Bambi (1942)

BDE_ks01

When I was a kid, watching this movie was like torture. It was SO FREAKING BORING. Like Dumbo, there are only certain parts that I remembered as a kid. mostly they were the parts with Thumper, because he’s awesome. The rest of it, until I was an adult, I found myself falling asleep during. While this is a kids movie, it can be argued that, like Fantasia, this is one of Walt’s more dramatic masterpieces, suitable and understood more by adults than children.

Based on the book Bambi: a Life in the Woods by Austrian author Felix Salten, It, like the movie, follows the life of a white-tailed deer named Bambi, starting with his birth in the forest. We follow him through childhood as he learns about the forest, through hardships as he loses his mother, and into adulthood as he finds a mate and deals with the great villain that is “man.”

The plot is simple enough. In all honesty, not much happens. That is part of the charm, and part of the reason I think people really love this movie. It gives us a glimpse into something so simple: the life of a simple deer in the forest. But what Disney does in the process is gives us a glimpse not only into the beauty of the forest, but the beauty of discovery. He gives us a glimpse into our own childhood, and what nature can do for our curiosity. It puts the humanity into common animals.

The book was touted as the first environmental novel published. Having never read the book, I believe this movie does it justice. The backgrounds of the forest are beautifully painted. This movies takes its time to show you the beauty of a leaf falling to the ground, or something so simple as a spring storm. Things that we overlook are painted in such beauty that we can’t help but be mesmerized. In a time and age where technology reigns and people are so rushed, I believe this movie becomes even more important. It reminds us that there is beauty in EVERYTHING.

The characters are ok I guess. Like Dumbo, I really feel like there could have been more character development, or more personality given to Bambi. He’s a bit of a forgettable character. More people seem to remember Thumper than Bambi, and it’s with good reason. Bambi is just there. He’s shy and naive, and almost represents the innocence of childhood and the innocence that is in all of us.

Thumper, on the other hand, almost is the kid we all knew. He has a good heart, likes to have fun, but is a bit of a troublemaker. But at the same time he’s super innocent too. He’s just is a kid. Sometimes he says things that aren’t nice. Sometimes he wants to eat the flower on the clover first.  We also have a skunk named Flower, and he’s just… sweet. We don’t get to know him much, but he’s adorable. I think Disney was trying to change people’s minds about skunks.

Bambi’s mother is possibly the best mother in all of Disney – dom (probably partially because she’s one of the few mothers that’s actually IN a disney movie that we get to sort of know…).  She loves her son, and she’s always there to keep him safe and answer his questions.  She’s patient and teaches him the important things in life that he must know. This is part of the reason it is so sad when she is eventually shot by the hunter. She sacrificed her life to save her son. It’s what all mothers would do. Is it scarring for children? uh… i really don’t think so. I dunno. That scene is synonymous with horrible death scene in our culture and with scarring your childhood. I can understand how it would affect a lot of people, but I dunno, I always had a sort of “Chandler Bing” reaction to it (Yes, it was all very sad when they stopped Drawing the deer…)(yes, I’m a giant Friends fan…). It’s sad and all, but emotionally scarring? not really… Mufasa was much worse.

I actually adore the father. I know he’s barely there and barely says two words the entire movie, but I LOVE that he’s just sort of this enigma. He’s the oldest deer in the forest, so they call him the “great prince of the forest.” I love that Bambi is his ONLY offspring (because seriously, with a rack (antlers) like he has, he should be siring ALL the babies – sorry, I am a biology person). I love that he’s strong and silent. He’s something to be reckoned with, and everyone knows it. I almost wish that we had seen a few scenes of him with his father growing up (yes, I know there’s a mid-quel… but I doubt it’s good nor I doubt it follows the original source material…). There were apparently parts in the book that had Bambi with his father. At the same time, I understand why they didn’t. It adds to the mystery that surrounds his father, and I kinda like it.

I do want to talk about one other thing, and that’s the whole thing that happens when they’re grown up. That’s right. I don’t know about all of you, but I think I was introduced to the whole idea of love through Twitter-pating. haha. It’s hilarious, because as Owl is explaining it, it does seem like the worst thing in the entire world. “you completely lose your head!” Sure it’s old fashioned, but it’s great. And then it happens to all of them. And there’s nothing you can do about it!! In reality, it’s part of growing up, once again, establishing that this movie really is about life in general

Bambi is a joy. Sure it’s not the most amazing plot or doesn’t have the most complex characters, but what it gets right is the atmosphere and the tone. that’s not a flaw: it was what Disney was going for, and he nailed it. This movie reminds us what it’s like to be a kid experiencing everything for the first time. It gives us a glimpse into the innocence of childhood and the beauty of the forest. That’s why I love it. I think that’s why a lot of people love it. Parts may be boring, but it is simply beautiful, charming, and you can’t help but love that little deer.

I give Bambi (1942) a 4 out of 5. I still can’t watch “April Shower” song without wanting to fall asleep….

Next: Cinderella (1950)*

*yes, I realize I said I didn’t own this movie. It’s actually a funny story….

Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986)

Dola: Gotta start talkin’ like a real pirate!

Sheeta: I’ve been practicing! Um… Harrrrr, matey! Shiver me timbers!

Dola: Keep practicing…

“The earth speaks to all of us, and if we listen, we can understand.”  – Uncle Pomme

Onward we move. The next in our adventures in Miyazaki world is 1986’s Castle in the Sky. This was the first movie actually released by his animation studio, Studio Ghibli. Unlike Nausicaa, which was based on a manga (comic) written by Miyazaki himself, this one is an original story. Let’s dive right in.

During the credits we get a bit of backstory to our world. People used to live in these giant floating cities. Then, there was some sort of unspoken, unpictured catastrophe, and the cities were all but destroyed. People were forced to live back on the ground, and only one city remained: Laputa. But it disappeared into the clouds and was never seen again.

Then we open on an airship, where a girl named Sheeta is being kept prisoner by a man named Muska. The airship gets attacked by pirates, who are also looking for the girl, and in their struggle to obtain her and this strange amulet she has around her neck, Sheeta ends up falling off the airship and goes careening down towards the earth. She passes out just as her amulet lights up and slows her fall.

From here we cut to a small town in the mountains, where we’re introduced to our other lead character, Pazu, a boy who works in the mines and lives alone. He sees Sheeta fall out of the sky, catches her, and takes her back to his house where she rests and awakens. They talk about the amulet, and she didn’t even know it could do that. He shows her all the cool stuff in his house, including a picture his father took of Laputa, the lost floating city. He mentions that he’s going to be just like his father and find it one day, if he can ever get out of the town.

Eventually both the Pirates, led by a woman named Dola, and Muska and his soldiers find where Sheeta is hiding and chase them throughout the town. Pazu and Sheeta manage to get away but fall into a mine, where they run into a strange old man named Uncle Pomme, who, upon seeing Sheeta’s crystal light up, tells them that it is made of a rock called Aetherium – the very same rock that was used to keep Laputa aloft.

They come out of the caves and are captured by Muska. While Pazu is thrown into the dungeon of his hideout, Sheeta is taken to a room where Muska reveals who she is: she is of the royal line of Laputa, and as such is one of the only people who can help him find Laputa. He makes her activate the amulet, and it shines a beam of light – the direction Laputa is supposed to be in. He threatens Pazu, who ends up returning home to find Dola and the Pirates. He talks them into helping him rescue Sheeta, and they’re off.

Meanwhile, Muska shows Sheeta a fallen battle robot with the same mark on it as on her necklace: the mark for Laputa. He explains why he wants to find Laputa: it was known to house many more of these robots, and as such is an incredibly dangerous thing to keep in the Sky. He aims to destroy it so it and the robots will not be a threat to anyone in the future. Not sure what she believes, Sheeta in her cell recites a prayer her grandmother taught her and accidentally turns on the Robot, and it begins to destroy Muska’s base while hunting for her to protect her. The pirates and Pazu come and rescue her, but not before Muska can snag her amulet.

Aboard the pirate airship, Pazu and Sheeta find themselves fitting in, traveling in the same direction the amulet was pointing in. They are going to attempt to find Laputa before Muska can. It turns out it’s in the middle of a giant thunderstorm, and Pazu and Sheeta get separated from Dola and the gang before crash landing in their little glider onto a city completely devoid of humans.

As they explore, they find that one robot is active: however this one is not aggressive as the other was. Instead, he is taking care of the forest that has started to grow on Laputa, taking care of the plants and the animals (bonus points if you can find the little cat-squirrel thing from Nausicaa!). They wander more and find that both Muska and Dola have also landed, but the pirates now find themselves captives.

Muska’s soldiers begin stealing the treasure that awaits them on Laputa, while Muska himself heads toward the city’s center. He captures Sheeta once more and takes her with him. Pazu frees Dola and the gang before pursuing Muska.

Inside the city center, its revealed that the floating city was a center for knowledge and weapons. Muska also reveals that he too is of the royal line, and uses the amulet and knowledge of Laputa to start the weapons and destroy the soldiers he came with: instead of destroying the city, he’s set on ruling the world. Pazu attempts to rescue Sheeta, he gets the amulet, they are reunited after a bit more crazy from Muska, and the two kids recite the prayer of destruction, which begins to tear Laputa’s center apart.  As the kids are reunited and escape with Dola and the Gang, we see Laputa, being held together by the roots of the giant tree residing inside it, floating off into orbit around earth.

The end.

If I had to use one word to describe this movie, it wouldn’t be hard to think of. Fun. This movie is just pure FUN. There’s pirates and flying cities and airships and robots and humor, adventure and mystery. This movie literally has a little bit of everything.

As I mentioned in my last review, Miyazaki tends to have the same themes in many of his movies. They are 1. Strong female characters, 2. Flying contraptions, and 3. The environment. This movie has all three.

If it’s lacking in one, I hate to say it, but it’s in the female characters. We have Sheeta, who is our main female protagonist. She’s ok, but I wouldn’t say she’s necessarily the strongest character Miyazaki’s ever written. She’s just a girl, plucked from her home and thrown into a situation she didn’t know how to get out of. In all honesty she’s probably my least favorite character. There’s nothing really wrong with her, she’s just kinda too normal. She’s not overly strong, or confident. She doesn’t really go through a huge change throughout the movie either. Instead, she relies on Pazu. That’s not bad, it just doesn’t epitomize the “strong female character” that some of Miyazaki’s earlier and later movies depict.

One that does, however, is Dola, the head of the Pirate gang. She is absolutely awesome. She’s stubborn, doesn’t take any crap from anyone, and oh my goodness she is just great. Her “gang” are mostly her sons, and her husband is even on the ship, but you can tell she runs the show. It’s almost a running gag that she’s not really a woman, because she doesn’t do the things that women typically do. She is constantly there to tell them that yes, women can do these things. Why wouldn’t they? The whole pirate gang are great, because they start out as villains, searching like Muska, for the amulet, but end up as good guys that actually end up caring about these two kids searching for this lost city. Sure, they’re also in it for the gold and treasure, but that’s kinda to be expected. they’re pirates.

I’ll talk about the other characters in a bit, but I want to go on to number two on my list, the flying contraptions. There is only one other Miyazaki movie that takes the flying machines to extremes as this one and has them almost as their own character. It is front and center in the plot of the story. We have pirate airships and huge airships with undulating wing-things. We have small basket gliders. And of course we have the huge floating cities. I love that there’s actually a substance that keeps the cities afloat as opposed to having the city just have a bunch of propellors or something. It’s great.

Third on the list is the environment. Although it’s not front and center with this movie as it was with Nausicaa and how it is in some of his others, his ideals about the environment still manage to sneak their way into this movie. In this movie, it’s all about the consistency of the environment and how it can outlast even war, technology, greed, etc. The trees and everything that grow on Laputa end up everywhere. There’s a scene where Muska and Sheeta get into the bowels of Laputa and find the throne room destroyed by the roots of the tree. Muska freaks out and remarks “it’s everywhere, look at it!” and starts to rip the roots out of place, claiming that nature is ugly and disgusting. Meanwhile, at the end, it’s the tree that survives, along with that kind robot who takes care of the forest. Not as in your face, but it’s there. It’s also black and white: the villain resents nature, while the good guys find it as refreshing and interesting that a forest grew.

Alright, how are the other characters besides our females? MUCH better than in Nausicaa. Muska is a pretty amazing villain. He’s slimy, self-centered, and really doesn’t ever seem to have any sort of epiphany about how what he’s doing may not be the best idea. He’s evil through and through, and I think that’s a great villain for this movie. He literally doesn’t care who he kills or what he has to do if it means he can rule his very own floating city and use robots to kill whoever he wants. He doesn’t care who he hurts, and that’s kinda awesome. He goes from sort of not that crazy to flat out crazy crazy crazy dude. that’s fun to watch.

Pazu is also really kinda amazing. I sort of adore this character due to how optimistic, kind and determined he is. He’s had this dream his entire life based on a story from his father to find Laputa, and this adventure just sort of falls in his lap. Not once is he upset about it, or scared. If anything, he just enjoys the trip the whole time. But not at the cost of his friends. He’s determined to rescue Sheeta, then determined to rescue Dola. He’s not afraid to stand up to Muska, and in the end he just seems happy that he was involved in what he was. I know some people who don’t like Pazu or claim that he’s just being selfish most of the time, using Sheeta to fulfill his dream, but I don’t see it like that. He started helping her before he knew she was connected to Laputa. I think that thing just sort of fell in his lap. It was his destiny.

Another thing I love about this movie is the friendship that forms between Pazu and Sheeta. In the beginning all the way up to when they’re on Dola’s ship, you really don’t know why Pazu is so determined to rescue Sheeta (again, i think this is why some people might think that he’s acting selfishly – using her as a ticket to Laputa). But once they’re on Dola’s ship, there’s a few conversations that occur that show you that they really do have this deep connection. They’re separated because on the ship women are separated from the men, and Sheeta ends up sneaking up to the glider Pazu’s on his watch. They missed each other. It’s kinda adorable. And it’s never anything more. It’s just two friends on an adventure, and it’s fun to watch.

There are a few issues I have with this movie, even though I love it. The first is that this movie does actually take a bit to get going. Not that it’s bad in the beginning, but things really pick up, at least for me, when the duo get onto Dola’s ship. Everything before really is set up, and it’s done well, but for me it just seems to drag a bit.

The other issue that I have is one that isn’t an issue that arrises with the story, but instead with the dubbing. I’ll talk more about dubbing (both good and bad) on other reviews, but with this dub, there is a scene that really just did not translate well, and it honestly makes it a bit awkward.

Before I talk about the scene, I have to explain something first: the original Pazu and Sheeta in the Japanese dub were originally about 8 or 10 years of age. When they went and dubbed it in english, they decided for whatever reason to make the kids older, like 13 or so. Ok… now that you know that….

The scene in question is one on Dola’s ship. They’ve just arrived and Dola told Sheeta that she needed to go work in the kitchen, peel potatoes and all that jazz. As the scene progresses, more and more of Dola’s sons go into the kitchen and offer to help. In the english dub, this gets seriously awkward, because the words they chose really make you think like they are all attempting to flirt with this girl. Apparently though in the Japanese version, it isn’t like this. First of all, she’s 8, and the guys are just trying to get out of working on the ship and would rather help the girl. All the blushing and whatnot that happens during the scene? That’s really just Japanese animation. It has nothing to do with flirting bashfullness or whatnot. So bad on you dub!!! You made things awkward!!

Here’s a few other good or bad things about this movie:

~ Have I mentioned that this movie is really hilarious? Cause it is. There’s a scene where men rip their shirts just with the sheer force of their muscle. There’s also slow motion punching. It’s awesome.

~ Mark Hamill is the voice of Muska. That’s right. It’s like Luke Skywalker joined the Dark Side.

~Little tiny James Van Der Beek and Anna Paquin are Pazu and Sheeta. They do a good job. But he will always and forever be Dawson and she will always and forever be Rogue in my head. or the little girl teaching a bunch of geese to migrate in Fly Away Home.

~Although I gave away everything in my plot, it really is done well. You don’t see half of the plot twists coming.

I would definitely recommend this movie to people. It might be a good one to start with, especially if you have boys or if you want something a little more light but older. It’s one of my favorites, just because it’s just so much fun. Give it a watch and see what you think.

I give Castle in the Sky (1986) a 4 out of 5.

Up Next: My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

“Every one of us relies on water from the wells, because mankind has polluted all the lakes and rivers. but do you know why the well water is pure? It’s because the trees of the wastelands purify it! And you plan to burn the trees down? You must not burn down the toxic jungle! You should have left the giant warrior beneath the earth!… Asbel, tell them how the jungle evolved and how the insects are gaurding it so we won’t pollute the earth again. Asbel please!”  – Nausicaa

 

Yay it’s Miyazaki time! We’re going to get right into it with the second movie he directed, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. While technically NOT a studio Ghibli movie (the studio was founded after this movie came out), I still count it as such because it is 110% Miyazaki.

 So what’s Nausicaa about? I’ll do my best, but like many of Miyazaki’s movies, they tend to be pretty intricate and complicated with lots of things going on. 

 During the credits we’re introduced to the world that the movie takes place in, and some of the history that brought us there. In some places it looks like desert, with nothing but sand as far as the eye can see. We see these strange robot-like giants coated in flame, and see their remains scattered as a man with a gas mask rides through the desert on a strange looking bird creature.

 The next thing we see is a habitat that is very different – a jungle. Although it’s not like any jungle anyone now has ever seen. It’s inhabited by huge mutant like bugs – flying bugs, crawing bugs, you name it. We meet our protagonist, Nausicaa, as she wanders through the jungle with a gas mask on. In her lone wanderings the watcher learns that this is the toxic jungle, and we get the feeling we’re in some type of post-apocolyptic world. Nausicaa wanders and happens to find the shed shell of a bug she calls an Ohm. For the record, this is what it looks like, cause I’m too lazy to explain it. This is one that is angry. He has red eyes. Normally they’re blue. And you can see the person at the bottom left for scale. they’re big.

Image

 She pulls off its eye cap and exclaims it’s going to be of great use for her village before sensing that danger is around. An insane Ohm, with red eyes charges in its rage after the man we saw during the credits. She manages to calm him and the Ohm goes back to the jungle, while she goes down to the man. Turns out she knows him. This is Lord Yupa, on his way to the very same place she is: the Valley of the Wind.

 The two travel home together, where we learn Nausicaa is the princess of the Valley of the Wind. We learn a bit more about the toxic jungle and the land before the “apocalypse”: the spores that are produced by the plants in the jungle are deadly to humans, and as such the humans have been forced to seek out small livable areas. A few of the settlements are at war with each other, but the Valley of the wind is one of those that just wishes to be left in peace. The toxic jungle arose from something called the seven days of fire, and it has been one thousand years since that. 

 One night, a war ship from a settlement called Tolmekia goes down in the valley of the wind. Nausicaa attempts to rescue a girl from the wreckage. She is a war hostage, Lastelle of Pejite, and before she dies she warns Nausicaa to destroy the cargo in the ship.  Turns out the Tolmekian ship carries the embryo of a Giant Warrior, the bioweapon robot we saw the remains of early that caused the seven days of fire. 

 She is not able to, however, because the remaining unhurt Tolmekians place the valley under their rule, led by Princess Kushana. She explains to Nausicaa and Lord Yuba that her idea is to use the giant warrior to burn down the toxic jungle. They then at some point kill Nausicaa’s father, which sends Nausicaa into a blind rage, upset at Kushana for not only killing him, but attempting something so stupid as burning the jungle when it has been written that that will only cause more harm. We also learn here of a prophecy of a warrior clad in blue surrounded by fields of gold that will unite nature and man once more. It is a prophecy widely believed in the valley, but not so much with the other settlements anymore.

 The princess Kushana, however, does not seem to care and announces she will leave for Pejite, their enemy and the original owners of the Giant Warrior embryo. She is going to take hostages from the Valley of the Wind to ensure that the rest of her troops will be respected… I think…. Either that or just because she can. It’s confusing and I honestly don’t remember.

 Anyway, Nausicaa does eventually go after Kushana and the hostages to rescue them, but not before Lord Yuba finds her in her basement greenhouse. Turns out she has been studying the plants from the toxic jungle, and it is here we learn that it is not the plants, nor the water that is toxic, but the soil that it grows in, forever tainted by man from long ago.

 Kushana and the hostages, along with Nausicaa attempting to rescue them, never reach Pejite, because they are shot down by a Pejite ship (this ship is also destroyed in the duel). They crash land in the toxic jungle, angering a few Ohm, which Nausicaa is able to take time and soothe.  She then leaves the Princess and her fellow valley folk to go and rescue the pilot of the Pejite ship, who turns out to be Asbel, the brother of the girl she rescued from the Tolmekian ship.

 The two of them wander through the jungle. Asbel wants to return to Pejite and Nausicaa wants everyone to just stop thinking of war. They get swallowed up by quicksand and we learn that under the toxic jungle is a whole other world that is not toxic. Turns out the plants above are actually purifying the water and the soil, sending it down below when it is cleansed.

 Eventually Nausicaa and Asbel return to Pejite to find it has been ravaged by insects. The survivors tell them it was a plan: the tolmekians were attacking and the insects destroyed them – they’re doing the same thing to the Valley of the Wind so that they can get their giant warrior back. Obviously this makes Nausicaa upset. She is taken captive as everyone boards an airship headed for the Valley of the Wind.

 On the airship, Asbel and the women of Pejite help Nausicaa escape so she can warn her people about the Ohm attack. She finds the pejites using an injured baby ohm as bait to anger the older ones, leading them to the Valley.  Trying to protect themselves, the Tolmekians in the Valley deploy tanks and even try to hatch the Giant Warrior to fight the Ohm, but none of it works and the Giant Warrior disintegrates.

 Nausicaa frees the baby Ohm and attempts to gain its trust as the stampede comes closer. They end up running the two over, but then grow calm as they almost realize what they’ve done. They use their golden tentacles to lift up Nausicaa’s body and heal it. Stained by the Ohm’s blue blood, she fulfills the prophecy of the warrior clad in blue in a sea of gold. The Tolmekians leave the valley, the Pejites remain behind to live there, and under the toxic jungle a tree begins to grow.

 So that’s Nausicaa. There is a LOT going on and honestly I didn’t touch on a lot of stuff that could even be considered important. If it seems all over the place and hard to understand, that’s honestly because it is. This was Miyazaki’s first foray into many themes he would become fluent in over the years. But like a Bicycle, I call Nausicaa the movie with the training wheels: You can tell what he wanted to do, but the execution was not perfect. At the same time, this movie needed to be made to show him what he had the ability to do.

 Don’t get me wrong. This is still a great movie. I just think I’ve had to watch it at least 3 or 4 times before I really got what was going on. The political stuff with the Tolmekians and the Pejites is a bit hard to understand, and honestly it’s hard to keep track sometimes of who is from what settlement just because both are so set on war and they have no idea why. It’s also a bit preachy in its messages. Like, really preachy. Sometimes the environmental stuff is thrown in our face, as is stuff like the fact that it’s so amazing that Nausicaa can calm the Ohm. 

 Let’s talk about the themes in this movie, because as we continue with Miyazaki movies, they’re going to be repeated over and over, and I’m going to talk about them over and over:

  1.  Strong Female characters: Miyazaki LOVES a strong female lead. In fact, she doesn’t even have to be the lead character. If there’s something this guy is good at, it’s writing really interesting female characters. In this case, it is the protagonist. Nausicaa isn’t afraid to fight or stand up for herself. She’s not afraid to get in there with the guys. She stands up against the giant Ohm and wanders in the Toxic Jungle when other braver men run away. She’s willing to do anything to protect not only her valley and her people, but the creatures that no one else is willing to even try and understand. She can be a bit too perfect however. She’s kinda the jesus figure. But that doesn’t matter too much. She’s still interesting enough. 
  2. Airships: Not as much in this one as in his others, Miyazaki has this obsession with flying. Gliders, ships, planes, you name it. They’re always big, unique, and play some type of role in the movies he directs and writes. In this movie, they’re warships. Nausicaa has this amazing glider that she rides on parallel to the ground (how strong are that girl’s abs??). The designs are awesome, and this is just a start to what we see in his later movies.
  3.  The Environment: This one is possibly the biggie for Miyazaki. This man is all about saving the environment. He loves a cautionary tale. He loves the environmental overtones. This is one of his two environmental epics. In some, as this one,this theme really does take itself seriously, and it is front and center in some part of the plot of the story. In this movie, it shares its importance with his theme about war. It’s what Nausicaa studies about the plants. It’s them finding out that it was man that caused this. The earth is renewing itself. That in a desperate, desolate world, there can be hope. The world is fixing itself, and it doesn’t need the humans go to and try to mess it up again. 

 Ok, after exploring a few of his themes in general, this movie obviously utilizes all three. The problem, as I mentioned before, is almost that this movie tried too hard. Miyazaki knew what he wanted to do, but the execution wasn’t quite right. He wanted to do this amazing environmental epic that was also anti-war and anti-violence. He wanted to do a movie about a girl who understood and could bring everyone together. In some ways, He did succeed. In other ways, he really didn’t.

 I’m going to sound like a broken record, but the hardest part of watching this movie is knowing what it could have been. If the plot hadn’t been as intricate. If they had calmed down a bit of the political stuff, or actually sat and explained it all. I mean, I needed wikipedia for help with the plot, because I wasn’t actually sure if I knew it correctly. 

 I’m going to be honest. Any Miyazaki fan will say the same things about Nausicaa, despite probably saying they liked it. A big part of that is because his other environmental epic exists, and it is just so much better (Princess Mononoke… we’ll get to it later). If that movie hadn’t been so good or hadn’t even existed, I think many people who are die hard Miyazaki fans would like this one better. That being said, people who don’t know Mononoke or watch this before they see that one tend to forgive many of its vices. However you would be hard pressed to find anyone who has seen both and prefers this one. 

 So obviously I’m upset about the plot and how he tried to do too much. What do I like? I love the idea. The idea of this world that was torn apart by war brought on by man; a world where the soil became so toxic that the plants that grew there were deadly. Until we learn that it’s the soil that’s toxic, and that it was brought on by man, it just seems like some random post-apocalyptic world. Almost like an “oh well, that’s what happened I guess.” But when we learn it was people that did it, something just clicks. Oh. I get what he’s going for. The idea that the toxic jungle is actually the world cleansing itself. The idea that the people don’t really get it and this girl is the only one who has eyes big enough to see it. That to me is fascinating. I just wish the rest of it wasn’t so complicated. I almost wish it focused more on her getting people to understand the jungle instead of trying to stop a war.

 The characters are… alright. I think I’m going hard on this movie because, again, I know what his later ones are like. Really, the characters are good. They don’t necessarily have depth (other than arguably Nausicaa), but they’re not boring. The voices for the dub fit pretty well for the most part. EXCEPT…. Geez, did they really have to use Shia LaBeouf for Asbel? I’m not a fan. Not that Asbel’s an interesting character anyway, but…. Ugh. 

 There’s nothing really good or bad about the characters. Honestly, the only one I ever really remember is Nausicaa. And the Ohm. The bugs are cool, and the Ohm are really unique. The humans are fine, but their just… there. No one else really stands out in my mind for being something other than a carbon copy of some type of archetypical fantasy character. Kushana is obsessed with war and doesn’t seem to have a good bone in her body (but she’s boring about it). Lord Yuba (Patrick Stewart) is all wise man mentor-y. Asbel is a stupid kid who wants revenge. Although I have to admit at least his mind is changed at the end, so I guess that’s good. I hate to say it but the most memorable characters are these two little girls that live in the Valley that we literally see in two scenes. Because they’re funny. Because they ask about the prophecy, and they love Nausicaa. Everyone else is just blah.

 I also do kinda hate the whole Prophecy thing. I mean I don’t mind it in some movies/books, but I don’t know – did anyone NOT think it was going to get fulfilled by Nausicaa by the end of the movie? Were they trying to throw us off by saying it was going to be a man? Because the first time I saw this movie and they explained the prophecy, I of course knew that it would be Nausicaa. I don’t like prophecies like that. Where the person doesn’t know it’s them but it really should be obvious. It’s almost like if we just knew the whole time she was the prophet, that would have been better. Like she had to go around the try to convince the Tolmekians and the Pejites that she was who she was. THAT would have been interesting. 

 Wow, this was so much more negative than I thought it was going to be when I started writing it. I’m not going to lie. I’m ragging on this movie a lot more than I thought I would. I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea. It IS a good movie. I still love owning it and I still really enjoy watching it. There’s just a lot of issues that I have with it. I haven’t even gotten to the seriously 80s music. That just kinda makes me laugh…

 I would still tell people to watch this movie. It’s not the first Miyazaki movie I would tell people to watch, because it’s not his best. Not by far. But it DOES show us where he came from. It shows us the seeds for the themes he will live by. It shows us the types of stories and begins to show us what types of characters he can create. Thank God he gets better at characters!! If you’ve seen a few Ghibli movies but haven’t yet seen this one, I would give it a watch. If you’re a fan of Miyazaki, you’ll like it. But it’s not a good intro. You’ll have to wait a few more reviews for that…

 I give Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984) a 3.2 out of 5. 

 Next up: Castle in the Sky

Happy Feet (2006)

“I’m being Sponan-u-ous!”

 

There are very few movies like Happy Feet. When it came out, I remember people saying mixed things about it: it was cute, it was funny, the penguins were great, the music was weird, the premise was weird. I could go on and on about what people said about this movie. Strangely, no one had the same reaction I did upon first viewing it, which was… “what??? That isn’t what the trailer said it would be about!!”

 To be fair, the trailer was just a cutesy little penguin tap-dancing around set to some pop song. I thought it was going to be adorable. I figured, ok, this is going to be a movie about a cute little penguin who tap dances and maybe he’ll go on an adventure with his penguin friends and learn something about himself and fall in love and… well, you know, like other animated movies. Like a disney movie. We’d learn some cute lesson about being yourself, and everything would be happy by the end.

 Boy, was I wrong. There are very few movies that I have seen in the theaters early enough that the ending/plot wasn’t told to me before hand (this will pop up later in at least one other review…). Happy Feet was one of them. I saw it pretty much opening weekend. And, uh… my reactions are mixed. I’m going to go into great detail about the plot, because these are where most of my issues lie.  

Here we go: need I say that if you haven’t seen it and for some reason have been laying under a rock the last 10 years… *spoilers ahead*.

 So the movie DOES start out like I thought. Well, kinda. Actually, it starts with Nicole Kidman penguin (Norma Jean) singing Prince’s “Kiss” while looking for her mate. There’s only just one, and their songs supposedly fit together. Enter Hugh Jackman Penguin (Memphia), singing Elvis. They fall in love, and the first 15 minutes are very “March of the Penguins.” In that aspect, it’s good. It’s very biologically correct… except the transfer of the egg from mommy to daddy – real penguins don’t let the egg touch the ice. 2 seconds and that baby is dead and the egg is completely frozen. Yeah. Guess they didn’t do TOO much research on this…

Anyway, the baby hatches in the spring and we get Tommy Pickles Penguin (seriously, he’s voiced by E.G Dailey, who did Tommy from Rugrats). Actually his name is Mumble, a name not picked out by his parents, but by a fellow penguin chick named Gloria. But Mumble is… different. Instead of being able to sing, he tap-dances. Awww, it’s so cute! And honestly, it is. Except he’s not a proper penguin, because proper penguins sing! So in other words, he’s like that kid at school who’s super awkward and can’t do anything right. He’s also blamed by the penguin elders for the fish shortage and is sort of an outcast. Yeah. More on that later.

 After he grows up and heads out to sea for the first time, this is where things get interesting. He almost gets attacked by a leopard seal and meets 4 Adelie penguins, who take Mumble to their culture. These guys actually like his dancing, and upon seeing a few weird things (like a bulldozer) mumble decides to figure out why the fish have disappeared. The Adelie penguins take him to see Lovelace, a rockhopper penguin who supposedly can speak to the Gods through… yeah… a 6-ring soda plastic holder stuck around his neck. He is no help, and Mumble and his new friends decide to head back to Emperor land because it’s mating season. 

 We get some more stuff with the emperors, mumble is called an abomination along with his “foreign” friends, and they decide to go and figure out more stuff with why the fish have been disappearing. Eventually Lovelace joins them, the ring finally choking him. He leads them to where he found it, which looks like a whaling camp, where they get attacked by Killer whales. They get out of it and eventually find the boats that are taking the fish. Mumble goes after them, disappearing from antarctica and washing up on shore in (presumably) australia or New Zealand.

 This is where this movie SERIOUSLY changes. Really, I feel like this is two movies. The stuff in antarctica which is cute and mysterious, then there’s this. Oh. My. God. It’s like someone took a hammer and pounded you into the ground. Mumble wakes up in a zoo and sees humans, who are the people who are stealing the fish (overfishing). From his perspective, which this movie is told, he literally goes insane in the zoo. Obviously he’s just being nursed back to health but yeah… in case you didn’t realize it, very liberal die hard environmentalists made this movie.

The end is happy though, as Mumble is released with a tracker on his back so that the scientists can follow him and get the boats to leave the fish alone. Oh and mumble and gloria get together. Because didn’t you see that coming? Actually you do, but I didn’t mention much about the love story, because there’s just so much more…

 Whew!

 Now to my thoughts: I feel like this movie is trying too hard to do too much. It’s trying to be an environmental tale. It’s trying to be a “be yourself” tale. It’s trying to be a “change can be good” tale. It’s trying to be all those plus a kids movie, a drama, a comedy, and a musical. Some of it really works, some of it is ok, and some of it seriously rubs me the wrong way. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for saving the environment, but the lengths this movie went through are a bit drastic.

 It’s told through the perspective of the penguins so I get it, but this joke is a good example: they get to where Lovelace got his 6-ring stuck around his head, and as he points to the water, littered with more of them, one of the Adelie penguins goes “Look, we can each have one!” It’s funny…. But not. Not really. Actually, it’s morbid. Which I know is what they were going for, but I dunno. Not my cup of tea.

 As a “be yourself” tale, this movie really works. I actually adore the idea that every penguin has its own song, and finding the one that goes with you is the way you find your soul mate. I love mumble doing his thing and dancing to express his feelings instead of singing. I love that one of his parents embraces it and the other doesn’t. I loved trying to get him to sing and it not working. I loved that the kids made fun of him but Gloria somehow always understood him. I love that in the end his father understands how he was wrong to be so hard on his son and that maybe dancing IS something that emperor penguins can do. Honestly, if the movie had focused on this, I would have been much happier.

 Those few things listed above, as well as the synopsis I gave is pretty much what a kid would get out of it. Taking the penguins’ fish is bad, we shouldn’t litter, and it’s important to be yourself. But there is SO much more going on in this movie that it really is quite brilliant, even if it is all over the place. Like An American Tale, Happy Feet is an Allegory. It is the politics of the world played out between penguins, seals, and people. There’s class structure and racism.

 The emperors are America. Here, the older generation are the ones who make the rules, and anything that challenges those rules is deemed irresponsible and must be stopped (aka: mumble and his tap dancing… especially when he gets the other penguins to do it: scandalous!). They believe that praying will bring the fish back and that this is just something that has happened because they haven’t been as “good” and repentant as they could have been. 

 When Mumble meets up with Adelie penguins, their world is quite easily recognized as Latin America. I mean, we have penguins who speak spanish and sing “mambo.” They enjoy dancing and singing, and know there is a shortage of fish but don’t know what to do to get it back – they ask their guru for help. I don’t know what this suggests the filmmakers thought of latin America, but sure… it works. They are called “filthy” and “uncivilized” by the Emperor elders. Racism in action kids. That older generation… they just can’t accept anything different or new, can they?

The leopard seal is russian, the elephant seals are australian, and the Skuas seem to be from New York City. We don’t see much of them, but it just lends to a more complete world. The elephant seals don’t want to get involved (wonder what that means…?), the Skuas say they were abducted by Aliens (people)… you know, those New Yorkers are crazy… and the leopard seal tries to eat the penguins (hmmm, I thought the cold war was over…).

 Sometimes the political and religious overtones are a bit much, at least to an adult. I don’t think an elementary age kid would notice. It’s really preachy. REALLY preachy. It’s all well and good if you are liberal or an environmentalist, but if you are a conservative, I can’t even imagine how much this movie would really piss you off. Heck, I’m more liberal than a lot of people, and some of it even annoyed ME!

 I DO like the music, I do like the characters, I do like the fact that a lot of the stuff that was animated was realistic. The way the adelies walked. The greeting the emperors give each other. The way the killer whales played with their food before eating it. That’s all done right. But oh lord, do I have to bring up the passing the egg with it touching the ice again?? DO YOUR RESEARCH THE WHOLE WAY. Dang liberals trying to push their environmentalism on us…. *sarcasm* kinda….

 A little bit about the characters, because I do like them. Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood) is really enjoyable. He’s sweet and humble, has a good heart, isn’t afraid to voice his mind and is willing to die to get to the bottom of the whole fish disappearing thing. Gloria (voiced by Brittany Murphy) is also enjoyable. You can tell throughout the movie that she really is mumble’s other half, she just has to come to terms with it. She’s not treated very well by him at one point (even though he thinks its for her own good) but manages to forgive him. Norma Jean and Memphis, Mumble’s parents, are supposedly based on Marilyn Monroe and Elvis, which actually knowing that makes them more tolerable. Otherwise Norma Jean is just… annoying. Ramon and the other Adelie penguins are fun (they’re mainly there for humor), and Lovelace is ok. He doesn’t have much speaking parts, seeing as he’s choking for most of the movie… 

 All in all, Happy Feet (2006) IS an ok movie. Just be warned it’s really in your face, preachy, and I can see why a lot of people don’t like this movie. But at the same time, it’s unique. Penguins with heart songs and tap-dancing and being yourself and standing up to authority. What’s not to like?  I just wish it didn’t change so suddenly for the last 20 minutes. Seriously. 

I give Happy Feet (2006) 3 out of 5 stars. It has a few good moments, a lot of mediocre ones, and a few things that just really annoy me. If you want a good environmental tale, go for Ferngully, or wait till I review Princess Mononoke…. 

Next up is Surf’s up. More penguins doing weird things!

Ferngully: The Last Rainforest (1992)

“There are worlds within worlds, Chrysta. Everything in our world is connected by the delicate strands of the web of life, which is a balance between the forces of destruction and the magical forces of creation.”

 There was a period in my childhood where I feel like all I wanted to watch was this movie. It honestly may have only lasted a week, but as I look back on it, it seemed like months. If anyone knows me, my obsession with this movie would make perfect sense. Love of animals and the nature/the environment are ingrained in my bones, and this movie has everything to satisfy that. Well, I did eventually grow out of my “must see ferngully” phase, and I didn’t see this movie for a long while, until after college. I was at an internship at an Outdoor Education Center with 11 other interns. This movie so happened to be in one of the residence houses, so we put it on. It was just as good as an adult, so of course I figured it just had to be one I needed to buy. I feel to our generation, it’s a classic. But does it deserve that label?

 In a short answer, Yes, it does. Despite its flaws and its incredibly dated feel, it is a good movie. It teaches a good lesson but isn’t in your face about it, compared to some other movies. It’s smart about how it goes about telling it’s environmentally minded story, mixing in the good with the bad. Kids don’t have to sit there and get eco-phobia from this one movie. It doesn’t scare kids into doing what’s best for the environment. It has its moments of being preachy, but in a good way, and in a subtle way. If that makes any sense.

 I find it interesting and funny that this little movie made by an Australian film company and only grossed 32 million worldwide became such a household name. I felt like everyone saw this movie. I feel like everyone still knows this movie. People compare every single other environmental movie that comes out to this one all the time (we got a lot of that when Avatar came out). How did this little movie become the pillar to measure up to? It certainly wasn’t the first, I’m sure, but it’s good.

 If you don’t know the story here’s a very quick rundown: in Australia there’s a rainforest called Ferngully that’s inhabited by fairies who take care of the forest. One fairy, Crysta, an apprentice to the shawoman Mage, is interested in their folktales and longs to see a human. She sees smoke rising in the distance one day and heads that direction, finding humans and a giant machine that eats trees. To save the life of one of the kids marking the trees to be cut down, she accidentally shrinks him to her size. He learns about the forest and about respect of the trees, and together they must stop the leveler from destroying Ferngully, which is now being run by an evil spirit, Hexxus.

 You can tell the development team thought a lot about the storyline and dialogue in this movie. It has some of the best for a kids movie. It has very thoughtful lines, very good exchanges between characters, and the humor is spot on for kids (I even still find myself laughing extremely hard at some places). They knew what they wanted to convey in their story and the way in which they wanted to do it. They succeeded.

 Where they didn’t succeed, however, is in the characters. I have complained about characters a lot in my reviews. That’s kinda because I guess you could call me a character snob. I LOVE characters. You can give me a really crappy movie with a crappy or extremely horrible plot, and I will still love it. Why? If the characters are good and interesting, I’ll deal with pretty much anything. My mind is immediately drawn to good characters, complex characters, and characters with good backstories. That’s why I find myself sucked into complicated shows and movies half the time that have amazing characters but the plot lines tend to be cliche, boring, or flat out ridiculous (I’m one of the few people who really understands LOST and is not pissed off by the end – I loved it actually).

 The characters are very one dimensional. They spent all this time on the plot and seemed to just pick the most common characters they could find. We have the old wise lady who seems to know everything and gives advice in riddles. Our protagonist Crysta is very Ariel from the little mermaid with a bit less attitude: she’s curious and naive but has a good heart. Zak is a clueless guy who must be taught the ways of the forest. He’s a bit bland, but at least you can tell the difference in his character in the beginning and the end. At least he really does learn something. 

 The only other sort of character they spend any time on developing even a little bit is Batty. Oh yes, we have to talk about him. Batty is a fruit bat that escaped from a lab where he was a test animal. He’s voiced by Robin Williams, pre-genie days. The voices for this were recorded in 1991, so it was literally right before Aladdin. Thank GOD it was before Aladdin. I can only guess what it would have been like if it had been after, and it would have been awful. In this movie, Robin Williams is actually funny!** Batty has the best lines, and yeah, he’s in there for comic relief, but it’s actually funny without going crazy pop-culture-y.  If anything, he actually teaches us stuff; things I never caught as a kid. He actually gives us what a bat is (“I’m a placental flying mammal; if you can’t tell, I’m a bat!”) and even at one point gives us the family name (Pteropodidae) as a joke. This writing is awesome. I remember laughing my butt of at Batty, and I still do. 

 There are a few random details with the story that honestly I would have changed. They really try to force a whole romance thing on Crysta and Zak, and they even try to throw in a triangle with this other fairy Pip who I guess likes her too? But there’s literally no build up, and honestly it seems out of left field; there were no romantic feelings, then all of a sudden… wow! We’re in an underwater cave and staring into each others eyes! It would have been much better if they had just let Crysta be a friend and teacher, and maybe they should have made Pip a brother or something. I don’t know, just not what they did.

 Ok, let’s talk about the villain, voiced by the ever awesome Tim Curry. Hexxus, as I understand it, is an evil spirit that rose up from the bowels of the earth long ago, bringing destruction on the forest. He was sealed inside a tree that the leveler eats and is released. When I was a kid I thought this monster was pollution (which I guess means they hit it right – I know what the bad guy to the environment is), but as an adult I’m seeing it a bit more complicated than that. If he came into being long ago, he can’t be pollution, he has to be something more sinister. Did a volcano erupt and cause destruction on the rainforest and this thing is like that spirit? And why is he so keen to destroy the forest? Maybe these things are answered and I’m not paying attention, but I would have liked a lot more depth in the mythology of this whole land and the fairies. It would have been cool.

 The only other thing I do want to talk about at a bit of length is the end. Mage (the old shawoman/fairy) sacrifices herself and disappears and turns into glowing light that gets transferred to each of the fairies. I’m guessing this is giving them the power to understand the forest? It’s not quite clear. Anyway, Crysta, Zak and Batty go to fight the leveler and Hexxus and Zak succeeds in… turning off the machine. yeah. Apparently it was that easy. Hexxus gets sucked back into the leveler (there’s no more pollution for him to feed on) and it seems all is good. Really?!? Is that really how they’re going to defeat…. HOLY CRAP THAT THING IS BACK!!!!

 Anyone remember this? After everything seems all well and good, Hexxus somehow manages to come back to life even though the machine is off and not only does he come back as a weird cloud/oil monster thing, but a SKELETON DRIPPING WITH FIRE AND OOZE!! That is freaking scary!! How did this not scar me as a child? After everyone is done picking their jaws up off the floor and calming the tears of young children, Crysta defeats him by taking a tree seed and he eats her. The tree starts to sprout out of Hexxus, and the rest of the fairies help it grow and the scary monster spirit thing turns into a tree. 

 So wait… they already took away all the energy that Hexxus needed by turning off the leveler, it comes back, and it’s a TREE that stops this thing? I mean I know they’re trying to make a point, but really?? This thing seems super powerful once it gets to full power, and a TREE stops it? Yeah. Am I the only one not ok with this plot point? It confuses me.

 Other thoughts on the movie that are super random and don’t require an entire paragraph each: 

 ~ This movie is REALLY dated. Like, early 90s tubular dude cool dated. They quite literally use that phrasology. 

~ The animation for a little indie Australian movie is really impressive. It’s colorful and it made me want to go there. I’ve heard the crew spent time in the Australian rainforest, so I say good job, it was money well spent (even the bit of CGI isn’t bad!)

~ The songs are super-forgettable. I’m a bit sad I never remembered them, because you’d think Robin Williams rapping would have been memorable.

~ Ralph Eggleston was a storyboard artist! I actually watched the credits and saw his name! If you don’t know who that is, he is a big Pixar guy. This was apparently his first job. He’s worked on tons of pixar movies.

~ I actually kinda like that even though this story is the Pocahontas/white guy comes in and saves the day movie, it doesn’t really happen like that. Yeah, Zak helps and turns off the leveler, but in the end it was Crysta and the fairies who ultimately defeated Hexxus. 

 Ferngully is all in all a great movie. I’m not really a big fan of the characters, but I feel I would have absolutely LOVED this movie had they developed them and the mythology of the place a bit more. It could have been so much more. There was so much more potential than they did, which is actually saying a lot. I would recommend it most definitely. It’s a good environmental and educational movie.

 I give Ferngully: The Last Rainforest (1992) 3.75 stars out of 5. 

 Up next: let’s continue with environmental movies and watch Happy Feet (2006). These will be fun to compare… 

 

 **in case you can’t tell, I’m not a fan of the Genie. But we’ll get to him…