Considering the proliferation of animation on DVD, and considering that the dozens of DVDs I received for review constituted a drop in the bucket, here are my picks as best animation/anime´ DVDs of 2007.
10. The Simpsons Movie [FOX]
It’s not prime Simpsons [a la seasons 1 – 3], but The Simpsons Movie was funnier than the series has been in years. The plot, revolving around Homer’s turning Springfield into a toxic waste dump that must be contained within a giant dome – and his efforts to prevent the toxic town from being nuked by the first President to not be native born – provided a gratifying amount of visual gags, bad puns and moments of human warmth. The DVD’s two audio commentaries are also extremely good – and there a number of other worthwhile features to check out.
9. Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex: The Laughing Man/Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex: Individual Eleven [Manga Entertainment/Bandai]
The two seasons [to date] of the anime´ series, Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex each revolved around one ongoing case – The Laughing Man in series one and Individual Eleven in series two. For those who preferred these cases over the others in each series, Bandai released two two-disc sets to fill that need. In each case, all the elements of the ongoing investigation have been edited into a fast-paced narrative that plays beautifully as single adventures – if longer than the average anime´ movie. As with the series in general, each tale is smart, sly, philosophical and action-packed. The few features are barely worth mentioning, as the stories are more than gripping enough to warrant their acquisition.
8. Futurama: Bender’s Big Score [FOX]
For my money, Futurama was always a better show than The Simpsons in every way [except, possibly, animation]. Bender’s Big Score shows why. It’s a dizzying satire of time travel movies, relationship movies and so much more that its ninety minutes is packed to overflowing with intelligence, wit and Bender. The commentary is as much fun as the movie and the rest of the features are also top notch.
7. Noein, Volumes 1 – 5 [Manga Entertainment]
A surreal tale in which a middle school girl becomes the potential saviour of the world as two forces vie over something called The Dragon Torque. She may be the Torque, or it may be using her as a host. In any event, one side, the La’cryma seeks to save its alternate reality while the other, Shangri-la, seeks to destroy all of space-time. In a unique twist, one of La’cryma’s Dragon Cavalry, Karas, claims to be the girl’s best from fifteen years in the future. The story is unique; the animation is superb [especially in the design of the La’cryma and Shangri-la vessels and other technology] and the whole is an intelligent and thought-provoking series. Again, the features are nothing special, but the saga itself is more than worth investigating.
6. PIXAR Short Films Collection, Volume 1 [Buena Vista]
PIXAR, the little animation studio that could, may be eight-for-eight in producing hit movies, but they got their start as part of Lucasfilm, making shorts. This collection brings together all thirteen of PIXAR’s short films for the first time. From the first, crude, CG short, The Adventures of Andre´ and Wally B., to the most recent, incredibly sophisticated Lifted, these short films are a gallery that represents all the advances in CG technology and software over the last twenty years. They are also evidence that, even before it became a household word, the studio put story before everything else [no wonder they left Lucasfilm…]. The disc includes a documentary [The PIXAR Shorts: A Short History], and twelve of the thirteen short films has a director’s commentary [the sole exception, Jack-Jack Attack, was the one I most wanted to have a commentary – but I’ll live…].
5. The Jungle Book – 40th Anniversary Platinum Edition
The Jungle Book has always been my favourite Disney animated movie. Maybe it’s because of the music and the curiosity of Mowgli; maybe it’s because the casting is so against-the-grain yet, at the same time, absolutely perfect. The 2-D animation, needless to say, is among Disney’s best. Whatever the case, whenever I hear The Bare Necessities, I have to stop whatever I’m doing and bop right along. I can think of no other Disney cast that matches Mowgli, Baloo, King Louis, Bagheera, Shere Khan and Kaa for the combination of pure delight and undercurrent of danger. The Jungle Book may be the subtlest Disney film in its portrayal of villainy, but that makes it seem far more real. There are tons of features [it’s a two-disc set], but my favourites are the commentary [surprise!] and a look at the original take on the film – including the one song that carried over to this version].
4. Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex/SAC 2nd Gig [Manga Entertainment/Bandai]
The sets from which my number nine selections were culled, these two season sets feature the post-film adventures of the special unit known as Section 9. The Major, Batou, Togusa, Chief Aramaki and the rest of the team take on the problems that the conventional police and armed forces are not equipped to handle. In a Japan where cybernetics is gradually making it possible to have an entirely technological body in which to house one’s brain, there are all sorts of problems – not to mention philosophical debates. Does a cyborg retain a soul; can machine Artificial Intelligence generate a soul [the Tachikoma share their AI and certainly seem to exhibit sentience], and so on. When a super-hacker begins to hack into the cyber-brains of the public – or when a group of philosophical rebels called Individual Eleven stage public suicides that seem to have an unnerving effect on the public – Section 9 gets the call. Features include interviews with various behind-the-scenes personnel [the director, character designer, animation director, etc.].
3. Tekkonkinkreet [Sony]
This odd little movie features two kids, Black and White, as protagonists. The pair spend their times protecting their part of the city from interlopers – whether young punks seeking to expand their territory, or developers who want to tear down the neighbourhood to build a huge amusement park, it’s all the same to them. Until the developers start using supernaturally powerful enforcers to track them down, that is… Tekkonkinkreet is a visual delight. The colors and designs of the neighbourhood buildings and the various types of vehicles that abound are almost mesmerizing. Black and white are wholly realized characters and their friendship’s ups and downs are genuinely affecting. The animation doesn’t look like anything I’ve seen before, so it’s fresh on that front as well. Features include a director’s commentary that is excellent and a making of Featurette that is also extremely good. Note that Tekkonkinkreet is not for kids – it’s rated R for disturbing and violent images and some brief sexuality.
2. Ratatouille [PIXAR]
PIXAR made a rat – who wants to be a chef, no less – into the lead character in what has to be one of the studio’s best films. I could rave about the animation [all those rats – that’s a hella lot of hair; that deluge – way too much water!], but as brilliant as it is, the CG animation wouldn’t mean squat if the story didn’t work [see: Star Wars, Chapters 1 – 3; Happy Feet]. As we follow Remy from rural France to Paris – and thence to Gusteau’s Restaurant, we soon get over his being a rat. We cheer as he and kitchen boy Linguini work together and groan in frustration as Linguini manages to screw up a chance at romance with the lovely Colette. The plot twists are all well planned and the story works beautifully, making this PIXAR’s eighth consecutive terrific film. The features are sparser than I expected, but the film is still one of the best of the year.
1. Paprika [Sony]Paprika is a fever dream given life. There’s this machine, y’see – a machine that allows scientists to enter a subject’s dream. When it’s stolen, a brilliant detective and a fearless therapist must find it before it falls into the hands of a dream terrorist. Why? Over use of the machine has the disturbing effect of allowing dream and reality to merge! Director Satoshi Kon [Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers] loosely adapts the novel by Yasutaka Tsutusi in a manner that produces images like we’ve never seen before. An unexpected love story sneaks into our subconscious, as well, making the finale unexpectedly poignant. Features include a director’s commentary [lots of fun, and very informative], and excellent making of doc and more.