Rounding Out February with the Best in Animation

News of the week, streaming picks and more.

Welcome to our last issue for February! It’s been a big month for us. We truly didn’t expect the launch to be this successful — our hope was to hit 100 signups after a few months, but we reached that milestone within the first two days. We’d like to thank you all for your support up to this point.

Below, you’ll find the news of the week, three excellent short films to stream and a spotlight on a mind-bending indie project. There’s a little something for everyone in this installment of the Animation Obsessive newsletter — we hope you’ll enjoy!

Headlines of the week

Steamroller Studios unveils Master

The teaser trailer for Master, Steamroller Studios’ new Spider-Verse-inspired feature film, was easily one of the week’s highlights. It’s directed by Jamaal Bradley, known for his 2019 short Substance.

Information on Master’s plot is still somewhat scarce, but the creators gave a lengthy interview full of reasons to be excited. One in particular stands out: Spider-Verse co-director Peter Ramsey is attached as an executive producer.

William Joyce tackles The Great Gatsby

On Monday, the VFX company DNEG revealed its new animated featureThe Great Gatsby. The novel landed in the public domain this year, and adaptations were bound to follow. This one is unique in no small part because children’s author William Joyce is directing it. Gatsby may be outside his wheelhouse, but he’s an Oscar winner (for The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore) with decades of experience in animation.

DNEG plans to use the Unreal game engine, from Fortnite creator Epic Games, to animate the film. It’s an ambitious move, but not one without precedent. Epic has been pushing Unreal as an animation tool with film projects like Gilgamesh. DNEG is testing the waters itself with the Unreal-powered, Joyce-directed short Mr. Spam Gets a New Hat this year. We’ll be watching the story as it develops.

Brenda Banks, 1948–2020

This week brought the sad news of the passing of animation pioneer Brenda Banks. She died on December 30, 2020, but the story broke on Monday. Tom Sito, an animation historian, made his discovery public on Facebook.

Banks is best known for her work on Ralph Bakshi films like Wizards. She led a long, quiet career, stretching from the early 1970s through the 2000s. Dan Haskett, who worked beside her on The Pagemaster, recalled her in the replies beneath Sito’s post as “intensely private.” Banks is believed to have been the first Black woman animator, but her co-worker Lee Crowe wrote that “she didn't want to be known for it.”

The details of Banks’ life and career remain foggy. That said, Cartoon Brew has pulled together a short biography for her based in part on recent tributes from industry veterans. There’s also reel of scenes credited to her on Black Animation Net. Animation has lost an important figure in Banks, and we extend our condolences to her friends and relatives.

What’s streaming

For our streaming highlights this week, we’re picking three long short films — pieces over 25 minutes, but under feature length. Each one tells a wildly different story in a wildly different style. You’ll find them linked in the titles below. (As usual, availability may vary outside the United States and Canada.)

The Physics of Sorrow (2019) — Amazon Prime Video

One man’s troubled life, entangled in memory and myth and history. This film won top honors at Annecy 2020 — and for good reason. The Physics of Sorrow is one of the most beautiful, most haunting animated shorts in years. You may never hear “The Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats the same way again.

Peter & the Wolf (2006) — Tubi (Free)

There’s a spell that Peter & the Wolf, an Oscar winner set to music by Prokofiev, weaves around you. The careful pacing, grim backdrops, expert stop-motion puppetry — each strand contributes to a tense, seamless whole that’s almost impossible to escape. Tubi is streaming it subscription-free right now.

Zog (2018) — Amazon Prime Video

If you’re out for something lighter, try Zog. Based on a children’s book, this film comes from frequent collaborators Magic Light Pictures (The Gruffalo) and Triggerfish (Revolting Rhymes). The handcrafted look of their CG animation continues to stand apart. Even for adults, the sheer care, inventiveness and love packed into Zog make it worthwhile.

Indie spotlight — AIRDNB

Animator Jeron Braxton has been drawing eyes for a few years with his brain-melting approach to CG animation. His work tends to fall somewhere between a fever dream and a disintegrating PSX game — giving off a surreal, psychedelic sense of nostalgia that could be compared to a vaporwave track or the game Perfect Stride. For those paying attention, there’s also quite a bit of incisive social commentary in the mix.

His latest film, AIRDNB, dropped on Vimeo late last year. It’s technically a compilation of music videos, but they meld together into a bizarre swirl that is absolutely worth viewing in its entirety. That’s doubly true if you enjoyed Octane, the Braxton piece we shared on Twitter earlier this month. Check out AIRDNB below.

Last word

That’s a wrap! This marks the end of February for Animation Obsessive on both Twitter and Substack. If you’ve missed any of our newsletter updates so far, you can find them in our archive. We also shared quite a bit of interesting material on Twitter this month — a few highlights would be The Big City, The Heart is a Metronome, One by One, Bon Voyage, Sim! and The Mighty Grand Piton.

The year is just getting started for us — we have a lot more planned. That said, feel free to leave a comment if there’s something you’d like us to cover. We’re always searching for new, unexpected animation from every corner of the world.

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Until next week!