Sunday, September 17, 2023

The Inventor

I feel like there were ticket-sale shenanigans going on for this movie but I can figure out why. Observe, if you will, what was blocked out as unavailable on Fandango shortly after I bought my ticket:
That "X" just behind the handicapped companion seats is me, though I'm normally in the last row of the front section. For some reason, that whole section, and the outer two seats on either side of the rear section was marked as sold, although, ahem:
… nobody in any of those spots. All four weekend shows had the same seats "sold".

I don't get why, though - does the streaming contract or the like get more lucrative if the movie gets a top-ten finish or makes more than a million at the box office, or some other metric, and the producers bought up all the seats most folks consider less desirable while still leaving plenty that folks would buy to try and hit that goal? That's my only guess. I suppose it's smarter than the Sound of Freedom folks who bought so many seats that people who legitimately wanted to see the movie couldn't (if they didn't know about where to get the pre-sold tickets), but, it's weird.

Aside from that, I was psyched to see it because I backed the Kickstarter for the animatic way back in 2020, which feels like something I should disclose in a review, although I only kicked in $10, which should get me a digital version of the movie at some point in the near-ish future, but didn't get me in the credits (that was a $100 perk), so it's not like I'm a producer who stands to make money on anybody seeing it. Truth be told, that's probably less than one typically spends on the hope that there's a good movie on the other end. Still, it's pretty cool to see something one contributed to on a big screen; I don't think that's happened for me aside from the Veronica Mars movie, and that was probably, at least in retrospect, more of a "this will probably happen anyway but let's get the money up from and see if that gets enough people feeling involved for a word-of-mouth campaign" situation than this.

Though I feel involved and am maybe trying to get this some word of mouth during it's one week of matinees in Boston. Hey, I'm not saying it's a bad thing, even if it's kind of cynical when a less independent production does it.

Also also: Even if it doesn't feature "Kickstarter Backer: Jason Seaver", this has one of the quirkier sets of end credits I can remember.

The Inventor

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 September 2023 in AMC Boston Common #5 (first-run, DCP)

The Inventor is not exactly the movie I imagined when I contributed to its Kickstarter several years ago, but what ever is? Even setting that aside, it's an odd duck, focusing on a period more than a story, built to be kid-friendly but featuring more grave-robbing than that may imply, but charming in its earnest educational intentions.

As it opens in 1516, Leonardo da Vinci (voice of Stephen Fry) is pursuing a number of different interests Rome, from art to optics to anatomy, with the Pope (voice of Matt Berry) less than enthused about the latter in particular, as da Vinci aims to find the seat of the soul. When he attempts to task Leonardo with creating weapons of war for a conflict with France, the artist instead counsels peace, and King Francis I (voice of Gauthier Battoue) is so taken with da Vinci's work that he becomes the Florentine's new patron . The King's sister, Princess Marguerite (voice of Daisy Ridley) is taken with Leonardo's idea for an "ideal city", but Francis is soon more focused on a grand exposition, featuring a powerful statue of himself, that will impress visiting monarchs Charles (voice of Max Baumgarten) and Henry (voice of Daniel Swan).

Visually, the film is quite a delight; it is primarily presented as stop-motion animation featuring smooth, clean designs, contrasted to the fiddly detail of Laika or the emphasized imperfection of Aardman; it does not exactly call to mind Leonardo's own work, which can frequently be seen as part of his thought balloons, but have an expressiveness to the characters and functionality to the environments that reflects him as both artist and engineer. The picture does deviate from stop-motion a bit more than expected, although the 2-D portion of the film is made in consultation with Tomm Moore and his Cartoon Saloon studio, and as such is charming in its own right. When the filmmakers have the chance to be clever and playful, they shine, such as how the Pope is presented as a giant who dominates a scene even when acting a fool, with spies who are literally shadows. Marguerite and her children work as a unit, occasionally shown in Fibonacci-inspired patterns.

It's something of a shame that the soundtrack does not often live up to the charming imagery. Stephen Fry makes a fine Leonardo, of course; his voice is full of intelligence, wonder, and wit, just hearing it almost automatically brings forth what one wants da Vinci to be, and it's almost unfair that Daisy Ridley, Marion Cotillard, and Gauthier Battoue can give fine performances as the French royal family but just aren't so obviously perfectly cast as Fry. The songs don't particularly do the intended job of amplifying their material, either; that they are meant to sound like something from 500 years ago rather than something anachronistic is an intriguing choice, but it means one sometimes has to strain for the lyrics and meaning rather than letting them carry one away; they often seem to be there because this sort of animated feature has songs, rather than because a song is the best, most powerful way to communicate the scene's idea.

There is an idea or two lurking in this film, with the delight of discovery and invention being foremost, but the film is perhaps at its most interesting when Leonardo explains to Marguerite that the world is divided between those who see, those who can be made to see, and those who cannot see, an unusual moment considering how he has mostly pressed on without a lot of reflection on the system around him, though he is quite aware of it. At times, this feels like it should naturally be the central idea animating the film, a bit of wisdom that the movie is not quite pointed enough in its critique of the powerful to fully embrace.

Which, I suppose, is probably a lot to expect of a mainly-charming little film that will likely be some kids' introduction to Da Vinci, if not so much something for the adult Animation Appreciator. It's cute and maybe a bit slight, but also a bit of a relief compared to how visibly hard many animated films work to astound.

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