Anthony Stacchi is able to delineate between his quote-unquote favorite films and the movies that have influenced him most as a filmmaker. "Everyone has the movies that they always watch at least once a year," he says. "For me, that'd probably be Seven Samurai, The Third Man, Stalker, The Godfather, Sans Soleil, The Spirit of the Beehive, and a few others. Those are the movies that stick with you your entire life, you know? They have for me."
"But when I think about my career and the films I've made," Stacchi explains, "the movies that stand out are different."
The American-born animator made his directorial debut with 2006's Open Season — and the accompanying short film, Boog and Elliot's Midnight Bun Run — which he then followed with the 2014 stop-motion fantasy, The Boxtrolls. The latter, which Stacchi co-directed with Graham Annable, received an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature Film
Stacchi now returns with The Monkey King, an adaptation of the epic Ming Dynasty folktale, Journey to the West. Whereas The Boxtrolls was brought to life via stop-motion animation and paid homage to British film auteurs like David Lean, The Monkey King is a 3D animated adventure indebted to Hong Kong comedies of the 1980s. Both, however, were longtime passion projects for the filmmaker.
"The Monkey King was on my list of dream films for a long time," he says. "Like everybody in animation, I have a drawer that's full of drawings and outlines and different ideas." With The Monkey King set to stream on Netflix, Stacchi intends to reopen that drawer and try to turn another one of his dream projects into a reality. "There's a Western I have," he teases, "and a sci-fi film that I've been wanting to do."
Below, Stacchi shares with A.frame the five films that have shaped him into the filmmaker that he is today.
Directed by: Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack | Written by: James Creelman and Ruth Rose
The original King Kong was like my gateway drug into movies. I watched it on Channel 38 in Boston, as part of a Creature Double Feature on a Saturday afternoon. I remember lying on the floor and thinking, "Am I dreaming, or is this a movie? Is this real? What is this?" It gave me a lifelong sympathy for monsters, and it eventually led me to stop-motion animation, too.
From beginning to end, the film is an amazing, fantastic trip. As a kid, I remember asking, "Why don't they just leave the monkey alone? Why are they picking on him so much?" That streak of sympathy, which I later found again in Universal monster movies like Frankenstein, is very powerful to experience when you're young. As a kid, you feel misunderstood, so you see these misunderstood monsters on-screen and you empathize with them and you understand what's happening to them. Every kid feels misunderstood and put upon by the world, and I really love King Kong for that reason.
On a broader scale, that film has inspired me to always try to find a sympathetic element in my villains, whether it be Snatcher in The Boxtrolls or the Dragon King in The Monkey King. Thanks to King Kong, I always ask, "What made them the way they are, and how are they like us?"
Directed by: Yuri Norstein | Written by: Sergei Kozlov
For years in animation school, there were three directors whose films I was really obsessed with, who were really my animation heroes throughout that period. The first was this Russian animator named Yuri Norstein, who made multiplane cut-out animated films. Tale of Tales is probably the greatest animated movie ever made, but my favorite is Hedgehog in the Fog.
Norstein was really one of my heroes, along with Frédéric Back, the Canadian animator who made The Man Who Planted Trees. I love all of those films because they're the perfect mixture of style and substance. Sometimes, I feel in movies that style can get in the way of story. Often, I think the style of a film has to be almost subconscious. If it's too on the surface, it throws me out of the movie. If it's so stylized that I feel like there's no real jeopardy or stakes in the film's world, then I can't get into its story or the plights of its characters. When you're making a movie, sometimes the most important question is how stylized to make something versus how realistic to make it: How wet should the rain feel? How hot should the fire feel?
But the films of Norstein, Back, and this Chinese animator named Te Wei, who made these movies that look like moving Chinese brush paintings, are all short films. In short films, you can really push your style and form, and those movies are all gems. They're the most beautiful films, and those three animators were all huge inspirations for me when I was in school.
Directed by: Zhang Yimou | Written by: Xiangsheng Shi
Animation is so methodical and so artificial, because you're making it all one frame at a time. The thing the medium often lacks is a feeling of spontaneity. With that in mind, there's this Chinese filmmaker I love named Zhang Yimou, and he made a film called Not One Less, which is totally stripped down. It's a lot like the films of Ken Loach or Abbas Kiarostami in that it adopts a very cinéma vérité style and relies on the work of non-actors. Zhang Yimou gets the most beautiful performances out of his cast. The little girl in that film was a huge inspiration for the Lin character in The Monkey King. It's just devastating to watch her performance in Not One Less, much like it is the little boy's performance in Ken Loach's Kes. Those are movies you don't watch on an airplane. because you'll just start crying hysterically and everyone around you will be like, "What's wrong with this guy?"
The emotion is just so authentic in Not One Less, and in animated movies, sometimes the emotions can become sentimental or forced. So, it's fascinating to look at movies like Not One Less, because Zhang Yimou is a filmmaker who has made these huge epics throughout his career, but even when he's really stripped down and working with non-actors and a simple crew, he's still able to create these incredibly, emotionally devastating movies.
Directed and Written by: Preston Sturges
Everyone who went to film school in the 1970s and ‘80s came out an incredibly pretentious jerk, which is why Sullivan's Travels is so important. It reminds you why you got into this business to begin with, and that films can be entertaining! If they can give you just one truly emotional moment or moment of laughter, then they've done their job. Not everything has to feel like it was made by Ingmar Bergman. Not everything has to be like what you went into film school admiring so much. Sometimes, you forget that what really got you into it all was King Kong, you know?
Directed by: Jim Sharman | Written by: Jim Sharman and Richard O'Brien
I've recently realized again how much I love musicals. I remember liking them as a kid, but when I got a bit nerdier as I got older, I fell out of love with them. Now, I've come back around on them. Animation is so much about syncopating sound and image in order to create some kind of emotion, so when you watch classic musicals you remember that the music in them only happens when the characters' emotions become too much to contain that they suddenly have to burst into song. That's what we all should strive to replicate. That's why music has been so important to animation for years, because if you do your job right, you can get to this eruptive, emotional moment that has been made completely by hand, one frame at a time.
In terms of musicals, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is really the one that comes to my mind. When I went back and watched it again recently, I just loved it. I loved its slinky, sexy villains, and everything about it, really. I forgot how much it meant to me the first time I saw it, and then I watched it again and remembered.