The Animation World Cup: Winners’ Semi Finals
And now it’s time for the Winners’ Semi-Finals, and man is this one going to be tough. So, let’s get straight down to it.
Match 1: My Life As A Courgette vs Chicken Run vs Song of The Sea
It’s Switzerland vs the UK vs Ireland for this match, and it’s going to be a very interesting one. We have very traditional hand-drawn animation taking on two stop-motion films, so if we’re talking animation, we have to immediately talk about the stop-motion effects in both Chicken Run and in My Life As A Courgette. Well, while there is a large gap between both films of over a decade, they are surprisingly comparable. This is probably due to the fact that Ardman Animation received a good budget around that time for a feature-length film when compared with My Life As A Courgette which was a more independently-funded project. However, in terms of making the most of your budget, MLAAC does a really good job – the stop-motion effects are excellent, in spite of the fact they go with some very weird character designs. The characters are also very expressive; I actually think they do an amazing job with them, especially considering that the film tackles very dark subjects surrounding abandonment and abuse towards children. It’s actually proof that you can use the art of animation to tell these tough subjects.
Song Of The Sea, on the other hand, is hand-drawn and very, very proud of it. They’re so proud of the animation they actually put the process in the credits. Some of these sequences are amazing, particularly the sequence involving Saoirse becoming a selkie for the first time. It’s also, out of Tom Moore’s films, the most overtly thematic of Moore’s homeland – Irish myth and legend is at the forefront of most of his films, but Song Of The Sea is the one that wears it the most proudly, using the myths of selkies as well of the stories of the living islands and many others that get brought to life through beautiful animation. The use of colour is also excellent, and once again they have very expressive characters. This is particularly in the case for Saoirse who is a character that doesn’t speak throughout most of the film, so her facial expressions are important. And if there’s one area where Song Of The Sea really wins, it’s its soundtrack. Chicken Run has a very good score and in a lot of match-ups it could have won, however it’s nowhere near the fantastic score that’s been used and songs that were made for Song Of The Sea; it’s actually a soundtrack you really should consider owning. That’s not to say Chicken Run isn’t exactly a dark film; it actually has some quite dark jokes in it as well as some dark moments, but it is a very good family romp film and it obviously is probably one of the most fun films of the bunch.
Each of these films have been severely elevated by their casts, though the number of big names is relatively small. There are no A-lists in MLAAC, Mel Gibson, as mentioned before, is the biggest star in Chicken Run, and Brendan Gleeson is the most recognisable name in Song Of The Sea. Here’s the thing, I like all three of these movies a lot – this is not a case where I’m going to put one to the side. Initially I was considering putting Chicken Run to the side since it’s not doing all that much different than many other animated films that have come before and after it, but it has definitely stuck with people. There’s a reason why it’s big news that Netflix have approached Ardman Animations to make a sequel which, from what I can tell, has been commissioned. But the question really is: why do a sequel? Chicken Run has a very definitive ending, and I think the one thing that all of us have to do is be more comfortable with the idea of endings… but that’s a subject for another day.
So, if it comes down to animation, Chicken Run is definitely the weakest film – I was more impressed by Song Of The Sea and My Life As A Courgette. But if it comes down to story, MLAAC and Song Of The Sea are very, very close; they’re both excellent stories: one deals with themes of loss, grief and making your own family, while family and learning to accept loss also play a big part in Song Of The Sea, where Chicken Run is, at the end of the day, a parody of The Great Escape but a very good one. If we’re going by fun, Chicken Run has endlessly quotable lines. How many times have we heard, “I don’t want to be a pie – I don’t like gravy,” for crying out loud? But I had to look at all of these films as a whole, and all three of these films to me suggest the idea of animation as an expression brilliantly, so I had to ultimately side with which film stuck the most with me. This one could have gone either way; this is probably the closest match that I’ve had here, but I’m going to put Chicken Run to one side. It is an excellent film but the other two just are slightly better at having animation as an expression, and just have a little more thematic weight to me.
Now, Song Of The Sea I did see on a very good cinema screen, whereas MLAAC I saw on a computer screen having bought the film from Amazon Prime, but I don’t think that really affected my opinion of them too much. But man am I glad I saw Song Of The Sea on a cinema screen – you really need to watch it on the best screen possible and the best sound system possible to experience that film. MLAAC, it doesn’t necessarily feel like it needs to belong on a cinema screen; this could have easily not had a single cinema screening and gone straight to Netflix. However, the one thing that holds MLAAC back for me and the reason it took the loss is because it’s too short. It comes in at a very brisk run-time, only 1 hour and 10 minutes. And while it’s a great film with great characters and some lovely stop-motion effects, it’s ultimately very short. It has a ton of heart to it as well but you could say the same about Song Of The Sea, which also felt like it had enough time to tell its story. My Life As A Courgette feels like it’s cut off a little bit, though I do appreciate the fact that it didn’t have exactly a perfect ending because it actually really suited that film. But Song Of The Sea in every sense of the word feels like it tells it story fully and uses its run-time brilliantly, and that was the final clincher for me.
Winner: Song Of The Sea
Match 2: Your Name vs The Lion King vs The Breadwinner
It’s Japan vs the USA vs Canada. Wow, this is an interesting selection. Now, I could talk all day about the pros and cons of all these films, and you might think I’d immediately stretcher The Lion King but no, The Lion King’s staying in for a brief period. It was definitely a good film in every sense of the word, and again, seeing the live-action film really added to my appreciation for the original movie since I realised a lot of what makes it great. For example, the use of colour; the expressiveness of the animation; how Elton John’s songs are translated to the acting, all of which failed miserably in the live-action version. You can really tell there’s a lot of heart and passion to that film, and it’s especially interesting considering that it was the B-team that were doing it; the A-team were working on Pocahontas at the time, believing it to be the more prestigious film that was going to do more for the Disney company as a whole. Way to bet on the wrong horse!
Now, all these films use a mix of hand-drawn animation with some digital effects. Disney around this time was starting to experiment more with computer-generated animation in their films: we saw it Aladdin with effects like the Cave of Wonders and the Magic Carpet. It’s certainly not as prevalent in The Lion King but there’s occasional use of it, the most obvious being the famous stampede sequence which took up some of the largest portions of time and budget. It was back then one of the most expensive animation sequences of all time. Then you’ve got The Breadwinner which is pretty much entirely hand-drawn, and again, Your Name also uses a good mix of digital and hand-drawn animation. It’s been developed by Studio Comics Wave and they have a really distinctive style in my opinion. Yes, it’s completely Anime but their use of colour is excellent. You can definitely see this with sequences involving the meteor shower that the main characters interact with at the beginning of the film. There’s also going to the soundtrack contest, and as much as The Lion King soundtrack is iconic, you’ve got to give it up to the Radwimps for the songs that they produced for Your Name; they feel perfect for the scenes that they are designed for. It’s no wonder that they were called back to do director Makoto Shinkai’s follow-up film, and the film itself has definitely elevated their standing.
However, if we’re going by all these films, well, in terms of being animated, The Lion King and Your Name both kind of have the edge on that one, and we’ve certainly seen that in the case of now we have what is, in a sense, a live-action Lion King film that we’ve seen doesn’t work. We don’t know how that’s going to go for Your Name which is having a live-action film produced by J.J. Abrams down the line. But, as much as I’m apprehensive of the idea of it, I’m open to it. The Breadwinner, however, could easily be a live-action film. The fact that it’s animated is genuinely interesting. I actually think the start is very similar to Song Of The Sea – rather angular, and I would say in some sense it kind of feels rather Picasso in the fact that it seems like Cubism has been on the forefront of the designs of the characters. It’s certainly what I would call a marvellous use of character design, and the fact that they didn’t have to make this film animated but chose to means that I kind of appreciate it more. This is, at times, a hard-to-watch film as it deals with a very tricky subject matter, particularly the treatment of women that were living in areas largely controlled by the Taliban, but it’s also a film that, by the end of it, has a rather uplifting message. I was actually expecting the film to go for a much darker ending than it ended up having. To talk about endings, some people have described Your Name’s ending as being rather ambiguous, but I would argue it’s not. I actually thought Makoto Shinkai was going to take the option that would have made people a bit more depressed, but I think he really nailed the ending; he picked the right ending for what needed to be made.
So, then I go by which of these films’ animation experiences really warrant being seen in the cinema? And, well, that kind of throws The Breadwinner out. Now, for the record, I did go and see The Lion King in a cinema screening when I was young. That film got re-released so often in the 90s it was unbelievable. Any time any studio tried to get any sort of animated film out that could boost their potential, Disney would re-release The Lion King in cinemas just to cut them off, particularly with Jeffery Katzenberg running the animation studio at the time (which is one of the several reasons I’m glad Quibi has been an unmitigated failure). Further to this point, I saw Your Name and The Breadwinner in the exact same pop-up cinema that was used for The London Film Festival that had an IMAX screen, and, well, I’m not sure The Breadwinner needed to be in IMAX is all I’m saying. There’s certainly a lot of loud explosions and some gun fights which do benefit from having the brilliant sound system, but it definitely showed that the animation budget they were working with was not quite on the level of these other two films. Now, what it fortunately does is use its budget to its advantage and uses very good editing. But you compare it to the other two films and they really need to be seen on a cinema screen. If you haven’t seen The Lion King on a cinema screen and you get a chance to, I really recommend it – you get the benefit of a lot of that extra animation effects that were cutting-edge at the time. And Your Name is just phenomenal. I’ve seen it in cinemas twice in IMAX and it really benefits from that IMAX experience; this is another film where you really want to see it on the best possible screen.
So, how do I then chock these films up? Well, if you go by raw emotion these films all have great raw emotion scenes. I don’t want to give away too much about these films, though obviously we know which part of The Lion King since it’s been one of the most talked-about scenes of recent memory. And I’m certain a lot of people have seen Your Name and know a lot of those moments, but man, Your Name has you on the edge of your seat with its final moments, and it leaves a lot of questions. It also works very well early on as an excellent body-swap comedy. It knows that its real strength is its main characters and does a good job building them up so that we want the best for them; it really has got something special in that sense. So, when you chock all these up, I feel like out of these three films, Your Name is the one that has the win, and the reason I say that is because of the ending. It’s a petty reason but I feel like Your Name nails its ending the best. All these films have great use of raw emotion and great character moments, but I feel like Your Name also just excels slightly more on these fronts.
Winner: Your Name
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