Posts Tagged ‘Grey DeLisle’

The Book of Life

When you walk out of a movie, any movie, smiling it’s definitely a win, but after the end of writer/director Jorge Gutierrez’s The Book of Life not only was I smiling, I was practically vibrating with anticipation for a sequel because I honestly didn’t want to leave the world of San Angel. There’s a lot to be said for the cultural landscape of animation when you find yourself crying out, “Yes! More of THAT!” because The Book of Life shows us just how much we’re missing out on, how many stories have gone untold. It took Gutierrez fifteen years to get the film made, and those years worth of passion and love for his home country shows in the vibrant, kinetic, and joyous story that is unrelenting in its dedication to throwing the windows wide open on what it means to be Mexican. The Book of Life is Gutierrez’s – and by extension producer Guillermo Del Toro’s – love letter to Mexico and Mexican culture via the celebration of one of the country’s most revered holidays.

Celebrated from October 31st – November 2nd, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is the embodiment of Mexican culture as families gather in remembrance of their deceased loved ones by building altars and leaving offerings around their graves. But it’s not a somber affair by any means. Music, food, and colorful decorations ensure that death is not something to be feared but is a natural part of life. And it’s through the rituals of the holiday that Mexicans strengthen familial bonds and remain spiritually connected, keeping the memories of those they’ve lost alive. The Book of Life honors those themes while crafting a beautiful fairy tale that will most definitely cast a long shadow over subsequent animated films.

Reading the BookWhen a group of rowdy children show up at a museum, they’re greeted by the unfazed Mary Beth (Christina Applegate) who, in celebration of the Day of the Dead, shows them the Book of Life, which contains all the great stories of Mexico. She relates one in particular, using a set of carved dolls to tell the story of Maria, Manolo, and Joaquin. In the town of San Angel, the three children are playing among the gravestones during Dia de los Muertos when La Muerte (Kate del Castillo), ruler of the Land of the Remembered, and Xibalba (Ron Perlman), ruler of the Land of the Forgotten, make a wager about which of the two boys Maria will marry. If Xibalba wins and Joaquin marries Maria, he gets to rule the Land of the Remembered, but if La Muerte wins and Manolo marries Maria, then Xibalba will have to leave the humans alone.

Unbeknownst to La Muerte, Xibalba gifts a young Joaquin with a medallion that will make him invulnerable, which he realizes soon after when Maria frees a bunch of pigs from being slaughtered and he effortlessly defends her and the town from an angry boar. Manolo is no slouch either, revealing his gift as a matador to stop the beast and save the little pig Maria sought to free. Angered at his daughter’s feisty and unladylike sensibilities, General Posada (Carlos Alazraqui) sends Maria to Spain to be educated. Before she leaves, Maria gets a final goodbye with her friends, gifting Manolo a new guitar inscribed with the phrase, “Always play from your heart.” Manolo gifts her the little pig, Chewie (also Carlos Alazraqui), and promises to wait for her. Joaquin, lacking a present, vows to always fight for her as the train speeds away.

Years later, Manolo (Diego Luna) has been trained by his father, Carlos Sanchez (Hector Elizondo) to be a bullfighter like his ancestors before him, including his grandmother, though his true desire is playing guitar with his mariachi friends. Joaquin (Channing Tatum), thanks to the medallion, has become a great soldier and hero like his father before him, returning to San Angel the same day as Maria (Zoe Saldana) returns from Spain. The two men both vy for her love and her hand in marriage, but when Xibalba believes he’s losing the bet he makes sure Manolo isn’t even a contender. From there it’s a race for Manolo to return to the Concept Artliving world to be with Maria again and save the town from the dreaded bandit Chakal (Dan Navarro) who’s out to get his medallion back.

The story itself is actually quite simple. While there’s a lot of window dressing with gods, realms, and world-shattering consequences, it really boils down to being true to yourself – a common premise in family films. But through the lens of The Book of Life being true to yourself, standing up for what you think is right and what you believe in – whether it’s defending your town from banditos or choosing the guitar over the sword – is what solidifies how we are remembered. Both Joaquin and Manolo live in the shadows of their family legacies and in trying to live up to those standards they ultimately set the stage for the chaos that follows. Maria, in contrast, is very aware of who she is and it’s her encouragement and love that leads the two friends down their desired paths. She too has a legacy to uphold and she proves herself to be every bit the leader the Posadas desire. Not only is this a hero’s journey, it’s the journey of an entire community.

The simplicity of the story allows for the film to revel in the culture of Mexico, using the bright colors, energetic music, and stunning art to build the worlds of the living and the dead. Jorge Gutierrez has been quoted saying that he wanted the film to look as beautiful as the art book for an animated film looks and my God did Reel FX Creative Studios deliver. The settings are grand and gorgeous and the designs of the characters are distinct and wonderfully original. Because Mary Beth is using carved figures to tell the story, the people of San Angel look like wooden figures, which shows in the angular build of the characters and the static movement of hair and clothes. The designs, however, don’t limit the characters or the settings. In fact, the choice to tell the story through doll-like figures allows for more detail. The many medals on Joaquin’s uniform, the intricate carvings in Manolo’s guitar, as well as La Muerte’s catrina visage and Xibalba’s Aztecan armor all invite closer scrutiny. You should want to press your face to the screen in order to take it all in.

La Muerte and XibalbaThe cast alone should be reason enough to see the film. Other reviews I’ve read have claimed Channing Tatum’s performance stands out the most and I’m inclined to agree. It isn’t hard to see where the story is going and who Maria will end up with, but Tatum’s Joaquin never lacks personality despite being the overconfident jock to Manolo’s sensitive musician. There’s a surprising amount of depth to his character and Tatum does a wonderful job of capturing Joaquin’s arrogance as well as his deep love and affection for Maria and Manolo. Diego Luna and Zoe Saldana aren’t slackers by any means. Luna’s Manolo is charming, mischievous, and lovable. There’s a believable earnestness and sincerity about the character that is entirely Luna’s making. And Saldana’s Maria is more than just the pretty love interest. She’s a capable woman with a mind of her own and she isn’t afraid to speak out when she’s offended. But she also knows how to have fun, sporting a laugh that’s delightfully infectious. However, I’d have to say that Kate del Castillo and Ron Perlman steal the movie for me as La Muerte and Xibalba. The characters and their actors have great chemistry, bickering like an old married couple (which they are) that just happen to be otherworldly gods. Both possess fiery tempers, literally, but both are just as easily soothing and calming. I mean, it’s Ron Perlman. C’mon! Filling out the cast are fantastic actors like Cheech Marin, Gabriel Iglesias, Danny Trejo, Grey DeLisle, Miguel Sandoval, Placido Domingo, and Ice Cube as The Candle Maker.

Like the designs and the brilliant color palette, the music in The Book of Life is just as important in telling the story and shows how specific cultural influences can affect songs and their meaning. The soundtrack to The Book of Life is mostly pop songs, sung by the actors, ranging from Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling in Love with You” to Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend”. It’s an eclectic mix of songs with two originals written by Paul Williams and Gustavo Santaolalla. At first I was a bit put off by the jukebox musical unfolding and, to be honest, I’m still not certain Radiohead’s “Creep” was the most appropriate song for a film like this, but I give a huge amount of credit to Santaolalla for the movie’s score and the fusion of Latin American music and pop songs. Though the audience seeing the film may not be of Hispanic, Latin American, or Mexican descent, music is a shared language and many of us remember these songs, which gives audiences a THE BOOK OF LIFEcommon ground through which to relate to the story and the characters. There are also little pieces of music that show Santaolalla’s cleverness, like the nuns singing “Adios, Maria” in the style of “Ave Maria” or the use of Kinky’s “Más” whenever Joaquin goes into super soldier mode. It’s a soundtrack and score that has a distinct identity, something that other animated films tend to lack.

Hopefully The Book of Life will become a classic of the holiday season because it deserves the attention of children, parents, and really any fan of animation. It’s a cultural celebration of life and death, bringing families and friends together to remember the ones we love and giving us all permission to “play from the heart.”

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Okay, I’ve had the weekend to mull over how I feel about the Season Three finale of The Legend of Korra and Season Three in general.

Here goes…

 

 WooHoo

 

OHMYGOD! That was amazing. Not only was the finale – a one hour block consisted of episodes 12, “Enter the Void”, and 13, “Venom of the Red Lotus” – one of the strongest, most action-packed, and gut-wrenching pieces of animation produced by the series creators and Studio Mir, it’s proof that Korra will indeed live up to her title, experiencing the trials and errors, and Pyrrhic victories of being a legend.legend-korra

For starters, a little background.

If I’m being honest, and I usually am, Book One: Air and Book Two: Spirits suffered from uneven storytelling, which happens on any series. Certainly Avatar: The Last Airbender wasn’t perfect either; highs and lows occurred throughout all three seasons. And while Air was a great introduction to Korra and the societal unrest of Republic City, Spirits meandered for the first half of the season as it tried to recover from the rushed ending and last-minute pickup from the network. Thankfully, Book Two recovered at mid-season, ending on Korra’s game-changing decision to keep the spirit portals open and reunite humans and spirits once again. The consequences of her decision, however, fueled all of Book Three, the aptly named Change.

By keeping the spirit portals open after Harmonic Convergence, the unintended byproduct was the creation of new airbenders. Committed to helping Tenzin rebuild the Air Nation, Korra and company travel to the Earth Kingdom to find other airbenders. Unfortunately, one of the new airbenders is Zaheer, leader of the Red Lotus. Imprisoned for trying to kidnap Korra as a child along with his three equally powerful cohorts, combustionbender P’Li, armless waterbender Ming-Hua, and lavabender Ghazan, the group escapes and sets about completing the plan they’d attempted thirteen years ago: kill the Avatar and restore the world to its natural order of chaos.

Okay, now for the awesome stuff!

The-Legend-of-Korra-Book-3-Team-AvatarThis has been one of the best uses of an ensemble cast since the first season. Even while we were introduced to new characters like the members of the Red Lotus, Lin Beifong’s half-sister Su, leader of the Metal Clan, and the return of an old friend in the elderly Lord Zuko, the season never felt overcrowded. Each character got a chance to shine in his or her own way, not just through their fighting styles and bending abilities, but as emotionally maturing people. As much as the show is focused on Korra, her friends and enemies are fully realized and there was never a moment where while watching one group I wished I was watching someone else. I especially loved how Team Korra became a stronger unit. Sure there was awkwardness because of Mako’s failed relationships with Asami and Korra, but the two girls showed great maturity by becoming friends, teaming up and kicking butt like they’d been at it forever. Yes, there was still squabbling, but it felt more like a family than petty in-fighting. Everyone was engaging and entertaining, showing the combined strength of the writers, directors, and animators to deliver a fantastic third season.

The villains, by far, are some of the best to come out of the world of Avatar. The members of the Red Lotus are charismatic, thoughtful, clever, funny, and none of them slack on the fighting. For crying out loud, Ming-Hua is an armless waterbender. An armless. Waterbender. How they show her utilizing her abilities is nothing short of brilliant. All of the Red Lotus are formidable on their own, but together they’re a force to be reckoned with. At the same time, the philosophical blueprint that Zaheer follows makes for a mature look at how a “villain” can perceive theirRed_Lotus own actions as heroic. He’s definitely the smartest opponent Korra’s faced and its that intelligence and skill that keeps your eyes glued to the screen. You want to like the villains this time around. Actually, you do like the villains and you understand their point-of-view. Like Zuko or Azula, a little part of you is rooting for the bad guys. Then you realize they wanted to poison and kill a four-year-old. Yeah…But, hey, they’re still awesome and I’m not even kidding when I say that Zaheer and P’Li’s romance was genuinely touching and tragic.

Lastly, the animation, all done by Studio Mir, is top-notch. It’s why something like Avatar and Korra can never be completely replicated in live action. The animated environment is more expansive, more fantastical, than anything that can be captured on film with actors backed by CGI. None of the fights felt wasted or superfluous. It wasn’t bending for the sake of bending, it was bending for the sake of storytelling. Lin and Su’s fight over their unresolved issues, the release of each member of the Red Lotus, and the training of the new airbenders all facilitated character development. And they definitely saved the best for last. The finale features the best fights of the season. Korra, with platinum cuffs on her wrists and ankles, still shows how skilled she is even while hindered. When her father shows up to help, it’s an effective team-up complete with leapfrog bending attacks. And the end fight between Zaheer and Korra in the poisoned Avatar State is unlike anything that’s been used in the series thus far and shows how much more sophisticated animation has become. The different perspectives achieved as Korra and Zaheer fly around and battle each other is breathtaking in its scope and scale. I can only imagine what’s cooking for next season.

 

Animation

 

And now for the analytical stuff!

From the beginning of Book Three there was a feeling of purpose and focus for Korra, the series and the character. After the battle with Vaatu and Unalaq in Book Two, Korra lost the connection to her past lives, making her the first Avatar since Wan to lack guidance from her predecessors. Instead, Korra had to draw from her own experiences – and the advice of her friends and mentors – to make decisions based on what she believed was something the Avatar would do. Understandably, making decisions as the Avatar comes with its own insecurities and worries about whether one is doing the right thing and, as the series has shown, Korra’s biggest fear is failure. This is a girl who, from the age of Strong Korrafour, had practically mastered bending water, fire, and earth. Her struggle to master airbending in Book One and her lack of a spiritual connection in Book Two exposed her fears of failing to live up to Aang’s legacy as well as the legacy of the Avatar. Her need to fulfill the primary of duty of restoring balance thematically ran through the entire season and, surprisingly, managed to incorporate the plots of the previous seasons in a way that actually feels organic.

In a very strange way, it looks as if everything really has been leading to this point. After giving herself up to Zaheer in order to save the airbenders from being wiped out, Korra is poisoned so she’ll go into the Avatar State as a means of protecting herself and give the Red Lotus the opportunity to end the Avatar cycle by killing her. As she fights off falling into the Avatar State, she begins to hallucinate Amon, Unalaq, and Vaatu. Her previous foes taunt her, repeatedly telling her that the world doesn’t need an Avatar and she should just “let go”. Thankfully this didn’t turn into another Frozen parody, but the writers tapped into Korra’s longest-running opponent: the very world she’s trying to bring balance to. All three seasons have, in some way, stressed that not only is the Avatar unnecessary but that Korra has failed every step of the way. And in Korra’s mind, yes, those failures are real. She barely managed to stop Amon, she lost her connection to the past Avatars, the President of Republic City kicked her out because she couldn’t stop the infiltrating spirits, Ba Sing Se is in chaos, and as far as she knows the airbenders and her father are all dead. Instead of rebuilding, her actions have created more problems.Tear

It’s why I feel that the ending of this season, when Korra sheds a single tear when Jinora is made an airbending master, is about Korra believing that, as the Avatar, she’s a failure. Korra has always prided herself on being strong, something she sees as a positive asset for the Avatar, but after facing off with the Red Lotus she’s left physically and spiritually depleted. It’s made even more obvious when she has to witness Jinora’s ceremony from a wheelchair. Though I imagine Korra is happy for Jinora, she’s essentially watching the young girl who has a stronger connection to the spirit world, who helped her find Raava when she thought the spirit of light had been lost to Vaatu, and showed tremendous bravery and leadership in saving Korra from Zaheer become a leader among her culture as Tenzin vows that the new Air Nation will help Korra by acting as surrogates to restore balance while she recovers. Though well intended, Tenzin’s commitment to helping the Avatar practically reinforces what Korra dreads – she’s not necessary or needed.

So what can we expect from Book Four? Well, as far as I’m concerned, they should call it Balance. Both Korra and the world are in disarray and I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of the next season showed Korra dealing with some sort of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Other than that, I’m just looking forward to what they do next.

The only thing I want to know is: WHAT HAPPENED TO SOKKA AND SUKI?

I-Know-That-VoiceI don’t know about you, but cartoons and animation have been a part of my life since before I can remember. When I was younger, I watched Looney Tunes and Hanna-Barbera, along with many of the classic cartoons of the 80s and 90s. I grew up during the Disney Renaissance of animated features while experiencing the psychological damage of the Don Bluth produced films at the same time, and my sense of humor evolved along with the Golden Age of The Simpsons. In my adult years, my love of animation remains in tact not just because the medium has gotten that much better (it has), but because I recognize and appreciate the work involved by voice actors to bring the characters I love to life on television, the big screen, or in video games. The legacy of voice acting is as old as animation, but it’s only been within the last few years that the actors themselves have started to get their long overdue accolades for the work they do. With the stage finally set for voice actors to have their moment in the spotlight, John DiMaggio (Futurama, Adventure Time) along with Director and Co-Producer Lawrence Shapiro and producer Tommy Reid bring us I Know That Voice – a documentary celebrating the talented men and women in the world of voice acting.

As a documentary, I Know That Voice has a very clear cut idea of what it wants to accomplish. You won’t find a sidestory about someone trying to make it in the industry, the camera following a few people as they audition ending with one or two getting a small part or a major role in an animated movie or television show. There’s no need to pad the story because DiMaggio, Reid, and Shapiro let the established veterans of the industry tell you themselves. This is a straight forward look at the people who, on a daily basis, will voice a multitude of characters, each of them different in their own way, in order to entertain audiences. And entertainment is the key here because what is stressed throughout the entire documentary isn’t the idea of never being recognized, or the need for fame and fortune, it’s about the passion these men and women have for their work. They’re the, until now, mostly unseen people who do far more than just make funny voices for money. They’re actors creating characters and without them we wouldn’t have the connections we hold dear to Bugs Bunny, Rocket J. Squirrel, Batman, Bubbles, Azula, Elmira, and even The Joker.

Voice ActorsThe amount of talent assembled is astounding. Close your eyes for a few minutes and you’ll hear characters from cartoons past and present. To give you a sample, I Know That Voice features June Foray, Jim Cummings, Rob Paulsen, Billy West, Maurice LaMarche, Grey DeLisle, Cree Summer, Tara Strong, Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Kevin Michael Richardson, Steve Blum, Kath Soucie, Nancy Cartwright, Phil LaMarr, Tom Kenny, Jess Harnell, Nolan North, Hank Azaria, Lauren Tom, and Jennifer Hale. If you don’t know any of these people, look them up, along with the rest of the actors featured, on IMDB and be prepared to gawk at the laundry list of characters they’re responsible for voicing. Rightly so, the movie has a fitting tribute to the patriarch of voice over actors, Mel Blanc, the “Man of a Thousand Voices” and inspiration of many of the interviewees. It’s from Mel’s ability to create most of the Looney Tunes characters we know and love that the documentary dives into the actual work involved in the creation of animated characters.

For many, it starts with a drawing of the character because how the character looks based on gender, age, and any facial features can shape the voice. There’s also the repertoire of voices collected from people encountered in daily life or another actor with an interesting cadence that can fill in the holes and enrich the sound of a new character. The best examples featured are Billy West’s breakdown and buildup of Dr. Zoidberg’s unmistakable voice and Kath Soucie adjusting her voice based on the age and gender of the character. Even more impressive is watching Dee Bradley Baker alter his animal noises by changing how the air travels through his nose and throat. The techniques employed by each actor are amazing and watching them take us through the process of character creation essentially shows the audience the level of work involved in operating within the industry as a voice artist. For celebrities who get to dabble in animated features where they’re paid to sound like themselves, of course it’s a cakewalk, but DiMaggio, Reid, and Shapiro make sure to hammer it home that voice actors live and work by their ability to create new voices over and over again. Their paycheck comes from disappearing into a role.More Voice Actors

Interestingly enough, the film shows the rise in voice actor recognition with the prevalence of social media and conventions. Voice actors, now more than ever, have benefited from social media and interacting with the fans who are more aware of the people behind the voices. It’s a mutually beneficial interaction as fans get to meet and talk to the people responsible for their favorite characters while the actors get to see the size and scope of their fanbase. Conventions bring even more fan interaction with fandoms displayed for all to see as they reach across generations, many of them brought together by a voice they heard and never forgot. I can attest to that sentiment wholeheartedly.

Overall, I Know That Voice is a movie you want to see if you’re any kind of fan of animation or have the desire to go into voice acting. It’s informative, entertaining, and wonderfully nostalgic. Currently, you can buy or rent the film on iTunes and various media platforms. There are plans to eventually release it on DVD, but a date has yet to be announced.

If you’re also interested in listening to pretty much everyone interviewed in the documentary go into greater detail about their time in the industry, I’d recommend Rob Paulsen’s podcast Talkin’ Toons. And just for good measure, here’s the 2012 lineup of voice actors from Emerald City Comicon performing Star Wars using some of their well known characters to fill in the roles.