Saturday, January 29, 2011

I Saw "The Illusionist"!

That's right, The Illusionist opened today in Seattle and I certainly was ecstatic to go. It's hard to believe that I had been waiting for this movie to come out for almost three years! A lot of hype was being made, and I was hoping it was going to live up to those expectations. The movie opened at the right time, after the official Academy Award nominations was made public not too long ago. So there was a pretty good crowd for a foreign animated feature. After leaving I'm absolutely convinced that it SHOULD win that Oscar, but it probably won't.

The first thing that I loved about the movie was the character design. In fact the magician was a caricature of Jacques Tati, who wrote the film and would have starred and directed. But not just the main characters but a majority of background characters that were just extras were also very specific. Not only were the characters caricatured, but even the ending theme was sung by singers impersonating famous French voices, like Edith Piaf, Serge Gainsbourg, Jacques Brel, Charles Trenet, and others.

The wonderful theme to this movie.

Before i saw The Illusionist I saw another movie at a different theatre called Summer Wars also animated, but from Japan. I liked the movie a lot, but let's face it anime character design is not very specific and very bland. Japan isn't alone, America is pretty much on the same boat.

Seriously, who's who? Still a good movie though.

On that note, Alice's facial construction wasn't as carefully planned as the others and I think as a result she seemed a bit more 'stiff' when animated (head-wise, the body was done very well). It couldn't have been much fun to animate her. Otherwise, everyone was very fun to look at.

Certain characters didn't have to do very much to make the audience laugh, they just were. This band was especially a crowd pleaser. There's also a ventriloquist character that really put a smile on my face, sadly I couldn't find any images online to share.

After watching an episode of Mission Hill and bits and pieces of Summer Wars in terms of color palette, The Illusionist was eye-candy; desaturated, but lush. John Kricfalusi has criticized Chomet's first film Triplets of Belleville for have "poo and pee colors." I can see that, and The Illusionist definitely has it's 'pee and poo' color moments but much, much less than Triplets. Mostly, I saw rich color for all the pastoral scenes and night scenes. Regardless what John says, I'd much rather take pee and poo over retina burning, over-saturation any day.

I love this show, but my eyes hurt while watching it. 

"Doodie and pee-pee" color harmonies. Far better than lack of harmony as the image before this. 

As much as I like to talk, dialogue in movies is not something I'm very keen on. There are so many lines that don't have to even be said, it winds up being filler and sometimes undermines the audience. Most audiences are intelligent enough to understand what's happening in a scene visually without being told by either awkward, unrealistic dialogue or even worse... a narrator! The best scripts don't make the best films that's where storyboarding has a huge advantage, it's all visual. Sylvain Chomet's previous projects had no dialogue and Tati films have little or no dialogue as well. All the better, it gives me a chance to enjoy what I am watching. I'm always frustrated at beautifully photographed or atmospheric foreign films because as much as I want to concentrate on the image, I have to read the subtitles. Funny thing is that there is some dialogue in The Illusionist, yet because the lines are so insignificant from already being mimed out no one even bothered to add subtitles.

Remember this show? Probably liked it as a kid, huh? I did. Try watching it again, the dialogue will make you want to puke your pants.

So what was the movie about? Well, it was about a magician and his pals careers coming to a close and the end of vaudeville. He starts preforming at large crowds in big venues but as time progress' the stage gets exponentially smaller. Along the way he meets Alice, a young girl who still believes in magic and follows him to Edinbergh. The relationship between the two is in the vain of Lost in Translation, ambiguous and more on par with a father-daughter relationship. Despite that, he buys her anything she wants to make her happy. This gets to be too much for the magician financially, to the point that he has to take a second job doing menial labor. That's pretty much it. The movie is filled with great gags, and further expands on the idea of 'dying art,' and the relationship of the two main characters. At heart it's still a Tati film; no close-ups, occasionally more too many characters in the shot, lots of shots through windows, and even a cameo of Mon Oncle being played in the film itself. The mannerisms of the magician are also very specific of Tati. Chomet made a film that is still distinctly him, but did it the way the writer (who would have been the director) had intended.

I'm on a lot of cartooning and animation blogs, and we all have something to say about how cartoons should be made. I think The Illusionist is one of the few animated films that could be considered a 'cartoon' because the skill of cartooning had been used. I think in certain ways the film is referencing the medium it's been made in, I certainly don't like to think of cartoons, or even 2D animation as a 'dying art' (there certainly had been moments). Regardless on what you think of how cartoons should be made, you should still see it. The Illusionist is not only charming and very personal, but compared to what we're used to both in animation and film, it's a deep breath of fresh air.

1 comment:

  1. Terrific review Alberto. I can see why you thought Alice wasn't as well-contructed facially. I guess I was too absorbed in the film to really notice. I agree with you on just about everything here. I love the character designs as well. It's nice to see characters have distinct looks to them. It definitely helps to keep track of who's who.

    The film left me feeling wonderful, so full of joy and hope. When I stepped outside, I felt like I was still in that world. Seattle reminds me of Edinburgh. I could go there and still feel like I'm home.