Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Women. We'll Settle for Half.

That's the official t-shirt of an organization called See Jane, founded by Geena Davis to correct the remarkable continuing disparity between male and female characters in programming aimed at young people. Incredibly, the entertainment industry needs more studies and data to convince it that girls, and female smurf-like characters and animals and so forth, are still largely missing from the sewage system that is mass media. Such activities keep the Annenberg School in business, I suppose, but sheesh, we all know TV and movies are male-dominated stories told from male perspectives with a pink bow slapped on here and there, and rather frequently a dead mother, to make us shed a tear. What a crushing bore! If it weren't for the exceptions, many of them celebrated right here at Alternative Films for Kids, we'd give up. But the exceptions shine so gloriously that we, like the good people at See Jane, prefer to keep pushing for improvement. Davis spoke about See Jane recently at the National Conference for Media Reform. (After watching Geena, have a look at the amazing keynote by Bill Moyers).

More good news for girls: Henry Selick is now in production with an animated screen adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Coraline. This is a story about a girl. That's it! No boy sidekick, no brother, and very few male characters to distract from the strength, determination and loving maturity of the girl who travels to the dark side on a rescue mission and finds her way back again—without a Frodo, a Skywalker, a Buzz Lightyear or a Sully to help her.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Musik und Zaubereien & Märchen und Fabeln

250 minutes, released 2007

150 minutes, rel. 2006
Lotte Reiniger
Black & white shorts compiled on DVDs
All ages

If you've seen The Adventures of Prince Achmed (scroll down, it's there somewhere), you and your children will no doubt be delighted that more of the work of Lotte Reiniger, the brilliant German animator who lived from 1899 to 1981, is available on DVD. The delicate silhouettes, in black & white, tinted, and in color (though they're best with the more muted backgrounds), enchant in these versions of popular fairy tales such as "The Golden Goose," "Cinderella" (note for younger viewers: the sister slices off her heel and makes a bloody mess!) and "Jack in the Beanstalk." Musik und Zaubereien gives us a Magic Flute with the best bits of Papageno—as he sings, women turn to birds and fly away, eggs hatch to reveal Papageno & Papagena's babies. "Carmen" has a happy ending and a feminist spirit that infuses many of Reiniger's short films. Hours of stunning animation here, mostly suitable for all ages. These may be hard to rent but can be ordered from—I was surprised to find that my U.S. account and password transferred without a hitch.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Way Things Go

Peter Fischli & David Weiss, 1987
color, 30 minutes
All ages

"Everyday objects doing cool things," is how my daughter described this chain of events set off by a spinning garbage bag. Foam, fire, explosions, liquids and wheels, a bit of physics and chemistry, and you have thirty minutes of ooh-ing and ah-ing. Delightfully, this film is ultimately about story, and children will love being the narrator, but they should spend at least one viewing listening. The Honda ad, "Cog," that purloined the concept and ideas from this film inspires awe too, but the original is more fun—longer, messier, and the objects have more personality.
Highly recommended for all ages.