Classic Cult: Animated

Most people associate animation with children’s films and Disney. However, this does not do justice to a medium that has the potential to create far more captivating and engaging pieces of cinema than are generally offered by live-action films. It has the ability to explore themes and ideas in an artistic style that isn’t bound by the constraints found in conventional filming.

Cult animation has generally been split into two categories: the bizarre and the adult, which for many will appear too queer to warrant any appreciation. However, there are a number of cult films which should be watched by anyone with an interest in this undervalued art form.

Almost all of the films that The Beatles produced during their career have gone on to achieve some form of cult status, none more so than Yellow Submarine (1968). The fantasy musical features animated versions of the band as they go on a surreal and psychedelic journey to save the people of Pepperland from the music hating blue meanies. With a stellar Beatles soundtrack and wildly, lush images, this is a delight for both young and old. La Planète Sauvage (Fantastic Planet, 1973) by René Laloux is a similarly dreamlike venture into the world of science fiction. In a world where human beings are treated as pests by the giant Draags, one man, Terr, stands up to rebel against humanity’s oppression. Full of vivid imagery, its combination of strong themes of intolerance and unconventional artistry makes it a powerful piece of cinema.

Within the more adult-centred cult animation, one of the stand-out films has to be Heavy Metal (1981). Based on the fantasy and science fiction stories published in Heavy Metal Magazine, it features a universe of graphic violence, passionate fantasies and terrifying evil. Often played at midnight screenings and providing the inspiration for the South Park episode “Major Boobage”, its superb 80s soundtrack helped cement it as a firm cult favourite. Ralph Bakshi’s animated comedy Fritz the Cat (1972) was the first animated film to receive an X rating in the US. Following the hedonistic outings of a free loving cat during the 70s, its satire on the America of the time is hilarious, yet undoubtedly controversial. With the ability to at some point offend just about anyone, when taken with a pinch of salt it serves as great entertainment.

Finally, Bruno Bozzetto’s Allegro non Troppo (1976) is a parody of Disney’s Fantasia. A combination of live-action and different styles of animation, it sets classical music to stories ranging from the comic to the tragic. With an inventive use of animation and actor interaction, it remains an innovative example of the genre and a worthy alternative to the Disney equivalent.

This only scratches the surface of a genre that contains a plethora of fantastic films and covers a vast range of styles and techniques, but for the cult enthusiast, it is at least a decent place to start.

Taken from The Student, published Tue Mar 13th 2012.

Interview with BAFTA Winning Animator Mikey Please

Having only completed an MA in animation from the Royal College of Art in London last year, Mikey Please is relatively new to the professional world of artistic filmmaking. However, this hasn’t stopped him from already gaining considerable respect amongst his peers – the pinnacle of his career so far being winning the award for Best Short Animation at this year’s BAFTAs.

His winning piece The Eagleman Stag which also served as his graduating film, is a dark cerebral comedy about a man who is obsessed with the quickening perception of time as one ages, and the extreme lengths he goes to in order to counter this effect.

An intriguing concept, it is one that has a certain resonance for Please himself; “It interests and bothers me in equal amounts. Making the film was a kind of cathartic process. Going back to childhood again, this is something that has always been in my thoughts; why a year now seems so much less than a year when I was four? Of course, a year when I was four was a whole quarter of my life, now it is but a mere twentysixth.”

An adaptation of a short story he wrote a few years ago, it was never intended to be made into a film, he notes, “I thought it would be impossible, but it was when I developed this graphical simple stopmotion method that I felt I might be able to do it justice.”

This use of stopmotion appears to be a fundamental element of Please’s style, featuring in much of his work to date. “I love the unflinching certainty that what you’re looking at is physically there.” However, it is evidently not always easy to get right, as he reminds us; “Of course for every happy accident there are several unhappy ones. But that’s one of my main attractions to working with real things, in that the opportunity for accident is so much bigger when there is all the chaos of the real world interfering with what I’m doing.”

A technique that is increasingly used less and less given the advances in technology that has cultivated a huge scope of digital alternatives, it seems to retain a certain degree of appeal for Please: “I think working with physical things, in a predominantly digital age, isn’t a form of Luddism or a nostalgic attachment to a bygone era, but a feeling that to work with tangible materials, as frustrating as they can be, can not only add something indefinable to the aesthetic, but assist in the actual structural development of the content itself.”

The choice of creating the film all in white comes across both as incredibly different and yet reminiscent of the Japanese art of origami. Having confirmed that no origami was in fact used, he does stress that the decision to film in this hue was important: “I was looking for a way to distance the look of the film from being a straight forward representation of reality, and something about the white on white fitted perfectly with that kind of dream or memory of real life I was going for.”

It is clear that Please is still coming to terms with his success at the BAFTAs as he recalls how he felt when his name was announced; “Mildly confused, then a deep, resounding fear worked its way from my belly to my head, kicking in when I was half way through my acceptance speech, leading to me doing a Napoleon Dynamite dash from the stage.”

With subsequent works already in the pipeline including directing a music video for TV on the Radio and a lengthy film entitled Zero-Greg that’s slowly taking form, it won’t be long before Please becomes a household name. Yet somewhat reassuringly, he stresses that his success is just as possible for any budding animator so long as enough ambition is retained and they remember to “get some sleep, get some sunshine and eat some fruit”.

The Eagleman Stag is available on DVD as part of the RCA 2010 Animation Showreel.

Taken from The Student, published Tue Mar 22nd 2011.

A Town Called Panic Review


A charming piece of stop animation that throws logic out the window, A Town Called Panic offers an innocent look into the fictional realities that are akin to our childhood fantasies we construct with toys.

Created by Belgian animators Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar, it is the feature film of their cult series of the same name.  Perhaps surprisingly, they are no strangers to UK television, being the minds behind the ludicrous Cravendale milk adverts that feature a cow, a pirate and a cyclist.

This latest piece was part of the official selection at Cannes last year and has already received notable commendations from esteemed publications.

The plot centres on a disorganised household containing a horse, a cowboy and an Indian. Following the theft of the horse’s house by some mysterious strangers, the trio embark on a voyage to retrieve the stolen walls encountering the centre of the earth, a frozen plateau and an underwater village along the way.

The forte of the piece lies in its simplicity with its rugged, unpolished use of stop-motion.

The characters, merely unpretentious figurines, some of which still with their bases attached, adds an original character which goes beyond the meticulousness of more common stop-motion such as that used by the infamous Aardman productions. This combined with a complete lack of scale – as life-sized mugs appear ridiculous measured next to the miniature models -gives unexpected insight into this bizarre world where nothing makes sense, but at the same time doesn’t need to. Such disregard for continuity hasn’t been seen in animation since the likes of Terry Gilliam.

Although perhaps too intense for some with its very ‘in your face’ approach to comedy, the brilliance of this film is its absurdity. By bringing new meaning to the word surreality, this is childlike humour that is not restricted to a younger audience, the older viewer connecting with its ingenuousness.

Some would also argue that the film drags on slightly, which is strange considering its short runtime, but this is only due to the incredibly erratic nature of the animation. Its fast paced, action packed style means that the moments when you are not being punched in the face with incongruous action, the pace of the film slows somewhat.

Despite this, the ingenuity of the film makes it one of the more original films of the year that manages to prove that there is still high quality animation beyond Disney Pixar.

Taken from The Student, published Tue Oct 19th 2010.