Pass the Remote: Animated film for all ages at BAMPFA

A rat named Remy becomes a culinary sensation in the delightful "Ratatouille." (Courtesy Pixar)

Animated films rarely get the credit they deserve.  

Consider this. After Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” from 1991 landed a best picture Oscar nomination, the first ever in the category, only two other animated films managed to squeeze into the prestigious contest. Both nominees came from Pixar: 2009’s “Up” and 2010’s “Toy Story 3.” 

Not one animated feature since then has been up for the Academy Awards top prize. 

We won’t venture into the why nots. Instead, let’s look at reasons why animated films deserve to be seated at the best picture table by taking in “The Art of Animation: Storytelling in the Digital Age” series at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. 

The August program includes three free outdoor screenings and seven inside the Barbro Osher Theater. As a bonus, co-authors of “Making the Cut at Pixar: The Art of Editing Animation” — Berkeley-based indie filmmaker Bill Kinder and New York-based author Bobbie O’Steen — will be introducing the films and providing context and insight at the inside screenings. 

It’s a diverse offering featuring movies for families, others for adult audiences. Perusing the program, you can’t help but wonder how animated films sometimes tell stories better than their live-action brethren. 

We posed the question to Susan Oxtoby, BAMPFA’s director of film and senior film curator. 

Here’s her response, edited for length: 

“Animation is an approach to filmmaking based on creating a work frame by frame with the ability to control every aspect of a film’s production,” she writes. 

“At the core is the concept of metamorphosis. All creative choices are completely malleable: rhythm and timing, use of color and light play, characters’ voices, sound and layered sound effects, and the possibility of incorporating live action material using rotoscoping techniques. 

“There is such wonderful agility in animation that allows filmmakers to create imaginary worlds and explore a vast range of emotions or stream of consciousness. In the digital age, animated films have become even more rich with potential, and these seemingly limitless possibilities have changed how animation story ideas develop in the editorial department.”  

With that in mind, here’s why all the films are so special.

“Ratatouille” (2007) 

Director: Brad Bird 
Showing: 4 p.m. Aug. 5 (Kinder introduces) 
Why it’s special: Only the Emeryville-based Pixar animation studio could turn a fable with a chef-aspiring rat named Remy whipping up Alice Waters-like entrees and changing Parisian attitudes about having rodents in the kitchen into a timeless classic with metaphorical meaning. The animation is exquisite; the story shifts from funny to touching. It ranks as one of the best in the Pixar vault. (Recommended for all ages) 

“The Fantastic Mr. Fox” is one of Wes Anderson’s best films. (Courtesy 20th Century Fox)

“Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009)

Director: Wes Anderson 
Showing: 7 p.m. Aug. 10 (Kinder introduces) 
Why it’s special: The fanciful work of filmmaker Anderson can sometimes get too precious. But his stop-motion adaptation of Roald Dahl’s novel sidesteps that, even playing into the director’s shiny, bright strengths as a storyteller who showcases eccentrics; this time in fox form. George Clooney is perfectly cast as the voice of the sly Mr. Fox. Anderson’s appreciation for stop-motion animation led to 2018’s “Isle of Dogs,” also one of Anderson’s better films. (Recommended for ages 8 and up) 

“Spirited Away” (2002)

Director: Hayao Miyazaki  
Showing: 4:30 p.m. Aug. 12 (English version, Kinder introduces) and 7 p.m. Aug. 18 (Japanese with English subtitles, O’Steen introduces) 

Why it’s special: Miyazaki steadfastly remains one of the best animated filmmakers of all time with a canon of classics: 1988’s touching “My Neighbor Totoro,” 1997’s epic “Princess Mononoke,” 2004’s inventive “Howl’s Moving Castle” and many more. But it was the 81-year-old Japanese auteur’s incredible journey featuring the inquisitive 10-year-old Chihiro that gained him not only an Academy Award, but wider exposure in America. Watching it is like venturing into a dream-like world where anything can happen. It’s one of my favorite films of all time. (Recommended for ages 8 and up).  

“My Life as a Zucchini” tells a heartrending tale about children persevering over traumatic events. (Courtesy GKIDS)

“My Life as a Zucchini” (2017)

Director: Claude Barras  
Showing: 5 p.m. Aug. 19 (O’Steen introduces) 
Why it’s special: In this Dickensian-like tale, a traumatic childhood event thrusts a withdrawn, fragile boy nicknamed Zucchini into the warm folds of a caring foster home where other pre-adolescents try to cope from bad parenting and/or tragedies. Barras’ feature doesn’t merely tug on your heart, it all but yanks it out. This is a beautiful film about surviving the worst horrors imaginable and bonding and creating families not bound by blood but love. It’s gorgeous, but not for young children. (Recommended for ages 12 and up) 

“Flee” captures what it’s like to be a refugee hoping to find a place to call home. (Courtesy Neon)

“Flee” (2021)

Director: Jonas Poher Rasmussen  
Showing: 7 p.m. Aug. 25 (Kinder introduces) 
Why it’s special: For proof documentaries can go into exciting and innovative directions, check out Rasmussen’s heartbreaking account of a gay Afghanistan refugee’s extraordinary plight. Rasmussen mostly leans on animation to create a poignant, relevant and all-too common refugee story about a displaced man seeking to find roots in a new land and with a new love. (Recommended for ages 13 and up) 

Sick of superhero movies? Even if you are, you’ll still love “The Incredibles.” (Courtesy Pixar)

“The Incredibles” (2004)

Director: Brad Bird 
Showing: 4 p.m. Aug. 26 (Kinder introduces) 
Why it’s special: Are you suffering from superhero fatigue, a common malady hitting filmgoers throughout the nation? Probably. That doesn’t mean you should skip seeing this Pixar gem that introduces the hardworking brood that’s living incognito in suburbia: The Incredible couple of Elastigirl (voice of Holly Hunter) and Mr. Incredible (voice of Craig T. Nelson). Both spring into action, of course, while tending to the kids in this fast-paced adventure that nostalgically tosses viewer back to the 1960s burbs in another Pixar classic, which won an Oscar for best sound editing. On your own, rent “Incredibles 2” (2018) too. (Recommended for ages 7 and up) 

“Waltz with Bashir” (2008) 

Director: Ari Folman 
Showing: 7 p.m., Aug. 30 (Kinder introduces) 
Why it’s so special:  Stark, disturbing and guilt-ridden, Folman’s tricky feature takes a surreal look at the historical and psychological fallout from the 1982 invasion of Lebanon by Israel, which resulted in the slaughter of refugees in camps. Folman — who was in the Israel Defense Forces when the invasion happened — starts to wonder if the version of events he’s heard of and been told is the truth. The imagery in “Waltz with Bashir” will haunt you; obviously, it’s not for children.

Free outdoor screenings  

Can’t make any of those screenings? Bring a blanket or two, a warm parka or two (this is Berkeley in the summer, after all), and something to nosh on at these free presentations at BAMPFA’s Outdoor Screen at Addison and Oxford streets. 

Here’s the lineup: 

“Toy Story 2”: Pixar’s lovable sequel centers on Andy going to Cowboy Camp while Woody winds up in the clutches of a toy collector. Slated to be a straight-to-video effort, the filmmakers realized they had something special and made it theater-ready. (7 p.m. Aug. 3, for all ages) 

“Finding Nemo” introduced cute clownfish Nemo, left, and the forgetful Dory. (Courtesy Pixar)

“Finding Nemo”: Andrew Stanton goes under the sea where a fish named Nemo gets lost and meets unforgettable characters, including the incredibly forgetful Dory, voiced by Ellen DeGeneres. (7 p.m. Aug. 17, for all ages) 

“Persepolis” is one of three films being shown outdoors for free in “The Art of Animation” series at Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. (Courtesy BAMPFA)

“Persepolis”: Marjane Satrapi adapts, along with Vincent Paronnaud, her acclaimed graphic novel about being young and bearing witness to the Iranian Revolution of 1979. (7 p.m. Aug. 31, for ages 12 and up)

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