Saturday, December 08, 2007

Movie Night 12

I'm posting this really late, because movie night was late this week.
But tomorrow it's back on track at the usual time.

Do-do-doo do-dooo. Christmas time is here!

1. Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas (1977) -
This is one of my all time childhood favorites, by Jim Henson. I grew up on this stuff. I think we had a copy on Betamax that we had recorded off the television.
It was practically forgotten until they released it on DVD a couple years ago.
The story is simple, and has a touch o' the O'Henry. A young otter lives with his mother, each of them doing odd jobs to keep food on the table. When they learn of a Christmas talent show with a $50 prize, each of them secretly sacrifices something of the other's in order to enter. There's a moral at the end and blah, blah, blah.

At fifty minutes, I believe it was the longest movie Henson had done up to this point (it originally aired on HBO). This movie is incredibly charming despite the dated techniques. You can even see some of the fishing line in some shots, holding some of the puppets up. For me it just adds to the feeling of homeyness (I can't believe homeyness isn't red-flagged by spellchecker). But Henson and his crew's skill is still evident in many ways, that would only become better and better in later projects.
The soundtrack is fantastic. It's a great mix of various original folk songs by Paul Williams, with one rock song thrown in to boot.

The DVD even has some surprisingly good features, considering how obscure this movie has become. It includes a blooper real and an old documentary featuring interviews with many of the people involved in the movie.
I recommend picking this movie up, wholeheartedly.


2. Tokyo Godfathers (2003) -
You wouldn't think an anime about three homeless people in Tokyo who find an abandoned baby would make for a good Christmas movie, but you'd be wrong. Tokyo Godfathers is one of Satoshi Kon's excellent anime films (if you're not familiar with his work, you'll likely be seeing it in future Movie Night installments).

It follows three homeless - a teenage runaway, a down-on-his-luck homosexual drag queen, and a man whose gambling debts broke up his family - after they discover a baby girl in the trash, and try to figure out what to do with it. Despite this premise, the movie is surprisingly wholesome. Maybe not appropriate for very young children (there are some derogatory names slung at the gay man, and some scenes of violent cruelty), but the story turns out to be fairly heartwarming. The darker edges of the movie only make the happier moments shine that much brighter.

The three main characters each have quite a bit of depth. Each of their stories is slowly revealed throughout the course of the movie, giving them believable motivations for keeping the baby longer than expected, and for living on the streets to begin with. This movie is yet another example of how far behind American animation is as an art form. Japanese animation is capable of emotional depth that American animation wouldn't touch with Pinocchio's ten-foot-long nose.

Basically this movie is about a Christmas miracle. Do yourself a favor and track it down for the holidays. I sincerely doubt you'll be disappointed, whatever your taste in movies happens to be.


Joe said...

Tara was extremely excited when I read her your blog entry here. Apparently, the rest of us were busy the day you two shared a very special Emmett Otter Christmas. We both (and her sister and brother-in-law) laughed out loud watching these bloopers. Puppets reacting to humans, especially sarcastically, is always hilarious.

BG said...

I think the U.S. views animation as childlike or adolescent. Which is unfortunate because animation represents such a fantastic medium for sci-fi and fantasy. I'm not sure the mainstream culture will ever accept it here, but that is OK. That's why we have Japan in the first place, but I think their culture has become considerably more popular in the last decade.

Scott said...

Pixar is really the only major company in American that understands what can really be done with animation. Still, their business is still making family-friendly movies.
It would be amazing if they created an extra branch of Pixar or Disney to push the boundaries of American animation, and really try something different. But I don't see that happening any time soon.
The Incredibles was a step in the right direction. That movie has some pretty mature thematic elements, even if it still appeals to a younger crowd.
Brad Bird is especially good at making sophisticated animation.

Joe: There's nothing like hearing a sweet little otter woman exclaim, "Sweet Jesus!" when things just aren't working as expected.