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Animation earns split decision

Reeling It In

Posted: Thursday, November 29, 2007

 

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  "Beowulf" Paramount 1 hour, 53 minutes

"Enchanted"

Disney

1 hour, 47 minutes

Barry Wetcher

Cartoons used to be nothing more than kiddie-fare, but recently, animation has entered a new era of respectability, thanks in part to graphic novels, Japanese Anime, and the intense photo-realism offered up by Pixar and others. Animation makes possible the realization of a director's vision, in ways that never were before, and the trend now is toward cartoons with real, adult stories, or live-action films with so much seamless integration of computer animation so as to make "Roger Rabbit" look like a child's sketch book. This week saw two films tackle the medium in different ways, with surprising results.

Disney, a company known both for rigorous standards of moral decency, and a rigorous adoration of the almighty dollar, may have finally learned to loosen up and laugh at itself without sacrificing every principle that it claims to hold. "Enchanted," a cartoon-fairy-tale-come-to-life is much more clever, heart-warming, and hilarious than you would ever imagine it could be. This is almost entirely a result of good writing, and excellent casting, especially in the person of Amy Adams, who perfectly embodies the beautiful every-princess, Giselle.

 

"Beowulf"

Paramount

1 hour, 53 minutes

The film begins as a traditional, hand-drawn cartoon, with our heroine, singing in the morning and bemoaning the lack of a prince to sweep her off her feet and plant "true love's kiss" on her perfect lips. Little does she know, however, that her prince is within singing distance, her sweet voice calling to him, and to the ogre he happens to have apprehended. After much mayhem, the prince and his princess fall in love and plan to marry the following day.

Naturally, the wicked stepmother will have none of this and lures Giselle to a wishing well, pushing her over the edge. Down, down she falls, until she arrives, confused and alone, in ... New York City. Now the fun begins.

Disney has made millions on the classic "fish out of water" story, but rarely has it been able to offer it up with such wit. You can see the jokes coming but Adams, who has brilliant comic timing, and her co-stars play them perfectly. I was also pleased with the writing which, though it never got very complex, made the most of the simple situation-comedy it was offering, and only twice resorted to crude toilet humor even that was mild, but irritating.

To say the least, I was pleasantly surprised to find that "Enchanted" was really a lot of fun. Silly and simple, but fun nonetheless.

Not silly or simple, but ridiculously constructed is the competing "cartoon" at the box office. "Beowulf" could have been a very cool movie had it not been made a video game instead. Director Robert Zemeckis, eschewing his obvious talent for live-action, has instead decided to return to world of the soulless, zombie-dolls of "The Polar Express," in order to tell this oldest of adventure stories.

Beowulf, a boastful warrior from across the sea, has arrived just in time to save the kingdom from the hideous monster Grendel. Little does he know that there is much more in store for this hero than simply a battle with a demon. There's plastic-Angelina Jolie love, toy-horse rides, and two hours of ridiculous and completely unnecessary "camera" effects.

"Beowulf" is a cool story and, as far as the writing goes, this film is top-notch. An unnecessarily silly double-entendre or two aside, I was impressed with the dialogue, the character development, and the epic nature of the story which manages to capture both the best and worst of the nature of man, while staying reasonably faithful to the source material.

But why couldn't they have just made this movie instead of going to these idiotic lengths to animate it? Created with high-tech motion-capture technology, most of what you see of the characters is the actual performance of the actors, just much faker looking.

The landscapes, the fire, the water, the animals everything is computer animated, with varying levels of quality, but it's the people that're the real problem. What Zemeckis and his animators fail to grasp is that, while you may be able to accurately create every hair on Beowulf's head, you can't give him actual life. It's the fact that they come close which makes that lack of spark very creepy.

I've no doubt this movie would have been impressive in 3-D, on a giant IMAX screen, but even that couldn't bring this story to life as well as simply allowing it's stellar cast to actually act could have. At first glance, "Beowulf" would appear to have it all, but the visuals are so distracting that it's impossible to tell if there is anything at its heart.

"Enchanted"

Grade: B+,

"Enchanted" is rated PG for mild innuendo.

"Beowulf"

Grade: C-

"Beowulf" is rated PG-13 for intense violence, language, gore, sexual situations, and lots of nudity. Oh, but it's a cartoon, so it must be for kids. No way that deserves an R, right?

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.



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