Friday, January 02, 2009

Despereaux? Delightful!

Yes, I said delightful.
That's not a word I use often, probably because not many things in life really are. It's not the same as fun or funny or cool or neat. It's a word that means something lifted your soul, something left you smiling for no apparent reason, something just filled you with that rare, but wonderful emotion of delight.

The Tale of Despereaux was just a treat. The animation had some floaty spots, but no more than your typical CG film. More than a few scenes were inspiringly well animated. One scene in particular, where the blind mouse pictured above searches for a thread- it was just amazing. It was a quick scene but it just grabbed me as sublime. As a professional I could see where they cut a technical corner or two to meet the budget, but trust me- it wasn't any egregious sin on their part. The important things during the important moments were perfect. The unimportant things for shoe-leather shots were dealt with in proper proportion. The production design was rich and detailed, but it fit perfectly. The color palette was subdued (a refreshing departure from the high saturation approach of US animated films). The desaturated approach somehow let the characters stage better against their world. Some scenes were just flat out beautiful.

The voices, while celebrity, weren't over the top like Jim Carrey, nor were they flat and bland like Brad Pitt. Each had a subtle texture and were very well acted- they fit their characters. This voice casting was really very good. Like Craig T. Nelson as Mr. Incredible or Jack Black as Po the Panda or Jeff Bridges as The Big Z good. The story was simple, but charming. There were characters that would have been written out of a US film during development, but that were left in this one. A few characters in particular had no significant narrative purpose, but that didn't matter. These "loose ends" just added to the tapestry of the story. The film is better for it. Mystery was embraced as a positive, not seen as a negative that needed to be explained away. Many things were left to the mists of imagination, or dismissed as irrelevant. US animated films tend to be a bit too... "on the nose". Everything needs a reason, everything needs to be filled in, everything needs to be explained. TTOD doesn't concern itself with such requirements nearly as much. That's a great part of its charm. Gags? There really weren't any gags. But there didn't need to be. Even Wall-E, at times a serious little film, had a lot of gags. TTOD, they let the charm and the characters bring the smiles. The motivations seemed sincere. I found myself smiling not because I was amused by a joke, but because I was enjoying what was going on. That's the difference between fun and delightful. Don't get me wrong. I like me some fun animation- lots of it, actually. But when something like The Tale of Despereaux comes along, well.. I'm just that much happier with life.
Go see it.

16 comments:

Thom said...

I'll have to go see this one. It appears to be at least mildly successful at the box office, or will be by the time it's had its full run. Juxtaposing this with another recent lower budget film, Delgo, reveals the importance of appealing character design.

I suspect that Despereaux has been marketed better (I'm blissfully unaware of what's on the television machine), but it seems that not even the few people who were aware of Delgo's release were inclined to go see it. Heck, I worked on it, and was disinclined to go. I chalk it up mostly to the butt-ugly characters. "Run away from the horse/lizard people!"

Despereaux on the other hand has lots more appeal. I'm not overwhelmed by what I see, but I'm not repulsed either. The "painterly" look of it is inviting.

Just my initial reaction.

Wade Ryer said...

Hey Keith,
I'm delighted that you liked it! It was a delight to work on! :) It was turned around pretty quick. I thought it looked amazing, but the story was lacking a bit. Some animation blew my mind. The Roscuro (rat) being chased were amazing. There was a few older traditional animators that turned 3d that lead it up. They really didn't have an ending to the movie until a couple months ago. The book was a big success and sadly they strayed from the original story. No idea why movies do.

It was all done at Framestore in London. Sadly, like most studios that take first animated shows, most of the staff was let go. Really amazing crew and some of the most talented people that i have ever worked with.

Cheers!

Brian R. said...

Huh, I was trying to decide whether to take Maggie to Despereaux or BOLT, and though my gut said Despereaux I was leaning towards letting Rotten Tomatoes guide me.

MikeL said...

I was also thrilled by the movie.
The skin shaders used were amazing, and contrasted the elongated toon style. The switches to perceived 2d were pure mind candy, and the whole thing gelled in my mind as a modern moving fairy tale. That's something we don't see enough of and one of the things I loved about growing up during Jim Henson's peak.

As Keith mentioned, the voices were spot on, and there were some moments that were downright emotional. I don't want to spoil but the "lead" rat was superbly sinister. Tracy Ulman did a wonderful job as well... [/gush]

MikeL said...

I hate to post off-topic but I don't think there's a PM function...

Keith are you still animating on 321 Penguins? I was watching today with my kids and I get the feeling something has changed on the production side.

Breadwig said...

Yep, gonna have to go see it now with Merrill. The book is really quite great, I enjoyed it a lot. Which is why i was worried it wouldn't capture it, but it looks like it has! Woo hoo!

Thom said...

I took my family to see it over the weekend and I agree that it is very good. It's pretty much as you say, Keith.

I've grown quite jaded of these "amazing" (yawn) skin shaders and so forth, so I found the storybook sequences to be the most visually interesting. I wished the whole movie was made that way (although without the affected strobing). They were my wife's favorite sequences as well.

By far its biggest strength was its story. Thank God it didn't follow the usual animation formulas. Quite refreshing.

Thom said...

BTW, just to be clear, I wasn't aiming my "jaded" comment towards MikeL (my apologies if it seemed so). I really am tired of seeing every pore and zit meticulously rendered on screen.

Asperger's Student from AiCaSF said...

That's what I think the probelem is with many classmates at my school, they would call a film like this "cute." That's become a deragoutary term in these parts as it's said quickly to transition to another subject, meaning the story wasn't groundbreaking enough, although they don't think it to be mediocure either. We really look too high in our expecataions for films nowadays, even in their own work, something this simple and child friendly is frowned upon dramatically. It's never expected for someone like me to have such an innocent mind to generate a story like this unless I'm also associated with the conservative coperate animation shnobs who produce the more run-of-the mill films in the USA that are more well known to us. In other words, they tend to look for "edgy" work over anything else because nothing else is worth their time of day...

On the other hand, the only probelems I had with the film was that the music was a tad too extreme and cliched at some times, and the melochany mood that most of the scenes suppressed that charming feeling until the very end where everything gets resolved at once, for the most part....

Mike L said...

I wasn't offended, though I think it's a bit naive to think that could be directed at anyone else. As it would happen, I'm working on a project now where I'm using mental ray's skin shader... While nothing is easy, this is one of the more complex controls I have seen and getting the skin to look that good is a true challenge.

Have skin shaders been used in every major 3d release in the last 2 years? Probably... a few come to mind... does that mean we should become elitist and bored with it?

Once you lose your sense of wonder you quickly lose your ability to love this art.

Tim said...

To MikeL:
Tim Hodge here. I'll step in for Keith to answer your question. No, Keith is not animating on 3-2-1 Penguins. For the 20 new episodes we produced last year (that are still airing on NBC/QUBO), we outsourced all the animation to UTV in Mumbai. Considering that we did 20 episodes in the time that Big Idea produced 2 in-house (for about 1/10 the budget per episode), I think we did a decent job. But no, the quality didn't match what Keith and the boys did on the original 6 episodes. (Actually, only the first 3 were done in house. Episodes 4,5 & 6 were animated in Toronto).
I would have loved to have Keith & company on staff, but our financial arrangements wouldn't allow the extravagance.
- Tim Hodge
Writer/Director/Executive Producer
"3-2-1 Penguins!"

David Beer said...

Hey Guys! it's great to see a positive review of Despereaux, its been getting alot of negative banter because of the 'similarities' with Ratattoille, but I think most people would agree once they watch it, thats its a totally different mission. I hope London gets another feature to work on! Hold Thumbs...

David Beer said...

If I'm not mistaken, it appears the animator that animated Hovis scanning through the threads is Nathan McConnel

MikeL said...

Thanks Tim! That explains alot. The things I noticed were all small things, but it really took a hit in the natural motion department. I guess that's this generations equivelant of limited animation then :) Still a great show, perfect for my 2 young boys.

frank said...

I think Ratatouille and Despereaux are equally hard to spell.

I liked the film (Despereaux)in general, the ending was a bit of a 'tack on' and didn't leave me feeling right. The story was appealing. The message about fear was contemporary.

Something I noticed. The character design of the long face humans, the royalty, the ones who look like chess pieces, were hard work to watch on a big screen. For example the princess. Especially in close up. It was because their eyes were so far away from their mouth. It split the area of viewer focus. The mouth was moving and the eye shapes were expressing but there was such a desert of what appeared to be immobile nose and cheek skin inbetween. At times, for me, it hurt to watch.

Luckily most of the acting was with the rats and mice and all their facial features were nicely grouped in one area of focus.

Gee the rat king really reminded me a lot of Anton Ego from Ratatouille (just wanted to try to spell it again).

Matt J said...

I agree with you- DESPERAUX is a refreshing change to the American CG films & does indeed have much going for it. I too was struck by that blind rat-great character albeit briefly seen.