Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Sony Hack Scrum

The situation has been changing so fast, I've had to rewrite this post multiple times. If there are any inconsistencies I've missed, apologies in advance.

When Sony Pictures Entertainment's computer systems were hacked, resulting in the leak of massive amounts of sensitive data, initially it seemed like a minor matter. So a few screeners got leaked, Hollywood accounting tactics were thwarted, and sensitive employee information got out. Though a lot of people were affected, it seemed like something that would blow over in a few days or weeks. Sony would have to cough up money for better security, to settle a few lawsuits, and maybe chip in for some credit monitoring for its employees. Big corporations have been hacked often enough that these situations are becoming fairly common. Much of the stolen data seemed fairly benign - a marketing presentation for "After Earth" and E-mails from various employees griping about Adam Sandler. It was embarrassing, but hardly seemed damaging.

And then the "Jobs" E-mails came out. And the insensitive Obama exchange. And the MPAA's anti-piracy strategy. And then the Spider-man reboot plans. And a screenplay for the next James Bond film is floating around now, along with some meeting notes that suggest the production may be massively over-budget. All kinds of financials, from Then last week, the hackers started threatening Sony employees and their families. When the first rumors about the attack being connected to North Korea and the Seth Rogen comedy "The Interview" started circulation, I ran across several snarkers dismissing the whole thing as a publicity stunt. With the latest threats against movie theaters and the release of "The Interview" cancelled, everyone's taking it seriously now. I agree with Sony's decision here - averting a potential tragedy is worth taking the financial hit, but I'm also disturbed by the precedent it's setting. What happens when a movie or television show depicting something really controversial is targeted by future hackers?

There's also the question of how we process the information from the leaked E-mails. Aaron Sorkin penned a strong reproach to the gossipmongers for the New York Times a few days ago, pointing out that people's lives and careers are being ruined. Of course he's absolutely right. And I confess I've been ignoring him completely. I haven't watched any of those leaked screeners and wouldn't touch any of the stolen employee data with a forty-foot pole. I know Sony chief Amy Pascal said something about Obama she shouldn't have, but I don't know exactly what, and I do not care to. However, the inside baseball stuff has been fascinating. Being able to glimpse some of the candid negotiations and the politicking that goes on behind the scenes to get movies made, and seeing how the studio big shots conduct business is too much for me to resist. The E-mails detailing Sony's attempts to get a Steve Jobs biopic off the ground have been the juiciest since they involve so many big names, but some of the lower-profile exchanges have been just as dramatic. There's the way CBS and the NFL screwed over "Jeopardy" and "Wheel of Fortune" this year, for instance. Or the whole business with the gender pay disparity for the stars of "American Hustle."

I know. It's wrong to be reading these stories. But I've only ever read about exchanges like these second-hand, years and years after the movies in question have come and gone, and somebody wants to write their memoirs. Getting to follow the conversations first-hand, some dated only a few weeks ago, is a rare thrill. And learning that the power players are human beings with often horrendous spelling and grammar is a thrill too. It's one thing to hear about Scott Rudin's attitude, and another entirely to read the insults he casually lobs at A-listers. There is no film obsessive who hasn't secretly dreamed of having this kind of access, to be able to confirm that the people who were responsible for "Grown Ups 2" disliked it just as much as its critics.

The price of that access, though, is a movie studio that has lost the ability to operate. This is a severe blow to Sony. These leaks are going to have serious repercussions for years, and may change how the entire film industry operates. Major projects are in jeopardy. Several of the Sony top brass will probably be going down in flames. It will take the company a long time to recover, and they will lose more than money before it's all over.

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Friday, December 12, 2014

Trailers! Trailers! The 2015 is Almost Here Edition

It's December, which means that 2015 is just around the corner. This promises to be a pivotal year for Hollywood, with a slate chock full of big franchise films - though not as full as it was a year ago. Since the holiday movie season is in full swing, we've been getting lots of trailers for some of next year's biggest titles. Some of the highlights below. All links lead to Trailer Addict:

Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Let's get the big one out of the way first. We're still more than a year away from the release date, but this is a reassuring peek at the next "Star Wars" film. The visuals are right. The sound design is right. The music is bliss. Of course, a scant ninety seconds is too little to tell anything, and we all remember the raves that accompanied the first "Phantom Menace" trailer, right? For all we know that little soccer ball droid may be the next Jar Jar Binks. I'm staying optimistic though, because so far J.J. Abrams has been doing everything right.

Jurassic World - Isn't this the plot of "Jaws 3," but with genetically engineered dinosaurs? I think some of the concepts presented here are promising - theme park visits gone wrong are always fun - but this is a terrible trailer. The last half in particular, that switches to a horror tone and tries to make the "Jurassic Park" theme sound sinister, is just a bungle. The only bright spot in the whole thing is really Chris Pratt, and the "Jurassic World" creators were very, very lucky to be able to capitalize on the great 2014 he's had.

Tomorrowland - What I love about this teaser is that I still have no idea what the movie is about. I don't know who George Clooney's character is. I don't know what the mysterious "Tomorrowland" is. However, there's such a great sense of wonder and mystery conveyed here. I've been hearing about this project for ages, and Brad Bird has a track record that few can match up to, so I'm very curious to see the final result. At the time of writing, this is definitely my most highly anticipated blockbuster for next year.

Pan - I like so many of the people involved in this movie, but I'm not sure about this. I'm not opposed to origin stories, but the premise of Pan and Hook once being allies never sat quite right with me. Also, there's the Tiger Lily problem. I understand that Joe Wright did colorblind casting and a few of the major characters are dark-skinned - but none of them feature in the trailer or in any of the marketing. Instead, we have a lily-white Tiger Lily played by Rooney Mara everywhere. Way to shoot yourself in the foot, guys.

Inside Out - Formerly known as "The Untitled PIXAR Movie That Takes You Inside the Mind." The first teaser trailer was too brief for my tastes, so it's good to see the concept fleshed out a little with a domestic situation playing out between the main character and her parents, as seen through the eyes of their anthropomorphized emotions. It loses a few points for the stereotypical parents, but this is only a brief glimpse, so it's way too early to be drawing any conclusions yet. And you gotta love that tagline.

Cinderella - I was disappointed when Mark Romanek left the director's chair, but was faintly hopeful about Kenneth Branagh taking over. But I can't see Branagh anywhere in this trailer, which is just relentlessly Disney, Disney, Disney. Cate Blanchett's evil stepmother looks great, and Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother should be a treat, but otherwise this looks like exactly what you'd expect yet another live-action remake of a Disney animated classic to look like. Do we at least get talking mice?

Terminator: Genisys - I was intially skeptical, and I still think the title is blah, but boy is it great to see Arnold Schwarzenegger in this franchise again. "Terminator" is one of those franchises that can be credibly rebooted since there's so much time travel and timeline rewriting in the premise itself. I'm not thrilled at having Jai Courtney fronting this, as he's been underwhelming in everything I've seen in him to date, but I'm excited about Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor, who we all know is the real lead anyway.

Chappie - Neil Blomkamp's last movie "Elysium" looked great but was ultimately an unfortunate bust. It's hard to say if "Chappie" will be more of the same. This trailer doesn't offer many plot details, so it's essentialy an effects reel. The robot looks fantastic, but I'm wary that he's being voiced by Sharlto Copley, whose performances have just gotten more and more bizarre lately. But on the upside there's Hugh Jackman and Die Antwoord. Put this one in the "wait and see column."

Avengers: Age of Ultron - I'm linking the preview clip shown during "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." here instead of the actual teaser because, let's be honest, it's so much better. You've got the humor, the checking in with all the old characters, and the villain making a splashy entrance. What does the teaser have? Random ballerina shots and a creepy version of "I've Got No Strings" from "Pinocchio." Seriously, what is it with trailers lately trying to make completely non-creepy songs sound creepy?

Mad Max: Fury Road - Wheeeeeeeeeeeee!

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

My Top Ten 3rd Rock From the Sun Episodes

I miss "3rd Rock From the Sun." It was the last sitcom of the '90s that I really loved, where each and every member of the ensemble was a joy, and I never missed an episode if I could help it. More silliness than science-fiction, it nevertheless appealed to the geek in me, and certainly the alienated teenager in me that didn't feel quite like she was cut out to be part of the human race for a few years. Below are a sampling of fondly remembered episodes, unranked and ordered by airdate. As usual, I will cheat and count two-parters as single entries - and there are a lot of them this time. It's been at least a decade since I've watched any of the episodes, but I'm pretty confident about these picks. Once I started reading over synopses, there wasn't an episode I didn't remember.

"Dick's First Birthday" - Or as I remember it, the one with Dick in the amazing tight leather pants. A big part of why the series worked was the performance of John Lithgow as the High Commander Dick Solomon, and this episode is the reason why I committed to becoming a regular viewer. It's so rare to find a performer so committed to such a ridiculous performance, and I loved every second.

"Body & Soul & Dick" - Dick is recruited to deliver the eulogy for a colleague who everyone hated, prompting all the Solomons to think about their own mortality. I greatly preferred the show's earlier seasons because they tried more earnestly to examine the big questions about the human condition. They weren't always successful, and some attempts were downright cringeworthy, but this was one of the good ones.

"Dick Like Me" - The aliens exploring race and ethnicity could have been a total misfire, but the writing manages to strike a balance between irreverence and pointed commentary, and the actors sell it. There are lots of great little character moments too - Harry dancing, Nina's exasperation, and each Solomon's reaction to being declared Jewish. Alas, later episodes returning to the topic weren't nearly as successful.

"See Dick Continue to Run" - The second season opened with two episodes devoted to my favorite character in the entire series run: Evil Dick, who replaced regular Dick in the first season finale cliffhanger. Evil Dick had Lithgow was firing on all cylinders, smarmily wooing Professor Albright, subjugating the other aliens, and being an all around... well... Evil Dick. Lithgow won the Emmy a few days before this first aired and famously ended his speech by quoting this episode: "God bless television!"

"Fourth and Dick" - A good example of the show's formula working at its best. Dick dismisses homecoming activities as fuss and nonsense, only to be completely swept up in school spirit by the end of the episode. The other aliens have their own subplots, and everyone comes together at the end to discuss what they've learned. In this case, all the parts work, even the completely unrelated business with Tommy crushing on a choir teacher and Sally befriending Nina.

"Jolly Old St. Dick" - It might be because it's so close ot the holidays, but I love the way that the Solomons take on the madness of Christmas, especially the retail horror and gift-giving side of things. Dick of course plays the Scrooge, who learns to embrace the season after bah-humbing his way through most of the episode. I especially enjoy some of the bits with his students, who were a minor but always amusing part of the show.

"A Nightmare on Dick Street" - This was heavily promoted as a special two-parter with sequences presented in 3D. Even without the gimmick though, I thought this was lots of fun. The aliens have dreams for the first time, which they naturally panic and overreact to. We get to see the dreams too - neat little jaunts into the surreal. My favorite is Harry's musical number, written and co-starring Randy Newman.

"36! 24! 36! Dick!" - The Superbowl two-parter where a group of highly attractive newcomers, all played by supermodels, come to Rutherford and quickly have all the men in town entranced. Of course, they're a rival alien invasion force. The guest stars are well utilized, Sally gets one of her funniest turns when she plays infiltrator, and who knew that Cindy Crawford and French Stewart would have actual chemistry with each other?

"Dick's Big Giant Headache" - One of the greatest casting coups of all time is William Shatner as the Big Giant Head. Because of course he is. Shatner is a great sport, playing a caricature of himself as a boozing, womanizing egomaniac who sweeps Vicki Dubcek off her feet, to Harry's consternation. It's no wonder he made multiple return visits to Earth to compound the havoc in later seasons. Also, there's the epic "Twilight Zone" in-joke.

"The Loud Solomon Family: A Dickumentary" - A spoof on the "An American Family" docu-series, which uncovered the dysfunctions in an average family's lives. When they discover they're the subject of Professor Albright's project, the Solomons let the attention go to their heads, and make up all sorts of shocking revelations to generate more drama. This one was before its time, as reality TV hadn't really taken off yet, but boy did it stay relevant.
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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Ghibli Princess

Isao Takahata is the other founder of Studio Ghibli, alongside the much more renowned Hayao Miyazaki. His masterpiece "Grave of the Fireflies," is an indisputed classic, but otherwise his films have had far less press and attention than Miyazaki's work. This isn't surprising as Takahata's films tend to be less accessible, and often involve very specific aspects of Japanese culture that can be difficult to translate. He's also less prolific, and much harder to categorize as a director. While most fans can identify a Miyazaki film within a few minutes, Takahata's style seems to change for every production. None of his Ghibli features have the same art style, and some are wildly different from each other.

His latest, "The Tale of Princess Kaguya," is a good example. It resembles no other Ghibli film, and I'm hard pressed to think of any other animated project that looks or feels quite like it. Retelling the Japanese folk tale of a bamboo cutter who finds a magical baby girl in a bamboo stalk, the whole film is designed to look like Japanese ink brush paintings. All the line work and the color palette reflect this, especially in the occasional pauses that the film takes to let us simply look at and enjoy the natural scenery. The princess herself, called Little Bamboo as a child and Kaguya when she's older, has the eyes and face of a typical Ghibli heroine, but her expressions and her movements are rendered so much more artfully. The amount of detail in the deceptively simple visuals, especially the sequences that feature a lot of quick motion, is extraordinary.

The film follows the life of its heroine from a laughing baby to a conflicted young woman, who struggles against the social expectations of being a noble. Her adoptive father believes Kaguya's happiness is dependent on rising to a high station, but she wants to remain free from the many suitors who vie to win her hand. A thoughtful character study of a popular figure from Japanese legend, the focus on her inner turmoil helps to carry the lengthy film through an episodic structure with a lot of loose ends. Kaguya may be a fairy tale princess, but her woes are deep ones about love and loss and family. And they are dealt with seriously, resulting in great empotional impact.

At the same time, this is one of the funniest and most lighthearted Ghibli films, with a lot of emphasis on caricature and physical humor. Aside from Kaguya and her childhood sweetheart Sutemaru, all the characters are wildly exaggerated in form. Kaguya's adoptive parents are squat, dumpling-shaped, and look like they'd be more at home in Takahata's domestic comedy "My Neighbors the Yamadas." The flaws of the noble suitors are immediately revealed in the way certain features have been emphasized. My favorite character is Kaguya's chubby little maid, who never says much, but provides plenty of comic relief.

I love a film that can show me something I haven't seen before, and that's why "Princess Kaguya" is my favorite Ghibli film in years. I admired "The Wind Rises" and "Arietty," but they were both well-tread ground for the studio, and too many elements were very familiar. There are certainly some familiar bits of design work and story themes in "Princess Kaguya," but I've never seen anything like Kaguya's flight from the capital, done in a frenzy of rough charcoal lines that emphasize pure speed and motion. And the character animation in the joyous sequence where the baby princess learns to crawl, and then walk within only a few minutes.

Though he's made no announcement, it's likely that this is Isao Takahata's last animated film. It took him over a decade to complete "The Tale of Princess Kaguya," and at the age of 79 he's older and has had a longer film career than Miyazaki. I'm grateful that he managed to leave us with a final feature that hit ever so much harder than I expected it to. And has left absolutely no doubt in my mind that Studio Ghibli truly was built on the work of two auteurs, who have both done so much to advance the art of animation.
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Friday, November 28, 2014

A Little Down on "Doctor Who"

Spoilers ahead for the latest series.

First things first. I love Michelle Gomez as the newest incarnation of The Master. I bought her as the character immediately, and thought her appearance in the finale episodes was a blast. I really hope that she comes back for more episodes in the future, and says the word "bananas" a bunch more times. However, her performance highlighted for me how much I've been struggling to accept Peter Capaldi as the newest Doctor, and after a whole season I find that I'm not quite there yet. I find Capaldi a tremendous performer, and he's delivered some great moments over this past series. The man has a wonderful facility with ridiculous speeches. However, Capaldi's Doctor has been so much grimmer and morally gray than his most recent predecessors that I'm having trouble thinking of them as the same character. And though he's shown a sillier side on occasion, I miss the goofiness of Matt Smith and David Tennant. This series of "Doctor" Who" has been plenty compelling, but it just hasn't been as much fun.

Look at Danny Pink, for example, played by Samuel Anderson. As Clara's love interest he was a major part of this year, and received lots and lots of character development and screen time. However, he was such a sourpuss every time he appeared, angsting over his past as a soldier, getting hostile with the Doctor, or suggesting that his relationship with Clara was an jeopardy. And what a relationship. They seemed to have about five minutes in total of happy, flirty, enjoyment of each other amidst endless scenes of awkward bungling, Clara being evasive, Danny being suspicious, and the threat of separation dominating nearly every scene of them together. For these two, the finale was all about sorrowful partings and somber declarations of love and loyalty. It was difficult to really root for their relationship when the relationship just seemed to be an endless source of unhappiness for both of them. It certainly helped to flesh out Clara as a character, but I couldn't help feeling frustrated with all the doom and gloom.

Part of the issue was that here weren't as many comedic episodes this year, but the few that were in the mix like "Robot of Sherwood" and "The Caretaker" were promising. I like the Doctor as a grump, who is sometimes a few steps behind where human nature is concerned as opposed to being the near-omniscient alien smarty-pants he's been in the past. However, the level of grumpiness hasn't been consistent, and there have definitely been some transitional bumps. The best episodes have ended up being the more horrific ones. My favorite of the year was "Mummy on the Orient Express," one of those high concept, big idea shows where all the pieces fit just right. This year's scripts have been notably ambitious - even the installments that have fallen flat like "Listen" and "Kill the Moon" haven't lacked for daring. The series' big arcs have also featured some real substance, hinging on a more thoughtful, more personal examination of the Doctor's character through Clara's relationship with him. But did it have to be so morose?

It might just be that I haven't watched any of the older "Who" episodes with a more mature actor playing the Doctor, or that this kind of character drama is not what I've grown to expect from the program. Sure, it's been hinted that many of the Doctor-Companion relationships haven't been very healthy, but this is the first time I've seen the show really dwell on the issue, and I think it may have been too much for the format to handle. "Doctor Who" is still a kids' show in my mind. Or it might be because there's been relatively little connection to earlier series this year. The Paternoster Gang showed up in the premiere, but otherwise there hasn't been much carryover of characters aside from Clara - and she was such a nonentity in the Matt Smith series, it felt like we were starting over from scratch. So it was great to have the Master and UNIT and the army of Cybermen in the finale, both for the injection of goofy fun and for the connection to the rest of the "Doctor Who" canon.

I'll certainly keep watching though, for Nick Frost as Santa Claus at Christmas and for potentially better to come. I hope that Clara's love life brightens up a bit in the future and that Capaldi's doctor can be a bit more a grumpy adventurer and a bit less of an introspective bundle of doubts. After his big speech in the finale, I hope some of those questions about his morality can be put to bed for a while. And we can get back to the business of exploring and saving the universe unhindered.
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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

My Favorite Mike Nichols Movie

I've avoided commenting on the deaths of famous celebrities and artists, but every so often I have the opportunity to post something timely that could function as such. And so we come to Mike Nichols, one of the instigators of the New Hollywood era, who made small scale dramas and comedies that were wonderfully reflective of their times. He's best known for "The Graduate," the landmark 1967 coming-of-age film that launched the career of Dustin Hoffman, my favorite actor. "The Graduate" was very much a film of the '60s though, and as funny and touching as it is, I never related to it the way I did to some of Nichols' other films. Like "Working Girl," which was such a time capsule of the '80s. Or "Primary Colors," which provided an uncomfortably close look at the Clinton years. Then there's "The Birdcage," which wouldn't have worked nearly as well if it hadn't been made in the mid-90s, right as the culture was starting to change and become more accepting of LGBT folks and their relationships. I love it to bits, and it's my favorite Nichols film because it always makes me laugh.

"The Birdcage" is such a deceptively simple movie. A gay couple pretend to be straight in order to meet the conservative parents of their son's fiancee. Miscommunications cause mix-ups and misunderstandings, leading to beautifully executed comedic farce. Though very open about the homosexuality of the main characters, the movie was such a universal crowd-pleaser, even when it was released in 1996. Armand and Albert were two of the first explicitly gay characters I remember headlining such a mainstream comedy, and while I didn't have much exposure to gay relationships, I understood who they were immediately - loving parents willing to upend their lives and compromise their identities out of love for their son. "The Birdcage" is also, we must remember, a remake. "La Cage aux Folles" was first a 1973 French play, which was adapted into a 1978 French-Italian film and a 1983 American musical, both very successful. "The Birdcage" was based on the film version, which I've seen and enjoyed. It's a lovely feature that originated many of the best bits of character work and dialogue, but it has absolutely nothing on "The Birdcage," which boasts a collection of comedic greats at the top of their game.

Mike Nichols was an actor's director, and his films are all about showcasing the performances he was able to get out of his ensembles. Though a constant presence in Hollywood movies over the past twenty years, Nathan Lane never had a screen role as memorable as Albert. He's such an extreme caricature, but also such a loving one, who could be offended? Hank Azaria is monstrously talented, but has proven difficult for many creatives to use effectively. Not here, where Nichols helped him turn Agador (Spartacus!) into a scene stealer. And then there's Robin Williams, so restrained in this role compared to everything else he was making at the time, he's practically the film's straight man (so to speak), but he gets the little moments to break out when appropriate - the immortal "eclectic celebration of the dance" scene, for instance. And there was Gene Hackman in a rare comedic role. And the underappreciated Diane Wiest. And Christine Baranski at her cuddliest. And even a very young Calista Flockhart, showing off burgeoning comedic skills.

I miss comedies like this one, that were okay with being a little risque instead of hitting you over the head with vulgar content. That could take a stand for gay relationships without being a message movie. That could discuss politics but somehow never felt remotely political. That tossed a few ancient Jewish jokes into the mix just because it could. Best of all, I love that it could have a great big heart, one revealed not through a saccharine love scene, but in a wistful conversation between two middle-aged men, and when their son finally works up the courage to introduce his mother to his future in-laws. It hurts to lose Mike Nichols, who seemed to make movies like this effortlessly, and very funny, touching ones to boot. I'm not knocking iis dramas, which are consistently excellent, but to me Nichols will always be the man who knew "The Graduate" had to end with Benjamin and Elaine becoming their parents, and "The Birdcage" had to end with Gene Hackman in drag.
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Monday, November 24, 2014

A Peek "Over the Garden Wall"

There are some shows that seem destined to slip through the cracks, that are so unique and ephemeral that it's difficult to believe that they really exist. Billed as Cartoon Network's first miniseries, "Over the Garden Wall" is one of these curiosities, telling one complete story in ten serialized ten-minute episodes. At first glance it looks like exactly the kind of content you'd expect from "Adventure Time" veteran Patrick McHale. Two young brothers, Wirt (Elijah Wood) and Greg (Collin Dean) are lost in the woods and trying to get home. Their designs echo vintage illustrations from old volumes of children's stories, though their patter is very modern. Other characters they meet include a talking bluebird, Beatrice (Melanie Lynskey), an intimidating Woodsman (Christopher Lloyd), and a genial horse (Fred Stoller). The villain of the piece is a sinister creature known as The Beast (Samuel Ramey).

What sets "Over the Garden Wall" apart is how beautifully realized its universe is, and the way the storytelling is handled. Each episode neatly parcels out a little information at a time, gradually revealing larger stakes and character details. Initially all you know about Wirt and Greg is that they wear funny hats, they're brothers, and they're lost. By the end of the last episode, there are satisfying explanations for everything, including a lot of the odd little conceits that abound in children's shows - like why Greg is always lugging around a frog and starts out the journey with his pants full of candy. There's also the atmosphere, which is never inappropriate for children, but mixes whimsy with a darker, more foreboding undercurrent of dread. It's fairy-tale like in the best sense, evoking both wonder and horror. I was surprised how dark and psychologically fraught the series got. At the same time it maintains a good balance of fun and silliness. Some installments are much lighter and more comedic, and even the grimmest ones will have a good laugh or two.

As an animation fan, I love the multiple references and homages to the older comics and cartoons of the 1920s and 30s. Many of the designs look like like they came straight out of old Max Fleischer "Betty Boop" shorts or early Disney "Silly Symphonies." One episode features a dream sequence that borrows heavily from "Little Nemo in Slumberland." Jazz and ragtime songs are incorporated into the narrative now and then, several with vocals by Jack Jones, evoking the era even further. The illusion isn't quite perfect, as the actual animation is very much the same quality as Cartoon Network's usual output - well designed, but a little static and a little flat. Though the characters have rubber hose limbs, they don't move like proper rubber hose characters. That's not to say that "Over the Garden Wall" isn't lovely to look at, but the budget constraints are very evident.

Aesthetics aside, the show's sensibilities are very modern, particularly the characters of Wirt, an insecure teenager who keeps questioning things that don't make sense to him, and Beatrice, the helpful bluebird whose slightly acerbic attitude doesn't quite match her cuddly exterior. Initially I thought they were a way to inject some self-aware, ironic dialogue aimed at amusing parents, but "Over the Garden Wall" actually makes the incongruity part of its story instead of just pointing it out. Picking up the little clues and foreshadowing from their asides and offhand comments is a lot of fun. On the other hand, my favorite character is the younger brother Greg, an eternally optimistic little boy whose behavior is completely universal and timeless. He makes up songs, changes the name of his frog every five minutes, and has an infectious never-say-die attitude that diffuses a lot of the creepier material.

Best of all, "Over the Garden Wall" feels exactly the right length. The running time is roughly the same as a feature film, but the episodic structure and the serialization give the creators a lot more space to explore the show's intriguing universe while digging into its secrets. Much of the same crew worked on "Adventure Time," and I've enjoyed the way that show has slowly built its mythology over the course of multiple seasons. However, the payoff has been extremely slow in coming. "Over the Garden Wall" wraps up everything in 100 minutes while still giving the viewer the feeling that they've come a long way with the characters.

I hope that Cartoon Network tries more experiments like this, and I hope that "Over the Garden Wall" manages to stick around in the public consciousness and reach a broader audience over time. Miniseries and special event programming like this can get lost in the shuffle because it doesn't fit any of the usual programming categories - you have to go back to things like "Clone Wars" or MTV's "Liquid Television" to find similar animated projects - and "Over the Garden Wall" is one that deserves to be remembered.

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