Patton Oswalt

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!

Worst to Best Animated Features of 2017 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!)

I apologize for this being so late, but here we are! This is the Worst to Best of Animated Films from 2017! It’s easy to look at 2017, and see it as not that fantastic of a year for animation. There was very little to be excited about, and it felt like the big studios dumped all of their filler projects in one year. It definitely looks inferior, compared to 2018’s line-up of animated films. However, looking past the big budget film scene that honestly had only two good animated features, the indie/foreign scene in 2017 was actually drop-dead amazing. It might actually be the strongest year for indie/foreign films since 2013. As usual, the rules are the same for these lists. They must have been released in the states in 2017. They also must be a part of the Oscar submission list. I sadly won’t be able to get to The Big Bad Fox, because GKids is, for one reason or another, not putting that film out yet, and I simply do not have the time to wait any longer to see it. I won’t tackle any direct-to-video films unless they are the DC-animated features, or if they are a big deal. Let’s get started!

39. Guardian Brothers

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Man, talk about a pointless film. While the original Chinese version is not that great either, at least it had a point to it. The Weinstein cut took out the one theme that made the film worthwhile, and they made it a bland, boring, obnoxious, cynical, and utterly pointless animated feature. It has decent animation, but it’s nowhere near as impressive as China’s Big Fish & Begonia. Screw this movie, and screw the Weinsteins for being utter garbage people, and utter garbage animation distributors. I am so happy they are gone.

38. Spark: a Space Tail

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The only thing this film has going for it, is that it was not Guardian Brothers. It was at the very least, presented as intended. It’s still a horrible film though, with bland visuals, boring jokes, unlikable characters, and generic action. It’s also one of two films from 2017 that wasted the talent of Sir Patrick Stewart. I saw no reason why this film needed to get made, when it’s full of nothing original or creative. Maybe Open Road Films will make sure to pick up better films in the future, but for now, they need to find something more worth their time.

37. A Stork’s Journey

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While I commend German animators trying out CGI theatrical animation, it helps when you have a thought-out film. This film’s CGI is ugly, the animation looks unfinished, and the characters are either forgettable or unlikable. I hated these characters, and they were a real reason why this film did not work. I liked the owl and her backstory, but that one character alone is not worth watching this film that Lionsgate thought was a good idea to bring over.  I also wish Lionsgate would stop thinking that just because a YouTuber is in it, it means people will buy it. 

36. The Deep

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This film is insane. While it has slightly better textures and animation than A Stork’s Journey, the lead character is just as bad. He is a selfish, inconsiderate brat. The film also doesn’t know how to make its world-building  sound logical with what happens in the third or so act. The only reason it’s above A Stork’s Journey is purely because of technical aspects. It actually doesn’t look that terrible for a very limited/straight-to-video release. It also outright lies about saying the people that worked on Madagascar made this film, when I couldn’t find anything about them. Unless proven otherwise, they lied in their marketing.

35. Leap!

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While not the worst of the Weinstein-distributed animated films with the least amount changed, it doesn’t mean it’s good. I can see it being a guilty pleasure, or a favorite among young kids, but it’s an awfully forgettable experience. The characters are not that memorable, it’s predictable, the music is not catchy, the acting was a touch annoying, and there were story points that felt out of place. While the animation was better than most films, the super-realistic textures to everything made more comedic moments look creepy and unrealistic. The dancing is sort of nice, and I didn’t hate the lead character, but if Hollywood wants to advertise great European animated films, they should have pushed The Little Prince and the many French films GKids brought over, like The Girl Without Hands, more than this forgettable, if ultimately harmless film.

34. The Emoji Movie

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Yes, if I was only doing the major releases, this would be the worst of the animated films. Yes, it’s cynical, uncreative, boring, and annoying. However, how many people actually saw this film from beginning to end? Yes it’s a horrible movie that Sony shouldn’t have rushed out and put into theaters, but at the same time, no one really talks about it anymore. It’s bad, but it never had any long-lasting value, outside of being infamous on the internet. It’s still nicely animated, and I liked some lines and sequences, but yeah, this movie is not good.

33. Seoul Station

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Listen, there is nothing wrong with a prequel story. They can add more lore and world-building to the original film. However, Seoul Station fails as a prequel. It doesn’t truly say how the outbreak in Train to Busan happened, the characters they focus on are bland, the story doesn’t really do all that much to add to Train to Busan, the animation is stiff, and the dialogue is not all that great. I wish I liked this more, because I think Asian countries outside of Japan can make some truly good work. I just don’t think this is one of them. It’s real only highlight is that you get to see an animated film that is a horror flick. You don’t get to see that often in the animation scene.

32. Nerdland

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You would think a comedy starring Patton Oswalt and Paul Rudd would be amazing, but this was not. You can tell this product flip-flopped in development. The characters weren’t all that likable, the jokes didn’t really land, and its depiction of Los Angeles was boring and typical. However, I do like the art direction, and when it was funny, it was really funny. I just wish I could have been more positive about the film, but I’m not going to give it a pass, because it happens to have two of my favorite actors in it.

31. Sahara

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I was honestly curious about this one. I was surprised to see Netflix bring it onboard for the US, and was wondering why they didn’t really advertise it. Well, once you watch it, you will see why. The English dub was so obnoxious, that I had to switch it over to the original French dub. The animation was not all that great, and the story was cluttered and forgettable. I liked some of the color usage, some of the dancing, and the few quiet moments, but they weren’t enough to make this a good experience.

30. The Star

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Boy, did this not need to be in theaters. If this was on Netflix from the start, that would have been fine. It’s probably the most positive of the Christian-based family films, and even with a $20 mil budget, its animation is not super terrible. However, it was still not all that funny, the story was boring, the side characters were too many and not at all entertaining, and I just felt badly for the cast that had to be in this movie. Again, it’s harmless, but there was no real reason this had to be in theaters.

29. Rock Dog

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 This movie’s development history, Lewis Black, and Eddie Izzard are the only good/interesting aspects to this film. The lead is bland, the film needed a bit more cash to polish out the animation, and it was a mess story-wise. It felt like it didn’t know what it wanted to be, so it copied a bunch of other elements from other and way better films. It has its moments, and I like the song at the end, but sadly, when this is one of Lionsgate’s better animated offerings, you know something is up with this film.

 

Stay tuned for Part two in the future!

The Other Side of Animation 75: Nerdland Review

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

WARNING/PARENTAL HEADS UP: This film is full of crass adult humor. Parental Discretion is advised. I Hope you all like the review!

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Well, it’s a new year with new animated films, big and small, to talk about. So, for the start of 2017, I decided to check out an adult animated comedy that got a small release back in 2016, and is now widely available for everyone to see. What grand film am I talking about? Well, I would love to lead you all into a false sense of security, and say I’m reviewing the critically acclaimed film festival winner The Red Turtle, but since this is a written article, and you see the title, we are reviewing Nerdland. This 2D-animated adult comedy is from the minds of writer Andrew-Kevin Walker, the writer of Seven, director Chris Prynoski, the director of Freaknik: The Musical, Motorcity, Megas XLR, and worked on Beavis and Butt-Head Do America, and animation studio Titmouse. It was a film that was pitched multiple different times as a live-action film, shorts, and even a television series. It’s now made, got shown off back in 2016 at some film festivals, and is now available on Demand and DVD/Blu Ray. You can probably see that the film has a rather low rating from most critics on Rotten Tomatoes, but what do I personally think? Let’s find out.

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The film stars two friends, an aspiring actor named John, voiced by Paul Rudd, and an aspiring screenwriter named Elliot, voiced by Patton Oswalt. While trying and failing to become famous, they decided to do whatever it takes and do whatever crazy bit of comedic shenanigans to be had to be Hollywood-famous. The journey might be dangerous and crude, but they are willing to do whatever it takes!

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So, as a raunchy animated comedy aimed at older teens and young adults, how does it hold up? Even as I write this, I don’t hear a lot of people talk about this movie. It’s definitely a comedy that wants to be crude, but have a subtle stab at the Hollywood and entertainment scene. Does it all work? Unfortunately for me, it’s very hit-and-miss. Much of the crass humor falls flat, and while you can find some jokes or references to real-life Los Angeles, and you can tell the world they live in is a very cynically-painted world, it rings hollow, since everyone is already pretty cynical about it. Some of the background jokes and alternative comedic banter between our two leads or the other characters can be very funny, but it’s not consistent enough to get through the slow or unfunny parts. It doesn’t help either that the plot feels like it’s slogging through the down parts, resulting in a partly boring experience when the jokes or gags aren’t onscreen. The cast of characters is also pretty middling. A lot of them are either there to take jabs at society, or to progress the story. It’s a shame, too, because there are many funny people in this movie, Paul Rudd, Patton Oswalt, Hannibal Buress, Mike Judge, Reid Scott, Kate Micucci, Riki Lindhome, Cree Summer, and you get the idea. This should be so much better than it actually is.

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Despite it being a middle-of-the-road comedy experience, what do I like about the film? The animation is great. It’s fluid, expressive, rough, and even when you can tell the animation gets clunky, it still looks good. It’s a film with a visual style of its own. I enjoyed the voice cast, because even if the script doesn’t bring in the most consistent laughs, the actors they hired sound like they are having fun. Then again, when you have actors like Paul Rudd and Patton Oswalt, you know they are going to do great, even if the end product isn’t the best.

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It’s a shame that I was actually looking forward to this film. It has a great cast and a visual style that stands out. If the comedy and story was more fulfilling, I think I would have enjoyed the movie more. Who knows, maybe if more people see it, they will say how clever all the jokes are, but since no one barely knows about this film anyway, I doubt that will happen. Still, even though the first 2017 animated film is not the best, considering that the first animated film from 2016 was Norm of the North, Nerdland isn’t a bad way to start the year. How about next time, we look at Chico & Rita? Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed the article, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Rent it!