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The Player: ‘Cuphead’ gives new life to hand-drawn animation and big band jazz

Video games often help define new entertainment frontiers, be they interactive, immersive or centered on virtual or augmented realities. Yet “Cuphead” resurrects a few nearly forgotten advances — namely the lost art of hand-drawn animation and the abandoned joy of big band jazz.

Though the fast-paced and brutally difficult action game looks to bygone eras, its everything-old-is-new-again tone doesn’t exactly feel retro. By channeling the insanity of Walt Disney Pictures’ “Silly Symphonies” and the surreal but rough-around-the-edges work of Fleischer Studios, “Cuphead” possesses an anything-goes childlike weirdness with a sinisterly adult edge.

It’s also not just a reminder of what’s been lost, but in its success, an indication of what we miss. Released in late September for Microsoft’s Xbox One and PCs, the game has already sold more than 1 million copies.

So while we might be awed by the picture-perfect work of Disney’s modern-day studio Pixar, the exaggerated yet simple movements of the characters of “Cuphead” — the protagonist is, yes, a creature with a cup for a head who, in a two-player game, has a pal named Mugman — do more than fill us with nostalgia as they twitch and sneer with absurdity.

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