Chinese Film

160: Fantastica - A Boonie Bears Adventure Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: Lackluster!

140: Big Fish & Begonia 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!)

In the span of a few years, China has started to throw its hat into the ring of animation. They have now made it a goal to not just be the country other countries use for their animation, or the creator of a flood of mediocre features. While The Monkey King: Hero is Back was a good first step, I would hardly call it a good movie. The true first step for the country would come in the form of an animated feature that came out back in 2016, but finally got a release here in the states, Big Fish & Begonia. This unique and important title was the passion project behind the directors, Liang Xuan and Zhang Chun. It was based on a Chinese Taoist story called Zhuangzi, but apparently drew from other Chinese classic tales as well. After going through up to over a decade of financial troubles of getting funding, spending it, and lack of animation talent, the film was finally finished. It was picked up by Shout! Factory last year, and was a feature that people payed major attention to during film festivals, including being one of the big features of the Animation is Film Festival. So, was a decade of development worth the hype and final product? Well, let’s check it out.

The story follows Chu, dubbed by Stephanie Sheh. She is a 16 year-old girl who lives in a world that lies on the other side of the human world’s ocean. It’s full of powerful individuals and spirits. Chun has to go through a rite of passage, and venture into the human world as a red dolphin. While in the human world, Chun is smitten by a human male named Kun, dubbed by Todd Haberkorn. After a few days swimming around, Chun gets caught inside a fishing net, and Kun tries to save her. Luckily, he gets her out, but ends up drowning in the process. Feeling guilty as all get-out about Kun dying, Chun ends up going to a place called the Island of Souls to try and bring Kun back. She offers the caretaker, Ling Po, dubbed by JB Blanc, half of her life to bring Kun back. After that, she spends the next chunk of her life taking care of Kun as he grows bigger, and makes sure he can go back to the human world. The bad news is that while Kun is there, the world that she lives in is in major peril. Can she make sure Kun gets back alive? What is she willing to sacrifice to make sure that happens?

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A problem I see with many passion projects that take a good decade or so to fully complete is that the creators try to shove in too much into the film, and never think about cutting certain story elements, or redoing some of the script. Of course, animation can be a huge endeavor, and making changes on the fly can be costly, but you can run the risk of making the film feel too busy, bloated, and or unfocused. Unfortunately, a lot of the problems with Big Fish & Begonia is that there is too much going on. Much of the film is Chun’s relationship with Kun, and her learning about life, death, sacrifice, and the consequences to certain actions, but they shove in a lot of characters, and a lot of time spent with Chun over vast landscapes. I’ll admit, many of the logical issues I keep questioning throughout my time watching the film are probably more of a cultural thing, and how the film wants to be more of a fairy tale. However, how far can you go with those kinds of defenses until they become too distracting? How much homework does one need to do on Chinese culture to fully understand the magical logic used in the film? It shouldn’t turn into a homework project to fully get what’s going on, and who everyone is. I don’t mind learning about the culture, but the film should be explaining to me visually what’s going on. For example, there is this rat woman who is an obvious threat, but you don’t get why she wants to go to the human world, and you don’t see her again after a certain period of time. I mean, yes, you can tell by her design and the way she interacts with everyone, that she is a threat, but why? I also get that having Kun stay in their world brings upon a lot of damage and danger, but why? Why does having a human spirit cause such chaos? The story also goes at a rather fast pace. It’s not a truly horrible thing, but I think the film’s atmosphere and emotional investment would have been stronger if they let some time pass between certain moments. While Studio MiR, the same studio behind Avatar: The Last Airbender and Netflix’s Voltron series, has some breathtaking animation done for Big Fish & Begonia, its use of CGI is definitely distracting. It’s not as bad as, say, Blue Submarine No. 6, but you can always tell when it’s CGI. It becomes more distracting when you see the giant flying whales that look like something out of that Fantasia 2000 short.

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With all that said, Big Fish & Begonia has great elements in its overall package. Like I said above, the animation is gorgeous. The backgrounds are awe inspiring, the designs are whimsical, the movements are fluid, and it’s an incredible visual feast for the eyes. You can tell there was a heavy dose of passion throughout this entire film’s visual presentation. It’s an incredible treat for the eyes that you need to see on the biggest screen you can. I even regret not seeing this one when it came out in my neck of the woods! As for the dub, I have seen both the original with subtitles, and the dub that Funimation helped out with. I think the cast is pretty stellar that includes actors such as Stephanie Sheh, Johnny Yong Bosch, Todd Haberkorn, JB Blanc, Cindy Robinson, Yuri Lowenthal, Greg Chun, Kate Higgins, Kyle Hebert, Erika Ishii, and Cam Clarke. The music by Kiyoshi Yoshida is full of that Chinese flair. It’s fantastical, mystical, and epic when needed. You might have heard of his name and his music if you have seen The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, where he did the soundtrack for that film. Another strong element is the relationship between Chun, Kun, and Chun’s friend Qui, dubbed by Johnny Yong Bosch. Most of the time you see Chun and Kun together is done with very little dialogue. The visuals tell the story, which, you know, is sort of important in a visual medium like animation.

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Big Fish & Begonia might be a bit of a mess, but it’s an important film for China and the Chinese animation scene. If you watch the trailers or clips, and you think you would like this film, I definitely recommend checking it out. It’s an impressive start, and I hope that means that other 2D animated projects that are going on over in China, can start raising the bar as time goes on. Well, after this, I definitely need something a bit zanier, a bit more focused, and maybe something that can make the night go on forever. Next time, we are going to check out Masaaki Yuasa’s other hit film, The Night is Short, Walk on Girl. Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

 

138: Flavors of Youth 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!)

In general, a problem I keep seeing within the animation scene is that twitch reaction to when something like a film or show hits it big, and then everyone and their long dead grandma wants to jump in on the hype. It leads to a profitable, but artistically limited batch of shows or films that want to be like that one popular thing, but only go so far. Sure, some films or shows break out and form their own bit of popularity and greatness, and this is nothing new, but you would think studios would make sure to play the long game, and keep doing what makes them great. For example, due to the success of Your Name, we are getting a slew of teen romance films with fantastical quirks. We already had A Silent Voice, which was pretty good, Fireworks, which was not, and now we have a studio that pretty much asked the studio that made Your Name to make a movie that is essentially a Makoto Shinkai film, Flavors of Youth. This is a Chinese/Japanese collaboration with the Japanese animation studio, CoMix Wave Films. It was put together by Li Haoling, who was inspired by Makoto Shinkai’s 5 Centimeters Per Second. It was then distributed by Netflix here in the states recently, but, thanks to Netflix, I don’t really hear anyone talk about it. Let’s see if this anthology rises above as its own thing, or falls flat as it tries to be like Makoto Shinkai’s other work.

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The first short is called Rice Noodles, and is directed by Jiaoshou Yi Xiaoxing. It’s about a young man named Xiao Ming, dubbed by Crispin Freeman, who reminisces about his love for a rice noodle dish he would get in his childhood. It brings back loving memories of him and his grandmother, a girl he had a crush on, and his youth.

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The second short is called A Little Fashion Show, and is directed by the lone Japanese director of the group, Yoshitaka Takeuchi. It’s about a fashion model named Yi Lin, dubbed by Evan Rachel Wood. She lives with her younger sister, and is going through the typical trials of being a fashion model, like age, personal life ordeals, and the ever-growing competition for younger models.

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The final short is directed by Li Haoling, the creator of the overall project, and the story is called Shanghai Love. It follows a young man named Limo, dubbed by Ross Butler. He is moving into a new downtown apartment that is near a couple of old buildings that hold nostalgic memories of his childhood friendship, his crush, and the changing landscape of Shanghai. He does this by listening to some old cassette tapes.

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So, what does this anthology get right? Well, I found two out of the three stories to be very interesting. The Rice Noodles story was probably my favorite out of the three, because I think everyone can connect a piece of their childhood to a dish, and how the unfortunate constant movement of time will cause things to change. Sure, not being able to regain that feeling of the past can feel soul crushing, but it’s never truly gone from you. The three stories revolve around a Chinese idiom, that translates to “clothing, food, housing, and transport”. I can definitely see how some of that idiom is used, as in the Rice Noodles short. There are also themes of dealing with regrets, as the second and third short have more plot elements dealing with actions from the past, and somehow making amends with said actions to make a better future. I think there will definitely be something for everyone to connect to within these three stories.

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Animation-wise, it looks pretty good from what you can expect from a Chinese/Japanese co-production. I have my issues with certain elements of its appearance, but only because I hold the animation studio, CoMix Waves to a high standard, due to their more recent work being downright beautiful. It still looks good, and has more polish than most anime films. I also enjoyed the music for the three shorts. It was mostly very calming, and set more in the background, but it fit the mood that the three shorts were going for. The dub is a mixed bag, but overall, it’s more good than bad. I liked Crispin Freeman in the first short, and how he captured the somber, but uplifting tone found in the main character during the Rice Noodles short.

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I think the biggest problem with Flavors of Youth is that while it can definitely be called its own thing in a lot of areas, like the story and setting, it never got rid of that feeling that this did feel like another Makoto Shinkai film. I get that the chief director/person in charge of this project was inspired by one of Shinkai’s first films, but I didn’t see unique visions. I saw directors trying to copy what Makoto Shinkai does. I know I can dish out some tough criticisms towards Shinkai, but at least when I was watching a film of his, I knew that it was his work. The art also isn’t as good as Shinkai’s other films. Sure, they look prettier than most series, but you get the feeling that they missed out on Shinkai’s little touches and bits of flair. I found the animation to also be stiffer. While the studio’s usual designs were not always the most interesting or memorable, they moved beautifully. The overall feel of the stories felt like they needed some more time to be fleshed out. The middle one with the fashion model feels the longest, due to how bored I got. It was a story with no real twists or turns with some rather generic story bits that come with the storyline. The first short also relies too much on the narration. It makes you wonder if the short would have been better if you didn’t have it, and expressed everything through music and the visuals. I also know that the voice actor, Ross Butler’s first role was in this film in the third story, but I found it to be the worst part of the English dub. He sounds so bored and disinterested. Even in the most emotional moments, he sounded wooden. I’m sure he’s a nice guy, and maybe he will improve, but either he wasn’t putting in his all, or the director didn’t tell him that we weren’t in the 90s anime dub scene, and people need to start, well, emoting.

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Your enjoyment of Flavors of Youth will probably vary depending on your standards and hype for this animation studio. As a whole, I think it worked, but the hang-ups for me were really distracting. I definitely recommend checking it out, because unless you can catch the smaller animation releases, this will have to do until Small Foot comes out near the end of September. I respect this production, and I hope more projects come from this collaboration, and we get more anthologies with beautiful animation and interesting stories. Speaking of limited releases, I think it’s time to review one of two Mamoru Hosoda films I have yet to do with Summer Wars. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

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!

The Other Side of Animation 79: The Monkey King: Hero is Back

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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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So, if I told you that I found an animated film from China that is pretty solid, would you believe me? I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t believe me. There has always been this stigma of China going for a quantity-over-quality style of filmmaking, and yeah, when you realize just how many animated films they make, it definitely shows how low the quality can be. I’m sure there are plenty of good animated films from China, but since most are never brought over here unless Lionsgate has  another bad spending day, then I won’t know about them. Granted, there are some great looking animated films coming out that are really promising. Today’s review is one of those promising films from China, Monkey King: Hero is Back. This was released in 2015, and has the noteworthy title of being China’s highest grossing animated film of all time. Well, until Kung Fu Panda 3 and Zootopia overtook it, but still. In terms of just China-made animated films, it’s the highest grossing animated film from that country. It’s weird because there were so many movies based on the Monkey King, and they got passable reviews. What about this film specifically made a dent in terms of films based on such a mystical character? Well, let’s find out.

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The story revolves a young boy who lives with a monk, played by James Hong, after his parents were killed by trolls. One day, the boy’s town is attacked by the same trolls from long ago. The boy does escape them, but ends up falling into a cave and accidentally awakens the imprisoned Monkey King, voiced by Jackie Chan. The Monkey King really doesn’t want anything to do with the kid, but is then forced into a quest of taking down an evil lord, voiced by Feodor Chin. Can the great Monkey King take down the evil force and bond with the young boy?

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I will start out with the negatives about this film; it might have the worst dub job that I have seen so far. It’s so rushed and poorly synced that it wouldn’t be a shock if they did this dubbing in an afternoon. I mean, it feels like no effort was put into having the voices sync up with the lip movements. The actors also didn’t put in much into their performances. It’s like they knew this was a trainwreck, and that they were going to be in a better animated film together with Kung Fu Panda 3, so they didn’t put too much effort into their roles. Even this annoying comedic side character played by Roger Craig Smith has a, “I really don’t care that I’m here” attitude. Or, maybe they were trying their best, and the individual in charge of the dub wasn’t doing their job! The film is also very annoying in terms of humor, with a lot of pandering fart jokes and other jokes that don’t really work. It’s distracting, and makes the film-going experience tough to sit through, since sitting through a movie with very bad jokes is a massive chore.

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The animation is also not really impressive. Granted, we are seeing small signs that China is getting better with their animation quality, but the CGI is pretty low level, and the animations are stiff when there aren’t any fight sequences or grand movements on screen. Textures are low quality, but the designs are fine. They aren’t anything amazing, but when you have seen how ugly bad foreign CGI character designs can be, it’s higher-up on the totem pole than most. The story is also very generic. On top of not really explaining how a few incidences in the film happened, it’s a very Hollywoodized version of the Monkey King legend that is apparently the biggest property to make films out of in China. I mean, I get it, since the US has the biggest turn-on for most young adult novels that have no right in being made into movies. The characters are not that interesting either. They were boring, generic, or really annoying. I don’t get the deal behind having an annoying kid team up with the lead character, who is much more interesting. The kid was really grating, and I don’t know if I’m right about this, but I think the creators knew that since there were way too many times in the movie where the kid would have or should have died. They did it just to annoy people. It even takes the weight out of the final climatic fight scene, because they don’t kill the kid in the end. I mean, why would you do that? It’s like when they “killed” Superman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and then teased at the very end that he’s coming back. Like, yeah, now you have ruined that character’s story arc. I don’t get why you would do that. Unless this was some clever Edgar Wright comedy, you shouldn’t ruin something like a death of a major character.

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So, what is actually good about this movie? Well, out of all the Chinese CGI trainwrecks that I can think of, The Monkey King: Hero is Back (and I still don’t get why they couldn’t fix that weird title) is at the very least watchable. It’s not something like Gods of Egypt or Norm of the North, where watching it is a chore. While it can get annoying, The Monkey King: Hero is Back does at the very least have some tension and investment in taking down the demon lord. The fights are also fun to watch. You can tell a lot of the budget and effort went into these sequences. While they never reach the heights of the Kung Fu Panda series or Kubo and the Two Strings, they are still entertaining enough to get you through the slog of bad jokes and horrible voicework. While the villain wasn’t anything that interesting, I at least enjoyed the campy personality, and the final fight with him and the Monkey King was fun to watch.

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While I totally get why this film got so much acclaim, I still don’t think it is all that great. It’s just very average. The only real reason to rent this film on any occasion would be because of its legacy and its status. Maybe if you can find this film for $5 or less, I could recommend it, but if you want good kung fu/action in animated form, just get the Kung Fu Panda trilogy or Kubo and the Two Strings. There are a ton of animated films that have much better action sequences and just better overall experiences that you should check out before even putting money down on The Monkey King: Hero is Back. It’s a shame since if the story and animation was better, I would have easily called this film the hidden gem of 2016, but that title goes to Mune: Guardian of the Moon and 25 April. Well, I’ll say this. I would rather watch The Monkey King: Hero is Back much more than what the next review will tackle. I won’t say what it is, but it is quite possibly the biggest flop in terms of animation from 2016. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Rent it.

Hit-or-Miss Movie Predictions: Rock Dog


(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!)

Welcome back to Hit-or-Miss Movie Predictions! This is where I give my first impressions of upcoming animated films, and point out the good, the bad, and the interesting. In the end, I shall predict if it will be a hit, a miss, or something different altogether.

When I started these editorials talking about upcoming movies, these were never meant to be a set-in-stone prediction. How many times have we seen a movie or played a game that we all thought would be a failure, but then turned out to be amazing, or films that should have been amazing, but then became failures? Anyway, these are just my thoughts and opinions on the upcoming animated films and I am not making instant predictions. Even if the film is just asking for snap judgements like DreamWorks’ Trolls or Lionsgate’s upcoming The Wild Life, which we will talk about at a later date since they are both trainwrecks just asking for snap judgments. With that said, let’s get going with today’s impression of Rock Dog, a CGI animated film collaboration between China and Reel FX studios, the same studio behind The Book of Life. What do I think of this upcoming flick? Well, let’s find out! If you want to form your own opinion, here is a link to the trailer!

Animation/Art Direction

To be frank, this looks a lot better than what you would think of a Chinese-funded animated film, since so many that come out of the country look really bad in terms of theater-quality animation. Rock Dog actually looks pretty solid. The textures and some of the animation seen in the trailer could be better, but the overall presentation looks theater-quality enough to not get the “the animation looks like a made-for-TV/direct to DVD” criticism when it comes out. I think that’s because the two Chinese companies that are making this film, Huayi Brothers and Mandoo Pictures, outsourced the animation to be done by Reel FX, the same studio that made The Book of Life and Free Birds. It’s an interesting situation since most companies would rather outsource their projects to foreign companies to do all the heavy lifting. Anyway, in terms of the art style shown off in the trailer, it appears good. At least it looks different than the DreamWorks and Pixar rip-offs that are coming out.

Humor

Just going off of the first trailer since future trailers love to show off that there are in fact potty humor-style jokes (which are stupid), the humor seems more down to earth. Nothing too lowbrow, but I won’t be surprised if there was one crude joke slipped into the whole film that doesn’t work. It seems like this film is more about telling a story, and not trying to cram in jokes every five minutes. I’m down for a film that wants to be good harmless entertainment in the humor department.

Story

The plot revolves around a Tibetan mastiff named Bodi, voiced by Luke Wilson. After obtaining a radio that fell from the sky, he becomes obsessed with music. This doesn’t go over well with his father, Khampa, voiced by J.K. Simmons who wants Bodi to be the next village guard. Bodi decides to travel to the city to find a super popular artist named Angus Scattergood, voiced by Eddie Izzard. While this is all going on, a wolf named Linnux, voiced by Lewis Black, decides to take advantage of this situation by trying to kidnap Bodi so he can take over Bodi’s home village. Can Bodi realize his musical destiny, or will Linnux win out?

Casting

While not the biggest named cast, the overall list of actors they got for this film is still solid nonetheless. The cast include Luke Wilson, Eddie Izzard, J.K. Simmons, Lewis Black, Kenan Thompson, Jorge Garcia, Mae Whitman, Matt Dillon, and Sam Elliot.

Concerns

Well, for one, it seems like it’s going to come out when Illuminations’ SING comes out, which is another animal-oriented movie with a major theme of music. Granted, Rock Dog at least looks less cynical that SING. And yes, I will be talking about SING when another trailer is released, but so far, I’m not impressed. I just worry that Rock Dog is going to be overshadowed by another film that probably won’t be that good in the first place, which has happened to a lot of movies, like Kung Fu Panda 2 and any film from GKIDS. Also, I wonder how people feel about a Chinese-funded film starring a character from Tibet. I don’t know, maybe I’m looking too much into that element.

Prediction: Unknown

I really don’t know where this one will go. I can see it being an honest-to-goodness good movie, or a harmless underwhelming flick. That is more than I can say for what Lionsgate has coming out this year coughs The Wild Life coughs. Another high point for this film to succeed is that the director, Ash Brannon, has worked on hit movies in the past in different areas of development in films like Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Over the Hedge, and was a co-director for Toy Story 2 and Surf’s Up. Who knows, all we can do is wait and see once Rock Dog is released later this year.