Posts Tagged Film

CHILDHOOD REVISITED – BABE

A, Hoggett be pimpin' pimpin',

A, Hoggett be pimpin' pimpin'.

Babe – (1995)

Director: Chris Noonan
Starring: Christine Cavanaugh, Miriam Margolyes, James Cromwell, Hugo Weaving
Screenplay by: George Miller, Chris Noonan

The 90s were known for many things, not the least of all being the decade’s penchant for movies starring talking animals. The early decade simply had the animals “think-communicate”, kind of like telepathy (Milo and Otis, Homeward Bound, Look Who’s Talking Now). Babe was lucky enough to be release right when computer effects were just starting to be effectively realized, and yet not overbearingly so such that puppetry and animatronics were still being used. And, truth be told, if Babe, Jurassic Park, and Where the Wild Things Are are any indication, well, judicious use of animatronics plus judicious use of CGI is the perfect formula. Please take note, Mr. Cameron and Mr. Jackson.

NOSTALGIC LENS: Babe was a film that I remember loving, and even though I haven’t watched it in so long, I, for some reason, always stood up for it. I’m not sure why – lord knows there were plenty of lame and corny moments – singing mice, for instance – but yet, it was a sweet movie that seem to have always stuck with me, in some degree.

DOES IT HOLD UP: Babe is really a tricky movie to describe. I can only say this: Babe is, truly, a story. The characters are, truly, characters. Watching the film, no matter what happens, you’re always keenly aware that you’re watching a tale, a tale definitely derived from a children’s book. If I had to use one word, it would be endearing.

A lone, runt pig is taken from a slaughterhouse to be used as a “Guess The Weight” prize for a county fair. Farmer Arthur Hoggett wins the prize, the pig itself, and when it arrives on the farm, its loneliness catches the heart of sheepdog Fly, who takes care of it. There’s also a number of smaller stories and incidents, moments that seem like they could be pulled out from the film, but they, in oddly yet astute ways, drive the overall story, compelling Babe from a potential Christmas dinner into an amazing sheep herder.

Given the lack of Youtube videos out there (quality ones), I have to utilize screenshots, but I think that they point out one rather remarkable aspect: the cinematography. Andrew Lesnie brings a certain visual potency and poetry to many of the scenes, shots that are simultaneously amusing and powerful. They’re amusing in the sense that they divulge a weight on characters and moments that, at face value, are just goofy. But given the strength… no, better yet, given the film’s commitment to the story and the actors’ to the characters, they add to the ambiance of the film perfectly. It’s both silly and serious.

An interesting deep focus shot of Babe, Fly, Rex, and Farmer Hoggett after he runs away:

BabeFocus

The hilarious evil glare over the Sheepdog committee condoning Hoggett and his “dog” named “Pig”:

BabeEvil

The GOD light shone on Hoggett and Babe after winning it all:

BabeLight

It’s pretty funny, especially if you pay attention to the visuals. But, yet, it works.

“But, yet, it works” is essentially how viewers can swallow the lameness of some of the more sillier aspects. Of course, I mean the singing mice. (The high-pitched squeal singing voice will be, in a few years, used in a number of rap songs, and while I’m glad that’s over, I’d sure as hell would prefer that over the excessive vocoder use.) Part of why they work is because they’re rarely seen, and even when they’re present, they take up little screen time, enough not to become grating. It’s as if Noonan knew the supers (the inserts of the name of each “chapter”) would get too annoying, and they stop coming around the forty-minute mark. All the silliest moments are perfectly controlled; it’s as if Noonan wanted to emphasis the fact that, yes, the viewer is watching a story, and shouldn’t delve too much into it. And in case you do – BAM! You get a face full of singing mice. Deconstruct that shit.

The best aspect of the film are the human characters, hands down. Mrs. Hoggett (Magda Szubanski) steals the show as she exposits plot points so goofily, so energetically, it’s actually a treat to see her do it. Cromwell does grizzly-with-a-heart-of-gold so well. He always does, but he does it doubly so for this film. I love the oh-so-blunt line readings of the Hoggett’s children and grandchildren when they arrive, and the “pure evil” faces of the Sheepdog committee are gold. Hell, even the sheepdog crowd is great, with their overacted laughter transitioning to their overacted cheering. It’s so ridiculous, but amazingly pleasantly so.

Of course, the story is about Babe, and it’s enjoyable enough, if predictable. There’s a lot cute, humorous moments, as well as some surprisingly dark ones. And while all the characters having easy-to-see character arcs, they are still very worthwhile, especially when frustrated Kay finally warms up to the pig. It’s really nice stuff, very well handled.

And I know that Noonan didn’t want me to do this, but I couldn’t help but notice the not-so-subtly commentary of accepting stereotypical status quo mentalities, of pre-judging through racial (or, I guess, species) lenses. In the end, being nice, kind, and forward is all you need – although, I’m not sure what the “password” thing was all about. I assume it’s another one of Noonan’s and Miller’s ways to prevent me from reading too much into it.

Oops.

IN A NUTSHELL: Babe’s emphasis on its story and characters weaves a truly heart-warming tale that’s very easy on the eyes, mind, and soul. And while that sounds like what the back of the DVD case would say, it’s true. It’s a throwback film to a time when the storytelling aspect of the story was king, and any insane, crazy concept could be told with expect skill. And, if IMDB is correct, this film was a ten-year labor of love for George Miller.

It shows.

December 7th: All Dogs Go to Heaven
December 14th: Balto

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CHILDHOOD REVISITED – FLUPPY DOGS

REVERSE STEREOTYPES. Or something.

REVERSE STEREOTYPES. Or something.

Fluppy Dogs – (1986)

Director: Fred Wolf
Starring: Marshall Efron, Carl Steven, Cloyce Morrow
Screenplay by: Haskell Barkin, Bruce Talkington

WHAT?

Yes, Fluppy Dogs. I know, I know. You’re probably now asking three questions. 1) What the hell is a Fluppy Dog? 2) Why the hell did you choose this as your secret movie? 3) What the hell is this show about? Well, dear readers, I’ll tell you.

Fluppy Dogs was a failed follow-up to 1985’s Gummi Bears. You see, back in the late 80s/early 90s, Disney produce a set of cartoons that ranged from surprisingly mediocre to straight-up excellent for a after-school segment called “The Disney Afternoon”. Gummi Bears, Ducktales, Darkwing Duck, Aladdin, Rescue Rangers, Bonkers, Gargoyles – a ton of animated features aired for this two-hour block, and as a lover of all things animated, I devoured them all. Fluppy Dogs was planned to be one of those shows (along with a short-lived merchandising line of stuffed animals), but they only managed to air the episode’s one-hour pilot. Due to lack of interest and ratings, the show never came to be.

NOSTALGIC LENS: While watching the Care Bears films, primarily to discover that song “Forever Young,” seeing the multi-colored furballs triggered a vague memory of seeing multi-colored canines of some sort. I distinctly recalled them traversing a mountain—but that’s it. So, thanks to the magic that is Google, a few searches connected me to Fluppy Dogs, the movie of which was available on Youtube. So, I decided to surprise myself and you readers by watching this, if primarily to satisfy the most elusive of my childhood memories. One question remains: did we miss out on what could have been an excellent animated series, or did Disney wisely can this into their vault (probably a back corner, next to Oswald the Rabbit?)

DOES IT HOLD UP: The secret to making a “cutesy-girly” product more accessible to boys is to add cool fantasy stuff. Gummi Bears had some pretty epic medieval clashes and even My Little Ponies had a villain of Satanic evil. So, Fluppy Dogs added the somewhat intriguing idea of parallel-world, realm-jumping creatures. Pound Puppies, meet Sliders. (So, if you want your Foo-Foo dolls to appeal to young boys, ladies, add some time travel nonsense.)

The problem that writers can fall into concerning parallel world stories is that it can lead to some really lazy, contrived writing. And Fluffy Dogs, sadly, didn’t pass the test. Now, certainly, I’m not expecting brilliance here, but one of the things the 80s/90s toon-Disney writers were great at was taking bizarre, complex ideas and concepts, and making them nice and straight-forward, an easy to swallow pill for the young audience. This show makes the pill chewable and wholly optional.

Five Fluppy Dogs are jumping gates to try to find their way home. They inevitably land in our world and pretend to be regular dogs. When captured by the pound, a boy named Jamie adopts one. Wackiness happens, and soon Jamie (and older neighbor Claire) are trying to re-unite the Fluppies and get them back home before J. J. Wagstaff (some rich dude with a bad fetish for random animals) captures them.

Part of the problem here is that Fluppy Dogs never passes the contrived-ness of its story. Things happen just cause they can and just to drive the plot forward. For example, why are the colored canines even jumping worlds? It might have been better to say they were escaping some sort of evil – but no, they’re looking for “adventure”. Really? You’re bending the fabric of space and time because your bored?! It gets worse when Wagstaff exposits a history of the Fluppies from a book of legends. Seriously? Why even bother with that? It added nothing to the story. It seemed more apropos to just have Wagstaff chase them because he found out they could talk. No real need to bring in the hard-to-swallow idea that authors have written about them. It’s a knock-off of Gummi Bears; but while that show got away with Gummi Bear legends by taking place in a medieval periods where crazy legends exist all the time, crazy legends in 1980s America concerning parallel-world-traveling canines just seems so random.

This clip contains, essentially, all the shows problems:

For my animator readers: How about those multi-size-changing pajamas on Stanley there? Was this storyboarded? Why are the transitions between scenes so choppy? Fades, people, fades. Also, I totally dug the explanation of the head-scratching-flying ability. Yeah, I’m sure the most amazingly convenient abilities arrive just when you need them on certain worlds, right? Hmm, I wonder if these powers will be used in some fashion at the episodes climax? Oh, who are we kidding – OF COURSE they will be:

Oh yeah. The Heffalump thing is there to crash the party. You know, in case the FLYING thing wasn’t enough for you. And get a load of that ending. The Fluppy Dogs are just gonna take over the world at that rate!

IN A NUTSHELL: You know what? I wanted to like this cartoon – and to be honest, there’s a lot of really nice stuff here. The animation has some quality moments, especially animating the dogs themselves, and the story could create some interesting future episodes. But I get the sense that the entire production was rushed; no fine-tuning of the story or overall animation makes anything clicks, and with that ending, I don’t even know how to make a series based off that – unless it’s some human vs. Fluppies type war disaster. It took all the wrong lessons from Gummi Bears – which itself wasn’t THAT great in the first place, but still managed to make epic adventures without the characters crying out “ADVENTURE!” Even at five years-old, that’s pretty lame.

November 30th: Babe
December 7th: All Dogs Go to Heaven

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CHILDHOOD REVISITED – HOME ALONE

Remember this scene? Remember how it was used in every trailer, ever? And in the movie, he does the sh*t twice! Oh, Culkin, we can't get enough of your burning-face hijinks.

Remember this scene? Remember how it was used in every trailer, ever? And in the movie, he does the sh*t twice! Oh, Culkin, we can't get enough of your burning-face hijinks.

Home Alone – (1990)

Director: Chris Columbus
Starring: Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern
Screenplay by: John Hughes

John Hughes past away early August of 2009. While I have my issues with his types of movies, especially his 80s flicks of genre stereotypes, I guess I can’t fault his abilities to tell a story, despite their simplicity. His films were always iconic of a specific time period, but many of them just don’t hold up well (minus the nostalgic glasses). Still, I admire the person as a filmmaker, and that’s really the ultimate point.

Home Alone is no exception. It’s a perfect 90s movie, a precursor to the glut of pro-kid films that assaulted the early decade with reckless abandon (that didn’t have them up against some Russian/German antagonist). This is partially why I miss the 90s—back then, it was considered that kids could indeed do something, that they could make a difference, that they mattered. Nowadays? Well, there’s Yu-gi-oh.

NOSTALGIC LENS: I’ve probably sat through this movie fully once. By the time it hit the TV circuit, the number of times that it rotated in and out the schedule was staggering. I watched about thirty minutes of whenever it came one, snickered a bit, and then moved on. It never held my attention for any length of time. I do like Daniel Stern though. I enjoyed Bushwacked. I wonder if that’ll be a future CR feature. Hmm…

DOES IT HOLD UP: The direction is sublime. The writing is contrived.

Chris Columbus must have taken cues from Richard Donner. One underrated skill directors deal with is blocking (the movement of actors in a scene), especially with large crowds and kids, which only ratchets the difficulty to eleven. And while the acting itself is mediocre at best for the most part, the introduction is really well done in terms of motion and pacing. With the glut of children and adults running around as they prepare for their trip to France, it’s pretty hectic, and Columbus makes it work.

The plot is pretty obvious. Culkin’s character, Kevin McCallister, screws up a dinner that creates some hostility between him and the rest of the family. He sulks and goes to his room, wishing he never had a family. Well, guess what happens? In a pathetically loathsome plot contrivance (which I’ll discuss later), the family leaves for France without him. Kevin is left… uh… home alone. Stuff happens, and then he has to defend his house from some burglars.

I should have been prepared for the awkwardness of the writing—and I was, for the most part—but even I had to grimace at the obvious, not-subtle-at-all set-ups for the story. Early on you see a ton of random items and props that clearly will be used at the climax of the movie in some fashion. BB Gun? Check. Tarantula? Check. Laundry chute? Check. Made-up video with specific lines that may or may not be used to scare someone away? Oh, you best be checking that.

It’s quite quotable, though.

The worse moment is the actual scenario that causes the family to forget Kevin. Some random kid comes out of nowhere and manages to be distracting and bad-acting enough for the family to miscount the number of children. Then the kid DISAPPEARS. Now, part of me thinks that, yes, that was the joke. Sort of the cruel fate of random irony that is often just cast upon people—a “wrong place at the wrong time” kind of scenario. But still, it’s so clumsily handled that it seems like at some point, it clearly should have been noted that, no, that random kid is not Kevin. It might have worked out better to forgo that scene completely and just ratchet up the hurried nature of the scene, whereby they leave Kevin alone due to a huge oversight instead of a mistaken child.

That sounds nit-picky. So I’m not harping on it too long. After that, the film runs a generic gamut of jokes and moments and what-have-you. It’s kinda charming at some points and lame at others, but that’s what you got in the early 90s. It’s pretty interesting to see Kevin garner some adult responsibility—buying groceries, doing laundry, washing dishes—but it seems odd, mainly because there’s no moment where Kevin is triggered to “grow up.” He kinda just does.

While the beats aren’t running on full cylinders, at the very least the moments have some merit. While I have a lot of trouble seeing Kevin impart wisdom in a church on the typical neighborhood “scary old guy,” it’s still… uh… cute. I should mention that this movie takes place during Christmas, so one of the main themes of importance of family, of unity during the holidays, of good tithing and forgiveness, is at the forefront, and while clunky, still manages to be appealing in its own quiet and subtle ways.

The best element of the movie is Catherine O’ Hara, who plays Kevin’s mother. She’s driven with that unbridled passion for her son without rampant it up to ridiculous levels, perfect for the family picture. She has a unique timing for gags and line deliveries, which certainly isn’t in the pantheon of great film moments, but are better than one might expect. Which is odd, considering the father barely registers any concern at all. How the hell did that relationship work?

Oh, I forgot to mention the burglars. Well, they’re okay. I mean, Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern ham it up a little, and they on occasion have a hilarious rapport between them, but they’re nothing to jump up and down about. Another odd thing: they manage a somewhat sophisticated plan to rob all the homes, but fail to out-wit a kid. It’s okay– like I said, it’s one of those pro-kid stories that was perfect for its time. I was somewhat amused by Stern’s obsession for being known as the “Wet Bandits”.

Uh, so here’s a montage of all the wacky traps set to Yakety-Sax:

IN A NUTSHELL: Here’s what you do. Watch the first 30 minutes, then the clip above. Bravo! You just watch Home Alone. While I don’t regret watching the film again, I can’t say that there are better things out there to do with my time. But it’s for the children, which is fine! I don’t think today’s kids will find much to like about it, though.

November 23rd: [surprise]
November 30th: Babe

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