Well, Iâ€™m sure glad I was able to keep this 10 part series right on schedule. It was one year ago today that I first posted an entry in this series, which was also two parts at once, and thatâ€™s how itâ€™s going out as this match between two of the most important figures in animation comes to a close.
As many probably predicted, Hayao Miyazaki had been dominating the bulk of this match when we left off all the way back in December. Granted, there have been a few Bluth bright spots over the months but hardly enough to say heâ€™s holding his own. Still, he put a major chink in Miyazakiâ€™s impending victory when I found his All Dogs Go To HeavenÂ the best of the sixteen movies reviewed in this series to date (though itâ€™s safe to say that some readers did not agree). There have never been any guarantees in these matches, and considering that these final entries show both careers â€“ now in their twilight days â€“Â venturing out in new directions, itâ€™s truer now than ever.
Anastasia and Titan A.E.
Spirited Away and Howlâ€™s Moving Castle
New, Familiar, and Always Audacious
Anastasia: Like Bluthâ€™s earlier Thumbelina, Anastasia takes some blows from film enthusiasts for being a knockoff of Disney. (Not of any film in particular, that is, just a â€œDisneyâ€ knockoff.) On the other hand, viewers not in either of those categories usually assume it that is a Disney movie. And they remember it in the same fond light as their other childhood favorites.
The movie, like many before it, explores the legend of the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna – that she survived the execution of the imperial family – using history to create a musical fantasy based around the idea of â€œwhat if?â€ (The creators freely explained this before the movieâ€™s release, but many still feel the need to share their vast knowledge and inform us that the story of a miraculous conspiracy involving amnesia, an immortal and vengeful mystic, con men, servants of the dark arts made of green magical energy, and a talking white bat is altogether â€“ brace yourself for this one â€“ not historically accurate.) What puts the story on par with Disney, where most people are able to tell the difference with Thumbelina, is the way the movie explores and brings out the potential of each aspect. After four movies of modest, unspectacular ambition and storytelling, Bluth returns here at full force, giving us an adventure with strong characters and engaging dilemmas.
The movie has some freedom to choose how, exactly, Anastasia escaped and went missing for several years, as one of the details essential to the legend is that she was not where history says she was. The result is the amnesiac young woman named Anya, who turns down a job in a fishing village to journey to Paris, where her one remaining family keepsake directs her. The characterâ€™s design puts her right in line with the many â€œprincessâ€ characters filling up fantasies and fairy tales â€“ inside of Disney and out â€“ but the filmmakers do manage to give her some distinct characterization that seems to take into account the mischievous and humorous personality attributed to the historical figure. Anya has the same fiery resilience as many of the modern princesses, but sheâ€™s simultaneously rougher around the edges â€“ a bit cynical and sarcastic â€“ and more vulnerable, more sensitive. You get the sense that sheâ€™s picked some genuine heartache over the years.
Her trip to Paris with two con men hoping to pass her off to her grandmother as the real Anastasia (creating the storyâ€™s most noted angle of having Anastasia be a fraud who isnâ€™t a fraud at all) packs its share of adventure, especially when theyâ€™re pursued by the infamous Rasputin. The â€œmad monkâ€ is reimagined here as a decent villain, living in seclusion after sealing the doom of the imperial family â€“ save for one. Having sold his soul to complete the curse, he vengefully sics his dark creatures on Anastasia and her friends, indifferent as his rotting limbs fall off and are screwed back on. (From what history has recorded, he may or may not be the most unfairly represented figure in this movie, but Iâ€™m prepared to say that Antonio Salieri is higher up on the list of historical figures owed an apology by modern filmmakers.)
The movie was a fitting comeback for Bluth and co., as their move to Fox Animation Studios seemingly provided them with the time, the energy, the improved songwriting, and the appealing new art style (despite some awkward CGI intergration) that they needed to make a grand, layered, and fresh new movie. Anastasia has heart, style, excitement, and even a few particularly gentle and delicate moments, such as the gradual redemption of lead con artist and love interest Dimitri and the reunion between Anastasia and her grandmother. Empress Maria Feodorovna, whose desires are given weight of their own in this interpretation, was never able to publicly accept the deaths of her child and grandchildren before her own passing in 1928, by which point her son in law had commented that she was â€œready to meet her Creator.â€ Anastasia, it could be said, pays a kind of tribute to more than one lost soul.
(Note: Those who would still say that every aspect of this type of story exclusively belongs to and should only be made by Disneyâ€™s brand should see the movieâ€™s real inspiration: the 1956 movie of the same name.)
Final score: 8/10
Titan A.E.: â€œChildren can handle just about anything as long as you attach a happy ending.â€ â€“ Don Bluth
The first thing that came to mind upon reading that quote was the trailer to Titan A.E., which seemed to be a direct test for the philosophy. The first thing that happens is the destruction of planet earth and â€“ presumably â€“ most of the human race. Being in the fourth grade when I saw it, it seemed a little heavier than the movies I was looking to see at the time. But at the same time, this was such a massive conflict that I was still sort of tempted to see the movie, just to see how it was resolved. In the end, I opted not to, which is a shame, because I probably would have loved it. The movie is upbeat, action-packed, visually awesome, and mostly triumphant. Today, having finally caught up with it after discovering my admiration for Don Bluth, I do like it, but it doesnâ€™t dig as deep as it could.
In 3028 A.D., the human race discovers a new level of technology that they name “The Titan Project.” But the capabilities are such that an alien race formed from pure energy known as the Drej invade and destroy the earth, sheerly for the sake of their own survival. Humanity does have one remaining hope, however, as the mysterious Titan Project is shipped away from earth and hidden in space just in time. Fifteen years later, the son of the Titanâ€™s creator, 19 year old Cale Tucker, works as a janitor of sorts â€“ whose job includes everything from rags to chainsaws with laser(?) blades â€“ and doesnâ€™t know that he is the only chance to access the map to the Titanâ€™s location. He soon learns the hard way, however, and quickly ends up joining a crew in a race against the Drej to find it.
To be sure, there are some interesting relationships among the crew, including a man who knew Caleâ€™s father and a love interest, who collects old memorabilia of earth. Where the movie disappoints is the way it doesnâ€™t dig especially deep into any of them, or the implications they must be dealing with as the last of the human race, as well as its last chance for survival. Itâ€™s not so much that anyone is inherently shallow, not at all, but that the movie makes few efforts to take them to the next level of development, putting most of its focus on the action and the adventure. From that angle, the movie has above-average action and superior visuals, with the intelligence and depth it does show thrown in as a bonus. The problem isnâ€™t even what plotting we do get, which is solid and serviceable enough. But the storyâ€™s outline is so substantial that a movie like this almost isnâ€™t enough to acceptably convey it. Almost.
As is, we only find ourselves wishing for more substance when the movie slows down in attempt to deliver it, so sit back and enjoy the ride. The movie delivers fun moments one after another, as well as a few great ones, including a chase through a field of ice rings, the final showdown with the Drej, and an encounter with â€œan intelligent guard,â€ something truly unusual for such a movie. And though I harped on it for being shallow, I should keep this in proportion; in the areas where the movie isnâ€™t great, it is passable, and by the end, I was invested in Cale and his friends as they raced to save their race. As for those of you getting caught up in the science that may or may not hold water in the movie, I can only advise that you learn to see the forest through the trees.
Final score: 7.5/10
Next time, Miyazaki will counter with two of his most recent movies as director, one his biggest success and one his most polarizing feature, bringing this series to a close once and for all.