Cartoon Brew 2008 Favorites: Jerry’s Picks

Favorites of 2008? Cartoon Brew co-editor Amid certainly chose several that could have/would have made the top of my list. However, upon careful reflection, I can truthfully claim that the following alternates are not only my personal favorites of the year – but will remain favorites of mine for years to come.

ANIMATED FEATURE

As Amid pointed out, I loved Sita Sings The Blues. But, as Sita wasn’t widely released this year, nor qualified for 2008 Oscar or Annie recognition, I decided (for this post) to be swayed by traditional commercial releases. Of those, Dreamworks’ Kung Fu Panda was the most entertaining movie I saw all year. I felt the entire film, from beginning to end, worked perfectly – as an adventure, as comedy, with delightful eye candy art direction, great voice acting and wonderful character animation. The 2D opening sequence was icing on the cake. It’s Dreamworks best film and it revived my hope that Jeffery’s studio can compete aesthetically (as well as commercially) with Pixar.

TV SERIES

It’s hard to believe that both Amid and I selected shows from Adult Swim. You haven’t heard me rave about Robot Chicken on the Brew, but I’ve been quietly monitoring the show this year and have concluded its the most consistently funny animated series I’ve seen in a long time. Sure, there have been several killer episodes of The Simpsons and King of The Hill this season, but I’ve been won over by Chicken’s delightfully crude stop motion animation and equally crude humor. The two Star Wars specials were the series personal best. All of it well worth your fifteen minutes.

SHORTS

I saw a lot of shorts this year, but two really stood out. I saw Skhizein (pictured above) in Ottawa and it really blew me away. Jeremy Clapin’s 3D/2D tour-de-force about a man hit by a meteorite and finding himself existing 91 centimeters away from his own body. I’m still thinking about it. Great concept, well done.

Oktapodi was my other big favorite. Created by the students at the French animation school Gobelins, this film has everything: suspense, humor, heart, great design and a hilarious, ridiculous concept – perfect for animation.

BOOKS
Bakshi and Baby Huey

Who says print is dead? Collected wisdom in the form of books is still alive and appreciated by those (like me), who prefer to linger over dedicated research and desired images otherwise unattainable in any form. That said, my favorite reads this year were actually several non-animation pop culture references (Mark Evainer’s Kirby, King of Comics, Martin Pasko’s The DC Vault, Grace Bradley Boyd’s Hoplalong Cassidy, An American Legend, among others). But among the animation books, my favorite has to be Jon Gibson and Chris McDonnell’s Unfiltered: The Complete Ralph Bakshi. An overdue tribute and a stunning visual feast, Gibson and McDonnell deserve kudos for shedding light on Ralph’s many accomplishments, from beginning to end.

I’m also proud of my contributions to the continuing series of Harvey Comics reprints that Leslie Cabarga is compiling for Dark Horse Books. I’m particularly happy with my Introduction in the Baby Huey book featuring quotes from Martin Taras and Dave Tendlar along with several rare Herman & Katnip model sheets. Slowly but surely my master plan to bring recognition and respect to the artists of Famous Studios is coming to fruition.

DVD RELEASES
Animation dvds

What can I say? I'm biased. These three DVD sets are my favorite videos of the year. (Full disclosure: I was a consultant and active participant in their creation). If you love classic cartoon shorts, these will give you hours of viewing pleasure. I told you about them in April, July and November and I’ll say it again. In an era of declining DVD sales, your purchase of Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol. 6, Popeye Vol. 3, and Woody Woodpecker and Friends Vol. 2 do more than give hours of vintage animation goodness – they tell the studios that you want to see more.


  • Jon

    does anyone know where i can view Skhizein? thanks.

  • Sam Filstrup

    Kung Fu Panda was promising for the future of Dreamworks but the fact that they may make 5 sequels to it is depressing. Along with the fact that a future movie staring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Their first 2D movies had spectacular traditional animation it’s to bad their such a hit and miss company. Regardless of box office numbers.

  • http://blog.ninapaley.com Nina Paley

    Skhizein is a masterpiece.

  • http://elblogderg.blogspot.com Roberto

    Good choices. Thanks for the link to Oktapodi, it was really fun. This short has faster pacing and more story than most of Pixar´s shorts. It also has charm, it kinda reminded me of the Johnnie Fedora and Alice Blue Bonnett short from Make Mine Music because it’s an unusual love story.

    By the way, Jerry, I wonder what’s your opinion on Wall-E?

    I also found KFP more entertaining. I haven’t made my mind about Wall-E yet. I liked some parts. Other parts were a little…boring?

  • http://www.animationinsider.net/ Aaron H. Bynum

    Nice lists. You guys covered title sequences, books and music videos, but you didn’t really write about any commercials…

  • Chuck R.

    “the fact that they may make 5 sequels to [Kung Fu Panda] is depressing.”

    Well, if Dreamworks decides to franchise Kung Fu Panda the way WB started with Batman in 1989, we can hope that the 5th installment is as good as this:
    http://www.cinemaverdict.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/07/the_dark_knight_poster.jpg

    Toy Story 2 is proof that animated sequels CAN work IF the parent company cares enough. With the possible exception of The Incredibles, I can’t think of a movie with better prospects for a growing universe than KFP.

  • http://www.danielerossi.ca Daniele Rossi

    2008 was a great year for golden age animation DVDs! Vol 6 of the Looney Tunes is a treasure trove of rarities ans for me, cartoons I’ve enver seen or heard of. In particular The Captain cartoons- they are hilarious! I wish there were more (are there?).

    Popeye was an unexpected surprise as I was never a fan until I bought this box set. I bought it more for the documentaries as I know little of the Fleischers and I also have an interest in WW2 cartoons. Now I’m a huge Popeye fan and can’t wait to order the other discs. Popeye is so cool and the artwork and staggering amount of detail the Fleischer studio put into these cartoons… Their animators are truly the masters of character animation and physics.

    Thanks Jerry!

  • http://kambodiahotel.blogspot.com Moro

    Making zillions of sequels is a time-honored Kung Fu movie tradition…I think the longest-running movie franchise is the Wong Fei-hung series from HK, after all.
    (Although…6 does seem like kind of a lot…I’m looking forward to KFP 2 but not so much to 4 and 5.=p)

  • Siamang

    One of the reasons I liked Kung Fu Panda so much is that it *felt* like the first act in a much larger story.

    Lots of stuff was left out there a seeming intention to revisit it. Like that battle of all the armies that Po’s dream foreshadows. Or the sword of heroes just sitting there and never picked up by anyone. Or Po’s backstory… having been adopted… just like Tigress and Tai-Lung.

    I really, really want to see where they’re going with this.

    Congrats to all three Golden Globe Nominees.

    Two of which were roundly trashed, sight-unseen, by Amid. Is there any plan to revisit Cartoon Brew’s policies about trashing people’s work before actually judging the final film in context?

    Because Amid’s silence post the release of Panda speaks volumes, but not as loudly as an apology would.

  • Paul N

    I saw “Skhizein” a few weeks ago, after having heard the story concept previously. I have to admit that the story description did nothing for me, but the film itself was fantastic. I was captivated from start to finish. An excellent short.

  • tom

    Looking at your list and Amid’s list I am floored at the variety and depth of animated offerings we’ve had served to us this year. We seem in some ways to be entering a new creative golden age. From Nick Park to Superjail to Kung Fu Panda and Wall-E to Nina Paley it’s been an amazing, amazing year.

  • http://saturdaymorningcentral.com Tommy Day

    I loved Kung Fu Panda, probably less than I loved Wall-e, but I’m just glad that they both came out in the same year, from different studios. As much as I’m a Pixar fanboy, I want them to have competition from somewhere.

    I’m still wondering what Monsters vs. Aliens will be like.

  • http://dailygrail.com/blog/8389 red pill junkie

    I enjoyed Kung Fu Panda immensely, and am very excited with the “Tale of the Furious Five” upcoming release, that apparently is going to let us enjoy more of the things we saw in the original opening credits—in fact, I’m actually surprised it hasn’t been mentioned yet here in the Brew!

  • EastCoast

    Kung Fu Panda?
    I can only assume you have yet to see WALL-E.
    Tsk, tsk.

  • http://louromano.blogspot.com/ Lou

    I’m not concerned about future Panda sequels. JAWS spawned three sequels yet the original JAWS is really the only film to remain in the popular consciousness, because it’s a great film. I hope Kung Fu Panda sweeps this year’s Annies and Oscars. I found it more entertaining than WALL-E and in terms of design, it is hands down the boldest looking animated feature released this year, period. WALL-E is impressive but the Kung Fu design is truly inspired. Surely the best looking movie to come out of Dreamworks. I hope it at least sweeps in the design categories. In this case, I think Pixar can take a lesson from Dreamworks. Kung Fu Panda is a great CG “cartoon”, with design that is caricatured, appealing and not limited by photo-realism. Kudos to the Panda crew. Having worked on Incredibles, I know that trying something different can be a huge challenge. I don’t know how you guys did it. But you raised the bar.

  • zavkram

    That “Flintstones” parody on “Robot Chicken” had me in stitches!

  • http://elblogderg.blogspot.com Roberto

    I totally agree with Lou. Wow, is he really Lou Romano? You’d tell he’d be a little more biased considering his work in The Incredibles. It’s actually admirable that he’s not.

    I have to rewatch Kung Fu Panda but I think there was also a certain off-model look in certain sequences, or at least a less limited range of expresions than we normally see in other 3d movies. Even in Pixar’s cartoonier stuff it seems that the characters don’t change their faces that much.

    This and Horton certainly seemed more cartoony than most other 3d movies. But Horton sucks in the story department.

    Things like “Presto” or “Madagascar” look less cartoony to me, even though their designs seem cartoony I don’t see so much changes in their faces. The Incredibles did show a big evolution in this but all 3d movies seem very similar to me since then, while KFP really looked different.

  • James

    Kung Fu Panda was entertaining and all for sure, but the story was rehash and too simple and predictable. Also, too many of the secondary characters were wrongly voicecast and pointless (Jolie and Cross? just weird). I’ve forgotten about most of it by now. That said, the 2D was AMAZING. I could of watched that all day. I personally thought Bolt was much funnier, had a tighter story, and much more pathos. Of course, none of these hold a candle to Wall-e for originality and pure film making. Wall-e will be remembered and studied and the others will be enjoyed as pop entertainment from 2008 (not a bad thing, but not at the same level). We’re dealing with different beasts all together, though, so it is hard to compare. It’s classic film making vs. pop entertainment and both have their place.

  • ST

    Yeah, WallE has to be the best animated feature based on originality alone. Kung Fu Panda was good no doubt but man that subject matter is tired already.

  • Fred Cline

    Oktapodi is astoundingly good and it’s not just the visuals. It has a good concept, staging, timing, etc. Other films from Gobelins are impressive as well. American animation students have a good reason to travel abroad!

  • http://elblogderg.blogspot.com Roberto

    >> I personally thought Bolt was much funnier, had a tighter story, and much more pathos. >>

    Agreed about the tighter story. But having more pathos doesn’t make it that much better in my book. It was a little too sappy, which it’s ok for kids but it makes it a little boring for me on second viewing (yep, I actually watched it twice, cause I wanted to compare the dubbed version and the original version). I found it very entertaining the first time, though.

    Also, the story was tighter but it wasn’t very original either. It had all the Lasseter trademarks. We had already seen most of them.

    I thought Mittens was very funny. She was great and the voice work was amazing. Rhino had a couple of good gags, and he’s cute, but he’s not extremely funny. The pidgeons were just ok.

    Bolt is funny in a cute way, KFP is funny in a jokey way, but I think I found KFP a little funnier overall.

    I have only watched KFP dubbed in spanish, so I don’t know about the voice acting but I thought Jolie’s character was ok. The simplistic story didn’t bother me too much except for the thing with the parchment. That’s the feather in Dumbo, and the magic water in Space Jam. It’s a huge cliche. The rest of the story is also typical, but it works.

    “Wall-E” has the most original story, no doubt, but I’m maybe more a fan of the cartooni-er stuff. The narrative, especially in the second half…it was a little more like 2001 instead of regular narrative. “2001″ is a masterpiece allright…but if we are sincere it is also a little boring. And I wouldn’t consider “Wall-E” as revolutionary as “2001″ was in its day.

    I did love the first 30 minutes, it was good to see some silent cinema again. And the isolated Earth was a more interesting scenario than the spaceship. But even there it was a bit too photo-realistic for my taste. Anyway, I found this silent part a lot more amusing than the second half. Which is odd cause I believe the second half tries to include more action and dialogue to make it more entertaining for general audiences, but it totally failed for me. I yawned a couple of times in that second part. Maybe I’ll change my mind on a second viewing…

  • Mr. Semaj

    Robot Chicken is hit-or-miss for me. On its best days, it can churn out some terribly funny stuff.

  • KNSat

    I’m glad that people were happy seeing Kung Fu Panda, but for myself I thought it was little more than sumptuous eye candy. What bothered me most was how shallow the story was. THe idea of using animals to be experts at animal-related kung fu was an inspired idea, but they didn’t do much with it beyond the obvious. You basically could have eliminated 2/3 of the main characters and the plot wouldn’t have changed significantly. It just left me completely underwhelmed. Plus I didn’t find it funny either. Maybe if they put more money into the plot instead of into hiring the biggest names, I would have liked it more. But what do I know – it was a big hit in China, too.

  • Sean

    I loved Kung Fu Panda, but my favourite of the year has to be Ponyo On A Cliff By The Sea. I got to see it at the Cinekid Festival in Amsterdam a couple of months ago. Really awesomely beautiful 2D animation.

  • JEFF GORDON

    You were a consultant ?? Well, the POPEYE and Woody Woodpecker sets were done right – Now how about doing the Warner Bros. cartoons right too for a change ???? How about a Porky Pig BOX SET LIKE THE POPEYES, CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER, EVERY CARTOON, UNCUT, ETC. Same with Bugs bunny, Daffy Duck, etc. Even better still, RE-DO THE LOONEY TUNES BOX SETS PUTTING EVERYTHING IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER AND I MEAN EVERYTHING !!!!!!!!!!.

  • http://willfinn.blogspot.com/ Will Finn

    OCTAPODI is wonderful. A real classic, one of the best shorts i’ve seen in a long time.

    Thanks for the link and congrats to the students and instructors at the mighty fine school of Gobelins.

  • http://trnorton.com Tennessee

    Thanks Jerry so much for the shout out to Robot Chicken. At the Machine we churn out a mind blowing average of 10 seconds per day – PER ANIMATOR. And we RARELY if ever have a re-shoot. Its 99% always the first take that hits the airwaves – try that on for size CGI !!!

    And we have evolved a consistant style of some rather clever animation of modified action figures. Everyone from the fabrication, set & props, camera & lighting, writing, direction, editing & effects and animation to production bust their butts to create a new episode a week.

    We were very proud to have ‘Robot Chicken Star Wars Episode Two’ be the highest rated show that Cartoon Network has ever aired.

    We will likely always be considered the crazy step children of animation best kept locked in the basement or attic to the rest of the Animation World … but we are fine with that as long as we got a Smoke and a BREW ! …and a few ANNIES and EMMYS haven’t been so bad either…

  • http://www.mynameispj.com PJ

    I’m 100% with James on this one.

    Kung-Fu Panda was great to look at, but its story was dead in the water. I didn’t care about any of the characters, and most of them were completely insignificant. The movie looked absolutely great and of course the opening sequence was without a doubt the best part. It was funny, it was fun to watch, I enjoyed the over-the-top action sequences, but when it was over I almost completely forgot about it. The story just wasn’t there, and to me that’s the single most important thing, especially in an animated film where the storytellers aren’t constrained by reality.

    I guess to me story’s the most important part in an animated film–in any film, really–which is why IMO WALL-E is hands-down the winner here. Story supersedes design and visual qualities (although I thought WALL-E had those in spades as well, myself–just the fact that they managed to make a character that looks like WALL-E so endearing is massively impressive in the character design department) and WALL-E’s story was fantastic and original. I cared about the characters and their dilemma, I believed the romance between the two main characters (impressive considering they were robots and couldn’t say much aside from their own names) and was surprised at where the film took me, none of which was the case with KFP (although to KFP’s credit they omitted a romance sub-plot, which I was glad to see).

    Overall, I think KFP had much better design qualities and accomplished more aesthetically, but as a film I think WALL-E has a much better story and is much stronger and more significant for animation in general. I talked to lots of “normal people” friends of mine who are parents and got dragged to both films, and their responses to each were almost the same across the board–KFP was “cute,” whereas WALL-E was “actually a really good movie, not just a cartoon.”

  • Pez

    Any one know why Horton is not up for best animated feature. I thought as an animator they pushed design and expression and individualized acting a lot further than Panda did. I liked Panda but I thought Horton brought more 2-D principles to 3-D.

  • Frank

    Sorry, Kung Fu Panda looked nice but the story was uninteresting, boring and very predictable. It also didn’t make me care one bit for the characters in the film. As long as Dreamworks keeps making ‘funny’ animal stories with ‘big’ voice actors and lame jokes, no matter how much money they make, they’ll always play second fiddle to Pixar.