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Archive for September 3rd, 2011

By Bob Clark

When it comes to animated musical films, we tend to focus only on the most famous and widespread out there, usually either made or exhibited by the Disney studio over the many decades. Matching song to animation had been a hallmark of the animator’s success as far back as Steamboat Willie, and over the better course of a century the films released by the company have founded have not only managed to become one of the best and most consistent ways to enjoy the old-fashioned movie musical experience on the big screen in the modern era, but indeed up until recently, one of the only ways to do so. Oh sure, there have been big live action all-singing, all-dancing extravaganzas from the 80’s, on, and especially in the last ten years where movies like Dancer in the Dark and Moulin Rougue began pushing boundaries as to what could be acceptable content and aesthetic fare in the old traditional genre, but for the most part the more memorable of all the big musical experiences of recent decades have been of the animated ilk, and especially in the 90’s, where Disney all but had a lock on the “Best Original Song” category at the Oscars. Far more people can quote and hum the Ashman & Menken tunes of The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Alladin than they can songs by the same songwriters in Little Shop of Horrors (great piece of fun that it is), and thanks to the contributions of artists like them, the Sherman brothers and others over the years, the animated musical has become the default way to present the traditional fairy-tale narrative, such to the point that it can be openly mocked in pop-culture addict movies like the Shrek series.

It was in that series, also, that audiences were “treated” (I shudder to even use that word in quotation marks for these movies) to an Antonio Banderas-voiced incarnation of the classic Charles Perrault character Puss in Boots, the dashing, conniving feline who manages to help a young peasant boy climb his way out of poverty, win the princess and save the day with all the tricks and charm he can tease out of his whiskers. In the next year or so we’ll have to suffer through a feature-length version of this DreamWorks version of the character, a prospect that is made all the more disappointing when one factors in how much further it risks supplanting an already existant, and perfectly charming version of the Perrault tale in the 1969 anime The Wonderful World of Puss ‘n Boots. Today, the film is largely known (if it is remembered at all) for two reasons– first, that its titular hero has become the mascot of Toei Animation (thus making him recognizable to anyone who grew up watching Dragon Ball Z, even without knowing who the hell he was), and second, that it holds in its rank of animators a young Hayao Miyazaki. It’s that latter point which gives the film a great deal of the notoreity that it has today, and though it will no doubt fail to live up to anyone expecting a movie with the same start-to-finish level of quality and craftsmanship as even the lesser entries of the Studio Ghibli canon, there’s loads to enjoy, especially when one considers possibly the most radical factor it has for first-time viewers– the prospect of anime in 2.35:1 widescreen.

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