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Been a while since I've done one of these. As some may already know, I am a big animation buff, and once in a while I give my thoughts on recent animation projects I may have seen. So here goes!


ENCANTO


The most recent animated feature offering from Disney, released to streaming right on Christmas Eve.


The family of a tragic matriarch in Columbia is blessed with magic, except for one granddaughter, Mirabel, who is just a normal human. Despite earning the disdain from a good portion of her family, Mirabel seems to be the one to save the family 'miracle' or may doom them all.


This movie is a pure delight. It an animated movie from Disney with songs by Lin Manuel Miranda. How could that go wrong? Visually, it's just stunning, with a bright and brilliant color palette, super-fluid quality animation, and lots of amazing visual designs and staging. In terms of sheer spectacle this is Disney animation at the top of its form.


Storywise it's also very strong, but maybe not at the level or emotional depth of say something like Coco or Wolfwalkers. I don't think it's designed to be, given how fluidly non-diegetic a lot of the singing and dancing numbers are. There's always a trade off with doing that. On one hand, it allows you to stage some amazing visual and audial spectacles that can wow the audience. On the other, doing so tends to lose a good portion of the verisimilitude, which can take away form a potential emotional impact. But I think it was tending more toward the lighter end of the emotional storytelling spectrum, and succeeds in still telling a compelling story. Definitely worth seeing.


And we don't talk about Bruno!


DOGS IN SPACE


A great little surprise that seemed to come out of nowhere from Netflix, this is a ten-episode comedy series about, well, Dogs in space. The backstory is that Earth is dying from environmental neglect, so scientists genetically modified a few hundred dogs to be human-like and sent them into space in a town-sized starship to explore and seek out a new home for Earth's creatures. The series focuses around the usual band of sad-sack misfits who must figure out how to work together as a crew on one of the explorer subcraft.


Do you like light scifi adventure, a new spin on the Star Trek formula, and lots and lots of dog-based puns? Then you'll like Dogs In Space. The humor is usually not belly-busting, but each episode did leave me smiling throughout. The characters are quirky and actually very likable, even the kind-of villains, and you do feel for them. Apparently all the dogs were pets at one point, and even after a few years on the ship they still very much love their human owners and miss them dearly. This leads to some poignant plot lines among the hijinx, particularly since they haven't heard from Earth in all that time. Here's hoping we see a second season, as this series definitely deserves to keep going.


STAR TREK PRODIGY


Speaking of a new spin on the Star Trek formula, we have this new animated half-hour Star Trek series aimed squarely at a younger crowd, airing on Nickelodeon. Teen-age prisoners from a diverse number of species are trapped on a slave colony in an unknown section of the galaxy. An opportunity for escape comes when they stumble upon the apparently abandoned Federation starship the USS Protostar buried in a cave. A harrowing chase ensues across light years as they're hunted by their former captors.


This is as major a departure from the usual Star Trek fare as Lower Decks was, but in a completely different way. In fact, in many ways, it feels more like a Star Wars animated series than a Star Trek show, but given the show's quality so far that's not a bad thing. In fact, the central premise seems to be, 'what if Star Wars characters discovered a Star Trek ship?' And it is interesting seeing that instead of a Federation crew chasing after a MacGuffin, the Federation actually IS the MacGuffin here, as the kids try to figure out this alien, ultra-tech ship while fleeing for their lives, with the vague promise of the Federation, out there somewhere, that may provide them with a safe haven.


Visually, it's very well done, with good but not spectacular digital animation. Some of the visual designs seem a little off, and the fluidity is a bit janky in some action scenes. But it's mostly a great series to look at.


Only five episodes are currently available, with the other five of the first season coming after the first of the year in 2022. Here's hoping it keeps up the quality, and doesn't fall into the abysmal storytelling traps that Star Trek Discovery did.


OLIVE THE OTHER REINDEER


I try to watch this once a year around Christmas time. It is one of the great underrated TV Christmas specials, based on a children's book by J. Otto Seibold and first premiering in 1999. The story is that Olive, a dog with a heart of gold (is there any other kind though, really?) mishears Santa say he needs 'all of' the other reindeer when one of his sleigh-pullers breaks a leg. So she's off on an odyssey to the North Pole to fill in and save Christmas.


This cartoon gushes with pure whimsy and charm. There's puns everywhere, with great humor with the noble Olive and her shyster penguin companion Martini, as they meet very colorful characters on the way to the North Pole and try to foil a comically villainous mailman. It's just great stuff. But what people most remember about this special is its visual style, with greatly abstracted character designs that look like the love children of Picasso and Dr. Seuss. But in a good way! It has some of the stiffness one would expect of computer animation from the late-90s, but the visual designs are so stylized that for the most part it works well for the story even today.


The special is available freely on Youtube the last I checked, and probably elsewhere. Hope you check it out!


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