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Since I’m attending SCAD and majoring in it’s film department; and with the Savannah, GA International Film Festival very near on the horizon (October 25 – November 1), I felt it was an important opportunity for me to express my thoughts on the films I’ll be seeing here on the Cinema Warehouse blog. I’ll be attending both feature films, short films, and a few documentaries. And since I got my tickets early this time around, I’ll actually be going to quite a lot over the course of a week. About 20 events in total, including some discussion panels.

Now on the blog here, I’ll only be covering the films I see, and they won’t necessarily be the same lengthy, critique filled reviews you may be used to on here; but then again they could be. It will just depend on my personal experience. I usually only tend to talk about films on here that I can speak about at length and with a fine-tooth comb. But other films, while enjoyable, I can say very little about. So we’ll just have to see.

ALSO, keep in mind that I WILL talk about each film with full plot disclosure. And so I will include a SPOILER warning at a certain point within each review, as I will also include a Spoiler free portion at the top to give you my general thoughts on each film, and whether or not I think it is worth your time.

Now below, you’ll be able to view a list (which will later link to their respective reviews) of each of the narrative films that I’ll be watching, and then the documentaries I’ll be watching. Many of the narrative films happen to be historical dramas based on actual people and actual events, so the vibe this year is a little more reflective and historically driven than last year seemed; at least to me. And I can tell you that the three films I’ll be most excited to see will be The Imitation Game, Horns, and Foxcatcher; which I honestly would have never guessed I’d be seeing in a theater. I know that this coverage is sure to be later than some coverage of other film fest screenings of these same films, but I’m usually never on the cusp of a major media event. But none-the-less, I hope you enjoy what I have to say.

Narrative Screenings:

1. 5 to 7

2. Foxcatcher

3. The Sound and the Shadow

4. The Giver

5. Whiplash

6. Horns

7. The Imitation Game

 

Documentaries:

1. Limited Partnership

2. Poverty Inc.

3. Merchants of Doubt

4. Documented

5. Red Army

6. Keep On Keepin’ On

7. Life Itself

 

Student Film Shorts:

1. 2014 Student Shorts Block A

2. 2014 Animated Short Films

 

Professional Short Films:

YET TO BE DETERMINED. (these films will show before some of the feature films, and are harder to corroborate in terms of what plays when and before which film)

Famous movie critic, Gene Siskel said of this film, “The characters are not memorable; the songs are lame and the drawing style is pedestrian.” And while I do respect his opinion, I’m afraid I’m going to have to disagree, and say that that opinion is a tad too short and harsh. Allow me to explain.

(sigh) They don’t make’em like they used to.

And don’t you think for a second that that’s not true. They really don’t make them like they used to. The closest we’ve gotten to making another movie like this in the modern era is Coraline, but that just seems to be a trait of Laika Films: producing dark and twisted stories centered around child characters and intended for general audiences.

 

The late 1970s through the early 1990s was a time where movie companies were less candy-coated about what they made for the young audiences to watch. I mean, hell… when Ralph Bakshi, the mind behind the street-wise adult films Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic and Coonskin wanted to make a “children’s film”… he made freakin’ Wizards. And that was in 1977. Now did that “look” like a children’s film by ANY stretch of the imagination? No! But that’s what the man thought he was doing. And that just goes to show you how lax Hollywood once was, until Disney changed everything with The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. Then suddenly everything had to start being lovable and cutesy and generally inoffensive. But today, we’re here to talk about a film that sits right on the edge between the gloominess and grit of the 1980s and the overwhelming stampede of the Disney influence of the mid-to-late 1990s. This is Once Upon A Forest from 1993.

Once Upon A Forest is about three young rodents who go to have their daily lesson with the local wise-man, named Cornelius; and how they travel across great distances and past immense obstacles in order to retrieve some herbs that mean life or death to one of their youngest friends who was afflicted by a deadly gas leak.

Our three protagonists are named Abigale (a mouse), Russell (a hedgehog), and Edgar (a mole); and their ill younger friend is named Michele (a badger).

 

At first glance of the recent DVD cover, you get the same effect that you do when you look at the most recent covers of The Secret of Nimh, An American Tail, and this piece for Atlantis the Lost Empire: it just doesn’t look that interesting.

 

It’s a bunch of characters standing around looking generally pleasant and smiling at the camera. It’s kinda like bad comic book covers where you just have the group pose together in a big line or a big cluster with no indication of what actually happens in the story and no indication of the tone or atmosphere. It really does these films an injustice.

However, if you were to look at the original covers or artwork for all of these films and more, you’d realize that there’s more to it than the smiling faces. In fact, these covers for An American Tail and Ducktales: the Legend of the Lost Lamp were painted by none other than Drew Struzan: perhaps the greatest movie poster artist of all time. And this also goes to show you that even animated films could get the star treatment when it came to promotional art. But back to the film at hand.

 

Once Upon A Forest has its weaknesses in its story, its animation, and some of its performances. And you might think “well, that’s just about everything, isn’t it?” Well… no, it isn’t. Star Trek (2008) had a really simplistic and clichéd story, but what made it work was its characters and the visualization of that story. And in that sense, Once Upon A Forest does fine. It’s not really the most epic of adventures, but it’s serviceable. The characters aren’t the most unique, but they have their moments. And the performances are hit and miss, but when they count, they’re not half bad.

I did have a problem with the characters’ behavior between the beginning and end of the film, because the story tries to shows a distinct difference between how the characters act when we first meet them, and then how they act after they’ve been on their harrowing journey. Except the writers or the story people tried too hard to visualize this, and ended up presenting Abigale, Russell and Edgar as a gaggle of careless selfish brats, when they really should have been much more sensible. They have, after all, been going to learn from their teacher Cornelius for weeks if not months at the start of this film.

I can’t say if this fact is a game-breaker on whether or not you will like these characters, but I just consider it a fault of the story telling that isn’t as balanced as it should be, and does end up making at least Abigale a tad unlikable. However, she is the one who reconciles her issues and has a character arc first. So at least the characters are more enjoyable by the half-way point.

But now you might be getting the sense that this film is rather “Meh.” And yeah, it is kinda “Meh.” A lot of this film sits on that gray fuzzy line between cliché and uninspired, and clever and endearing. It has bits of both. And what I think is interesting about it being on this line is that some parts of the movie may just stick with you for years after you watch it, as it has done with me; but you may also forget a lot of other parts. Some moments or characters from this film may even blend into memories you have of watching The Secret of NIMH, An American Tail, or even The Rescuers: Downunder; and I would not be surprised if they did. The 80s and 90s were very fond of films about small animals; and aspects of many of them were borrowed and retooled for others.

 

So now you’re probably asking, “what makes this movie memorable or important?”

Well, for starters, it is another one of those “bleakish” family animated flicks that deals with heavy subjects, the weepier of emotions, and intense daring situations: much like The Land Before Time and The Brave Little Toaster; although this isn’t nearly as serious as those. The kind of stuff that comes up here is that Michele (the little badger who becomes ill) loses her parents to the gas, and must now live on as an orphan with her uncle, Cornelius. And we also have to contend with a few creepy moments involving faceless humans, a road-way where some moron throws a bottle against the asphalt; and the scene where the gas leaking from the tanker truck leaches its way across the landscape, killing everyone it comes in contact with: kind of like the “angel of death” sequence in the original Ten Commandments.

We are also treated to a special surprise as James Horner provides the music for this film, as he did for An American Tail and The Land Before Time. And his work is no less emotionally charged here. Thankfully his craftsmanship does add some much needed whimsy to an otherwise often lack-luster production. He even gives the film one of his trademark main themes, which I thought was rather nice. Some people out there may not appreciate the songs in the movie, perhaps not even the one over the ending credits; but I’m rather happy with them. It’s true, they are a bit corny, but I think they offer a certain innocence and charm that is very unique to this film, and it would not be what it is without them: and certainly not without Michael Crawford’s singing voice.

Yes, it’s true, by the way. Michael Crawford is in this. I don’t mean to say that like I actually know who the guy is, because I don’t really; but I say that for those of you who do and may be surprised that he’s here. You may also be surprised that this film was one of Elisabeth Moss’s first films, playing young Michele; as she has gone on to act on Law And Order, The West Wing, and Mad Men as Peggy Olson.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for her co-stars, as none of the main three went on to do much after this film. In fact, this was the very last role of Benji Gregory (Edgar), who had previously performed in just over 100 episodes on ALF. And funny enough, I thought Ellen Blain’s voice (as Abigale) sounded familiar from other cartoons or films; but it turns out that she didn’t do anything else memorable beyond this, let alone any voice over roles.

How does she hold up then? Well, Ellen is actually my favorite voice in this film. And I’ll admit, it’s my favorite for the exact same reason that I liked Cathy Cavadini’s voice as Tanya in An American Tail 2; it’s somewhat attractive. That isn’t to say I don’t think Paige Gosney as Russell doesn’t have an interesting voice, or to say that I don’t like Benji as Edgar; but Ellen has a very special sound. It’s that sometimes loud and bossy, sometimes subtle and dainty raspy sound that a lot of youthful voice actresses had back in the 90s and early 2000s.

There was Lacey Chabert as Eliza Thornberry, Kellie Martin as Roxanne (A Goofy Movie), Shayna Fox as Reggie Rocket (Rocket Power); Francesca Smith, who did many variations on the voice along with her most famous role as Helga G. Pataki (Hey Arnold);

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and to a lesser extent Ashely Peldon and her singing double Lindsey Ridgeway as Darla Dimple (Cats Don’t Dance). In short, it’s a voice you don’t soon forget; and Ellen’s performance as Abigale shows a range from head-strong and self-centered, to embarrassed and self-loathing, to good-natured and selfless. And while I can honestly say that any of those other actresses could have done a better job in this role, I can also say that I genuinely enjoy Ellen Blain’s portrayal none-the-less.

Now in terms of the animation, it suffers from a lack of consistency and qualified clean-up work. It has a lot of rough edges and a lot of things are not centered or stick as close to character models as more seasoned animation teams would have done. However, there is a visible level of performance when it comes to how all of the characters move. They have their subtle facial wrinkles. You can tell that the characters are excited or tired or angry based upon how they shift their body weight and gesture their arms. They may not have as broad a range of facial expressions as Don Bluth characters, but I’ve seen much worse.

In a previous entry all about the works of the Japanese animation juggernaut, Tokyo Movie Shinsha, I wrote a side paragraph about Wang Film Productions, and how they had done twice if not three times as much outsourced work as TMS had. In fact, Wang Film Productions is responsible for nearly 3/4ths of all of Walt Disney’s television episodes from every single one of the shows they produced, past and present. And they’re still working on Disney shows today. And Once Upon A Forest happens to be one of the feature films that Wang Films supported with its animation team, as the production had to split among 6-7 different foreign studios. So with that in mind, it’s actually amazing that the film looks as coherent and consistent in its rough state as it does.

 

A few more bits of trivia: Glen Close almost had a role in Once Upon A Forest, but her character and her scene were cut from the final version of the film due to the production going over-budget.

David Kirschner, the producer of many cult animated classics of the 1980s and 1990s, and the original creator of the American Tail characters; was also the creator of this feature and its initial storyline. And sometimes you have to keep in mind that even if a film doesn’t turn out to be all that great, and may even be disappointing; it may have been a very important and emotionally fulfilling experience to those who worked on it; as this one was for Mr. Kirschner. And so I can’t fault him for that, and I can see why he would have been proud of this final piece.

Unfortunately, Once Upon A Forest was going head to head at the box-office with Steven Spielberg’s dinosaur hit Jurassic Park, and only managed to make back half of its $13 million dollar budget. However, the film did garner a cult-following and an increase in sales when it went to VHS and Laserdisc, which is how I first saw it as a kid.

In the end, what’s the take-away here? What can this film offer you? That’s actually a little hard to say.

I suppose the best thing it can offer is a mature outlook and a story that does not talk down to those who watch it. Whereas its contemporaries like Ferngully and Captain Planet try to create a hip and modern vibe with an overtly fantasy universe and a transparent environmental plotline. In the case of Once Upon A Forest, there is no pop culture references, except perhaps the gospel choir (but that sort of thing has a timeless feel to it), there are no annoying or unnecessary side-kicks and tag-along characters, and the atmosphere of the film is consistent and doesn’t bounce you between cheery and quirky and dark and intense: it has a very smooth gradient across which it places its scenes and its emotional moments.

And what I think is the best part of this film is that even though the tanker truck leaking gas may seem like an overt environmental message, it isn’t anywhere near as bad as having an evil pollution spirit chopping down trees with an enormous lumber machine, or a blue tinted super-hero with taking out super-villains with the power of the 5 elements. They don’t even give the audience a call to action until the very last line of the film. So I can honestly say that this film will not make you groan at its story, unless of course you just hate movies about adolescent animals having an adventure; in which case you shouldn’t even be watching this film anyway.

 

So tune in next time guys, when I’ll be taking a look at another animated feature from our recent past. And stay frosty my furlings.

Periodically, I will be updating you guys on the progress of my Senior Film Project at SCAD, entitled “Bill & Maggie’s Intergalactic Taxi Service.” There are literally dozens of things that will be influencing the production, many of which I have spoke of here on the blog, and many which I have yet to touch on, but plan to in the near future.

To get things off to a good start, I recently commissioned artwork to be used as promotional pieces for the project, and I just completed an early Pitch/Pre-Kickstarter video that should explain the basic premise and artistic style involved with this short film. The video also has a short Proof-of-Concept portion that illustrates the possible visual look of the film. But keep in mind that this is a basic and crude representation that I put together in only 6 days, so it should only be considered the general idea of what the film may look like. You can watch this video below.

Keep on the lookout for more updates as this project progresses. And be sure to look for the actual IndieGogo campaign that will begin in another month or so.

 

For those of you who don’t know, I am now in my Senior Year at the Savannah College of Art and Design, finishing my Bachelors Degree for Film & Television.

Below is a promotional image for my Senior Film Project entitled “Bill & Maggie’s Intergalactic Taxi Service:” a LIVE-ACTION sci-fi/fantasy, steampunk adventure in space; about a young pre-teen girl who struggles to prove herself to her father whilst traversing the galaxy.

The film is inspired by George Melies’ “A Trip to the Moon,” Laputa: Castle in the Sky, Dark Cloud 2 (Dark Chronicle), Wander Over Yonder, Phineas and Ferb, and Kill La Kill.

Bill and Maggie_CenterPiece_bySynDuo_FINAL02_small

This art piece was created by SynDuo of Deviantart as a commission.

http://synduo.deviantart.com/

Most of my crew will be gathered within the Savannah community, but I am on the lookout for Concept Artists and Designers in order to create the look of the film, and to possibly create perks and posters for the upcoming Kickstarter/IndieGogo campaign. This project is still in it’s earliest stages, so that campaign won’t be for another month; but I am working hard to get this film on its way and I am super psyched! =D

If you feel that you could help out in any way with this production, please contact me either at jonleiter@gmail.com, or in the comment section bellow. If you are an artist, please include a link to your portfolio or art gallery.

 

I know this title wasn’t even a consideration for review until I just now re-watched it, but I had totally forgotten how fun this little animated special is.

Robbie the Reindeer: Hooves of Fire is the first installment of a trilogy of half-hour Christmas television specials produced and animated by BBC One between 2001 and 2007. To the uninitiated, this short may look like it was animated by Aardman Entertainment, which is what I used to think. But it turns out that BBC One created this all in house, with the assistance of their partner, Comedy Relief (that’s the company’s name, not the term).

It’s the story of how Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer’s son gets sent off to the North Pole in order to carry on his father’s legacy as the sleigh team’s navigator. But upon arrival, Robbie isn’t the most fit or capable of the bunch, and the jealous and vengeful Blitzen, has it out for Robbie. And Blitzen goes about trying to find ways to either make Robbie leave, or to make him as lazy and unproductive as possible. Blitzen succeeds in convincing Robbie to leave on his own accord, and thinks that all might be well with the world. However, Robbie returns after some mishaps, and after training with an old wise-man atop a hill; to compete against Blitzen in order to prove to the big boss-man, Santa, who the best reindeer is.

 

Thankfully that brief description doesn’t even cover a third of the stuff that actually happens in this brisk half hour show.

What I find so amazing about Hooves of Fire is it’s ability to cram so much humor and so much story development into such a confined amount of time without making it feel too rushed. You get all of the information you could possibly need to understand what’s going on, to the point that it makes you feel like you’ve seen and heard more than you actually have. In a way, it makes the special feel longer than it is. And I think this is due to a few key reasons:

For one, the characters are extremely well designed. The production team took great care to put their own spin on the world of the North Pole. Each Reindeer has their own distinct personality, size, and shape; two of the 9 reindeer are also female (Donner and Vixen). The elves have been suited up with furry-hooded parkas and snow-mobiles. One of the elves even wears steampunk goggles and a biker cap. And Santa, Mrs. Klaus, and the literal Santa Baby; all have big white beards and mustaches.

And since this was being made in 2000, they suited up old Saint Nick to have a modern hip-hop inspired sense of fashion, as well as a forward-thinking mentality by giving him a tricked out Sleigh Mark-2. This sort of thing has been done to death since the early 2000s, but I think I can safely say that this British special was one of the first to use that trope.

Because of these distinctive designs, it allows each character to stick in your mind without them having to be on screen for very long. And just about every character supports the story in some fashion, so they all have their part to play.

 

The other interesting thing that helps this short stick in your mind, other than the chuckle-worthy British humor, is the soundtrack. My God is this a wonderful soundtrack. It’s almost shocking to think that a thirty minute TV special needs a soundtrack with songs that aren’t just background orchestration. In fact, we have five major songs here, two of which were written by the short’s composer, Mark Knopfler. There’s the (now cliché) “Chariots of Fire” theme from the movie of the same name; it’s only there for a gag, though, so don’t worry. Then there’s “Poison” by The Prodigy: a grunge/techno track used during another gag, but it totally sticks with you. And there’s also “Crazy” by Seal, which is actually a pretty cool song once it gets going; and even makes reference to “Fly Like an Eagle,” which Seal sang for the soundtrack of Space Jam.

Finally, there’s the star track, “Other Side of the Moon:” written by Mark Knopfler and performed by Jane Horrocks and Mikey Graham; as the theme song to this short.

This song is so damn catchy. It has a beautiful and uplifting dance-beat opening… that then transitions into a soft rock ballad with a few light guitar riffs here and there. The base harmony that provides the song’s chorus, or perhaps rather its backup vocals; is one of those sounds that I have heard in my head for so long that it will be there for the rest of my life. You actually hear the distinct “doo-wee-ooh” sound clip during the opening transition into the main menu screen of the DVD. So every time I ever popped in the DVD, there it was whistling in my ears. I love this song so much I wish I could buy the whole song on I-Tunes. Unfortunately a proper soundtrack doesn’t seem to have been made. You can, however, buy the other three tracks I mentioned; as BBC was given permission by those artist’s record companies to use them in the short. I would highly suggest you check out “Crazy.”

 

To speak on the animation for a bit, there is a small documentary on the DVD where you can see how the short was produced. And it’s quite a fascinating process each time I see it, either in Aardman’s films or Henry Selick’s. The reindeer’s bodies are made from plasticine and rubber parts in order to retain the form of their figures, whereas the mouths are all made from small bits of clay to allow for slightly more flexibility in shaping dialogue. The head is also interchangeable in many instances.

The bodies of all of the characters, as well as most props and set dressings, have a unique paint job that gives it a gritty and rusty edge: sort of like an aged wine barrel, or perhaps the outside texture of an almond. Much more subdued colors and browner shades as well.

 

As one should readily expect from such a production as this; the charm of this special comes mostly through the voice-acting. Interestingly, though, this special was given two dubs: one in Britain during its original 2001 broadcast, and one from CBS, during its 2002 and 2003 US broadcast.

Speaking strictly of the British dub, we have Robbie the Reindeer, played by Ardal O’Hanlon; who you may know as Brannigan the cat-man from the Doctor Who episode, “Gridlocked.”

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Then there’s the great Steve Coogan as the antagonistic Blitson; who you may know from things like Night at the Museum, Disney’s Around the World in 80 Days, Philomena, and Alan Partridge.

Steve CooganBlitzen

There’s also Jane Horrocks; who not only played Robbie’s (2nd) love-interest, Donner, but also sang the theme song, “Other Side of the Moon.” The other recognizable role I could see from her was her role as Fairy Mary in all 5 Tinker Bell movies.

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And then there’s an interesting appearance by Rhys Ifans as the Head-Elf with those steampunk goggles I mentioned. You may know Rhys from The Amazing Spiderman as Dr. Curt Connors, he also played James Hook in the mini-series Neverland; and was Nemo Nobody’s father in the independent Sci-fi epic, Mr. Nobody. A rather understated character he ends up playing here in this short.

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The rest of the cast fills out with your typical selection of varied British talent; who I have to say prove to sound better than background characters and extras you may find in a lot of US productions. UK actors with accents ranging from your Norfolks to your Cornwalls, and your Cardiffs to your Dublins, allow for a much broader range of characters not just in appearance but in their voice. And with these accents comes a lot of regional humor and forms of speech that allow for certain gags and jokes to work (especially when it comes to certain regional terms) that would not work without the accents. Whereas in the US, most of the people that you hear in film and voice overs that are popular actors don’t have much of an accent outside of maybe a tinge of New English. Most of the time, though, US actor’s voices will vary in how they personally speak with their cadence, their pitch, the way that their vocal chamber is shaped, and whether or not they speak with an impediment either in the tongue or on the lips (which is where you get the two kinds of lisps).

 

Sorry for the detour, but this then leads me into my thoughts on the US dub of Hooves of Fire. And I’ll preface this by saying that “If you wish to leave now, that’s perfectly fine. The rest of this review is only on the comparisons between the US and UK dubs of this film, and it gets rather lengthy and in-depth. So I won’t be disappointed if you decide to skip to the bottom to read my closing thoughts.” And now, without further adeu…

 

HOLY CRAP, was this US dub terrible! Just… so…much…wrong.

Before I say anything else, I’d like to say that I know… without a doubt that this cast can do so much better than this.

Conducted and re-distributed in 2002 by CBS; the US cast consists of Ben Stiller as Robbie, his dad Jerry Stiller as Old Jingle, Jim Belushi as Santa Klaus, Hugh Grant as Blitzen, and Britney Spears as Donner. And I honestly thought the US re-dub was going to be better than this due to these actors’ work in later animated roles. Jim Belushi and Brad Garret, for instance, have gotten a lot of work as voice-over actors in different projects here and there; and Ben Stiller has done a good job in the Madagascar movies. But unfortunately, their natural talents do not come through here.

I would say, after thinking it over, that there are four key areas where this American dub fails, and in which the original UK dub succeed. And I have a feeling that these issues have more to do with the Voice-Over Director than they do the cast.

 

Number One: Sincerity and Volume

When performing voice over, it is paramount that you are honest and sincere with your line readings. It’s just like any other form of acting. You have to take in your character’s personality, their energy and emotions, and project them through yourself: believe that you are that character. When you do this, your character’s enthusiasm, anger, sadness, or disinterest should show in your voice; and it’s very easy to tell when an actor isn’t putting their all into it. The biggest tell-tale sign for me was that whenever Robbie was supposed to be excited or joyful, Ben Stiller held back and just sort of gave a breathy “yeah,” “whoo-hoo,” or “awesome.” But it sure doesn’t sound like it’s awesome. The same thing goes for Britney Spears and Jerry Stiller who play Donner and Old Jingle respectively: at every point in the film where I knew their performance should have been more enthusiastic, it sounded dull and incredibly flat.

When you’re excited, you’re supposed to naturally push on your diaphragm and project more sound, effectively raising your volume and making you sound super pumped. I can’t even believe I have to explain how that works, but if you listened to this US dub after knowing the UK version by heart, you’d probably die a little inside. Lol

Something else I noticed is that just like with being excited, whenever Robbie was having trouble, or was angry, or was in pain; Ben would also drop the ball. There’s one scene in particular where Robbie is trying to work on a baby doll assembly line in the Elf’s workshop, and he gets stuck on the conveyer belt and gets packed into a doll box. And then when one of the Elves goes to press the “Try Me” button on the package, he presses Robbie in the nose, and Robbie screams like he’s getting poked in the nuts. Now when Ardal O’Hanlon played Robbie, his reaction was hilarious; but when Ben Stiller did it, he just goes “ow:” like he just stepped on a crumb or something.

It’s sort of like when I try to do my voice-overs at home in the middle of the day, and I try not to disturb my family, while at the same time trying to scream so that I can record some excited reactions. It just ends up sounding fake and lousy.

 

Number Two: Local Vernacular

I sort of already covered this issue, but that was before I actually heard the US dub and realized how true it was. English vernaculars across the British Isles have dozens of variations on pronunciation as well as native traditional vocabulary and terminology. There are many regional sayings and phrases that will often show up in British movie and television scripts if the writers include characters from specific regions, or if actors from those regions decide to ad-lib a line or two. It gives the dialogue flavor and a little extra pizzazz, which allows the script to avoid being dull. And I’ll tell you what, it didn’t take me long to realize just how important regional dialects were to films like this, once I heard what lines CBS attempted to Americanize.

Just like how I explained with “sincerity;” depending on where an actor comes from, their regional dialect and native phrases are going to sound more honest coming from them than coming from anyone else. So if someone from America tries to read dialogue written for a character from Glasgow, in a Middle-American accent; it’s going to sound terrible. The same thing is true if you try to replace native UK phrasing and terminology with an American equivalent: it just won’t hold the same expression or the same emotion in most cases.

For instance, at one point Robbie is given a cheeseburger and large fries from Blitzen. In the UK version, Robbie says “Cheers, Blitzen. Yer a pal.” But in the US dub, he says, “Thanks Blitzen. What a pal.” It might not sound like a huge difference, but it’s all in the delivery of those lines that makes it not come across the same way. A better example would be when Santa tells Robbie “You’re a good deer, just like your dad.” Now Jim Belushi does say the exact same line; except that when British actor Ricky Tomlinson said it, it was a minor joke on the word “deer” also meaning “dear.” So it was a little more of an affectionate and figurative reading rather than literal. You’ll tend to find that certain regions of both the UK and certain Southern States will have people use the word “dear” when referring or speaking to complete strangers.

I think the worst offence in this regard is with Dez Yeti and Alan Snowman, the two news-castors covering the climactic Reindeer Games (who I assume are parodies of actual British commentators). With these guys, their native UK accents gave Dez dry wit and Alan a bit of a Scottish flare. Sure, some people probably wouldn’t be able to pick up on what Alan Snowman was saying half the time, but that’s not the point. The point is that what they were saying and how they were saying it reflected their characters reactions to the events of the story in a natural and more spontaneous way. But once they were dubbed over by American actors, their native phrases were replaced by lousy counterparts, and the particular way that they delivered their lines just took all of the fun and humor out of these two quirky characters.

 

Number Three: Timing

Perhaps the biggest issue of all that I had with this dub was the timing, because it managed to screw everything up; especially when coupled with insincere line readings.

If you watch any movie, any more at all, and it has amazing acting in it; you are definitely going to care about what’s going on, and you’re going to catch everything. Next to nothing will go over your head. But if you watch that same movie dubbed over by people that sound like they don’t know what they’re doing, you will no longer care, and you will miss everything.

I actually can’t believe how much I didn’t care about these characters, or what was going on, while watching the US dub; because nearly every line had poor pacing. And because of the lack of sincerity in the performances, my brain could not register what was going on and how relationships between the characters were building, even though I knew exactly what was going on.

Now it’s true that every actor did match their dialogue with the characters’ mouth-shapes. But even then, somehow, the pacing of each line was out of whack. Certain inflections were gone, characters who tended to speak fast were now (somehow) speaking slower, and way too many characters almost talk over each other because they didn’t do enough takes to tweak the length. Some lines even went past a cut and into the next shot because the VA director probably didn’t ask the actors to try it few more times. And again, I know these actors are better than this; but it just seems like the Voice Director seriously had no idea what he or she was doing with this project or this material, and just sort of sped through the recording sessions so that CBS wouldn’t have to pay these actors as much for the work.

 

Number Four: Editing and Sound Design

And the icing on this fruit-cake of a mess is most definitely the lack of audio mixing. There was absolutely no care taken to actually edit these recordings so that they blended into the scene. In the original soundtrack, dialogue is edited to sound muffled, distant, indoors, outdoors, in a room with a reverb, or outside with an echo: allowing every voice to sound like it’s actually there in that space reacting to the environment. But in the CBS re-dub, absolutely none of that happens. The sound is just left as-is, at the same level and the same EQ throughout the entire film. And it completely takes me out of the experience at every turn.

But thankfully, despite all of that, no one has to listen to this waste of a dub if they don’t wish to. =)

 

 

To wrap things up, I would highly recommend Robbie the Reindeer: Hooves of Fire, and hopefully its sequels as well (but ONLY in its original, British Dub); to anyone who loves Wallace and Grommit, anyone who loves stop-motion, and anyone who loves British comedy. It is well worth your time and money.

A charming little animated short for anyone’s collection.

 

 

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