This week in Park City, Utah, film fans have been treated to a wide variety of indie films by way of the Sundance Film Festival. They offer something for everyone at the festival including several animated offerings. While the animated films were disappointing this year, it is still a rewarding experience to help support small animators and their unique films.
Lu Over the Wall
The first film to premiere this year is called Lu Over the Wall from director Masaaki Yuasa. Surprisingly, this marks the first time an anime film has been chosen for the festival, and it features Yuasa’s wild and wacky style. The animation is brightly colored and has some cute moments with little Lu interacting with her human friends.
Unfortunately, I did not enjoy the film overall. I found the story to be all over the place and told in a spastic, flashy way that honestly made me nauseated by the end of it. I had no idea what was going on for most of it, and the editing was choppy making it hard to watch. The parts that did work also felt too similar to Ponyo for my tastes.
Last year, I wasn’t very impressed with the Animation Spotlight at Sundance. It felt like everyone was trying to copy Don Hertzfeldt’s surrealist style, and surrealism without heart can be very tiresome. This year there was some of that, but I enjoyed most of the 9 shorts in the spotlight.
My favorites were:
- Eye Bags by director Waikwan Ho about a woman named Talia who struggles with insomnia. As a chronic insomniac, I could relate to this quite strongly.
- The Driver is Red by writer/director Randall Christopher which in a sketchy style told the moving story of how a team of secret agents brought down one of the most notorious Nazi war criminals in Argentina in 1960.
- The Burden (pictured above) by writer/director Niki Lindroth von Bahr. This is a delightful stop-motion musical about a bunch of animals living their day-to-day lives. You have fish looking for love, monkeys in a call center, and mice tap dancing. It was so funny, and the music was so much fun!
The second feature-length animated film of the festival is a new take on the classic Jack London novel White Fang. This is from director Alexandre Espigares and attempts to tell a gritty story of frozen frontier life with warm-hearted man-and-his-dog elements. While the film definitely has its stunning moments, it couldn’t shake an over-all unpleasant tone and some seriously disturbing violence.
The animation in White Fang is a mixed bag with stunning landscapes and nice character design for the dog characters, but the human characters were the awkwardly rendered CGI you get in films like Rock Dog. This would be fine, but the treatment of the dogs by a group of thugs is tough to take, and a dog fight sequence is long and brutal. I would never take a child to that kind of animal violence. The child next to me was very upset by it, as was I.
The violence I suppose could have worked as a harsh lesson, but it goes on to the point of feeling exploitative. I was not a fan, and unfortunately, it dragged the whole movie down.
World of Tomorrow Episode 2
The last animated offering at the festival is a screening of Don Hertzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow Episode 2. I must own I saw this on Vimeo and not at the festival, but it was being screened in Park City. There are two ways to watch Don Hertzfeldt films: you can attempt to figure out what he is trying to say, or you can enjoy the pretty colors and creativity for 22 minutes. I chose the latter option because I don’t really understand what Don was getting at, but I think it’s really pretty, and I admire it.
If you haven’t read the review here on Rotoscopers, World of Tomorrow Episode 2 continues our journey with Emily as she explores the future surrealist world. It’s weird and pretty, but something every animation fan must see.
While not all of the offerings at Sundance were successful, it is always a joy to watch indie animation, and I hope that you make a resolution to make it a part of your 2018 movie-viewing schedule.
Edited by: Kelly Conley