Posts Tagged animation
With Frozen blowing up box offices and “Let It Go” erupting from the mouths of children (and adults) everywhere, it seems that there is small but noticeable interest in music in animation. Once considered a time-wasting trope that dotted Disney hand-drawn films, a tolerable exercise in audience patience, now seem to making a powerful resurgence, in TV shows and films alike. There were a few years where songs were on their way out – Toy Story nixed them, and Shrek actively called them out on their uselessness. Now expect to see them all over the place.
That all being said, there are a few songs out there that we ought to give more love to, whether it be the surprising craftsmanship, the entertaining performance, the perfect mood-setting, or just an overall catchiness. For this list I try to look outside of Disney’s oeuvre, although there are some of them here. I also try to focus on songs that aren’t discussed or overplayed, and have a unique quality beyond being designed for a sing-a-long. And of course, it’s personal, but I will try to explain why I like them. So, here we go:
10) Frozen – “Fixer-Upper”
The trolls in Frozen are somewhat problematic; even through they’re part of the original fairy tale, they really add nothing to the plot, and there is a creepy vibe to this song, a message that seems to run counter to the film’s general idea of a woman’s agency being beyond getting the guy. Yet “Fixer-Upper” works because its rhythmic quality is catchy, and its goofy lyrics keep it from becoming too forceful. It kinda reminds me of the Fraggle Rock theme song, with specific beats designed for specific lines. I personally think it’s better than “Let it Go.”
9) An American Tail: Fivel Goes West – “The Girl You Left Behind”
So it’s hard to really get a sense of this song since the animators decided to stage the Fivel chase sequences around the music, drowning out the Western/Country instrumentals and many of the sassy lyrics with the events of chase. Yet Tanya’s “debut” song is energetic and catchy, as the cats around her can attest to, and it’s energetic as all hell, even if the actual song has nothing to do with the film. It feels like a ol’ classic Western song by way of a full orchestra, which works better than it should. It’s a wonder more symphonies don’t channel old music and retool them for Radio City Music Hall.
8) The Spongebob Squarepants Movie – “The Best Day Ever”
I’m cheating here. “The Best Day Ever” is actually from an episode of Spongebob Squarepants of the same name. It was simply replayed during the movie’s end credits, yet for some reason, it works so much better there, mainly because it’s a stupidly fun denouement to a stupidly fun movie. It takes it its time with the lyrics and letting the simple guitar riff and drum beat carry it, and while Spongebob’s voice can be annoying, his words can’t help but make you smile a little bit. There’s a bit of a Beach Boys quality to it – which is obvious in retrospect. Modelling a song from a band known for its “perfect” beach music would be exactly how you’d tackle a song involving talking sea critters.
7) Cats Don’t Dance – “Big and Loud”
I will always look for excuses to post anything about the underrated Cats Don’t Dance. It’s such a fun, sincere, enjoyable movie that was hurt by bad marketing. That being said, I will admit that, for a movie defined by its 1950s Hollywood aesthetic, the music isn’t that good – but part of me thinks that’s by design, since it’s more about invoking a specific sensibility – the Merrie Melody short – than selling out its soundtrack. Yet “Big and Loud” is designed for the stage. Performed by Darla Dimple in a bid to manipulate Danny, “Big and Loud” is both a send up to the over-the-top performances of ridiculous set pieces as well as pointed satire calling out its superficiality, especially performed by the film’s antagonist. The reprise, which gives a more sinister edge to it, signs that satire in blood.
6) A Goofy Movie – “After Today”
Buzzfeed seems to have a hard-on for this film, which is fine, except they keep ignoring the film’s more important moment – the dark, confrontational hot tub scene between Goofy and Pete. Yes, Powerline’s mid-90s R&B-stylized songs work so well in the movie’s context, leaving a generation to wonder why there’s no “official” Powerline album, but it’s the opening montage “After Today” that has stood the test of time. A rallying cry for summer vacation and all the “freedom” it entails, “After Today” surges by on energy and commitment alone. And if the animated version for some reason turns you off, there’s always the, uh, live-action remake.
5) Anastasia – “Journey to the Past”
There’s a sad desperation to Anastasia, Fox’s attempt to muscle in on the Disney Princess market. Even though the movie is fairly flat and lifeless, there is a Frozen-esque dedication to its songs, given an otherwise forgettable film a fairly decent soundtrack. “Journey to the Past” is like a proto-“Let it Go,” what with both women singing about their fates and desires in snow-capped locales. “Journey” is typical animated music fare but it builds nicely, with those jamming violin strings giving it a unique rhythm within its heavy orchestration that gives it a pep. It’s goose-bumps inducing, particularly that final line as the full scale of the song comes in full force.
4) South Park – “What Would Brian Boitano Do?”
“Blame Canada” got the Oscar nomination, but “What Would Brian Boitano Do” is the best and catchiest song of a movie filled with them. South Park, particularly the movie, reminds the world that Trey Parker and Matt Stone are clever, crafty, and talented musicians, and this ridiculous non-sequitur song cue gives the four main characters their own moment of inspiration. Many people may miss the film’s overall putdown of animated films’ over-reliance on song cues, but that doesn’t mean South Park can’t relish in them. Also, it sounds remarkably similar to “The Girl You Left Behind,” which either means BLATANT PLAGIARISM or just an example of my taste in music.
3) Ferngully – “Toxic Love”
There’s really nothing about Ferngully worth discussing. It’s typical environment clap-trap, aggressively biased filmmaking that encourages the protection of our resources (not that this isn’t an important message, but it’s no excuse for a mediocre film). That being said, “Toxic Love” is a surprising standout, with Tim Curry’s amazing crooning skills to a bluesy soundtrack, singing a sexually-charged ode to pollution. Even Captain Planet would be taping his toes to this one, especially in the final refrain as the trumpets blare and the background vocals add to Curry’s voice. We know Curry can sing, but turning an anthropomorphic smog-guy into a one-hit wonder is another thing entirely.
2) The Care Bears Movie II: A New Generation – “Forever Young”
There isn’t much going on with The Care Bears, the greeting-cards-turned-children-mascots that were popular in the 80s. Overall cutsey and cuddly, the only interesting angle was their “care meter” – if too many kids stopped caring, their world was destroyed. Odd. The movies aren’t much better, but the second one ended with this remarkably powerful ballad by Carol Parks, a musician known for her marriage to Dean Parks. “Forever Young” is perfectly 80s, but rather understated, particularly for this kind of film. It’s not a movie about passing down the “Care Bears legacy,” but the song, with its simple machine-produced beats and fake-instrumentals, as paired to the surprisingly poignant montage, creates a small piece of crafty work. Carol never oversings her lines, and the addition of the kids and adult choir lets the song end nicely. The electric guitar is unnecessary, but like I said, perfectly 80s.
1) The Brave Little Toaster – “Worthless”
Honestly, we should be talking about the music in The Brave Little Toaster more often, mainly because it’s so unique and quite unlike any animated film’s soundtrack out there. It feels experimental; its unrefined quality actually adds to the charm. And while “Cutting Edge” and “It’s A B-Movie” are specifically creepy-yet-enjoyable mood-setters, “Worthless” is by far the strongest, with aggressive piano and trumpet work, creating an angry and depressing homage to country music. The combination of multiple vocal styles gives it an everyman quality, leaving viewers contemplating their own legacy. It’s dark, it’s scary, it’s good.
In surprising (lazy) news, today’s Tumblr Tuesday has been released on Wednesday! Did I just blow your mind? No? Well, maybe these Tumblrs will.
And thus the World Tour begins to break down.
I’m not sure if “Mark of the Panther” and “Pendragon” are a sign of things to come, but after a string of solid, enjoyable episodes, we’re provided two surprisingly weak, unfocused ones. Previous episodes were willing to take their time to develop their central plots, usually through the exploration of a various historical/cultural factoid. Now the show is trying to squeeze its way back into the long term mythology, forcing things to happen way too fast without adequate explanation. This is Gargoyles when it struggles the most, when it tries to do way too much with so little, sacrificing proper setup and storytelling for spectacle.
Gargoyles 2×34 – Mark of the Panther
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The core problem with “Mark of the Panther” is that the story should be about something that directly (or indirectly) ties into the complicated parental problems between Goliath and Angela, and Elisa and her mother. The story told here has to do with a kind of rapey-and-revenge love tale. They connect at only a superficial level, and while Goliath and Angela’s relationship woes are understandable, the confusing relationship between Elisa Maza and Diane Maza is just that. The episode fails to clearly explain what exactly is the issue between the two, and Diane’s explanation – that she “disappeared” is vague at best and perplexing at worse – especially since she’s been in Africa all this time. This is the pre-cellphone days, what exactly was she expecting?
Other issues plague the episode as well. It seems to start off as an episode in which Goliath, Angela, Bronx, and Elisa have to chase down some poachers. Which is a bit low-key on the Avalon scale, but it’s something. It then devolves into a strange love tale – one of the poachers, Tea Gora, is actually seeking revenge on a Fara Maku. They fell in love, then Tea wanted to move to the city, but Fara didn’t want her to go, so he made a pact with the African god trickster Anansi, which ultimately turned them in were-panthers when they get upset. It was a act of selfishness on Fara’s part that so enraged Tea, that she hooked up with the unnamed poachers to kill every panther in Africa (I guess?) to ensure Fara was killed.
Already you can see the flaw here. We also don’t learn about Fara or Tea, unlike the characterizations we get of Hatsilane in “Heritage,” Max in “Golem,” or Rory in “The Hound of Ulster.” They just seem like two terrible people. Instead of a closer look into their relationship and the destruction of which, we’re treated with a stylized animated sequence detailing the specific Anansi tale that the episode is based on. No offense to the sequence, which is lovingly rendered with stiff movements evoking the classic forms of African paintings and sculptures, but why are we presented this, when Cu Chullian or The Golem of Prague wasn’t? It’s a somewhat more complicated piece of folklore than those stories but not so much so that the episode needed to explain it at the risk of sacrificing its characters. I suppose the writers felt it was such a fascinating tale that it was worth visually depicting. I admire the attempt but it was unnecessary and a bit too aloof from the show proper, particularly for a tale that could have been simplified to get to the meat of the characters.
The interesting stuff is the parental conflicts, but they’re never given room to breathe. Angela and Goliath fight again over the degree of affection the latter should give to the former due to their biological connection. Elisa and Diana fight over their separation and Elisa’s secrecy. The first conflict is fine, the second one a bit clunky. Didn’t Elisa introduce her mother to the transformed Derek? Just seems odd to place so much emphasis on Elisa being secretive and distant, considering all the stuff they’ve been through. There are aspects of this that make sense, but overall it doesn’t really work. Plus, none of this really connect to the Tea/Fara story, so nothing really comes together.
So they confront the actual Anansi at the end (wiki says he’s another one of Oberon’s children but the episode doesn’t say, so it’s a development that comes out of left field – I guess we’re to assume all magic people/creatures are Oberon’s progeny?) and he’s less of a trickster and more of greedy Southern plantation owner without the accent. They defeat him by cutting his magic web and stabbing him. It’s an okay sequence but nothing special. Fara and Tea getting together at the end undercuts Fara’s actions, though, but I guess being African-were-panther heroes is good enough. Goliath acknowledges Angela as his genuine daughter, and Elisa tells Diana the whole story of her gargoyles encounter. I’m pretty sure we won’t be seeing Diana again though, adding to the superficiality of their conflict. “Mark of the Panther” is too messy for its own good.
Gargoyles 2×35 – Pendragon
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“Pendragon” is slightly worse than “Mark of the Panther,” but not by much. Here, the problem is turning the tragic figure of Macbeth into a power-hungry villain, which is insanely out of character. I mean, this is the guy who is desperate to kill Demona so he can finally end his tortured immortality. Suddenly he’s casting spells and vying for Excalibur’s power? Where did THIS attitude come from?
This episode really was an excuse to get Griff to New York (but what about Leo and Una? The whole main issue was Griff being gone [Una being Griff’s ‘lover’], and now we’re just moving away from them again?). Macbeth and his henchmen, and the rest of the Manhattan clan are concerned about the random disturbing weather that’s occurring in New York. I think that has to do with King Arthur’s arrival in London (he left Avalon after the events that transpired there). The episode doesn’t really connect the two, but it is what it is.
Arthur wanders into a church, where the stone that hosted Excalibur is, and Griff follows him. The stone talks to Arthur about finding his sword, Griff recites a legend about it, and the stone deems the two worthy. Meanwhile, Macbeth himself recites an incantation that summons Griff and Macbeth to New York, and the Manhattan clan gets in on this. Macbeth is disappointed in the result and runs off, but is now aware of sword’s existence, so he decides that, since he was a king once, he can take the sword for himself. So he uses a plug-in crystal ball to summon will-o-the-wisp to track them.
I quickly wrote up the summary of the first half of the episode because of its ridiculousness and half-assed nature. It feels as chaotic as that probably read, and looks as messy and scattershot on the screen. I’m not sure what the hell is going on with Macbeth here. I feel like A) they’re missing a key scene (or episode) where we note Macbeth is still vying for power and/or recognition, or B) meant this to be another character entirely, but something went very wrong, and the writers had to scramble to put Macbeth in the role. It’s feels way off, in a manner that’s completely off-kilter to what we know the show is capable of.
The rest of the episode is somewhat better, but not by much. The Lady of the Lake is probably another one of Oberon’s children, who presents another challenge to Arther with some lame water monster he and the Manhattan clan dispatches easily. Then it’s off to Brooklyn, inside a hedge maze that they could’ve flew over easily to find the stone dragon in the middle, which hosts Excalibur proper. There’s a Brooklyn Botanic Garden, but there’s no mention of a hedge maze or a stone dragon centerpiece. The problem isn’t that they made these concepts up, the problem is that they feel as forced as Macbeth-as-villain. I’m not sure why they didn’t just do a Arthur/Griff fantasy detective story, keep the events in London, and bring Una and Leo into that mix. It would’ve been more focused, with the current situation among Griff/Leo/Una clarified, and without Macbeth’s sudden character change (no villain is really necessary, really – the trials and riddles were strong enough).
The obvious sword that Macbeth pulled from the stone dragon was fake. It triggered the stone dragon to come alive and attack everyone, but Arthur discovered the real Excalibur was inside the ruby rock on the stone dragon’s chest. After snagging it, the dragon is destroyed, and, in the show’s most ridiculously contrived moment, Arthur and Macbeth come to a mutual understanding and level of respect. That’s bullshit, particularly that Griff and the Manhattan clan are okay with this. But they were probably as confused as I was what with Macbeth being evil out of nowhere. I did like Arthur knighting Griff. It’s a nice moment, but the underlying problem is… who is Arthur? He was kinda useless in “Avalon,” and while he holds his own here, I’m failing to see how or why he’s such a big deal. Griff standing by his side because he’s royalty is inexplicable, considering how loyal he was to Britain and his clan back in “M.I.A.”
“Pendragon” doesn’t work except at the bare minimum. I kind of regret writing this, as the details soured me more and more as I gave this episode thought. Here’s hoping the next two episodes continue the string of good episodes instead of these lackluster ones.
“Mark of the Panther” B-/”Pendragon” C-