Monday, March 23, 2015

The final two days at The New York International Children's Film Festival : SHAUN THE SHEEP, ENCHANTED KINGDOM and KAHLIL GIBRAN'S THE PROPHET

This was the final weekend of the New York International Children's Film Festival, and once more I was in the trenches.

Saturday I went to see SHAUN THE SHEEP a second time, taking Randi and John along for the ride.

I won't go into the film — Hubert is hard at work on a review, However, I will say that the film is just as funny the second time. I know I need another go through to catch everything I missed this time through — which is different than what I missed the first time through.

John and Randi loved the film. I know John did for certain because he was pretty much laughing from start to finish — which is the second of two post end credit sequences. (YES, there are TWO post credit bits one several seconds after the screen blacks out, so hang around)

Discussion to the restaurant after the film and even in the film was talking about its place in the animation/children's film pantheon of the last few years with the recent PADDINGTON figuring heavily into the discussion.

Sunday was a double-header at the Directors Guild Theater, as the official last two films of the festival screened.

ENCHANTED KINGDOM is from the makers of the BBC series PLANET EARTH and WALKING WITH DINOSAURS, and it's one of the best uses of 3D I've ever seen. It's a jaw-dropping, make-you- tear-up-with-the- mix-of-music-and-image sort of film , a must-see-on-a-big-screen film. This film kicks ass and then then some. It's one of the best film going experiences of the year.

The film is a trip across Africa to the mountains, ocean, plains, jungles and deserts. It's an in-your-face look at the animals that live in the various environments. While the narration is really cursory, the images are not and it's one of the few times I've ever felt things were floating over the audience (the lionfish for example)

By the time the Coldplay song comes on at the end I was tearing up big time.

You must see this in the theater because this will not work flat or on TV.

The final feature was Roger Aller's KAHLIL GIBRAN'S THE PROPHET....

...give the festival points for screening this for the families but take some away for boring the kids around me and putting a large number of the audience dead asleep. Who did they make this film for? (I'm puzzled by GKIDS picking it for release, since it's not going to make a great deal of money because the appeal is going to be very limited)

Refashioning Gibran's book into the story of an exiled poet released from prison and nominally making his way to a ship home, mixed with the tale of his housekeeper and her daughter, the film tries to cover a great deal of ground. Periodically the poet speaks Gibran's words, and the sequences are all animated by various artists (Tomm Moore, Nina Paley, Joann Sfar, Bill Plympton and others).

Roger Allers introduced the film and I was hopeful that it would be something special. I mean the man made THE LION KING — it should be special. Truth be told, it is...but largely the film is all over the place, and all of the blame has to fall on Allers alone since he wrote it, directed the linking material, and put it all together.

How did they botch this? Let me count the ways...(Warning: I discuss the ending)

The first problem is that the animation of the main story is all over the place. Hey, it's great he seems to have sent all of the money to the sequence directors, but he should have kept some for himself. The Poet sequences are a weird mix of computer and 2D animation. Some of it is very good, but some of it is low-rent TV animation. That would be fine except that the poetry sequences look so much better that they put it to shame. Within shots and sequences you'll have nicely animated characters mixed with one that was obviously done by computer. It looks wrong.

The second and more important problem is in the script Allers cobbled together. What is the film about, really? You have the poet, the police, the housekeeper and her daughter who refuses to talk. Why do we have so many characters? I'm not quite sure. I really don't know the point of the little girl other than to make this family-friendly and give the film a touching ending.

I'll get to the ending in a moment, but the plot seems to be a scaled-down version of the book, with the poet stopping in his travels to give advice or a blessing. It was never much of a plot in the book, but it worked since it was enough to link things together. Here it kind of works for a while since the animated sequences by the other directors carry the film up to this point anyway.

And then in the final third, things go off the rails. What was supposed to be a trip home for the poet instead becomes a life or death struggle as he is brought not to the ship home but to the prison. He is to sign a paper renouncing his work or be killed. While I admire weighty animated films this surprise was simply too much. I wanted to scream "Really? Really?" but thought better of it because Allers was sitting right behind me.

Where the hell does this come from? I have no idea. While the inclusion of a riot and a bittersweet(i.e. downbeat) ending allows for a teary final sequence as we hear and see some thing mystical (Liam Neeson is fantastic as the poet by the way), its really out of left field. The film didn't need it and the fact that the film adds the "uber-serious politics can mean death" angle lessens the weight of everything that went before, because it's so heavy that it pulls the fabric in the film the wrong way.

On the other hand ,the various sequences by the guest directors are visual delights and I can forgive the film its flaws because it allows these bits to exist. I loved all of the sequences with the exception of Joann Sfar's "On Marriage" which is a dull tango. (Though to be fair "On Marriage" is one of my favorite passages in the book, and I was reciting it with the film until I realized that it just wasn't working for me — it had to be perfect or it was doomed). Probably the best are Nina Paley's and Tomm Moore's music videos. I wanted to stop the film and play them over and over again. The sequences are magical and all completely different and all work in their own way. (In fairness I have to say that Aller's sequence — the execution and its mystical aftermath is as good as the others however while it tugs the heartstrings it gets an emotional reaction the it never earned because the rest of Aller's work is nowhere near this level.)

While I truly don't hate the film, I think it's a gawd-awful mess, There's some great stuff here but there is also some real poor stuff as well. I don't know what happened or why — I suspect the fact very few of us can match Gibran's level of writing so the script doesn't work and I'm guessing too much money was spent on the poetry and not enough on the binding.

Should you see it? If you're a fan of the animators, yes. If you're forgiving as well. However, I wouldn't bring your kids, since I don't know what they'll make of it. That's not a slap, since many adults had no clue either (I listened while several parents fumbled when asked by their kids "what did you think?")

I think it's fitting that NYICFF ended on a challenging film probably no one else would have run for an audience of kids. At the same time I really wish it was better. (And keep your fingers crossed GKIDS is releasing this and I think they are going to need luck to turn a profit)

And with that NYICFF is done — and it's time to go into hibernation until next year.

1 comment:

  1. What was the Coldplay song? Can't seem to find it and it's bugging me!