Watching Mary and the Witch’s Flower this weekend made me reflect on animated films and the studios that create them. Mary was made by Studio Ponoc, which was formed when Studio Ghibli looked like it was going to stop making films after the “retirement” of founder Hayao Miyazaki (scare quotes get added as Miyazaki has once again announced his un-retirement to make one more film). Ghibli, of course, has been one of the great animated studios of the last few decades.
I’d argue their closest rival is Pixar and that’s not really a rivalry at all since Pixar’s John Lasseter has been instrumental in bringing Ghibli films to American audiences. Pixar is owned by Disney who could be credited with creating the animated film template as we know it and have been making great (and not-so-great) movies for decades.
What does all of this mean? Not anything really, except that I find it interesting that probably the biggest three names in animated movie making are in some ways connected while still making very distinctive films. There are lots of other studios making animated films, Dreamworks and Laika among them and mostly, I’m just thrilled there are so many fantastic animated films being made that are both thrilling to little kids and thoroughly enjoyable to adults as well.
For years, Pixar was my go-to studio for excellent animated films. For a long time, it seemed like they could do no wrong. Of late, they have started to slip a bit. Ever since Disney bought them outright, they’ve been churning out unnecessary sequels and other films that don’t quite live up to their best. But alongside films like Cars 3 or The Good Dinosaur - good films but definitely second- or third-tier Pixar - there are Inside Out that blow every animated film (and a great many live action) away.
When trailers first dropped for Coco, I wasn’t really impressed. The story looked a little too familiar. In fact, with its colorful animation and plot involving a boy going to the Mexican Land of the Dead, it looked a lot like Book of the Dead. Definitely second-tier Pixar, I thought. Then the reviews came in and it seems like it is one of their best. For reasons that best go unexplained, I did not see the film in theaters like I wanted. But now that it's out on Blu-ray my whole family is super excited.
There are a few version of the film being released. Both Best Buy and Target have exclusive releases with slightly different core art and a variety of different extras so choose wisely friends. Personally, I’ll be heading to Target tomorrow to get my deluxe edition.
Also out this week that looks interesting:
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: Matthew McDonagh’s beautifully sad and hysterically funny film is one of my favorites from last year. You can read Matthew St. Clair’s review here.
Murder on the Orient Express: Kenneth Branagh’s take on the Agatha Christie classic is loaded with stars including Daisy Ridley, Penelope Cruz, Johny Depp, Derek Jacobi, and more. Reviews have been mixed but our own Shawn Bordo put it in his top ten.
Darkest Hour: Gary Oldman stars as Winston Churchill in the period just before Britain enters the war.
Tom Jones (Criterion Collection): Albert Finney stars in this adaptation of the Henry Fielding novel.
Basket Case: Arrow Video works their magic on this 1982 bizarre-o flick about a man who carries his mutant conjoined twin in a wicker basket and has come to unleash revenge on the surgeons who unseparated them.
Hangman: Al Pacino proves he’s still making movies in this thriller about a detective trying to catch a killer who uses the children’s game to commit his murders.
78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene: Documentary about the most famous shower ever taken on film.
Jean-Luc Godard + Jean-Pierre Gorin: Five Films, 1968-1971: In the late '60s, experimental French filmmaker Godard teamed with Moaist student Gorin to make a series of films designed to deconstruct film language and remake it around socialist ideas. Arrow Academy has now released five of those films (A Film Like Any Other, See You at Mao, Wind from the East, Struggles in Italy and Vladimir and Rosa) with their usual flair. Sounds heavy.
Lady and the Tramp: The Signature Collection: Get out your Christmas money and put on some spaghetti for Lady and the Tramp is out of the vault.