GKids

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!

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

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

126: The Girl Without Hands 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!)

Warning/Heads up: There will be scenes of female nudity, blood, violence, and dark themes. I mean, it’s a Brother’s Grimm fairy tale, what do you expect? Viewer’s discretion is advised. Enjoy the review!

The common complaint I see about animated features these days, is that there is no variety. To a degree, that is true and especially true if you do not follow the other side of animation. It seems like it’s all CGI, with no room for action or drama-focused animated films. They all have to be comedies, and every studio has to have some kind of Pixar/Disney look to them, before they actually branch out with their own visual identity. I think the last time there was some truly diverse options among the mainstream animation scene was 2000. In the year 2000, we had Chicken Run a stop-motion flick, The Emperor’s New Groove, 2D, The Road to El Dorado, 2D that uses some CGI, Fantasia 2000, which had a mix to the overall experience, and you get the idea. By 2001, when the Oscars decided to let the animated features get their time in the sun, the first three nominees were all CGI flicks. Sure, if you look past the mainstream today, there is plenty of variety in terms of writing, stories, characters, and animation styles, but that’s not always going to be the case, and most filmgoers won’t know about films like The Girl Without Hands. Directed by Sébastien Laudenbach, and based on the Brothers Grimm tale, The Girl Without Hands is a 2D animated feature that caught a lot of traction, because it was mostly done by one person. Of course, multiple people helped out with voice work, editing, and so on, but Sébastien Laudenbach did a mass majority of the work. While on the short side at 76 minutes, it won critical acclaim, and stands out as one of the 2010’s most unique films on a visual level. Let’s jump into this atmospheric film, and check it out!

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The plot pretty much follows the original story. A farmer and his family is about to starve, because they were unable to grow crops and water. The father of the family ends up meeting this shady and not-at-all suspicious individual, who offers him and his family riches. In return, the individual wanted the farmer’s daughter. Of course, after making the deal and making his family rich, the individual that made them so turns out to be the devil. The daughter, of course, declines the offer to be his bride. When push comes to shove, the devil decides to take her hands. I won’t go into much detail after that.

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The story itself is rather bare bones, to say the least. It’s not super complex with underlying themes of some sort, or any obvious ones, but still. However, where that could be a problem with a lesser film, the simple and to-the-point narrative of The Girl Without Hands really fits. Like I said, the film is only 76-minutes long, but you can tell the story does not waste time or feel padded as it tells this dark fairy tale story. It’s also a very quiet movie, with most of the music only coming in at specific moments. The rest is mostly ambient noise from nature, until the characters decide to speak. It brings this tense atmosphere whenever the devil decides to drop in, or a peaceful moment in time when it’s focusing on the girl. Even with the minimalist story, you are able to follow the motivation of the characters. I even like that it doesn’t try to be realistic. It’s a fairy tale, and it’s going to have the logic of a fairy tale. Do not try to bring logical complaints into this film.

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It’s very easy to follow this film, and that’s helpful, due to the concern of the film’s biggest reason to be seen, the animation. The Girl Without Hands has some of the most interesting animation from a film released last year. It’s a film that’s fun to show off in stills, but even more visually interesting when you watch it in motion. With all the high polished animation out there, seeing this film’s minimal brush strokes and simple outlines were a limitation, but also a very effective way to tell the film’s story. It brings this fantastical, if ominous vibe to the story. It feels other-worldly. Yet, there is this beauty to it. It’s very smooth and very expressive with how the characters move. It’s especially fun to see the animation used for the devil character and his shapeshifting. It has a lot of empty space in every frame, but that’s the point in this dreamlike tale. The voice cast is also pretty good at portraying their minimalist-made characters. It’s a case of there being no dub, but I think a dub wouldn’t really add much to the experience. No celebrity or famous voice actors would bring much. Granted, I know some people, including me, would rather have a dub, but this is one of the few cases where I’m fine with there not being one. The actors do a good job, and bring a lot of emotion and life into the film.

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My only real nitpick is that it’s sometimes hard to see what exactly you are looking at, but for the most part, the minimal style translates very well to the screen. Honestly, all I have for complaints are nitpicks. I kind of wish there was a dub, just so I wouldn’t have to read subtitles. It would also let people be able to focus on the beautiful artwork instead of having to train their brain to follow both the subtitles and the story. I also felt like the ending, while satisfying, was a bit confusing at the very last bit, in terms of exactly knowing what happened. I won’t spoil it here, but it’s “abstract” to say the least.

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The Girl Without Hands is a truly unique and a one-of-a kind animated film. It’s an animated feature everyone should check out, and one I highly recommend purchasing. Sure, it has no dub, but I think the beautiful art work and fairy tale-like story will be strong enough to keep you invested into the 76-minute runtime. Our next film is one that I have wanted to talk about for a while, but now I have to, with the sad passing of Isao Takahata. The next review will be of what I considered to be his best film that I have seen, Only Yesterday. Thanks for reading this review! I hope you enjoyed it, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials