135: White Fang Review

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It’s not hard to see the many complaints about Netflix and their ways of picking up anything for their service, despite its quality or lack of. They want content for their service, but they don’t always get great stuff. Maybe out of every six or so films they pick up, only one and, if you are lucky, two of them will be really good. It doesn’t help either that companies use this to their advantage to slide their films that tested poorly or no one cared about, onto the service and take the loss. You know, how the cowardly spineless Weinsteins hid Guardian Brothers and Underdogs on the service. Luckily, that isn’t always the case, and while the upcoming Duck Duck Goose will be talked about, since it matches that notion I mentioned, let’s talk about a good Netflix animated film with White Fang. Based on the book of the same name written by Jack London, and directed by Alexandre Espigares, the director of the Oscar-winning short Mr. Hublot, White Fang is a CGI-animated feature that was picked up by Netflix, and was released on July 6th 2018 on the service. It was a film I was interested in when I saw the unique art direction and the English cast, including Rashida Jones, Nick Offerman, Paul Giamatti, and Eddie Spears. It seems to have gone under the radar for many people, and I want everyone to know that this is a good Netflix-animated feature. Let’s dive in.

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The story is about a wolf cub that lived with his mother. It follows his life through meeting a Native American tribe, and becoming one of the sled dogs of the chief named Grey Beaver, dubbed by Eddie Spears. His eventual change of ownership is to a snarly evil individual named Beauty Smith, dubbed by Paul Giamatti, and a home with a husband and wife named Marshal Weedon Scott and Maggie Scott, dubbed by Nick Offerman and Rashida Jones.

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I think a major concern for any animated film coming out is that since so many people find animation just a kid’s game, the studios won’t put effort into the film. They will try to do the minimal job to make it interesting, make the animation look nice, and push it out for the sake of making money, because animation is huge right now. Surprisingly, White Fang goes against a multitude of traditional kids’ film tropes. For one, White Fang is more episodic in its storytelling. It’s more about the life the wolf went through, and less of an overarching plot. The only real conflict of plot comes into play in the second half, when Paul Giamatti’s character comes into the story. It’s a slower-paced film. It takes its time with the story, and besides the humans, none of the animals talk. For the most part, it lets the visuals tell the story. It’s also a quiet film. It’s not loud, obnoxious, and there aren’t really any animal shenanigans. It’s like this film wanted to be everything anti-modern big Hollywood animation that isn’t Disney or Pixar. It’s a change of pace that might be jarring to many who are familiar with more fast-paced antics and storytelling. The humans aren’t even the main characters. They are there more to interact with White Fang, and don’t really have any major story arcs or challenges they need to face. I mean, you do see them more than once, but the story keeps White Fang as the main focus. It’s honestly nice to see an animated film that makes sure to treat the viewers as, well, humans. Not everything needs to be super loud, bouncy, and all that jazz. It doesn’t sugarcoat what life was like back in that time period and for certain individuals. Sure, Paul Giamatti’s character is a touch cheesy and obviously a villain, but he’s not a bumbling idiot like most bad villains from animated films. It’s a more grounded-experience, and while I’m not going to compare it to the darker animated films of the 80s, it gets close to that realm with certain scenes.

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The animation is another high point. While you can definitely tell that this did not have a massive Hollywood budget, a good studio and director can take a small budget and run with it. The painted look on the characters gives the film its own visual flair. The humans and animals all move very realistically, but they never felt robotic in their movements. It gives the film this painting-in-motion look that I love. Another fine addition to the good animation is the music. Like a lot of the film, the music is quiet and in the background, and only gets loud and orchestrated during integral scenes and intense moments. Bruno Coulais, the same composer behind Coraline, Mune: Guardian of the Moon, The Secret of Kells, and Song of the Sea, brought a lot of those same elements to this film with its European folk-sounding music.

If I had to complain about something with the film, it’s definitely the fact that while it  is definitely aimed at a slightly older audience, you can tell what’s going to happen, and what kind of character each human is. I mean, are you really going to look at someone like Paul Giamatti’s character and say he’s a good guy? I’m sure some of these characters and their personalities come from the book, but you won’t be seeing anything new here. Now, there isn’t anything wrong with that, because what matters to me is how you execute the story, but don’t be expecting some brand new variation on the original story. I’ll say that it feels more complete as a story than Incredibles 2 does.

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While it might not reinvent the wheel into some kind of fancy future wheel, White Fang is a really good animated feature. I’m actually kind of shocked Netflix got a good one, but then again, when they find films through festival circuits, they tend to do better than with this week’s Duck Duck Goose release. I definitely recommend checking it out. I honestly found myself surprised by how good it is. If you are looking for an animated film that’s going to be slower in its pace, and offers something different than other animated films in theaters, definitely check it out! While the summer might be ending soon, the animation is going to keep coming. Next time, we are going to look at Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation. Thanks for reading the review! I hope you enjoyed it, and see you next time!

Rating: Go See It!