Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Walt Disney’s first full-feature animated film “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” directed by David Hand, may be too simple in story and animation when it comes to today’s standards but that was what I loved about it. An evil queen (Lucille La Verne) decided to kill her step-daughter named Snow White (Adriana Caselotti) because the Magic Mirror (Moroni Olsen) claimed that the queen was no longer the fairest in the land. The queen sent a man to kill her step-daughter but he instead let her escape because he couldn’t find it in himself to commit murder. Snow White then ran away to the forest and there she met the seven dwarfs with very distinct personalities. Most of this picture was pretty much singing and dancing, while the story could only be found in the beginning and the final showdown between good and evil. While I did think that Snow White was not a very smart character in particular (who decides to eat a random apple that came from a shifty stranger?), she was likable enough for me to ultimately root for her. And although the lesson in the film was questionable because it pretty much implied that women should be good at cleaning the house, washing clothes, cooking and depending on men to rescue them from a sad situation, kids should nonetheless be entertained because of the sheer amount of vivid colors and energy that the film had all the way through. Not to mention the songs were really catchy, especially “Heigh-Ho” and “Some Day My Prince Will Come.” It must be noted that this animated film explored a little bit of darkness that might scare the children. Some examples include the queen’s determination to kill Snow White in not-so-subtle ways such as cutting off her heart and poisoning her with an apple, the witchcraft and transformation scenes of the evil queen to a decrepit old lady, and the nightmarish experience that Snow White had when she ran into the forest. Yet, in a way, I was glad that those elements from the fairy tales of Wilhelm Grimm and Jacob Grimm, from which the picture was based on, remained intact because it kept me engaged, which meant that the older viewers would most likely not get bored by the repetitive singing and dancing. The great artistic endeavor that was “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” opened the door to so many of Disney’s most excellent animated features. Although the film had its flaws, I believe we must honor it not only because it was progressive but also due to the fact that it provided people laughter and hope during the Great Depression.
★★ / ★★★★
Based on a manga by Taiyo Matsumoto, “Tekkonkinkreet” was about two children aimed to protect their city from people who either wanted to change the city for the better or demolish it altogether to build an amusement park. Although the medium is animation, the story is not for children because it is very violent and the issues it tackles are geared more toward adults. While I did admire its ability to take risks, it did not completely work for me because it started out as a story grounded in reality but elements of the paranormal or fantasy somehow was added into the mix. It became really confusing, especially toward the end, not only because the movie simultaneously showed events that were actually happening in the real world, it also showed what was in the characters’ heads, and possibly scenes of the future. Perhaps the reason why I didn’t quite get it was because I needed more background information. But then again I always judge a film as a stand-alone piece of work; it should be able to hold up without having to read the source from which it was based on. Undoubtedly, there were some positive things such as the intense chase scenes and the imagination embedded in the metaphysical and surrealistic scenes. Directed by Michael Arias, I wish “Tekkonkinkreet” had less visual stimulation and instead worked more on its emotional resonance. I was interested in the two main characters’ relationship with each other and their society. It would have been a great opportunity to explore how their role as homeless kids, who had to steal from citizens and live in an abandoned car, was directly affected by cops who really cared about their well-beings (and vice-versa). What I love about animes and animated features in general is that it is limitless when it comes to giving its audiences images and emotions. However, there are those animes that simply fail to get me to care or keep my attention due to that lack of balance between the two. Unfotunately, this film is one of those animated pictures that left me bewildered in a negative way.
Happy Feet (2006)
★★ / ★★★★
An emperor penguin named Mumble (Elijah Wood) was born without a knack for singing, but his talent lies in tapdancing. His colony, aside from his childhood friend (Brittany Murphy) and mother (Nicole Kidman), doesn’t like the fact that he’s different and one of the oldest penguins believe that Mumble was a curse because ever since he was born, food became more scarce. (Talk about correlation does not mean causation.) Determined to prove that his tapdancing has nothing to do with the famine, Mumble, his short penguin friends and Noah the Elder (Hugo Weaving) went on a journey to search for the “aliens” (they were actually humans but they didn’t have the term for it) and kindly ask them through whatever means to stop taking their food. I like children’s movies but I hated the singing and dancing in this movie. I believe those elements took away some of the power (and time) to produce a well-developed story. The message about the humans’ destruction and disruption of the food chain was apparent but there were far too many extended singing and dancing sequences. (And it didn’t help that they weren’t that great to watch or listen to.) My favorite parts in the picture were the scenes that involved real danger for the penguins, such as being chased by a hungry seal, killer whales and birds. Yes, the animation was nothing short of spectacular but it doesn’t make up for its too light a tone about death and destruction. There were definitely some darker moments, especially in the second half when Mumble reached “heaven,” but I felt like George Miller, the director, could have pushed the envelope a little further by showing the audiences certain realities. After all, the point of the picture was the show that animals in the South Pole were struggling for survival. In fact, I think this film would have been far superior if it had ended in a bittersweet tone instead of a typical living-happily-ever-after note. Having said all that, I would have been harsher with this film if it was not intended for children. Given its flaws, it was still pretty entertaining because it had other messages such as tolerance, self-esteem and true friendships.
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008)
★★ / ★★★★
Some people claimed that this was better than the original “Madagascar” flick but I found it to be on the same level–funny here and there but doesn’t add up to anything genuinely deep. Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Jada Pinkett Smith and David Schwimmer lend their voices once again as Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Gloria the Hippo and Melman the Giraffe, respectively. The animal pals wanted to return to New York’s Central Park Zoo but their plane crashed in the middle of an African animal reserve. In there, each of them find a niche, at least for a little while, until they eventually started questioning their identities and what was really important to them. I had the same problems with this film as I did with its predecessor. I thought it started out really great but then after the thirty-minute mark, I found myself not caring and questioned how far I was into the movie. The pacing began to feel a little too slow for my liking and I noticed more and more the film’s glaring flaws. While the picture provided a healthy amount of pop culture references, it did not have enough originality to be more than just another wannabe “Shrek.” Just when I thought it was going to start delving more into the characters’ motivations and inner fears, some random thing would appear on screen and it left me frustrated. What kept me from going off the deep end, however, was its interesting use of word play. Some of those things may go over kids’ heads but adults should get it. I just wished that the story was much stronger. At times I thought I was watching a really bad sequel of “The Lion King” instead of an animated film that has a life of its own. If there happens to be another sequel for the “Madagascar” franchise, I hope the filmmakers tone down the jokes that have nothing to do with its universe and focus more on the emotions rather than the obvious slapstick consisting of jokes related to bodily functions. I know that this is mostly aimed for kids and some of the kids I’ve asked who have seen it said they liked it. Ultimately, I’m giving it a mediocre rating because it really didn’t try to step outside of its comfort zone.