A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Shaun the Sheep Movie (Mark Burton and Richard Starzak, 2015)

The look of Aardman Animations' stop-motion characters hasn't changed much in the years since the first Wallace and Gromit short in 1990, though the humanoid characters have become more diverse. We now see people of color, including a Muslim woman wearing a hijab, on the street. And the basic slapstick humor hasn't changed, either. It still has that essentially British overtone, even in Shaun the Sheep Movie, which has no intelligible dialogue. I doubt, for example, that Pixar, even though its films are perceptibly influenced by Aardman, would venture into the kind of fart jokes and the gags based on the anus of a pantomime horse that are on display in this movie. And all of that is to the good. For what the Aardman films do so well -- especially the ones by Nick Park, who created Shaun and his colleagues, and is listed as executive producer on this film -- is revive the fine art of Sennett and Chaplin and Keaton and Arbuckle, the masters of silent slapstick comedy. Aardman has the advantage that its actors are clay and not flesh, so they can undergo assaults that would obliterate even so resilient an actor as Buster Keaton, but it succeeds in making its characters believable by putting limits on the mayhem. We know that the actors are putty in the hands of the animators, and yet somehow we wince at their peril when they're trapped by the villain on the edge of what a sign describes as "Convenient Quarry." (One of the delights of the movie, which makes you want to watch it again, are the blink-and-you-miss-it gags on the fringe of the action, like that sign.) Shaun the Sheep Movie was nominated for the best animated feature Oscar, but lost to Pixar's brilliant Inside Out. These are grand times indeed for animation.