Sunday, April 09, 2017

My Life as a Courgette

For me, the most interesting animated features being made today are not from North America.  Europe has come on strong, both in terms of subject matter and technique.  Drawn animation is still alive there and now there is an excellent stop motion film called My Life as a Courgette (the French word for zucchini).

This film has racked up awards, including an Oscar nomination, and fully deserves whatever praise it's received.  The story is about a group of children who are victims of neglect or tragedy living in a state-run institution.  While the subject matter sounds depressing, the film avoids being dreary or maudlin.  This is not a story by Charles Dickens.  The institution is a haven from their former lives, and while the children are marked by their experiences, they don't dwell on them.  They go on being children who laugh, play, learn, fight, question and who are eager to experience new things.

The script, based on a novel by Gilles Paris with the screenplay by Celine Sciammo, Germano Zullo, Claude Barras and Morgan Navarro, and the direction by Barras are perfect, maintaining a balance between the emotions of the children's pasts and their present.  The stop motion puppets are not as flexible as those made by Mackinnon and Saunders for films like The Corpse Bride, but the animators evoke a wide range of emotions with them, helped enormously by the tasteful script and direction.  The film successfully develops the characters and their relationships.  The events grow out of the dynamics of the group and are never less than believable.

There are no big set pieces as there typically are in North American films.  It is not anywhere near as elaborate as Laika's work, but I found it to be far more satisfying.  The characters simply try to live their lives and it is surprisingly interesting to watch.

I caught the film at the TIFF Kids International Film Festival.  So far, the film has not received a release in Canada, though it opened in the U.S. in February.  I don't know where Canadians will next have an opportunity to see this film, but don't miss it when it becomes available. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Toronto Screening of The Animation Show of Shows


The 18th Annual Animation Show of Shows Trailer - Coming Soon from Acme Filmworks on Vimeo.

The 18th annual Animation Show of Shows will be screening at the Carlton Cinema, 20 Carlton Street, from March 31 to April 6.  The films are:
Stems - Ainslie Hendersen (Scotland)
Shift - Cecilia Puglesi & Yijun Liu (U.S.)
Pearl - Patrick Osborne (U.S.)
Crin-crin - Iris Alexandre (Belgium)
Mirror - Chris Ware, John Kuramoto, Ira Glass (U.S.)
Last summer in the garden - bekky O¹Neil (Canada)
Waiting for the New Year - Vladimir Leschiov (Latvia)
Piper - Alan Barillaro (U.S.)
Bøygen - Kristian Pedersen (Norway)
Afternoon Class - Seoro Oh (Korea)
About a Mother - Dina Velikovskaya (Russia)
Exploozy - Joshua Gunn, Trevor Piecham, & John McGowan (U.S.)
Inner Workings - Leo Matsuda (U.S.)
CORPUS - Marc Héricher (France)
BLUE - Daniela Sherer (Israel)
MANOMAN - Simon Cartwright (England)
ALL THEIR SHADES - Chloé Alliez (Belgium)

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Toronto Screenings of My Life as a Courgette

My Life as a Courgette (aka My Life as a Zucchini) is a Swiss-French stop motion feature that was nominated for an Oscar and has won prizes at festivals all over the world.

While it is playing in theatres in the U.S. and Canada, it has no release date for a run in Toronto.  However, it will screen twice at the TIFF Kids International Film Festival, once on April 9 at 10:45 a.m. and once on April 17 at 3:45 p.m.

Information about the film can be found here and information about the festival is here.

Friday, March 03, 2017

Laika Speculation

I am thousands of miles from Laika's studio and have no inside information.  However, I've been interested in following the company's fortunes as it is one of the few companies making stop motion features.

Travis Knight, CEO, animator and director, is going to direct a Transformers spinoff for Paramount.

This is unexpected and raises many questions about the future of Laika.  It's clear from the budgets and grosses of Laika's films that the company is not self-supporting.  I've always thought that it has survived because Travis Knight wanted it to, and because his father, Phil Knight of Nike, was willing to financially support the company on his son's behalf.

What does Travis Knight's latest move mean?  Is he just looking for a change of pace with the intention of returning to Laika?  Was there an understanding between father and son that Laika had to become profitable after some amount of time or number of films, and if it didn't the subsidy would end?

Travis Knight is the reason that Laika exists.  Without him, there is no reason for Phil Knight to finance a money-losing company.  Perhaps this is nothing more than an opportunity that popped up and was hard to resist, but Travis Knight's plans and the box office success of the Transformer's spinoff could have a major impact on the continued existence of Laika.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Floyd Norman: An Animated Life Screening in Toronto

Floyd Norman, animator and story artist, was one of the first African-Americans to work at Disney and in the animation industry.  A documentary on his life is showing at the Hot Docs cinema on Bloor Street on Sunday, February 19 at 11 a.m.  It's a one-time screening.

Floyd will be present via Skype after the film.

For more information, go here.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

John Canemaker's New Blog

John Canemaker (left) with Jules Feiffer

Animation historian and Academy Award winning filmmaker John Canemaker has started a blog.  His first entry features an event last November with the multi-talented cartoonist, playwright, screenwriter and author Jules Feiffer.  Anyone familiar with Canemaker's work knows that anything he writes is worth reading.  Included is a letter Feiffer wrote to his daughters, providing political perspective on today's world.