Walt Disney Animation Studios have been doing some extremely impressive work over the past few years with Big Hero 6 being my favourite film of theirs in recent times. The animation looks great, it contains a refreshingly diverse cast of characters and it contains just the right mix of pathos, humour and excitement. It doesn’t contain any naturally gifted or Chosen One characters, as instead the young heroes are all intelligent and studious who use science to solve problems. It also warns against the destructiveness of pursuing vengeance rather than justice with its story of a 14-year-old boy who enlists the help of a healthcare robot to uncover the truth behind a personal tragedy. While attempting to teach the robot humanity, the boy himself learns what it means to be human, and along with the villain effectively being a shape-changing robot, this makes Big Hero 6 a family-friendly variation of Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
The other terrific family film for this month is Paddington, which is filled with charm, and child-friendly sight gags and word play. It’s a gorgeously designed film that blends together director Paul King’s comedic avant-garde style with some pleasing nods to Wes Anderson and Jacques Tati. Best of all, the tale of a marmalade-loving bear who has lost his home in darkest Peru and seeks somewhere new to live in London, very successfully conveys timely messages about the harm of racism, the inhumanity of turning away those who seek help and the true meaning of family – all just in time for Christmas!
Combining the hip spirit of 1960s Iranian New Wave cinema as well as the equally hip spirit of 1990s American independent cinema (in particular channelling the likes of Jim Jarmusch and Hal Hartley), Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is an ultra cool vampire film, which for good measure is also inspired by spaghetti westerns. If nothing else it is remarkable that a film that is bursting with so many references to so many other films should come across as having such a distinctive voice of its own, but it does and that voice is subversive, smart and stylish, announcing Amirpour as an exciting new talent to have emerged this year.
It’s been over a year since I’ve seen Ari Folman’s The Congress and while I’m not sure what I may make of it watching it now, I thought it still worth mentioning since it’s a film that has stayed with me. Blending live action and animation, it stars Robin Wright playing a version of herself who sells her digital-self to a Hollywood studio and then later enters an animated dream-world. It’s a perplexing and disorientating film that touches on ideas concerning memory, identity, reality and authenticity. The early-20th century-style animation used throughout the middle section of the film is realised on a grand and spectacular scale, and the overall strange and melancholic tone of the film is haunting. The Congress is admittedly a mess of a film, but it’s a glorious mess.