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Archive for the tag “animation”

“Castle in the Sky” (1986) Review

Castle in the Sky poster

As I have mentioned previously (in my review of My Neighbor Totoro), Studio Ghibli is one of the most imaginative studios in the film business today with films spanning more than three decades. The other night I watched another of their films, Castle in the Sky. With Hayao Miyazaki at the helm as usual, the film is certainly an enjoyable experience filled with great animation, excellent characters, and an imaginative story enjoyable for those of all ages. While Castle in the Sky has all of these Ghibli standards, it also has some flaws that hold it back from reaching the same heights as some of their other works.

Castle in the Sky features a story about a young girl with a mysterious necklace, a young boy with dreams of proving a legend true, and the groups of pirates, military, and special interest personnel that quickly become interested in both of them. For the most part, this tale is just as imaginative and interesting as some of the studio’s other works. Yet, one of the biggest flaws in the film is the story’s pacing. About halfway through the film, the plot stalls and the film hits a stagnant period of chase scenes with no plot development. The foundation is there for a great plot, but this section breaks up the two better sections and takes away from the overall film. Had Castle in the Sky been cut to about 90-100 minutes (as opposed to the 125 minutes it stands at), the plot would be more powerful and the film better for it.

Though the plot has its struggles, the animation does not. Castle in the Sky is a visual masterpiece for its time. The film was made nearly 30 years ago and still looks phenomenal today. As always, there are a ton of little details that go a long way to making each scene even more impressive and complete. Even in its more action-packed scenes, the visuals remain exceptional. Though it may be flawed in other areas, Castle in the Sky‘s visuals are not.

For an animated film that is 27 years old, Studio Ghibli crafted some absolutely stunning visuals for the film.

For an animated film that is 27 years old, Studio Ghibli crafted some absolutely stunning visuals for the film.

Similarly to the plot, the sound department has some highs and lows. On one hand, the soundtrack is wonderful, capturing various landscapes and sequences nicely and enhancing each scene. On the other, the voice acting for the film is not up to par. It’s nowhere near the worst voice overs I’ve heard, but it’s still disappointing. James Van Der Beek and Anna Paquin’s performances really cause the characters to suffer due to poor vocal work.

This voice acting is a shame since the characters designed by Studio Ghibli are exceptional. Each character is given a unique personality that the viewer can easily connect with through each character’s visual design, dialogue, and interactions. With how well designed the characters are, combined with the overall animation, the imagination of Miyazaki and the artists at Studio Ghibli seems limitless. Truly each Ghibli/Miyazaki film is a work of art.

Overall, Castle in the Sky is a great film – not just a great animated film. Its visuals, story and characters are all wonderfully crafted – a standard for Ghibli and Miyazaki films. Still, some shortcomings in voice acting (on the English Disney dubs, not the original Japanese) along with pacing issues hold the film back from standing at the top of Ghibli’s resume. Despite its issues, Miyazaki fans will enjoy, and the film is great for viewers of most ages. If you’ve seen Castle in the Sky, let me know what you think about the film and where it stands against your other Ghibli favorites.

Final Score: 7.8/10

“My Neighbor Totoro” (1988) Review

My Neighbor Totoro cover

Studio Ghibli is one of the most imaginative studios in the film business today. With Hayao Miyazaki at the director’s helm, they have created some of the best animated films out there (Spirited Away is still my favorite animated film). After recently starting Ni No Kuni: The Wrath of the White Witch for the Playstation 3 (for which Studio Ghibli helped with the visual work), I’ve been eager to get back into seeing some of the Ghibli films I had missed. My first adventure was with My Neighbor Totoro – a film that bears Ghibli’s mark proudly.

My Neighbor Totoro is a much more light-hearted film compared to some other Miyazaki works. The film focuses on two sisters and their father who move to the countryside and begin to notice some creatures that others can’t see. The plot may be fairly simple, but its execution is wonderful, with every character having a distinct and nicely developed personality. These characters are the heart and soul of My Neighbor Totoro, and the audience can instantly connect with the film’s cast. When a film can develop and cause the audience to be connected to characters that lack any true dialogue, there is a high level of praise that should be given to it.

Where My Neighbor Totoro also succeeds is in its creativity. The animation for the film shows some age (the film is 25 years old), but it is still so imaginatively constructed and has so many little touches that it is still a beautiful film. The animation brings to life the intricately constructed and highly creative worlds that Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli are known for. I once read that it takes about one month for the Studio to produce 5 minutes of theatrical quality animation, and these kinds of elaborately constructed worlds and characters show why that is the case (and how much care Studio Ghibli puts into every frame of animation). Though this film may not feature the grandiose visions of some other Ghibli films, it still brings its viewers back to a child-like sense of wonder and imagination (bonus points for the Cat Bus).

As with all Studio Ghibli films, "My Neighbor Totoro" features incredibly imaginative characters and animation.

As with all Studio Ghibli films, “My Neighbor Totoro” features incredibly imaginative characters and animation.

To enhance the animation and story, there is a wonderfully composed soundtrack throughout the film. From its thematic pieces (which feature some nice melodies) to its set pieces, My Neighbor Totoro is further enhanced by this music work – I remember my fiancé humming along to the main the at one point. In speaking of the soundtrack, it should also be noted that the voice work and sound effects for the film are nicely done as well, making each character sound natural.

In all, My Neighbor Totoro is a characteristically Studio Ghibli film. Its more lighthearted story makes it a perfect fit for both adults and children alike. Still, the sense of wonder at the artistic worlds that they create is replicated by so few animated films. Know that going into My Neighbor Totoro you will get a high-quality, and highly original animated film, and allow Miyazaki to take you on another entertaining adventure.

Final Score: 9.1/10

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Second Opinion:

I agree whole-heartedly with Will’s review. My Neighbor Totoro was a heartfelt film that made you truly immerse into the lives and surroundings of the characters. You connect with the family instantly and could feel the many emotions of the film almost first-handed. I also loved the imaginative forest creatures who truly brought the film to life and made you laugh, almost cry and wish you could ride a cat bus in real life!

The film had a very sweet and imaginative story that any aged audience could enjoy. You would never guess that the film itself is 25 years old. The imagery, soundtrack and story were just as relevant and enjoyable today. I’m so happy that Disney decided to localize Miyazaki’s work overseas and allow it to get to a wider audience, one that it truly deserves. This is one of just many of Miyazaki’s work, and one that I would definitely recommend for children and adults alike. Let us know if you’ve seen My Neighbor Totoro or any of Miyazaki’s other films and what you think of them.

Second Opinion Score: 7.8/10

“Hop” (2011) Guest Movie Review

Hop Movie Poster

Every now and then, I love to watch an animated movie that’s just silly and fun. “Hop” was definitely a treat of a movie. I can’t say that it ranks up with some of the classic animation movies in the last decade such as “Finding Nemo” or “Monsters, Inc.”, but I can say that it was a light, feel good movie that is perfect for young kids, and even adults who just want to feel like a kid once and a while (like me!).

The computer-generated animations were wonderful. Technology has really come a long way, especially for these animated movies. The colors and visuals of all the candies of Easter Island were brilliant and made you want to swim among the masses of jellybeans and marshmallow peeps. The soundtrack was a bit odd with some very dated songs that brought back memories for me, but would have no effect on young children who weren’t alive for such bands. The rock songs related well, because obviously E.B. was dreaming of becoming a drummer in a rock band, but I still think they could have chosen some better songs, or guests artists – Like who the heck are the Blind Boys of Alabama?!?

Carlos and Phil were two of the many characters who brought some dimensions and additional storyline to the film. Phil is also one of my favorite characters, he’ll definitely at least make you crack a smile with his antics!

Carlos and Phil were two of the many characters who brought some dimensions and additional storyline to the film. Phil is also one of my favorite characters, he’ll definitely at least make you crack a smile with his antics!

Anyway, despite my musical ignorance, I still thought the movie was fun. The storyline was nothing too deep, but still enough to be heartwarming and have deeper meaning for young children and kids. It presents a number of wonderful messages to kids, such as do what you love, respect your elders (even when you don’t want to) and to always believe in yourself.  Though I found it cute, Will did make a point as we were watching that the movie has many stereotypes in it. The worker chicks were Latino or Hispanic while the Easter Bunny or boss was British, along with a few others throughout the movie. On another note, the acting was mediocre, which is expected in an animated film. It wasn’t the best, but nothing that your kids are going to complain about.

It was the perfect movie for a relaxing night with the kids and to help excite the children for Easter. I really enjoyed the movie even as an adult, but there are definitely a number of other animated movies that I would prefer to this one. Have a few laughs with your family or loved ones and check “Hop” out for yourself, especially with Easter just around the corner and let me know what you think!

Final Score: 7.0/10

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