Short Video tribute: Duet by Glen Keane (2014)

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Last night, I found a posting of this video on Facebook and I fell in love with it. Animation is such a beautiful, complicated art form and this short is no exception. The three minute short depicts the love story of a boy and a girl, whose growth slowly draws them closer and closer together. Glen Keane, since 2013 named a Disney Legend, originally worked on character design and animation on many of the movies from the Disney Renaissance including The Little Mermaid (1989), Aladdin (1992), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Tarzan (1999), and Tangled (2010) and has received the 1992 Annie Award for character animation and the 2007 Winsor McCay Award for lifetime contribution to the field of animation.  I wish that I could post the video on my blog, but I am not a premium member. However, I will leave a link here so that anyone interested can watch it. ——–> LINK

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The Thief and the Cobbler (1993?) An Unfinished Masterpiece

 

Aaaaa1UPDATE!: On June 1, 2014, “A Moment in Time” was screened in London, with many of the original crew present of his original vision and work prints. Hopefully there might have been plans to re-release it in the United States.

 

 

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This one of the hardest reviews that I will ever write. Since I was young, this has been my family’s movie (we can quote it from beginning to end). It has brought a lot of joy and laughs for us, but as much as I love what this movie has meant to me throughout my life I can’t ignore what this film could have become and its tragic history. Recently a documentary called Persistence of Vision was released in 2012 which told the story of the long, almost 30- year production of this film and how its director,  Richard Williams, intended it to become his masterpiece. After he was dismissed from his own project Warner Bros. hired another director Fred Calvert to patch it up, in order to make it more marketable, and as a result it was morphed into a cheap knockoff of Disney’s Aladdin. After learning all these facts I heard that a “Recobbled” version of the film had been released under a non-profit organization in 2006 and I decided to watch it and see for myself if it truly is a masterpiece.

It is easy to assume that this film copies Aladdin‘s plot. After watching the film as it was intended I would have to disagree. In my opinion the plot for The Thief and the Cobbler is superior to Aladdin‘s. It feels like an old Arabian Tale rather than an engineered blockbuster. The Arabian Nights (One Thousand and One Nights) are a combination of tales that date back to ancient or medieval times collected and modified during the Islamic Golden Age. This film’s plot follows a similar rhythm and flow that persists throughout all these tales. It’s purpose is to entertain of course but through a more traditional Eastern style than many are used to because of hyped up American films. It depicts a battle between good and evil and most importantly a hero who comes from the humblest of origins, destined to save the Golden City by the simplest of means. What makes it superior to Aladdin is how it uses these simple plot elements that play homage to traditional Arabian storytelling to drive the story and not to popular media.

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I like each of the character’s individuality and distinct personalities. I have seen so many articles and pictures complaining about their similarities to (again) Aladdin‘s characters and I can’t understand it. None of them, except perhaps Princess Yum Yum, are copy cut-outs of any Disney’s characters from Aladdin.

Tack the cobbler, my favorite character, changed the most by the end of the film. In the beginning, he is depicted as a shy, white skinned, thin young man with hardly any heroic potential, at least in the eyes of those around him. By chance, or perhaps providence, he is taken to the palace to be executed and there he falls in love with the princess Yum Yum, who saved his life from the vizier Zigzag. As I watched him grow I came to love him for his gentleness, purity, and courage. He doesn’t speak till the very end of the movie so his personality was portrayed through his eyes, movements and comically by the tacks he kept in his mouth. For me, not hearing him speak made his transformation from a homely cobbler into a prince more realistic and in a way mystical. When he finally spoke at his wedding to Princess Yum Yum it was as if, suddenly, I realized the great person he had become. This isn’t to say that I don’t like how he was in the film released in 1993, however I think the “Recobbled” version of Tack is more endearing.

Zigzag is an interesting villain to listen to and watch. Voiced by the famous Vincent Price, who recorded his part in the early 1970’s, he like many other villains in films, has the most personality. He talked in rime the entire film and stood out the most because of his curious appearance (for example his toes are extraordinarily long and roll out when he walks) and his quirky mannerisms.

Princess Yum Yum is a very likable character because of her spunky attitude and independent nature. I like the romance between her and Tack because of how simple it is. It is cute to see them blush when he is fixing her shoe and to see how much she loves him without focusing solely on physical encounters and appearances. The only thing I don’t like about her in this version is the voice they chose for her. Besides that I have nothing against her.

Lastly (for time’s sake), the Thief is one of the funniest characters I have ever seen. I was actually disappointed at first when they didn’t put in all of his funny comments delivered by Ed E. Carroll in the 1993 version. This wasn’t a problem for me later in the film but I will probably keep watching the other version just so I can hear his old lines. He is the least involved in the initial story line but he plays one of the most important parts because his actions set into motion critical events. First, when he throws Tack out of his shop, which causes Tack to be arrested; second when he steals Yum Yum’s shoe, which causes Tack to eventually be thrown into prison by Zigzag; third when he steals the golden balls for the first time and fulfills part of the prophesy talked of in the beginning; fourth when he steals the balls back from One-Eye and helps restore order to the Golden City. 

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The animation is breathtakingly beautiful (see above). To be honest, I had never really paid attention to it until I watched this version. In fact I used to laugh with my family about how weird it looked (like in the chase scene between the cobbler and the thief). It is a shame because Richard Williams animation style is masterful. One sequence that grasped my attention was at the beginning when Tack was in the dungeon fiddling with string. As he finished his creation the golden threads flowed down into the image of the princess. I looked at it very carefully and I wondered how long it took them to animate such a simple yet intricate scene. Other parts of the film, like the above mentioned chase scene, reminded me of old Islamic mosaics that I saw in my history class (Islamic History Muhammad – The Crusades) and at times when I looked closely the imagery was purposefully animated to create optical illusions. I wonder what this movie would have looked like if Richard Williams was able to finish it. As it is, I love watching the animation and I believe it is one of the greatest artistic achievements of our time. The only thing I found hard to follow were the sudden transitions from the finished animated sequences to unfinished pencil drawings. Seeing that no one has been able to finish this film completely, I didn’t mind.

I was so surprised when the music started because it was nothing like the score used in the film I grew up with. Yet it seemed to fit better. In the beginning especially I marveled at how gorgeous it was. Not much is said about the music but I think it played an important role in transforming this film. As a musician I don’t know how to adequately describe this. To put it simply, the feeling or timbre of the music completely changed how I perceived this film. From what I could hear, most of what was taken out of the 1993 version was replaced by more classical sounding music. I actually admired this modification because it changed the film from being the knock-off people think it is to something much deeper. I was also kind of glad that they didn’t have those sing-a- long songs (though I will probably always love them).

I love this film. After watching this version I can say with a surety that it has become one of my all-time favorites. Would I recommend this film to others? Only if you are a fan of traditional animation. Watch this film if you want to see for yourself why they call this film a masterpiece. I hope that in the future someone will finish what Richard Williams started and give it the credit it deserves.

Masterpiece

FAVORITE QUOTE:

1993 Version:

The Thief: Rule number one: Keep your eye on the wire and have feet like a monkey. Rule number two: It’s always good to wear underwear when you’re up this high, otherwise you could attract a sizable crowd. That brings us to rule number three. Rule number three… what’s rule number three? I always forget rule number three. Rule number one: eyes and feet, rule number two: underwear. 

Original Cut/ Recobblered Version:

[last lines]

[original version]

Princess Yum-Yum: I love you.

[Tack takes the tacks from his mouth at last and speaks for the first time]

Tack the Cobbler: And I love you.

[they embrace and kiss]

紅の豚 Kurenai no Buta (Porco Rosso) 1992

Porco_Rosso_(Movie_Poster)  When I was a young child I had the pleasure, without even knowing it, of growing up with one of Hayao Miyazaki‘s most famous films My Neighbor Totoro (1988). My mother remembers how upset I was when she gave the film away, and to this day it remains one of my favorites. That being said, when I was seventeen I started watching and exploring Miyazaki-san’s other films out of curiosity. Over the last five years I have come to love all of his movies, but it took time for me to appreciate each one. This film in particular I have come to cherish because of its gentle nature and bright humor, but I had quite a negative opinion of it before I watched it. At first I refused to acknowledge this film because it looked ridiculous, but against  my “better” judgment I saw it with my family when they bought a copy of it at a yard sale. I discovered that I shouldn’t base my opinions on what I see on the surface of a cover and that this film, like people, was much more complicated than it initially appeared.

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CINEMATOGRAPHY/ANIMATION: 5/5

Hayao Myazaki’s animation style is one of the most beautiful, dynamic and artistic I have ever seen. Throughout all his films, even ones as old as Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) and  Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986), there is a rich, vibrant wholeness, or liveliness that persists from beginning to end. Porco Rosso is no exception. In a word, this film is magical. Everything from the colors, to the shadowing, and the movement of the characters blends perfectly with the story. It is rather interesting that this film is placed right before World War II in the Adriatic and Italy, but has such a colorful, lighthearted look and feel to it. Personally, I thought that it made it all the more endearing to know that when the world was falling into chaos there were still places that could shine so brightly.

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PLOT/STORY: 5/5

I have never encountered a story like this before. {I seem to say this about all of Miyazaki-san’s movies. . .} Placed in the Adriatic during the 1920s, the film focuses on the life of a man who calls himself Porco Rosso. In the beginning, we are taken to an enclosed private beach where Porco receives a call from his employer to catch some pirates who have attacked a ship. He uncovers his face to show that he is completely normal, except that he has the face of a pig. Being presented with a less then beautiful, flawed protagonist we are thence swept off into the life of sea plane pirates and the Adriatic. From beginning to end people do wholly unexpected things. Some cross gender roles and others like the pirates are shown as honorable, quirky people. Is there a conflict between good and evil? Yes, but not in a way we are familiar with in modern film. There is no villain in this story; there are only people, who are flawed of course but still needed and important. The thing that makes this story so magnetic is it simple complexity. Like in many of his other films, Miyazaki-san not only showed moments of high adventure but also stopped and took the time to show the beauty of the sunset on the ocean or ponder or the natural elegance of Gina’s garden. Most importantly perhaps was the change evident in all the characters. It is extremely difficult to truly capture a character’s transformation at the end of a film and harder still to show it’s progress. Miyazaki-san captured this growth masterfully in ways that many animating directors cannot because they are so focused on keeping their audience entertained.

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CHARACTERS: 5/5

It is too difficult to explain the character’s complexity as a whole. They are all so real that when I stop watching the movie it takes me a while to realize that they aren’t real people. I will try to explain it by looking at two of the main characters.

First, there is Porco, or Marco, Rosso. He is what some would call the reluctant hero in the broadest sense but to me he was much more intriguing than that. Though he seemed to openly accept his transformation and to not care about anything beyond his own affairs, he opened himself up enough to show that he carried terrible burden of guilt and cared more for people then he is willing to admit. For example, after being the sole survivor of a terrible air fight during World War I he caught a glimpse of many different planes, all of different nationalities, flying toward heaven. He watched as his best friend passed by him and without any control over his aircraft descended away from the other ethereal planes back into the real world with the face of a pig. It became clear that he accepted his appearance because he believed he deserved it. How did he change? For me it was when he decided to fight for another person rather than for himself. Before then he had closed himself off from everyone around him, even his childhood friend Gina whom he had clearly loved for some time but was unwilling to admit it.

Another character that I particularly like is Gina. From the moment she was introduced as the gracious, beautiful hostess of the Hotel Adriano singing “Le temps Des Cerises” (The Time of Cherries) I felt that she was silently grieving. After losing four husbands to war and aerial accidents it was clear that she had grown numb to her heart ache. It was strange watching her at times because she seemed to drift away from you. Yet, despite this sadness that burdened her she was still a strong person. When she passively remarked to the brash, young pilot Curtis that she was still waiting for the man she loved, Porco, to meet her in her garden I couldn’t help but wonder if she would no longer willingly pursue what seemed impossible. Happiness, apparently was something that she was willing to wait for if it meant that she did not have to fight against a world that had robbed her too many times before.

I doubt I am giving these characters justice. For me, the fact that it is so hard for me to understand them is a compliment. It means that they are more than your basic off the shelf prince charmings or damsels in distress. This is the same for all of the characters in the film. Honestly there isn’t a dull copy, cut-out character in the entire movie. That is something that I thoroughly appreciate. 

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MUSIC: 5/5

I won’t say too much about the music in this review. I am a fan of Joe Hisaishi‘s, or Mamoru Fujisawa’s beautiful style and enjoy all of the soundtracks he has composed. He captured the light, almost subdued feel of the movie wonderfully. There isn’t much to say other than he is one of the many geniuses like Hans Zimmer whose talent is irreplaceable.

PERSONAL ENJOYMENT: 5/5

I love this film and recommend it for everyone. Some of his other films I wouldn’t just because many people are averse to more foreign films. It is funny and wonderful to watch and I hope that people won’t quickly dismiss it because of where it comes from or because it is different.

OVERALL SCORE: 5/5

FAVORITE QUOTE:

[Curtis and Porco have run out of ammo when Curtis attempts to shoot Porco with a revolver]

“I refuse to end this match with a draw!”

“Hahaha… This isn’t a Western, you can’t hit me from there.”

[One of the bullets hits the side of Porco’s plane]

The Book Thief (2013)

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When I heard that Markus Zusak‘s infamous work The Book Thief would be made into a movie I was intrigued and skeptical. Usually, movies based on popular books are mediocre, like The Tale of Despareaux 2008, or unbearable to watch (like Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief)There are of course exceptions like Life of Pi 2012, and the first two Harry Potter movies made subsequently in 2001 and 2002, however these movies are anomalies. Why is this? I believe that it is because the conversion process from book to film is extremely difficult. Film makers are faced with the wearisome task of changing a story that uses words as an artistic medium to a story that uses sight and sound (music, dialogue, background) as a mode of expression. It comes down to whether the film creators are able to capture what readers imagined and experienced when they read the book. 

PLOT/SCREENPLAY: 3/5

The question, “What does it mean to be human?, formed the basis of this story.  The purpose of this film, as it was in the book, was to capture the meaning of human existence during a time when the absolutes and truths that people had lived with since even before their time twisted into ideas and philosophies they couldn’t recognize or understand. I found, when I read the book at least, it curious and thought-provoking that the story centered on characters in the heart of Nazi Germany, where people disassociate such humane characteristics as kindness, love, and morality. Perspective forced me to look beyond what I already knew about Nazi Germany into the very depth of such an evil entity, and that was where I came to know beautifully flawed human beings whose deaths and sorrow struck me at my very core. Did the movie capture this idea? Yes and no. There were moments, like when Rosa sat crying on the bed when Hans left to fight holding his accordion that I felt that beauty and heart stopping realness from the book. Yet those moments seemed fleeting and often times they couldn’t grasp that authenticity, though they tried. Never in the movie did I feel that I looked into the heart and soul of any of the characters.

CINEMATOGRAPHY: 4.5/5

I liked the feel of this movie. The darker colors and the way they transitioned from scene to scene fit the mood of Nazi Germany and the environment Leisel grew up in. Of course there were times where I think they could have done better. One scene in particular that comes to my mind is when Liesel ran through the crowd of Jews looking for Max. The slow motion and overall execution seemed too much. I thought it took away from the simplicity and tenderness of such a moment. Though it wasn’t perfect, I still felt that the shooting of this film was excellent.

Characters: 3/5

I liked the actors and actresses, however I saw them as characters, not people. Never did I feel I was given the opportunity to really know them. All I could do was see their outer shell and sometimes maybe look through a tear in their defenses and see some of the pain hidden there. What could have changed this? I think they should have shown their flaws more profoundly. Why? Because human beings are flawed. They make mistakes. Children especially have so much to learn as they develop and change into adults. How do they get there? By making mistakes. That isn’t to say that I didn’t appreciate the beauty and kindness of the characters. No that wasn’t it.  Here was the difference. When their deaths came in the book I felt as though a part of me had been ripped out; as though I had lost my most precious friends or family members. I wept for them because they were so alive. I had come to know them so intimately that when they were gone it broke my heart to know that they could no longer play the accordion, steal food and books, paint themselves black, mourn the loss of their sons, and wish to kiss the girl they had loved for years. With the movie it was different. When they died, I felt as though I was saying goodbye to a neighbor or maybe an acquaintance. I cried of course but it wasn’t the same. I didn’t know them well enough.

MUSIC: 4/5

The music captured the mood of this movie very well but I was left wanting more. John Williams is an excellent composer. Some of the films he has written for include masterpieces like Star Wars, the Indiana Jones series, the Harry Potter films and Lincoln and other well known classic films like E.T. and Jurassic Park. Did he deliver in this film also? Almost. I didn’t particularly notice the music unless the attention shifted from the characters to a scenery or event. Essentially, the score was beautiful but not a masterpiece.

PERSONAL ENJOYMENT: 3/5

I did not hate this movie. However, I did not love it either. If I was to recommend either the book or the movie I would instantly choose the book. The book shows why living is such a beautiful thing. It personifies life and it uses death as a modem between what is thought to be truth and what actually is truth. The movie didn’t master this idea but I think more will read the book because it was made.

OVERALL SCORE: 3.5/5

FAVORITE QUOTE:

Rudy Steiner: Are you coming?

Liesel Meminger: Where are you going to?

Rudy Steiner: Isn’t it obvious? I’m running away.

Liesel Meminger: Have you thought this through?

Rudy Steiner: Ya. I don’t want to die. There – all thought through.

Gigi (1958)

stanley2345I watched Gigi when I was seventeen years old. It actually came in a case with two other classics “Singing In the Rain” and “My Fair Lady”. I found it surprising that it would be included with such masterpieces and I believed that it would be average at best. However, my admiration of the film has grown over the years and after watching it yesterday (January 23, 2014) my first impression of the film has been thrown away and labeled as a moment of naivete.

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PLOT: 5/5

The film takes place in Paris during the turn of the 20th century and centers on the high society, or more accurately on the culture that had developed there among the elite. This film shows impressively the intricate relationships between men and their mistresses and the effects of living such a lifestyle. As the film opens with Maurice Chevalier singing “Thank Heaven For Little Girls” I was both charmed and intrigued by the message that lay there. Men needed women, however a woman’s worth depended on the man’s perspective on what was socially acceptable and what they could gain from them. A woman’s image was intricately connected to the role she played in a man’s mind. For me, the film showed what happened to women who were mistresses to the elegant “lovers” of high society. They were expected to be feminine, charming, graceful, knowledgeable on jewelry and quality and subject to their patron. Those in that world (both men and women) lived what they called a truly romantic lifestyle, in the springtime that all lovers aspire for without limitations made by marriage and family. They went to cultured events, threw elegant parties and traveled the world. However, when their springtime ended and they grew tired of each other they moved on. The film masterfully shows not only that such a lifestyle is detrimental but also that true love is found differently and much longer than the short time given in springtime. I think this idea is shown best when Gigi’s grandmother and Gaston’s uncle reflect on their own romance in “I Remember it Well”. Though he claimed to be such a romantic he barely remembered anything about their relationship together. It truly was only a passing fancy.

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CHARACTERS: 5/5

I found all of the characters in this movie enjoyable to watch and study. None of them were boring, and to me they all contributed something essential in understanding the meaning of the film. I will talk about the two main characters the most because I believe they embody the movie’s ideals the best.

Gigi is the character who, in my mind, represents innocence and genuine self-awareness. I found it fascinating to watch her as she sang “The Parisans”, and mock “the art of love-making” that her aunt and so many around her believed in so thoroughly. I believe that she saw it as fake. She wanted something more genuine in her life. She wanted to laugh, play games, and most importantly be herself. When it came to love she wanted something long-lasting and a relationship that didn’t have to follow all the silly rules her aunt showed her. To her, “The art of love” that so many followed was a mere counterfeit. I found it amazing that though she loved Gaston she could still see what fate awaited her if she were to accept his offer and become his mistress. Despite this, she still decided to accept because she couldn’t bear to be apart from him.

Gaston (Louis Jourdan) was a victim of that counterfeit lifestyle. He was bored and empty and he found all the wonders that his uncle reveled in to be unfulfilling. His uncle, who had followed that lifestyle till old age, fought to persuade his nephew throughout the entire film that he would be happiest following his footsteps. However, The things that Gaston enjoyed the most weren’t all that glamorous at all. He was happiest when he visited Gigi and her grandmother at their small apartment. When he realized that he loved Gigi, making her has mistress was the only way he knew to show his affection. It was what he had been taught and how he had lived most of his life. However, when he saw her in that environment I can imagine the revulsion he felt by bringing her there and having her change into what she hated. When he pulled her away from the restaurant and left her at her apartment, I could see the wheels in his head turning. As he walked ,along the same path he had taken when he realized he loved her, he realized his feelings had not changed but his perspective had. He could not force Gigi to live a lifestyle that would ruin her and bring her unhappiness and yet he could not part from her. When he asked her to marry him I thought the same thing as her grandmother. Thank Heaven that they were able to find each other and realize that true happiness came from long-lasting commitments and not short term fantasies.

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MUSIC: 3.5/5

I don’t believe that the music in this film is that spectacular. In fact, I think the film would be able to progress just as well without it.  Each of the songs follow the same pattern and they lack diversity and individual charm. I don’t mean that the songs aren’t charming or fun to listen to. They are just average. I have to say though I enjoy listening to “Thank Heaven For Little Girls”. Often I find myself humming it when I remember this film or I watch “The Aristocats”.

CINEMATOGRAPHY: 4/5

The film isn’t boring it is just simple. It doesn’t give you anything extraordinary but I don’t believe that it is meant to. The message is simple and so is its visuals. I would have given it a 5 if it had shown me something I wasn’t expecting. However, it’s purpose is to charm through its characters and story not through anything visually glamorous.

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PERSONAL ENJOYMENT: 5/5

As I said before, this has become one of my favorite films. Not because of the music or anything fancy but because it leaves me with a feeling of relief and respect for its creators. It isn’t often that you find a film that endorses marriage and shows the emptiness that comes from engaging in counterfeit relationships. This isn’t a romantic film meant to glamorize love but to show true love and the happiness it brings to those willing to look for it and commit their life to another person.

OVERALL SCORE: 4.5/5

FAVORITE QUOTE:

[last lines]

[after a long while, Gaston  returns to Madame Alvarez’s apartment]

Gaston Lachaille: May I come in?

[Gigi shrinks into a corner, hoping to be spared]

Madame Alvarez: Please, Gaston… no papers… no scandal.

Gaston Lachaille: Madame, will you do me the honor, the favor… give me the infinite joy of bestowing on me… Gigi’s hand in marriage?

[Gigi, filled with relief and joy, draws to Gaston’s side]

Madame Alvarez: [smiles] Thank Heaven!

[“Thank Heaven for Little Girls” plays again]