Free Birds

Worst to Best Animated Films of 2013 Part 1

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

So, I was thinking while I’m working on a list of the Worst to Best Animated films of 2016, I’m going to, from time to time, make lists tackling films from different years. It’s probably going to be more on the side of the recent years due to how many animation studios there are, and how willing certain companies are in bringing more movies from different countries. So, what year did I decide to tackle first? 2013. Why did I choose this year, specifically? Because it was one of the best years for films that I have ever seen. Actually, that would be a lie, since 2013 was pretty bad. Not that we didn’t get anything great, since the Oscar-nominated films were fantastic, and from time to time, you would get a great movie, but man, no one, or at the very least, not everyone was willing to give their A game. This was the year we got stuff like Iron Man 3, Thor: Dark World, After Earth, Oz: The Great and Powerful, The Lone Ranger, The Host, and you get the idea. It wasn’t any better for animation, since Disney, DreamWorks, and Pixar decided to go on auto-pilot with a majority of their films in 2013. However, even though it wasn’t a great year for films in general, 2013 was a fantastic year for indie-animated films. So, what are the rules for these types of lists? 1. They had to be released in the states in 2013. I’m not going to add a film to the list unless it came out that year. 2. No straight-to-video schlock. Unless that direct-to-DVD release was worth a hoot, then I’m not counting it. That way, we don’t have to go through the terrifying number of DVD bargain bin nightmares. 3. They are also in order of which ones I would watch again. 4. it’s my list. It’s my opinion on what I thought were the worst to best animated films, and so on. Will you disagree? Maybe, but don’t be malicious towards me if you see that I didn’t like your favorite animated movie on the list.

Now then, let’s begin with one of the biggest corporate blunders of all time!

27. Walking with Dinosaurs

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You know who the biggest victims of this film were? The animators that worked painstakingly hard on getting the movements, textures, and nature of the animals down, only to have it backfire on them by studio execs ruining everything. Instead of letting the film be its own quiet, albeit generic, dinosaur story, they forced voice-overs at the last minute. It ruins any tension in the film, due to there being jokes and comments that ruin the tone. They will even insert a joke that doesn’t fit into a scene where someone horribly dies. I hope the person who thought this was a good idea loved losing over $44 million+ in the box office. It’s one of the biggest financial blunders of all time in terms of CGI-animated films, and there is no reason for anyone to see this movie.

26. The Snow Queen

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Here is the situation for this movie. It was originally released a year before Frozen, but then was brought over to the states a month before Frozen was released. It is based more on the source material than Frozen is, but overall is just a worse movie. The characters are bland and have dead-eye syndrome, the designs were awkward, the pace of the film makes impactful scenes not work, and the animation, while not terrible, is nowhere near the quality it could have been. My only real positive is that it at least tried to be more akin to the source material, but due to how rushed it all feels, it leaves very little for the viewers to take in, and its clunky animation doesn’t help, either. It’s mediocre, but knowing the stuff I have seen this past year, it’s still more watchable than most. I just wouldn’t recommend it.

25. Justin and the Knights of Valor

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The only reason this is on the list is that it got a limited theatrical release, and Antonio Banderas produced it. Funny enough, he is only a really annoying side character in the film. While this animated film might be worse in overall quality compared to the great CGI of Walking with Dinosaurs, Justin and the Knights of Valor was at least presented as intended. It’s yet another Shrek-style fantasy/comedy that doesn’t really understand why Shrek 2 worked, and is constantly not funny. It also has a universe that doesn’t make a lot of sense, due to how knights were replaced by lawyers, but for some reason still have armored men around, and so on. Justin and the Knights of Valour feels like a concept that didn’t get fleshed out enough. However, when the story focuses on Justin, he’s a pretty solid protagonist. The CGI might not be great, but considering what you can usually see with European CGI, it’s upper-tier. A decent protagonist and “good enough” CGI can’t cover up the horrible humor, pointless side characters, weak villains, a mediocre fantasy/comedy setting that isn’t fleshed out enough, and forgettable characters. Still, I’ve seen worse.

24. Free Birds

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I already reviewed this movie, but I’ll keep it short. Free Birds is a decent attempt at a first-time theatrical film for Reel FX, but it’s still super-generic in terms of its story and characters. The jokes aren’t consistently funny enough to make the film enjoyable to sit through, the human characters have no character, and there really isn’t anything worthwhile for older audiences, which is a shame, since there are animated films that can be enjoyed by both kids and adults. However, even though it’s not a great experience, I did find myself enjoying Woody Harrelson’s character, and how the time machine was voiced by George Takei, who is always entertaining. Still, if you were to watch one movie from this studio, you are better off overlooking Free Birds, and going directly to The Book of Life.

23. Escape from Planet Earth

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I don’t really remember a whole lot from this film, besides seeing one or two commercials for it on TV when it was coming out, and boy, I can understand why no one might remember this movie. It’s a low-grade CGI family film that had the unfortunate situation of a huge amount of studio exec interference, and well, it really shows. The animation is decent, but the designs are ugly, some of the characters are really grating, it’s yet another “jock vs. the nerd” story, and about half the jokes work. However, I do like the nerdy brother, and how competent he is. I mean, with these types of films, the nerdy individual would be inept at about everything, but in this movie, he isn’t. I also enjoyed some of the jokes, especially when the introductory video in Area 51 was shown. Like I said though, even with some of the positives, this film has no reason to be viewed by anyone unless you are very curious in terms of wanting to check out a financially underwhelming film that was screwed over by stupid executives.

22: Planes

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A lot of films you see on this list are definitely in that realm of “no one was asking for this, but execs wanted another financially lucrative merchandise-selling film, so this is why it exists”. Seriously, after the critical failure of Cars 2, you would think Disney would not touch the franchise ever again. Sadly, we got Planes, and while it isn’t by Pixar, it still feels like a waste of money. It’s cheap-looking for something from Disney, the side characters have one-note personalities, the story is generic, and there is no reason for this film to exist other than to sell toys. Luckily, there are still a few bright spots with the film. I actually like Dane Cook’s performance as the lead character, and some of the flying sequences are nice. They just needed a bit more polish to get to that peak of How to Train your Dragon quality of flying sequences. Some of the character interactions have enough chemistry to pay attention to, but you won’t miss anything by not viewing this cash grab spin-off.

21: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2

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Speaking of cash grabs, the rushed feeling and cheapness of this sequel is very apparent when you watch it. It had a budget that was $22 mil less than the original, and it shows. While the animation is still better than most films, everyone looks plastic and toy-like in terms of skin textures, the animation is really fast to a nauseating degree, the jokes don’t work all the time, there is a stupid misunderstanding/jerk plot point that no one cares about, a bunch of the side characters don’t have much to do, and it’s easily a really annoying experience. The story feels half-baked (ha), due to how the villain, a Steve Jobs parody, hijacks the film, and you can really tell that his animation didn’t get the most attention due to how clunky and, again, cheap it looks. When the film was about seeing the creative food animal designs, it was pretty decent entertainment. The crazy expressions were fun to look at, and the film was pretty vibrant in the color department. Even some of the food puns were pretty funny. The voice work also gets a thumbs-up, due to the material they had to work with. It’s not great material, but you can tell the actors were doing their best when the story wasn’t rehashing jokes or gags from the first film. It’s a sequel with sequelitis problems, and is definitely not a great movie. Although, I do disagree with people calling it the worst animated film of 2013, or one of the worst sequels of all time. It’s bad, but I can think of worst films from 2013, and worst sequels.

20: Turbo

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Freaking DreamWorks! It’s movies like this that make people not take you seriously. Instead of doing something creative and good, DreamWorks (this is pre-buyout by Universal), in all of their wisdom, made a snail that wants to race against actual formula 1 racers. Like, what focus group test did they run, and who were these people who were like, “yeah, this looks like a great idea!” It isn’t. It’s predictable child-pandering auto-piloted schlock. While Ryan Reynolds is a decent protagonist, the slug posse was the most entertaining element about the cast. They aren’t in the film enough, but they were the best element of the film. It’s overall pretty harmless tripe that’s well-animated, but it’s nothing to write home about. It’s easy to see why this film underperformed in the states.

 19: Despicable Me 2

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Talk about a huge improvement in terms of animation. In just a few short years, Illumination was able to improve their animation quality, and it really shows when you watch both Despicable Me films back-to-back. It’s definitely got a lot of the quality aspects of a good movie, like the two leads are funny, the minions were funny (this was before it was the giant annoying trend that it is now), and there was some heart. It’s unfortunately a film that trades in story for humor, and that’s not a terrible thing, but it once again points out that Illumination need better storywriters. The lead villain is tolerable, but they just don’t do anything with the three little girls, and they feel tacked on to the story. Like, I get they can’t retcon them out of the series, but they didn’t do anything. The female lead played by Kristen Wiig is entertaining, but at times is too hyper, and it distracts from the chemistry that she and the lead character have. It’s entertaining, and a film you can turn your brain off to and enjoy, but it still isn’t that great of an overall movie.

Let’s take a break and I’ll post Part 2 in the near future!

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.

The Other Side of Animation: The Book of Life


(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz for more of my work. If you want to, consider contributing my Patreon on patreon.com/camseyeview. Hope you enjoy the article!)

I wouldn’t blame everyone or anyone saying that animated movies, anime, and animated shows all look the same today. I mean, this isn’t new, like how in the 90s, most Warner Bros and Don Bluth films were trying to look like Disney. In the 2000s to now, third-party animation studios want to look like the Dreamworks or Pixar/Disney films. A lot of animated cartoons look like Adventure Time. Anime today, with the exception of the rare few, all look the same. Sure, sometimes, the reasons why they make these artistic decisions are easy to explain, like how the Adventure Time look is easier to animate, and so on. However, it does end up making everything look really forgettable or mediocre when it’s done wrong. I know that in the end, it‘s what the show and movie offer in terms of story and character, but you have to admit that everything starts to blend together at one point. This is why I adore The Book of Life. While it has its problems, it’s a visually pleasing film that has a unique look that stands out from everyone who’s trying to copy and failing to be the next Dreamworks. For those that want some info on this film, The Book of Life was released back in 2014 in October by Free Birds’ studio Reel FX Entertainment, and was directed by Jorge Gutiérrez, the individual behind El Tigre. Now then, let’s get started!

The story revolves around a group of snotty classmates as they arrive at a museum and are taken inside to check out a Mexican folk and myths exhibit. The tour guide, Mary Beth, voiced by Christina Applegate, begins the tour by opening up The Book of Life. The book includes all the stories within the world, and out of all the stories, she picks one about two young men and a woman. The actual story begins (yeah, I know, it’s annoying) with the focus on three individuals, Manolo Sánchez, voiced by Diego Luna, Maria Posada, voiced by Zoe Saldana, and Joaquin Mondragon, voiced by Channing Tatum. It’s your basic love triangle story, but it’s only when two gods enter the story that things become interesting. One god is La Muerte, the ruler of the Land of the Remembered, voiced by Kate Del Castillo, and Xibalba, the ruler of the Land of the Forgotten, voiced by the always awesome Ron Pearlman. The two gods make a deal as to who will win the heart of Maria. Of course, Xibalba tricks Manolo and ends up getting him killed to win the bet. Manolo then ends up in the Land of the Remembered, and it is up to him, with the help of his ancestors, to get back to the world of the living.

Now that I got that out of the way, what’s good about the film? First off, it’s very unique-looking, due to the director Jorge Gutiérrez’s art style. I adore the wooden puppet character design, the really vibrant colors, and just how well the art style transfers well to 3D character models. The animation is also so expressive and smooth. It’s obvious that either the studio got more of a budget, or better talent due to how amazing it looks compared to their first big film, Free Birds. I also love the fact that it does tackle themes of death and losing a loved one, being yourself, and for Manolo’s case, finding an alternate solution that does not use violence. I also like a lot of the characters, like Manolo, the two Gods, Manolo’s family, and even the Candle Maker character was not as annoying as I thought he would be alongside Manolo’s musical friends. The voice cast was great. While they do have individuals like Ron Pearlman and Channing Tatum, the rest of the cast is Hispanic. Granted, seeing Ice Cube, was a tad off-putting at first, and I do think they could have gotten a Hispanic actor instead of him, but he did a great job as the Candle Maker. While the music is somewhat forgettable, it fits in better than the 900 different pop songs that are forced into Strange Magic. There are some original songs, and they are fine.

It’s all the more of a shame that with all the great stuff The Book of Life does, that the story and some of the characters have a lot of problems. Like Hotel Transylvania, the story has too many clichés that should be dead or done better/differently. You have the two guys fighting over a girl, the modern-day audience being told of the story, the liar revealed, the secondary villain since the God of Death is not enough, modern talk in a time in the past, modern songs, and a female character that has some personality, but not a whole lot. I love this movie, but I don’t want to ignore my criticisms toward it. I also don’t care for how the ending plays out. Basically, this whole film that has death as a focus on the story, plays it off like an episode of Dragon Ball Z, where in the end, death is like a mosquito bite. And before you ask, I did try and think of other anime that gave the middle finger to death, but couldn’t since, well, it’s Dragon Ball Z. My biggest complaint about the film is the modern-day school kid group element. They really didn’t need to be there, and they really brought me out of the immersion of the film by popping in from time to time. Heck, the whole museum set-up was interesting, but if it was just the museum tour guide and the janitor, it would have been so much better.

I might have criticized this film a lot since this was released in 2014, and by now, we should know certain tropes should die off, but The Book of Life was and still is a great movie. Its negative aspects don’t outweigh the positive elements. I would definitely recommend seeing this film, since it’s unique in a lot of areas, like being the first mainstream Hispanic fairytale, and having that beautiful colorful puppet art style. Well, we might have been on a positive streak, but depending on what you all voted for, we might have to dip right back into the infamous negativity. Thanks for reading, and see you next time!

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation: Free Birds Review


(If you like what you see, go to camseyeview.biz to see the rest of my work. If you want to, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. Thanks for reading, and enjoy the review!)

When you are an animation studio, and you are putting out your first big animated feature, it’s rather daunting. Reel FX, the Dallas-based studio behind today’s film, Free Birds, has experience with straight-to-DVD stuff or animated shorts, but the rules change when you have to move from one type of animation to another. I will talk more about this in the future with The Book of Life since we are here to talk about their first big CGI animated feature, Free Birds. Directed by Jimmy Hayward, who has worked on multiple Pixar films, and was the unfortunate director of Jonah Hex, Free Birds was released on November 1st of 2013. It was critically panned, but made its money back in spades, which the film should consider itself lucky that it did, due to the fact that it came out a few weeks before the gigantic hit Frozen made its way into theaters. So, do I think Free Birds is bad? Do I think it’s good? Well, I’m going to stop you cold turkey, and tell you in a review what I think of this film. I oh so apologize/not apologize for that pun.

The story revolves around a turkey named Reggie, voiced by Owen Wilson. Reggie is the presidential pardoned turkey, who ends up living with the leader of the world. One night he gets kidnapped by this buff turkey named Jake, voiced by Wood Harrelson. The two of them sneak into a secret base (with some groan-worthy product placements), obtain a time machine named Steve, voiced by George Takei, and go all the way back to the very first Thanksgiving to prevent turkeys from being the main course of feasts in the future. Along the way they meet some wild turkeys, with one female turkey voiced by Amy Poehler. Can they change history, or will they become the next Thanksgiving feast?

Yeah, this movie sounds stupid doesn’t it? In a sense, it is. It sounds more like a plot to a short film or a Looney Toons cartoon than a setting that could hold a two-hour movie. In short, it really doesn’t hold up. The idea sounds creative and might lead to some funny jokes, but the plot is stretched thin with a very generic story where Reggie saves the turkeys from the humans. None of the characters are memorable, with the exception of Jake and Steve. Even Amy Poehler, who I think is very funny, and has done amazingly in films like Inside Out, isn’t given a lot to work with. She is just an uninteresting female character. I think the film could have cut out a lot of the characters, like some of the side character turkeys who have no real reason to be there or have any dimension to them. Owen Wilson as the main character isn’t the worst choice, but just like everyone else, he doesn’t have a lot to work with, and just ends up not making me feel invested with the character. I am never in the camp that hates his acting; I just think his movie choices are always mediocre, unless I find him in a Woody Allen film or Wes Anderson production. Owen Wilson just keeps using that doofy, nice guy character that is almost in every film he is in. Oh, and let’s just mention how stereotypical the Native American turkeys and the Native Americans are portrayed in this film. Not incredibly out-of-control racist, but very children-movie-oriented stereotypical. It’s also kind of awkward when one of them says, “It’s better than my wife’s cooking.” Yeah, I’ll stop right there. Oh, and make sure you find a lot of the blatant product placement. Man, it’s not in your face, but it’s in there enough to be annoying.

 

So, I must really hate this entire movie, huh? Well, within all this spread-thin plot, and stupidity of the setup, I did find myself laughing at a few moments. I think between many of the mediocre story bits were some funny moments. Most of them did come from Woody Harrelson, who is a lot of fun to watch in this movie, and George Takei as the voice for the Time Machine. While George doesn’t have the best material, he is one of those guys that can make the phone book sound interesting. Heck, even having George Takei’s character reading 50 Shades of Grey would have made this movie 100% better. I admire his delivery more than the actual material at hand. I also liked the beginning bit when the President’s daughter is hauling Owen Wilson around. She makes these little comments toward people, like blabbing out that a female secretary on the helicopter loves her dad, who I remind you, is the president, and when they get back, she says that a maid eats her feelings. I can’t really pin down why that little sequence made me laugh, but I guess that my expectations were so low that those jokes caught me off-guard. It’s a shame that not a lot of jokes like that were used throughout the film. Those few jokes were more humorous than the constant and multiple jokes about turkey butt.

I will also mention that the animation is definitely better than something like The Nut Job. It still isn’t up to Dreamworks or Pixar levels of CGI, and having a lesser budget made the comedic animation suffer, since it needed to be a tad faster to capture that fast-paced timing from the Tom and Jerry-era of comedic timing. They could have used a lot more time and money to have more polished animation and character models.

So, what do I think of the film overall? I think it’s too forgettable and predictable to be anything worth mentioning or seeing, but at the same time, I found little elements and bits of the film to be enjoyable and fun. Don’t get me wrong, this is a stupid movie with a stupid concept. It’s a bad movie. It doesn’t hit a lot of the emotional notes that it wants to, a lot of the characters are not that interesting, the humor falls flat, and the stereotypical portrayal of certain individuals can be looked at as questionable.  However, I will say that it is better than something like The Nut Job and a few other films I am going to tackle later on. If I was watching someone’s child, and they wanted to watch this, I could see why, though I will be frank and say that they need better movies. Not the best film I have seen, but then again, it came out in a year where films in general were not that great. Well, now that we got this film out of the way, I think it’s time to bring back another GKIDS film as we take a look at their first ever release, Azur & Asmar: The Prince’s Quest. Thanks for reading, and see you next time!

Rating: Lackluster!