Category Archives: Animation

Halloween Postscript

Because I apparently bring this blog out of mothballs exclusively for Halloween fare these days*, I figured I might as well follow up on last year’s epic Simpsons Treehouse of Horror odyssey. If a bit late.

Treehouse of Horror XXVIII (2017)

Opener: There are no credits or couch gag in order to make room for “The Sweets Hereafter,” a marginally clever CGI short that’s practically a separate act of its own. The Simpsons family is depicted as sentient Halloween candy (except for Lisa as a nutritious apple) hoping to survive the night in the trick or treaters’ bowl. Bart as a Butterfinger is a neat in-joke (and also leads into a sick burn on the divisive chocolatey treat), but my favorite is Maggie as a ring pop.

Episode image with the Simpsons as candy

Stories: 1) The Exor-Sis (Maggie gets possessed); 2) Coralisa (Coraline parody using CGI that attempts to kinda-sorta look like stop-motion animation); and 3) MMM… Homer (in which the Simpsons patriarch accidentally discovers his own flesh is the most delicious meat of all).

Favorite quote:
Ned: “I’m afraid that little devil needs an exorcism!”
Rev. Lovejoy: “I’m afraid they didn’t teach me those at Pepperdine.”

Notes: Overall this is a ho-hum episode (the middle segment seems like a particularly wasted opportunity), but it does score some points for extra-cool stunt casting with the guest voices. I like that they invited Neil Gaiman himself to voice Snowball while skewering his work. But, in my opinion, the best call-out is when Ben Daniels (aka Father Marcus on Fox’s The Exorcist show) shows up to yell “Demon get out!” precisely three times at Possessed Maggie.

I think the gag mostly worked for me because I only just recently started watching season one of the re-envisioned horror franchise, and I’m enjoying it more than I thought I would. After suffering through a handful of episodes of both Minority Report (2015) and Lucifer, I felt tolerably convinced that Fox would just convert Exorcist into yet another generic police procedural. But happily it’s a little more interesting than that.

 

* Seriously, it’s been almost two years since my last non-Halloween post. I probably give the impression that Halloween is my favorite holiday, but it isn’t. I do like it a whole lot, but as a rather boring adult, I can never think of any cool ways to celebrate anymore. This year I didn’t even dress up to get a $3 boo-rito from Chipotle, which is how I phoned it in for 2016.

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Happy Halloweekend 2017

Disney has re-released The Nightmare Before Christmas for a limited engagement at Regal Cinemas just for this weekend through Halloween. Even though I consider it really more of a Christmas movie, I still decided to make this my primary Halloween celebration this year. Below are some random thoughts:

Jack Skellington in repose in a cemetery

Perhaps my favorite scene in the movie

  • There are much more memorable tunes and visuals throughout the film, but what I love about “Poor Jack” is that you almost think that Jack will actually learn something from putting everyone through this massive ordeal, but NOPE! As the lyrics continue, you realize he’s learned NOTHING, and it’s amazing.
  • I’ve watched it on television a thousand times, but it took re-visiting it on the big screen to realize that Zero’s glowing nose is actually a light-up jack-o-lantern. Huh. Neat.
  • The whole Harvey Weinstein scandal and #MeToo and just all of that recent business really casts a new light on Sally’s relationship with Dr. Finkelstein.
Dr. Finkelstein holds Sally's arm in front of her

Yikes.

  • A few years ago I went to Disneyland in October, and I felt chagrined to discover that the Haunted Mansion ride had been given a Nightmare Before Christmas makeover. Make no mistake:  If this movie had its own ride, I’d be the first in line. But the whole point of the trip was to get drenched in nostalgia, so I felt bitterly disappointed that I couldn’t experience the Haunted Mansion of my childhood.
  • Only one sobbing, terrified child at my screening. I had estimated there would be about three.

Treehouse of Horror Roundup 26-27

Like most other Americans, I spent the last couple of days consumed with a different sort of nightmarish joke. But life and the days of November march on, and now that it’s ten days past Halloween, we need to wrap this up.

It felt good to laugh and get one last sweet taste of Halloween for the year. I even ate some candy — gummy bears — to mark the occasion. And The Simpsons managed to let me end on happy note by providing two mostly solid episodes. I’m glad I took this ride with you all.

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Treehouse of Horror Roundup 19-21

It only just occurred to me tonight (10 and a half hours into this roundup) that I could have made things interesting by collecting and crunching some Simpsons data as I watched. What percentage of Halloween segments focus on each character? How often are Kang and Kudos central to a plot rather than mere background? How many times does each character actually die onscreen? What a missed opportunity!

Well, I guess I could just start over.

Yeah, no.

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Treehouse of Horror Roundup 11-16

We’ve hit a bit of a rough patch. What say you, Groundskeeper Willie?

Picture of Groundskeeper Willie

We’re wasting more energy than Ricky Martin’s girlfriend.

Harsh, but probably accurate. This was not a great group of episodes, although it wasn’t a complete comedic dead space.

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Treehouse of Horror Roundup 7-10

A shorter batch tonight. My stamina is already waning. And yet so far I feel really engaged with this exercise. This is fun. This group reminded me that for such a topical show, The Simpsons can also feel extraordinarily fresh and relevant even two decades later. I tend to roll my eyes a little when people say stuff like that because I’ve never been quite the Simpsons devotee that many other people are. But sometimes a particular joke will reach out and shake you by the throat until you acknowledge the truth.

Not a single chuckle-worthy tombstone or framing device to be found tonight. I guess those are well and truly dead.

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Treehouse of Horror Roundup 1-6

In honor of All Hallows Eve 2016, I intend to revisit every single Simpsons Halloween special. Many I’ve seen countless times before, but many I’ve never seen at all. So this should be an interesting experiment… at least for me. However, because The Simpsons has been in continuous production for the majority of the years I’ve walked this planet and because I have a day job, I won’t really be able to dig deep with a lot of substantive commentary. And it will still take me most of this week anyway. I hope you enjoy this quick-and-dirty nostalgia trip anyway.

Opening title from the first Simpsons Halloween Special

Wait, are these not actually called Treehouse of Horror? Everything I know is a lie.

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Deathmatch: Animation Domination

The Boxtrolls vs. The Book of Life!

Posters for The Boxtrolls and The Book of Life

Images from IMDB

There is no real competition here. I loved BoL. I loved it the same way everyone else in the known universe who is not me reacted to Frozen.*

In contrast, I appreciated Boxtrolls more than I really liked it per se. I respect how it expressed a uniquely weird vision. And make no mistake, it is seriously weird. That isn’t precisely a complaint considering I bought my ticket hoping for something as weird-and-wonderful as Coraline and ParaNorman.** The good folks at the Laika stop-motion animation studio aren’t afraid to go scary and unpleasant, and that’s exactly what I like about their product. But this maybe crossed a threshold for me.

While I mostly enjoyed the look and the feel of Boxtrolls, I found some parts almost unendurably ugly and repellent. The icky look of the villains undermines the story’s message of tolerance. I do firmly believe our culture needs more stories about learning to love things that aren’t cute, but this one features trolls that are far cuter than the humans. I spent more than half the running time terribly afraid the movie would go full Jungle Book, but it course-corrected in time to make a nice point about choosing your own path in life. However, that doesn’t completely make up for the fact that the plot jags off on a bizarre, cross-dressing-related tangent, which I wouldn’t mind except that they treat the subject so negatively.

Other than thematic concerns, I just didn’t get swept up in the tale, and I didn’t fall in love with the characters. Frankly, the bratty ginger “heroine” has few redeeming qualities.­ And it felt overly long even at a slim 96 minutes. It would’ve been an amazing short film, though.

As for BoL, I find I don’t have a lot to dissect with it, so I can mostly sum up my feeling with an enthusiastic recommendation. BoL is definitely more conventional, but it still feels like a breath of fresh air. I loved the colorful visual style that felt textured and almost touchable. The soundtrack is a brilliant mix of original songs and pop music arranged in a traditional mariachi style. And it manages to effectively convey a layered narrative without confusing children. It’s not just a love story, but also manages to have something meaningful to say about family ties, the nature of heroism, and how to draw inspiration from folklore to live a better modern life. All strands weave together magically into a lovely tapestry. If I had one small quibble, I do wish we could’ve spent more time with Maria to get to know her better, but perhaps then the movie would’ve overstayed its welcome with the youngest audience members.

* Note: I actually quite enjoyed Frozen. Please don’t send me hate mail.

 ** ParaNorman was once itself the subject of an October animation deathmatch, wherein it cleaned the floor with Disney’s shallow re-imagining of Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie.