July 19, 2009
“Where do people go when they die?” “They go to hell.”

Hells is a well-executed stylish and action-packed animated exploration into a teenager’s journey back from the depths of hell after she’s the victim of a car accident on her way to her first day at a new school. It’s kind of an afterlife, afterschool special in anime format.

Oh, but it’s not that cut and dry. Linne, the protagonist, wasn’t supposed to end up in Hell and this is discovered because there’s no record of her death and she’s able to bleed—something that doesn’t happen to those who dwell in the netherworld.

Linne does end up at a school in the afterlife known as Death River Academy and she needs to graduate before she makes it through to Heaven because in Hell, you are studying for your next life. Her new school is full of a wild group of teens that don’t fit within the traditional, school uniform-wearing clique. In particular, the headmaster is a big burly red fella named Headmaster Helvis who bears striking resemblance a mash-up between the King and Hellboy.

Hells features some interesting Christian and Buddhist themes such as the classic Cain vs. Abel brother’s quarrel, mention of reincarnation, the power of intention, the energy of mantras, interconnectedness, emptiness, existence and the acceptance of both happiness and unhappiness rather than rejecting one over the other. On this note was the assertion by one of the characters that there is a denial of reality in not accepting death.

The notion of Hell existing in one’s own mind is also explored as one scene within the film was devoted to the perspective that we create the world that we live in and it can be viewed as a Hell if we make it so.

Japan’s Madhouse animation studio has delivered a highly energetic and colorful piece of work with Hells. I encourage checking it out if you are interested in being taken for a wild ride of the human and hell-dweller condition. It’s dark, fast, funny, rock and roll, sad, philosophical, colorful, detailed, shocking, sweet and optic nerve stimulating—all at once.

Check out the trailer here:



Hells has a second showing at Fantasia on Wednesday, July 22nd at 2:00 p.m.

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July 18, 2009
Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to see Tokyo OnlyPic 2008 at the Fantasia Film festival.

Tokyo OnlyPic 2008 comprises a selection of the series of both live-action and animation segments of fictional sports events, and I'm using "sports" in the loosest sense of the word. This film is strange, at times awkward, and always funny. I highly recommend it.

Some of the animated events include the CG-animated Men's Independence, in which men hurl their mothers in a discus-like throw (trust me, it works, you'll be laughing as you think, "This is soooo wrong"), and Bill Plympton's Love Race, in which female celebrity of Paris Hilton proportions is chased around the stadium track by runners who happen to also be world-class at winning a material girl's heart.



That was a trailer for 1000-character SMS Texting, but here's one for the Home Athlon short, which doesn't appear in the selection shown at Fantasia, in case you don't want a spoiler.



Tokyo OnlyPic 2008 shows again on Sunday, July 19th at 2:15 p.m., right after Evangelion 1.0.

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July 17, 2009


This just in: you can win one of 25 tickets to tonight's Montreal screening of Les Lascars, a French feature based on the Flash animations of the same name. Les Lascars shorts are a little rough around the edges but sidesplitting. The feature keeps the overall feel, but some care has been put into the production values, providing lots of polish.

The International premiere of the film takes place tonight, Friday July 17th at 7:00 p.m. at the Fantasia festival.


This screening is the original French version with English subtitles.

If you would like a ticket to tonight's film, be one of the first 25 people to send your full name by email to lascars@fpsmagazine.com before 1 pm EST. (You must be available to pick up your ticket at the Hall theatre 20 minutes before the film begins).

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July 6, 2009
In addition to the opening film and animation highlights revealed by the 2009 Fantasia festival, the rest of the films do not merely round out the animation portion of programming. These selections reflect some of the more interesting selections of on the cinematic edge.

The features, in addition to Genius Party Beyond, Hells, and Les Lascars:
  • Edison and Leo, the first Canadian stop-motion feature, is described as a "surprising chunk of steampunk fun, a revisionist, retro science-fiction thriller with a zesty dash of decidedly adult gags." OK, I'm in.
  • anime features Eureka Seven and Evangelion 1.0
The shorts, in addition to those in Tokyo OnlyPic 2008, Celluloid Experiments 2009, DJ XL5's Razzle Dazzle Zappin' Party:
Also of note:
Bon festival!

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July 2, 2009

The full Fantasia 2009 lineup will be announced soon, but here are some of the animation highlights of North American's largest cult film festival, right in fps's home base of Montreal.

I'm excited about Genius Party Beyond, Studio 4C's companion to Genius Party, shown last year at the festival.


Hells Angels is a Madhouse production with a star crew behind this manga adaptation. Cencoroll is a shorter take that seems quite intriguing. Seems equally intriguing, but with a more sedate, less over-the-top storytelling style.

The feature Les Lascars is based on the French cult show of the same name and should go over well with the boisterous festival crowd (if you've not yet made it to a Fantasia festival screening, the involvement of the audience is worth the price of the ticket alone).

Tokyo Onlypic 2008 looks like it will be a side-splitter. It's an anthology of animated and live-action shorts describing outrageous Olympic-style events. Check out Bill Plympton's Race For Love in the trailer.


DJ XL5's Razzle Dazzle Zappin' Party promises another year or crazily juxtaposed shorts (many animated) simulating the channel-changing experience... to the power of ten.

Celluloid Experiments always features edgy animation selections in its roster. I doubt this year will be any different.

You'll be able to view the full schedule online and procure a printed festival program with a DVD full of trailers on Friday. Hope you can survive the wait!

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The entire lineup looks promising at the Fantasia film festival this year, running from July 9 to 29. While fps focuses on animation, Fantasia (the largest event of its kind in North America) is a combination of the best cult film worldwide, and has an impressive lineup of film of all types, including live-action and animated horror, action, fantasy, science fiction, weird and edgy films.

As I said, we like to stick with animation around here, but I have to mention this year's opening film, even though it's got (gasp) real people in it.

This year's opening film is the live-action feature Yatterman that began life as a manga in the 70s, which shortly after became an anime series (that was recently updated in 2008).
This is the part where we usually begin a lament (but not always). Definitely not this time!


The director is the irreverent Takashi Miike who made films such as Audition and Sukiyaki Western Django. To me this is more reason to see it. However, if viewers are worried about how he would do an all-ages film, I point to the fantastic film The Great Yokai War, which featured his signature style, but also was a wonderful film for younger viewers.

I think this film will be the type of fare which is best watched with an enthusiastic audience, in the same way that the live-action version of Cutey Honey (directed by animator Hideako Anno) wowed audiences just a few years ago.

The full Fantasia lineup will be available on Friday, July 3.

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March 19, 2009
This release makes me so sad. I'm not even sure where to start commenting on it. I had decided previously that all reviews I submitted would fit a format, with portions devoted to story, video and disc features at the very least. That format just won't work for what I have to say about Koch's release of Gulliver's Travels.

Read more after the jump:

It's pointless to review the story here. It's a classic book (or chapter of a book, as the case may be) adapted into a classic animated film. It would be like critiquing Wizard of Oz. There's no point. It is what it is - a 1939 animated feature film produced by the Fleischer Brothers in answer to Disney's success with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It's far from perfect but the animation, rushed as it was, stands the test of time.

At issue here is the quality of the Blu-ray disc versus the claims made by the distribution company, Koch and the people from Cartoon Crazys who are responsible for the restoration. I think it's fantastic that they've attacked Gulliver's Travels with such enthusiasm, doing what they perceive to be the best they could with the materials at hand. Also, I'm incredibly thankful that they made a screener copy available to us, enabling me to write this review and inform you of the contents of the Blu-ray. What makes me sad is the result of their efforts and the fact that they don't see what a travesty they've created, that what they've released is such a misrepresentation of the original film print and the artists' intent.

Let me put it in bold, certain terms: Gulliver's Travels has been stretched and cropped to fit your 16:9 widescreen display. This is unacceptable under any circumstances. Need proof? Here you go. I took a trip into Photoshop and merged a couple of screen-grabs - one from an old 4:3 public domain copy I downloaded and another from Koch's 16:9 Blu-ray disc presentation.



In the first image you can clearly see that these two frames don't line up (I tried to match them by keeping the facial area parallel, having lowered the opacity on the Blu-ray screen-grab to make it slightly see-through). The 16:9 version from Koch has clearly been stretched, despite their claims to the contrary. Note how the faces line up for the most part, but the further you move from them the further from congruent the images become. That stretching has also made the Blu-ray frame slightly more squat. Observe the water line in both images.



This second image sees me distorting the 16:9 of the Blu-ray frame to match the 4:3 of the older release. They line up almost perfectly, with slightly more information on the left side of the screen, less on the right and tons cropped off of the top and bottom of the Blu-ray frame.

Koch claims in their press info that the remaster process was performed,
"...frame-by-frame without stretching characters or losing any image beyond standard vertical safe areas - and the use of proprietary techniques actually enables more picture to be visible on the left and right sides of the frame than ever before"
I cry foul. This is either the press folks completely unaware of what was happening in the lab or an out-and-out untruth. There's the evidence, staring us in the face in the images above.

I'm further disturbed by the claims made by Peter Rosenberg of Cartoon Crazys, the company responsible for the restoration, in comments over at Cartoon Brew. He asserts,
"It wasn’t a 4:3 movie on the film print, it was 35 mm. and the 4:3 version seen on TV was panned and scanned and had image removed for the tv safe area’s."
And,
"The original was in 35mm and cut to fit TV screens in the 60’s but we restored all the lost images and safe area’s and it really looks terrific. We took over 12 months to do it and make sure it was right and as i said Tom discussed doing a wide screen version on film with Richard (Max Fleischer's son) and he thought since the Fleischers were innovators in their own time Max would be delighted by our innovations and he trusted only us to do it right."
Not only is it ridiculous to contend that the 35mm print was anything but 1.37:1, essentially a 4:3 aspect ratio, but it's further insulting to maintain that the Fleischer's would have appreciated an alteration of their work that would include the cutting and distortion of the film frame. If I could, I would direct Rosenberg and his entire crew to read the transcript from the Home Theatre Forum's discussion with the restoration team responsible for the current release of Fox's The Robe. Now, there's restoration done right and with respect for the filmmakers' original intent! If Cartoon Crazys and Koch truly care for this film and have a desire to bring a properly restored version to the home video market, they'll have to cut a deal with Viacom who currently own the rights and have the original nitrate successive exposure negatives, backup positives, optical soundtrack negatives, and isolated Main Title elements in the vaults of the UCLA Film & Television Archives in Hollywood. Now that would be impressive indeed!

Allow me to qualify the above criticisms of Koch's Gulliver's Travels by saying that I would have little to no problem with this release had the studio and the "restoration" team not made claims that didn't hold true. The disc still wouldn't have won a purchase recommendation from me but I wouldn't have taken issue with their interpretation of a public domain film. It's out there for anyone to do with as they please. This version is just as valid as any other. It's the contentions made by Koch and Cartoon Crazys regarding the transfer and restoration of Gulliver's Travels that make this Blu-ray a questionable release.

Aside from aspect ratio/stretching issues, the image on the Blu-ray disc is a bit of a mixed bag. It appears equivalent to a poor standard definition transfer on screen: hazy with severe colour bleed and lack of detail, leaving the impression that most of the clean up was rendered with heavy-handed use of digital noise reduction tools, affecting the look of a dirty, old still taken into Photoshop and posterized, with some Gaussian blur added for good effect. On a positive note, the colours are quite vivid here, possibly even more accurate than ever before, creating what might be the brightest and most brilliant presentation of Gulliver's Travels seen in years.

Without going too deeply into the rest of the issues plaguing the feature on the Blu-ray disc (film judder, jerky movement, poorly assembled and static menus, thin and unnecessary 5.1 surround mix) I'm forced to recommend giving Koch's Gulliver's Travels a pass. If you must own a copy of the film now, you would be better served tracking down the long out-of-print Hal Roach studios Image Entertainment DVD release.

PS: There are two bonus cartoons and a brief vintage documentary on the Blu-ray as well as the feature. Not that these additions alter my opinion in the least.

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February 27, 2009

Since Thursday, WNET in New York has made Nina Paley's independent Flash feature Sita Sings The Blues available in its entirety online. The primary story arc is a retelling of the Ramayana from the point of view of Sita.

The film will also air on WNET on March 7 for those who want to gather around the television.

(via Mark Mayerson, Brent Smith, and Matt Forsythe.)

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Spring break is here and it is time for Festival international de films pour enfants de Montreal (FIFEM) once again. The opening film from France, Mia et le Migou is far from the only animated selection this year, but it is definitely an interesting one. The film's director is Jacques-Remy Girerd, the producer of Tragic Story with Happy Ending and Hungu (recently featured in the NFB Screening Room) and director of delightful La prophétie des grenouilles (Raining Cats and Frogs). Mia was released in France last year, and is proving to be a hit with families.



Another animated feature that recently received accolades, Nocturna, a 2007 feature from Spain, is also screening. In all there are five animated features to keep the kids and their animation-friendly parents interested.

fps favourites Komaneko and Ludovic are back in the Mini-cinephiles program track, geared toward animation for children as young as 2 or 3. Komaneko is a stop-motion cat, who likes to make stop-motion films. Ludovic is a little teddy bear whose educational and inventive tales are also told using stop-motion animation, directed by Co Hoedeman, Oscar winner for the short, Sand Castle. The Ludovic television series is a follow-up to the Four Seasons in the Life of Ludovic shorts.

Even more shorts will screen before feature films, including Konstantin Bronzit's Oscar-nominated short, A Lavatory Lovestory.

Do it for the kids... er, les enfants... all fillms will be screening in French or with French subtitles.

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February 11, 2009

Via Boing Boing, we hear about From Inside, a new animated short feature film by John Bergin based on his graphic novel of the same name, a story about pregnancy symbolised by a massive, home-destroying freight train. Here's Gareth Branwyn describing it:
From Inside has always been a film, even when it was a comic book. When I first got the galleys and began thumbing through it, I saw storyboards, I saw frames and camera angles, I saw sweeps and transitions. The experience on the page was very cinematic. So it makes sense that John would want to go the other way and make a film that feels like reading a comic book in motion. And no, we're not talking about a comic book being adapted to the big screen as a full-blown animation. John worked with the original art from the book and did the ol' Ken Burns Effect on the panels, adding some animation elements, and 3D models and set pieces. The result feels like a mash-up between a static comic book, a pop-up book, and full-blown 3D animation. Its "bookness" is more intact than other comics made into films.
And here's the trailer, which looks glorious. (And anybody who wants to buy me this print? In my good books, forever.)

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February 5, 2009
Coraline, the first stop-motion feature film to be presented in 3D, is being released in North American theaters on 6 February 2009. Neil Gaiman, author of the multiple award-winning novel upon which the film is based, stopped briefly in Montreal on his promotional tour for the film. I had the pleasure of sitting down and talking with him about the choice of animation versus live action for interpreting Coraline and The Graveyard Book, as well as some of his ideas about animated adaptations of his other works.


Arin Murphy: You’ve explained that Coraline was very firmly a stop-motion idea in your head. Your Newbery-award winning novel The Graveyard Book has been optioned by Neil Jordan, who’s going to be doing a live-action adaptation of it. Did it ever cross your mind that that could be done in animation of some form?

Neil Gaiman: No. No, I wanted what I was seeing in my head. For The Graveyard Book I’ve always seen real people, and part of the fun will be how they’ll do the ghosts. But the idea of making anything less than very, very real people and sets in which you can walk around and tap on headstones – it just seems wrong. On the other hand, now, I would love to do something like The Wolves in the Walls as animation. Whether 2D or 3D or stop-motion — as long as it felt like Dave McKean, that would be amazing. Henry and I have started chatting in a lazy kind of way about Odd & The Frost Giants as an animated project. That may well work as a cool animated idea. So I think there are definitely things of mine out there that I do want animated… I just didn’t want The Graveyard Book. For me, in my head, it’s live-action.

I think it’s wonderful that as an author you can say, “I feel this about this book,” and people will actually say, “Great, let’s actually explore that direction.”

I think it’s so incredibly lucky. I think as well there’s part of me that worries that if you made Coraline as a live-action film and really made it well, you’d end up with The Shining for kids. You would wind up with something… I don’t know if you’ve been on the Coraline website, but they have this wonderful thing where you can put buttons over your eyes?

Yes, I can’t bring myself to do it.

It’s really disturbing. It’s so much more disturbing. The fact that these [stop-motion puppets] are little dolls and you kind of know that they don’t have [real] eyes behind the buttons… that somehow makes it kind of okay. [pause] Not very okay, but kind of okay. They have buttons. Doing that with real human beings might be really seriously disturbing.

Well, there’s that one moment in the film where they say, “If you want to stay with us, all you need to do is…” and they push the buttons across to her. In the book that gave me pause as well, because when you read it, you visualize it. If you saw a real live flesh and blood person with buttons sewn in their eyes—well, just think about your button trailer!

Yeah!

Everything’s fine until you actually put the buttons up, and then you smile—

And I have no idea how actually sinister that smile would have been without the buttons there. There was this weird thing where I knew that if I just put buttons up in the right way, and I did the [demonstrates] smile, it was going to be absolutely terrifying. Just for a moment.

Yup. It worked.

Shouldn’t have done, but it did.

Thank you so very, very much.

You are so very welcome. Thank you for coming.





Previously on fps:

Interview With Neil Gaiman, Part One
Coraline (review)

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February 4, 2009
Coraline, the first stop-motion feature film to be presented in 3D, is being released in North American theaters on February 6. Neil Gaiman, author of the multiple award-winning novel upon which the film is based, stopped briefly in Montreal on his promotional tour for the film. I had the pleasure of sitting down and talking with him about the development of the project through its various stages.

Arin Murphy: Neil, congratulations on the imminent release of Coraline.

Neil Gaiman: Thank you. Yes, three days to go!

I was lucky enough to see it at the press screening last week.

Did you get it in 3D, or 2D?

I saw it in 3D.

Oh, good!

It really is quite the experience, isn’t it?

Yes, it’s not quite like anything else. And you know, it’s a lovely thing when you can actually say, “It’s not like anything else.”

Well, some of that is due to the story.

That’s true. But story aside, the way Henry uses 3D to delineate space is something nobody’s done before. You get that one needle gag five seconds into the movie, almost just so he lets you know that he could do this, if he wanted to. [It’s like saying] we can do this, and now we’re not going to. Now we’re going to use 3D in a way that isn’t about throwing things at the audience. This is the film you’re going to see, and we will simply make it good.




And he does a fabulous job with it.

It is awesome.

Were you thinking cinematically when you wrote Coraline?

No. I was thinking story when I wrote Coraline. When I finished I thought, “You know, somebody’s going to make this into a film, and I would like to see it… and if I had to pick anything, I would like it to be stop-motion.”

I had seen and loved Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, and had liked it enough that I had taken note of who directed it. Which meant that a few years later when James and the Giant Peach came out, I went to see that. And while I had problems with it, I loved it; the genius was there. I just thought there were some missteps. Like the going from live action to stop-motion; that seemed wrong. I wanted it to have been stop-motion all the way through. I wound up asking Henry about [it] many years later, and he said it was the budget; they could not afford to do it entirely stop-motion, and they played the hand they were dealt. So when I handed in the manuscript for Coraline I asked my agent, “Could you get this to Henry Selick?” And about a month later I found myself in an editing suite watching poor Henry as he struggled with the madness of Monkeybone, and very shortly after that he gave [Coraline] to [producer] Bill Mechanic, who bought it for Henry.

And Henry wrote a script, and sent it to me. And I said, “I think it’s too faithful.” And it was. It felt very, very laboriously faithful. You know, it kept turning into a silent little girl walking down corridors.


Which works in a novel –

Well, which works in a novel because you’re inside her head. You know what she’s thinking, you know what she’s feeling. But without benefit of voiceover or turning to the fourth wall and talking, you don’t have that.

So then Henry went away, rather sadly, and came back about a year later with a second draft script, which was essentially the script of the film you saw. But at this point it had to be live action, because Bill Mechanic had some sort of deal with Disney which precluded him from doing animation of any kind. And I believe that Michelle Pfeiffer was meant to be the Other Mother… And I’m sort of watching and thinking, “Well, that’s okay, I suppose, but I really wanted stop-motion.” And then 9/11 happened, and it became slowly apparent that Bill Mechanic’s funding was never going to [come through]. Eventually, the rights lapsed. And I wound up doing something you’re never meant to do, which is giving them – I think they got about nine months to a year of free option. Because I believed in Henry.

That’s such a wonderful statement of faith.

Well, it was a particularly wonderful statement of faith because the book had since come out, been published, been a huge success, and now had lots of large shark-like entities swimming around going, “We will give you real money, we will get a lot of money….” But I like Henry. And I trusted him. And I trusted somehow that things were going to work out. And then Henry wound up at Laika, and he showed the script at some point to [Laika Vice President of Animation and stop-motion animator] Travis Knight, who was a fan of mine anyway. And Travis loved the script.

Bill Mechanic did not like stop-motion. He thought it was antiquated and that nobody was interested, and that [the film] should be done in CGI. And he was pushing Henry incredibly hard to have him make it half CGI and half stop-motion, something like that, so that it would go out of antiquated puppetry animation into cool modern animation. Thank God Henry came up with 3D and said, “What if we did this instead?” There were enough bells and whistles in the 3D concept that they abandoned the CG idea, which made me so happy. And it made me happy because, look, if I’d wanted a CG movie when I finished writing I would have given it to my agent and said, “Could you get it on John Lasseter’s desk.” He’s the best at [CGI]. I didn’t. What I said was, “Can you get it to Henry Selick,” who is non-pareil in what he does. The only stop-motion person I like as much as I like Henry, but who works in a completely different direction, is Jan Švankmajer. And I guess it may say something about why I wanted this to be stop-motion that when my daughter Holly (for whom I originally wrote Coraline) was five years old, her favourite movie was Jan Švankmajer’s Alice.


Jump to part two of the interview.


Previously on fps:
Coraline (review)

Previously on The Critical Eye:
Neil Gaiman on anime and Miyazaki

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February 2, 2009

I tend to be very protective of the books I’ve read and loved, and I feel that most film adaptations don’t do their literary sources justice. Author Neil Gaiman’s repeated positive references to the progress of the stop-motion animation film adaptation of his Hugo-award winning short novel Coraline on his blog and in interviews have kept me hoping for the best, and I’ve enjoyed the vignettes and teasers Laika has released. Nothing in the promotional material gave me cause for concern: Henry Selick seemed to be treating it with respect. And that’s not a surprise, because when Gaiman completed Coraline he handed it to his agent and asked her to send a copy to Henry Selick before it had even been published. When the author trusts the filmmaker enough to do that, it eliminates the need for excessive amounts of anxiety on my part.

Director and scriptwriter Henry Selick has created a fantastic (in the true sense of the word) adaptation of the world in the multiple-award-winning book by Neil Gaiman. The screenplay is remarkably faithful to the book, with the exception of the addition of a new character. Wybie, a boy approximately Coraline’s age, was created by the filmmaker to serve as a foil for Coraline. In a book an omniscient narrator can share a character’s thoughts with the reader, but in a film that character sometimes needs interaction with others to evoke their feelings or thoughts. Wybie serves his purpose, and doesn’t detract from the story or from Coraline herself in any way. And whereas the book has Coraline very deliberately planning her final triumph over her Other Mother, the film has a more immediate and action-based conflict and resolution. If you’ve read the book, you’ll have expectations of the mouse circus: it’s delicious in film form, too. The pacing is excellent, the balance of dialogue to action is good, and each character is well-defined. All in all, the screenplay is a success.

My other concern about the film was its use of 3D technology. Too often this technology is used as a gimmick or a way to prop up what might otherwise be a less than successful sequence. This concern, too, was laid to rest in the enjoyably chilling opening sequence. Coraline is the first animated stop-motion feature to be filmed entirely in 3D, and successfully uses stereoscopy to create a seemingly more realistic stop-motion animation. There’s no gimmickry here, only a serious use of the technology to enhance the entire experience and to create the feeling of a stage with depth instead of a flat screen. There are a couple of things in the opening sequence that move out toward the audience, a nod to the experience the technology can give, but in general the technology is used to create the sense of depth and space. It makes the story more real instead of pointing out its meta-reality.

The animation is outstanding. The smoothness of the motion, the camera moves and angles are justifiably jaw-dropping. The production design is incredible. Apart from the unity of style throughout the design, the colour palette and texture are big players in the film. There’s a certain excitement knowing that the animated film you’re about to see has been actually constructed in tangible, physical form. The magic is real; it’s not an effect. Of course, the star of the film is also only twenty-two inches tall, but that doesn’t make it any easier to build her world realistically. Textures and fabrics need to be to scale, and everything needs to be as realistic as possible. For certain close-up shots of hands and such things, larger models need to be built to provide the proper sense of proportion and scale. The animating team also used rapid prototyping technology to create the multitude of facial expressions exhibited by the puppets. Working from scans and casts of original sculpts, the rapid prototype department built multiple replacement faces in CG modeling programs, which were then “printed” by three-dimensional object printers to create the puppet faces for the replacement animation technique, hand-finishing each face before applying it to the puppet.

The film features excellent voice acting from a strong cast. There’s no stunt casting here: every voice actor has been cast for a genuine talent and what they bring to the role. Dakota Fanning manages a wonderful balance between eleven-year-old bravado composed of aggression and fear, while Teri Hatcher’s Mother and Other Mother are a terrific contrast between mundane and just too good to be true. The delightful John Hodgman voices Father and Other Father.

Bruno Coulais' score fits right into the film without being memorable on its own, supporting the story without calling attention to itself. The children’s choral pieces successfully contribute to the unsettling feel of the film, particularly in the opening sequence. The score features lots of harp, which creates an idyllic feel for the Other House. Much of the music makes one think of a music box, a parallel image for the falseness of the world beyond the secret door. There’s a fun little They Might Be Giants ditty sung for Coraline by her Other Father, too.

While the film projects a strong message of self-reliance, overcoming fear, and being careful about what one wishes for, it also features creepy visuals and chilling concepts, and could well serve as nightmare fodder for younger children. (Heck, I know adults who are unsettled by the notion of buttons for eyes and who refuse to see the film.) Parents considering bringing a child to the PG film should view the available trailers and excerpts available at www.coraline.com, and evaluate their child’s maturity level and story preferences carefully beforehand. (On his blog, Neil Gaiman addresses this problem by saying much the same thing: You know your child better than the filmmakers and the MPAA do.)

Stay till the end of the credits for a credit cookie, as well as a bonus “for those in the know.”

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January 22, 2009

The Oscar nominations were announced this morning, as usual too early for anyone who likes a decent sleep. Wall-E has been nominated for Best Screenplay, which though mostly dialogueless is an extremely worthy nomination.

Waltz With Bashir has been nominated for Best Foreign Language Film.

The Academy has played it safe with the nomination of Bolt, Kung Fu Panda, and Wall-E in the Best Animated Film category. They are all great films, but I expect no upsets in that category. There seem to be some great choices that are not in the running.

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January 13, 2009

The Golden Globe Winners were announced on January 11th.

That Wall-E won for best animated feature is no big surprise, since, as Emru pointed out, "when Pixar gets things right, it's perfect".

The nice surprise was that Waltz With Bashir won for Best Foreign Language film. Last year, Persepolis was nominated in the same category. Maybe animation is starting to leave the ghetto – at least when it's not in English.

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December 26, 2008

In the flurry of holiday films it might be easy to miss a few. The animated feature-length documentary Waltz with Bashir opens this week theatrically in select cities, some of which include New York, Los Angeles, Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto.

While I am not a big fan of the animation style typically, in this context I think it strikes an interesting balance with the tone and subject matter of the film. The film is a meditation on war from the point of view of former Israeli soldiers from the war with Lebanon, so there is much to discuss in addition to the animation.

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November 21, 2008


Another day, another trailer! This first look at Tezuka's little robot boy in CGI form isn't really filling me with glee. Combine the fact that it all looks somehow wrong (Astro Boy's clothes don't scream manga/anime icon to me) with the lacklustre showing of Imagi's big-screen CGI TMNT debut last year and you can colour me concerned.

If the YouTube version above isn't floating your boat, maybe the HD streams at Moviefone.com will satisfy.

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For the first time in a long time, I saw a Disney film and missed the publicity hype preceding it. Except for some of the recent commentary scanned on Cartoon Brew (a testament to my level of Busy; this blog is a pleasure in life that you need to take your time to read), I managed not to see any web banners, marquee posters, or newspaper, radio or television ads.

At a much earlier time, I read of the changes to the stewardship of the Bolt in the wake of restructuring changes at the Walt Disney Animation Studios. I knew from the Brewmasters' reports that the film had changed markedly from its original vision, but I hadn't really thought about it lately.

But time had passed, and Bolt was not really on my mind as the studio was gearing up for the film. I managed to side-step the Disney hype machine this one time. So I'm writing this based entirely on my impressions of what I saw in the cinema on Wednesday.

Bolt is a winner.

There are tons of laughs in the film, but you don't feel like you're having your buttons pushed, and the dialogue is really snappy, but not in the way I find a lot of mainstream animation features tend to do it - lots of pop culture references, "aren't we clever" one-offs that get dated quickly. The lines are truly clever and fit the characters' perfectly.

Also, it's no secret that I'm not a fan of stunt-casting. The celebrity voice talent do their job well and don't get in my way of enjoying the film. They make their characters more believable and serve characters, not the other way around.

I did see the trailer for this film just this morning, and I must say I'm glad I went into without any preconceptions. As a result, the opening scene was more thrilling and taut than I think it would have been if I knew what was coming.

This is a fairly conventional Disney family feature, but I don't mean that in a bad way. Yes, it's safe. But it doesn't draw away from the fact that the film is engaging, the timing and pacing are dead-on, and the character animation is above-average. I can't help but wonder how much further the character animation could have been pushed if it were hand-drawn. Like Dreamworks' Kung Fu Panda, there is a point where the animation style changes and I wonder, why does all digital animation that touts the CG label feel it has to be hyper-realistic? However, I don't really spend much time on it because I thought that the animation I was watching was well-done.

Speaking of techniques,
I did watch this film in 3D (as well as trailers for Blue Sky's next Ice Age instalment, and Pixar's Up), and as much as I get annoyed by reading reviews that solely focus on a new technique or "gimmick" I liked the use of 3D in the film (as well as the trailers) because they all finally got something right. Unlike Beowulf, I never felt like the whole point of making Bolt was so we could watch it in 3D. Instead of setting up shots so that the viewer would get the feeling of things being moved toward them, the enhancement was used to convey a feeling of depth. There was very little effort made to break the fourth wall. Instead, the screen was the boundary for the actors on a stage.

The next Disney feature regardless of technique better be good, because a lot of viewers will be disappointed if it doesn't entertain as much as Bolt.

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November 19, 2008
Joseph Chen, curator of the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema, likes to highlight the fact that animated films are neither tied to a specific genre or animation technique, nor are they thematically hide-bound – the only thing linking them is that they are animated and generally do not include much live-action (although some do mix it up). The “Midnight Madness” screenings are, in Joseph’s words “all about edge” – both story-wise and in the techniques used to “paint” the story.

This year’s two midnight screenings were We Are the Strange (by MDOTSTRANGE, a filmmaker based in San Jose) and From Inside (by John Bergin, a Missouri-based artist and feature filmmaker).


We Are The Strange is definitely edgy - an assault on the senses for which I wasn't really prepared, but which had me thinking for some time afterwards. It was a clever composite of 8-bit, pixelated gaming imagery, cut with stop-motion animation, a couple of live-action appearances, and anime-style animation. The soundtrack was cranked to 11, and, frankly, you're not meant to be comfortable with it. But I was definitely engaged - and it was as visually complex and interesting, as it was disturbing. Not for everybody, but I really liked it.


From Inside was the Saturday night midnight screening. John Bergin, the writer, director and animator, warned us before the movie started that the story was as bleak as the weather outside (it was windy, bitterly cold and snowing). What followed was a visually stunning, dark allegory. How do you find hope in a world going to hell - what can you do to stop it, and should children be brought into this chaos? Or are children the only redemption we have? I loved this movie - it combined 3D animation along with awesome 2D 1930s-inspired, dark illustration. Again, not for everyone, but a truly beautiful piece of artwork, and a story that ends on a more hopeful note than you're lead to expect.

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November 18, 2008

On Day 2 of the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema, we got to see a screening of an original 35mm print of Grave of the Fireflies. This is an Isao Takahata, 1988 Studio Ghibli film, based on a short story about a 14-year-old boy who tries to care for his sister after their ailing mother is killed during a raid in the 1945 Kobe bombings. He and his sister experience the fear-inspired selfishness of an aunt and he must find a way to take care of himself and his sister on his own.

There was a panel discussion following the film lead by Fred Schodt, author of Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics; John O'Donnell, founder of Central Park Media (the publishers who license the film for North America); and Fred Ruh, author of Stray Dog of Anime: The Films of Mamoru Oshii.

The conversation between the panelists and the audience covered debates as to whether the film was anti-American or rather just anti-war generally, given that the American bombers were barely referred to directly except by the subtle display of some American signage a couple of times on the bomber planes. Another point was raised about the divide between the themes considered culturally sensitive in western animation versus the plain-speaking storytelling of Japanese anime. As a nod to the animated film genre, it was agreed that this socially important, and poignant story couldn't be told the same way in a live-action film (a live-action version was made in 2005), given the youth of the actors required to play the parts and the fact that they couldn't be represented as realistically in the unhealthy conditions in which they were portrayed for the anime version.

This screening was also presented by UrbanEx and their Out Of The Cold programme.

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November 17, 2008
Quirino Cristiani's parents had really wanted him to be a doctor. Just after the turn of the 20th century, the Italian immigrants in Argentina had hoped that Quirino would "get over" his penchant for drawing, and be a doctor in the Buenos Aires hospital where his father worked.

Young Quirino only wanted to draw and was especially fascinated with representing movement, and later made a living drawing political satire cartoons for various newspapers and magazines. Newsreel producer and entrepreneur, Frederico Valle, first commissioned Cristiani to make artwork for the end of his newsreels, and wanted Cristiani to see if he could make them move. This lead to them making El Apostol: a 70-minute animated feature satirizing Argentina's President Yrigoyen, which premiered in 1917 and was a runaway success, playing to packed cinemas for six months.

None of the footage survived a fire that destroyed all of Valle's precious stock in 1926. But we know about it - and its impact on the history of animation from the Italian documentary, Quirino Cristiani: The Mystery of the First Animated Movies.

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This year’s Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema kicked off last Thursday night with a screening of Europe’s first animated feature film, The Adventures of Prince Achmed (Die Arbenteuer des Prinzen Achmed). Considered Europe's first animated feature film, it is 81 minutes long, and was made in 1926 by Lotte Reiniger (along with her husband and two others).

Reiniger made the film with paper cut-out shadow puppets – apparently over 100,000 of them. What was particularly special about Thursday night’s screening was the live soundtrack performed by Miles and Karina, who were commissioned earlier this year by The Northwest Film Forum to compose a new score for this amazing piece of cinematic history. I lost myself in the story – a tale based on 1001 Arabian nights – partly because the beautiful details of the animation worked so well at propelling the story, but also very much because the music was such a brilliant complement to the visuals… Miles and Karina’s music evoked the moods and humor of the story beautifully – and so subtly that I completely forgot the music was being performed live!

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October 16, 2008


Independent animator Bill Plympton's feature Idiots and Angels will be screened this Saturday at the 2008 Toronto After Dark genre film festival, running from October 17th to 24th.

Plympton's 2007 short, Shut-Eye Hotel, will also be shown on Sunday as a part of the Shorts After Dark program, which also features Michael Langan's Doxology, and includes an even split of live-action and animation shorts.

Previously on fps
Bill Plympton

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September 17, 2008

It's been a crazy year, but I have been looking forward to the Ottawa International Animation Festival, well.. since the last one ended. This is always the case.

Emru will miss his first festival since 1988, but Brenden Fletcher, Rene Walling and I will be taking in the fest, and we'll try to bring some of it back to you, too.

As usual, there lineup is exceptional. I don't know how I am going to make to all of the special screenings and retrospectives. Just a few of my must-see list items include the Michael Sporn and Jonas Odell retrospectives, Brainwashed! Cartoons That Tell Us What To Think, and The New Wave of Japanese Animation.

Richard Williams' presentation (in interview with John Canemaker) would be in my list, but it's sold already out, which is altogether unsurprising considering the circumstances. If there are any seats left 15 minutes before the event, rush tickets will be sold, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed. I will have to satisfy myself with a special screening of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? instead. I'm also looking forward to the Yo Gabba Gabba! presentation on Saturday.

I haven't even gotten into the masterclasses, workshops and panels. Honestly, it's like trying to bail out the ocean with a bucket. I'm going to enjoy trying!

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August 5, 2008


They say the best things in life are free, and in this case it's hard to argue. Since July there's been an exhibition in Manchester called How Manga Took Over the World, and they've been offering free anime screenings that will continue through to September 21. The roster is staggering: there are daily screenings of the first episodes of Astroboy, Tetsujin 28, Noein, Naruto: Unleashed, Otogi Zoshi, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Dominion: Tank Police.

But that's just the appetizer. Every Thursday through Saturday, there are screenings of anime features, many of which have been seen on DVD but really deserve to be shown on the big screen. Drool-worthy entries include Hayao Miyazaki's Laputa: Castle in the Sky (start lining up—it's this Thursday!), the Cowboy Bebop movie, Akira, and the wonderfully old-school Golgo 13. Check the Urbis website for dates and time.

[Thanks, Nausicaa.net.]

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July 30, 2008
Hero Complex, the LA Times geek blog, posted some pictures for those of us who can't make it to the San Diego Comic Con of a display of maquettes from Coraline, Henry Selick's 3D stop-motion feature, based on the young adult novel by Neil Gaiman.

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Amid Amidi of Cartoon Brew and Harry McCracken of Harry-Go-Round have both commented on the San Diego Comic Con preview of footage from Up and Bolt. Take a look at this teaser for Up.

Original Video- More videos at TinyPic

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July 16, 2008

Montreal is home to the world's largest comedy festival, Just For Laughs. The festival's annual live action and animated Eat My Shorts program begins today and continues until July 18. Among the animated offerings are John and Karen and Lapsus (pictured above) two recent shorts I enjoyed.

Space Chimps, a CG feature by the Vanguard in the UK and Starz Animation in Canada, will also be previewed tonight.

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July 8, 2008


The audience of the Monday screening of Fear(s) of the Dark was treated to a bonus before things got rolling: Hot Dog, the third in a series of shorts by independent New York animator, Bill Plympton. Many know Bill Plympton's name, but those who don't will immediately recognize his trademark style in the clip shown here. Only a portion of the short is in the clip, and gets much funnier as it moves from one stage to the next.

His current feature, Idiots and Angels, seems distinctly different in tone. In Plympton's words:

The look of the film is very Eastern European - something like what Jan Svankmayer might make, or David Lynch if he made animation - very dark and surreal.

Fear(s) of the Dark will replay again tomorrow at the Fantasia festival, but without Hot Dog preceding it. Later in the day, Plympton will present the Canadian premiere of Idiots and Angels, and continuing the festival's spotlight on Animated Auteur Visions.

Previously on fps
2008 Fantasia Festival Animation
Review: Plymptoons: The Complete Early Works of Bill Plympton

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Warner Bros. marks their entry into the Indian animation field with an as yet untitled film directed by Jyotin Goel (Zahreelay, Inam Dus Hazar, popular sci-fi T.V. show Antariksh) and produced by Goel Screencraft. Goel had this to say about the upcoming film,

"This is a story of love and adventure, full of color, music, drama and comedy. The film is not based on the humans but portrays the melodious world of birds and attempts to explore their lives from an unusual standpoint. It is a journey into the lives of birds as they soar over dense jungles and teeming cities, giving them a point of view of the world that is hilariously different from ours."

Am I the only one excited by this? I don't know Goel's work but the premise sounds quite charming. If the animation is handled well, we could be seeing this one on the festival circuit relatively soon!

via IndiaFM.com

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Ponyo On The Cliff By The Sea is almost upon us, evidenced by this cover tease of the newest, gorgeous artbook from Studio Ghibli. Filled with sketches, backgrounds, storyboards and cel reproductions, the newest volume in the Studio's famous "Art of..." line will be available on August 2nd for 2,900 yen.

via GhibliWorld.com

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July 6, 2008
The Canadian premiere of Peur(s) du Noir on Monday is a part of Fantasia's 2008 spotlight, Animated Auteur Visions. Not all of the six shorts are horror films, but each features a black and white animated exploration of fear. Contributors include comic artists Charles Burns and Blutch.



The screening will also be a benefit for fps editor, Emru Townsend. A portion of the profits from each ticket sold will go toward Emru and his immediate family as he prepares for his upcoming bone marrow transplant.

(Earlier this year, Emru wrote a message letting people know that they could help to save his life or that of another person waiting for a bone marrow or stem cell transplant. In June, a potential match was found in the system where there previously were none among over 12 million people registered as potential donors. You can read more about his experience on the Heal Emru blog.)

Previously on fps:
2008 Fantasia Festival Animation

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July 5, 2008
One of the first films that ever screened at Fantasia was the animated adaptation of Katsuhiro's Otomo's Memories, produced by Studio 4°C. Over the years, the studio has produced some notable feature-length narratives and shorts in omnibus films, including but not limited to Cat Soup, The Animatrix, Mind Game, Tekkon Kinkreet, and Batman: Gotham Knight. They have a powerhouse of talent that has allowed them to create some of the most interesting animation anywhere.

In Kenji Ishimaru's 2007 interview with studio CEO Eiko Tanaka, she mentions that all of this hard work was to get to one point: to be profitable enough to create what became Genius Party.

These seven stories are as distinct as they are breathtaking. Shanghai Dragon, Dethtic4, Limit Cycle and the opening sequence Genius Party (also a self-contained short) are the shorts that are seared into my brain. Almost every short has perfect pacing, a great aesthetic, and an interesting story.

The project grew large enough that this is the first of two omnibus films, the other being Genius Party Beyond. I'm looking forward to seeing it.

Genius Party plays again on Sunday, July 6th at 1:00pm at Montreal's Fantasia film festival.

Previously on fps:
2008 Fantasia Festival Animation
Studio 4°C
Genius Party
Interview: Eiko Tanaka
Interview: Masaki Yuasa

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July 2, 2008
There is a reason Batman has his own label on fps. Besides many of us being big comic fans, many of us are huge fans of the Bat specifically. He has numerous animated interpretations and the notable incarnations in the 90s and 00s have definitely left their mark on (what was) Saturday morning television, cable television, comic book adaptations, and Warner Bros. television animation.

So people are a little nervous about an anime version of Batman since Batman: Gotham Knight was announced. I am a huge Batman fan and a huge anime fan, but I won't champion one at the expense of the other. After hearing about the talent behind the series of interrelated shorts, both American and Asian, I was somewhat relieved, but I was also willing to wait for a final verdict once I'd actually seen the shorts. After getting a peek at the soon-to-be released DVD in a theatrical setting gearing up for the 2008 edition of Fantasia, I think people's fears are largely unfounded.

Disliking the stories because they use the visual style of anime is just as bad as only liking it because it is anime. What you need to know is the stories are told well. What you need to know is these stories all embody something about the Legend of the Bat and are consistent with the characters that have already been established. It does look great!

And the same people that dismiss the anthology because it is anime will probably be the ones who refuse to notice that there are six very distinct visual styles that are employed to tell each story. The level of interestingness does vary depending on the style you are drawn to, but this is also the case of a decades long comic-collector who has some artists they prefer over others. Like these artists, Batman's look changes at the whim of the artists involved. The two stories with styles I found the most recognizable and distinct from the others were produced by Studio 4°C. They were even distinct from each other. Selecting one of these as the first story in the set was a great choice as it breaks conventions of what people consider the "anime style."

There are no spoilers in this entire post. I am not interested in ruining it for anybody, especially the die-hard Batman fans. However, if you are told or read spoilers elsewhere, you will not find out anything new about Batman if you already know his character. You will feel comforted by the way the stories fit easily into the mythos that has already been created from past stories. Just go and watch the stories unfold, and enjoy another glimpse of Batman's early days as he tries to learn the ropes of crimefighting.

You can catch a theatrical screening of Batman: Gotham Knight at Montreal's Fantasia festival on Saturday at noon, before it is released on DVD next Tuesday.

Previously on fps
2008 Fantasia Festival Animation
Batman: Gotham Knight Promo Video Online
DC Comics OAVs
Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo
The End of Justice League

Previously on The Critical Eye
Batman Animated
Batman & Batman Beyond
Paul Dini
Bruce Timm & Glen Murakami

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Just a few weeks ago I was in a car with Tee Bosustow, on the way to an interview for his Toon In podcast. We kicked around a few thoughts on different animated productions, and when I mentioned that I really liked Persepolis, he said he wasn't as enthusiastic about the film.

"What?!?" I said. "Let me out of the car right now. You know what? Don't even bother stopping. Just slow down and let me jump out."

Okay, so maybe that's not exactly how it went down. For that matter, I don't really remember why he didn't like it as much as I did. But at the time his reasoning struck me enough that I recently re-read the comics in anticipation of the DVD release, which I watched not too long ago, along with all the extras. Here are some of the impressions I came away with:

It's always kind of funny when you mistakenly get the DVD with Spanish menus.

Catherine Deneuve is at the Persepolis press conference at Cannes and doesn't get asked a question? How is that possible?

I suspect that Iggy Pop is incapable of sitting in one place for too long without taking his shirt off.

Finally, upon rewatching I think that Persepolis is as much a tribute to Marjane Satrapi's grandmother as it is an autobiography. Never mind the bittersweet ending; from the moment the young Marjane opens her mouth to question authority in school, she's negotiating the principles of self-awareness and honesty to oneself that her grandmother taught her against the realities of the world around her. Whether she's telling off members of the Guardians of the Revolution or standing up to French bigots, she's channelling her grandmother; and guess who's the person she goes to whenever she has serious problems, and the first person to bite her head off if that's what she needs?

Because of the story's geographic and spiritual location in Iran and the timing of the movie's release, some might consider Persepolis political. Because of the strength and intelligence exhibited by Marjane, her mother and her grandmother, some might consider it feminist. After watching the extras, I don't think Satrapi would agree with either sentiment. Persepolis is the story of ordinary-yet-extraordinary people—we all know folks who fit in that category—in trying circumstances, and the legacy that she carries.

Yeah, I'm still on the Persepolis bandwagon.

Where to Get It
Buy Persepolis books and DVDs from Amazon.com

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