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Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Illusionist: The Magic of Animation isn't Dead

Hello dear readers (all three of you). I have returned from the netherworld in which we call reality. I am hear to give you a review of the darling of the animation world, The Illusionist. I have heard plenty of good reviews, and some bad reviews. I decided to check it out myself. I went to the only theatre in Seattle that was showing it, paid my fare, and went in. I have to say this: I LOVED it!

This movie was magic to me. It has reaffirmed my love for animation, and given me new hope for the medium.

Synopsis: An aging magician is at the end of his career. Constantly playing smaller and smaller venues, he plays at a pub in rural Scotland. There he meets a young girl, who is astonished by his illusions as he bestows gifts to her. She joins him as he travels to Edinburgh, where he takes up more and more menial jobs just to support the girl's illusions.

Okay, to start off, the animation and visual style of this movie are wonderful. It is only once or twice that the animation dropped in quality, becoming very choppy and TV-like. I chalk that up to the film's status as a foreign co-production. It's hard to keep track of quality when so many animation studios are involved. However, these are minute quibbles. For the most part, the animation was astounding. While it was not overly cartoony, it does convey the emotion and attitudes of the character. Each one had their own way of walking, body language that gave them an individual identity. That is always a plus for me.

This has led me to a greater understanding of animation. I think I am truly beginning to understand the use of caricature in the artform. Caricature allows the artists to get at the heart of a character's psyche. Perhaps that is why many animated films are done with a more simplified storyline. It allows the animators to utilize that tool to express characterization. That kind of simplicity truly works for this film. It is not overtly complex in its plot, but it doesn't need to be. It's about the characters and the world they live in.

However, underneath that simplicity lies a rich emotional core. The film is all about magic and illusions. For starters, the protagonist is a magician. There are other performers/illusionists in this film, like a ventriloquist and a clown. Throughout the film, the film exposes the lie and blatantly comes out to say, "Magic does not exist." That adds a double meaning, especially since the film is an animated one. I will say that there was a lump in my throat by the time the movie ended.

I will say at first that the movie started out a little rocky. It was beautiful to look at, but just didn't grab me as I wanted it to. As soon the girl Alice was introduced to us, I began to get more into it. It added that humanity and warmth that I needed. As the film went on, I became more and more entranced and involved in this world. Everything felt real to me. Not a single thing rang false, and that is one of the greatest achievements a movie can make. That, and I felt like I was in an adult world, not Hollywood adult, but almost like the real world. It wasn't physically real, but the emotion was real, and that is the important part in my book.

One of the complaints drawn up against the film is that the relationship between Alice and Tatischeff is creepy and inappropriate. I didn't see it like that. call me naive, but I felt it was more like a grandparent relationship. It reminded me of William Hartnell and Carole Ann Ford's onscreen relationship in the early Doctor Who. It was completely platonic.

Another issue people draw against this movie is that Alice was not a likable character, that she was using Tatischeff. My rebuttal is that she is not using him. She is just that impressionable child who believe the illusions Tatischeff presents her. She came from a village that only recently got electricity earlier in the movie. Besides, Alice is not a bad person. She is just at that age where she is a bit self-absorbed. I have been there. I identified with that. It added dimension to her personality and made her feel like a real person. She's a flawed human being like anyone else. Her sweetness countered those shortcomings.

To sum up, this film is one of the best animated films I've seen. I will say it is one of the best films of the past year. It is a testament to the power of animation to tell a wonderful story. There is still magic out there. I've seen it up on the screen. Do yourself a favor and check this film out. You will be rewarded.

Until Next Time


Micara said...

Great review! You always see so much more in movies than I do. I wish I could have seen this with you.

Anonymous said...

It's a shame that they're not showing this film anywhere where I live. The still frames look amazing, in my opinion. Hopefully, there will be a DVD release of it in the future.

Glad you're blogging again, Eric. Can't wait to see what you'll post next.

Alberto said...

I saw the Illusionist at the Harvard Exit too! It sure was bliss. Not only that until Feb 3rd the NW Film Forum is playing Tati's "My Uncle" (Mon Oncle). I saw it today, highly recommended if you want another another treat!

Steven Hartley said...

Excellent review, Eric. Your analysis is brilliant and it really makes me want to see it. Although, unfortunately where I live also isn't showing the film. Darn!

Well done, Eric. At least traditional animation isn't dead - and I don't want it to be dead.

RB (Caterwaul Studios) said...

Great review. Looking forward to seeing the film.

Ricardo Cantoral said...

Good review. I have been waiting for this film ever since it was announced.

Eric Noble said...

Thanks to everybody for commenting. It really helps to inspire me.

Michael Sporn said...

The movie is a gem, and I'm glad you saw the same film I did. I'm so disappointed when animators turn against this film, especially younger animators. The film is rich in strong character animation and development. The two animators who teamed to do Tatischeff ought to be very proud of themselves.

Thank you; a nice review. I'm so pleased it got a nomination for the Oscar. It won't win but it has to be there.

Will Finn said...

Nice review. I agree that the notes about the relationship having a "creep" factor are in the eye of the beholder--I didn't see it at all.

Also: some have suggested that it's a slap against women that the girl callously takes him for granted: again, not my interpretation. To me it was the callowness of the young toward their guardians/parents: something that really happens in both genders.

Brian Sibley said...

I am awaiting my DVD copy and very much looking forward to it.

Delighted to have discovered your blog – by following your comment on Steven Hartley's blog. So many things of interest on the just the very first page! I will back!! And I'll add Weirdo's Corner to my blog-roll...

Wendy said...

Eric - Here I am commenting after following a comment you made on Brian's post about Jabberwocky! I can't wait to see THE ILLUSIONIST and your post made me even more excited about it! I was initially drawn to it because I love Jacques Tati (Mr. Hulot - the French version of Mr. Bean!)

Good luck in all your endeavors. My son is studying stop-motion animation at CalArts - he loved THE ILLUSTIONIST, too. I'll send him your post.