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Category Archives: Animated Films
CAUTION: This review contains major spoilers for Batman: The Killing Joke
The traditional superhero story is a simple one. The bad guy threatens to do some bit of evil; the good guy comes in to stop it, and the day is saved. Lather, rinse, repeat. The costumes change, and so do the capers, but for a while, that was the dependable, well-worn blueprint for the battles between capes and criminals.
And then, somewhere along the line, that started to change. Writers like Alan Moore began to deconstruct those old stories. They started to look at the ways that these battles might not be so weightless, how those heroes and villains might still leave their marks on one another. These artists examined how the good guys could not fight evil day after day, week after week, year after year, and yet come out of those battles unsullied, unblemished, and unscathed.
Batman, after all, fights monsters. How long can you run headlong into battle with monsters before you start to become more monstrous yourself? It’s not every comic book adaptation that drops references to Nietzsche, even when it’s one of his most famous quotes, but it’s appropriate for Batman: The Killing Joke, an animated film adaptation of the Alan Moore classic. Because more than The Joker, more than Batman, more than Jim or Barbara Gordon, it’s a story about what happens to those who fight monsters. It’s a story about the abyss.
Every modern adaptation of A Christmas Carol starts out at a disadvantage. No matter the strengths of its take on the material, no matter what unique flourishes or embellishments it adds, no matter how novel its interpretation, the new version will inevitably be compared to its hallowed predecessor, so ingrained in the public consciousness that it has become a part of the cherished lore of the holiday season.
I am speaking, of course, of the classic 1992 film, The Muppet Christmas Carol, starring Michael Caine and Kermit the Frog, in the production that forever proved that Dickens’s work is best realized in shades of well-trained British grump and felt.
Despite working in the shadow of that seminal work, writer and director Robert Zemeckis, of Back to the Future fame, brought Dickens’s story to life anew in his motion-captured retelling of the classic tale. The film stars Jim Carrey as the curmudgeonly Ebenezer Scrooge, Gary Oldman as his put-upon employee Bob Cratchit, and Colin Firth, Robin Wright, Bob Hoskins, and Cary Elwes who, alongside Carrey and Oldman, play multiple roles in filling out the film’s cast. While Zemeckis assuredly puts his own stamp on the source material, in the end, his interpretation is a muddled one.
A long time ago, in a sweet serene dale,
Dr. Seuss wrote “The Lorax,” a wonderful tale,
About truffulas, Oncelers, a thneed and a plan,
And of course of a small, squat, mustachioed man.
Then some big-shots in Hollywood liked what they’d seen,
And decided The Lorax should be on the screen!
They would spare no expense, they’d promote cross the land,
So that furry and orange could be their new brand!
They put ads up on billboards that list all their stars,
Hawking toys, meals, and t-shirts, and gas-guzzling cars,
And the latter is what has folks all up in arms,
The hypocrisy rankling, And raising alarms,
While the irony of it’s not lost on yours truly,
There’s something else that I find much more unruly.
The ad’s contradiction is worth some distress,
But “The Lorax” is part of a much bigger mess.
Cars is easily Pixar’s most poorly-received film. The movie, featuring a world of anthropomorphic automobiles, completely rankled fans of the studio. These detractors view Cars as a rare misstep amidst Pixar’s otherwise unblemished offerings. While movies like A Bug’s Life may have underwhelmed, and those like Ratatouille flown under the radar, no Pixar film has engendered as strong a negative response from the faithful as Cars. With a sequel coming out soon, these doubters have renewed and redoubled their critiques.
Personally, I generally enjoyed the film as a bit of harmless popcorn entertainment, and I believe that Pixar is, in many ways, a victim of its own success. The studio has a remarkable track record of releasing uniformly outstanding feature films, from its initial offering of Toy Story to classics like Finding Nemo to recent triumphs like Up. When held up against these lofty brethren, Cars status as merely “pretty good,” makes it seem overly lacking by comparison. It’s a solid, but unspectacular film, doomed by the company it keeps.