Altered Images: Alternative Animation From Around The World
Western cinema is dominated by one animation style – CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) The latest offerings from both Disney/Pixar and DreamWorks work to ensure they have the biggest and most expensive animated features on the international market. They are rewarded for their efforts with huge box office returns and multi-million dollar franchises, but very little in the way of substance. For every genuinely impressive feature like Toy Story (1995) or Shrek (2001), Hollywood also churns out instantly forgettable titles with uninspired titles like Cars (2006) and Robots (2005). Just add some flavour-of-the-month celebrity voices into the production and you’ve got box office gold. Needless to say, there are plenty of brave English-speaking animation studios who produce excellent work, but unfortunately they seem destined to remain a cult underground novelty, forever trapped in the shadow of the CGI beast.
While CGI certainly isn’t exclusive to Hollywood studios, there are a variety of international animation companies always offering an alternative to behemoth commercial styles. Many of the animations explored in this article lack the financial backing of Hollywood productions, but what they lack in grandeur; they excel with in beauty and meaning. Japanese anime is certainly the animation style most commonly flying the flag for foreign cinema in the western world, but they are only the tip of an international iceberg of animated gems made independently of Hollywood.
The purpose of this article is to explore world-cinema animation by offering several examples of feature-length animated films from around the world that have been on the verge of mainstream success, but have disappointingly fallen short with English speaking audiences. These are some of the most beautiful animations you will ever see in your life.
Chico & Rita must be one of the most sophisticated animated features of all time. It is essentially a love story between two musicians in pre-communist 1950s Cuba, and equally as moving as any live-action presentation. Directors Fernando Trueba, Javier Mariscal and Tono Errandohas incorporate an animated style which seems wholly realistic in appearance, but it is their fantasy sequences which are the moments that shine the brightest, assisted by mammoth imagination and a funky Jazz and Latino soundtrack. Seeing this film, it’s easy to forget that you’re watching animation, due in part to the lifelike nature of the characters’ appearance, but greatly aided by the narrative’s humanistic themes. Chico & Rita is moving on many different levels.
From the unique imagination of Belgian animators/directors Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar comes this full length adaptation of their earlier animated shorts. Using stop-motion animation, the characters on screen are actually toys: a Cowboy, an Indian, and a Horse. Sound different? It should, because it’s not like anything you have ever seen before. It’s the kind of brilliantly surreal idea that can only have come from world cinema. Most original and thoroughly creative, A Town Called Panic is one of the trippiest films of recent years.
This charming animation was a collaboration from several nations, although the overall tone is undeniably French. Another very human story from French cinema’s number one animator, Sylvain Chomet, The Triplets Of Belleville is entertainment for all, despite touching on several adult themes which wisely never alienate younger viewers. The film received massive acclaim upon release, and won a stream of awards and nominations, including two Oscar nominations for Best Animated Feature and Original Song.
Persepolis is a powerful film, dealing with a young woman’s life before and after the Iranian revolution of 1980. This witty film is based on the autobiographical graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi, an Iranian-born French artist and writer, who serves as co-director. Persepolis manages to be moving by instilling in its audience a variety of contrasting emotions, being sad, joyful and thought provoking all at once.
Already established after his film The Triplets Of Belville, Sylvain Chomet upped his creative ante even further for the beautiful The Illusionist. A tale of unlikely friendship, the film features only minimal dialogue but the fantastic animation allows the characters to express themselves through a unique hand-drawn style equally as expressive as dialogue. Any amount of CGI, no matter how impressive can parallel such creative enthusiasm.
Part nursery fable and part surrealist filmmaking, this beautiful French film features hand-drawn animation with an imagination that soars above Hollywood productions. Not a particularly long film, clocking in at a just under 70 Minutes, what it lacks in length it makes up for in whimsical beauty. There are no Disney-esque cute bunnies ready to burst into song at any moment, but A Cat In Paris has to be one of the most enchanting children’s stories in animated film.
Another powerful animated feature which goes far beyond the conventional expectations of animated film. This animated documentary from Israel tells the story of an ex-serviceman searching to recover his memory of the 1982 Lebanon War. A powerful and critically lauded film, it’s hard to find any Hollywood equivalent. The film’s use of modern flash motion animation along with more traditional techniques only adds to the striking realism of such a poignant story.
These films are only part of an ever-expanding world of animation outside the English-speaking mainstream, which is gaining in strength all the time as Western viewers increasingly seek an alternative to the repetitive nature of the latest Hollywood CGI efforts. Be sure to look out for the latest in animated reviews and features offered here on subtitledonline.com.
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