Every year the same scenario plays out. Disney/Pixar release a sequel to a beloved film and it is just enough to make people happy. Just look at the slate Disney/Pixar pushed out this year. It includes sequels to The Incredibles and Wreck-It Ralph. Where is the studio(s) that would enchant us with original properties every time out of the gate? The problem is that the machine known as Disney/Pixar has the money and brand appeal to push sequels onto the masses without remorse.
If you want original films, look somewhere else.
That’s where the Animation is Film festival comes into play. Now in its second year, the festival celebrates animation from all over the world. It is a collaboration between GKIDS and Annecy International Animation Film Festival. It celebrates all kinds of animation and looks to elevate the form into an equivalent to live-action entertainment. They look not only to champion the films that would come from other countries, but they also support women and filmmakers from a wide range of backgrounds.
The highlight of the festival was to give special notice to filmmaker Mamoru Hosoda. We’ve talked about Hosoda before and how he has made his mark in Japanese Animation. His name deserves to be placed next to the greats of the medium from Hayao Miyazaki, Satoshi Kon, Makoto Shinkai, and Isao Takahata. The festival screened many of his films including Summer Wars, Wolf Children, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, and The Boy and the Beast. This all lead to the U.S. premier of his new feature, Mirai.
Mirai continues Hosoda’s theme of family and the ability to pass through time for the protagonists. The perspective this time is of four-year-old Kun, who is excited to meet his new baby sister, but isn’t prepared for the family change that comes from a new baby. As typical of a child that age, jealousy becomes the de facto emotion he feels towards his sister, Mirai. Just when things couldn’t be worse for Kun, he is visited by a future version of his sister. This plays on multiple times and each opportunity allows Kun to grow a little more. The film separates these events out so it feels more like miniature episodes inside a larger motion picture. Some of these escapades work better than others, but on a whole, it feels kind of disjointed. I enjoyed the film, but this didn’t turn out to be one of Hosoda’s great successes.
Studio Ponoc also had a short film collection known as Modest Heroes: Ponoc Short Films Theatre, Volume 1 that debuted at the festival. You might remember Studio Ponoc as comprising former Studio Ghibli employees including Mary and the Witch’s Flower director Hiromasa Yonebayashi. Yonebayashi contributes his own short film to the package that feels like a sister piece to The Secret World of Arrietty. Kanini & Kanino follows two crab brothers on an underwater adventure to save their father. Think of it as an action-packed version of Finding Nemo. It feels like a fun exercise with beautiful animation, but it isn’t very memorable. The highlight of the package comes from Yoshiyuki Momose. In Life Ain’t Gonna Lose, an eight-year-old boy struggles with a deadly allergy to eggs. It is something rarely discussed in feature films or animation, but it is heartwarming and frighteningly all too common in life. I’d love to see a full anime series based on this short. The third short, Invisible by Akihiko Yamashita, showcases a man who goes through his daily life except that no one knows he is there. It is the weakest of the three shorts, but presents some interesting ideas regarding isolation.
Tito and the Birds, a film directed by Gabriel Bitar, Andre Catoto, & Gustavo Steinberg from Brazil shows how fear can be used as a weapon. Animated in a mixture of oil painting, line drawing, and computer animation Tito and the Birds is the year’s most political animated film. Tito is a boy who is fascinated by his father’s invention to communicate with birds. When things go awry, Tito must work on the project himself. Meanwhile, a businessman is creating fear among the population for his own benefit, spreading anxiety about a false sickness that everyone accepts as real. Beautiful and timely, Tito and the Birds makes a statement about standing up to fear and not letting it control our lives.
The jury selected Denis Do’s Funan for the jury prize, which is a film that focuses on the determination of a woman to find her son and reunite her family during the Khmer Rouge era of the 1970s in Phnom Penh. Another film that earned special consideration from the jury was Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles. Directed by Salvador Simo, the film is based on the surrealist filmmaker Bunuel and how he wanted to make a documentary on the Las Hurdes region in Spain. Even though Mirai failed to win any of the big awards, it should receive the biggest profile bump given how prominently it was featured by the festival.
At the end of the year, when the Disney/Pixar machine shepherds another one of its unspectacular sequels to the finish line for best animated film, remember that there are other options out there for those who love animated film. The Animation is Film festival shows some beautiful work that is being done in the field. Animation that is not just the work of one studio. If you are looking for something a little different, this is a great opportunity to catch something new.