July 24, 2007
Azur and Asmar (DVD)
While in the US, computer animation means reaching for more and more realism or doing cartoons in 3D, the Europeans are looking for other ways to be creative with it, as demonstrated by these two features.
Renaissance, with its high-contrast, black and white look, does to computer animation what Blade Runner did to the SF flick: infuse it with style while telling a tighly woven intrigue heavily influenced by film noir. Everything is there, from the cop who will get to the truth no matter what the cost, the corrupt corporation of the future, dealings with seedy criminals, and of course, a femme fatale or two.
Beautifully designed and animated, Azur and Asmar proves that Michel Ocelot is indeed one of the modern masters of animation. He shows his roots as a cutout animator in his choice of framing and movement style, yet somehow the realistic 3D characters manage to move in a stylized, almost 2D environment while not looking out of place. Every frame is a pleasure to behold, but it's not just eye candy, it's there to tell a story: a beautiful tale tackling issues of racism and brotherhood without teaching lessons of tolerance with a sledgehammer. —René Walling
Suzuka Vol. 2 (DVD)
Suzuka is a fun and entertaining sports anime that tracks a boy named Yamato whose high school crush is inexplicably talented in track & field. Featuring some pretty amicable characters and genuine story about meeting and surpassing expectations, the Suzuka television animation is charming and easy to like. —Aaron H. Bynum
Woody Woodpecker & Friends Classic Collection (DVD)
The first generally available sampling from the Walter Lantz studio on DVD. This collection contains most of the cream of the studio's output including cartoons featuring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Andy Panda, Woody Woodpecker and Chilly Willy. Directors include Shamus Culhane, Dick Lundy and Tex Avery and animators include Fred Moore, Ed Love, Grim Natwick, Pat Matthews and LaVerne Harding. While the cartoons don't have the same high batting average as Warner Bros. cartoons, there are genuine gems here. If you're a fan of golden age cartoons, prepare to be entertained. —Mark Mayerson