GKIDS

165: Promare 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!)

When celebrating my 4th year of reviewing animated films, I wanted to pick something that would be special. It’s an exceptional review, and a yearly special should be about an interesting film. Well, what did I pick for this year? I chose Studio Trigger’s first feature film, Promare. Directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi, Promare is an accumulation of what you get when you give a Japanese studio known for high-octane action, a feature film budget, and total unapologetic passion. It's the right kind of project that most passion projects could only dream of becoming. Let's dive right in!

 

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The film takes place in a world where one day, people started gaining the ability to manipulate fire! They were labeled the Burnish. After almost wiping out all of the earth, 30 years pass, and we come to the beginning of the film where the major Burnish threat was taken care of. A Burnish fire breaks out, and a team of specialized firefighters called Burning Rescue is sent to take out the Burnish threat and save the innocent lives. Our main hero is Galos Thymos, dubbed by Billy Kametz. He's the rookie member of Burning Rescue that ends up encountering the leader of a terrorist group called Mad Burnish. The leader of this terrorist group is named Lio Fotia, dubbed by Johnny Yong Bosch. After Galos captures Lio and his two grunts, things unfold into chaos as maybe the Burnish are not the bad guys, and something might be up with the governor of the city, Kray Foresight, dubbed by Crispin Freeman. 

 

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I want to start gushing about the film, and there is nothing any of you can do to stop me! Anyway, the animation is downright gorgeous. Sure, it might be a mix of 2D and CGI animation, but, and I mean this with all sincerity, Promare might be the best Japanese-animated film that combines the two. The color choices are so perfect. All of the colors, even the darker ones are bright. The blues, the reds, the whites, the blacks, the neon pinks, the yellows, and you get the idea. Even with such a bright color palette and cartoony designs and movements, there are some beautiful shots and serious moments that never feel out of place. This film's visual direction is on point. 

 

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Now, in terms of action, it's Studio Trigger. They open up with one of the most exciting sequences that you will see in 2019, and the action ramps up from there in true Studio Trigger fashion. It's well-choreographed, exciting, never too busy to miss out on what's going on, and it's so earnest and aware of how absurd the fighting is. The dialogue during the animation is so aware of its epic nature, that it constantly calls itself out. 

 

Even though the film is advertised as this epic action film, Promare does take time to let the story breathe, tackle themes about discrimination and nature, and let the characters flesh themselves out more. I found myself rooting for the good guys and the Burnish in their ideals and reasons for doing what they do. It might be loud dumb fun, but it has a heart, and that's what keeps it from being a style-over-substance problem that we see in many passion projects. It knows when to push the pedal to the metal, and it knows when to chill for a moment. 

 

In terms of the dub, I adored the cast they hired. You have some veteran voice actors like the always awesome Johnny Yong Bosch, Kari Wahlgren, Neil Kaplan, Crispin Freeman, and my man Steve Blum, but everyone was well-cast and put in five-star performances. Everyone was on the same page, and I didn't see one actor who was left out. While anime voice acting can have its challenges, I bet everyone had a fun time getting to be boisterous, loud, and entertaining. Seriously, Billy Kametz, Erica Lindbeck, Matthew Mercer, Melissa Fahn, Mike Pollock, Alyson Leigh Rosenfeld, and Yuri Lowenthal were all fantastic. The music as well was perfect. It was grand in scale, epic, and it kept me and the audience excited throughout the entire film. Composer Hiroyuki Sawano put in a soundtrack that I could hear myself listening to anytime I'm about to go to work or getting ready for a physical workout. It's just so beautiful, and I got pumped up and was ready for the next scene. 

 

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Now, I could talk about how maybe some of the absurdity was a little much, or how the majority of Burning Rescue characters don't get much screen time or development, but you know what? That doesn't matter for this film. It's meant to be this big fun movie, and that's what I got. It had great animation, exciting action sequences, likable characters, awesome music, and was a blast from beginning to end. If you can find a theater that will be playing the dub or sub version of this film, go and watch it! For now, I think it’s time to look at one more Japanese feature before we watch DreamWorks Abominable. How about we make a return visit with our favorite anime thief, and check out Lupin the 3rd: Goemon’s Blood Spray?

Thanks for reading my review! I hope you enjoyed it. Make sure to like and share it! If you would like to support my work, you can become a patron at patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

 

 

164: Okko's Inn 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!)

If we are going to have a healthier theatrical animation scene in Japan, studios and animation enthusiasts alike need to be supportive of newer voices. We can’t let already-well-known names be the only ones that get the spotlight. While the Japanese animation scene is going through some major obstacles with keeping people who want to work in animation in the animation industry, that means when a new or unfamiliar voice makes a film, we should go out and support it. 

Whether you love the end product or not, it’s more important that someone new or not as well known gets the attention. This is why I wanted to support Okko’s Inn. Directed by Kitaro Kosaka, and based on the manga and anime of the same name, Okko’s Inn is a film that I find to get overshadowed by other 2019 US-animation releases, like Makoto Shinkai's Weathering With You and Studio Trigger's Promare. I think Okko's Inn deserves more support, and I'm going to tell you why!

 

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Our story follows a young girl named Okko, dubbed by Madigan Kacmar. She ends up in an unfortunate situation where her parents are killed in a car accident. She goes to live with her grandmother at her inn. Okko then encounters some friendly spirits around the building, including a young boy named Uribo, dubbed by KJ Aikens, a young girl named Miyo, dubbed by Tessa Frascogna, and a small demon named Suzuki, dubbed by Colleen O’Shaughnessey. Okko will encounter different inn guests and even a girl who helps run a rival inn named Matsuki, dubbed by Carly Williams. Can Okko learn to be an innkeeper and learn how to help people? Can she learn about forgiveness and selflessness in helping others? 

 

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So, something to note about the director Kitaro Kosaka is that he worked on multiple Studio Ghibli projects that include Castle in the Sky, Ponyo, Spirited Away, and even Mamoru Hosoda's The Boy and the Beast. If you feel like Okko's Inn has the same vibe as a lower-key Ghibli film, you wouldn't be wrong. This movie focuses on Okko's coming of age as she helps different tenants in the inn who have their hang-ups in their life. It shows how acts of kindness of any kind can help improve the lives of others. It's a laid back film in the same spirit as Kiki's Delivery Service or My Neighbor Totoro. You get some fun shenanigans with the spirits, but the film's strongest moments are with Okko figuring out how to help out everyone who comes to the inn. It's noticeable that this film, through its designs and tone, is an experience aimed at a younger audience, and even for a film aimed at that demographic, it doesn't talk down to them. The film does tackle themes of death, and it's not afraid to talk about it. Luckily, the characters feel like they were right out of a Ghibli film, likable, endearing, complex, and fun. 

 

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Okko's Inn was produced by Studio Madhouse and Dream Link Entertainment, which shows in the animation. It's a gorgeous movie with charming designs, and fluid animation. There are some wonderful scenes, including the koi fish kite sequence and when Okko meets the fortune teller. The dub for the film is handled well. You can tell the kids in the film are voiced by kids, and the adults are voiced by adults. I have seen both the sub and dub versions of this film, and you really can't go wrong with either. The music by Keiichi Suzuki is beautiful, and has that Japanese flair you would want with a film taking place in a mountain-side inn. If his name sounds familiar, he is the same composer behind Satoshi Kon's Tokyo Godfathers and the famous RPG Earthbound

 

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If I had to complain, I could, but a lot of the issues I have are nitpicky. The designs took a bit for me to get used to. They are more family-friendly, and it was jarring to me for some reason. They remind me of something like Hamtaro. I did look it up, and the person in charge of the art direction is Yoichi Watanabe, who worked on the Star Ocean EX series. The only major issue I have is that a lot of the major drama is shoved into the third act, and it's abrupt when it transitions into it. However, I do like the ending, so I guess you can say that it's also a nitpick. 

 

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Okko's Inn is a delightful little film about kindness, growing up, forgiveness, and helping others. It might be getting overshadowed by other high-quality anime films, but Okko's Inn shouldn't be overlooked. It's available right now on Blu-ray and DVD, and I think everyone should get a copy. Now then, it's been four years since I have been reviewing animated films, and I think it's time to celebrate with something flashy. Next time, we will take a look at Studio Trigger's first original film, Promare

 

Thank you for reading my review! If you like my writing and would like to throw some support my way, you can become a patron at patreon.com/camseyeview. I hope you all have a good day, and I will see you all next time. 

Rating: Go See It!

161: Funan 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!)

Warning/Parental Heads up!: This film is absolutely not aimed at a children’s audience. This is an extremely adult film that focuses on a true historical genocide that happened in Cambodia. Younger viewers should avoid this flick, and go see The Angry Birds Movie 2. Viewer’s discretion is advised.

Animation unfortunately gets pigeonholed into being aimed at a children and family audience. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing, because sometimes, a film or show aimed at a family audience, given the right writers and the right execution, can tackle tough subject matter.  Sadly, something that the entertainment industry sadly seems to limit is animation for more teen and older adult audiences. Just because it’s animated, it doesn’t mean you can’t tackle something aimed at an older audience. We get plenty of adult animated shows like Bojack Horseman and Big Mouth, but feature films are, for some reason, kept off the production line. Yeah, we got 2016’s Sausage Party, but that film’s controversy of how the animators were treated unfortunately killed the theatrical chance of seeing more on the big screen. This is why the foreign animation scene is so incredible, because it knows that you can tackle different genres, themes, and have all kinds of audiences. Plus, when will the live-action Hollywood scene tackle something like Dennis Do’s Funan? Directed by, well, Dennis Do, and distributed in the states by GKIDS, this French-animated feature ruled the film festival scene in 2018 by taking home major accolades from Annecy, second place-Jury Prize from the 20th Bucheon International Animation Festival, and the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at the 2nd Animation is Film Festival. As far as I can tell, this is 2019’s best animated feature. Why? Well, let’s dive in, shall we?

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The story follows a Cambodian woman named Chou, her husband Khuon, Sovanh, their son, Khuon’s brother Meng, Chou’s mother, grandmother, and their other children Hout, Tuch, and Lili. They are living peacefully in Cambodia, but are unfortunately caught up in the notoriously destructive Khmer Rouge, as they are separated from each other and try to survive and reunite. Can they try to avoid being killed, and become stronger by making it through this violent time?

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So, you think with this film being animated and such, they would pull back on the punches and darkness of the events shown. I mean, that’s what Sgt. Stubby did. Well, Dennis Do did not pull back on any punches. The film is unapologetic about showing the darker moments of this incident, and that includes scenes of murder, innocents stepping on hidden landmines, suicide, and so on. It’s definitely a film that is, to no surprise, aimed at a much older audience. However, it’s not really all about the terror of this incident. It really does focus on the family, and how they try to make sense out of what is going on, as they try to survive and not end up in front of an extremist’s rifle. You get the closeness of the family as they attempt to play along until they are able to reconnect or find a way to escape the hell in which they are put. You get a sense of everyone in the family, although the real main characters are the father, mother, and son. It’s a fairly quiet film as the emotions are told through the visuals. You feel for the family, and you want them to survive. Dennis Do knew how to balance it all out as every intense moment constantly hits hard. It’s a powerful emotional experience.

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The animation is incredible. It has a beautiful lush watercolor art direction that has smooth animation and great character designs. You can feel the emotion coming off of the characters’ faces. Gorgeous backgrounds and scenery is found among the regime-riddled camps that the film is usually set in for a chunk of the story. What also helps bring the emotions to a perfect level is the music by composer Thibault Kientz Agyenman. A lot of the soundtrack is full of tunes that set a somber, but optimistic tone that really envelopes you into the situation. This also includes powerful performances from Berenice Nejo and Louis Garrel.

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I knew I was in for something special when I saw the trailer, the news that it was doing well on the festival circuit, and how it was one of the first films selected for the Animation is Film Festival, and I was happy to be one of the first US film fans to see this breathtaking experience. Sure, some critics, for one reason or another, think it should have been about the genocide, but that wasn’t the point of the film. Just because it’s set during an intense period of time, doesn’t mean that has to be the entire focus. The entire film was inspired by the stories that Do would ask his mother about that time period, and it was crafted into this beautiful story. To me, that comment comes off like they wanted the film to be something different than what they got. Funan is a powerful film, and when it comes out on Blu-ray, or if you are lucky to find a theater playing it, buy the Blu-ray or see the film! Seriously, if you want more original films that help animation’s image in the US, please see this film. Unfortunately, since these types of films don’t get much screentime, how about we move on to a delightful surprise with The Angry Birds Movie 2? I think that would be pretty nice! Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

 

 

 

 

Worst to Best Animated Films of 2018 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/camseyeview. 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!)

Okay, we are now onto part 2 of the Worst to Best of 2018, and we will be going through the next couple of films on my list. If you haven’t seen part 1, please go back and see which films were on the bottom. Now then, let’s get started!

 

34. Tehran Taboo

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The first few films on this list are going to be in the category of “flawed, but ambitious”. Tehran Taboo definitely has its share of topics to talk about that include sex, religion, and the commentary about life in that country. However, while I’m usually down for a film to be an experience, I found this one to be a tough pill to swallow, and it was sort of boring. I don’t really remember much outside of the themes and the rotoscoped visual style. Still, it’s an interesting film to check out if you are looking for something more adult in your animation.

33. Bilal

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I didn’t know what to expect from this American/Arabic production from Parajoun Entertainment, but I was impressed. For a foreign feature, the CGI is rather impressive for the context of where it is from. I also like how it’s a grand epic adventure based on a real life individual. However, the problems come into play with the pacing. It looks like it wanted to go through the entire life of Bilal, but couldn’t pace it well to make sense. Huge spans of time jump forward constantly in the film, and we are introduced to many characters that don’t get much development. Also, while the goal of more realistic designs is admirable, sometimes the uncanny valley sets in, and some designs look more awkward than others. Still, I hope the studio behind this film can find support to keep making films if they are this ambitious.

32. Sgt. Stubby

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I feel badly that this film didn’t do better. Granted, its tone and not up-to-par animation didn’t help things, but a family film set in World War I is quite a risky endeavor. Yes, it’s not an “incredible” film, and it was never going to go full-tilt mature in tone to tackle one of history’s biggest wars, but the fact they were able to do this in the first place is something I can fully respect. It even takes time to let the characters talk, and it’s not just focused on the dog in question being adorable. It’s not perfect, and I can’t find myself really watching this one again, but once again, it’s at least different than most animated features.

31. Batman: Gotham by Gaslight

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Who wouldn’t love a legit Batman film where it’s set in an alternative history where he takes down Jack the Ripper? For the most part, I enjoyed the character chemistry between Bruce and Selina, and when they can let the ominous atmosphere and slight horror elements set in, it’s quite an eerie watch. Sadly, the entire reason this film is on this part of the list is because of the current animation style that is used for these direct-to-video films. Instead of putting more money into trying to copy the comic’s unique Mike Mignola art-style, it looks like every other generic DC-animated feature around, which really sucks. It’s one of the biggest opportunities that has been wasted on such a cool film. Maybe in a decade or so, we will get an actual big-budget take on this comic’s storyline that can deliver on the horror.

30. Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay

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I have reviewed this one already, and even though I have watched it three times, my opinions never changed about it. It has good action, good chemistry, and a few fun dark comedic moments and a nice Grindhouse-vibe, but the story’s tone is all over the place. It never felt like it had a true idea of what they wanted the entire story to be, and while I love the twist with who the real villain of the film is, it does raise some questions about previous DC film tie-ins. Still, it’s one of the better DC features that you can get, and I can understand why people enjoyed this one.

29. The Death of Superman Part 1

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While there are a lot of flaws with this story, like how they had to pretzel the story to fit the comic that this two-parter is based on, and some of the characters don’t feel like they add much to the story, when it actually focuses on Doomsday and Superman, it’s a lot of fun. It has some of the better action animation out of the DC films. You just feel the brutal strikes that the two give each other, and it actually made me care about Superman. Granted, the biggest flaw of this film is that it’s a two-parter that ruined not only this film’s story, but also killed the concept of death permanently in comics. Still, I recommend this and part 2.

28. The Grinch

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Now, if I was just including theatrical animated features only, this one would be lower on the list, but out of all of the animated features, this one fits perfectly in the mid-area of the list. It has beautiful animation, whimsical visuals, and a decent Grinch character. It might not be able to fully complete the themes that it introduces, but it’s so harmless that I find it the least offensive of Illumination’s films. It also has a nice ending, and it actually makes Cindy Lou endearing. It’s another Illumination Entertainment picture, but I wouldn’t mind seeing this one again.

27. Hells

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Yes, this movie’s plot is a huge mess, it overstays its welcome, and it feels like a lot of the characters don’t have any personality, but the animation for this film is so wild. It’s vibrant and wildly creative with its designs and what hell looks like. While you can obviously see where most of the money gets put into the flick, it’s a passion project that I can get behind.

26. Big Fish & Begonia

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To me, this is China’s first official foot in the door of serious animation fare. It’s beautiful, it has complex themes, and while the story is a bit bloated and has way too many characters and things going on, you do feel for the two main characters. The voice cast is great, the visuals are some of the most unique, and interesting out of an animated feature, and if you want to be supportive of these types of Chinese features, please check this film out.

25. Hotel Transylvania 3

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Now then, we are getting into the films that I think are pretty good. While the franchise as a whole is inconsistent, I think this is the best one, because it knows how to handle its characters, the jokes were funnier, the animation was great, and it had more of a plot on which to focus. Then again, when it’s all being directed and written by Genndy Tartakovsky, then that makes sense as to why it’s the best film in the franchise. I had a great time with this flick, and while some of the side characters don’t have too much to do, they are, like this movie, highly entertaining.

24. Satellite Girl and Milk Cow

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While this may not be South Korea’s first animated feature, it’s one of the first to get a major US release, and while it may have the same issue as Chinese animation with not being wholly original in the story department, it uses some jokes that aren’t all that funny, and the animation might not fully be up to par, I still found it an earnest and enjoyable fairytale-style film. The animation is pretty solid, and the physical comedy with Satellite Girl is actually really funny. Any time she shows off her robot girl gimmicks, the jokes are great. It’s an oddball film, but I like well-executed oddball films, and I think people should see it!

157: Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles 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!)

I haven’t made it subtle that I have found a real lack of enjoyment with talking about bad movies. I don’t know what has gotten me into this funk, but it then made me think about why I love talking about films I want to love and talk about. It’s because it takes no effort to talk about them. Words flow easily. I don’t have to think about how to structure them, and who doesn’t want to talk about stuff they love? The problem with talking about movies that you don’t like ends up with you having to structure everything, because every bad film usually has their own unique problems. It’s why I don’t really pick a bad movie just for the sake of it. If I choose a movie I love or do not like, it’s because I want to talk about it. For right now, I want to talk about a movie that I could go on about for a few good hours, Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles. Directed by Salvador Simo, this was a film from Spain, and made the festival circuits last year with an official wide/limited release this year. It was a critical darling in the festival circuit, and was one of the winners of the three major awards at 2018’s Animation is Film Festival. I was lucky enough to see the film last year, and was not surprised at all that GKids wanted to distribute this film in the west. It was easily one of my favorite films at a festival that had nothing, but strong films to show. Now then, let’s get started!

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We follow the life of Luis Bunuel, voiced by Jorge Uson, a surrealist filmmaker that has made films in the same style and spirit of Salvador Dali. Unfortunately for him, people want to compare his work to Dali, when he wants to be seen as his own genius. Even worse for him, is that the country where he lives, has decided to blacklist him, which results in him not being able to get money to make movies. One night, he is drinking with his friend Ramon Acin, voiced by Fernando Ramos. Ramon decides to enter the local lottery and promises to Luis that if he wins, he will fund his next venture, which is a documentary that Luis was looking at doing. Months pass, and out of the blue, Ramon calls Bunuel to tell him that he won the money! They then get Bunuel’s two cohorts Pierre Unik, voiced by Luis Enrique de Tomas, and Eli Lotar, voiced by Cyril Corral, and head down through different villages in Spain to base the documentary around Las Hurdes and in the poorest area known as Las Hurdes Atlas. Can Bunuel regain his filmmaking credentials, and maybe absolve him of some of his issues from his past?

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I have to admit, ever since I saw this film back in October last year, I have had an unhealthy obsession with it. I have been patiently waiting to see it again. Normally, I would have waited to see it again in theaters, but I can’t wait any longer to review it. This film’s story of Bunuel redeeming himself as a human being and a filmmaker kept me constantly invested with what was going on. You can see the struggle every time Bunuel wants to do something drastic and shocking to the world about Las Hurdes Atlas, when really, that isn’t the way it should be shot. You see how he struggles to make this documentary work as he conflicts with the real life struggles and lives of the people that live in this village and wanting to show his vision, which is more harmful to him, the crew, and the people there. All of the struggle of making this documentary comes crashing around him and his friends as memories of his relationship with his father start popping up, and you see how Bunuel acts like he does. I just love seeing all of the small scenes of the leads interacting off of one another, and with the townsfolk they encounter on this journey. However, while a lot of this film is mature and serious, I was laughing probably the loudest I have ever laughed in a movie theater at this screening. This was some of the wittiest writing and the most well-timed jokes that I have seen in an animated film from overseas. It was able to balance out both the laughs when needed, and focus on the dire situation in which the people in the village live, and the importance for this documentary to succeed for Bunuel.

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In terms of the animation, I know some will talk about how limited it is, and maybe call it a bit stiff, but I think it’s great considering this film cost about $2 million to make. Characters move well, the designs are very appealing in a more serious Disney way, and they are still very emotive. They knew they didn’t have the biggest budget, but they made some breathtaking visuals and sequences with that budget. Since it’s about a surrealist filmmaker, they do take advantage of crafting some delightfully dream-like sequences. Another smart move is that since this was based on a real life documentary, they took footage from said documentary, and added it into the movie. It’s not all that distracting either, because the writing is so good, and it helps that this was based on a real life person and a real life documentary. The music by composer Arturo Cardelus, who also did the music for the acclaimed animated short, In a Heartbeat, is outstanding in this film. I find myself humming the tunes a couple of times. It reminds me of the music from Loving Vincent, which is elegant and dramatic.

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Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles is a film I would call a unique experience. So many elements of this film clicked for me like not many have, and I hugely adore it. It’s one of my favorites, and I really hope people can find a way to watch this in a theater or, at the very least, catch it when it gets on Blu-ray and DVD. Could I complain about some nitpicky elements about the script? Sure, but in the end, my love for this film, and how incredible the experience of watching it drowns out any minor issue I have with this movie. Again, if you can, please do watch this movie. Sadly, we must take a break from the positivity to talk about Illumination Entertainment’s next….I don’t think I would consider it a hit, but we will see. Next time, we will talk about The Secret Life of Pets 2. Thanks for checking out my review, I hope you all enjoyed it, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

Animation Tidbits: Annecy 2019 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!)

Alrighty, for the final part of this look at Annecy 2019, I decided to combine a bunch of films from different categories. This is because the various categories don’t have enough to warrant talking about in individual articles. At least, that is my opinion on the other categories. The one major change they made was a new category called Contrechamp, a category with animated features that are in competition, but have visuals that challenge the medium of animation. Otherwise, the films on the list will be from the screening events and In Production section of the festival. Let’s get started!

Children of the Sea (Contrechamp)

Directed by Ayumu Watanabe, the story focuses on a girl named Ruka, who saw a ghost in her dad’s aquarium when she was little. She becomes attracted to the aquarium and the appearance of two mysterious boys named Umi and Sora, all the while the adults who work there figure out the mass disappearance of the earth’s fish. In a lot of ways, it’s almost unfair that this film is the perfect representation for the Contrechamp section of the festival. It’s almost unfair how downright jaw-dropping-off-your-face beautiful the film is. Studio 4C has done a lot of great work, but this easily looks like it will be their best. Plus, with GKids now attached to bringing it over to the states this year, I have major hopes it’s going to be at Animation is Film 2019! If that wasn’t enough to get you hyped, Joe Hisaishi, the composer behind many of the Studio Ghibli classics, is composing the music for this film.

Away (Contrechamp)

Directed by Gints Zilbalodis, Away is about a young man who’s riding a motorcycle, trapped on a mystical island while trying to avoid a shadowy monster chasing him. This is also a film that looks like it will be taking advantage of the Contrechamp title. Sure, it kind of looks like an indie game that’s trying to be the next artistic achievement in gaming, but that’s sort of the fun of it. Plus, this was directed and animated by someone who is 25 years old. That is wildly ambitious and I give him kudos for that. It looks like a visually creative film that I hope does well.

Underdog (Contrechamp)

Directed by Sung-Yoon Oh and Chun Baek Lee, the story revolves around a blue dog that was once a house pet, but ends up back in the wild. He encounters wild dogs, and tries to help them survive and live freely. Generic title aside, I really like the visual look of this film. It reminds me of the work arounds French animation uses in projects like The Painting. It has a super vibrant color palette, and while the CGI may not be Pixar or Disney level at all, it has its own identity and personality to it. I’m happy to see South Korean animation finally making some break-out titles to show that they can make animated features that aren’t tied down to propaganda, and can be watchable by all. Though seeing some of the marketing blurbs say it was more emotionally gripping than Zootopia? Yeah, we will have to see about that.

Ville Neuve (Contrechamp)

Directed by Felix Dufour Laperriere, Ville Neuve focuses on a man named Joseph, who moves into a house with his friend, and tries to get back with his ex-wife, and this is happening with the 1995 Quebec Referendum happening in the background. I like the minimalist approach with its focus on whites, blacks, and grays. It comes off like a more personal and intimate film, and I can’t wait to see what the reviews say about this one.  

Playmobil (Screening)

Now then, let’s jump in with the first film in the “Screening” category. Directed by Lino DiSalvo, the story focuses on a young woman named Marla, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, who gets pulled into this Playmobil world with her brother Carlie, played by Gabriel Bateman. They get separated, and it’s up to Marla to team up with Rex Dasher, a secret agent voiced by Daniel Radcliffe and Del, a food truck driver voiced by Jim Gaffigan, to get her brother back and avoid the evil clutches of Emperor Maximus, played by Adam Lambert. Yeah, this film did not get the warmest impression, being negatively compared to the 2014 The LEGO Movie. I can understand why. It comes off as a bit outdated that there needs to be a reason for the Playmobil world to exist, when people would rather just enjoy the world that they make. Still, the film looks silly and aware about itself, and some of the jokes I saw got a chuckle out of me. Hopefully it can be an entertaining flick once it releases later this year.

The Prince’s Voyage (Screening)

Directed by Jean-Francois Languionie and Xavier Pircard, this is a follow-up to a film Jean Francois did a while back called A Monkey’s Tale, which follows the prince from that film, as he washes up on the shore of an island, and encounters an individual named Young Tom and his two parents, who were exiled scientists. The film itself looks great, but that should be no surprise, because it’s the same guy behind The Painting, but I am curious to see how they make this film work, because who remembers A Monkey’s Tale? It has only gotten an English UK release, and no one in America has probably heard of this guy or his films. Still, the CGI looks stylized, and I’m curious to see how this film does in continuing the story with these characters in a travel diary-style form.

Abominable (Screening)

Finally, we are seeing actual trailers and footage for this film. Directed by Jill Culton and Todd Wilderman, we follow the exploits of a young Chinese woman named Yi, voiced by Chloe Bennet, as she encounters an actual Yeti on the rooftop of her apartment building. It was previously caught by a scientist named Dr. Zara, voiced by Sarah Paulson, and an evil rich man named Burnish, voiced by Eddie Izzard. It is up to Yi, her friends Peng, voiced by Albert Tsai, and Jin, voiced by Tenzing Norgay Trainor, to get the Yeti back to his home in the mountains. This is an important film, due to this being DreamWorks first Chinese collaboration with Pearl Studio. As per usual with their non-comedy stuff, Abominable looks visually great, and has some endearing moments, but the jokes and references made in the first trailer and in the recent trailer are iffy. Hopefully, this is more of DreamWorks working at a How to Train your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda level, and not Shrek the Third level. Also, what is up with their marketing for this film? Everyone has already seen a trailer for the film for two or so months before the “official” trailer was released last week. What was the point of having two trailers and one of them was already viewable in theaters? Oh well, I hope this is a good movie.

Toy Story 4 (Screening)

Directed by Josh Cooley, we follow our heroes dealing with their new lives and a new encounter with a self-made toy named Forky, voiced by Tony Hale. One day, Forky gets out, and Woody, voiced by Tom Hanks, sets out to bring Forky back, but also runs into Bo Peep, voiced by Annie Potts. Shenanigans then ensue as Woody and the gang try to get Forky back to their new owner Bonnie, and Woody starts to have a crisis of what it means to be a toy. It’s too easy and frankly lazy, to say how this is a “cash grab”, when all films are cash grabs. We didn’t need a 4th one, but if we needed this one to get back on the train of original films starting with next year’s Onward, then so be it. Plus, I have been hearing good early word of mouth, and plus, who doesn’t want to see Keanu Reeves in his first ever voice role? Even if we might “not need it”, I’m glad to go back if the story is good.

Frozen 2 (Screening)

Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, our heroes from the first film, Elsa, Anna, Kristoff, and Olaf are off on another adventure to go beyond the kingdom of Arendelle. Yeah, there isn’t much known about the film right now, so let’s talk about how incredible the teaser trailer was. This film looks jaw-dropping-off-your-face-and-exploding gorgeous. I’m sure a lot of this is just teaser editing, and the film may not be this serious in tone, but wouldn’t that be awesome if it was? I know there is a bit of Frozen burnout, but I liked the first movie, and I’m excited to see how this new one unfolds.

Weathering With You (WIP)

In the Work in Progress section, we have the newest film from Makoto Shinkai. The story revolves around a young boy who moves to Tokyo alone, and almost becomes broke, until he gets a writing job for an odd occult magazine. His life feels like it’s constant misery, as rain and dark clouds follow him everywhere. One day, he encounters a young girl who has a mysterious power to clear the sky of the clouds and rain. While I have been critical of some of Shinkai’s efforts and directorial touches in the past, this one has me very excited. To no surprise that Shinkai has more drop-dead eye-popping visuals, something about the story feels instantly likable, and GKids recently announced that they will be bringing it over! I can’t wait to see this film, and I hope to see it sometime soon.

Promare (Midnight Special)

Finally, for the Midnight Special, we have Promare. Directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi, and animated by Studio Trigger, we follow Galo Thymos and his team, the Burning Rescue Fire Department. Their main goal is to take down a group of evil mutants called BURNISH that emits and can control a special fire that is engulfing the planet. This movie looks so over-the-top, silly, nonsensical, it’s super drenched in its anime identity, and this is why I follow foreign/indie animation. This movie looks crazy in the most positive way possible. Sure, if you know anything about Studio Trigger’s previous work like Kill la Kill, Space Patrol Luluco, Little Witch Academia, and SSSS Gridman, then you know you are going to get some of the most vibrant Japanese animation around. It looks like a lot of fun, and I hope to also see it soon.

And that wraps up what I think looks to be the most promising at the Annecy International Film Festival. Even with these listed, there are truly more interesting features being shown in their completed form or work-in-progress form. Just go check out the site, and see the multitude of animated projects being shown, and find your favorites.

Animation Tidbits: Annecy 2019 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, it’s another year, and that means the E3 of animation, the Annecy International Film Festival, is going to happen! This year, the special guest country is Japan, and the line-up that includes films from Japan is impressive! This article will tackle the films that are in the main competition. The line-up has many strong films, and I’ll be talking about a few that I have mentioned before.

Honorable Mention: Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles

Competing last year in the “Out of Competition” section, I have seen the full film at Animation is Film 2018, and I loved it. It’s easily one of my favorite animated films of this decade, and it told a compelling story about a real-life filmmaker saving his career and finding out about himself. It has beautiful animation. The only reason why I’m putting it in the Honorable Mentions category is that it’s about to have a US release as well. Still, if you are going to Annecy, and you can go see this film, do so!

Now then, let’s get on with the other films!

Birthday Wonderland

Directed by Keiichi Hara, the director of one of 2016’s best animated features, Miss Hokusai, Birthday Wonderland tells the story of a young girl named Akane, who gets visited by an alchemist named Hippocrates and the student of the alchemist Pipo. They tell Akane that they are on a quest to save the world, and go into a basement to teleport into a world known as Wonderland. One of the stand-out details for me is the art direction. It looks incredible, but it’s more who is attached to it that is interesting to me. The visuals and character designs are being done by a Russian artist named Iiya Kuvshinov. You don’t really see outside artists work on Japanese productions. It’s a rare sight indeed. It definitely looks like a fun fantastical adventure with plenty of whimsical visuals and a cheerful tone that I hope delivers a wonderful experience.

Ride Your Wave

Directed by Masaaki Yuasa, famed director of Lu Over the Wall Mindgame, and The Night is Short, Walk on Girl, the story follows the relationship of Hinako, a college girl who loves to surf, and Minato, a firefighter who also loves to surf. After Minato passes away during a surfing accident, Hinako goes into a depression. However, when she sings a song that was close to the two, she finds that Minato is back! Well, as a ghost that’s trapped in the water. Yeah, this is going to be another odd and abstract film from the creative anime director. It looks to be a film about dealing with grief and growing up. I’m just sitting here now waiting for it to pop up at the Animation is Film Festival line-up, and for GKids to pick it up!

White Snake

Directed by Amp Wong and Ji Zhao, and a prequel to the Chinese Fable, Legend of the White Snake, it tells the story about a hunter and a snake disguised as a woman. I’m a bit worried how people who are not familiar with the original story will react to this, and its slightly more adult tone may turn off certain people, but I think for Chinese animation, it looks impressive. Their CGI might not be all there yet, but it looks better than most features that come out of China. Hopefully, the story will be compelling and interesting enough for those not aware of the fable.

Swallows of Kabul

I know I have talked about this film by duo directors Zabou Breitman and Elea Gobbe-Mevellec, but since we have a new trailer of the film based on the book of the same name, I wanted to make sure people know about it. It still has a lot of the incredible animation that we saw in the previous teaser for the film, and we get a little more about the story about two families that become intertwined by a corrupt society. It looks great, and I bet we will see this one at Animation is Film later this year.

I Lost My Body

Directed by Jeremy Clapin, this French animated feature focuses on a living human hand that goes on a perilous adventure to be reattached to its body. Yeah, this is easily one of the more complex animated features competing this year. You get an adult vibe from the trailer, which could lead to some fairly mature topics. I’m not entirely sure how this premise is going to carry on through a feature-length film, but it’s a film that stands out from the rest, due to its premise!

The Bear’s Famous Invasion of Sicily

We finally have a trailer for this one! The story itself hasn’t changed, about a bear prince that ends up in the human kingdom that causes a stir between them and the bears. I wanted to bring up the insanely creative visuals. This is done by the same studio that did the Oscar-nominated The Red Turtle and Zarafa, Prima Linea Productions. The vibrant colors, the well-executed CGI animation, and the fantastical imagery really give this film some life that not a lot of other animated features can have. All the visuals look like they are part of some kind of painting come to life, and it’s crazy how lush the colors are! I really hope this comes over to the Animation is Film Festival later this fall.

Marona’s Fantastic Tale

Finally, we have Marona’s Fantastic Tale! Directed by Anca Damian, this Romania, France, and Belgium collaboration follows a dog, which recently passes away, and goes through a journey through her life and the people that she encountered. This is a truly unique-looking animated feature with a pastel painting look to the characters, with a bunch of bright colors and eye-opening visuals to tell a story about love. It’s a small-scale-looking film that I think would be awesome to watch.

 

146: Mirai 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!)

When I started writing reviews, and made it by goal to avoid talking about the fairly obvious Disney/Pixar films, I knew what I was getting into. My opinion doesn’t really change or differ that much from most critics when it comes to the films those two studios release. It’s why I wanted to talk about movies from other studios, big and small. You get more diverse experiences and different opinions from them, but I know they are not the big view/click vacuum that Disney is. I don’t resent talking about them, and who knows, I may make a separate set of reviews or editorials about them in the future. Still, the point I’m making here is when a film like Mirai is getting a lot of big award talk, with a bunch of critical acclaim behind it, it makes me happy. Directed by Mamoru Hosoda, Mirai is his fifth film, and is being distributed here in the states by GKids. Upon its first world premiere back in June 2018 at Annecy, and its US premiere at the Animation is Film Festival back in October 2018, it has been, like I said, critically acclaimed and winning hearts around the theater circuit. I’ll even say that I have now seen this film twice in theaters, and that it’s my favorite animated film of 2018. For Catch Up Month 2019, let’s begin this review of Mirai.

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We follow the story of Kun, dubbed by Jaden Waldman. He is excited when his Father, dubbed by John Cho, and his Mother, dubbed by Rebecca Hall, come back home with Kun’s new baby sister. After going through the stages of hating that he’s not getting all of the attention anymore, Kun acts like any other kid in this situation, and acts out. However, something mysterious happens. Anytime he is going through some kind of issue, when he enters the garden in his family’s house, he encounters a family member from different periods of time. This includes his mother when she was a child, his great grandfather after World War II, a “prince” that was there before him, and his sister, who is much older, and dubbed by Victoria Grace. Can Kun grow to care about his sister, his family, and his future?

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So, an interesting take on this film that Hosoda has said the two times that I have seen this film, is that it’s a film about nothing. Kind of an odd/slightly funny comment to make, but he has a point about it. Technically, Kun never leaves the house, as the entire world to him, is in the home he grew up in. It’s also true that he does leave the home from time to time for routine things, but anytime they decide to jump around the timeline, he’s always in the garden and his home. I think that’s what Hosoda means, and I find it a clever set-up with how the story unfolds. Once again, Hosoda is one of the few directors that I know understands the mind and mannerisms of a child. His inspiration for this film was when he was having a second child, and being jealous that his son was going to be able to grow up with another sibling, something he never got to do. The kids in his films act like real kids. Kids can be funny, loud, grumpy, inconsiderate, selfish, but they can also be kind and caring. It’s a coming-of-age story of Kun learning to be a better brother, a better person, and to not care about the short-term matters, but care about the long-term relationships, memories, and family. Its premise of Kun meeting younger or older members of his own family is wildly creative, interesting, always keeps the story going, and can be really funny when Kun finds out who is who. It’s a small-scale story told in a very big way. Not only is Kun one of the more developed male child characters, his parents are fleshed out, and have their own little arcs that you follow throughout the movie.

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As usual, Mirai is an outstandingly beautiful movie. Beautiful colors, fluid animation, more cartoony expressions, and wonderful shots and backgrounds. With a film that takes place in one setting, they find visually creative ways to transport Kun through time. In terms of the original language versus the English dub, I think you can watch it either way. The English cast has a really good list of voice actors and celebrities that perform some of the best voice work of 2018. John Cho, Daniel Dae Kim, Rebecca Hall, Victoria Grace, Crispin Freeman, Eileen T’Kaye, Victor Brandt, and Jaden Waldman all do a wonderful job with their roles. I could make super minor nitpicks, like Rebecca Hall could have had a little more work in her comedic timing as the mother, but overall, everyone is great. The music is once again done by Masakatsu Takagi, who did work for Wolf Children, The Boy and the Beast, and the Studio Ghibli documentary The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness. He has yet another great soundtrack for this film.

To be a good critic, I need to talk about some of the downsides. Even then, to me, they are nitpicks. I wish Kun could have seen his father when he was a child and not just the mom, some of the jokes were kind of weird, and I wish the opening credits were fully animated. Outside of that, this film sets out and completes its goals.

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Mirai is a wonderful film. I think it’s just as good as Wolf Children, and I might even like it slightly more than Wolf Children. It’s coming out soon to Blu-ray, but if you can find some way to see it in a theater, please do so. It’s the best animated feature from 2018, and that’s saying something, when Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Ruben Brandt offer it some healthy competition. Now then, let’s move on over next, to a film that I felt like should have gotten more support when it was released back in September. Next time, we shall talk about WB’s Smallfoot. Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed it, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials!

Let's Fix the Animation Scene Part 2: The Foreign/Indie Scene

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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 2 of my massive editorial on what I would do or advise to fix the animation scene! If you haven’t seen Part 1, where I tackle the Hollywood theatrical scene, you should read that first. This time, we will be talking about my thoughts on how to improve the foreign/indie scene. For me, this section of animation is a lot different than the big Hollywood scene. It has multiple pros that it does better, but it also has its own cons that are exclusive to this side of animation. Now then, let’s get started!

Word of Mouth/Grassroots Campaigning Isn’t Good Enough!

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Listen, I love the foreign features that get brought over by companies like GKids, Shout! Factory, and Good Deeds Entertainment. We do need to show moviegoers that there is a healthy amount of animated features outside of the big budget releases like The Breadwinner, Loving Vincent, Wolf Children, and Paprika. I’m glad that they can put some ads out into the net, and use word-of-mouth to get a lot of acclaim and fans that current Hollywood wouldn’t really do. However, that simply isn’t enough. I can’t really find the information about this, because it seems like the industry wants to keep hush hush on how much certain aspects, like distribution costs, but you need to start making deals with bigger companies to get your films out there in all areas of the US. Simply hitting the biggest cities is not good enough anymore. I get that certain companies like GKids have made deals with theaters like Regal Cinemas, but being at one theater chain isn’t enough. Some people live in towns or cities where they get skipped over in the distribution game. Being with massive companies like Disney and Universal could mean that you receive that extra help in getting into more than just one kind of theater. It also doesn’t help when theater chains only allow one or two-night screenings of films. I know Fathom Events probably helps with some kind of cost, but it’s a pain to have to take Lyft rides to certain theaters and having it cost up to $20 just for the ride alone to see these movies. Word of mouth is helpful, but when you don’t have a big enough marketing campaign or a good enough distribution plan, then word of mouth can only do so much.

If You Can’t Make Visually Appealing CGI, Then Either Use a Creative Art Style, or Don’t Bother

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Listen, I get that CGI animation is what’s “big”, and it’s probably cheaper than going the route of super traditional 2D animation, but if you don’t have the budget, the talent, or the know-how to not make CGI look good on whatever budget you have, then don’t bother with it. It’s not like 2D is dead and can’t be done using tablets or computers. You just can’t simply go the direction of cel by cel animation. Simply doing CGI because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Do you know how many lackluster-looking CGI animated features I see Lionsgate or Direct TV pick up? There are films that have fairly impressive CGI from overseas, but then never think through on the designs of the characters when translating them from 2D to CGI. Bilal: A New Breed of Hero is a good example of this issue, where the CGI itself is rather good-looking, but then a character here or there will appear and it looks off-putting, due to the super realistic look of everything. Plus, you can make 2D flash work well. It’s not flash’s fault if your film looks like something like a cheap online flash animation. Ice Dragon: Legend of the Blue Daisies is a good example of how to make bad flash animation for theatrical release. Even if it did get a Fathom release here in the states, it looks ugly with no real talent put into making a visually interesting movie. Just know what you are getting into.

Just because you have more freedom, doesn’t mean you should go all out!

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While not having as big of budgets as Hollywood animation can be a hurdle, it usually means you have more freedom to make what you want. There is a reason why execs are going to make sure that the $75 million they invested into a project is not going to go into some super artsy film that won’t hit a massive audience. However, because you have more freedom, it doesn’t mean you should be using it to do everything you have ever wanted to do in one project. A lot of passion projects end up being cluttered, messy, and unfocused. It’s like when adult comedy show creators think that just because they are on Netflix, they can go full tilt on the shock humor, but end up making a bad show that has nothing, but unfunny shock humor. You still need to make a film, and that means staying focused. Eyes on the prize! Make a good flowing film first, and then worry about everything else.

Distributors: Just Because You Can Bring it Over, Doesn’t Mean You Should!

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So, you know how GKids picks and usually chooses the best animated features to bring over? The ones that keep getting award nominations are usually acclaimed for good writing, beautiful animation, and endearing characters? Now, compare the films that, say, Lionsgate and Direct TV pick up. I’m sure you can look at the difference between the quality and the control certain companies use, because they don’t pick it up for the sake that it’s just animation. Kids might like animated things, but due to the limit of time and the quality of animated films and shows, they are going to stick to the films that resonate with them. I get that some may have higher price tags than others, but it doesn’t mean you need to only buy the lesser products. Sometimes, you don’t need to bring over everything.

Work on Your Humor!

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So, this isn’t a big deal, because most directors make films with universally acceptable comedy, but man, some countries need to get it through their skulls that what might be funny to them, will not be funny for other audiences. Japan and China seem to think sex jokes and fart gags are funny, but they really aren’t. They are distracting, and do take you out of the film. I can even understand why some films like Cinderella the Cat haven’t been fully brought over, because it has some unfortunately homophobic moments that it passes off as comedy. The rest of comedy issues come from cheap and lazy comedy writing that they think kids will like. People don’t like these kinds of jokes anymore. Just because you are aiming your films at a family audience, doesn’t mean you have to aim low for the kids watching the film.

That’s it for Part 2! Next time, we shall talk about the Award scene situation!

145: MFKZ 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!)

One of the things I can’t stand about the current image of animation is how many see it in a fairly limited way. They think that animation can’t be successful or good if they step beyond the family market, which is just incredibly ignorant thinking. That’s like saying adult comedies can’t go past a Seth Rogen stoner comedy, or horror films can only have jump scares and gore. The best part about animation, and I will say it as many times as I need to, is that animation is limitless. You can do anything you want with the medium. For every Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch (2018), you get a Liz and the Blue Bird. For every Incredibles 2, you get a Mirai. For every Duck Duck Goose, you get a How to Train your Dragon. My point is, films like today’s review, MFKZ, is to show how varied and vibrant animation can be. Directed by Shojiro Nishimi and Guillaume Renard, and produced by Ankama Animations and Studio 4C, this high-octane action flick stood out from rest of the films from 2018 for its odd, grimy, and intense visuals that were based on the comics made by Guillaume Renard himself. It was one of the first films during 2017’s Animation is Film Festival, but got a wider US release in October of 2018. So, was the wait worth it? Well, let’s check it out!

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So, what is this movie about? Well, a lot. We follow the story of Angelino, dubbed by Kenn Michael. He lives in Dark Meat City, a hyper-stylized, grimy, and grungy version of Los Angeles. He scrapes by making rent money with his friend Vinz, who’s a walking skeleton boy, dubbed by Vince Staples. They have to deal with living in the more poverty-riddled parts of the city and deal with the rent situation from their landlord Willy, dubbed by Dino Andrade. One night however, Angelino and Vinz get their apartment raided by Stormtrooper-like policemen that are chasing down Angelino for yet unknown reasons. This is on top of Angelino getting over an accident where he crashed into an armored car. The accident in question has him able to see individuals who are not who they supposedly are. This is probably why Angelino is being targeted. After that, Angelino and Vinz get sucked into a world that mirrors They Live (the John Carpenter horror flick). They encounter a group of luchadores who protect the world from evil forces, a group of thugs led by a man named Shakespeare, dubbed by RZA, a lovely woman named Luna, dubbed by Dascha Polanco, and getting relentlessly chased down by an evil man named Mr. K, dubbed by Giancarlo Esposito and his right hand Bruce, dubbed by Danny Trejo. Can the two make it out alive, and find out the mystery behind Angelino’s new abilities?

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So, yeah, let’s get this out of the way first, this film has a lot going on. However, unlike many movies with plenty of plots happening, MFKZ is definitely more focused. It’s more They Live, but with over-the-top action. I know nothing can beat that infamous brawl between Keith David and Rowdy Piper, but the action in MFKZ is easily one of the best elements of this film. Once again, with the knowledge that its animation, and the fact that Studio 4C is the studio that animated the film, the action is topnotch. It’s fast, intense, gritty, over-the-top, and varied. You get car chases, luchadores body-slamming Stormtroopers, Angelino gains new tentacle nightmare powers, and gunfights. For the most part of the film, you are constantly moving and learning about the characters. It’s a lot of fun to see them deal with one another, while dealing with constant action and darkly comedic dialogue. I mean, you can be critical of this film, but you can’t be mad at a thug leader who quotes Shakespeare while carrying large machine guns. It’s deep enough for you to care about the characters, but the film knows you want the fun schlocky sci-fi action, too.

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Another major highlight is that the cast is probably one of the most diverse groups of actors for dubbing and films in general. Rarely do you ever hear or see voice actors who aren’t white. There are ethnic voice actors, but they don’t seem to balance out with how many white voice actors there are in the business. It makes sense that MFKZ would then have ethnic actors/voice actors, including Kenn Michael, Vince Staples, Dino Andrade, Michael Chiklis, Giancarlo Esposito, Jorge Gutierrez, Dascha Polanco, RZA, Danny Trejo, and you get the idea. They all do a pretty good job with their roles.

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While I do love this movie, am happy that it exists, and overjoyed to see an action-animated feature aimed at adults, I’m not entirely surprised by the overall rating and the critic-rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Not saying that it’s bad, because I really enjoyed it, but it is flawed. The third act especially has some pacing issues. It goes full steam ahead when the story gets going, but then it halts in its tracks. It then underplays some of the major plot elements by that point in time, and scales it back down to being more intimate and personal about not losing yourself to your darker intentions, and being human on top of the anti-establishment They Live story beats. The final scene also ends on a sequel bait joke that was funny, but also rubbed me the wrong way, because who knows if we are going to get a sequel or not.

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While it sort of unravels in the end, and I get why people aren’t fully on-board with this movie, I love that this movie exists. I’m always down for more action animation and films with weird and out-there plots. I find it hard for myself to be mad at its flaws, because there are a group of luchadores that protect the world from demons, and it’s essentially a wacked-out version of They Live. I definitely recommend either finding a theater that will play this, or checking it out when it hits DVD. While not perfect, I’m glad films like MFKZ and Ruben Brandt exist. For now, let’s talk about what is possibly the best animated feature of 2018 with Mamoru Hosoda’s Mirai. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoy the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Go See It!

My Time at Animation is Film 2018

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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 editorial!)

This year, I decided to go to the 2nd annual Animation is Film Festival in Los Angeles. It was a three day film festival that was all about showing off and supporting the smaller foreign releases that were from countries like France, Japan, and Brazil. Out of the 40 films (both feature-length and short films), I saw 11 of the major releases, because that is why I wanted to go last year. While I can say I wish the festival was not in L.A., because this was one of the most expensive trips in my lifetime, I would have loved it to be in some place like say, Austin, Texas at the Alamo Drafthouse’s South Lamar location. There was also no real swag to purchase, like movie posters of the films being shown with the exception of maybe the Prince of Egypt 20th Anniversary screening, which I wish had two screenings, because I would have loved to have seen it on the big screen myself. In general, this was one of my favorite things to happen in my year of 2018. I really enjoyed seeing US/world premieres of films from around the world, getting my questions during Q&A sessions answered by the directors themselves, shaking hands with a few of them, taking a selfie with the director of Funan, which won the two major awards at the festival, and the possibility of having a future interview with the director of Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles, which won the Special Jury Prize. From my personal perspective, the films that I saw at the festival show that the foreign theatrical animation scene is still going as strong as ever. In this editorial, I’m simply going to go over what I took away from my observations of the animation scene happening all over the world.

2D animation is alive and well, and can be done!

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Recently when talking about the new upcoming CGI SpongeBob movie, Paramount made a comment about how they thought 2D animation couldn’t be done anymore because it’s too hard. It’s not too hard. These studios overseas, while having to go through challenges of their own, still are able to use animation software to make beautiful and vibrant 2D animation. Some didn’t even break the bank in costs. For example, one of my favorite films of the festival, Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles, only cost a little over two million dollars. Sure, with maybe an extra million, they could have added more frames of animation, but the film not only had a great visual look, but the motions were snappy, polished, you understood what they were doing, and had a really good script to balance out the animation. 2D isn’t dead! Either the studio doesn’t have or know about the tech or talent that they have, or they are too lazy to actually give 2D animation a try. It’s not like you need to go back to cel animation to make great 2D. Simply put, films like The Breadwinner and The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales are possible, and don’t always need to cost double-digit millions to make them work.

Animation can tell different kinds of stories!

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One of the best things about animation is that it is such a versatile medium of filmmaking, that if you really put your back into it, you can tell other types of stories than just comedies. You can tell so many stories. Just because it is animated, doesn’t mean you have to write for kids in mind. So many of the films I saw at this festival were not really for kids. They weren’t stoner comedies either, but instead told very endearing, intense, depressing, and intimate stories. A majority of the films were fairly adult, like Funan, Ruben Brandt, Seder Masochism, Bunuel, and even Tito and the Birds. Sure, some of the films were easily approachable to children, like Pachamama and Okko’s Inn, but everything else? Yeah, I don’t think a kid could handle what Ruben Brandt was dishing out. It simply shows that people can and will be enticed to see different stories in animation.

Animation can be visually different!

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A common issue I hear with a lot of animation, whether you say it’s the cartoons from the US, anime from Japan, or the CGI animated features in theaters right now, is that they all look the same. While that’s not really true, I understand. Unless you are doing something outright different with your visuals, it can all feel very repetitive. Luckily, Animation is Film showed how vibrant and diverse the art for every film was. Even some of the films that didn’t have my favorite art direction like Seder Masochism and Okko’s Inn were visually different. Heck, the one film you need to see that has one of the most standout visual styles is Ruben Brandt, with its Picasso-inspired human designs and world. You don’t have to try and look like a Disney film anymore. Find a pleasing artstyle that you can call your own, and use it!

 

Even for more family focus features, they didn’t talk down to the audience!

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A common issue I have with animated films that end up being bad, is that they don’t seem to respect the time or intelligence of the audience. This is a common occurrence with bad family films, like Monster Family, Duck Duck Goose, and Gnome Alone for a few examples from this year. Sure, feeling like the film is talking down to you and assuming you are stupid can be annoying, no matter whom the film is aimed at, but it’s simply delightful when a film does not do that. Even the films that were aimed at younger audiences at the festival did not shy away from trauma or none-happy moments from the film. Okko’s Inn, from its look and tone, is definitely not offering much for many adult viewers, but it does not shy away from what happens to our main character, or the theme of forgiveness. Again, just because it’s animated doesn’t mean you can’t tackle something more mature. Mirai handled its theme of family and growing up without ever wagging a finger at one type of person. Treat your audience with respect!

In general, the Animation is Film festival was incredible, and I hope more people support it in the future. Again, I wish it wasn’t just in California and could be a touring road show and come to cities like Austin, but I would definitely recommend going to this event, if you are a huge fan of animation.

142: The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

141: The Night is Short, Walk on Girl 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!)

So, it’s been three years since I have started to review animated films! I keep missing the date that I started, which is September 11th, 2015. While I was not intentionally setting this review up to be the 3rd year special, I thought, why not? I will never get over how adventurous reviewing animated films has been. You simply don’t know at times what path a film will take you down. It’s might be fate that I choose the ones that I do, but I like being surprised, and one of the biggest surprises for me was The Night is Short, Walk on Girl. Directed by Masaaki Yuasa of Lu Over the Wall, Devilman Crybaby, and Mind Game fame, The Night is Short, based off of a book, sort of acts like a spiritual successor to the Tatami Galaxy, with multiple characters that show up in minor and major roles in this film. I mean, it’s not a coincidence that the same author wrote both Tatami Galaxy and The Night is Short. Some have said to watch Tatami Galaxy first, but to me, a film should work no matter if you know about the source material or not. Plus, the plot lines of both properties are highly unrelated. The surprise for me has been how much I have loved this movie. It’s been in my top five animated features for pretty much the entire year, with no real competition pushing it down on the list. Anyway, let’s dive in and see how long this night will go.

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The film’s main protagonist is a college girl named, well, The Girl with Black Hair, voiced by Kana Hanazawa. She decides to, one night, see what adult life is like with heavy amounts of drinking, and seeing what path fate will take her down that night. While that is going on, she is being followed by a male student named Senior, voiced by Gen Hoshino. He thought that meeting up with her multiple times by what he considers coincidence, will show her that the two were meant for each other. As that goes on, multiple weird events happen, the two star-struck “lovers” meet interesting characters, and the night proves to be one full of mystery and wonder.

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So, what’s good about this movie? Well, for one, while the plot is more of a thin piece of string holding all the events together, I was surprised at how invested I was with the overarching story. Seeing the two leads interact with other characters, and encountering nightly shenanigans, like a book festival, multiple stops for drinking, a rebellious theater group, and so on, lead to some enticing and captivating dialogue sequences. It shows the world that is seen through the eyes of cynicism and hope, how books and people are connected by one another, and how stupid Senior is for wanting to directly interact with the female lead. Yeah, let’s talk about the characters for a moment. I have seen the criticism of Senior for what is essentially stalking the female lead, and not really wanting to put the effort into actually getting to know her. Well, that is true, but the film knows that. His actions are never rewarded, until the end when he gets rid of all that nonsense. Any time he thinks he has found a way to indirectly make her his girlfriend/future wife, it’s instantly shot down. It’s not lampshading the situation either, which is smart, because it’s so easy to lampshade a toxic or bad habit with meta jokes, and the show or film being self-aware that their characters are honestly horrible. The other characters are simply fun and interesting to see, from two other college students that travel with the female lead, a loan shark with a three-story train, a man who won’t change his underwear until he finds the woman he crushed on ala love-at-first-sight, and the supposed God of the Used Book Market. The overall film is more like an experience of a night that takes many twists and turns, seeing the best and most cynical of human beings. It’s a story with plenty of great lines and very funny physical comedy that is more in the vein of the black and white film days, and less The Three Stooges.

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On the animation side of things, The Night is Short is a visual treat. It has Masaaki Yuasa’s signature style, with not-so typical designs, wildly expressive movements, on-point physical comedic moments, and a vibrant color pallet. You can tell they also used different art styles at points where character models have solid colors. It’s a trippy look that gives you many memorable moments. As for the voice work, while I am sad that they never did a dub for this film, I don’t mind. You would have to wonder how they would have made certain scenes work, especially the singing sequences. Not to say you can’t, because Lu Over the Wall did it, but I think it was the right choice to make this one a sub-only film.

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My major complaint with this film comes in the form of a certain reoccurring joke. It’s a common joke for most anime to have a boob grab joke, where the creep gets punched in the face for being a creep. I get that they instantly lampshade these jokes, and I know different cultures like different kinds of jokes, but this one needs to die in a ditch. It’s never funny, and it’s one of those anime tropes that keeps popping up, and it hurts the image of Japanese animation. It’s not like the rest of the humor in The Night is Short is like this, because it’s not. It simply sticks out among the great jokes and visual gags in the film. There is also a scene that may or may not intentionally come off as homophobic. I won’t spoil the scene in question, but it did make me raise my brow a little on how certain viewers might portray this scene.

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The Night is Short, Walk on Girl is a fantastic animated film with a more adult lean. I highly recommend picking this film up when it comes out on Blu-ray and DVD. Masaaki Yuasa has put out a very impressive filmography, not counting his TV work. I can’t wait to see what else he comes up with. If you want to see a crazy and wildly imaginative animated film aimed more for older teens/adults, then check it out. I hope more of my future reviews are for films like this. Next time, I think it’s time to finally talk about a film I have been waiting for a year to watch, The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales. Thanks for reading! I hope you liked my review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

133: My Neighbors the Yamadas Review

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

It’s always going to be an uphill struggle for anime to get a foothold in popular culture these days. While a lot of it can be a cultural barrier that holds back the Japanese-style animation, but there are definitely common tropes, writing, design choices, and so on that will hold back the medium, unless they start treading past the common anime quirks. When it gets past those hurdles, and ends up focusing on stuff that can be more universal, people can become more open to anime. I’m not saying it should get rid of everything that makes anime, well, anime, but if you want more people to take it seriously, you need to do stuff like My Neighbors the Yamadas. Directed by the late Isao Takahata, My Neighbors the Yamadas stands out among much of Japanese-animated features, due to its less-than-typical anime design and art style. While the rest of the world didn’t get it until 2005, the film won a couple of film awards and positive praise, but I feel like it slipped under the radar for Ghibli fans. I decided to end Far East Animation Month on this film, because I felt like it needed more love. Let’s get started!

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The story follows a quirky family named the Yamadas. This includes Takashi, dubbed by James Belushi, Matsuko, dubbed by Molly Shannon, Noboru, dubbed by Daryl Sabara, Nonoko, dubbed by Liliana Mumy, and Shige, dubbed by Tress MacNeille. We follow them through small little stories that are full of comedic laughs, touching moments, and relatable situations.

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I think what might throw people off about this film is the pacing. While it is a comedy, it’s more dialogue-driven, with some wacky antics popping up at times. There is also no real story or overarching conflict. No one has to meet the forest spirit to cure their cursed arm that’s slowly going to kill them, or find some magical floating castle in the sky before an evil government gets there first. It’s just short segments with little self-contained stories. Personally, I don’t mind that as long as the characters and the jokes work. Sometimes, a three or five act structure doesn’t mean the movie is going to be good. I think it was very interesting to see a film with more of a focus on slice-of-life situations, even if it was nothing new to the studio that made Whisper of the Heart or My Neighbor Totoro. I found the skits throughout the film to be cute, charming, and funny. That last word “funny” is surprising, since a lot of Japanese comedy is tough to translate into other languages that would make sense. I think both the filmmakers and the dub did a good job keeping it all grounded, and the humor is kept more universal, so that everyone can get behind the antics from the family. Much of the humor does come from the situations they are put in, and due to jokes being understandable outside of a Japanese audience, plenty of them hit.

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I know I said there is no real story-focus, but if there was an overarching theme to the film, it’s that families will have struggles, but if they push on through them, they can overcome any hurdle. While the only major struggles are in the skits in the final part of the movie, the film is full of instances where the family is thrown into a challenge, and while panicking and getting into small spats with each other, accomplishes the mission. It also helps that the family is pretty likable. They are fairly simple characters, but the sub and the dub for the film are quite well done for what was needed. I think this is one of my favorite English dubs that has been used for the Ghibli films, because it’s comedic, but more grounded. James Belushi is great as the father, Molly Shannon brings in a charming quirky vibe to the mother, Tress MacNeille is pretty much the perfect voice actor to get for sassy grandmas, David Ogden Stiers has a charming and soothing voice for the narration, and I was surprised by Daryl Sabara and Liliana Mumy’s performances as the kids.

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As for the animation, there is a reason why this one stands out. Way before we would get the likes of Benjamin Renner’s Ernest & Celestine and Takahata’s The Tale of Princess Kaguya, Takahata used a more simplistic design for everything. It’s all beautifully water-colored, and smooth with its movements and frames, but it’s drastically different than what Hayao Miyazaki, and most other directors were doing at the time. It’s so rare when you can find an anime or Japanese-animated feature that has its own identity in its visuals. However, while simplicity can sometimes really hurt a film or series, with the tone of the story and the comedy, it really works here, and I was not distracted by the change in art direction at all. It’s very dreamlike, and similar to how the flashback sequences were done in Only Yesterday, where the backgrounds were water-colored, but unfinished and blurry.

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If I did have to complain about something, while I love the film’s slice-of-life story, I wish there was a bit more creativity with the animation. It opens and ends on some of the best looking surreal animation Ghibli has ever put out. It still looks fantastic and is fun to watch, but it would have been nice if there was more of that stuff subtly thrown in as the film went on. It’s also a bit long for me. Sure, I love the film, its story, its comedy, and characters, but 104 minutes was pushing it. I say this also, because while a lot of it translates well into English, one or two of the skits definitely felt like they were more rooted in Japanese cultures.

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In general, I understand why people aren’t super fond of this film, but I really liked it. When you are about to go into a month of comedies, seeing such a laid-back film really helps break up the US animation scene. If you haven’t seen this film yet, I highly recommend picking up the GKids rerelease. If you want a film that’s vastly different from the rest, the Yamadas have you covered. Well, while Far East Animation Month is over, that isn’t going to stop me from reviewing another animated feature from Japan. Next time, we shall watch and review Metropolis. Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

132: Satellite Girl and Milk Cow

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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 decided to start us off on some weird movies. While Lu Over the Wall is definitely a weird movie, it’s still pretty sane in terms of the overall story and setting. It’s a middle school boy befriending a mermaid, learning how to grow up, and how constant communication and being able to talk to one another with no hesitation is a good thing. It’s definitely going to take some convincing to sit someone down and take in the world of Satellite Girl and Milk Cow. This South Korean animated flick was written and directed by Hyeong-Yoon Jang back in 2014. It was supposedly a critical hit in South Korea, but once it traveled the animation circuit, it got mixed reviews. However, GKids apparently saw something special about it, and decided, with the help of Shout! Factory, to bring it over to the states. Granted, it was direct-to-video, but still. Well, how weird is this film? Does having the famous wizard Merlin as a roll of toilet paper sound weird enough? Let’s dive in.

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There is a lot going on in this film’s plot, so I will do my best to sum it up without spoiling anything. The story follows a satellite named Kitsat-1, dubbed by Ryan Bartley. One day, she hears a young man named Kyun-chun, dubbed by Daniel J. Edwards, singing a song that she finds enticing.  After crashing onto earth, she encounters a magical roll of toilet paper, who turns out to be Merlin, dubbed by Kirk Thorton. As she searches for the young man who sang that song, she finds out that due to a broken heart, he has turned into a milk cow. They must find a way to solve this situation, while avoiding grungy individuals who hunt animal people for their livers, a pig witch that takes these broken-hearted souls to live in a forest, and a giant walking furnace that eats the broken-hearted. Can they save Kyun, and turn him back to normal? Will a really off-beat romance build up between the satellite girl and milk cow?

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So, for as weird as this film is, for as many positives I am going to be saying about this movie, this film is a mess. It basically feels like a fairy tale-like story. That means that its logic and sensibilities are going to be only somewhat grounded. To me, this kind of defense can work in two ways. One, if the world, setting, and logic works, then that’s fine. However, it also comes off like a defense of “please don’t use logic so my movie can avoid any legit issues with this film’s world-building”. It introduces plenty of things to bring into the world of this movie, but at the same time, they don’t really explain half of the tidbits that are in it. It’s weird to criticize, since the dub and the film points out how absurd some of the aspects are, like how there is a dog that acts pretty much like Gromit, but walks on two feet. It’s also odd that a giant killer furnace can move around the city, and not be spotted once. Maybe it only comes out at night, but it seems like such a stretch that no one sees a giant fire-breathing piece of metal in the city. They also don’t explain how the secondary villain can travel through reflective surfaces. It gets to be a weird movie when the main characters have to make money, and decide to get the male lead to make milk for them. By that, I mean literal milk. It never happens again, and is not brought up again in conversation. I get being weird for the sake of standing out, and having an identity, but sometimes, being too weird is off-putting.

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I know I’m asking a lot for a film that’s about a satellite falling in love with a man turned into a cow, but when they don’t really build up everything properly, I’m going to be pulled out of the story. I don’t know if there were some edits made that ended up with plot or world elements that feel like they are unfinished, or this was exactly what the final product was supposed to be like, but it’s a movie that’s definitely a wonky ride from beginning to end. Oh, and there are two poop jokes around the beginning of the film. While they aren’t as bad as the one in Big Fish & Begonia, it’s still distracting and unnecessary. I simply don’t get why bodily humor is funny anymore.

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Outside of that, I do have a lot to enjoy about this movie. While the animation is definitely not as good as other animated features from that area of the world, you have to grade on a curve sometimes, depending on what film you are watching. Sure, the film looks like an anime from the early 2000s with its digital coloring and sometimes wonky way of characters walking around, but it still looks polished. It has smooth animation most of the time, and it has really strong physical comedy. Since one of the characters is a satellite that was turned into a robot girl, they take advantage of that aspect, and it leads to a film with some of the funniest and most surprising comedy out of an animated film this year. What also helps is the cast that they acquired. While I wouldn’t say everyone does a good job, the three main actors that they got for the dub all feel like they were committed to such a weird script. Animated properties from different cultures are definitely going to be weird and unusual to adapt, and that is nothing new for voice actors to encounter when doing voice work for anime series, but they don’t skip a beat with their characters. I think my favorite performance came from Ryan Bartley. She does a great job voicing this weird satellite girl, who can’t pick up on certain emotional cues, but is still understanding and loving. A lot of this film relies on the whole aspect of loving someone beyond their looks, and it’s handled pretty well. You felt for the two of them, and got annoyed with them, when they got selfish. I think the scene when they finally confess their love for one another is both very touching and very funny, as she finds out that he loves her for who she is.

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While clunky and bizarre, Satellite Girl and Milk Cow will probably be the cult-favorite animated feature of this year, alongside Big Fish & Begonia. It’s weird, but there is heart to it. If you are hesitant about buying the blu-ray of the film, you can watch the subtitle version on the service VRV. Plus, the movie comes with the director’s first short film that got him acclaim. I would definitely recommend this movie if you are into offbeat romance, fantasy, and comedy movies. Sadly, due to work and life getting in the way, Far East Animation Month will end next week, but we will be looking at another fan favorite film from Studio Ghibli, with Isao Takahata’s My Neighbors the Yamadas. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Go see it!

131: Lu Over the Wall 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!)

Welcome to Far East Animation Month! This is pretty much Japanese Animation Month, but since one of the films I’m going to tackle is not from Japan, I decided to change up the title, because the far east has some pretty promising stuff coming out of the animation scene. Taiwan has a film showing in this year’s Annecy Film Festival, and Japan, as usual, has a bunch of films in production or are about to be released. This time, we are going to start out with what can be considered Masaaki Yuasa’s biggest hit out of his animation career, Lu Over the Wall. Animated by Science Saru and Toho Animation, this was Yuasa’s first major hit that was both a financial and critical success. In his past, he was getting critical praise, but was not the most lucrative director, which unfortunately gave him a stigma of not being able to bring in the big bucks. Thankfully, this one did super well, and he’s having a fantastic career right now with his other film Night is Short, Walk on Girl that came out before Lu Over the Wall, and the hit Netflix anime series, Devilman Crybaby. Let’s just dive into this awesome film!

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The story follows a young boy named Kai, dubbed by Michael Sinterniklaas. He lives in a small fishing town that doesn’t really have the brightest future for anyone wanting to expand on their life outside of what happens in the town. He ends up getting pulled into this band with its two founding members Kunio and Yuho, dubbed by Brandon Engman and Stephanie Sheh. He decides to join them for band practice on this mysterious Merfolk Island, a place where mermaids live and the townsfolk are told to not mess with them, or play music, which supposedly attracts them. During practice, Kai ends up encountering a small mermaid girl named Lu, dubbed by Christine Marie Cabanos. What will happen now that he knows that mermaids actually exist? What will the townsfolk think when they realize that the mermaids are back? Will the songs be groovy and jamming?

So, I have commented in the past that Yuasa has a very distinct style and way of directing his stories. His animation style sticks out with thin lining, and characters who look simple, and while polished in a lot of ways, are very stretchy and bouncy. By a lesser artist, it would look sloppy and ugly, but this stretch and bounce-style of animation is balanced this time, and shows off the fun and energy the characters bring, and also the ugly anger that can come from them. Everything feels like the old Tex Avery cartoons made back in the day, which is no surprise, because Yuasa was inspired by him. It’s simply a lot of fun to watch the animation in motion, since you get to see a lot of it through dancing. Even with the designs as they are, it leads to great expressions and comedy.

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In terms of the themes, story, and characters, I liked it all. I have some issues with how parts of the story were handled, but this feels like the most focused of Yuasa’s work. It deals with the trials of growing up, being able to interact with your loved ones, the downsides to fame, and the dangers of fear mongering. I love seeing some of these themes, because while you definitely see them tackled in a couple of the foreign films, too many of the non-Disney or non-Pixar films decide to have different morals that you don’t often see in most animated films. Seriously, more animated family features need topics of parents and really, anyone needing to be upfront when talking about certain issues. It makes it better in the long run when everyone is on the same page. Lu Over the Wall is also very charming and sweet. I love the scene where Kai and Lu are walking around the town at night. It reminds me of hanging out with my niece. It’s easily the most heart-felt part of the movie. I even like seeing Lu’s dad interact rather peacefully with the humans. Her dad probably has some of the better laughs of the film.

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The voice cast is pretty stellar. I have seen this film in both English and Japanese, and I found the dub cast to be awesome. While I have made some snarky remarks that two of the leads are voiced by the same two who voiced the leads in the critically acclaimed Your Name, and they were chosen for that reason alone, I do think Michael Sinterniklaas and Stephanie Sheh do a good job with their roles. Michael pretty much kills it as a middle school boy unsure of his future and still bitter after his parents’ divorce. It was nice to hear voice actors like Derek Stephen Prince, because I love hearing from voice actors I don’t normally hear from, or simply don’t recognize them right off the bat. One major aspect that I admired about the dub was that they dubbed the songs. Usually, they would just put up some subtitles while the characters sing in Japanese. Kudos for GKids to make sure the dub also covered the songs. I can tell they did this for the next film I’m going to review, and hopefully this will be the case with Fireworks. While I would say the English singing of the song is not 100% perfect, I give the actors credit for having to deal with it, because I’m sure it’s not easy to have to speak and sing for roles like these. Speaking of music, Lu Over the Wall’s soundtrack was composed by Takatsugu Muramatsu. There is a great mix of jazzy upbeat tunes, soft, giving off the vibes of being by the sea, and dramatic tunes when needed for the story.

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The only major complaint I have is that there is a lot going on in the last third. It’s great, but the film builds up a couple of storylines, and they either didn’t know how to pace them, or couldn’t cut them. Some of the side stories get fleshed out decently enough, but a lot of them have endings that wrap up too quickly. Some have touching conclusions, while others give you that feeling of “Is that it? Okay, I guess that was somewhat satisfying.” It does end up making the last third feel drawn out a touch, and a bit busy. It was the only time where I felt like Yuasa’s busy mentality almost got free.

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Overall, I really loved Lu Over the Wall. It’s cute, funny, charming, energetic, and such a fun watch. I had a smile on my face from beginning to end. I know some are trying to twitch react to this film being a clone of Studio Ghibli’s Ponyo, but it’s not. Both are entirely different movies, both have entirely different themes, stories, and both are amazing. It’s still playing in theaters right now, but I bet by August or September, it will be out on DVD. If you can’t catch it in theaters, then definitely buy the movie. Next time, we shall tackle our first South Korean-animated feature that has weird baggage attached to it. That’s right! We will be tackling another GKids-distributed film with Satellite Girl and Milk Cow! Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

130: The Secret of Kells Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

127: Only Yesterday Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

122: The Breadwinner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

 

 

118: Mary and the Witch's Flower

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: Criterion/Essentials