Judge William Lee wants to express himself.
Our review of Animation Express, published June 8th, 2010, is also available.
"Eh" is for animation.
It isn't obvious from its generic title but Animation Express (Blu-Ray) is a showcase of recent productions from the National Film Board of Canada, the world's leading public producer of animated films. Since its founding in 1939, the NFB's documentaries, features and animated shorts have collectively earned over 5,000 awards including 12 Oscars. To mark the institution's 70th anniversary, Animation Express assembles some extraordinary short films from the last few years. The Blu-Ray release includes another 13 shorts that aren't on the DVD, including two Academy Award winners.
The short films are not arranged in a formal program and, aside from how they're listed on the back of the box, there's no differentiating the "featured" films from the "bonus" films. There is a "Play All" option but you can also select individual films from a list of titles or from a list sorted by filmmakers. Alternatively, the 39 films are categorized under four headings:
From pencil drawings to stop-motion and continuing to CGI, just about every form of animation is represented in this collection. While some entries may look less polished than others, that's just the style chosen by the animators. Each entry is a fully conceived and unique work. Some are gentler personal recollections like The Danish Poet. Others are wholly fantastic stories like the comic-macabre Land of the Heads. There are a number of standouts among this generally strong collection: Madame Tutli-Putli is a stunner; Rains is beautifully moody; the breathless energy of Flutter can barely be contained; and there is sly social satire in Runaway, which probably doesn't belong in the "For All" grouping of films.
The creativity and technical skill on display in some of these films is remarkable. If this level of imagination was put into mainstream animation or a Tim Burton film, your head might explode. So it's probably for the best that this volatile energy is parceled out in short form. This disc collects some of the most exciting short films of recent years. Some individual films have been available on single DVDs and other compilations (with extras that aren't included here). Still, there is lots of replay value to be had from having so many quality works on one disc.
The disc navigation is terrible. Presenting the films in an alphabetized list of titles or sorted by directors' names is a nice selection option but it shouldn't be the primary play function. It made me want to eject the disc rather than randomly choosing a title. Since there's no separation between the featured and bonus films, it feels like they're all simply dumped onto the disc. The four designated categories are a half step toward establishing a program line up but it's flawed. While the categories give a sense of what to expect from a group of films, it's a simplistic description that's not entirely accurate. The "For All" titles aren't necessary kid-friendly as some will be confusing, disturbing or just boring to young viewers. Giving ten films the label of "Social Issues" is going to be a turn-off for some.
There is a useful summary screen for each title that provides a still image, plot synopsis, running time and animation technique. However, you can only see this screen after selecting the title from a list. This screen can also be called up while the film is playing (it will pause the film), however, if you do this during the Play All function it will exit you from that playback option. You cannot return to your place in the Play All sequence so you have to restart or select an individual title. As for the Play All function, it's not arranged by alphabetized title, or filmmaker name, or release year, or technique. I don't know how it's ordered and having the titles randomized each time would have been more interesting.
In lieu of sequencing the films into one or more proper programs, the menu selection could have been greatly improved using the materials on hand. A proper master list should have let viewers cycle through the titles while the summary page information updated to one side. Another variation would be to allow viewers to flip through all the summary pages using a "Next" button. The disc's clunky navigation is a disservice to its content and it is quite possible that one or more films on the disc will never be seen simply because a viewer never got around to clicking on that one title from a long list of titles.
The high-definition picture quality is very good on this disc. The image looks razor sharp. Colors are vibrant in 2D works, fine lines of black and white pencil drawings are smooth and the texture of the paper is visible behind the artwork. The high-def picture is especially good to stop-motion and puppet animation as the fine details of the materials used to fabricate models and sets can really be appreciated. The default audio mix is Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround but many of the films only use a 2.0 stereo presentation. Nevertheless, it sounds really clear and strong. Dialogue is actually quite sparse across the films but music and sound effects are used quite well. Some films are recorded in both English and French but you can't toggle between them during the film—from the top-level menu you have to choose a language option and stick with it. It's a Canadian thing.
Once you get past the clunky disc navigation, this is a very strong collection of animated shorts. With more content and improved picture quality, consider purchasing this one over the standard DVD. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
• National Film Board of Canada
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