Friday, August 11, 2023

Family Animation - Revisiting Personal Cinematic Landscape

We’ve covered adult animation, so I think it’s time we look at family animation.
In my original personal cinematic landscape article, I discussed Disney greats The Lion King (1994) and Aladdin (1992). It would have been blasphemous to go into animation important to me without bringing Disney into the conversation at all. For a first look at the films that altered my perception of cinema, those made sense. However, there was a later Disney film that dug its claws into me, too.
As much as I enjoyed Frozen (2013) when it came out, it took on even deeper meanings to me after my daughter started watching movies.
Naturally, I tried to start my daughter on the Disney films from my past, but she wasn’t having it. She showed no interest in Aladdin. The Lion King proved to be too scary for her upon the death of Mufasa. She wasn’t even into Cinderella (1950) or The Little Mermaid (1989). Finding a flick for her to sit through was harder than trying to limit myself to only one book from Barnes and Noble.

One day, we tried my husband’s favorite Disney movie: Frozen. My daughter adored it immediately. She sang the songs, danced with Elsa, tried to get me to buy every Anna toy she saw… it was her first real Disney experience.
From an adult perspective, I was awed by Frozen when I saw it. Unlike the majority of the rest of the Disney filmography, it wasn’t geared toward romantic love. In fact, the twist ending where the ‘true love’ aspect involved Anna’s connection to her sister almost landed it on my personal cinematic landscape as part of the Subverting Expectations category. On first watch, in the theater, there wasn’t a soul in that room that believed anything but a kiss from Kristoff would unfreeze Anna. When it turned out to be the familial love from Elsa, there was an audible gasp.
It was just shy of making my list last time. Now, as a mom, I have a softer feeling toward it because I got to see it become the first movie to shape my daughter’s cinematic landscape. It’s become the guide for what I look for when choosing other movies for a family movie night. It’s that movie that can usher a whole new generation into Disney films.

Another animated flick that should have probably been on my original list is All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989).
All Dogs Go to Heaven was the first animated film I ever saw that had a bittersweet ending. Every other animation I’d seen up until then ended on that ‘happily ever after’ note. If you’ve followed Trust the Dice for any length of time, you know that my preferred ending is a bittersweet one. I find they have more of a lasting effect on me.
That all started with All Dogs Go to Heaven.
Watching Charlie go from a gangster stray to orphan’s-best-friend, was a ride I enjoyed as a kid. At the end Charlie comes back from the dead for a few minutes to say goodbye to Anne-Marie and Itchy. You can see the little girl reflected in his eye for a few moments and, as much as I enjoy the rest of the film, that’s the moment that always stuck with me. It still causes me to tear up when I think about it. Up until that moment, I don’t think I knew that animated films could have bittersweet endings.

There’s one more film I need to add to my family animation landscape. It’s a newer film that has absolutely no comparison to anything from the past. It is, in my opinion, the greatest animated film ever created: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018).
It would be easy to accuse me of saying Into the Spider-Verse is the best because I’m a Marvel fan girl. That’s not it, though. If we ignore the main character, the story, the acting, and even the writing, Into the Spider-Verse would still alter my cinematic landscape.
More than anything else, what Into the Spider-Verse did was raise the bar on animation quality.
Everything about the animation is crisp and flawless. The use of the old-time comic feel juxtaposed against various other styles – like anime, childish, noir, etc. – was insane. I haven’t seen Across the Spider-Verse (2023) yet, but I have heard it’s got the same base style. I imagine once I do, it will merge with the first film to affect my animated landscape on an even broader level.
Quite frankly, Into the Spider-Verse has given me reason to expect more from family animation. It’s given me hope for what comes next.

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Studio Ghibli Fest: Princess Mononoke (1997)

© 1997 Studio Ghibli - ND
Movie Name/Year: Princess Mononoke (1997)

Genre: Adventure, Action, Fantasy, Animation

Length:  2h 14min

Rating: PG-13

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Writers: Hayao Miyazaki, Neil Gaiman (adapted by: English version)


  • Japanese Language Cast: Yôji Matsuda, Yuriko Ishida, Yûko Tanaka, Kaoru Kobayashi, Masahiko Nishimura, Tsunehiko Kamijô, Sumi Shimamoto, Tetsu Watanabe, Mitsuru Satô, Akira Nagoya, Akihiro Miwa, Mitsuko Mori, Hisaya Morishige
  • English Language Cast: Billy Crudup, Billy Bob Thornton, Minnie Driver, John DiMaggio, Claire Danes, John DeMita, Jada Pinkett Smith, Gillian Anderson, Keith David, Tara Strong, Debi Derryberry


IMDb Blurb: On a journey to find the cure for a Tatarigami's [mythological Japanese demon] curse, Ashitaka finds himself in the middle of a war between the forest gods and Tatara, a mining colony. In this quest he also meets San, the Mononoke Hime [spirit princess].
Cat’s Point of View:
Whenever cinematic anime is mentioned, more often than not someone is likely talking about a Studio Ghibli movie. Hayao Miyazaki (Castle in the Sky, Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle) is a master of his craft and his body of work has become not only fairly synonymous with the anime genre itself but also legendary in its own right. I have generally adored most of the productions I’ve seen from the Ghibli Library. Some are an acquired taste and are a little odd, but most are breathtakingly beautiful and achingly well-written.

There’s even a whole cinematic “festival” every year to celebrate these wonderful films. It stretches out over a series of months, which is something I really appreciate. It’s easier on the wallet to view one movie a month in theaters rather than several in a week or so. As we approach mid-August of 2023, this year’s Ghibli Fest is well underway, having started in March, and will wrap up in early November. 

This summer, I attended the showing for Princess Mononoke, and fell in love with this movie all over again. 

Princess Mononoke was actually the first Studio Ghibli movie I ever watched and sparked my love of most things Ghibli. I’ve watched at least half of the studio’s productions and plan to expand that list in time. The story of this epic tale of forest spirits and the environmental ravages of men has not lost its impact over time, and is probably more relevant today than at the time of its release given the dramatic climate shifts occurring everywhere. 

The length of Princess Mononoke might seem on the long side for an animated feature, but I assure you that it is action-packed enough that I’ve never even really felt the passage of time while watching. I haven’t fallen prey to ADHD attention span issues, either. 
© 1997 Studio Ghibli - ND

The visuals that accompany this narrative also pull no punches. Princess Mononoke is well deserving of its PG-13 rating. This is yet another example of a film not being appropriate for small children in spite of being an animation. There are graphic depictions of war, including people losing limbs and even being decapitated. Some of the spirit creatures might appear terrifying to the very young, as well. Let’s remember the lesson my generation and our parents learned the hard way with Watership Down (1978). Just because it’s an excellent animated movie about bunnies doesn’t mean that it’s suitable for kids and won’t give them nightmares and trauma. I digress…

For the audiophiles out there, Princess Mononoke's soundtrack perfectly fits this sweeping epic tale. It soars and counterpoints the story on screen well. I felt a familiar rush when I heard the first notes at the beginning of the movie. This is the sort of story that lingers with you long after the credits have run. 
© 1997 Studio Ghibli - ND

Another thing I greatly appreciate with most of the Ghibli movies I’ve seen is that when love is portrayed in these films, it’s not the smarmy and cliched romantic mush that appears in most tales involving romance. There’s a time and place for things like that, and it was wisely approached from a different angle here. 

There’s a reason that both audience and critic scores for Princess Mononoke are so high - it’s just that good, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t experienced Studio Ghibli before. If you're already a Ghibli fan, let us know in the comments below which movie is your favorite. (Personally, I'm torn between My Neighbor Totoro (1988) and Howl's Moving Castle (2004).)

If you’d like to see the Ghibli Fest 2023 schedule or want to know where to look for it when next year rolls around, you can find it easily through the Fathom Events site
© 1997 Studio Ghibli - ND
Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 93%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score –94%
Metascore – 76%
Metacritic User Score – 8.7/10
IMDB Score – 8.3/10
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating – 5/5

P.S. - Just as an extra piece of trivia in clearing up a common misconception stemming from a few of the DVD and blu-ray release editions of some of the Studio Ghibli movies - Disney does not, and has never owned Studio Ghibli. They only had a limited distribution deal with Studio Ghibli, and that expired in 2017 when GKIDS took over the distribution rights.
Movie Trailer: