The Oscar Project
I can’t believe we are about 1/3 of the way through this challenge already. I don’t know about you, but I am so glad I have been given the push to watch some of the films on my list this year, especially the ones I’ve been putting off for a while.
This week we are watching an Animated Film and this was the first time in the challenge that I watched something I had already seen. Granted, I only watched this film for the first time back in January, but I had to watch it a second time in preparation for writing this post to refresh my memory on it. The film in question is the 1973 surrealist science fiction film, Fantastic Planet. The original French title is La planète sauvage which more accurately translates to The Wild Planet, which I actually prefer.
I originally watched this on a recommendation from someone in a movie roulette group I’m in on Discord. Each week we get a category from the organizer along with a randomized member to give a recommendation to in that category. We then also recommend a movie to someone else, watch our recommended film, and provide a rating. The idea is to watch films you’ve never seen and expand your horizons in film watching. I’m in two of these groups and several of the films I’ve watched from these recommendations have been fantastic. Unfortunately, there are some duds as well, but that’s all part of the fun.
The other piece of bonus information I got in viewing the film on physical media was an insert in the package that had the text of an essay about the film written by Michael Brooke. The essay “Fantastic Planet: Gambous Amalga” provided additional insight into the creation of the film and is still available to read on the Criterion website. When I first watched the film, I wrote that the simple animation helped me focus on the story, but what I hadn’t realized at the time was the actual method of animation used. As Brooke notes in his essay:
“the film’s real strengths lie in Topor’s bizarre designs and the way that character designer Josef Kábrt, background designer Josef Váňa, and their animators brought them uncannily to life by the simple but very effective method of combining paper cutouts and in-camera dissolves, the better to preserve Topor’s characteristic crosshatched drawing style while keeping the budget as low as possible.”
Understanding that the images we see on the screen are actually little pieces of paper drawings that have been cut out and then manipulated to give the illusion of motion only increases my appreciation of the technical abilities put into the film. At the same time, it also frustrates me that much more that such a cool method of animation was used when the story could have been even stronger.
The last thing I have to mention might seem a little prudish, but it annoyed me even more in my second viewing than it did the first. Throughout the film, the characters, specifically the females, show more skin than we would ever seen in a traditional American animated film. The alien Draags wear outfits that seem like they intentionally highlight the breasts and nipples of the females, and the Om (human) females mostly wear loose garments that expose their breasts in many scenes. After watching the Laloux’s short films noted above, I can tell that this is not unique to Fantastic Planet, but something we see throughout his work.
Now, I don’t have a problem with seeing those things on screen, and there are plenty of films out there with female (and male) private parts on full view, but this film almost seemed to include them just for the shock value of including them. Brooke writes in the aforementioned essay that “film is perfectly suitable for children, who’ll most likely be equally unfazed by that and the Oms’ casual nudity: it’s parents who’ll be squirming uneasily in their seats,” but I would politely disagree. It’s actually not the Om nudity that gets me as that’s more natural. It’s the Draag nudity and the fact that we often get closeups of the young Draag Tiwa holding her Om Terr in her hand, with a very large and prominent nipple in the background. I don’t have a problem with it, but I also don’t think it is necessary and it certainly doesn’t do anything to advance the story. For me, especially watching the film a second time and knowing it was there, it was incredibly distracting.
In the end, I’m glad I rewatched this film and gave it another shot. I would increase my overall rating for the film from the 6 I gave it in January to a 7. After watching some of Laloux’s other work and reading a bit more about him and the film, I am interested to see some of his other work. If you’re looking for a surrealist escape from reality, especially one that might be enhanced by watching in a chemically altered state, this is one to consider.
We’re coming to the end of April already and I’m planning out my next two-month review of the challenge so far this year. I will probably post that next week some time as I try to catch up on a certain TV series which will become clear next week.
This week, we are looking at an Animated Film. These are so easy to find, and even more so with the advent of streaming services which tend to gobble these movies up like candy. Every time I look on Netflix, it seems like there is another new animated movie there with lots of bright colors, talking animals, and fantastic worlds. If you do need help finding an animated movie, look no further than Wikipedia’s list of Animated Feature Films.
My Selection-Fantastic Planet
I’m cheating a bit on this one as I watched it earlier in the year. This was recommended to me by someone in a movie roulette on Discord and I wasn’t too terribly in love with it at first, but I’m actually going to re-watch it this week and give it another try. It’s a French animated film from the 1970s that I had never heard of until that recommendation, and definitely not your garden variety Disney, Illumination, or Dreamworks animated feature.
Don Bluth had such an impact on my childhood even though I didn’t know his name at the time. I grew up on his films, specifically The Land Before Time, All Dogs Go to Heaven, and An American Tail (affiliate links) and reading about the man behind those stories took me right back to my formative years.
Bluth’s story is one that takes him from his birth in Texas, to Utah, before landing at Disney as an animator. This book is told in his own words, and it truly feels like you’re sitting fireside, listening to him recount his life. Bluth brings plenty of humor and wit to the telling, and weaves in “conversations” he had with his biggest critic, the man in the mirror, throughout his life.
After reading this book, I have a better appreciation for the world of animation, understanding what a stranglehold Disney had on the animation industry throughout the 20th century. When Bluth left Disney to create his own company, everyone told him he would fail, and Disney threw as many hurdles in his way as they could.
I am starting off our deeper dive coverage of the films nominated for Oscars this year with a look at the three short film categories, Best Documentary Short Film, Best Animated Short Film, and Best Live Action Short Film.
I personally love these categories because you often get a wide range of stories all packed into small packages. Many of the films, especially in the animated category, are less than ten minutes long, so you can sit down and watch the entire category in less time than it takes to watch a full feature film, if you can find them that is.
That's the true struggle with these films. They rarely get released to theaters outside of film festivals, but with the rise of online streaming services and sites like Vimeo and YouTube, many of these are more accessible than ever. Out of the 15 nominees across the three short film categories, seven are readily available on YouTube, Netflix and Disney+. The remaining eight do not currently have distribution as of this writing, but may be released publicly prior to the Academy Award ceremony.
Best Documentary Short Film
With four of these five films available online, I was able to sit down and watch them back to back. I wish I could say these documentaries were uplifting and lighthearted, but with subjects ranging from anti-government protests in Hong Kong to the murder of a young girl to a WWII French Resistance fighter visiting the concentration camp where her brother died, you won't find much levity here. About the closest you'll come is the conversation between a grandfather and grandson on the eve of the younger man's concerto debut in concert.
These films are all fantastic. As I have some more time to digest them and think about them, I'm sure one or two may rise to the surface as my favorite to win the award, but right now they are all too fresh in my mind to make a pick.
Best Animated Short Film
The animated short film category is one that has been owned by Pixar shorts off and on for some time. However, as cute as "Burrow" is, I don't think it is strong enough to take home the prize this year. I say this having only seen that and "If Anything Happens I Love You," but already that film has my vote for the award. Fair warning, don't read anything about it before you watch, not even my summary below. The best way to watch that short is to go in blind.
I am hoping to get a chance to see the other three films, especially "Opera" which brings a very intriguing premise. As I am able to view them, I will update here with my thoughts as well as short reviews of each.
Best Live Action Short Film
As of this writing, I've only seen one film from this group but it is fantastic. The premise of "Feeling Through" is truly unique and once again, I went in knowing very little of what it was about.
I am also intrigued to see "The Letter Room" which stars Hollywood actor Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina, Star Wars, Inside Llewyn Davis) He has been seen in a number of big budget films over the last decade or so, that I look forward to seeing what he is able to do in a short film format.
Finally, I recently heard an interview with Lawrence Bender, the producer of "Two Distant Strangers" as well as Joey Bada$$ who stars in the film. The story sounds like an intriguing look at police brutality in America mixed with a concept familiar to anyone who has seen Palm Springs (review) or Groundhog Day.
A film that you dozed off in
Believe it or not, this was a really hard category for me. I usually don’t fall asleep in movies unless I’m watching them late at night and I’m super tired. When that happens, it’s no fault of the movie and I didn’t think it was fair to pick one of those for today.
Now, my actual selection is one I’ve probably dozed off in a few times but the first one is kind of memorable. Every summer for the past five or six years, we have taken at least one trip to the nearest drive-in theater to our home. We look for the double feature with two animated movies and have gotten to see gems like Inside Out (link), Toy Story 4, and Minions. We’ve also had to endure a few duds, one of which was Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation.
Now, to be fair, I was tasked with the job of walking around the parking lot during this movie with a 2-year-old who wasn’t thrilled about having to sit still through two whole movies. Honestly though, I wasn’t too sad about it because I had missed enough of the film trying to get the little one to sleep, I was able to doze off myself and not miss the end of the movie.
But don’t worry, I have since seen this movie my fair share of times over the past two years, and may have dozed off during it at least once more. I loved the first two films in the franchise, but this was yet another example of more not being better. I’m sure they are already making a fourth film in the series, but I wish they had stopped at just one.
Day 20 – A film that changed your life | Day 22 – A film that made you angry
Your favorite animated film
Pretty much anything that Pixar puts out over the last 25 years has been an instant classic, from Toy Story launching the genre of animated feature into the computer generated age, to visual spectacles like Finding Nemo taking us under the ocean and WALL-E taking us into deep space. On the surface, Pixar films are about animals, robots, monsters, or toys, but they all tell an essentially human story.
None is more human than exploring the emotions that each of us deal with on a daily basis and what better vehicle for this exploration that looking through the lens of a young girl going through some of the biggest changes and toughest challenges of her life. That is what Inside Out gives us and does it with perfection.
This film does it all. It makes you laugh (and get slightly annoyed) any time the Triple Dent gum jingle comes up. It makes you get angry right along with Riley when her dad is too busy with work to spend time with her (guilty). And don’t even get me started on Bing Bong’s sacrifice to help Joy. If you can watch that part of the film without at least tearing up, then you’re not human. It gets me every time and I’m honestly getting a little choked up just writing about it now.
Now, I’ve watched a ton of animated films in my time (anyone with kids knows how it works) and I can honestly say this is the best I’ve ever seen. Other films hit on some elements that you find in Inside Out, but none of them hit all the notes. Toy Story doesn’t really anger me or sadden me, unless you’re talking about the finale of Toy Story 3. The classic Disney animated princess films were never really intended to run this range of emotion. Films like An American Tale and The Land Before Time hit many of the emotions, but don’t stand up to the test of time visually.
If you’ve seen Inside Out, you know the emotional roller coaster of watching it as an adult. If you have kids, I hope you can use it as a vehicle to talk with your kids about their emotions. Call out when your family members are starting to burn up like Anger or express their displeasure like Disgust. In the end, Inside Out is about each and every one of us. We all have those variety of emotions inside us, and part of living a fulfilling life is understanding that all those emotions need their time. We can’t be happy all the time, just as we can’t always be angry, sad, disgusted, or afraid. It’s the balance of these aspects that makes us who we are.
Inside Out is available on Disney+.
Day 5 - A film where a character had a job you want | Day 7 - A film that you will never get tired of
Welcome to day 1 of the 30 Day Film Challenge. I'm excited to get going and introduce my first film!
The First Film I Remember Watching
I originally listed another Disney classic (Fantasia) for this first category, but when I started writing this post, I realized there was an even earlier movie from my memory. So, what I'm about to relate gets a little foggy, but here is the story behind Dumbo being my earliest movie memory.
When I was four years old, my family took a cross country road trhip in the old station wagon (yes, just like the Vacation movies, but it was blue, not green with wood panels). We set off from upstate New York, traveling generally west and south across a dozen or so states before finally ending up in Los Angeles and San Diego. This doesn't do justice to the trip that actually took several weeks and included stops in St. Louis, the Grand Canyon, and many other tourist locations across the country. After a visit to Disneyland, we made our way up the west coast to San Francisco as we began our return trip across the northern part of the country.
Unfortunately, the trip was cut short when our car was in an accident as we were getting on the highway one day. Everyone was fine, but the car was damaged enough that we flew home soon after. Some days or weeks later, the station wagon made its way home on a car carrier and got dropped off to us in a retail plaza near our home.
I hear what you're thinking, what does all this have to do with Dumbo? It so happened that Dumbo was airing on The Wonderful World of Disney the same night we were to pick up the car. Being the awesome parents they were, my mom and dad taped Dumbo, along with the preceding shorts "Lambert" and "Mickey and the Beanstalk" off the television so I could watch them later.
I'm pretty sure I wore out that tape completely with the number of times I watched it during my younger years. It was standard viewing whenever I was home sick from school and I knew the order of every commercial on that recording, even down to the classic Big Mac jingle about the special sauce.
While the tape itself may be long gone by now (or buried in my parents basement) I still have the Dumbo plush that we got the next year at Disney World. Dumbo remained one of my favorite films for many years before being supplanted by newer releases like Aladdin and The Lion King.
The film itself was highly successful and has enjoyed critical praise over the last 80 years. At just over an hour, it's a perfect film for young audiences with short attention spans.
Dumbo is available on Disney+.
Don't forget to come back tomorrow for the next movie.
Day 2: Film I like that starts with the first letter of my name
We're on to a smaller batch of films that are coming to Disney+ next month and taking a look at the list of Pixar animated films.
If you haven't already checked out the previous posts in this series, please go back and look at the list of live action films and animated films coming to Disney+ when the service kicks off in a few weeks.
Last week, I kicked off a few preview posts about the Oscar nominated and winning films that will be part of the Disney+ offerings when that service launches next month. I started off with a lengthy list of live action films either currently owned by Disney (though not necessarily original releases by Disney).
Today I'm taking a look at the animated films that have been nominated for or won Oscars over the years. I did decide to include honorary Academy Awards here simply because that let's me write about films like Fantasia which didn't win any awards outright (it used all existing music) but is still a fantastic film that should be revisited when you get the chance.
Yes, that's a bull in a china shop in the poster for Ferdinand. If you have ever been in elementary school, chances are you read the book by Munro Leaf and have a special place in your heart for the lovable bull who refuses to fight with the other bulls and only wants to smell the flowers.
If you never read the book as a child or if it's been a while, I actually found a PDF of the entire text of the book. It is JUST the text, so keep that in mind, but I strongly urge you to get the full book for your kids since it is a classic.
Now, as much as I recommend checking out the book, you don't need to have read the book before seeing this film. In fact, you might do well to read the book after watching the film and talk with your kids about what is different between the two and why that might be.
I'm just a film buff who wants to watch great movies. Where else to find the best, than the list of those nominated by the Academy each year?