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An animation summer with unexpectedly rich harvest - what makes this genre so versatile?

We had to wait a while for it, corona caused a delay, but now one of the most extraordinary Dutch productions of recent years is in cinemas. Coppelia. An expressionist romantic fairy tale about innocent love, the seduction of a robot woman and the obsession with looks. Its origin is a humorous ballet from 1870, which the Dutch National Ballet staged again a few years ago. For the film, director Jeff Tudor worked with dancers from this company and added animation. This creates an unusual combination of elements that blend together wonderfully.

Coppelia received rave reviews at the leading Annecy animation festival last year. Now it is the start of a summer with many, and especially very different animation titles. Which show that there is much more to the world than American-inspired 3D computer animation. We already saw two such examples last month. The space adventure Lightyear from the Disney-Pixar stable and the already highly successful Minions sequel film Minions: The Rise of Gru. This is the kind of animated entertainment that has become the norm especially for large cinema audiences.


That things can be different proves not only Coppelia, as well as the highly entertaining Knor by Mascha Halberstad. In this first Dutch full-length stop-motion animation with pleasantly quirky touches, a family is thrown into turmoil by the arrival of a sweet but disobedient piglet. Based on a children's book by Tosca Menten, but also full of delightful winks for adult viewers.

As I noted, the seven animation titles appearing between now and the end of August represent a broad palette of animation styles and possibilities. From very personal, hand-drawn work to more or less standard computer animation.

The influence of the Pixar characters is evident, for example, in the German-Austrian Moonbound. A fantasy for young children in which Peter must rescue his cheeky sister from the hands of the mean Moon Man. It seems as if the makers borrowed Pixar's software for this film adaptation of a German children's book and then kicked it into high gear. A rather chaotic and wildly off-kilter fantasy, beautifully designed, yet in terms of story, it is also full of stopgaps and clichés.

Cat World

The British-Chinese-American Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank (The legend of Samurai Henk) leans heavily towards the example of American animation blockbusters. But this very free adaptation of the hilarious western comedy Blazing Saddles (1974) is stylish and confident enough. An energetic martial-arts comedy full of heavy-handed slapstick, dry jokes and colourful characters. A gentle dog is forced to become a samurai in a cat world that has many Japanese traits.

The big differences between the titles in this animation summer have to do not only with the target audience - children, family or adult viewers - but also with the technique used and the ratio of realism to imagination. Although realism is a very relative concept. Drawn 2D animation can be more realistic than lifelike moving fantasy characters from the computer.

Similarly, the handiwork of stop-motion, as applied in Knor, a much more tangible world than the often rather polished computer animations. See those hairs and moustaches in Knor once a good flutter. At the same time, at Knor, which is set in a very true-to-life village setting, the smooth handling of reality stands out. The silicone-made puppets may seem rather slick and stylised at first glance, but they turn out to have a surprisingly recognisable and catchy expression. You look at them as if they were real actors.


On the other hand, contemporary computer animation obviously has great potential for creating fantastic worlds, such as Moonbound and Samurai Henk show. Until we see a film with yet another dimension of imagination. The Island by the unsurpassed Romanian Anca Damian mixes various animation techniques, including 3D, 2D and collages, for a challenging surreal variation on Robinson Crusoe. A kind of socially critical animated musical, as playful as it is changeable and full of weird incursions and metaphors. The sometimes dancing animation seems to have a will of its own. In any case, enchanting to watch. Not a children's film.

Even more idiosyncratic and especially personal is Polish artist Mariusz Wilczynski's emphatically hand-sketched wandering through memories and emotions. For fourteen years, he worked on Kill It and Leave This Town, a kind of therapeutic return to his childhood and his deceased loved ones and family. A very freely and associatively drawn world, and poetic rather than realistic. Looks almost like a moving sketchbook, and yet he could hardly have better captured the reality of his experience, his inner world and the atmosphere of the city of Lodz. It is surreal, melancholic, moving and impressive.

Mount Everest

Besides such free work that is closer to visual art than traditional film, there are also animations that follow fairly closely the familiar feature film pattern in terms of construction and narrative structure. Knor is a fine example of this. That this does not require hyper-realistic computer animation shows the César award-winning Le sommet des Dieux by Patrick Imbert. A gripping drama about a young photo reporter, an avid mountaineer and the deadly pull of Mount Everest. Realised as 2D animation with sober but faithfully drawn characters behaving exactly like actors in a feature film.

But even in drawn form, the mountain landscapes are majestic, and the climbs and sometimes life-threatening situations hair-raising. Even watching the film on my computer screen, I was violently affected a few times. I also remember in this context Flee (released last year), the similarly-styled story of a refugee. Then a reconstruction in animation form turns out to work just as well as reenacting with actors. And you can add slightly different touches with tone and style.


Surveying all these possibilities, it is easy to say that animation is at least as rich as feature film. Playful children's films alongside bizarre dream worlds, cheeky comedies but also dramatised documentaries, exuberant computer animations and the sober but expressive power of the drawing pen. Yet feature films have become the norm. No one is surprised by this, but if you stop to think about it, it is still striking that, for example, the exact opposite is true of the graphic novel. There, the drawn story comes first, not the picture novel. There will undoubtedly be economic reasons at play. After all, making an animated film is labour-intensive, time-consuming and expensive.

Once again Coppelia

How does Coppelia in all this? Its power lies mainly in the seamless interplay of actors, dance, music, drawings and 2D and 3D computer animation. On the one hand, the actors endearingly portray Zwaantje and Frans's budding infatuation. Also for young viewers, which the dance fantasy presented as a family film also aims at.

At the same time, Jeff Tudor and his co-directors Steven De Beul and Ben Tesseur of Beast Animation have not made it a registration of a dance performance. It starts with the painted animation sets of the innocent little town where there is an emphatic feel-good atmosphere. After which that initially sweet fantasy suddenly takes on science-fiction traits when the diabolical Dr Coppelius and his female robot descend on the spaceship-like laboratory. With which Coppelia yet also became another ode to classic silent film and Fritz Lang's Metropolis. The power of animation makes that unique cinematic experience possible.

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Leo Bankersen

Leo Bankersen has been writing about film since Chinatown and Night of the Living Dead. Reviewed as a freelance film journalist for the GPD for a long time. Is now, among other things, one of the regular contributors to De Filmkrant. Likes to break a lance for children's films, documentaries and films from non-Western countries. Other specialities: digital issues and film education.View Author posts

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