Wednesday, August 25, 2010


(Many, many, many thanks to Tony Dayoub for the screen captures.)

I've often expressed my admiration for Sleeping Beauty, extolling it as one of the greatest animated films of all time, and certainly the greatest thing that Walt Disney's studio ever produced. This is an opinion that's often been met with befuddlement: people don't "get" my "Sleeping Beauty thing", and they wonder how on Earth could anyone champion this film above all others? Frankly, I'm about as befuddled: I can't imagine anyone not liking it. It is animation, and thus cinema, at its pinnacle.

To start with, there's the aspect ratio: 2.55:1, wider than wide. Every composition emphasizes the very horizontal-ness of the frame, whether it's tracking movement from left to right--

-- or creating moods both romantic and gloomy via the use of negative space--

-- or staging some of the most thrilling action sequences to ever be animated.

Notice how Maleficent and her flames move diagonally across the frame, pushing Prince Philip into one corner or the other. It's still very much a horizontal composition, but the injection of the vertical adds a sense of danger. Vertical movement in the film's widescreen world is upsetting and tumultuous; it's no coincidence that this frame of the post-spindle Briar Rose, intended to shock, is fundamentally vertical:

Whereas this more peaceful frame finds her horizontal:

Horizontal, but also somewhat flat. It is, to my eye, an appealing flatness, one that reoccurs through-out the film and gives it the stylized, illuminated manuscript vibe that I also find incredibly, breathtakingly, astonishingly beautiful.

And there are some who will grant me the film's formal pleasures, even go as far as to admit that it's eye-popping, but that the film lacks for "heart" or that's it is pretty but lifeless, empty. Not up to par, they say, with the True Classics. And, again, I can't really see what they're talking about; this is a film that's absolutely bursting with life.

This, after all, is the only Disney film with a charming prince who had any kind of identifiable personality. Watch the scene with Phillip and Samson again and tell me that he's just another handsome, stuffed-shirt cipher like the rest. Maleficent, for her part, is a villain with real teeth, tall and black and imperious, dripping with sadistic sarcasm and cruel menace. The climax is the liveliest that Disney's got, and also the scariest-- "Now you shall deal with me, oh prince, and all the powers of Hell!" is a line that still gives me chills down my spine.

The three fairies do their part to provide comic relief, though for me the real chuckles come from the two kings, a servant, and a bottle of wine. That scene is as loose and gangly and joyous as the hand-washing and "The Silly Song" sequences in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (classic Disney at its best always having ample room for long digressions where nothing much actually happens). And like the best of the Disney canon, the story unfolds not in bite-sized little montages and unit-like scenes but in longer sequences that possess a real sense of flow and that allow the characters to interact with one another. The illusion of life, in this case perfected with a formal elegance and stylistic flavour that none of the other Disney films ever attempted to match. That's not to slag the other great Disney films-- count me as an ardent fan of the studio's earliest features-- but rather to point out that they all have a certain look, a certain feel, in common, yet there's nothing that looks or feels like Sleeping Beauty.

It's funny, thrilling, sad, dark, stylized, daring, slender, austere, loose, and gorgeous. A masterpiece of cinema both in terms of visual splendor and storytelling. The last truly great Disney film, the absolute peak of American hand-drawn animation.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Weebl's CAT FACE.

Cat Face, he's got a big cat face. He's got the face of a cat and the body of a cat. He flies through the air, because he has a cat's face, it's Cat Face.

There's a lot of random, surreal stuff on the internet, much of it interchangeable. Very little of it really lasts or is deserving of more than a brief moment of being the meme supreme. How Is Babby Formed? does not really reward repeated viewings; Badger, Badger, Badger stops being funny pretty quickly.

But Cat Face-- from the some mind that gave us Badger, Badger, Badger-- is different. Cat Face, I keep coming back to. What sets it apart, besides the precision of the title character's stilted syntax and the enormous range of its pop culture references, is that its hero is very much a cat, and acts very much like a cat. Too many cartoon animals are really people in disguise, with a human's thought processes, desires, and actions. Cat Face does not act like a cat-shaped person, but rather possesses a cat's innate selfishness, instinctual behaviours, and peculiar sense of logic. The series gets a lot of mileage out of its protagonist's very specific way of looking at and dealing with the world.

And, interestingly, he's also the straight man at the center of it all, surrounded by a cast of loonies and archetypes: Old Lady, a geriatric pensioner who he abducts off the street; Posh Tom, who is always ROOT-ing through his garbage; Face Cat, a surreal (and seriously creepy yet also kind of endearing) doppelganger; Box Cat, who embodies a very particular part of the feline experience; and, um, Mr. So-Called Gordon Ramsay. Yes, that Gordon Ramsay.

So, it's that sort of show. The quality can sometimes get a bit uneven-- I couldn't stop cringing through the makeover episode, for one-- but at its prime, it's head-and-shoulders above pretty much every other Flash-animated series on the internet. I think it's very much worth your time, especially if you've any affection for felis catus.

Watch it here.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


(Disclosure: I became a "Facebook Friend" of Mr. Mauck's shortly after seeing his picture.)

Straight To the Bone is one of the most satisfying pictures, indie or studio, American or foreign, that I've seen this year. It bears some formal similarities to the casual shaky-cam oh-my-god-look-how-real-it-is school that's started to metastasize in American independent films, but it's more patient with its characters and their moment-to-moment interactions without getting lazy or dull, because it is also more attentive. The dialogue and plot, while very much improvised, is at the same time tremendously focused and direct: people don't waste a lot of time talking around things in Straight To the Bone, but rather discuss them frankly, openly, honestly, articulately, perhaps even didactically, but always in an adult way, cutting-- well, straight to the bone.

If the great thematic burden of many independent films is post-collegiate apprehension about the future, Straight To the Bone registers the profound disappoint that sets in when you realize you haven't made the life you wanted for yourself. In this way, the film-- despite some amusing moments-- is not a comedy. It's not a bauble or a trifle; it does not indulge the antics of the arrestedly-developed and well-intentioned but rather insists that actions (and inactions) have consequences. It's a heavy film, weighty, serious-minded, as thick and densely-packed as other American indies are light and loose.

It is a major work, and I suggest you see it as soon as you are able.