Yuri Lowenthal

140: Big Fish & Begonia 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!)

In the span of a few years, China has started to throw its hat into the ring of animation. They have now made it a goal to not just be the country other countries use for their animation, or the creator of a flood of mediocre features. While The Monkey King: Hero is Back was a good first step, I would hardly call it a good movie. The true first step for the country would come in the form of an animated feature that came out back in 2016, but finally got a release here in the states, Big Fish & Begonia. This unique and important title was the passion project behind the directors, Liang Xuan and Zhang Chun. It was based on a Chinese Taoist story called Zhuangzi, but apparently drew from other Chinese classic tales as well. After going through up to over a decade of financial troubles of getting funding, spending it, and lack of animation talent, the film was finally finished. It was picked up by Shout! Factory last year, and was a feature that people payed major attention to during film festivals, including being one of the big features of the Animation is Film Festival. So, was a decade of development worth the hype and final product? Well, let’s check it out.

The story follows Chu, dubbed by Stephanie Sheh. She is a 16 year-old girl who lives in a world that lies on the other side of the human world’s ocean. It’s full of powerful individuals and spirits. Chun has to go through a rite of passage, and venture into the human world as a red dolphin. While in the human world, Chun is smitten by a human male named Kun, dubbed by Todd Haberkorn. After a few days swimming around, Chun gets caught inside a fishing net, and Kun tries to save her. Luckily, he gets her out, but ends up drowning in the process. Feeling guilty as all get-out about Kun dying, Chun ends up going to a place called the Island of Souls to try and bring Kun back. She offers the caretaker, Ling Po, dubbed by JB Blanc, half of her life to bring Kun back. After that, she spends the next chunk of her life taking care of Kun as he grows bigger, and makes sure he can go back to the human world. The bad news is that while Kun is there, the world that she lives in is in major peril. Can she make sure Kun gets back alive? What is she willing to sacrifice to make sure that happens?

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A problem I see with many passion projects that take a good decade or so to fully complete is that the creators try to shove in too much into the film, and never think about cutting certain story elements, or redoing some of the script. Of course, animation can be a huge endeavor, and making changes on the fly can be costly, but you can run the risk of making the film feel too busy, bloated, and or unfocused. Unfortunately, a lot of the problems with Big Fish & Begonia is that there is too much going on. Much of the film is Chun’s relationship with Kun, and her learning about life, death, sacrifice, and the consequences to certain actions, but they shove in a lot of characters, and a lot of time spent with Chun over vast landscapes. I’ll admit, many of the logical issues I keep questioning throughout my time watching the film are probably more of a cultural thing, and how the film wants to be more of a fairy tale. However, how far can you go with those kinds of defenses until they become too distracting? How much homework does one need to do on Chinese culture to fully understand the magical logic used in the film? It shouldn’t turn into a homework project to fully get what’s going on, and who everyone is. I don’t mind learning about the culture, but the film should be explaining to me visually what’s going on. For example, there is this rat woman who is an obvious threat, but you don’t get why she wants to go to the human world, and you don’t see her again after a certain period of time. I mean, yes, you can tell by her design and the way she interacts with everyone, that she is a threat, but why? I also get that having Kun stay in their world brings upon a lot of damage and danger, but why? Why does having a human spirit cause such chaos? The story also goes at a rather fast pace. It’s not a truly horrible thing, but I think the film’s atmosphere and emotional investment would have been stronger if they let some time pass between certain moments. While Studio MiR, the same studio behind Avatar: The Last Airbender and Netflix’s Voltron series, has some breathtaking animation done for Big Fish & Begonia, its use of CGI is definitely distracting. It’s not as bad as, say, Blue Submarine No. 6, but you can always tell when it’s CGI. It becomes more distracting when you see the giant flying whales that look like something out of that Fantasia 2000 short.

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With all that said, Big Fish & Begonia has great elements in its overall package. Like I said above, the animation is gorgeous. The backgrounds are awe inspiring, the designs are whimsical, the movements are fluid, and it’s an incredible visual feast for the eyes. You can tell there was a heavy dose of passion throughout this entire film’s visual presentation. It’s an incredible treat for the eyes that you need to see on the biggest screen you can. I even regret not seeing this one when it came out in my neck of the woods! As for the dub, I have seen both the original with subtitles, and the dub that Funimation helped out with. I think the cast is pretty stellar that includes actors such as Stephanie Sheh, Johnny Yong Bosch, Todd Haberkorn, JB Blanc, Cindy Robinson, Yuri Lowenthal, Greg Chun, Kate Higgins, Kyle Hebert, Erika Ishii, and Cam Clarke. The music by Kiyoshi Yoshida is full of that Chinese flair. It’s fantastical, mystical, and epic when needed. You might have heard of his name and his music if you have seen The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, where he did the soundtrack for that film. Another strong element is the relationship between Chun, Kun, and Chun’s friend Qui, dubbed by Johnny Yong Bosch. Most of the time you see Chun and Kun together is done with very little dialogue. The visuals tell the story, which, you know, is sort of important in a visual medium like animation.

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Big Fish & Begonia might be a bit of a mess, but it’s an important film for China and the Chinese animation scene. If you watch the trailers or clips, and you think you would like this film, I definitely recommend checking it out. It’s an impressive start, and I hope that means that other 2D animated projects that are going on over in China, can start raising the bar as time goes on. Well, after this, I definitely need something a bit zanier, a bit more focused, and maybe something that can make the night go on forever. Next time, we are going to check out Masaaki Yuasa’s other hit film, The Night is Short, Walk on Girl. Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

 

129: Batman Ninja 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!)

You know, there is only so much you can do with a character, before you have to start getting creative. You either find new ways to tackle a character that has been around forever, or you simply stop their story right then and there. There are also tactics and plans to be had in-between those two decisions, but when you are someone like Batman, you have pretty much done it all. Batman Ninja, directed by Junpei Mizusaki, is one of the rare DC animated features to not be tied down to the more strict DC-animated film tropes. It’s a Batman film that decided to take a big shot of anime in its veins, and that is what we got. It also had some big names attached to it, like Takashi Okazaki, who was the creator of Afro Samurai, and Yugo Kanno, who did the music for Blame!, Psycho-Pass, and the PlayStation 4 game, Nioh. It’s also one of the more interesting animated features, due to its mix of CGI and 2D animation. So, is it as good as the best action anime out there? Is it one of the best DC animated films out there? Let’s find out.

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The story starts us off with Batman, dubbed this time by Roger Craig Smith, during a mission at night, as he tries to stop Gorilla Grodd, dubbed by Fred Tatasciore, from selling another mighty invention of his to the black market for supervillains. These villains include Poison Ivy, dubbed by Tara Strong, Deathstroke, dubbed by Fred Tatasciore, Two-Face, dubbed by Eric Bauza, The Penguin, dubbed by Tom Kenny, Harley Quinn, dubbed by Tara Strong, and of course, The Joker, dubbed by Tony Hale. After Batman gets into a fight with Grodd, the machine goes haywire, and sends all of them, including some of Bruce’s closest allies and partners, back into feudal-era Japan. Now, along with Catwoman, dubbed by Grey Griffin, his butler Alfred, dubbed by Adam Croasdell, Nightwing, also dubbed by Adam Croasdell, Robin, dubbed by Yuri Lowenthal, Red Robin, dubbed by Will Friedle, and Red Hood, also dubbed by Yuri Lowenthal, must stop the villains, turn back time, and save the day.

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So, what’s so amazing about this film? Well, for one of the rare occasions, DC decided to let someone else take the wheel, and they take the wheel hard. Batman Ninja is unapologetically dumb, fun, over-the-top, Japanese, and it will not stand down. Out of many of the DC-animated features I have seen the past few years, this one felt like it had the most consistent tones outside of the Adam West Batman films. It’s Batman in Japan, fighting a version of the Joker, whose grand master plan is to make a giant mech, and rewrite history. It will not let up on how anime this entire film is. From the designs to the action-packed fight sequences, it was clear that they knew what they were doing. Heck, they even have giant robot fights. Again, giant robot fights between the villains and Batman in feudal Japan. While there is definitely a story arc for Batman having to remember to rely less on his gadgets and more on his closest allies and his own skill, it’s balanced out enough within the main plot to keep you invested among the insanity.

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While I was fairly disappointed in how this film was going to be mostly CGI, and CGI on a small budget can be a gamble if you do not have the right creative team, I felt like it worked. Sure, they act like puppets sometimes, but the models used are way more expressive, detailed, and they feel like they have some kind of life to them. I was concerned about how action sequences would be handled, but I never found it distracting that they were CGI. The action is fast, brutal, satisfying, full of energy, and very entertaining to watch. The last fight between Batman and Joker is probably one of the best fights among these animated DC features. I never found myself wondering what the heck was going on during the fights. I think that’s because, unlike the Berserk anime series that uses CGI, Batman Ninja has proper direction in how the fights flow. On top of the crazy action, the color pallet is used well, the CGI models look good on the 2D planes, and they even have an entire surreal sequence done in 2D animation, and it looks fantastic. The music by Yugo Kanno was also matched up well with the film’s pacing and style. The big action theme that plays near the end is quite heart-pounding, and it makes the final fight so intense to watch.

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In terms of the voice cast, I was surprised. While we have some returning faces like Roger Craig Smith, Tom Kenny and Tara Strong reprising their roles as Batman, Penguin, and Harley Quinn, the rest of the voice cast is pretty spot-on. I was curious to see how Tony Hale would do as The Joker, and while a bit off-putting at first, he does a good job capturing that zany crazy nature of the character. As you can tell, many of the actors in this film pull double shifts with voicing multiple characters, but they are each unique sounding enough to not be an issue or a distracting element to the overall film. It was also simply fun to see other villains outside of the main Batman library, like Gorilla Grodd, who is definitely one of the more entertaining aspects of the film.

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While I do love this film in terms of how willing it is to be not only visually creative, but fun with its plot and setting, I do have a few complaints. I get why they used CGI animation, and it’s not the worst I have seen, but it definitely shows itself at times with how limiting it is. Sometimes characters seem more like puppets, and less like actual characters that are on the screen. It’s even more distracting when you can tell that not everyone is a CGI model. It is better than what I have seen Polygon Pictures or the Berserk series use, but I wish they went full-stop 2D animation for this film. For as fun as the action is, the final battle that is not Batman and The Joker is really underwhelming. You have all of these amazing villains and characters with the unlimited creativity of anime fight sequences, and the villains end up losing in under a minute. It’s really underwhelming, because all the other action sequences in the film are great. The one full 2D sequence was fun to see in the film, but it sticks out like a sore thumb. I don’t think I fully got why it was only that one scene, and why it was animated in such a way. The rest of the complaints are minor, like even though I respect how much the film wrapped itself up in the anime culture, some parts were just a bit much, like the little monkey sidekick. Some of Batman’s sidekicks also don’t have a lot to do, or get that many line reads.

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Overall, Batman Ninja is just a fun movie. By the end of the year, it probably won’t be in my top ten or five, depending on what else comes out, but it will be one that people should definitely pick up. If you were burned by their other animated features, definitely pick this one up. I had a lot of fun, and it’s easily one of the most entertaining DC animated films you can get right now. For now, we must move on to the 130th review as we take a look at another film that may be good or bad for infamous reasons. I won’t say what it is, but you will have to see next time! Thanks for reading the review! I hope you enjoyed it, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 59: The Wild Life 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!)

Hey everyone, Lionsgate a.k.a #AntiGKids is back again with another nauseating and, to no surprise, horrible movie! Yeah, I know this might be picking on the studio, but they tried to con people out of money for Norm of the North and this movie, The Wild Life. The Wild Life is a French/Belgium collaboration that was originally called Robinson Crusoe. Ironically, this film has very little to do with the actual character, and focuses on the animals instead. It’s directed by Vincent Kesteloot and Ben Stassen, which explains a lot if you know about Ben Stassen’s filmography. It was produced by Illuminata Pictures, nWave Pictures, and UFilm. The only film that I can think of that is remotely well known in terms of what these companies and directors worked on was the incredibly mediocre Fly Me To The Moon 3D. Even though it’s not a huge bomb of a film from the other side of the world, it’s one of the biggest flops in terms of first weekend CGI film releases in the states. So, is it as bad as I, and many others, have made it out to be? Well, we shall see.

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The story revolves around this Parrot named Mak/Tuesday, voiced by David Howard Thornton. He tells the story about life on an island with his friends that include a tapir, a goat, a chameleon, a pangolin, an echidna, and what I think is a kingfisher. Believe me when I say that the types of animals are much more interesting than their actual names. One day, they see that a human named Robinson Crusoe, voiced by Yuri Lowenthal, has been stranded on the island. Now the animals have to find out if this human is trustworthy, while avoiding the evil cats that sadly came along on the ship Crusoe was aboard.

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Man, this movie is horrible, but why? It looks just as cynical as most mediocre animated films, and it doesn’t look as bad as Norm of the North. So, what’s the problem? Well, I can describe this movie with one word, boring. This film is a chore to sit through, and that’s because of the characters. They are a bore. Each character has one trait, and they milk that more than NBC Universal milks that Illumination advertising budget. The goat is old, and that’s it. The tapir is fat, and that’s it. The pangolin and echidna are pointless characters, and you guessed it, that’s it. No one is worth remembering in this film. Oh, and they are all rather stupid. Like, Norm of the North levels of stupid. Listen, people, stupid characters don’t make a good movie. You can have one well written stupid character, but the entire cast can’t be as dumb as the person who thought Nine Lives was a good idea. In the end, I did not care what happened to anyone, and I was just ready to get off my seat and curse the people who brought this into theaters. It doesn’t help either that the film essentially had about three climaxes, overstayed its welcome, and characters acting inconsistently. Seriously, the kingfisher character wants the human off the island, but then in one scene of the movie, she attempts to ruin Crusoe’s S.O.S signal to keep him on the island. Like, do you want him gone or not?!

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The biggest sin this film has going against it is that it is completely pointless. There was no reason for this film to exist. It’s not smart, clever, funny, interesting, and it is soulless. Heck, it doesn’t even really focus on Crusoe, and granted, some things from the original book they probably couldn’t do, but it’s also another film that had no freaking reason to be in theaters. I seriously question moviegoers, when the great Kubo and the Two Strings has to continually suffer in the box office. I saw no advertising for The Wild Life besides a poster for it a few months back. That’s it. Why does Lionsgate keep thinking that they can bring over any animated film, and people will love it? You know what? We don’t!

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The animation definitely looks better than Norm of the North, but only in terms of textures. It had more money and talented people working on this film than Norm of the North, but the animation is still very robotic. No one moves naturally. Well, maybe the chameleon moves the most naturally due to them already moving like robots, but I digress. The voicework is also annoying. On one hand, they got mostly voice talent for this film. It really doesn’t have big names to back it up (which makes it a mystery why it got to be in theaters in the first place, but still). It’s somewhat nice to see a film not rely on big names to sell its movie. On the other hand, the actors aren’t that great, and you can tell the English dub team wanted bigger names than what they could afford.

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So, out of this incredibly boring and annoying trainwreck, what does this film do well? Well, it only does one thing really well. What is it? It only has one or two really bad stereotypical kids film jokes. Yeah, the rest of the humor is horrible, not funny, and the two butt jokes are lousy excuses for humor, but to their credit, I do have to say that this film stays far away from the modern children animated film joke tropes. I was shocked by this because this was distributed by Lionsgate, which as you all know, released Norm of the North, which they should still be ashamed for making.  Anyway, The Wild Life has bland and boring humor, but it’s not super-condescending and cynical like Norm of the North or Bling. I was actually surprised, since it’s so easy for studios to get the note from higher-ups to put in these “wastes of space” jokes that make kids who have no sense of humor laugh, and adults who were unfortunate enough to take them to see it roll their eyes. I will also give credit that the animation looks decent. It’s still bad, but it’s not immensely mediocre. More Ratchet & Clank, than Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return.

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Man, I really hated this film. I don’t hate it as much as Norm of the North and Underdogs, but it’s a vapid pointless film that had no reason to be in theaters. The film will be out in a physical format in November, but don’t pick it up. Instead of getting the dvd for this film on November 22nd, go purchase Kubo and the Two Strings on the same day. You will thank me. Now then, this is my 4th worst movie of the year. What is my 3rd worst animated film? Well, stay tuned.

Rating: The Worst/Blacklist