Illumination Entertainment

158: The Secret Life of Pets 2 Review

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

As a reviewer, I have seen so many arguments and comments thrown at films, studios, brands, and what have you, that are clichéd and boring. One of the most boring and trite comments and arguments I keep seeing are about Illumination Entertainment. Listen, I’m not saying their films are secretly good, or you have to stop hating on them. I will say though that they aren’t lazy. They have talented animators and people there making these films that rake in millions. However, I would argue a more proper criticism would be that they lack ambition, and are too nervous to step out of their safety bubble to expand their horizons of writing and storytelling. There is nothing wrong with not wanting to be a Disney or a Pixar-caliber film, but that doesn’t mean you slack off on the writing, animation, and story. Sooner or later, you will find yourself being forgotten for the next flashy animated experience. It’s actually kind of happening to Illumination’s newest film, The Secret Life of Pets 2. Directed by Illumination Entertainment mainstay Chris Renaud, Pets 2 is the sequel to the smash hit original film from 2016. It came out on June 7th of 2019, and while it was getting the usual mixed-to-mostly-negative reviews, it wasn’t the instant smash hit most of their films tend to be, financially. While it has made $203 mil on its $80 mil budget as of writing this review, it’s not the runaway hit as their other films were. Sure, it’s probably going to make more money as time goes on and after leaving theaters, but it is interesting to see this happen. Are people finally getting tired of Illumination’s style of filmmaking, or was a possibly good film caught victim in 2019’s summer film drought? Well, let’s dive into this world of fluffy animal shenanigans.

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The story once again follows our hero Max, a small dog now voiced by Patton Oswalt. Along with his buddy Duke, voiced by Eric Stonestreet, they are happy with their current life with their owner Katie, voiced by Ellie Kemper. That is, until Katie falls in love with a man she meets named Chuck, voiced by Pete Holmes. After the two get married, they have a kid, and while at first Max and the new kid don’t get along, Max soon begins to love him, and then becomes overly protective and afraid of the world around him. To solve this issue, he and Duke go on a trip to the countryside to a farm, and end up meeting an old sheep dog named Rooster, voiced by Harrison Ford. While this is going on, two other stories are happening. The second story revolves around Gidget, a pomeranian voiced by Jenny Slate, who ends up losing Max’s favorite toy inside the crazy cat lady’s home, and must get the help of Chloe, voiced by Lake Bell, to learn the ways of the cat to get it back. The third story revolves around Snowball, voiced by Kevin Hart, who is contacted by a shih tzu named Daisy, voiced by Tiffany Haddish to help save a tiger that is being held hostage by a cruel circus owner that is voiced by Nick Kroll.

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Yeah, if that sounds like a lot, then it is. Once again, we find Illumination having trouble trying to stretch out plots that could fill the 80+ minute runtime, and it’s not like they couldn’t have. Some of these plots might be generic with typical animated tropes that you have seen before, but at least it would have been focused. They could have easily made this film entirely around Max and Rooster’s dynamic, because the theme of overcoming your fears is not a bad one. I actually enjoyed bits and pieces of Max and Rooster’s relationship with one another, and in a better movie, they probably would have explored the idea of how to overcome your fears. It’s not executed in the best way possible, but I give them credit for at least trying a little. That theme does connect the three stories, but the pacing and flow of the three stories in the film is so awkward, that it keeps abruptly pushing you into each story as it unfolds. It comes off like they weren’t fully sure on how to keep you interested with the multitude of characters that are in the previous film that are now in this film. Most of them don’t really do much, or do anything to help the story. It’s a case of too many characters, huge expensive names attached to them, and they are given little to do. I remember a friend of mine suggesting that this franchise should turn to making a series of shorts or a TV series, and that would make sense. That way, you can flesh everyone out more, and not have to worry about using them, because you forgot to do something with them. The final act has decent action, but due to how low the stakes are, it’s hard to feel invested. Like, it’s so hard to care about half of the storylines because they either end abruptly, or the characters vanish for a mass majority of the film, like the kid and the owner’s new husband. There was seriously no reason to hire Pete Holmes for the role of the husband. He has, like, four lines in the film, and they could have been done by Jeff Bennett or Steve Blum.

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Now, it’s time for some positives. I found the animation to be quite good. It’s another sign that Illumination is still getting better at their animation skills. Character movements and facial expressions are vibrant, and once again, they get little animal characteristics down for the different pets that you see. I also enjoyed the voice cast. Patton Oswalt takes over for Louis C.K. as Max, and to be frank, Patton Oswalt is a way better Max. He knows how to capture that casual innocence of a dog. Harrison Ford is also a pleasant surprise as this was his first voice-over role. Isn’t that surprising? His first voice-over role in his entire career. Anyway, he captures Rooster’s stoic nature, but he also shows he isn’t just a hard-edged individual. Of course, Lake Bell steals any scene that she is in as this pedantic sarcastic cat. The others do a good job, and it was fun to see Dana Carvey as his old dog character from the first film, have a few good laughs in this film with his character interacting with a bunch of puppies.

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There isn’t a whole lot to say about The Secret Life of Pets 2. It’s a dull experience. It might be the most forgettable film Illumination Entertainment has made yet. It might be making a bit of money, but with Toy Story 4 out right now, it’s probably going to dry up. Maybe this is a sign that people are getting tired of Illumination Entertainment, or maybe it’s just a realization that this was never meant to be a big theatrical franchise. Maybe it’s time for them to start making this into a series of shorts, or a TV series for Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime. Maybe with a TV design philosophy, they can flex their creative muscles. All I know is that there is no reason to see this in theaters. I would have been much happier that, since this was animated by a French studio, if it was a smaller character-focused story that has a more laid-back vibe to it. People tend to not know that many French/European/Foreign animated features have very laid-back paces and stories, and that is something American studios can learn from overseas studios. Anyway, it’s time to move onto something that’s more interesting to talk about. Next time, we will talk about one of three Netflix-exclusive animated features out this year with Pachamama. Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Lackluster!

144: Dr Seuss's The Grinch (2018) 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!)

It’s another year, and that means another Illumination Entertainment movie. It also means another time to say how Illumination is not a horrible studio in the sea of vitriolic hate and anger that is the internet that hates this studio with a passion. Listen, in the grand scheme of things, there are worse things to worry about than a studio that makes middle-of-the-road movies that rakes in boatloads of money, because they hit a massive audience. Now, in the context of the animation scene, I get the annoyance. You want films that put all the elbow grease into their animation, story, and writing to make all the money, or people to go see the incredible indie animation scene. Sadly, that’s an all too head-in-the-clouds way of knowing what’s going to actually happen. People are going to go see films that might not be perfect, but they personally find enjoyable. So, it is annoying that Illumination seems to do the bare minimum with their work, but rake in cash because of smart budgeting and business. It’s not their fault they are doing something that, at the end of the day, is going to make the studio money. Art might be why we make movies, but you can’t simply rely on that on its own to make the industry run. It’s a balancing act, and that’s why for every Missing Link, we get a Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch. Directed by Scott Mosier and Yarrow Cheney, this newest take on the beloved short story was released November 9th, and while getting mostly middling reviews, is raking in the money. To be fair, this is way better than the Ron Howard live-action version by millions of miles. Why? Well, let’s find out!

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Benedict Cumberbatch voices our main character, the Grinch, a green furry individual who hates everyone in Whoville, and especially the Christmas holiday. He doesn’t like the cheerfulness, he doesn’t like the joy, nor does he like his overly happy neighbor “friend” Bricklebaum, voiced by Kenan Thompson. The only proper thing to be mad about is the aggressive groups of Christmas carolers that harass him while he goes to the store. When he finds out that the Whoville citizens are going to throw a Christmas celebration that’s three times bigger than normal, Grinch decides to steal the Who’s Christmas with the help of his dog Max. He has only a few hours to get it all done, and will encounter a few challenges, like cookies and little Cindy Lou Who, voiced by Cameron Seely. Can he do it? I mean, you know about the original story by now, or at the very least, you should.

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Let’s talk about the positives that the film brings to the table. While sounding more snarky, sassy, and almost making you wonder what would have happened if Bill Hader got the role, Benedict Cumberbatch does a solid job as our grumpy green icon. I like that if you aren’t paying attention, or know that it’s him beforehand, you might actually think it’s Bill Hader doing the voice of the Grinch. The rest of the voice cast is also pretty solid. While not all of the characters get worthwhile dialogue sequences, like Rashida Jones’ role as Cindy Lou’s mother, other actors like Kenan Thompson get some of the better laughs in the movie. Oh, and the Whos are actually nice in this film. It’s fine if you grew up and love the Jim Carrey/Ron Howard version, but the one thing the film royally screwed up in that movie was making the Whos the most unlikable blithering individuals. They even have a few story elements that, while they do not go into them at all because it’s Illumination, I liked the ideas of. For example, Grinch has a “neighbor” who is always happy, optimistic, and friendly toward him, while being fairly unaware that Grinch hates him. But you can kind of see two different individuals who deal with the same kind of loneliness, but deal with it in different ways.  It would have been nice if they went more into that, but again, it’s Illumination, depth isn’t their strong point.

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On an animation side of things, The Grinch is probably Illumination’s most visually impressive movie. You can tell that whatever the studio is using to animate this film, the artists and animators they have are incredibly talented. It’s colorful, has some of that Seuss whimsy in its designs, but also has its own Illumination touch. A lot of the textures and details were simply impressive to look at on the big screen. I even heard the 3D version is decent, but my viewing was in 2D. The animation on the character work also made for some solid physical comedy moments. All the visuals accumulate into the heist sequence, and while it is short, is a lot of fun to watch with the fantastical Christmas designs.

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Many of the film’s problems come into the fray with making this story feature-length. Due to the original special being about 25 minutes in length, you don’t get to the actual heist part of the film until maybe halfway or a little over halfway through the 80-minute runtime. It adds in sequences of the Grinch interacting with the Who, and while this could have led to something interesting, it’s more lightweight snark and physical comedy. Along with more sequences of the Grinch with the Who, they give Cindy Lou a subplot and a group of friends who do not add anything at all to the overall story. It even takes out the major threat of the Grinch by giving him a reason why he slightly hates Christmas. The strength of the original special was that he didn’t really have a set reason to hate the holiday. As I sat through the film, I found myself bored at times, because some of the jokes weren’t landing. The audience I was with was the same, but they definitely got a few more chuckles out of the film than me. I also found myself thinking about scenes and ways the film could have improved upon itself through visual storytelling. However, I can’t judge the film because of scenes or ways of filmmaking I would found to be better, but with the film I have here, and it’s simply put, it’s another Illumination film.

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In general, it’s another safe, visually pretty, decently funny, and forgettable animated feature. It might have a nice ending, Benedict Cumberbatch was good as the Grinch, and again, visually splendid animation, but why would you waste the money to go to this film? Just go see Ralph Breaks the Internet, or go and try to find a screening of Mirai or Liz and the Blue Bird to watch. I still stand by my opinion that Illumination isn’t the worst studio around, but it’s becoming harder to defend them when they are not willing to try and push themselves into more creative directions. They make money hand over fist, and they should be able to now experiment a little with different writers, directors, and animation styles. Hopefully, they start doing that more in the future. Now then, let’s talk about one of the great action-animated films of 2018 with MFKZ. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Rent it!

The Other Side of Animation 114: Despicable Me 3 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!)

As you can tell, so far, my opinion on the Despicable Me franchise has been consistently, okay. Each film does something I like, but for every element I like, it does something that I don’t like. They have all been passable and harmless movies. And really, that’s sadly the term I would use for the studio, passable and harmless. They seem to be in this financially successful rut of not wanting to challenge themselves artistically. I respect and admire that not every film needs to be a Disney or Pixar heavy-weight, but at the same time, you can only go so far and so long in being successful when you are doing nothing different. Even though I like their film, SING, I still had plenty to dislike about it, and I can’t really say that I have a film of theirs I truly and utterly love and would recommend on the spot. I know there are talented people working on this franchise, and I think they don’t fully deserve a lot of this criticism, but you can’t help but think that they could be trying harder with their films. Sooner or later, another studio is going to come along, and be the next big thing, and Illumination will probably be in the same situation that Blue Sky was when they were churning out Ice Age sequels. I don’t want that to be the case, but if their future films are anything like Despicable Me 3, then I’m going to be concerned. Directed again by Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda, Despicable Me 3 came out June 30th, 2017, and while once again, gaining mixed reviews, was another billion dollar cash cow for the studio and Universal. So, where do I stand on the quickest franchise to reach a trilogy and a spin-off? Well, let’s see if my mind has changed with this film.

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The story starts off with Gru, voiced by Steve Carell, and his wife Lucy, voiced by Kristen Wiig, on a mission to stop an evil villain known as Balthazar Bratt, an ex-child star-turned super-villain, voiced by the co-creator of South Park, Trey Parker. The good news is that they stop Bratt from his plan of stealing a large diamond, but the bad news is that Gru and Lucy get chewed out and fired from the Anti-Villain League for not capturing him. While making sure to comfort his kids in knowing that they will be alright, Gru gets a letter and a surprise from his long-lost rich twin brother, Dru, voiced also by Steve Carell. Gru and his family decide to visit his brother, who tries to tempt Gru back into the world of villainy. Gru takes up his brother’s offer, and decides to use this opportunity to get at Bratt. All the while, the Minions are rioting, and have left Gru.  Lucy is trying to become a step-mother to Gru’s adopted daughters. Can they stop Bratt from pulling off an evil heist? Will Gru and Dru bond as brothers? Will this film try a bunch of storylines, while not putting in the effort into making those stories interesting?

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I would like to get into the criticisms with this one first, but I want to get into the positives first, because I don’t hate this entire movie. The animation is, once again, very impressive. It’s pretty much the same level of quality that Minions had. Though maybe it’s just me, but I think they got their physical comedy down. Like the other films, I did find myself laughing, and as usual, it helps when the comedic animation is snappy. It’s fast enough to not be too much, and a lot of the jokes land. Balthazar Bratt is definitely a more gimmick-focused villain, due to his 80s attire, gadgets, and, well, everything else about him. However, Trey Parker does a good job with this villain, and makes him the best villain of the franchise so far. I was curious to see how Trey Parker would handle the role, and he brought a lot of great energy to the character, even if he had some cringe/eye-rolling lines.

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I also respect that this film did attempt to do more than just be more comedy-oriented like the second film. I like that it brought up a few different storylines. I liked Gru and Dru’s chemistry and the stories about their parents’ reaction to them both growing up, I liked Lucy wanting to be a better mother to Gru’s kids, and I even like the mass majority of the Minions rioting and walking out on Gru because he isn’t being a super-villain anymore. I even like that throughout three major films, Gru is still a likable character. Even after being tempted to go back to the side of being a super-villain, he’s still getting back at Bratt to help his family. It would have been very easy for him to just think about himself and be this unlikable character, like Shrek was in the fourth film. Instead, he doesn’t want to stop being a father or a husband, and I like that. I was also surprised about how little the Minions were in the film. What you see in the trailers is basically what you see in the film. It has its hit-and-miss jokes, but it was decently entertaining.

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If you don’t think I have complaints about this film, then I don’t know where you have been for the past couple of reviews. Personally, Despicable Me 3 shows everything that is wrong with the franchise on a film and artistic level. For every plotline they set up, they either do the bare minimum into putting effort into said plotline, or go nowhere with it. Where do they go with Gru and Dru’s relationship and the fact their parents were both disappointed with them in their own separate ways? It goes nowhere. Where does Gru and Dru’s relationship go beyond a very soft “liar’s revealed” storyline? It goes essentially nowhere. How deep is the story arc of Lucy trying to be a good mother to the girls? It has barely any focus. Do they ever dive into social commentary about Bratt, and how Hollywood and entertainment treats child actors? They do not. What about one of the girl’s subplot about her faith that unicorns exist? They do nothing with it. Do the little girls get to do a whole lot? They get to do a whole lot of nothing! I know the girls are meant to be the “heart” of the franchise and films, but if you can’t find any meaningful way to fit them into the story, then write them out of the film, by saying they are off in summer camp or something. I also wish Dru was played by a different actor. It comes off as lazy and cheap that they essentially rehashed Gru’s character model, changed it up enough, and decided to save money by hiring Carell to do the other voice.

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There is so much going on, and yet, not a whole lot happens. When I wasn’t having one of the few occasional laughs, or being invested in the few decent heartfelt moments, I was bored. It once again feels like they had ideas, and the writers weren’t good enough to know what to do, or they weren’t given the freedom to risk a few elements to actually progress the story. It’s concerning, since this also made a billion dollars at the box office, and even more than that in DVD and merchandise sales. Am I missing something here? I feel like this franchise is going to turn into the new Ice Age franchise, if they don’t start putting in the effort to improve everything. Yes, I laughed, the animation is good, the voice cast does a fine job, and the action is fun to watch, but after watching the film, I was left not remembering much, or caring about what happened. It doesn’t help things that they basically set up a fourth film that’s now going to happen. In my opinion, if they cut out a few story arcs, and focused on sharper writing and storytelling, then we may have had a pretty good movie. Instead, we get fairly hollow storylines and wasted opportunities.

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In the end, Despicable Me 3 is fine. It’s probably the most average film I have ever seen out of the franchise so far. I liked Gru, Lucy, and the villain, but they weren’t strong enough to make this a good movie. It baffles me how people are finally sick of the Ice Age franchise, but are not sick of this franchise for becoming hollower and more manipulative than usual. It’s not a tough watch or anything, but if they don’t’ start improving, another studio is going to come marching on through with the next new shiny thing, and Illumination will be forgotten. I am not harsh on them, because of the community getting sick of Minions, I’m harsh on them because they are talented individuals working on these films, and yet, they are perfectly fine with being boiler-plate forgettable. I hope they can improve, and if they do, then I’ll be happy to be there at any screening, and to praise the hard work at making better films. For now, I’m tired of this franchise, and I need a break. Next time, we will look at the popular TV series known as HarmonQuest. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Rent it!

The Other Side of Animation 113: Minions 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!)

Spin-offs are something I don’t envy people having to make. With the popularity of a certain product or franchise, you know that the executives see nothing but dollar signs, and want to find a way to make even more fat stacks of cash. It’s why we don’t have a lot of good sequels or spin-off series or films that do well. They don’t really have heart or passion put into them. Still, you always want something to be good, because we know no one sets out to intentionally make a bad movie. So, where does Minions land on the scale of sequels, spin-offs, and prequels? Directed by Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda, this prequel/spin-off was now focused on the most marketable characters of the franchise, the already mentioned Minions. It came out July 10th, 2015, a month or so after Pixar’s amazing Inside Out. While not getting the best reviews with it sitting at a total aggregate score of 56%, it was a first for the animation company to break a little over a billion dollars at the box office. So, where do I stand with this film? Do I stand on the side of the Minions? Or do I stand on the side of the critics? Let’s check it out!

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The story follows the evolution and life span of the Minions, little yellow beings that look for the biggest villains to work for. Throughout their existence, they have served many evil empires, while also coincidentally ending them in darkly comedic ways. Over time, they found shelter, and made their own civilization, but soon found no purpose without serving a villain. Three specific Minions named Kevin, Stuart, and Bob, all voiced by Pierre Coffin, decide to go off on an adventure to find a new super-villain to work under. This leads the three to a convention for super-villains, and they meet Scarlet Overkill, an infamous female super-villain voiced by Sandra Bullock. Can they help Scarlet become the queen of England? Or will they get into more comedic hijinks? I mean, what do you expect from Minions other than comedic hijinks?

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As usual, let’s start with the positive aspects of the film. Once again, the animation is still pretty good. It even looks a little better than the second film. Again, I have to give Illumination Entertainment the respect and admiration that they improved very quickly on their animation. The comedy is fast, snappy, creative, silly, and amusing. It’s actually surprising how many dark comedic jokes and slightly adult jokes are in this movie. Not every suggestively adult joke works, but I, at the very least, respect that they tried out different types of jokes. For a film that’s once again trading story for comedy, I was definitely finding this film much funnier than the previous films in the franchise.

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I think the best aspect of the film is the first third. It was fairly risky to start the film, and have the lead characters that don’t speak English. It reminds me of what would happen a few months or so later during 2015, when Shaun the Sheep Movie was released, another animated film that had no real dialogue. Sure, you get a narration, but for the most part, a huge chunk of the film is told through movements, gibberish, and clever visuals. The Minions don’t speak English, so you have to make sure their gibberish can be easily understandable. It reminds me of some of my favorite films from the 2000s to now with Boy and the World, The Illusionist, and The Triplets of Belleville. It actually showed that Illumination wasn’t scared to try something different. It makes the film feel unique, and the three Minions that we do follow are kept simple enough to get their individual personalities. It’s a lot of fun to watch, since you aren’t being distracted by a huge amount of goofy humor and dialogue. Now, in terms of Scarlett Overkill as a villain, Sandra Bullock hits it right out of the park. Scarlett Overkill is a great comedic villain. Sadly, while there isn’t much to her powers-wise, her design is great, her lines are funny, her delivery is perfectly timed, and she is even better than the last villain. Even her husband in the film played by Jon Hamm is very funny in his own way. You get a family the Minions meet up with, where the couple is played by Allison Janney and Michael Keaton, that are entertaining. Even Steve Carrell returns for a small cameo that is actually built up during the villain convention, and his appearance later on pays off.

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Sadly, while I can definitely praise a lot of this film, I’m going to start heavily criticizing it. This is when the cracks in the base of the franchise really start to show. For every good idea this film has, it has a downside to it. Minions can be funny, but the humor becomes too much, due to the lack of any real emotional engagement later on in the film. The three characters are likable, but the Minions as a whole can’t carry an entire movie on their shoulders. Scarlett is a fun villain, but there isn’t too much to her, outside some cool tech and kung fu. The first third is very well-executed, but the other two thirds are not, due to the lack of story, heart, and energy. It’s not 100% downhill after the first third, but it becomes less interesting as the plot moves forward. I know that it’s a movie about the Minions, but it’s still a movie with a budget as big as the main films, and is competing with the other big films. It’s like the creators behind the film didn’t want to fully commit to some of the ideas they threw down on the table.

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In the end, Minions is fine. It’s silly, harmless, and entertaining, but unless you have kids that enjoy Minions, I see no reason to see it. I understand why it made a lot of money, and why we are getting a sequel. If you haven’t seen it yet, there is no harm in checking it out, but if you want a good comedic animated film with heart and laughs, I would check out Ernest & Celestine, LEGO Batman, or The Cat Returns. Well, we might be going overboard with Despicable Me, but we are down to one more movie in the franchise with the next review being Despicable Me 3. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the article, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Rent it!

The Other Side of Animation 112: Despicable Me 2 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!)

After any movie in the theater makes a small country’s worth of money, you know Hollywood will want a sequel. It’s always a shame when a sequel doesn’t always hit the mark, since you would believe a sequel to a super popular movie would be easy to do. All you really need to do is progress the story, characters, and not repeat anything from the last film. Sadly, we do have more bad sequels than good ones. So, where does Despicable Me 2 land? Directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, Despicable Me 2 came out in 2013, and while it got mixed reviews, it was still a massive financial success by making $970.8 million on an increased $76 mil budget. It even got an oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature, but lost out to Frozen. So, is it better than the original? Is it funnier than the first film? Or is this the start of the downfall of Illumination Entertainment as an animation studio? Let’s get down to it!

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Steve Carrell is back as Gru, now living as a happy single father with his three girls. One day, he gets a visit from a mysterious woman, and is then kidnapped by her. This dangerous individual with a lipstick taser is Lucy Wilde, voiced by Kristen Wiig. Lucy has taken Gru to an organization known as the Anti-Villain League to help out in a situation where a mutagen called PX-41 was stolen by an unknown super-villain. At first, Gru is reluctant to join, but after his partner in crime, Dr. Nefario decides to quit, since Gru is no longer a super-villain, Gru takes up the job, and joins Lucy in trying to find out who stole the mutagen.

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Once again, let’s start with the good stuff. First up on the docket, the animation is 10 times better than the previous film. Say what you will about Illumination Entertainment, they quickly improved the quality. Even in that terrible The Lorax film they did, you can tell they had their animation down by that point. Everything looks better, from the textures, to the designs, to the snappier movements. It leads to the comedy being a lot funnier. Speaking of comedy, one of the biggest complaints I had of the first film was that the villain was very weak. Thankfully, the villain this time, Eduardo “El Macho” Perez, voiced by Benjamin Bratt, is a very entertaining villain. While not super complex in any way personality-wise, he’s way more amusing with a better design, lines, and probably one of the most over-the-top goofy deaths in any animated comedy. One of the big new additions to the franchise is Kristen Wiig’s Lucy Wilde. I’m usually hit-or-miss with Wiig as a comedy actress, but I think she has a lot of charm, and a couple of good laughs as well. The minions are, of course, in the movie, and do have some great laughs. I’ll even say they have some of the better laughs in the film.

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Sadly, while I think this sequel does improve in a couple of ways, this is where the series started to go south for me. For one, the three daughters of Gru do not have a lot to do. Really, the oldest one played by Miranda Cosgrove has a “plot”, and even then, it’s very straight forward, and they don’t do anything with it. The other two get sidelined, and are just there because they have to be there. It’s not like they can retcon them, but you can at least do something with them. While I think Kristen Wiig is funny in this, her character is a bit too hyper and goofy. She becomes a bit much, and I think she would have been better as the slightly quirky, but serious agent that she was at the beginning of the film. The film also sadly trades in the heart for more wacky antics. It can be funny and very entertaining, but the heart and the action tend to lose a lot of its luster when there isn’t that much time to focus on the best aspect of it with Gru. I’m fine with a film trading story for comedy, but the comedy has to be good enough to forgive the lack of focus to the story. Sadly, the comedy is hit-and-miss. Some parts are really funny, and some parts aren’t. It once again has predictable story patterns that you know are going to happen, and not that I need to be surprised every time I watch a movie, I want the predictability to be entertaining. It also leaves the action to be pretty forgettable. The last third can be fun, but it doesn’t have the action seen in other animated comedies.

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While improving in many ways, Despicable Me 2 is also middle-of-the-road. I enjoyed watching it for this review, and for when I made my Worst to Best Animated Films of 2013, but I don’t see myself wanting to watch it again. It has its good moments, but is just passable enough to not be anything hugely mediocre. Now then, we shall move on to the point of no return as we dive into the first spin-off film of the franchise with Minions. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Rent it!

The Other Side of Animation 111: Despicable Me 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!)

Well, we are finally here. We are going to be talking about the cash cow of cash cow animation franchises, Despicable Me. I can’t think of a film franchise that took animation by storm in such a short amount of time than Despicable Me. Sure, we have had worldwide success stories for animation, but to be constantly successful, that’s at the very least commendable. Sadly, Despicable Me has also become one of the most hated franchises, due to the films being not high quality, oversaturation of Universal and Illumination’s marketing, and the fact that for animation/film goers, they find success while not trying hard. Well, I think it’s time to take a look at the franchise. For the rest of December, I’m going to be looking at the four films that are currently available. Let’s start at the very beginning with 2010’s Despicable Me. Directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, with a story by Sergio Pablos, this film came out of nowhere making $546 million on a $69 mil budget. That is of course not adding all the money they made on merchandise and DVD sales. Still, I thought I would look back and see how this film holds up. Does it deserve its legacy, or was it just a product of its time? Let’s see what happens.

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The story revolves around Gru, voiced by Steve Carell, a super-villain with plans of being the world’s best super-villain. After being discouraged that an unknown super-villain stole the pyramids, he decides to set up a goal of stealing the moon! With the help of his lab assistant, Dr. Nefario, voiced by Russell Brand, and his army of the now iconic Minions, Gru goes to try and steal a shrink ray being held by another villain named Vector, voiced by Jason Segal. After failing to do so, Gru decides to get the help of three orphan girls that were able to get past Vector’s security. The three are named Margo, Edith, and Agnes, voiced by Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, and Elsie Fisher. Can Gru get the shrink ray, and steal the moon with the help of the three girls, or will he be only a middle-of-the-pack supervillain?

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Since this is before the time the films became annoying audience-fodder, I think it’s fair to talk about the good aspects. I know that sounds silly to the hyperbolic hate crowd, but the first film does have a few elements that are noteworthy. First off, Gru is a great character. He’s probably the most consistently likable element throughout the entire franchise. He’s energetic, his movements are lively, and he is the right amount of evil to be fun to watch. I think it helps that Steve Carrell brings in his comedic charm to the character. Sure, his character is nothing new or revolutionary, being the bad guy with a heart of gold, but his interaction with the characters is the heart of the movie. The voice work is also pretty spectacular. While a lot of the film’s voice work is done by celebrities you can recognize, you get a few performances that you wouldn’t recognize, like Russell Brand is unrecognizable in the film as the elderly Dr. Nefario. While the animation is starting to show its age, for a studio’s first comedic film outing, the physical Looney-Toons-style comedy is pretty funny. It has the right amount of snappiness that you would see perfected in the later films. It’s not too fast to be exhausting, but it’s not too slow for the comedy to not land. And yes, let’s talk about those little yellow pills known as the Minions. I know people are really sick of them now, due to being over-saturated in the pop culture world, they were pretty funny in this movie. They had good expressions, had some funny lines, and were the right amount of funny without being annoying. However, that is just me. I know that these guys have been the punching bag for what’s wrong with animation, pop culture, and so on. Still, for the time, they were genius and memorable.

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What works about this movie is that it’s kept fairly on course. While the film does have laughs, it also has the right amount of heart to keep you invested in-between the laughs. You do feel for Gru, and his interaction with his three adopted daughters, and while he tries not to connect with them, even a super-villain has his limits. Especially when he knows a carnival game is rigged when one of the girls wants a large stuffed unicorn. What I mean is that the story knows what it wants to happen, and it doesn’t deviate, or do a lot of the things the later films would do with having multiple subplots. No, the first film is just about Gru, the girls, the plan to steal the moon, and the other super-villain, Vector. I like when a story knows what it wants to do, and it gives characters equal screen time. No one felt like they got the short end of the stick in terms of a character arc.

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Unfortunately, the film does have some flaws. For one, Vector is the weakest part about this film. He has the most annoying lines and jokes, and his design is simply not that great. He almost looks out of place among everyone else. There was just nothing that pleasant or entertaining. I know the actor behind him, Jason Segal is doing his best, but I don’t think Vector’s lines were strong enough for the performance. The film is also fairly predictable. You know every story beat and character arc. I wouldn’t mind that, if the writing was better. It’s not an annoying movie to sit through, but the writing isn’t strong enough to excuse the fact that you have seen this style of movie before. Like I said above as well, the animation is starting to show its age. The designs aren’t fully there yet, the smoothness of the animation isn’t there yet, the textures aren’t there yet, and while it’s hard to explain, watch all the movies in order of release, and you will see what I mean. I’m impressed that it looks as good as it does for CGI animation on a non-Pixar/Disney budget, but I guess they couldn’t iron out all the kinks yet, or didn’t have the tech for it yet.

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Overall, I like the first film. I don’t think I would like to own this movie at all, but it was enjoyable. It was a film that wanted to be a solid romp, and for the most part, it succeeds. I know some can say this film lays the groundwork for why people have issues with Illumination Entertainment, but at least it’s still a decent movie to watch. It’s also an interesting time capsule film to watch, since while the franchise may have lost its appeal seven years later, it’s always interesting to go back and see where it all started. There is a reason why this franchise took off and makes millions for Illumination and Universal. Plus, I can think of multiple animated films that are worse than the first Despicable Me. If you surprisingly haven’t seen it, I see no harm in picking up a copy. Even then, I could see myself watching this with my niece. Well, we will now step into the sequel that came out three years later with Despicable Me 2. Thanks for reading the review! I hope you liked it, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Rent it!

Should We Worry About The New Academy Award Rule for Animation? (Probably Not)

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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!)

Warning: This entire article is obviously subjective, and my solutions are not the end-all-be-all solution to the problem.

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Recently, the Academy of Motion Pictures put down a new rule for the Best Animated Feature voting, where instead of just the individuals of that branch of the Academy voting, everyone else from the other branches can throw their vote into the ring as well. Obviously, for many animation viewers and lovers, concerns were raised, since now anything is possible in terms of what animated films can get into those five precious spots that are meant for the best of the best from each year. So, should we worry? Why should we be worried? Is there anything truly worth being concerned about? Well, personally, I would say no. Why would I say that? If you will give me some of your time, I shall explain myself.

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So, let’s start with the concerns. People are afraid that this new ruling will allow films that are much weaker, in terms of critical receptions from both film reviewers and movie-goers, to slip on through due to less educated members of the Academy picking and voting through one of those films. I can also understand this fear, due to the film line-up this year. For those that are not paying attention, 2017 is not looking like a strong year for animation. DreamWorks has the recent financial hit, The Boss Baby, and the upcoming Captain Underpants film, Illumination has Despicable ME 3, Pixar has Cars 3 and Coco, Sony Pictures Animation has the underwhelming Smurfs: The Lost Village, The Emoji Movie, and The Star, and Blue Sky Studios has Ferdinand, to name a few. It’s not the greatest line-up from other years, like 2016 or 2015. The other concern is that it will be much harder for indie animated films from companies like GKids, Sony Pictures Classics, and Shout! Factory Kids to break through. “They will get thrown under the bus, because the bigger studios will throw around their budgets for marketing their films for award season, over companies that don’t have those massive budgets”. The possible results for the Oscars in 2018 could be set up like Coco, The Boss Baby, Smurfs: The Lost Village, Spark, and The Nut Job 2.

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Listen, I get it. This may open the floodgates for less knowledgeable people and even more marketing and big studio manipulation into an already flawed system. It could very well turn into a quantity-over-quality set of nominees. I perfectly understand the fear and cynicism. However, should we actually worry? Let’s look at the last couple of years of the Best Animated Features nominees. 2010 had Toy Story 3, How to Train your Dragon, and The Illusionist. 2013 had Frozen, The Wind Rises, Ernest & Celestine, The Croods, and Despicable Me 2. 2014 had Big Hero 6, The Boxtrolls, How to Train your Dragon 2, Song of the Sea, and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. 2015 had Inside Out, Anomalisa, Boy and the World, Shaun the Sheep Movie, and When Marnie Was There. And recently, 2016 had Zootopia, Kubo and the Two Strings, Moana, My Life as a Zucchini, and The Red Turtle. While some of the films are odd nominees, what do a lot of those nominees have in common? For the most part, they are critically acclaimed films. I highly doubt, as flawed as the Academy system is, they are going to waste their time with movies that are not getting great reviews. It only takes a Google search to see what films have those nice little Rotten Tomato and IMDB scores. While the scoring systems on those sites are definitely another can of worms to deal with that other people on the net have already done, one can look at those scores, or do a little research as to which indie-animated films on the submission list are getting the most buzz around different critic guilds and word of mouth, and watch those. I doubt there is going to be an individual in the Academy that will say “oh yeah, Spark and The Boss Baby truly deserve it over the upcoming The Girl Without Hands and The Breadwinner.” Even with this new rule, I am not convinced that the organization is going to let the weaker nominees through.

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Now, am I saying we should just sit back, open up a bag of sweet maui onion potato chips, and not worry? Well, I would say yes for 80% of what I have said. If we want smaller indie-animated films to keep on getting nominated from companies like GKids, we are going to have to make an effort to support these films. Sure, you could go to five different viewings of the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy 2, but you know Marvel and Disney won’t need help to make that film a hit. Instead, if possible, go and find a theater playing some of the smaller releases, like My Entire Highschool Sinking into the Sea. Why not support something like The Breadwinner or The Girl Without Hands instead of wasting your time with a highly regarded bad movie for a bad movie night? If we want to make sure they don’t get swept under the carpet, then we need to start either supporting these smaller releases in theaters, and If you like them, spread the word on social media, or purchase the DVD or rent the film, and spread the word. You can’t complain about the smaller/more original releases when you don’t go out and support them. However, those distributors need to start expanding into more than just specific theaters that show off arthouse/indie films. I get that these things cost money, but sometimes, you have to bite that bullet, and make that investment.

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Listen, I’m not saying what I suggest is going to be correct. As usual, this is a subjective opinion saying that I wouldn’t be too concerned, but still support the smaller releases. I understand the concern, but I don’t think it is as cataclysmic as many people say it is. If the Academy was selecting films like Norm of the North or Strange Magic for Best Animated Feature in previous years, or Gods of Egypt as Best Film, I would be more worried. For the most part, good taste and popular public opinion are going to win over corporate greed and cynicism. Still, if you think you need to put up the good fight and support the smaller releases, then do so. Personally, the only big animated films that are coming out in 2017 that have a chance at making the shortlist are Coco, The LEGO Batman Movie, and possibly The LEGO Ninjago Movie, and Ferdinand, but that last film mentioned is a risk since it’s from Blue Sky Studios. I’m sure GKids has a few spots pinned down for some of their films coming out like The Breadwinner and The Girl without Hands. Who knows, maybe Sony Pictures Classics and Shout! Factory Kids will have something up their sleeve this year. Keep enjoying animation big and small, but only you can make smaller films successful.

Worst to Best Animated Films of 2016 Part 2

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

Welcome back, everyone, to part 2 of this very long list. As usual, if you haven’t seen part 1, here is a link to it. I’m counting down the worst-to-the-best animated films that I saw from 2016, and we shall now move onto the films that are middle of the road, disappointing, and at the very least, visually interesting.

27. Monkey King: Hero is Back

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Want an example of one of the worst dubs that I can ever think of? This movie is the prime example of a distributor that didn’t really care about pushing out a good dub for this popular Chinese-animated CGI action flick. It sounds like they were rushing to get this out, and ignored the level of quality. Even then, a good dub wouldn’t have saved the other problems this film has, like its very Hollywoodized version of the legendary folk tale, horrible jokes, the multiple times the kid should have died but didn’t, and the better than most, but still middling animation. The fight scenes are fun to watch, and out of all the Chinese-animation schlock that Lionsgate, for some reason, likes to bring over, Monkey King: Hero is Back is watchable. It’s the most watchable one out of those films, but that doesn’t mean much when the rest isn’t worth sitting through.

26. Justice League vs. Teen Titans

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Man, it was kind of tough to say this was better than The Killing Joke, because I don’t like this one a lot either. Not only is the title misleading, since the Titans don’t fight the actual League members, but rather fight Trigon-possessed version of them, and get floored by them, but it also focuses way too much on quite possibly the worst character in the current DC-animated film universe, Damian Wayne. Yes, I get why he is as he is, and he does get a good fight later on in the film, but they focused way too much on the guy when it wasn’t really his story. This left the film with very underdeveloped characters that I hope get more screen-time in the upcoming Teen Titans: The Judas Contract(spoiler alert: They do.). I do like some of the characters and the scenes in Justice League vs. Teen Titans, but if this was supposed to be the one reason why we got Young Justice season 3, or anything Teen Titans-related, then I feel scammed, because I had to support a bad movie to get good stuff!

25. The Angry Birds Movie

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Talk about a film that had no reason to be anything but terrible, and ended up a rather decent experience. While I don’t think it’s a great movie, it probably had more effort put into its writing and characters, than any of the previous films on this list. For the most part, I still enjoyed the film’s dialogue, the jokes, and Red and his cohorts were fun to watch. Yeah, everything starts to dissolve into terrible film tripe when the pigs show up, the Mighty Eagle played by Peter Dinklage was pointless and easily the worst part of the movie beyond the celebrity cameos, but by the end, I was enjoying myself due to the voice work. While definitely a mediocre film, it’s the best video game adaptation to have come out to put a lot of the video game film adaptations to shame.

24. The Secret Life of Pets

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While I’m fine with this film doing well in the box office, since it shows “original” films can do well, The Secret Life of Pets still feels so painfully average. It doesn’t do anything in its story well, but it’s not bad either in what it does. I can see why people were so upset with this film’s success, due to how unoriginal and bland it can be. It also doesn’t help that it had 100 different characters who had no real personality to them. Everything was well voice acted and animated well, but the writing was weak, and the characters needed more time to either be fleshed out or taken out of the film altogether. While definitely leagues better than most films from 2016, The Secret Life of Pets will be yet another example of Illumination Entertainment having a great idea, but no noteworthy execution of said idea.

23. Trolls

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Honestly, this film was much higher on the list at one time. I loved the art style, the animation, the voice work, and some of the fairytale-style ideas. I also loved the idea of happiness that it attempted to show throughout the film. Because of all this, it rose above such horrible first impressions with that very first teaser trailer. However, as time went on, I kept bumping it down the list. It might have great ideas, but it never takes full advantage of them. About 80% of the characters don’t have any real character to them outside of their celebrity voices, and much of this otherwise-solid movie felt very manufactured. Like, really? Did we need Gwen Stefani as one of the characters, when she barely has a voice or role? Still, it’s an enjoyable watch, but I get why some were not so happy about this film.

22. Belladonna of Sadness

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Yes, this one counts, since it was never released in the states, even though it came out in the 1970s. Belladonna of Sadness was the final film from this adult animated trilogy that was started by the grandfather of all anime creators, Osamu Tezuka. It’s a beautifully abstract animated film, with all the trippy sexual energy you would see in an animated films from the 70s aimed at adults. Unfortunately, due to how limited the actual animation is, and how uncomfortable the beginning of the film is, its sexual themes will probably turn off a lot of people to this film. It’s the one film I can think of where I will agree and disagree at the same time if you love or hate this movie. It’s a bizarre and interesting experience that is definitely worth checking out if you are into film or animation history.

21. Sausage Party

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Just like Trolls, Sausage Party was higher on the list at one point, but as usual, I thought about it and bumped it down a few pegs. It was mostly because while I found the film funny, a lot of its humor was “miss”, since I’m picky about my stoner humor, and of course, the controversy revolving around the abused animators really does bring this film down. It’s a shame, too, because there was a lot of effort put into its themes and writing, it was a hilarious parody of Pixar-style films, and it’s great that this film opened the door for more animated films to be aimed at adults. It’s still a blast to watch, but your mileage may vary depending on who you are, but hey, that’s comedy.

20. Storks

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This was an amusing surprise, and a sad tragedy that this film didn’t do better in terms of box office numbers. I won’t deny that I get why people are split on this film, but at the very least, I sat through the entire film and found it to be a really great comedic watch. Yes, its world-building and characters are not well fleshed out, but it had the best comedy of the comedy-based animated films of the year. It had beautiful, fast-paced animation, a great comedic cast of actors, and it’s an entertaining experience. I wish it was better, since it doesn’t reach The LEGO Movie or Shrek 2, in terms of animated comedy heights, but I’m definitely going to be watching this one again in the future.

19. SING

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Oh, hey, look, another Illumination Entertainment film is low on the list. While I do admire that the studio was branching out in 2016 with two new films that are not Despicable Me-related, it still had plenty of the flaws you would find in these films, with underdeveloped characters, stories, and, once again, a great crowd-pleasing idea that isn’t taken fully advantage of. It was really aggravating, because this film’s advertising was everywhere, to an extremely nauseating degree. Even then, I still had fun watching this movie. The animation was great, the designs are solid, the contestants are relatable and likable, the music is fantastic, the actors did a great job portraying their characters, and it was a film I’m glad was better than what I was thinking it would be. I always like being surprised. I just hope Illumination can step up their game with future films.

That is it for Part 2 of the list, be prepared for part 3 in the future.

Worst to Best Animated Films of 2013 Part 1

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

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

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

27. Walking with Dinosaurs

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

26. The Snow Queen

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

25. Justin and the Knights of Valor

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

24. Free Birds

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

23. Escape from Planet Earth

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

22: Planes

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

21: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2

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

20: Turbo

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

 19: Despicable Me 2

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

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

The Other Side of Animation 73: Sing 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!)

Spoiler Warning/Parental Heads up: I will be spoiling this movie in its entirety to bring up some points about the problems Illumination has. Then again, the trailers already ruined the plots and endings to many of the characters in their advertising, so I don’t feel too bad spoiling it.

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To me, I shoot from the hip, in terms of how I feel about animation studios. I will praise and support a film that is good and has great elements to talk about, but I will not hold back if there is something bad, or worth criticizing. I won’t fully label a company with their pros and cons in some witty phrase or quote, but I’m going to mention when a film doesn’t work for me on a personal level. That’s why I’m so willing to praise and criticize Illumination Entertainment. They are obviously super-talented, and have a lot of great or entertaining ideas, but they either don’t go all the way with them, or the writers or storytellers don’t branch out enough in terms of making a unpredictable or messy story. This is true with their newest movie Sing. It’s definitely a very entertaining movie, but you get the feeling that they could have done a bit more, and changed a few things to make it an even better bit of harmless fun entertainment. Let’s pick out our favorite songs and find out what I like and don’t like about Garth Jennings’ Sing.

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The story revolves around a Koala theater owner named Buster Moon, voiced by Matthew McConaughey. He is unfortunately not raking in the dough, and is in danger of being bought out by the bank. As a last resort, he decides to hold a singing competition, with a thousand dollar prize. Unfortunately due to a typo caused by his secretary, the fliers say $100K, and of course catches the attention of the entire city. After a slew of auditions that range in quality and song choice, the finalists are chosen. They include a Frank Sinatra-style mouse named Mike, voiced by Seth MacFarlane, a punk rock porcupine named Ash, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, a shy teenage elephant named Meena, voiced by Tori Kelly, Rosita, an overworked pig mother of 25 kids, voiced by Reese Witherspoon, Johnny, a gorilla who is the son of a crime lord voiced by Taron Egerton, and Gunther, an eccentric German pig voiced by Nick Kroll. Who will win, and can Buster find the money to save the theater? Well, you have all probably seen the movie, so you draw your own conclusion.

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So, I brought up in the opening paragraph that Illumination has great potential in their film ideas, but essentially don’t fully take advantage of them. How does that work here? Well, easy. Due to how many characters there are, their stories either feel incomplete or really rushed. Like, there could have been so much more to these story arcs if they did a couple of different things. The first change I would make would be to make the movie longer. Maybe two hours would have been nice, since then you could give characters time to breath and talk, and not just play out their character arcs away from each other. The second change would to have the characters interact more. A lot of the crucial character moments in this film are happening when the individual characters are alone. Why couldn’t they put these characters more in the same room, or work off one another? You have some great talent here, but there is only really one real scene where some of the characters interact with each other. For about 90% of the film, they are not in the same room together. Why would you do that? Why not have them in the same room and have their arcs interact with one another? It would save screentime. It also doesn’t help when you have a character like Buster Moon. For me, Buster flip-flopped between being likable, and a crummy individual. Now, I didn’t get this impression from the trailers or marketing, but I was hoping he would be like Professor Harold Hill from The Music Man and less like a seedy individual. At times he really wants to make this whole singing competition work, but a lot of his screentime is spent begging for money, stealing, and trying to forcefully change contestants who are good with one genre of music to sing a different type. His story was not the most interesting one out of the six or so that were going on. I was more invested with Johnny or Rosita more so than Buster.

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It also hurts going into the movie that you know what’s going to happen. It’s not even just the fact that the advertising showed off so much that you were left with the meh and boring sequences to look forward to. Each character’s story is very predictable, and even if the advertising didn’t ruin it for you, you know what will happen with everyone’s story. Having familiar story elements are fine, but if you don’t put a twist to them or execute them to be interesting, then nothing will be surprising. If I know what’s going to happen, then why should I watch your movie? It’s always a big problem with studios like Illumination, since you can tell they put a huge amount of money into the animation, comedy, and marketing, but not into their scripts and stories. I want to be super-supportive for newer studios or studios with obviously amazing talent, but I’m going to be critical of them when other studios, big and small, are doing much better work. Oh, and speaking of comedy, a lot of people have mentioned this and I am too, but this has quite possibly the worst fart joke I have ever seen in any animated film. It’s out of nowhere, doesn’t even fit the tone of the scene, and it’s probably the most forced fart joke that has ever been put in an animated film. Luckily, this kind of humor only pops up once, but it’s so notorious that it does affect the overall experience, due to how distracting it is.

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So, I must not like this movie huh? Well, no. I actually do like the movie. It has a lot of great positives that at the very least push it above Illumination’s other blockbuster hit, The Secret Life of Pets. While the characters are tropes, I did find them very likable and endearing, which helped because of some great actors that are behind the characters. I don’t know if it was because they were super-invested in their roles or the person in charge of their performances, but everyone did a great job. While the film does use a couple of modern songs that are painfully distracting and pandering, they only pop up here or there, and the majority of the songs are pretty good. I also give the film kudos that like DreamWorks’ Trolls, they chose actors who can sing and act, and not one or the other. I mean, when you have someone like Seth MacFarlane, you are in good hands in terms of someone who can do both. I also like that they actually wrote some original songs for the film. Granted, one of the three original songs plays at the end, and the other two are mostly sung by Scarlet’s character, but still. Everyone did a great job with their singing moments. The performances were entertaining, and personally, as an individual that watches stuff like The Voice, I got a huge kick out of how Buster talked to some of the contestants, since it was eerily similar to how some of the judges on The Voice work. I know that is a niche bit of enjoyment, but that’s just me.

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The animation is also nice. The humanoid animal designs are great and appealing to look at. Sure, the world they inhabit isn’t as wildly creative as Zootopia, but it’s decent, and unlike Zootopia, they use more than just mammals for the townsfolk. Granted, they rarely show up, but still.

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So, yeah, while this film is incredibly flawed, I still had a solid time with it. Sure, Sing could have been much better than a feel-good time waster, but for what it does do, it’s good. I won’t say it deserved to be one of the films nominated for The Golden Globes or the Oscars, but I get why it’s a hit. It’s probably the one Illumination Entertainment film I would watch the most out of their entire library, and I do like that they made two original films in 2016. A lot of people have probably already seen it, but if you haven’t, I can think of worse films to see in January than Sing. Well, we got the musical out of the way, how about we go into a more comedic film with Storks? Thanks for reading, I hope you all enjoyed the article, and see you all next time.

Rating: Go See it!

The Other Side of Animation 72: The Secret Life of Pets 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 made the rules to my reviews, there was a reason why I didn’t put down certain bigger animation studios. I say this, because I’m sure you would be asking why I am looking at one of the most successful animated films from 2016, The Secret Life of Pets from Illumination Entertainment? A relatively new studio, Illumination Entertainment, has made a big name for themselves in the animation scene with their Despicable Me franchise. While they are very well known and have been making a huge amount of bank for Universal, I don’t consider them on the same level as Pixar, Disney, or DreamWorks. It’s not that they don’t have talent or skill behind their films, but they are slowly turning into a studio that is more about the flash of the high quality animation and humor, over a story that’s actually engaging. I know that sounds like I’m looking down on them, but since they are really good at the animation, humor, and over-marketing the heck out of their films, they should be able to make more compelling stories. It’s a problem I have with all of their films, and it’s the same here. So, what do I think overall about The Secret Life of Pets? Well, let’s find out.

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So, you ever wonder what happens to your pets while you are away? Well that is what this film answers. The story follows a dog named Max, voiced by Louis C.K. He lives happily with his owner until one day, she brings back a big new dog named Duke, voiced by Eric Stonestreet. Of course, the two don’t get along, and Max gets jealous of Duke’s arrival. One day, while being walked by a very bad dog walker, the two get stuck with each other and lost within the big city. This leads to a group of Max’s friends to go on the search for the two. These friends include a snarky cat named Chloe, voiced by Lake Bell, an elderly dog played by Dana Carvey, a fluffy little pomeranian named Gidget, voiced by Jenny Slate, a pug named Mel, voiced by Bobby Moynihan, a dachshund named Buddy voiced by Hannibal Buress, a guinea pig played by Chris Renaud, and a hawk voiced by Albert Brooks. The duo of Max and Duke even run into a group of rogue stray animals led by a bunny named Snowball, voiced by Kevin Hart.

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There is pretty much one word with which I can describe The Secret Life of Pets. That one word is safe. I mean, I have more words to describe it, but safe sums it up pretty nicely. It’s the most harmless, painfully average movie I have seen from 2016. I had no real super- grievance with the film. It wasn’t offensive like Norm of the North, or amazing like Kubo and the Two Strings. If you have ever seen something like Toy Story or any film that puts two polar opposite characters together and they have to go on an adventure together, you’ve seen this movie. It’s quite frankly surprising that they got away with how generic this story is. You know every story moment and every line. It’s a shame too, since the idea of knowing what your pets are doing when you aren’t looking is incredibly relatable. Who doesn’t have a pet and watches this movie, laughing or observing something their own pet does? It’s just all the more of a bummer that the story itself is so ho-hum.

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The film also has way too many characters. You barely get to know about the many characters they introduce, and it becomes annoying when you can’t really invest in anyone. The story also doesn’t take advantage of any of the possible touching or mature story bits. They bring it up, but then don’t let it sit for the audience to take in. It’s something that Illumination has a problem with. I know not everything has to have the emotional maturity of a Pixar or Disney film, but I don’t want to watch just pretty animation. I want to come away feeling something, and yet, I don’t from this film. I can understand if Secret Life of Pets doesn’t want to be mature or deep, but just good animation shouldn’t be the only thing worth going to a movie for.

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So, after I moaned and groaned, what do I like about the movie? Well, the animation is pretty great. It is very detailed, smooth, has solid designs, and it’s good to look at. No matter what bad things I have to say about Illumination, I am very impressed with how good their animation got in such a short span of time. The film’s greatest strength, though, is how the animals act. I am sure anyone who has ever had a bird, cat, dog, fish, or whatever, has watched this movie, and has pointed out or observed something the animals did in the movies that your own pets have done before. It’s a universally relatable thing that anyone can understand. I also enjoyed the cast. While not everyone gets the best character development, everyone had good chemistry, and worked off each other well. Even Kevin Hart, who is usually very annoying in his movies, is actually funny in this film. Maybe he works better as a comedian/voice actor instead of an actual actor. And even though I have been harsh, the film does wrap up all nice and warm, and can be a tad heartfelt.

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As much as I bash this film for it being unoriginal, and being a success when there is nothing super noteworthy about the film, it’s not harmful to anyone. I can understand why it was so big and why so many people saw it. I even feel good an original film is getting a sequel, and was a hit due to how many reboots, remakes, and sequels we got in 2016 that no one asked for. Still, I wish Illumination could get better at what they do. It’s weird, because next time, we look at a film from Illumination that I actually enjoyed with Sing. Thanks for reading, I hope you all enjoyed the article, and I will see you next time!

Rating: Rent it!

Hit-or-Miss Movie Predictions: SING

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

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

To me, and I will repeat this for my Worst to Best list, 2016 has been an amazing year for animation. It’s easily one of the strongest years for certain companies like Disney and Pixar, but the indie scene has also been quite satisfying, with films like Miss Hokusai and Long Way North. Yes, we have had some clunkers like Norm of the North and The Wild Life, but in terms of pure overall quality, 2016 has been fantastic. In an interesting situation, the animated film to close out the year is Illumination’s second highly anticipated film, SING. This cgi-animated film is being directed by Garth Jennings of the duo, Hammer & Tongs, the directors of the 2005 film, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It boasts a pretty expansive cast, including Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, John C. Reilly, Tori Kelly, Peter Serafinowicz, Taron Egerton, Nick Kroll, and Nick Offerman, to name a majority of the cast. When the first trailer came out, it definitely got a mixed reception, with some being cynical about its Jukebox-style musical, and bland character designs. I still have some concerns, since I feel like Illumination is starting to show its flaws, but I know early screenings have been mostly positive. Now then, let’s begin shall we?

STORY

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At least you can say that the set-up for this film is easy to get into. Matthew McConaughey plays a koala named Buster Moon, who runs a theater with his partner in the business, Eddie, a sheep played by John C. Reilly. Unfortunately, the theater is going through some hard times, and is in close proximity of closing down. In a last ditch effort to gain some business, they hold a massive city-wide singing competition that gets the attention of many citizens of this animal world. These include a crooner jazzy mouse named Mike, voiced by Seth MacFarlane, Ash, a female Porcupine rocker voiced by Scarlett Johansson, Meena, a teenage elephant played by Tori Kelly, Johnny, a gorilla played by Taron Egerton, Rosita, a pig/mother of 25 kids voiced by Reese Witherspoon, and Bob, a German-accented pig voiced by Nick Kroll. Who will win? Will the competition be a hit?

Animation/Art Direction

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Illumination Entertainment, if anything, has shown that they were quick to adapt in terms of animation. They improved super-quickly in just a few years. Even if some of their films are the worst things of all time, like their version of The Lorax, you can’t deny that the film has great animation, and it’s no different in SING. It’s great fluid animation. On the other hand, the character designs are a mixed bag. They are harmless, but they don’t really stand out a whole lot. However, even if they are bland looking to some, they are still able to look alive and express themselves.

The Cast

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While having a cast with some big names in it doesn’t mean your film is going to be good, it still doesn’t mean that it can’t be impressive. It’s actually nice to see some actors that you wouldn’t normally see do voicework, like Scarlett Johansson. It’s also going to be the second time in 2016 that Matthew McConaughey will be doing voicework, and something that I have noticed about animated films recently is that some actors are actually attempting to immerse themselves into the roles, instead of voice-mugging for the audience. There is no excuse for actors in animated films to stop caring, even if you can’t see them visually on the screen. It’s even hard to tell that Matthew McConaughey is actually the lead character, due to how “into it” he is as Buster Moon.

Any looming concerns about the movie?

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The biggest problem with films from Illumination is that they don’t really have the best storywriters. Even by their standards, Despicable Me probably has the best of everything about them, but even then, it’s still not that amazing of a film. It’s good, but it lacks the substance that you would see in Pixar, DreamWorks, or Disney. Not every film needs to be at those companies’ levels, but there needs to be a standard in terms of storytelling. SING has always had the looming criticism from early screenings and first impressions that the story isn’t really original. Not being original is fine as long as you execute it well, but that was the big problem with Illumination’s previous film The Secret Life of Pets. It had good animation and it got the personality quirks of the animals down, but the story was boring, with clichéd characters. It’s not a good sign when you can tell what’s going to happen way before it actually happens.

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It also doesn’t help that Illumination has pretty much shown off the entire film through its advertising. That is one element that Illumination has always been called out for. They advertise their movies about six or eight months in advance, and flood the market in those months with clips, trailers, and ad spots. It makes me and many other people fatigued by how heavily they advertised it. They need to probably do two or three trailers at most. It leaves to no surprising moments in the film, since they showed it off in the trailers. I hate this about trailers, since they essentially ruin everything. Give Storks credit, they showed off a lot of the best jokes in their trailers, but they didn’t show off all of them. I know this doesn’t hurt the company in any way, since they make so much money off their movies that it’s ridiculous, but I know if I go see this in December, I’m going to go in knowing what’s going to happen. Will I enjoy it? Probably, but I’m not going to be surprised like I was with Kubo and the Two Strings or Miss Hokusai. On a side note, if SING becomes a financially successful film, I really don’t want to see them make a sequel. This looks like a one-off film. It’s like making a sequel to UP. It’s entirely pointless.

Prediction: Hit?

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This film will probably do well, since Illumination Entertainment’s films always rake in the money, even if the films themselves are not that great. I thought at first that this was going to be Illumination’s version of Shark Tale, a film that was made with no other reason than to get big celebrities together, say a couple of catchphrases, and make a soundtrack of popular songs. As the trailers have continued to be shoved into our faces, with no way of avoiding them, it definitely showed it had more to it than what everyone was thinking. I think SING will be a hit, since it has a tad more soul than what it might advertise. Early screenings of the film have been positive, but due to 2016 being a raging dumpster fire in terms of the overall quality of films this year, I don’t trust early previews, and you really shouldn’t. Early buzz for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was great, but then it came out, and people hated it, with a small minority of positive reviews. Still, I have hope for SING. I do think Illumination has something there to be a great studio, but they never quite do it for me with their films. Will they get better? I hope so.