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Animated Criticism: An Orphaned Deer and a Pig in a Plane

Welcome to Animated Criticism, a column that will examine and summarize critical reactions to recent animated releases across the press and Internet world.

The big American release of the week (coming out today): the Bambi Platinum Edition. The Washington Post loves the release, calling the remastered visuals “as lovely as a sunny, spring day.” If you don’t believe them you can read the New York Times review, which goes into detail about the complex and carefully tempered restoration process. Canada’s National Post is also “twitterpated,” going so far as to say, “For most youngsters in the western world, this is their first confrontation with the concept of mortality.” If that isn’t a reason to pick it up, I don’t know what is. The WP also raves about the 53-minute making-of extra as “the best feature on the DVD.” If only the next films on the docket had received such loving care from Buena Vista.

Those films are, of course, the latest Ghibli releases: The Cat Returns, Porco Rosso, and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, all three of which came out last week. The mainstream press mostly gives them the blurb treatment, although both Times do run more substantial articles. The release that has fans most excited is Nausicaa, but the surprise hit among critics appears to be Porco. The New York Times highlights it, calling it “a personal fantasy filled with glowing poetic asides that holds the greatest interest for adults [of the three].” The NYT even sides with me in my preferences for subtitles: “A film imagined in Japanese should be heard in Japanese.” I’m sure you’re all stunned.

Filmcritic.com also favors Porco, calling it “one of [Miyazaki's] most delightful — and socially important — works.”

The Cat Returns, made at Ghibli but directed by Hiroyuki Morita, is “the most intriguing” of the three, says the Globe and Mail. It “has a softer look than Miyazaki’s — more pastels, an airier feel to the drawings — and Haru, a 17-year-old schoolgirl, is a more tentative character than Miyazaki’s heroines.”

Though the LA Times does not review the discs, they do have an article on anime’s creative drought that contains a hilarious characterization of Miyazaki as a repressed old man who really just wants to kill everyone.

“I think inside his head Miyazaki wants to destroy Japan…but even though he knows his generation has created a nasty society, he has this hope that children will make a better world. So he makes movies that families and the children can enjoy. And it won’t change until he makes the movies he really wants to make: bloody works; lots of bloodshed.”

The source of this description? Unsurprisingly, Miyazaki’s compatriot and competitor, Mamoru Oshii. As otherworldly as it sounds, though, Oshii could have a point. Miyazaki’s most mature film by far from a filmmaking standpoint, Princess Mononoke, was also by far his bloodiest.

The Dallas Morning News has another non-review of the sets, and they quote one mother who said, “I lived through Pokémon. And with the last Yu-Gi-Oh! movie – I was gritting my teeth… It’s wonderful to have something all of us can watch together.” Amen.

The specialty press (including Toon Zone) is behind on their reviews, which I can’t imagine has anything to do with Disney ignoring screener requests. In their review of Nausicaa, AnimeOnDVD shows off their latest innovation: Beveridgese. “I know full well that Nausicaa is a movie that I could never properly convey the fascination I have for, not to take its essentially simple story and describe what works so well with it without spoiling so much of it.” Whatever you say, Chris.

AoD gives The Cat Returns an only-slightly-better than lukewarm review, warning potential buyers about quasi-dubtitles and a dub that adds lines.

In the non-Ghibli anime world, Takashi Nakamura’s Tree of Palme, currently making its festival rounds in preparation for a Mar. 8 DVD release, has earned the San Francisco Chronicle’s dislike: “[Palme is] standard-issue anime for fans only.” The Austin Chronicle obviously buys into the film a bit more, calling it “a heady, dense metaphor for everything from the struggle for self-knowledge and personal growth to the aging process” and ascribing to it “gorgeous, dreamlike imagery” as well as “enough cinematic allusions and philosophical meditations to give all of the robots in A.I. a run for their money.”

Ben Applegate, a.k.a. “Twage,” is Toon Zone’s senior editor for reviews.

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