By and large, animation gets a bum rap. The average filmgoer long ago decided that the medium catered either to kids or art house snobs, and Hollywood has spent the last few decades marketing accordingly. Luckily, it's a medium that also has some of the most fervent fans—ones who endlessly support the films and keep the animated flame burning—such as the San Francisco Film Society, which will host the San Francisco International Animation Festival (SFIAF) November 11-15, 2009 at the Landmark Embarcadero Center Cinema. SFIAF's fourth edition boasts four narrative features, a selection of shorts, and live events; a great way to become better acquainted with the overlooked genre if you're unfamiliar, and—if you're already on the hook—an opportune chance to see some of the best animated films of the year on a big screen.
The biggest draws will likely be SFIAF's features: First up, The Fantastic Mr Fox. Based on the eponymous novel by Roald Dahl, Wes Anderson's latest journeys away from live-action but retains all of the director's trademark eccentricities thanks to voice-acting from many of the actors who frequent his hit films. Shot entirely in stop-motion, Fox is the story of the titular Mr. Fox, a retired crook who risks his happy home life for one last hit on the three meanest farmers in town. Oceans 11 with George Clooney as a fox?! I can't confirm such a fantastic allegation, but I'll be attending this screening myself and my fingers are crossed. The film may open wide just a week or so later, but why not see it early and think up a swell question to ask Anderson (who is expected to attend)?
Next on the schedule is the irreverent Belgian import Panique au Village / A Town Called Panic. Twitch teammate Todd Brown writes: " 'Juvenile' and 'absurd' are perfectly good descriptors when talking about Panique, though only if they are accompanied by 'brilliant' and 'hysterical'." I've been anticipating Panique for quite some time since quickly discovering the English dub on Atom Films. Each episode follows the adventures of three toy figures—Cowboy, Indian and Horse—who share a house. Its simple setup has a big part in creating the sort of universal comedy that has crossed culture lines, the series having swiftly gained support in the UK from Aardman Animation (the studios behind Wallace and Gromit). Will the five-minute episodes translate well to feature length? Early word leans towards the positive.
A new Mamoru Oshii is always big news for animation fans, though you might be surprised to hear his latest is a samurai biopic. Stepping back from the usual action and sci-fi fare of previous efforts such as Storm Riders and Ghost in the Shell, Musashi: The Dream of the Last Samurai is more a detailed examination of the political climates that conspired to create the man who became the legendary samurai Musashi, rather than a straightforward story about his life. Using an anachronistic narrator to steer the film from sounding too much like an animated essay, Oshii's script explores both the myths and the facts but ultimately comes no closer to understanding the true identity of the mysterious samurai. Even when the film glorifies more than enlightens, Oshii's fascination with his subject shines, making Musashi an engrossing exercise in style and structure. At Twitch, Todd Brown stages his complaints while Simon Laperriere considers "ideal" the film's description as "an animated encyclopedia … since the film uses a structure similar to a book covering a wide variety of subjects all linked more or less with the same theme."
Closing the fest is Tarik Saleh's Metropia, a near-future mystery flick starring Vincent Gallo as a dissatisfied call-center employee who begins hearing voices after using a new brand of shampoo. As a slow-burn sci fi noir, Metropia is often cryptic and scattershot; but, anyone familiar with the genre knows better than to expect events to unfold in any other way. Saleh delivers enough intrigue and double-crosses, and such an interesting style of animation—big-eyed photorealistic characters that move almost like marionettes—that the plot's contrivances are negligible. At Twitch, Todd Brown writes: "Metropia fits beautifully into the canon of dystopic literature, a grim but thoroughly plausible vision of the future, a future in which progress leads to squalor rather than prosperity" whereas—though Simon Laperriere admires Metropia's "astounding" animation—he concludes the effort "disappoints."
If shorts are more your thing, Saturday brings a few compilations. The most eye-catching is The Best of Annecy (marking selections from The Annecy International Animated Film Festival), and Walt Disney's Alice Comedies, a selection gleaned from the 56 classic shorts made between 1923 and 1927 that helped launch the Disney Studios.
Of related interest: indieWIRE has published the 20 films submitted for consideration for Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards®, including The Fantastic Mr. Fox and Panique au Village / A Town Called Panic.
Cross-published on Ornery-Crosby and Twitch.