The Other Side of Animation 106: Loving Vincent Review

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While CGI animation is and was a groundbreaking discovery in the world of animation, it has lost its luster. I mean, these days, you expect an animated film made with CGI to be exceptional or at the very least, theatrical quality. The same goes for when 2D animation was in theaters. It’s an even bigger deal these days when an animated film hits theaters, and it’s not even close to being theatrical quality. Sometimes, you get a CGI-animated film that elevates itself or does something super creative, but for the most part, CGI animated films are nothing super special. This is why today’s review of Loving Vincent is so impressive to me. Originally launched as a crowdfunding project, Loving Vincent, directed by Dorota Kobeila and Hugh Welchman, is being heralded as the first fully-painted animated film. After many years, and over a hundred different animators working their blood, sweat, passion, and tears into the film, it got a festival release during 2017, winning one of the major awards at the Annecy Film Festival, alongside Lu Over the Wall and In This Corner of the World, and had a more wide-release into theaters in September of this year. So, what do I think about this movie? Well, let’s pick up your paint brushes and find out.

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The story takes place a year after the death of artist Vincent Van Gogh. The story revolves around Armand Roulin, played by Douglas Booth. He is sent by his father, Postman Roulin, played by Chris O’Dowd, to deliver a letter to Vincent’s brother, Theo. While delivering the letter, Armand decides to take it in his own hands to find out what exactly happened for Vincent to kill himself.

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So, what is great about this movie? Well, I think it would be tough to talk about this film and not start with the animation. It’s easily the best thing about this movie. While technically, they use more than paint to make this film work, it’s still really impressive and mind-boggling that they got this to work. While it could be considered partly rotoscoped in terms of animation, it’s probably the best-looking animated film of the year. Everything looks so breathtaking in this painted style, and you can’t really believe that they made this insane plan work. Every frame is beautifully rendered in the art style used by the painter.  Sure, they had to cheat a little with some of his iconic paintings, but they still pay huge respect to the artist and his work. It technically uses two different painting styles. You have the usual style that Vincent used in his work, and for flashbacks, it goes into this more “realistic” black and white painting look. Both styles mesh well, giving you this other-worldly experience that is jaw-dropping to see in motion on screen. That’s saying something in a year where The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales, Mary and the Witch’s Flower, and The Breadwinner exist in terms of beautiful animation.

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Now, in terms of the story, this is where I have seen people split on this part of the overall experience. I have seen criticisms thrown at the film that it was more style over substance. The plot meanders around, and the mystery goes nowhere. Well, personally, I disagree. As Armand goes around the town where Vincent stayed, he tries to find out what may have driven the painter mad. Some people have complained that you are not given an answer to the mystery, even though you technically are given a couple of reasons. People didn’t treat him well; they laughed, mocked, and loathed his talents. No one treated him with respect. Even the people that supported him had underlying motives. Another complaint I hear is that there is no true ending to the mystery. There is no pure answer to the overall story. Well, you know what? Life doesn’t always give you answers, for as much as we would love to be able to explain everything that happens. Things aren’t always neatly tied up. It won’t matter how smart you are, or how much you know, sometimes, there is nothing conclusive. It’s bittersweet, since this painter worked for eight years, only sold two paintings, and only got famous after he killed himself. Sometimes, the world doesn’t want you to know why it does things. With that in mind, it was interesting and fun to watch Armand try to solve the situation, while talking to the various  individuals who all had different opinions on Vincent. Vincent was brilliant, he was mad, they felt sorry for him, they laughed at him, and you get the idea. I was kept invested till the very touching end of the movie.

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I also liked the actors in the movie. I thought the cast, including Robert Gulaczyk, Douglas Booth, Jerome Flynn, Saoirse Ronan, Helen McCrory, Chris O’Dowd, John Sessions, Eleanor Tomlinson, and Aidan Turner all put in very believable performances.  Combined with the amazing animation, you felt every emotion and facial movement they gave on-screen. I know a lot of it was on a stage, but that’s even more commendable. The music by Clint Mansell was also very fitting, giving calming numbers, intensive music during transitions and more serious moments, and touching moments when needed. Then again, when you are the composer behind Requiem for a Dream, the San Junipero episode of Black Mirror, The Wrestler, Black Swan, and Noah, you should expect some phenomenal music.

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If I had to complain about something, it’s the fact that some characters only appear once, and are not really seen again. They don’t offer much to the overall story and mystery, and I wish there was more to them than just certain one-off sequences.

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Loving Vincent is a loving tribute to one of the world’s greatest artistic minds, and simply a wonderful movie. It’s easily my new favorite animated film of the year so far, and it’s a triumph in filmmaking and animation. I understand some people won’t agree, but you know what? In the end, my opinion is all that matters to me, and Loving Vincent is one of my favorite movies of 2017, one of my favorite animated movies of the decade, and quite possibly one of my favorite movies period. I can’t wait to buy this movie on Blu-Ray and watch it again. I don’t really get that with a lot of movies, and I’m happy this was not simply a case of style over substance. If you can watch it, go see it. We need more films this ambitious and creative. Sadly, it’s time to go back to an animated film that tries harder, but still doesn’t hit the landing. Next time, we review The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Criterion/Essentials