Ferdinand

Let's Fix the Animation Scene Part 3: Award Season

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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!)

Here we are! This is Part 3 of this continuous animation editorial. I know it will end for right now with this section, but I think we can talk about individual films or film studios in the future. For now, let’s talk about the Award Season! We recently had the Golden Globes, and are going to be heading into the Academy Awards soon. I know many say, well, why should I care? Because there are obvious problems with the current way award seasons are being held, and are suffering because of it. You can only say “I don’t care” or “this is fine” until it becomes a problem that can’t be pushed away. You can say you don’t care, but deep down you do. After the “controversy” of last year where Ferdinand and The Boss Baby got nominated for Best Animated Feature alongside Coco, Loving Vincent, and The Breadwinner, there needs to be some course correction. So, these are my two cents on what I would do. There’s nothing I can do about it right now, but who knows! Maybe in the future, they will start doing some of these changes. Let’s get started.

Define what gets into the five Best Animated Feature slots!

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So, let’s talk about this first part. Should there be a definition for Best Animated Feature? When you look at the reviews for the five films from 2017, two stood out. The Boss Baby’s overall Rotten Tomatoes score was one of the lowest scores for an animated film being nominated for Best Animated Feature alongside Shark Tale, and Ferdinand’s overall score was just above average. We can go into the intricate details of Rotten Tomatoes another time. This definitely caused film and animation fans to turn their heads with loud spit takes. So, how did these two films make it over The Big Bad Fox & Other Tales, The LEGO Batman Movie, Window Horses, The Girl Without Hands, Napping Princess, A Silent Voice, and Mary and the Witch’s Flower? Well, maybe the definition on what qualifies for the five slots should be clearer. Is it the quality of animation? Well, they all had pretty good animation in their own respective ways, so that shouldn’t just be the case, or else The Girl Without Hands would have definitely gotten one of the spots. Is it the quality of the writing? If that was the case, The Boss Baby and Ferdinand, while not being as bad as toxic individuals make them out to be, did not have as strong writing as say, Coco or Loving Vincent. It’s not just one thing that makes an animated film great, and we will get to For Your Consideration Campaigns later on in the editorial. Maybe there needs to be tighter rules for the nominations, like…

Maybe gate off the lesser received animated features?

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Now, that doesn’t sound fair, right? What makes someone’s work more awards worthy than another? Again, I’m simply spit-balling ideas here. Well, if the award shows like the Oscars want to be about “the best of the best”, then maybe not letting films like The Boss Baby or the infamous Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close get nominated for the major awards of their categories. No one goes out to make a bad movie. Even making a self-aware film that knows it’s fairly cheesy and schlocky, has to have effort put into it.  Maybe there does need to be a certain entry fee in terms of the overall reception of the movie that makes or breaks your entry into the awards? Let’s be real here, if The Boss Baby and Ferdinand were getting universal acclaim, no one would have had an issue with them getting nominated. Sure, maybe not bringing in the review scores into the calculation seems tough, because film is subjective. However, if you want to be awarding or nominating the best films of any category, then films that get certain scores below a certain number shouldn’t be allowed into the competition. While films like Illumination’s The Grinch are major money-makers, that shouldn’t be the only reason it makes it onto the list, because the reviews of it are not all that great. It would mean that the Academy either picks the five best reviewed animated features, or just have three or four films nominated that year, because the rest were not all that stellar in the Hollywood animation scene. Still, that won’t fix the problem that…

The animation section of the award organizations should be the only ones voting for animation!

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Yeah, while it might have been a good idea on paper to open up the voting of Best Animated Feature to everyone at the Academy or the Globes, or whatever, there is a reason the Academy has an animation branch. Why on earth would you dissolve that section, if you made it for the specific reason to vote on the Best Animates Features and Best Animated Shorts category? That’s like having expert meat people letting a vegetarian grade a side of beef. Other arms of the Academy don’t have the knowledge or the awareness of how animation works, or the fact that foreign/indie features exist. This bleeds opportunity for For Your Consideration Campaigns to strike at voters who may not know better, or even care about animation. It doesn’t help either that…

The Academy members/Globe Critics/everyone need to watch all the submissions!

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Listen, it’s been well known that members of the Academy and other award groups do not watch all of the submissions. I mean, on one hand, having to take time to watch over 50+ films for multiple categories, takes up a lot of time on a really tight schedule for the voters. On the other hand, since most of the members in the Academy are actors, tech individuals, producers, directors, and so on, you look like a jerk if you do not watch the work by other members. It also gives the short hand to films that are not as recognizable as the big budget flicks. It’s funny, because despite having multiple nominations under their belt, GKids are still held as this oddity, which isn’t fair to the hard-working people of that company, and the studios, animators, composers, and actors that worked on those films. You owe it as a member of the Academy to watch all the submissions for the animation category. You are essentially discriminating against films that are not US-made. Maybe if you saw the ones that weren’t good, you can skip them, but watch the ones you haven’t seen. Who knows, maybe GKids would be raking in more awards if it didn’t have to compete with Disney, Pixar, or DreamWorks. So…

Should the Oscars and other award groups pull an Annie?

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So, for those that don’t know what I’m talking about, the Annie awards are an animation-focused award show. A few years back, they decided to do a foreign/indie category so films like Mirai, Ernest & Celestine, Loving Vincent, and In This Corner of the World could have a chance. They would get their own award category, because they honestly deserved just as much recognition, and sometimes more recognition than the big budget Hollywood films. Granted, doing so might come off like giving the foreign/indie films a “kid’s table” award, but maybe this could be a “Best US-made Animated Feature” and a “Best Foreign/Indie Animated Feature” situation that could be fruitful, and then have a third animation category that is like Best Animated picture or something. It would mean other companies like Funimation, Elevenarts, and Shout! Factory would have a chance alongside GKids to be nominated for awards. Because, as it is right now, the one thing preventing true competition between big budget and foreign animation releases are…

Beware the For Your Consideration Campaigns! Fix them!

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I get it. These marketing campaigns cost money, but if they pay off, it means people’s interests will be piqued, and that means more people will go see the film, which means more money. However, can we please stop having them be so invasive? How many times have these campaigns actually backfired and earned the studios and filmmakers ridicule? Like, there was Shark Tales, and then there was, again, the infamous Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close campaign. It got no other major awards outside of one Best Picture nomination from the Academy. I’m sure that’s what you want to be remembered for, right? Being an incredibly terrible film that paid its way into one award nom? I’m also simply tired of these campaigns being the reason you voted for the film in question, but not the film itself. Did you watch the film? Did you vote for it, because you thought it deserved the award most, or because a company spammed you with its campaign? I would rather vote for a film that I liked, and thought it deserved it, more than being harassed or manipulated by campaigns. I heard some changes were made to the rules of how campaigns can be handled, but it was hard for me to find the specific changes. Remember, vote on which animated film you think should win, and not because of some dumb campaign, or you being a stubborn mule in not checking out all of the nominees. 

There we go! Part three is done, and I think I’m done talking about this topic for a while. That is, unless the voters decide to misuse the votes, and give me plenty of ammunition to talk about the Academy some more.

Worst to Best Animated Features of 2017 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!)

Welcome to part 2 of the list! If you have not yet read part 1, then please do so to see films that will not be on this part of the list. We are counting down from the worst to best of the animation offerings from 2017!

28. The Nut Job 2

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While it’s a marginally better sequel with better animation, better physical gags, a decent villain, and more entertaining voice work, it’s still not much better than the original. It’s still annoying, filled with annoying characters, and underutilizes its gimmicks. The Jackie Chan mouse is barely used. If you are going to have Jackie Chan, use him! Plus, this was only greenlit because the first one made money in a slow month back in 2014. Well, I hope the company that’s going under hoped it was worth the cash they spent and lost on it.

27. Batman & Harley Quinn

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While slightly better than many of the mediocre DC-animated features, it’s still a mess, no matter how you look at it. Most of the jokes don’t work, it’s too focused on Harley Quinn fan service, the story abruptly ends, and the animation quality dropped a lot in certain scenes. However, when the jokes did land, it was a laugh riot, and probably has one of the best mid-credit scenes out of any DC movie. It’s also always nice to see Kevin Conroy as Batman. Not the best, but not the worst, it’s pretty much okay.

26. Blame!

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It might have some fun fight sequences, some creepy designs, and a decent twist that caught me off-guard, this film works better as a world-builder than anything else. I didn’t care much for the characters, the animation was clunky, and sometimes, it looked like they duplicated character models. It has its moments, but I can see why this one got buried.

25. Smurfs: The Lost Village

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Man, even being the best of the films based on the Smurfs franchise still doesn’t mean much. It has visually beautiful animation, pleasant designs, good voice work, and some likable characters, but it seemed like they stopped halfway through production, and made it another forgettable animated feature. I do like a couple of aspects of it, but it still could have been better.

24. The Boss Baby

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I do think the hate this film got back then and still does is a bit much. It’s really not a bad movie. It has some of the best animation from 2017, some good laughs, and physical comedy that made me watch it as a film to just turn on and chill to. However, I still found the emotional investment of the characters to be lacking, because I never cared about what happened. It also shouldn’t have been nominated for Best Animated Feature, but it’s been almost a year now, and it’s time to let that go. I’m also not really looking forward to the sequel, but I hope it can be just as zany and visually entertaining as this one.

23. Despicable Me 3

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Man, this franchise got to the third film fast! While I think it’s technically the best one of the franchise, with great animation, a fun villain, the Minions not being in the film a lot, and Gru still being the best character of this entire franchise, it still falls flat. It had so many potential story arcs that it could have been fleshed out, but it chose to be the safest animated feature of 2017. Sooner or later, Illumination, you will need to start putting more emotional effort into your films, or people are going to get tired of the Minions and this franchise fast.

22. Cars 3

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Speaking of being the best film in an alright franchise, Cars 3 was a surprise. While it has its own pacing problems, more wasted potential with its story and villains, it also has the best animation, some of the story moments were touching, and Lightning is more worthy of my time than in the other films. It’s still the final film in a trilogy that gave Pixar their first official bad movie, but still.

21. Ferdinand

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While I can definitely still be mad that this film wimped out on its more serious tone, it’s forced family film tropes, and how it also shouldn’t have been nominated for Best Animated Feature, I still found myself really enjoying Ferdinand. It has some of Blue Sky’s most likable characters, best voice work, and some of the darkest story moments. I just wish it committed to its tone and not take the easy way out.

20. Teen Titans: The Judas Contract

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I could complain about how Brother Blood is a weak character, and the fact that if you have seen the 2000s Teen Titans show, or read the comic, you will know what happens, and they kind of kept one of the ickier parts of that storyline partly in the film. Outside of that, it’s still a pretty good flick! It gives the rest of the team time to be fleshed out, the action is great, the writing is better, and Damian isn’t the lead character! It did essentially sequel-bait as well, but overall, I still enjoyed this DC venture, and I hope the next film is even better.

19. Captain Underpants

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Now, we are heading into the films I loved from this year. Captain Underpants must be one of the biggest comedic surprises from last year. It had vibrant and wonderful animation, great jokes, was hugely entertaining to watch, and it was all done with a budget of $30 mil! That’s incredible! Sure, it had a few jokes that didn’t land, and its humor is not super original, but I find myself watching this film a lot!

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