Wow! Despite some times when running a fully-fledged animation news, reviews and interviews site came dangerously close to unbalancing our own personal lives and “real work” (whatever that is!) and, conversely, when some real-life issues might have at one time or another impacted on the sheer ability for us to keep the site going, the good ship Animated Views’ biggest news in 2013 was that we made it to our tenth birthday! When our three “founding fathers” (myself, James R Whitson and Randall Cyrenne) actually all met up in person at the 2008 Comic-Con in San Diego, the future didn’t look too rosy, truth be told, and perhaps it was just this spark of the three of us touching together in person that gave us a refreshed vitality and impetus to keep things afloat!
We were supposed to repeat the visit five years later – in 2013 in fact – but those “real world” issues continue to raise their pesky little heads and the celebration of our tenth anniversary had to be done in the virtual world, with James penning a series of personal and fun retrospectives that revealed the development of the site to where we are today. Long a source of pride for its instigators and the wonderful, always-ready-to-step-in and impossibly understanding staff (who continue to put up with our whims and disappearances!), we’ve watched Animated Views grow and evolve to the point that we can now take a step back and start plotting where we go next. And while each of us have found it a challenge at times to balance our personal lives with wanting to offer an informative and entertaining review of what’s currently happening out there, we do tremendously enjoy sharing our passion for film in general – and animation in particular, of course – knowing that it’s being read by a truly appreciative readership, for which we also offer our thanks to you, for sticking with us for so long!
So, to get down to business, and with the superstitiously numbered year now behind us, it’s time to look back on the past twelve months and reflect on the good, the bad and…yes…the ugly. And, personally speaking, there was a lot of bad, if not always plain ugly out there. What’s that, you say? Ben’s actually slamming a year that saw a record number of animated movies released? Well, yes, I am to a large extent; because despite the sheer quantity of full-length animated pictures that made it to cinemas in the past year, I did begin to wonder about their actual quality as the year wore on and on. It’s true that November brought us the latest in Disney’s continued return to form, Frozen, although it’s a film that I still have at least a couple of gripes with, and at the beginning of the year DreamWorks seemed to deliver more of that How To Train Your Dragon tone in the long-gestating The Croods. I say “seemed to” because, along with a slew of other 2013 theatrical releases that eventually became piled up on my Blu-ray shelf begging to be played, it’s one of many that I didn’t yet get to see!
And I can’t really say I’m too bothered! 2013, in film in general but with animation in particular, just didn’t seem destined to be marked out as a banner year for new features. In live-action, the biggest releases were only so-so filmmaking endeavors: Man Of Steel wasn’t “Superman Returns bad” and at times recaptured some of the magic of the Chris Reeve films and, more importantly, the Superman character; but the shocking destruction of Metropolis and total disregard for human life was abysmal and in general the feeling seemed to be that it was the final five minutes that eventually depicted the Superman movie we all really wanted to see. That’s something that the upcoming sequel seems to be throwing away, as Warners looks to nuke the fridge and introduce the Justice League into this universe before the big blue boy scout has had a chance to notch up a few more badges on his own.
By far the most entertaining films – Star Trek Into Darkness, Pacific Rim and the much maligned The Lone Ranger – were deemed either too fan-centric or “dumb”. As a casual follower I adored the new Trek but could see why it might have annoyed the hard-core Trekkers. And, as much as I eventually enjoyed Pacific Rim it was as if the 1980s schlock “classic” RoboJox had met Godzilla, even if the effects were genuinely awesome, while Ranger‘s poor box-office take was perhaps more to do with the public feeling a little Johnny Depp-fatigued and not wanting to accept him as a Native American (despite some apparent lineage) than it was about them having a pretty good time during an otherwise ambitious (though admittedly overlong) western adventure. It was neat to see the supposedly grown-up Gravity scoring so well across its audiences – here was a simple drama story dressed up in vastly elaborate animated visuals (not that most viewers noticed!), although even here I wouldn’t say the much-talked about 3D aspect was a must: it did suggest the depth and nothingness of space, but was really only majorly effective for one single shot and played just as well without the added headgear in place (as for the characters’ destinies, well, let’s just say that I have my own theories on what happened there…).
Once again, however, most of these films were offshoots or reminders of previous properties (including, not inconsiderably, the space grandeur of Gravity). Indeed, one of the things I found most amusing about The Lone Ranger was that Disney refused to mention new property owners DreamWorks Animation anywhere on any publicity; even the new DVD packaging only mentions Classic Media’s previous ownership of the character, and it’s funny to think that rival Jeffrey Katzenberg gets a piece of that pie after he snapped up the company in a deal that Bob Iger would have been smart to get to first! So 2013 quickly became the year of the franchise, and this was also my biggest beef with big-screen American animation in general. It’s true that we live in a time now where brand recognition is vital to get the proverbial butts on seats…but honestly where, in a year full of sequels, prequels, spin-offs, remakes or self-eating pop-culture referencing regurgitations, was there anything truly original, let alone anything with a genuinely everlasting classic potential, like Pete Docter’s Up, for instance?
The beginning of the year brought us a comedy take on Universal’s monster characters (Sony’s 2012 holdover Hotel Transylvania, on Blu-ray), while the same studio’s theatrical effort for 2013, Cloudy 2, hedged its bets and lost its much better (though less franchise-friendly) title Cloudy With A Chance Of Leftovers at the door (what, the Cloudy part wasn’t enough recognition?). Disney also played the Tangled title game again with its Snow Queen adaptation Frozen, to less fanboy reaction this time, although there’s little doubting their decisions work when a movie cleans up as much as it is doing. Frozen is soon to out-gross stablemate Pixar’s Monsters University, an excellently staged, directed and animated film, but one with fundamental discrepancies with what was established in the original and, essentially, the kind of project Disney would have once released straight to video (go on, look again: you know it to be true!).
The fact that we don’t have a Pixar film to look forward to at all in 2014 doesn’t hold much hope for the new year, especially since that slot will essentially be filled with a second Planes release (or a fourth Cars-world title, if you want to keep the sequel/spin-off equation going; and, with John Lasseter at the top of both, I do count them as the same franchise, Pixar logo or not). But the rest of Disney is on a roll: we have the interesting and historically significant animated Marvel team-up Big Hero 6 on the way, promising a more light-hearted action-friendly release along the lines of Wreck-It Ralph, as well as another in what looks to be a growing series of live-action takes on classic Disney pictures: Angelina Jolie will debut as Maleficent in the summer, alongside the anticipated Guardians Of The Galaxy, and Kenneth (Thor) Branagh’s Cinderella is in post-production for an early 2015 release in that mega-packed schedule that will also see more Avengers and the return of Star Wars to the big screen.
The abundance of goodies to look forward to only emphasizes the fact that the past year has been a sketchy one at best, and not one that I suspect we will remember too fondly. On home video, most of the big theatricals made it to DVD, Blu-ray or digital download and streaming formats, but there was a dearth of classic titles coming to disc. Warners’ second Tom & Jerry Collection was cancelled – hopefully only momentarily – due to backlash over the non-inclusion of two cartoons, while there’s definitely been some kind of change of guard at Disney Home Video earlier this year, with somebody new there making all kinds of strange and damaging decisions, of which you can read more of in our comments on the worst of the year. However, let’s start with the cream of an otherwise questionable crop: honestly, we found it an uneasy task to come up with ten titles that warranted an outright recommendation, but in the end we just about managed it. So howsabout I stop griping, and let’s get on with things!
— Ben Simon
1. The Puppetoon Movie
Our favorite disc of the year by far was this splendid two-disc set that featured the compilation feature of George Pal’s inimitable Puppetoon shorts, but was truly a love letter to one of our favorite filmmakers of all time. The most exciting part of the set was probably the seven Puppetoons that were not only new to home video, but also fully restored in magnificent high definition. At the top of that list were two shorts based on stories by Dr. Seuss, creating additional crossover appeal for this release. This set had much more to offer, though, with two more features – a documentary on Pal, and his first feature film The Great Rupert (in hi-def too) – plus a ton of additional bonus features. This was, for the most part, a repackage of a previous DVD set, but the upgrade to HD, plus the new-to-video shorts and some additional interview footage, made for a stupendous set. Steve Stanchfield and Thunderbean’s effort to bring Fleischer’s Gulliver’s Travels to Blu-ray didn’t quite make it out by the end of the year, so for classic animation fans, The Puppetoon Movie is the clear winner for 2013!
2. Mary Poppins: 50th Anniversary Edition
One of the crown jewels in the Disney library received a very decent HD release, though it is ironic that it only comes – in actually only its 49th year! – to help promote a film (Saving Mr. Banks) that has received mixed reviews and does not itself seem destined to be remembered as such a classic. Nevertheless, we were very pleased to see that Poppins was well taken care of on Blu-ray, retaining its most important DVD bonus features and even getting a few new ones. Thank goodness that the folks handling the abysmal animation Blu-rays didn’t see their philosophy applied with this release, which also got a very respectable transfer (even if the 1.66 ratio is still open to question). We do hate to nitpick, but with the 50th anniversary of the film so close, one can’t help but wonder if a fancier release (with Mr. Banks?) is around the corner. Certainly, if this had been a Warners title, we would have seen a beautiful box set with lots of extra swag. To dump Poppins out as Disney did, even if the disc is really pretty good, does seem to point towards their increasing apathy towards the home video market. More on that later…
3. Akira: 25th Anniversary Edition
This classic and important anime film, for many folks their first entry into the world of what was known at the time as Japanimation, got very good treatment on this nice Blu-ray disc. It wasn’t its first appearance on the format, but the first release was quite expensive and quickly went out of print. Plus, for the first time, both the original and later English language dubs are available together, though most anime loyalists will want to stick with the Japanese track. Sadly, the behind the scenes Akira Production Report did not make it to Blu-ray, so Akira collectors will have to hold onto their old VHS tapes or perhaps the limited DVD tin that came out years ago. The extras from Criterion’s original, groundbreaking LaserDisc release remain LD-exclusive, but this Blu-ray does carry a few nice supplements that make us feel good about our recommendation.
4. Batman – The Dark Knight Returns: Deluxe Edition
We always try to include a deserving direct-to-video title in our end of year top ten picks, and this two-disc version is the one to own. Although the first part of the latest in the DC Universe’s line of original animated movies, adapting Frank Miller’s comics masterpiece, came out in 2012, part two was released in early 2013, with the combined feature making it out towards the end of the year. This latter set, collecting both superlative parts in one set, is the one to get, of course, as it not only provides the entire feature, it retains all the extras of the prior releases, plus adds a new Miller documentary. The film itself does the comics story justice, and the disc comes with near-perfect video and impressive audio, as well as all those great bonus features. For a truly ultimate edition, seek out the spiffy Steelbook, which also adds some collectors’ cards!
5. Monsters University
In an overall weak theatrical year, it was hard to not give Pixar their props for their prequel to Monsters, Inc. While still one of their lesser films, it held a lot of heart and of course top-notch technical expertise that managed to put a few other animated features to shame, even if the fact that Mike and Sulley supposedly knew each other “since the fourth grade” was intentionally overlooked in order for this story to work (however hard it is to make a prequel adhere to an original, it should be done; note to Pixar: must try harder!). On the plus side, first class directing and lighting disguised the fact that this was otherwise essentially the kind of DTV concept that Pixar brass would have ironically sneezed at had Disney made it alone, while a packed two-disc Blu-ray set (3D was also available but hardly essential) also supported the notion this was a more substantial outing than it actually was, even if the charming The Blue Umbrella short makes the set a must even for those who found the main feature so-so.
6. The Little Mermaid: Diamond Edition
Although the Disney renaissance started with The Great Mouse Detective and Oliver And Company, The Little Mermaid was the significant film that had them really hitting their stride and setting the template for the decade of films to follow. A conversion to 3D means we got a nice(ish) restoration, even if some updated (and occasionally strangely decided) tweaks means we didn’t exactly get the 1989 original as per Beauty And The Beast and The Lion King‘s BD editions. In the end, the addition of 3D doesn’t make an already classic film any better (although its shiny cover art made nice use of an original poster image), and a planned theatrical reissue sank without trace, making this the first (and only?) Disney classic to be remastered specifically for 3D in the home, a little late when the struggling format is still failing to establish itself. Fans of previous DVD editions found much of the supplements carried over, making this one of the better Diamond Editions from the Studio.
7. From Up On Poppy Hill
Bypassed by regular American distributor the Walt Disney Studios, this Studio Ghibli film – dealing with a pair of teenagers’ coping with societal changes occurring in Japan during the 1960s – still found a wide release from the independent GKids. Those who saw it had the opportunity to be enamored with a strong plot with a love story you haven’t seen before in animation, and with it a confirmation that the legendary Hayao Miyazaki’s son Goro looks to be someone who will, after a brief stumble with the earlier Tales From Earthsea, be able to continue his father’s legacy at the Studio long into the future. Better still, in addition to the usual storyboards we get on the Disney releases, GKids pack the disc with featurettes on the director, location, vocalists, music, publicity and more, making this a standout Ghibli release!
8. Who Framed Roger Rabbit: 25th Anniversary Edition
With the HD transfer bringing out the high-tech magic – state of the art at the time – of this golden age, delightfully old-school tribute, a comprehensive extras package saw a true classic being an easy inclusion in this year’s rundown. We can scold Disney for not offering any new extras, save for the three Maroon Cartoons in pleasing hi-def too, but honestly we’re just so happy that they at least did not do anything to screw up the spotless but still authentically filmic Blu-ray release of one our all-time favorite films. Most extras from the previous Vista Series DVD set got carried over, but if Disney had gone all-out for this release (after all, the film was a major player in the Studio’s renaissance) or even included a slew of additionally known about supplements…well, we can only dream that such a set could have easily made it to the top of our list with just a little more loving attention. However, at least Roger wasn’t subjected to the unfortunate treatment that met the likes of The Rocketeer or Dick Tracy the year before, and most will find it a more than suitable upgrade.
9. The Great Muppet Caper/Muppet Treasure Island: Two Movie Collection
Honestly, once we had our top five mapped out, we found it a struggle to populate our list with all-time great releases, where we largely like to see a disc’s supplements for a film match the quality of the film itself. So, while we are indeed reaching a bit by this point, we decided to bring in a group that we here at AV still like to consider “honorary animated characters”. The Muppet gang’s first film, The Muppet Movie, didn’t get the treatment we would have liked (see below) and, although this double bill isn’t exactly packed with extras either there’s still great value to be had here for a low list price: Caper is still a magically charming film, while Island is funnier than you remember and a decent commentary on this more recent outing reveals some cool facts. One can easily argue that both films deserved more extras and their own releases, but having them both together in respectable transfers does nicely complete the entire theatrical Muppet filmography on Blu-ray.
10. Warner Archive Collection
The studio that pioneered manufacture-on-demand makes another showing as a distributor on our list, as it continues to find surprisingly compelling titles that we didn’t know (or remember!) we needed! Generally unrestored transfers and a lack of supplements keeps any single title from making the Top Ten, but this year we were grateful and surprised as old favorites (Captain Caveman, Popeye 60s Classics, Yogi’s Gang, etc.) and obscure finds (Roman Holidays, Help! It’s The Hair Bear Bunch and Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kids) all came to DVD. The Archive’s continued tracks into Blu-ray releases finally saw some decent discs for a handful of quality live-action catalog titles, including the majestically epic (and epically titled) Greystoke: The Legend Of Tarzan, Lord Of The Apes and the splendidly tricksy Christopher Reeve-starring thriller Deathtrap, while Super-fans on staff here were also tickled to finally see the release of the remaining seasons of the live-action Superboy TV show in all its kitschy glory!
— Top 10 compiled by the AV staff, edited by Randall Cyrenne
It’s been a rollercoaster ride in terms of home video this year, with a lack of truly great new or catalogue releases: and even then we didn’t know what we were going to get in terms of quality.
Disney, on one hand, has been doing well to get their library issues out as quick as they can, but every now and then the quality has suffered, especially with the overuse of DVNR, which used to be a Disney no-no.
Not everything was bad: their Blu-ray updates for Brother Bear, Mulan and Atlantis: The Lost Empire retain a good portion of their two-disc bonus features and provide definitive transfers of those films, while the Howl’s Moving Castle and My Neighbor Totoro Blu-rays demonstrated their continued commitment to doing (just about) right by the Studio Ghibli films.
Over at Warners, the Hats Off To Dr Seuss: Collector’s Edition provided a nice compendium package for those without the previously released individual discs (The Cat In The Hat, Green Eggs And Ham, The Lorax, How The Grinch Stole Christmas and Horton Hears A Who!), even if we felt a gaping hole in terms of having any more Looney Tunes (or any other Golden Age animation) come to disc.
— Ben Simon
The Un-Mentionables: Worst Of 2013
Most Disappointing Disc: The Muppet Movie. What!? The Muppets in as the worst disc of 2013? Well yes, as, for the film’s nearly 35th anniversary edition, I had been hoping that the uncut version might have finally made its North American debut as a surprise and treat for long-time fans. Here at Animated Views, Randall holds The Muppet Christmas Carol up as the Muppets’ best film, but I sway between that and The Muppet Movie, perhaps because the uncut edition is a better film than Rand has been seeing all these years.
Although only around five minutes make the difference, it provides more time for the little things to happen, especially as the film comes to its ending. The American tightening of these scenes (for reasons unknown) robs The Muppet Movie of much of its heart and, coupled with only a so-so image and a pretty bad sound transfer, makes this Blu-ray a missed opportunity in terms of really surprising us with something unique. Maybe they’ll get it right for the actual 35th anniversary!?
Elsewhere, Disney comes into the firing line again for its overuse of DVNR on a slew of catalog titles that also failed to offer anything new in the way of supplements. Most would have preferred to see true bonus content on the discs for The Hunchback Of Notre Dame and The Emperor’s New Groove, as both swapped out excellent extras from previous LaserDisc and DVD releases, respectively, for their poorer DTV sequels (and, after all these years, could we not have seen The Sweatbox snuck onto the Groove release? Old wounds are slow to heal, it seems).
Taking perfectly fine HD transfers of its later 2013 titles and drowning them in digital video artefacts was Disney’s way to go, it seems, for a company who previously did all it could to preserve the animators’ line drawings. The Sword In The Stone‘s Blu-ray debut was simply abysmal, while not much better could be said for Robin Hood, Oliver And Company, The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh and Mickey’s Christmas Carol – all once intended to have the kind of nice, clean but filmic representations that the likes of The Rescuers and The Fox And The Hound had, before that nasty DVNR dial got turned up to varying degrees of destruction to the original images, washing the grain away…as well as animators’ lines, image detail and intended artwork touches. These are poor, poor choices being made by someone oblivious to the damage they are doing, while Disney continues to see its legacy quite almost literally being scrubbed away… Sad.
— Ben Simon
2013 On The Big Screen: The Theatrical Toon Review
Now it’s time to swing our attention to 2013’s theatrical releases! Here are James’ highlights among the films that got wide releases this year.
November 27, 2013
Director: Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee
The Mouse House tops our list for the second year in a row. Frozen turns the stereotypical Disney fairy tale story on its head — but not in the patronizing, caricaturing way other studios have done. The beginning of the film sets up a by-the-numbers princess story, but by the end the audience is treated to an earnest exploration of what “true love” really is. And it does it all while remaining fun and exciting for both boys and girls, young and old.
2. Monsters University
June 21, 2013
Director: Dan Scanlon
There were a lot of premature complaints about Pixar “selling out” and the quality of their films suffering by creating sequels. But Monsters University should silence all that talk. It’s a rare follow-up that doesn’t retread old ground but makes the original that much deeper — giving us glimpses into the motivations and feelings of the characters in the first film. And I can’t remember the last time an entire theatre full of adults and children were having so much fun together.
3. Free Birds
Reel FX Creative Studios, Distributed by Relativity Media
November 1, 2013
Director: Jimmy Hayward
In past years when there was no clear-cut consensus choice for #3, we have given this spot over to what I like to think of as our “Hoodwinked Award” — what film came out of no where to impress, surpassed lowered expectations, or just surprised us with a unexpectedly good time at the theatre? This year there were several movies that qualify. Marketing did no favors for The Croods, making what was actually a good film look truly awful. The minions once again stole the show and saved a sloppy Despicable Me 2. The plot of Escape From Planet Earth may not have broken any new ground, but I doubt there was another film with more unique and beautiful visuals.
I could have justified putting any of those films in the #3 position. But the one I’ve chosen is the one that got the most flack, when in reality it was an enjoyable little film that I think will eventually find an audience. Free Birds, the first feature from Reel FX, coming out near the end of an already busy year for animated movies probably suffered from a fatigue factor with theatre-goers. But I’m willing to bet this film with a clever idea, a fun story, and some hilarious performances is going to be a Thanksgiving hit on TV for years to come!
— James R Whitson
What Did YOU Think? The Animated Views Readers’ Picks Of The Year!
Once again, we asked Animated Views readers to rank the three best animated movies of the year. Here are your top five picks. Thanks to everyone who voted!
The runaway winner was Frozen with a score of 67/100. The film received a decisive 56% of the first place votes and appeared on 75% of all ballots!
Monsters University came in second place with a score of 29/100. While only getting 5% of the first place votes, it appeared on an impressive 49% of all ballots.
With a late run of support in the final days of the poll, The Wind Rises came in third place with a score of 27/100. Though it only appeared on 34% of the ballots, it got the second most first place votes with 19%. Doubtless it would have done even better if it had been released in more markets.
In fourth place with a score of 20/100 was Despicable Me 2, which appeared on 39% of all ballots.
The Croods rounded out the top five with a score of 18/100 while appearing on 32% of all ballots.
And…that’s all, folks, but we’ll be back to do it all over again next year! In the meantime, don’t forget that we’ll next be getting together to celebrate (and comment on!) the 2014 Oscars – Frozen is the clear choice in our poll here, but can that be matched at the Academy Awards? Join us to find out, where you’ll again have your chance to try and second guess how the voters will pick their winners!
Until then, may we wish you a very happy new year – stay tooned!
— Ben, and the entire Animated Views Team!