Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Oblivion Island (2009) NYICFF

Odd mix of traditional animation and computer generated film isn't fully satisfying. I went into seeing this film at the New York Children's Film Festival with high hopes but I found I liked it but I didn't love. Mostly I wish that the filmmakers had allowed the film to play out for another half an hour or so.

Okay I'm getting ahead of myself, sorry. Its late and as I write this I'm just back from a triple feature afternoon at the film festival. Let me start over and talk about the plot.

Haruku is 16 year old girl who lives with her dad who's never really home. Years before her mom passed away and she and her dad have tried to get along as best they could, however there is friction between them. One day after an argument over the phone, Haruku goes Off. She heads to a shrine to leave an offering in the hope that a deity will have the foxes, who her mother said take the things we forget about, return a mirror that her mother gave her before she died. While at the shrine Haruku watches as one of the "foxes"takes her key ring and she follows him, ending up in the world where the collectors live and are lorded over by a character named the Baron. Hooking up with Teo, the collector she followed, and Cotton, a stuffed animal she had forgotten (and who was brought to life thanks to a piece of a mirror) Haruku must fight the Baron to get the mirror back.

This a a beautiful movie. The look of the film is overwhelming. The choice of colors and the visual delights seem, at times, to be too much to take in. Its one "Oh Wow" moment after another. The ante goes up once we get to the collectors world where everything is made from discarded objects and your eyes keeps jumping from thing to thing in a futile effort to see what was made from what. If there is any flaw with the look of the film, its that computer generated characters look too much like the those that you would find in a computer game.

All of sequences unto themselves, especially wild chases across the various landscapes, are amazing. Unfortunately the film doesn't really connect them all that well. Sure the film moves things along at a good clip, but the film really doesn't build character and back story. We don't really feel anything for the characters and the situations because things aren't really explained. For example a late in the game scene showing the memories of the mirror where we see Haruku and her parents, has little emotional impact because we really don't really know anyone involved other than Haruku. (Though it does set up a final sniffly moment).

What bothers me is that its clear that this is a well defined world and that all of the places, characters and situations have been really well thought out by the creators of this film. You can feel the world bleed off the edges of the screen. Unfortunately even though the filmmakers know all of the back story, they put little of it on screen. The up shot of it is there isn't the emotional impact there should be.

But despite being disappointed, I'd like to recommend this film. As I said before the sequences in this film will impress you. The airships, the railway and many other treats are just too cool not to tell you to go see. And then there are the characters, especially Cotton, Haruku's lost lamb, who's exploits will delight anyone who has ever had stuffed animal they have loved. Cotton kicks serious butt and the sequence where he literally rides to the rescue on the back of a little stuffed horse is pure joy (A lod 'YES!" did escape my lips). I love Cotton and if for no other reason you should give this film a shot.

Just premiering in the US, I'm sure this will turn up on DVD at some point.

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