Editor’s note: Welcome to the fourth of a multi-part series dissecting the 2008 Academy Awards, brought to you by the Large Association of Movie Blogs and its assorted members. Every weekday leading up to the Oscars, a new post written by a different LAMB will be published, each covering a different category (or more) of the Oscars (there are 24 in all). To read any other posts regarding this event, please just click on the tag following the post. Thank you, and enjoy!
By Jess from Insight Into Entertainment
The Oscar nominations came out last week, and I for one was pleasantly surprised about most of the actor nominations and movies. I’ll probably be disappointed by the actual winners because they won’t be the ones I want, but I doubt I’d be surprised. Anyway, one category I was particularly surprised to see such a small selection and relatively odd choices was best animated feature, which I was assigned to discuss for the LAMB Oscar Event. As expected Ratatouille was there. However, I was not expecting the other two, because other awards events hadn’t included either of them. First, Persepolis was probably just not quite on the radar of the other awards, but the buzz and importance of it obviously penetrated the Oscar voters. The second one was Surf’s Up, which I thought was just another penguin movie that had missed the year of the penguins (I loved March of the Penguins and thought Happy Feet was good, but I think penguins have been done now). The movies I expected to be there beyond Ratatouille were not, including The Simpsons Movie, Bee Movie, and Shrek the Third, which had all been nominated for other awards.
Since I do not live in a major metropolitan area, Persepolis will not be coming to my theater before the Oscars. However, a fellow movie blogger (Ferdy on Films) has written an extremely thorough review of the movie, which I draw on for my description. Persepolis follows the story of a woman reminiscing about her childhood in Iran and then in Europe. She wants to be modern and likes many things from outside Iran – Bruce Lee, punk music, ABBA, etc., all of which are forbidden after the rise of Islamic law. She is sent to live with family in Vienna, which doesn’t work out. She grows up and still feels like an outsider, so she returns to Iran, but still doesn’t find what she’s looking for. It’s described as a coming of age tale of an outsider who can’t find a home to belong. It’s based on graphic novels and the animation is obviously derived from the feel of graphic novels, being mostly black and white with a comic-feel of the animation. I think it’s a remarkable story, and a new kind of animated movie to be made, but I’m not sure it’s worthy of the Oscar. The animation is not spectacular or particularly nuanced, and holds on to the graphic novel and never really leaves the 2-dimensional space.
I was very pleasantly surprised watching Surf’s Up. First, it’s not a traditional cartoon story about penguins. It’s an animated, (obviously) fictional, documentary about surfing penguins. There are interviews about the main character, a surfer named Z who died in a tournament a while ago. The main interviewee, Cody (voiced by Shia LeBoeuf), idolized the lost Z and is coming to compete in the tournament. He comes from Antarctica and has never been able to prove how good a surfer he is. The documentary people follow his journey to get to the Z memorial tournament. Cody arrives, gets hurt on the big waves on Pen Gu Island. Luckily there is a life guard, Lani (Zooey Deschanel) around to save him and then take care of him with the help of a washed up surfer (Jeff Bridges – perfectly channeling “The Dude” from time to time). The washed up surfer shows him how to make a new surf board that will help win the whole thing. Of course the washed up surfer turns out to be Z, who faked his death so as not to lose to the younger Tank. Cody and Tank compete, along with Chicken Joe (perfectly voiced by Napoleon Dynamite‘s Jon Heder), and of course I won’t tell you who wins. Cody and Lani fall for each other and Z re-emerges to save the day. The reason this movie really struck me is both the style and the animation. The mockumentary could easily have been done by Christopher Guest and his recurring cast of kooky characters, but it happened to be animated penguins. So the script is really sharp with lots of funny bits, though most of it being as predictable as a Christopher Guest mockumentary. They did a good job creating a diverse cast of characters using many different species of penguins. It was the animation that really awed me – it was animated such that it was a camera capturing the images – with only one thing being in focus at a time. The person talking would be in focus, but the background would be blurry. It really came into a 3-D perspective and kept the idea that it was a documentary going throughout. Excellent choice by the Oscar committee, and probably overlooked by many in the theaters. However, I don’t think it will win either.
I do think the Oscar will go to Ratatouille, and for a change, I think it also deserves it. The animated offering from Pixar, Ratatouille, was notoriously hard to sell – it’s about a rat and the title is a stew that most people have never heard of. There are a hundred titles that would have made the movie easier to sell – “Underground in Paris”, or “The Little Chef” (a phrase even used in the film). However, people flocked to this movie and loved it. Basically, it’s a terrific story about being true to yourself, but trying to realistically find yourself at the intersection of different worlds. It’s everything the Disney/Pixar movies have always been about – with the addition of pretty exceptional animation. This is the first CGI-animated movie I’ve ever seen that creates people with realistic facial expressions and twitches. Unfortunately, that skill extends to creating too-realistic shots of a very nice family of rats swarming out of a man-hole, or across a floor. That’s where the heebie jeebies came in – I actually had to look away twice. It’s the story of a young rat, Remy, who knows he could make better food than the garbage his kind are stuck with. He seeks out the restaurant of his favorite chef in Paris, the deceased Gusteau (who comes to him in hallucinations to tell him what to do). Of course a rat is not allowed in a restaruant kitchen, so he teams up with a lowly garbage boy and they start creating magnificent dishes that raise the declining status of the restaurant, making everyone happy. Ultimately, Remy’s family accepts him for his “foodie nature” and Remy and the garbage boy create wonderful food in a kitchen no one is allowed to see. It doesn’t cater too much to any one demographic, and is easy to enjoy by all – particually if rats don’t give you the heebie jeebies. I think it has spectacular animation, a fun storyline, and will win the Oscar.