1980s New York: a perfect place to set Charles Dickens’ story about a sad secretly high class boy (you can tell by how kind and goodlooking he is) is saved from being grouped with Those Dirty, Wicked Poors.
Really though, have you read Oliver Twist lately? That book is fucked up.
Longtime readers will know that anniversary month means lists. And while last year’s anime rundown involved a certain amount of long deliberation, settling on a film list for this go round ended up being a ticket to the Village of Excruciation. Perhaps it’s the shorter time investment, and all that that implies – more time to watch more, more sustainable on an experiment than a long form series, more easily fed into a larger impression – but I find my relationship to movies hugely different to how I approach TV series.
That’s not to say I don’t love movies – I do, a lot – but the list is a lot more mutable, and favorites tend to be relegated to a time and place in my life when they were meaningful rather than something carried through the decades. So when I was putting this list together, I settled for the following: movies that were significantly influential, impressed me with some unique and lasting aspect (enough that they’d become a go-to in listing “good examples of x”); or, plainly put, movies that if I heard someone hadn’t seen them, my response would be siddown, this is our night now. And while there’s plenty of great things I haven’t seen yet, and those future movies might someday overtake some items on this list, they’re still recommendations I’d stand by.
Long before videogames took on the mantle as ‘most frequently dismissed potential art form,’ the field of animation had been scraping for even the smallest bits of esteem from the cultural majority. Yes, of course animation is ‘kid’s stuff,’ not worthy of the attention of the real moviegoing public.
Never mind that animation allows for a near infinite variety of stylistic opportunities and a far more affordable means of enacting the fantastical and surreal in addition to the low-key and lifelike, or that the timeless quality of the form allows it to escape technological and era-driven pigeonholing far more easily than its live action counterparts (not to mention that stylized videogames age far more gracefully than their verisimilitude-obsessed peers).
But given the general subject matter around these parts, I expect I am (in part) preaching to the choir. So let us instead uncover some gems of animation, from the underpraised works of established geniuses to bold and unproven artists, whether you missed them the first time around or are itching to see them again.
A few weeks ago I wrote an essay about the new Disney movie Frozen. A few people read it, and then a few more, and then it exploded and became the most read post on this blog by a factor of ten (a fact found using English Major Math™, so take it as A Number I Made Up, Signifying Lots). Loads of people left comments – for some people it resonated with their own thoughts, or showed them possibilities they hadn’t considered; and others had their own ideas about the film’s significance, or felt it spoke to them in a different way. 98% of the comments were well spoken and polite, and I wanted to take this into-time to thank people for that. The internet might be a seething sea of cruelty bolstered by the false comfort of anonymity, but that doesn’t mean that every little scrap of civil discourse doesn’t help.
As I read I began to notice a certain trend: the search for the ‘Real Interpretation.’ Whether it was proposing another reading of the text or asking after the official intent of the creators, there seems to be a fervent desire to have a sanctioned view of a work of art. It comes from high school, I think, where teachers often find it easier to help students get through the unit by highlighting one interpretation as What it Means. That’s not a bad way to start, but it’s also only a start….which becomes a problem, given that for many people close media inspection starts and ends with those classes.
The more I thought about this, the more I realized that I could give people a crash course in English Majoring, with Frozen (and a few other things) as our guide. It’ll be just like college, with less Herman Melville and debt.
The conspiracy theory bits of my brain wonder if Disney’s purchase of Marvel was part of some David Xanatos-like plan to save a few bucks. Lord knows the Frozen team owes Stan Lee a check. Strange, fantastic elemental powers that get stronger with age/puberty and cause the owner to be ostracized, with the decided aura of metaphor lurking all around? If Elsa isn’t part of Days of Future Past, I will be extremely disappointed.
That’s less the condemnation it probably sounds like and more my pathological need to run my mouth. Truthfully, Frozen is a pretty delightful bound forward for Disney as a storytelling crew – what with its wonderful female leads (ignoring those astonishingly stupid comments from the animation department about how hard it is to design female characters who can look distinct and “still be pretty”), the strong soundtrack (even if two thirds of the musical numbers are crammed within the first twenty minutes of the movie, and the two comedic sidekick numbers could be cut entirely), likable cast, and heartwarming third act. And then there’s Elsa. Dear, wonderful Elsa, who I will claim as Disney’s first LGBT protagonist on the grounds that it will be twenty years before they do so more strongly than subtextually. And while there are other interpretations of The Metaphor (ranging from about as probable to ‘you’re just reaching now’), reading Elsa as queer helps strike an important to tone not just for her character, but in reading the movie as whole. This is what we call “applicability,” friends: the idea that a work can be read cohesively through from a certain perspective regardless of whether the creator explicitly intended it (think that theory about Lord of the Rings working a metaphor for the struggle over nuclear power).