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Feature Film

“Beowulf” Blitzer


Two animated films led the U.S. Box office this weekend: Beowulf came in first place, and Bee Movie is holding strong in second postition.

I reluctantly concede that Beowulf is to be forever classified as an animated feature. In my book and my online listing I’ve counted prior rotoscoped films like Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings, American Pop and Fire & Ice, or Linklaters’ Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly as the animated films they rightfully are; I even include partials like Who Framed Roger Rabbit and The Adventures Of Rocky & Bullwinkle, so I guess I have to yield a place for Robert Zemeckis’ latest foray into what he calls “performance capture”.

I bit the bullet and paid to see Beowulf (in 3D) over the weekend so I could join the discussion and speak from authority. I won’t formally review the film, but if you haven’t seen it yet, don’t bother. It’s just as ugly as the trailers make it out to be. Mark Mayerson nails all the problems with the movie on his blog. But what disturbs me, even more than Zemeckis’ misguided embrace of the motion capture technology, is the press and Hollywood pundits who are eating up the b.s. publicity surrounding the “performance capture” technique, making this picture out to be the next revolution in movie making.

The kool-aid drinking Steve Mason at industry watchdog Fantasy Moguls.com proclaims “Beowulf is likely the future of the film business…”. He and several others who have been fawning over this film don’t even know what they are looking at. Far from being the future, Beowulf is a leap backwards into Gulliver’s Travels (1939) terrain (if only it were half as entertaining as the Fleischer film).

To cleanse my palate, I went to ASIFA-Hollywood’s Raggedy Ann and Andy reunion at the AFI on Saturday, and had a great time re-watching a 35mm CinemaScope print of the 2-D hand drawn film (I hadn’t seen it in over decade). The best part was listening to the panel of animators (most of whom were only assistants at the time – 30 years ago) who held a grand on-stage reunion to discuss the craziness of making the film. The movie itself is a mad mess of Broadway showtunes and Williams artistic excess, but watching it again on the big screen (especially following Beowulf) was rather pleasurable – especially for the moments animated by Grim Natwick, Emery Hawkins, Art Babbit, Gerry Chiniquy and Tissa David.

For all it’s flaws (and it had plenty), Raggedy Ann and Andy contained more imagination, creativity and heart than Beowulf could ever hope to.

Above: Raggedy Ann animators at the reunion included, from top left, Lou Scarborough, Carol Millican, John Kimball, Alyssa Meyerson, Russell Callabrese, Sue Kroyer, Tom Sito, Dave Block and Kevin Petrilak. Front and center, Eric Goldberg. (Photo by Art Binninger)