Perhaps more than any other genre, animated feature films illustrate the different expectations of United States and international audiences.
In the U.S., animated features are kid-friendly. That’s not to say these films can’t be enjoyable, smart viewing for adults. They often are — last year’s “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” was certainly an all-ages treat. But to find an animated flick that’s not tailored to 9-year-olds, you’d have to go outside the Top 100 domestic box-office list to find 2016’s “Sausage Party” (No. 108). And why would you want to do that?
In other countries, feature animation is created for all audiences. The 2016 romantic fantasy drama “Your Name” is now the eighth-highest grossing film in Japan’s history. And while it’s no “Sausage Party,” it’s certainly not targeted at third graders.
It’s also made more than $357 million worldwide, despite being released on only 311 screens in the U.S. Audiences in the states simply never get the chance to see a lot of international animation, particularly films that aren’t specifically for kids.
But they’ll get that chance this month during the International Film Festival hosted by the student-led Film Liberation Unit at the University of Louisville.
The FLU is screening three animated features on Tuesdays this month, starting at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, April 2, with the decidedly kid-friendly Belgian film “A Town Called Panic: Double Fun.” Future screenings will spotlight a cult classic from Japan and an edgy Spanish flick about post-apocalyptic talking animals.
All three screenings will be free to the public at the Floyd Theater in UofL’s Swain Student Activities Center. The films will be screened in their native languages, with English subtitles.
Madelyn Carey of the FLU said the group decided to focus on animation for this year’s festival after it emerged as a theme that interested a lot of members. Past themes for the festival included films by women directors and movies that influenced “Star Wars.”
The group scanned through the catalog from distributor GKIDS Films, a leading distributor of international animation for the U.S. market, as it made its selections, Carey said. She personally has not seen any of the films picked for this year’s festival, she added, but many FLU members chipped in for tonight’s screening, “A Town Called Panic,” as a charming way to start off the month.
The next two screenings are a little more adult and probably not suited for all ages.
Here’s a quick look at the three films screening during the festival.
“A Town Called Panic: Double Trouble”
Tuesday, April 2 — 8 p.m.
This one has the odd distinction of being the first animated film screened at the Cannes Film Festival. And like all the films at the International Film Festival, it received broadly positive reviews.
A crew of Gumby-esque toys decide to throw a party for their pal, which of course results in them burning down his house and being swept along on adventures to an underwater wonderland and the center of the earth. As you do.
The film is based on a kids’ TV show and is definitely intended for children. However, its whimsy borders on psychedelia, at least to American sensibilities.
Tuesday, April 16 — 8 p.m.
This early landmark in the career of Satoshi Kon is most definitely not kids’ fare. “Perfect Blue” follows the journey of a J-pop idol as she tries to break free of her wholesome public image and pursue a career in acting. A string of genuinely harrowing assaults and killings follow, and our traumatized heroine struggles to discern reality from the illusion of her life in showbiz — all while staying alive.
“Perfect Blue” is a worthy introduction to Kon’s vision, which he later elevated in “Millennium Actress” (2001) and his masterwork, “Paprika” (2006). Kon often deals with the blurred lines between reality and perception, and his fluid yet occasionally exaggerated animation style (note the skipping during the “Perfect Blue” umbrella chase) creates a sense of imbalance that supports his themes.
His later films get crazier, but “Perfect Blue” is still a great primer for anime fans who are familiar only with the magical fantasy of Hayao Miyazaki (not there is anything wrong with that). Carey said she picked “Perfect Blue” for this year’s festival because it has a strong cult following and should attract a sizable audience.
FLU recommends this film for ages 16 and up. Be advised that it does include some strong images of violence.
“Birdboy: The Forgotten Children”
Tuesday, April 23 — 8 p.m.
Some critics have described this film as “caustically optimistic,” and that’s as good a headline as we can manage for a truly unique little movie.
Birdboy lives on an island that has been decimated by a factory explosion that not only killed off all the fish, but also left him harboring a demon that he has to suppress with drugs. Addiction and police violence are a recurring theme, and Christian fundamentalists get their comeuppance, too.
A group of animal kids, led by Birdboy’s bestie, decides to rob a house for the last bit of money they need to escape to the big city, but things go south (as you might expect), leading to a huge self-sacrifice and a glimmer of hope for the dying island.
Just your typical coming-of-age story.
Directors Alberto Vázquez and Pedro Rivero employ a flat animation style and distinctive color palette that perfectly suits the movie’s tones. The simple character design is almost skeletal, but not threatening — again, a perfect fit.
FLU suggests this film for ages 16 and up. The violence depicted here is not as intimate as in “Perfect Blue,” but it can be quite harrowing, particularly during the apocalyptic explosion sequence.