Kelly Asbury

156: UglyDolls 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!)

The big problem with making an animated film based on a property is that it can take a while to get it off the ground. While animated features can be easier to make cohesive in terms of everything looking like it belonged on screen, trends and popular brands come and go at lightning-fast speeds. Animation is a long process that usually takes up to three or four years (usually) to go into production and animate. That’s why it’s really odd to see films like The Angry Birds Movie, the upcoming Dora the Explorer movie, and Playmobil movie, because they haven’t been popular for years before their release. It’s also not easy to simply halt production. As you already spent a lot of money on the rights, talent, and animation, the investors and studios would love to see that product come to life. Rarely do you hear about an animated film getting halted mid-production and delayed to redo a year or two of work. Unfortunately, by the time your film based on the popular brand comes out, it could be years since anyone last talked about it or even knew about it. This is the situation that the UglyDolls movie finds itself in. Directed by Kelly Asbury of Shrek 2, Gnomeo & Juliet, Smurfs: The Lost Village, and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron fame, the movie based on the cult-favorite toy line has more of an interesting history behind It than anything else. Originally announced back in 2011, Illumination got the rights to make the feature, with Chris Meledandri to produce the film alongside the creators of the brand David Horvath and Sun-Min Kim also set to executive produce. Obviously, something happened to that relationship, as in 2015, the rights and production swapped to STX Entertainment, and the animation was being done by Reel FX Entertainment, the same studio behind The Book of Life, Rock Dog, Sherlock Gnomes, and the upcoming Scoob. What’s even crazier is that Robert Rodriguez is now the executive producer, and is behind the story of the film, and was set to direct. Obviously, Kelly Asbury took over, but Robert Rodriguez is still behind the story, and is executive producer alongside Jane Hartwell and Oren Aviv. With what I can tell, the original creators of UglyDolls are no longer attached as producers of this film. So, we have a film that has been in development for quite a long time, switched hands and directors a couple of times, based on a toy line that only had a cult fanbase, and, as of writing this review, is a critical and financial bomb. Yeah, let’s dive in!

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UglyDolls follows our lead character Moxy, voiced by Kelly Clarkson. She is an Uglydoll that lives in a realm called Uglyville, a part of a world where rejected/”ugly” dolls are tossed. Moxy lives there with her friends Lucky Bat, voiced by Wang Leehom, Ugly Dog, voiced by Pitbull, Wage, voiced by Wanda Sykes, Babo, voiced by Gabriel Iglesias, and the town’s mayor Ox, voiced by Blake Shelton. Moxy’s dream is to find a human to live with, but is constantly told that humans are a myth. Of course, she and her friends decide to leave the town to find a new world. As they venture out of Uglyville, they find themselves in a place known as Perfection, a town where the “perfect” dolls end up to be with children. The leader of this place is a guy doll named Lou, voiced by Nick Jonas, that is pretty much going to tell you to your face that you aren’t perfect. Well, Moxy and her friends aren’t going to stand down, and are going to show that they are just as worthy of being with children as the regular dolls. Can they thwart Lou’s evil plan? Can they show that being yourself is great? Can this film actually make sense of its world and how it works?

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That’s literally one of the biggest issues this film has. Due to its rushed development, the world-building of UglyDolls doesn’t make a lick of sense. It becomes confusing when they introduce a portal to the human world in Perfection. So, where does the portal go? Is it a single toy store? Is it linked to multiple stores? Do the humans know of this realm of living toys? Who made this factory? If the toys can go to and from the human world, where do they go for the portal? It seems like another run-through on the script was not in the favor of the writers, because a lot of this could have been fixed if they just went through the setting another time. Just take out the humans and let them be this world of living dolls. Granted, fixing the setting and premise wouldn’t have fixed the writing.

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This has to be one of the most repetitive scripts that I have ever seen in an animated film. None of the jokes landed outside of one from the one-eyed unicorn, and the pacing of the script was essentially the same thing every single scene. They get a challenge thrown at them by Lou, everyone gives up, Moxy says they can’t give up, her friends doubt her, she pushes through, and then they make it through. It’s the same set-up for almost every scene. They do have a weak twist in the story, but no one in the audience cares, because it’s not subtly telegraphed. A lot of the film’s themes and morals are essentially “hit over your head” with the light touch of a wrecking ball crashing through a building. Outside of maybe Moxy and Lou, none of the other characters have a lot of personality to them. They really have one character trait, and that doesn’t equal having an identity. This might be because STX, in all of their wisdom, are making a TV series based on the film for Hulu, which I don’t even think is going to get made now. I don’t know why you would, because the movie is bombing, and I haven’t seen one truly positive review for it.

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The lack of refinement bleeds into the voice work. This movie showcases the worst of celebrity voice casting. There are so many that you could easily just recast with voice actors who, while maybe not able to save the material they are given, could, you know, voice act! You never once see the characters. You only see the celebrities that they hired, which takes you out of the story in a super frustrating way. The animation also lacks polish. While $45 mil is still a lot of money, it definitely shows that this film needed more time, more money, and more creativity. A couple of the song sequences just put the characters in flat backgrounds, you can tell when some characters are sliding across the ground, and while Perfection fits the themes of the film, it also looks like they copy and pasted a lot of the doll models and houses. They try to go for that felt design seen in films like 2016’s Trolls, but it fails to capture Trolls’ wildly colorful world.

So, what do I actually like about the film? Very little. I hate saying that, but it’s true! I think out of all the actors in this film, the only ones that are trying are Kelly Clarkson, Nick Jonas, and Blake Shelton. I thought they put in the most decent performances. In terms of the animation, I like how accurate the dolls look. Sure, they aren’t truly ugly, but they were based on a toy line, and they translated well to animation. Uglyville looks pretty solid as well. It’s vibrant, and probably the most creative-looking location in the entire film. While I do despise how cynical and manipulative this film feels, it was at least presented as intended, which is better than Wonder Park trying to be deeper than it knew how to be.

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I feel badly for UglyDolls. It never truly stood a chance when STX Entertainment decided to rush the product out to try and start a franchise. I’m not surprised it’s bombing, but I only feel sympathy for the animators for this film. It’s not easy to be working on tighter budgets and development times. I would say don’t go see this film, but seeing how it’s one of the newest films to bomb at the box office this year, no one is going to see it. Not even for a bad movie night, it’s just too boring for something like that. I hope Reel FX can get back on track with making some good films, but we will have to see how their next project turns out. Also, at the end of the day, it’s just another bad movie in a sea of bad movies. Once June comes around, and Toy Story 4 hits theaters, everyone, including me, will have forgotten about this film. It’s not worth hating on it for a long time, nor is it worth making awful YouTube videos that say all theatrical animation past 2009 sucks when it doesn’t. For now, I think it’s time head back over to Spain, and take a look at a film that was one of my favorite animated film experiences of last year and that’s going to get an official US release this year!  Next time, we shall dive into Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles. Thanks for reading, I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: The Worst/Blacklist

124: Gnomeo & Juliet 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!)

Many would argue that animation’s darkest year was 1985. This was the year Disney’s The Black Cauldron came out, bombed, got panned, and lost to The Care Bears Movie. Outside of Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, and Gwen, The Book of Sand, there was nothing else. I do agree with that opinion, but there have been a lot of bad/underwhelming years for animation. You not only have 1985, but you have 1987, 1997, 2006, and one of the more interesting years to talk about, 2011. 2011 had a lot of the same problems 2017 had, where there was not much to look forward to, and much of it felt like filler, just to get to the few mainstream films and the indie darlings. Even the indie animation wasn’t stellar in 2011. So, where does Gnomeo & Juliet rest on the list of films from 2011? Directed by Kelly Asbury, the same director behind the DreamWorks hit Shrek 2, Gnomeo & Juliet, if you couldn’t tell by the title, is a variation on the famous tragic romance story of, well, Romeo & Juliet. While it didn’t get the best reviews, with an overall rating of 56% and a reviewer average of 5.6/10 on Rotten Tomatoes, it was a surprise financial hit. Then again, when you do not have a lot of competition, you are bound to do well. It even spawned a sequel that we will get to next time. So, after seven years, and learning that this was a passion project for Elton John, does this film actually hold up? Let’s check it out, and see what happens.

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The story takes place between two gardens that are next to each other. One belongs to Mrs. Montague, and the other belongs to Mr. Capulet. Once they leave the house, the garden gnomes from both gardens come to life. We then focus on our two leads, Gnomeo, played by James McAvoy and Juliet, voiced by Emily Blunt. Their families hate each other, and oddly enough, the two gnomes fall for each other. Can they find a way to be in love with one another before war breaks out between the two families? Can Elton John shove in as many references to himself as possible?

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So, let’s talk about the positives first. While I am not the biggest fan of this film, nor do I think it’s some underrated gem, I do have a few positives aspects to talk about. While not having a huge budget, the film’s budget was at a supposed $36 mil, they did find a way to work with it. The animation is not fluid, but you could argue that is the point. Because of how they are made of clay, you can excuse the textures and their clunky movements. I mean, it’s not like garden gnomes stay clean 24-7. They get affected by the environment and weather. This argument can’t be used for every part of the film’s CGI animation, but at the very least, the garden gnomes and garden items can use it.

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When the film isn’t focusing on pandering family film elements, and decides to focus on Gnomeo and Juliet, their chemistry is cute. Emily Blunt and James McAvoy work well off each other, and their relationship dynamic can be adorable at times. I also like the lawn flamingo, but that could be because he’s voiced by one of the greatest voice actors of all time, Jim Cummings. The flamingo probably has the second best story bits besides Gnomeo and Juliet. While I didn’t laugh a whole lot, there were a few jokes and moments that did get a small chuckle. Some of the Elton John references were cute, but that’s because I know who he is. The ad for the super lawnmower that is narrated by Hulk Hogan is also enjoyable, but in that “oh, I know who that is” kind of way. I don’t know if kids would find any of this film funny, because I saw this by myself. Now, you can calculate how sad that a 28 year old is watching an animated feature by himself on your own time.

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Everything else from this point on, fumbles and cracks onto the ground like a potted plant falling from a three-story window. The story is fairly predictable, and since this will not follow the ending of the film, it’s hard to sit there, knowing what’s going to happen at the end. This is especially the case when you are watching this to review its sequel. Many of the side characters are harmless, but they don’t leave that much of an impression on you. It makes you wonder why they got Ozzy Osbourne for the deer when he doesn’t really add anything to the role. At least in Brutal Legend, he was himself and was having an obvious blast with his character. It always bugs me when you get celebrities for cameos, and do nothing with them. While I give a somewhat pass to the animation, you can definitely tell this needed more polish. Of course, more polish might be a bad thing at times, but I wouldn’t be taken out of the experience when the animation quality dropped at the level of straight-to-DVD films.

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Really, it’s tough to be mad at this film. Gnomeo and Juliet is harmless. It’s really forgettable, and while not a good film at all, it’s not super memorable enough to be as the filmgoers like to say “terra-bad”. If you see it for a dollar or something, then I think you would be seeing a harmless, if ultimately mediocre animated feature. It’s definitely way better than Mars Needs Moms and Hoodwinked Too, but only by a slim margin, because it had some heart in the production. I definitely would be recommending films like Song of the Sea or Ernest & Celestine over Gnomeo & Juliet. Well, you won’t have to wait much longer, as the next review is of the sequel, Sherlock Gnomes. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Lackluster!

 

The Other Side of Animation 87: Smurfs: The Lost Village 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!)

There is always a touch of disappointment when a film series starts to get its spirit and identity on track, but then still fumbles and falls off said tracks. For example, today’s review will be of the Smurf’s fourth foray into being translated onto the big screen. Let’s just say that this new movie had one of the biggest hurdles to get over, in terms of being an animated film. How do you succeed after two financially successful, but critically panned live-action ventures? Well, you kind of don’t. While not a huge financial bomb, it’s probably going to be one of the biggest underperforming animated films of 2017.  Well, let’s see what this new animated adventure directed by Kelly Asbury has to offer.

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The story revolves around the single female Smurf among Smurf Village, Smurfette, voiced by Demi Lovato. She doesn’t feel like she has a purpose, whereas everyone else pretty much does. One day, after hanging out with a few friends, she finds out that there might be a lost village hidden within their world. After getting denied the chance by Papa Smurf, voiced by Mandy Patinkin, to go beyond their village, she decides to go off on her own to find this lost village. She is joined by Hefty Smurf, voiced by Joe Manganiello, Clumsy Smurf, voiced by Jack McBrayer, and Brainy Smurf, voiced by Danny Pudi. On their adventure, they must avoid the grasp of the evil wizard Gargamel, voiced by Rainn Wilson. Can they find this lost village? Who inhabits the village? Was there no real surprise to this film since Sony outright said it was a village of female Smurfs?

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Yeah, that’s probably the biggest problem with this film, there is no real surprise or intrigue to it. It’s like watching an Illumination Entertainment film. It has very pretty visuals and good animation, but the story lacks substance, and seems to rely on its star-studded cast more than actual characters. It doesn’t help that Sony spoiled the surprise, but even then, I think everyone knew what the twist would be. Funny enough, the big twist of the all-female village seems wasted in terms of potential and content. They could explore and wonder what caused this split into bigger detail, or find something very creative to do with such a twist. I think the problem is that it happens in the third act, and then you are introduced to a slew of female Smurfs, which I’m sure were brought in for a possible sequel. It’s a shame, since the characters themselves aren’t terrible, and I sort of like Smurf Willow as this more laid back individual, but you don’t get enough time to flesh them outside of their one character trait. I get that they all have one character trait, but Inside Out had characters who were supposed to be one emotion, but they found ways to expand on said personality traits. Unless you know how to execute simple characters, they come off as bland and forgettable. Even the visuals that they showed off in the trailer, while still very vibrant, get pushed aside. I wanted this film to be more like DreamWorks’ Trolls film, since in that movie, they got to show off super creative creatures, lands, and characters.

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I was also distracted by a ton of the actors they got for the film. It’s another example where they could have either gotten a better voice director or super talented voice actors for the characters, but I get it. You want big names for your film, even though as of right now, no one really went to see your movie. It’s a shame too, since while I think voice actors could have been better choices, and I think Demi Lovato or Meghan Trainor were not needed and come off as pointless, I did enjoy the rest of the cast. Mandy Patinkin does a decent Papa Smurf, Joe Manganiello as Hefty was decent, Danny Pudi was a perfect choice for Brainy, Jack McBrayer, while not doing anything new, is fun as Clumsy, Rainn Wilson actually isn’t bad as Gargamel, though I think Hank Azaria did the voice better in the live-action films. Julia Roberts was good as Smurf Willow, Michelle Rodriguez was basically playing herself as Smurf Storm, Ellie Kemper is maybe a tad too annoying as Smurf Blossom, and Ariel Winter as Smurf Lily is pointless. They are doing their best to be these new characters, and I get that voice acting and acting in general is hard, but I don’t see them as the characters. They also do that thing where they bring in a ton of celebrities to do a line or two, like Gordon Ramsay is Baker Smurf, Tituss Burgess is Vanity Smurf, Gabriel Iglesias is Jokey Smurf, Jeff Dunham is Farmer Smurf, and Kelly Asbury is Nosy Smurf. The only two legit voice actors they hired were Frank Welker as Gargamel’s cat Azrael, and Dee Bradley Baker as Gargamel’s pet vulture, Monty.

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So, did I like anything about the movie? Well, I really enjoyed the animation. I consider this to be the best looking Sony Pictures Animated film to date. I love the colors, how the designs stay close to the original source material, and it’s not too Sony Animation-ish where it’s super hyper and it doesn’t take time to breathe. The colors are very vibrant, and when they are able to show off more of the magical stuff of the world, it’s fun to look at. I wish they could have done more than what we got. Even though the humor is very hit-and-miss with a lot of cop-out jokes, I did like the river scene with Gargamel and the Smurfs. Like I said above, while I was still distracted by all the actors in the film, they did their best. I mean, you are getting paid to be in what is essentially an apology letter for the previous two dumpster fires, so I think you would do your best to be invested within your roles.

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Smurfs the Lost Village is definitely leagues better than the live-action films that came out, and it definitely is creative in the visuals department. If you had to watch one Smurfs film, it’s definitely this one. If the story and pacing were better, along with the writing, I think they really could have had a hidden gem, or one of the better surprises in terms of animation. It needed to be more timeless than pandering to most casual moviegoers to leave a better impact. If this was made in Europe, maybe France, had 2D animation, or it was made in the 80s, I think we could have gotten more of an edge or more bite to the overall experience. Sadly, it’s just another dud that may or may not hurt Sony Pictures Animation if their upcoming Emoji Movie tanks as well. If you haven’t seen it yet, I would definitely wait for a rental. I can see some kids enjoying it, but I don’t know how long-lasting this film’s appeal will be, compared to something like The LEGO Batman Movie or My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea has. Maybe pick it up if you find it for cheap when it comes out, but there is no rush to see this film. In fact, how about we take a look at My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea next time? Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the article, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Lackluster