The Animation World Cup:
Well, cinemas are back in lockdown again which means I’ve got nothing to review, and even streaming sites seem to running low on things to release. With that in mind, rather than just give whole recommendations, I’d rather talk about something that I really like: animation, and more importantly, animation from around the world. We concentrate so much on studios like Disney and Dreamworks that we forget there is a wide breadth of animated productions going on from various countries. So, for the next four weeks, we’re going to have a tournament to decide which of these films such take the World Cup!
Now, when I was selecting the twelve films for this tournament, I went for a number of criteria. I decided I wanted a good mix of countries to represent; I didn’t want this all to be just European nations, for example. Though, that being said, there wasn’t a wide breadth of countries to pick from. You’d be surprised how many countries that I wanted to include which didn’t really have an opinion. For example, I was going to put Italy in the tournament but, wow, they do not have a great history of animated films from my research. There is some good stuff there but one of the first things that comes up are those terrible animated knock-off Titanic films. Yes, including the one that has the “save the dolphins and whales” message. I’m not joking, look it up, it’s hilarious – one of them has a rapping dog. I also decided that I wasn’t going to necessarily pick the most obvious choice. I looked into a bunch of criteria: review scores, domestic gross, what have you, and I also wanted these to be rather unique animated films.
This is how the tournament will work: I did a random draw for each of these films so I wouldn’t control who would face who in the first round, then they will each face off with each other and I will give my verdict on which film I think is better, and I’ll explain the process on how I decided a winner. Now, this week I will not be discussing it too much because I don’t want this document to get overly long, and no one is getting eliminated this week. Round 1’s going to follow the logic of NormalBoots’ Madness in that the winners go into the Winners’ Semi-Finals and the losers go into the Losers’ Semi-Finals. From there, the winners of those two will face off each other in the Winners’ Final and the Losers’ Final, and we go to a 5th week for the Grand Final where the winners bracket winner will face off against the losers bracket winner unless both of them faced each other in the first round, in which case there’s no need for a rematch. Yes, this is a complete rip-off of Madness but that show’s not on anymore so I decided to do what I could with it (though I fully recommend you watch their series on 90s cartoons).
Now I’ll explain each of the twelve that are in this thing:
United States of America
Representing the USA it had to be a Disney film, so I went with The Lion King since it’s the highest grossing Disney movie.
Next up we have Canada, and the film I picked for it was The Bread Winner, a very underrated film that does have a Canadian director and Canadian production company.
Japan, well that was hard. I was going to pick a Ghibli film but I also considered that I wanted a film with a more Japanese identity, so I went for a few options, took the Rotten Tomatoes score, and decided to go with Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name as it had the highest score.
Well, I felt it had to be Aardman Animation to represent the UK, and the highest Rotten Tomatoes score from Aardman would be the representative. So, that film is Chicken Run.
Ireland had to be represented by Tom Moore, and again, his highest rated film is Song of The Sea.
For France I went with a bit of an obscure one but I felt I really wanted to discuss Long Way North.
Well, Spain’s most famous animated film is Chico & Rita and it’s a very well-made film so I think that movie should be the representative.
Not much that China’s production companies have done has really excited me, but Big Fish & Begonia definitely was the exception to the rule, so that’s coming in.
This was a bit a hard one but I decided to go with Happy Feet since George Miller directed it and I felt that was a good representative for Australia.
Switzerland was next in, and I brought into the competition the film My Life as a Courgette.
India’s now in, and I decided I wanted to talk a bit about Arjun: The Warrior Prince, which is now on Netflix.
Finally, I put in Poland and I decided on the Polish/UK co-production Loving Vincent, the first oil-painted animated film.
With that in mind, these were drawn and here’s how the matches turned out:
Match 1: My Life as a Courgette vs Arjun: The Warrior Prince
We’re starting off with Switzerland vs India, and this one is an interesting choice and you have a computer-generated animated film vs a stop-motion piece. Arjun: The Warrior Prince is an interesting indie production from a Hindi studio, and it received a lot of backing because it was distributed in America by Disney, though from what I can tell it’s still not gone to their Disney Plus service, though it is available on Netflix right now. Arjun: The Warrior Prince to me feels similar to that of The Tale of The Princess Kaguya – both films are aiming to be new tellings of classic stories that are standard reading in their native countries. The difference is that I feel like Kaguya did a much better job bringing its tale to an international audience than Arjun does. I’ve seen a lot of reviewers say that Arjun expects you to have a foreknowledge of this classic Indian tale, and it really shows. There are a lot of moments in this film that made me have to look up the original tale for better context. And when you compare that to My Life as a Courgette which is a very touching stop-motion film about troubled children living in a home for disaffected youth, it’s no surprise My Life as a Courgette is winning. It just seems to out-class Arjun on virtually every level – it’s way better animated, its performances are stellar, and it really does a good job reaching its international audience despite the fact it has an identity firmly locked within its home nation. It’s a sublime breeze of a watch. The other big difference is that Courgette does a brilliant job tackling its rather dark yet real subject matter, and is ultimately a film that leaves you better for having watched it.
Winner: My Life as a Courgette, which will go to the Winners’ Semi-Finals
Match 2: Chico & Rita vs Chicken Run
Well, these are two polar opposites: a brilliant piece of experimental animation from Spain telling a love story of a jazz musician and a singer throughout the ages in Havana vs a film about a group of chickens trying to escape a farm before they’re killed. I mean, I make it sound trivial, but this was actually a genuinely close one for me as I do adore Chicken Run. It’s genuinely a very fun and fantastic film, and at a time when there was a lot of pressure from studios to bring in a lot of a very well-known actors to be in animated films following the success of Aladdin which starred Robin Williams, they really managed to tone it down. The only major star in the film is Mel Gibson and he’s not too distracting in the role. Most of the other parts are taken up by British television actors or voice actors. Plus, Chicken Run in endlessly quotable, with some brilliant lines like, “I told you they were organised!” or “I don’t want to be a pie – I don’t like gravy” keeps me laughing for days.
Now, Chico & Rita is however a very well-made film. It’s another film that really lets the animation do the talking and tells a very mature story. This is an 18-rated film for a reason; this is completely adult, which means we have polar opposites for comparison. Now, Chico & Rita does tell a rather mature, brilliant take on a love story and its animation is very well-done, however it does feel like it’s weighing down on its own vision half the time. By that I mean it seems like the director really was trying to get his vision out there, but it almost sacrifices a bit of the character of the movie. I wouldn’t say it goes full pretentious; I wouldn’t have put it in this competition if it did. But there are some points where I think it kind of feels it was made to get Oscar nominations. (That being said, I wish the Oscars would put more animated films like this up for Best Animated Feature!)
It’s a case of whether you want the more fun, uplifting film or the more mature and introspective film. Honestly, I went back and forth between Chicken Run and Chico & Rita constantly in deciding which film I thought should to go to the next round – it was tough. I had to think of these films’ biggest faults and which one I think recovers from their faults the best. I think Chicken Run has got a few issues: some of the gags don’t land and, let’s face it, for many people Mel Gibson being in there is a very distracting thing in hindsight. Whereas Chico & Rita is a bit long and suffers from pacing issues. On that basis, I think I’d go with Chicken Run, the reason being that I would watch Chicken Run on an impulse but I don’t think I’d watch Chico & Rita on an impulse; that’s something I’ve got to gear myself up to watch. And I don’t think I can put a film through to the winners’ section like that. Chicken Run goes through.
Winner: Chicken Run
Match 3: Happy Feet vs Song of The Sea
Look, we’re going to talk about both of these films again, but this wasn’t even a contest – Song of The Sea wins this hands down. Anyone who’s read my review of that film knows how much I adore that movie and anyone who loves good cinema should see that film. It does a brilliant job of blending Irish myth and legend in the modern day in animation form, even more so I’d say than Tomm Moore’s previous film, The Secret of Kells. I haven’t seen his most recent film for the record – I don’t have a subscription to Apple TV yet. Happy Feet is a fine enough film, I actually kind of like it. The performances are okay, it does decently with its premise, and I think George Miller took a film that I shouldn’t have really liked but did a pretty decent job with it. But really, this is too easy; Happy Feet is just not competing in this round.
Winner: Song of The Sea
Match 4: Loving Vincent vs Your Name
It’s Poland vs Japan this time, and both of these films are some of the best animated films in this line-up. Loving Vincent is an astonishing achievement. To be able to put together a film where there were actual oil paintings made that had to actually move was astonishing. It took the production company years to make this film and it really shows. It obviously tells the life of Vincent Van Gogh to a certain extent, although Van Gogh is actually more in the background; it more so tells the story of the people around him following his death. And as a result, it’s a massive think-piece.
Your Name is quite hard to talk about since I always refrain from giving away some of the bigger moments of the film, but I’ve talked several times about how much I love this romance story centring around a boy from Tokyo body swapping with a girl from rural Japan and then eventually wanting to meet one another after the swap stops, and it’s obviously achieved a lot of acclaim since its release. Your Name also has a fantastic soundtrack and, yes, it is also beautifully animated. Anyone who’s seen how the night sky is animated in this film alone makes it worth watching. The character design is well-done, and Shinkai has a really great way of bringing out the beauty in both the countryside and the big metropolis of Tokyo, and he tells very convincing love stories. But the love story is ultimately not what’s at the forefront of Your Name. Again, to go into that would give away many of the points, but in some ways, I’d say Your Name is about really wanting to see someone no matter what and not wanting to have the regret that you didn’t do everything you could do. If there’s one thing though that Loving Vincent does brilliant it’s conveying what the painter Van Gogh meant to so many people. But in this case, Your Name gave me much more emotion than Loving Vincent did, and I really cared about the characters so much in that film, so I’ve got to give it to Your Name. Though, have it be known that Loving Vincent put up a hell of a fight.
Winner: Your Name
Match 5: The Lion King vs Big Fish & Begonia
Well, it’s weird to say this is going to be the USA vs China but here we go. Look, Big Fish & Begonia is clearly trying to do its take on anime. More specifically, it’s a Chinese production company trying to do Studio Ghibli; there’s obviously a big Ghibli influence. Ponyo in particular has clearly been a major influence on this one, though it’s not as light in tone as Ponyo was. As for The Lion King, well, I’ve never said I felt The Lion King was the greatest film Disney made but it has stood the test of time, and actually seeing the live-action remake kind of made me want to see the original more because I appreciated much of it more. I like the performances, the songs aren’t all great but they’re sung better and have better settings than the live-action version, and I have a new appreciation for it. It’s not my favourite Disney film but I’m starting to actually like it all over again, though I still think it has a probably in being slightly overrated.
Big Fish & Begonia is a nice story at the end of the day, a very fantastical adventure about a girl who’s been transformed into a dolphin trying to save the life of someone who sacrificed themselves for her, and the ramifications of such an act. And it’s a valiant attempt – there is a decent story here and I was very much invested in the film upon my first and subsequent watch. But here’s the thing: have you ever seen something where you think it’s a perfectly decent version of the thing you really like but you wouldn’t take it over the thing you like? That’s me with Big Fish & Begonia. It’s a perfectly decent attempt to capture what many films like it have but it ultimately doesn’t really stand on its own two feet too well, and I think it’s not as confident of a movie. While both films feel like they have a sense of passion to them, The Lion King really feels like it has a bit more. The Lion King takes the win.
Winner: The Lion King
Match 6: Long Way North vs The Breadwinner
France vs Canada, this should be interesting. These are both films that put young women at the forefront but for different reasons. One is about a girl trying to make her way to the Artic Circle to find her grandfather or something of him after he went missing on an expedition; the other is about a girl posing as a male to earn money for her family after a town is caught in the grips of the Taliban. These are both excellent films and both have excellent use of animation. Long Way North feels much more experimental and I would say it’s the better animated film of the two in many senses of the word, though it has a bit of issue with how the characters move in some scenes. However, I have to look back on both these films and how they feel in retrospect and, well, Long Way North is a very beautifully animated film but doesn’t stick with you the same way The Breadwinner does; The Breadwinner really sticks with you. It’s a very harsh story but it’s a very well-told one. It can have very tense moments, and I really thought the characters were that little bit more interesting and well-developed. And here’s the thing for me, The Breadwinner feels like it could have been a real-life story; it probably is the most down-to-Earth of all the films in this line-up.
Winner: The Breadwinner
Well, that’s it for this week!
We separated out the films into their categories and next week we’re going to start eliminating them. So next week we’ll be having the two Losers’ Semi-Finals, where it will be Arjun: The Warrior Prince vs Chico & Rita vs Happy Feet and Loving Vincent vs Big Fish & Begonia vs The Breadwinner. And do feel free to leave a comment if you want to influence how these matches are going to go because I will take other people’s opinions into consideration from this point on.
Calvin – Nerd Consultant
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