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Highly Animated

Chris Szego
Posted April 14, 2011

weesen.JPGEvery April at the Gutter, the editors write about something outside their usual domains.  This month, Romance Editor Chris Szego writes about animated movies.


When I was a kid, cartoons were a real treat. I didn’t watch much TV, but Bugs Bunny
and friends were mandatory viewing.
We watched the show as a family, mostly so my parents could reassure me
that yes, Wile E. Coyote would survive.
Cartoons were fun, and special, and safe. You could break any kind of rule, even the law of gravity,
and things would be okay.

I still love animated stories, for that sense of wonder, crazy adventure, and safety.  Though there’s less safety than there used to be.  I’ve not yet ventured very far into anime (I don’t have the patience to watch 75 episodes of anything), but that still leaves a huge amount of choice. We’re in a great age for animated movies.  Below are three of my current favourites, with a selection of reasons why.

How To Train Your Dragon (Dreamworks, 2010)

Inspired casting, stunning visuals and a nerd-makes-good
plot that pulls no punches made this one a winner. Didn’t hurt, either, that the 3D
effects were subtle and sparingly used; it’s one of only a few 3D movies that
didn’t leave me with a blinding headache.

Cool bits:

1.  Astriiiiid… The catch in Hiccup’s voice (so ably played by
Jay Baruchel), when he names his crush. In the background, she does the ‘cool
girls walk away from explosions’ saunter.  Excellent.

2.  “It’s not what you look like; it’s what’s inside you he can’t stand.” Gobber says this to
Hiccup, as the latter tries to elucidate the vast communication gap between himself
and his father, Stoick. It’s a quote for the ages.

3.  The moment Hiccup touches Toothless for the first time. The whole scene is fairy-tale
beautiful; the music is lovely; the pacing excellent… but when Hiccup reaches
out his hand, the scene ascends.  It’s an act of monumental bravery.  Someone has to be the first to reach out, and this time, it’s Hiccup.

4.  The learning montage.
As Hiccup and Toothless learn how to fly, they also learn about each
other, and we get to see those lessons applied immediately. What could have been a tedious cliche is made immediately relevant.

5.  Hiccup wakes up.  After the final battle, Hiccup wakes up at home.  When he sits up, we know from his face that something’s wrong.  When he swings his legs out bed, the camera reveals that one is missing.  You can battle destruction
and win, this scene says, but you don’t escape unscathed. But as Hiccup stands, stumbles, and
proves, you can also be content to pay that price.


Spirited Away (Studio Ghibli, 2001)

This first Miyazaki movie I saw, and still my
favourite. The lush scenery! The gorgeous colours! The careful mix of humour and hard
work! I watch the movie in Japanese first, then again in English, and am always amazed at how well the casting directors matched the pitch, timbre and tone of the voices.

Cool Bits

1.  Snack time.  After Chihiro’s first day in the bathhouse, Haku gives her
something to eat. They sit out in
a glorious garden, while she eats, and cries.  And keeps eating. It rang utterly true.  The riotously beautiful flowers make the scene all the more moving.

2.  The bathhouse.  At night, it’s a box of precious jewels, both inside and out.  The next morning Chihiro descends through the whole structure, from the bright colours of the upper levels to the dark, rusty, hardworking core.  Whether it’s a metaphor or just a scene, it’s extraordinary.

3.  The re-enactment.  In the boiler room, the transfigured baby re-enacts the breaking of the curse with the soot spirits.  It foregrounds a moment of humour and charm, while in the background, Kamaji and Chihiro discuss how to save Haku.  An astonishing balancing act.

4.  The train.  The train takes them on a dreamy journey, full of semi-translucent but determined passengers; unanswered questions (what’s an Irish crofter’s cottage doing there?); and stunning scenery.  All those stories are happening at the same time, but the only one we’ll ever know is Chihiro’s.

5.  Haku restored.  Part dragon, part wolf, the healed Haku is a magnificent figure.  Power, might, and majesty… and yet, still Chihiro’s friend.


Toy Story 3 (Pixar, 2010)

I can’t think of  another franchise that has exceeded
itself with every addition to the degree bigbaby.jpg Toy Story manages. The third film in this set is an emotional
powerhouse – even more so because we’ve seen the characters so many times
before. Like Woody and friends,
we’ve seen Andy grow up.

Cool Bits:

1. Totoro! It’s a small moment but a very happy one
for fans of Miyazaki (of which, of course, Pixar head honcho John Lasseter is
one).  Bonnie, at whose house Woody spends an unexpected and wonderful night, has a giant plush Totoro…that comes alive!  Want!

2. The great escape. I love outrageous schemes that involve playacting and a myriad of props. Any plan that requires that many moving parts and a tortilla is fine by me. As an added bonus, they tape up
that creepy cymbal monkey.  Go, toys!


3. The incinerator. The toys are in serious peril, a nd they know it. I was geuinely afraid for them (though I’ll admit;  I’m easily scared).  As their world is about to end in fire, they hold hands, which makes the scene both frightening and heartfelt.  

4. Andy’s mom.
Near the end of the movie, Andy’s mom steps into hi s nearly empty room. “Ohh,” she says softly, taking in the coming absence, and every adult
in the theatre echoed her. It’s a
quiet and perfect expression of a profound moment in a parent’s life.

5. Andy.  At the end, Andy gives Bonnie his toys. But when she reaches for Woody, he pulls
the cowboy back in pure primal
reflex.  But eventually, he extends his arm again, a slow and generous return that signals his
burgeoning maturity. Poignant and perfect.


Chris Szego would happily live in the landscape Miyazaki created for Howl’s Moving Castle.

(Hey, guys, the comments form is down. We’re moving the
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