Zarafa

Animation Tidbits: Annecy 2019 Part 1

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

So, it’s another year, and that means the E3 of animation, the Annecy International Film Festival, is going to happen! This year, the special guest country is Japan, and the line-up that includes films from Japan is impressive! This article will tackle the films that are in the main competition. The line-up has many strong films, and I’ll be talking about a few that I have mentioned before.

Honorable Mention: Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles

Competing last year in the “Out of Competition” section, I have seen the full film at Animation is Film 2018, and I loved it. It’s easily one of my favorite animated films of this decade, and it told a compelling story about a real-life filmmaker saving his career and finding out about himself. It has beautiful animation. The only reason why I’m putting it in the Honorable Mentions category is that it’s about to have a US release as well. Still, if you are going to Annecy, and you can go see this film, do so!

Now then, let’s get on with the other films!

Birthday Wonderland

Directed by Keiichi Hara, the director of one of 2016’s best animated features, Miss Hokusai, Birthday Wonderland tells the story of a young girl named Akane, who gets visited by an alchemist named Hippocrates and the student of the alchemist Pipo. They tell Akane that they are on a quest to save the world, and go into a basement to teleport into a world known as Wonderland. One of the stand-out details for me is the art direction. It looks incredible, but it’s more who is attached to it that is interesting to me. The visuals and character designs are being done by a Russian artist named Iiya Kuvshinov. You don’t really see outside artists work on Japanese productions. It’s a rare sight indeed. It definitely looks like a fun fantastical adventure with plenty of whimsical visuals and a cheerful tone that I hope delivers a wonderful experience.

Ride Your Wave

Directed by Masaaki Yuasa, famed director of Lu Over the Wall Mindgame, and The Night is Short, Walk on Girl, the story follows the relationship of Hinako, a college girl who loves to surf, and Minato, a firefighter who also loves to surf. After Minato passes away during a surfing accident, Hinako goes into a depression. However, when she sings a song that was close to the two, she finds that Minato is back! Well, as a ghost that’s trapped in the water. Yeah, this is going to be another odd and abstract film from the creative anime director. It looks to be a film about dealing with grief and growing up. I’m just sitting here now waiting for it to pop up at the Animation is Film Festival line-up, and for GKids to pick it up!

White Snake

Directed by Amp Wong and Ji Zhao, and a prequel to the Chinese Fable, Legend of the White Snake, it tells the story about a hunter and a snake disguised as a woman. I’m a bit worried how people who are not familiar with the original story will react to this, and its slightly more adult tone may turn off certain people, but I think for Chinese animation, it looks impressive. Their CGI might not be all there yet, but it looks better than most features that come out of China. Hopefully, the story will be compelling and interesting enough for those not aware of the fable.

Swallows of Kabul

I know I have talked about this film by duo directors Zabou Breitman and Elea Gobbe-Mevellec, but since we have a new trailer of the film based on the book of the same name, I wanted to make sure people know about it. It still has a lot of the incredible animation that we saw in the previous teaser for the film, and we get a little more about the story about two families that become intertwined by a corrupt society. It looks great, and I bet we will see this one at Animation is Film later this year.

I Lost My Body

Directed by Jeremy Clapin, this French animated feature focuses on a living human hand that goes on a perilous adventure to be reattached to its body. Yeah, this is easily one of the more complex animated features competing this year. You get an adult vibe from the trailer, which could lead to some fairly mature topics. I’m not entirely sure how this premise is going to carry on through a feature-length film, but it’s a film that stands out from the rest, due to its premise!

The Bear’s Famous Invasion of Sicily

We finally have a trailer for this one! The story itself hasn’t changed, about a bear prince that ends up in the human kingdom that causes a stir between them and the bears. I wanted to bring up the insanely creative visuals. This is done by the same studio that did the Oscar-nominated The Red Turtle and Zarafa, Prima Linea Productions. The vibrant colors, the well-executed CGI animation, and the fantastical imagery really give this film some life that not a lot of other animated features can have. All the visuals look like they are part of some kind of painting come to life, and it’s crazy how lush the colors are! I really hope this comes over to the Animation is Film Festival later this fall.

Marona’s Fantastic Tale

Finally, we have Marona’s Fantastic Tale! Directed by Anca Damian, this Romania, France, and Belgium collaboration follows a dog, which recently passes away, and goes through a journey through her life and the people that she encountered. This is a truly unique-looking animated feature with a pastel painting look to the characters, with a bunch of bright colors and eye-opening visuals to tell a story about love. It’s a small-scale-looking film that I think would be awesome to watch.

 

The Other Side of Animation 64: Long Way North 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!)

While I do think GKids is the best foreign/indie animation distributor, I wish more companies were like them. There are probably a slew of great foreign animated films, new and old, that we never get to see. It always seems like besides the stuff GKids brings over, companies will bring over the worst of the worst because they are cheap and won’t cost a lot to get some B or C-list celebrities to voice the characters. Not to say they are all utter schlock, but you have to look pretty hard to find one of these cheap films that are actually competent. Luckily, some companies still know quality when they see it, and to the best of their abilities, bring it over for everyone to see. You have Sentai Filmworks who brought over Short Peace, Funimation bringing over the amazing movies by Mamoru Hosoda, and now we have a new contender, Shout! Factory Kids. This is the family/children spin-off of horror/sci-fi distributors Shout! Factory. So far, their animated film offerings have been just okay. They have some unique films, like the French-made Jack and the Cuckoo Clock Heart, A Monster in Paris, which I have already reviewed, and the Canadian-produced Snowtime! And yes, I will get to them during Christmas. However, to me, their best-to-date, in terms of what they have brought over, is today’s review, Long Way North. This French/Danish collaboration is from first-time director Rémi Chayé. This might be his first directorial job, but he has been around the European animation scene for a good while, and has worked on many classic animated films. Heck, a lot of people on here worked on some of the best overseas-animated films of all time. It’s like a European animation version of The Avengers. Rémi Chayé worked on films that include The Painting, The Secret of Kells, and Eleanor’s Secret. One of the producers, Claus Toksvig Kjaer, was a producer on Song of the Sea. Another producer for Long Way North, Henri Magalon, was a producer on Ernest & Celestine. The composer, Jonathan Morali, also has his name under the critically acclaimed video game, Life is Strange. The individuals in charge of the art direction, Han Jin Kuang Liane-Cho, worked on The Illusionist, Ethel & Ernest, Zarafa, and The Little Prince, and Slaven Reese worked on Ethel & Ernest, Song of the Sea, Zarafa, and The Prophet.  Like, wow, you’ve got some really good individuals involved with this movie. So, is it as good as the 100% critic score or the 80% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes rating it has as of October 23rd, 2016? Well, let’s find out.

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The film takes place in Russia in 1882. We follow the story of a young Russian aristocrat named Sasha, voiced by Chloe Dunn. Sasha is still getting over the supposed death of her grandfather, Olukine, who left on a journey across the ocean to find the North Pole. After an incident with a royal snob that would have promised her father a strong political spot, Sasha decides to go off on her own to find a ship to go in search of her grandfather and his ship. What will she find? What will happen to her?

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I want to start with the animation since it’s fairly unique. At least, to me it’s unique. Long Way North has a beautiful art style, but the animation is very simple. It’s not super-fast or detailed. However, it’s very expressive, and you can easily get a lot of the emotions from the characters. It’s a beautiful movie with lush countrysides, freezing landscapes, and you can essentially feel the salty air in the seaside town Sasha finds herself in during the film. This film definitely has a vibe that you would see in a Mamoru Hosoda film or something from Studio Ghibli, with characters that can be tough, but with a kind heart to them. Sure, there are some crabby individuals, and I will get to them later in the review, but this film has something that reminds me of the interactions you see in films like Castle in the Sky or The Boy and the Beast. Long Way North also has a more mature tone. It’s nice to see this be a rather dark film in the later part. You don’t know if Sasha will actually find her grandfather’s ship and make it back. Sasha is a great character who is smart, active, and is willing to learn new things, and you want to see her succeed, but man, it can be grim later on. Not enough to ruin the film, but it can be as dark as something like Song of the Sea. The overall adventure is enjoyable to watch, with the highs and lows being pretty balanced, and the highs don’t overshadow the lows.

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I was hooked on this movie from beginning to end. However, I do have some complaints. They are minor, but I should bring them up. The royal prince that you see in the film should have been taken out. He has no real character besides being a spoiled jerk. Heck, he only appears at the beginning and the end of the film. I don’t see why he had to be an ignition point for the story to get started. Why not have Sasha find the navigations on her own, and then try to deal with her parents, who are not outwardly dealing with the loss of the grandfather, but don’t want to hear that there might be a possible way to find out what happened to him. I also feel like they could have made the film a bit longer. The real end of the film is the still frames in the credits. It would have felt more powerful if we got to see it all in motion. The pacing could also use some work. Long Way North flows pretty well, but there are some bits all over the movie that could have been better.

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Long Way North might not be anything innovative or groundbreaking, but it’s a freaking good movie. It’s simple, but well executed. It’s hopeful, but it’s not afraid to be tough. It has simple animation, but it’s gorgeous and well done. If you have a theater playing this movie, you should really see it. It’s one of my favorite films of 2016. It’s easily in my top 10. It’s also coming out on DVD in January, but still, find some way to watch this great movie. Next time, we will look at one of the most popular Japanese films of recent years with Miss Hokusai. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials