Benjamin Renner

142: The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

Animation Tidbits #2: What's Cam Looking Forward To? 5/5/17

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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, in my personal life, I love to make emails about a bunch of upcoming films for my family, who may or may not know much about what’s coming out. I recently did an email with all the upcoming animated films that are being released here in the states or somewhere around the world where I hope they get a stateside release. I decided to make a series of Animation Tidbits, where I show off some trailers or clips of upcoming animated films that have caught my eye. Now, some of these are already well known, but I’m sure many people have not heard of many of the films listed in this editorial. Let’s get started.

Early Man 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLTDY9yZDRM&w=560&h=315]

Up first is the trailer for Nick Park’s newest stop-motion feature, Early Man. I mean, I love Aardman Entertainment and all of their films. I don’t see why I shouldn’t be up for this one. While I don’t usually get super-hyped for big-named cast members in general anymore, I think Early Man has an incredible cast, including Tom Hiddleston (Marvel films, The Night Manager), Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), Timothy Spall (The Last Samurai, Enchanted, and Sweeney Todd), and Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones). Unfortunately, I have to wait until 2018 for this promising flick.

Coco

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While Cars 3 doesn’t technically look terrible, and it does seem like Pixar wants to make a good movie from this flawed and merchandise-spewing trilogy, Pixar’s original film is what I’m looking forward to more. Yes, it’s another animated film based on Day of the Dead, and I do know the pointless turf war Coco fans and The Book of Life fans brought up with each other on Twitter with the two films’ directors, but it’s Pixar. I know their recent track record has been bumpy, but I usually feel like I can be excited and love their original content. The voice cast for this film is also pretty stellar with Benjamin Bratt, Gael Garcia Bernal, Renee Victor, and newcomer Anthony Gonzalez. Hopefully, this becomes another great original film in Pixar’s line up.

Wolfwalkers

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BL_RH3P6Cz0&w=560&h=315]

I’m patiently waiting (badly) to hear a release date, and for GKids to pick this film up. Wolfwalkers is the next film by two-time Oscar-nominated director Tomm Moore, who was the director of Song of the Sea, and The Secret of Kells. The animation looks beautiful, you can sense and feel the atmosphere and Irish cultural elements, and it’s a downright gorgeous 2D animated film. I do wish the movie-going world would give this director and the super talented team at Cartoon Saloon a lot of support.

Gatta Cenerentola

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Or as it’s known in English, Cat Cinderella. This is the first obscure film that I hope gets an English release. It’s an Italian CGI animated film, using mostly motion-capture for the animation. It’s a modern dark take on the Cinderella story, and it looks amazing. I know the movements can come off as clunky, since motion-capture can be finicky if not done correctly, but I think the tone, setting, and the idea will elevate it. Plus, it has a gorgeous art style, and I could listen to that song in the trailer all day.

The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales

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If you watched the amazing Ernest & Celestine, the art style should look familiar to you, since one of the directors of the film, Benjamin Renner is behind this film. It’s based off of his comic, and while the trailer is in French, you can pretty much understand what is going on. It has good animation, a great sense of humor, and it’s just adorable. Hopefully, GKids can pick this one up.

Calamity

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One of my favorite films from last year was the French film, Long Way North. While I think it went under the radar way too much last year, the same group that made Long Way North are back with another female lead-driven film. While it might be based on the historical figure, Calamity Jane, the filmmakers are taking on the character in their own story. I know that might be a bad idea in some cases, but Long Way North was so fantastic, and these guys know what they are doing.

 Icarus

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While I love a lot of the films on this list, I think Icarus has me the most excited in terms of the setting. It’s a mixed-media animated film, using CGI and beautiful 2D animation. It makes the three Greek Gods, Zeus, Poseidon, and Aphrodite not just Gods, but Newspaper Journalist Gods as they try to weave interesting tales out of Greek Mythology for the paper. First off, the idea itself is awesome. I could see a lot of commentary about journalistic integrity, and how a lot of sites like to use clickbait-style headlines for not very interesting stories. I also love the combination of CGI and the lovely 2D animation. You just watch the trailer, and you get a lot of great visual eye candy. It also helps that there is a Pixar Veteran directing the film named Carlos Volgele. I just love the idea, and I definitely want GKids or Shout! Factory to bring it over.

Well, there you have it. These are the animated films that I am looking forward to at this point in time. I will do these from time to time when I find enough films to warrant a list like this, but do expect more of these. I might do these more so than a “Most Anticipated Films of –insert year here-“lists. Thanks for reading, and I hope you all have a good day!

The Other Side of Animation: Ernest & Celestine Review

 
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For the first review for The Other Side of Animation, I struggled to pick the first film to talk about. I could have talked about one of my recent favorites, Tom Moore’s Song of the Sea, which was nominated for an Oscar, but lost to Disney’s Big Hero 6. I could have also talked about the vibrantly beautiful Azur and Asmar: The Princes’ Quest by famed French writer and director Michel Ocelot. However, while I will get to those movies in due time, I wanted this first review to be special. This Oscar-nominated film, Ernest & Celestine, was directed by Stèphane Aubier, Vincent Patar, and French cartoonist Benjamin Renner. If you have heard of the first two directors, Aubier and Patar, that is because they made a stop-motion animated film called A Town Called Panic back in 2009. The film was produced by Didier Brunner, who has been around the French animation scene with collaborations with Michel Ocelot on Tales of the Night, Sylvain Chomet’s The Old Lady and the Pigeons and The Triplets of Belleville, and Michel Ocelot’s Kirikou and the Sorceress. Not only that, but he also helped out Tom Moore with his first major film, The Secret of Kells. Now then, shall we get started? Is Ernest & Celestine a classic that should have gotten more attention?

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The story is set in this strange world where mice live underground, and bears live above-ground. The main focus is on a little mouse girl named Celestine, voiced by Makenzie Foy of Twilight fame. The adult mice send Celestine above-ground to obtain a cub’s tooth from a family of bears who live above the candy store, in order to replace their own teeth. In the process, she gets trapped in a trash can. The next day, she ends up meeting a hungry bear named Ernest, voiced by Forest Whitaker. What results in this meet-up is a powerful bond of friendship, outrunning the police, and tackling the challenges that their societies have brought upon them.

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So, what do I really love about Ernest & Celestine? I mean, I started this series off with this one movie, so it must be pretty fantastic, right? Well, not to spoil anything, but I am going to explain why this movie is amazing. First off, let’s talk about the story. It’s pure and simple, but its execution is where it shines. It doesn’t have an overarching villain, or annoying side characters, or musical numbers. The main appeal of the story is the focus on the relationship between Ernest and Celestine. It’s charming, heartwarming, funny, and it feels genuine. Both Ernest and Celestine are likable characters that you can connect with, due to them being in a world where society tells them that they should do one thing and not another. Due to how simple the story is, there is more time spent on focusing on the relationship between Ernest and Celestine. It’s nothing romantic or off-putting, it’s a wholesome and easy-to-relate-to friendship. You get such a warm feeling when you watch the two of them bond. This is especially true with the final scene in the film. There is also a clever bit of commentary about discrimination, and running a business racket. What do I mean by that last example of commentary? Well, Nick Offerman’s character is a candy store owner. He makes sure to rot people’s teeth out with delicious sweets. That’s fine and all, but where do the bears go to get replacements? Why not head over right across the street to the teeth store that is owned by the wife of Nick Offerman’s character? I found this bit of commentary funny.

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The animation is outstanding. This is some of the slickest animation I have ever seen. The fact that it looks like watercolor makes it stand out even more. Every character is incredibly expressive, and a good example of that is when Ernest and Celestine are in Ernest’s house, and she is expressing her hatred for glue traps. The expression on Ernest’s face as Celestine goes into detail about why the glue traps are torturous is hilarious. The slick animation also helps out with some of the best scenes from the movie, like the underground to above-ground chase scene. It just screams old-fashioned movie making, with well-executed stunts and slapstick that you would see in the very early days of film. The animation also leads to some incredibly artistic and creative sequences. For example, there is a scene where the two need to hide the delivery fan that they got away in. Instead of just putting a cloth over it, they paint the entire vehicle to look like the environment around them. Another great scene where the animation is expressive is when Ernest plays the violin. It reminds me of something out of Fantasia, where the artist animated what they heard through the music.

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The voicework is phenomenal. Each character in the English dub is well-casted. Forest Whitaker voices Ernest, Makenzie Foy is Celestine, and the rest of the cast includes big names like William H. Macy, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Paul Giamatti, Jeffrey Wright, and the late Lauren Bacall.  The music is also extremely well-executed. Composer Vincent Courtois brings us music that is elegant, charming, heartwarming, and energetic when needed. If I had to pick my favorite track, I think it has to be the song at the end of the film, and rightfully so, is the film’s theme song. I might not understand the French lyrics, but I always feel calm and collected, and have a smile on my face each time I listen to it.

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If I had to say one little nitpick that doesn’t detract anything from the movie, there is a sequence where both Ernest and Celestine go through a nightmare where they each know that they are both there for one another. It happens in a span of five minutes, and I felt like they could have put maybe a minute or two more between both nightmare sequences.

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Outside of that, Ernest & Celestine is a fantastic movie. It’s one of my favorite movies, and one of the best animated films of the past couple of years. If you are tired of seeing films done in the same formulaic Disney style, and want something more in the vein of when Pixar is on a roll, then I would highly recommend you buy this movie. I don’t know what else to say, but get a copy and enjoy it! Now then, how about I dip my toes into some Irish animation next with Song of the Sea? See you next time on The Other Side of Animation!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials