Reviewby Shamus Roissy,
A Tree of Palme
In every young puppet/robot/marionette's life, there must be some world-spanning adventure that changes his destiny or the world itself. Former front-yard-shrub-turned-puppet Palme is given a mission by a mysterious blue-skinned woman to transport an egg to a region of the world Arcana called Below.
A Tree of Palme is without a doubt one of the most handsomely animated films in recent memory. Opting to go an almost all cel animation route, the movie proves that you can still make vivid imagery the old-fashioned way. Soft colors and detailed backgrounds make Palme's world a treat for the eyes. The movie's impressive background art was painted by Mutsuo Koseki, who also worked on Castle in the Sky and Nausicaä: The Valley of the Wind. Fans of those movies will likely find themselves right at home.
Palme's art, in general, does a great job of giving the viewer a sense that the world of Arcana is at times barren and dangerous, yet still very much alive. Stunning blues and moody reds are used to great effect in portraying the feeling of each scene. The animation itself is what you would expect from an animated feature. Palme and friends move smoothly from frame to frame.
Arcana feels like a well-defined, diverse, and alien world. It is close enough to our own world that you can identify with the struggles of the characters, but also populated by creatures that help keep the world fresh. Though, you have to wonder about what the staff might have been thinking in the production process when they created the Bolas. They're giant phalluses. Not kidding. Taller than a man and characterized by their penchant for swarming and enveloping, Bolas are sure to make you squirm at the mere sight of them. Just wait until you see what you can do with one through some creative use of a tourniquet.
The movie is also accompanied by an appropriate, but far from standout musical score. Moody melodies play alongside the darker scenes, while more symphonic tunes set off the action scenes. The sound direction was also right on track, providing the appropriate bass rumble to match the action on screen, but nothing about the sound made me want to extend my ears beyond just focusing on dialog.
It's probably best to focus on the strongest suit of A Tree of Palme, its production values. The story itself is severely lacking in cohesiveness and substance. Jarring transitions and shallow supporting characters make it difficult to keep yourself engaged in the story. The movie's content suffers as a result, as it requires the audience to make too many assumptions about events that easily could have been explained in a brief animation, rather than a long-winded screen wipe.
For example, early in the movie, Palme is wandering through the desert at night. He finally collapses next to a rock, and the scene fades. In the following scene, Palme is sitting in the back of a kind of truck with other children. The movie is full of these type of jumps. They become particularly annoying later when the scenery changes starkly between scenes.
Palme himself becomes a difficult character to like. He spends a large portion of the movie's first half in a near-catatonic state. Sure, he's walking around, but his involvement in the on-screen events at times seems so slight, he might as well be standing half off the screen. Palme grows a spine for the last half of the film, however the transition leaves him cold, brutal, and unlikable. His short temper may have you thinking he seems “real” enough without reaching his destination.
Promotional material and director interviews tout A Tree of Palme as a retelling of the classic, Pinocchio. If you remember reading or watching Pinocchio, then you would know the story. Pinocchio is brought to life by the blue fairy and told he can become a real boy when he learns what a conscience is. Palme, on the other hand, is never made such a deal. About halfway through the movie, a plot thread appears out of almost nowhere promising Palme humanity if he can reach the end of his journey.
The movie also lacks any kind of strong supporting cast. Secondary characters were quickly introduced and then almost cast aside in terms of development. Palme's bipedal rabbit companions, despite being on screen almost the entire movie, barely get to do anything besides scream “Palme!” after their first couple scenes. At least Popo and Shatta, the other two members of Palme's party, actually get to have a semblance of personality.
All the standard DVDs features are here with the DVD release. There's a 19-minute “Making of” featurette with lots of interview time with director Takashi Nakamura, production sketches, animatics for key scenes, and Japanese promos and trailers. The english dub is up to usual ADV standards. If you like their standard stable of voice actors, then you'll like A Tree of Palme's dub.
A Tree of Palme's biggest shortcoming is the fact that it just tries to do way too much in the time it has. It's not a a bad film by any means. Anyone who still pines for the days when cel animation was king will probably enjoy the two hour investment in this animated film. It just can't fit properly into the time it has. What could have been a beautifully rendered tale of what it is to be human is completely lost underneath layers of unneeded plot and obfuscation. It's a shame that such a beautiful setting had to be crammed into a short amount of time like this. A longer OVA or TV series would have probably served this whole production much better.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C-
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : C+
+ High production value art and animation,
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