Alphanumeric!

16-May-07 6:43 PM by
Filed under Television; 2 comments.

Courtesy reader GeneD comes news of a new $23.99 hardcover book: The Art of ReBoot. The book presents the sketches, development, and profiles of the cast of ReBoot, a Saturday morning CGI cartoon produced by Mainframe, an animation studio that went on to create several other well-known shows, including Beast Wars, a spin-off of the classic Transformers series. The book is available from the site and not via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Borders/Waldenbooks, either online or in person.

Regardless, it's encouraging to see a new product from the line of one of my favoritest cartoons ever. Sure, CGI has come a long way since ReBoot premiered in 1994, but it was such a clever and rollicking program that played to the geek in me. In the spirit of TRON (which turns 25 this July), ReBoot is set inside a computer, with anthropomorphic representations of software and hardware: the protagonist is a "Guardian" program, defending the sectors of the hard disk-shaped city of Mainframe from the viruses Megabyte and Hexadecimal. When the unseen "user" inputs a game, the set morphs into the setting for that game, with our heroes fighting the human's avatar for control of the system.

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Heroes in a Half Shell

09-Apr-07 3:44 PM by
Filed under Reviews; 6 comments.

I've seen my first movie of 2007 — and that film is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

The star of the film is definitely the titular heroes. Though the plot makes Michaelangelo and Donatello extraneous, this bummer is balanced by Raphael, always my favorite reptile, taking the spotlight alongside Leonardo in a battle that is more emotional than physical. The evil Shredder is dead, and without an opposing force to galvanize the turtles, they've drifted apart. When Leonardo returns after a year's pilgramage, he finds a cooler reception than he expected. Old friends April O'Neil (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Casey Jones must help the turtles unite against the machinations of Max Winters (Patrick Stewart). There are some great action sequences, but not as great as the character development — who'd expect that from giant turtles? — and some effective mirroring between the turtle's internal strife and that of the villains — something that Star Trek: Nemesis tried, and failed, to do well.

The directorial team approached this film in a way that lends it both strength and weakness. In the former area, TMNT cuts right to the chase. I've not read any TMNT comic books in the last 15 years; I've not seen the new cartoon or played the video games; I never even got around to seeing the third live-action film. But having grown up with the original cartoon and seeing the first two films, I felt like this latest animated installment was a direct sequel to that older franchise. The film does not dawdle with prelude: there's no flashbacks, setting up, or other time-wasting plot devices. If you don't know how the ninja turtles came to be, or why they listen to a wise old rat, by the end of the movie, you still won't know. Anything that's important can be gleaned.

The downside to this approach is that there is little that makes this film uniquely TMNT. It's a fun martial arts/sci-fi/action film, but I felt like their were too many elements that could've been transplanted into other setting (like Disney's Gargoyles). Not even the classic TMNT theme song is present.

I previously expressed my concern for the animation style, and I agree the humans were a bit too inhuman. But the dark style fit the turtles perfectly. Not once during the film did I think to myself, "This is a CGI cartoon." Its computer-generated nature didn't occur to me, though I think that is reflective more of the prevalance of the medium than of the improved quality (which is admittedly impressive).

Overall, a better film than I was expecting — and with a convenient hook for a sequel. For now, check out the online featurette (may contain spoilers).

D'oh! A Deer, A Female Deer

09-Mar-07 2:52 PM by
Filed under Films, Television; 5 comments.

This summer, theaters will be embiggened by the silver screen debut of Springfield's first family.

The Simpsons Movie, premiering July 27th, will be an opportunity for fans old and new to indulge in this long-lived piece of Americana. And it is indeed a mainstay of our culture: though kids today may no longer express their contempt for authority with a snappy "Eat my shorts!", a variety of other cromulent phrases have entered our daily vernacular.

My earliest memory of this jaundiced clan features one of my own siblings hosting massive "Simpsons Sunday socials" in the basement, laughing uproariously at each quick, verbal punch in the latest round of animated sparring. I don't know if such parties are still held somewhere out there, and sadly, my own exposure to the Simpsons ended years ago, though not for lack of desire. Surely anything that's been on the air for nearly two decades — probably more than half the life of any one of its viewers — has some staying power.

OTOH, I'm a bit worried by what I'd find, were I to tune in again. Has this show, in my absence, jumped the shark? Could this film mark that point? Few shows have transitioned well to cinema, especially while the show is still being aired; witness X-Files and South Park, both of which met with mixed reviews. There just doesn't seem to be much incentive to pay $10 to see the same quantity of show as two free episodes back-to-back.

Based on the three trailers I've seen, I have no doubts that I'll be opening my car hole and heading to the theater this summer to reintroduce myself to Homer, Bart, and the gang.

Domo Arigato

02-Feb-07 4:41 PM by
Filed under Reviews; 6 comments.

In seeking meaningful animated films, I was recommend to watch Howl's Moving Castle, a movie about a young wizard named Howl who roams the countryside in a quadruped mansion. When a storegirl is unprovokingly cursed to be four times her age, she seeks Howl's help in breaking the curse. Hilarity ensues.

I found much to enjoy about this film. Despite aging literally overnight, Sophie adapts to the role of a crotchety oldtimer amusingly well. More so than her and Howl's central performances, though, the supporting characters steal the show. A bouncing, mute scarecrow nicknamed Turniphead always lends a helping hand, imbuing himself with more personality than many spiky-haired protagonists. But it's Billy Crystal as a Muppet-like, hearthbound fire demon who's far more enjoyable than any of his screen brethren. His quirky, animated expressions, enthusiastic exclamations, and near-constant bemoaning of his situation are very much in character.

Howl wasn't a great film, though — just average… which still makes it one of the best anime I've ever seen. Yes, this film, published in America by Disney, is a product of Japanese animation and the eccentricity that is its hallmark. I'm sure I'll receive many a rotten tomato for this admission (sorry Arc — Alissa), but I've just never been able to penetrate or comprehend the genre.

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Mock Turtle Soup

17-Jan-07 2:06 PM by
Filed under Films, Television; 4 comments.

New trailer for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is up.

I grew up in the Eighties, which this decade of the Naughties is desperate to emulate, with its revivals of He-Man, G. I. Joe, and TMNT. While I think it's great that today's kids have access to the quality programming that taught so many of my peers to venerate Saturday morning, it's also challenging to see these elements of my youth being reinvented in less-than-faithful ways.

In this instance, the TMNT movie doesn't look half bad. I've never seen the new animated series, so I don't know how this CGI film compares to it — but the movie seems to retain the combination of action and comedy that made the original show so captivating. (The tendency among my peers is to see the entertainment from their childhood mature along with them — but if it's a dark TMNT you want, go back to the original comic books.)

I'm worried about the animation style, though. The models all seem too comical, almost Pixar-ish, which I don't feel behooves what they're trying to do. Though "ninja turtles" is far from a plausible concept, I think the absurdity of the situation would be better served by realistic representations. Let the animation be the straight man; otherwise, the over-the-top actions and situations are likely to be dismissed as cartoonish. Juxtaposition — know what I mean?

Mazes & Monsters – A Requiem

05-Jan-07 12:10 PM by
Filed under Television; 1 comment.

Late last night, I added the complete Dungeons & Dragons animated series to my shelf of TV shows I've watched. The DVD extras were nice, but I was a bit surprised by how much I enjoyed the episodes themselves. Though the first season rambled a bit, there was a definite progression of character development and storyline, and even the occasional moral. The episodes I remembered were nostalgically appreciated, and the handful I'd never seen before (mostly the third season) were undiscovered treasures.

But that wasn't the best part. (more…)

To Grandma's House We Go

04-Jan-07 3:16 PM by
Filed under Reviews; 2 comments.

I recently saw the CGI animated film Over the Hedge. I'd not read the comic strip upon which it is based, but like any good adaptation, it didn't seem necessary to enjoy the film.

And enjoy it I did! Like most good animated films, it had plenty of content aimed at kids and adults alike. It was fun to pick out the well-known actors' voices, especially those not typically associated with animation, such as Bruce Willis and Avril Lavigne. Of course, one of the dangers of such top-tier talent is the difficulty disassociating them from their images. They played to William Shatner's and Eugene Levy's nicely, but I had a hard time not seeing "The Verminator" character, played by Thomas Haden Church, as akin to Lowell from Wings (or perhaps even Spider-Man 3's Sandman?).

I was a bit disappointed the film didn't have a stronger moral, though. Wikipedia suggests that, unlike the 1994 animated Japanese film Pom Poko, Over the Hedge "does not… develop the themes of environmentalism or anti-urbanization." OTOH, perhaps that's my own political beliefs viewing a missed opportunity; such may've been misplaced in "just a cartoon" (as some felt it was in Happy Feet).

In November, when I expressed a conflict between seeing Casino Royale or Happy Feet, a group of "adults" mocked me for even considering the latter, especially since I have no grandchildren with whom to see it. I'm disappointed that people are willing to judge, and thus limit themselves, art based on the medium. Something being animated does not necessarily make it a "cartoon"; just watch Richard Adams' Watership Down or Plague Dogs — as a friend of mine recently did, commenting, "I can't believe anyone would let their kids watch this!" (which she thought they would, since it's "just a cartoon", right?) Comic books, video games, Dungeons & Dragons — they too have been criticized by outsiders. Until they learn, I'll happily continue enjoying these media, while the critics don't even know what they're missing…

Exit, Stage Right

18-Dec-06 7:25 PM by
Filed under Fade to Black; 1 comment.

Joseph Barbera, half of the Hanna-Barbera cartoon team, creators of Yogi Bear, Tom & Jerry, Huckleberry Hound, the Flintstones, and others, died today. He was 95. [Story continues]

Not only a creator, Mr. Barbera was also producer of several shows, such as The Smurfs, Richie Rich, and Pac-Man. See his IMDb filmography for the complete list.

It's an odd mix of feelings when someone with such a legendary portfolio passes away. On one hand, the world has lost an irreplaceable genius. OTOH, it is not an untapped talent that is gone; Joseph Barbera and the world got the most out of each other, and his passing doesn't change that. It was a veritable smorgasboard of entertainment.

I appreciate the impact he's had on my and countless others' childhoods. If not for Mr. Barbera, who knows how many little siblings would not have been whacked with rubber mallets in emulation of our animated idols?