It’s impossible to overstate the impact of The Ren & Stimpy Show when it dropped in 1991. American animation, that dorkiest of mediums, had long languished in a low-imagination swamp of banality, used mainly to sell toys or sugary breakfast cereal. Then, along came the adventures of a brain damaged cat and a sociopathic chihuahua and it blew the bloody doors off! Funny, weird, profane, surreal and oddly affecting, The Ren & Stimpy Show was a huge hit for Nickelodeon and creator John Kricfalusi.
A year later, with the show’s popularity reaching dizzy new heights, Kricfalusi would be fired from his own creation. Was this a case of corporate overreach, where money men couldn’t handle genius when they saw it? Well, partially. But as documentary Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Story shows, the real villain of the piece was the tainted ego, the wilful hubris and the despicable behaviour of Kricfalusi himself.
The doco, directed by Ron Cicero and Kimo Easterwood, begins ordinarily enough. Talking heads interspersed with footage of the bonkers animation, giving historical context and behind the scenes tidbits. However, it soon becomes clear that Kricfalusi was, at best, an overly passionate boss and at worse, an abusive tyrant. Should the producers have worked harder to accommodate his vision? Possibly, but when he was making pronouncements like “I will no longer be taking notes” to an increasingly concerned Nickelodeon, it’s not hard to see why he was given the shaft.
The show continued until 1995 sans ‘John K’, but was never as good as the original block of episodes. Kricfalusi himself was given control of his characters again in 2003, with Ren & Stimpy: Adult Party Cartoon, a largely joyless slog that relied on shock tactics and lacked most of the warmth and humour that defined the original shows. Then, of course, the accusations against Kricfalusi of grooming teenage girls and sexual abuse surfaced, and the legacy of Ren & Stimpy was forever tainted.
It’s to the credit of this overlong but fascinating documentary that one of the victims of Kricfalusi, Robyn Byrd, is allowed to give her story in a frank and disturbing way. Byrd tells the audience that they don’t need to abandon the show they loved as kids and to separate the art from the artist. It’s a nice notion, and perhaps accommodations can be made over time, but it’s hard to embrace the innocent whimsy of that silly cartoon in quite the same way.
Most good things are eventually ruined by the actions of one dodgy wanker or another. The irony that Happy Happy Joy Joy illustrates so well, is that the dodgy wanker that sunk Ren & Stimpy is the very same person who created it.
Remember when an action-adventure film would actually deliver a fun, entertaining romp without the existential angst or deadpan violence? Well, thankfully Lupin the Third: The First has landed to remind us of what good old fashion action-adventure movies can be.
The latest big screen adventure of the titular Monkey Punch creation, Lupin the Third: The First marks the first time the franchise has received full CGI treatment, delivering a beautifully rendered world where its cast of rogues feel completely at home within some remarkable action sequences, exotic locales and an impressive English language dub.
For those unfamiliar with Lupin III, pronounced as a solid French Lu-Pon, the Japanese series has been running since 1967 across a number of mediums including print, animation and live action Japanese films. Created by manga artist Kazuhiko Kato aka Monkey Punch, the story follows the illegal machinations of the grandson of famed French gentleman thief Arsène Lupin, made famous in a series of French novels by Maurice Leblanc. And while the licensing rights, and subsequent lawsuits to the characters are something of legend in Japanese publishing, The First offers newcomers a relaxed, enjoyable introduction to the franchise’s key cast of characters while managing to pay reverence to long time fans, and the Parisian origins of the series.
Set during the 1960s, The First is at heart a heist film, setting our anti-hero Lupin III against his nemesis Detective Zenigata, a naive young officer with a hidden agenda named Laetitia, and a cult of Nazi zealots, all seeking to possess the fabled Bresson Diary; a heavily booby-trapped mechanical book thought to reveal the location of an ancient Aztec weapon known as The Eclipse.
Written and directed by Takashi Yamazaki, whose credits include the Always: Sunset of Third Street trilogy and Parasyte films, The First plays like an authentic ‘80s action-adventure film, offering fans of the genre a familiar cocktail of Indiana Jones, Connery era James Bond and Spielbergian adventure. All of which is complimented by a strong English dub helmed by professional voice actors Tony Oliver (Lupin III) and Laurie Hymes (Laetitia) who imbue their characters with charm, humour and when necessary a perfectly balanced sense of gravitas.
Visually, Lupin the Third: The First delivers a solid CGI experience; while not completely on par with the likes of The Adventures of Tintin, the final product is none-the-less entirely absorbing, crafting a fun urgency to the many raucous chase scenes while the cataclysmic effects of the film’s ultimate McGuffin, The Eclipse are brilliantly effective.
While it may not have the exposure that a Pixar or Disney film might attract, Lupin the Third: The First certainly deserves a look. It goes without saying that it’s been an exhausting year, and if you’re looking to indulge your nostalgia of more relaxed times, or simply looking to educate your kids on what movies use to feel like, then embrace a little cinematic self-love and take yourself, and the family, to the see Lupin the Third: The First in cinemas.
Based on a German fable, The Elfkins: Baking a Difference is a positively upbeat story with brisk pacing that bursts at the seams with enthusiasm.
The film deploys a familiar plot structure seen in many animated films before it. It follows a community of Elfkins that have lived in fear of the humans for 200 years, residing quietly in the dim and confined spaces of the underground.
When a young, adventure-seeking Elfkin girl named Elfie struggles to congeal with the insular customs of her community, she bravely ventures out into the human world to prove her worth to the rest of the Elfkins.
The animation of the movie is almost entirely soft and rounded, decorated with poppy primary colours that makes easy viewing for children. The characters, too, further this, with easily identifiable traits that casts a clear contrast between them. For example, the overly optimistic and energetic Elfkins stumble into a down-on-his-luck baker named Theo whose face carries despair and misery. His bakery has been forced to close on account of ‘Bruno’s’ – a giant cake factory, owned by his brother, that is located directly adjacent to him and has been stealing his business for years.
Alas, given the selling point of the movie is adventure, it really fails to generate much excitement. The plot ostensibly takes place over two settings, both of which are so visually basic and similar, it seldom matches or reflects an appropriate mood for its characters. For instance, the building of the cake factory ‘Bruno’s’ is touted as a towering corporate machine that strips the soul away from smaller businesses. Yet, for such a seemingly important characteristic for the plot, the building itself is just a flat pink wall that rarely features in the movie.
As the Elfkins and humans make unlikely allies, the movie shows the power of helping a person in need and not judging a book by its cover.
What would you do if you had the ability to alter the script of another person’s dream, influencing their actions in their waking life as a consequence? In Dreambuilders, protagonist Minna used this ability to manipulate someone’s dreams to get back at her bratty, Instagram-obsessed step-sister Jenny.
The Danish production features a colourful visual aesthetic reminiscent of a Disney-Pixar movie, with a narrative that largely explores the concept of family, particularly those dealing with divorce, and how it impacts a child when the family structure changes.
There’s also an added fantasy element, with everyone having a dream stage they go to during their sleep, with the actions there being directed by the bluish creatures who work behind-the-scenes to craft subconscious experiences.
Dreambuilders is a magical and imaginative adventure film with heartwarming elements. It navigates the struggles in bringing a family together after marital separation, and also sparks our curiosity for the images we see during dreams. The film can also be interpreted as a cautionary tale about the consequences of one’s actions.
It does, however, leave you wishing more detail was given to the construction of characters and worldbuilding so it could breathe more life into Minna’s story, and provide more opportunities for humour, depth and heartfelt emotions. Unfortunately, there are no significant female bluish dreambuilding creatures, and worth noting is the extent of the cyberbullying shown in the movie, which at one point gets dark, and could be considered too frightening for a kid’s animation.
It’s been seven years since Dreamworks’ stab at Ice Age type shenanigans with The Croods, directed by Kirk DeMicco (next working on Sony’s musical animation Vivo, featuring songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda) and Chris Sanders (who brought us Lilo & Stitch, and most recently helmed The Call of the Wild). Appropriately, Ice Age’s influence is referenced in the title of the sequel, The Croods: New Age, marking the feature directorial debut of Joel Crawford, after establishing himself as a storyboard artist and Head of Story on Dreamworks’ Trolls.
The focus is once again on family, as the Croods – father Grug (Nic Cage), mother Ugga (Catherine Keener), oldest daughter Eep (Emma Stone), son Thunk (Clark Duke), youngest daughter Sandy, Gran (Cloris Leachman) and Eep’s boyfriend Guy (Ryan Reynolds) – discover an oasis engineered by the Betterman family – dad Phil (Peter Dinklage), mum Hope (Leslie Mann) and daughter Dawn (Kelly Marie Tran). After initially being welcomed with open arms, the Bettermans soon tire of the Croods’ oafishness and start plotting to move them on, apart from Guy, who they have their eyes on for Dawn. But then, punch monkeys…
Much of the film’s humour is derived from the juxtaposition of a caveman’s life with our own, which is multiplied when the Bettermans are introduced; they have taken the limitations of the time and adapted them for modern comfort. When these scenarios are played out with a talented voice cast, the laughs are delivered aplenty – albeit, for adults, Nic Cage and Ryan Reynolds’ voices in particular, take you out of the situation; as an adult audience, you sometimes wish they would rely on their well developed schtick instead of being at the service of the characters.
The Croods: New Age continues the original film’s strong depiction of femininity. Although it plays to archetype with most of the characters, Eep and Gran (who wouldn’t be out of place in the matriarchal tribe in Mad Max: Fury Road) are the real heroes of the story, using both brains and brawn to win the day.
With Peter Rabbit 2 moving out of Boxing Day release, there is no alternative for the younger kids on this traditionally popular cinema date; however, they won’t be disappointed, especially with the action-fuelled extended finale. And the grownups, although unchallenged, can rest assured that The Croods: New Age will entertain and inspire the little ones, though they will hardly remember it before the next family film is released in the coming weeks.