Mary and the Witch's Flower

Worst to Best Animated Films of 2017 Finale

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this editorial/list!)

Here we are! The final part of the Worst to Best Animated Films of 2017! You know the drill. If you have not yet seen part 1, 2, or 3, then I will make sure to hyperlink them into this paragraph. The final stretch really showed how strong indie films were in 2017, and I hope more people are able to see them after this list. Now then, let’s get started!

 

10. The LEGO Batman Movie

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While it may have had too many hurdles to jump over during the award season to get nominated or win, LEGO Batman was still able to combine both a very funny comedy, a great homage/tribute to everything that is Batman, and still have a pretty good story attached to it with probably one of the best versions of the caped crusader.

9. My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea

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I don’t think 2017 will have a weirder or more entertaining dark comedy than My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea. It might have relied too much on abstract visuals in the third act, but I found this to be the best comedy in the animation scene of 2017. You just don’t see them get this weird and unusual.

8. Bird Boy and the Forgotten Children

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The foreign indie films got pretty dark in 2017, and Birdboy’s tackling of depression, drug abuse, struggling with inner demons, and death was probably the darkest film in terms of the animation scene. It might focus a bit too much on the symbolism at times, but the animation is beautiful, the atmosphere is somber, but hopeful, and it was just another great example of animation being able to tackle more adult subjects.

7. Napping Princess

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While it might mess up the mixing of both the dream and real world in the third act, I found myself loving Napping Princess. It was creative, it had good animation, the dialogue was funny, the characters endearing, and it was fun to get a non-anime franchise adventure film! I highly recommend this one!

6. The Girl Without Hands

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For a mostly one-man team, The Girl Without Hands is a beautiful and dark fantasy tale that actually warrants going into it with the mind of a child reading one of these fairy tales. It’s a gorgeous minimalist experience that is told through striking visuals. I wish more people got to see this visually stunning flick. Go out and buy a copy now!

5. In This Corner of the World

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To me, this was Shout! Factory saying that they want to be taken as seriously as GKids with foreign animation distribution. In This Corner of the World was a film that caught many off guard with the cute water color art style, but also combined it with the horrors of the bombs dropping on Japan. Yeah, it might be an intense thing to see such cute designs go through such horrific situations, but the story is still powerful, the female lead is a great character, and the animation is incredible. Definitely give this one a watch!

4. Loving Vincent

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While many indie/foreign animated features can go into the style-over-substance territory, Loving Vincent balances out its unique art style with a somber tale of trying to find reasoning behind the suicide of the famous painter. This is one of the few films of this decade that rightfully deserves being called unique. You can tell this was a loving passion project, as it respects and pays homage to the famous painter. It definitely deserved that Oscar-nomination.

3. Mary and the Witch’s Flower

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You could say that Studio Ponoc’s first film is a bit too reliant on Studio Ghibli tropes, but I welcome them with open arms. Yes, they should be able to stand out as their own studio, but until Ghibli is done with Miyazaki’s two films and Goro’s one film, I say let the Ghibli heritage run wild! Mary and the Witch’s Flower is a delightfully whimsical tale that was one of GKids most successful hits. It has great animation, another strong female lead, and it just made me smile while watching it. I’m fully on board with Studio Ponoc, and I can’t wait to see what they do next after Modest Heroes.

 2. Coco

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While Pixar has become more inconsistent with its quality, and the big fiasco and departure of John Lasseter, Coco still shows that when Pixar put their minds to it, they can craft a touching tale about family. Coco was one of the few films I saw back in 2017 that caught me off guard with how intimate it was. While it might not beat Inside Out or Up, Coco is one of Pixar’s top five best films!

1. The Breadwinner

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While there were many incredible animated-features in the foreign scene in 2017, The Breadwinner was the full package. It has incredible animation, a mature storyline, two different visual styles, had a great female director and producer, and was a powerful tale of perseverance in a troubled country. I was so mad that I was the only one in my theater when I saw this, because it truly deserved more love, to make more money, and to be seen by many more people. It’s as of this date, still on Netflix, and it’s available on DVD. Please do whatever you can, and go watch this incredible film. Good job Cartoon Saloon, you are three for three now.

118: Mary and the Witch's Flower

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

I’m sure when you are a director who has a few hit movies under his belt while working under one studio, it’s imposing and challenging when you decide to leave that studio to start your own. Which I am sure is the case with Hiromasa Yonebayashi when he left Studio Ghibli and founded Studio Ponoc. While his name might not be as big as Hayao Miyazaki or Mamoru Hosoda, you would recognize his directing work in two Studio Ghibli films, Arrietty, and the Oscar-nominated When Marnie Was There. It’s also tough that the studio itself is being called Studio Ghibli 2, even though I feel like with the uncertain future of Ghibli after Miyazaki and his son are done with their films, I am fine with Ponoc being Ghibli 2.0. Sure, I would like to see them branch out a bit more into their own identity, but for now, I’m simply happy that we are still getting unique Japanese-animated films that aren’t just high-school romance films. For now, let’s take a look at Ponoc’s first film, Mary and the Witch’s Flower. Released last year and distributed by GKids, Mary and the Witch’s Flower gained a lot of hype during the period of time before Hayao Miyazaki decided to make one more movie. When it was finally released last month, critics and audience-goers gave it high praise as one of the best Japanese-animated films from 2017. Sadly, its award recognition has been less than stellar. I think they simply released it too late to get the hype going for it, and, well, award groups have a certain bias towards Japanese-animated films. So, does it deserve more love? Well, let’s see.

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The story follows a young red-headed girl named Mary, voiced by Ruby Barnhill. She recently moved to the countryside with her great aunt, while her parents are working. She doesn’t have any friends, and decides to explore a little. While exploring the forest, she runs into two cats that end up taking her deep into the forest, where she finds a magical blue plant. She takes it back, and finds out the plant gives her magical powers. After finding a real witch’s broom in the forest, she ends up taking off, and finding an academy for the magically inclined. She meets the principle of the school, voiced by Kate Winslet, and the professor, played by Jim Broadbent. Even though Mary is being praised for her magical skills, she ends up getting into a situation much bigger than what she thought.

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Let’s talk about the good stuff about Studio Ponoc’s first film. Since everyone at the studio used to work at Studio Ghibli, you would guess that the animation would be amazing. And, well, it is. It’s very top-notch animation with creative designs, fluid movements, and lush colors. The designs are memorable, and I love that it’s not just Harry Potter-looking. It’s its own spin that’s way more visually creative and entertaining to look at than typical fantasy settings. It’s a film that knows it’s animated, and takes advantage of having out-of-this-world visuals and fun designs. The music is also wonderful, and while it’s not Joe Hisashi, Takatsugu Muramatsu composes some amazing scores for this film. Then again, this is the same guy that did When Marnie Was There and Lu Over the Wall.

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I also enjoyed the characters. Mary was a well-rounded female lead that was not stuck with a “chosen one” plot, the side characters are likable, and like in a lot of Studio Ghibli films, the villains are not simply evil people. You learn about why they desire to go this route with the research of fusing magic and technology. It turns out to be more of misguided ambitions than “I want to take over the world”, like the villain from Castle in the Sky. They aren’t downright evil people, they wanted to make magic greater for the overall world, but lost their way while doing so. I love it when films do this, because it adds layers to the film and the overall story. 

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While I do think this is a generally fantastic first film from the studio, there are some flaws that I wish they wouldn’t have carried over from Studio Ghibli. While it’s perfectly fine to be more character-focused, it wouldn’t have hurt to have more action with the magic in the film. I mean, yes, it was never meant to be a Castle in the Sky-style action adventure, but with all this buildup of magic and spells, I would have liked to have seen more than the goopy spells. The ending also felt abrupt. Not From Up on Poppy Hill abrupt, but it wrapped up too quickly and was too clean. It made me wish it had a bit of Princess Mononoke’s ending, where the villains had a moment to sit back, look at nature, and realize that they have been wrong in what they were doing with their magic or something. It didn’t ruin the movie at all for me, but it felt like there could have been more, in terms of the last couple of minutes, but they couldn’t, due to time constraints.

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I know it has a few flaws, but I loved Mary and the Witch’s Flower. For a first-time film from a brand new studio, it hits it out of the park. Now, would I say it’s one of the best Ghibli alumni films? I would say it’s in the top 10. If you can somehow see this film, please do. If you can’t find a theater playing it, then go buy the DVD when it comes out. I know many, including myself, want to see the studio branch out of that shadow, but for now, I am super excited to see what they do in the future. Now then, I think it’s time to move on and talk about a more recent film with Aardman’s Early Man. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

My Two Cents On The Submissions For Best Animated Feature at the 90th Academy Awards.

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this editorial!)

The recent line-up of animated feature films for the Oscars next year have popped up, and for the first time, I decided to break down the chances each of the contenders have to make it into the five spots. Overall, the line-up is pretty strong! I know that sounds weird, since the mainstream big budget films from the bigger studios have not been all that great, but if you look at the indie film offerings, you have quite possibly, the best line-up of smaller animated films of this decade so far. It’s probably just as good as 2013 with the wide variety of indie animation. Now then, I’m going to break it down into different categories with films that have spots already filled, films that have amazing chances, films that might have a chance, and films that have no chance. Little side note, I find it hilarious that none of the Weinstein-animated films like Guardian Brothers and Leap! are not on the list. Thankfully, that is great, because screw Harvey Weinstein and his horrible take on animated films. Now then, let’s get started!

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100% Certified Spots

Coco*: While it just came out, the amazing amount of hype this film has gotten and the early positive previews, this is probably the only Pixar film that has a chance at making it into one of the five sacred slots for Best Animated Feature. Plus, it just looks like a great movie. Way more than most of the films released this year from bigger companies.

  • Despite the recent controversy of now ex-head of Pixar John Lasseter’s leave because of allegations, I don’t think it would be fair for everyone else who made Coco suffer because of his actions.

Loving Vincent: While not getting as wide of a release as Coco or other big animated films, Loving Vincent has been a critical darling and a constantly talked about movie since making its runs in festivals. Plus, winning one of the three major prizes at Annecy Film Festival sounds good as well. It’s just a unique film that has caught the film world by storm.

The Breadwinner: We have a movie being made by a veteran of the Best Animated Features section, Cartoon Saloon, which had The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea nominated, the distributor GKids, and so much universal acclaim from reviewers and people who have seen it combined, it would be a shock if this didn’t make it onto the shortlist. Plus, it got a lot of attention during the Animation is Film Festival, and won the main prize there.

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75% Possible Contenders

In This Corner of the World: Lots of festival buzz and highly positive reviews. It probably has the best chance out of Japanese animated films, besides Mary and the Witch’s Flower. Plus, what Academy voter doesn’t love a war time-era film?

The Big Bad Fox & Other Tales: It’s being directed by one of the directors of the Oscar-nominated Ernest & Celestine. Plus, it’s under the GKids banner, and they have had two or so films in the running before for Best Animated Feature. Though I am concerned with how it doesn’t have an official release date yet for 2018, I would hate for it to be viewable after the awards.

The Girl Without Hands: Another festival favorite, and an almost entirely a one-man job. That alone is very noteworthy. Plus, high reviews and again, GKids. The beautiful and stylized animation doesn’t hurt either.

Mary and the Witch’s Flower: Let’s check off the boxes. GKids? Check! Made by ex-Studio Ghibli individuals? Check! Director of Oscar-nominated When Marnie Was There? Check! I think that covers it. Though I’m concerned that the release is just a month away from the awards, but we shall see.

Birdboy: The Forgotten Children: Another well-received animated film being distributed by GKids, and won a couple of awards including the GOYA award for Best Animated Feature, and has gotten mileage for being an animated film with a twisted edge to it and dark themes under the cute designs.

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50% Maybe?

Ethel & Ernest: As much as I love this movie when I watched it, with no real release date, I don’t know if its legacy as Raymond Brigg’s work will make it noteworthy enough to make it into the sacred five slots. I love this movie, but man, they should do something to compete.

A Silent Voice: I loved this movie, and I think it has more of a chance than Your Name did last year, because it was released in theaters in the states months before the award show, but that might not be enough, since most people, unless they are film or animation fans, know a lot about this movie. The biggest amount of coverage it got was when it beat out Your Name as Best Animated Film of 2016 from the Japan Movie Critics Award. I just hope the distributor in charge of the theater distribution for this film makes a big enough push for more people to see it.

Cinderella the Cat: To be perfectly honest, this was a surprise to see on the list. I have been following this film for a while, and all I know about it is the positive reception it has alongside that one review from Variety.com. However, since there has been no news on a US distributor, I don’t know how much its positive foreign reception will win people over.

Window Horses The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming: This is a cute and utterly charming movie about a girl trying to find peace for herself, while finding her father. I don’t hear too many people talking about this one, but it has enough festival buzz for a chance to make it, but it’s an uphill battle to get past some of the other indie/foreign films.

The LEGO Batman Movie: While I do love this movie, and think it came out at the right time, due to people still grieving about what happened three months earlier in 2016, the original didn’t get nominated (still sort of annoyed by that), so what chance does this one have? Plus, while I do love it, it’s not as good as The LEGO Movie. It doesn’t have the full heart and soul the previous film had. It’s a great and hugely entertaining watch, but I don’t know if they will give it a pity vote.

Napping Princess: Personally, this is one of my favorite movies to watch in 2017. However, it’s probably the GKids film, along with another on the list, to get the least amount of talk or push. It’s a fun adventure movie with some great characters and sequences, and some festival buzz, but it’s critically one of the less loved films of the 2017-distributed GKids films. Not going to stop me from enjoying it, but I can see it having more of a struggle than the others that I listed above.

Captain Underpants: This was one of the biggest surprises of the year, and while I am confident in putting it in the 50% range, it would sound odd, wouldn’t it? Oscar-nominated Captain Underpants. I don’t know how they will take this one seriously enough to consider it.

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25% Very Slim Chances

The LEGO Ninjago Movie: While it was still much better than most of the films on this list, it was also the least liked of the three films, and underperformed. It wasn’t a bomb, but it did not rake in as much cash as they were expecting. Plus, it’s the only one that you can consider to be more of a cash grab than the others. It also has the weakest story and writing out of the three LEGO Movies.

The Boss Baby: This film is mostly noteworthy for coming out around the same time as Alec Baldwin’s Donald Trump skits became the funniest bits of comedy for a while, so that probably helped push this movie’s financial success, but outside of that, the film itself was not well received, and in general is not regarded as one of the best animated films of the year. I know some have put it high on their list, but that’s only because they haven’t seen many movies.

Cars 3: Unlike The Boss Baby or the next entry, Cars 3 doesn’t have that much to say “yeah, this movie deserves an Oscar!” it’s more emotionally investing than the second film, but it still has a slew of problems in terms of its story and the ending. Plus, it underperformed because nobody wanted another flipping Cars movie! It’s not a horrible film, but I doubt it will have a chance.

Despicable Me 3: While a financial hit all over the world, Despicable Me 3 has too much going against it. For one, the story is not great, the characters are now barely there, and any advantages they had with improving or pushing the story forward, they don’t take, and just keep staying in that safe circle because it worked for them in the past. Sure, they got one nomination with Despicable Me 2, but that was a pity nomination in a rather underwhelming year. If SING and The Secret Life of Pets couldn’t get a nomination, then Despicable Me 3 won’t either.

Ferdinand: Listen, I don’t like picking on Blue Sky Studios, because I think they are a super talented group of people. However, they are having the same problems as Illumination Entertainment has. It’s why I put Ferdinand low on the list. Granted, the movie looks better than a lot of their offerings, but I just can’t find myself trusting that it’s going to be a great movie. Plus, Blue Sky doesn’t have much notoriety in the Oscar races.

My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea: I love this movie. It’s still my favorite animated comedy of 2017 so far, but looking at it now compared to the other contenders, I don’t see it getting nominated. It would be awesome, and GKids is behind it, but it’s too indie for its own good, and I think GKids has had better animated offerings now than back then.

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0% No Chance in Hades

The Emoji Movie: Come on, I might not think it’s the worst animated film of the year (that goes to The Guardian Brothers), but it’s still really terrible, and it has no chance in Hades in making it. Even when Sony sort of knows it doesn’t have a chance, then that is saying something.

Sword Arts Online: The Movie – Ordinal Scale: Yeah, sorry, but nope. It’s a film based on a pre-existing anime, and those never get nominated. It didn’t happen then, and it won’t happen now.

Moomins and the Winter Wonderland: I have a fondness for The Moomins, and I do love the cast they are building it up for, but I highly doubt it will have enough people knowing the source material to care. I love weird and unique foreign stuff, but this will not have one of those sacred spots.

The Star: I do not think the organization is going to let this one get a chance. It looks cheap, the advertising is  not giving the film justice, and I just don’t see it making it. I love the cast, and I wish they were in a better movie, but I’m sorry, The Star is going to have to shine somewhere else.

There you have it, my guess as to what films have the most to the least amount of chances to get those five spots for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars. As of right now, I am fairly confident that I am going to be correct with these placements, and hey, if any of the films that haven’t come out yet turn out to be good, then I am all for pushing them up the ranks. Do you all have any guesses? What five films would you love to get chosen for the Oscars?

 

Animation Tidbits #4 What's Cam Looking Forward To 10/19/17: Animation is Film Festival Edition

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this editorial!)

Welcome to another What’s Cam Looking Forward To on Animation Tidbits. I guess you can call this version the “Animation is Film Festival Edition”, because a lot of the films on this list will be at the LA-based Animation is Film Festival. So many of these animated films are making their US release at this festival. It’s a shame it wasn’t happening closer to me, since I live all the way in Texas, but I think anyone who wants to see some truly, in the sense of the word, “unique” animated films, they should go to this event. Now, some of these films I have talked about before, like The Breadwinner, Birdboy: The Forgotten Children, Zombillenium, and The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales. However, the mass majority of these will be new to the Animation Tidbit label. Let’s jump in!

Fireworks

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While I am still bitter about Your Name’s success opening the floodgates for a slew of teen dramas/romances to overcrowd the market, I’m always willing to put that aside to judge the film on its own merits. Fireworks is helmed by the producer of Your Name, Genki Kawamura. It’s a tale of two junior high school boys, who fawn over the same girl who is going to be leaving their country-side town. One day, one of the boys finds a magical sphere that can control time, and uses it to try and get together with the girl, who by the time he finds this sphere, has fallen for the other guy. In the film, the boy will use the sphere he found to turn back the clock to fix a mistake, but may end up causing more consequences to doing such a thing than he would like. It reminds me of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, which used the same plot idea. If handled well, it would lead to some touching scenes. The animation, while having fairly generic anime character designs, looks great, and I’m always down for a teen drama/romance to be taken or tackled in different ways. I wonder how good it will be compared to the mega hit Your Name, or the other massive hit, A Silent Voice. Granted, I am getting tired of Japan’s fixation on teen dramas and romances, but if the film can tell a compelling story and bring some creativity to the table, then I’m down to check it out. This will be playing the same day as The Breadwinner on Friday, the first day of the event.

MUTAFUKAZ

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I love to consider this the French/Japanese-animated lovechild of a classic Robert Rodriguez action movie. MUTAFUKAZ is, like I mentioned, a French/Japanese collaboration combining Studio 4 ° C, director Shojiro Nishimi and Guillaume Renard, the creator of the comic on which the film is based.  It revolves around a young boy named Angelino, who lives with his skeleton friend Vinny in a dirty disgusting city known as Dark Meat City. After getting into an accident, Angelino starts to experience unknown powers, and boy, everything just hits the fan afterwards. Everything is thrown into this film, like a stew made of everything inside your fridge. You have gang fights, frantic car chases, Akira-style physic powers, trippy visuals, Jin-Roh-style soldiers, and utter chaos. It all blends together in this over-the-top action film that looks fantastic. I think for such a crazy idea, it was a good idea to get Studio 4 ° C because they are good at getting frenetic and fast-paced action done well. I’m concerned it’s going to be flash over substance, but it’s still one of the animated films I’m looking forward to seeing the most, due to the fact we rarely get action-focused animated features anymore.

Big Fish & Begonia

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I have not been subtle about talking about the lackluster animation scene China has going on. It’s either bad anime-style clones, or really bad CGI with no thought about being creative with a small budget. This is why Big Fish & Begonia is poised to be the turning point for better animated features from that country. For a film that took a decade to make, the animation is gorgeous, and a lot of it makes the film look like this Chinese version of Spirited Away, which is fine by me. I have read early reviews of the film, which spoke highly of its philosophical elements, and it will have an English dub at the event, which means that Shout! Factory is probably getting ready for a more wide release and announcement for the film. If you want to see what could help turn China’s animation scene down a much more optimistic route, then you should definitely go check this film out.

Lu Over the Wall

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Now, we have one of the big boys playing at the plate. Masaaki Yuasa, the director behind Mindgame, has two films out this year and at this event. Lu Over the Wall is the first film being shown, and is another take on the Little Mermaid story in the same way Hayao Miyazaki did with Ponyo. That means you will get offbeat characters, trippy animation, and a more light-hearted tone. It’s definitely what I got from the trailers and, from a few clips that are on YouTube, the charm really comes through the animation. It looks fantastic, and I hope GKids can bring this film over along with Masaaki’s other film that will be talked about later in this editorial.

Tehran Taboo

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Now, this is a nice little surprise. Tehran Taboo is a German-Austrian collaboration about three different women and a musician trying to survive in a harsh and punishing city known as Tehran, where sex and drugs run amok under heavy religious and patriarchal ruling. It looks like an emotional and human experience, as we see these characters survive in such a restrictive life. I know some will argue about its animation, since it’s not technically 2D animation, but some form of rotoscope animation, but those purists can go bugger off. You are still tracing over living individuals frame by frame. Animation is much more vibrant and expansive these days, and this is a good example to show that. If you want something mature and adult during this festival, then it’s probably a good idea to step into the dramatic world of Tehran Taboo.

Mary and the Witch’s Flower

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It’s not a surprise that one of the two major viewings that are sold out is the spiritual successor to Studio Ghibli, Studio Ponoc’s Mary and the Witch’s Flower. First off, the animation looks fantastic. It has a style very similar to Studio Ghibli, and while I have heard people say that this is distracting, I don’t find that a problem. Studio Ghibli isn’t doing anything besides Hayao Miyazaki’s newest film, and if it’s a distracting thing to have fluid and very expressive Japanese animation, then I think that’s a pretty good situation to have. Even Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata have shown their approval of the film. It looks like a great one, and it has directors I trust behind it. It’s one of the most anticipated animated films of the year, and probably one of the sure Oscar nominees.

Night is Short, Walk on Girl

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Finally, we have Masaaki Yuasa’s second film, Night is Short, Walk on Girl. Technically, it is a follow-up to a series he worked on called The Tatami Galaxy. The surreal romantic comedy of a girl and the guy who has a crush on her looks trippy, unreal, and hilarious. This is what I love about Yuasa’s work. Fantastic and vibrant visuals, interesting characters, and what might look random, has an underlying tone of something much more. I am concerned that I can watch this without having seen the TV series, which I just started, but the quality of the film will depend on if it stands strong on its own or not. Still, I hope GKids brings this and Lu Over the Wall over to the states.