The Sword in the Stone (1963)

The Sword in the Stone (1963)

To begin, I thought I should note that this is the Disney film where the team emotionally torments that poor chipmunk character, and also mention that The Sword in the Stone isn’t an exploration of the Arthurian legend.

That timeless Chip ‘n’ Dale chipmunk design

Instead, I think you can consider it more of a series of fun, loosely connected sequences put together to delight young children with colour and slapstick. Which is not a bad thing at all, and it was a film I watched over and over as a kid on my grandmother’s TV, so I have fond memories indeed!

And it’s always great to see Disney’s love of forests on display too, something I notice and compare each time I watch a Disney film. Most of Arthur’s transformations make for exciting scenes but as an adult, I could feel certain moments starting to drag a little, and others felt a little rushed compared to what I sought from a King Arthur/Merlin tale.

Feels like you could draw a neat link from this scene to ‘Finding Nemo’

One scene that sticks around a little long for me is obviously the squirrel one, whereas anything in the city tends to be a more rushed. Having Wart’s character voiced by three actors (including two brothers which was cool) made the variance between them quite stark, even too stark at times.

Overall, I don’t want to call The Sword in the Stone a bad film but there are enough better Disney ones to maybe seek out first. I still enjoyed the moat chase and the dueling magicians (when Merlin confronts Madam Mim) but I wasn’t enchanted this time around.

3 Stars 

Classic Dinsey to bring in the present to any historical story.

Treasure Planet

I believe Treasure Planet was at one point among the most expensive animated films ever made, and while that obviously didn’t automatically make it brilliant, I think the movie is still pretty great.

Treasure Planet (2002)

Equally, it’s ‘under-performance’ box-office wise doesn’t automatically make it poor, either.

To me, this early 2000s era of Disney is kind of a push toward making animated films for somewhat older audiences. This one and Atlantis or even Hercules perhaps, seem to point to that (since-abandoned) trend, but most folks consider the time period as a slump for the company.

Still, tweaking Robert Louis Stephenson’s Treasure Island and transferring it into a sci-fi setting definitely let the artists showcase a new world and fun ideas (like the solar surfing) while at the same time holding onto a tried and true storyline.

For me, everything pretty much works great in the change from sea pirates to sky pirates.

There are a few aspects I didn’t love (like poor old Ben), but they were minor. One thing that stood out were the performances, especially Brian Murray as John Silver and David Hyde Pierce as Dr Doppler, though it was impossible not to hear Niles Crane the whole time 😀 (I was also thrilled to recognise Roscoe Lee Browne as Mr Arrow.)

While I’ve hinted at the maybe slightly older audience here, our hero Jim never crosses over into what could be called ‘cold-blooded, weapons-based violence’ – even to save himself. So that’s one reason for me to note that it’s still clearly a PG text, but that’s not a mark against the film either.

There’s a classic, adventure mix of action, suspense, mystery and exploration in Treasure Planet but above all for me, I think it’s the mentor/surrogate father figure relationship that keeps everything together.

4 Stars

This is what I always think of as the ‘One-Eyed Willie’ homage, just with bonus eyes of course.

Mushi-Shi: Next Passage (Mushishi: Zoku-Shō)

Mushi-Shi: Next Passage (Mushishi: Zoku-Shō) 2014

Nine years passed between the release of Mushi-Shi (2005) and Mushi-Shi (Next Passage) and I’m glad I didn’t have to wait that long myself 🙂

For me, having come to the first series late, I was lucky to be able to watch both reasonably close together… but now, after having finished, I’m also sad that there’s only a few specials left for me to seek out. Still, I can easily re-watch an episode here and there because both seasons are truly episodic.

Lazily, I’m going to quote from my first review for the premise:

Mushi-Shi is full of fable-like episodes that seem to draw on equal parts Japanese folklore and creator Yuki Urushibara’s fantastic imagination, exploring the lives of regular and remarkable people in an almost-Edo-period-setting that includes lots of supernatural elements mixed in with the natural world.

There are plenty of similarities between the two series – for one, Ginko is still the central character but not a character that needs to hog all the screen-time; you’ll get to know the people whose lives he changes too but no storyline drags. You’ll also get an ending with each episode and usually, meet a new and fantastical mushi each time.

Next Passage is still quite calm in many ways, often sombre too, but that doesn’t mean the anime is without tension. Mostly, I guess I’m referring to production techniques and pacing when I claim that it is ‘calm’. Again, once more the natural world dominates the screen, both beautiful and disconcerting as Ginko travels through the seasons.

One change I did notice seems to be the colour – this season feels a little more vibrant and even more picturesque; it’s usually very soothing. Even the darker episodes seem almost ‘warm’, like ‘The Hand That Caresses the Night’ for example, with the yellows, greens and browns.

If you enjoyed the first season then this will satisfy on every level I think – there’s even an episode with a little more about Ginko’s past, so I was pretty happy to see that. It’s hard to choose a favourite few episodes this time around, but ‘Floral Delusion’ comes to mind for sure.

4 Stars

Hercules

Hercules (1997)

Disney have obviously been at the forefront of adapting, sanitising and/or pillaging myth and fairytales* for many moons now. And it seems, especially commercially-speaking, that when they keep the stories happy, and ensure that it’s very easy to understand who is ‘good’ and who is ‘evil’, people are pleased.

However, I feel as though audiences aren’t too willing to let the company stray very far from that formula.

And part of me thinks Hercules might have been an early step toward less binary representations of good and evil, and maybe pointed toward an attempted change. It’s a change that I think comes to at least one end point with Atlantis. (Especially if I include Treasure Planet in that progression).

Hercules is probably closer to Aladdin in some ways, and watching it again much later, I can see why it did the usual big numbers. This time around, I probably focused on different things, especially the artwork and character design, though the story is a fun adventure and I think the liberties it takes with the family of Gods works quite well to make things a little more kid-friendly.

You also get plenty of exaggeration in character movement and faces, to keep that slapstick front and centre. As you might expect with Disney, there are also plenty of ‘modern’ pop culture references, with the Air Jordan stuff working best for me.

I want to come back to where I see a reasonably non-typical Disney character moving the needle toward morally grey, but for now I’m sticking with the visuals. I loved the sense of scale in the film – there’s a whole heap of extreme wide shots and towering structures, stunning locations and colours, typically beautiful Disney stuff.

But there’s definitely a Mediterranean look to the countryside and the character designs, which were based on work by cartoonist Gerald Scarfe. I remember him most from Pink Floyd’s The Wall and you can definitely see his touch even in the finished, more rounded/tidier Disney designs. I’m pretty sure this is a sketch he did for Hades:

To switch to the cast for a moment, Danny Devito stood out and so did James Woods as Hades. Not sure what the actor was like back in the late 1990s but he seems to get attention for different things nowadays. Susan Egan (who I usually associate with Lin from Spirited Away), is also great as Meg; and that’s who I wanted to mention earlier.

Meg is a character with motivations that are not so clear cut at first. I’m not sure how younger viewers would have responded to her, but in a way she becomes the most interesting character in the film and it feels like she’s one example of cautious steps by Disney directors to shift away from the ‘kids’ category, for at least some of the time.

In any event, I enjoyed Hercules and one of my only concerns was the Muses… On one hand, the designs and animation upon the clay pots were great but the gospel didn’t work for me because it seemed somehow borderline tokenism? I dunno, can’t figure it out yet. Maybe I’m off-base, and I’d like to be wrong there.

4 Stars

* And other stories, of course.

Dragon Quest : Your Story (Doragon Kuesuto Yua Sutōrī)

Dragon Quest: Your Story (Doragon Kuesuto Yua Sutōrī) 2019

Being a fan of JRPGs, I found myself waiting quite keenly for the Switch edition of Dragon Quest XI and really enjoyed playing it last year.

Flash forward to now and I was happy to stumble across Your Story.

It’s a classic fantasy, adventure film that adapts the storyline from the fifth Dragon Quest game, blending action, humour and magic nicely to my eye. Again, I’m on record plenty of times as being wary of CGI and anime, but everything looked top-notch to me and perhaps I was less inclined to feel like it didn’t suit, because I associated everything here with the game visuals rather than 2D anime.

On that note, I’d argue that you can definitely watch this film without being familiar with the game series – and a point of interest for me was that the narrative spans a fair few years, and more than one generation as well, but does so in such a way that doesn’t make things feel disconnected either.

Quite thrilling for me, as a fan of DQXI, was hearing the game’s OST in the film, and each instance certainly fit the storyline. Also appearing in were the now-classic ‘slimes’ and other creatures – and though the usual look of other Akira Toriyama character designs didn’t appear in the same, distinctive way as in the games perhaps, they still worked for me.

I will just note that maybe, if you’ve played any of the games, you might get a few more references or easter-egg kinda things, but again, it should still be enjoyable for someone who isn’t necessarily a fan of the series too. (I certainly wouldn’t go so far as to say it’d be suitable for little kids… but it’s probably aimed somewhere between tweens and adults perhaps).

4 Stars

The Weathering Continent (Kaze no Tairiku)

The Weathering Continent (Kaze no Tairiku) (1992)

Lots of pastel-ish tones in this film, which really adds to the bleakness.

I missed The Weathering Continent back in the 1990s but I know it would have caught my eye if the film had actually had any chance of being screened in Australia – but then, at the time of the movie’s release I was probably watching Astro Boy re-runs (along with He-Man, She-Ra and Voltron).

And then, a few years later, by the mid-90s, it was all about Neon Genesis!

Still, I’m glad I’ve now seen The Weathering Continent because I know I’ll watch it again one day, since I enjoyed it so much.

It really walks the line between creepy and haunting so well, aided by a barren but not empty setting. The story follows three wanderers as they traverse a wasteland-like Atlantis, but it’s not a quest to discover ancient wonders – it’s more like a struggle to survive an ancient, cursed place.

I’m not sure I should try to categorise The Weathering Continent as ‘cult’ or ‘overlooked’ and I’m not coming up with a lot of info re: how it was received upon release, but I know it did have a theatrical run, though it’s not ‘feature length’ at 50-odd minutes. This anime is not something I suspect you’ll be able to stream easily, but I found a DVD via good old ebay, and it has a great, landscape sleeve:

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51AGu829N7L._SX425_.jpg

Anyway, it was of course easy for me to learn that the film is an adaptation of a light novel series by Sei Takekawa (illustrations by Mutsumi Inomata) and that it was directed by Kōichi Mashimo. Mashimo’s name caught my eye because of Eat-Man and Noir, so it was interesting to see that same moodiness from the first Eat-Man here. However, unlike Noir the action is sparse in The Weathering Continent.

But when it occurs it certainly looks good – this is from Production IG before they changed their name, and character design stands out to me as well, obviously very 1990s. But above all, it is the city where the bulk of the story takes place that enthralled me, and yes the architecture and use of mostly sombre colours and detail is great, but the inhabitants themselves were what had me hooked, those masks and costumes!

Again, I wanted to share a lot more shots of the masks and the city but I restrained myself

I’ve had to fight the urge not to screen-cap the hell out of this one, because on the off-chance that you might want to see this film, I don’t want to spoil too much, yet I want to evoke enough to get you curious at least 😀

That’s probably enough rhapsodising from me, I think – basically, if you’re in the mood for a sword and sorcery anime that is also heavy on atmosphere (but a fairly light on plot), then this lesser-known film from Mashimo should satisfy.

4 Stars

TTGL Collab with Scott from Mechanical Anime

Here it is!

I’ve been (typically?) awfully busy of late, and so a combination of scheduled posts + random bursts of energy have kept me in the blogging game, but today I want to share something that was heaps of fun and which I worked on with Scott for a while (I slowed things down a few times, sadly).

It’s a collaboration post on Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (which I’d never seen before!) and it was awesome to work with Scott, who knows so much about Mecha and so if you’ve got a few mins and you want to check out what we talked about just take a look at the link below 🙂

Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann Collaboration.

It’s my second collaboration post so far and I hope to do more in the future!

Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet (Suisei no Gargantia)

Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet (Suisei no Gargantia) 2013

Once again, I’m going to fight my urge to ramble here – so, that means just a few paragraphs now, focusing on Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet this time.

If you’ve never come across this series I think I’ll mention that it stands out in the mecha genre a bit, in no small part due to the amazing setting. For me, I could have watched ten extra episodes more in line with the first half of Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, which had a fun slice-of-life feel at times, as the characters go about their business upon a verdant and vibrant, connected fleet of ships. Likewise, I could have enjoyed the scenery just as long – it’s bright and textured, yet didn’t feel repetitive; I left off sure that we could have explored a lot more.

The show delves into the requisite fan-service at times, but the main focus in Gargantia… (aside from the eventual re-emergence of the science-fiction) is probably pilot Ledo’s faltering attempts to understand a new culture. I really enjoyed seeing his trials there, both with language and ideology, but for action fans you’ll be given more battles and violence in the last few episodes. There, a lot of the warmth is jettisoned, along with lead character Amy’s role but I suppose in exchange for that you do get some development from a different character – the somewhat dubious Pinion.

In some ways this is like two halves of a longer series condensed into one short series, where the ‘science-fiction space war’ part is mostly placed aside as the hero adapts to his new circumstances. Seen that way, I think Gargantia… has a fair bit in common with the First Contact sub-genre, only it’s one kind of human meeting others.

The anime looks great of course, with Production IG at the helm, but if you were hunting down the works of Gen Urobuchi don’t expect something like Pyscho-Pass… though there is a sub-plot featuring a cult here that would have fit into that dystopia. If you like mech design for salvaging as much as for fighting, and if you want some comedy and a fresh setting to go with your science-fiction, then I reckon you’d enjoy this despite some uneven aspects for me.

3 Stars

Ah, yes – the time-honoured tradition in anime of having animals resting on the heads of characters.

Sands of Destruction (World Destruction: Sekai Bokumetsu no Rokunin)

Sands of Destruction (World Destruction: Sekai Bokumetsu no Rokunin) 2008

Anime adaptations of games seem generally fraught with risk in my mind – and yet I can’t actually think of a tonne that I’ve seen and disliked, and instead, one obvious success seems to come to mind whenever I do think of games and anime, Steins;Gate.

But I’ll get to Sands of Destruction now.

So, even if individual elements didn’t always feel top-notch, I definitely enjoyed the anime and like other reasonably episodic shows, I was able to watch an episode here and there between other titles and not miss a beat.

Production I.G must have faced a fair amount of restriction in terms of what they could do because the series had to be linked to the DS game, but I thought the humour usually worked and while the setting and storyline is very much ‘classic fantasy’ (with an oppressive society for the characters to rail against) that was certainly enough for me 🙂

There were a few surprises and the pacing of each story drew me along nicely – one stand out was the ‘Dr Elephant’ episode, but overall the scene-stealer was usually Toppy. A tiny, teddy-bear-looking, monologue-ing hero, he was pretty great, I reckon. Toppy also scored a lot of great lines and moments, and to my surprise, the character-affectation of adding ‘kuma’ to the end of every single sentence was not as annoying as I thought it would be.

Eventually.

At first it bugged me a bit.

Elsewhere, I enjoyed the non-human character design more than the human design for the most part, and I felt like I was craving a few extra threads from the main plot to appear earlier than they do, but maybe it’s a minor quibble. The animation wasn’t always knock-out stuff but nor was it poor – at all.

I believe that if the show’s style of humour works for you then that will be enough to lift other elements that will probably seem a little standard. If not, you might not enjoy Sands of Destruction that much.

3 Stars

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (Fushigi no Umi no Nadia) – Nadia vs Atlantis

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (Fushigi no Umi no Nadia) 1990 / Atlantis: The Lost Empire 2001

I wanted this post to be far more comprehensive than I ended up being able to manage, but hopefully it still covers a bit of ground.

Partly that’s because I’ve ran out of time, partly because there’s a lot I could cover, and thirdly, I came across a lot of dead/partially functioning links that I expected to be able to draw from but couldn’t get much use out of – like this comparison. It’s missing the images but is still useful in terms of text, though it too, features broken links now. The internet is getting old, folks!

This debate has gone on since previews of Atlantis were released probably twenty years ago now, and since then I haven’t totally been able to come down on one side over the other… but more on that at the end – here’s a clue however; I think we’re all aware of Disney’s The Lion King and how they treated Kimba the White Lion.

So, basically, we have Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (1990) and Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001) where the latter shares many similarities in plot, setting and design but does differ in some ways. I think it’s also clear that both Nadia and Atlantis owe a lot to the works of Jules Verne.

On that note, here’s part of a handy table I found within a great article over at Anime News Network:

It’s longer in the article and I think it’s worth a visit, certainly for the full comparison table if nothing else.

The table clearly shows that both texts owe a serious debt to the books. However, a lot of the concerns aimed at Atlantis do rest on the visuals rather than just the storyline. I was unable to personally make the images that are scattered throughout this article, but the ones you see came from some of the things I’ve linked to or sometimes Pinterest, actually.

Now, some articles on this topic seem to come down to something like “Atlantis was clearly influenced by Nadia but not enough to say outright plagiarism” or simply say that “well yeah, but they’re both using Verne”.

Related to the idea that this controversy should probably include three texts and not two, I want to quickly bring up the notion of Idea vs Execution, because we know that intellectual property laws can only protect one and not the other. Of course, whether something is legally permissible and whether something ought to have been done is probably a different question.

There’s a position put forth by an academic* Marc Hairston that suggests certain extremely general mythological tropes would have influenced both film teams separately, which I found interesting. In his piece (scroll a bit) he addresses and refutes (perhaps) similarities between plot and ship and character design.

Here’s a quote from the article focusing on Jean for one:

Both Gainax and Disney put glasses on Jean and Milo as visual shorthand to make sure you knew from the start that this is a “smart” character. But it’s hardly original. Here’s a short list of other “smart” characters with glasses in animation: Mr. Peabody from Rocky and Bullwinkle, Busby Birdwell from the 1970s tv animated series Fantastic Voyage, Mac the Scottish engineer chicken in Chicken Run, Tombo from Kiki’s Delivery Service, Doc in Snow White (see how far back this is going?). So both Jean and Milo are the same character type, but that is hardly proof that Disney borrowed the idea from Nadia. They could just as easily have borrowed the idea from Mr. Peabody.

Sounds more than reasonable, right? Haiston also talks about the ‘midriff’ outfits of both Nadia and Kida both being ways to get some skin onscreen under PG restrictions, and further notes:

In any case if the Disney animators wanted to differentiate Princess Kida from the other characters who are all anglo or European, then the quickest visual shorthand is to make her dark-skinned (just as the Gainax did with Nadia).

Sounds like a similar move used with the ‘one character with red hair’ in an anime – obviously, the colour is code for ‘fiery’ or at the very least, lets the character stand out amongst the cast and any background visuals. It’s efficient shorthand.

He also mentions the magic gems – considering them to be basically “stock motif” which I think is pretty spot on. Still on the magical gemstones for a moment:

“Good energy” from a magic object is almost always portrayed as blue-white; “evil energy” from a magic object is almost always shown as reddish in color.

Something I believe we could all see across the history of pretty much all film and literature. This makes it harder to say Disney saw Nadia using a blue gem with blazing light and copied that moment for their film Atlantis, right?

Now, I want to note that Marc Hairston’s piece was written before the film Atlantis was actually released (as he freely admits), and I believe his thoughts were based on the preview only. So far, I haven’t found him writing on the film after having seen it.

When trying to demonstrate that one team has copied another team’s execution of an idea I think things become murky around information pertaining to motive and opportunity (that makes this sound like a crime show). On one hand, it’s all on the screen. On the other, when what’s on the screen can be argued to be close but not exactly the same… how do we discount the possibility of coincidence? Especially considering both texts ultimately share the same source, in Verne’s work.

One way to seek clarity on the issue seems to be attempting an interrogation of whether creators of Atlantis were in a certain place at a certain time and could be reasonably expected to have been exposed to the source text (Nadia here) or were fans of anime etc etc (I know that in the case of The Lion King there are accounts of Disney’s team that leave little doubt as to exactly what happened there).

So, first-hand accounts of the production or responses from the creators then? I wasn’t able to hunt down dozens of them:

Don Hahn, and Gary Trousdale, producer and co-director of the Disney movie, both expressed surprise when asked about the similarities during a recent interview. But during the same interview, Trousdale also identified himself as a fan of anime, as is fellow director Kirk Wise. For both of them, the works of Hayao Miyazaki (Kiki’s Delivery Service, My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke) are a major influence in their own work.

https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/feature/2001-05-15

Co-director Kirk Wise said:

“Never heard of NADIA till it was mentioned in [the rec.arts.disney.animation] newsgroup. Long after we’d finished production, I might add.”

Disney animation newsgroup

So, if we accept the not unreasonable idea that both texts use common tropes and motifs along with both being based on works of Jules Verne, then maybe there’s less of a case here…

But let’s now hear from Gainax – long quote, sorry:

Mr. Akai: When [Disney’s] Atlantis got released, NHK actually asked [Gainax] what exactly they thought…They were kind of puzzled because they are kind of a subsidiary and it was not like [Gainax] had any kind of decision making power. So they were mystified as to why NHK bothers asking them.
On the internet, there was a lot of talk about how Atlantis was so similar to Nadia. Of course, Disney says that they have never seen or heard of a series called Nadia. NHK came to Gainax because of this and asked them how they felt about this implication that Disney was plagiarizing the series. [Gainax] didn’t really have anything to say because they weren’t the parent corporation. It was not like they had any rights anyways.
Mr. Yamaga: We actually tried to get NHK to pick a fight with Disney, [Laughter] but even the National Television Network of Japan didn’t dare to mess with Disney and their lawyers. What we said to [NHK] was, this really had nothing to do with us but if it did we would definitely take them to court. Of course, it is all a lie. We actually did say that but we wouldn’t actually take [Disney] to court. We would be so terrified about what they would do to [NHK] in return that we wouldn’t dare.”

Seems pretty clear to me what Nadia’s team felt about the Disney film and again, visually, the similarities are many. Verne wasn’t always describing some of the things that occur in both film texts and so the question lingers in the minds of folks all over, I suspect.

Could Disney, well-aware of how they’d been caught out with The Lion King, have made sure that Atlantis was ‘different enough’ to Nadia to keep things ambiguous? Or at the least, not easy to litigate? That sounds like a conspiracy theory, I guess.

But then, as Gainax mentioned:

 

Even if individual creators on the project may not have set out to copy anything directly, for me, it really comes down to the fact that after The Lion King I don’t believe Disney are trustworthy.


And done! Nine posts on Nadia complete!

Thanks for reading them and I hope it made you curious about the show or at least, included some interesting stuff you may or may not have stumbled across before 🙂

*Marc Hairston is actually a space physicist, which is fascinating 🙂