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Ratatouille

dir: Brad Bird
[img_assist|nid=749|title=Rats cooking in kitchens is hardly new. It's corporate strategy at that place ruled by the Colonel|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=375]
The Pixar name still means something to audiences. They’ve made so many great computer-animated flicks that discounting them because of missteps (Cars) or being purchased by Disney for something obscene like 7 billion dollars and the kidneys of several thousand Asian children, seems wrong.

I’m reassured by Ratatouille, in that even if it’s not breakout tremendous like The Incredibles, or consistently entertaining and engaging like Finding Nemo, the Toy Stories or even Monsters Inc, it’s still pretty damn good and still several million miles ahead of the drek like Shrek and the other crap pumped out by Pixar’s rivals.

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Simpsons Movie, The

dir: David Silverman
[img_assist|nid=780|title=The fire burned my bottom|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=253]
Well it’s about bloody time. The series has only been running for 18 years. So grateful should we be that they took the time to put together a cinematic version of the popular television animated series. Because, you know, there aren’t enough movies to watch as it is.

The Simpsons Movie arrives in a form that is unsurprising, with a running time of what three episodes would be like run back to back, with no profoundly earthshaking or universe-altering message. It has plenty of chuckles in it, doesn’t vary from the known Simpsons universe that much, and delivers exactly what long term fans would expect.

Long term fans aren’t the ones who have been saying since the fourth season of the series that it has jumped the shark or sold out a long time ago. I’m not necessarily talking about the Comic Book Guy-type fans who know everything about every episode and feel personally offended when an episode fails to live up to their expectations.

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Happy Feet

dir: George Miller
[img_assist|nid=844|title=I tell you what, this movie didnt give me happy feet after watching it, more like angry liver|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=297]
Enough, already. The success of Pixar’s movies and the Shrek monstrosities has led to an incredible and totally fathomable explosion in the amount of computer animated movies stinking up the cinemas. A bunch of years ago there’d be one or two over the course of the year. In 2006, there were about twenty of them.

It was inevitable that computer animation would replace traditional hand drawn animation and that it would start garnering a greater share of studio and audience attention. And that’s not because it’s any cheaper or quicker to produce, because these flicks cost multi-millions to make and take many years to complete. But being able to point to the advances in animation techniques is the selling point itself. The stories certainly aren’t improving along with the programming. So much money is being invested in these things, so much money is at stake, so the stories are getting more and more bland and safe as their producers become even more risk-averse than previous.

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Renaissance

dir: Christian Volckman
[img_assist|nid=887|title=Black and white bang bang|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=449|height=196]
Whilst the French aren’t world renowned for their animation, at the very least they’re not seen as slouches in the cinematic department. France is one of the few countries whose homegrown films compete well with American product in French cinemas, and whose films export fairly well for the arthouse market across the world.

When The Triplets of Belleville came out in 2003, it reminded people not only that France could produce movies that weren’t solely dependent on lecherous older guys lusting after beautiful and super-slutty, irrational, younger women, but that animation wasn’t totally dependent on computer-wielding nerds, a la Pixar, Blue Sky or WETA Digital.

I’d heard a little about a new French animated flick that was about to come out, and for reasons that seem perplexing to me now, I was excited about it. What little I’d heard referred to the animated movie being a sci-fi detective story with Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell influences, rolled up in a high-tech black and white anime style.

So, when free tickets to a preview screening were offered, I snapped them up. After sitting through it, I wanted to demand my money back.

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Cars

dir: John Lasseter
[img_assist|nid=888|title=Cars. Lots of Cars.|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=440|height=324]
The title doesn’t lie. It really is about cars. Imagine a world where the only organic matter is plant life, and everything else is cars. Even the flies are tiny cars.

But for all intents and purposes, the cars are people. Not Soylent Green. People. The windshield is their eyes, the radiator grill at the front is their mouth, and they talk, drive around and even fall in love.

They can also be arrogant, ignorant, dopey, loving and nostalgic about the past. Especially a past where people took the time to just slowly drive around, instead of racing everywhere at top speed. They also had small town values, and loved, I dunno, a shiny chassis, a good paint job every once in a while, and a nice tune by James Taylor or Randy Newman.

In short, these are cars that aren’t really imagined to be that different from the people sitting in the audience: smug, comfortable, middle-class consumers.

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Robots

dir: Chris Wedge & Carlos Saldanha
[img_assist|nid=917|title=Wow, so life-like, so real|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=345]
For every great idea, person, creation, there is not just its probable opposite, but also its poor cousin. The lame pretender to the throne, the wannabe, the also-ran. It incorporates enough elements of the quality version to be recognisable, but leaves out the essentials that make the great one great.

For every Kubrik there is a Spielberg. For every Tilda Swinton there is a Cate Blanchett. Each Russell Crowe spawns multiple Colin Farrells. And, in the animated feature stakes, Pixar has its pretenders in the form of the companies that make their magic for the likes of Fox and Dreamworks SKG.

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Howl's Moving Castle - (Hauru no ugoku shiro)

dir: Hayao Miyazaki
[img_assist|nid=40|title=Howl's Moving Castle|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=399|height=220]
Miyazaki is a hallowed name to those of us who’ve seen and loved his animated movies. He is often referred to as the Japanese Walt Disney, but I think that short changes his talent and what he’s accomplished over the span of his career.

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Incredibles, The

dir: Brad Bird
[img_assist|nid=965|title=Ayn Rand oversaw the whole production, no doubt. Objectively.|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=420|height=686]
I don’t think Pixar know how to make a bad movie. Really, even if they’d wanted to, I don’t think they could manage it. They just wouldn’t know how to be mediocre. Perhaps they need to take notes from Disney. Now there’s a creatively and intellectually bankrupt company still churning out sub-standard product at a rapid rate. There’s your business model worthy of emulation.

Calling Brad Bird the director of something that would have required the supervision and input of countless bazillions of people seems somehow deceptive, but he must know what he’s doing and not just be Steve Job’s footstool. Whilst watching The Simpsons the other night (one of those rare times when I only get to watch one Simpsons episodes in a day as opposed to three) I noticed his name in the credits, and then again after watching King of the Hill last weekend. So he knows about conventional animation as well, not just this fancy-shmancy stuff.

Now that computer animated movies rule at the box office, every studio is trying to pump them out quicker than you can say ‘Bandwagonesque’. And of course as you’re saying it remember and cherish the Teenage Fanclub album from the early 90s that shares its name. Ah, the early 90s. When flannel and dewberry bodywash reigned supreme, but not usually on the same people.

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Steamboy (Suchimoboi)

dir: Katsuhiro Otomo
[img_assist|nid=963|title=No, I don't have any idea what's going on, either|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=380|height=222]
This is a highly anticipated animated film for many people, and not just for dope smokers either. See, it’s been so long since Akira first came out that the stoners that predominantly constitute its fanbase have worn out their VHS copies and are in desperate need of something else to tickle the fancy of their THC-addled cells.

Taking over a decade to create another full length feature which is thus far the most expensive in anime history, you’d be entitled to think that Otomo would have had the requisite time and money to craft a story entirely to his liking, something else with the potential to infect pop culture consciousness and monopolise the television at parties like Akira did.

To the credit of the people involved, they’ve started with an insane bunch of ideas and produced an impressively incredible-looking animated feature. Unfortunately, the whole production is deeply flawed by having an absolutely terrible story.

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Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no kamikushi)

dir: Hayao Miyazaki
[img_assist|nid=1072|title=Chihiro, my hero|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=381]

The great difficulty in reviewing one of Miyazaki’s animated movies, compared to just watching them, is that the temptation to reel off superlative after superlative usually proves too great for the humble reviewer. Also, Miyazaki is revered to such a degree as the reincarnated Japanese alternate reality Walt Disney that everything he touches is tainted with greatness in the eyes of reviewers, humble or not.

The high praise makes latecomers come to his films with an insane level of expectation, which usually results in bewilderment when they see something like this, Princess Mononoke or My Neighbour Totoro which are different but simpler stories than what they could have expected.

Well, I’m neither a worshipper nor much of a reviewer, so it’s as easy for me to reel off expletives and superlatives as it is to watch one of his flicks and to sit there, thrilled out of my goddamn mind.

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