Film Reviews

161: Funan Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Warning/Parental Heads up!: This film is absolutely not aimed at a children’s audience. This is an extremely adult film that focuses on a true historical genocide that happened in Cambodia. Younger viewers should avoid this flick, and go see The Angry Birds Movie 2. Viewer’s discretion is advised.

Animation unfortunately gets pigeonholed into being aimed at a children and family audience. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing, because sometimes, a film or show aimed at a family audience, given the right writers and the right execution, can tackle tough subject matter.  Sadly, something that the entertainment industry sadly seems to limit is animation for more teen and older adult audiences. Just because it’s animated, it doesn’t mean you can’t tackle something aimed at an older audience. We get plenty of adult animated shows like Bojack Horseman and Big Mouth, but feature films are, for some reason, kept off the production line. Yeah, we got 2016’s Sausage Party, but that film’s controversy of how the animators were treated unfortunately killed the theatrical chance of seeing more on the big screen. This is why the foreign animation scene is so incredible, because it knows that you can tackle different genres, themes, and have all kinds of audiences. Plus, when will the live-action Hollywood scene tackle something like Dennis Do’s Funan? Directed by, well, Dennis Do, and distributed in the states by GKIDS, this French-animated feature ruled the film festival scene in 2018 by taking home major accolades from Annecy, second place-Jury Prize from the 20th Bucheon International Animation Festival, and the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at the 2nd Animation is Film Festival. As far as I can tell, this is 2019’s best animated feature. Why? Well, let’s dive in, shall we?

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The story follows a Cambodian woman named Chou, her husband Khuon, Sovanh, their son, Khuon’s brother Meng, Chou’s mother, grandmother, and their other children Hout, Tuch, and Lili. They are living peacefully in Cambodia, but are unfortunately caught up in the notoriously destructive Khmer Rouge, as they are separated from each other and try to survive and reunite. Can they try to avoid being killed, and become stronger by making it through this violent time?

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So, you think with this film being animated and such, they would pull back on the punches and darkness of the events shown. I mean, that’s what Sgt. Stubby did. Well, Dennis Do did not pull back on any punches. The film is unapologetic about showing the darker moments of this incident, and that includes scenes of murder, innocents stepping on hidden landmines, suicide, and so on. It’s definitely a film that is, to no surprise, aimed at a much older audience. However, it’s not really all about the terror of this incident. It really does focus on the family, and how they try to make sense out of what is going on, as they try to survive and not end up in front of an extremist’s rifle. You get the closeness of the family as they attempt to play along until they are able to reconnect or find a way to escape the hell in which they are put. You get a sense of everyone in the family, although the real main characters are the father, mother, and son. It’s a fairly quiet film as the emotions are told through the visuals. You feel for the family, and you want them to survive. Dennis Do knew how to balance it all out as every intense moment constantly hits hard. It’s a powerful emotional experience.

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The animation is incredible. It has a beautiful lush watercolor art direction that has smooth animation and great character designs. You can feel the emotion coming off of the characters’ faces. Gorgeous backgrounds and scenery is found among the regime-riddled camps that the film is usually set in for a chunk of the story. What also helps bring the emotions to a perfect level is the music by composer Thibault Kientz Agyenman. A lot of the soundtrack is full of tunes that set a somber, but optimistic tone that really envelopes you into the situation. This also includes powerful performances from Berenice Nejo and Louis Garrel.

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I knew I was in for something special when I saw the trailer, the news that it was doing well on the festival circuit, and how it was one of the first films selected for the Animation is Film Festival, and I was happy to be one of the first US film fans to see this breathtaking experience. Sure, some critics, for one reason or another, think it should have been about the genocide, but that wasn’t the point of the film. Just because it’s set during an intense period of time, doesn’t mean that has to be the entire focus. The entire film was inspired by the stories that Do would ask his mother about that time period, and it was crafted into this beautiful story. To me, that comment comes off like they wanted the film to be something different than what they got. Funan is a powerful film, and when it comes out on Blu-ray, or if you are lucky to find a theater playing it, buy the Blu-ray or see the film! Seriously, if you want more original films that help animation’s image in the US, please see this film. Unfortunately, since these types of films don’t get much screentime, how about we move on to a delightful surprise with The Angry Birds Movie 2? I think that would be pretty nice! Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

 

 

 

 

160: Fantastica - A Boonie Bears Adventure Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

As I come close to reaching 200 reviews, something that I have wanted to avoid is now becoming more and more unavoidable, direct-to-video features. I have nothing against filmmakers or animated features from overseas that can only find some ray of light under the sun with being sent directly to video, but unfortunately, that phrase “Direct-to-Video” comes with some big and not very helpful signs of quality. When you hear those three words, it usually means films that were made for cheap, they scrounged up enough for at least one C-list actor, cast the rest with YouTubers looking for a big break, fill out the rest with voice actors, and animation that would be good enough for a TV release back in the late 90s early 2000s. Sure, sometimes you get the films like GKids put out direct-to-video that are way better than the stuff you find on random shelves in grocery stores or bargain bins, but Direct-to-Video doesn’t carry a positive distinction. So, if I was going to tackle something that went directly to store shelves, I might as well pick something that had some cultural weight and has made an impression on the animation culture. This led me to China’s The Boonie Bears. This is a Chinese CGI-animated series starring two bears, Bramble and Briar, who constantly try to stop Logger Vick’s plans to chop down the trees. To say this is a massive show would be an understatement, as it has over 600 episodes, is translated into multiple languages including Mandarin, English, Russian, Spanish, French, and Hindi,  and it has been distributed in over 82 countries. Since this was a popular series by Fantawild Animation, you knew spin-offs and films were going to be a thing. We will be looking at one of the films today. Currently, the franchise has six films released, but today, we will be covering the fourth film, Fantastica: A Boonie Bears Adventure. Directed by Ding Liang, Fantastica, or as the original title is listed, Boonie Bears: Entangled Worlds, was released in China back in 2017, but got a recent US release by Viva Pictures, a distributor that I wish I had more positive things to say about. Anyway, how does this film actually hold up for a US release, and for people who may not know anything about this brand or the distributor? Let’s see what happens!

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The story starts off pretty typically. Logger Vick, dubbed by Paul Rinehart is up to his devilish deeds of trying to chop down the trees. Luckily, Briar and Bramble Bear, dubbed by Mario Lopez and Josh Peck, chase after him. However, Vick ends up running into a robot, dubbed by Siobhan Lumsden, who was part of an archeological team that was ambushed by a group of thieves. The robot ends up being named Coco, and tells Vick and the two bears about an ancient artifact called the Golden Antlers that are in a land called Fantastica. The four end up going on an adventure to find Fantastica and the Antlers while avoiding the group of thieves that works for a tech expert that is also looking for the Antlers. Can they find the Antlers before the baddies do?

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So, let’s mix things up a bit, and talk about the elephant in the room. There are two different dubs for this film. One has the cast from the English dub of the show, and the one we have from Viva Pictures is the one that just adds two celebrities to the title with Mario Lopez and Josh Peck. I watched both side to side, and while the Viva Pictures version might not be a Weinstein-level hatchet job to the film, there’s not a lot that changes, outside of Josh Peck trying to throw out some on-the-spot pop culture references or joke lines when his character’s mouth is not on screen. While I do not approve of just redubbing with two celebrities to have two names on the digital storefront or DVD, I’m at the very least glad they didn’t try to edit the film in any major ways. That’s already making this film way better than 99% of The Weinstein Company’s animation library. Besides, even if this film didn’t get a Weinstein-level hatchet job, you wouldn’t believe me by how the story is told.

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Yeah, while it isn’t butchered to the point of being confusing, a lot of story elements are confusing or not fleshed out enough to make sense. For one, let’s talk about the villains. Apparently, the villains are from a different universe and place in time. I say this, because they look more live-action, but when they enter the Boonie Bears’ universe, they look more cartoonish. Okay, I don’t think they needed this to happen. It’s not like there aren’t human characters. Why did they need to over-complicate their origins? They also don’t flesh out the villains enough, in terms of why they want the Golden Antlers. They try to throw in some kind of backstory for the main bad guy, but then it’s resolved by the end of the movie. Yeah, none of it is satisfying, nor do they make the villains entertaining. They are pretty dime-a-dozen with little to no personality. No matter whom you focus on in this film, and that includes the main characters, it feels undercooked. Vick ends up being this secondary neutral character, but then has an abrupt villain turn, but then becomes the good guy again in the end. Even the two Boonie Bears don’t do much, but react to the situation. They interact and do help out a little, but not enough to matter. They felt like side characters within their own movie, which is always obnoxious. It’s meant to be this big fantastical fantasy adventure, and yet, once we finally get to Fantastica, they rush through it. Even the highly marketed female archer person you see both leads talk about in their videos is bland. Sure, she is a good shot, but that’s about it. It’s a film that, while China is having a serious resurgence in animation, they still have a lot to learn with storytelling. Oh, and the ending is all kinds of abrupt and disappointing.

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So, the story and overall experience is a slightly negative disappointment. Is there anything I do like about the film? Well, while the comedy in the film doesn’t really work and they try too many kinds of jokes, there were a few laughs to be had. The voice cast is mostly annoying, but even if there was no real reason to hire Josh Peck, I think he does the best out of the two celebrities they hired. Seriously though, a few of the actors they obtained for certain characters have some of the most obnoxious voices I have ever heard from fictional characters. I will also give them credit that a part of the fantastical world of, well, Fantastica does look creative. A lot of what you see in this magical land can be rather typical for fantasy land elements, but I was digging the creatures that inhabit the land of Fantastica. It at the very least, leads to some pretty visuals. Animation-wise, it was okay. It’s still not up there with some of China’s recent efforts, and some of the animation is janky, but its way better than something like The Adventures of Panda Warrior.

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Sadly, Fantastica: A Boonie Bears Adventure is another disappointment from China’s animation offerings. I found it odd that Viva Pictures, the notorious distributors of films like Foodfight, Son of Bigfoot, Monster Family, Monkey King: Hero is Back, Gaturro, and Ozzy, decided to pick just one of the films. Though I’m sure it’s not going to do well for them, because it’s not the first film, and barely anyone that I have talked to has ever heard of this franchise. Viva Pictures probably picked it up, because it was cheap, and they don’t have a quality control person to tell them to stop picking up the bargain bin titles. Oh well, maybe one day Viva Pictures will have a film that’s both worth talking about and worth seeing. Now then, let’s get back to the positive vibes and look at what might be 2019’s best animated feature with Dennis Do’s Funan. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Lackluster!

159: Pachamama Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

In October 2018, I was with my father in Hollywood to go to the Animation is Film Festival. I was a fan when I sat down and watched the first film in the lineup that was Mamoru Hosoda’s Mirai. It was a fantastic experience, and I can’t wait to go back this year for the next festival. On the second day, my dad and I were going to go do different things that day. I decided to go see a film that wasn’t on my list of films to see at the festival, but I decided to check it out, Pachamama! Directed by Juan Antin, Pachamama was the first film shown off on the second day of the festival, and while the crowd for it wasn’t huge, it was still another feather in the cap of the overall event. Recently, Netflix decided to bring it onto their service as one of their exclusives, but outside of one trailer and a snippet of the film being shown off in the promotional video for July 2019, no one knows about this movie.

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The story revolves around a young boy named Tepulpai, voiced by Andrea Santamaria. He lives in a small village where he dreams to become the village Shaman, but is too selfish and inconsiderate to be one yet. In his village, they worship the mighty earth goddess Pachamama and have a festival in her honor. Unfortunately, a follower of the Golden City, where the lord of the land lives, arrived during their festivities and decides to take the village’s most prized possession. It is up to Tepulpai and his friend Naira, voiced by India Coenen, to get the village’s possession back, and also avoid the grasps of an evil outside force.

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So, this is going to sound harsh, but Pachamama is a very simple film. It’s obvious that it’s aimed at a younger audience, and there is nothing super deep about it like in a Pixar, or the rare DreamWorks film. And you know what? That’s perfectly okay! Not every film needs to be seen or approached to as wide of an audience as possible. Sometimes, it’s good to find an audience you want to focus on, and make the best product as possible for that group. Pachamama is an easy-going low-key adventure that relies on charm and its unique visual look to get you through the story. Sure, it does get a touch dark in tone and is not apologize about who the villains are in the film, but you can still watch it, and kids can understand and get an early preview about some rather terrible points in history. Its themes focus on not being selfish, becoming brave, and is very anti-greed. It’s a deep enough film that doesn’t dissolve into mindless colors and noise. It has a story, it’s for a young audience, it has likable characters, and it’s executed pretty well. I would rather a film be executed in this fashion, than what we got with that HELLS film from last year.

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Now, where Pachamama really shines are in its visuals. While it was originally going to be a stop-motion film, I think the overall visual style works better in CGI. It has beautiful and vibrant colors, the character designs work in CGI, and every background shot reminds me of paintings and posters of Argentinian and South American culture. It can truly stand out among the animated films made with CGI, with its children’s book/fairy tale look and unique human designs. While you can tell that this was a film with a limited budget, you can also tell that they took full advantage of what they could do, and the end product is still a visually splendid affair that makes it stand out among not only the foreign animated features, but also the Netflix-exclusive animated features.

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If I had to pick a few things to criticize, one of them would be about some of the English voice work. It’s not terrible, but at certain points in the film, the two actors playing the leads sound flat. The script is also fairly basic. You won’t see much deeper themes or concepts within the script, because of how this was mainly made for a younger audience. It’s very straight forward, and while I personally don’t mind that, I can see it being a bit too safe for other people. The main villains are also not that interesting. They are meant to be this faceless group of Spanish explorers, but that’s about it. They fit the theme of these new “gods” arriving on their land, but don’t expect a complex villain from the head of the explorers.

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While this was not my favorite film from the festival, I did find myself enjoying the charm, the animation, the gorgeous artwork, and my experience with Pachamama. You really have no excuse to not see this film, because it’s on Netflix. I know some people might want something more artistic, complex, and challenging in their animation, but sometimes, you want a film that knows what it is, and knows how to do it well. Like I said, it’s on Netflix right now, and I would highly recommend checking it out! Now then, I don’t really know what we are going to do for the 160th review. Maybe it’s time to go into some uncharted territory! Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

158: The Secret Life of Pets 2 Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

As a reviewer, I have seen so many arguments and comments thrown at films, studios, brands, and what have you, that are clichéd and boring. One of the most boring and trite comments and arguments I keep seeing are about Illumination Entertainment. Listen, I’m not saying their films are secretly good, or you have to stop hating on them. I will say though that they aren’t lazy. They have talented animators and people there making these films that rake in millions. However, I would argue a more proper criticism would be that they lack ambition, and are too nervous to step out of their safety bubble to expand their horizons of writing and storytelling. There is nothing wrong with not wanting to be a Disney or a Pixar-caliber film, but that doesn’t mean you slack off on the writing, animation, and story. Sooner or later, you will find yourself being forgotten for the next flashy animated experience. It’s actually kind of happening to Illumination’s newest film, The Secret Life of Pets 2. Directed by Illumination Entertainment mainstay Chris Renaud, Pets 2 is the sequel to the smash hit original film from 2016. It came out on June 7th of 2019, and while it was getting the usual mixed-to-mostly-negative reviews, it wasn’t the instant smash hit most of their films tend to be, financially. While it has made $203 mil on its $80 mil budget as of writing this review, it’s not the runaway hit as their other films were. Sure, it’s probably going to make more money as time goes on and after leaving theaters, but it is interesting to see this happen. Are people finally getting tired of Illumination’s style of filmmaking, or was a possibly good film caught victim in 2019’s summer film drought? Well, let’s dive into this world of fluffy animal shenanigans.

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The story once again follows our hero Max, a small dog now voiced by Patton Oswalt. Along with his buddy Duke, voiced by Eric Stonestreet, they are happy with their current life with their owner Katie, voiced by Ellie Kemper. That is, until Katie falls in love with a man she meets named Chuck, voiced by Pete Holmes. After the two get married, they have a kid, and while at first Max and the new kid don’t get along, Max soon begins to love him, and then becomes overly protective and afraid of the world around him. To solve this issue, he and Duke go on a trip to the countryside to a farm, and end up meeting an old sheep dog named Rooster, voiced by Harrison Ford. While this is going on, two other stories are happening. The second story revolves around Gidget, a pomeranian voiced by Jenny Slate, who ends up losing Max’s favorite toy inside the crazy cat lady’s home, and must get the help of Chloe, voiced by Lake Bell, to learn the ways of the cat to get it back. The third story revolves around Snowball, voiced by Kevin Hart, who is contacted by a shih tzu named Daisy, voiced by Tiffany Haddish to help save a tiger that is being held hostage by a cruel circus owner that is voiced by Nick Kroll.

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Yeah, if that sounds like a lot, then it is. Once again, we find Illumination having trouble trying to stretch out plots that could fill the 80+ minute runtime, and it’s not like they couldn’t have. Some of these plots might be generic with typical animated tropes that you have seen before, but at least it would have been focused. They could have easily made this film entirely around Max and Rooster’s dynamic, because the theme of overcoming your fears is not a bad one. I actually enjoyed bits and pieces of Max and Rooster’s relationship with one another, and in a better movie, they probably would have explored the idea of how to overcome your fears. It’s not executed in the best way possible, but I give them credit for at least trying a little. That theme does connect the three stories, but the pacing and flow of the three stories in the film is so awkward, that it keeps abruptly pushing you into each story as it unfolds. It comes off like they weren’t fully sure on how to keep you interested with the multitude of characters that are in the previous film that are now in this film. Most of them don’t really do much, or do anything to help the story. It’s a case of too many characters, huge expensive names attached to them, and they are given little to do. I remember a friend of mine suggesting that this franchise should turn to making a series of shorts or a TV series, and that would make sense. That way, you can flesh everyone out more, and not have to worry about using them, because you forgot to do something with them. The final act has decent action, but due to how low the stakes are, it’s hard to feel invested. Like, it’s so hard to care about half of the storylines because they either end abruptly, or the characters vanish for a mass majority of the film, like the kid and the owner’s new husband. There was seriously no reason to hire Pete Holmes for the role of the husband. He has, like, four lines in the film, and they could have been done by Jeff Bennett or Steve Blum.

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Now, it’s time for some positives. I found the animation to be quite good. It’s another sign that Illumination is still getting better at their animation skills. Character movements and facial expressions are vibrant, and once again, they get little animal characteristics down for the different pets that you see. I also enjoyed the voice cast. Patton Oswalt takes over for Louis C.K. as Max, and to be frank, Patton Oswalt is a way better Max. He knows how to capture that casual innocence of a dog. Harrison Ford is also a pleasant surprise as this was his first voice-over role. Isn’t that surprising? His first voice-over role in his entire career. Anyway, he captures Rooster’s stoic nature, but he also shows he isn’t just a hard-edged individual. Of course, Lake Bell steals any scene that she is in as this pedantic sarcastic cat. The others do a good job, and it was fun to see Dana Carvey as his old dog character from the first film, have a few good laughs in this film with his character interacting with a bunch of puppies.

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There isn’t a whole lot to say about The Secret Life of Pets 2. It’s a dull experience. It might be the most forgettable film Illumination Entertainment has made yet. It might be making a bit of money, but with Toy Story 4 out right now, it’s probably going to dry up. Maybe this is a sign that people are getting tired of Illumination Entertainment, or maybe it’s just a realization that this was never meant to be a big theatrical franchise. Maybe it’s time for them to start making this into a series of shorts, or a TV series for Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime. Maybe with a TV design philosophy, they can flex their creative muscles. All I know is that there is no reason to see this in theaters. I would have been much happier that, since this was animated by a French studio, if it was a smaller character-focused story that has a more laid-back vibe to it. People tend to not know that many French/European/Foreign animated features have very laid-back paces and stories, and that is something American studios can learn from overseas studios. Anyway, it’s time to move onto something that’s more interesting to talk about. Next time, we will talk about one of three Netflix-exclusive animated features out this year with Pachamama. Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Lackluster!

157: Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

I haven’t made it subtle that I have found a real lack of enjoyment with talking about bad movies. I don’t know what has gotten me into this funk, but it then made me think about why I love talking about films I want to love and talk about. It’s because it takes no effort to talk about them. Words flow easily. I don’t have to think about how to structure them, and who doesn’t want to talk about stuff they love? The problem with talking about movies that you don’t like ends up with you having to structure everything, because every bad film usually has their own unique problems. It’s why I don’t really pick a bad movie just for the sake of it. If I choose a movie I love or do not like, it’s because I want to talk about it. For right now, I want to talk about a movie that I could go on about for a few good hours, Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles. Directed by Salvador Simo, this was a film from Spain, and made the festival circuits last year with an official wide/limited release this year. It was a critical darling in the festival circuit, and was one of the winners of the three major awards at 2018’s Animation is Film Festival. I was lucky enough to see the film last year, and was not surprised at all that GKids wanted to distribute this film in the west. It was easily one of my favorite films at a festival that had nothing, but strong films to show. Now then, let’s get started!

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We follow the life of Luis Bunuel, voiced by Jorge Uson, a surrealist filmmaker that has made films in the same style and spirit of Salvador Dali. Unfortunately for him, people want to compare his work to Dali, when he wants to be seen as his own genius. Even worse for him, is that the country where he lives, has decided to blacklist him, which results in him not being able to get money to make movies. One night, he is drinking with his friend Ramon Acin, voiced by Fernando Ramos. Ramon decides to enter the local lottery and promises to Luis that if he wins, he will fund his next venture, which is a documentary that Luis was looking at doing. Months pass, and out of the blue, Ramon calls Bunuel to tell him that he won the money! They then get Bunuel’s two cohorts Pierre Unik, voiced by Luis Enrique de Tomas, and Eli Lotar, voiced by Cyril Corral, and head down through different villages in Spain to base the documentary around Las Hurdes and in the poorest area known as Las Hurdes Atlas. Can Bunuel regain his filmmaking credentials, and maybe absolve him of some of his issues from his past?

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I have to admit, ever since I saw this film back in October last year, I have had an unhealthy obsession with it. I have been patiently waiting to see it again. Normally, I would have waited to see it again in theaters, but I can’t wait any longer to review it. This film’s story of Bunuel redeeming himself as a human being and a filmmaker kept me constantly invested with what was going on. You can see the struggle every time Bunuel wants to do something drastic and shocking to the world about Las Hurdes Atlas, when really, that isn’t the way it should be shot. You see how he struggles to make this documentary work as he conflicts with the real life struggles and lives of the people that live in this village and wanting to show his vision, which is more harmful to him, the crew, and the people there. All of the struggle of making this documentary comes crashing around him and his friends as memories of his relationship with his father start popping up, and you see how Bunuel acts like he does. I just love seeing all of the small scenes of the leads interacting off of one another, and with the townsfolk they encounter on this journey. However, while a lot of this film is mature and serious, I was laughing probably the loudest I have ever laughed in a movie theater at this screening. This was some of the wittiest writing and the most well-timed jokes that I have seen in an animated film from overseas. It was able to balance out both the laughs when needed, and focus on the dire situation in which the people in the village live, and the importance for this documentary to succeed for Bunuel.

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In terms of the animation, I know some will talk about how limited it is, and maybe call it a bit stiff, but I think it’s great considering this film cost about $2 million to make. Characters move well, the designs are very appealing in a more serious Disney way, and they are still very emotive. They knew they didn’t have the biggest budget, but they made some breathtaking visuals and sequences with that budget. Since it’s about a surrealist filmmaker, they do take advantage of crafting some delightfully dream-like sequences. Another smart move is that since this was based on a real life documentary, they took footage from said documentary, and added it into the movie. It’s not all that distracting either, because the writing is so good, and it helps that this was based on a real life person and a real life documentary. The music by composer Arturo Cardelus, who also did the music for the acclaimed animated short, In a Heartbeat, is outstanding in this film. I find myself humming the tunes a couple of times. It reminds me of the music from Loving Vincent, which is elegant and dramatic.

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Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles is a film I would call a unique experience. So many elements of this film clicked for me like not many have, and I hugely adore it. It’s one of my favorites, and I really hope people can find a way to watch this in a theater or, at the very least, catch it when it gets on Blu-ray and DVD. Could I complain about some nitpicky elements about the script? Sure, but in the end, my love for this film, and how incredible the experience of watching it drowns out any minor issue I have with this movie. Again, if you can, please do watch this movie. Sadly, we must take a break from the positivity to talk about Illumination Entertainment’s next….I don’t think I would consider it a hit, but we will see. Next time, we will talk about The Secret Life of Pets 2. Thanks for checking out my review, I hope you all enjoyed it, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

156: UglyDolls Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

The big problem with making an animated film based on a property is that it can take a while to get it off the ground. While animated features can be easier to make cohesive in terms of everything looking like it belonged on screen, trends and popular brands come and go at lightning-fast speeds. Animation is a long process that usually takes up to three or four years (usually) to go into production and animate. That’s why it’s really odd to see films like The Angry Birds Movie, the upcoming Dora the Explorer movie, and Playmobil movie, because they haven’t been popular for years before their release. It’s also not easy to simply halt production. As you already spent a lot of money on the rights, talent, and animation, the investors and studios would love to see that product come to life. Rarely do you hear about an animated film getting halted mid-production and delayed to redo a year or two of work. Unfortunately, by the time your film based on the popular brand comes out, it could be years since anyone last talked about it or even knew about it. This is the situation that the UglyDolls movie finds itself in. Directed by Kelly Asbury of Shrek 2, Gnomeo & Juliet, Smurfs: The Lost Village, and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron fame, the movie based on the cult-favorite toy line has more of an interesting history behind It than anything else. Originally announced back in 2011, Illumination got the rights to make the feature, with Chris Meledandri to produce the film alongside the creators of the brand David Horvath and Sun-Min Kim also set to executive produce. Obviously, something happened to that relationship, as in 2015, the rights and production swapped to STX Entertainment, and the animation was being done by Reel FX Entertainment, the same studio behind The Book of Life, Rock Dog, Sherlock Gnomes, and the upcoming Scoob. What’s even crazier is that Robert Rodriguez is now the executive producer, and is behind the story of the film, and was set to direct. Obviously, Kelly Asbury took over, but Robert Rodriguez is still behind the story, and is executive producer alongside Jane Hartwell and Oren Aviv. With what I can tell, the original creators of UglyDolls are no longer attached as producers of this film. So, we have a film that has been in development for quite a long time, switched hands and directors a couple of times, based on a toy line that only had a cult fanbase, and, as of writing this review, is a critical and financial bomb. Yeah, let’s dive in!

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UglyDolls follows our lead character Moxy, voiced by Kelly Clarkson. She is an Uglydoll that lives in a realm called Uglyville, a part of a world where rejected/”ugly” dolls are tossed. Moxy lives there with her friends Lucky Bat, voiced by Wang Leehom, Ugly Dog, voiced by Pitbull, Wage, voiced by Wanda Sykes, Babo, voiced by Gabriel Iglesias, and the town’s mayor Ox, voiced by Blake Shelton. Moxy’s dream is to find a human to live with, but is constantly told that humans are a myth. Of course, she and her friends decide to leave the town to find a new world. As they venture out of Uglyville, they find themselves in a place known as Perfection, a town where the “perfect” dolls end up to be with children. The leader of this place is a guy doll named Lou, voiced by Nick Jonas, that is pretty much going to tell you to your face that you aren’t perfect. Well, Moxy and her friends aren’t going to stand down, and are going to show that they are just as worthy of being with children as the regular dolls. Can they thwart Lou’s evil plan? Can they show that being yourself is great? Can this film actually make sense of its world and how it works?

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That’s literally one of the biggest issues this film has. Due to its rushed development, the world-building of UglyDolls doesn’t make a lick of sense. It becomes confusing when they introduce a portal to the human world in Perfection. So, where does the portal go? Is it a single toy store? Is it linked to multiple stores? Do the humans know of this realm of living toys? Who made this factory? If the toys can go to and from the human world, where do they go for the portal? It seems like another run-through on the script was not in the favor of the writers, because a lot of this could have been fixed if they just went through the setting another time. Just take out the humans and let them be this world of living dolls. Granted, fixing the setting and premise wouldn’t have fixed the writing.

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This has to be one of the most repetitive scripts that I have ever seen in an animated film. None of the jokes landed outside of one from the one-eyed unicorn, and the pacing of the script was essentially the same thing every single scene. They get a challenge thrown at them by Lou, everyone gives up, Moxy says they can’t give up, her friends doubt her, she pushes through, and then they make it through. It’s the same set-up for almost every scene. They do have a weak twist in the story, but no one in the audience cares, because it’s not subtly telegraphed. A lot of the film’s themes and morals are essentially “hit over your head” with the light touch of a wrecking ball crashing through a building. Outside of maybe Moxy and Lou, none of the other characters have a lot of personality to them. They really have one character trait, and that doesn’t equal having an identity. This might be because STX, in all of their wisdom, are making a TV series based on the film for Hulu, which I don’t even think is going to get made now. I don’t know why you would, because the movie is bombing, and I haven’t seen one truly positive review for it.

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The lack of refinement bleeds into the voice work. This movie showcases the worst of celebrity voice casting. There are so many that you could easily just recast with voice actors who, while maybe not able to save the material they are given, could, you know, voice act! You never once see the characters. You only see the celebrities that they hired, which takes you out of the story in a super frustrating way. The animation also lacks polish. While $45 mil is still a lot of money, it definitely shows that this film needed more time, more money, and more creativity. A couple of the song sequences just put the characters in flat backgrounds, you can tell when some characters are sliding across the ground, and while Perfection fits the themes of the film, it also looks like they copy and pasted a lot of the doll models and houses. They try to go for that felt design seen in films like 2016’s Trolls, but it fails to capture Trolls’ wildly colorful world.

So, what do I actually like about the film? Very little. I hate saying that, but it’s true! I think out of all the actors in this film, the only ones that are trying are Kelly Clarkson, Nick Jonas, and Blake Shelton. I thought they put in the most decent performances. In terms of the animation, I like how accurate the dolls look. Sure, they aren’t truly ugly, but they were based on a toy line, and they translated well to animation. Uglyville looks pretty solid as well. It’s vibrant, and probably the most creative-looking location in the entire film. While I do despise how cynical and manipulative this film feels, it was at least presented as intended, which is better than Wonder Park trying to be deeper than it knew how to be.

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I feel badly for UglyDolls. It never truly stood a chance when STX Entertainment decided to rush the product out to try and start a franchise. I’m not surprised it’s bombing, but I only feel sympathy for the animators for this film. It’s not easy to be working on tighter budgets and development times. I would say don’t go see this film, but seeing how it’s one of the newest films to bomb at the box office this year, no one is going to see it. Not even for a bad movie night, it’s just too boring for something like that. I hope Reel FX can get back on track with making some good films, but we will have to see how their next project turns out. Also, at the end of the day, it’s just another bad movie in a sea of bad movies. Once June comes around, and Toy Story 4 hits theaters, everyone, including me, will have forgotten about this film. It’s not worth hating on it for a long time, nor is it worth making awful YouTube videos that say all theatrical animation past 2009 sucks when it doesn’t. For now, I think it’s time head back over to Spain, and take a look at a film that was one of my favorite animated film experiences of last year and that’s going to get an official US release this year!  Next time, we shall dive into Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles. Thanks for reading, I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: The Worst/Blacklist

155: Justice League vs. The Fatal Five Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Recently, in terms of quality, the DC brand has made a sudden course move to much better pastures. Sure, Aquaman is a bloated mess that felt like two movies in one, but it was such a blast to watch, and then Shazam! came out of nowhere, and was just an incredible movie. It’s easily my favorite superhero movie of 2019 so far, and I’m typing this as Avengers: Endgame comes out, so we will see how that ends up. Anyway, I’m happy that the company is doing a better job with its features, and I’m seeing some slight improvement in the animation department as well. While some of the films from last year were still okay at best, Batman Ninja was such an entertaining ride. It seems like whenever DC goes off the beaten path of something that’s not working correctly for them, they tend to get better results. For example, let’s see how Justice League vs. The Fatal Five does. Directed by Sam Liu, we see the return of not only Sam Liu as the director, but Bruce Timm as executive producer, and his designs take over the art direction of the film. This was also touted as the first DC-animated feature to deal with not only the Green Lantern Jessica Cruz, but also will be tackling characters with mental health challenges. So, how does it work juggling all of that? Well, let’s get started!

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The story sets us up in the future with the Legion of Superheroes, a “Justice League” of the future, to put it shortly. They are being attacked by three of a villain group known as The Fatal Five. The three members include Mano, voiced by Philip Anthony-Rodriguez, The Persuader, voiced by Matthew Yang King, and Tharok, voiced by Peter Jessop. So, what are they after? They are after a time machine to go into the past to get something. They get past Legion member Saturn Girl, voiced by Tara Strong, and Star Boy, voiced by Elyes Gabel. Fortunately, Star Boy ends up screwing up the three baddies’ plans, and ends up going into the past with them. Along the way, he encounters the current day’s Justice League members Batman, voiced by Kevin Conroy, Superman, voiced by George Newbern, Wonder Woman, voiced by Susan Eisenberg, Mr. Terrific, voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson, and young hopeful Miss Martian,  voiced by Daniela Bobadilla. Another side of the story has a unknown player in the overall plot with Jessica Cruz, the current Earth’s Green Lantern, voiced by Diane Guerrero. Will the Justice League be able to stop three of the Fatal Five members while dealing with the mystery of Star Boy and Jessica Cruz’s connection?

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So, how about we talk about the elephant in the room? This film deals with two characters who have mental health issues. Star Boy has a drug in the future that he takes to prevent some kind of mental breakdown, which the film describes as  paranoid schizophrenic, but even then, it’s a doctor from the past that describes it, so who knows if that’s really what it is. They don’t say what Jessica Cruz suffers from, and I want to take a guess, but I don’t want to mislabel it. That’s a big risk to have a film that tackles those types of issues. You have to be respectful about it, and tread lightly with making sure these disorders or issues are treated with delicate hands. For the most part, I think they do handle their struggles with the proper weight of said challenges. They aren’t just added in for no reason to give the story some kind of artificial struggle. Jessica Cruz, after surviving a pretty traumatic experience, struggles with getting up and socializing with the rest of the world. I could see how going through what happened would close one’s self away from the world. While they don’t really go into full detail as to what exactly happened with Star Boy, he’s more interesting as a character with his struggle to be helpful. He also realizes how crippling his issues are that could hinder the League’s attempts to stop the Fatal Five. You get a lot of quiet moments between Star Boy, Jessica Cruz, and the other characters. It might be fairly action-packed, but it does pull back to let the characters talk. Speaking of the action, while it might seem kind of busted for two of the villains seen for most of the film being a cyborg and a guy with a sharp axe, the action is pretty good! It’s nice to see the Fatal Five, for the most part, treated as major threats, which usually doesn’t happen a lot with most superhero films. Granted, I have some issues with the villains, but we will save that for a later part of the review. Even someone who I was very afraid would get the short stick, in terms of being important to the plot, Mr. Terrific, gets some great lines and action beats.

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Animation-wise, this is becoming the most boring part to talk about with these DC-animated films. Not that it’s badly animated, but it’s like talking about the LEGO games from Travelers Tales; it’s pretty much on-par with the other films recently released by DC and Warner Bros. When the action kicks in, the animation is great! You can still tell where they lessen the frames of animation, and some very minute parts feel like they slowed-down the footage, but it’s all on par for these animated features. It doesn’t hurt that the Bruce Timm designs are still very iconic. The voice cast is also stellar. While it could be seen as fanservicey to bring back Kevin Conroy, Susan Eisenberg, and George Newbern as Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman, I am always happy to hear those voices. The rest of the cast also pulls their weight, with newcomers Elyes Gabel and Diane Guerrero doing splendid jobs as Star Boy and Green Lantern Jessica Cruz. The villains are also threatening with Peter Jessop, Matthew Yang King, and Philip Anthony-Rodruiguez’s performances. It’s always nice to see Kevin Michael Richardson, and I would totally watch a Mr. Terrific TV series or DC-animated film with Kevin Michael Richardson as the lead voice actor.

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So, where does this film fall flat? It’s funny how many people complain about the third act in Marvel films, and while some of them are definitely not handled the best, I would take the least liked third act of any of the Marvel films over the wonky and surprisingly sloppy third act of this movie. The plans the villains follow at first is pretty great as you find out why the Fatal Five went back in time, but then you find out about the actual plan, and it’s really stupid. I want to really talk about it, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet. My opinion on the overall third act had me asking too many questions, and maybe some of it is my lack of knowledge of certain characters, but I just couldn’t fully get into it outside of the ending.  I also wish Miss Martian was not in the film. It’s not that she isn’t entertaining, voiced well, and so on, but she felt out of place with the other characters. I don’t know, maybe I’m too caught up with how Young Justice handles her character on that show.

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Still, despite my gripe with the third act, I did find myself enjoying Justice League vs. The Fatal Five. It’s a film I can see myself rewatching more than other DC-animated features and other animated features overall. It also makes me wish they would reboot and make a new League of Superheroes show or series of films. It’s a cool premise, and the original series was pretty decent. Maybe we will see more of these futuristic heroes in the future, but for now, I recommend Justice League vs. The Fatal Five. Now then, we shall move from superheroes dealing with complex issues, to a film about a brand of toys that haven’t been popular in years. Next time, we dive into the world of the UglyDolls movie. Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go see it!

154: Missing Link Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

SPOILER TALK HEADS UP!: Due to a certain joke occurring in the movie, I am going to be talking about one of the most important scenes of the film, and talking a little bit about where I stand with the situation.

As I sit here and type this review, a cloud of sadness and frustration looms over me. Not because of the movie I’m reviewing itself; it’s because of the current state of what thrives and dies within the current Hollywood theatrical film climate. It’s this uneven balancing act between the studios and the audiences to make this dance work, because when both forces aren’t synced up, good films end up falling by the wayside. People want original ideas and films, but then don’t go to see them, and instead, go see something that is based on a pre-existing property. However, studios need to know that not every film they release needs to be making billions, or cost $300 million. Because of the current climate, certain films seem to be popping up less and less on the big screen, but then flourish on streaming services. Maybe stop-motion animation should join that list due to today’s review, Missing Link. Directed and written by Chris Butler, Missing Link is the next film in Laika’s long line-up of beautifully-crafted stop-motion features that garner high praise, but sadly, underperform or bomb. Missing Link seems to be suffering from that scenario as of writing this review. Maybe this film’s box office was more elusive than the Missing Link himself. Let’s see what’s up!

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The story revolves around Sir Lionel Frost, voiced by Hugh Jackman. He is an explorer who seeks out legendary and mythical monsters to prove that they exist. His main goal is to join this Adventurer’s club, but is constantly rejected for lack of proof of his adventures. One day, after getting back from another adventure, Lionel finds a letter that says that the individual in the letter is Big Foot, and tells Lionel to meet him in the Pacific Northwest to find him. Once getting there, Lionel meets the Big Foot in question, Mr. Link, who later goes by Susan, voiced by Zack Galifianakis. Susan asks Lionel to take him around the world to where the Yetis live, to help him find his own kind, and to find his place in the world. Along the way, the two are joined by Adelina Fortnight, a widow and old love interest of Lionel, voiced by Zoe Saldana, and avoiding the grasps of Lord Piggot-Dunceby, voiced by Stephen Fry, and Willard Stenk, voiced by Timothy Olyphant. Can Lionel help Susan find his people? Will Lionel make it into the club?

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I think what I love the most about this movie, is how laid back it is. It’s a grand adventure, but it feels smaller in scale, due to how intimate the story is. For me, what makes the low-key charm of the film work is the chemistry between the three main characters. I know when the first trailer for Missing Link came out, people were worried, for some reason, that Laika was going to give up on their identity to be more mainstream. Well, to all of the skeptics out there, I was right, and had nothing to worry about! The character interactions in Missing Link always felt natural, especially the scenes with Lionel and Susan. They hold this movie together, and they work off each other well. Both characters have the same goal of being accepted and being a part of a community, but they cleverly show off the difference between the two. Susan wants to find the Yetis, because he is the last of his kind, and wants to find his way in the world, and being with the Yetis might help him, because they are “relatives”. Lionel wants to join this adventurer club for the sake of doing so, because he was told “no”. One is obviously more selfish than the other. Both characters though share that drive of wanting something so much, that it hurts when they aren’t able to get it. It also deals with themes of identity and looking at the bigger picture. While I know some were disappointed that Lionel is Laika’s first adult protagonist, because they think kids really want to see themselves as the heroes, I like him. He’s entertaining and enough of a jerk that you don’t just hate his guts throughout the entire film. Susan, voiced by Zack Galifianakis, is easily the most likable character. Either because of the writing or great directing, Zack makes Susan a very funny character. I know it’s easy to label Galifianakis as the inept weirdo comedy relief due to the Hangover trilogy and other films, but I think he has proven that he can be more than that, and this film is a great example of it. A lot of the humor is very witty and British in tone, and I think that makes it a more watchable film for the years to come. People will be coming back to this one more than any Illumination or Blue Sky comedy. It shows how smart comedic writing that’s not loud, fast, and pop-culture-focused can work. I also adored Zoe Saldana as Adelina Fortnight. She was a strong, fiery female who would always call out Lionel for his buffoonery, and it’s one of the few animated features that have the male and female lead not end up together. Good! Not every animated feature needs to have the male and female lead get together.

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Of course, I can’t talk about this film, without talking about the gorgeous animation. This is easily the most ambitious animation Laika has done. You just see the blood, sweat, and tears put into the detailed environments, the characters, the movements, how smoothly everything moves, and the colors. It’s a beautiful movie to look at and be amazed how a lot of it was made by hand with very little CGI used. Even if you aren’t fully on board with the film or its characters, you can’t deny that the animation is well done. The voice cast is, to no surprise, good! I know there is this push for more voice actors to take lead roles, but you also have to understand that most casual movie audiences don’t know who famous voice actors like Tom Kenny, Jim Cummings, or Tara Strong are. That’s why they use celebrities, and while sometimes you can’t separate the actor from the character, here they do a good job with their respective roles.

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I think the biggest issues this film has can be attributed to a few different criticisms. The first one revolves around the villains. I get what they were going for with Piggot and Stenk, with them being villains that you would have seen back in the old action adventure movie days, but they are easily the weakest characters of the film. They are played well by Stephen Fry and Timothy Olyphant, but they are a touch too simple. There was also another tired male prisoner joke in the film. It’s short, but I’m getting tired of seeing this joke being used. I also wish they did more with the Yetis. They aren’t in the film much, but are more of an obstacle that the heroes have to overcome than actual characters. It’s a shame too, because Emma Thompson, who voices the lead Yeti, probably has the best joke in the movie. It seems like sometimes, Laika has a problem with their third acts with how they are paced. There is also a joke that I have seen split people down the middle about when Mr. Link decides to go by the name of Susan. It’s a touching scene, but I can see why it sparked some debate if it’s unintentionally hurtful due to the fact that Lionel will sometimes, either accidently or the script forgot to make that change, will call Susan, Mr. Link. I have heard many opinions on the gradient of this discussion, and I don’t really have a fully-fledged opinion. I don’t think it’s as bad as others make it out to be, but I’m not dismissing the fact that it could be taken the wrong way. I think it’s unintentional in its execution. While I loved the chemistry between the characters, I wish there was maybe one more scene with the characters bonding. It’s one of the few times a film that’s 95 minutes long, could be almost two hours due to how laid back and enjoyable it is.

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While I am mad that people are not seeing Missing Link, and are instead going to see Pet Sematary and Little, and Laika not having enough resources for marketing, I still love Missing Link. It might not be Kubo and the Two Strings or Coraline, but I love this movie. Heck, I love all of Laika’s movies. If people truly desire and want new or original stories and films, then they need to not hesitate on seeing films like Missing Link, because it’s stop-motion. Go see the film, and if you love it, that’s awesome, and if you didn’t find it to be impressive, then that’s okay as well! What matters is, is that you went to see and supported an original property. I can’t wait to own this flick on blu-ray when it comes out. Well, while we wait to see how enjoyable or cynical Ugly Dolls is in May, let’s check out one of DC’s newest films with Justice League vs. The Fatal Five. Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed it, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/essentials

153: Maquia: When the Promised Flowers Bloom Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Something that’s unfortunate not only in the animation scene, but the theatrical animation scene in general is that there is a huge lack of non- white male directors. At least, I find that to be a major observation. Maybe it’s a lack of awareness for the directors in question, because we know about women like Lauren Faust and Nora Twomey, but it could also be the fact that many powerful male creators for studios like the ex-head of Pixar and other areas of the animation scene have ruined the chances and passion many non-white male had with working in animation. Not every great story is going to come from one type of person. The more diversity we get with animation, the more stories we can tell, and the more voices that can be heard. A darn good example of getting a unique voice that told a compelling and powerful movie would be Mari Okada’s Maquia: When the Promised Flowers Bloom. Released last year by Eleven Arts in the states, Mari Okada’s fantasy drama was her first theatrical directorial debut for which she also wrote the script. This is on top of a successful career of writing, including Anohana, Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans, and The Anthem of the Heart. So then, let’s dive in and see why this was one of the best animated films of 2018.

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The story follows a young woman named Maquia, dubbed by Xanthe Huynh. She is a being known as a Lorph, a race of human-like individuals that stay young and live longer than normal humans. They also weave their stories in these giant cloth-like fabrics. One day, a kingdom attacks her people to take a maiden from her clan to offer to the kingdom’s prince, so they can make long-living children and keep the kingdom afloat forever. Luckily for Maquia, she escapes when one of the dragon creatures the knights rode on goes berserk, and she ends up riding on it out of the reach of the kingdom. She then finds herself in a village that was attacked by bandits. Among the debris, she finds a human baby in the arms of his dead mother. Maquia decides to take care of the infant as the film follows the challenges of raising a child, learning about life, the trials of love, and being a mother.  

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So, what really cements Okada’s writing and directorial work in this film? Well, the themes this film tackles of loss, love, and motherhood. We have seen those themes before in films like Wolf Children, which has unfortunately been compared and contrasted with Maquia due to the focus on a mother raising a kid in a unique situation. What makes this film so dastardly with its way of using emotionally powerful moments is how Okada catches you off-guard. It’s like she sneaks up behind you, pokes you with a knife to tell you to get ready, and then when the time comes, stabs you right in the feels to deliver an extra powerful punch to your heart. I don’t think I have seen a film like Maquia that has made me cry harder the two times that I have seen it. Its themes are beautifully woven into the story as you get involved with the trials of Maquia taking care of this child when she is, considering her kind, young herself, and doesn’t really know what to do. You watch as decades pass and she stays the same, but everyone grows up and dies around her. You watch as her son gets older, and the challenge of their relationship and dynamic starts to get in the way of how they come off to other people. Everyone, from the kingdom to the immortal beings, see the rise and fall of mystical creatures becoming extinct and the fall of the kingdom at the end of the film. It’s a brilliantly somber but touching film that, while having incredibly gorgeous animation, shows Okada’s strengths as a writer. You feel heavily invested with the characters and what is going on with them. You want to see Maquia become a mother, you want to see her make sure her son grows up, you want to make sure the son doesn’t get killed, and you want to see her friendships blossom and stay connected. It’s a well-paced story that knows what main plot elements to focus on, and when to sparingly show off what is going on with the other characters.

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Animation-wise, Maquia is a gorgeous movie with beautiful vistas, great camera work, soft rounded character designs, and very well composted CGI. Yeah, once again, a Japanese animated film shows how to do it properly where many anime series fail in regards to the CGI. It can still be noticeable, but it’s not as distracting as say, any of Polygon Pictures’ products or that horrible Berserk continuation. In terms of the original language and the dubbed version, I think you can’t go wrong with either. Xanthe Huynh is incredible as Maquia and simply goes through the gambit of emotions, and you believe her every time. The other actors are good as well with Ryan Shanahan, Eddy Lee, Cherami Leigh, Kevin T. Collins, Brooklyn Nelson, Marc Thompson, H.D. Quinn, Ryan Bartley, and many other voice actors do great with their respective roles. While the music is nothing that you haven’t really heard before, Kenji kawai, the composer for shows and movies like Patlabor, Ranma ½, Devilman, Project A-ko, Burn up!, Ghost in the Shell, Dai-Guard, and Ip Man still delivers a sweeping epic score and soothing tunes that pull you into the experience.

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If I had to complain about something with this wonderfully touching film, I would say that the art direction isn’t all that creative. Yes, it’s a more human and adult story, but when you have the character designer Yuriko Ishii, who was inspired by the artist who did Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story, and Tactics Ogre, Akihiko Yoshida, you kind of expect something more creative. It all looks great visually, but there is nothing that unique or outstanding about the fantasy world that they live in. Also, while it’s not as bad as other films or anime series, you can definitely see when they use CGI. It’s not a major detractor, but it’s something worth noting. I also found a few times where the dub sounded like it got slightly drowned out by the music.

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Even with those criticisms, they are incredibly minor, because Maquia is such a powerful and moving film. It makes me excited to see what other directing gigs Okada will get in the future, and it makes me want to check out what she has done in the past. It’s finally out on DVD, but heads up. You can only get the Japanese dub version with the Blu-ray version of the film. The DVD version only comes with the English dub. Still, I’m happy and hopeful more people can finally check out this classic from Japan. Now then, we travel from Japan to go on a trip around the world! Next time, we are going to check out Laika’s newest film, Missing Link. Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

152: Wonder Park Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Like I said in my 150th review of the Godzilla Netflix Trilogy, I’m not really finding joy in reviewing movies I would consider bad. I do it, and will not falter in my opinions about them, but I take no joy in certain films that obviously had a rough development. Many things can go wrong with making animated films, and I can’t think of a rougher development for an animated film this year than Paramount and Nickelodeon’s Wonder Park. Honestly, as far as I can tell right now, Wonder Park had probably some of the most negative PR surrounding it before release. Starting development back in 2014, Wonder Park was animated by a studio in Spain called Ilion Animation Studios, the same studio that did 2009’s Planet 51 and the upcoming film Paramount/Skydance production, Luck. Then, in January of 2018, the original director, Dylan Brown, who was an animator for Pixar, was fired after sexual misconduct, and was replaced by David Feiss, Clare Kilner, and Robert Iscove. Well, you would not really know that, because the film is notorious for not having an actual literal director credit! Not even a fake director name. No one wanted full-fledged credit. Even after that trainwreck, it has been getting bombarded with negative reviews, and may be Paramount’s first flop of 2019. Yeah, let’s check it out, shall we?

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The story follows this little girl name June, voiced by Brianne Denski. June, along with her mother, voiced by Jennifer Garner, has made this beautiful, vibrant, and outlandishly-creative theme park called Wonderland, where her stuffed animals help run it. These animals include a blue bear who greets the park guests named Boomer, voiced in the US by Ken Hudson Campbell and the UK version by Tom Baker, two beavers named Gus and Cooper, voiced in the US version by Kenan Thompson and Ken Jeong and in the UK version by Ryan Fitzgerald and Wippa, a wild boar that runs everything named Greta, voiced by Mila Kunis, and a porcupine that is the safety inspector named Steve, voiced by John Oliver. However, the most important animal in the park is a chimp named Peanut, voiced by Norbert Leo Butz, who is the park icon and ride creator. Unfortunately, as June started to build a smaller scale version of Wonderland, June’s mom gets sick and has to leave for a while. They won’t say what she is sick with exactly, but that really won’t matter as the story and my review goes on. She is now stuck with her dad, voiced by Matthew Broderick, and stews away in her sadness about the possibility of not seeing her mother again. After getting sent to math camp, June escapes the bus taking her to the camp, and stumbles into a forest, and with no real explanation, ends up in Wonderland, but nature decided to take it back. She ends up seeing her stuffed animals come to life as more “realistic-looking”, and the park is overrun by this ominous cloud of darkness that has wrecked the park with the help of the Chimpanzombies. Can June find a way to get her creative spark back and save the park? What about the fate of her mother? What about the fact that this park came to life with no real reason given how? Why is there no real director credit?

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So, what happened? How did this film become such an unfocused $100 mil mess? It’s really tough to say what’s positive about it, because with every positive, comes a negative. For example, the animation is fine. It has solid enough animation, but it really doesn’t look like it cost $100 mil. Some of the movements look solid enough, but some movement styles are janky and too fast. With how fast the two beaver brothers move, you can’t really tell what they are doing when they are running or fighting with one another. The end credits literally cut out the characters from the film footage, and slaps them onto the big names. Not only that, but they either slow down or rewind the footage used to make it look like they made entirely original animation. It looks sloppy and rushed. The characters move well enough, but there aren’t that many little quirks outside of maybe Peanut and Boomer. No one has little movements that make each character feel like their own. Some of the shots and the rides are well-animated and shot well, but at other times, the camera is either too close or snapping back and forward like that one scene in Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s hard to know what’s fully going on. The film’s animation also lacks a bit of that creative spark that something like this film needs. Why don’t the animals look like their stuffed animal counterparts? They had CG models of the stuffed animals set up for each of them, but their “living” versions are just generic animals. The chimpanzombies and the Darkness could have been interesting, but due to how wonky, rushed, and undercooked the script is, they end up being very forgettable threats that you will not remember at all. I don’t really get how clunky the animation has been for Nickelodeon’s original films that get TV series. Even by the years they were released, with Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius back in 2001 and Barnyard back in 2006, they never look as good as other big studio films at those times. Oh, and Wonder Park also has this very heavy emphasis on shine and bloom effects. You know how video games during the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Wii generation really exploited the heck out of the bloom tool in games? That’s Wonder Park’s other notable animation issue. It looks like a short CGI film made by a student who was learning how to balance out CGI lighting tools. However, I will say that for foreign animation from Spain, it does look better than a lot of the films that I see that either look like they are almost at the Hollywood scale, or very straight-to-video.

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So, the animation is a mixed to mostly negative bag, but what about the story, writing, and characters? Well, unfortunately, the one positive/one negative trick used above is sadly usable here. The story had potential to be more complex with how June is connected to the park with the animal characters being different symbolic forms of June. For example, Peanut is her imagination and optimism, and Steve is her current mood that’s all about safety regulations. Sadly, they really don’t go into that, or expand upon it. Because of the 85-minute runtime, it’s one of the few times an animated film should have been 120 minutes. You aren’t given time to breath, or know about the characters, or how the plot works. You are never told how the park came to life, how the animals don’t know who she is, and plenty of other story elements that don’t really get fleshed out. It’s great that June is a creative and imaginative individual, and I would argue that she would make a much better protagonist if she was given a better story and overall film. If the film didn’t introduce these themes that you have seen done better in Inside Out and A Monster Calls, then we wouldn’t be criticizing how lacking in punch the overall film feels. The writing is never creative, the jokes don’t land, and I don’t remember the character’s names, their personalities, or any real scenes. Due to how much of a rush the film is in to get itself done with, you are never caring on an emotional level, and that’s a shame. Again, there is stuff that could work here, but those elements are as under-baked as most baked desserts on Chopped.

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In the end, I feel badly for the people that worked on Wonder Park. It’s the weakest animated film of 2019, and I don’t like saying that. There are elements of a much better movie hiding under all the flaws, and the fact that this entire film feels like a rush job to prepare viewers for the upcoming animated series, which may not happen now, or will go for a season before cancelation, says a lot. A lot of my issues with this film are because we know very little of what happened behind the scenes to make many of these issues center-stage, and I feel badly for the animators and production people who may or may not have had a great work schedule to get this completed. It won’t change my opinion on the film, but I would, at the very least, understand what went down. I feel like with a better direction and more time to actually flesh out certain elements of this film, it could have been a solid gem that would have found a cult following. Who knows, maybe a few years down the line we might re-review films like this, and find something we missed the first time around. I simply don’t recommend seeing Wonder Park. It will probably find its way onto Netflix in the future, and or maybe Amazon Prime. Until then, just go see How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World, The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part, or try to find screenings for some of the upcoming foreign animated features coming out, like This Magnificent Cake!, Penguin Highway, or Okko’s Inn. Until then, just wait until Missing Link comes out in April. For now, since we have some time before Laika’s newest feature, how about we talk about some smaller releases that I think people should check out? Next time, let’s talk about a really cool female-directed animated feature called Maquia: When the Promised Flowers Bloom. Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the review, and let’s hope we can learn about Wonder Park’s development history in more educated detail in the future! I will see you all next time!

Rating: The Worst/Blacklist

151: How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Well, it has happened. I am finally able to review DreamWorks animated movies! Now that they are under Universal’s banner, and not Fox’s banner, I can now talk about today’s film and any of their future projects. It’s fascinating to see the entire history of DreamWorks. The company was founded by Jeffery Katzenberg after a nasty break-up with Disney, and made a name for not really having an identity, making edgier/mostly mediocre films that tried to ape off of what Disney/Pixar were doing at the time. They finally made a name for themselves with hits like Shrek 2, the Kung Fu Panda and How to Train your Dragon films, and then lost so much money after one failed business decision after another, we are now at the current part of the timeline. Once they lost about 500 employees and a couple of double digit millions when their 2014 films failed to bring in the money, they were then bought out by Universal. That’s a fairly rough and compacted history, but this isn’t about the history of DreamWorks, and how they started out to where they are now. I’m not getting paid enough on my Patreon to do something like that (link to my Patreon if you would like to support it). We are here to talk about How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World. Directed and written by Dean DeBlois, The Hidden World wraps up the entire trilogy of one of DreamWorks’ best franchises. It came out near the end of February to critical acclaim and commercial success. So, how is the actual film? Let’s see what unfolds in this hidden world.

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The third film takes place a year after the second film, as Hiccup, voiced once again by Jay Baruchel, is now officially the leader of his people, and has gone on frequent missions to take down and free dragons from people who capture them. Unfortunately, his home and people are at risk of having to find a new land, and come to the realization about the relationship his people have with the dragons. This doesn’t help things when a group of dragon hunters hire a notoriously dangerous individual known as Grimmel the Grisly, voiced by F. Murray Abraham, who wants to kill all of the dragons, especially the Night Fury and Light Fury species. Hiccup then suggests that they find the Hidden World, a place where all the dragons live. Since this is the third film as well, let’s throw in a mysterious Light Fury, a white version of the franchise’s icon Toothless. Can Hiccup save his people and dragons from annihilation?

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Before I talk about the positives, and there are a lot of positives, I wanted to counter against some of the criticisms that have been thrown at this film. The first criticism I see is that it doesn’t tie into the Netflix series at all. To be frank, I’m happy they didn’t. Sure, the Netflix series was able to expand upon the characters and the world with more villages, villains, and other heroes. However, if push comes to shove, I’d rather it stay exclusively within the film world. It’s not really fair to expect everyone going into this third film to have watched the Netflix series, or the series that came out before the second film. I get that even the slightest little easter eggs or cameos would have been nice for fans of the TV series, but at the same time, most people going into this wouldn’t have seen the entire series. The next criticism I see is aimed at how some of the characters are handled. I have a mixed reaction to this part overall. Again, a lot of people pointed out that the TV series was doing a better job at fleshing out these characters. Well, duh. You have a TV series that has multiple episodes and more time to flesh everything out. I think the writing is strong enough that a good chunk of the characters are still true to them and are still great.

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That’s really all I have to disagree with. Now, we talk about the actual criticisms. To me, the How to Train your Dragon franchise runs parallel with DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda franchise. The first film was a surprise hit, and both have really good first films. The second films arguably are better films expanding the world, the story, the characters, and have a better villain. The third films are not as good as the second ones, but are great closers to the franchise, however, they have weaker villains. Yeah, while being voiced well by F. Murray Abraham, Grimmel the Grisly was not as interesting as a villain as other animated film villains. He had a bit of mystery to him, and was a threat with the other warriors and those dragon killers, but he felt underutilized. While I disagree that all of the side characters suffered from being underdeveloped, both Kung Fu Panda and Dragons sure do not give their side protagonists a lot to do. This is especially true for Jonah Hill’s Snotlout. He is just the worst character in this film. While Fishlegs, voiced by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Ruffnut and Tuffnut, voiced by Kristen Wiig and Justin Rupple, all have some more focus and things to do in the story, Snotlout never has a good scene, is always the butt of the joke, is constantly trying to hit on Hiccup’s mom for some creepy reason, and if that’s not creepy enough, apparently, Snotlout is worse in the original books. It always comes off like DreamWorks puts in so many characters, because they are banking on a TV series. They also don’t let us, the viewers, spend much time in the Hidden World. I kind of wish there was more time spent on Hiccup, Toothless, the Hidden World, America Ferrera’s Astrid, than focusing on the side characters who don’t have much to them.

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So, what’s amazing about this film? Everything! The animation is beautiful. I’m so blown away at how incredible the franchise’s visuals have become, as even the first film from 2010 still looks pretty darn good! I love the details of the textures used, the slightly aged characters, and the immense amount of detail used in every house, island, dragon, human, and you get the idea. Once again, DreamWorks shows that while the overarching plot might not be the best, it makes up for it with some really good character moments. Throughout the entire film, there will be little moments between two characters that bring this film so much life and personality. Many of the best moments in the previous films were the quiet moments as Hiccup interacted with either Toothless or someone else. This film ups those scenes, as we get the final chapter of Hiccup’s coming-of-age tale of becoming the new tribe leader for his people. One of the most memorable scenes for me was when Hiccup was a kid, and he saw his dad mourn the loss of his wife/Hiccup’s mother, and you just get so much out of that one scene alone. Of course, the chemistry between Toothless and his new love interest is also a hugely entertaining scene, as it involves the least amount of dialogue out of any scene in this movie, and is so adorable and funny that you think it would backfire in some possible way, but it doesn’t. There are quite a few scenes of Toothless and his girlfriend that are all just wonderful to watch.  The film tackles plenty of complex themes, like learning to change, how Hiccup comes to terms with doing what’s best for everyone involved, and learning and working on making your own path through life.

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How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World might have a few flaws under its wings, but it’s another fantastic ride from DreamWorks. I know it’s easy to worry about DreamWorks Animation and their film line-up in the future, but for now, why not enjoy this movie and go see it? I highly recommend that you do so if you haven’t already. It shows that when DreamWorks wants to, they can put out a high quality product. Now then, we shall now move from dragons that you form an emotional bond with, to a film about a magical amusement park that doesn’t quite work. Next time, we shall talk about the notorious and infamous Wonder Park. Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed this review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

150: Netflix Godzilla Trilogy Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

As much as I like writing reviews for films, I will say that the one thing that has lost its magic is the discourse of talking about movies that I don’t like. With the current film climate that is focused on being hyperbolic, toxic, nitpick-obsessed, and pedantic about everything for the sake of “comedy”, it ruins talking about movies, because people think that is how you approach movies, when it’s not. Film criticism is wildly subjective, and is never a straight path to whether a film is good or bad. Everyone has different priorities when they look into movies. I wish it was more of a conversation piece, and not a race of who can be the biggest pedantic waste of air that drags down film culture rather than elevating it. I may have had more energy to put into talking about bad movies two or so years ago, but now I don’t. However, to be a good critic, you have to look at a wide range of films from big budget to small budget, action to romance, and theatrical or straight-to-video. So, where do I sit with the Netflix-distributed Godzilla trilogy? The trilogy was directed by Kobun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita, with the screenplay written by Gen Urobuchi. The trilogy of films were made by Polygon Pictures, the studio that animated films and shows like Transformers: Prime, Tron: Uprising, Knights of Sidonia, Blame!, the CGI elements of Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, Star Wars Resistance, and helped Studio Ghibli co-produce Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter. The trilogy came out over the span of 2018, and suffice it to say, there was very little fanfare or warm welcomes after the trilogy was complete. While Netflix might have a promising animation output in 2019 and onwards for feature-animated films, this, to me, was one of their biggest blunders. Why? Read on to find out.

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I’m going to review this as one giant review, because the movies themselves feel like an overly long three part OVA special. So, the trilogy takes place in the future at the end of the 20th century. Giant monsters have ravaged Earth to a point where everyone on Earth decides to do the sensible thing and pack up, leave Earth, and try to find a non-monster-filled planet.  That seems a bit drastic, but when one of those monsters is Godzilla, you wouldn’t really want him as your next door neighbor. I mean, he could be a good neighbor, but I’m getting off track. Anyway, the humans were joined by two other alien races, the religious Exif, and the technologically-advanced Bilusaludo. After not finding a planet after years of searching, a young man named Haruo Sakaki, dubbed by Chris Niosi, tries to pull rank and suggest that the current living situation that is 11.9 lightyears away from Earth is not going to be livable for everyone. After a failed scout ship exploded going down to a planet they were looking at, Haruo finds out some prime time information about Godzilla’s weaknesses from an Exif named Metphies, dubbed by Lucien Dodge. Haruo convinces the committee in charge to go back to Earth, retake it from Godzilla, and live there again. They head back to Earth to find that nature has pretty much taken back the entire planet. They encounter ravenous life, a mysterious race of humanoid individuals, and, shocker of shock, Godzilla. Can the humans retake the planet and take down Godzilla? Do the other alien races have ulterior motives? Who are the mysterious beings living on the planet?

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So, it was really tough to find a starting point as to what to talk about first. How about the directing and writing? So, what have the directors and the writer of the films worked on? Kobun Shizuno has mostly directed Detective Conan films and the Soul Buster and Knights of Sidonia series. The other director, Hiroyuki Seshita, has mostly worked on Polygon Picture-related properties like Knights of Sidonia and Ajin. So, where does that leave us? Well, let’s talk about the writer of the three films, Gen Urobuchi. He is mostly known for writing the scripts to Fate/Zero and Psycho-Pass. While I have not really seen Psycho-Pass, that other title I mentioned is pretty telling at what kind of movies I should have expected. The three Godzilla films that make up this trilogy are drawn-out, boring, convoluted, and don’t really feel like Godzilla movies. I know Godzilla has had movies that range from the fun monster-fighting romps, to the social commentary side of films, but these three films essentially show off the worst of both Godzilla and anime at the same time. When you think of Godzilla, you think of grand scale destruction, fighting other colossal monsters with their own creative attacks. Now, what are usually the most boring aspects of Godzilla films? The humans! The human/humanoid characters are fairly dull anime archetypes that you see in a lot of anime. You have the angsty young male, the calm-headed best friend, the token female character, the religious nut that has ulterior motives, the war-hungry meathead, and you get the idea. No one is really that interesting, and the story/writing constantly focuses on philosophical elements of living, being on a world ruled by Godzilla, and life, which are just boring as tar.

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A story about a planet ruled by Godzilla didn’t need to be this complicated. Why is it so hard to make something with giant monsters just giant monsters and action? I’m not judging this movie by what it’s not, but what we got, and what we get is not interesting. Godzilla isn’t even a major player in any of the three movies. He rarely shows up, and it’s really at the end of each movie. Also, for a film series that takes place on a planet taken back by nature and swarming with giant monsters, the other monsters involved are really boring. They are just these generic-looking rock monsters that don’t look good, and the iconic giant monsters you want to see from Toho are only seen in still frames. You only get, like, three of the iconic Toho monsters, but one is only spoken of, while the other one is Ghidorah, but not the traditional Ghidorah. It’s like this movie was afraid to be a giant monster movie. I know we all make fun of the old Toho monster flicks, but they were very entertaining, because seeing giant monsters fight was, and will always be, entertaining. They even have Mecha Godzilla, but not in the same sense. It could have been interesting, but it was sadly not. That’s the big takeaway from this trilogy, it could have been interesting, but it was drawn out between three films, and the few action scenes that were there, were not enough to save the film’s sluggish and confusing story.

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Animation-wise, it’s getting a bit tiring to criticize Japanese CGI animation, because there are good signs of some studios knowing what to do, like Land of the Lustrous, but I didn’t really find anything all that impressive about Godzilla’s CGI. It was fine, everything was animated decently, the action was mostly readable, and when you could tell where the budget went, it looked good. You just see a lot the films reusing character models, and you get the typical clunky anime CGI movements from time to time. Polygon Pictures is getting close to showing how well CGI can work, but a show like the mentioned above Land of the Lustrous does it better.

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So, do I like anything about this trilogy? Well, like I said above, the CGI anime is pretty decent. When Godzilla is actually on screen, you do feel his presence, and when he actually does something, it’s a lot of fun. It’s just common knowledge that watching Godzilla blow stuff up and fight actual monsters is a proven good time. The dub script is pretty okay. I don’t really say this will be anyone’s best performances, but they did a good job with reading the scripts given to them.

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I think the biggest failure of these films were that they got the wrong team to make them. Godzilla didn’t need to be yet another philosophical think piece, when the most recent live-action Godzilla film was flawed, but way better at tackling such subjects, and had much better action set pieces. If you are a hardcore Godzilla fan and haven’t checked out these films, I wouldn’t recommend it, but if you must see every single film, then check them out. I just couldn’t be bothered to be hyperbolic and angry about these films. The more I hated these films, the more draining it became. They aren’t good movies on their own, and it’s not a good overall story as a trilogy. It wastes opportunities by being a three-part film, doesn’t take as many opportunities with its premise as it should, and shows how far some studios still have to go to make good-looking CGI-focused animation. However, after seeing this trilogy, it made me realize why I like talking about movies I enjoy, so, next time, how about we talk about the smash hit How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World? Thanks for reading, and let’s keep spreading the support for more positive film conversations and more mature and in-depth film criticism. I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating for all Three Films: Blacklist/The Worst

149: The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

People forget how certain films were lightning-in-a-bottle situations. It was just the right time period with the right directors, writers, and ideas that make films like Ghostbusters, Spirited Away, Tim Burton’s Batman, Moonstruck, Mad Max: Fury Road, Pan’s LabyrinthSpider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and you get the idea. It’s not fair to them if some of them get sequels and rarely live up to the expectations set on them. This is why I go into everything with middle-ground expectations. It’s to not over-hype myself or under-hype myself for any movie and can go into it with proper expectations. Now then, sometimes, lightning does strike twice, and it has for The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part. Directed this time by Mike Mitchell, who also directed DreamWorks’ Trolls, Sky High, and Shrek Forever After, the original writers and directors of the first film, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, returned as producers and writers of the film alongside Dan Lin, Roy Lee, and Jinko Gotch. Luckily, for many, the newest movie in the LEGO franchise ends up being another dose of awesome. Why? Read the review to find out.

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The sequel starts us off five years after the first film where the world of Brickburg is now a dystopian wasteland called Apocalypseburg after the invasion of the beings from the planet Duplo. Chris Pratt returns as Emmet, who really isn’t affected by the cynical dystopian wasteland, with his girlfriend Lucy, voiced again by Elizabeth Banks. One day, as Lucy tries to force Emmet to change, a new “alien” encounter arrives in the city and comes off as an aggressive alien force taking down anything that tries to stop it. This alien force turns out to be a new character named General Mayhem, voiced by Stephanie Beatriz. After beating everyone, Mayhem ends up taking Lucy, Benny, voiced by Charlie Day, Unikitty, voiced by Alison brie, MetalBeard, voiced by Nick Offerman, and Batman, voiced by Will Arnett back with her to the Systar System to her queen, Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi, voiced by Tiffany Haddish. Emmet decides to go save the day, and runs into another character named Rex Dangervest, also voiced by Chris Pratt. Can Emmet save the day and get his friends back from the Systar System before the Our-Mom-Ageddon happens?

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So, what does this sequel do to progress the story and build upon the original? Well, a lot. I think many will tell you that there is a very heavy theme of tackling toxic masculinity. Sure, it’s not new with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Ralph Breaks the Internet also tackling it, but since it still keeps being a thing in the culture of right now in fandoms, I’m always grateful to directors and writers telling people to stop being jerks! It shows how metaphorically and literally, toxic masculinity is damaging and destructive. I also loved the commentary about the current times we live in. Back in 2014, everything was pretty awesome. Sadly, with how things are being run in the world, the world is not always awesome. It’s really easy to simply slide into edgy cynicism and just hate everything. However, while things do suck, find the positive in the world. It’s not fun just sitting in a puddle of misery and think everything is terrible. There are still good things going on that are happening. You don’t need to harden yourself with a shell of cynicism and hate to take on the world. Just be you.

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I love the returning characters and the new characters added to the LEGO Movie universe. Tiffany Haddish’s Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi, is easily my favorite new character to the franchise. She’s a fun, complex, and entertaining character to watch. With this being an animated feature, they take full advantage of her being, well, Watevra Wa-Nabi. Of course, talking about the new characters can’t be complete if we don’t talk about Rex Dangervest. While on the surface, it’s a very obvious walking Chris Pratt joke, but as the film goes on, you do get a little deeper with him about his bro attitude and his connection to the themes and stories of the film. It just shows how talented Lord and Miller are in writing. While there might not be as much of that magic that was in the first film, the sequel is still full of topical subject matter that was executed properly and was easy for kids and adults in my two theater screenings of it to get. There are layers to this film that will keep people thinking and talking about it way past 2019.

Animation-wise, this is the best-looking LEGO movie yet. They seem to have found the proper balance and speed of the LEGO visual aesthetic and combining it with a few real life textures of the sand in Apocalypseburg. They also slowed down the speed of the comedy as the jokes are now more dialogue-based and less cram a joke into every scene in the foreground, background, and in the script.  Still, I think that’s for the best. One of the few issues the original had was that it was just too fast and flashy. It’s still a visual spectacle that you can’t believe is all CGI, but at least you aren’t needing to turn your head away for a moment or pause to give your eyes a rest. The voice cast is also stellar with returning actors and the new actors. Chris Pratt just has his loveable goofy persona down, Elizabeth Banks as Lucy is still a great female lead, Will Arnett is just funny as Batman, Charlie Day and Nick Offerman are still a hoot, this is probably my favorite Tiffany Haddish performance, and even minor characters from actors like Richard Ayoade, Maya Rudolph, and Ben Schwartz pulled in multiple laughs. We can’t go talking about this film without mentioning the insanely catchy musical numbers! I was floored by the fact that this was a musical, which was kept out of the marketing of the movie. Heck, a lot of the twists and turns were kept out of the movie, but we won’t go into those. Anyway, the musical numbers were like the ones from Moana, no filler and all were killer.

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If there was something that could be said that detracts from the film, it would be that there isn’t much that can be considered surprising. It doesn’t try to push the boundary like the first film did. It’s really not the film’s fault that we had two spin-off LEGO films that came out in one year, which may have sort of taken the spark out of the franchise. To me, I look at it as a Godfather and Godfather Part II situation.  Both are incredible movies, and while you can say not much was expanded or revolutionary, you wouldn’t call the second movie a lesser movie, would you? Both are incredible movies. Now, one thing I will agree with is that some of the pacing is not as fluid as the first film, as it does seem to stop and halt a bit more with one plot until near the end of the second act when everything starts to come together.

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While it is a bummer that this film isn’t doing as well in terms of financial success, due to either LEGO movie burnout or the weather that’s keeping everyone inside their respected homes, I still love LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part. I think it’s just as good as the first film with its story, writing, jokes, and music. However, I would be happy to not have to see another one anytime soon. I think if Warner Bros. was smart, they would slow down for a bit, and make some more animated features that are not based on the LEGO franchise. Maybe see what else Lord and Miller can do, or maybe use them to talent scout new directors and writers that they recommend. Either way, I still highly recommend going out and seeing The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part. Well then, next time, it will be the 150th animated review. I think we shall go big with a look at an unfortunate trilogy of films that Netflix decided to bring over. Thank you for reading! I hope you all enjoyed this review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials.

148: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

If you saw my editorials, talking about what I would like to see change in the big budget US animation scene, I talked about how certain studios should and could use a “shot in the arm” with trying out more ambitious storylines and visual styles. Animation is such a wonderful medium that is hamstrung by studios not bothering with stepping out of their comfort zones. Thankfully, Sony Pictures Animation decided to be a brave individual, and show that not only do you not need to spend triple digit millions, but can also make massive long-term profit and award acclaim with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Directed by the trio of Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti, and Rodney Rothman, Spider-Verse was released back in December to universal acclaim, winning a massive pile of awards, and has certified itself by a team of me, myself, and I, as the best US animated film of 2018. Shall we swing into the review?

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The story revolves around Miles Morales, voiced by Shameik Moore. He’s a high school student who lives in a world where Spider-Man exists. Nothing is really all that different here in this universe. Spider-Man, voiced by Chris Pine, is loved, Miles dad, voiced by Brian Tyree Henry doesn’t trust Spider-Man, and Miles doesn’t really care about going the distance in becoming a better person. After hanging out with his uncle Aaron Davis, voiced by Mahershala Ali, Miles encounters Spider-Man attempting to stop King Pin, voiced by Liev Schreiber from using a giant machine to cause some supposed chaos. Luckily, Spider-Man sort of stops the machine from working while fending off Green Goblin and The Prowler. The bad news is that Spider-Man ends up getting killed by King Pin. The city is then swept over by sorrow from the loss of Spider-Man, and Miles feels responsible for the death of his universe’s Spider-Man. That is, until he encounters a much more self-defeated Peter Parker aka Spider-Man, voiced by Jake Johnson, from another universe. As the two try to find a way to get the alternate Spider-Man back to his own dimension, they encounter other Spider-Men from different dimensions. This includes Spider-Gwen, voiced by Hailee Steinfeld, Spider-Man Noir, voiced by Nicholas Cage, SP//dr, a Japanese anime-style Spider-Man/robot pilot voiced by Kimiko Glenn, and Spider-Ham, voiced by John Mulaney. They team up to try and stop King Pin, along with his lackeys Prowler, Tombstone, voiced by Marvin Jones III, Doctor Octopus, voiced by Kathryn Han, and Scorpion, voiced by Joaquin Cosio, from starting up the machine again, and possibly destroying Miles’ universe.

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Like a couple of times in my reviews, I want to talk about the animation first. This was the first big selling point when everyone saw the first teaser trailer for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. The visuals are literally jaw dropping. You will lose your jaw, and then have to go get it surgically reattached with how incredible and striking the visuals are. Everyone has said it, and it’s true, it looks like a literal moving comic book. The bright colors, the many details you would see in most comic books, the textures, the lighting, the designs, and how it all meshes well. Not one character from the different dimensions stands out in a bad way. Everything flows and gels well. I have seen some people argue that the animation is bad, but I’m sorry, that’s just objectively wrong. If you follow animation, then you know Spider-Verse does not have bad animation. The slower framerate and movements are there for a reason. If everything moved as fast as say, Sony’s Hotel Transylvania franchise, it would be an eye sore with all the bright and multi-colored visuals. It’s a style of animation that is used in other parts of the world, like in The Painting and Zombillenium. It’s used to work with the unique art style and not a budget limitation. When you see as much animation that varies in both budget and quality, you can see what is style and what is bad animation. Norm of the North is bad animation. Spider-Man into the Spider-Verse is good animation. End of lecture.

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In terms of the story, Spider-Verse has one of the most complex and complete stories out of most animated films in 2018. It’s the best told story among the US-made films. Films like Incredibles 2 and Ralph Breaks the Internet felt like they either didn’t go far enough with their themes and story, or only went at them in ways where they only go 50% and not 100%. Spider-Man fully commits to its multi-verse storyline mixed in with themes of coming of age, finding your own identity, not being fixated on events from the past, what it means to be a hero, and the harsh realities of being a hero. Every character works well with one another, and they treat everyone as characters. Sure, you can argue and nitpick and say that three of the six Spider-Mans don’t get as much development as the other three, but all six aren’t the main focus. The real focus is on Spider-Gwen, Miles, and Jake Johnson’s Peter Parker. Even Miles’ parents and Parker’s Aunt May are easily some of the best characters out of the movie. It’s so shocking to see an animated film treat everyone with actual dimension and not as one-note archetypes. While you can say that this film’s version of King Pin is not as good as the Netflix one, that isn’t really fair. This is one movie, whereas the Netflix one had three seasons to flesh out the character. It’s not really a perfect one on one comparison. However, you still get why King Pin is doing what he’s doing in the movie, and that’s pretty good. I also like how the film skims over origin stories. We really don’t need another Spider-Man movie that takes 40 minutes of its runtime to flesh out what happens. At least, it’s not a 100% origin story with the exception of Miles Morales, who has probably one of the best developments and stories out of any superhero movie.

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The voice cast for this film is perfect, and everyone seems to be on board and on the same level as everyone else. This isn’t like Venom or The Meg, where everyone, but one or two people know what kind of movie they are in. The talent is crazy good with Shameik Moore, Brian Tyree Henry, Mahershala Ali, Hailee Steinfield, Nicolas Cage, John Mulaney, Liev Schreiber, Jake Johnson, Lily Tomlin, Luna Lauren Velez, Kimiko Glenn, and as usual, seeing the late great Stan Lee in one of his last cameos is touching and endearing. The music is also incredible with plenty of amazing pop and rap songs that fit the tone perfectly. I even bought the soundtrack after I saw the film. I still listen to Vince Staples’ track.

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I really have no complaints about this movie. It’s truly the best US-made animated film of 2018, and congrats to Sony Pictures Animation for their successful 2018 line-up of animated features. Sure, I have minor gripes, but they really don’t matter when everything else is so strong. I highly recommend checking this film out, or getting it on blu-ray the day it comes out. It’s smart, funny, endearing, action-packed, and a blast. I think anyone who thought Sony Pictures Animation should just shut down and “drop dead” need to go crawl under a rock and never come back. Now then, before we hit 150, let’s keep making sure everything is awesome with LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part. Thanks for reading, I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

147: Smallfoot Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

2018 was an interesting year for animation marketing. Early in the year with Sherlock Gnomes, the first trailer for the film made it look awful. I haven’t seen if the scenes used in the first trailer were deleted or reworked, but the final product, while still a movie I didn’t care for, was not as awful as I was thinking it was going to be. It’s still not a great movie, but you wonder why the marketing team used those scenes when they wouldn’t be in the film in the first place. Sometimes, you get what they are marketing in trailers like Duck Duck Goose, Isle of Dogs, where the films were just as good or as bad as they were marketed. Sometimes, you even have trailers that undersell a film’s premise, like Ralph Breaks the Internet, Incredibles 2, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. That is what happened with Warner Bros. Smallfoot. Directed by Karey Kirkpatrick and animated by Sony Pictures Imageworks, Smallfoot came out September 28th, 2018 to pretty positive reviews. It underperformed in the US, but was more of a hit overseas. The trailers made it look like a goofier film than what the end product offered. I think if the trailers were more honest, the film would have done better. Why? Let’s see what happened.

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Smallfoot stars a yeti named Migo, voiced by Channing Tatum. He lives in a society of yetis that live at the upper-half of a high mountain in the Himalayas. Migo, along with everyone else in the village, believes in what is written on the stones that is worn by The Stonekeeper, voiced by Common. Migo lives a pretty good life with his father Dorgle, voiced by Danny DeVito, being the gong ringer of the village. One day, after doing a practice ring, he ends up outside the village and witnesses a plane crashing at the top of the mountain. While approaching it, he sees a human pop out, and gets excited/shocked to see one. In yeti culture, we humans are known as Smallfoots. After trying to show everyone the proof, he gets banished from the village, but then is recruited by a group of yetis known as S.E.S., if you are curious, that means Smallfoots Evidentiary Society. Its members include Kolka, voiced by Gina Rodriguez, Fleem, voiced by Ely Henry, Gwangi, voiced by LeBron James, and the leader Meechee, voiced by Zendaya. They plan to finally reveal the existence of humankind to the yeti world! While this is going on, a struggling animal documentary show host named Percy Patterson, voiced by James Corden, is desperate to try and find something to put his show back on top of the ratings. If you can already tell, Percy and Migo encounter one another, learn to be friends, and maybe find out why the yetis and humans live separately from one another. Can yetis and humans coexist?

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I think the first thing I want to talk about with this movie is the animation. Not that it is standing out like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, but more in how it is executed. Smallfoot has really good textures, great designs, fluid animation, incredible visual moments, and amusing physical comedy. So, what stands out about it? For a film that was marketed as a comedy, the animation is more slow-paced. It has its snappy moments, but the overall feel of the film’s comedy, writing, and story is much more like a Pixar/Disney film in execution than a traditional Warner Bros. comedy.

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It has a lot more quiet moments, and while there are many jokes and humor in the overall product, it’s shocking to see a non-Pixar/Disney film be more story-oriented. You can make great work with a more comedy-focused film, but that’s tough to do, and it feels like a weak scapegoat excuse to make a lackluster story in a middling comedy like the ones Illumination and DreamWorks make.

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It’s rather commendable to see Warner Bros. tackle something less focused on the comedy. The story itself is mostly about being true to yourself, not believing everything you are told, the dangerous power of lying or manipulating the ignorance of people, acceptance, and tolerance flow throughout the entire film. It may be head-scratching to see the main group of good yetis be conspiracy theorists, but, at least these theorists are actually interested in proof and not if frog people are running our government. Migo is a very likable character who may be a typical nice male lead, but you do sympathize with him wanting only the best for his kind. While you might not remember the names of the other characters, Migo works well among the conspiracy crew and the human characters. While James Corden’s character starts out fairly obnoxious, they do tone him down, and you understand his plight as well. Again, you might have seen this story and these characters before, but if you can execute them well, and make them pleasant, then that’s all you need to do. I even enjoy the fact that the film’s “antagonist” is not really evil. The villain is just doing what he thinks is best for the yetis, but not going down that path of killing off everyone for the greater good. Another thing that this film does that you don’t see many do outside of Disney films, is be a musical. Yeah, this wasn’t originally going to be a musical, but then six or so months into development, it became one. While no one is singing from the diaphragm, everyone sounds great. I mean, sure, hearing some of these songs after Teen Titans Go! To the Movies made fun of these songs, I won’t deny that I love Common’s song, Let it Lie. I listen to that song a lot to be honest. Again, I respect that Warner Bros. decided to do something different.

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So, what doesn’t work about Smallfoot? Well, while I like the music for this film, the songs are sort of forgettable. They sound nice, but I don’t remember the lyrics to a lot of them, and one of them is a different lyrical version of Under Pressure, which is lazy. By the way, that different version of Under Pressure is easily the weakest moment in the film. While the film isn’t really a full-blown comedy, a lot of the humor didn’t work for me. Not all of the jokes hit, and they really didn’t need the small annoying yeti. There is even a funny reoccurring joke that the small yeti is obnoxious and he sucks as a character. On one hand, they are easily some of the best jokes of the film. On the other hand, they are basically saying that this character is terrible, but still they have him in the movie. It’s one of those elements that feels so forced in family films that are usually never done right. It also hurts, because everyone else is really funny.

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Smallfoot might not be a big step in a unique or interesting way, but it’s a great and charming movie. It gets better the more I watch it, and I would dare say it’s better than Incredibles 2. It’s just another sad fact that it had to go against some heavy competition for the family audience during that period of time. It’s out now on Blu-ray and I recommend picking up a copy. Now then, it’s been on the chopping block for a long time, so how about we take a look at Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse next? It’s pretty much the best US-animated feature of 2018. Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go see it!

146: Mirai Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

When I started writing reviews, and made it by goal to avoid talking about the fairly obvious Disney/Pixar films, I knew what I was getting into. My opinion doesn’t really change or differ that much from most critics when it comes to the films those two studios release. It’s why I wanted to talk about movies from other studios, big and small. You get more diverse experiences and different opinions from them, but I know they are not the big view/click vacuum that Disney is. I don’t resent talking about them, and who knows, I may make a separate set of reviews or editorials about them in the future. Still, the point I’m making here is when a film like Mirai is getting a lot of big award talk, with a bunch of critical acclaim behind it, it makes me happy. Directed by Mamoru Hosoda, Mirai is his fifth film, and is being distributed here in the states by GKids. Upon its first world premiere back in June 2018 at Annecy, and its US premiere at the Animation is Film Festival back in October 2018, it has been, like I said, critically acclaimed and winning hearts around the theater circuit. I’ll even say that I have now seen this film twice in theaters, and that it’s my favorite animated film of 2018. For Catch Up Month 2019, let’s begin this review of Mirai.

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We follow the story of Kun, dubbed by Jaden Waldman. He is excited when his Father, dubbed by John Cho, and his Mother, dubbed by Rebecca Hall, come back home with Kun’s new baby sister. After going through the stages of hating that he’s not getting all of the attention anymore, Kun acts like any other kid in this situation, and acts out. However, something mysterious happens. Anytime he is going through some kind of issue, when he enters the garden in his family’s house, he encounters a family member from different periods of time. This includes his mother when she was a child, his great grandfather after World War II, a “prince” that was there before him, and his sister, who is much older, and dubbed by Victoria Grace. Can Kun grow to care about his sister, his family, and his future?

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So, an interesting take on this film that Hosoda has said the two times that I have seen this film, is that it’s a film about nothing. Kind of an odd/slightly funny comment to make, but he has a point about it. Technically, Kun never leaves the house, as the entire world to him, is in the home he grew up in. It’s also true that he does leave the home from time to time for routine things, but anytime they decide to jump around the timeline, he’s always in the garden and his home. I think that’s what Hosoda means, and I find it a clever set-up with how the story unfolds. Once again, Hosoda is one of the few directors that I know understands the mind and mannerisms of a child. His inspiration for this film was when he was having a second child, and being jealous that his son was going to be able to grow up with another sibling, something he never got to do. The kids in his films act like real kids. Kids can be funny, loud, grumpy, inconsiderate, selfish, but they can also be kind and caring. It’s a coming-of-age story of Kun learning to be a better brother, a better person, and to not care about the short-term matters, but care about the long-term relationships, memories, and family. Its premise of Kun meeting younger or older members of his own family is wildly creative, interesting, always keeps the story going, and can be really funny when Kun finds out who is who. It’s a small-scale story told in a very big way. Not only is Kun one of the more developed male child characters, his parents are fleshed out, and have their own little arcs that you follow throughout the movie.

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As usual, Mirai is an outstandingly beautiful movie. Beautiful colors, fluid animation, more cartoony expressions, and wonderful shots and backgrounds. With a film that takes place in one setting, they find visually creative ways to transport Kun through time. In terms of the original language versus the English dub, I think you can watch it either way. The English cast has a really good list of voice actors and celebrities that perform some of the best voice work of 2018. John Cho, Daniel Dae Kim, Rebecca Hall, Victoria Grace, Crispin Freeman, Eileen T’Kaye, Victor Brandt, and Jaden Waldman all do a wonderful job with their roles. I could make super minor nitpicks, like Rebecca Hall could have had a little more work in her comedic timing as the mother, but overall, everyone is great. The music is once again done by Masakatsu Takagi, who did work for Wolf Children, The Boy and the Beast, and the Studio Ghibli documentary The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness. He has yet another great soundtrack for this film.

To be a good critic, I need to talk about some of the downsides. Even then, to me, they are nitpicks. I wish Kun could have seen his father when he was a child and not just the mom, some of the jokes were kind of weird, and I wish the opening credits were fully animated. Outside of that, this film sets out and completes its goals.

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Mirai is a wonderful film. I think it’s just as good as Wolf Children, and I might even like it slightly more than Wolf Children. It’s coming out soon to Blu-ray, but if you can find some way to see it in a theater, please do so. It’s the best animated feature from 2018, and that’s saying something, when Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Ruben Brandt offer it some healthy competition. Now then, let’s move on over next, to a film that I felt like should have gotten more support when it was released back in September. Next time, we shall talk about WB’s Smallfoot. Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed it, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials!

145: MFKZ Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

One of the things I can’t stand about the current image of animation is how many see it in a fairly limited way. They think that animation can’t be successful or good if they step beyond the family market, which is just incredibly ignorant thinking. That’s like saying adult comedies can’t go past a Seth Rogen stoner comedy, or horror films can only have jump scares and gore. The best part about animation, and I will say it as many times as I need to, is that animation is limitless. You can do anything you want with the medium. For every Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch (2018), you get a Liz and the Blue Bird. For every Incredibles 2, you get a Mirai. For every Duck Duck Goose, you get a How to Train your Dragon. My point is, films like today’s review, MFKZ, is to show how varied and vibrant animation can be. Directed by Shojiro Nishimi and Guillaume Renard, and produced by Ankama Animations and Studio 4C, this high-octane action flick stood out from rest of the films from 2018 for its odd, grimy, and intense visuals that were based on the comics made by Guillaume Renard himself. It was one of the first films during 2017’s Animation is Film Festival, but got a wider US release in October of 2018. So, was the wait worth it? Well, let’s check it out!

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So, what is this movie about? Well, a lot. We follow the story of Angelino, dubbed by Kenn Michael. He lives in Dark Meat City, a hyper-stylized, grimy, and grungy version of Los Angeles. He scrapes by making rent money with his friend Vinz, who’s a walking skeleton boy, dubbed by Vince Staples. They have to deal with living in the more poverty-riddled parts of the city and deal with the rent situation from their landlord Willy, dubbed by Dino Andrade. One night however, Angelino and Vinz get their apartment raided by Stormtrooper-like policemen that are chasing down Angelino for yet unknown reasons. This is on top of Angelino getting over an accident where he crashed into an armored car. The accident in question has him able to see individuals who are not who they supposedly are. This is probably why Angelino is being targeted. After that, Angelino and Vinz get sucked into a world that mirrors They Live (the John Carpenter horror flick). They encounter a group of luchadores who protect the world from evil forces, a group of thugs led by a man named Shakespeare, dubbed by RZA, a lovely woman named Luna, dubbed by Dascha Polanco, and getting relentlessly chased down by an evil man named Mr. K, dubbed by Giancarlo Esposito and his right hand Bruce, dubbed by Danny Trejo. Can the two make it out alive, and find out the mystery behind Angelino’s new abilities?

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So, yeah, let’s get this out of the way first, this film has a lot going on. However, unlike many movies with plenty of plots happening, MFKZ is definitely more focused. It’s more They Live, but with over-the-top action. I know nothing can beat that infamous brawl between Keith David and Rowdy Piper, but the action in MFKZ is easily one of the best elements of this film. Once again, with the knowledge that its animation, and the fact that Studio 4C is the studio that animated the film, the action is topnotch. It’s fast, intense, gritty, over-the-top, and varied. You get car chases, luchadores body-slamming Stormtroopers, Angelino gains new tentacle nightmare powers, and gunfights. For the most part of the film, you are constantly moving and learning about the characters. It’s a lot of fun to see them deal with one another, while dealing with constant action and darkly comedic dialogue. I mean, you can be critical of this film, but you can’t be mad at a thug leader who quotes Shakespeare while carrying large machine guns. It’s deep enough for you to care about the characters, but the film knows you want the fun schlocky sci-fi action, too.

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Another major highlight is that the cast is probably one of the most diverse groups of actors for dubbing and films in general. Rarely do you ever hear or see voice actors who aren’t white. There are ethnic voice actors, but they don’t seem to balance out with how many white voice actors there are in the business. It makes sense that MFKZ would then have ethnic actors/voice actors, including Kenn Michael, Vince Staples, Dino Andrade, Michael Chiklis, Giancarlo Esposito, Jorge Gutierrez, Dascha Polanco, RZA, Danny Trejo, and you get the idea. They all do a pretty good job with their roles.

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While I do love this movie, am happy that it exists, and overjoyed to see an action-animated feature aimed at adults, I’m not entirely surprised by the overall rating and the critic-rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Not saying that it’s bad, because I really enjoyed it, but it is flawed. The third act especially has some pacing issues. It goes full steam ahead when the story gets going, but then it halts in its tracks. It then underplays some of the major plot elements by that point in time, and scales it back down to being more intimate and personal about not losing yourself to your darker intentions, and being human on top of the anti-establishment They Live story beats. The final scene also ends on a sequel bait joke that was funny, but also rubbed me the wrong way, because who knows if we are going to get a sequel or not.

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While it sort of unravels in the end, and I get why people aren’t fully on-board with this movie, I love that this movie exists. I’m always down for more action animation and films with weird and out-there plots. I find it hard for myself to be mad at its flaws, because there are a group of luchadores that protect the world from demons, and it’s essentially a wacked-out version of They Live. I definitely recommend either finding a theater that will play this, or checking it out when it hits DVD. While not perfect, I’m glad films like MFKZ and Ruben Brandt exist. For now, let’s talk about what is possibly the best animated feature of 2018 with Mamoru Hosoda’s Mirai. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoy the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Go See It!

144: Dr Seuss's The Grinch (2018) Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

It’s another year, and that means another Illumination Entertainment movie. It also means another time to say how Illumination is not a horrible studio in the sea of vitriolic hate and anger that is the internet that hates this studio with a passion. Listen, in the grand scheme of things, there are worse things to worry about than a studio that makes middle-of-the-road movies that rakes in boatloads of money, because they hit a massive audience. Now, in the context of the animation scene, I get the annoyance. You want films that put all the elbow grease into their animation, story, and writing to make all the money, or people to go see the incredible indie animation scene. Sadly, that’s an all too head-in-the-clouds way of knowing what’s going to actually happen. People are going to go see films that might not be perfect, but they personally find enjoyable. So, it is annoying that Illumination seems to do the bare minimum with their work, but rake in cash because of smart budgeting and business. It’s not their fault they are doing something that, at the end of the day, is going to make the studio money. Art might be why we make movies, but you can’t simply rely on that on its own to make the industry run. It’s a balancing act, and that’s why for every Missing Link, we get a Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch. Directed by Scott Mosier and Yarrow Cheney, this newest take on the beloved short story was released November 9th, and while getting mostly middling reviews, is raking in the money. To be fair, this is way better than the Ron Howard live-action version by millions of miles. Why? Well, let’s find out!

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Benedict Cumberbatch voices our main character, the Grinch, a green furry individual who hates everyone in Whoville, and especially the Christmas holiday. He doesn’t like the cheerfulness, he doesn’t like the joy, nor does he like his overly happy neighbor “friend” Bricklebaum, voiced by Kenan Thompson. The only proper thing to be mad about is the aggressive groups of Christmas carolers that harass him while he goes to the store. When he finds out that the Whoville citizens are going to throw a Christmas celebration that’s three times bigger than normal, Grinch decides to steal the Who’s Christmas with the help of his dog Max. He has only a few hours to get it all done, and will encounter a few challenges, like cookies and little Cindy Lou Who, voiced by Cameron Seely. Can he do it? I mean, you know about the original story by now, or at the very least, you should.

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Let’s talk about the positives that the film brings to the table. While sounding more snarky, sassy, and almost making you wonder what would have happened if Bill Hader got the role, Benedict Cumberbatch does a solid job as our grumpy green icon. I like that if you aren’t paying attention, or know that it’s him beforehand, you might actually think it’s Bill Hader doing the voice of the Grinch. The rest of the voice cast is also pretty solid. While not all of the characters get worthwhile dialogue sequences, like Rashida Jones’ role as Cindy Lou’s mother, other actors like Kenan Thompson get some of the better laughs in the movie. Oh, and the Whos are actually nice in this film. It’s fine if you grew up and love the Jim Carrey/Ron Howard version, but the one thing the film royally screwed up in that movie was making the Whos the most unlikable blithering individuals. They even have a few story elements that, while they do not go into them at all because it’s Illumination, I liked the ideas of. For example, Grinch has a “neighbor” who is always happy, optimistic, and friendly toward him, while being fairly unaware that Grinch hates him. But you can kind of see two different individuals who deal with the same kind of loneliness, but deal with it in different ways.  It would have been nice if they went more into that, but again, it’s Illumination, depth isn’t their strong point.

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On an animation side of things, The Grinch is probably Illumination’s most visually impressive movie. You can tell that whatever the studio is using to animate this film, the artists and animators they have are incredibly talented. It’s colorful, has some of that Seuss whimsy in its designs, but also has its own Illumination touch. A lot of the textures and details were simply impressive to look at on the big screen. I even heard the 3D version is decent, but my viewing was in 2D. The animation on the character work also made for some solid physical comedy moments. All the visuals accumulate into the heist sequence, and while it is short, is a lot of fun to watch with the fantastical Christmas designs.

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Many of the film’s problems come into the fray with making this story feature-length. Due to the original special being about 25 minutes in length, you don’t get to the actual heist part of the film until maybe halfway or a little over halfway through the 80-minute runtime. It adds in sequences of the Grinch interacting with the Who, and while this could have led to something interesting, it’s more lightweight snark and physical comedy. Along with more sequences of the Grinch with the Who, they give Cindy Lou a subplot and a group of friends who do not add anything at all to the overall story. It even takes out the major threat of the Grinch by giving him a reason why he slightly hates Christmas. The strength of the original special was that he didn’t really have a set reason to hate the holiday. As I sat through the film, I found myself bored at times, because some of the jokes weren’t landing. The audience I was with was the same, but they definitely got a few more chuckles out of the film than me. I also found myself thinking about scenes and ways the film could have improved upon itself through visual storytelling. However, I can’t judge the film because of scenes or ways of filmmaking I would found to be better, but with the film I have here, and it’s simply put, it’s another Illumination film.

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In general, it’s another safe, visually pretty, decently funny, and forgettable animated feature. It might have a nice ending, Benedict Cumberbatch was good as the Grinch, and again, visually splendid animation, but why would you waste the money to go to this film? Just go see Ralph Breaks the Internet, or go and try to find a screening of Mirai or Liz and the Blue Bird to watch. I still stand by my opinion that Illumination isn’t the worst studio around, but it’s becoming harder to defend them when they are not willing to try and push themselves into more creative directions. They make money hand over fist, and they should be able to now experiment a little with different writers, directors, and animation styles. Hopefully, they start doing that more in the future. Now then, let’s talk about one of the great action-animated films of 2018 with MFKZ. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Rent it!

143: Ruben Brandt Collector Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

(Warning/Parental Heads up: this film is absolutely not meant for children. It’s incredibly adult. This film includes intense scares, violence, and nudity. Enjoy the review!)

As I mentioned recently, I went to the second annual Animation is Film Festival in L.A., California. While I still wish it wasn’t in such an expensive part of the US, it was worth the price, because I saw 11 diverse and incredible movies. However, while Mamoru Hosoda’s Mirai was my favorite animated feature of the festival and of 2018, I want to review one of my favorite films of the year, Ruben Brandt Collector. Directed by Milorad Krstic, and being distributed by Sony Pictures Classics, Ruben Brandt was the final film in the recent Animation is Film Festival lineup, and was easily one of the most visually stunning films of the festival. It also happens to be one of the best animated features of the year. I know, big shock, that Sony Pictures Classics found an incredible animated feature. How about we get started then, and diagnose what this movie is about?

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We follow a psychologist named Ruben Brandt. He’s famous around the world for his unique ways of treating patients. Lately, he has been getting nightmares that famous paintings are trying to kill him. With the help of his patients, who happen to be thieves, they go around the world stealing the paintings that haunt him, while avoiding the police and gangsters.

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Let’s talk about the elephant in the room, which is the incredible visual style. While it is a mix of 2D and CGI animation, the art direction is where this film truly stands out. Everything looks like a mix of Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, and maybe a small hint of Yellow Submarine. While everyone has mostly human shapes and designs, every human also has long faces, two noses, three eyes, maybe two mouths, and you get the idea. Even certain animals have fairly cool designs to them, like a mosquito you see looks like it’s wearing a mask from Eyes Wide Shut. It brings a visual identity all of its own to the table, and you can’t deny that no other film on the market right now looks like Ruben Brandt. They even give certain characters quirks that take advantage of the incredible visual style and that it’s an animated film.

Outside of the great visuals, the story itself is rather fascinating. As it shows in the trailer, Ruben is haunted by specific famous paintings, and you get to explore his childhood and his relationship with his father and how that affected him. Even the police officer that chases down Ruben and his crew has a captivating story arc about the mystery behind who his father is, and his connection with Ruben. The heist group is full of likable characters, from the quirky two-dimensional bank robber, to an egocentric three-eyed hacker.

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Easily one of the best parts about this movie is its action. Wait, you mean we have an honest true-blooded action movie? Yes! Finally, we have an animated film with a major emphasis on action that isn’t a DC film! In terms of the action, it truly feels like a Mission Impossible film, with how it has chase sequences on foot, car chases, up-close combat, and really intense moments via one-on-one fights.  You will easily be hooked and entertained by the beautiful animation and fight sequences.

If I had to criticize something about Ruben Brandt, it is that the story arc for the police officer ends a bit abruptly. Now, the twist during his story is shocking, and it just adds layers to the overall story, but after he finds out about the twist, it just ends. The overall ending also feels a little clunky. It’s not bad, but it wraps up too quickly. There is also some nudity near the end that the film lingers on a bit too long. It’s not that it’s distasteful, but you wonder if we really needed to see it, or if they could have made some more tasteful angles. However, that is just minor nitpicking.

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Ruben Brandt Collector is one of the best animated films of 2018. It has great visuals, highly-entertaining action, and a story that was compelling from beginning to end. While it is not available on DVD yet, Sony Pictures Classics is going to be distributing it in theaters, and I hope it’s soon. If you want to see something truly different this year, then definitely put this movie on your radar. Well, that was great to talk about. Next time, before we dive into MFKZ, Smallfoot, and Next Gen, we are going dive early into the Christmas season, just like the rest of the US, with Ilumination’s Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch. Thanks for reading! I hope you like the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

142: The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Comedy is probably the most consistent genre that animation is saddled with in the mainstream market area. It’s not like that’s a bad thing, to be honest. Comedy lends itself very well to animation, since you have full control of any kind of comedy that you want to do, from physical comedy to visual gags. As much as live-action can do great comedy, it’s limited by the fact that you can do more with animation. Unfortunately, comedic animation, unless you are Warner Bros., simply means fast movements and not much else. I think a lot of US animation studios wanting to make a comedy should look at Benjamin Renner’s The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales. Distributed by GKids here in the states, and originally a planned trio of TV specials, The Big Bad Fox was one of the films I was super excited to see. Probably for understandable reasons, it took forever to finally see this movie, and I’m happy to say, that the year-long wait was worth it. Let’s quickly dive in, and get on with this comedic masterpiece.

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The story revolves around three plays! The first story focuses on Rabbit, dubbed by Adrian Edmondson, and Duck, dubbed by Bill Bailey. The two are sent on an adventure to deliver a baby, when a stork crashes into a tree. Unfortunately, Duck and Rabbit are not the brightest bulbs, and Pig, dubbed by Justin Edwards, must go along to make sure the baby gets to where it needs to go. The second story revolves around Fox, dubbed by Giles New, who wants to be big and tough, but constantly fails to get a chicken to eat. After getting some help from Wolf, dubbed by Matthew Goode, Fox ends up with three eggs that hatch, and the chicks think that Fox is their mother. The final story centers around Duck and Rabbit thinking that they accidentally killed Santa Claus, and go on an adventure with Pig to save Christmas!

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There has been a lot of great comedies this year that have made my sides split, including Game Night, The Death of Stalin, and Blockers. However, I think The Big Bad Fox has the best comedy out of any film in 2018. Why? Because it knows what makes comedy work. Sure, it has plenty of physical gags, but the writing is also very witty, grounded, and just the right amount of sass that makes these talking farm animals feel real. Although, I have to say, the physical comedy in this film is really funny. It’s not too cartoonish or fast. It’s the right pace that you would see in Animaniacs or the old Looney Toons shorts. You can see the control the animators had over the movements that made, quite honestly, every joke land. It’s rare when a joke will land time after time after time. I think it’s because the jokes that you see in this film are pretty universal. It’s not full of gross-out humor, its dialogue is not meant to shock for shock’s sake, like Paradise P.D., and you can tell that they were careful with picking out each and every joke. Of course, good jokes wouldn’t work unless the characters did as well. While this is definitely not a story-driven experience, I still found myself loving the strictness of Pig, the wimpy demeanor of Fox, the silly goofiness of Duck and Rabbit, and the laziness of Dog. They still have moments where they change as characters, and do grow.

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In terms of the animation, it’s beautiful. The same 2D-flash watercolor look from the director’s previous film gels so well. Sure, you can see multiple lines on the characters not linking to one another, but Renner’s style has always been fast, and you get the overall point. The children’s book-style look fits the stories that are told for this film. The animation is still expressive, snappy, and wonderful to look at. In terms of the voice cast, while I wish they could have gotten actors like Bobby Moynihan and Steve Blum to play certain characters, I do think the British cast was the right choice. Sure, the trailer with the English dub on it doesn’t give off the best impression, but while watching the movie, it’s pretty well synced. I can maybe say one small moment where the lips and the dialogue might not match, but it’s more of an animation issue than the script.

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Really, the biggest gripe I have with the film is that, while I love the play aspect, I do wish they had found a better way to weave the story together. You see these characters all the time, but due to how this was originally supposed to be three TV specials, there is nothing truly connecting one story to the other. Some characters don’t even appear in the other stories. Also, for a film called The Big Bad Fox, his story is set in the middle of the film. I guess it’s to break the pacing of the two other stories revolving around Rabbit, Duck, and Pig, but it is odd that there wasn’t a different name to the overall film. Then again, it’s based off of Renner’s graphic novel of the same name, and honestly, at this point, I’m nitpicking.

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While it might not be as emotionally in-depth as Ernest & Celestine, The Big Bad Fox is still an amazing movie! It’s easily the best comedy of 2018, and one of the best animated features of this year. I luckily got to see this at an advance screening, and it will be going through a limited release on October 19th, so keep an eye out for a release in your neck of the woods. If you can’t see it, buy it on DVD. The wait was worth it, and I’m happy with that. Since it’s now October, it’s time to look at something that has more of an edge to it, and maybe, be one of the most entertaining animated flicks of 2018 with Ruben Brandt Collector. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Criterion/Essentials