MorphToons: October 2015

Halloween found me wishing happy birthday to the one and old only Ralph Bakshi, whose anti-sermon shook the toonscape.

I Love Animators, I Just Want Them to Wake Up: A Birthday Interview With Ralph Bakshi

Legendary animation outsider Ralph Bakshi celebrated his 77th birthday yesterday with a defiant cartoon comeback called Last Days of Coney Island.

“I did 98 percent of all of the animation, and all of the backgrounds and in-betweens, which was hard for a 77-year-old guy,” Bakshi told me of his transgressive comeback. “At my age, I wouldn’t release it if I thought it didn’t work.”

With detours to monoliths like Disney and Pixar as well as painters like Bacon and Pollock, the unabashed Bakshi and I spoke at length about his crowd-funded comeback, why animators should stand up and fight for their names as well as let go of their work, and why the first rule of cartoons is that there are no rules.


Exclusive: Boy and the World Director Announces Next Film, Voyagers of the Enchanted Forest

In the midst of an Oscar nomination campaign for his recent animated feature Boy and the World (O Menino e o Mundo), award-winning Brazilian director Alê Abreu has announced his next explorative project: the feature film, Voyagers of the Enchanted Forest. He revealed the news and first image from the project exclusively to Cartoon Brew.

“I believe that, deep down, all of an artist’s works are connected, and there’s a lot between The Boy and the World and Voyagers of the Enchanted Forest,” Abreu told me, via email from Brazil. “Both feature characters in transit, beholding worlds revealing themselves. Voyages and displacement are frequent in my movies.”


Nine Years in the Making, Raul Garcia’s Poe Anthology Extraordinary Tales Has Arrived

Bleeding into theaters and video-on-demand platforms in time for Halloween, director Raul Garcia’s Extraordinary Tales is an animated anthology of Edgar Allen Poe’s stories that’s as stylistically diverse as it is existentially engrossing.

Starring voices of the late, great Christopher Lee, the iconic Bela Lugosi (from beyond the grave), filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro, B-movie influential Roger Corman, and veteran horror and fantasy actor Julian Sands, Extraordinary Tales brings Poe’s harrowing stories to the screen for newer generations raised on boundless technologies and influences. Opening last Friday, Garcia’s 73-minute, unrated animated anthology ambitiously pulls art, literature, comics, film, and collaboration into its dark embrace and doesn’t let go.

Much of its adaptive spirited comes from Garcia’s youth, which was spent voraciously reading and watching horror, fantasy, and sci-fi, as well as decades spent animating features like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Aladdin, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Fantasia 2000, and more. Marking his feature directorial debut, Extraordinary Tales is a dark dream come true for the animator, nine years in the making. Cartoon Brew spoke at length with Garcia via email about reanimating Poe from the page to the screen, and collaborating across countries and technologies to bring his nightmarish vision to compelling life.


Moonbot Studios Takes On Bullies With Interactive Short, I Am a Witness

With its sweet but adventurous short film Taking Flight soaring into Oscar contention, the launch pad for Shreveport, Louisiana-based Moonbot Studios is heating up.


Rethink What We Think is Normal: An Interview With ‘Dissonance’ Director Till Nowak

German-born artist and filmaker Till Nowak is a rare talent who can work across art forms and scientific disciplines, until his viewers are left disoriented and dazzled.

Consider his latest stunning short, Dissonance, which qualified for 2015 Oscar consideration thanks to wins at Aspen Shortsfest and Anima Mundi. Like its 2011 mockumentary predecessor, The Centrifuge Brain Project, Nowak describes Dissonance as a “hybrid film” that seamlessly blends live-action and CG animation/fx to create a world where humans struggle to redefine reality and experience.

Evocative of Christopher Nolan’s surreal Inception, as well as Michel Gondry’s sci-fi standout, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Dissonance’s moving story of a homeless pianist trying to reconnect to his family ends up destroying the boundary between live-action and CGI through a series of physical and psychological breakdowns.

It’s a brilliantly speculative but also quite personal exercise. After growing up in a family of artists, Nowak has become a new father himself, living now in Los Angeles and working for Marvel. Before immigrating to America, Nowak studied media design at the University of Applied Sciences in Germany, where he wrote, produced and directed the acclaimed 2005 animated short, Delivery, which scooped up awards from the American Film Institute, Annecy, and more. His equally acclaimed The Centrifuge Brain Project — starring H.R. Giger’s agent Leslie Barany as a mad scientist who designs failed theme park rides which defy logic and gravity — followed in 2011 and garnered Nowak more awards and attention.

I spoke at length with Nowak via email about art, science, film and reality reengineering.


When Will We Strive Again For the Heights of Avatar and Legend of Korra?

Here’s the good news. Fans of Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko’s action-packed yet philosophical animated shows, Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, have new DVDs and books to look forward to.

Here’s the bad news. At last report, neither of those significant talents have decided to return to cartoons. Also their studio, Nickelodeon, has basically thrown in the towel on making anything comparatively rewarding or challenging to take the place of their animated masterpieces.


Hiromasa Yonebayashi On When Marnie Was There, Being Scolded By Miyazaki, and Studio Ghibli’s Future

According to the empathetic, poetic films of director Hiromasa Yonebayashi, the sunset years of Hayao Miyazaki and Toshio Suzuki’s famed Studio Ghibli are breathtaking and bittersweet.

Yonabayashi’s latest — and perhaps last feature for the studio, and its retired/unretired legend Miyazaki — is When Marnie Was There, whose DVD/Blu-ray combo pack arrives October 6, in time for Halloween. A ghostly love story blurring the lines between psychological fragmentation and environmental redemption, When Marnie Was There’s animated adaptation of Joan G. Robinson’s mystery novel is as beautiful to watch as it is painful to feel.

Credit Yonebayashi, who also directed the The Secret World of Arrietty, another moving adaptation of a beloved British novel — both Miyazaki favorites, written by strong women, about strong women, but most importantly strong girls. The youngest director ever to helm a Studio Ghibli film, Yonebayashi has nevertheless demonstrated both skills and smarts translating coming-of-age British classics through Studio Ghibli’s distinctive palette and humanist philosophy.

I spoke with Yonebayashi via email about his films, Miyazaki’s lessons, and the brilliant past and uncertain future of their legendary studio.