Phantom Boy Review (2015, Alain Gagnol, Jean Loup-Felicioli)

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Over the course of the past 4 decades, the rise of the comic book superhero adaptation has taken a foothold in cinema. Thanks to directors such as Richard Donner, Tim Burton, Sam Raimi, Alex Proyas, Lloyd Kaufman, Joel Schumacher, Warren Beatty, Guillermo del Toro, M. Night Shyamalan and Christopher Nolan, there have been many different takes on the superhero concept, some being incredibly successful and acclaimed, and some being complete failures on all accounts. In 2008, the same year The Dark Knight was released, Marvel kick-started a franchise of films that would be part of a cinematic universe. Whilst these films have been financially successful and well received, the sheer quantity of them has created an oversaturation of superhero films, with many critics criticising them for being overly formulaic, too safe, lacking memorable villains or dull soundtracks. Another problem with the whole cinematic universe idea is that having to catch up with 13 other interconnected films to understand a relatively straight forward story about guys in tights and spandex may not be sustainable for newcomers.

While a few comic book adaptations that go of the beat and path have been made recently, with films such as Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010), Super (2010), Dredd (2012), Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015) and Deadpool (2016) all gaining a lot of attention, the medium of animation has also had its fair share of well crafted and executed explorations of the genre.

Titles such as Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993), The Incredibles (2004) and Big Hero 6 have received acclaimed for taking the clichés and tropes of the genre, and either spinning them on their head or using the power of animation to create unique stories not possible in live action.

At the Toronto International Film Festival on September 12, 2015, (2010), the French-Belgium animated film, Phantom Boy had its worldwide premiere. This is the second directorial collaboration titled between Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol, the duo who previously worked on the Oscar nominated A Cat in Paris, and was produced by Folimage, Lunanime and France 3 Cinema.

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The film follows an 11-year old named Leo, who is suffering from cancer and is trying to recover in hospital, while being visited by his loving family and young sister, Titi. Leo lets her in on a secret, giving her a reason to keep her chin up. As a result of tiredness, due to chemotherapy, whilst Leo is unconscious, gains the ability to escape his body, allowing him to traverse New York City and keep watch of his family.

Meanwhile, a cop named Alex Tanner, has been making the headlines due to preventing burglaries, has been demoted by his boss to guard the downtown docks. Whilst on guard duty on a rainy night, a criminal kingpin known as Broken Face tries to get in contact with the mayor, when suddenly a computer virus causes a blackout across the city, resulting car crashes and affects the dock lamps. After getting in a fight with gangsters, Alex requests backup and spots Broken Face. While chasing him around the docks, Broken Face drops a shipping crate on Alex, resulting in a broken leg, being bound in a wheel and is forced to stay in the hospital and recover. With the investigation work now falling on Mary (Audrey Tautou), Leo and Alex now have to team up together in order to stop Broken Face from taking over the city, before its too late.

Phantom Boy combines elements of film noir mystery, super hero origin myth and family drama to create a film that really stands out, especially in an era where everything nowadays is either a needless reboot or pointless spin-off.

The character’s work of each other very well, with Leo being a sincere and caring kid who just wants to help others in desperate times, Alex being a cocky yet humble cop and Mary actually being a surprisingly capable detective. As a villain, Broken Face not only works as an obstacle against the protagonists, but provides a lot of nice humour that often pokes fun at overblown backstories and conventions in comic book films. The tone and the story reminded me of a mix between the pulp detective comic series Dick Tracy and the animated series, Danny Phantom.

If there was anything with the story negative to point, I do think that the film really should been at least 20 minutes longer, so that certain side characters could have had more of an impact, and so that one specific scene could have been better emotionally executed with some more visual storytelling.

Still, even with these issues, the story is fun to follow, with likeable characters, well executed humour and has encouraging messages that will resonate with both kids and adults.

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One aspect of Phantom Boy that is certainly going to makes viewers intrigued is the animation and general artistic aesthetic. The hand drawn animation is for the most part, quite naturalistic and focuses on the small movements of the characters, with the odd comedic moment or out of body moment that add a touch of the surreal to the artistry. The sequences where Leo is flying around give of a nice sense of aviation that is akin to Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) and Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland (1989).

The character designs have simple outlines with flat shading that is very inspired various artists, such as Moebius, Richard Sala and even Taiyo Matsumoto. The faces are minimalist and have a distorted style, sometimes with feline-like eyes vertical in their heads, and simple lines for noses and mouths. Broken Face has colourful and disjointed quality that is like if Two Face was drawn from the imagination of Picasso. The character designs are a nice change of pace from the overly cutesy and welcoming designs of American animation, going for a rougher, yet more personal style.

Speaking of Picasso, his influence can be seen on the backgrounds, as they take on an impressionistic quality, that adds a dreamlike beauty to the city. New York City has been reused as a setting time and time again for many films, in the case of this film, every bustling street, grocery store, storage warehouse, parking lot, seaside dock and tall cityscape are genuinely luscious and easy on the eyes.

The lighting and cinematography is where some of the film noir influence can be found, starting with a title sequence certainly inspired by the work of Saul Bass, who worked on countless film posters and the title sequences for classics such as The Man with the Golden Arm, Anatomy of Murder and Vertigo. It is often low-key, utilizing stark shadows, low camera angles and the urban setting can be compared to The Big Sleep, Double Indemnity and Chinatown. One aspect of shading that I thought was a nice touch is that the outlines of light showing on a character often have an effect that looks like they were drawn in by a crayon, leaving charcoal marks, adding to the hand crafted nature of the animation. The vehicles are done with CG, which the most part blends in well with the hand drawn animation, although can sometimes look out of place.

The simple yet nice character designs coupled with pleasing and surreal backgrounds and a uniquely artistic take on an of-overused setting gives the visuals a very pleasing, refreshing yet old school feel that adds to the film.

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The sound design, headed by Loic Burchardt (A Cat in Paris) and mixed by Jean-Paul Hurier (Intouchables, Blue is the Warmest Colour), does a very solid job of getting the viewer immersed into the world. The sounds of footsteps, door slams, the rustling of clothes, rain, punches, objects being touched, glass shattering, gunfire and the wind blowing do a succinct job at matching the images without being distracting.

The French voice cast features actors such as newcomer Gaspard Gagnol as Leo, Edouard Baer (Chicken with Plums, Wild Grass) as Alex, Audrey Tautou (Amelie, The Da Vinci Code) as Mary and Jean-Pierre Marielle (Four Flies on Grey Velvet, Micmacs) as Broken Face, all giving in nice performances that makes the audience buy the characters. While it might be potentially quite incongruent seeing characters in an American setting speaking in Parisian dialect, the strength of the performances means you’ll get used to it after a few minutes.

The score by Serge Besset (A Cat in Paris) evokes the jazz noir soundtracks of Bernard Hermann, Anton Karas and a hint of Danny Elfman, with a nice mix of cello, strings, piano, chorus and bells that sells the film noir atmosphere, while also being heroic, mellow, dramatic and adventurous. Given most American superhero films to include music that is not meant to be noticed, and are often bland and forgettable, it is quite refreshing seeing a score done in a classic jazz style.

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The current influx of super hero films since the last decade has made a lot of people bored of the same old formulas being milked over and over again. Fortunately, through the power of animation and a rich imagination, Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli have created a film that is a hodpodge of different styles and ideas effectively. Phantom Boy has likeable characters, a great visual style with a jazzy score, making the film a successful mix of genres that has an appeal to both younger and older audiences. If you are seeking a film that sticks out from the overdone superhero formulas, while providing a nice, heart-warming story, then this French animated out of body adventure might be what you’re looking for.

4/5

Phantom Boy is available on DVD by SODA Pictures, including both the original French Language track with English subtitles, and an English dub done by GKids, and a making of featurette. It is also streaming on Amazon Instant Video.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Phantom-Boy-DVD-Alain-Gagnol/dp/B01MEENIUW/ref=sr_1_1?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1488047257&sr=1-1&keywords=phantom+boy

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The Red Turtle Review (2016, Michael Dudok de Wit)

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2016 was a year alright. A year that will be remembered in many people’s eyes as a crap one. A Neo Nazi became president of the United States, Brexit made our Kingdom no longer a United one, and many awesome artists and personalities passed away, including David Bowie, Carrie Fisher, Prince, George Micheal, Isao Tomita, Alan Rickman and Anton Yelchin, just to name but a few. This negative attitude also permeated through a lot of the general consensus of the film releases of 2016, with blockbusters such as Batman vs. Superman, Suicide Squad, Ghostbusters, Independence Day Resurgence and that Ben Hur remake no one asked for were films that put film buffs in a sour state of mind. However, if one looks outside the box, it was honestly a pretty good year for indie cinema, with films such as The Witch, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Nocturnal Animals, Swiss Army Man and The Neon Demon being films that not only ended up being surprise sleeper hits, but will likely be more fondly remembered than the 200th comic book superhero origin story.

When it came to animated theatrical releases, there were films such as Zootropolis, Finding Dory, Kubo and the Two Strings, Your Name and Anomalisa that not only showed that the medium is alive and well, but can also tackle a variety of topics in limitless ways that live action cannot. At the Canne film festival in May 2016, there was the debut of The Red Turtle (La Tortue Rogue in French), which is a unique film for a few reasons. For one, it is the first International co-production of legendary Anime company, Studio Ghibli, collaborating with Why Not Productions and The Wild Bunch. It is directed by Dutch animator Michael Dudok de Wit, who won several awards for his short film, Father and Daughter (2000), and much like his previous work, is told entirely without dialogue, allowing the visuals and sound to do the talking.

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Beginning with a Studio Ghibli logo, this time in red, in deference to the films title, the film starts in media res, with the main protagonist caught in an intense tsunami on a stormy night. While the man tries very hard to get back to his boat, the powerful tsunami casts him him away to a deserted tropical island in the middle of the vast ocean. The man wakes up stranded on the beach and starts to explore the island, observing the nature, flora and fauna surrounding him. He tries to drink water, eat food and gather resources in an effort to survive the storms. Failing to find signs of human life, he desperately calls for help. Struck with loneliness, the man tries over and over again to escape the island by building a raft allowing him to go back to civilization. However, all of these attempts fail leaving him completely isolated and in turn, questioning his existence. Under mysterious circumstances, the man eventually discovers the presence of the titular Red Turtle.

The premise of The Red Turtle does make it seem similar to other adventure stories focusing on the aspect of survival, such as the film Cast Away and the Daniel Defoe novel, Robinson Crusoe. In terms of execution, the film contains many elements that are allegorical, fantastical, surrealist and symbolic. Coincidently, the Turtle also shares the same colour as Wilson from Cast Away. There are only a few characters, and instead of relying on three-hour long origin stories or tie in novels, the characterization is simple yet effectively executed, allowing the viewer to fill in the blanks.

Despite the dialogue free nature of the story, the film, penned by Pascale Ferran (Bird People), manages to cover a lot of ground in its 80 minute run time, allowing the viewer to get immersed into the world, and has a lot of elements that can be interpreted in a number of ways. It beautifully manages to explore topics such as the human condition, mankind’s place in nature, the cycle of life, and companionship in ways that are poetic and emotionally captivating. The simple premise coupled with languid pacing and with rich symbolism make the film stand out, especially compared to the ADHD candy coloured toy adverts coming out of America.

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The animation in The Red Turtle is a beautiful hand drawn marvel with much to admire. The forests, beaches, fields, trees, caverns and ocean are all meticulously created with a naturalistic flair, which makes sense given the body of Ghibli’s output, especially the films of Hayao Miyazaki, tend to deal with nature. Thanks to the impressive work overseen by Emma McCann (The Illusionist), the backgrounds in this film are otherworldly, dreamlike and feel delicately created in a way that completely complements the atmosphere and the themes the film evokes. Also, one can’t forget to mention the stunning colour work done by Alexis Liddell (A Monster Calls), which is soft on the eyes, beautifully integrated into the background, and manages to create an impressionistic quality that modern CGI animation simply cannot achieve as effectively.

There are some sequences where one colour dominates the canvas, such as a dream sequence set at night, and the ocean and sky are shown in a way where it represents the psychological state of the character in not only a symbolic sense, but in an effective way that helps with the mood.

The cinematography is very impressive, with great framing used to effectively create a sense of vulnerability, and to show the vastness of the luscious landscapes, helping with the film’s overall calm, meditative and introspective tone.

The character animation is lyrical and like a lot of the visual aspects, done with great care and detail, that rely less on exaggerated gestures and instead on small naturalistic movements, allowing the viewer to be immersed in the world. The actual designs are the part of the aesthetic that shows that this is a Ghibli co-production, as Yoshiyuki Momose, Ghibli’s usual character designer, wasn’t involved. The characters are drawn in the Ligne Claire style pioneered by Herge, so much like the designs in Tintin, the characters are drawn in a simplistic fashion with black dots for eyes, while still allowing room for strong usage of emotion. The designs of the animals are sublime, with the crabs, seals, birds and other wildlife which have been captured with loving detail, while having excellently crafted movement that feels very believable.

Compared to glossy CG animation that ages much faster, the luscious hand drawn animation, background work and designs give the film a timeless quality, meaning one can revisit this film in a decade and still be stunned by all the effort that has gone into the visual presentation.

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While the characters do shout and make the odd gasp and grunt noises, the most noticeable sound that can be heard is breathing. This is strangely refreshing for an animated production, as this allows the audience to connect to the characters and makes them feel more real.

The environment sound design is interwoven very well into the soundtrack and the visuals, as they make the world the characters inhabit feel mysterious yet familiar. The sound of rain, wind, waves and wildlife add a slot of subtle touches to the film, allowing certain sequences to feel akin to the films of Andrei Tarkovsky and Yasujiro Ozu.

The film’s soundtrack was composed and written by Laurent Perez Del Mar (Zarafa, Fear(s) of the Dark), and it’s this score that truly support the film to find it’s voice. Whenever the music appeared, it was there to effectively enhance the scene, weather it was hopeful and happy, gentle and sedate, tender and emotional or thoughtful and meditative. The combination of cellos, opera vocals, strings, flutes and piano have a quality akin to the work of James Horner, Thomas Newman, Joe Hisaishi and Ennio Morricone. It is a stirring and beautiful soundtrack that helps the movie express its themes and emotions with sublime execution.

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In a year that has been full of great releases in the animation medium, few manage to stand out as much as The Red Turtle. Michael Dudok de Wit has managed to take a stab at making a feature length production gracefully, and with the help of one of the most adored animation studios in the world, has managed to create a film that shows the power of animation as a purely visual medium for storytelling. The Red Turtle succeeds as a piece of cinema, featuring thought provoking themes, stunning cinematography, a brilliant soundtrack, gorgeous animation and solid pacing that makes it a beautiful, emotional, engaging and much needed breath of fresh air. This film is an impressionistic fable that paints a canvas worth exploring.

5/5

If I have piqued your interest in this film, you can go to Amazon.fr and grab a copy of the Blu-ray release, which is import friendly, due to the wordless nature of the film.

https://www.amazon.fr/Tortue-rouge-Blu-ray-Michael-Dudok/dp/B01H3EFF6O/ref=sr_1_1_twi_blu_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1487196967&sr=8-1&keywords=La+tortue+rouge

It is also worth noting that this release also comes with De Wits earlier short films remastered in HD from the original materials. Unfortunately, there are no English subtitles for the making of documentary.

The Red Turtle will also be given a UK theatrical release on May 26th, 2017 by Studio Canal,  and this is a film you will definitely want to see on in the cinema, thanks the stunning sound design and animation.

Patlabor 2 (Oshii, 1993) Scene Analysis

This is an analysis I did a few years ago for a film studies course, where the class was asked to choose a movie, and choose to analyze a scene, which would be written up into an essay, and I choose the classic anime film, Patlabor 2, released on August 7th, 1993 (exactly a year before I was born) and directed by Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell, Angel’s Egg). This analysis was alot of fun to write, since the film is layered with symbolism and thought provoking themes that become even more apparent the more you revisit it, which is often the case with Oshii’s films and many great film makers, such as Ingmar Bergman, Andrei Tarkovsky, Jean Pierre Melville and David Lynch.

(video uploaded by isidorx, film owned by Shochiku, Bandai Visual, HEADGEAR, TFC and Production IG.)

Camera angles: The camera angles are technically drawn, as it’s animated, it’s very difficult to separate it from Mise-en-scene considering the medium the movie was created in. The extreme long shots on the abandoned parts of the city as well as the misty clouds give the sequence a very lost feel which fits the situation the characters are in, who happen to be two regular police officers on a boat in the middle of a vast huge desolate part of Tokyo, and are lost in thought. This gives the scene a heavy feeling of isolation. The first shot is an establishment shot of the protagonist, showing us he’s the main character, and is about to look up at the bridge. The next shot is of an abandoned bridge, showing part of Mise en scene, and the third shot is him continuing to be awed by the stature of the bridge, and makes him look vulnerable. The fifth shot is a mid-angle shot of Goto looking at the bridge, and his face is covered in shadow, suggesting a shadowy side of his personality, evident throughout the film. The sixth shot is a small depth of field angle, showing Goto looking at the viewer, with the bridge behind him making him look heroic and strong. This is followed a shot that shows off cloudy pollution and parts of the harbor that are shaded as if they are fading, adding to the dreamlike atmosphere of the shot. The eighth shot is a slow, observant tracking shot showing parts of the harbor, with the ruins contrasting with the skyscrapers, which tells us that it takes place in an urban city, and this correlates with state of Tokyo in the movie. The fourteenth shot is a low angle shot of two towers, that emphasize power, intending to make the viewer feel small, and strangely, the two towers look like guillotines, when coupled with the line “Remaining in denial about a fraud like this will bring a great punishment on our heads.”, seems deliberate.

Mise-en-scene: The scene takes place in an urban part of a city that is no longer being utilized, which has only two people in the scene, which gives of a feeling isolation. In two shots near an abandoned warehouse, crows and seagulls are utilized to give of a feeling that creatures that can fly are like watchers of god. The following shot is a long shot which shows a destroyed bridge, showing that the environment is desolate and that creates a sombre mood, which accompanied with the clouds in the background give off a dream like vibe to set the scene.

Use of sound: As this is an animated film, all the sound is done in post-production and is non diegetic, so instead of having people acting on set, they voices of the characters are done in a recording booth as the film is being made. The voices sound rather solemn, calm and focused on the topic they are talking about, giving of the impression that are characters are very philosophical as well as sophisticated. The rudder of the boat, coupled with the sound of the birds and water is utilized to make the scene feel more grounded in realism. In the second shot, the ambient music is used to create a sombre, yet calm atmosphere, and the dialogue starts in the fourth shot, which sound serious, yet tranquil and meditative, which relates to both Goto (protagonist) and Arakawa’s character, as they are very focused serious people.

Editing: The pace of the editing is very straight and to the point, and is rather slow, allowing the viewer to take in the visuals and be immersed in the atmosphere of the dialogue heavy sequence. There’s two parts where fading to another scene’s angle is used, for example, in shot 15, we are focusing on a warehouse, and the fading is done to go closer to that very warehouse, but for the most part, it’s very straight. The scenery here feels shaky, due to the protagonist being on a boat, which feels more grounded.

Links to where you can buy Patlabor 2 on DVD or Blu-ray:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Patlabor-2-DVD-Mamoru-Oshii/dp/B000IOF69S/ The out of print Honneamise release sublicensed in the UK by Beez Entertainment, which was avaliable in both a standard edition and a Limited Collector’s Edition, which had 1000 copies printed and had some fantastic extras, including 2 books, the first of which being an Archives book filled with interviews, concept art and essays, and the second book including the entire film’s storyboards with English translations for the liner notes, and an extra bonus DVD with a making of the film, which I’d highly reccomending tracking down for any serious fan of the film and the director, Mamoru Oshii.

http://www.cdjapan.co.jp/product/BCXA-86 In Japan, a high defintion Blu-ray version of the film was released, which includes the English dub, and original Japanese audio with English subtitles, making it import friendly, it also includes theatrical trailers and is Region free. The only downside is how expensive it is, due to market differences in Japan.

http://www.rightstufanime.com/Patlabor-2-Movie-BD-Hyb For those who live in the United States and Canada, Maiden Japan, a division of Sentai Filmworks, have licensed the movie for a Blu-ray & DVD release on July 21st, 2015, though will likely be region locked, if the other Patlabor releases from Maiden Japan are to go by, so you will need a multi regional blu ray player or a PS3/PS4 games console from the US to play it.

An introduction to The Animation Compendium

Hello reader, welcome to The Animation Compendium.

My name is Hamish Morgan-Giles, a university student with a massive interest in animation.

This blog exists in a realm between dream and reality, mind and matter…

I will be taking a look into the world of animated films, primarily those of European and Japanese origin, as I feel theres an unexplored side to animation that I feel would be very exciting to write about.

I want to publish reviews, analysis and articles, and I would very much appreciate some feedback on how they could be improved.

I look forward to informing you readers on a side to animation you might not have been aware of before.

Until then, have a nice day.