Down the Rabbit Hole

My animation column at Product Magazine continues. This one was about Disney’s live action updates. Disney’s live action update of Cinderella has recently been released on home entertainment, the latest film in a long line from the House of Mouse where they update their animated classics to live action versions. A lot of people forget […]

Summer Blockbusters

My film column for the theology site Think Theology covered all the summer blockbusters.

Another summer of blockbusters has been and gone, so it’s time to do a bit of damage assessment. The BIG MOVIES season is drawing to a close, then there will be a lull in cinemas before the winter blockbusters and awards bait from November onwards. Well, we’ve still got The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in August, but let’s be honest, who is looking forward to that? These big budget, big box office (mostly) films are what are being consumed most on the big screen, aside from family animations, which also do well. The people are hardly flocking to see The Wonders, a beguiling drama about bee-keeping in Italy. Nope, people are shelling out their money for the biggest, shiniest films on offer. So what are they saying? How do they represent the state of pop culture, and does it differ much to a Christian perspective?

Down the Rabbit Hole

My animation column for Product Magazine now has 11 entries:

1. Introduction

2. Who Is Don Hertzfeldt?

3. The Top 5 Most Exciting Directors Working In Animation

4. Interviewing the Director and Producers of Moomins On The Riviera

5. Interview With Shaun the Sheep Directors

6. Previewing Animation At Edinburgh Film Fest

7. Who is Barry Purves?

8. Pixar’s 5 Brightest Ideas

9. Short Animations At Edinburgh Film Fest

10. Tomm Moore Interview For Song of the Sea

11. Why Are The Minions So Popular?



Down the Rabbit Hole

I kick off a new column about animated films for Product Magazine, arguing for the importance of the medium

In a late Victorian summer, a girl bored rigid by her studies follows a talking rabbit into a fantasy world of baffling creatures, absurd stories and a mouse who reads bad poetry. Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, unhinged by the nonsensical and episodic narrative of its source, is a film where animators and storytellers let their imaginations run wild. It’s fantasy at its most willfully strange, a relentlessly odd film that doesn’t so much show you a different world, but drags you down the rabbit hole into it. Walt Disney once said that animation can explain whatever the mind of man can conceive, and Alice is a perfect demonstration of the medium’s capacity to let imagination rule, unbridled, and show you strange, weird and wonderful things you’ve never seen before.

The Salvation’s old fashioned representations of women

I wrote a feature for Film Divider on the old fashioned way that new Western The Salvation represents women, and how the genre needs to change.

There was a time, in the 1950s and 60s, when Westerns were as ubiquitous in cinema as superhero films are today, when the only capes being worn were ponchos. Today, the genre plays a much smaller role in Hollywood, the big budget attempts, such as The Lone Ranger or Cowboys vs Aliens, flopping famously while occasionally filmmakers of a more artistic bent will make something to please critics but not broad audiences like, perhaps, The Assassination of Jesse James.

A straightforward, no nonsense Western is a rarity, and so when a film like The Salvation turns up, its simplicity can be its most effective surprise. The plot of this film is simple: a man named Jon (Mads Mikkelsen) exacts revenge on some men who raped and killed his wife, which gets him on the wrong side of the heavies who have been oppressing his dusty old town.

Growling and violence ensue.

The Year In Movies

For Think Theology, my end of year round up

Instead of doing a standard Top 10 of the year, I thought I’d break down the films I’ve enjoyed into categories of why I’ve enjoyed them. This is largely because ranking films (when you see over 100 new films a year) becomes slightly arbitrary. Is Leviathan– a meaty treatise on suffering and Russian politics, made with sombre precision by the contemporary master Andrei Zvyagintsev – better or worse than Paddington, a wonderful, heart-warming family film full of creative flair and marmalade jokes? It is, of course, impossible to say (although I think I would sooner rewatch Paddington). So here are the films I’ve enjoyed the most this year, and there are slightly more than ten, just to really shake the system.

The films that are about now

Were I to pick one favourite, Boyhood would claim the prize. The film’s USP – filming it with the same cast over the course of twelve years – really did capture the spirit of the title; you get the sense of seeing a childhood unfold in front of your eyes, as the themes and ideas gently develop over the three-hour run time. It had extra resonance for me as it is about a person not much younger than me trying to work out who he wants to be. Becoming a Christian gives you a new purpose and identity, so my context is a little different from Mason, the main character in Boyhood, yet the dual sense of looking forward to an uncertain future, and backwards to a past that has shaped you, is nevertheless incredibly relevant for someone like me at a liminal stage of life. It’s a masterpiece, charged with emotion and full of warmth and humanity.

Hayao Miyazaki

I wrote about Hayao Miyazaki for Vodzilla’s excellent retrospective of the man’s work.

Hayao Miyazaki, the legendary animator celebrated by a Blu-ray box set out in time for Christmas (Monday 8th December), once unwittingly summarised the appeal of his films in an interview with Roger Ebert. “If you stay true to joy and astonishment and empathy, you don’t have to have violence and you don’t have to have action. [Children] will follow you. This is our principle.”

While only some of his films do have violence and action – surprising amounts of it, in Princess Mononoke – every single one of them is characterised by joy and astonishment and empathy. That he combines such rare storytelling traits with the technical skill and creative élan of cinema’s historical greats is what makes him not only one of the greatest animators of all time, but also one of the greatest directors.

Edinburgh Film Festival Preview

I’m covering for Edinburgh Film Festival for the fantastic film site Kamera once more. You can find my preview there.

It’s a good sign when scheduling time at a film festival becomes a logistical nightmare as you try to fit everything in. The first day of Edinburgh Film Fest required agonising decisions about whether to watch a portmanteau film featuring new work from Tsai Ming-Liang (Letters from the South), an American film about life on the frontier (Medeas), a British film about a blind ex-soldier searching for his dog (Greyhawk), or a Canadian/Danish/Mexican/Philippino tribute to The Last Picture Show where the Mayan Apocalypse may actually happen (La ultima pelicula). I’ve plumped for Medeas in the hope that it will be a Willa Cather-esque film about the great American wilderness, but I know I’ll end up with a serious case of film-envy should my friends emerge from their screenings raving about any of the others. The difficulty of this decision-making process suggests that this year’s festival is likely to be a treasure trove for the cinephile.

Floyd Norman Interview

I interviewed veteran Disney animator Floyd Norman for The Skinny.

The Skinny: 55 years on, how does Sleeping Beauty hold up for you?

Floyd Norman: It holds up extraordinarily well. As a work of art it was kind of like the pinnacle for Walt. It was the last film of its kind, really. It ended an era, back in 1959. From then on films would be made differently. So Sleeping Beauty was, I like to say, Disney’s last hand-made product, where everything in that motion picture was done by hand.

The Disney 52 Project

Over 2013 I watched all 52 of Disney’s animated feature films, and wrote a variety of articles about them. There were lists, silly sexual analyses, serious examinations of themes and style and a whole load of adoration and admiration for (almost) everything they did.

The link below links to the category on my animation blog, but my personal favourites included:

32: The Lion King – A very personal breakdown of why this – the first film I ever saw at the cinema – remains one of my favourite films.

22: The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh – A visuals-centred look at a sorely underrated Wolfgang Reitherman film.

13: Alice in Wonderland – An utterly nonsensical look at an utterly nonsensical film (and one of my favourites)

1: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – The original.


Find the rest below – it amounts to over 52,000 words!