A Media Comment: Animated Feature ≠ “Kid’s Movie”

"Hiccup" from DreamWorks' How To Train Your Dragon 2

“Hiccup” from DreamWorks’ How To Train Your Dragon 2

Have you seen DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon 2 yet? If not, do so – it’s a fantastic animated feature that, in a roundabout way, is the basis for this post.  While I was surfing Facebook, I saw Moviepilot Animation’s article:  So Let’s Talk About How To Train Your Dragon’s Gay Character.  Upon completing the article, I read through a few of the responses, but the top rated response said:

“He is not gay…my god its. A kids movie..people are such idiots trying to make something out of nothing…get a hobby!”

While those of you who know me may think this will focus on the emergence of openly gay characters in animated movies, it won’t.  Trust me, I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a research article analyzing gay characters in animated movies.  That project looks more like a go every day.  Instead, I’m going to comment on why ANIMATED FEATURE does not equal KID’S MOVIE.

This is something that’s bothered me immensely over the years, leaving me curious to know:  Why do so many people say animated movies are just for kids? Is it the bright and bold color, the catchy musical numbers (ahem, Frozen - I know, I should just “Let It Go”), or is it simply because it’s animated? A cartoon.  I can’t figure it out.

Now, if you’re like me, you love animated features – and you like to go to the theater while schools are in session, so that you may enjoy them without all the chatterbox-children around.  But doesn’t it just so happen that kids are almost always on break when the animated features flood the box office? It does. Then, you go to the theater not thinking much of it and surprise! A million kids.  The kids aren’t the problem though, it’s their chaperoning adult(s), right?

I generally make it a point to see every animated feature that comes out.  I’ve loved them since I was a child – and since the emergence of Pixar, the ante’s been upped!  Many more animated features are sophisticated and contain social commentaries (ex. openly gay characters emerging in animated features), subtle humor and storylines for adults.  The [mostly] breathtaking animation is still there, but that’s for the enjoyment of everyone right? So I can’t figure out why when I walk into a theater full of kids I’m shot a dirty look from time to time.  Am I not allowed to see an animated feature in theaters if I don’t have children?  Because I’m seeing the movie alone, am I weird? …or worse, a suspected pedophile?

On countless occasions, I’ve had friends tell me they wanted to see whatever the newest animated feature was, but they can’t go alone because “it’d be weird.” Why is it weird? Why can grown men or women not go see an animated movie alone? Who says and what authority do they have? Then I think, it all comes back to this idea that animated features are “Kids’ Movies.”

Newsflash: They’re not.

Animated features, like all other Hollywood productions are rated in accordance with the MPAA.  Generally, these movies are rated G or PG (you can explore all that who, how, etc. here), but that alone doesn’t mean the movie is strictly for kids. When I envision kid-centric entertainment, I think of programming like Baby Einstein, or Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, just to list some obvious (TV) examples.

Carl and Ellie from Disney-Pixar's Up

Carl and Ellie from Disney-Pixar’s Up

Have you seen the Shrek or Ice Age franchises? I don’t think I need to elaborate on all of that adult humor.  What about more subtle movies like Disney-Pixar’s Up?  The entire Carl-Ellie relationship is adult-oriented, as is the “Married Life” montage.  Sure, it’s brightly colored and full of wondrous imagination and imagery, but Up‘s core (its heart) appeals to both children and adults.  My point is, these animated features are made for the enjoyment of everyone.

By design, animated features resonate with each of us differently.  They could inspire a child to become an animator.  They are proponents of imagination (children may want to be ruling princesses or explorers imagining great adventures of their own).  In the same way kids are inspired, adults may find humor, they may reminisce of days gone by, or they may be inspired themselves.  An adult may write that book or screenplay they always wanted to write, or to take the adventure they’d always imagined (I went to New Orleans in 2012 because of The Princess and the Frog), or just to laugh and love as much as the animated feature suggests.  Through the lens of adulthood we “see” and take away more from animated features, we understand their souls and not just the pretty pictures.

Now please, don’t think my last statement discredits a child’s ability to understand a movie (or any piece of media or art).  I’m the last person that would do that.  In fact, in my own endeavors, I find myself fighting for the kids, saying they deserve complexity, subtlety and perfection in the media they may consume.  What I am saying, is that adults have a greater understanding (sometimes) and that just because it’s animated doesn’t mean it’s not for them too.

Call it a Family Movie or better yet, just call it what it is – an animated feature or an animated movie – but unless it’s directly stated to be so, don’t call it a “Kid’s Movie.”  Recognize they’re made for the enjoyment of everyone – take away the weirdness and the odd looks.  Give everyone the chance to be inspired, just because you’re grown doesn’t mean you don’t need it.   Go watch any one of your childhood favorites now, and as Beauty and The Beast suggests:

“There may be something there that wasn’t there before.”

I’d like to know, is there a movie you feel bridges the gap between childhood and adulthood?  What are some of your favorite animated moments or quotes?  How about your favorite animated characters and why? What themes do you see in animated features that appeal to adults?  Let’s talk in the comments section!

An Oscar Note.

The 85th Academy Awards® will air live on Oscar® Sunday, February 24, 2013.

The Oscars (the 86th Annual Academy Awards) are finally here! This is the night (most – okay, maybe half) movie lovers look forward to.  We’ll watch with anticipation, hoping our favorite movies and actors go home with a little golden man named Oscar – and let me tell you, that Oscar is one desirable dude – he’s flawless, and he’ll always stay that way … did I mention, he’s gold and he usually makes you rich … I’d really love to take him to bed… Oops, I’ve digressed.

Let It GoWhere was I? Right – this is a night to look forward because not only did 2013 have some amazing movies, but the actors in those movies turned out some incredible performances.  If the roles from the nominated actors and actresses weren’t enough for you, the Oscars will feature some of the most anticipated musical performances, including Idina Menzel singing “Let It Go” (original song from Frozen), Bette Midler performing for the first time on the Oscars telecast, and a special appearance (billed as “epic”) by Pink.

Hosted by Ellen DeGeneres, the show promises appearances by Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Lawrence, and Kerry Washington (that’s right, the Oscars are about to get “Poped” because you know there’s about to be a scandal!).

Click here for the 2013 Bobby James Awards + Top 25 Movies of 2013

Before I get too involved with my “predictions” (where I rely on my “hopes” to make choices…must stop that…because it leaves me with a 50%-ish accuracy level), I must pose two questions for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences:  Why are there not performance awards for actors and actresses in supporting and leading voice-over roles? It’s 2014! Toy Story 3 was a serious contender for “Best Picture” three years ago – better yet, Beauty and the Beast almost won 12 years ago! – and to think, their talented casts would be unrecognized in acting categories!  It’s time for change!

Some of cinema’s most beloved characters are from animations – don’t the actors and actresses responsible for bringing them to life and endearing them to audiences (with just their voices) deserve to be recognized? Where’s the statuette for the Jodi Bensons (voice of “Ariel” [The Little Mermaid], “Barbie” [Toy Story 2 and 3], and “Thumbelina” [Thumbelina]) and Tom Hanks (voice of “Woody” [Toy Story franchise]) of the world. These actors provide voices for their characters, but also for generations to come.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - Andy Serkis…and while I’m at it, where is the Oscar for Performance in a Performance Capture role? Highly talented actors and actresses go unrecognized, yet their work is unmatched in restraint and physical demand.  The best example of this would be Andy Serkis, who plays “Gollum” in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the new Hobbit franchise, as well as “Caesar” in the rebooted Planet of the Apes blockbusters.  Or how about Zoe Saldana, who was widely praised for her performance as “Neytiri” in AVATAR. People know and imitate these characters – they’re inspiring any number of young/aspiring actors…

Now, as I step off the soap-box, I see no reason to not get right down to it.  I’m predicting the biggest night for 12 Years a Slave and Gravity with appearances by Dallas Buyers ClubFrozen, and American Hustle. Here are my predictions (and hopes – though I’ll try to dial them back a bit) for the 86th Annual Academy Awards:

Best Picture:   12 Years a Slave (winner)

Actor in a Leading Role:  Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club (winner)

Actress in a Leading Role:  Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine (winner)

Actor in a Supporting Role:  Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club (winner)

Actress in a Supporting Role:  Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave (winner)

Best Animated Feature:  Frozen (winner)

Cinematography:  Gravity – Emmanuel Lubezki (winner)

Costume Design:  American Hustle - Michael Wilkinson (winner: The Great Gatsby - Catherine Martin)

Best Directing:  Steve McQueen – 12 Years a Slave (winner: Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity)

Documentary Feature:  The Act of Killing (winner: 20 Feet from Stardom)

Documentary Short:  n/a  (winner: The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved my Life)

Film Editing:  Gravity - Alfonso Cuaron, Mark Sanger (winner)

Best Foreign Language Film:  The Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium) (winner: The Great Beauty – Italy)

Best Makeup and Hairstyling:  Dallas Buyers Club (winner)

Best Original Score:  Saving Mr. Banks - Thomas Newman (winner: Gravity - Steven Price)

Best Original Song:  “Let It Go” – Frozen (winner)

Best Production Design:  12 Years a Slave – Adam Stockhausen, Alice Baker (winner: The Great Gatsby)

Best Animated Short Film:  Get a Horse - Lauren MacMullin, Dorothy McKim (winner: Mr. Hublot)

Best Live-Action Short Film:  n/a (winner: Helium)

Best Sound Editing:  Gravity – Glenn Freemantle (winner)

Best Sound Mixing:  Gravity - Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead, Chris Munro (winner)

Best Visual Effects:  Gravity - Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, Dave Shirk, Neil Corbould (winner)

Best Adapted Screenplay:  12 Years a Slave - John Ridley (winner)

Best Original Screenplay:  American Hustle - Eric Warren Singer, David O. Russell (winner: Her – Spike Jonze)

The 2013 Bobby James Awards: The Movie Awards + Top 25 Movies of 2013

The time has come – the final category winners of the 2013 Bobby James Awards are about to be revealed.  I announce my “Best of Movies” awards last because they’re so near and dear to my heart and because technicallyI’m qualified to do so!  OJanuary to get around to seeing everything that will qualify and should be nominated (damn you August: Osage County and Her!Unlike the other categories (Music, WWE, Impact, Television) which have a December 31 deadline to qualify, I give movies until January 15.

Now, you’ve seen the nominees – and I’m sure you have your own opinions about what were technical achievements and outstanding performances – so that’s what the comment section is for (I would love to hear your thoughts, honestly, I really would – I love watching and discussing movies!!!).  Shall we?

Achievement in Cinematography:     12 Years a Slave - Sean Bobbitt

12 Years a Slave

Look at this one screencap from Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave.  It’s visually stunning; often times in this slavery-era drama, the lighting reflects the mood perfectly.  This encounter between Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) and Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is as tense as the picture would suggest – and this is just one of many harrowing, but beautiful moments on display.  There is no doubt that 12 Years is a strikingly beautiful film.

Achievement in Editing:     The Lone Ranger - James Haygood and Craig Wood

The Lone Ranger

The final battle/action sequence alone in The Lone Ranger secured this spot.  Gunfire, shattering glass, trains on opposite tracks, and The Lone Ranger (Armie Hammer) riding through the middle of it all on horseback.  Windows blip faster than the bullets fly as Tonto (Johnny Depp) appears to be doing some amazing things with a ladder – and the best part?  It’s all one incredibly fast-paced and clearly visual action sequence (that looked amazing on the big screen!).

Achievement in Visual or Special Effects:     Gravity - Neil Corbould and Manex Efrem

Gravity

Some have listed Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity as the year’s best picture for its technical mastery alone.  Visually it’s a splendid look at space – one that places the size of mankind in perspective.  We are insignificant – especially when compared to the universe and great unknown Cuaron’s team brings to life.  This is the mastery of special and visual effects – hands down.

Achievement in Art Direction:     Her – Austin Gorg

Her 2

Her was/is such a beautiful movie.  From the set designs to the color schemes – I felt immersed in this world.  The contrasts of light and dark was as visually dynamic as Theodore Twombly’s  (Joaquin Phoenix) emotional states.  In a world that seems depressing and mundane, viewers are bombarded with bright colors and then dropped into the middle of bland, washed out backgrounds for full emotional impact – each undoubtedly the work of the art director and director’s collaborations.

Achievement in Costume Design:     The Great Gatsby - Catherine Martin

The Great Gatsby - costumes

Set in the “roaring twenties,” The Great Gatsby was always going to boast the year’s best costumes.  From the flappers and pinstripe suits to the hair accessories and jewelry, Gatsby committed to a costume order exceeding 1,240!  While some exaggerations were made, the work speaks for itself.

Best Original Score:     The Great Gatsby - Craig Armstrong

Composer Craig Armstrong blended vocals from The Great Gatsby soundtrack, orchestral sounds, jazz, and swing to created an immersive score that takes listeners through the movie and creates visual associations.  Yes, a score is supposed take the listener on a journey through the film, but only a few actually create visual points of reference (ex. the love scene that plays over “Together” by The XX) and induce fantasy.

Best Original Song:     “Together” – The Great Gatsby - performed by The XX

This was a tough call because I’m a big fan of Idina Menzel’s “Let It Go” from Frozen, but “Together” by The XX resonated with me immediately and has stuck with me.  Is it the lyrics or the fantasy that I’ve associated it with?  I’m not sure – but I love the simplicities and complexities of this song.  It sounds hollow yet full of meaning – it’s a paradoxical song – one I can vividly associate with a scene from the movie, and one that represents the movie as a whole.  Isn’t that what an “original song” should do? Yes.

Best Original Screenplay:     Her - Spike Jonze

Her Script Page

How do you write a screenplay about a man falling in love with a computer operating system and make it work?  Spike Jonze knows – and so does the lead, Joaquin Phoenix.  Theodore Twombly exists in a world that is full, but cold – and this is purely an exploration of the fantasy within and a striking, unsettling portrait of a could-be(?) future – that works.

Best Adapted Screenplay:     12 Years a Slave - John Ridley

12-Years-a-Slave-Script-PageAdapted from a novel of the same title, 12 Years a Slave is full of dynamic characters, heartbreaking imagery, and empowering dialogue.  While it is a drama through and through, there are multiple layers to this movie and many of its characters are so well-developed (and acted) that this story instantly resonates and comes to life.  It’s unforgettable – and very, very well crafted.

Actor in a Supporting Voice-Over Role:     Benedict Cumberbatch – “Smaug” – The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug

Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug

Oh Smaug.  Wait, isn’t that a line in the movie?  Maybe.  Smaug is the best part of the second movie in The Hobbit franchise.  Partially because of Benedict Cumberbatch’s motion capture movements, but mostly because of his voice.  It’s villainrific! I know, that’s not a word – but that’s what I came up with in the moment.  His voice was distorted just enough to make you ask who the voice belongs to, yet it’s dynamic enough for you to know that some great work went into it.

Actress in a Supporting Voice-Over Role:     Idina Menzel – “Elsa” – Frozen

Idina Menzel as Elsa

Menzel’s a Broadway powerhouse known for her role in Wicked.  Here she brings “Elsa” to life in Disney’s feminist animated feature and belts out one of the biggest motion picture songs of the year, “Let It Go.”  I’d say she was a perfect casting choice and her voice (spoken or sang) clearly defines the character that becomes a queen.

Actor in a Leading Voice-Over Role:     Jonathan Groff – “Kristoff” – Frozen

Jonathan Groff as Kristoff

Here I go again with my perfect casting suspicions, but I really feel like Jonathan Groff was the perfect person to voice Kristoff.  He’s fun, witty, and charming, yet soft-spoken and his musical numbers are exactly as they should be (I really love “Reindeers are Better Than People). He’s one of Disney’s more vocally dynamic princes and the voice (and animation) just make him seem like a memorable, lovable guy.

Actress in a Leading Voice-Over Role:     Scarlett Johansson – “Samantha” – Her

Her - Scarlett Johansson

Scarlett Johansson does amazing work as “Samantha,” the operating system in Her.  Her voice is robotic enough to seem engineered – and its subtly becomes infused with an impossible amount of emotion.  Her breaths and phrasing work well to create a character who’s never really “there.”

Actor in a Supporting Role:     Michael Fassbender – “Edwin Epps” – 12 Years a Slave

Michael Fassbender - 12 Years a Slave

Michael Fassbender had an incredible year of performances, but his role as Edwin Epps is a career high.  He makes you remember the character.  You hate him – and just when you think that you could like him (maybe even just a little), he outdoes himself and makes you hate him all over again.  By the end of the movie, you’re hoping for his death – and after the movie – you’re left to remember the name “Edwin Epps” and to associate Michael Fassbender with some of the most horrific, angering, and disturbing scenes.

Actress in a Supporting Role:     Lupita Nyong’o – “Patsey” – 12 Years a Slave

Lupita Nyongo

By watching 12 Years a Slave you’d never suspect Lupita Nyong’o to be a newcomer – but she is.  She generates a great amount of sympathy and compassion for her character “Patsey,” and acts in a way that tugs at your heart.  She guides you through her every emotion – even the fleeting moments of calm and happiness.  I suspect this is just her beginning.

Actor in a Leading Role:  Joaquin Phoenix – “Theodore Twombly” – Her

Joaquin Phoenix - Her

Joaquin Phoenix hasn’t been an actor on my radar for a quite a while.  Yet, here he is, falling in love with his computer – and doing so with enough charm to make the audience love him all over again, like it’s the first time.  As superficial as the movie may sound, I can assure you that Joaquin Phoenix gives nothing short of a magical performance – it really is like a one-man show and you feel for every tear and share every smile.

Actress in a Leading Role:     Emma Thompson – “P.L. Travers” – Saving Mr. Banks

AND

 Judi Dench – “Philomena Lee” – Philomena (tie)

For the first time ever, I have a tie in an acting category!  I spent the last three weeks contemplating if I liked Judi Dench as “Philomena Lee” or Emma Thompson as “P.L. Travers” more.  I couldn’t decide because both women were incredible.  Emma Thompson is great – from her character’s intonations and emotions to her foot tapping – I can’t get over how heartbreaking and inspiring her character really is.  I haven’t forgotten the name P.L. Travers – nor the film Saving Mr. Banks - and I haven’t been so inspired to watch Mary Poppins just to see the work this woman did and to imagine her standing up to Walt Disney.

The same goes for Judi Dench.  She is witty and sometimes funny, her story is heartbreaking though she is strong – and there really is not another actress that can move you to such as degree as she does in Philomena.  The level at which she performs is inspiring and I can’t tell you how many times you get to look into her pain-filled eyes and wonder about this woman’s life.  She is remarkable.

The Lumiére Award for Directing:     Steve McQueen – 12 Years a Slave

Steve McQueen - 12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave really is a masterful work by Steve McQueen (who you may recognize as the director of the acclaimed 2011 film Shame).  It truly is a journey that takes viewers through a host of emotions and stirs uncertainties about ourselves and our nation’s history.  McQueen’s direction is great – from the variations of shots to the overall vision and captured performances – 12 Years a Slave is one of the most important movies of the year – and in less-skilled hands, that may not have been the case.

Animated Short Film:     Feral - Daniel Sousa

Feral - Daniel Sousa

Daniel Sousa’s Feral isn’t necessarily the best story-driven animated short – but I am really fond of the animation style and the abstraction of the story.  It’s beautifully engrossing and the 12+ minutes fly by – and it stays with you and makes you wonder more about it.

Haven’t seen “Feral?” Rent it for $1 or buy it for $2 on Vimeo

Animated Feature Film:     Frozen 

Frozen ensemble

Disney’s Frozen is great.  It’s fun and full of memorable characters, songs, and one-liners that classic Disney movies are known for.  The ensemble voice cast is great and its unexpected format is intriguing (there’s not a central villain, but there is a fairly unpredictable plot twist!).  Not to mention, I think it’s one-of-a-kind with its overarching feminist message.  Frozen is an instant classic.

“Blockbuster” Movie of the Year:     The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (42% of vote)

Catching Fire - Victory Tour

Congratulations! You have spoken and named Catching Fire our “Blockbuster of the Year” in the first-ever fan-voted Bobby James Award.  I loved Catching Fire, I think director Francis Lawrence and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy did an amazing job with the second Hunger Games movie.  While the idea wasn’t totally original (due to the prequel), Catching Fire served its purpose – to get us from The Hunger Games to Mockingjay and introduced some of the novel franchise’s most anticipated characters, Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) and Johanna Mason (Jenna Malone).

“Blockbuster” Character of the Year:     “Katniss Everdeen” – Jennifer Lawrence – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (36% of vote)

Katniss Everdeen

Seems fitting that Katniss Everdeen would be named our “Blockbuster Character of the Year” given that Jennifer Lawrence is now the reigning queen of the movie industry and is the female lead topping the American box-office for the first time since 1973’s The Exorcist.  Each year she’s been involved in the Hunger Games franchise, she’s collaborated with David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle) and has been nominated come award season for that work – which I think is inferior to the craft she brings to the role of Katniss Everdeen.

Documentary Feature of the Year:     Blackfish - Gabriella Cowperthwatie

Blackfish

This is the most moving and enraging documentary I’ve seen in years.  Because of Blackfish, I will always think twice before paying to walk into a zoo or amusement park full of animals.  The way places like Sea World acquire and treat these creatures is alarming and unacceptable.  These two statements should show you how powerful this documentary is.  Yes, it’s heavy-handed, but several times throughout the movie, it’s noted that Sea World could not be reached for comment.  Hard to balance when the accused stands quiet beneath a guilty spotlight.

Foreign Feature of the Year:     The Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium)

Broken Circle Breakdown

What a tragically beautiful movie.  The Broken Circle Breakdown is full of spectacular music and relationships.  The actors are great and their characters are hopeful and sympathetic.

TOP 25 MOVIES OF 2013

25.  42

24.  Gravity

23.  The Suicide Shop

22.  Philomena

21.  Don Jon

20.  Wadja

19.  Out of the Furnace

18.  Prisoners

17.  Mud

16.  The Butler

15.  Man of Steel

14.  The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

13.  Stoker

12.  American Hustle

11.  Captain Phillips

10.  Trance

9.  The Wolf of Wall Street

8.  Saving Mr. Banks

7.  Frozen

6.  Rush

5.  The Broken Circle Breakdown

4.  The Great Gatsby

3.  Her

2.  Inside Llewyn Davis

By now you’ve probably already figured out what my feature film of the year is.  12 Years a Slave is a cinematic masterpiece.  It’s a timeless, beautiful, engaging, and heartbreaking story about a free man sold into slavery and his quest to be free again.  Directed by Steve McQueen and brought to life by an incredible ensemble cast, 12 Years a Slave will likely be regarded as one of the most culturally significant and timeless movies of this decade.  This is an important movie that shows us where we’ve been and where we can never go again – its call for universal social justice is loud and clear.

From the gorgeous lighting and the villainous and sympathetic characters and actors who bring them to life, to the detailed work of its director, 12 Years a Slave is, without a doubt, the best movie of 2013.

Feature Film of the Year:     12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave  - Movie of the Year

There it is – the final installment of the 2013 Bobby James Awards.  Agree or disagree with my selections?  Let me know – I told you once, I love talking and watching movies!!!