a theatre, film & pop culture review
This category is usually such a wasteland of crap, but this year’s crop of nominees is generally delightful, if traditional (and no, I don’t think The LEGO Movie was snubbed). I couldn’t bring myself to watch The Tale of the Princess Kaguya — like last year’s The Wind Rises, it just isn’t my style at all — but it’s unlikely to win.
Of all the nominees, The Boxtrolls definitely has the most unique character. From the makers of the Oscar-nominated Coraline and Paranorman, Graham Annabelle and Anthony Stacchi’s stop-motion film based on the Alan Snow’s 2006 novel Here Be Monsters! follows a boy named Eggs who was raised by cave-dwelling box-clad trolls and has difficulty assimilating to the outside world. The animation of the trolls is endearingly ugly, but neither the plot or the voice work is particularly memorable.
Big Hero 6 is a beautifully animated, corporate-clever combination of the Disney and Marvel brands (the latter now owned by Disney). The action-adventure comedy recounts the bond that develops between a giant Pillsbury Doughboy-like inflatable robot named Baymax and a kid prodigy who turns him and his techie friends into a group of technologically tricked-out super-heroes in the futuristic city of San Fransokyo. The state-of-the-art animation is vibrant and accessible and the relationships resonate nicely (especially between the rebellious Hiro and his encouraging older brother), even if the plot isn’t as satisfying as you hope it to be.
How to Train Your Dragon 2, on the other hand, is teeming with bright, sleek animation – that Toothless is just the gosh-darndest-cutest dragon ever with his big green eyes and mischievous grin – and big issues. This isn’t just another funny-cute cartoon; director Dean DeBlois plays up the allegories and encourages audiences to ponder – and accept – human (racial) differences, along with the more obvious anti-war and be-kind-to-animals messaging (not unlike another nominee from this Oscar season, The Dawn of the Planet of the Apes). There’s a lot going on here, both animation-wise – those super-speedy sky-war sequences are thrilling – and thematically. Only one other sequel has previously won this award (Toy Story 3), but that shouldn’t stop Dragon – which has nabbed six Annies and the Golden Globe – from taking home the Oscar.
But voters could be distracted by Irish animator Tomm Moore’s luscious hand-drawn take on Celtic selkie mythology (his second nomination after The Secret of the Kells). In Song of the Sea, a silent little girl named Saoirse and her uncompromising big brother attempt to discover why, one night, their mother simply disappeared into the sea. Intriguingly crafted characters of geometric shapes with large eyes and bobble-heads, and scenic backdrops awash in painterly pastels, culminates in animation that dazzles the eye as well as the heart. But the kids take a circuitous, hauntingly scored journey that is more poetic than plotted, and its musically-led meandering will turn off the traditional-narrative purists.