Maverick Life


This weekend we’re watching: Animations for grown-ups

This weekend we’re watching: Animations for grown-ups
The Red Turtle (Image courtesy of Netflix)

Feast your eyes on our pick of unique adult animation feature films.

Gone are the days where animated feature films were produced exclusively for children. Many of the mainstream animated movies, which hit the big screen, are entertaining for adults in addition to children, but sometimes edgier films which are made specifically for an older audience are overlooked simply because they are animated. Animation is a versatile, practically limitless medium, which lends itself to all manner of novel visual expression impossible in live-action film.

The Red Turtle: The serene wordless allegorical adventure of a man stranded on an island

 A man splutters for air, floundering and yelling into the night as enormous waves chew him up and spit him out into the churning ocean again and again. When the dawn comes, he finds himself washed up on an uninhabited tropical island. Initially, he is desperate to escape, building bigger and bigger bamboo rafts, but each time he sets sail, his vessel is mysteriously destroyed by a large red turtle … This award-winning Japanese-French-Belgian co-production seamlessly combines analogue and digital animation. Think modern Japan meets Tintin meets impressionistic painting. Visually, the film is calming and charming.

On the surface, this film deals with the human desire for love and purpose, the fragility of life and our inherent will to survive against all odds, but if you look a little deeper there are myriad allegories woven into it.

We never find out how the man ended up in the stormy sea. He may symbolise humanity itself, thrust into a strange ever-changing world, without explanation, powerless and scared.

His vain attempts to escape this new world pull at our heartstrings – it all seems so frustrating and pointless, but there are hidden reasons for his suffering.

The life of the nameless protagonist mirrors the relationship between humanity and nature – how we have become detached from it, but also our dependence on it. As the story unfolds, the turtle becomes an embodiment of nature, illustrating humanity’s battle with the natural world and our struggle to live in harmony with it.

The relentless power of nature is contrasted with its calming timelessness. The story itself takes up only a fraction of the film – a lot of time is devoted to authentically portraying the tranquil beauty of the cycle of life. Birth. Life. Death. Rebirth. And counter-intuitively, the absence of dialogue in the film actually draws one into it, focusing the attention on the sounds of the island and the passage of time. Time seems to move slowly, and it is utterly captivating. Despite the silence, you will not feel bored watching this film. Without the aid of words, which we have become so accustomed to in film, we are not spoon-fed the plot. Not everything is explained, not everything is part of the narrative. You wait with baited breath, drinking in the beauty of a world, which is both magical and familiar.

The Red Turtle takes the subject matter of The Life Of Pi, the setting of Animal Planet and the aesthetic of a Tintin book and binds it all together with trademark genius Studio Ghibli symbolism. It is a simple, beautiful story, magical and bittersweet, with as much or as little hidden meaning as you want to find.

The Red Turtle is available on Netflix and various online rental sites. If you like the Red Turtle, check out other Studio Ghibli films, particularly those directed by animation giant Hayao Miyazaki.

Waking life: Psychedelic journey through the mind

When reviewing most movies, one often starts by summarising the opening scenes to give the reader a sense of where the plot might take them, but Waking Life is definitely not like most movies. It is so amorphous that any attempt to explain how it all fits together would either fail, or spoil it. The film involves short acts in which characters speak about the world, life and consciousness. Many of the acts are uplifting and a few of them are downright disturbing.

They vary from fascinating lectures explaining philosophical paradoxes that make you feel like you’re watching a Ted Talk on steroids; to the ramblings of a psychopathic blood-crazed prison inmate, euphorically fantasizing about ever more savage ways to torture those who incarcerated him. It is best to go into the movie without knowing what links these scenes. Sometimes, adjacent acts directly contradict one another. There’s no perceptible agenda, no particular way they are supposed to make you feel and there is something liberating about that.

One may initially feel frustrated by the desire to make sense of the isolated scenes, to form some kind of narrative, but halfway through the film, when it becomes clearer what has really been going on, the viewer will likely have acclimatised to this nebulous storytelling. The look of the film is equally unusual. Faces transform mid-conversation, tables appear to float inexplicably, the animation style is not even constant within the same shot. Most of the film has been animated over actual footage, but its loose, ever-changing style creates an ethereal aesthetic, which, instead of mirroring reality, intentionally strays from it. You might catch yourself scrutinising facial features to work out how much of their detail is real, you may find the constant movement of the “camera” slightly jarring – don’t worry, you’re supposed to. Every aspect of this film has been designed to recreate the experience of being in a dream.

Watching Waking Life is a bit like getting lost in a dense complicated book. If you are reluctant, the lack of structure and continuity may initially be vexing, but there is a point to these isolated conversations between random, nameless people. If you invest yourself in the film, every moment seems to ruminate on some profound nugget of wisdom. Let yourself be intrigued and disconcerted by the experimental animation style and the dissonant, evocative music. Take a leap and let the experience carry you into your own mind and help you to better understand how you really think and feel. That is the true power of this film

Waking Life can be rented on Google Play or iTunes. If you enjoy Waking Life, check out some of Richard Linklater’s other films, particularly A Scanner Darkly.

The Triplets of Belleville: Hand-drawn satirical French period piece

 Typically, animation is used as a medium to deliver stories without the limitations of live-action film. In the case of The Triplets of Belleville, one might better understand the film itself as being a medium of delivering the art of which it is comprised. It would not be overstating the calibre of the caricatures and animation to describe this movie as a collection of tens of thousands of artworks shown in quick succession – not just drawn images, artworks. Every frame is a masterpiece. In this exaggerated universe, the rules of physics and physiology are stretched just past the limit. The caricatured characters, which inhabit this hyperbolic world, are mesmerising, but that is not to say that they are attractive, indeed they border on grotesque. The film pays tribute to Honore Daumier and the many other French master caricaturists, who themselves would surely roar with laughter at its dark, cheeky satirical commentary.

The Triplets of Belleville was nominated for two Academy Awards in 2003: Best Animated Feature (making it the first ever age restricted film to be nominated in this category) and Best Original Song, which it won for its overture, Belleville Rendez-vous. The overture is a black and white ode to the roaring Twenties, sung by the triplets after whom the movie is named. It’s naughty, deliberately ostentatious and an overt reference to the fun, but embarrassingly problematic sex symbol cartoon Betty Boop. It also features caricatures of Django Reinhardt, Josephine Baker, and Fred Astaire, and snappy satirical critiques on all sorts of subjects. In the first few minutes, the film takes jabs at the bourgeois, capitalism, objectification of the female body, celebrity idolisation and consumer culture, and all of this without a single word said – almost the entire film is conveyed through song and pantomime.

After the overture, the film slows to a snail’s pace. We see that the entire scene was happening on a television set in an old countryside house and we meet the protagonist – a sweet elderly woman raising her glum grandson outside Paris. Throughout the film, a bizarre series of events involving the Tour De France and the French mafia lead her to Belleville, a repugnant metropolis parodying New York, which damningly sports an obese statue of liberty holding a hamburger.

Sudden changes of pace are used liberally as a humorous device. Some scenes are very slow and this provides a chance to marvel at the artwork and the abundance of quirky details, but the middle section does plod on long enough to grant a yawn or two.

The Triplets of Belleville is a creative masterpiece, which uses skilful caricature, period music and creepy, wacky humour to create a ridiculous, nostalgic, melancholy world equally likely to make you laugh or cry. The trials and tribulations, which this badass grandma goes through for her grandson are both hilarious and pitiful. It is very slow at times and requires a patient audience, but if you focus on the art and let your imagination grapple with the crazy quietness, you may come to appreciate it as unique and sublime.

You can find The Triplets of Belleville on iTunes or Amazon. If you like The Triplets of Belville, you might like The Illusionist, a slightly more whimsical feel good film, also directed by Sylvain Chomet.

Fantastic Mr Fox: Pure Wild Animal Craziness, a reader review by Josh Stockhall

Mr Fox was a poultry thief, but has to find lawful employment when his wife falls pregnant. Now long in the tooth, Mr Fox wonders what his life amounts to. He buys a house he can’t afford and makes friends with the possum-cum-maintenance-man, Kylie. Mr Fox’s nephew, Kristofferson, comes to stay and the group enjoy a few happy days above ground. However, Mr Fox can’t quite scratch his existential itch and he plans a last great heist. His neighbours, Boggus, Bunce and Bean, are chicken, duck and turkey farmers respectively and Mr Fox, with Kylie tagging along, robs them. They swear revenge and Bean, the cleverest of the trio, orchestrates an assassination. On the fateful night, however, they succeed in only shooting off Mr Fox’s tail and must resort to ever more drastic means to catch their quarry. Soon the whole animal neighbourhood is trapped between the farmers wrath and Mr Fox’s dreams of grandeur.

Wes Anderson’s sixth film pays homage to Roald Dahl’s storytelling. Like Dahl’s writing, Anderson’s stop-animation is quirky, polished and above all, particular. Mr Fox belies a 50’s country-man, listening to Davy Crockett and carrying a wheat ear in his teeth. His home looks over orange and yellow hills, the landscape inspired by Dahl’s own country home. Each frame is carefully constructed to compliment the characters inhabiting it. Badger, Mr Fox’s attorney, is introduced in a pin-stripe suit, sitting behind a desk overflowing with papers. In front of him, he has a dictaphone, a lamp and a fountain pen. Mr Fox’s dreamy son sleeps between comic-books, a model train set and an orrery. The details stand in for character-context as the person’s identity is made evident by the scene. Anderson’s colour scheme is equally descriptive. The three farmers are rendered against darker tones, whereas Mr Fox and his crew are rarely in frame without a splash of gold. Besides making everything glow, the colour pallet smoothes out sharper details, lending a consistent warm hue to Mr Fox’s world.

The story does not go wanting either. In contrast to the book, Mr Fox is pensive and uncertain. He wonders whether he has gone wrong by settling down to be a parent and as he tries to rediscover his lost self, he loses sight of his family’s needs. Confronted about why he broke his promise to stop stealing, Mr Fox confesses his desire to be recognised. Already admired, he wants the world to find him fantastic. He misses the effect this has on his son, who struggles to prove himself against his father’s legacy. This existential motif moves the film away from the fairytale and into the real world where adults are flawed and irresponsible.

Despite such emotional depth, the dialogue is light and snappy. Mr and Mrs Fox (voiced by George Clooney and Meryl Streep) keep up a near constant repartee and Bill Murray voices a very pessimistic Badger. Thomas Newman adds to the levity with a score that includes a banjo, a reed pipe and a xylophone.

In any normal year, Fantastic Mr Fox would have won the Oscar for Best Animated Picture. However, it was nominated alongside Pixar’s Up and Tim Burton’s Coraline. The latter two saw the former overlooked, and Pixar took the award. It is high time Fantastic Mr Fox got the recognition his namesake deserves.

Fantastic Mr Fox is available on Amazon Prime.

Honorary mentions:

Waltz with Bashir: striking Israeli war documentary drama about a soldier searching for his repressed memories of the 1982 Lebanon War.

Persepolis: A girl comes of age against the sinister backdrop of the Iranian Revolution, directed by Marjane Satrapi, based on her autobiographical novel of the same name.

The Rabbi’s Cat (Le Chat du Rabbin): A playful, witty, philosophical film about a rabbi in a Jewish community in 1920 Algeria who discovers that his cat can speak, but it has unusual and heretical things to say. ML

Next week in This Weekend We’re Watching, we’ll be taking a look at creative music videos. Know one which you absolutely love? Send a review of at least 150 words to [email protected]


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