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Rob Edelman: Anomalisa, Inside Out, Moomins - Animation

These days, animated films are especially popular among younger audiences, and so it is no surprise that movie theaters are flooded with a range of feature-length cartoons. But not all animated works are fashioned for young children. In fact, two of the very best not only are clever and challenging and way beyond the reach of grade schoolers, but they fit right in on any cineaste’s ten-best films list for the just-concluded year.

The first is ANOMALISA, a deft blending of realism and stop-motion animation that is a product of the very fertile mind of Charlie Kaufman. While it is animated, the characters in ANOMALISA do not exist in a fantasy world. Instead, they are surviving in a culture that is very recognizable, and is blotted by isolation and disconnection. The central character is Michael, a motivational speaker who is appearing at a convention in Cincinnati. First, he looks up and tries to connect with an old girlfriend, and then he meets and mixes with two females who are convention attendees.

While watching the film, I found myself wondering: Why is ANOMALISA animated? Why is this necessary? But then I realized that the animation allows for almost all the women and almost all the men to look exactly alike, as if they are clones-- and the two exceptions are isolated, disconnected souls. In ANOMALISA, Kaufman puts forth a quirky, singular sense of the absurd as he offers astute commentary on the more humdrum aspects of modern life. Yet at the same time, there is so much going on here, so much that can be analyzed for hours afterward, and much of it is astute and heart-rending.

The second animated feature is INSIDE OUT, a Disney-Pixar creation that came to theaters this past summer and presently is available on home entertainment. What makes INSIDE OUT special, beyond its stunning imagery, is that it primarily is fashioned for older children, not to mention adults. As it spotlights characters who represent a person’s basic emotions, among them anger, sadness, fear, disgust and, most significantly, joy, INSIDE OUT offers a point of view that is well-worth considering-- and this particularly is the case if one is surrounded by children. And that is: The youngest youngsters generally are easy-to-please. Give ‘em a toy or a bit of attention and they will giggle with delight. But in our contemporary world, when a kid reaches age 11 or 12, life can become extremely complicated.

INSIDE OUT and ANOMALISA employ state-of-the-art technology to dazzle the senses and, in particular, characters and settings may appear to be resplendently realistic. However, once in a while, you will come upon contemporary animation that features good old fashioned hand-drawn images. One example is MOOMINS ON THE RIVIERA, which has just been released theatrically here in the U.S.

The Moomins characters are the creations of ToveJansson, the famed Finnish artist and writer. Her first MOOMINS book for children dates from 1945. Her characters most resemble hippopotamuses who speak, even though they are drawn without mouths. In MOOMINS ON THE RIVIERA, the title tells all as the Moomins leave their home in Moominvalley and head off to vacation on the Riviera. MOOMINS ON THE RIVIERA is lightly likable fare, and it cannot compare to ANOMALISA and INSIDE OUT. But if you are an animation buff, you just may enjoy it.

Rob Edelman teaches film history at the University at Albany. He has written several books on film and television, and is an associate editor of Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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