¡Rábanos Radiactivos!
... es no. 2278

Written by Fred Patten, and intended for Apa L, 2278th Distribution, LASFS Meeting No. 3726, January 8, 2009.
Golden State Colonial Convalescent Hospital, 10830 Oxnard Street, North Hollywood, California 91606-5098.
Telephone: hospital(818) 763-8247; personal (818) 506-3159 * eMail:fredpatten@earthlink.net

Anticipation in 2009! Aussiecon IV in 2010! Salamander Press #2762


Last Thursday, my sister Sherrill brought me to her apartment to watch DVDs of Annie Award-nominated 2008 animated features before the LASFS meeting. We saw Madagascar: Back 2 Africa and the first half of Waltz With Bashir before we had to leave for the meeting.

Madagascar is humorous and worth watching, but inferior to Kung Fu Panda (DreamWorks is pushing them both). Its design is a lot more stylized than Kung Fu Panda, which is still my favorite of 2008's animated features that I have seen. I felt that the subplot with Alex the lion's homecoming to his family pride was too close to The Lion King, and the movie's insistence on including every single minor character from the first movie was unnecessary.

I do not plan to watch the last half of Waltz With Bashir. I can understand why those who want to make the point that animated movies can have serious and political or socially meaningful themes as well as pure fantasy entertainment value would vote for it, or who want to honor Israel's first animated feature (in Hebrew with English subtitles). But it did not appeal to my tastes. Those who have more interest in war-stress psychology or Israeli-Arab current history may feel otherwise. It is very well made. Sherry says that a friend of hers who is Jewish and goes to all of the Holocaust and Jewish angst movies says that Waltz With Bashir was the only new movie last year worth watching, animated or live-action.

On Tuesday Sherry brought me back to her apartment to watch The Tale of Despereux, the last of the DVD screeners that I was sent for my voting consideration. (Annie Award voting starts on Monday.) Despereux feels "old-fashioned" despite being CGI in that it is the only serious fairy-tale adventure in animation that I have seen since, I don't know, The Little Mermaid. Most animated "fairy tales" of recent years have been comedy-parodies of the genre. While some have been very enjoyable, the "fractured fairy tales" approach grows tiresome after a while. I can see those who enjoy Andrew Lang's colored fairy tale collections liking Despereux's story of a brave mouse who rescues a human princess. Unfortunately, the story seems more convoluted and contrived than Disney's best fairy tales, but at least it is straight adventure without any slapstick comedy relief. I would rank it with The Last Unicorn. Also, the music is good. As far as animation technique goes, Kung Fu Panda still has my vote, but Despereux moves smoothly. What studio did this for Universal? These days, it seems that every Hollywood movie distributor has two or three brand-new computer-graphic studios around the world churning out animated features for it.

With Annie Award voting starting in less than a week, some of the nominees in other categories like Best Short Film and Best Music for an Animated TV Production have been e.mailing their works or excerpts from them to the voters. At least, I assume that I am not the only Annie Award voter who has gotten music tracks and complete six-minute films in my e.mail.

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The Internet now has up the trailer for Disney's coming G-Force. It reminds me of a live-action Bolt with an international evil criminal organization, and the cartoon dog replaced by a team of mostly guinea pig secret agents with CGI animated mouths. It looks like a James Bond movie with Bond replaced by a gang of tribbles with buck teeth. Ha-ha-ha-ha.

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In 2004 I was asked by Geneon Entertainment to write the liner notes for Geneon's American rerelease of the Akira animated movie music CD. I wrote this, but Geneon decided to release the CD without any notes. Instead this was posted on Geneon's website for a while. Here it is in print at last.

There are many outstanding motion picture composers and many brilliant sound tracks. It is almost impossible, for example, to think of George Lucas' Star Wars movies without thinking of John Williams' scores, or of Star Trek without the music of Alexander Courage (the TV series) or of Jerry Goldsmith (the first movie). Or, to go back further, of Errol Flynn's 1930s hits like Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood without the music of Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Terrific music, all of it, which undoubtedly contributed considerably to those movies' dramatic impacts and popularity.

But suppose, in some parallel universe, other composers had scored these movies. The music would have been different, but would it have been any worse? It is hard to imagine, say, that Max Steiner or Miklós Rózsa would have scored anything inferior to Korngold's stirring themes, or that Jerry Goldsmith or Peter Schickele (or Henry Mancini) would not have matched Williams' quality.

However, there are rare occasions when you can truly say that this movie had to have this particular music. The cinematic imagery and the emotion-stirring music were such a perfect blend that no other music would have worked as well.

One was the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Stanley Kubrick's decision to replace the original score which Alex North was composing for it with classical music, notably Richard Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra and Johann Strauss' The Blue Danube, was a stroke of genius. This is not to criticise the quality of North's music. His partially-completed score has been released separately, and if you have heard it, it is also fine music. But it does not have that undefinable little bit extra that Kubrick realized his classical picks would bring to his movie.

A second was Fred M. Wilcox's 1956 Forbidden Planet, with its "electronic tonalities" by Louis and Bebe Barron. The 1950s were the decade of lots of "futuristic" sci-fi music featuring the electronic theremin. But despite the intent of such composers as Bernard Herrmann to write valid music for it, the theremin never succeeded in sounding like much more than a generically "eerie" sound effect. The Barrons' score for Forbidden Planet, however, was truly electronic music, futuristic yet pleasant to listen to and perfectly matched to each scene, however much the American Federation of Musicians (the labor union that controlled Hollywood's movie music in the '50s) may have tried to deny it by requiring MGM to say that Forbidden Planet did not have any music, only tonalities.

The third, of course, is Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira with its throbbing, primal music by Geinoh Yamashirogumi; the Yamashiro Artistic Group led by Shoji Yamashiro. Otomo has said that he had the Yamashirogumi in mind from the start, and approached them even though he feared they would turn him down because they did not do movie music. Fortunately they accepted the assignment. Their taiko-like drumming and powerfully resonant masculine choral musical depiction of 21st-century Neo-Tokyo fits Otomo's technologically advanced imagery, yet ties it into a seamless Japanese cultural gestalt stretching into the indefinite past. Dynamic percussion and chanting are the most memorable aspects of Akira's score. The sparklingly metallic theme for Tetsuo created by the gamelan retains the Japanese identity, yet dramatically lifts him above his pals in Kaneda's gang and signifies his transformation into something more than human: a new identity tied by the soft chorus of women's childlike voices into the world of the wizened psionic "children of the future" -- the artificially-hastened next step in human evolution?

Sure, John Williams or Jerry Goldsmith or Danny Elfman could have written an excellent score for Akira. Their Japanese counterparts like Jo Hisaishi, Kenji Kawai, Yoko Kanno or Toshiyuki Honda might have done even better. But Akira without Geinoh Yamashirogumi ... well, it just would not have been Akira.

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