New York International Children’s Film Festival 2011

The New York International Children’s Film Festival is one of the many things that makes me happy I live in NYC. Truth be told I’d probably see all the films if I had the means. Normally, I’d make sure to see all the anime on the list but I just couldn’t bring myself to watch Welcome to the Space Show again, sorry! So instead we opted for some more international flare.

This year our sampling of the New York International Children’s Film Festival is truly an international experience. While there was an outstanding anime in the lineup, two-thirds of our selections were from non-Japanese animated features. We took in a French film as well as one from China. While a single film is hardly a full representation of the animated output of their respective countries it is still a fun thought experiment to compare and contrast them.

Time of Eve, while not new to me, was still a high priority. Not only did I love the ONA but I wanted to support the title in the hopes of seeing more from its creators or more specifically a continuation to Time of Eve itself. It also helped that the movie has an extra 15-minutes of footage. Time of Eve explores the relationship between human and robot when the lines start to blur. Titles that tackle this subject are about realizing your own humanity and acknowledging it around you, in Time of Eve we explore it through two teens, Rikuo and Masaki. The series is just as engaging a second time around with thoughtful amounts of drama, comedy, and questions. The additions to film are learning just a bit more about a couple of characters, but both of these additions just make you wish the series would go on to tells us their stories further. Like any true movie go-er should, watch through the credits as the stills actually tell you a new story and there is a scene after as well.

We went into the Time of Eve having seen a majority of the movie and knowing it was very good. If you are curious about the ONA series you can check out our review of it or watch it yourself on Crunchyroll. The question on our minds was what was added when they turned the series into a movie. It turns out they added a few new scenes which are mainly used to stitch the 6 episodes together while providing some major insights into the characters and world of the Time of Eve. The major benefit is the Ethics Committee is always being prominently mentioned from the beginning of the movie so they don’t move to the forefront only in the last episode like in the original. The extremely mysterious Setoro also gets a good deal more fleshing out while still retaining his enigmatic nature. They also make the origins of Nagi and the cafe a bit more obvious with a completely new epilogue during the credits. The movie itself is worth a watch for original fans of the show just for those revelations alone. While the movie does make a few things clearer it does introduce some new characters and questions and in doing so is practically begging for a second season. I truly hope that this movie is able to raise the interest and capital to make more of this wonderful science fiction series.

Dreams of Jinsha is one of those films where at first I question my cynicism, but then realize that no, I haven’t lost my ability to enjoy children’s films, Dreams of Jinsha is just not good. Xiao Long has an amulet from the ancient kingdom of Jinsha. Xiao’s pet dog leads him to the kingdom one night where he meets a princess and is told of a prophecy involving the amulet and destruction of the land. That’s all well and good, but the scenes feel disconnected from one another and you never feel invested in the characters or outcome. The story is flat so things like motivation, urgency, and explanations are either nonsense or never touched upon. Even the dialogue was tedious. I am not a stickler for animation, I’m rather forgiving, but when everything else is bad you give me no choice but to look at the quality of animation being presented. Dreams of Jinsha doesn’t even succeed on this level as most of the moving shots are very cheap or off model, and they pop out against the background too much. I’m not sure why this was Oscar-shortlisted in the least.

Every moment I enjoyed in Time of Eve was karmically balanced out by moments of suffer while watching Dreams of Jinsha. I can’t point to any single glaring flaw with Dreams of Jinsha because the movie is just a long string of flaws that only gives you relief when it is finally over. If there is something to complain about with an animated feature you will find an example of that in this movie. The animation was clearly done on the cheap with Flash varying from competent to horrible but it always has a lackluster quality to it. Some of the static backgrounds were very well done but anything in motion was shoddy. The storyline was muddled. It jumped from plot point to plot point with only the bare minimum of connecting threads. I know that no one likes characters who sole purpose is to provide exposition but some explanation would have been greatly appropriated. The funny thing is there are two major exposition characters in the movie, a minister and a spirit elephant. The problem is what little information they give the audience is there to link together scenes that would utterly make no sense without them. Also the characters are so flat that Takashi Murakami would blush. They are either unappealing or boring and often do things for no adequately explained reason. At one point the general goes into the woods trying to kill an energy spirit for no reason that I could remember despite being warned that it could have grave repercussions. The pacing and direction is equally bad. I felt myself nodding off in the middle of the film when they are spinning their wheels before things start to go wrong. Also the director loved to have something happen and then jump to a reaction shot all the time. For some reason it made everything seem really artificial. I get the sense they were trying to mix the appeal of a Disney musical with epic story of a Studio Ghibli film but did not understand why either of those types of films were so good. I would hate to think that this is China’s best foot forward in the medium of animation because it is quite a misstep indeed.

A Cat in Paris graced the front of the brochure and booklet for the festival with good reason, it was delightful. Dino a cat is Zoe’s pet by day and Nico the thief’s assistant by night. Both worlds coming crashing together one evening when little Zoe follows Dino and overhears a plot against her mother by some dangerous gangsters. I’m a total sucker for thieves, and in this film Nico and Dino become the redeemed heroes as they take on rescuing Zoe. The style in the film really sells it and is able to capture personality for the characters without dialogue. This is most notable in how Nico slinks around the roof tops or how Victor stomps everywhere. A good portion of the movie is chase scenes which are thrilling as Paris sweeps by in the background. I also was impressed with the blackout scene’s solution to show us what the characters were up to despite not having light. The dub used a British cast to excellent effect allowing it to maintain its European feel. The plot is simple as are the characters, it is the execution that makes A Cat in Paris highly entertaining.

A Cat in Paris is just a plain fun kids movie. The art is very stylized in a way that made it stand out. It has a very angular look that makes the film look like animated pieces of art. It might turn some people off but I think it adds to the mood and gives it an almost storybook feel. When Nico the thief sneaks around as a cat bugler he has an extremely fluid motion almost like he was made of quicksilver. Other than Dino everyone else has their own characteristic trot but seems more weighted down by gravity. The plot sometimes relies on coincidence but it is never insulting or silly. The coincidences also make sure the story is always moving forward which is vital. There is always a good mix of action to with capers, fist fights, chase scenes, and daring rescues. You know it was French film because if it was an American film they would have mentioned that Nico was skilled in parkour at least 5 times before the end. It is a great movie to watch with your kids, younger relatives, or just for some light watching on your own.

If you can’t make it to any of the short film screenings, never fear since they usually show a short before the longer films. My favorite of them was Rubika where, as the film description says, there is “fancy gravity.” We see one poor citizen get thrown off and then it gets wild and wondrous. As you can see in the shot the designs are kind of like LEGO people, but the title of the film should give you a hint to the big reveal of what is causing the gravity changes. The two others Ormie and Don’t Go were funny in their own ways though perhaps a mite too long.

Before all the movies at the festival there is usually at least one short animated film and this year was no exception. Rubika was an innovative French short about a man whole lives a world that looks like Minecraft and finds gravity has gone berserk for him when he tries to save a woman falling sideways. His adventure falling through the city works well as a short giving it just enough time to show the nifty premise of the animation but not enough to wear out its welcome. Ormie was a CG Canadian short about a luckless pig trying to get a jar of cookies from on top of a refrigerator. It is a much more of a standard comedy cartoon with the pig’s Wile E. Coyote style attempts top get his snack. It has a Pixar feel but was not a good as a great Pixar short. But what is? Don’t Go was the last short we saw in the festival and it was from Turkey. It was mainly a live action movie with an animated character inserted in like Who Framed Roger Rabbit. There is a real black house cat who chases a CG bunny creature around his owner’s apartment. I think it was supposed to be they story of what do cats chase when it looks like they are chasing after nothing. It is an interesting little short if a bit simple.

Since I already knew Time of Eve was fantastic, the big winners for me this year are both from France, A Cat in Paris and Rubika. This is really my only chance to see these films so I have to stress how great NYICFF and the events they put on throughout the year. Another successful year and am already looking for to the 2012 festival.

I think the troubadour Meat Loaf summed up my feelings on the movies we saw at the New York International Children’s Film Festival very well. The Time of Eve was the most mature film, A Cat in Paris was the best kids movie, and Dreams of Jinsha was just an example of what not to do. Our only regret was that The Borrower Arrietty was not a part of the lineup but maybe next year our wish will be granted.  The film festival is always a wonderful sample of animation from around the world and I look forward to seeing what they get next year.

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