130: The Secret of Kells 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!)

Heads Up! I will be talking a bit about the ending. I’ll try to keep it as vague as possible, but I make no promises.

It was interesting when foreign animated films started to get wider recognition among the major award systems. Sure, we had a few sneak into the early days of the Best Animated Feature category, like Spirited Away and Triplets of Belleville, but it wasn’t until, say, 2009 when they started to really hit their stride. I might have said this before, but many animation fans would argue that 2009 was one of the best years of theatrical animation around. This was the year we got Fantastic Mr. Fox, Up, The Princess and the Frog, Coraline, Redline, Mary and Max, and A Town Called Panic. This was also the same year that GKids got their first Oscar nomination with their first official hit, The Secret of Kells. For those not in the know, The Secret of Kells was the first major theatrical film by studio Cartoon Saloon. It was co-directed by Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey, the duo directors that would later go on to create the Oscar-nominated Song of the Sea, the Oscar-nominated and Best Foreign Feature Annie winner The Breadwinner, the On Love sequence in The Prophet, and the upcoming Wolfwalkers. This one film put both Cartoon Saloon and GKids on the map, and made them Hollywood favorites among the critics and animation enthusiasts that are in that scene. I only have been able to check out this film recently, and, well, while I do love the movie, I think there are some faults with it. What are they? Let’s dive into the film!

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The story takes place in a place called the Abbey of Kells. This is where a large wall is built around a small village and abbey in order to protect itself from Viking attacks and outside forces. Our lead character is Brendan, voiced by Evan McGuire, a young boy whose father, Abbot Cellach, voiced by Brendan Gleeson, is the leader of the people there, and puts a lot of the faith on the wall being completed. One day, an old illuminator named Brother Aidan, voiced by Mick Lally, decides to visit the abbey after his village and abbey were destroyed in a raid. The main focal point of the story revolves around an unfinished book called, well, Book of Kells. Brendan wants to help complete the book with Brother Aidan. As this task goes on, Brendan ends up having to go past the wall, and meets a mysterious individual named Aisling, voiced by Christen Mooney. Can Brendan help complete the book with the help of this individual and Aidan, and avoid the grasp of the Vikings and the other spiritual forces outside the wall?

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So, I’m going to do something different. I love this movie, but I want to talk about its criticisms that I have for it first. I just felt like shaking things up, because I don’t hate the film, and I have plenty to say that’s positive, and how it has way more positives than negatives. So, my biggest problem with the film is the ending. It’s not a terrible ending per say. It has fairly solid closure to the overarching story, and what happens to the boy and his relationship with the old Illuminator and his father, but I’m probably not going to be the only one to say this, and why I prefer their second film, Song of the Sea. The Secret of Kells’ ending felt rushed. It’s like they wanted to do more, but then didn’t have time, or couldn’t get the production time extended, because after the Vikings attack the village, they rush through the boy’s life after escaping the village with Aidan. The visuals are amazing, but as a whole, the ending feels unsatisfying. I know many have said that this is the film that makes you think, compared to Song of the Sea’s “this one makes you feel”, but that doesn’t excuse it. Making the viewer think is not the problem, it’s rushing the ending that’s a problem. I also felt like the marketing for the movie played up Aisling’s involvement with the film. She’s a great character, but she’s not really in the movie a whole lot. She pops in every once in a while, but she could have been more important to the story. The poster even has her as the face of the film. They make her 1/3 of the trailer’s focus. You would believe that she was a major or the driving point of the plot. I understand that the film only had a 70-minute running time, but to me, that means the film wasn’t paced well, if I’m feeling like the ending was rushed, and characters were underutilized.

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Okay, so, we got that out of the way, let’s talk about the good stuff! First off, the animation for this film is gorgeous. While this was a collaborative effort between Cartoon Saloon and Les Armateurs, this art style, inspired by Celtic and Medieval art, gives this film and the studio that made it, its own identity. It really does match that style, while being friendlier. Yeah, some parts look weird, and the perspective is wonky, but that is the point. Look back at all the great art of that era, and tell me who looks accurate in poses, and who looks like they just got kicked in the spine by The Juggernaut. Don’t take this to mean that it won’t be as finely detailed as the art that inspired it. It’s lush, it looks like Celtic buildings were taken over by nature with multiple beautiful colors and design work, and while a lot of the work was done using computers to put in all the textures, it’s never distracting. The animation itself is gorgeous, and everyone moves smoothly. You can tell they took this first project seriously.

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In addition to the beautiful animation, it also has a strong voice cast. Evan McGuire does a great job bringing this optimistic and child-like innocence to Brendan, Brendan Gleeson is wonderful as the stern Abbot Cellach, and Christen Mooney offers an innocent, if way wearier and all-knowing persona, to this mysterious individual known as Aisling. I also really loved the late Mick Lally’s performance of Brother Aidan. Aidan is, simply put, a likable character. He’s wise, but isn’t above having fun, but when he’s serious, Mick Lally brought it. What else goes with great voice work? Music! Composed by Bruno Coulais with music from Kila, Bruno also did the music for Coraline. Both the composer and Kila bring all that Celtic and Irish flair that you would think would be in this film. It’s whimsical, fantastic, yet it can also be very mature, slow, and wonderfully atmospheric when the time came for it. It’s a very quiet film, in a time where it seems like studios think you need to be loud, but Kells decides to be a rather calm movie to sit through. I found the film to have some similarities to a recent GKids film, Birdboy. It has a familiar theme of finding the light in the world among the darkness, and how isolation is not really all that good. Life is going to have its challenges and dangers, and you are not always going to be prepared for it. Also, enjoy life. You only live once, so don’t wait for something to happen.

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Originally, for the 130th review, I was going to tackle Happily Ever After, the animated film that touted itself as a sequel to Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. It bombed financially at the box office, got critically panned, got sued up the wazoo by Disney, and famously shut down the notorious animation studio, Filmation. However, I decided to do something positive. Why? Because for once, I didn’t feel like dredging up a dead horse to talk about a film that infamously shut down an entire studio. Sometimes, it’s way too easy to get super negative, and act like you are the cool kid by saying a studio like Sony Pictures Animation should shut down because they made The Emoji Movie, or say that the writers of Pixels need to have their fingers chopped off. If you are getting to that point in your life, and have no emotions for the people that work hard on making a movie that just happened to end up being bad, then you have no soul, and you need to reevaluate your life. It’s something I see a lot of online critics do, and to be honest, I’m so tired of it. Hate a movie, because you don’t like it, and don’t harass the people who worked on it, and be an actual human being with some empathy, because you only look like a garbage person if you think harassing and insulting people is actually going to help things. Anyway, back to the point, The Secret of Kells is a fantastic film. I might have some issues with the ending, but it’s a feature everyone should see. If you can find some time to pick up a copy and watch it, please do. Cartoon Saloon, Tomm Moore, and Nora Twomey are some of the best things going on right now in animation, and they deserve your attention. Let’s keep up the positivity with going into June with Far East Animation Month, the now third year of tackling animation from the Far East. Next time, we will be looking at Lu Over the Wall. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!  

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

129: Batman Ninja 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!)

You know, there is only so much you can do with a character, before you have to start getting creative. You either find new ways to tackle a character that has been around forever, or you simply stop their story right then and there. There are also tactics and plans to be had in-between those two decisions, but when you are someone like Batman, you have pretty much done it all. Batman Ninja, directed by Junpei Mizusaki, is one of the rare DC animated features to not be tied down to the more strict DC-animated film tropes. It’s a Batman film that decided to take a big shot of anime in its veins, and that is what we got. It also had some big names attached to it, like Takashi Okazaki, who was the creator of Afro Samurai, and Yugo Kanno, who did the music for Blame!, Psycho-Pass, and the PlayStation 4 game, Nioh. It’s also one of the more interesting animated features, due to its mix of CGI and 2D animation. So, is it as good as the best action anime out there? Is it one of the best DC animated films out there? Let’s find out.

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The story starts us off with Batman, dubbed this time by Roger Craig Smith, during a mission at night, as he tries to stop Gorilla Grodd, dubbed by Fred Tatasciore, from selling another mighty invention of his to the black market for supervillains. These villains include Poison Ivy, dubbed by Tara Strong, Deathstroke, dubbed by Fred Tatasciore, Two-Face, dubbed by Eric Bauza, The Penguin, dubbed by Tom Kenny, Harley Quinn, dubbed by Tara Strong, and of course, The Joker, dubbed by Tony Hale. After Batman gets into a fight with Grodd, the machine goes haywire, and sends all of them, including some of Bruce’s closest allies and partners, back into feudal-era Japan. Now, along with Catwoman, dubbed by Grey Griffin, his butler Alfred, dubbed by Adam Croasdell, Nightwing, also dubbed by Adam Croasdell, Robin, dubbed by Yuri Lowenthal, Red Robin, dubbed by Will Friedle, and Red Hood, also dubbed by Yuri Lowenthal, must stop the villains, turn back time, and save the day.

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So, what’s so amazing about this film? Well, for one of the rare occasions, DC decided to let someone else take the wheel, and they take the wheel hard. Batman Ninja is unapologetically dumb, fun, over-the-top, Japanese, and it will not stand down. Out of many of the DC-animated features I have seen the past few years, this one felt like it had the most consistent tones outside of the Adam West Batman films. It’s Batman in Japan, fighting a version of the Joker, whose grand master plan is to make a giant mech, and rewrite history. It will not let up on how anime this entire film is. From the designs to the action-packed fight sequences, it was clear that they knew what they were doing. Heck, they even have giant robot fights. Again, giant robot fights between the villains and Batman in feudal Japan. While there is definitely a story arc for Batman having to remember to rely less on his gadgets and more on his closest allies and his own skill, it’s balanced out enough within the main plot to keep you invested among the insanity.

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While I was fairly disappointed in how this film was going to be mostly CGI, and CGI on a small budget can be a gamble if you do not have the right creative team, I felt like it worked. Sure, they act like puppets sometimes, but the models used are way more expressive, detailed, and they feel like they have some kind of life to them. I was concerned about how action sequences would be handled, but I never found it distracting that they were CGI. The action is fast, brutal, satisfying, full of energy, and very entertaining to watch. The last fight between Batman and Joker is probably one of the best fights among these animated DC features. I never found myself wondering what the heck was going on during the fights. I think that’s because, unlike the Berserk anime series that uses CGI, Batman Ninja has proper direction in how the fights flow. On top of the crazy action, the color pallet is used well, the CGI models look good on the 2D planes, and they even have an entire surreal sequence done in 2D animation, and it looks fantastic. The music by Yugo Kanno was also matched up well with the film’s pacing and style. The big action theme that plays near the end is quite heart-pounding, and it makes the final fight so intense to watch.

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In terms of the voice cast, I was surprised. While we have some returning faces like Roger Craig Smith, Tom Kenny and Tara Strong reprising their roles as Batman, Penguin, and Harley Quinn, the rest of the voice cast is pretty spot-on. I was curious to see how Tony Hale would do as The Joker, and while a bit off-putting at first, he does a good job capturing that zany crazy nature of the character. As you can tell, many of the actors in this film pull double shifts with voicing multiple characters, but they are each unique sounding enough to not be an issue or a distracting element to the overall film. It was also simply fun to see other villains outside of the main Batman library, like Gorilla Grodd, who is definitely one of the more entertaining aspects of the film.

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While I do love this film in terms of how willing it is to be not only visually creative, but fun with its plot and setting, I do have a few complaints. I get why they used CGI animation, and it’s not the worst I have seen, but it definitely shows itself at times with how limiting it is. Sometimes characters seem more like puppets, and less like actual characters that are on the screen. It’s even more distracting when you can tell that not everyone is a CGI model. It is better than what I have seen Polygon Pictures or the Berserk series use, but I wish they went full-stop 2D animation for this film. For as fun as the action is, the final battle that is not Batman and The Joker is really underwhelming. You have all of these amazing villains and characters with the unlimited creativity of anime fight sequences, and the villains end up losing in under a minute. It’s really underwhelming, because all the other action sequences in the film are great. The one full 2D sequence was fun to see in the film, but it sticks out like a sore thumb. I don’t think I fully got why it was only that one scene, and why it was animated in such a way. The rest of the complaints are minor, like even though I respect how much the film wrapped itself up in the anime culture, some parts were just a bit much, like the little monkey sidekick. Some of Batman’s sidekicks also don’t have a lot to do, or get that many line reads.

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Overall, Batman Ninja is just a fun movie. By the end of the year, it probably won’t be in my top ten or five, depending on what else comes out, but it will be one that people should definitely pick up. If you were burned by their other animated features, definitely pick this one up. I had a lot of fun, and it’s easily one of the most entertaining DC animated films you can get right now. For now, we must move on to the 130th review as we take a look at another film that may be good or bad for infamous reasons. I won’t say what it is, but you will have to see next time! Thanks for reading the review! I hope you enjoyed it, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Go See It!

Animation Tidbits #7: Annecy 2018 Edition Part 2

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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 editorial/list!)

Last time, we looked at the Annecy’s In Competition line-up of films. Now, we are going to look at the Out of Competition films. These are the films that are showing, but not competing for the awards. It doesn’t make them any less interesting or important, because some of the films in this section are important. Let’s not waste anymore time, and let’s dive into the films that look the most promising to me. If you want to see part 1, you can go to this link right here! Let’s get started!

Out of Competition

Captain Morten and the Spider Queen: While its use of stop-motion might be more similar to something like My Life as a Zucchini, and less of the Aardman and Laika-style, this film does look creative. The story is about a boy who is shrunk down to a small size, and must sail his toy boat across a flooded café, avoiding the Spider Queen and Scorpion Pirate. Hopefully, they take advantage and have some fun with the “I shrunk down to the size of an action figure” setting, and it also seems like it’s going to be more than just a “shrinking movie” with everything probably having some kind of symbolic meaning to it.

Chris the Swiss: Here is one of the few partly animated, part-documentary films from this event. Chris the Swiss tells the story of, well, a Swiss man named Chris, who decades ago joined an army, and died. His cousin, an animation film director, decides to investigate what exactly happened with Chris, from what was going on at the time, and from the journals and war reports going on. I’m definitely curious to see where this takes us, in terms of the story, and how much animation will be in the film. It definitely will give us some unique visuals and a dark and interesting tone you don’t see in a lot of animated features.

Chuck Steel: Night of the Trampires: There is a surprising amount of stop-motion at this year’s festival. Chuck Steel is essentially an 80s action cop film about Chuck Steel, who must save the day from an outbreak of Trampires, a horrific mixture of vampires and homeless people. It’s definitely aiming for that dumb schlock fun, and the stop-motion reminds me of the work by Will Vinton. It has a lot of detail and personality, and while it definitely shows the budget at times, Chuck Steel will hopefully be a fun time.

Hoffmaniada: Man, we are just getting so many of stop-motion projects this year. This is the story of a writer who gets sucked into his own book, and must escape the world in which the book takes place. It seems like it would lead to many creative and surreal visuals. I have seen about 30 minutes of the film, and it looks great. Sure, it looks like if the Rankin & Bass team had more budget in their specials, but the designs look great, and it reminds me of a lot of period dramas, due to the designs. Hopefully we can get a distributor like Good Deed Entertainment to bring it over.

Liz and the Blue Bird: From director Naoko Yamada, the individual behind the critically acclaimed A Silent Voice, is back with a new film called Liz and the Blue Bird. It follows the story of two female high school students, as they bond and get over challenges that life brings them while they are in band class. I think everyone can relate to when reality strikes you down, and starts to cause fissures around your life that will inevitably cause change.  It definitely looks interesting, and since it’s the same studio that did A Silent Voice, the animation is gorgeous. Sure, it has a bit of that “anime-style” that will probably turn non-Japanese animation watchers off, but the story sounds promising, and from what reviews I have read, it sounds like it’s going to be a good movie.

Maquia: When the Promised Flowers Blooms: What’s fairly cool about this year’s selection is that there are two female-directed Japanese-animated films. Liz and the Blue Bird, and this film, Maquia, by director Mari Okada. This one tells the story about a young woman named Maquia, who lives with a bunch of magical beings that weave the threads of human fate. One day, an invasion happens. She survives, but also finds a young boy to take care of, who was a survivor of the attack. Like our previous film on this list, it has some anime design choices I don’t personally care for, like the human designs, but I can overlook that, due to the goal and themes of the film. Okada is implementing themes of motherhood and adolescence into a touching tale. I trust she’s going to do a good job, and on top of Mari Okada, who was the screenwriter for The Anthem of the Heart, you also have character designer Akihiko Yoshia (Final Fantasy Tactics), and the music will be composed by Kenji Kawai, who did the music for Ghost in the Shell. I just love that more female directors are getting to work in animation, and are bringing in new perspectives, something that is sorely needed in animation.

North of Blue: This film by famed indie animation director Joanna Priestley is a visual wonder. It’s a film that’s more of an emotional and visual experience about our history and connectedness. It’s definitely a film that you are either going to love, due to all the emotion that the downright amazing visuals bring, or think it’s all style and no substance. I didn’t know what to expect when I watched the trailer for this film, but I can’t wait to see it!

On Happiness Road: So, I have been on the record of loving Only Yesterday, because it brings up adult topics of being adults, and looking back at our past to see if we are fine or happy with where we are now. This animated feature from Taiwan, On Happiness Road, directed by Hsin-Yin Sung, looks to capture that aspect that I loved about Only Yesterday. Yes, the animation looks more like a really good indie animated short from YouTube, but I think what’s going to help this film is the lovely visuals, writing, and the characters. I think everyone has had a moment to look back at where they are now, and wonder if they are accepting of what has happened since being a child. Plus, how many animated features from Taiwan do you see that look super promising? I can’t wait to see how this one turns out.

The Last Fiction: This action fantasy flick, based on the Iranian tale, The Shahnameh (The Book of Kings), is coming to us from Iran by director Ashkan Rahgozar. While there are definitely bits and pieces that you can point at to show off the budget, when are you ever going to get an action animated feature? So many US-made animated features don’t have variety, and while some have action sequences, a lot of them are played up more for laughs, than to watch something thrilling. It looks like a grand epic, and while it can definitely be compared visually to something like Avatar: The Last Airbender, I’m happy to see something coming from Iran. The more countries that invest into high quality animation, the better.

The Tower: I swear this is the last stop-motion film on the list. There are simply too many to count this year! This multi-country collaboration is a mix of 2D flash animation and stop-motion about a young girl living in a refugee camp. While its stop-motion looks like the style used in shows like The Amanda Show or the Oscar-nominated Negative Space, and the flash animation might not look impressive to many, it’s going to have to come down to the story and the characters to push us through the experience. I definitely think this has potential to be well-received, but we will have to see.

The Angel in the Clock: While I can definitely criticize some aspects, like the art style and the animation looking a bit too child-friendly, I have to give respects to Mexico for their entry in feature animation. It’s also a story that would get no traction from the big animation studios here in the states. It’s about a young girl who has leukemia, who wants to stop time. She then meets an angel named Malachi that lives inside her cuckoo clock. I love the idea that this film is going to be tackling such a dark and uncomfortable topic, and talking about how more people need to learn to enjoy what’s happening here and now, and worry less about the future. Like I said, the animation and designs are not my favorite, but the visuals look great, and I’m always down for more films aimed at children to tackle different topics.

A Man is Dead: And finally, we have this hour-long French animated feature called A Man is Dead. It’s based on the comics that are set during the strikes in Brest back in April of 1950 that caused the death of a union worker. While again, definitely showing its budget, it also does a good job to bring us into this rather tough and violent time period. Yes, the characters look like French comic characters with the small dot eyes, but we will have to see how the story and pacing carries over the span of the film. It doesn’t have a lot of time to get an entire story told, because it’s an hour long, but as usual, any film that talks about certain periods of time that are unique and original through the power of animation, gets my thumbs up and approval.

Thanks for reading! Next time, we will be looking at the films in the “Work in Progress” section!

Animation Tidbits #6: Annecy 2018 Edition Part 1

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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 editorial/list!)

For every kind of hobby or job, you bet there is going to be a massive festival, convention, or what have you, to celebrate all that. Like, for me, you’ve got your gaming events like E3, and for the sake of this article, your Animation is Film Festivals and Annecy. For this editorial, I’m going to be talking about the Annecy 2018 festival. I always look forward to seeing what the rest of the world is doing, and it shows that the foreign animation scene is still incredibly healthy. I’m going to only go over the choices in three categories of the festival. I will be talking about the films competing, the films showing out of competition, and the films in the work-in-progress section. However, I won’t talk about previous films that I have talked about in the past Animation Tidbits editorials, like The Breadwinner and Gatta Cenerentola. Let’s get started with the films In Competition.

In Competition

Funan: This is a film by Denis Do, and is from Belgium, Cambodia, France, and Luxembourg. It’s about a woman who has to fight back and survive during the Khmer Rouge regime. Its animation reminds me of Long Way North, where they had the human designs, and everything else lacks the black outlines. It doesn’t seem to shy away about the horrific incident during this period in time, and what happened to the people in Funan.

Mirai: It’s always an exciting time when Mamoru Hosoda is making a new movie, and Mirai is interesting. If you haven’t heard about this film, it’s about a four year old boy, who has to deal with getting a new younger sister. However, while in a garden, he ends up meeting a woman who happens to be his future younger sister as a teen. It has a lot of Hosoda’s wonderful touches, like his gorgeous animation, distinct character designs, and his focus on themes of family with a magical element to it. While I love most of the Japanese/Asian-animated films released stateside this year, I really can’t wait to see Mirai.

Okko’s Inn: Okko’s Inn is based on a manga and anime series. It’s about a young girl who helps her grandmother at her hot spring inn, and learns how to run it. Along the way, she ends up meeting new human and supernatural friends. I’m a bit turned off by the art style, due to the more simple designs. I’m also fairly concerned with how the story will be handled, due to the fact that while it’s not going to be based on any stories in the series or books, anime film adaptations of existing properties don’t always end up being that good. Still, that could simply be me not being that impressed by its trailer. If we can actually see this film in the states, I would be down to checking it out.

Seder-Masochism: If this trailer’s art style and vibe look familiar, it’s by the same director who did the very interesting Sita Sings the Blues, Nina Paley. This story follows multiple stories, including the story of Moses, the angel of death, and much more. While it is definitely on the more limited budget side, it’s visually amazing, it has its own personality, and once again, the music choice is inspired. This just reminds me that I need to review Sita Sings the Blues.

Tito and the Birds: This is one of the few South American (specifically Brazil) animated features that caught my interest. It is the story of a boy who must save his city from an epidemic that causes people to get sick when they experience fear. At first, I was concerned about the visuals, while watching the trailer for this film. The movements looked stiff, but with the help of fluid expressions, colors, visuals, you don’t really notice some of the clunky movements. I’m curious to see how in-depth they go with this “fear epidemic” situation, because I could see something similar to how propaganda was used in Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards. Tito and the Birds definitely has me intrigued.

Wall: While some people probably could argue that this film’s animation shouldn’t count, since it looks like Waltz with Bashir and the upcoming Another Day of Life, but it’s not really live-action either. The striking visuals tell the story of the wall between Israel and Palestine. It’s more grounded and more serious than other entries, and I’m curious to see how much advantage they take of the film being animated for some creative visuals. It will include politics, social issues, and economic topics that are caused by this wall.

The Wolf House: Probably the creepiest animated feature of the festival, this stop-motion nightmare of surreal and disturbing imagery is about a woman who finds refuge inside a house, while hiding from German religious fanatics in Chile. You definitely have to watch the trailer to see how insane some parts are.  This could also lead into a style-over-substance experience, but we will have to see how dreamlike the film gets, before it becomes too much. Still, I wasn’t expecting something like this, and I can’t wait to hopefully see it someday.

That’s it for part 1! Next time, we shall look at the films in the Out of Competition category.

128: Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay Review

(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!)

Warning/Parental Heads Up: This film is crazy violent. There is also some brief female nudity and quite a lot of death. I will also be spoiling some minor moments. Younger viewers should probably stay away from this film. Enjoy the review!

Looking back at films like Suicide Squad, I feel badly for what happened to it. It was almost complete, but then got delayed for reshoots, due to the negative reaction to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. It had a marketing campaign to match the film’s tone of Guardians of the Galaxy, came out, was widely panned upon release, was yet another DC film criticized for sloppy editing, and then was released on DVD with a different cut to it. Sure, it made money and gave DC/WB some profit, but you do get the feeling that it could have/should have been more than what we got in the final product. It’s always a bummer when studio shenanigans get in the way and hurt a film more than help it. Would have the original version been any better? Maybe, but we won’t know. Luckily, it won’t be the last time we see our rambunctious group of villains, as we are getting a sequel. For now, let’s look at the animated film, Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay. Directed by mainstay DC animated film director Sam Liu, Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay set itself up as this grindhouse-style action flick with plenty of violence, and plenty of action and fun. Does it succeed? Well, let’s find out.

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The story revolves around our ragtag group of villains working under the government. The team this time consists of Deadshot, voiced by Christian Slater, Harley Quinn, voiced by Tara Strong, Bronze Tiger, voiced by Billy Brown, Captain Boomerang, voiced by Liam McIntyre, Killer Frost, voiced by Kristin Bauer Van Straten, and Copperhead, voiced by Gideon Emery. They are under orders by Amanda Waller, voiced by Vanessa Williams, to find and take down Vandal Savage, voiced by Jim Pirri. He is apparently looking for something, and has gotten the help of Scandal Savage, voiced by Dania Ramirez, and Knockout, voiced by Cissy Jones. Can our team of misfits take them down? Can this film find a tone that fits?

I know I made that last part sound like a joke, but that is the film’s biggest failing. When the film starts, it’s this hyper-violent train heist, where Deadshot is with Count Vertigo, Punch, and Jewelee. And boy, do things get late 80s/early 90s anime-violent. Bodies are sliced in half, blood and guts fly everywhere, heads explode, and it then does that grindhouse film burn effect. The rest of the film is not entirely like this. It struggles to balance out the fun schlocky aspects, like finding out the most recent host of Dr. Fate was a male stripper, and even a plot twist of some other villains trying to find the same thing Vandal Savage is looking for. I won’t say who the villains are for those that haven’t seen it yet, but it’s a lot of fun, and the twist adds to the cheesy schlock of those old 70s/80s exploitation films. Some parts are fun to watch, and the dialogue is definitely punched up to match the tone, but then it tries to have slower moments and an emotional arc for Deadshot and his daughter. It’s not a bad idea for a character, but when it can’t find an ideal way to balance out the ultra-violence and the more dramatic moments, it flip-flops, and constantly kept taking me out of the experience. Much of the story does focus on only a few characters, and the rest are either given very little to do or little development as characters. I loved seeing Copperhead, but he doesn’t do a whole lot. He gets maybe one good death in, but that’s it. While it is schlocky fun, there comes a point where it becomes a bit much. There is some brief nudity that’s jarring, and that goes for the violence, too. Sometimes, things can get so violent, that it’s excessive. The plot also loses steam near the end, with twist after twist after backstabbing. Some of the lines for the snarkier characters also feel more like trailer lines than anything that felt genuine. This is especially true with Killer Frost.

So, what’s fun about the movie? Well, when everything does work, it’s an entertaining movie. While it has some of the same animation the other DC-animated features have, where a lot of the animation was obviously put into the action, and some areas lower the frames of animation, the action is fun to watch. I think what works with this film, more than in the Suicide Squad live-action film, was that the action was visible, and due to the more diverse cast of villains, we get to see more powers, more special moves, and it all sticks. It’s easily one of the more action-packed films from DC. When the characters do have time to be together, they are an amusing group. Everyone usually has a good quirk, or a clever line of dialogue. Even though I wish they didn’t kill off as many characters as they did, I do respect that they put some stakes into the plot. Even the additional villains bring flair and an entirely different DC story into the mix. Granted, that might make some aspects confusing. A lot of schlocky stuff would add in complex elements that are probably not needed, but they threw it in, because it was cool. The voice cast is once again very good. Tara Strong as Harley Quinn is always fun to hear, I like Christian Slater’s take on Deadshot, Vanessa Williams does a great job as Amanda Waller, Billy Brown brings this stoic calm headed tone to Bronze Tiger, Gideon Emery was delightfully slimy as Copperhead (who also had my favorite design out of all the villains), and Liam McIntyre brings in the same vibe Donald Gibson did as Captain Boomerang, to name a few. I also like their usage of other lesser known villains of the DC universe. Sometimes, you can only do so much with one character before you run into a wall, and run out of ideas. It’s why I always enjoyed the Batman: The Brave and the Bold TV series, because that was the entire point of the show.  

While not my favorite of the DC films, Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay goes straight down the middle. When it’s fun, it’s a lot of fun. When the characters are allowed to work off one another, they are entertaining. I even like the story twist near the end, despite the drag the third act has. It even has a fun easter egg for the added antagonist’s voice actor, if you have seen one of the DC animated films from 2013.  I simply wish it kept its tone consistent. It made the ultra-violence distracting, and the emotional moments feel unwarranted. Some of the animation can be stiff, and it’s not the most competently paced film out of the franchise. Still, it’s fun, and if you want to bring in the schlock for 80 minutes, I can think of worse films to watch. Before we get to review 130, let’s take a look at what is quickly becoming one of the best reviewed animated DC films with Batman Ninja. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Rent it!

127: Only Yesterday 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!)

It was incredibly depressing to hear that Isao Takahata, one of the cofounders of Studio Ghibli, passed away this year. While unfortunately being under the shadow of Hayao Miyazaki, in terms of being the face of the studio and Miyazaki’s films getting more of the spotlight, Takahata deserves to be just as well-known as his friend. If it wasn’t for Takahata, we wouldn’t have Ghibli, because he convinced Miyazaki to join up with him and Toshio Suzuki to make the studio. He is just as important as Miyazaki, and his films definitely deserve more recognition. This is especially true when he has films like Only Yesterday under his belt. Directed by Isao Takahata and produced by Toshio Suzuki, Only Yesterday is unique for its time, because while animated, it was a film aimed at an adult female audience. While we have recently seen more adult-focused stories in animation, you simply never saw that back in 1991. It was a commercial and critical success, but unfortunately, the US never got this film. You had to either import a copy, or watch a subtitled version online through questionable individuals. Thankfully, for its 25th anniversary, GKids decided to bring it over stateside with an English dub. If you saw my Worst to Best Animated Films of 2016, you know I love this movie. Let’s dive into this classic film from Isao Takahata.

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The film follows a woman named Taeko Okajima, dubbed by Daisy Ridley in the US release. She is turning 27 and pretty happy with her life, even though her mother is annoyed that she hasn’t been able to find a guy. Taeko decides to take a trip to the countryside to help out a family with their safflower farm. As she takes this trip, memories of her younger self start to pop up in her mind. She then starts to think back about her life and her relationship with her family, and with the family she is helping on the farm.

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I think what might turn off some people about this film is that it’s not as whimsical as Ghibli’s other offerings. It’s not really all that fantastical in its setting. Not to say there isn’t some whimsy, but it’s mostly kept with the flashbacks. This is a very grounded film, and you can see that through its themes and its visual style. Something I noticed about this film, and it’s probably because of Takahata himself, who made this decision, he adds a bit more detail in how the humans are designed. When it comes to designing human characters in animation, you can afford to sacrifice some details. It’s why many times when you see animated properties turned live-action, the added detail to the designs were not meant to look good in live-action. You can see this in a lot of the live-action Dr. Seuss films. The humans in Only Yesterday have more wrinkles and more detail to their facial movements that you don’t see with other Ghibli films. The more creative visuals come into play with the flashbacks when Taeko is younger. Instead of the gorgeous and highly detailed buildings, leaves, plants, and so on, everything has a soft watercolor style. The backgrounds have an interesting detail that they look incomplete. To me, this was a purposeful artistic decision, because memories can feel incomplete and fuzzy at times. However, do not take any of these comments as the animation isn’t good. It’s Studio Ghibli, and the animation they do is always amazing. It’s all very detailed, expressive, and it does not fall into any of the traps that anime falls into.

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I also love the music selection. While much of the wonderful music is done by Katz Hoshi, there are some foreign song choices that pop up from time to time that fit the tone of the film. If you can find the soundtrack to this film on YouTube or somewhere online, definitely check it out. It’s one of my favorite soundtracks. I also liked the voice cast for this film. While having plenty of great animation voice actors like Tara Strong, Nika Futterman, Ashley Eckstein, Laura Bailey, Grey Griffin, and Stephanie Sheh, I think Daisy Ridley, and Dev Patel, who plays Toshio, a man she meets on her trip, do a good job. While it might be distracting to hear their voices with Daisy holding back the British accent, and Dev Patel not really hiding that accent at all, they do gel into their characters. Even Alison Fernandez who plays Taeko as a young girl is also good.

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So, the animation is interesting and unique among the studio’s work, the music is fantastic, and the voice work/dub is done well, but what about the story and characters? A word I used for this film is grounded. It feels relatable to actual people. I think as we get older, we do look back at our childhood or maybe even a couple years back, and wonder if we are happy with what’s going on right now. Are there any regrets? Do we wish things had gone differently? Are you doing what you dreamed of when you were a kid? Are you doing what you are doing right now, because you want to? I think that’s fairly complex, and to my knowledge, not many films, especially animated films, tackle these types of plots. It’s refreshing to see an adult-themed film that doesn’t rely on cursing, violence, and sex. This film also got me to learn a few things about the Japanese culture. Some scenes might only make sense if you learn about certain parts of Japanese culture, like the scene with the pineapple.

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If I had to criticize anything about the film, I think Toshio, the character played by Dev Patel in the English dub, is not the most interesting male character. He’s likable, but much of his dialogue is about working with your hands, and how it’s different than using machines. I just wish there was more to him than simply that part. I mean, there is, but it’s mostly 80% of him talking about how working with your hands is better than corporate companies doing the work for you. I also wish the ending wasn’t covered up by the credits. It’s really sweet and endearing, but they add credits over it, and they do this with Arrietty, Napping Princess, and I just don’t get why Japanese animated features do that.  You can wait and play the credits after the story literally ends.

Still, I really love this film, and I wish I could have told Isao Takahata how much this film connected with me before his passing. It has a lot of his trademark elements that he likes to use with his films, and I definitely need to catch up on his other films. If you haven’t seen Only Yesterday yet, do so! Buy the movie! I hope more people can watch it. I can sort of see why Disney didn’t originally distribute this one, due to some scenes, including visiting a bath house, and a small story part about periods, but I’m glad GKids brought the film over. I’m sorry for Takahata’s passing, and I hope more people can admire and love this man’s contributions to animation. Well, next time, I think we should go from Japan to the US. We will be looking at Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay. Thanks for reading! I hope you liked the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

126: The Girl Without Hands 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!)

Warning/Heads up: There will be scenes of female nudity, blood, violence, and dark themes. I mean, it’s a Brother’s Grimm fairy tale, what do you expect? Viewer’s discretion is advised. Enjoy the review!

The common complaint I see about animated features these days, is that there is no variety. To a degree, that is true and especially true if you do not follow the other side of animation. It seems like it’s all CGI, with no room for action or drama-focused animated films. They all have to be comedies, and every studio has to have some kind of Pixar/Disney look to them, before they actually branch out with their own visual identity. I think the last time there was some truly diverse options among the mainstream animation scene was 2000. In the year 2000, we had Chicken Run a stop-motion flick, The Emperor’s New Groove, 2D, The Road to El Dorado, 2D that uses some CGI, Fantasia 2000, which had a mix to the overall experience, and you get the idea. By 2001, when the Oscars decided to let the animated features get their time in the sun, the first three nominees were all CGI flicks. Sure, if you look past the mainstream today, there is plenty of variety in terms of writing, stories, characters, and animation styles, but that’s not always going to be the case, and most filmgoers won’t know about films like The Girl Without Hands. Directed by Sébastien Laudenbach, and based on the Brothers Grimm tale, The Girl Without Hands is a 2D animated feature that caught a lot of traction, because it was mostly done by one person. Of course, multiple people helped out with voice work, editing, and so on, but Sébastien Laudenbach did a mass majority of the work. While on the short side at 76 minutes, it won critical acclaim, and stands out as one of the 2010’s most unique films on a visual level. Let’s jump into this atmospheric film, and check it out!

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The plot pretty much follows the original story. A farmer and his family is about to starve, because they were unable to grow crops and water. The father of the family ends up meeting this shady and not-at-all suspicious individual, who offers him and his family riches. In return, the individual wanted the farmer’s daughter. Of course, after making the deal and making his family rich, the individual that made them so turns out to be the devil. The daughter, of course, declines the offer to be his bride. When push comes to shove, the devil decides to take her hands. I won’t go into much detail after that.

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The story itself is rather bare bones, to say the least. It’s not super complex with underlying themes of some sort, or any obvious ones, but still. However, where that could be a problem with a lesser film, the simple and to-the-point narrative of The Girl Without Hands really fits. Like I said, the film is only 76-minutes long, but you can tell the story does not waste time or feel padded as it tells this dark fairy tale story. It’s also a very quiet movie, with most of the music only coming in at specific moments. The rest is mostly ambient noise from nature, until the characters decide to speak. It brings this tense atmosphere whenever the devil decides to drop in, or a peaceful moment in time when it’s focusing on the girl. Even with the minimalist story, you are able to follow the motivation of the characters. I even like that it doesn’t try to be realistic. It’s a fairy tale, and it’s going to have the logic of a fairy tale. Do not try to bring logical complaints into this film.

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It’s very easy to follow this film, and that’s helpful, due to the concern of the film’s biggest reason to be seen, the animation. The Girl Without Hands has some of the most interesting animation from a film released last year. It’s a film that’s fun to show off in stills, but even more visually interesting when you watch it in motion. With all the high polished animation out there, seeing this film’s minimal brush strokes and simple outlines were a limitation, but also a very effective way to tell the film’s story. It brings this fantastical, if ominous vibe to the story. It feels other-worldly. Yet, there is this beauty to it. It’s very smooth and very expressive with how the characters move. It’s especially fun to see the animation used for the devil character and his shapeshifting. It has a lot of empty space in every frame, but that’s the point in this dreamlike tale. The voice cast is also pretty good at portraying their minimalist-made characters. It’s a case of there being no dub, but I think a dub wouldn’t really add much to the experience. No celebrity or famous voice actors would bring much. Granted, I know some people, including me, would rather have a dub, but this is one of the few cases where I’m fine with there not being one. The actors do a good job, and bring a lot of emotion and life into the film.

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My only real nitpick is that it’s sometimes hard to see what exactly you are looking at, but for the most part, the minimal style translates very well to the screen. Honestly, all I have for complaints are nitpicks. I kind of wish there was a dub, just so I wouldn’t have to read subtitles. It would also let people be able to focus on the beautiful artwork instead of having to train their brain to follow both the subtitles and the story. I also felt like the ending, while satisfying, was a bit confusing at the very last bit, in terms of exactly knowing what happened. I won’t spoil it here, but it’s “abstract” to say the least.

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The Girl Without Hands is a truly unique and a one-of-a kind animated film. It’s an animated feature everyone should check out, and one I highly recommend purchasing. Sure, it has no dub, but I think the beautiful art work and fairy tale-like story will be strong enough to keep you invested into the 76-minute runtime. Our next film is one that I have wanted to talk about for a while, but now I have to, with the sad passing of Isao Takahata. The next review will be of what I considered to be his best film that I have seen, Only Yesterday. Thanks for reading this review! I hope you enjoyed it, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

125: Sherlock Gnomes 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!)

It’s hard to approach passion projects that don’t make the reviewer/critic look like a giant jerk, when the product doesn’t turn out all that great. Recently, we have had a flood of “passion” projects that have fallen either flat critically, financially, or both. Everyone should know that no one goes into a film to make it bad. Sometimes, films end up getting screwed over by the lack of talent, executive orders, time, budget, and other elements that could lead to them not landing. Still, at the end of the day, I do not care if this is a passion project or not. I’m not here to tell you that you get a free pass, because it’s a passion project. I’m here to judge and critique it, and hopefully explain why the film didn’t work. I say this, because while I love Elton John’s music, his animated features have been, to put it lightly, extremely lacking. So, how does Sherlock Gnomes work? Directed by John Stevenson, who was the co-director of Kung Fu Panda, Sherlock Gnomes is an utterly confusing mess of a film. It’s supposed to be a sequel to Gnomeo & Juliet, but the marketing makes it out to not be a sequel with no mention of the original, and instead, as its own movie. It was released March 23rd, and not surprisingly, the animated feature by Rocket Pictures, Elton John’s production company, and Paramount, got panned.  Even on a supposed $59 million budget, it’s not making that much money. I mean, when you can either go see Pacific Rim: Uprising, Isle of Dogs, A Quiet Place, or Black Panther still, I can see people putting Sherlock Gnomes way on the back burner. So, does it work? Let’s check it out.

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The story is sort of hard to put together, because it feels like a multitude of plot points, smashed together. Anyway, the main story revolves around our gnome version of the famous detective, Sherlock Gnomes, voiced by Johnny Depp. Sherlock and his trusted side-kick Watson, voiced by Chiwetel Ejiofor, are on a mission to stop an evil pie mascot, Moriarty, voiced by Jamie Demetriou, from stealing London’s garden gnomes. Unfortunately for the two, Moriarty’s next group of victims is the garden of Gnomeo and Juliet, voiced by James McAvoy and Emily Blunt, who are going through their own relationship issues when they are named the new rulers of the garden. Suffice to say, the other gnomes in the garden that Gnomeo and Juliet live in are kidnapped, and they must team up with Sherlock Gnomes and Watson to find them.

So, let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. I want to talk about the marketing. I don’t normally do this, because marketing is temporary, and you shouldn’t really judge a film by its marketing, and instead judge the film as a film with its own merits, but the marketing has to be talked about. The original release trailer is one of the most misleading and worst marketing decisions ever made for animation this decade. Basically, all the bad fart jokes, twerk jokes, and puns that everyone was dreading when the movie came out, are not in the movie. It has a few puns, but 95% of the footage seen in the trailer is not in the movie. Yes, scenes get changed up, and some are taken out before the final product hits theaters, but this was one of the worst ways to show off your movie. Whoever decided that was going to be the film’s best foot forward needs to re-learn their classes in marketing. I know sometimes that when trailers are made, they have to use what they have, but if they didn’t need any of these scenes, then why add them? It’s going to backfire on them in the long run.

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Now, for the film itself. It’s a mess. You can tell that the marketing team did not advertise this as a Gnomeo & Juliet sequel, but tried to market it as its own spin-off/stand-alone/sequel movie where Sherlock Gnomes was the lead. And boy, you can really tell how clunky and not well put together this film is. It struggles to try to be a spin-off, a stand-alone, and a sequel, and fails miserably. Fans of Sherlock Holmes won’t be happy, because it forces these characters from the first movie to be in what is essentially Sherlock’s story, and Gnomeo & Juliet fans won’t be happy, because they got turned into side characters in their own sequel.  Why would you do that? Why not just make a fresh batch of new gnome characters for Sherlock Gnomes? Why did you force them into this film that’s not even a full-fledged sequel? Because fans wanted to see them? I think the writers, director, and Elton John lacked a real understanding about how people remember Gnomeo & Juliet. You can also tell that forcing these two stories into one film didn’t fill up the 80+ minute runtime, just because they add in a few side stories that really go nowhere, or are not fleshed out enough. This should have simply been its own standalone story about Sherlock Gnomes. Heck, it would have saved them a huge chunk of change by cutting out 90% of the cast, so they didn’t have to spend money on Ozzy Ozbourne, Richard Wilson, Julie Walters, Stephen Merchant (though he did deliver the film’s best joke), Matt Lucas, Ashley Jensen, Maggie Smith, Michael Caine, Emily Blunt, and James McAvoy.

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A lot of defenses I see lobbed at critical animated feature reviews is that “hey, my kid liked it, so that means it’s okay!” Well, this time, I actually had kids at the theater watching it, and they were bored. They were either asleep, or asking their parents/grandparents to tell them what was going on.  You ever think that maybe a kid who doesn’t have proper critical thinking is not the best way to judge a film’s quality? Kids aren’t the ones paying for the tickets, the parents are.

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So, what does that mean for the music? One of the big marketing deals with both films was that Elton John’s music was going to be in both films with some new songs. Well, I hope you like terrible remixes and forgettable original songs, because that is what you are going to get. I’m Still Standing is in the marketing, but it’s not in the movie. Even the song Mary J. Blige sings is very short, and while she sings it well, it’s not memorable. When one of your biggest selling points is the music, and the music isn’t good or is extremely misguided, then you messed up.

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Oh, and before we move on, let’s talk about the Asian market scene. While only in the film for, at the very least, 10 minutes, it’s another example of a long line of taking someone else’s culture, and not implementing it well. This entire Asian market acts like Chinese and Japanese culture are the same thing. Say what you will about Isle of Dogs, and it has its own debatable issues, the implementation of the cultures in Sherlock Gnomes is worse. While I don’t fully blame James Hong for having to do the voice for this salt shaker, the accent he throws out there is bad. It is shocking that this was not brought up more, but that’s probably because no one cared, or did not see this movie. I don’t care if this was a film aimed at kids, you can’t be giving it a free pass because it’s aimed at a younger demographic. Everyone deserves great movies. Don’t be short changing an age group because you can.

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So, I know I have harped on this film a lot, but there are a few things that I can say were good about it. While many of the cast members are pointless, the performances are okay. They aren’t as entertaining as they could be, considering who they have, but they do decent jobs. I think the best performances go to Johnny Depp, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Jamie Demetriou. It sounded like they were taking it seriously, and having fun with it. The animation is also pretty solid. Compared to the last film, textures look better and the movements look better. They definitely either had better talent, tech, or a combination of both for this film. Sure, I think the more realistic humans and animals look weird when side-by-side with the gnomes, but it at least looks theatrical in its animation. However, I do understand the complaint people have that the film is now too polished, and you lose some of the charm and one of the few things that worked about the original. I think my favorite aspect, and probably the best aspect of the film, is Sherlock Gnomes himself. They capture his mannerisms, and they do this cool 2D animated sequence when they are going into his mind. The 2D sequences are really well-animated, and the 3D designs translate well to 2D. I honestly wish the film was more like these mental moments. Finally, when it gets to the Sherlock Gnomes parts of the story, it can be pretty amusing. It just makes it more aggravating that the entire film couldn’t be about him, instead of forcing characters from a previous film into it.

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Listen, like I said above, no one intentionally goes into it to make a bad movie. No one is scheming to make an utter waste of time and the studio’s money. The writers, the director, animators, editors, and so on do not come into work and say “let’s make a horrible movie.” That still doesn’t mean you get a free pass. There are aspects and ideas where this could have worked. The animation is better than before, the 2D sequences are great, and Depp and Ejiofor are solid lead characters. When it’s focusing on the Sherlock Holmes homages, it’s a decent flick. It just needed to not force and cram in the characters from the first film. It also needed better writing and a less predictable story, but in the end, it’s harmless. It has a decent moral message, but that doesn’t save anything. If you want to watch a good or very fun Sherlock Holmes homage or parody, watch the Sherlock Hound series. It’s a lot of fun, and is way more entertaining to watch than this movie. For now, Sherlock Gnomes is the weakest big-budget animated feature of 2018. Now then, let’s actually talk about a movie I enjoyed, and one I thought was snubbed at the Oscars. Next time, we shall talk about The Girl Without Hands. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: The Worst/Blacklisted

124: Gnomeo & Juliet 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!)

Many would argue that animation’s darkest year was 1985. This was the year Disney’s The Black Cauldron came out, bombed, got panned, and lost to The Care Bears Movie. Outside of Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, and Gwen, The Book of Sand, there was nothing else. I do agree with that opinion, but there have been a lot of bad/underwhelming years for animation. You not only have 1985, but you have 1987, 1997, 2006, and one of the more interesting years to talk about, 2011. 2011 had a lot of the same problems 2017 had, where there was not much to look forward to, and much of it felt like filler, just to get to the few mainstream films and the indie darlings. Even the indie animation wasn’t stellar in 2011. So, where does Gnomeo & Juliet rest on the list of films from 2011? Directed by Kelly Asbury, the same director behind the DreamWorks hit Shrek 2, Gnomeo & Juliet, if you couldn’t tell by the title, is a variation on the famous tragic romance story of, well, Romeo & Juliet. While it didn’t get the best reviews, with an overall rating of 56% and a reviewer average of 5.6/10 on Rotten Tomatoes, it was a surprise financial hit. Then again, when you do not have a lot of competition, you are bound to do well. It even spawned a sequel that we will get to next time. So, after seven years, and learning that this was a passion project for Elton John, does this film actually hold up? Let’s check it out, and see what happens.

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The story takes place between two gardens that are next to each other. One belongs to Mrs. Montague, and the other belongs to Mr. Capulet. Once they leave the house, the garden gnomes from both gardens come to life. We then focus on our two leads, Gnomeo, played by James McAvoy and Juliet, voiced by Emily Blunt. Their families hate each other, and oddly enough, the two gnomes fall for each other. Can they find a way to be in love with one another before war breaks out between the two families? Can Elton John shove in as many references to himself as possible?

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So, let’s talk about the positives first. While I am not the biggest fan of this film, nor do I think it’s some underrated gem, I do have a few positives aspects to talk about. While not having a huge budget, the film’s budget was at a supposed $36 mil, they did find a way to work with it. The animation is not fluid, but you could argue that is the point. Because of how they are made of clay, you can excuse the textures and their clunky movements. I mean, it’s not like garden gnomes stay clean 24-7. They get affected by the environment and weather. This argument can’t be used for every part of the film’s CGI animation, but at the very least, the garden gnomes and garden items can use it.

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When the film isn’t focusing on pandering family film elements, and decides to focus on Gnomeo and Juliet, their chemistry is cute. Emily Blunt and James McAvoy work well off each other, and their relationship dynamic can be adorable at times. I also like the lawn flamingo, but that could be because he’s voiced by one of the greatest voice actors of all time, Jim Cummings. The flamingo probably has the second best story bits besides Gnomeo and Juliet. While I didn’t laugh a whole lot, there were a few jokes and moments that did get a small chuckle. Some of the Elton John references were cute, but that’s because I know who he is. The ad for the super lawnmower that is narrated by Hulk Hogan is also enjoyable, but in that “oh, I know who that is” kind of way. I don’t know if kids would find any of this film funny, because I saw this by myself. Now, you can calculate how sad that a 28 year old is watching an animated feature by himself on your own time.

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Everything else from this point on, fumbles and cracks onto the ground like a potted plant falling from a three-story window. The story is fairly predictable, and since this will not follow the ending of the film, it’s hard to sit there, knowing what’s going to happen at the end. This is especially the case when you are watching this to review its sequel. Many of the side characters are harmless, but they don’t leave that much of an impression on you. It makes you wonder why they got Ozzy Osbourne for the deer when he doesn’t really add anything to the role. At least in Brutal Legend, he was himself and was having an obvious blast with his character. It always bugs me when you get celebrities for cameos, and do nothing with them. While I give a somewhat pass to the animation, you can definitely tell this needed more polish. Of course, more polish might be a bad thing at times, but I wouldn’t be taken out of the experience when the animation quality dropped at the level of straight-to-DVD films.

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Really, it’s tough to be mad at this film. Gnomeo and Juliet is harmless. It’s really forgettable, and while not a good film at all, it’s not super memorable enough to be as the filmgoers like to say “terra-bad”. If you see it for a dollar or something, then I think you would be seeing a harmless, if ultimately mediocre animated feature. It’s definitely way better than Mars Needs Moms and Hoodwinked Too, but only by a slim margin, because it had some heart in the production. I definitely would be recommending films like Song of the Sea or Ernest & Celestine over Gnomeo & Juliet. Well, you won’t have to wait much longer, as the next review is of the sequel, Sherlock Gnomes. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Lackluster!

 

123: Isle of Dogs 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!)

I honestly won’t get tired of thinking this, but I’m surprised more directors in Hollywood don’t direct an animated feature. While there are pros and cons doing an animated feature or a live-action feature, one thing that always catches my eye about animation is that you can have literal control over a mass majority of the production. You don’t have to worry about sets, lighting, physical performances, and a lot of elements that plague live-action films. Really, the one major downside is that you then have to make everything from scratch. It’s why I love seeing directors known for their live-action films go into animation and vice versa. It’s fun to see them bring their personality into a new medium of filmmaking, and why today’s review is of Wes Anderson’s critically acclaimed Isle of Dogs. Released to the world on March 23rd, 2018, Isle of Dogs gained critical acclaim from film festivals, and won a couple of festival awards before starting its US release. While people did fall in love with this movie for a lot of good reasons, some critics have criticized it for its implementation of Japanese culture. As usual, it’s hard to talk about a movie, when there is some controversy attached to it. I will talk about it, but for now, let’s begin the review. Actually, before we begin, a friend of mine showed me a fun little secret about the title. Say it three times in a row quickly, and the title changes to a wonderful sentiment.

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Isle of Dogs takes place in Japan 20 or so years in the future. An outbreak of diseases affecting dogs has plagued the country, and the mayor of Nagasaki, played by Kunichi Nomura, has decided to ban all dogs to a trash island. Six months pass, and the dogs live there in small packs, trying to survive on scraps and garbage to get by. One pack includes Chief, voiced by Bryan Cranston, Rex, voiced by Edward Norton, King, voiced by Bob Balaban, Duke, voiced by Jeff Goldblum, and Boss, voiced by Bill Murray. One day, they see a kid named Atari Kobayashi, voiced by Koyu Rankin, crash his plane on the Isle of Dogs, who is there to find his bodyguard dog Spots, voiced by Liev Schreiber. Chief and his gang decide to help him as they try to find Spots, and try to uncover a grand conspiracy plotted by the mayor.

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Usually, when I love a movie, I want to talk about the positive aspects, because that is what deserves the most attention. I don’t see why I need to change tradition here. The stop-motion animation seen in Isle of Dogs is amazing. I mean, it’s the same studio that made Fantastic Mr. Fox, so I shouldn’t be surprised, but I was constantly impressed with the animation throughout the entire film. This includes making Trash Island visually interesting. Sure, it’s all garbage, but you would be amazed at how visually creative they got with the locations on the island. There are bright colors, terraformed landscapes, rusted out vehicles and buildings, and you get the idea.  Even down to little details, like how the dogs moved, reacted, their fur gently moving in the breeze, and even having little fleas running around at times shows that they paid very close attention to detail with the animals. I work at an animal shelter, and I see animals twice a week there, and dogs and cats there have their own spirit to them. No one animal is alike. The detail to the dogs is also shared with the humans. While moving like they did in Fantastic Mr. Fox, their animation was also fluid and full of little fun bits that made the artificial look of everything so alive. They even have some cool 2D sequences that are used when showing off characters on a TV screen.

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I love the characters. I mean, it’s a Wes Anderson film, what do you expect from the characters? They are quirky, they have their own personality traits, and when he decides to drop it on the viewer, can be emotionally engaging. While there are definitely a lot of characters, the bond that holds the entire film together is between Atari and Chief. Their bond is fantastic, and it was fun to see Chief grow fonder of helping Atari when he is shown kindness by the boy. Many of the characters work well off each other, as the entire cast of dogs is stacked with actors who felt very natural with one another. Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Scarlett Johansson, Harvey Keitel, F. Murray Abraham, Liev Schreiber, and Tilda Swinton all have their memorable moments and, of course, very funny lines. The human characters are also well acted, with Koyu Rankin, Greta Gerwig, Kunichi Nomura, Akira Yakayama, Yoko Ono, Frances McDormand, and Courtney B. Vance. They might have smaller roles, but they do not feel out of place with the overall weird world in which Anderson has put us. No one feels like they are simply playing themselves, and although some have very distinct voices, just because I knew who each character was played by, I was never taken out of the film. The story itself is simple, but it’s all in the execution, as the story carries themes of mass hysteria, government corruption, fear mongering, being outcasts, love, honor, friendship, and being against animal abuse. As in most Wes Anderson productions, the music is fantastic. It’s composed by Alexandre Desplat, who also did the music for Fantastic Mr. Fox and other Wes Anderson productions like The Grand Budapest Hotel, and recently won an award for The Shape of Water. Of course, much  of the music has plenty of Japanese musical flair that you would hear in old samurai flicks (figuratively and literally). The main song, I Won’t Hurt You by The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band (that’s a mouthful), was quite wonderful.

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So, let’s talk about that controversy that this film is receiving. Multiple online articles by Asian/Japanese-American critics and online users are calling out the film for using cultural appropriation with Japan and the people of Japan for the backdrop, and the dogs, voiced by white actors, along with Greta’s character, are the heroes. There are other issues, but that seems to be the biggest problem that is causing an issue for some. Now, as I partly jokingly said in my Have a Nice Day Review, I am a white guy from Texas, what do I know? I will never have the full understanding of the pain and anger of seeing my culture misused or taken advantage of (though I wish reality shows would stop making Texas out to be nothing but ranch owners, and saying we all wear ten gallon hats). I can’t pull that card. I understand, to the best of my knowledge, why people are having an issue with it, and to an extent, I agree with some of the issues. However, if I had to look at the whole film from my perspective, I don’t think it’s not as bad as say, Ghost in the Shell or the incident with the Hellboy Reboot from last year. I felt like Wes Anderson did not intentionally set up this film to be punching down on the culture or its people. Even one of the actors who played the mayor was a consultant on the story. He said that he was fine with a lot of it, but did chime in from time to time. I also disagree with the criticism of how the script has the Japanese characters talk. Unless there is a translator nearby, all the Japanese human characters speak Japanese with very little English or subtitles. The issue I see talked about is that they are limited to saying simple, to-the-point lines. I don’t agree with this criticism, because if you aren’t going to be using subtitles 100% of the time, what the characters say needs to be short and to the point. I also feel like that just ties in with Wes Anderson’s style. In the end, I could break it all down from what I have seen, and all I can say is, I don’t fully agree with the backlash this film is getting, but I do understand that Wes Anderson does tow the line in paying respect and tribute in this fantastical setting, because he wanted to make a film that was set in Japan. If you have an issue with how he uses the culture, then by all means, have an issue with it. I do agree with some aspects of the criticism.

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So, what did I not like about the film? Well, I wish we had more time with the side characters. Chief’s group of friends vanishes at one point, and we don’t see them for a good, maybe 10-15 minutes before we see what happened to them. They could have used a bit more to them outside of certain quirks, like Rex wanting order among the pack, Duke being a lover of gossip, Boss being played by Bill Murray, and so on. They were really fun to be around, and I wish they could have been there more. The female characters are also not handled well. Not terrible, but underdeveloped. Scarlett Johansson is barely in the film, and is set up as this weak pseudo love interest for Chief. Though the one that people and I have an issue with is Greta Gerwig’s character, an American foreign exchange student who kicks the pro-dog rally into overdrive. She’s a strong character, and has her own personality, but I do think there is a problem with her ethnicity. I think a lot of the problems people have with the film would be gone if they didn’t make her American. Maybe instead, they could have made her a Japanese school girl, voiced by Rinko Kikuchi or another young Japanese American actress to play her. Because you can definitely see the whole, “Hey, the American student is brave, while the Japanese people are easily manipulated by their government and afraid to rebel” angle people have with her character.

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I respect the issues some are having with the film, but they do not detract from my personal enjoyment of the film. I love this movie, and until said otherwise, Isle of Dogs is the best animated film of the year. I loved the animation, the humor, the heart, and everything about it. Once it opens in wide release, please go see this movie. I want more people to see this film and support an original idea. It’s not like anyone here is going to go see Sherlock Gnomes or Duck Duck Goose. You shouldn’t see those, and again, go see Isle of Dogs. Well, speaking of gnomes, next time, before we get to Sherlock Gnomes, we shall look at Gnomeo & Juliet. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

122: The Breadwinner

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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!)

Warning/Heads up: There will be scenes of violence against women, guns, and blood. Viewer’s discretion is advised. Enjoy the review!

One of the most recent trends that Hollywood is starting to hopefully change for the better is representation. Films like Get Out, The Big Sick, and Black Panther are doing well, critically and financially, and while they are only a few examples, they are making sure to pave the way for more stories to be told through different perspectives. It’s something that needs to happen, and people need to learn that just because you aren’t of that character’s nationality, race, or whatever, it doesn’t mean you can’t connect to them or their struggle. Sadly, most don’t seem to understand or seem to have empathy toward hearing stories about others that they can’t relate to. This is why a film like The Breadwinner was important. Released back in late 2017, The Breadwinner was the newest film from Cartoon Saloon and director Nora Twomey, the director of The Secret of Kells. It was also executively produced by Angelina Jolie, and distributed by GKids. It won critical acclaim, won the Annie for Best Foreign/Indie Feature, and was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards and The Golden Globes, but lost out to both awards to Coco. It sadly didn’t perform well, but thanks to being put on Netflix, people are now seeing what was subjectively the best animated film of 2017, a year that had very little competition, and you had to be on the lookout for smaller/indie viewings of the actual good movies. So, did The Breadwinner deserve to be crowned the best animated film of 2017? Well, let’s find out.

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The story revolves around a young girl named Parvana, voiced by Saara Chaudry. One day, after helping her father in the market, her father is arrested for being against the Taliban, and other false crimes. With no real man to help out Parvana and her family, consisting of her mother, baby brother, and older sister, she does what will help get her family the help and care that they need. After some failed attempts, she decides to disguise herself as a boy to get work around the city, in which she lives. Along the way, she meets some friends, and finds a way to get her father out of prison.

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What I think is the best element of the film is how real it feels. These might be 2D characters, but the way they act, talk, and interact with each other feels so grounded. Just because this is animated, it doesn’t mean it can’t bring you into a world that is accurate in depicting life different from our own. It also means that this is not an animated film for children. You will see guns fired at the lead, women getting beaten, and blood. It does not shy away about how much the country this takes place in is run by religious beliefs, and how extreme certain individuals are. However, it also doesn’t make it just a miserable and overly exaggerated version of that country. Even among the more radical individuals, there are people there that are kind, caring, and do not always side with the ones who are way too invested with their beliefs. Not everyone in this country is a monster, and this film brings humanity to the world around our lead character. Even characters that you would think were terrible, end up being more complex than you would have thought. There is a psychotic young teen that is in the film, who gets a heavy dose of reality for his loyalty to the Taliban. It could have been so easy to turn this into a propaganda-style film, but Nora and her team made sure to give the people that live there actual character.

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I haven’t even gotten to how good the animation is. While there are points where you can tell what is a CGI model, the 2D animation has more of a realistic flow to it. Yeah, they are cartoon characters, but that doesn’t mean they have to be bouncy and something more like Storks or Hotel Transylvania. It would have looked distracting, because this is a rather mature story with very mature elements. I also adored how vibrant and beautiful the film was. Sure, a lot of the color pallet was specific shades of brown, but they also threw in bright colors for clothing, spices, food, water, and that’s not even counting the beautiful 2D puppet animation. From time to time, the lead character will be telling a story that uses that style of animation. It reminds me of how the story was handled in The Fall, where the stuntman would tell the young girl a fantastical story that would mirror aspects of reality. I won’t say what happens, but both the A and B story do connect, so pay attention. I also liked the actors. I give whoever the casting director was so much credit, as he or she actually casted all middle-eastern actors. Saara Chaudry Is Parvana, and she really carries this movie. She is strong, determined, but also vulnerable. She owns this movie. However, the other actors are fantastic like Soma Bhatia, Ali Badshah, Shaista Latif, Laara Sadiq, Kawa Ada, and Noorin Gulamgaus. They all work well off each other, and make this story work.

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While I think this movie is downright amazing, and you should all watch it no matter what I criticize about it, I do have a few small criticisms. The first one is with the film’s ending. Now, it ends probably as it should, but I do wish it was more fulfilling. Like I said above, you can also sometimes tell where CGI is used, but it’s very rare.

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The Breadwinner is the best animated film of 2017 in my opinion, and one of the most important animated films of the decade. While I wish it did better at the box office, and that’s a problem GKids consistently has with their films, it’s a movie everyone needs to see. An animated film, set in the middle-east, with strong middle-eastern characters is rare, and it’s worth supporting. Of course, it’s available right now, as of writing this review, on Netflix, but I think you should support the film and GKids by buying the DVD/Blu-ray of the film. It’s a one-of-a-kind animated film that every animation fan needs to get their hands on. While I do love this movie, and everyone should go support it, they should also go support the next film that’s getting a review. Next time, we will be reviewing the new Wes Anderson animated feature, Isle of Dogs. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

 

 

121: Have a Nice Day

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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 and live-action 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!)

For the last two years, I have seen China start to put their foot down, and really compete with animation. While not a great movie, The Monkey King: Hero is Back was a competent action-adventure flick that raked in millions. Big Fish & Begonia, a decade old 2D-animated film is getting positive reviews, and is coming out this year thanks to Funimation and Shout! Factory.  In general, it’s good to see that they want to put a lot of effort into their future projects, and not just coax by on cheap-animated schlock. Another animated film that I was looking forward to coming out in the states was Have a Nice Day. Directed by Liu Jian, Have a Nice Day made waves in the news when it was pulled from the Annecy Film Festival last year by the Chinese government. This caused a huge controversial backlash toward the country, because not only was China the guest country at the festival, but it was also considered a move of censorship by the country. While it was winning awards around the festival circuit, is Have a Nice Day worth the hype and controversy? Well, kind of. Let’s dive in.

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Have a Nice Day is a dark comedy with a mix of social commentary revolving around a cab driver who robs someone of $150 grand in US currency to help his girlfriend in South Korea with her plastic surgery.  Unfortunately for him, that money belonged to a mob boss, and it then turns into this mad dash between multiple characters to get that money from one another.

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Let’s talk about the most standout aspect of Have a Nice Day, the animation. Now, usually, I consider animation to be moving drawn pictures, or CGI models moving around. Have a Nice Day really stretches the terms of animation. A lot of the films are in still frames with mouths staying open when they talk. There is some movement, but it’s more like an underground motion comic. I can perfectly understand why this might turn people off. It all looks fine, but it’s as if you took still frames, and took inspiration from the animation philosophy from Adult Swim’s early days. I can understand if this was done on a shoe-string budget, and there wasn’t enough left over for the animation, but this will definitely put people off.  I know I have given the country flack for its bad animation, and while this one was probably more due to artistic decisions or budget limitations, it’s almost not an animated film. I know that sounds sort of gate-keeping to not call it animation, but once you see the trailer for this film, it’s understandable.

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So, since the animation is hugely kneecapped, what does this film have to counter-balance for the lack of animation? Thankfully, the best aspect of the movie is the dialogue. While you are definitely looking at a bunch of still frames, the dialogue between characters is interesting. It has a few solid jokes thrown in from time to time that are legit funny. It’s also interesting to see a bunch of the characters, major and minor, talk about money, and how China looks at money. Maybe that’s why it was pulled from the festival, but I personally found nothing offensive about this film, but I’m a white guy from Texas, so what do I know? It reminds me of The Rabbi’s Cat, since that film also had some odd animation, but you were kept invested with the film’s dialogue. The film also has a build-up to an immensely funny punchline at the end, but I won’t spoil it here.

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While I did find admiration that this was a mostly one-man job, I think my favorite aspect of the sound design was the music. Yes, there is one really random musical sequence in the film, but my favorite bit of music was the opening song by The Shanghai Restoration Project. It had a nice jazzy blues feel that fit over the decrepit and broken side of China. If anyone is curious, the track is called Dark Horse. While the animation was fairly, um, still, I found the acting to be pretty solid. I won’t say I remember one person being better than the other, but the chemistry between everyone felt cohesive. It was interesting to see how the acting would gel with the limited animation, and I was not all that distracted by it. Then again, I knew going in that this film would live and die by its dialogue and character interaction.

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Now then, let’s talk about the downsides. The animation is going to split people so hard down the middle. On one hand, it’s a style, and the director worked within his limitations of budget and time, while using more artistic liberties with what can be considered “animation”. On the other hand, it feels pointless to make this an animated film, because of how limiting the animation is. Sure, you can get the gestures and movements from the simple frames, but at the same time, it’s really pushing the definition of animation. It’s definitely going to distract a lot of people, and whether this was a purposeful decision or not, I did find myself at points being pulled out of the experience. While I love the entire punchline to the film at the end, it is a grind to get there. It’s not a very long movie, but it takes its time slow-burning its way to the finish line. It also does that thing where it cuts off at the end, leaving the ending to be up in the air in terms of what exactly happened after the big climatic sequence. I mean, sure, you can pick up what might have happened, but I think the film would have worked better with more closure. Then again, I know this technique is popular among many filmmakers like Tarantino, so your mileage may vary with the ending.

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While I was definitely happy to have a Movie Pass for this film, I’m still very glad I went out and supported it. It’s good to support original films and smaller creators if their films are showing in theaters in your area. I’m happy to see Chinese animation get ambitious with their goals with the medium, and while Have a Nice Day doesn’t check off all the boxes, it’s a way more important and interesting movie that’s out right now than 50 Shades Freed and that pointless Death Wish remake. If you can find a way to watch it, I would definitely recommend checking it out. Just look up the trailer for the film first to see if you might be into it. Well, let’s continue the support of animated films from overseas and look at the Annie Award-winning and Oscar-nominated The Breadwinner. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Rent It!

Favorite Shorts from the 19th Animation Show of Shows

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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 editorial/list!)

Recently, I went with my dad to the 19th Animation Show of Shows. This was a viewing of 16 different animated shorts from around the world. It was a blast, and there were plenty of amazing shorts that were shown. I decided to do a list of my favorite ones. I’m not going to go in any order, because one being better than another one came down to splitting hairs, and really, they all deserve a place on this list.

Can You Do It

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This was the first short shown as a cool mix of CGI and a wonderful modern pop art style by director Quentin Baillieux. While it is a glorified music video for the song by Charles X, it’s a fantastic and fairly optimistic song laid over a mix of economic classes, coming together for this one event. It’s an incredible short, and has an incredible song.

Next Door

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While this short is from 1990, this 2D animated short from now-famed director Pete Docter was full of charm. The 2D animation was fluid, and the cute story of a young girl and a grumpy old guy bonding over something made my heart flutter around with happiness. It’s also a good historic short for people curious to see Pete’s earlier work.

The Alan Dimension

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This was a fun and charming short by Jac Clinch. Its mix of 2D, CGI, and stop-motion made it one of the more visually unique animated shorts about an old man who has this special power to see into the future. It was the right balance of funny and heartwarming, as it showed what happens when you think too much about the future, but not enough about what’s important to you right here and right now in the present.

Hangman

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If I was putting these in order, I think Hangman, a short from 1964 by Paul Julian and Les Goldman, that was remastered in 2017, would be my favorite out of the 16. This animated adaptation of a philosophical poem, while lacking in pure 2D animation, made up for it in a strong, foreboding, eerie, and uncomfortable atmosphere. Seeing how the Hangman worked, and how the people reacted to the individual was the highlight of the short. While a lot of it was still frames, I could argue that when there is animation, it elevates the horror aspect of the short. You can find it on YouTube (though not in amazing quality), but if they can somehow restore this, and upload it to YouTube or on a DVD with some extras talking about it, I would definitely recommend checking it out.

Gokurosama

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After Hangman, my second favorite of the shorts was this French animation called Gokurosama. It was an effort by Clémentine Frère, Aurore Gal, Yukiko Meignien, Anna Mertz, Robin Migliorelli, and Romain Salvini. The CGI animation was perfect for this type of short. It had a nice misty glow to the entire Japanese shopping mall location, and everyone looked like small model figurines that you would see in a miniature display of a building that you would show to investors. While there is no dialogue, the fact that it perfectly paces itself with the physical comedy and a very simple slice-of-life story is what made this a highly watchable short. It reminds me how creative certain people can be when working with certain limitations, and I want to see more animated films try and be like this short or Hangman.

Dear Basketball

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I’ll admit, when I was writing my editorial about the Oscar-animated shorts, I was fairly harsh on this short. I know there is a lot of talk about Kobe’s past allegations, and while I still enjoyed LOU and Revolting Rhymes more, Glen Keane and Kobe Bryant’s Dear Basketball was a fantastic short. I still adore the fanciful pencil sketch style that flowed well with the elegant John Williams score. It’s not just a short about basketball, it’s about a man who gave his life, body, and soul to the love and passion he had for his sport. It’s an emotionally touching short, and I can’t wait to see what Glen Keane does next with his upcoming feature film.

Island

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This German short by director Max Mortl and Robert Lobel had a very cute stop-motion look to the rhythm of nature. It has no dialogue in it, and only has the sounds of the wildlife that end up making a catchy tune. Its designs might be simple, but they get the job done, and make for some pretty humorous animal designs. It was one of the shorter shorts on this list, but it was the right amount.

Unsatisfying

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Unsatisfying was probably the shortest of the shorts on this list of favorites, but it seems like it was intentionally short. This humorous 3D/CGI short was showed the most unsatisfying moments in life. They are simply small moments that kept building up as to how unsatisfying certain moments in life are. I think anyone who watches this short can relate to something, like a soda getting stuck in a vending machine, missing the bullseye playing darts, and you get the idea. It’s bittersweet, but all around hilarious.

 My Burden

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My Burden is a stop-motion film by Niki Lindroth Von Bahr about the night lives of night shift employees, all of which are animals, at a customer support service, a hotel, a grocery store, and a fast-food joint. While the tone has music and individuals dancing, it also shows darker themes that the director described of boredom, being alone, and existential anxiety. While I have never really worked night shifts, I can understand on an emotional level how that feels. The stop-motion animation was charming, and there was a subtle sense of humor with certain moments, like an anchovy at the hotel saying he’s alone, because he has bad skin. It might be a weird short about animals with night-shift jobs, but that weird feel is what makes this a favorite short.

Our Wonderful Nature: The Common Chameleon

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Listen, I love nature documentaries, and whenever I see one on TV, I do watch it. However, I loved this wonderful CGI short parodying a segment of a nature show. Directed by Tomer Eshed, this German-animated short was misleading, in a good way. At first, you see the fairly realistic-looking CGI chameleon, but then you see the animation side of things slowly ooze out with how the chameleon smiles after eating a small fly, and then watch as his constant hunger gets the best of him. It’s another short that has no real dialogue besides the faux nature documentary narrator, and relies on physical comedy. It’s short, but very effective. It was probably the one short that got some of the biggest laughs in my theater.

Everything

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Now, I do have some issues with this one being considered an animated short. It’s a really good short, but should it count as an animated short when it’s a video game? It’s basically some slightly altered gameplay footage. However, I can’t deny that this was a very effective short. The voice-over narration done by late British philosopher Alan Watts really makes you have an existential moment about life. He unloads about how everything is connected, from the smallest atom, to the biggest living creature. Everyone has a role to play, and we constantly rely on one another to live. The visuals are simple, but they get the job done. Plus, the simple visuals get really surreal when you see a bunch of items flying around in space. While I can debate if this actually counts as an animated short, it’s still a short worth checking out!

Animated Tidbits 5: Oscar Shorts 2017

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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 editorial!)

With the Oscars coming soon, I decided to do one last little editorial, talking about a section of the Oscars I honestly haven’t thought about covering, animated shorts. Not that I don’t watch them, because I do. I simply feel like they need a different mindset to tackle. However, I have had the opportunity to see all the nominated shorts in theaters. They were distributed by Shorts HD and Magnolia Pictures, and it made making this editorial very easy. I’m going to go through the five nominated shorts, and the three additional shorts that were going to could have been chosen, but didn’t make it. They are going to be quick little paragraph reviews. I will also be going in the order they were presented. Let’s get started.

Dear Basketball

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Narrated/produced by Kobe Bryant, and directed by Glen Keane, this is essentially an animated version of Kobe Bryant’s retirement letter, done in a pencil sketch style similar to the classic Christmas short, The Snowman. I was concerned about this one, since something about it always felt off. The letter itself and how it is narrated by Kobe himself is touching, and the pencil sketch style is really impressive, and it’s a solid short about dreams and passion. However, I find myself feeling cynical about it. It’s touching, but forgettable. I also found it to be a bit too manipulative for the emotional side of things. Not to say it’s a horrible short, because it’s not. Like I said, the speech itself is well-worded, John William’s score is great, as usual, and the animation stands out. I just didn’t like it as much as others. I also feel like the current movements in Hollywood will hold this short back, and might alienate non-fans of basketball. It’s a good short, but I personally won’t be rooting for it.

Negative Space

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Directed by Ru Kuwahata and Max Porter, Negative Space is about the bond the lead in the short had with his father over the fine art of packing clothes into suitcases. The stop-motion style has its charm with the doll-like character designs. It’s a cute little short about the ins and outs of making sure there is no negative space within the suitcase. It ends a bit abruptly for me, and maybe could have been a bit longer, but the short is well-made, and I understand why it’s being nominated for an Oscar.

LOU

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It wouldn’t be the Oscars if Pixar didn’t have a short to contribute to the competition. Directed by Dave Mullins and produced by Dana Murray, LOU is about a Lost and Found Box that loves giving everyone the possessions they lost. When I went to the theater to see the shorts, this was one of the two that got the biggest reactions from the audience, in terms of enjoyment. Lou himself is a very creative character. Being made of all the apparel and items resulted in some very creative visuals. Seeing Lou shapeshift through different forms made by all the toys and clothes was the highlight of the short. The only problem I have with the film is that, while it is probably one of my favorites among the five nominated, it’s fairly Pixar. It has a lot of the typical story beats that you would see in most Pixar films. It’s not a super terrible thing, but you know what’s going to happen. Still, LOU is a fantastic short, and should have been in front of Coco instead of Olaf’s Frozen Adventure.

Revolting Rhymes

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This first part of a two-part special based on the Roald Dahl book of fairy tales was easily the crowd favorite from my viewings, and is the short I am rooting for to win. I want to do a full review of part one and two, but I definitely want to do a small summary here. The first part is creative, the art style made the CGI look like stop-motion. While it might have dumbed down the darker tones of the book, it still has a lot of really dark jokes that made me, my friends, and the audience members in the theater laugh out loud. It’s a charming first part of the special, and I found how they handled the mixing of fairy tales creative.

Garden Party

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Directed by Illogic Collective, a group of six 3D artists, Garden Party is a simple story about a bunch of frogs that explore a deserted house. The best thing about this short is the animation and characterization of the frogs. The almost photo-realistic look of the short is incredibly impressive. Sure, you can kind of tell it’s CGI, but some areas look fairly realistic. I liked that they gave the frogs little quirks, and found it cute as they explore the house and interact with one another. Now, while it is subtly told through environmental storytelling, I didn’t like the ending. I won’t say what it is, but it felt too dark for a short about some frogs exploring a house. It also has the moment when you can tell it’s CGI, since what is in the pool looks more cartoonish than realistic. I know some are saying this is going to win, but I think the ending is going to turn some people off. Even with my complaints, I still love the short.

We now will move on to the three shorts that were “Highly Commended”

Lost Property Office

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Directed and written by Daniel Agdad, Lost Property Office is about an older gentleman who works at what is essentially a lost and found office. The drab color tones, and sly bits of humor is definitely why this one was close to being nominated. The stop-motion work was also well done. I think for me, this was one of the weaker shorts. The entire plot of the short is done with no dialogue, and I’m sure there is a deeper meaning to this short, but I have seen it twice now, and I don’t fully get it. It’s a pretty-looking short, but its story rang hollow. Maybe it’s more of a “not my cup of tea” situation, and the overall story is symbolic of the man and his job, but I didn’t quite get the appeal of this one. It felt more like it was chosen for its artistry than its story.

Weeds

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Directed by Kevin Hudson, this short is about a dandelion flower that yearns for a better life on a lively field of grass. While the CGI is good, the message is what I liked about the film, and how it’s about the many people that go through challenges every day to make and find a better life. The CGI is good, but I didn’t find anything super remarkable about it. However, I felt like the story was more important. It was simple and to the point. I definitely liked this one.

Achoo

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Finally, our last short is Achoo, a French-animated short about a Chinese dragon who wants to win a contest to be cherished by the humans. While this one is definitely the most cartoonish with the humor and designs, the CGI and textures are incredible. I have been vocal about how European CGI films have had issues with their lack of quality-looking CGI, and while this is a short, it looks great. The lighting looks impressive, the textures look marvelous with lots of little details, and the designs are cute. It has a few jokes that I didn’t care for, but for a harmless short, I enjoyed it. If I had to choose which one of the three I liked the most, it would probably be Achoo for visuals and WEEDS for story.

Thanks for reading! What short did you like the most? I’ll see you all next time!

120: Your Name

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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!)

Warning/Heads up!: I will be talking about the story and will be spoiling a bit to explain my criticism. If you have not seen this film yet, then by all means, watch it, and then come back to this review. Enjoy!

To be honest, I was having a brain tickler of a time choosing the 120th review. The beginning part of the year is usually not swarmed with obviously bad or notoriously awful films. Instead, I decided to choose a popular film. It’s an animated film that was universally loved, and won critical acclaim around the world. This Japanese film in question is Your Name. Directed by Makoto Shinkai, Your Name was released back in 2016, and became the biggest animated hit in Japan of all time. It even beat out Spirited Away, which held the title for highest grossing Japanese-animated film. When it was competing in the 2016 Oscars, everyone online got mad that it didn’t get nominated. It’s a film that surpassed expectations, and got so big that Makoto Shinkai told fans of the film to back down on the praise. Not that he fully hated it, but he felt like the film was flawed, and some aspects could be fixed. So, for me, I have been fairly vocal about not liking it as much as everyone else, but do I think it’s bad? Well, let’s find out.

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Our story follows the life of two teens. They are named Taki Tachibana, voiced by Michael Sinterniklaas, and Mitsuha Miyamizu, voiced by Stephanie Sheh. These two live in different parts of Japan, where Taki lives in Tokyo, and Mitsuha lives in Itomori, a small rural town. They live their fairly typical teenage lives without many problems. Well, besides the fact that they have somehow swapped bodies with one another. Yeah, for one reason or another, they constantly wake up in the other’s body, and don’t know who the other is. It then becomes a ticking clock for the two to find out who the other is, all the while going through their days in each other’s body.

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As usual, let’s talk about the positives. Even if my opinion on Makoto Shinkai’s work does not line up with everyone else’s, I do still have a lot to say that’s positive. As usual, his animation in the later part of the 2000s is gorgeous. I say later part of the 2000s, because I was never a fan of early 2000s digital anime with the flat colors and bland designs. It was also the time period when anime was trying to combine 2D and CGI, and it was distracting. To me, Your Name is his best animation yet. Even from his first film, Shinkai has always had amazing skyscapes. They are just so vibrant and awe-inspiring. They are also grand in scope, and really show off how huge the sky is. While I find the character designs to be fairly generic, in terms of looking like most polished anime designs you see today, they do move well, and are fairly expressive. The colors are also very lavish. It’s a gorgeous movie no matter where you stand on the overall quality. There are plenty of scenes and shots that could be put into frames and hung on a wall.

While I am not always on board with teenage characters, and what archetypes Makoto Shinkai likes to use in his movies, I found myself really invested with the two leads in Your Name. One of my consistent problems with Makoto Shinkai films is that he constantly has the emotion down, but the characters never end up as that interesting. It has pulled me out of his films quite a lot. Thankfully, at least for me, I was constantly invested in what was going on. It was fun to see how being in each other’s bodies would affect how they would interact with people in their own respective days. I know we have seen this premise in films like Freaky Friday, and there are a few jokes that are predictable with this kind of plot point, but the gimmick of the plot for the first half starts out slow, and then builds up to a twist and sequences that will keep you invested throughout the two-hour runtime.

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So, what do I not like about the film? Let’s start with the small complaints. While I find the film to be downright visually gorgeous, the designs are not all that memorable. They look like most polished generic anime characters you can see in most anime these days. While the themes and style of film is all Makoto Shinkai, I wish he had his own designs as well. When I watch a film by Miyazaki, Takahata, Hosoda, and Yuasa, I can tell when it’s their film by their art style. I also found the anime-style opening to be fairly jarring, since this is a movie, and having an anime series intro feels clunky. I also found a few jokes to fall flat. Like, you know the first joke they are going to go to when the male lead finds himself in the body of the female lead. It’s rather tasteless. Sadly, they play out that joke a couple of times, and it’s really eye-rolling.

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So, let’s talk about the biggest problem I have with the film. It is not with people overhyping it. While I can make an argument about hype culture and how it can really be a film’s downfall, and the fact YouTubers hyped this film up without having the foresight to not hype it to heaven and back, that’s all temporary. The hype will die down, and you leave all levels of expectations at the door. The biggest problem with Your Name is the twist. About halfway through the film, something happens that makes the entire plot way more confusing than it should be. I know some people will tell me some half-baked college drop-out philosophy about the twist, but it simply ruined the film for me. You can tell me how it works, but even then, I’m still not going to like it. I don’t get why this couldn’t be this fun romantic mystery film about the two finding themselves. The twist simply makes a charming and simple plot way more complicated. I don’t get why this couldn’t be simply Freaky Friday, but animated. Another problem I have with this film, and I feel like most people don’t notice or care to bring up, is the fact that outside of the improvements, it’s another Makoto Shinkai film. While I think he is good at what he does, it does feel like he is making the same film over and over. Every film of his deals with teen romance, skyscapes, long distance relationships, and feeling alone. It’s almost the same exact story as his other films. At least with directors like Yuasa, Miyazaki, and Hosoda, they use the themes they like, but still make every film feel vibrant and different. While I was watching Your Name, I kept thinking back to his other films more so than seeing Your Name as its own film. There is nothing wrong with a director using familiar themes in all of his work, but you, at the very least, want every film to feel different. It’s why my favorite of Makoto Shinkai’s films is Children Who Chase Lost Voices. While it might be similar to the works of directors like Miyazaki, it feels different from his other films. I’m not mad or dislike Makoto Shinkai because he’s a bad filmmaker, because he’s not. I do not like his work, because it’s repetitive. I want him to expand on other ideas. I also get that some of his themes are tied to Japan’s culture, but the best animated films from Japan do not make me think of that. I want to feel like I can get where a film is coming from, despite its place of origin.

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I know I came off strong with the criticism, but do not misunderstand me. I do think Your Name is a good film. It’s beautiful, has endearing characters, the emotional moments are powerful, and the music is wonderful. I do not agree that it’s the best animated film of 2016, or when it was released in 2017 stateside, and I’ll admit, some bitterness towards the film was because people did overhype. I do see some people start to criticize it more in recent times, but they still enjoy it. I enjoyed Your Name, and when I don’t have other purchasable priorities on the mind, I will purchase a copy of Your Name. It’s a film that is worth experiencing, if you want to see non-Ghibli animated features. Personally, I prefer directors like Masaaki Yuasa and Mamoru Hosoda more, but I do think Makoto Shinkai is one of the great Japanese animation directors. I just want him to grow as an artist. Now then, let’s move to a Chinese-animated film that had some controversy behind it, and let’s talk about Have a Nice Day. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Go See It!

119: Early Man

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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!)

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There is something always exciting when Aardman makes a new film. While not financially successful here in the states for some sadly understandable/annoying reasons, I always get excited, since it brings something fresh and interesting to the table, even if the films have elements that we have seen before. I make sure to always see their films, because I want to support the studio. That’s no different here, with their newest film, Early Man. Directed by Nick Park, Early Man was his first theatrical directing gig since his Oscar-winning Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. It was released on February 16th, but is not doing well at all in the box office. It is getting positive reviews, but its financial take is discouraging. Granted, when you go against something like the important Black Panther and the decently reviewed Peter Rabbit, you are going to get into some trouble, especially if you are Lionsgate/Summit Entertainment, and you don’t market your movie! I can get into that bit of stupid, but I’ll save that for a different article. For now, let’s review Early Man!

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Eddie Redmayne plays our hero Dug, a caveman living with his tribe in a crater that, generations ago, was formed by a meteorite. He’s getting complacent about how his tribe only hunts rabbits. One day, after a successful rabbit hunt, their tribe gets invaded by a more evolved group of humans. This evolved group of individuals is led by a man named Lord Nooth, voiced by Tom Hiddleston. Dug accidentally gets himself “taken” to the new civilization, meets a woman named Goona, voiced by Maisie Williams, and finds out that his entire valley is being mined out for its metal. After interrupting a soccer game (and yes, I am going to call it soccer), Dug challenges Nooth to a soccer game. Unfortunately, Dug and his tribe don’t know how to play soccer. Dug then enlists the help of Goona, and they train to win their valley back!

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Let’s talk about the positives.  Since this is Aardman, the animation is fantastic. Each character has a unique design, and they each move beautifully. The sets are also vibrant, lush, and huge. These might even beat out The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and Pirates: Band of Misfits. As with most British comedy, it’s well-written, clever, and there are lots of foreground and background jokes. I found myself laughing at multiple points in the movie, along with others in my audience. I think a lot of the jokes flew over the kids in my group’s heads, but they still laughed quite a lot. Much of the humor works because the characters are fun to be around. While some are simple, which is a problem to a degree, I never found myself getting annoyed by them. They were fairly likable. Dug is a kind optimist, the tribe leader played by Timothy Spall is delightfully daft, Nooth is a blast as a villain who seems to enjoy being a villain, Goona is the strong female archetype, and Dug’s tribe all have their own amusing moments. I know the film’s humor is mostly pun-related, but if you can execute them properly, then I don’t mind it. I can understand if it’s not your type of humor, but I loved it. They even stay away from the more modern-style of humor you would see in films from Illumination and Blue Sky Studios. It’s great that they did that, since it makes the film more enjoyable to watch as time goes by. The performances were also really good. Eddie Redmayne captures the hopeful and maybe ignorant optimistic side of Dug, Tom Hiddleston gives Nooth a wonderfully cheesy and not-at-all accurate French accent that leads to many of the film’s best jokes, Maisie Williams does a good job at being a tough individual, and the rest of the cast, including Richard Ayoade, Selina Griffiths, Johnny Vegas, Mark Williams, Gina Yashere, Simon Greenall, Richard Webber, Rob Brydon, Kayvan Novak, Miriam Margoyles, all have humorous performances.    

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As much as I love Aardman and the fact we got a stop-motion film this year, I am going to criticize this film a bit. The film is, for the most part, hugely entertaining, clever, funny, and well-written. However, it does start to lose steam, when you get to the actual soccer part of the plot. It goes through a few sports clichés and puns that don’t work unless you know the sport, and it goes into sports film territory with the underdogs versus the champions. You can pick up on what’s going to happen very easily during this part. While I love a lot of the tribe members, many of them don’t get much development. About half of them get stuck with a single character trait. That also goes for the champion team that they compete against.  I also felt like the story could have been a bit more complex. I love that Aardman keeps things simple, but sometimes, that hurts them, since some of their stories become predictable. I know I can blame some of this film’s underperformance to Lionsgate/Summit Entertainment, since this should have been a big deal for their animation output, but they treated like it was just another direct-to-video animated film. However, Aardman is also partly to blame for a couple of this film’s problems. I just wonder how much better this film would have been received if they had chosen a more…world-loved sport, since the US doesn’t really care about soccer, or simply stuck with the caveman and Bronze Age civilization meet-up. I didn’t mind it being about soccer, since I caught a lot of the soccer jokes, but I know that won’t be for everyone.

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While I think I prefer Shaun the Sheep The Movie and The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, I did love Early Man. Personally, it’s the first good animated film of the year, and even if you didn’t fully care about it, you know deep down, it’s going to be better than Sherlock Gnomes. Early Man is a film that gets better the more I think about it. I definitely recommend checking it out. It’s an original film that’s not based on any pre-existing properties, and if you really want more original films to succeed, then you need to actually go see them. Well, it’s time to get to the 120th review, and I have a lot to say about that movie when we get to it. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

118: Mary and the Witch's Flower

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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!)

I’m sure when you are a director who has a few hit movies under his belt while working under one studio, it’s imposing and challenging when you decide to leave that studio to start your own. Which I am sure is the case with Hiromasa Yonebayashi when he left Studio Ghibli and founded Studio Ponoc. While his name might not be as big as Hayao Miyazaki or Mamoru Hosoda, you would recognize his directing work in two Studio Ghibli films, Arrietty, and the Oscar-nominated When Marnie Was There. It’s also tough that the studio itself is being called Studio Ghibli 2, even though I feel like with the uncertain future of Ghibli after Miyazaki and his son are done with their films, I am fine with Ponoc being Ghibli 2.0. Sure, I would like to see them branch out a bit more into their own identity, but for now, I’m simply happy that we are still getting unique Japanese-animated films that aren’t just high-school romance films. For now, let’s take a look at Ponoc’s first film, Mary and the Witch’s Flower. Released last year and distributed by GKids, Mary and the Witch’s Flower gained a lot of hype during the period of time before Hayao Miyazaki decided to make one more movie. When it was finally released last month, critics and audience-goers gave it high praise as one of the best Japanese-animated films from 2017. Sadly, its award recognition has been less than stellar. I think they simply released it too late to get the hype going for it, and, well, award groups have a certain bias towards Japanese-animated films. So, does it deserve more love? Well, let’s see.

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The story follows a young red-headed girl named Mary, voiced by Ruby Barnhill. She recently moved to the countryside with her great aunt, while her parents are working. She doesn’t have any friends, and decides to explore a little. While exploring the forest, she runs into two cats that end up taking her deep into the forest, where she finds a magical blue plant. She takes it back, and finds out the plant gives her magical powers. After finding a real witch’s broom in the forest, she ends up taking off, and finding an academy for the magically inclined. She meets the principle of the school, voiced by Kate Winslet, and the professor, played by Jim Broadbent. Even though Mary is being praised for her magical skills, she ends up getting into a situation much bigger than what she thought.

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Let’s talk about the good stuff about Studio Ponoc’s first film. Since everyone at the studio used to work at Studio Ghibli, you would guess that the animation would be amazing. And, well, it is. It’s very top-notch animation with creative designs, fluid movements, and lush colors. The designs are memorable, and I love that it’s not just Harry Potter-looking. It’s its own spin that’s way more visually creative and entertaining to look at than typical fantasy settings. It’s a film that knows it’s animated, and takes advantage of having out-of-this-world visuals and fun designs. The music is also wonderful, and while it’s not Joe Hisashi, Takatsugu Muramatsu composes some amazing scores for this film. Then again, this is the same guy that did When Marnie Was There and Lu Over the Wall.

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I also enjoyed the characters. Mary was a well-rounded female lead that was not stuck with a “chosen one” plot, the side characters are likable, and like in a lot of Studio Ghibli films, the villains are not simply evil people. You learn about why they desire to go this route with the research of fusing magic and technology. It turns out to be more of misguided ambitions than “I want to take over the world”, like the villain from Castle in the Sky. They aren’t downright evil people, they wanted to make magic greater for the overall world, but lost their way while doing so. I love it when films do this, because it adds layers to the film and the overall story. 

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While I do think this is a generally fantastic first film from the studio, there are some flaws that I wish they wouldn’t have carried over from Studio Ghibli. While it’s perfectly fine to be more character-focused, it wouldn’t have hurt to have more action with the magic in the film. I mean, yes, it was never meant to be a Castle in the Sky-style action adventure, but with all this buildup of magic and spells, I would have liked to have seen more than the goopy spells. The ending also felt abrupt. Not From Up on Poppy Hill abrupt, but it wrapped up too quickly and was too clean. It made me wish it had a bit of Princess Mononoke’s ending, where the villains had a moment to sit back, look at nature, and realize that they have been wrong in what they were doing with their magic or something. It didn’t ruin the movie at all for me, but it felt like there could have been more, in terms of the last couple of minutes, but they couldn’t, due to time constraints.

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I know it has a few flaws, but I loved Mary and the Witch’s Flower. For a first-time film from a brand new studio, it hits it out of the park. Now, would I say it’s one of the best Ghibli alumni films? I would say it’s in the top 10. If you can somehow see this film, please do. If you can’t find a theater playing it, then go buy the DVD when it comes out. I know many, including myself, want to see the studio branch out of that shadow, but for now, I am super excited to see what they do in the future. Now then, I think it’s time to move on and talk about a more recent film with Aardman’s Early Man. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

117: Birdboy: The Forgotten Children 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!)

WARNING/PARENTAL HEADS UP: This film is not meant for children. It’s a dark and twisted film with themes of depression, violence, sex, drugs, and humanity. This is not for younger viewers. Viewer’s discretion advised. Enjoy the review!

It’s funny how limiting most moviegoers see animation as a film-making medium. They only see it as a thing for kids and families, and while that can be true, it can be so much more. I have pretty much reviewed a ton of animated films or shows aimed more at an older teen and adult audience, but sadly, those don’t get a lot of traction in Hollywood. Sure, Sausage Party from 2016 showed that it could work, but all that good will was probably thrown out the window when the controversy of the animators being forced to work un-paid overtime was revealed. Animation has no limits, and you can tell any type of story with it. Sure, some limitations are needed to make sure nothing goes too overboard and such, but it’s a medium that’s way more creative, and can be aimed at all audiences. For example, today’s review will be of Birdboy: The Forgotten Children. Directed by Alberto Vazquez and Pedro Rivero, based on the comic by Alberto Vazquez, and distributed by GKids, this 2D animated film was a dark horse among the 2017 animated films. It was much darker and more mature than a lot of the offerings last year that were more comedy-oriented. It didn’t get a huge release, and while it won a couple of awards, I don’t see many people talk about it. I think it’s time for that to change.

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Taking place on an island after a nuclear explosion destroys the island, the animal inhabitants’ resort to scavenging and trying to live a life, even if the island they live on is mostly covered in garbage. The story is more about the study of the characters, but there is a plot. It revolves around a mouse girl named Dinky, who is not happy with living with her parents who keep complaining about how she is slipping in her school work, and love her dog brother/thing more. This is on top of her parent’s reliance on “happy pills” and how they suspect that Dinky might be a drug user. Dinky decides to get with two of her friends, get some money, and leave the island. Although Dinky is fine leaving with her two friends, she is also worried about another individual, Birdboy. Birdboy’s story is that his father, who used to run the lighthouse before the explosion wrecked the island, turned to selling drugs and was shot. Birdboy, on the other hand, has been turned into an outcast, and is constantly hunted by the police, due to being accused of selling drugs, when more or less, he takes them. Can Dinky and her friends get off the island? What exactly is going on with Birdboy? Why is he taking the drugs? Why does this film look as if David Lynch made an animated movie?

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So, let’s talk about the positive aspect of this film. I’m going to be calling Birdboy the Anomalisa of 2017. Now, why would I be calling it that? It’s because a lot of what makes Birdboy great is the symbolic and psychological nature of the entire film. The film might look innocent and adorable, due to the round designs, but no one is a perfectly okay person. Dinky is a delinquent, one of her friends has supposed schizophrenic thoughts, Dinky’s parents are heavily religious individuals that suffer from depression, Birdboy is a drug-addicted outsider who is suppressing personal violent demons, and the entire rat population, that call themselves “The Forgotten Children”, are violent scavengers that have no problem skinning you for your copper materials. There are multiple layers to dig into with this film, and it is not subtle at showing that a couple of the characters in this film have personal demons that can manifest themselves into horrific monsters. Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom, but it’s definitely a depressing world. Thankfully, you care about the characters, since while some have major issues, they do have humanity to them. The movie basically says that not everyone is inherently evil or a monster.

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Birdboy probably has the most interesting animation out of any film from this year. I think it’s quite obvious from my comments above that the world the characters live in is very misleading. The round innocent designs clash, and make the much darker sequences pop, making them way more effective. If everything was just grizzly from the beginning, then the effect of certain scenes and characters wouldn’t be as powerful as they are with the more child-friendly designs. I know some say that this type of misconception can lead to it backfiring on the film, but the animation works extremely well. It has designs that are almost similar to ones you would find in Adventure Time, and that franchise has plenty of mature and dark moments. I was never taken out of the experience due to the animation, and I think that’s something worth mentioning, since if this was handled by anyone else, it would have probably been a disaster. I saw this with the English dub, and while the English trailer for the film may make some lines look weird in terms of syncing with the clips, it was pretty good all-around in the actual film.

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If I had to nitpick or criticize this film for anything, it would be that it might go too symbolic with everything. Due to the 75-minute runtime, I found myself noticing the film liked to be a bit more abstract than a little more logical, but even by saying this, I’m staying on the back of my heels. I say this because this might be one of those films you will need to see twice. I know that sounds like I’m excusing elements that might just be bad storytelling, but at the same time, seeing a film twice would probably help in some cases.

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In general, I can tell Birdboy: The Forgotten Children is a film that will be splitting people down the middle. It’s beautifully animated, emotionally poignant, and wonderfully atmospheric and dark. Though the story and how it is executed is definitely going to be the part where you like it or not, some will like the dark nature and symbolic elements, but I can see that alienating other viewers as well. Still, if you can somehow watch this movie, definitely do so. It’s a unique film that I wouldn’t mind supporting. Since we are on a GKids run, it’s time to keep that going with their most recent offering, Mary and the Witch’s Flower. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go see it!

The Oscars' Relationship with Animation

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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 editorial!)

So, I’m sure no one saw the Oscar nomination reveals and no one cares, even though we all care and get mad no matter what happens. All joking aside, in general, the Oscars this year is exceptionally fantastic. It has lots of variety in films, directors, actors, and movies. I know some are bummed out about Wonder Woman not headlining any awards even though it was one of the most important films of the year, but I get it.  However, out of all the categories to cause uproar, it was the ghettos of the Best Animated Feature category. The five officially nominated animated films for this category are Coco, Loving Vincent, The Breadwinner, Ferdinand, and The Boss Baby. I’m sure reading and knowing that, the Sesame Street song of “One of these things is not like the other” pops right up in your mind as you stare at those five films. Of course, the one that’s causing the biggest issue for many is The Boss Baby. Out of any movie, this is the one causing the biggest stir. Does it deserve such hate? Or is the problem deeper and grayer than black and white?

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Let’s get the personal subjective opinion out of the way first before we can get into the more layered conversation pieces of this editorial. In my personal opinion, I think The Boss Baby can be a very charming and a very funny movie with some downright amazing and trippy animation. However, seeing it as an overall film, it’s not great. It has a weak story, forgettable characters, and the film’s lineups of jokes don’t bring in many laughs. It only was a financial hit because it lined up its release with the very popular Alec Baldwin Donald Trump skits from SNL. It’s a mostly flat experience, but it’s also fairly harmless with a solid amount of creativity. It simply needed more fleshing out in the story and world-building department. It is a tad distracting to see an organization that’s all about awarding and giving attention to the best of the best from every year, nominate a film with a 52% overall score on Rotten Tomatoes and was not a critical or audience hit. I could think of 10 or so films that could take its spot. In short, I don’t like that it took one of those spots.

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Now then, let’s dive into the conundrum of the category of “Best Animated Feature”. The first question that comes up is what should be considered for a spot in this category? Well, since film is a visual medium and The Boss Baby does have some rather impressive animation, should that be enough to just have amazing animation? On the other hand, film does rely on a good story, writing, and characters. The Boss Baby, in terms of critic and audience reaction to it, was found to be lacking, so that should disqualify it from the running, despite having amazing animation. Does that mean the five contenders should have good writing, story, and characters? I mean, we kind of expect high quality animation for these awards. Even with this current conundrum, the voters wouldn’t be dumb enough to vote for something like Norm of the North.   But does that mean we should sacrifice the quality of the animation if we look at these award nominees in terms of story, writing, and characters?

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Okay then, so, what about the Academy itself? Can a lot of this be put on them? Well, we saw this coming when they announced that the voting pool was going to be open for all Academy members, and my overly hopeful editorial from last year thought it wouldn’t change. It’s not like it was a surprise that this could have happened. With this side of the argument, does that mean the Academy should bring back the voting limitations? On one hand, they probably should. You have a branch for the people that work in animation for this reason. Why on earth would you let outsiders who don’t know jack, and don’t even watch every film (which is funny since most foreign animated films are at the very least, 75 minutes long) into an area that was specially made for one group of voters and only that group of voters? You don’t tell a football player to bake a cake for a baking competition, why would you want anyone else, but the animation section of the academy to vote on this category? Then again, the entire point of opening up the voter account to non-animation individuals was to open up nominees of more casually popular films. I know that sounds like a bad idea, but then again, don’t we constantly criticize the Oscars for nominating and awarding critically acclaimed films that no one gets to see until like, the last minute on demand or a month before the awards? Shouldn’t we have more than what the critics got to see in limited screenings? You could argue they opened up the voting because animation is getting more recognition, since a lot of the most successful films of every year are animated films. At the same time though, the Academy is cynical about praising the best of the best, so why would they choose a film with such negative reviews to nominate, besides the obvious fact that DreamWorks marketed that film hard to the Academy?

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So, how would I solve this? I don’t know if I have a right answer to this situation. I mean, yeah, the obvious solution would be to gate off the animation section again, and have them vote for that section only. That way, something like The Boss Baby doesn’t get through again. Or, maybe the Academy needs to do something like the Annies, and have a US theatrical feature category and a foreign animated feature category to make it fair for both sides. I feel like the Academy needs to define what qualifies for certain categories, and not let it be handled by how much a studio is willing to give to individual voters. I feel like being more limiting would be regressive, and if we want to see improvement, and have more diverse films getting nominated, we need to be open to change. Maybe talking about how studios bribe/market their films to voters should be its own discussion, along with how if you are an Academy voter, you should watch every film being nominated. In the end, let’s be real, Coco is going to win, and The Boss Baby won’t. Let’s keep the conversation going though. What do you think about The Boss Baby being nominated? Do you think it deserves it? Doesn’t deserve it? Or do you think it’s a bigger problem with the Academy in general?

116: Ferdinand 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!)

I was talking to my friend the other day about something I never really thought about, do I care about the state of a studio because I’m a critic, and do only the critics and hardcore filmgoers care about the status of studios like Blue Sky Studios and Illumination Entertainment? I ask this question, since while critics are meant to judge a film, and focus more on the finer details, and break it down in a manner that makes sense, and to look beyond the film and at the studio at times. However, casual moviegoers are probably not invested as much with what the studio is doing and if they are evolving their craft or not. I do think that is somewhat changing. While people are still really fine with seeing Illumination Entertainments offerings, franchises like Ice Age, Transformers, and to a lesser degree, The Nut Job, recently bombed at the domestic box office in the states. Even though they sort of picked up traction overseas, there were signs that people were ready to move on, and find something different and more worth their time. I do think both critics and audiences do care about what a studio puts out, but the amount that casual moviegoers will put up with will vary. Hence, why I was curious to see how Ferdinand would do. Directed by Carlos Saldanha, and made by Blue Sky Studios, I thought Ferdinand was going to be an interesting film. I use interesting in the sense that this was the next film right after Ice Age: Collision Course, one of, if not, the worst-reviewed Blue Sky Studios film. I think after Collision Course, people were beginning to get weary and not really trust what the studio had coming next. The film was released December 15th here in the states, and while it got overall pretty solid reviews, its box office numbers were definitely a sluggish climb up past its $111 mil budget. I mean, then again, when you are going against Star Wars: The Last Jedi, your numbers may vary. It isn’t technically bombing, but I think it was obvious people were weary. Did they have a right to be? Well, let’s check it out.

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The story obviously revolves around Ferdinand, voiced by John Cena. Back in the day, he grew up in a bull fighting ranch where bull fighters go to pick the biggest and best bulls to fight. Of course, if you know anything about the source material, Ferdinand would rather smell the flowers and not fight. One night after escaping the ranch when he finds out his dad never came back, Ferdinand ends up being adopted by a flower farmer and his daughter. After spending years with them, Ferdinand grows to be gigantic in size. One day, when he decides to go to the flower festival to see his owners, an accident occurs with him looking like a giant monster. He then gets sent right back to the same bull farm from many years ago. It’s up to Ferdinand, along with his friends, to escape the horrific nature of bull fighting, and be free animals.

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So, I know the trailers for this film didn’t look the best, but if you actually watch it, there is honestly a lot of aspects to like. First up, let’s talk about John Cena as Ferdinand. It was a bit concerning, since while he has acted in films before, this was essentially his first major lead role. You simply don’t hear enough about good acting career stories from wrestlers. Luckily, Cena does a pretty good job as the lead. He’s likable, energetic, has decent comedic timing, and it was never distracting that he was the main character. In fact, a lot of the big downsides to Blue Sky Studios films are the fact that you never see the characters as characters, but as the celebrities who play them. Again, the celebrities are not distracting in this film. Sure, you can recognize a few by the tone of their voices alone, but they actually put in the time to act, and get into their own respected characters. Yes, not all of them are endearing, and some are annoying, but at least more effort was put into these performances than most bad animated films. I think my favorite performances came from the bull characters. Anthony Anderson, Peyton Manning, Bobby Cannavale, David Tennant, and Tim Nordquist were all distinct and fairly memorable. I think my favorite was David Tennant as Angus. He had the funniest delivery of the other bulls, but the rest hold their weight. I found the bulls’ chemistry to be more of the heart of the film, outside of Ferdinand and the family he grew up with.

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I also respect that the story does actually go the distance to a degree about the life of bull fighting and the sad fates of many bulls that either fight or are not up to par. Seriously, it was almost tonal whiplash that they do show what happens when bulls are not up to par, and the fact that for the most part, most bulls will die and never make it back after they fight. It was actually shocking, because much of this film is that pandering kids film vibe that you normally see in a Blue Sky Studios film. From time to time however, they will show off the darker side of bullfighting, and even let Ferdinand and some of the characters have moments of quiet. I think one of my favorite parts was when Ferdinand helped Angus out, and the two got to sit down and look at the beautiful landscape. I adore that this film went the extra mile to show that you don’t need constant comedy or loud noises to keep kids focused. It felt like it was trying to be something on the level of Pixar or Disney. I was honestly emotionally invested throughout a lot of the story. With the exception of the first Ice Age, Robots, and The Peanuts Movie, I’m usually fairly checked out of a lot of Blue Sky films, because they don’t always do a good job with making interesting stories and characters.

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In terms of animation, the film is very beautiful. It has a few faults that I will mention later, but the animation is fluid, it has a good energy to it, and the designs seem very old-school cartoon, exaggerated in terms of their designs and how they move. The backgrounds and field shots are lush, the colors are vibrant, and the human designs are pretty decent. It’s nice to see humans that don’t instantly look like something similar to Disney and Pixar. I even liked the music by John Powell and the obvious original songs by Nick Jonas.

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So, it’s all the more irritating that I have many complaints about Ferdinand as well. It’s so close to being a really good animated film, but it’s only good. Why? Well, because it has a tone problem. The calm and collected tone is constantly shoved to the side for more of the comedy/audience pandering aspects, like multiple side characters that don’t really offer much purpose to the main story, more childish humor, and a dance-off. The dance-off really sums up everything bad about the film. It comes out of nowhere, apparently everyone knows how to dance, and once it is finished, it is never mentioned again by any of the characters. I get that it probably tested well with test audiences that were full of kids, and while I did enjoy it to a degree, it’s distracting to the overall tone. The side characters outside of the bulls are not all that interesting. The hedgehogs, while played well by Gina Rodriguez, Daveed Diggs, and Gabriel Iglesias, don’t do much in the movie. Early footage from the first trailer made it look like they had more to do, but they don’t serve much of a purpose, outside of Ferdinand trying to get out of the bull ranch. The German show horses played by Flula Borg, Boris Kodjoe, and Sally Philips also have the same problem. You never see them after the bulls escape. Yes, I get that they sort of symbolize humans’ need to compete, but as characters that help progress the story, they didn’t do much. And yes, Kate McKinnon isn’t given good enough material to be tolerable. She’s not the worst, and I know she can be funny, but she comes off more annoying than anything else as the goat. Even the villain is not great. You have this bullfighter played by Miguel Angel Silvestre, who is just a boring villain. They had a lot of chances to make him more complex before and after the third act fight between him and Ferdinand, but they don’t do anything. The animation is pretty consistent, but the humans come off as clunky. It’s not a problem with them being snappy in their movements, it’s the fact that they look stiff. By the way, while they are minimal in how much they appear, no one likes twerk, butt, or fart jokes. Stop adding them into your movies, Blue Sky. I know they are not the only studios to do this with animated films, but they do it more often than others.

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In the end, Ferdinand is good, but it had so much lost potential. It succeeds in what it wanted to do, but it’s not a steady ride to the finish, and your experience may vary. There is a reason why this film dragged itself across a month or more due to the success of Coco and then having to deal with Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I see no harm in actually seeing this in theaters, and if you have children that have watched Coco to death in theaters, and can’t find a theater playing Mary and the Witch’s Flower, then definitely go see it or rent it. It’s an ultimately harmless film, and easily one of Blue Sky’s best offerings. Well, that was fun, but we shall now move on to more indie stuff as we look at GKids’ Birdboy: The Forgotten Children. Thanks for reading, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go see it