SMALLFOOT – CLEVER AND SWEET WITH A SURPRISINGLY THOUGHTFUL UNDERLYING MESSAGE

SHORT TAKE:

Clean, genuinely funny, very kid-friendly movie about the sequence of events which results when a village of yetis is revealed to a "smallfoot"/human.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Anybody can go but be advised, at 96 minutes, it is about 20 minutes too long for the average pre-kindergartner.

LONG TAKE:

Fides et Ratio was an encyclical by Saint Pope John Paul II in 1998. Translated, the title means "Faith and Reason". In it, then Pope, now Saint John Paul II explains that faith without reason leads to superstition and reason without faith leads to nihilism and relativism. Smallfoot, surprisingly, tackles the former of these heady, complex philosophical musings.

While I do not normally like to lead with a lot of spoilers, when analysing for a movie whose demographic is young children, as a parent, I would want full disclosure before bringing MY smallfoot, so I offer the same to you readers.

SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!

This children's tale begins with a colony of yetis who live high up on a mountain, cut off visually from the rest of the world by a constant ring of clouds. Our protagonist is a good natured, happy-go-lucky yeti named Migo (Channing Tatum) whose personality almost exactly parallels that of Chris Pratt's eternally optimistic Emmett from The Lego Movie. You almost expect him to burst out with "Everything is Awesome" as he strolls through the yeti village. This is not meant as a criticism. It's actually quite cute as he observes the seemingly pointless Rube Goldberg occupations to which everyone is assigned, but which are explained later.

The songs are, BTW, quite catchy and one in particular, sung by the female protagonist and Migo's love interest, Meechee (Zendaya from The Greatest Showman), "Wonderful Life", features some thoughtful lyrics:

Take a look around
And see the world we think we know
Then look closer
There's more to life than meets the eye
A beauty to behold
It's all much bigger than we know.

She sings this as she shows things to Migo he never noticed, like a small butterfly crystalized in a frozen stalactite, and the details in a snowflake. Beautiful imagery for a lovely idea: that the more we see, the more we realize the grandeur in Creation.

Their belief system, literally written in stone, is a seemingly random collection of unquestioned statements, including the command that if you feel the urge to question one of the stones you should "push it down" and not think about it. The stones describe strange and mythical beasts which must be fed or cooled or tended to in odd ways. One stone commands an absolute dismissal of the possibility that there could be anything below the cloudline. The stones are worn like scale armour by the tribal leader, Stonekeeper, (Lonnie Rashid Lynn aka the rapper Common). Migo, the son of Gorgle, the Gong Ringer (Danny DeVito) is one of the biggest stone-trusting advocates in the village, until one day Migo, by chance, observes a plane crash and the ejection of a smallfoot from this flying metal object. Problem is: the existence of smallfoot is absolutely denied by one of the earliest stones. No one will believe Migo as the evidence is quickly blown off the mountain.

Meanwhile, Percy, James Corden (voice of Peter Rabbit and guest companion in a couple of Matt Smith Dr. Who's) is the host of an animal show which is on the decline. The ejected pilot happens upon Percy with his story of sighting a yeti, and before Percy, desperate for ratings, can take advantage of this knowledge, Migo appears, looking for the pilot and proof of his smallfoot story. Their first contact is cute and clever and takes full advantage of their inability to immediately communicate.

Tatum and Corden do a wonderful job of voicing the life into their respective characters and the writers do an excellent job with the miscommunications which arise from their inability to understand each other.

The movie is occasionally laugh out loud funny. It is completely clean – no bad language and, a rarity, totally innuendo free.

As the plot progresses it is revealed that the Stonekeeper is wearing a set of lies, deliberately created to protect the village because of previous lethal encounters with humans, generations ago. The stones' commands all begin to form a pattern: If smallfoot does not exist then there's no reason to go look for them. The ring of clouds is manufactured for camouflage by the steam generating machine deep within the mountain which the ice ball production and turning gears on the surface facilitates. The other stones which describe a sky snail and mammoths under the clouds which are cooled by the ice balls all were made up and commanded to be accepted without question to protect the villagers from leaving and revealing their village.

There are plot points in Smallfoot which harken back to other movies, certainly: the hidden city of Wakanda in Black Panther, and a concept accepted without question which keeps two potentially friendly but very dissimilar groups apart, but which is a complete lie, as in Monsters, Inc. for example, that children are dangerously toxic. (I won't even discuss The Village because Smallfoot is a much better movie). But Smallfoot is not a derivative of any of them.

If I make the movie sound like it is heavily philosophical, it is not. The movie plays out like any normal child friendly film with lots of slap stick, goofy looking characters, Bugs Bunny-level pratfalls, bright colors, and non-lethal force. (Exs: an angry mama bear appears to be attacking, but when translated is just loudly chiding Migo for disturbing her family from their hibernation when it took her WEEKS to get her cubs to sleep. A crashing helicopter's propellors are caught in trees spinning the body of the copter and the pilot emerges unscathed but incredibly dizzy.)

But it is the thoughtful story and clever characters that put Smallfoot above the general mishmash of kid movies which usually populate the screen. Inevitably the yetis' faith without reason in the commands on the stones, about which Saint Pope John Paul II cautioned, breeds a mindless superstition requiring blind belief, and when challenged by truth, falls apart. It is only when reason and faith come together – when truth is combined with some earned trust between Migo and Percy, that a peaceful diplomatic solution is possible.

I liked Smallfoot. It has all the charm of a harmless silly kid movie, adds sly but innocent humor for the adults, and has an intelligent underlying theme. The characters are well fleshed out for the cast of an elementary school level movie. Plus the songs are catchy and cute without being heavy handed and are sparingly used. And best of ALL – it did NOT go for the STUPID, almost UBIQUITOUS "female empowerment" message with which we are regularly bludgeoned and which has ruined entire franchises (I'd sneeze the words Star Wars if I was standing right in front of you to make the point, but I'm not so you'll just have to imagine that.)

My only real complaint is that it was a bit too long, by about 20 minutes, for the primary school demographic to which the producers were aiming. My two year old grandson loved it and was mesmerized until the last bit and wanted to walk around while watching the denouement. At 96 minutes it really should have gone through one more trimming. 

Aside from that very small criticism, Smallfoot is a delightful film with a bit more meat on its bones than you might expect or is carried on your average kid movie. It will entertain even the littlest kids, but still provide mom and dad with something worthwhile to mull over with even the oldest.Arguably the best kid movie I've since in 2018 yet(i)…..sorry couldn't resist.

EARLY MAN – LAUGH AS WALLACE AND GROMIT MEETS EVERY SPORTS MOVIE CLICHE KNOWN TO MAN

SHORT TAKE:

Adorable, funny, family friendly, typical sports outing about an underdog cavemen team playing soccer against a more sophisticated "Bronze Age" team to win their valley back, all brought to us by Nick Park and friends, the creators of SHAUN THE SHEEP!!!

WHO SHOULD SEE IT:

If you like Wallace and Gromit or Shaun the Sheep or Chicken Run or The Wrong Trousers or…. oh EVERYBODY!!!

LONG TAKE:

What do the fantasy franchises: Harry Potter, The Avengers, Game of Thrones and……. Wallace and Gromit have in common? Wallace and Gromit????!!!!

The answer is: Early Man.

Early Man is an adorable plasticine animation feature length movie brought  to you by the same instigators, led by Nick Park, who created The Wrong Trousers, and The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

With tongue firmly planted in cheek, the story is spun about the lives of a group of Cavemen who were forced into the lone habitable spot by a meteor which devastated the rest of the known Earth. Their valley is lush and green, where all about them is the Badlands: with dangerous mutant animals, harsh rocky ground, and volcanos. The Badlands looks a bit like I'd imagine the Wembley Stadium parking lot after an EFL Championship game. But there are a couple of silver linings. Not only did the meteor strike carve out at least this one fertile area but the meteor, itself, also gave them the template for history's first football. By that, for those of you reading in America, I mean soccer. But the Brits call it football, so there it is.

Fast forward a couple "eras" and Dug (voiced by Eddie Redmayne – Newt Scamander from the "Harry Potter" world of Fantastic Beasts) and the tribe of which he is a member, happily lives on fruits, nuts and the odd rabbit (which said presented rabbit is about as catchable as Bugs Bunny so, in effect, they are de facto vegetarians). But Dug is ambitious – he wants to hunt mammoths………!

But that's not what the story is about. Their idyll is interrupted when Lord Nooth (voiced by The Avengers' Tom Hiddleson) sporting an impenetrable guise of Italian accent, comes upon the scene with equipment made of the bronze which he has mined from his nearby kingdom.

Dug challenges them to a game of soccer/football to win their valley back. Completely outmatched, Dug's group has no equipment, no training, no experience and doesn't even know the rules, but his chutzpah gets the attention of a local girl, Goona (voiced by Game of Thrones' Maizie Williams) from the Bronze kingdom who coaches Dug's tribe in exchange for a spot on the team. Nick Par, the creator, even lends a hand — or voice — for the emotive and communicative grunts and snorts of Dug's intelligent pig, Hognob.

The story is a pretty formulaic case of underdog team goes up against much better players with nothing but a good cause, lots of heart, and a ringer. We've seen the like in everything from The Karate Kid (karate) to Facing the Giants (American football) to Bad News Bears (baseball) to Mystery Alaska (hockey) and Balls of Fury (ping pong), and it works — every — time because, as Patton put it so well – "Americans love a winner" and everyone loves the underdog because in them we all  find inspiration. But this time it's played for laughs, parodying the sport, the genre, diva professional players, sports announcers, a "win one for the Gipper" moment, a hen pecked husband, you name it.

It's a clean, gentle, lovable movie that kids will enjoy for the claymation/plasticine animation and adults will appreciate for the pokes at the cliches. While there is a good deal of spoofing and teasing, there's not a mean spot in Nick Park's entire imaginative brain.

The cast list is like an old home week of favorite kids' characters, especially from the Harry Potter franchise. So when you take your kids you can happily point out that Eddie Redmayne is both Dug andNewt Scamander.  Timothy Spall, who voiced Chief Bobnar also moonlighted as Peter Pettigrew. Mark Williams, who does the voice for Barry, was also Mr. Weasley.

Miriam Margolyes, who voices Queen Oofeefa was also Professor Sprout. And Tom Hiddleson is Lord Nooth andLoki! I'll let you figure out how to explain Maisie Williams' stint in Game of Thrones. But, if it helps, she was also in a handful of Dr. Whos.

Early Man is available on Amazon now. So go watch this cute movie that will be delightful to kids, footballers, adults, fans of Wallace and Gromit, Harry Potter afficianados, pig farmers, rabbits, cavemen ………………

ISLE OF DOGS – A WES ANDERSON TAKE ON MAN’S BEST FRIEND

SHORT TAKE:

Peculiar stop-action animated dramedy about abandoned dogs and their nobility in a dystopian Japanese future and the boy who adventures out to rescue one of them.

WHO SHOULD GO:

The violence is, literally and figuratively, cartoonish, but unlike most cartoons, there are realistic outcomes: bitten off ear, bones of a starved dog, ripped eyes, missing fur – so mid-teens a minimum, and only then with parental discretion. As always, when in doubt, PARENTS YOU SEE IT FIRST before taking your kids.

Remember, they can not UNsee something.

LONG TAKE:

Isle of Dogs is a straight up tale of a boy searching for his lost pet.

But that is where the possibility of it being a kid movie ends. Isle of Dogs is really an animated stop action film for adults that most older kids could probably go see too. The premise of this very odd animated movie involves dog-hating corrupt politicians in a Japan 20 years into the future. (Not, according to Wes Anderson, necessarily OUR future or Japan's future but SOME future in the…future. Don't blame me, that is what Wes Anderson said.)

Acting on a thousand year old feud between dogs and cats, the evil Mayor of Megasaki gets his henchmen to devise and deliberately introduce a lethal snout flu into the dog population, making dogs both sick and more aggressive. To "protect" the population, all dogs from the fictitious Japanese town, (which name seems to stand for LOTS – mega – of very strong rice wine – saki), are sent to Trash Island, aptly named for the location to where all of the pollution, litter, industrial waste, radioactive discards, plastic bottles,

rusted car parts, broken glass and every day garbage are dumped from Megasaki.

The animation is almost entirely stop motion puppets, and the "making of" Isle of Dogs videos are fascinating. Each portion of this strange film is stylized:

a cave made of discarded soda containers, a mountain of black sand,

an island of tires. Anderson primarily uses bright colors in the peopled Magasaki and muted colors on Trash Island, not only to highlight and represent the desolation of Trash Island but to realistically reflect the fact that dogs are partially color blind and Anderson wanted the view of the place to be from the dog’s POV.

I wondered what would inspire Wes Anderson, the director of such disparate but equally quirky films as: the

Royal Tenenbaums,

The Grand Budapest Hotel,

The Fantastic Mr. Fox and

Moonrise Kingdom, (yes, Anderson likes that signature over-the-shoulder shot, doesn't he?), to make this rather odd film. It turns out after some research that the primary reasons are an amalgam of four disparate thoughts: a London street sign, a misunderstanding about him personally, a familiar trope, and 1960s Japanese directors.

It began apparently when Mr. Anderson was driving through London during the filming of The Fantastic Mr. Fox and saw a street sign "Isle of Dogs". Yes, it is a real place –

a suburban area built into a loop of the Thames. The name stuck with him. Further it's a bit of a play on words. Say it fast and it becomes "I love dogs". Which leads to the misunderstanding about him personally.

In Wes Anderson films, bad things often happen to dogs. This goes a long way to explaining why I'm not a big fan. See in my Sgt Stubby review where I talk about Lethal Weapon 2. This particular repeating motiff has led to the misunderstanding that he does not like dogs. However, according to Mr. Anderson, this is very much not true. So he has written a movie about a group of abused examples of these endearing creatures – which leads to the next reason I have uncovered.

Mr. Anderson likes to include the concept, in all of his movies, of the endearing Underdog.

The character up against seemingly overwhelming odds who surely cannot win but for whom everyone roots and who often overcomes the odds.

Mr. Anderson, in a conceptual pun, has written a screenplay about the ultimate Underdog – the downtrodden, less fortunate dog, who has become the under dog.

The abandon group of men's best friends, who are condemned to die alone on a trash island, who face seemingly insurmountable odds, but whom are very likeable and for whom we root are the very definition of the Underdog.

The ultimate underdogs.

Finally, Mr. Anderson simply is a fan of two Japanese directors.

Akira Kurosawa was the director of movies such as Ran, the Japanese version of King Lear, Rashomon, the brilliant classic film about an attack in a forest told consecutively from four points of view, and Kagemusha, (which translates to "political decoy") about a thief who is hired to be the body double of a king. For you Star Wars trivia buffs, just "so's ya' know," Kagemusha

was made possible through the influence and financial intervention of George Lucas. Lucas attributed inspiration for his breakthrough epic Star Wars from Kurasawa’s movie The Hidden Fortress. Shocked at finding out that Kurasawa could not get funding or attention to get Kagemusha filmed, Lucas pulled his now very thick and powerful strings – purse and studio – to get Kurasawa the backing he needed and the movie was a massive financial and critical hit.

Wes Anderson admits to being a big fan and was highly influenced in his use of style by Kurasawa as well.

The other Japanese director is

Hayao Miyazaki, an acclaimed manga animator of

Princess Mononoke, which Anderson says he admires for his use of nature and silence.

Therefore, Anderson set the location and the architectural styles of Japan

with a Frank Lloyd Wright flair.

The movie is not without humor. It is actually quiet funny in moments

with a dry wit often worthy of Steven Wright ("I woke up one morning to discover everything in my house had been replaced with an exact duplicate,") or George Carlin's "Hippy, Dippy Weatherman" routine, where he predicts that the nighttime would likely be "dark" with continued "dark" until the morning and that "the weather would continue to change for a long, long time."

Similarly, the dogs comment matter of factly on their tenuous, sometimes impossible, and seemingly hopeless situation with a jaunty optimistic naivety. Boss is voiced with

deadpan wryness by Bill Murray,

King with gentle common sense pragmatism by Bob Balaban,

Rex with a slight bit of snark by Ed Norton,

Duke as a gossipy worrywart by Jeff Goldblum, and Chief

with a straight man's frustration by Bryan Cranston. These dogs all have notably different personalities, despite the limited abilities of the puppets to express facially or look terribly individual.

Rounding out more of the cast are Scarlett Johansson's Nutmeg,

Leiv Schrieber's Spots,

Tilda Swinton as the TV interpreting Oracle,

Koyu Rankin as Atari, known to the dogs as the "Little Pilot"

for the daring way he arrived on Trash Island,

Greta Gerwig (the director of Ladybird, read about Ladybird in my Oscar Winners of 2018 review here) as

Tracy Walker, who takes up Atari's cause to the citizens of Megasaki, and

Frances McDormand who acts as narrator and occasionally Greek Chorus.

Incredible care and detail went into making each of the figures. For example, Andy Gent, working with 70 other artists, deliberately made the dogs' legs differently – they wanted to hit a "balance" between reality and "caricature," so to create that effect and for the convenience of the puppeteers, gave the dogs hind legs that look like front legs.

They brought in real dogs – sometimes pets from the cast and crew – and fashioned them according to certain actors they wanted to reflect, such as Charles Laughton's visage for Jupiter the St Bernard, voiced by F. Murray Abraham.

They also used

mechanical armature as a skeleton and crafted the fur from alpaca and merino wool.

There are virtues to be learned of: loyalty, redemption, fortitude and finding the purpose that God has given you. God IS mentioned in a positive way.

The dogs are at a loss until they are given the opportunity to once again serve humans and

humans have an obligation (defined Biblically as a stewardship) to care for, protect and respect the devotion lavished on us by dogs.

We are reminded often that dogs are supposed to be man's best friend and until that relationship is restored there is no real peace either in Megasaki or in the dog world.

While Isle of Dogs is aimed mostly at adults, despite its distinct peculiarities, this movie fits into that long honored list of films that remind us of the enduring relationship between humans and man's best friend.

PETER RABBIT – CHARMINGLY PRESENTED RABBIT … TAIL

 

SHORT TAKE:

Lovely and fun family friendly homage to the classic story of the mischievous rabbit, using all the talents of the modern animation techniques as well as some very skillful voice and pantomiming actors.

WHO SHOULD GO: Very family friendly for all ages (despite the stupid controversy about the "allergy bullying" – see my other blog on this: WEIGHING IN ON THE PETER RABBIT “CONTROVERSY”). Take everyone from the youngest who will sit through a feature length film to the Grandparents. Everyone will find something to enjoy.

CHECK OUT DETAILED AND SPECIFIC CONTENT STATISTICS AT SCREENIT.COM.

LONG TAKE:

Domhnall Gleeson is a good sport. Son of the immensely talented Brendan Gleeson who has appeared in everything from Tom Cruise's sci fi Live, Die, Repeat to Mad Eyed Moody in the Harry Potter franchise, Domhnall does not fall far from that gifted tree.

star warsDomhnall Gleeson has appeared in Star Wars as the new and somewhat comedically incompetent baddie, General Hux, occasionally thrown unceremoniously around by a miffed Kylo Ren. He has appeared often with his brothers and father in genres from dark comedy (Calvary) to about timerom-com fantasy (About Time) to an true gritAmerican western (True Grit). He's been shot, tossed, wolf bitten, has murdered his own real life brother as a modern day Cain in Mother! and fallen in love with an android (Ex Machina).

Irish born and naturally heavily accented, he nonetheless has solid command of a variety of accents. He's been an iconic upper class British writer (A. A. Milne in Goodbye, Christopher Robin) and an over the top American CIA agent (American Made). There's a boyish charm he exudes, even in his darkest roles, which makes his characters inherently likeable, especially as he endures whatever indignities required of his roles with an amused sangfroid even when it's against a green screen necessitating pantomime.

But no where is he required to endure more humiliations with a smile against an imaginary antagonist than in Peter Rabbit.

The premise is that Old Man MacGregor, portrayed briefly in broad good natured ranting and raving by

Sam (Jurassic Park) Neill, bequeathes his farm to his great nephew, Thomas. My daughter, Elizabeth, pointed out that once again, in Peter Rabbit, Sam Neil tackles intelligent animals out to get him. LOL

gleeson at harrodsDomhnall's Thomas is as precise in his habits as Phileas Phogg and as cantankerous and anti-wildlife as his rabbit pie eating Uncle. He moves into the MacGreor house with the intention of selling it but the anthropomorphized animals will have none of it. Peter's coat wearing, wise cracking, English speaking rabbit family are as anxious to be rid of this new human interloper as he is of them.

The adorable complicating factor in all of this is Bea (presumably a version of "BEA"atrix Potter, the author of the original Peter Rabbit stories, who mothers the rabbits and lovingly paints them, with whom Peter has attached and in whom Thomas falls immediately in love. peter and beaThis sets off a series of comical incidents where each side tries to do away with the other all while pretending to be pals for the sake of Bea.

While the stuff of Shakespearean tragedy, this is a kids' film and, as such, you can be sure that subsequent to a series of outrageous hijinx all will be well that will end well.

Domhnall, during the course of the film is beaten, tripped, electrically shocked, subjected to animal traps, used as a bulleye's in uncomfortable places with well aimed vegetables, kicked, bitten and wrestled with by —- nothing. He didn't even have the benefit of the voice actors nearby.

James Cordan (who appears in two Dr. Who's as a love lorn fellow tenant of a town house then again as the same character, now as a well meaning but overwhelmed father) does the voice of Peter. By his own description, Cordan was working in his pajamas in England, while the intrepid Mr. Gleeson was sweating it out in 100 degree Australian heat pretending to be in the far cooler northern rural U.K.

In interviews, Gleeson good naturedly describes how he hurt himself early and often during the course of the filming – wrenching and bruising ankles, back, ribs – as hegleeson flying leaps, gleeson with trapsfalls,

slams into furniture and generally gets banged around.

All for a good cause as my two grandsons loved the movie. gleeson and pigThe littlest laughed hardest whenever Pigling Bland appeared to aristocratically gorge himself on whatever happened to be within reach.

The movie is good natured and silly, Peter on steroids, as the slightly mischievous bunny of the books becomes a Gleeson and rabbitsninja-like, almost superhuman terror, turning the young MacGregor's modern gizmos back onto his unwary human antagonist.

Both Thomas and Peter must ultimately come to terms on behalf of the sweet Bea but it's their rivalry that provides the most entertainment as Peter is more Bugs Bunny than Potter and gleeson with hoeThomas would definitely be able to empathize with Elmer Fudd.

The voice acting is enthusiastic and bright.

Margo Robbie of Suicide Squad narrates and speaks for Flopsy.

Elizabeth Debicki from both Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and Valerian is Mopsy. And in a creative, if not physical, reunion

Daisy Ridley rejoins her Star Wars alumni, Domhnall, in the cast as Cotton-Tail. Each actress provides a cute and distinctive personality to the triplet sisters.

Take your little ones to go see this adorable homage to the classic rabbit tail — I mean tale. Although, honestly, some of the sight gags are repeated a bit too much as though they are dragging out their run time, at the end the audience I attended with applauded. My grandsons enjoyed it and that is endorsement enough. And rest assured, this Peter Rabbit will find something for every age in your family at which to chuckle.

 

LOVING VINCENT – AN ANIMATED BIOGRAPHY IN VAN GOGH’S PAINTINGS

SHORT TAKE: Astonishing and beautiful, one of a kind film in which a reluctant messenger plays detective in an attempt to parse out the circumstances of Van Gogh's death, animated in the style of Van Gogh's paintings!

WHO SHOULD WATCH:  Anyone interested in classic art, though younger audience members might get bored. Adult themes of mental illness, prostitution, alcoholism and, of course, the death of Vincent Van Gogh – the main topic of the film – are points of discussion, though there is no graphic content of either a sexual or violent nature, and little or no prafane language.

UNFORTUNATELY, SCREENIT.COM HAS NO DETAILED CONTENT STATISTICS ON LOVING VINCENT YET.

LONG TAKE:

The word "unique" is too often blithely thrown around. If you go online you'll find "unique" hair styles and "unique" ice cream stores. "Unique," in fact means "being the only one of its kind; unlike anything else". And there are really only so many ways you can manipulate your hair before redundancy becomes an issue and I'm afraid a truly "unique" ice cream might not be edible. Even so, there are still a few things that genuinely qualify as "unique": Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, each and every individual human soul, Shakespeare's Hamlet, the Mona Lisa and….Loving Vincent.

Loving Vincent is a movie of which there is only one of its kind. Not just different or unusual, though it is that, but actually unique. Loving Vincent was animated by over 100 professional artists using 853 backdrops and over 66,000 paintings which, if laid out like a carpet would cover both the entire United Kingdom and the Island of Manhattan. 80 of the artists were chosen for their professional technique, facility with computers and ability to accurately recreate Van Gogh's style.

This technique has never before been used. The effect is mesmerizing, like watching one of Van Gogh's paintings come to life before your eyes.

The plot follows Armand Roulin, the son of Joseph Roulin, a postmaster who had been a friend of Vincent's. Armand is portrayed and captured as a facile youth who matures during the course of the movie by Douglas Booth who was Romeo in the 2013 Shakespeare film, Shem in Noah and Titus in Jupiter Rising. Booth carries the water of the narrative beautifully as we see the story unfold through his eyes like the petals of the irises featured in one of Van Gogh's paintings.

Joseph is captured using  Chris O'Dowd, a charming and gentle British comedian who has appeared in roles as varied as Thor: Dark World, the dark and theologically intriguing murder mystery Calvary, the most recent space oriented sci fi installment of the Cloverfield franchise called Cloverfield Paradox, and was in a quirky British comedy about time travel called FAQ About Time Travel.

Joseph tasks his drunken aimless son with transporting the last letter Vincent wrote to his brother Theo. This begins a journey for Armand which will change his perception of the world and himself for the better. Vincent has been dead for two years by the time Armand starts out and during the course of his travels Armand's adventures transform from a simple delivery to an inquiry into the master painter's life and mysterious circumstances surrounding his death. Armand finds out as much about himself as about those who knew Vincent well as he tries to uncover what truths he can concerning the premature demise of this, at that time, unappreciated genius.

This film would have been an achievement in storytelling had it been done live action and would have rivaled Immortal Beloved whose main protagonist sought the identity of the Immortal Beloved to whom he wished to deliver Beethoven's remaining post mortem letter. Or even the curiosity piquing Citizen Kane as one journalist interviews everyone who knew Kane to try to determine the identity of Rosebud. The script is written with sensitivity and three dimensional prose to tweak out the tangles of conflicting evidence amidst the testimonies of those whose only connection was their acquaintance with or love for Vincent. This, as a tale, would have been a great story by itself.  But to use the UNIQUE and brilliantly appropriate, though massively ambitious, technique of animating it with Van Gogh style paintings was itself, if you will excuse the intentional pun, a masterstroke by the writers/directors Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman and Jacek Dehnel. This is as different in its own way as the one take-one unbroken shot that Russian Ark was (see a previuos blog).

Armand seeks out and questions a number of others. Pere Tanguy (John Sessions) was a friend of Vincent's.   Dr. Gachet (played by Jerome Flynn), who appears in Portrait of Dr. Gachet, had cared for Vincent in his last few months and during the gunshot and subsequent infection that killed Vincent. Louise Chevalier, housekeeper to Dr. Gachet (Helen "Narcissa Malfoy" McCrory), who had no use for Vincent and his odd ways. Adeline Ravoux (played by Eleanor Tomlinson) was an innkeeper's daughter who ran the hotel Vincent last stayed in. Adeline was featured in Van Gogh's Portrait of Adeline Ravoux. Saoirse Ronan (Ladybird) portrays Marguerite. Marguerite Gachet was the daughter of Dr. Gachet, and is the girl in Van Gogh's painting Margueite Gachet at Piano. And Robert Gulaczyk, a Polish theater actor, plays Vincent himself and bears a more than passing resemblance to the shy, kind, sensitive and tormented painter. All the actors were chosen, not just for their acting (for the capture) and voice talents but for their resemblance to characters in the actual paintings by Van Gogh.

Even the title is creative, evocative and chosen with care. Your "Loving Vincent" is the way Vincent would sign his letters to his brother, Theo. Loving Vincent could refer to the way the painters are expressing their respect and affection for this great artist, as in – this is how we are "loving Vincent", by creating this beautiful movie about him. Or it could be a command to the audience as a demonstration of the way we could appreciate the man and his work – as in, if you watch this movie with the appreciation it deserves you will be "loving Vincent". Or it could simply be a description of the man himself. Loving –  as an adjective to describe the great, generous and open heartedness of the man who was the genius master craftsman of the easel – as in – he was a great, a creative, a brilliant but also a loving Vincent.

It is unfortunate and shortsighted by the Oscar committee that Loving Vincent has been selected to compete in the Oscars as "only" in the animated feature film category. There is precedent to allow animated features to compete in the "Best Picture" category – Beauty and the Beast, Up and Toy Story 3 all were accorded that respect. Loving Vincent MORE than deserves the acknowledgement to be included in the Best Picture category.   This is a serious film about the creative life and mysterious death of one of the world's most beloved master painters. It also only HAPPENS to also be an animated movie. We learn not just about the circumstances of his death but of the complex man whose life was cut far too short from those who knew him best and in conversations that appear deceptive or misleading at first, as in the style of an Agatha Christie novel, and all come together like some lovingly sculpted three dimensional puzzle.

Not only is this movie made WITH beautiful paintings, it IS one big gorgeous animated painting. This is a remarkable work of startlingly pure love – a love letter from these hundreds of artists and actors and seamstresses and animators, caterers and drivers, electricians and sound technicians, not to mention the writers and directors …… to Vincent Van Gogh

Watching this movie gave me a new appreciation for Van Gogh's paintings and has inspired me to seek out and learn more about this great man's work.

It also couldn't help but remind me of two other lovingly created items which focused on Vincent Van Gogh. The first is one of the most moving three and a half minutes of cinema I have ever seen.

It is near the end of the Dr. Who episode – Vincent. Dr Who and his companion Amy have traveled back in time to meet Vincent Van Gogh. They befriend him and come face to face with the mental and personal struggles of this gentle soul and decide to bring him forward in time to show him the Van Gogh exhibit at the Musee d'Orsay. Tony Curran, as Vincent, does a magnificent job as Van Gogh and the scene is touching, funny and deeply moving. .  Dr Who excerpt – Vincent at the Musee d'Orsay.

The other bit of Van Gogh fandom which occurred to me was Don McLean's song Vincent. McLean is probably best known for American Pie. The song Vincent came out in the same year, 1971, when I was twelve: "Starry Starry Night, paint your palette blue and gray…how you suffered for your sanity…flaming flowers that brightly blaze, swirling clouds in violet haze…and when no hope was left in sight on that starry starry night you took your life as lovers often do…." The melancholic and beautiful tune sums up the feel of this visually, emotionally, narratively and lyrically moving film. LISTEN TO VINCENT HERE: VINCENT by Don McLean

WARNING: I really have none except that the topic of suicide may upset the very young.

This film is a gorgeous masterpiece which I like to think that Van Gogh, himself, would have appreciated.

LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS AMAZING MOVIE AND ITS CREATION HERE: LOVING VINCENT WEBSITE

SEE IT ON AMAZON HERE: LOVING VINCENT