Universal

151: How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World 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!)

Well, it has happened. I am finally able to review DreamWorks animated movies! Now that they are under Universal’s banner, and not Fox’s banner, I can now talk about today’s film and any of their future projects. It’s fascinating to see the entire history of DreamWorks. The company was founded by Jeffery Katzenberg after a nasty break-up with Disney, and made a name for not really having an identity, making edgier/mostly mediocre films that tried to ape off of what Disney/Pixar were doing at the time. They finally made a name for themselves with hits like Shrek 2, the Kung Fu Panda and How to Train your Dragon films, and then lost so much money after one failed business decision after another, we are now at the current part of the timeline. Once they lost about 500 employees and a couple of double digit millions when their 2014 films failed to bring in the money, they were then bought out by Universal. That’s a fairly rough and compacted history, but this isn’t about the history of DreamWorks, and how they started out to where they are now. I’m not getting paid enough on my Patreon to do something like that (link to my Patreon if you would like to support it). We are here to talk about How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World. Directed and written by Dean DeBlois, The Hidden World wraps up the entire trilogy of one of DreamWorks’ best franchises. It came out near the end of February to critical acclaim and commercial success. So, how is the actual film? Let’s see what unfolds in this hidden world.

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The third film takes place a year after the second film, as Hiccup, voiced once again by Jay Baruchel, is now officially the leader of his people, and has gone on frequent missions to take down and free dragons from people who capture them. Unfortunately, his home and people are at risk of having to find a new land, and come to the realization about the relationship his people have with the dragons. This doesn’t help things when a group of dragon hunters hire a notoriously dangerous individual known as Grimmel the Grisly, voiced by F. Murray Abraham, who wants to kill all of the dragons, especially the Night Fury and Light Fury species. Hiccup then suggests that they find the Hidden World, a place where all the dragons live. Since this is the third film as well, let’s throw in a mysterious Light Fury, a white version of the franchise’s icon Toothless. Can Hiccup save his people and dragons from annihilation?

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Before I talk about the positives, and there are a lot of positives, I wanted to counter against some of the criticisms that have been thrown at this film. The first criticism I see is that it doesn’t tie into the Netflix series at all. To be frank, I’m happy they didn’t. Sure, the Netflix series was able to expand upon the characters and the world with more villages, villains, and other heroes. However, if push comes to shove, I’d rather it stay exclusively within the film world. It’s not really fair to expect everyone going into this third film to have watched the Netflix series, or the series that came out before the second film. I get that even the slightest little easter eggs or cameos would have been nice for fans of the TV series, but at the same time, most people going into this wouldn’t have seen the entire series. The next criticism I see is aimed at how some of the characters are handled. I have a mixed reaction to this part overall. Again, a lot of people pointed out that the TV series was doing a better job at fleshing out these characters. Well, duh. You have a TV series that has multiple episodes and more time to flesh everything out. I think the writing is strong enough that a good chunk of the characters are still true to them and are still great.

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That’s really all I have to disagree with. Now, we talk about the actual criticisms. To me, the How to Train your Dragon franchise runs parallel with DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda franchise. The first film was a surprise hit, and both have really good first films. The second films arguably are better films expanding the world, the story, the characters, and have a better villain. The third films are not as good as the second ones, but are great closers to the franchise, however, they have weaker villains. Yeah, while being voiced well by F. Murray Abraham, Grimmel the Grisly was not as interesting as a villain as other animated film villains. He had a bit of mystery to him, and was a threat with the other warriors and those dragon killers, but he felt underutilized. While I disagree that all of the side characters suffered from being underdeveloped, both Kung Fu Panda and Dragons sure do not give their side protagonists a lot to do. This is especially true for Jonah Hill’s Snotlout. He is just the worst character in this film. While Fishlegs, voiced by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Ruffnut and Tuffnut, voiced by Kristen Wiig and Justin Rupple, all have some more focus and things to do in the story, Snotlout never has a good scene, is always the butt of the joke, is constantly trying to hit on Hiccup’s mom for some creepy reason, and if that’s not creepy enough, apparently, Snotlout is worse in the original books. It always comes off like DreamWorks puts in so many characters, because they are banking on a TV series. They also don’t let us, the viewers, spend much time in the Hidden World. I kind of wish there was more time spent on Hiccup, Toothless, the Hidden World, America Ferrera’s Astrid, than focusing on the side characters who don’t have much to them.

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So, what’s amazing about this film? Everything! The animation is beautiful. I’m so blown away at how incredible the franchise’s visuals have become, as even the first film from 2010 still looks pretty darn good! I love the details of the textures used, the slightly aged characters, and the immense amount of detail used in every house, island, dragon, human, and you get the idea. Once again, DreamWorks shows that while the overarching plot might not be the best, it makes up for it with some really good character moments. Throughout the entire film, there will be little moments between two characters that bring this film so much life and personality. Many of the best moments in the previous films were the quiet moments as Hiccup interacted with either Toothless or someone else. This film ups those scenes, as we get the final chapter of Hiccup’s coming-of-age tale of becoming the new tribe leader for his people. One of the most memorable scenes for me was when Hiccup was a kid, and he saw his dad mourn the loss of his wife/Hiccup’s mother, and you just get so much out of that one scene alone. Of course, the chemistry between Toothless and his new love interest is also a hugely entertaining scene, as it involves the least amount of dialogue out of any scene in this movie, and is so adorable and funny that you think it would backfire in some possible way, but it doesn’t. There are quite a few scenes of Toothless and his girlfriend that are all just wonderful to watch.  The film tackles plenty of complex themes, like learning to change, how Hiccup comes to terms with doing what’s best for everyone involved, and learning and working on making your own path through life.

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How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World might have a few flaws under its wings, but it’s another fantastic ride from DreamWorks. I know it’s easy to worry about DreamWorks Animation and their film line-up in the future, but for now, why not enjoy this movie and go see it? I highly recommend that you do so if you haven’t already. It shows that when DreamWorks wants to, they can put out a high quality product. Now then, we shall now move from dragons that you form an emotional bond with, to a film about a magical amusement park that doesn’t quite work. Next time, we shall talk about the notorious and infamous Wonder Park. Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed this review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

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!

Let's Fix the Animation Scene Part 1: Theatrical Films

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

A common complaint I hear every year when any award show for films pops up is that no matter who is nominated, the combination of Disney/Pixar is always going to win. While I definitely shrug my shoulders, and sort of agree with the masses who are tired of seeing Pixar or Disney win, there is a reason why they are consistent winners every year. Yes, there are a few years where I thought there were better films, but for the most part, Disney as a whole constantly earns and deserves the massive praise and success. It has led to me wanting to talk about this situation, but it’s a gigantic task at hand. What can I talk about? Is it right to give Disney and Pixar so much flack? Is it really their fault for no one else being able to compete?

I mean, I don’t normally like commenting on topics with hot takes, because hot takes are a terrible way to form an argument, because it shows you put an unintelligible effort into your comment. Instead, I’m going to do a cool take, which is more thought-out, and worth talking about. So, for this situation, this is my cool take, it’s not Disney/Pixar’s fault for having way more success than everyone else! Listen, they don’t always earn it. I think the Oscars from the years 2012 to 2014 should have gone to different Best Animated Feature films, but instead of blaming Disney for other studios not being able to compete, maybe it’s not all Disney’s fault? To me, Disney and Pixar are being smart with their films, and are constantly making films that people keep coming back to. Maybe the industry needs to start stepping up to the plate. For this editorial, I’m going to talk about how certain parts of the film industry can be improved with “optimistic solutions” as to how they can compete with Disney and Pixar. The first part will be about the industry, and how the other big studios can take some steps into getting on the level of Disney and Pixar’s success. The second part will be tackling the indie/foreign scene, and the final part will be tackling the Oscars. Let’s get started!

Don’t Chase Trends/Find Your Own Identity!

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Let’s cut to the chase. As much as other studios want to be the next big Pixar and or Disney animation studio, there is only one Pixar and one Disney. This happens a lot when you see other studios lock their eyes on a film or franchise that becomes a massive hit, and they want to follow that success with their own take. We saw this with Warner Bros and Don Bluth in the 90s trying to follow Disney’s massive money train. DreamWorks consistently took cynical jabs at Disney, and tried to follow up a Disney or Pixar film with their own take on the basic set-up. Heck, DreamWorks tried to copy Illumination Entertainment’s success with Home. In the end, when you try to chase a trend, and it’s not executed well, people are going to catch on quickly. What studios need to do is to find their own identity. Disney and Pixar have their identities with interesting takes on fairy tales and family films with timeless topics, writing, and characters. DreamWorks has suffered with an identity for years, but always has a consistent identity when they make good character-driven films. Studio Ghibli flips anime onto its head by being so anti-anime with more western ideals and less focus on what makes anime in Japan popular. Science Saru has their own simple, yet stretchy visuals that would rather the movements look good and fluid, rather than how much detail they can put into each character. Laika makes mature family films using stop-motion. Aardman makes charming and well-written animated features. Warner Bros. Animation Group has made consistently entertaining and very funny comedies with heart. Heck, the identities you can give to Blue Sky and Illumination Entertainment as their claim to fame is that they don’t really have one. That is its own problem, but still. When I watch a film by a certain studio, I want to be able to point out that this film is from that studio. Variety is the spice of life, and competition is good. Be your own creative filmmakers. I know having your own identity can come from many elements, like having certain writers and directors at your beck and call, but I still stand that you should make sure you stick out. The worst thing you can do is be a forgettable studio.

Don’t Half-bake Your Overall Plots

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So, most of the time, the big budget animated films are comedies with some story attached to them. Okay, that’s fine. There is nothing wrong with being more about the jokes than the story. However, what seems to happen to many films is that they know and have seen Disney and Pixar films, but only follow the base steps of their plots to put into their own plots. For example, last year, there were probably more films made that had no real idea how to make their stories emotionally connect with the audience. Despicable Me 3 has a slew of potential story arcs for their characters, but either don’t do anything with them, or do only the bare minimum in execution. Ferdinand has some of the more emotionally gripping and interesting story and character moments out of Blue Sky’s films, but they still threw in so much of their bad family film pandering elements, that makes it frustrating to watch. The Emoji Movie doesn’t even bother to try anything to be more complex, have some kind of clever commentary about social media or the young generation who do act like they are glued to their phones. Cars 3, a film from Pixar themselves comes so close to making it one of their best films, but fumbles when having the villains have more to them than their simple traits. The Boss Baby might be heavy on the creative visuals and a lot of fun humor, but it lacks emotional stakes, because I do not care about the characters, and they try so hard to force the family bond on the two leads. Lego Ninjago and My Little Pony dump out what made their respective properties fun and entertaining, and their films are fun, but they lack substance. It’s fine if you want to be more about story, be more about the comedy, or be a mixture of both. Just put in the mental power that you would if you were working on a film you cared about. Don’t treat it like a paycheck film.

Find your own designs/animation style!

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While this could go into the identity part of the list, I feel like this was worthy of its own entry on the editorial. A problem that I see studios have is that their films are all visually similar, and fail to show off the distinct style that only that studio has. You can tell when you are seeing an Aardman film. You can tell when you are seeing a Disney film. You can tell when you are seeing a Laika film. You can tell when you are seeing a Ghibli film. Heck, even Illumination had learned from this, and you can tell by their designs when you are watching their films. DreamWorks and Blue Sky are constantly changing their styles for better or for worse, and they don’t make me think “oh man! This is a film by those guys!” You don’t even need to spend massive amounts of money. In terms of animation budgets, if you can’t get as much as other studios, get creative. That’s why people were so impressed with Captain Underpants. It looked impressive for a film that had a budget of $30 million. Even other studios overseas are finding ways to get creative with their small budgets. Sure, some will still look awful, but the ones that stick out, found a way to make their films work with creative visuals and smart writing. You would be amazed at how many foreign animated films trade big budgets for creative visuals, and focus more on writing. Just be careful about what textures you use as well. If you are going use more realistic textures and designs, then don’t do cartoony movements and reactions. Leap! is a good example of this, because it had pretty decent CGI animation, but due to the odd choice to have realistic textures and somewhat more realistic designs, any time a cartoony reaction happened, it looked creepy. Make sure you have got a visual style you can call your own.

Not Everything Needs To Be a Comedy!

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Listen, I get why most animated films are comedies. I know that’s a very popular genre of film that can easily be taken advantage of with animation, due to its limitless potential. However, not everything needs to be a comedy. The worst part about this is if you are a comedy, and you don’t measure up to the other animated comedies of that year, I’m going to forget about you. It’s like how the game industry is trying to make “live services” a thing. When a better “live service” comes around, I’m going to go to that one instead. Same goes for animation. Once a better comedy comes around, I’m going to watch that comedy more than yours. I have done that plenty of times with the films from 2017. Spice things up a bit and try out different genres. Why do you think people still love talking about Kubo and the Two Strings, UP, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Isle of Dogs, Inside Out, Kung Fu Panda 1-3, The LEGO Movie, How to Train your Dragon, or Wolf Children? While they have their own comedic elements that work out for them, they still fall back heavily on writing, characters, action, and story. Just because it’s an animated feature, doesn’t mean that you can’t be an action film, a thriller, a horror film, a rom-com, or whatever. Don’t box yourselves into one genre. Don’t make a comedy for the sake of making one.  

Thanks for reading part 1! Next time, we will talk about the foreign/indie side of animation!

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!

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!