with trademark features like bulbous red noses or eye-doubling spectacles; their cartoonish co-existence alongside the more elegant characters makes them resemble Snow White‘s seven dwarfs. Most importantly, this section develops Mahito’s relationship with the titular heron. At first, it is a rare and noble bird that takes an unusual interest in the boy. It gradually becomes an annoyance, slowly learning to speak, mocking Mahito while drawing him towards the mysterious sealed tower. The heron’s appearance also grows increasingly grotesque, as he reveals rows of Continue reading APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: THE BOY AND THE HERON (2023)

CHANNEL 366: SCOTT PILGRIM TAKES OFF (2023)

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DIRECTED BY: Abel Góngora

FEATURING THE VOICES OF: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Michael Cera, Satya Bhabha, Kieran Culkin, Chris Evans, , Brie Larson, Alison Pill, , Brandon Routh, Jason Schwartzman, Johnny Simmons, Mark Webber, Mae Whitman, Ellen Wong

PLOT: Slacker bassist Scott Pilgrim must defeat seven evil exes in order to win Ramona Flowers, the girl of his dreams… but a surprising outcome leads Ramona to investigate her own romantic past and the new world that has resulted. 

Still from Scott Pilgirm Takes Off (2023)

COMMENTS: When Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was unleashed upon audiences, the entertainment world braced itself for the perfect synthesis of teen romantic comedy and arcade-style fighting action, the arrival of Edgar Wright in the big leagues, and the birth of a storytelling phenomenon. And the result was… something less than that. The film captured the spirit of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s anime-inspired comic, Wright’s dense candy-colored melange of light and sound was groundbreaking, and the movie’s cast would ultimately be revealed as a murderer’s row of silver screen talent. But crowds did not throng to to the cinemas, and the film fell well short of breaking even at the box office. So Scott Pilgrim did the only thing it could do: it became a cult object.

The thing about cult objects is that their dedicated fan base can sometimes inspire the development of more product, but re-capturing that initial magic is often be such a fruitless pursuit that the reality is worse than the longing for more. So it’s not a question of whether the arrival of a Netflix animated series featuring nearly the entire movie cast lending their voices would produce a response from the most devoted Pilgrim-heads, but whether that series would leave diehards fulfilled, or furious. Intriguingly, “Scott Pilgrim Takes Off” charts a course that feeds into the nostalgia machine before almost immediately pulling the plug on it.

As if wanting to reassure faithful viewers that this is the very same material you fell in love with over a decade ago, the premier episode plays out as a near-repeat of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World’s first act, re-introducing all the familiar characters and playing out the meet-cute between slacker-dreamer Scott and doe-eyed dream girl Ramona. But the big twist—which is so fundamental to the miniseries’ execution that the producers begged critics to embargo the surprise during its release, so let’s just consider this a big ol’ SPOILER ALERT right now—is that Scott loses his first showdown with a member of the League of Evil Exes. Leaving nothing behind but a few coins, our ostensible hero is gone, with seven episodes to go. (Essentially, the “Takes Off” part of the title should be interpreted in the most Canadian manner possible.) And what we’re left with is the World Continue reading CHANNEL 366: SCOTT PILGRIM TAKES OFF (2023)