Thursday, 12 September 2013

Arjun: The Warrior Prince

Arjun is the middle of five brothers and son of an abdicated king.  Their return to the empire sends ripples through the aristocracy as their claim to the throne matches that of their cousins.  Political intrigue ensues as if Arjun and his brothers cannot be assassinated before long, a war will surely come to pass.

Disclaimer: I have no prior knowledge of Arjun (a.k.a. Arjuna) or the original Mahabharata epic from which this film is inspired.  As such I can only offer a superficial opinion compared to more culturally fluent audiences, and I get the impression the story is widely known throughout India to which this film is targeted.  A little prerequisite knowledge might be useful to the viewer, but I didn’t really feel that I was missing a whole lot out by coming in blind and still feel confident in recommending this film to anyone wanting a grand-scale film.

Arjun’s story covers many years as he grows into adulthood and the film rolls at a steady pace.  The film’s grand scale is weighted by following only a few key characters and resists in indulging itself in its potentially huge cast.  It keeps things simple, and is still easily able to fill its 95-minute running time (less 5 minutes if you skip the intermission).

Arjun’s characters are animated as cel-shaded CG characters on a mixture of 2D, 3D and composite backgrounds.  The slightly low frame rate of the animation is occasionally distracting but the overall quality of the film is quite high.  It’s below the usual Disney/Pixar standard, but is easily several notches above the majority of its home competitors.  Some of the 2D background work is particularly stunning and conveys the scale of the story well.

One of the more intriguing elements about Arjun is that Disney logo seen at the beginning of the film and draped on the promotional art.  Disney had no hand in the film’s production and acts only as the film’s distributor, so it would have been easy for them to release this title as a Touchstone or Buena Vista release and think nothing more of it.  The logo appears almost as a seal of approval that this is a film they are happy to be associated with in the Indian market, possibly with half an eye to encourage more films of this standard to be produced.  Don’t hold your breath for a western release as the subject matter is probably seen as too culturally unique for general audiences while the violence beyond anything you’ve seen in any other animated Disney product.  The local DVD happily contains good quality English subtitles however and is definitely worth seeking out.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Ronal the Barbarian

Ronal is the only weakling in a tribe of Barbarians.  They haven’t been invaded for years simply because no one is stupid enough to try.  Inevitably though the bad guys do arrive everyone bar Ronal is captured, so it is up to him to rescue everyone, find love and save the day.  You know, that kind of thing, until the point where Ronal’s invisible potion runs out before he can cover his balls…

Ronal the Barbarian is a Dutch-made film from the makers of Terkel in Trouble that parodies pretty much every fantasy film you could care to mention.  The barbarians are self-absorbed meatheads, the amazons are crazy nymphos and the bad guys are more than a little bit kinky.  The clichéd plot and shallow characters serve the film’s parody nature, and is a juvenile giggle throughout.  Also in its favour is that it’s one of the nicest looking CG films coming from outside of America.  It’s no masterpiece, but a bit of rude fun and requires next to no brain power.

It’s unavailable in the English speaking market, but is widely available on DVD from other countries and many of them include the English dub (I have a French copy for example).

Tuesday, 3 September 2013


Francis is the new cat in town as his human owner moves them into a new home.  As soon as they arrive however, Francis discovers a murdered cat in his back yard.   He decides to investigate as to who would commit such a terrible crime, and more importantly, why?

Based on the novel of the same name, Felidae is a crime story that pulls very few punches.  Made in Germany in 1994, and apparently holding the record as the country’s most expensive animated feature to produce, this is a remarkably hard-edged film.  The character designs are not far from your average 80s Disney or Don Bluth-type feature, but it makes no attempts at cheap humour to make light of its serious content.  Felidae is not a subversive comedy nor an arthouse curiosity but a straight attempt to make a mainstream film for an adult audience.  Sinply put it’s just a good film.

The story is lengthy and suitably convoluted as Francis delves deeper into the mystery, discovering more victims, a sinister cult, animal experimentation and ultimately a bigger conspiracy that brings all the parts together.  There are leaps in logic and all too convenient coincidences throughout, but it helps the film keep a decent pace and is not too distracting from the overall impact.  I cannot emphasise enough as to Felidae’s dark side to sensitive viewers.  Apparently fine for 12 years olds in Germany, but I’d land this is strictly in the UK 15 camp with its blunt depictions of violence and sex and one of Francis’ dream sequences being particularly disturbing, and completely brilliant.  I like to avoid spoilers, but yes be assured it’s pretty crazy at times.

To my knowledge there is no official release of Felidae in any English-speaking territory, however the German DVD does contain a full English dub and is well worth seeking out.  There are no subtitles, but the dub holds decent performances and is foulmouthed enough to convince me that it faithfully retains the original German vibe.  Felidae is unique, and very much worth seeking out.