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Report from Ottawa: Persepolis and Goofy


From the sublime to the ridiculous…

My laryngitis on Wednesday developed into a full fledged cold on Thursday and Friday, forcing me to to miss many screenings and events at Ottawa this year. However, I did manage to sneak out each day to attend at least one screening or panel (and the picnic) and still had a great time. Of the Competition screenings and International Showcase I attended, I didn’t see any film unworthy of showing. Either it was a great year for short films, or the selection committee really did a great job (or probably, both).

I did catch two significant 2-D films worthy of special note—Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s Persepolis and Disney Animation’s new Goofy short How To Hook Up Your Home Theater.

Persepolis – This is an important film. I’m not saying it’s a great film—or the best animated film of the year—but it’s a good film with a great story. More significantly, we in animation need it.

It’s a mostly black and white 2-D hand drawn cartoon—think Little Lulu, if Lulu grew up in Tehran during the overthrow of the Shah—and strictly for adults. It’s the antithesis of the Hollywood CG blockbuster mentality that is currently stifling creativity in animated feature films. This film’s success could help revive the idea that animated films could be drawn by hand.

It’s based on Satrapi’s own life story and her heartbreaking graphic novel, and it’s been faithfully adapted in such a way as to make palatable a tale which would perhaps be less compelling in live action. It’s both dramatic and comedic, and never dull for a moment. A must see for anyone interested in animation or current world events.

Compared to other recent foreign films, it doesn’t have the character animation and design of The Triplettes of Belleville, or the cutting edge graphics of anime, but it has something those other films don’t – a coherent storyline, told against a backdrop of contemporary life in the Middle East. France has qualified the film for an Academy Award, as its entry for Best Foreign Film. It also has a good shot as Best Animated Feature Film. I’m crossing my fingers for its nomination.

How To Hook Up Your Home Theater – They nailed it.

Unlike other recent tries at reviving Disney classic characters via new shorts (think The Prince and the Pauper or Runaway Brain), the goal of this new film was not to reivent Goofy but to recapture the spirit of the Disney shorts of the late 40s, particularly the Jack Kinney classics like Hockey Homicide or a Goofy Gymnastics. They did it. It all felt right to me.

Though the film boasts the cream of the crop of current Disney animators (Deja, Henn, Baer, Goldberg, etc.), this isn’t an animators film – it’s a director’s picture. Just as Tex Avery’s cartoons are masterfully skewed through his twisted vision, here directors Kevin Deters and Stevie Wermers-Skelton (the first woman to direct a Disney cartoon!) take control, weaving numerous contempory gag situations into a refreshingly old school cartoon structure.

The red burlap opening titles are back. Michael Giacchino provides a perfect Oliver Wallace-styled musical score, and Corey Burton narrates with intonations falling somewhere between John McLeish and Frank Graham. Certain layouts are direct lifts from Motor Mania (Goofy’s home) and How To Play Football (the football field). And there are literally dozens of gags – truly funny ones and several visual in-jokes for those looking extra hard – packed into the six and a half minute running time.

The bottom line: How To Hook Up Your Home Theater feels exactly like a contemporary 1949 Goofy cartoon – and I can’t pay it any higher compliment than that. It’s the perfect film to start the new shorts program with. A nod to the past as the studio looks to the future. I just hope the studio will promote it properly when it decides to release it later this fall.

Despite the haze I was in due to the cold medicines I was on, I understand our blogging panel went pretty well. We had a full house at the venue selected and great questions from our lovely moderator, Maral Mohammadian (Associate Producer at the NFB). Don’t let the drowsy group in the photo below fool you… it was quite a lively panel. (left to right, yours truly Jerry Beck, Jeff Hasulo, Mike Barrier and Mark Mayerson).
(a photo of four bored bloggers by Alan Cook)

  • Christopher

    I am loving the look and sounds of that Goofy cartoon. If only WB were to have followed that similar pattern when creating new Looney Tunes shorts, then maybe that would have been a different story completely.

    It’s a shame, too, that Disney can’t hold those Shorts Classes in the United Kingdom. There are hundreds of Disney fans and artists who’d probably want in on the Shorts Project as well.

  • Can’t wait to see How To Hook Up Your Home Theater.

  • Jerry, Jerry,…tsk, tsk, tsk…Saw you eating a slice of pizza yesterday…Not the best food when you have a cold. ;o)

    The two films that you mention were also my favourites. PERSEPOLIS is very engaging and smart, without being pretentious. You nailed it when you said “never dull for a moment.” The film is funny when it needs to be funny, it’s serious when it needs to be serious, melodramatic when it needs to be melodramatic, romantic when it needs to be romantic. I hope this film wins some major international awards. I was looking for it on DVD, but was told that the film had no distributor. Hope this changes very soon.

    The Goofy short was ASTONISHINGLY GOOD. I really could not believe how well-executed it was. It looks/feels like a late 1940s cartoon (despite the widescreen format). Yet, all the “modern” jokes work very, very well. The self-reflexive in-jokes are also quite funny. This is the way to go when it comes to reviving classic cartoon shorts. I was utterly impressed. Way to go Disney!!! (The room in which the film was screened in Ottawa was packed and the audience kept laughing throughout the picture).

    Another film that I really liked was Claude Cloutier’s SLEEPING BETTY (ink on paper) described as “a parody of anachronism and the absurd, starring Prince Charles, Henry VIII, an alien and a Canadian dragon.” The film got a long applause and ovations after it was screened at the Bytowne theatre. I really hope it gets some good distribution deals – definitely worth seeing.

  • Zany

    That’s surprising about the Goofy cartoon. I wonder if they will screen it before movies like the old cartoon shorts?

  • Aleksander

    Great monkey babies! That Goofy ad psyched my mind! I seriously thought it was a 1940s poster… crap! I’m super intrigued! Animation may return to its classic form after languishing in over advertised, money driven poopery! I’s excited!

  • I’ll be seeing PERSEPOLIS at the NY Film Fest in a couple of weeks, so you’ve whetted my appetite there Jerry. Thanks for risking your health to bring us these reports. ;) Hope you’re well soon!

  • Jerry, I would’ve loved to hear what you guys talked about on that bloggers panel. Any chance that they recorded it?

  • MitchK

    The Goofy short and the making-of was all so inspiring! I’m impressed that they animated it on Cintiq and yet were able to include much subtleties in the movement — they really upped the bar for digital classical animation! I wanted to talk to you about it, but you scooted off pretty fast afterwards!

    The blogging session was really great. Mike Barrier had a lot of honest and interesting things to say however, all of the responses from you guys were informative (and some, thought provoking).

    Great time in Ottawa!

    (PS: Thanks for your cold. *sniffle sniffle hack*)

  • Mike Barrier looks very…. energetic in that pic. Hard to believe.

  • Really wish I could’ve made it, especially since the new Goofy cartoon got screened. Definitely next year though!

  • Steve Gattuso

    I’m looking forward to seeing both in the very near future. Has Disney said what film it’s going to put the short in front of?

  • Inkan1969

    Good for the makers of “How to Hook Up Your Home Theater” to hear that their short went over very well. I’m curious, though. The makers of the TV series, “House of Mouse” and “Mickey MouseWorks” recently made several “How To” shorts themselves. How does this new theatrical short compare with the TV series shorts? Are there aspects in the theatrical short that are done much better compared with the TV shorts?

  • Keith Paynter

    Love the Goof! So who was the voiceover most similar to – John McLeish (“How To Swim”), or the one I can’t name (“How To Play Football”)? Was there one?

  • Hooper

    Goofy is my favorite Disney character. But I LOATHED the shorts from the late ’40s / ’50s…the ones I disdainfully refer to as: The Generic Goofy. You know…buck teeth…flesh colored neck, arms, legs and feet…no ears…EXCUSE me??! NO EARS??!! And everybody, EVERYbody was a ‘Goofy’. (shuddering at the memory) Hopefully “…Home Theater” won’t go overboard with these elements and stick to the ‘Classic Goofy’. Either way, I am VERY excited about this film, and the prospect of Disney returning to ‘2-D’ in general, and producing short films in particular!

  • Fantastic news. I want to see both films already.

  • Ward, the panel was recorded (as were all the other panels) and will be put up on the Festival’s podcast sometime soon.

  • Oh good! Thanks, Andre for that bit of info. I was wondering if and when you guys were going to get the podcasts back up and running. I really enjoyed last year’s ‘casts.

    And Hooper, while I understand your disdain for those later Goofy shorts, I think that they were still way above par for what was going on with Disney shorts at the time. Plus they had some great malicious humor in them: Goofy trying to quit smoking! Goofy as a crazy driver! Good stuff! Don’t be so shortsighted when it comes to those shorts — there’s some great comedy to be found in ’em.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    > I am loving the look and sounds of that Goofy cartoon. If only WB were to have followed that similar pattern when creating new Looney Tunes shorts, then maybe that would have been a different story completely.

    We’d be in the Neo-Golden Age by this point! :-)

    > It’s a shame, too, that Disney can’t hold those Shorts Classes in the United Kingdom. There are hundreds of Disney fans and artists who’d probably want in on the Shorts Project as well.

    It would be of rather interest that such a program should be considered if only as a great way for people to get into the industry more through a gradual process in these shorts.

    The Goofy short intrigues me as I used to enjoyed watching these growing up on TV. Seeing one in a theater would be a blessing given the limited interest I have in seeing anything much in cinemas today. As long as they market this in the best way possible, I can only hope for the best in the long run (fronting this with a Pirates of the Caribbean sequel would be a start).

    > Jerry, Jerry,…tsk, tsk, tsk…Saw you eating a slice of pizza yesterday…Not the best food when you have a cold. ;o)

    Eh, I do it all the time! I must have a sympathy cold as well since I’ve been that way for a couple days. :-)

  • Sounds like a great festival this year. Sorry I missed it.

    The two films you mentioned are two that I’m very interested in seeing.

    Looking forward to listening to the Blogger panel discussion when they get it posted to the OIAF site.

  • There was a ton of information (and a full-size poster) on the Goofy short here back in April:

  • Benjamin De Schrijver

    Gordan: it’s already won at least one major international award.

  • Chris

    I got that same damn cold!

    It was going around the whole festival!

  • Benjamin, thanks.
    In addition to those two, PERSEPOLIS actually won in the Best Feature category in Ottawa itself. :o)

  • Sheridan

    Yesterday afternoon, I went to see King of California at the Landmark in West LA, corner of Pico and Westwood–and there, in front of it, was Goofy! Lucky me!!! The girl at the ticket counter said it would only run two more days!

  • chris robinson

    Sorry guys. I had a cold BEFORE the festival so I guess I spread it around on stage.

    I feel GREAT. :)

  • K. Borcz

    I can’t believe that this is the FIRST Disney short to be directed by a woman! Really? And is there a transcript of the Q&A session available because I’d really be interested in reading it -or hearing it if there’s an audio?

  • BJ Wanlund

    “Has Disney said what film it’s going to put the short in front of?”

    Yes, Enchanted.

  • Mike R.

    Unfortunately, they are putting it before National Treasure! Which sux, cause the movie looks terrible. Regardless, I am amped about the new cartoon and hope they have the sense to try and continue the path of following the classics a bit more. There’s a real reason as to why they are still as great as ever. Good things never go out of style.

  • You go girl! The only reason I’m writing this is because I know stevie Wermers very well and she’s an incredible animator. I’m very good friends with her parents, and I only with the best of luck for Stevie in the future. If Stevie ever reads this I just want to say one thing: It’s very cold out here in Colorado and I want my jacuzzi back!

  • dave

    just saw the new goofy short on youtube. youre right, they nailed it.
    if it were actually funny, they would really have something there.