It’s that time of year again — Awards Season. The Golden Globes have been distributed and emotional speeches given. This year, the Globes were back live and as glitzy and star-studded as ever. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts announced the nominations for this year’s Oscar Awards. The 95th Oscars will air on March 12th on ABC. Even if you’re not a fan of watching award shows, the buzz around nominated films does result in a bigger audience for some films and draws attention to some films you may not have come across.
There are five nominated Animated Features. There’s a swashbuckling youngster, a wooden boy, a red panda, an animated shell and a swashbucklingly cat with emotional issues. I’ve reviewed “Pinocchio” and “Marcel” earlier but here’s a recap. You can catch many of these films on a streaming service but if you get a chance, do go see “Puss in Boots” in a theater. It’s a wonder.
“Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” is an art-house film with gorgeous stop-motion animation. Hundreds of stop-motion artists worked on this feature. There’s an exhibit of the art, Crafting “Pinocchio” at the NYC Museum of Modern Art. This version has a story meant for adults and discerning older children. The film (Guillermo del Torro & Mark Gustafson) can be streamed on Netflix.
“Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” (Dean Fleischer Camp, Elisabeth Holm, Andrew Goldman, Caroline Kaplan and Paul Mezey) is another stop-motion animated family film. “Marcel” started as a YouTube series and has retained its charming crafted-by-friends DIY feel. The film is streaming and can be purchased or rented.
There’s a Pixar feature, “Turning Red” (Domee Shi and Lindsey Collins), available on Disney +. It’s one of the few films directed by women that was nominated this year. A comedy about an Asian girl who becomes a red panda under stressful situations, it’s a family-friendly film with a great lesson. It’s multicultural as it’s set in Toronto and touches on Asian cultural norms.
Another family film featuring a young girl, Netflix’s “The Sea Beast” (Chris Williams & Jed Schlanger) is a computer-animated adventure. Like “Turning Red’, “The Sea Beast” is multiracial with a young black protagonist. There’s some violence and scary encounters, so this film isn’t a good one for very young or sensitive children. All the nominations in this category are rated PG, parental guidance suggested.
If you’re a fan of the “Shrek” films, watching “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” is a treat. It’s amazing to see how far animation has come since the first feature. Directors Joel Crawford and Mark Smith have used different animation styles to drive the narrative. There’s a painterly style that mimics the painted backdrops of the classic Disney films. The settings call to mind Old World Masters with beautiful snow-covered cottages and sun-dappled fields. There’s a gorgeous play of colors and lights.
In the action scenes, the animation becomes more akin to a comic strip. Close-ups of the characters stopped in motion floating toward their targets. Full of large swathes of color and geometric shapes. Some of the scenes could be shown as separate short films like the encounter between the marvelously animated Big Bad Wolf (Wagner Moura) and our title character, Puss in Boots. The backdrop of the medieval pub and shadowed lighting create a noirish style that projects the foreboding encounter.
“My love of Sergio Leone actually played a factor in how we designed Death,” Crawford explained. “My co-director Januel Mercado also loves those westerns, so when we were designing Death we wanted him to feel like The Man With No Name, to have this gritty Western feel so that he feels like a bounty hunter. His blades also get drawn out of his belt like guns, so that adds to his gunslinger attitude.” “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” Director on hiding death in the film’s opening, The Wrap, Jeremy Fuster, 1/24/2022
The title characters are voiced by two great Hispanic actors, Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek Pinault. Some of the songs are in Spanish and the characters often slip into Spanish when expressing themselves in anger. It’s a great touch and makes the film more inclusive and realistic. The sidekick is a familiar character in animated films, “Puss” has a dog disguised as a cat. Perrito (Harvey Guillen) is a hilarious addition and lends the film a tenderness not usually found in a mainstream cartoon.
The biggest surprise to me was how much I loved the British contingent—the Bear family and their Goldilocks. Each character is so well-realized, and Florence Pugh gives a sassy vocal performance that makes you root for the orphan rebel. “Puss in Boots” isn’t short on villains but many of them turn out to be allies in the end. One of the funniest characters is Jack Horner (John Mulaney) as the pie shop billionaire with a heart full of avarice. He’s a big buffoon with a bag full of magical items stolen from different fairytales. It’s a wonderful touch in a film full of interesting subplots.
Even if you’re not a fan of the central character, Puss, you’ll find his journey interesting. Puss transitions from a self-centered party cat with an ironic song about his humbleness, to a more mature creature who can admit his fear. He finds love and friendship after a life as a lone crusader. It’s a very adult theme. I laughed when one character says, “When you said that Death was following you, I thought you meant metaphorically”! Not the usual discussion for a children’s film.
The quest that is the center of this fairy tale is exciting and full of animated wonders. There’s a map that channels the spirit of whomever is holding it and conjures up challenges like a giant poppy field. There’s some cartoonish violence and a well-articulated depiction of fear, so “Puss” may not be appropriate for the little ones. That Big Bad Wolf is pretty scary.
Drinks with Films rating: 3 1/2 flagons of cream (out of 5)