Friday, January 23, 2009

If You Weren't So Charming, I'd Kill Myself

Trix are for kids. Animated films are for emotionally dead adults.

Don't get me wrong, there are important lessons here for any child as well: don't let your animals play with firearms, make sure your little sister eats something, and always phone the folks before a nuclear holocaust. But these animated films have something that Dora the Explorer will never have: soul-crushing honesty. Best to wait 'til your kids are eleven.

These films may finally kill that part of yourself that still believes in things like hope and human triumph, but they are masterfully done for all that dismal aftermath. Let us be thankful for such elegant and emotional art films as we let our cars run in the garage.

WARNING: Some spoilers and irreparable psychological trauma.

The Plague Dogs
(1982 - Martin Rosen)

Hope: The will to survive even the harshest conditions is made painfully (!) clear in this tale of two canines and their escape from an animal testing facility into an equally cruel outside world. A friendship is formed between Snitter and Rowf that helps them sustain hope in finding some glimmer of happiness at the sparkling edge of the earth.

Hopelessness: The film's unflinching horrors happen right from the start! Animal's are drowned and placed in incinerators, people are run over, eaten and shot in the face. Oh the humanity! If there is such a thing...

Key moment of despair: Snitter's endearing, desperate hunt for a human master leads him directly into the arms of a strolling hunter -- and accidentally tripping the trigger on his shotgun. Snitter's dreams end in a shocking, devastating, blood-soaked instant.

We the viewers get dealt a similar blow.

When the Wind Blows
(1986 - Jimmy T. Murakami)

It's like those old couples that know each other so well that even their bickering transcends the bitterness and baggage to become something soulful and inspiring. An adorable English couple, Jim and Hilda Bloggs, talk about the impending bombing with as much regard for scorched earth as their untended garden. We're comforted by their timeless bond and ability to ponder tea time... even when their water supply has been permanently shut off.

Hopelessness: Despite their best intentions and upbeat demeanor, the radioactive fallout inevitably has its afterburn. Jim and Hilda slowly fade into oblivion, overcome by weakness and disease. That's what you get for trusting your government.

Key moment of despair: James comments on Hilda's red lips and she's quick to respond, "Lipstick? What do you mean, James? I haven't worn lipstick for years." Not so much a new shade as the aftereffects of nuclear radiation. Feel that endless shudder.

Grave of the Fireflies
(1988 - Isao Takahata)

Hope: At least Seita and the ever-so-adorable Setsuko still have each other. Even after being orphaned in the war and left to survive off of dried toads, this loving brother-sister duo is an inspiration in their never-fledgling devotion and will to survive. World War II has left Japan in a dire situation, but they still manage to raise each others spirits and would readily go to the ends of the earth for one another. It's completely heartwarming... And yet...

Hopelessness: Food is scarce and no one's willing to offer a stray grain of rice. No one is spared the effects of war, not even an innocent child.

Key moment of despair: "Rice balls. I made them for you..." Left behind by Seita in yet another search for sustenance, a delusional, malnourished Setsuko makes a meal for the two out of dirt gathered from the floor. Horrifying, heartbreaking, and somehow still adorable. Consider your spirits eternally crushed.

If Dora ever decides to explore war-torn Japan, someone remind her to pack a sack lunch.

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