November 22, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

A Sneak Peek at the 2016 New York International Children’s Film Festival

A view of Times Square in Phantom Boy (Photos: New York International Children's Film Festival)

A view of Times Square in Phantom Boy (Photos: New York International Children’s Film Festival)

Before the New York–based film distributor GKids (Guerrilla Kids International Distribution Syndicate) started bringing international fare to North American audiences, its sister organization New York International Children’s Film Festival (NYICFF) has annually produced the largest such event for kids and teens in North America since 1997. For New York City kids, no passport is necessary for them to explore the world. Think of the NYICFF as the movie equivalent of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. It runs this year from February 26 through March 20.

GKids has had a lucky streak. For example, when the nominations for the Best Animated Feature Academy Award were announced last month, many moviegoers recognized the name of the box-office hit Inside Out, but the inclusion of the lyrical and dialogue-free Boy and His World and the Japanese anime When Marnie Was There probably produced some head-scratching. The two films have earned the distributor two of its eight nominations in this category since 2008, and Boy’s the first from Brazil to receive an honor in this category.

During NYICFF’s four-week program, 18 feature films will be screened throughout Manhattan. The selections include two French-made animated movies with wide appeal that GKids will release later in the year: Phantom Boy and April and the Extraordinary World (extraordinary, indeed). Below is a sampling of the festival.

Phantom Boy

Every superhero has a special ability. For 11-year-old Leo, a hospitalized cancer patient, his talent is astral projection: he leaves his body behind and floats through walls and over the city and relays what he sees to his corporal body back in the hospital. The catch: he can’t stay outside of his body for too long or he will vanish.

Leo joins forces with a fellow patient, an injured cop sidelined by a broken leg, to become a crime-fighting team out to capture the masked Man with the Broken Face, who holds New York City hostage. He demands one billion dollars or he will unleash a computer virus to wipe out the electrical grid. Aiding the hospital-bound duo is the intrepid reporter Mary, in the mold of Vicki Vale.

This is a less threatening version of the Big Apple—where everyone speaks French—than in Gotham or Batman and more a love letter to a mythic New York. (Who wouldn’t want fly on top of Lady Liberty’s torch and take in the skyline?) The contrasting colors give the mostly hand-drawn animation a punch; it looks more pop art than comic book. Directors Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol never overplay the pathos but instead focus on the detective story and the bond between cop and kid. In keeping with the movie’s bonhomie, the villain is not too threatening, considering he’s beholden to his pet: a yappy, tyrannical tiny mutt. For ages eight and up, Phantom Boy is a winner.

April and the Extraordinary World

April and the Extraordinary World

April and the Extraordinary World

Like a flavorful dish of ratatouille, this wildly imaginative movie mashes up many ingredients: steampunk, sci-fi, and reluctant romance. Based on Jacques Tardi’s graphic novel, the film emphasizes adventure and world-building, set in an alternative France. The Bonaparte emperors still reign, and the world wars have never taken place. Instead, the country is at war with the United States, fighting over Canadian forests for fuel.

Teenage gamin April (voiced by Marion Cotillard) has lost her family (or so she thinks) to a freak accident when she was a child. Because scientific innovation is prohibited in 1941, she hides out but continues her scientific family’s long-in-the-works project: to create an immunization for old age and death. The film is a 106-minute shout-out to science. The girl’s one companion is her chatterbox of an anatomically correct cat, Darwin; he speaks thanks to her parents’ experimentation. Unbeknownst to April, cops spy on her, coveting the serum, and a superintelligent army of dragons have absconded with the best scientific minds—Alexander Fleming, Albert Einstein—for their quest for immortality.

Included among the arresting visuals are two Eiffel Towers looming over the skyline (shades of the Twin Towers?), an aboveground cable car traveling nonstop to Berlin (in 84 hours), and a house that walks on six mechanical legs. Meanwhile, the action moves along from a smoggy Belle Epoch Paris to an underground lair and to a jungle where all of the baroque story lines mutate into a rousing climax. Ideal for tweens who lean toward Jules Verne‒type of adventures.

Sasha and companion in Long Way North

Sasha and companion in Long Way North

Long Way North

This Nordic princess—well, this unmaking-of-a-princess—tale will appeal to viewers ages eight to 13 while they wait for the upcoming sequel to and the Broadway version of Frozen. However, the 15-year-old protagonist, Sasha—practical, patient, scared, but tenacious—is more independent than the usual Disney heroine. The only good graces she seeks are those of her father.

On her own, Sasha runs away from her 1882 Saint Petersburg palace to save her family’s honor. She believes she knows the location where her explorer/grandfather has been stranded while on an expedition for the czar to the North Pole. (Also, she has ruined her marriage prospects at her debutante ball by inadvertently insulting a peevish, foppish prince.) However, she has no rubles, so while she’s stranded in a seaport town, she undertakes a working-class makeover, rising before dawn to slog kasha as a kitchen wench in order to buy passage on the next boat out, where she’s the only female on a boat full of surly, suspicious males.

Told in a tight 81 minutes and in English, the well-structured adventure tale is stronger than the soft, pastel colored computer animation, which lacks depth, though it features vibrant colors—a lot of yellows and blues—to convey a frosty sense of place. The historical backdrop serves as an introduction to Russophilia before kids read the real-life nitty-gritty in Candace Fleming’s The Family Romanov. Shout! Factory will release this French/Danish coproduction in the autumn.

 

The fab four of Beatles (Louis Williams in blue)

The fab four of Beatles (Louis Williams in blue)

Beatles

Teens who have read Susanna Reich’s Fab Four Friends or Martin W. Sandler’s How the Beatles Changed the World will again feel some of the impact of the Fab Four in this beautifully filmed live-action work. Viewers new to the band will get an immediate sense of the music through the opening collage of credits, edited to “She Loves You.”

In this well-acted adaptation of a Norwegian best seller, four gangly middle-class teenage boys in 1967 Oslo want to start up a band. Each sees himself as a designated Beatle; Kim (the subtle scene stealer Louis Williams) is Paul McCartney. It’s really an excuse to meet girls, and the focus turns from music to the familiar rites of passage: the First Kiss and on to the First Girlfriend (played by a dead ringer for Felicity-era Keri Russell, Susanne Boucher).

Director Peter Flinth affectionately captures in the silvery Scandinavian light moments when teens feel as though they have discovered the secret to music, or to life. When the friends first hear the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, it blows their minds.

Though the young adults here are well dressed and groomed (long hair for boys hasn’t yet caught on), not all is squeaky clean. Kim guzzles booze at parties and a subplot involves one of the boys and an older, married woman, yet the tone is disarmingly gentle. This movie will appeal to adults as much as younger viewers.

Finally, for those who can’t make it to New York and have to wait for these films to be released, there is good news. Among the festival screenings is the new animated adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince. It opens nationwide on March 18.

Kent Turner About Kent Turner

Kent Turner (kturner@mediasourceinc.com) edits SLJ's DVD reviews and is the editor of Film-Forward.com

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  1. lee_martin says:

    You can also watch movies at : http://newkidsmovies.org/