Monday, 27 February 2012

侵略!?イカ娘 / Shinryaku!? Ika Musume / Invade!? Squid Girl (season 2)

When Negima! got a question mark after its exclamation point for a new anime season (well, and strictly speaking also had its ‘Mahou Sensei’ cut away), it signified big changes: a new production studio, a reboot, new characters and a very different style. The added question mark here has no such effect: Ika Musume season 2 is very much more of the same. It continues right where the first season left off and in very much the same way. The title sequences change, but that often happens mid-season with 26-episode series anyway. But I must say, I haven’t been as grateful for a continuation since Chii’s New Address picked up from after Chii’s Sweet Home, again with almost nothing changing (but still more than changes here!).

A big part of the charm of Ika Musume is that nothing changes, though – Summer doesn’t end, the characters are never going to come to any real harm, and even if there seems to be real tension between characters, as we get at the very end for the big finale, on some level we all know it’s going to be alright in the end and things will go back to normal.

Because Squid Girl is light, silly, cute and fun, and that’s what it’s meant to be.

I predicted a few changes might happen at the end of my season 1 impressions, only a few days ago. Everything I predicted came true to an extent: the jellyfish girl returned, though in a similar role at the very end of the season. The action did not move away from the summer days on the beach – although a bit of cute variety was added by a snow machine letting the girls dress up in winter clothes. Thankfully, the fanservice remained at the ‘almost none, and even then almost coming across as innocent’, except that there’s one rather gratuitous shot in the opening animation that made me feel vindicated.

Like many other cute comedy shows about girls before it, like Azumanga Daioh and Ichigo Mashimaro, the attempts to take the characters new places start to feel like making them dress-up dolls – here, we get not only the winter clothes but the yukata of a matsuri, the characters deciding they want to ‘cosplay’ after Nagisa is made to look like a boy, and in one fantasy sequence Chizuru is dressed as an evil nun, which made me think very keenly of Clarice from Arcana Heart.

While it was business as usual and took no risks, that’s part of being based on an ongoing manga and frankly I’m still a long way from tiring of the concept, characters or jokes. I really enjoyed every episodes of Shinryaku!? Ika Musume and – carefully avoiding making a Simpsons reference about welcoming overlords – I would like to send the message to the creators that I would love to see more, so bring on whatever extra punctuation you like!

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Mulan (1998)

I saw Mulan when it came out in 1998, and for the second time yesterday. It’s a familiar story anyway, and things like the songs getting played in various places and the world being used in Kingdom Hearts meant it still felt familiar overall.

Oh, that and silly videos on Youtube of Jackie Chan taking a funny video for ‘I’ll Make a Man Out of You’ very seriously.

The story has the same loose shape as the Chinese legend (which is so varied in the different retellings that it’s fine for Disney to put their own spin on it): a young woman takes her father’s place as a soldier in the army and distinguishes herself while dressed as a man. The main differences between this version and the usual outline of the Chinese tale, as my lovely mother was keen to tell me, are that the story only covers a few weeks or months, whereas Hua Mulan had a long military career, and that she didn’t end up killing herself by a riverside for the most tenuous of reasons, which if you’ve seen as many Chinese films as I have you know is pretty much the way a lot of their filmmakers like their stories to end.

I remember not having a very positive impression overall. I didn’t really like the simplistic designs or how the ‘Chinese’ look meant big flat noses and slanted eyes, and a few attractive characters doesn’t stop others looking like caricatures. Being obsessed with honour, kowtowing and ancestor worship doesn’t help. On the other hands, others read this as progressive, diverse and a good move for Disney. Arguments could rage on there indefinitely, but my first impression was that the film was even more problematic than Pocahontas and Aladdin. My enduring impression was also that I seriously felt the comedy sidekick dragon, basically animated as Tigger’s head on Timon’s body with Eddie Murphy trying too hard to make the impression Robin Williams did, should not have been the one to deal the final and decisive blow to the big bad guy.

While one of very few films I didn’t manage to link in my recent The Fox and the Hound review, this film was still very important as a stepping-stone, it being where CG for crowd scenes developed from stampeding wildebeest to great numbers of people about whom the camera can pan and tilt. The designs may not be my favourite, but the animation is superb. The songs are also the strongest since The Lion King, including Tangled, though I personally dislike the lauded incidental music, which sounds to me like an 80s synthesiser. Plus it brought the world Christina Aguilera as a solo artist. But the story, while a little hollow and full of stock characters rather than ones that seem unique or heartfelt, works fine and the pacing is great.

Not as bad a film as I had convinced myself, it is also flawed in several ways, making it a good, but not a superb Disney film.

Friday, 24 February 2012

The Fox and the Hound (1981)

Really, the gap between the Disney Golden Age and the ‘Renaissance’ was rather short. Where the Golden Age ends is a matter of debate – some say it was with Walt’s death in 1966. Some extend that to include 1967’s The Jungle Book, as he had been involved in the early stages and it’s a well-loved film. A few say that it was until Hanna-Barbera’s limited animation techniques took the audience from the big screen spectaculars to the churned-out TV shows, which was circa 1960. Others say it ended when the studio hacked away most of its staff in 1958, making Sleeping Beauty with a much-reduced budget. And some – albeit very few – let it stretch all the way to this film, when the remaining Nine Old Men started a project but let the younger generation finish it. If the Renaissance started with The Little Mermaid, then even if we stop at The Jungle Book, the films that fall through the net are, excepting The Black Cauldron, very much animal-centric. Mice in The Rescuers and in Basil; cats in The Aristocats and Oliver & Company, then the fox of this film and Robin Hood, which facially look almost identical. Then there’s Pooh, but that first theatrical release is really a collection of shorts. Not many films.

The Fox and the Hound was one of the handful of prominent Disney films I’d actually never seen – it doesn’t have the best reputation and I never caught it as a child. But getting more interested in animation history as I was, it became inevitable I was drawn to this historic film, which kick-started the careers of an incredible number of animators, but totally fractured the American animation scene – making it in many ways much more exciting. The big names involved here are remarkable. Most famously, it was the film that made Don Bluth leave Disney to form his own studio – though it seems an odd time to call Disney ‘stale’, when at last young animators would be given a chance to try something new (for all its faults, The Black Cauldron is certainly that). It’s also perhaps ironic that I think this film would have been rather better if Old Man Woolie Reitherman had gotten his way and kept the story closer to the book’s – although his opponent Art Stevens hardly represented the young blood. Tim Burton was on the staff, too, reportedly very bored, lasting another film or two but putting in work on his side-projects too. Brad Bird started his career on this film, but despite being labelled part of the ‘rat’s nest’ (of Mouse lovers) left Disney right after it to work on TV animation, with The Simpsons a few years ahead of him yet. His friend John Lasseter met him here, but stuck with Disney: his exposure to computer animation with Tron leading to another chapter of animation history. Another big name of computer animation and Tron collaborator Bill Kroyer (with future wife Sue) was also working on the film, but left because he didn’t like the look of The Black Cauldron – and went on to make the execrable FernGully. There were so many more: future Road to El Dorado co-director Don Paul; Brave Little Toaster helmsman Jerry Rees; Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline director Henry Selick; Tarzan head Chris Buck; RichCrest founder and director of the rather unimportant The Swan Princess Richard Rich; Tangleds original director and visionary Glen Keane; the man who managed to make one of the most interesting characters in Aladdin a CG carpet with no face Randy Cartwright; Musker and Clements, who as directors took Disney into the renaissance, back into decline and with The Princess and the Frog back out of it yet again; and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron director Lorna Cook. That is an incredible list that spreads out across almost the entirety of the landscape of American big-studio theatrical animation in recent years.

For all that talent, though, this film falls well short of almost anything from classic-era Disney, and most of the films just listed. There are many moments of greatness – great shots, great little sequences, great acting moments, even great scenes. But they are too broken-up by misfires or simple bad delivery to make this a good film. For every little gem like the sophisticated animation of Widow Tweed shooing away birds (Bluth was working on Tweed– was this nugget his work? It’s nice to think so), there is the kind of thing you just don’t expect in a high-calibre feature production, like the rocks that are going to fall away when trodden upon being painfully obviously made simpler than the background so that they can be animated easily. There may be a bear attack that is remarkably visceral and scary, looking at moments right out of Watership Down, but there are also unfunny scenes with a caterpillar that would have been jarringly babyish in Tom and Jerry, thus seem far worse here. There are far too many instances of the pacing just going off, or there being no impact when something should have been struck hard, and I was gobsmacked when there was the most terrible jump-cut I’ve ever seen for no reason at all, totally ruining the atmosphere of one scene.

There are also grounds to complain about how this film has been damaged technically – for some reason, it seems to be the only Disney DVD that is not in its original ratio. There’s a lot of Academy-Ratio in Disney’s early work, but that’s because it was drawn that way and essentially letterboxed in theatres. This one, though, was originally most of the way to widescreen, but currently exists only in this pan-and-scan version. Not acceptable, Disney.

All the characters are also rather at arm’s length, too. Big Mama is probably the most likeable, and though she’s a slightly painful stereotype, that she’s voiced by Pearl Bailey makes that a little more palatable, as she’s almost where the stereotypes come from, and not in a mocking way. Even she can’t save the songs from being terrible, though – they’re too short, the music is absurdly low in the mix so leaves no impression and the desire to use country and western instrumentation leaves incidental music and songs alike an unmemorable blur. The most interesting character might be Amos Slade, and I give Disney credit for making an antagonist who isn’t an evil villain – hot-tempered and idiotic enough to shoot right at an old woman, yes, but just an ordinary man who after all loves his dogs in his way. Jeanette Nolan’s turn as Widow Tweed is likeable too, if ordinary – and it’s slightly bizarre her husband is also in the film as a grumpy badger. The fox and the hound, though, suffer from being shown as children and young adults: a very young Corey Feldman is a great young Copper, whose delivery of ‘I’m a hound dog’ is one of the best moments of the film, but Kurt Russell isn’t given enough to do when he’s grown. Mickey Rooney, though sounding remarkably like a teenager while over 60, just doesn’t seem to have any interest in his lines or character. Vixey is much-derided, but oddly enough Sandy Duncan’s vocal performance isn’t to blame – it’s not that bad if you close your eyes. The problem was with the lines written and the absurd flirty ‘acting’ the character animators gave her. Also, while at this point in Disney’s history it was quite common for the actors from Pooh to show up in different films, and they presumably thought they would never be so well-known they’d need to change their voices, only Pooh himself showing up as a sinister snake in The Jungle Book was as jarring as this film having Tigger as a woodpecker and Piglet as a hedgehog. The Jungle Book also has Owl, Eeyore and Roo as elephants, but their voices are less distinctive and their lines few – people even seem to mix up which elephant was Ralph Wright: I often see him listed as the grumpy elephant, but he was clearly the slobby elephant.

The designs also seriously lack in originality. Tod the Fox (from Beatrix Potter to The Plague Dogs, foxes always get called ‘Tod’, which after all does just mean ‘fox’) is as I said much like Robin Hood. Along with a squirrel more or less transplanted, the sparrow looks a lot like Wart’s bird form in Sword in the Stone, and Big Mama is basically Archimedes puffed up and given a feather boa (Archimedes being another time one can spot a Pooh actor). Apart from the bear, whose closest relative may just be Fantasia’s Chernabog, about the only piece of fun in the design stages is how young Copper’s brow has too much skin for his head. Ultimately, The Fox and the Hound is a let-down. It’s fine having two cute little animals make friends while destined to be torn apart, but the drama that stems from that must flow well, voice performances must tally with animation and, as we get with Simba, we must have reasons feel like the small, cute child version and the adult are single, unified characters. And in the end, while I liked the conclusion that sometimes, fate just does tear people apart, it needed to be more strongly underlined. Perhaps this is the result of ‘too many cooks’ – people forget the little things that matter, like really making an audience care for characters and what happens to them, and getting the details just right.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

侵略!イカ娘 / Shinryaku! Ika Musume / Invade! Squid Girl (season 1)

Ahhh, Ika Musume. Another sign, along with the likes of Nichijou, that moé anime is once again swinging towards the surreal, silly and more original after K-On burst the bubble. Not that this sort of cuteness ever went away, but now it’s back in pole position, and I’m perfectly happy with that situation – I like ordinary slice-of-life, but the spice of surrealism makes things tastier.

The premise of a strange but very cute young girl invading the normal life of someone quite ordinary underpins a lot of anime, sometimes in drama (like Kurenai), but more often in a sitcom. Often the strange girl will want to initiate a romance with a dull but identifiable boy (like in Sumomomo-mo Momo-mo), but sometimes the comedy just comes from a very weird girl interacting with someone more down-to-earth in what is essentially a manzai comedy routine - for example, in 2x2 ga Shinobuden. But for all we're on familiar ground here, and for all the characters are very familiar archetypes, Ika Musume - 'Squid Girl' - is something very distinct and is probably the very best example of its kind. It perfectly blends comedy, cuteness, character development and variety, and though it's in parts predictable, it's also quite smart and always, always highly enjoyable. Though part of me wishes I started watching this when it aired in 2010, I’m also happy I didn’t because now I don’t have to wait for new episodes to be released and can zip through it.

It’s a great, silly little premise: a cute anthropomorphised squid girl in the tradition of the various personified –tans comes out of the sea with the intention of conquering mankind to put a stop to their polluting ways, but gets no further than a beach hut café: a demonstration of the power of her tentacle-hair means she is forced into working to repay debts for damages. Around her gathers a colourful cast – there are the siblings who run the café, middle child and identifiable comedic foil Eiko, polite and feminine elder sister Chizuru and sweet-natured younger brother Takeru. Then come Eiko’s friend Sanae, who gets a rather masochistic lesbian crush on Ika Musume, and tomboyish coworker Nagisa, who is the only one who finds Ika Musume fearsome. A team of silly American scientists come to study Ika Musume, believing her to be an alien, led by the buxom blonde Cindy – she speaks fluent Japanese but her three daft co-workers have that exAAgeraTED wAY of emPHAsisSIING random syllables that the Japanese identify as an American accent. Then there are others to colour life on the beach – a genuine friend for Ika Musume met when she failed at pani-poni dash, a fairly sensible lifeguard with a crush on Chizuru and a shy girl coerced by her father into wearing ridiculous false heads of Ika Musume.

It’s character-based comedy and it works brilliantly. Yes, very similar things have done before: overall, it strongly resembles Rizelmine, which is now an astonishing ten years old - I also observed that of , but this show has much more of Rizelmine’s genuine cuteness. Chizuru’s hilarious dark, arguably Yandere side recalls Miya-Miya from Bamboo Blade and Tanaka Rie’s performance has elements of her Suigintou. The antics of the American scientists resemble the Black Gema Gang from Di Gi Charat, mixed with that show’s American. Takeru’s ‘no defining characteristics’ echos Chi-chan from Ichigo Mashimaro, and his looks recall main character of the TV version of Kyou no Go no Ni, especially with his classmates. Nagisa reminds me of Makoto from The iDOLM@STER (and in season 2 gets dressed up as a boy to similar effect), while Sanae’s crush is like that of Kaorin in Azumanga Daioh on steroids – and it was already pretty extreme. Azumanga Daioh’s huge shadow is everywhere here – it’s hard not to think of Chiyo when Ika Musume thinks of flying with her little squiddy hat-flaps, and Tanaka Rie’s performance as Yomi is recalled in the episode of season 2 where she’s concerned with her weight.

But I don’t think it at all negative that Ika Musume has a lot in it that has been done before. It brings all that together, it works so well and it makes it all so damn cute. Ika Musume herself is incredibly adorable, and while there are moments of lolicon fanservice, perhaps inevitably for a show where so many characters spend so much time on the beach and where humour is derived from one character having erotic fantasies about another young girl, it’s all very light and certainly ought not to get on anyone’s nerves or detract from the humour – which was a relief, as this is from Kodomo no Jikan’s studio Diomedea (previous known as Barcelona) . I also loved the little shorts with a mini Ika Musume (also in one episode) – while the idea is similar to Shakugan no Shana’s Shana-Tan episodes, the feel was pleasantly like Binchou-tan.

Where next, then? I expect more of the same from season 2, and beyond if more is made. Will the (presumably) jellyfish girl return? Perhaps more fanservice? (I'd be willing to bet it'll fall into that trap.) Perhaps summer will end and the plot will move away from the beach – but somehow I doubt it. Either way, I anticipate loving every episode, as I loved every one here.

Oh, and one last note – the anime is full of simple puns: Ika Musume replaces ‘desu’ with ‘de geso’, a reference to edible tentacles that really wouldn’t sound cute directly translated, and most episode titles have some variation of ‘-ja nai ka?’ (loosely, ‘why don’t we…?’ or ‘Isn’t that…?’), which is a pun because the final ‘ika’ means ‘squid’. The official subs attempted to come up with different puns for each of these, with differing levels of success, but unlike some who hated it, I rather liked all the ‘squiddly’s and ‘squidding’s – and it was all worth it for one stroke of genius, being ‘Squid pro quo’. Brilliant!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

鉄拳 ブラッド・ベンジェンス / Tekken: Blood Vengeance

Another dated-looking CGI video game tie-in from Digital Frontier (who also made the similarly-flawed Resident Evil: Degeneration), 2011’s Tekken: Blood Vengeance is likely to disappoint fans of the game and bore the uninitiated. It has its moments, mostly when it comes to impressive action sequences, but as a film it’s severely lacking.

The film opens with that welcome staple of Tekken media – Anna Williams trying to kill her sister Nina and getting thwarted. Afterwards, each is revealed to be working for one of the Mishima line: Anna for Kazuya and Nina for his bastard son Kazama Jin. Each is investigating the mysterious teenager Kamiya Shin, who apparently possesses mysterious powers, and each hires a student to gain intel on him: Kazuya, through Anna, recruits a sassy but identifiable Ling Xiaoyu, who comes complete with her panda, while Jin opts for Alisa Bosconovich, the quirky, perky robot girl chiefly remembered for showing up in Tekken 6 and presenting people with her detachable, explosive head. They clash but then become fast friends, especially when Anna calls Ling a failure and tries to kill her. They hide with their teacher Lee, whose character is consistent with his recent characterisation as almost nothing to do with his foster family and a total – but pretty hilarious – dickhead. Continuing to tail Shin, they find that he is very possibly immortal, and find him captive in Kyoto Castle. Big Bad Heihachi reveals himself, but it’s okay, Shin apparently has a plan. His plan is to punch Heihachi and lose his immortality in the process. Heihachi barely even flinches, so that’s the end of Shin – but as it turns out, Kazuya and Jin have followed their young charges and a huge three-way battle between the three generations of main characters begins, pretty much with a starting point of them all saying the plot up to this point was totally meaningless. The fight gets increasingly absurd until it involves flying devil monsters attacking huge demons made of tree-men, and ultimately the viewer must decide whether to just enjoy the brainless awesomeness of it or to be disgusted by how totally unnecessary the hour’s build up was when the pay-off is a fight between characters who have barely even featured up to that point.

The characters mentioned there are pretty much all that make it into the film – plus Ganryu randomly cameoing as Ling’s principal, Lei turning up as a face on a text message and the wood spirits being Mokujin. No Paul, no Law, no Julia, Christie, Yoshimitsu, Jack, King, Leon…basically, a game with an incredibly rich cast led to a film with a tiny and oddly-chosen one. Xiaoyu is popular and cute, no doubt, but she’s supposed to be ditzy and wild. Her original story was a quest to get a theme park built, after all! And Alisa…well, she’s funny and has a distinctive design, but the attempts to make her genki and loveable just make it look like she’s a horrible actress. She’s animated, and she comes off as a much worse actress than any others in the film. And ultimately, scenes of her bonding with Ling seem daft when the only point is to try and make a tear-jerker out of her using attacks from a cartoon at the end – only for enormous devil lasers to make it all meaningless.

Though the US dub was the first one to be released (the two made in tandem), I urge any viewers to watch the Japanese version: not only is the acting much better in Japanese (though Alisa is annoying in both), but the lip movements are synched to the Japanese, and it makes a big difference.

Ultimately, this seems like a wasted opportunity. Even if only for moments, like in the Street Fighter II anime, I wanted to see more of the wider cast. A sequel is heavily hinted at, and will perhaps be better, but I wanted much more here.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

白蛇伝 / Hakujaden / The Tale of the White Serpent

That this was so, so much better than Shounen Sarutobi Sasuke in just about every way – except perhaps consistency of action and coherence of narrative – at first made me quite annoyed I’d seen that film first. Why did Toei follow up a very impressive first feature film (also Japan’s first feature-length anime in colour and as far as I can discern only their second feature-length anime ever) with one of decidedly lower quality? Watching it the way I did made me totally underestimate Toei’s animation standards in the late fifties. But then I grew to think it was better this way – for Shounen Sarutobi Sasuke would have been much more of a disappointment and I wouldn’t have the pleasant surprise of Hakujaden being so much better.

For 1958, there is a lot of impressive stuff here – and it is clearly a new studio with something to prove pulling out all the stops. It may not look anything close to as good as 50s Disney (the closest contemporary being the classic Sleeping Beauty), but for the first colour feature animation the country ever produced, long before anime was the seething mass of studios it is today, it has moments that are greatly impressive. The scene with a dragon has some clever work with angles and objects approaching the camera that reminded me of the brilliant chase sequence in The Thief and the Cobbler, and part of the plot is basically an excuse to show a lot of very carefully-done animation of performers at a festival. The animators also seem to have a grasp of making characters seem to have weight that gets forgotten for Sarutobi Sasuke, and fight scenes – both earthy ones between silly animals and fantastical ones where monks are blown away by great gusts of wind – work so much better.

The plot is unwieldy, though, especially compared with Disney’s slickness, and has to be ponderously explained by a narrator. In an opening sequence that I like to think made at least a few in the audience think they were in for a full film of still images and puppets, a young boy named Xu Xian buys a white snake at a market, but is told he cannot keep it. Unbeknownst to him, the white serpent is a youkai, the snake princess Bai Niang. When Xu Xian is older, Bai Niang, along with the fish she has transformed into a servant girl, acquaints herself with Xu through music. The fish girl, Xiao-Chin, leads Xu Xian’s little animal friends (a panda and a red panda, very similar to designs for Sarutobi Sasuke’s animals but better-drawn and with far less horribly-recorded voices) to her mistress’s shamisen, and they are soon united. However – and here it gets a bit confused – the animals then take a dragon down from a pillar, only for it to come to life, carry them through the skies and drop them in the local treasure house, where – through theft or magic – two pretty stars end up in the possession of the lovers. Using some sort of tracking, one assumes, the local police force shows up and poor Xu Xian gets exiled. Bai Niang slips away, her palace only an illusion. Xu Xian is unable to enjoy the festivities of the country/province he is exiled to, and trouble is nearby: the exorcist Fa-Hai knows of Bai Niang and wants to rid Xu Xian of the evil spirit. He does battle with her and prevails, robbing her of her human form. With the last of her strength, Bai Niang projects a human image of herself leaving the world so that Xu Xian will be able to see her disappear – only he chases the phantasm and ends up falling off a cliff. The only way to save him is for Xu Xian to give up her immortality, as for doing so she is granted a flower of life from what I’m guessing is the Jade Emperor. With the help of all their allies, love wins through and there’s a rather artificially bittersweet farewell for the ending.

It’s rather convoluted, but I’m assuming that’s because it’s based on an established Chinese folk tale, which also gives the plot some real strengths – like the way the antagonist is not evil but doing what he truly thinks is the best thing he can. Toei chose this Chinese story for, to my mind, three reasons – first, because according to Wikipedia, the Toei president wanted a ‘note of reconciliation’ with China after the atrocities of WWII. Second, because Princess Iron Fan had been so influential, and this may have been an attempt to look like part of a legacy. And third, because the story had already been made into a successful 1956 live-action film and was thus familiar to the public.

Though the plot is clumsy and the pacing odd – for example, what ought to be the action building to a climax is punctured by a long scene of animals having a scrap to see who’s strongest – there is much to admire here, including surprisingly high-quality animation and some great experimentation with visual effects. Well worth seeing for the historical significance, but enjoyable either way. Also currently the oldest anime I’ve ever seen – until I get to the Momotaro feature film. Which will finally be going back far enough that Rintaro is not involved: his first-ever job was on Hakujaden!

Monday, 13 February 2012

Once Upon a Forest

As with FernGully, this was not a film I watched in my childhood, so the nostalgia goggles couldn’t help this 1993 film to win my affection. Nor was I at all impressed with this, the last hoorah of its studio’s animation department and its final animated feature film. A few years before Once Upon a Forest, Hanna-Barbera had been bought by TBS, owners of Cartoon Network, which at first did little more than rotate old Hanna-Barbera cartoons – which, much-maligned by animation historians as they may be for their cheap, limited animation, are iconic and adored by millions. After Once Upon a Forest, Hanna and Barbera took a big step back from involvement in their company and most of Hanna-Barbera’s staff worked on early Cartoon Network shows like The Powerpuff Girls and Dexter’s Laboratory. TBS merged with Time Warner soon after (too late to distribute this film, which went through Fox), and when William Barbera died in 2001, Hanna-Barbera essentially came to an end, the name returning only in association with Warner’s live-action and CG tie-ins with old cartoons. Cartoon Network Studios became an entity in its own right, and the animators who didn’t end up there largely went to Warner Bros. Animation. Joseph Barbera then passed in 2006. So in many significant ways, Once Upon a Forest was the pinnacle of what Hanna-Barbera created, and could even be called their swansong.

But this rather important place in an important studio’s history does not make a film any good, and indeed, this is one I don’t like at all. I only saw it for the first time on 18.02.09, and my verdict was ‘babyish, badly-plotted and formulaic’. I apparently ‘despaired of relatively recent Western cel animation and its refusal to take risks’. Hanna-Barbera had become followers rather than innovators, if ever they could really be called such - and always too late. Their Gobots had its moments but was a poor man’s Transformers, and Pirates of Dark Water had all the scope and seriousness of an 80s cartoon – but came out in 1991 and was uglier than any of them. And while it probably does look better in fundamental animation terms than just about anything Hanna-Barbera ever churned out, it still looks like Secret of NiMH 2.

Four young animals very much associated with woods apparently live in a forest – there is Russell the dumb hedgehog, Abigail the smug woodmouse, Edgar the brainy hedgehog and Michelle the baby badger. Michelle’s uncle Cornelius, played in a way that seems to really annoy a lot of people but in my view works acceptably well by Michael Crawford, takes the kids on a ramble, where they come across a road, which is of course a horrible dangerous place, made worse when someone chucks out a glass bottle to break on the road. When they get back to their homes, they find that glass bottle slashed the tire of a tanker carrying poison gas, which has killed everyone they know. Michelle breathes it in and falls seriously ill, so the other kids set off on a quest to find the herbs that can cure her. The ending is at least mildly bittersweet.

The problem is that nothing in this film offers anything that could inspire strong emotions. It’s hard to care about the central kids. There’s no visual spectacle. Everything seems committee-written and committee-approved. The preachy environmental message is unlikely to inspire anyone to re-evaluate their behaviour and become environmentally aware. The best that can really be hoped for is that small kids will feel an irrational sense of guilt. A thoroughly mediocre film.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

ロザリオとバンパイア/ Rosario + Vampire (series 1)

Like Claymore and Tegami Bachi, Rosario + Vampire was one of the series that crossed over when Monthly Shonen Jump ceased publication and then reappeared a few months later as Jump SQ, short for Jump Square. Like the others, it’s a supernatural-themed story with lots of action scenes. Unlike them, though, it is not an adventure narrative but a pretty brainless harem story chock-full of pantie shots but severely lacking in charm.

On the other hand, it is also one of the more successful manga out there, its tankobon volumes selling tens of thousands of copies each and no doubt there being a healthy trade in figurines and body pillows, too. And terrible though it is, I have to admit this anime adaptation by Gonzo both looked very fine and was compulsively watchable – though it would not leave me desperate for the next episode, if I had time for an episode and wanted something light, it was always a good choice.

The concept is simple: the ordinary, rather passive but good-hearted young man Aono Tsukune failed to get into a good high school when he did poorly in his exams. However, his parents came upon a random acceptance slip for a private school called ‘Yokai Academy’, so he enrolled. Unbeknownst to him, the school is actually for mythological monsters, so that they may learn to integrate with human society – but of course, a human discovered in their midst may or may not make it through the rest of the day alive. Luckily, Tsukune quickly makes a friend of Moka – a vampire whose true powers are sealed away by a rosary around her neck.

If it sounds cute, along the lines of PetoPeto-san, it’s much more like Mahou Sensei Negima or even Shuffle! – the everyman boy at the centre of it ends up the object of desire of a series of cute girls to suit every taste – not only sweet-natured Moka but the huge-breasted succubus Kurumu, the eleven-year-old loli witch Yukari and the quirky yuki-onna ice demon Shirayuki (which is Snow White’s name in Japan). The structure of the 13-episode series more or less introduces all of these, gives one or two episodes of them working together to overcome adversity and joining a newspaper club together, then everything comes to a head as the school’s disciplinary committee finds out Tsukune’s secret.

I really ought to sniffily dismiss such an awful show. Constant panty shots happen at the slightest provocation. The girls are totally objectified, mere shells of characters forever getting into scanty outfits or grabbing each other’s boobs in jealousy. The plots are paper-thin and usually have no tension because Moka’s inner powers get unleashed – along with a different personality that may or may not be an entirely distinct character – and all problems get solved with a bit of violence. Tsukune himself is duller than even the average ignorable male in harem anime, doing almost nothing but calling out the names of all the girls when they’re in trouble and stringing them all along because he supposedly doesn’t know how to handle the attention he gets. And yet…

…and yet I have a soft spot for it, and will be watching series two. Partly it’s just because the production values are nice: it all looks good, the characters’ faces are very cute and I love the silly theme used for lovey-dovey moments. And it’s entertaining and funny despite all its shortcomings. It’s not a show I’m proud to like, or would recommend – but despite myself, I find that I do like it, and it does make me smile and care about its paper-thin characters.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Bleach Movie 3: Fade to Black 君の名を呼ぶ / Fade to Black Kimi no Na-o Yobu / Fade to Black, I Call Your Name

This, the third Bleach movie, satisfied me in a typical Jump movie sort of way, though not nearly as much as its sequel Hell Verse did. After watching on 14.10.09, after the DVD release was subtitled by fans, I wrote ‘After disappointing One Piece and Naruto movies, I was very pleased to see a big Jump franchise movie doing it right. Nice eye candy, an emotional, sincere side-story that worked in the world of the show and the sheer awesomeness of Zaraki Kenpachi at work. Nice!Apparently it just got an official release in the US in November, so it seems timely to revisit.

And yes indeed, while of the Big Three, Bleach has most outstayed its welcome now, and probably been abandoned by even more of its fans than Naruto, two things I can really say for it are that it manages to produce the best movies and the best filler arcs. Not really the greatest accomplishments, but it’s at least something – and not really competing with One Piece isn’t exactly something to be ashamed of. Bleach’s first movie was rather dull, but this one at least entertained.

This feature-length version revolves around the pretty obvious side-story concept of everyone but the main character losing their memories and no longer being familiar with him. Naturally in a world where combat is part of daily life, this unfolds rather differently from, say, The Disappearance of Suzumiya Haruhi. It’s up to Ichigo to get to the bottom of what happened and get his allies back on his side, as well as dealing with a mysterious ‘dark’ version of a familiar face.

After The Hell Verse it all seems a bit unambitious and uninteresting, but for the eye-candy and a simple, workable story with characters that after all this I still do quite like, it’s worthwhile as a companion piece.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

The Secret of Kells

Despite being an animation fan, I actually hadn’t heard of The Secret of Kells until about two months ago. I missed any news of its release in Ireland at the beginning of 2009, I missed the buzz when it was nominated for an Oscar in 2010 and I ignored the few images I saw of it online, until I read that it was a kind of successor to The Thief and the Cobbler, being a beautiful and idiosyncratic film made outside the influence of the big studios. Yes, this is the first really noteworthy production from Irish company Cartoon Saloon, previously known only for the rather ugly Skunk Fu!, which I caught on TV once or twice. It was financed by French production companies and is slowly growing in renown through word-of-mouth, and it’s my sincere hope that the momentum it’s given Cartoon Saloon will lead to several great little films: the next, Song of the Sea, is already well underway.

Make no mistake, though – this does not look like an animated film a master has slaved over for half a lifetime. It has moments of real, stunning beauty, but it is still economically made and does not contain the sort of jaw-dropping sequences of Cobbler. Indeed, though that film is cited by director and original creator Tomm Moore as a major influence, the link is mostly that Kells has a heavy influence from Irish traditional art, just as Cobbler is influenced by Persian aesthetics. In fact, my first thought was that it looked like traditional animation imitating Flash (and indeed, there are a few sections of very obvious Flash animation – a shot of the main character running in panic towards the camera made me check it wasn’t ALL Flash, just done very cleverly), and that the closest resemblance was to My Life as a Teenage Robot or Samurai Jack (the latter being another example of traditional animation that looks similar to Flash). Thus it came as no surprise to see Samurai Jack’s creator Genndy Tartakovsky cited as another major influence – a lot of the character look like they would be right at home on Cartoon Network. Especially the two kids at the heart of the story.

But in terms of story, feel, pacing and concept, this is nothing at all like those hyperactive cartoons. The story takes place in 7th- or 8th-century Kells (it’s hard to say because the book is 8th-centry but characters here are historically 7th), and is a fictionalised account of the creation of the very real Book of Kells – amongst the most beautiful illuminated manuscripts extant. It seems likely that the germ of this film came when the creators looked at the sublime art in the book and wondered what it would be like to see it in animation – especially as one of the film’s most triumphant sequences, closing the film, works on that very idea. Young Brendan is the nephew of a stony-faced abbot fixed on one idea – fortifying the abbey against the Viking invaders who so often plunder the holy sites of the British Isles. When renowned illuminator Brother Aiden appears from Iona, though, brining with him the most beautiful book ever known, little Brendan gets caught up in helping him finish it – which takes him into the forest, where mysterious creatures known to the pagan religions live, including the ghostlike but powerful Aisling (pronounced, here, ‘Ashley’) and the sinister Crom Cruach.

The atmosphere throughout is tense – the invaders will come, sooner or later, and there’s no standing against them unless the wall is finished. The book is beautiful, but is it worth risking everything for? And while the walls may encircle a holy place, the pagan gods certainly exist in this world too – the whole thing is rife with the sort of symbolism that is fun to analyse but will soon be overanalysed in a rather irritating way.

The look of the thing perhaps could have been more striking, but at times is a real triumph. The characters are very stylised, drawing influences from old Irish art, but very appealing – though I’m not sure why there needed to be token representatives of different races in the abbey, as if it was meant to be inclusive and progressive it mostly came over as crude stereotyping. The Vikings are not really human. Part of the influence from the manuscripts is some backgrounds with an immense amount of detail and patterning – and it’s when that happens this looks the best. It’s lovely to look at sometimes, and when there are stylistic changes, such as the Flash sequences for chalk on a slate or when Brendan comes up against Crom Cruach, the strangeness and uniqueness of it is a triumph and a celebration of animated art.

While it is beautiful at times, has a sweet and moving story with a very real basis is history, lovely voice acting and rich characters, I found myself wishing for just a little more – more story, more explanation, more development, more impressive animation sequences. But that doesn’t stop this being an excellent film. Count me as a fan of the Saloon.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

ブラック★ロックシューター / Black★Rock Shooter OVA

I would have reviewed this at the time, but I assumed it would be the first in a series of OVAs. In fact, a full series is now in production and has begun airing in the noitaminA slot, so this stands alone – and thus deserves a review.

It was the first production made by new studio Ordet alone – they warmed up with a few co-productions first. The studio was founded after Yamamoto Yutaka’s much-publicised dismissal from Kyoto Animation as a scapegoat for the negative attention Lucky Star got in its first few episodes (which personally I felt were better than what followed). He founded Ordet and BRS will largely make or break them – though they’ve already more than proven their capacity to make impressive animated sequences.

Black Rock Shooter was one of the most prominent of the songs by Supercell that really launched Vocaloid as a phenomenon. The song was written by Ryo after seeing some artwork on Pixiv by Huke, and it was the two deciding to collaborate that led to the formation of Supercell. It’s a rather cheery uptempo song with generic angsty lyrics, but a brilliant piece of pop songwriting, and also kicks off my favourite Nico Douga medley, Nanairo. Because it’s sung by Miku, the Black Rock Shooter character often gets conflated with her, but the design predates the association with Vocaloid and is quite distinct.

This 50-minute OVA tells two stories in parallel. One is the rather abstract story of Black Rock Shooter whizzing about her chain-and-checkboard-themed world fighting against Dead Master. The other is about two girls meeting at the beginning of junior high and depite being like chalk and cheese grow very close. Our main character Kuroi (‘black’, rather un-subtly) is not academic but full of energy, while Takanashi (which sounds like ‘No hawks’ but is written with kanji that most would assume are written ‘Kotori Asobi’ – little bird playing) is bookish and a little stiff. They get on very well, but Yomi gets jealous when Kuroi gets a new friend, Yuu, which it’s implied allows Dead Master into her heart. Kuroi finds a strange necklace that allows Black Rock Shooter to merge with her and rescue Yomi – at least, that’s what seems to happen, but it’s never really explained why Kuroi and Yomi resemble their otherworldly counterparts so much from the start, or why Yuu appears briefly in that world.

The designs are cute and the animation is mostly extremely nice, though some parts get a little sloppy where they ought to be bravura. While the plot is a little strange, that’s fine for such a short piece and it’s a great showcase of both the action and the down-to-earth storyline that can run with it. The series looks to be very similar, only rather than Yuu getting between the two it’s the rather over-the-top little rich girl in the wheelchair, and there’s even less link between worlds. But if anything, it’s more visually appealing, especially in the other world, and I’ll definitely watch on. Plus I like the new sung version of the song!

Friday, 3 February 2012

The Thief and the Cobbler

The usual reaction to the production story of this film is one of great sympathy to a genius of an artist and anger towards idiot corporate busybodies who don’t understand artistic vision. But personally, my own thoughts tend towards disappointment – this could have been one of the best animated films of all time, widely-known and admired, pushing traditional animation a long way…had it been finished in the 70s. As it is, it’s a missed opportunity, a terrible waste, being only a curio for animation aficionados and a few who were exposed to a butchered version as kids. Such a shame.

If I thought that Puss ’n Boots had some odd plot similarities to Disney’s Aladdin, I had another thing coming altogether when it came to seeing this: in a city with domes and minarets very similar to those of Agrabah, the sinister, goateed, rubber-lipped Grand Vizier plots to betray the sultan and marry his beautiful daughter, and only a low-born commoner can stand in his way. And while Aladdin was released before this film finally saw a commercial release, it had been in production for decades before that and Disney animators were undoubtedly aware of it, which is more than I can say for Puss ’n’ Boots. Again, if this had come out and blown minds in the late 70s or early 80s, Disney’s film would be seen as an affectionate tribute to a masterpiece, Jafar a nod to Zigzag. Now it only looks like a cruel company stomping upon the little man and ripping him off.

This film was the baby of Richard Williams, Canadian-born but based in England from his early 20s and an animator of celebrated short films, he begun conceptualising this project in 1964, starting production in 1968 and tightening it up into what was recognisably The Thief and the Cobbler by 1973. Self-funding with money made on other commissions, his progress was painfully slow and Williams kept missing deadlines and therefore failing to secure proper funding, so the film languished, even with voices recorded and the legendary Art Babbitt contributing. Eventually the extant footage impressed Spielberg and Zemekis enough that Williams was hired as animation director for Who Framed Roger Rabbit, doing a memorably excellent (though supposedly creatively stifled) job – and providing the voice for Droopy in one of his best-known scenes. But again, deadlines and budget were pushed to breaking point and the film was nearly shut down. Part of Williams’ deal was that The Thief and the Cobbler would get funding and distribution – but of course he didn’t make deadlines again and Aladdin was about to make the film look like a rip-off, so it was snatched away from Williams, Fred Calvert rushing the remaining scenes and adding cheesy songs, making everything more kid-friendly for what is now a very much derided version. In 1994, Miramax got hold of the film and further spoiled it, adding awful voice-overs, with Matthew Broderick doing his Simba voice.

Thankfully, fans got hold of the workprint thrown together by Williams for investors and now we can watch the Recobbled Cut, assembled by a fan named Garrett Gilchrist, preserving the vision, story and pacing Williams intended – but of course relying on footage from many sources, from high-quality DVD releases to grainy old VHS recordings and even the hasty storyboards drawn just for the workprint. It really is cobbled together – but shows what this film so nearly was.

In 1978, an Arabian prince offered to fund the film, based on the results of a ten-minute experiment. Of course, the deadlines flew by and the budget for the ten-minute piece ballooned from $100,000 to $250,000. Imagine if Williams had stuck to his budget, secured funding and finished the film around 1980. How beautiful and stunning it would have been! There are sequences here far in advance of anything else at the time, which look like good CG but were rendered by hand. There are clever hallucinogenic chase scenes and some of the most brilliant Rube-Goldberg-esque sequences with characters in them I’ve ever seen – especially the thief’s misadventures at the end. But it was not to be. Genius doesn’t work that way, sad to say.

The film is a fascinating melding of styles. The cobbler Tack is drawn greyscale (but for his eyes) until he goes out into the dessert sun, and is very much a Chaplin- or Harry Langdon-esque figure, mute but childish and instantly likeable. The thief looks like a crude goblin, always followed by a swarm of flies, and while he is also mute, his often frenetic scenes are more like Keaton, mixed with Road Runner (which makes sense given that Ken Harris animated him). Zigzag looks like a UPA character, while his attendants are weirder still, right out of zany cartoon strips, while Babbitt adds Disneyesque designs. The witch…well, the Witch looks like Ren and Stimpy doing Fliescher – the latter part probably thanks to the work of Grim Natwick.

So much here is superlative. Tack chasing the thief in a psychedelic sequence; the war machine and its destruction; the thief’s misadventures recovering the balls at the end. And perhaps more than anything else Vincent Price’s unforgettable performance. The plot would just about work, and the animation would make it worth it, completed. Tack is adorable and though I wish she wouldn’t keep sneering, Yum-Yum is likeable too. It would have been eccentric in pacing, story, character and humour, but that would be no defect. As it is…it’s a missed opportunity – and Miramax’s version is awful: the songs are dull and noticeably cheap in their animation, and Tack speaking…well, if Sean Connery’s bizarre deep voice in the original isn’t weird enough, the way he talks in Yum-Yum’s chambers is plain disturbing (Gilchrist actually painted out his mouth). Between this and the other eccentric classic in production forever, I’d go for Le Roi et L’Oiseau. If this were finished, though…

Thursday, 2 February 2012

The Tigger Movie

This film is a guilty pleasure. It ought to be terrible: made by DisneyToon long after Pooh’s glory days with Disney in the 60s, this 2000 release was the Australian studio’s first theatrical film not made as a tie-in with an ongoing Disney TV series (their previous releases had been for Ducktales, Goof Troof and Doug), and centred on Disney’s somewhat annoying interpretation of the Tigger character. The plot is that Tigger comes to feel extremely lonely when he realises he has no family, so the rest of the gang decide to dress up as Tiggers to make him feel loved. However, when the deception is revealed he only feels betrayed and sets off alone into a snowstorm. Of course, he soon needs to be rescued and realises the true value of friendship and that there is more than one way to think of a ‘family’. Simple but effective.

And the fact is that it just works, in a way that Piglet’s Big Movie decidedly did not. The simple plot allows for a fuller gamut of emotions than these characters often get to display: disappointment, resentment, anger, embarrassment, guilt, loneliness and even fear. Putting Roo at the emotional heart of the film works very well, as he is just the sort of character who can make a well-meaning mistake while still having the audience’s sympathies on his side, and surprisingly enough the cheesy action sequence that ends the film is triumphant rather than embarrassing.

Much as I love the Milne books and the very different impression they give from the Disney works, I am no Pooh purist who hates the ‘bastardised’ version. It is not as though the brilliant and hilarious books went anywhere when Disney got hold of the rights and began making their distorted, Americanised versions – versions which have their own charm and sweetness. Even if the English roots of the premise are mostly detectable only in Dickie Attenborough’s grandson showing up for a few lines as ever-adorable Christopher Robin, the American voices never grated: I can see them as universal, and these are after all talking toy animals. Disney’s Pooh is an alternative, a retelling, a riff on a theme, and I’m perfectly happy to watch in that capacity, and really enjoy both.

And the fact is, the production is a triumph. DisneyToon were getting better and better – I really don’t think Simba’s Pride ought to be derided – and along with Disney Animation Japan (formed when Disney, in association with a TMS producer, bought out Thundercats’ studio Pacific Animation Corp) created crisp, exciting animation suitable for the big screen. While only one of the original cast was in place – the then-75-year-old John Fielder as Piglet - those who replaced them are some of the cream of American voice acting talent, doing extremely good impressions of their forebears – Eeyore was now voiced by Peter Cullen, best-known as Optimus Prime (with Frank Welker – Megatron – doing additional voices); John Hurt provided narration, returning to Disney after his role in The Black Cauldron; and both Tigger and Pooh were played by the master of imitating deeper voices Jim Cummings, who not only made a full and memorable character just by laughing in The Lion King but also – according to Corey Feldman – provided all Scar’s ‘big notes’ in ‘Be Prepared’, a story much-altered by urban legend.

Plus love for the property is everywhere in evidence, most obviously when not only do the parts where the pages of the books are visible pay tribute to the 60s episodes’ title sequences but Milne's prose – probably the most remarkable part of this production is not only did the animators bother to draw key episodes from the story in the style of original illustrator EH Shepard for the credits but took the trouble to write imagined pages from a book version in Milne’s style to be seen only for moments at a time, rather than, say, using Lorem Ipsum. The Sherman Brothers, songwriters for The Jungle Book and The Aristocats, were also brought in, though a little more is made of this being their first theatrical feature for Disney in nearly 30 years than really ought to be: they’d written songs for direct-to-video Pooh films several times in the years prior to this.

All these elements come together with the magic ingredient – a strong, simple but emotional plot for the well-loved characters – to make a film that remarkably is far more than I had expected it to be.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut

It seems almost unbelievable that when this came out, South Park had been airing for less than two years. It’s even harder to believe that it came out in 1999, well over a decade ago.

I’ll leave it until I write my thoughts on the full series, which will be when it finally ends for good, to talk about how I first got into it, remarkably early and certainly before its popularity exploded over here in the UK (I’m so 90s hipster), but movies get separate entries, and this one definitely made enough of an impact to deserve it. South Park was still young in 1999, still fresh and rebellious and admired for the political edge Drawn Together so inadequately tried to criticise in their direct-to-video movie. Timmy wasn’t a character yet, and Butters was barely more than a face in the background (a fact Parker and Stone remark on when they gave their audio commentary for this film in 2009).

But it also marks about the time when South Park got a lot smarter. The first episodes that were so anarchic and bizarre now mostly seem to be trying too hard or to fall flat, but this film showed just how far Parker and Stone grew from anal probes and lame cliffhangers about Cartman’s parentage. The film built on many of the show’s ideas and was chock-full of moments to please fans, but it was also very clever, very varied and satisfying in terms of basic narrative.

When the South Park boys get mixed up in a debate about censoring a comedy film, their parents as ever take things to extremes and decide to wage war against Canada, because that’s where the film came from, and because it’s easier to attack a scapegoat than to question whether it’s actually their parenting at fault. Adding – fittingly, given how it happens – fuel to the fire, Kenny dies emulating something from the film, but this time we see him in the afterlife and meeting the angsty Satan, as ever locked in an abusive homosexual relationship with Saddam Hussein – as the one suffering. The parents manage to succeed in getting the stars of the offensive film condemned to death, so Stan and Kyle decide to form a resistance movement to rescue them. Cartman’s potty-mouth leads him to be subjected to a ‘V-chip’ not for the TV but for the head, which shocks him when he swears to correct his behaviour, Eric Idle’s short turn as the doctor who implants the chip making up a little for his bewildering turn in the previous year’s Timmy to the Rescue (Timmah!). All these plot strands come together at the end in a rather contrived way revolving around prophecies of Hell breaking free, but it cannot be denied that it is awesome when it does, especially with Cartman featuring in one of the best of the show’s numerous anime pastiches and Mike Judge showing up to give Kenny a voice just for a moment or two.

The film probably has the best pastiche soundtrack of any comedy film. The remarkable thing is that it not only imitates Menken numbers and the soundtrack of Les Misérables, it does it to a level of quality about on a par with them. James Hetfield pops in for an anonymous vocal cameo that presumably because of legal wrangling couldn’t be on the soundtrack and he pretended for a few years he didn’t do, the extremely silly ‘Kyle’s Mom is a Big Fat Bitch’ from the series gets fully expanded and ‘Blame Canada’ even got nominated for an Oscar – complete with a performance on awards ceremony night by Robin Williams (losing, inexplicably, to Phil Collins’ dreck from Tarzan). The medley that grows out of the Les Mis parody, including the great couplet ‘They may cut your dick in half and serve it to a pig/And though it hurts you’ll laugh and dance a dickless jig’, is inspired and should’ve been the one that won that academy award.

This was made while South Park was a rising star, and long before anyone was bored of it. And it shows: it’s clever, confident, full of ideas and absolutely hilarious. Miles better than The Simpsons Movie and a little better than Beavis and Butthead do America, it’s very probably the best movie adaptation of a TV animated comedy there’s ever been.