To celebrate our fifth birthday, each Earn This contributor is selecting his five favorite things from the past five years.
Here are Kevin’s picks (all related to trends in animated movies).
5. Charming Comic-Relief Characters
My list will be all things animated, and something that has impressed me over the past five years is all the great side characters that have come out of this movie genre.
You have Maximus and Pascal from Tangled. Newcomers Barbie and Ken from Toy Story 3. The freely rearranging Olaf from Frozen. Lego Batman and blind prophet Lord Vitruvius from The Lego Movie. But nothing beats the minions from Despicable Me, each equipped with high pain tolerances and short term memories to deal with the fact that these minions simply have no regard for each other. The minions capture the spirit of cartoons like the Looney Tunes where inconsequential and mindless violence were the primary form of comedy.
I think what really sticks out for me though in the past five years is all the protagonists that are starting to carry the bulk of the film’s humor. Characters that come to mind are Princess Anna from Arendelle, the twitchy Blu from Rio, the blue-headed titular super-villain of Megamind, and Baymax from Disney’s most recent picture, Big Hero 6. It goes to show that characters don’t need to be assigned tasks in animated movies. That anthropomorphic animal doesn’t need to be the one trying to squeeze out chuckles from the audience, but rather, any movie character can be utilized as a pivot point for jokes. Here’s to hoping more protagonists will both charm us and make us laugh in the near future.
4. John Powell’s Soundtracks
I was a bit disappointed to see that Dan selected Toy Story 3 over the superior How to Train Your Dragon in his five picks for Earn This, but I think we can both agree that a big reason why we fell in love with How to Train Your Dragon is because of John Powell, whom also received recognition from Brian in his picks.
Of course, like every good movie soundtrack, there’s a main theme that runs across the movie. That theme uses a lot of drums to give it a macho Viking feel, but where Powell really shines is in the film’s best scene. Or perhaps, maybe it is his song that makes this scene my favorite from the entire movie. It starts off with these light chimes right after Toothless accepts a fish Hiccup brought for him. Slowly, the song builds, adding in strings, then a flute, then some percussion. At this point, Toothless is trying to draw, as Hiccup did, with a tree branch. As Hiccup navigates around his scribblings, he finds himself right underneath Toothless. He reaches out for Toothless with his hand and then the choir. Oh, that choir! Angelical, wonderful, mystical. Just like Toothless and Hiccup’s friendship. Powell also did admirably in Rio and wrote a beautiful duet for Valka and Stoick to sing in How to Train Your Dragon 2, but he’s mainly on this list for contributing one of my favorite scenes of the past half decade.
3. Attractive Female Leads
Yeah, I know they’re animated. So what?
Avoiding the Disney princesses of Tiana, Rapunzel, Anna, and Elsa, there are still plenty of female characters to choose from. Left to right, we have bad-ass Go Go Tomago from Big Hero 6, Linda dressed up as a Macaw in Rio, and reporter Sam Sparks from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Honorable mention? Honey Lemon (Big Hero 6), Jewel (Rio), Roxanne Ritchie (Megamind), and Aunt Cass (Big Hero 6). Yes. I put a bird on my list. But… she’s voiced by Anne Hathaway!
When I think of the word “attractive,” more than just looks come to mind. For me, personality plays a big role in the attractiveness of even a fictional character, and I love how many of the female characters coming out of animation have personalities of their own. In other words, they all have a passion for something as deep as their male protagonist counterparts. Go Go Tomago wants go, faster and faster, in the name of science. Linda ends up dating a bird expert, which makes perfect sense because she has a thing for animals. Sam Sparks loves to report the weather just as much as love interest Flint Lockwood wants to become a world famous inventor. I like characters with something inside of them that guides their actions throughout the course of a film, and when it comes to female characters, it’s great when that something isn’t for a man.
2. Resurgence of Disney Animation
Out of the 54 official Disney Animation Studios films, only 10 are Disney princess films. Then why the heck does those movies seem to hog all the attention?
I have a couple theories, but I think one of the reasons why the Disney princess films are some of the first films people think of when they hear the word “Disney” is because they are some of Disney’s best works. Sure, people were charmed by Pinocchio, Bambi, Alice and Wonderland, Peter Pan, but people will flat-out burst into song if you play Part of Your World, A Whole New World, etc. The Disney princess movies are a staple of Disney Animation Studios, a testament to the musical format which has worked time and time again since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs back in 1937.
Naturally, then, it seems only fitting that 2013’s newest Disney princess movie, Frozen, would be the film to convince of this new so-called “Disney Revival” or “Disney 2nd Renaissance.” Call it what you will, but I believe in it and I believe it’s here to stay. I’ve enjoyed practically every release of theirs since 2008. Films in the past half decade I’ve liked are The Princess and the Frog, Tangled, Frozen, and Big Hero 6.
What’s noticeable is how much variety is coming out of the studio, mixing in movies about retro video games or obscure anime-like Marvel comics, and I think this variety stems down from John Lasseter who was named chief creative officer at both Pixar and Disney after Disney’s purchase of Pixar in 2006. Simply put, Disney is displaying a willingness to experiment, and I think that is the healthiest form of film-making. I am a big advocate of the cultural change Lasseter brought to Disney and I can’t wait to see what Byron Howard (co-director of Bolt and Tangled) will accomplish with Disney Animation Studios’ 55th animated feature, Zootopia.
1. Emergence of Smaller Animation Studios
I’m basically talking about Animal Logic, Warner Animation, Illumination Entertainment, and Blue Sky Studios.
Animal Logic is a studio that focuses primarily on the technical aspects of computer animated films. You know, the actual animation. And almost every Animal Logic film I’ve seen has at least one shot that takes my breathe away. They are consistently more photo-realistic than Pixar/Disney/DreamWorks, but I think they showed tremendous versatility with their work with Warner Animation on The Lego Movie, where it felt almost stop-motion and the tiniest details on the Lego figures could be noticed. Another film they have worked on that impressed me, visually speaking, is Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, shown above.
Ever since the creation of the Academy Award’s Best Animated Feature distinction, it felt like it should have been called the Pixar award, or the award that goes to whatever Pixar produces that year. Now, I love Pixar as much as anybody else on the internet, but Pixar does have a formula with characteristic storytelling techniques and animation style. As a movie-goer, I’m always waiting for new styles or genres to be created, and I think that’s what I’ve liked most of the animation landscape as of late. Although Pixar has indeed won the Best Animated Feature in recent years (and I’m hopeful that they will win again in 2015 with Inside Out) Disney finally won the award last year with Frozen. Rango won it two years before it. And this year, there is truly a contest between DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon 2, Disney’s Big Hero 6, and Warner’s The Lego Movie. And I haven’t yet talked about Illumination Entertainment and Blue Sky Studios, who have produced the enjoyable Despicable Me and Rio within the last five years.
The emergence of lesser-known animation studios makes it an exciting time to be an animation fan, for there used to be a clear-cut king of animation since Pixar stole the crown from Disney in 1995 with Toy Story. Now that Disney is back, DreamWorks has matured, and smaller animation studios have emerged, I hope the crowding animation market will bring out the best in its competitors. Plus, I could always use a few more animated movies every year.