Saturday, August 20, 2005

Let's Get One Thing Straight About Tim Burton

The new issue of Entertainment Weekly (the Fall Movie Preview Issue) makes the boastful claim that "if it weren't for Tim Burton, stop motion puppetry (as opposed to Chicken Run-style Claymation) might be altogether, well, dead." In addition to being boastful, it's also absolutely, incredibly wrong.

Let's start with the movie they're talking about, The Nightmare Before Christmas. I'm sick and tired of Tim Burton getting all the credit for this masterpiece of a movie. Tim Burton once wrote and drew a nice little storybook that no one bought, and after he had made millions with Batman, Disney (who published the book and therefore owned the rights to the story) asked Burton, a former animator, to turn it into a movie. Tim Burton, who is not a writer, turned the screenplay duties over to Caroline Thompson (Edward Scissorhands, The Addams Family, and The Secret Garden). And since Burton was no longer an animator, directing duties went to Henry Selick (James and the Giant Peach, Monkeybone). His former producing partner, Denise Di Novi, oversaw much of the production and Tim Burton went off to direct Batman Returns.

So, Burton may have walked onto the set of Nightmare once or twice, but he really had very little to do with the film other than giving over a book he had written in something like 1983 and putting talented people in charge (and giving his name to it, so that the title is far too often written as Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas). Okay, and the character designs are inherently his. But the lasting quality of the movie, whose cult audience seems to get bigger and bigger every year, is really down to Caroline Thompson and Henry Selick, who actually did the hard work of making the fucking thing.

We also have to mention Danny Elfman, who burned himself out creating an almost constant musical atmosphere, including some absolutely wonderful songs and even singing the role of Jack Skellington. Without Elfman's contribution, the whole film is for shit.

Well, now we have another movie with the unwieldy title Tim Burton's Corpse Bride (which is as good a description of the hideous Helena Bonham Carter as I've ever heard), which Burton is taking all of the credit for. But how much did he have to do with this movie? He's credited as a director, but the real director of the picture is Mike Johnson, who worked on the short-lived series The PJ's. And the characters weren't even designed by Burton, but by Carlos Grangel of DreamWorks, who designed the characters for The Prince of Egypt and The Road to El Dorado. And the screenplay? Written by John August (Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, um, both Charlie's Angels movies), Pamela Pettler (executive producer of the series Clueless and writer of a Sabrina the Teenage Witch movie), and, of course, the wonderful Caroline Thompson. And I notice Danny Elfman's name in the music credits...

So, how much credit will he be soaking up this time, especially since we know he had to be very busy directing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the same time this was being made?

Oh, and as a side note, Chicken Run was not clay-animated, but in fact stop motion puppetry. Aardman Animation has been using stop motion puppets since at the very least the second Wallace & Gromit short, The Wrong Trousers, in 1993. And after The Nightmare Before Christmas, Burton and Di Novi produced James and the Giant Peach, directed again by Selick and with wonderful character designs by Lane Smith (author of The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales). And the movie was considered such a failure that Disney stopped production on Selick's next film, Toots and the Upside Down House, which was already shooting and is now lost.

Burton didn't save shit. I'm tired of hearing that he did.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

One of Animation's Leading Lights Extinguished

Joe Ranft, story editor of Pixar, was killed on Tuesday at the age of 45 when his car ran offroad and fell into the ocean in Mendocino County, California. Ranft got his start at Walt Disney Feature Animation in the eighties, and wrote for the films The Brave Little Toaster, Oliver & Company, The Rescuers Down Under, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and Fantasia 2000. He also supervised storyboards on James and the Giant Peach and The Nightmare Before Christmas before making the move to Pixar, where he had a hand in the screenplays for Toy Story (for which he won an Oscar) and A Bug's Life. He continued to edit story and was continued one of the important operators. His voice can be heard as Heimlich in A Bug's Life, Wheezy in Toy Story 2, and Jacques in Finding Nemo.

In a statement released Wednesday, Pixar said "Joe was an important and beloved member of the Pixar family, and his loss is of great sorrow to all of us and to the animation industry as a whole". A Pixar spokesman added, "Joe was a big part of Pixar's soul". Ranft is survived by his wife, Su, and two children, Jordy, 13, and Sophia 9. A memorial service for family, friends and close associates is planned for Sunday in Mill Valley, California. Pixar is planning a memorial for fans at a date to be determined.

Go to Cartoon Brew for lots of links and nice sentiments about one of animation's brightest.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Leaps of Jeppy

My girlfriend and I have something we call "The Jeppy Plot Flaw," and we see it often in movies. It’s coined for a plot device in the terrible movie Sphere, which goes something like this:

In the movie, an otherworldly intelligence makes contact with some researchers at an abandoned undersea lab. It communicates through numbers, and when Dustin Hoffman runs through equations and so on he is able to crack this numerical code and correspond them to letters (I know, a five year-old could do it, but the movie thinks this is a high science). The computer message reads the following: "I AM JERRY. I AM HAPPY." Which leads Dustin Hoffman to attempt to make the audience of retards (I assume they’re the only ones who went to see in the theater) go "oooh" by asking: "What happens if Jerry gets angry?"

Well, later in the movie, our resident smarty-pants realizes that–whoops!–the equation is off, and the message should read: "I AM HARRY. I AM HAPPY." Apparently, the computer is reading the mind of another character or something. "I was off by a letter!" Hoffman wildly proclaims. But what the movie fails to realize is a tragic logical flaw that collapses the entire story under its own weight: because numbers have constant values, "one letter" cannot be off. If the equation is fucked, than the entire message changes. By this scientifish logic, "I AM JERRY. I AM HAPPY" becomes "I EM HARRY. I EM JEPPY."

Hence, the Jeppy Plot Flaw.

Here are some other Jeppy moments from the last 10 years.

The Craft: If the spirit of the witches’s powers is something larger than moralistic concepts of good and evil, why does this same power punish Fairuza Balk for being evil?

Independence Day: So, the aliens also use Windows 95? I guess it’s lucky for humanity they weren’t on a DOS-based system, otherwise the virus could never have been uploaded.

Batman and Robin: Batman has a credit card? Under the name "Batman"? What bank would insure that? Are there special FDIC regulations in place for pseudonymous credit? How does he even rate credit with no name? How can Bruce Wayne not be traced to this credit card? What the fuck?

Shakespeare in Love: Wait, someone English has tobacco plantations in Virginia in 1595? A mean feat, considering Jamestown wasn’t even founded until 1607...

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me: Whatever happened to the second Austin that was called into an existence as the result of the time travel?

Eyes Wide Shut: Explanation, please.

The Matrix: I still don’t buy it that a man could gain power and mastery over the computer environment and become the savior, and then have to spend two more movies learning to use his powers before finally reshaping the Matrix. Does he just like to play in God Mode?

The Sixth Sense: You’re telling me the entire country of filmgoers couldn’t figure out that Bruce Willis was dead? Jesus, he was shot in the movie’s opening scene!

Frequency: How does shooting the killer in the hand in the past solve the crime? And if it did, why is the killer still in the house in the present?

The Patriot: The opening scenes of the movie take place in 1776. The remainder of the movie takes place in 1781. Why haven’t Mel Gibson’s children aged in five years?

Attack of the Clones: Does anyone else have trouble believing that Padme Amidala would still want to marry Anakin Skywalker after he murdered an entire village of men, women, and children?

The Ring: So, whose voice was that on the phone?

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: You do know that your car chase is taking place in Venice, and that Venice has no streets, right?

What a Girl Wants: Will everyone shut up for a moment so we can figure this whole thing out?! Okay, Kelly Preston left you because she thought you knew she was pregnant and you wanted her gone. Seventeen years later, you find out you have a daughter in the form of Amanda Bynes. You tell Amanda that you never knew she existed. You call Kelly and tell her that you never knew she had a kid. But through the whole movie they treat you like you just neglected them because you didn’t care? Hey, how about the following sentence: "I’m so sorry, someone must have lied to you, but since we’re together now, let’s make up for lost time?" There, problem solved, movie over, I just saved everyone an hour.

Fahrenheit 9/11: With so much evidence mounted that implies George W. Bush and his criminal gang have deceived us, people voted for him a second time?

The Stepford Wives: Okay, Faith Hill has a malfunction and shorts out, and there’s a remote control that can make her boobs bigger, so obviously she’s a robot, right? And there’s one woman who spits cash out of her mouth like an ATM, so obviously they’re all robots, right? But, then we see a film that says that the Stepford technology implants a woman’s brain with nano-chips that curb their individuality and make them obedient, so obviously they’re women with microchips in their brains, right? But then, seconds later, we see a robotic Nicole Kidman, which implies the women are robots, right? But, at the end of the movie, Matthew Broderick turns off the main computer signal, and all of the microchips short out, and the women return to their normal selves, so obviously they’re women with microchips in their heads. Or, was it the robots?

And then my brain exploded faster than a robot given a logic problem by Captain Kirk.

Revenge of the Sith: Why are Republican forces firing on General Grievous’s ship when they know that the Chancellor’s inside?

And a classic Jeppy from a movie I hate so very much. In Somewhere in Time, the old Jane Seymour gives Christopher Reeve a modern penny. When Christopher Reeve goes back in time to see the young Jane Seymour (through some kind of mentalism), he accidentally pulls the penny out of his pocket, sees it, and returns to the present. Then he goes crazy and dies. So, presumably, this is all on a loop: 50 years ago (or some damn thing), Christopher Reeve went back in time and to see Jane Seymour. Then she found him in the present and gave him the penny back. And then he went back in time. But where did the penny come from originally? Where did the penny come from originally?

And an honorable mention: any cop movie made since the advent of caller ID where the cops are tracing a phone call and they say: "Keep him talking, we need time to trace the call!" Um, not in a world where I can see caller information on the first ring, you don’t.

A Rude Theory

Is it just me, or is Toy Story really about impotence? You start off with a cowboy who is the most popular little man in the bedroom: Woody. But, floppy and old, awkward around his girlfriend (Bo Peep), and shouting in inferiority, the cruelly-named Woody is the ultimate manifestation of sexual inadequacy. But for however long, his primacy goes unquestioned–until, that is, the arrival of the powerful, current, plastic, battery-powered 10-inch Buzz. With only the press of a button, Buzz’s "wings" pop up, erect. Deflated Woody is no match for the big man in the helmet, is he? No, it isn’t until Woody, er, stands up to Sid, the repository of his inner turmoil, and Buzz discovers that he’s "only a toy" and accepts it that things get back to normal in the bedroom.

Now, dispute that.

Oh, as a side note, here’s a question about another classic family film: is E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial a Christ allegory, or is it really about a boy’s discovery of his own penis and how it makes him feel like an adult?

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The Runaways


One of the greatest bands ever. From left, Joan Jett, the gorgeous Jackie Fox, and Lita Ford. In front, Sandy West and lead singer Cherie Currie. Posted by Picasa