ISLE OF DOGS — Review by Susan Granger

isle of dogs posterFrom the fertile imagination of filmmaker Wes Anderson comes this unique, stop-motion animated tale of a youngster looking for his lost companion, featuring the distinctive voices of Anderson’s regular repertory company. Set in the Japanese Archipelago in the near future, this dystopian fable, narrated by Courtney B. Vance, revolves around Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin), whose bodyguard dog, Spots (Liev Schreiber), is banished when Megasaki City’s cat-loving, dog-despising Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) decrees that, following an outbreak of a type of flu known as Snout Fever, all canines must be exiled to an island previously used for trash disposal. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK January 26, 2018: MARY AND THE WITCH’S FLOWER

motw logo 1-35Take a lonely British child, add an unexpected discovery and a previously unknown world of magic — including a special school run by powerful wizards — and what do you have? Nope, not Harry Potter. It’s Mary and the Witch’s Flower, director Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s lovely anime take on prolific British author Mary Stewart’s 1971 children’s novel The Little Broomstick. Continue reading…

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MARY AND THE WITCH’S FLOWER — Review by Cate Marquis

Mary and the Witch’s Flower is a gorgeously animated Japanese film about a red-headed English girl named Mary who follows a black cat into the forest behind her great aunt’s country house, and finds herself transported into a magical world of witches. Continue reading…

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Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman on LOVING VINCENT — Interview by Leslie Combemale

Loving Vincent is the first fully oil painted feature film. The brainchild of two filmmakers who have worked in animation, special effects, and live action, the film breaks new ground, while being visually stunning and driving a story about the last few weeks in the life an artist who died penniless but is now one of the most famous in history. All the characters in the film are performed by real actors, either on special sets or in front of green screens, and their work is combined with computer animation and painted animation. There are over sixty-five thousand frames in the film, and at the end of each shot, they were left with the painting of the last frame of the shot. There are eight hundred and ninety-eight shots in the film. Continue reading…

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FERDINAND — Review by Danielle Solzman

For the second time in a one-month period, an animated film touches upon Hispanic culture. In this instance, however, Ferdinand tells the story of a bull who doesn’t want to fight. Not only does he not want to fight, but the other bulls tease him for not wanting to take part in the traditional career. Ferdinand would rather be doing other things like playing with flowers. Continue reading…

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Story Supervisor Jason Katz on Creating COCO — Interview by Leslie Combemale

The new Pixar film Coco speaks about ancestral ties, remembrance, and celebration. It is a story that follows young musician Miguel on his journey into the Land of the Dead to solve a family mystery, embrace his passion for music, and create his own destiny. I interviewed Story Supervisor Jason Katz, who has had a hand in nearly every Pixar release since Toy Story, including being co-story supervisor for Finding Nemo and Ratatouille. He has been involved in building Coco from the beginning, and talks here about his perspective on leading the story department as his mentor Joe Ranft would have done, what inspired him in developing the film, and how Coco is much more about life, remembrance, and his grandmother Florence, than about death. Continue reading…

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COCO – Review by Martha k. Baker

​So what does your trusty film critic know? As I sat in the theater waiting for “Coco” to start, I observed the children around me. They were chattering, whining, mewling, and reporting. They were eating loudly, running rompingly, demanding attention. “What,” I thought uncharitably, “are they doing here? What will they understand of ‘Coco’?” Continue reading

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK November 17: THE BREADWINNER

motw logo 1-35The Breadwinner is a powerful, gorgeously animated film about Parvana, a remarkable little girl caught in untenable circumstances in Taliban-controlled Kabul, Afghanistan. From the studio and filmmakers who previously gave us The Secret of Kells and other animated gems, “The Breadwinner” isn’t your typical mainstream “cartoon” fare. Based on the same-named novel by Deborah Ellis (who has co-screenwriting credit with Anita Doron), director Nora Twomey’s remarkable film tells a deep, thoughtful story replete with elements of both pain and joy, despair and hope. Continue reading…

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THE BREADWINNER — Review by Cynthia Fuchs

breadwinner poster“Stay inside where you belong.” Again and again in The Breadwinner, 11-year-old Parvana (Saara Chaudry) is reminded of her place. A girl in 2001 Kabul, she’s surrounded by war and threatened by the Taliban. She’s not supposed to read, think for herself, or go outside without a man, she’s not supposed to show her face and she’s certainly not supposed to work a job. A the same time, however, her father Nurullah (Ali Badshah), a teacher, encourages her to explore the world around her, to feel confident and to tell and listen to stories, because, he says, “Stories remain in our hearts even when all else is gone.” Continue reading…

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THE BREADWINNER — Review by Sandie Angulo Chen

The Breadwinner is a beautifully animated drama from the co-director of The Secret of Kells that’s set in post-Taliban Afghanistan. Based on the young adult novel by Deborah Ellis, it centers on an 11-year-old girl who’s forced to pretend she’s a boy after her father is imprisoned. The movie heartbreakingly captures the violent, anti-women, anti-intellectual, and even anti-literacy stance of the Taliban regime. Women are harassed and beaten for not covering themselves properly, being in public without a husband/father, and drawing attention to themselves. Taliban soldiers and followers intimidate and threaten characters and keep one imprisoned. A few mild insults pepper the dialogue (“crazy,” “stupid,” “enemy of Islam,” etc.), but it’s the realistic violence that’s most likely to upset younger viewers. There’s also a story-within-the-story in which skeleton ghosts, attacking jaguars, and an evil elephant king figure prominently, but it’s not as frightening as the mistreatment of people (particularly girls and women) under Taliban rule. And, ultimately, themes of perseverance, curiosity, and courage prevail. Continue reading…

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THE BOSS BABY — Review by Susan Granger

Somewhere in the clouds above, Baby Corp. runs an adorable newborn assembly line, where babies are manufactured and families formed. That’s according to the overactive imagination of seven year-old Tim Templeton (voiced by Miles Christopher Bakshi), who is totally content as the only child of doting parents (voiced by Jimmy Kimmel, Lisa Kudrow) who read him endless bedtime stories and sing the Beatles’ tune “Blackbird” as his lullaby. But then Tim’s perfect little world is disrupted by the arrival of a baby brother named Theodore. In Tim’s mind, the demanding infant is a tiny tyrant, dispatched by Management, arriving in a business suit, wearing a Rolex and carrying a briefcase. And he can talk. Continue reading…

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THE RED TURTLE — Review by Susan Granger

This 80-minute animated fable is memorable for its dazzling aesthetic and imaginative storytelling, which explains its Academy Award nomination. Beginning with a roiling sea, the story revolves around a man who is lost in the waves and washes up on a tropical island, seemingly inhabited only by birds and curious, scuttling sand crabs. As he explores the lush vegetation, thick forests and rock walls beyond the beach, he slips and falls into a crevasse. Instead of drowning in the water below, he finds a way out. And that’s only the first lesson he learns in coping with loneliness and the forces of nature around him. Read on…

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OSCAR Nominated Animation Shorts — Review by Martha K. Baker

“Short” is right. Most of these films run fewer than 10 minutes with one longer than a half-hour. And “sweet” is right, too, in a way, if “sweet” stretches to mournful. The Oscar-nominated Short films advance the concept of brevity as good and worthy. Read on…

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MOANA – Review by Susan Granger

Gather the kids and let’s be thankful for Moana (pronounced Mo-ahna) – with songs co-written by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton). On Motunui in Oceania, teenage Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) lived in an idyllic, self-sustaining Polynesian community. But, as daughter of Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison), she has been forbidden to travel beyond the barrier reef that surrounds their isolated island. When she discovers her ancestors’ sea-faring past, her ailing Gramma Tala (Rachel House) explains that she has been chosen by the ocean to control its waves. Read on…

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THE JUNGLE BOOK — Review by Susan Granger

Based on Rudyard Kipling’s magical stories and inspired by Disney’s 1967 animated classic, this eye-popping, live-action, epic adventure revolves around the man-cub Mowgli (newcomer Neel Sethi). An orphaned toddler, Mogli was found in India’s jungle by the black panther Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley) and raised by a family of wolves, led by Akela (voiced by Giancarlo Esposito) and Raksha (voiced by Lupita Nyong’o). Read on…

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NORM OF THE NORTH — Review by Susan Granger

Riffing on the animated popularity of “Ice Age” and “Frozen,” this CGI tale introduces an amiable, appealing, English-speaking polar bear named Norm (voiced by Rob Schneider) who dances the Arctic Shake. After his King of the North grandfather (voiced by Colm Meaney) disappears, greedy Mr. Greene (voiced by Ken Jeong), an unscrupulous real estate developer, decides to airlift pre-fab condos, turning their pristine wilderness into a tourist attraction. Read more…

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ANOMALISA – Review by Susan Granger

Make no mistake: this is an R-rated animated feature – for adults! In writer/director Charlie Kaufman’s “Synecdoche, New York,” he raised provocative philosophical questions which he now explores existentially, utilizing puppets in stop-motion animation. Read on…

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THE WEEK IN WOMEN: TV’s SUPERGIRL Soars, but Regendered Movie Remakes Fall Flat – Brandy McDonnell reports

supergirlSupergirl soars as the season’s top rated new series, featuring Melissa Benoist as Superman’s cousin Kara Zor-El, and a primarily female cast of major characters. Its debut episode’s delightfully fun and decidedly feminist attitude dealt with double standards women face — though she has all of Superman’s powers, Kara’s discouraged from trying to save the world. Between Supergirl‘s super-success on CBS and Netflix’s hotly anticipated Nov 20 debut of Marvel’s superheroine series Jessica Jones, it’s worth asking this question a hundred times: Why are we waiting so long for a superheroine movie? And why, meanwhile, are we expected to settle for regendered movie remakes that fall flat? Plus the latest on Ava Duvernay, Reese Witherspoon and women in animation. Read this week’s THE WEEK IN WOMEN.

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SHAUN THE SHEEP – Review by Susan Granger

After making his debut 20 years ago in Nick Park’s Oscar-winning “Wallace and Gromit” outing “A Close Shave,” Shaun the Sheep has become a British TV favorite. Now, he has his own full-length feature film. For a rebellious ram, like Shaun (vocalized by Justin Fletcher), life at Mossy Bottom Farm can get a bit tiresome. Every day, the Farmer (vocalized by John Sparkes) and his loyal sheepdog Blitzer (also Sparkes) take Shaun and the rest of the flock to graze in the fields. Read more>>

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INSIDE OUT, FACE OF AN ANGEL, THE WANTED 18 and Other June 19 Openers – Reviews by Jennifer Merin

inside out posterPixar’s brilliantly conceived and realized Inside Out illuminates a tween girl’s conflicted emotional life with superb storytelling, animation and performances. The Face of an Angel is a fascinating and provocative fictionalized probe into a 2007 murder and the sensationalized media coverage of it. The Wanted 18 cleverly uses animation, archival footage and eyewitnesses to tell the true tale of Isreal’s absurd persecution of 18 Palestinian-owned cows during the First Intifada. Plus coverage of The Overnight and Eden. Read the reviews>>

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AWFJ Movie of the Week, June 15-21: INSIDE OUT

InsideOutposterOpening June 19, the AWFJ Movie of the Week is Inside Out, the latest family film from animation powerhouse Pixar. Newcomer Kaitlyn Dias voices Riley, a young girl who has moved from the Midwest to San Francisco, prompting her emotions to go into overdrive. Given voice, the feelings of Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phylis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling), jostle and fight inside her head as Riley attempts to settle in to her new life.Read on…

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STRANGE MAGIC – Review by Susan Granger

Supposedly inspired by Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” George Lucas’s animated story, filled with fairies, elves and goblins, is grotesquely weird. Read on…

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SONG OF THE SEA and Animator Tomm Moore — Rebecca Pahle interviews

song of sea croppedTomm Moore had big shoes to fill for his second feature, Song of the Sea. Or maybe I should say big flippers, as one of Song’s main characters is a selkie, a creature from Irish and Scottish mythology who is part-seal, part-human. And the big flippers are his own–Moore’s first film, The Secret of Kells (co-directed with Nora Twohey), garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature in 2010. Audiences were transfixed by Kells’ unique, hand-drawn style, made to look like an illuminated manuscript. Read more>>

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AWFJ Movie of the Week, Jan. 12-16: PADDINGTON

Opening Jan. 16, the AWFJ Movie of the Week is Paddington, the live action adaptation of the beloved children’s stories by Michael Bond. Written and directed by Paul King (TV’s The Mighty Boosh, Bunny and the Bull), the film combines his irreverent sense of humour with the books’ inherent charm to entirely wonderful effect. Read on…

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GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY – Review by Susan Granger

guardians of the galaxy Marvel expands its cinematic clout to encompass another colorful franchise, encompassing a rag-tag team of intergalactic adventurers. Headed by Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star Lord (Chris Pratt), the quintet includes the green-skinned warrior Gamora (Zoe Saldana), vengeance-seeking Drax the Destroyer (WWW champ Dave Bautista) and two endearing CG characters: clever, cybernetically-enhanced, gun-slinging Rocket Raccoon, voiced by Bradley Cooper, and Groot, a humanoid, self-regenerating tree whose one line of dialogue (“I am Groot”) is uttered repeatedly – but with different intonations – by Vin Diesel. Read on…

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