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Dan Persons

Twelve Animated Series You Should Absolutely Watch Now That There’s Time

Welcome to Time Enough at Last: The Home Edition, when we all discover what our true heart’s desire is when we’re stuck with nothing much else to do. Surprise, surprise, it turns out that not many of us are eager to be alphabetizing our book collections, dusting the upper shelves, or cleaning out the back of the fridge like we promised three months ago (sorry, B).

In my case, top priority has been given to the arduous task of sitting around and watching cartoons. And yes, while that can be as infantile as it sounds—as the bowl of Cap’n Crunch next to me attests—it’s also a fact that animated series, even the ones purportedly aimed at kids, have grown more nuanced and sophisticated since the days of Yogi Bear, Transformers, and Smurfs (or whatever you gazed goggle-eyed at from the living room carpet when you were a kid). And adult stuff? No surprise, everything’s on the table there (sometimes literally).

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Pixar’s Onward Is a Touching Journey That’s More Magical Than Meaningful

Alfred Hitchcock liked to cite the following, hypothetical scene to explain his approach to storytelling: Two characters sit at a table, having a conversation. The chat goes on for about five minutes, when suddenly, FWOOM!, a bomb explodes. The audience is startled, shocked; it’s an adrenaline moment. Okay. Fine.

Now rewind. Same scene as before, only this time, it starts with a glimpse under the table. We see the bomb, see its timer is set for five minutes. The conversation proceeds, but now we’re on the edge of our seats, knowing something the characters don’t and thus fully invested in their fates.

In short, with the right set up, you can turn a fleeting moment of sensation into a full journey. And although Hitchcock used the example to explain how to create suspense, the technique is not restricted to that one form of audience investment. Not surprisingly, the concept applies quite well to films where an actual journey is involved.

[How, exactly? Read on…]

Ten Brilliant Cartoons That Will Break Your Heart

I woke up last night in a cold sweat. I had a dream.

I dreamed that someone read the list below and said, “Wow, these films sound great! I’m gonna binge this stuff this weekend!”

It…didn’t end well.

Do me a favor: DO NOT binge this list. You may think you’re strong, but take it from the man who sat in his doctor’s waiting room, staring at his tablet while straining, fruitlessly, to suppress the tears: The list is stronger.

[Grab your tissues, and read on!]

More Voices, Better Movies: Ten Standout Genre Films of the 2010s

So…how’d you spend your New Year’s? Me, I skipped parties, parades, and a solemn evaluation of what I shall do in the 2020s to right a life misspent (all that time lost, watching The People’s Court…) and instead crashed on my couch to re-screen the final ten of my favorite genre films of the 2010s. It was heaven. Only downside: repeatedly going, “Wow, I forgot how good this film was. This has to be the best of the decade. No, wait. This film. This is the best! God-dayum, I forgot about this one! This…” You get the idea.

As is my nature, I’ve composed my list with more focus on the smaller, more independent, more daring films of the past ten years. It wasn’t that the mainstream didn’t deliver some impressive works, just that I prefer titles that creep in on the margins—and the 2010s delivered a rich supply of impressive, indie efforts: science fiction films that played with genuine, speculative concepts; horror films that were truly frightening; fantasy films that dared subvert the standard templates.

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The Last Ten Decades Represented in Ten Classic Science Fiction Cartoons

I’m going to take a contrary position here. Here we go: It’s conventional wisdom that science fiction and animation are two forms ideally suited for each other. Makes sense—the unbounded palette of the cartoon allows for the creation of technologies, worlds, and scientific concepts that are unrestricted by the limits of live-action filming. (This is not exactly true, by the way—animation tech and production budgets impose their own constraints. But close enough.)

But did you ever consider that, maybe, science fiction is too grounded a genre for the likes of cartoons? After all, animation customarily traffics in talking animals and magic kingdoms; having to adhere to such principles as physics and chemistry can put a damper on the medium’s more fanciful impulses. Why deal with rocket ships when you can just as easily have characters sprout wings and fly to Mars?

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Ten WTF-Did-I-Just-Watch? TV Episodes

We are, for the most part, creatures of habit. It’s not an absolute—even the most circumspect of us will occasionally feel the urge to break out of our norms, to seek the novel and, occasionally, the risky. But, face it: in the end we seek security, stability, a return to the familiar, an assurance that the universe is just so, has always been that way, will always be.

One striking example: episodic TV. Whether you binge an entire series or kick it old school and opt for a weekly fix, there is something eminently reassuring in being able to return to the same cast of characters and the same familiar, well-established scenario. Even if the setting is dystopic and the people inhabiting it are right bastards (hellooooooo, Succession!), just the fact that you know pretty much what you’re in for from chapter to chapter instills a warm, comforting glow in your otherwise stressed-out psyche. Audiences like that. Showrunners, studios, whole networks and streaming services like that. They count on it.

[But some episodes dare to veer off the beaten path…]

Cult Anime FLCL Shows Its Darker Side in “Marquis de Carabas”

The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince anime fans that the direct-to-video series FLCL (aka Fooly Cooly) was a comedy. Oh sure, it’s got all the trappings: vivid, eccentric characters; fast-paced, hyperbolic animation; and a robot with a severe case of diarrhea. But look past the toilet gags, satirical references, and occasional bits of fanservice, and it isn’t hard to discover a darkness that subsumes the series.

And if you have any questions about how far down into the depths a series can descend while maintaining its clownish façade, all you need do is look at FLCL’s third episode, “Maru Raba,” otherwise known as “Marquis de Carabas.”

[Is it comedy? Is it tragedy? Is it horror? Why not all three? Read more…]

In the Moment, Not at It: How VR Creators Are Changing the Language of Storytelling

Make no mistake, history does repeat. Just don’t expect an exact replication.

At the dawn of cinema, the Lumière brothers had audiences leaping from their seats when it appeared a train pulling into a station was going to break through the screen and come barreling into the auditorium. (There’s been some pushback about whether this actually happened, but I’m going with the legend.) Two years after Al Jolson’s voice poured from movie screens in The Jazz Singer, Alfred Hitchcock garbled the dialogue of a nosey gossip in Blackmail to give us a view of the world from the perspective of a guilty murderer, who could only discern the damning word, “knife.” Technicolor had already established a foothold in Hollywood, but when Dorothy opened a sepia door into the rainbow world of Oz, the process served a function beyond delivering candy colors to moviegoers. [See how, like the pioneers before them, VR creators are changing the art of storytelling…]

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