Tag Archives: Children’s Film

CAPSULE: TIME MASTERS [LES MAÎTRES DU TEMPS] (1982)

AKA The Masters of Time

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DIRECTED BY: René Laloux

FEATURING: Voices of , Michel Elias, Frédéric Legros, Yves-Marie Maurin, Monique Thierry

PLOT: A boy is marooned on an alien world, and a space mercenary encounters many obstacles in his rescue attempt.

Still from Time Masters (1982)

COMMENTS: Like the younger brother of an overachiever, Time Masters has to live up to a mighty pedigree. Director Rene Laloux is already enshrined in these halls for Fantastic Planet, another Stefan Wul adaptation renowned for its trippy visuals and detailed alien worlds. Add in that Laloux’s collaborator this time around is the famed artist Jean Giraud—better known as Moebius—and it’s only natural to assume that the result will hit similarly mind-blowing heights. Alas, the comparison does the newer film no favors. Hamstrung by a plot stretched too thin and production levels of sharply varying quality, Time Masters plays like the Filmation version of its predecessor.

The film’s production seems to be part of the problem. Originally conceived for television, satisfaction with early work convinced Laloux to expand it into a feature film. Unfortunately, the budget did not expand in proportion, and a large percentage of the movie was outsourced to animators in Hungary. (So many co-producers were brought in that it can legitimately be called a Franco-West German-Swiss-British-Hungarian production.) It’s not hard to figure out which parts of the film were animated where; the adventures of Piel on the surface of the untamed world of Perdide are charming and delicate, with the boy interacting with fascinating creatures both friendly and vicious. Meanwhile, the crew on its way to rescue him is flat and inert, completely incapable of demonstrating any emotion, let alone matching the tenor of the vocal performances. Time Masters becomes a tale of two films.

The story isn’t helping matters, as it betrays the effort that goes into delaying the central goal. Having received a subspace message that a small child is all alone on a dangerous planet and in need of rescue, the response of the would-be heroes is to take their sweet time. Stopping to pick up a sage advisor, they go for an extended swim. An attempted mutiny by a deposed royal leads to a suspense-free prison break. The threat of interference by space cops is met with the breathless excitement of a board meeting. (That’s not a metaphor. They all go into an auditorium and talk it out.) You can almost feel the screenwriters making the “stall for time” gesture.

Time Masters is not without its charms. In fact, the cuter the creature, the more interesting they seem to be. Piel and his planetary menagerie are sweet and occasionally even adorable, although they are far outdone by a pair of faceless gremlins named Yula and Jad who offer a running commentary on the foolishness of those around them. They are the Threepio and Artoo of the piece, but they bring more punch than most of the humans do at their most emotive.

Time Masters is commendable as something original, featuring some dramatic visuals and culminating in an ending that is certainly bold, even if it doesn’t really pay off the story in any meaningful way. But there just isn’t a whole lot that happens, and what does happen isn’t compelling enough to be more than a passing fancy.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Not that the ending betrays what has gone before, as it is suitably trippy and lightly mind-bending in its way, it’s just that until that point there’s a feeling that the film is tiptoeing around anything that might seem to heavy – basically, it looks like a kids’ film… It weaves a spell if you’re indulgent enough of its whims, which include that headscratcher of a finale.”–Graeme Clark, The Spinning Image

(This movie was nominated for review by Nickholas P Michell. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

31*. DONKEY SKIN (1970)

Peau d’âne

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“…the confusion between the real and the marvelous… is the essence of enchantment.”–Jean-Louis Bory on Peau d’âne

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Jacques Demy

FEATURING: , , , Jacques Perrin

PLOT: The Blue King lives happily in a fairy tale castle with his beautiful wife, his beautiful daughter, and his magic donkey who shits treasure. When the Queen dies, she makes the King swear that he will only marry a woman more beautiful than she is; unfortunately, the only woman meeting that description is his daughter. Seeking to escape a coerced marriage to her father, the Princess consults her fairy godmother, who advises her to put on the donkey’s skin and flee the kingdom to live as a scullery maid.

Still from Donkey Skin (1970)

BACKGROUND:

  • The story is based on a fairy tale by Charles Perrault, a Frenchman who collected and transcribed European folk tales a century before the Grimm Brothers embarked on their similar project. (An English translation of the original “Donkey Skin” can be found here.)
  • Previous French stage adaptations (and a silent film version) of the fairy tale rewrote the story to omit the incest theme entirely.
  • Jacques Demy had wanted to adapt the fairy tale as early as 1962, hoping to cast Brigitte Bardot and , but at the time he was not well-known enough to raise the budget he would have required.
  • This was the third musical Demy directed featuring Catherine Deneuve, following the massive international hits The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) and The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967). Although it received the least exposure of the three in the U.S., Peau d’âne was Demy’s biggest financial success in France.
  • The skin the Princess wears came from a real donkey, a fact Deneuve was unaware of during filming.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Divine Deneuve in donkey drag.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Coughing frogs; fairy godmother in a helicopter

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Picking a fairy tale to adapt into an all-ages musical, Demy goes for the one with the incest-based plot.


Trailer for restoration of Peau d’âne (Donkey Skin) (in French)

COMMENTS: The musical was not a major force in French cinema Continue reading 31*. DONKEY SKIN (1970)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: IN SEARCH OF THE TITANIC (2004)

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Tentacolino

DIRECTED BY: Kim Jun-Ok

FEATURING THE VOICES OF: Jane Alexander (not that one), Anna Mazzotti, Francis Pardeilham, Gregory Snegoff

PLOT: Attacked while on an undersea exploration to find the wreckage of the Titanic (which evidently suffered no casualties following its run-in with an iceberg thanks to the intervention of an enormous doe-eyed squid), survivors Elizabeth and Don Juan, talking dog Smile and incorrigible talking rats Ronnie and Top Connors are rescued by the denizens of Atlantis, who ally with them in a battle against an army of rebellious rats, a group of shark inmates, and the evil human Lord Vandertilt, who wants the valuable shipwreck all to himself.

Still from In Search of the Titanic (2004)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: What ought to be a simple quick-buck exploitation to lure in dumb kids and their undiscerning parents by ripping off such entertainments as The Little Mermaid, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, and ’s Titanic swims proudly into its own realm of insanity. Impossible to dismiss as merely incompetent, the unfolding story contains enough deliberate intentions to force its consideration as art. The choices are almost painfully strange, forcing you to question the very fabric of reality. It’s like if a Penrose triangle were a movie.

COMMENTS: If you decided to turn off In Search of the Titanic after two minutes (a reasonable desire)—having only watched the opening credits consisting of scene snips from this film’s predecessor in which a man dances with a dog, an enormous octopus forces the two broken halves of the Titanic back together, and a blue whale catches a couple after they have fallen from the mighty ship’s deck—you could still make a solid case for it as one of the weirdest movies ever made. Having taken this hiatus from the film, you might then take a moment to dig into the history of its animation studio, which is based in North Korea and which has handled outsourced work for The Simpsons Movie and Avatar: The Last Airbender, at which point you might feel as though you were losing your grip and start doing that thing where you try to read a book because supposedly you can’t read in your dreams. But at this critical juncture, let me encourage you to head back to the film. Stick around. Ride this out. Watch the whole movie. Because believe me, your descent into madness is just getting started. Go with it. Let the insanity rain down upon you like mighty waters.

Because even after you meet the talking dog and the sharks who work on an underwater chain gang and the CGI that came from a 1990s DVD menu, it still hasn’t gotten amazing yet. You see, you haven’t met the leader of the sharks. You haven’t seen him wearing the dress-whites of the Titanic’s captain. You definitely haven’t heard him start to rap. And you certainly haven’t heard his backup chorus of clams who also double as a telegraph machine. Only when you’ve gotten this far can you even begin to imagine the scale of the Continue reading APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: IN SEARCH OF THE TITANIC (2004)

CAPSULE: DELTA SPACE MISSION (1984)

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DIRECTED BY: , Mircea Toia, Victor Antonescu

FEATURING: Voices of Mirela Gorea, Marcel Iures

PLOT: A super-powerful A.I. computer falls in love with a beautiful alien journalist and chases her across the universe.

Still from Delta Space Mission (1984)
COMMENTS: Though made in Romania in the dying days of the Cold War, Delta Space Mission proves that some concepts have universal appeal: Mankind’s drive to explore the fascinating universe in which it finds itself. Faith that our essential goodness will one day abolish prejudices, so that people of different genders, races and species can work together for the common good and against common enemies. The stalkerish love of an Epcot Center-shaped supercomputer for a shapely green alien.

If Delta Space Mission‘s plot seems episodic—and a bit choppy—when you watch it, that’s because it was originally twelve short films made together as proofs of concept, then assembled into a feature film. Had the pilot film been a big success, Delta Space Mission would have become a franchise—possibly even an international export. In the opening, Starfleet Federation-type characters are introduced, but hardly fleshed out; presumably, had the series continued, they would have become more meaningful players. But this arc belongs to lime-skinned journalist Alma (who’s also a pretty good shot with a raygun) and her metal-eating alien space dog, Tin.

When Alma is so enchanted by the jewel-like beauty of the giant spherical  supercomputer that she imagines herself dancing with it in a cosmic ballet, watching it grow multicolored rings along which she gracefully sails before the whole scene dissolves into a a splatter of colors, you’ll see the potential appeal of the series to the psychedelic crowd. Other episodes range from the computer animating giant stone robots, ocean waves, and a radio tower in a vain attempt to capture Alma, to the pivotal confrontation on a swamp planet full of strange aliens that wouldn’t look too out of place on Fantastic Planet (including some friendly green blobs with Kermit the Frog heads who treat Tin as their personal beach ball). The pastiche of classic sci-fi influences and references are entertaining to pick out: the space station looks like the Death Star, a spaceship chase though some rock formations that recalls The Empire Strikes Back‘s asteroid field escape, and so on.

The similarity to American Saturday morning cartoons of the period, or to the animated segments of 1970s-era “Sesame Street,” comes from the budgetary constraints. The movie has a lot of action—in fact, it’s near constant shootouts and chases—but it’s animated at a low frame rate, and not particularly fluid. There are lots of static scenes, and the designs for characters and other moving elements are simple, with detail reserved for the bright, dramatic backgrounds. The action is accompanied by an abstract, vintage space-synth soundtrack that sounds like a cross between Tangerine Dream and a malfunctioning Atari 2600. But Delta Space Mission works within its limitations, never letting them confine an imagination that soars towards the cosmic. If the idea of a kitschy Saturday morning sci-fi adventure with an offbeat, mildly psychedelic Eastern European spin to it sounds appealing to you, you won’t be disappointed with Delta Space Mission.

Delta Space Mission is released by Dead Crocodile on Blu-ray or VOD.

You can also watch our interview with director Calin Cazan, where he provides some more background information on the project.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…yes, “Delta Space Mission” is supremely weird… a head-trip viewing experience that does well with colors and sound, connecting to younger viewers and those in an altered state of mind. “Delta Space Mission” doesn’t offer cohesive storytelling (a few characters introduced early in the picture have nothing to do with the plot), but it’s an engrossing sit, with strong artistic achievements and a few weirdo touches to keep it all wonderfully amusing.”–Brian Orndorf, Blu-ray.com (Blu-ray)

(This movie was nominated for review by Will, who called it “such an amazing animated feature and would work perfect among some of the other movies already featured on this site.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: THE CAT IN THE HAT (2003)

Beware

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“I’m not so good with the rhyming.”  – The Cat (Mike Myers)

DIRECTED BY: Bo Welch

FEATURING: Mike Myers, , Spencer Breslin, ,

PLOT: Two children left alone at home encounter a human-sized talking cat who leads them on a series of wacky and destructive misadventures.

Still from Cat in the Hat (2003)

COMMENTS:

Shall I spin you a tale of a movie gone wrong?
Of 82 minutes that feel three days long?
Then I’ll tell unto you, just right there where you’ve sat
Of the travesty known as The Cat in the Hat.

‘Twas a gray day in Hollywood, no dreams to dream,
When one junior executive cooked up a scheme:
“What we need’s some IP we can plunder for cash.
It can be mediocre, can even be trash!
All we need is the title; who cares if it’s rank?
They’ll fill up the theaters, and we’ll all make bank.”

“You’re so right,” said his colleagues, “it’s easy as pie.
For familiar content, we won’t even try.”
So those vultures considered what might be of use
And decided to dig up our dear Dr. Seuss.

“We’ve done it before,” they all cried. “It’s a cinch.
We grossed two-sixty mill on that trash heap, The Grinch.
Which proves that we needn’t pretend like we care. No,
That garbage still vacuumed up mucho dinero.”

The honchos began to assemble the parts
That would demonstrate all of their filmmaking smarts.
A novice director? Sure, that’ll be fine.
“We’ll pick some guy known for production design.”

“And a script?” a small voice piped up. “I took a look
And it might be a challenge to translate a book
That’s so short. We’ll get ripped by the Dr. Seuss nerds;
It’s one thousand six hundred and twenty-six words.”

“Damn the length!” came the riposte. “Damn logic and plot.
For those minor objections,” they said, “we care not.
Once we get a big star, we’ll have no cause for worry.
His comedy chops will fix things in a hurry.”
So they looked at the feline displayed on the front
And decided to try an uproarious stunt.
Tall and thin, long of limb, with a wide, gleeful eye…
“Mike Myers!” they cried. “There’s no doubt he’s our guy!”

And perhaps that is how we arrived at this place,
At a movie so lacking in wit and in grace.

Continue reading CAPSULE: THE CAT IN THE HAT (2003)