The Shelf Is Half Full

An optimistic geek's blog on comic books, movies and professional wrestling.

Archive for the category “Animated Films”

New On The Shelf – Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6 is a 2014 CGI-animated superhero film directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams. It is the 54th film in the Disney Animated Canon and is very loosely inspired by the Marvel Comics series of the same name. The film tells the story of Hiro Hamada, a young scientific genius with a talent for building fighting robots, his interactions with his older brother Tadashi, Tadashi’s university friends, and a healthcare companion robot Tadashi designed named Baymax. Without giving any explicit spoilers away, Hiro eventually finds himself working alongside Baymax to stop a man in a Kabuki mask who is cooking up a nefarious plan that could hurt the citizens of San Fransokyo.

Yeah, that’s the name of the city. We’ve all got to live with it. Fortunately, the movie is about equally as good as that name is terrible. It is another hit in Disney’s recent list of successes such as Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen.

Big Hero 6

The focus of the film is on the relationship between Hiro and Baymax, and they are the characters I want to talk about most. However, I will take a moment to say that most of the supporting characters work for me. The heroes have enough personality to not be forgettable and the villain has a good enough backstory to give him some layers. I would have liked to have seen them develop these characters a little bit more, but for their roles they are good. I also appreciate that if one looks up the Marvel characters that Honey Lemon, GoGo, Wasabi and even Fred are based on, it is easy enough to see how they inspired their film counterparts. Tadashi is also a good addition to the story and the bond between Hiro and Tadashi feels real and natural, which isn’t as easy to accomplish as some might think.

Hiro is one of the more lead characters in a Disney film in quite some time, for me at least. Part of that is because Disney leads are usually young women, and most male leads tend to be a little older. The last young male lead in a Disney film was Jim Hawkins in 2002’s Treasure Planet, so this is really Disney Animation’s first go at this type of character in a generation. So do they pull it off? Pretty well in my opinion. Even though he’s absurdly intelligent, Hiro still comes across as a believable thirteen year old kid. I especially enjoy how utterly flawed he is as a human being. Frozen had two girls with communication issues and Wreck-It Ralph had a misunderstood but nice enough guy in the video game “villain” Ralph.

But Hiro is a brat. And that’s glorious.

BIG HERO 6

When I say he’s a brat, I mean this as a compliment to the writers. Hiro is stubborn and full of himself, he can be very moody, doesn’t listen very well, and often rushes into things without thinking of the consequences. All of this just makes him feel like a real teenager, and I think that kids will have an easy time relating to him. I enjoy that Disney was willing to present a character that has definite flaws but still has plenty of heart, brains and mental toughness that we can enjoy him and root for him. I’d like to see more of their characters presented this way; the more flaws a character has, the more human the character feels and the easier it is for an audience to relate to said character.

That said, the film is absolutely stolen by Baymax. The robot is one of my favorite characters from any movie in 2014 and managed to steal the crown of “most lovable” from Groot. It’s close, but Baymax wins. I want a Baymax. He may actually be Disney’s best supporting character since The Genie, and indeed, the relationship between Genie and Aladdin may be the best comparison for how Hiro and Baymax play off of each other. Hiro has serious problems that he has to address and Baymax is the only thing around with enough patience and empathy to really get to him and help him. He’s also insanely funny without trying to be. There is a lot of physical comedy that is mined from Baymax’s status as an enormous balloon.

Flying

Overall, Big Hero 6 is a movie I would grade as a B+. The main focus of the movie works very well, but the overall plot sometimes falters and the characters other than Hiro and Baymax, while colorful, are underwhelming. I personally preferred Disney’s last two efforts, but taking a small dip in quality here is much better than say, the bomb that Pocahontas was after the smashing successes of Aladdin and The Lion King. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a “good” movie; plenty of movies don’t even make it to that level. Kids will love it, and adults, especially parents with teenagers, will probably find plenty to like as well.

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Always On My Shelf – Toy Story

Toy Story is a 1995 CGI-animated buddy-comedy about living toys and is one of the most important innovations in movie making in the last twenty years. This was the first feature length film done entirely with CGI, which is a massive accomplishment in and of itself; this opened the door for a new style of animation that has become the industry standard. But the reason Toy Story has endured as a classic is not because of its innovative technology; it is because it was a highly original idea with rich, fully fleshed out characters, a compelling plot, and themes that resonated with adults even as the movie entertained their children.

Woody and Buzz

The film was directed by John Lasseter, who wrote the film along with Andrew Stanton, Joel Cohen, Alec Sokolow, and Joss Whedon. In the world of Toy Story, toys are living, sentient beings but most are aware that their purpose is to be played with by children. While one might think this would be a cause for distress, most of the characters we see in this movie are rather content; their owner Andy is still at age where he plays with all of them and tells epic stories with them. However, they do fear being replaced by newer and cooler toys. Woody, a pull-string cowboy doll, is Andy’s favorite toy and does not face this fear, but soon finds himself replaced when Andy gets a Buzz Lightyear action figure for his birthday.

Buzz is basically the coolest thing on the planet, a space ranger with a ton of buttons, bells and whistles; he’s also completely ignorant of the fact that he is a toy and believes that he actually is “Buzz Lightyer, Space Ranger”. The film, at its core, is about the existential crises of Woody and Buzz; Woody has to come to terms with the fact that his position as Andy’s favorite toy may not be a permanent one, and Buzz eventually has to realize that he is a toy, and figure out how he’s going to handle this. While the film is bright and colorful and funny, there is also a lot going on that adults can read into. It’s those layers that keep people from my generation coming back to this movie twenty years after its release.

Toy Story

Toy Story is rightfully a classic by almost everyone, and is one of those rare movies that manages to transcend cinema and become part of pop culture. The characters resonated deeply with viewers, especially my generation who felt like we grew up with them; not just in this film, but in the two quality sequels. Toy Story 2 is one of the most intelligent sequels ever made and I couldn’t even appreciate how good it was at the time because my brain hadn’t quite realized how human these characters were. Toy Story 3 may actually be a stronger movie than the original and made many people cry. That’s something special and very difficult to replicate in the movie industry. The fact that this cartoon movie was able to make toys feel like real living people, develop and grow the characters, and give them a satisfying ending is beautiful.

It’s kind of hard to imagine that someone may not have seen Toy Story, so let me recommend this in a different way. Buy this movie and preserve it for your children. Good movies come out every year, but there are very few that will affect your children in a more positive way than this classic film. It will inspire their imaginations, encourage them to make friends with those they have differences with, to examine themselves as human beings, and to remember that it is okay to grow up and yet remain a child at heart.

Always On My Shelf – Spirited Away

As a child who grew up in the heyday of the “Disney Renaissance”, I developed a great love for epic movies with hand-drawn animation. I loved such films as The Lion KingAladdin and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and as I got a little older I remember enjoying other movies like The Prince of Egypt and The Iron Giant. But I do remember that the early 2000s were a time where I started to lose interest; films like Lilo & Stitch and The Emperor’s New Groove were okay, but I was pulled into the new world of digital animation. And with movies like ShrekFinding Nemo and Monsters, Inc. aroud that were just objectively better, I remember feeling that hand-drawn animation had kind of had its day.

But then my mother brought home a film by Hayao Miyazaki that had won “Best Animated Picture” at the Oscars despite almost nobody knowing about. This movie not only restored my love for hand-drawn animation, but was one of the best movies that I had ever seen and has consistently been one of my favorites ever since. That film is Spirited Away.

Poster

If you are one of the unlucky souls who has yet to see this masterpiece, I implore you to seek it out because it is a film that is best experienced without any information before hand. If you want a generic description that doesn’t outright spoil anything, the film is basically a more serious Alice in Wonderland that actually has a point to it. But even that feels like an inadequate description of Chihiro’s journey into the Spirit World and the growth she experiences as a person.

I think what first captured my imagination first when watching this movie was not only the visual style of the movie, but the excellent musical score by Joe Hisaishi. It is just serene and feels like the music of everyday life, but then shifts in tone to this aggressive and scary style that perfectly meshes with Miyazaki’s story. That story is about Chihiro’s family moving to a new city but taking a detour and finding a restaurant store, where they greedily devour the food that isn’t meant for them. It is here where the movie becomes supernatural as the Spirit World comes to life, and the moment when Chihiro realizes that her parents have transformed into pigs remains one of the most unsettling moments I can recall in film.

Spirits

Chihiro panics looking both to escape and to get help; while she can’t find the former, the latter arrives in the form of Haku, a boy who guides her to his master Yubaba’s bathhouse. Telling her that she must get the old witch to give her a job if she is to be safe in this world, he helps her for a while before she is again left alone. And this is where I must mention one of the movie’s greatest strengths; you feel every bit of this movie when you are watching it. The panic, the sense of being lost, the desperation to be safe; Chihiro is feeling this, but the viewer is feeling it too. The movie completely sucks you into its world and makes you connect with the character.

When Chihiro is granted a job at the price of her name, she begins working at the Bathhouse as Sen. She is over the initial panic but now has to deal with this crazy world around her. This was one of the things that grabbed me here; there is so much creativity on display, so many unique character designs that I can’t compare to anything else except for some of Miyazaki’s other films. This is when I started to regain an appreciation for the art of hand-drawn animation and how it could bring amazing things to life in a way that even digital animation can struggle to do at times.

Haku

I will not explain any more of the plot here in case you are a reader who hasn’t seen the film and is still reading this article instead of heading to a local movie store and buying it. Instead, I wish to simply say that the movie is an interesting one that is steeped in Japanese mythology and almost seems like it should be more familiar to it is. It is almost a fairy tale, but isn’t quite there. It is almost a coming of age story, but not quite. Chihiro doesn’t so much “grow up” as she just well… grows. She becomes smarter and braver and more capable. When we are introduced to her she seems selfish and unwilling to experience anything new, but by the end of the film she has organically made friends and seems to appreciate everyone around her. She suffers but triumphs, and she never once feels too old for her age. She feels exactly like a ten year girl put in these incredible circumstances should feel. One of Miyazaki’s many gifts is his understanding of children and that is on full display in this movie.

Yet as much as I love this film, I have to admit that it stirs up another emotion in me every time I see it; jealously. I watch this and I wish I could be this original and this imaginative and just this brilliant. Spirited Away still feels fresh and still inspires me to be a better writer and to expand my imagination, and very few films, even my favorites, can do that the way this movie does. Which just makes me love it even more. In my book, it is the best animated movie ever made, and one of the greatest films ever.

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