Rewatched Jun 15, 2012
Don Hein’s review:
Saw this as a kid, but it wasn't one of my childhood movies and I had forgotten details of it. There were moments etched in my brain when re-watching this the other day, but the story felt brand new.
Let's start with the animation. I love what Pixar is doing, but there really is something so heartfelt about hand drawn animation. Like miniatures, the fact that human hands touched and brought them to life is something the eye sees and senses. All the imperfections are what we love, like clay-mation, stop-motion, hell even the argument of film versus digital projection, they all fall into us NOT wanting what we see on the screen to be "perfect" because life, nature is not perfect. But the soul comes through much more in animation, especially the good stuff and this is amazing.
I kept finding myself seeing Dragon's Lair and Space Ace, two video games that I was in awe of as a kid, in the moments on the screen. Bluth has such a unique style, with his gorgeous backgrounds and facial expressions, that I just love. And the way he really captures the animal's characteristics in each character is really excellent.
But enough about the technical craft at hand (though, I found myself really enjoying the score as well), let's talk about the story. This is heart-wrenching stuff. This single mother doing everything she can, fighting these amazing odds for the good of her children all while being wrapped up in what her husband left for her would be the stuff of a heavy drama in any other format. That Bluth trusts kids to soak all this up is brave and I do remember being involved as a kid, but her struggle really hit home watching this as an adult.
I love the moment when the bird (who I remember loving as a kid, but found a bit annoying now, despite smiling at Dom Deluise's performance, which is fun) starts to sing and is just cut off. No singing here, besides one little song that is tied into the score nicely. It's refreshing because no, animation does not mean musical.
There's a subtlety to the whole thing and this amazing build to what feels like a rushed ending. Not sure of the story here, maybe Bluth had to cut his budget, but despite some amazing moments in the climax, the end feels hurried through, especially with all the rats just being gone at the end. I have a feeling there was more that needed to be cut and the film suffers for it.
But leading up to it, I was fully invested. The way the tension is ratcheted up, the intense moments (I do remember the near-deaths and, more importantly, real deaths, from seeing this as a kid) are all really well handled and very clearly designed and executed.
As I mentioned, I was fully invested, but felt like the ending came a bit suddenly. Keeps this from being a Great film, but it has stood the test of time quite well and I really, really enjoyed re-watching it.