cgi film

163: Ne Zha 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 been wild to see what the rest of the world has been doing in animation. There is always something happening, some kind of film that’s going to push the boundaries for that country’s animation status quota, and that’s no different from China. This year alone, the US is getting two Chinese CGI features with GKids bringing over White Snake, and Well Go USA Entertainment bringing over the biggest Chinese animated feature right now, Ne Zha. Directed by Jiaozi, as of writing this review, Ne Zha is currently the highest-grossing Chinese-animated feature in the world, and the highest-grossing animated feature in China that isn’t made by the likes of Disney, Pixar and you get the idea. Calling this a hit is an understatement. It’s a monster, but, what did I think about it? Well, let’s find out! 

 

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The story revolves around a young boy named Nezha, voiced by Lu Yanting. He is a young boy who was born with the power of a Demon Pill, the one half of a Chaos Pearl that threatened to destroy the world but was split into two different pieces long ago. For now, though, Nezha lives a complicated life of being feared by the townsfolk for being a supposed demon, his family won't tell him what's going on, he encounters a new mysterious friend, and now has to deal with a potential new threat, and his ultimate fate in life. Can Nezha overcome adversity to avoid his fate? 

 

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 Ne Zha is a lot more mature in how it tells its story than most animated films. It's not that it has no humor or comedic characters/moments, but for the most part, it does focus on the drama and the chemistry between Nezha and the different people he encounters. It has its moments where you, as an audience member can sit back and take in the volatile state of mind Nezha is in. He feels unloved despite both parents loving him. He is told he should become a slayer of monsters and demons, but would that change how people see him? The film is filled with themes of discrimination and most importantly, the idea of fate. It's another film that tackles how, while you think you already have a predetermined fate, you are the only one that can take charge of your fate. 

 

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It also has a bit of The Boy and the Beast that is thrown into the mix with how Nezha and this mysterious friend of his have different living situations, and how they were treated while growing up. It's nice to see an animated feature from China feel more focused, and know where the story's strengths need to be. It doesn't have an overload of side characters, and the story isn't thrown into the background for the antics of all of the characters, it's a coming-of-age drama first and foremost. Well, a drama with some great action sequences. 

 

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Animation-wise, the CGI animation on display is probably the most impressive computer animation from China yet. The designs translate well into CGI, the movements are smooth, and there are no herky-jerky movement issues you see in cheaper CGI films from China. The textures look wonderful, and the film has a better understanding of character movement than previous CGI endeavors that I have seen from the country. It looks like an animated film you would expect to see in theaters. 

 

It's not Pixar or Disney incredible, but this film shows that China is getting their serious business faces on to show that they can make it look good. Of course, being a film from China, the action sequences are well done. The camera isn't too close, it's not too dark to see anything, the camera isn't moving around like a kid with a heavy dose of sugar injected into his veins, and it feels epic. The action sequences remind me of how Dragon Ball Super: Broly choreographed their fights, as you follow closely to the characters as they trade blows. The visual spectacle alone in this movie will delight people looking forward to some action set pieces in their animation. 

 

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Ne Zha has so many admirable elements, that it's all the more frustrating, that it has a lot of the same flaws as most Chinese-animated features! The biggest problem with the film is the tone. It's not uncommon for animated films to sprinkle in humorous bits into more dramatic moments, but the film can't hold back on having jokes every few minutes during the more intense scenes. It feels like they don't ask themselves if the jokes they include add or subtract from the scene, and keep them in there anyway. 

 

A couple of the jokes are fart and piss jokes, and, once again, are the worst jokes in the movie. It's agonizing because there are some great physical gags and funny dialogue bits. The humor detracts more than it adds, and I'm so annoyed by that. They are so close at getting a consistent vibe, and they fumble it. I think the problem might be, that a lot of the tone and jokes are what Chinese audiences love to see in films, and that's perfectly fine if they do, but if the filmmakers want to have more widespread love and support, then they need to know that no one likes kiddy gross-out humor. 

 

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Out of all of the Chinese features I have seen so far, which is very minor compared to the overall catalog, this is easily their best effort yet. It's more cohesive, more polished, and more enjoyable to watch than most of the animated films from that country. It might be going to physical and digital soon after its limited release, so if you can find a theater that is playing it, please go out and support it! (I saw it on an IMAX screen and in 3D!) If you want to support more original features, and want other companies to know that you want more variety in your animation, then please go see Ne Zha. For now, let's travel back to Japan, and, next time, review one of 2019's hidden gems with Okko's Inn

 

Thanks for reading my review! I hope you enjoyed it, be sure to share the review with friends and family, and if you would like to help support my work, you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I hope you all have a good day, and I will see you all next time! 

 

Rating: Go See It!

162: The Angry Birds Movie 2 Review

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

While I do stand by the fact that animation in the states should try to be more versatile and needs to start mixing it up on the theatrical side of things, it doesn’t mean I’m against animated features being cartoony. There has been a fairly toxic backlash towards animated films for being cartoony. I never got that, because if you hate a cartoon for being cartoony, then you must hate and despise almost a century of animation and hundreds of films and shorts because they are cartoony. Sure, I'm simplifying the argument, but to me, not every animated film needs to like Funan or Coco

 

Sometimes, people want an animated film to be, well, cartoony, like today’s review, The Angry Birds Movie 2. Directed by Thurop Van Orman, this sequel was a curious case of how they were going to expand on the original film. While not a great film, the first Angry Birds film had its charm. However, the sequel is getting rave reviews not only from critics, but audiences as well, which I don’t think anyone saw coming. While it might not be raking in the cash the first film did, a sequel to a video game movie doing this well critically is surprising. Why is it doing well with audiences and critics alike? What is it about this film that has everyone really enjoying it? Let's dive in, shall we? 

 

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It’s been a year or so since Red, voiced by Jason Sudekis, Chuck, voiced by Josh Gad, and Bomb, voiced by Danny McBride helped save their island’s eggs from the evil pigs led by Leonard, voiced by Bill Hader. Every now and again, they launch stuff at each other from their respective islands. That is until Leonard and his crew finds out that there is a third island called Eagle Island that is run by a bird named Zeta, voiced by Leslie Jones. She plans on wrecking everyone else’s islands to get them to go away, take them over, and turn the islands into a water park. It is now up to Red and Leonard to team up to take down the threat, but they can’t go at it alone. Along with Chuck and Bomb, they also get the help of Mighty Eagle, voiced by Peter Dinklage, Silver, Chuck’s sister voiced by Rachel Bloom, Courtney, voiced by Awkwafina, and Garry, voiced by Sterling K. Brown. Can they reach Eagle Island and save the day? 

 

So, how do you go about making a sequel to something like The Angry Birds Movie? Well, by getting the creator of The Misadventures of Flapjack, and go bonkers with the humor. Seriously, 2019 hasn’t really been the best year for comedic movies, and yet, here is The Angry Birds Movie 2 going the Mel Brooks route of comedy, and throwing different kinds of jokes at the audience, and they work! You’ve got physical gags, background gags, dialogue-driven gags, situational gags, meta gags, and you get the idea. It’s a theatrical cartoon that knows it’s a cartoon, and it will not apologize for it. I think that’s quite admirable. 

 

So many cartoon fans want every theatrical release to be dramas, and yeah, it would be nice for some family films to take their stories more seriously, but at the same time, again, not every film needs to be like a Pixar drama. I found myself laughing multiple times during this film, and I wasn’t the only one. The entire theater I was sitting in was roaring with laughter, and while some jokes didn’t work, you would forget about them, because a good joke would then make you forget the bad joke. Of course, comedy is subjective, but the fact that the humor is hitting a home run consistently was a nice surprise. 

 

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 Animation-wise, it’s Sony Pictures Animation, it’s pretty good for what the budget has, the colors are vibrant, and the movements are snappy and quick, but not overly quick. The designs are fun to look at, and everyone is fairly expressive. It helps that the characters have a lot of good chemistry with dialogue that bounces off one another. While there are plenty of great voices and performances, Leslie Jones’ Zeta steals the entire film. She had the best lines and the best jokes. For a comedy villain, she really works. Sure, they give her a little more pathos with who she is, but you can tell they focused more on the comedy angle, and combined with some witty writing, she turns in one of the funniest performances of the film. While you can guess from the trailers that they do a “they hate each other but end up together by the end” plot with Red and Silver, they definitely do, and while I’m not a fan of the trope, Jason and Rachel do have good timing. I also like how the film does add in themes of overcoming your fears, dealing with insecurities, and becoming a better person for the sake of your own health and the people around you. It might not be as fleshed out as it would be with a team from Disney or Pixar, but the film does handle those themes well. 

 

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Now, it’s time to talk about the flaws of the film. While the comedy in this film is filled to the brim and bursting with different kinds of humor, I wish they would have taken out the jokes that were the worst part of the original film, the gross-out humor. Granted, the film does a great piss joke, but it’s the only one that works. It’s the same issue with Teen Titans Go! to the Movies, where the really good jokes are really good, but the immature jokes fall flat. The film also feels disjointed, as it has a subplot going along in the background that could have been its own animated short on the Blu-ray of this film. It also has some great laughs, but it’s always distracting when it’s cutting to and from the main story. 

 

I also wish Gary was funnier. He has some good lines, and Sterling K. Brown is having a lot of fun with his character, but I wish he had some better lines. Josh Gad’s Chuck’s relationship with Silver is also the weakest and the creepiest part of the film. He’s the overly protective brother who comes off like he’s a bit, well, too close to his own sister, and I’m not sure if that’s intended to play off some offbeat humor to the film, but it's awkward. While the film’s focus was on a more comedic experience, I wish the romance subplots were handled better. 

 

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Still, even with the complaints, I was looking for a fun time, and I got a fun time. I wanted to see some good jokes, and I got some good jokes. It’s a film that sets out to be this quirky offbeat sequel to a film not many cared about but ended up being one of the big critic and audience hits of the year. Am I shocked to see a few people be in the minority by not liking it? No. Comedy is subjective, and while I really enjoyed the film, I can perfectly get why others don’t. It’s a bummer that this film is not performing as well as I think it should, but I’m also not surprised. I highly recommend people go see The Angry Birds Movie 2. Oh, and you should all go see this film to support the wonderful short that plays in front of the movie, Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry. That short alone deserves its own review. So, now that we will have to wait for the next major feature, let’s travel to China as I review what is considered the biggest-animated film in China right now with Ne Zha. Thanks for reading my review! I hope you all enjoyed it, feel free to share my work, and if you want, you can show some support by donating to my Patreon at Patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time! 

 

Rating: Go See It!

159: Pachamama 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!)

In October 2018, I was with my father in Hollywood to go to the Animation is Film Festival. I was a fan when I sat down and watched the first film in the lineup that was Mamoru Hosoda’s Mirai. It was a fantastic experience, and I can’t wait to go back this year for the next festival. On the second day, my dad and I were going to go do different things that day. I decided to go see a film that wasn’t on my list of films to see at the festival, but I decided to check it out, Pachamama! Directed by Juan Antin, Pachamama was the first film shown off on the second day of the festival, and while the crowd for it wasn’t huge, it was still another feather in the cap of the overall event. Recently, Netflix decided to bring it onto their service as one of their exclusives, but outside of one trailer and a snippet of the film being shown off in the promotional video for July 2019, no one knows about this movie.

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The story revolves around a young boy named Tepulpai, voiced by Andrea Santamaria. He lives in a small village where he dreams to become the village Shaman, but is too selfish and inconsiderate to be one yet. In his village, they worship the mighty earth goddess Pachamama and have a festival in her honor. Unfortunately, a follower of the Golden City, where the lord of the land lives, arrived during their festivities and decides to take the village’s most prized possession. It is up to Tepulpai and his friend Naira, voiced by India Coenen, to get the village’s possession back, and also avoid the grasps of an evil outside force.

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So, this is going to sound harsh, but Pachamama is a very simple film. It’s obvious that it’s aimed at a younger audience, and there is nothing super deep about it like in a Pixar, or the rare DreamWorks film. And you know what? That’s perfectly okay! Not every film needs to be seen or approached to as wide of an audience as possible. Sometimes, it’s good to find an audience you want to focus on, and make the best product as possible for that group. Pachamama is an easy-going low-key adventure that relies on charm and its unique visual look to get you through the story. Sure, it does get a touch dark in tone and is not apologize about who the villains are in the film, but you can still watch it, and kids can understand and get an early preview about some rather terrible points in history. Its themes focus on not being selfish, becoming brave, and is very anti-greed. It’s a deep enough film that doesn’t dissolve into mindless colors and noise. It has a story, it’s for a young audience, it has likable characters, and it’s executed pretty well. I would rather a film be executed in this fashion, than what we got with that HELLS film from last year.

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Now, where Pachamama really shines are in its visuals. While it was originally going to be a stop-motion film, I think the overall visual style works better in CGI. It has beautiful and vibrant colors, the character designs work in CGI, and every background shot reminds me of paintings and posters of Argentinian and South American culture. It can truly stand out among the animated films made with CGI, with its children’s book/fairy tale look and unique human designs. While you can tell that this was a film with a limited budget, you can also tell that they took full advantage of what they could do, and the end product is still a visually splendid affair that makes it stand out among not only the foreign animated features, but also the Netflix-exclusive animated features.

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If I had to pick a few things to criticize, one of them would be about some of the English voice work. It’s not terrible, but at certain points in the film, the two actors playing the leads sound flat. The script is also fairly basic. You won’t see much deeper themes or concepts within the script, because of how this was mainly made for a younger audience. It’s very straight forward, and while I personally don’t mind that, I can see it being a bit too safe for other people. The main villains are also not that interesting. They are meant to be this faceless group of Spanish explorers, but that’s about it. They fit the theme of these new “gods” arriving on their land, but don’t expect a complex villain from the head of the explorers.

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While this was not my favorite film from the festival, I did find myself enjoying the charm, the animation, the gorgeous artwork, and my experience with Pachamama. You really have no excuse to not see this film, because it’s on Netflix. I know some people might want something more artistic, complex, and challenging in their animation, but sometimes, you want a film that knows what it is, and knows how to do it well. Like I said, it’s on Netflix right now, and I would highly recommend checking it out! Now then, I don’t really know what we are going to do for the 160th review. Maybe it’s time to go into some uncharted territory! Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

158: The Secret Life of Pets 2 Review

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

As a reviewer, I have seen so many arguments and comments thrown at films, studios, brands, and what have you, that are clichéd and boring. One of the most boring and trite comments and arguments I keep seeing are about Illumination Entertainment. Listen, I’m not saying their films are secretly good, or you have to stop hating on them. I will say though that they aren’t lazy. They have talented animators and people there making these films that rake in millions. However, I would argue a more proper criticism would be that they lack ambition, and are too nervous to step out of their safety bubble to expand their horizons of writing and storytelling. There is nothing wrong with not wanting to be a Disney or a Pixar-caliber film, but that doesn’t mean you slack off on the writing, animation, and story. Sooner or later, you will find yourself being forgotten for the next flashy animated experience. It’s actually kind of happening to Illumination’s newest film, The Secret Life of Pets 2. Directed by Illumination Entertainment mainstay Chris Renaud, Pets 2 is the sequel to the smash hit original film from 2016. It came out on June 7th of 2019, and while it was getting the usual mixed-to-mostly-negative reviews, it wasn’t the instant smash hit most of their films tend to be, financially. While it has made $203 mil on its $80 mil budget as of writing this review, it’s not the runaway hit as their other films were. Sure, it’s probably going to make more money as time goes on and after leaving theaters, but it is interesting to see this happen. Are people finally getting tired of Illumination’s style of filmmaking, or was a possibly good film caught victim in 2019’s summer film drought? Well, let’s dive into this world of fluffy animal shenanigans.

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The story once again follows our hero Max, a small dog now voiced by Patton Oswalt. Along with his buddy Duke, voiced by Eric Stonestreet, they are happy with their current life with their owner Katie, voiced by Ellie Kemper. That is, until Katie falls in love with a man she meets named Chuck, voiced by Pete Holmes. After the two get married, they have a kid, and while at first Max and the new kid don’t get along, Max soon begins to love him, and then becomes overly protective and afraid of the world around him. To solve this issue, he and Duke go on a trip to the countryside to a farm, and end up meeting an old sheep dog named Rooster, voiced by Harrison Ford. While this is going on, two other stories are happening. The second story revolves around Gidget, a pomeranian voiced by Jenny Slate, who ends up losing Max’s favorite toy inside the crazy cat lady’s home, and must get the help of Chloe, voiced by Lake Bell, to learn the ways of the cat to get it back. The third story revolves around Snowball, voiced by Kevin Hart, who is contacted by a shih tzu named Daisy, voiced by Tiffany Haddish to help save a tiger that is being held hostage by a cruel circus owner that is voiced by Nick Kroll.

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Yeah, if that sounds like a lot, then it is. Once again, we find Illumination having trouble trying to stretch out plots that could fill the 80+ minute runtime, and it’s not like they couldn’t have. Some of these plots might be generic with typical animated tropes that you have seen before, but at least it would have been focused. They could have easily made this film entirely around Max and Rooster’s dynamic, because the theme of overcoming your fears is not a bad one. I actually enjoyed bits and pieces of Max and Rooster’s relationship with one another, and in a better movie, they probably would have explored the idea of how to overcome your fears. It’s not executed in the best way possible, but I give them credit for at least trying a little. That theme does connect the three stories, but the pacing and flow of the three stories in the film is so awkward, that it keeps abruptly pushing you into each story as it unfolds. It comes off like they weren’t fully sure on how to keep you interested with the multitude of characters that are in the previous film that are now in this film. Most of them don’t really do much, or do anything to help the story. It’s a case of too many characters, huge expensive names attached to them, and they are given little to do. I remember a friend of mine suggesting that this franchise should turn to making a series of shorts or a TV series, and that would make sense. That way, you can flesh everyone out more, and not have to worry about using them, because you forgot to do something with them. The final act has decent action, but due to how low the stakes are, it’s hard to feel invested. Like, it’s so hard to care about half of the storylines because they either end abruptly, or the characters vanish for a mass majority of the film, like the kid and the owner’s new husband. There was seriously no reason to hire Pete Holmes for the role of the husband. He has, like, four lines in the film, and they could have been done by Jeff Bennett or Steve Blum.

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Now, it’s time for some positives. I found the animation to be quite good. It’s another sign that Illumination is still getting better at their animation skills. Character movements and facial expressions are vibrant, and once again, they get little animal characteristics down for the different pets that you see. I also enjoyed the voice cast. Patton Oswalt takes over for Louis C.K. as Max, and to be frank, Patton Oswalt is a way better Max. He knows how to capture that casual innocence of a dog. Harrison Ford is also a pleasant surprise as this was his first voice-over role. Isn’t that surprising? His first voice-over role in his entire career. Anyway, he captures Rooster’s stoic nature, but he also shows he isn’t just a hard-edged individual. Of course, Lake Bell steals any scene that she is in as this pedantic sarcastic cat. The others do a good job, and it was fun to see Dana Carvey as his old dog character from the first film, have a few good laughs in this film with his character interacting with a bunch of puppies.

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There isn’t a whole lot to say about The Secret Life of Pets 2. It’s a dull experience. It might be the most forgettable film Illumination Entertainment has made yet. It might be making a bit of money, but with Toy Story 4 out right now, it’s probably going to dry up. Maybe this is a sign that people are getting tired of Illumination Entertainment, or maybe it’s just a realization that this was never meant to be a big theatrical franchise. Maybe it’s time for them to start making this into a series of shorts, or a TV series for Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime. Maybe with a TV design philosophy, they can flex their creative muscles. All I know is that there is no reason to see this in theaters. I would have been much happier that, since this was animated by a French studio, if it was a smaller character-focused story that has a more laid-back vibe to it. People tend to not know that many French/European/Foreign animated features have very laid-back paces and stories, and that is something American studios can learn from overseas studios. Anyway, it’s time to move onto something that’s more interesting to talk about. Next time, we will talk about one of three Netflix-exclusive animated features out this year with Pachamama. Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Lackluster!

156: UglyDolls Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: The Worst/Blacklist

152: Wonder Park 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!)

Like I said in my 150th review of the Godzilla Netflix Trilogy, I’m not really finding joy in reviewing movies I would consider bad. I do it, and will not falter in my opinions about them, but I take no joy in certain films that obviously had a rough development. Many things can go wrong with making animated films, and I can’t think of a rougher development for an animated film this year than Paramount and Nickelodeon’s Wonder Park. Honestly, as far as I can tell right now, Wonder Park had probably some of the most negative PR surrounding it before release. Starting development back in 2014, Wonder Park was animated by a studio in Spain called Ilion Animation Studios, the same studio that did 2009’s Planet 51 and the upcoming film Paramount/Skydance production, Luck. Then, in January of 2018, the original director, Dylan Brown, who was an animator for Pixar, was fired after sexual misconduct, and was replaced by David Feiss, Clare Kilner, and Robert Iscove. Well, you would not really know that, because the film is notorious for not having an actual literal director credit! Not even a fake director name. No one wanted full-fledged credit. Even after that trainwreck, it has been getting bombarded with negative reviews, and may be Paramount’s first flop of 2019. Yeah, let’s check it out, shall we?

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The story follows this little girl name June, voiced by Brianne Denski. June, along with her mother, voiced by Jennifer Garner, has made this beautiful, vibrant, and outlandishly-creative theme park called Wonderland, where her stuffed animals help run it. These animals include a blue bear who greets the park guests named Boomer, voiced in the US by Ken Hudson Campbell and the UK version by Tom Baker, two beavers named Gus and Cooper, voiced in the US version by Kenan Thompson and Ken Jeong and in the UK version by Ryan Fitzgerald and Wippa, a wild boar that runs everything named Greta, voiced by Mila Kunis, and a porcupine that is the safety inspector named Steve, voiced by John Oliver. However, the most important animal in the park is a chimp named Peanut, voiced by Norbert Leo Butz, who is the park icon and ride creator. Unfortunately, as June started to build a smaller scale version of Wonderland, June’s mom gets sick and has to leave for a while. They won’t say what she is sick with exactly, but that really won’t matter as the story and my review goes on. She is now stuck with her dad, voiced by Matthew Broderick, and stews away in her sadness about the possibility of not seeing her mother again. After getting sent to math camp, June escapes the bus taking her to the camp, and stumbles into a forest, and with no real explanation, ends up in Wonderland, but nature decided to take it back. She ends up seeing her stuffed animals come to life as more “realistic-looking”, and the park is overrun by this ominous cloud of darkness that has wrecked the park with the help of the Chimpanzombies. Can June find a way to get her creative spark back and save the park? What about the fate of her mother? What about the fact that this park came to life with no real reason given how? Why is there no real director credit?

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So, what happened? How did this film become such an unfocused $100 mil mess? It’s really tough to say what’s positive about it, because with every positive, comes a negative. For example, the animation is fine. It has solid enough animation, but it really doesn’t look like it cost $100 mil. Some of the movements look solid enough, but some movement styles are janky and too fast. With how fast the two beaver brothers move, you can’t really tell what they are doing when they are running or fighting with one another. The end credits literally cut out the characters from the film footage, and slaps them onto the big names. Not only that, but they either slow down or rewind the footage used to make it look like they made entirely original animation. It looks sloppy and rushed. The characters move well enough, but there aren’t that many little quirks outside of maybe Peanut and Boomer. No one has little movements that make each character feel like their own. Some of the shots and the rides are well-animated and shot well, but at other times, the camera is either too close or snapping back and forward like that one scene in Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s hard to know what’s fully going on. The film’s animation also lacks a bit of that creative spark that something like this film needs. Why don’t the animals look like their stuffed animal counterparts? They had CG models of the stuffed animals set up for each of them, but their “living” versions are just generic animals. The chimpanzombies and the Darkness could have been interesting, but due to how wonky, rushed, and undercooked the script is, they end up being very forgettable threats that you will not remember at all. I don’t really get how clunky the animation has been for Nickelodeon’s original films that get TV series. Even by the years they were released, with Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius back in 2001 and Barnyard back in 2006, they never look as good as other big studio films at those times. Oh, and Wonder Park also has this very heavy emphasis on shine and bloom effects. You know how video games during the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Wii generation really exploited the heck out of the bloom tool in games? That’s Wonder Park’s other notable animation issue. It looks like a short CGI film made by a student who was learning how to balance out CGI lighting tools. However, I will say that for foreign animation from Spain, it does look better than a lot of the films that I see that either look like they are almost at the Hollywood scale, or very straight-to-video.

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So, the animation is a mixed to mostly negative bag, but what about the story, writing, and characters? Well, unfortunately, the one positive/one negative trick used above is sadly usable here. The story had potential to be more complex with how June is connected to the park with the animal characters being different symbolic forms of June. For example, Peanut is her imagination and optimism, and Steve is her current mood that’s all about safety regulations. Sadly, they really don’t go into that, or expand upon it. Because of the 85-minute runtime, it’s one of the few times an animated film should have been 120 minutes. You aren’t given time to breath, or know about the characters, or how the plot works. You are never told how the park came to life, how the animals don’t know who she is, and plenty of other story elements that don’t really get fleshed out. It’s great that June is a creative and imaginative individual, and I would argue that she would make a much better protagonist if she was given a better story and overall film. If the film didn’t introduce these themes that you have seen done better in Inside Out and A Monster Calls, then we wouldn’t be criticizing how lacking in punch the overall film feels. The writing is never creative, the jokes don’t land, and I don’t remember the character’s names, their personalities, or any real scenes. Due to how much of a rush the film is in to get itself done with, you are never caring on an emotional level, and that’s a shame. Again, there is stuff that could work here, but those elements are as under-baked as most baked desserts on Chopped.

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In the end, I feel badly for the people that worked on Wonder Park. It’s the weakest animated film of 2019, and I don’t like saying that. There are elements of a much better movie hiding under all the flaws, and the fact that this entire film feels like a rush job to prepare viewers for the upcoming animated series, which may not happen now, or will go for a season before cancelation, says a lot. A lot of my issues with this film are because we know very little of what happened behind the scenes to make many of these issues center-stage, and I feel badly for the animators and production people who may or may not have had a great work schedule to get this completed. It won’t change my opinion on the film, but I would, at the very least, understand what went down. I feel like with a better direction and more time to actually flesh out certain elements of this film, it could have been a solid gem that would have found a cult following. Who knows, maybe a few years down the line we might re-review films like this, and find something we missed the first time around. I simply don’t recommend seeing Wonder Park. It will probably find its way onto Netflix in the future, and or maybe Amazon Prime. Until then, just go see How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World, The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part, or try to find screenings for some of the upcoming foreign animated features coming out, like This Magnificent Cake!, Penguin Highway, or Okko’s Inn. Until then, just wait until Missing Link comes out in April. For now, since we have some time before Laika’s newest feature, how about we talk about some smaller releases that I think people should check out? Next time, let’s talk about a really cool female-directed animated feature called Maquia: When the Promised Flowers Bloom. Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the review, and let’s hope we can learn about Wonder Park’s development history in more educated detail in the future! I will see you all next time!

Rating: The Worst/Blacklist

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!

148: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

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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!)

If you saw my editorials, talking about what I would like to see change in the big budget US animation scene, I talked about how certain studios should and could use a “shot in the arm” with trying out more ambitious storylines and visual styles. Animation is such a wonderful medium that is hamstrung by studios not bothering with stepping out of their comfort zones. Thankfully, Sony Pictures Animation decided to be a brave individual, and show that not only do you not need to spend triple digit millions, but can also make massive long-term profit and award acclaim with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Directed by the trio of Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti, and Rodney Rothman, Spider-Verse was released back in December to universal acclaim, winning a massive pile of awards, and has certified itself by a team of me, myself, and I, as the best US animated film of 2018. Shall we swing into the review?

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The story revolves around Miles Morales, voiced by Shameik Moore. He’s a high school student who lives in a world where Spider-Man exists. Nothing is really all that different here in this universe. Spider-Man, voiced by Chris Pine, is loved, Miles dad, voiced by Brian Tyree Henry doesn’t trust Spider-Man, and Miles doesn’t really care about going the distance in becoming a better person. After hanging out with his uncle Aaron Davis, voiced by Mahershala Ali, Miles encounters Spider-Man attempting to stop King Pin, voiced by Liev Schreiber from using a giant machine to cause some supposed chaos. Luckily, Spider-Man sort of stops the machine from working while fending off Green Goblin and The Prowler. The bad news is that Spider-Man ends up getting killed by King Pin. The city is then swept over by sorrow from the loss of Spider-Man, and Miles feels responsible for the death of his universe’s Spider-Man. That is, until he encounters a much more self-defeated Peter Parker aka Spider-Man, voiced by Jake Johnson, from another universe. As the two try to find a way to get the alternate Spider-Man back to his own dimension, they encounter other Spider-Men from different dimensions. This includes Spider-Gwen, voiced by Hailee Steinfeld, Spider-Man Noir, voiced by Nicholas Cage, SP//dr, a Japanese anime-style Spider-Man/robot pilot voiced by Kimiko Glenn, and Spider-Ham, voiced by John Mulaney. They team up to try and stop King Pin, along with his lackeys Prowler, Tombstone, voiced by Marvin Jones III, Doctor Octopus, voiced by Kathryn Han, and Scorpion, voiced by Joaquin Cosio, from starting up the machine again, and possibly destroying Miles’ universe.

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Like a couple of times in my reviews, I want to talk about the animation first. This was the first big selling point when everyone saw the first teaser trailer for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. The visuals are literally jaw dropping. You will lose your jaw, and then have to go get it surgically reattached with how incredible and striking the visuals are. Everyone has said it, and it’s true, it looks like a literal moving comic book. The bright colors, the many details you would see in most comic books, the textures, the lighting, the designs, and how it all meshes well. Not one character from the different dimensions stands out in a bad way. Everything flows and gels well. I have seen some people argue that the animation is bad, but I’m sorry, that’s just objectively wrong. If you follow animation, then you know Spider-Verse does not have bad animation. The slower framerate and movements are there for a reason. If everything moved as fast as say, Sony’s Hotel Transylvania franchise, it would be an eye sore with all the bright and multi-colored visuals. It’s a style of animation that is used in other parts of the world, like in The Painting and Zombillenium. It’s used to work with the unique art style and not a budget limitation. When you see as much animation that varies in both budget and quality, you can see what is style and what is bad animation. Norm of the North is bad animation. Spider-Man into the Spider-Verse is good animation. End of lecture.

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In terms of the story, Spider-Verse has one of the most complex and complete stories out of most animated films in 2018. It’s the best told story among the US-made films. Films like Incredibles 2 and Ralph Breaks the Internet felt like they either didn’t go far enough with their themes and story, or only went at them in ways where they only go 50% and not 100%. Spider-Man fully commits to its multi-verse storyline mixed in with themes of coming of age, finding your own identity, not being fixated on events from the past, what it means to be a hero, and the harsh realities of being a hero. Every character works well with one another, and they treat everyone as characters. Sure, you can argue and nitpick and say that three of the six Spider-Mans don’t get as much development as the other three, but all six aren’t the main focus. The real focus is on Spider-Gwen, Miles, and Jake Johnson’s Peter Parker. Even Miles’ parents and Parker’s Aunt May are easily some of the best characters out of the movie. It’s so shocking to see an animated film treat everyone with actual dimension and not as one-note archetypes. While you can say that this film’s version of King Pin is not as good as the Netflix one, that isn’t really fair. This is one movie, whereas the Netflix one had three seasons to flesh out the character. It’s not really a perfect one on one comparison. However, you still get why King Pin is doing what he’s doing in the movie, and that’s pretty good. I also like how the film skims over origin stories. We really don’t need another Spider-Man movie that takes 40 minutes of its runtime to flesh out what happens. At least, it’s not a 100% origin story with the exception of Miles Morales, who has probably one of the best developments and stories out of any superhero movie.

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The voice cast for this film is perfect, and everyone seems to be on board and on the same level as everyone else. This isn’t like Venom or The Meg, where everyone, but one or two people know what kind of movie they are in. The talent is crazy good with Shameik Moore, Brian Tyree Henry, Mahershala Ali, Hailee Steinfield, Nicolas Cage, John Mulaney, Liev Schreiber, Jake Johnson, Lily Tomlin, Luna Lauren Velez, Kimiko Glenn, and as usual, seeing the late great Stan Lee in one of his last cameos is touching and endearing. The music is also incredible with plenty of amazing pop and rap songs that fit the tone perfectly. I even bought the soundtrack after I saw the film. I still listen to Vince Staples’ track.

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I really have no complaints about this movie. It’s truly the best US-made animated film of 2018, and congrats to Sony Pictures Animation for their successful 2018 line-up of animated features. Sure, I have minor gripes, but they really don’t matter when everything else is so strong. I highly recommend checking this film out, or getting it on blu-ray the day it comes out. It’s smart, funny, endearing, action-packed, and a blast. I think anyone who thought Sony Pictures Animation should just shut down and “drop dead” need to go crawl under a rock and never come back. Now then, before we hit 150, let’s keep making sure everything is awesome with LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part. Thanks for reading, I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

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!

136: Hotel Transylvania 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!)

To me, the Hotel Transylvania franchise gets a lot more flack than it really should. Not to say that the films are flawless, I mean, they aren’t perfect films, but they are ultimately harmless. The hate these films receive seems to be way more critical than studios that have made worse films. Again, they have their flaws, and some parts are going to be more negatively received than others, but in a world where Guardian Brothers and Norm of the North exist, you can watch much worse in the animation scene than the Hotel Transylvania franchise. I was curious to see how the newest film, Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation would work out. Directed by Genndy Tartakovsky again, we see Sony take its franchise and instead of releasing it in the fall like the last two, it uproots our heroes for a summer release. Does it work? Well, let’s see what we find.

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Adam Sandler returns as Dracula, who is having a bit of a rough patch in running the hotel with his daughter Mavis, voiced by Selena Gomez. He’s feeling lonely, and has no time for such things like dating or taking a break, while running the hotel. Mavis then decides to take her family and the entire gang on a cruise at the Bermuda Triangle. As Dracula and his friends/family get on the cruise, he catches himself zinging/falling for the captain of the ship, Erika, voiced by Kathryn Hahn. Unfortunately, no one knows that Erika’s full name is Erika Van Helsing, the great granddaughter of Abraham Van Helsing, voiced by Jim Gaffigan. Will Dracula find out before it’s too late and everyone is in trouble? Will they enjoy some really good visual gags and jokes?

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Let’s get the good out of the way, first. I know some people would rather hear me talk about the bad, but for me, I found a lot to love about this movie. First off, the animation is still amazing. No matter what pros and cons the individual films in the series have, the animation from Genndy Tartakovsky and his team bring so much life and identity with the films, and it’s no different here. Heck, Genndy himself makes a lot of jokes that wouldn’t have worked otherwise by a lesser director. They also take advantage of the setting, with the characters like the wolves dropping their kids off at daycare, Frankenstein and his gambling addiction, Atlantis as a casino with a giant kraken voiced by Joe Jonas, the shuffleboard goal being the outline of a dead body, the plane ride to the Bermuda Triangle being piloted and run by gremlins, and you get the idea. You can tell that the animators had a lot of fun working on this film, due to how lively, expressive, and entertaining the characters are. While no one really has a story arc outside of Dracula, I think everyone had a good gag, joke, or line. Some of the characters also felt more like characters than in the last movie. That’s probably because Adam Sandler was not behind the writing for this film. I think some of best gags also come from the fish servants that are all voiced by Chris Parnell. One of the biggest laughs that the audience and I got was at the scene where Chris is singing the Macklemore song Downtown in a super deadpan style. I also enjoyed the chemistry between Dracula and Erika. It was cute at times. I know much of this film is gag-driven, and can feel a lot like a Looney Toons cartoon, but it still finds moments for characters to breath and talk. Sure, it has predictable plot elements, but I liked elements that other people have criticized in this film. One example I find myself disagreeing with is that Dracula is being terrible by hiding the secret to Mavis that he has a crush on Erika. To me, I think that’s a bit more realistic, because how would you feel as a single parent and finding someone that reignites that spark, but you are worried about how your kids would react? The same goes for Mavis, as while it almost comes off like she has the exact same plotline as Dracula does in the first film, she’s nervous. I think there is a bit more heart in this film than others are saying. I even love how they flipped the whole dance sequence trope that happens in other films. I won’t spoil what happens, but I think everyone will get a laugh out of it.

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Now, with all that said, I still have plenty of flaws to talk about with this one. While I was laughing, it was laughing more at the reactions and physical aspects more than the jokes. While I’m glad the film didn’t overload the film with subplots, I wish more characters had something to do. They finally pay off the joke that the invisible man has an actual invisible girlfriend, but nothing is done with it. They make Frankenstein’s wife and him more of a loving couple, but not the invisible woman? I also wish Mel Brooks’ Vlad did more. The second film didn’t utilize him enough, and he’s basically background noise here. Jim Gaffigan is a wildly entertaining addition to the franchise, but, you guessed it, not a lot to do until the end. I also found the film predictable, but this film’s story was not its full focus. I respect that Hotel Transylvania 3 was meant more for gags, but I do wish there was more story in this film like there was in the first one.

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I know some people are mad at Genndy’s response to the Critics response to the film series’ reception, but I feel like he has a point. I found myself having a fun time, and needed a goofy romp after a stressful week of work. Now, I’m not saying I don’t get why people don’t like this series or find problems with it. I totally get why this might not be for everyone, but for me, I enjoyed it. I highly recommend checking it out. It’s not going to harm you or is sending some kind of negative message. It even has a nice moral at the end. While I don’t know how much more they can pull from this franchise, I have enjoyed my time with it. Sometimes, you just need a lightweight movie. So then, next time, let’s dive into a wacky and surprisingly humorous time with Teen Titans Go! To the Movies. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

135: White Fang 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!)

It’s not hard to see the many complaints about Netflix and their ways of picking up anything for their service, despite its quality or lack of. They want content for their service, but they don’t always get great stuff. Maybe out of every six or so films they pick up, only one and, if you are lucky, two of them will be really good. It doesn’t help either that companies use this to their advantage to slide their films that tested poorly or no one cared about, onto the service and take the loss. You know, how the cowardly spineless Weinsteins hid Guardian Brothers and Underdogs on the service. Luckily, that isn’t always the case, and while the upcoming Duck Duck Goose will be talked about, since it matches that notion I mentioned, let’s talk about a good Netflix animated film with White Fang. Based on the book of the same name written by Jack London, and directed by Alexandre Espigares, the director of the Oscar-winning short Mr. Hublot, White Fang is a CGI-animated feature that was picked up by Netflix, and was released on July 6th 2018 on the service. It was a film I was interested in when I saw the unique art direction and the English cast, including Rashida Jones, Nick Offerman, Paul Giamatti, and Eddie Spears. It seems to have gone under the radar for many people, and I want everyone to know that this is a good Netflix-animated feature. Let’s dive in.

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The story is about a wolf cub that lived with his mother. It follows his life through meeting a Native American tribe, and becoming one of the sled dogs of the chief named Grey Beaver, dubbed by Eddie Spears. His eventual change of ownership is to a snarly evil individual named Beauty Smith, dubbed by Paul Giamatti, and a home with a husband and wife named Marshal Weedon Scott and Maggie Scott, dubbed by Nick Offerman and Rashida Jones.

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I think a major concern for any animated film coming out is that since so many people find animation just a kid’s game, the studios won’t put effort into the film. They will try to do the minimal job to make it interesting, make the animation look nice, and push it out for the sake of making money, because animation is huge right now. Surprisingly, White Fang goes against a multitude of traditional kids’ film tropes. For one, White Fang is more episodic in its storytelling. It’s more about the life the wolf went through, and less of an overarching plot. The only real conflict of plot comes into play in the second half, when Paul Giamatti’s character comes into the story. It’s a slower-paced film. It takes its time with the story, and besides the humans, none of the animals talk. For the most part, it lets the visuals tell the story. It’s also a quiet film. It’s not loud, obnoxious, and there aren’t really any animal shenanigans. It’s like this film wanted to be everything anti-modern big Hollywood animation that isn’t Disney or Pixar. It’s a change of pace that might be jarring to many who are familiar with more fast-paced antics and storytelling. The humans aren’t even the main characters. They are there more to interact with White Fang, and don’t really have any major story arcs or challenges they need to face. I mean, you do see them more than once, but the story keeps White Fang as the main focus. It’s honestly nice to see an animated film that makes sure to treat the viewers as, well, humans. Not everything needs to be super loud, bouncy, and all that jazz. It doesn’t sugarcoat what life was like back in that time period and for certain individuals. Sure, Paul Giamatti’s character is a touch cheesy and obviously a villain, but he’s not a bumbling idiot like most bad villains from animated films. It’s a more grounded-experience, and while I’m not going to compare it to the darker animated films of the 80s, it gets close to that realm with certain scenes.

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The animation is another high point. While you can definitely tell that this did not have a massive Hollywood budget, a good studio and director can take a small budget and run with it. The painted look on the characters gives the film its own visual flair. The humans and animals all move very realistically, but they never felt robotic in their movements. It gives the film this painting-in-motion look that I love. Another fine addition to the good animation is the music. Like a lot of the film, the music is quiet and in the background, and only gets loud and orchestrated during integral scenes and intense moments. Bruno Coulais, the same composer behind Coraline, Mune: Guardian of the Moon, The Secret of Kells, and Song of the Sea, brought a lot of those same elements to this film with its European folk-sounding music.

If I had to complain about something with the film, it’s definitely the fact that while it  is definitely aimed at a slightly older audience, you can tell what’s going to happen, and what kind of character each human is. I mean, are you really going to look at someone like Paul Giamatti’s character and say he’s a good guy? I’m sure some of these characters and their personalities come from the book, but you won’t be seeing anything new here. Now, there isn’t anything wrong with that, because what matters to me is how you execute the story, but don’t be expecting some brand new variation on the original story. I’ll say that it feels more complete as a story than Incredibles 2 does.

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While it might not reinvent the wheel into some kind of fancy future wheel, White Fang is a really good animated feature. I’m actually kind of shocked Netflix got a good one, but then again, when they find films through festival circuits, they tend to do better than with this week’s Duck Duck Goose release. I definitely recommend checking it out. I honestly found myself surprised by how good it is. If you are looking for an animated film that’s going to be slower in its pace, and offers something different than other animated films in theaters, definitely check it out! While the summer might be ending soon, the animation is going to keep coming. Next time, we are going to look at Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation. Thanks for reading the review! I hope you enjoyed it, and see you 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!

Animation Tidbits #7: Annecy 2018 Edition Part 2

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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!)

Last time, we looked at the Annecy’s In Competition line-up of films. Now, we are going to look at the Out of Competition films. These are the films that are showing, but not competing for the awards. It doesn’t make them any less interesting or important, because some of the films in this section are important. Let’s not waste anymore time, and let’s dive into the films that look the most promising to me. If you want to see part 1, you can go to this link right here! Let’s get started!

Out of Competition

Captain Morten and the Spider Queen: While its use of stop-motion might be more similar to something like My Life as a Zucchini, and less of the Aardman and Laika-style, this film does look creative. The story is about a boy who is shrunk down to a small size, and must sail his toy boat across a flooded café, avoiding the Spider Queen and Scorpion Pirate. Hopefully, they take advantage and have some fun with the “I shrunk down to the size of an action figure” setting, and it also seems like it’s going to be more than just a “shrinking movie” with everything probably having some kind of symbolic meaning to it.

Chris the Swiss: Here is one of the few partly animated, part-documentary films from this event. Chris the Swiss tells the story of, well, a Swiss man named Chris, who decades ago joined an army, and died. His cousin, an animation film director, decides to investigate what exactly happened with Chris, from what was going on at the time, and from the journals and war reports going on. I’m definitely curious to see where this takes us, in terms of the story, and how much animation will be in the film. It definitely will give us some unique visuals and a dark and interesting tone you don’t see in a lot of animated features.

Chuck Steel: Night of the Trampires: There is a surprising amount of stop-motion at this year’s festival. Chuck Steel is essentially an 80s action cop film about Chuck Steel, who must save the day from an outbreak of Trampires, a horrific mixture of vampires and homeless people. It’s definitely aiming for that dumb schlock fun, and the stop-motion reminds me of the work by Will Vinton. It has a lot of detail and personality, and while it definitely shows the budget at times, Chuck Steel will hopefully be a fun time.

Hoffmaniada: Man, we are just getting so many of stop-motion projects this year. This is the story of a writer who gets sucked into his own book, and must escape the world in which the book takes place. It seems like it would lead to many creative and surreal visuals. I have seen about 30 minutes of the film, and it looks great. Sure, it looks like if the Rankin & Bass team had more budget in their specials, but the designs look great, and it reminds me of a lot of period dramas, due to the designs. Hopefully we can get a distributor like Good Deed Entertainment to bring it over.

Liz and the Blue Bird: From director Naoko Yamada, the individual behind the critically acclaimed A Silent Voice, is back with a new film called Liz and the Blue Bird. It follows the story of two female high school students, as they bond and get over challenges that life brings them while they are in band class. I think everyone can relate to when reality strikes you down, and starts to cause fissures around your life that will inevitably cause change.  It definitely looks interesting, and since it’s the same studio that did A Silent Voice, the animation is gorgeous. Sure, it has a bit of that “anime-style” that will probably turn non-Japanese animation watchers off, but the story sounds promising, and from what reviews I have read, it sounds like it’s going to be a good movie.

Maquia: When the Promised Flowers Blooms: What’s fairly cool about this year’s selection is that there are two female-directed Japanese-animated films. Liz and the Blue Bird, and this film, Maquia, by director Mari Okada. This one tells the story about a young woman named Maquia, who lives with a bunch of magical beings that weave the threads of human fate. One day, an invasion happens. She survives, but also finds a young boy to take care of, who was a survivor of the attack. Like our previous film on this list, it has some anime design choices I don’t personally care for, like the human designs, but I can overlook that, due to the goal and themes of the film. Okada is implementing themes of motherhood and adolescence into a touching tale. I trust she’s going to do a good job, and on top of Mari Okada, who was the screenwriter for The Anthem of the Heart, you also have character designer Akihiko Yoshia (Final Fantasy Tactics), and the music will be composed by Kenji Kawai, who did the music for Ghost in the Shell. I just love that more female directors are getting to work in animation, and are bringing in new perspectives, something that is sorely needed in animation.

North of Blue: This film by famed indie animation director Joanna Priestley is a visual wonder. It’s a film that’s more of an emotional and visual experience about our history and connectedness. It’s definitely a film that you are either going to love, due to all the emotion that the downright amazing visuals bring, or think it’s all style and no substance. I didn’t know what to expect when I watched the trailer for this film, but I can’t wait to see it!

On Happiness Road: So, I have been on the record of loving Only Yesterday, because it brings up adult topics of being adults, and looking back at our past to see if we are fine or happy with where we are now. This animated feature from Taiwan, On Happiness Road, directed by Hsin-Yin Sung, looks to capture that aspect that I loved about Only Yesterday. Yes, the animation looks more like a really good indie animated short from YouTube, but I think what’s going to help this film is the lovely visuals, writing, and the characters. I think everyone has had a moment to look back at where they are now, and wonder if they are accepting of what has happened since being a child. Plus, how many animated features from Taiwan do you see that look super promising? I can’t wait to see how this one turns out.

The Last Fiction: This action fantasy flick, based on the Iranian tale, The Shahnameh (The Book of Kings), is coming to us from Iran by director Ashkan Rahgozar. While there are definitely bits and pieces that you can point at to show off the budget, when are you ever going to get an action animated feature? So many US-made animated features don’t have variety, and while some have action sequences, a lot of them are played up more for laughs, than to watch something thrilling. It looks like a grand epic, and while it can definitely be compared visually to something like Avatar: The Last Airbender, I’m happy to see something coming from Iran. The more countries that invest into high quality animation, the better.

The Tower: I swear this is the last stop-motion film on the list. There are simply too many to count this year! This multi-country collaboration is a mix of 2D flash animation and stop-motion about a young girl living in a refugee camp. While its stop-motion looks like the style used in shows like The Amanda Show or the Oscar-nominated Negative Space, and the flash animation might not look impressive to many, it’s going to have to come down to the story and the characters to push us through the experience. I definitely think this has potential to be well-received, but we will have to see.

The Angel in the Clock: While I can definitely criticize some aspects, like the art style and the animation looking a bit too child-friendly, I have to give respects to Mexico for their entry in feature animation. It’s also a story that would get no traction from the big animation studios here in the states. It’s about a young girl who has leukemia, who wants to stop time. She then meets an angel named Malachi that lives inside her cuckoo clock. I love the idea that this film is going to be tackling such a dark and uncomfortable topic, and talking about how more people need to learn to enjoy what’s happening here and now, and worry less about the future. Like I said, the animation and designs are not my favorite, but the visuals look great, and I’m always down for more films aimed at children to tackle different topics.

A Man is Dead: And finally, we have this hour-long French animated feature called A Man is Dead. It’s based on the comics that are set during the strikes in Brest back in April of 1950 that caused the death of a union worker. While again, definitely showing its budget, it also does a good job to bring us into this rather tough and violent time period. Yes, the characters look like French comic characters with the small dot eyes, but we will have to see how the story and pacing carries over the span of the film. It doesn’t have a lot of time to get an entire story told, because it’s an hour long, but as usual, any film that talks about certain periods of time that are unique and original through the power of animation, gets my thumbs up and approval.

Thanks for reading! Next time, we will be looking at the films in the “Work in Progress” section!

Animation Tidbits #6: Annecy 2018 Edition 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/list!)

For every kind of hobby or job, you bet there is going to be a massive festival, convention, or what have you, to celebrate all that. Like, for me, you’ve got your gaming events like E3, and for the sake of this article, your Animation is Film Festivals and Annecy. For this editorial, I’m going to be talking about the Annecy 2018 festival. I always look forward to seeing what the rest of the world is doing, and it shows that the foreign animation scene is still incredibly healthy. I’m going to only go over the choices in three categories of the festival. I will be talking about the films competing, the films showing out of competition, and the films in the work-in-progress section. However, I won’t talk about previous films that I have talked about in the past Animation Tidbits editorials, like The Breadwinner and Gatta Cenerentola. Let’s get started with the films In Competition.

In Competition

Funan: This is a film by Denis Do, and is from Belgium, Cambodia, France, and Luxembourg. It’s about a woman who has to fight back and survive during the Khmer Rouge regime. Its animation reminds me of Long Way North, where they had the human designs, and everything else lacks the black outlines. It doesn’t seem to shy away about the horrific incident during this period in time, and what happened to the people in Funan.

Mirai: It’s always an exciting time when Mamoru Hosoda is making a new movie, and Mirai is interesting. If you haven’t heard about this film, it’s about a four year old boy, who has to deal with getting a new younger sister. However, while in a garden, he ends up meeting a woman who happens to be his future younger sister as a teen. It has a lot of Hosoda’s wonderful touches, like his gorgeous animation, distinct character designs, and his focus on themes of family with a magical element to it. While I love most of the Japanese/Asian-animated films released stateside this year, I really can’t wait to see Mirai.

Okko’s Inn: Okko’s Inn is based on a manga and anime series. It’s about a young girl who helps her grandmother at her hot spring inn, and learns how to run it. Along the way, she ends up meeting new human and supernatural friends. I’m a bit turned off by the art style, due to the more simple designs. I’m also fairly concerned with how the story will be handled, due to the fact that while it’s not going to be based on any stories in the series or books, anime film adaptations of existing properties don’t always end up being that good. Still, that could simply be me not being that impressed by its trailer. If we can actually see this film in the states, I would be down to checking it out.

Seder-Masochism: If this trailer’s art style and vibe look familiar, it’s by the same director who did the very interesting Sita Sings the Blues, Nina Paley. This story follows multiple stories, including the story of Moses, the angel of death, and much more. While it is definitely on the more limited budget side, it’s visually amazing, it has its own personality, and once again, the music choice is inspired. This just reminds me that I need to review Sita Sings the Blues.

Tito and the Birds: This is one of the few South American (specifically Brazil) animated features that caught my interest. It is the story of a boy who must save his city from an epidemic that causes people to get sick when they experience fear. At first, I was concerned about the visuals, while watching the trailer for this film. The movements looked stiff, but with the help of fluid expressions, colors, visuals, you don’t really notice some of the clunky movements. I’m curious to see how in-depth they go with this “fear epidemic” situation, because I could see something similar to how propaganda was used in Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards. Tito and the Birds definitely has me intrigued.

Wall: While some people probably could argue that this film’s animation shouldn’t count, since it looks like Waltz with Bashir and the upcoming Another Day of Life, but it’s not really live-action either. The striking visuals tell the story of the wall between Israel and Palestine. It’s more grounded and more serious than other entries, and I’m curious to see how much advantage they take of the film being animated for some creative visuals. It will include politics, social issues, and economic topics that are caused by this wall.

The Wolf House: Probably the creepiest animated feature of the festival, this stop-motion nightmare of surreal and disturbing imagery is about a woman who finds refuge inside a house, while hiding from German religious fanatics in Chile. You definitely have to watch the trailer to see how insane some parts are.  This could also lead into a style-over-substance experience, but we will have to see how dreamlike the film gets, before it becomes too much. Still, I wasn’t expecting something like this, and I can’t wait to hopefully see it someday.

That’s it for part 1! Next time, we shall look at the films in the Out of Competition category.

125: Sherlock Gnomes 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!)

It’s hard to approach passion projects that don’t make the reviewer/critic look like a giant jerk, when the product doesn’t turn out all that great. Recently, we have had a flood of “passion” projects that have fallen either flat critically, financially, or both. Everyone should know that no one goes into a film to make it bad. Sometimes, films end up getting screwed over by the lack of talent, executive orders, time, budget, and other elements that could lead to them not landing. Still, at the end of the day, I do not care if this is a passion project or not. I’m not here to tell you that you get a free pass, because it’s a passion project. I’m here to judge and critique it, and hopefully explain why the film didn’t work. I say this, because while I love Elton John’s music, his animated features have been, to put it lightly, extremely lacking. So, how does Sherlock Gnomes work? Directed by John Stevenson, who was the co-director of Kung Fu Panda, Sherlock Gnomes is an utterly confusing mess of a film. It’s supposed to be a sequel to Gnomeo & Juliet, but the marketing makes it out to not be a sequel with no mention of the original, and instead, as its own movie. It was released March 23rd, and not surprisingly, the animated feature by Rocket Pictures, Elton John’s production company, and Paramount, got panned.  Even on a supposed $59 million budget, it’s not making that much money. I mean, when you can either go see Pacific Rim: Uprising, Isle of Dogs, A Quiet Place, or Black Panther still, I can see people putting Sherlock Gnomes way on the back burner. So, does it work? Let’s check it out.

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The story is sort of hard to put together, because it feels like a multitude of plot points, smashed together. Anyway, the main story revolves around our gnome version of the famous detective, Sherlock Gnomes, voiced by Johnny Depp. Sherlock and his trusted side-kick Watson, voiced by Chiwetel Ejiofor, are on a mission to stop an evil pie mascot, Moriarty, voiced by Jamie Demetriou, from stealing London’s garden gnomes. Unfortunately for the two, Moriarty’s next group of victims is the garden of Gnomeo and Juliet, voiced by James McAvoy and Emily Blunt, who are going through their own relationship issues when they are named the new rulers of the garden. Suffice to say, the other gnomes in the garden that Gnomeo and Juliet live in are kidnapped, and they must team up with Sherlock Gnomes and Watson to find them.

So, let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. I want to talk about the marketing. I don’t normally do this, because marketing is temporary, and you shouldn’t really judge a film by its marketing, and instead judge the film as a film with its own merits, but the marketing has to be talked about. The original release trailer is one of the most misleading and worst marketing decisions ever made for animation this decade. Basically, all the bad fart jokes, twerk jokes, and puns that everyone was dreading when the movie came out, are not in the movie. It has a few puns, but 95% of the footage seen in the trailer is not in the movie. Yes, scenes get changed up, and some are taken out before the final product hits theaters, but this was one of the worst ways to show off your movie. Whoever decided that was going to be the film’s best foot forward needs to re-learn their classes in marketing. I know sometimes that when trailers are made, they have to use what they have, but if they didn’t need any of these scenes, then why add them? It’s going to backfire on them in the long run.

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Now, for the film itself. It’s a mess. You can tell that the marketing team did not advertise this as a Gnomeo & Juliet sequel, but tried to market it as its own spin-off/stand-alone/sequel movie where Sherlock Gnomes was the lead. And boy, you can really tell how clunky and not well put together this film is. It struggles to try to be a spin-off, a stand-alone, and a sequel, and fails miserably. Fans of Sherlock Holmes won’t be happy, because it forces these characters from the first movie to be in what is essentially Sherlock’s story, and Gnomeo & Juliet fans won’t be happy, because they got turned into side characters in their own sequel.  Why would you do that? Why not just make a fresh batch of new gnome characters for Sherlock Gnomes? Why did you force them into this film that’s not even a full-fledged sequel? Because fans wanted to see them? I think the writers, director, and Elton John lacked a real understanding about how people remember Gnomeo & Juliet. You can also tell that forcing these two stories into one film didn’t fill up the 80+ minute runtime, just because they add in a few side stories that really go nowhere, or are not fleshed out enough. This should have simply been its own standalone story about Sherlock Gnomes. Heck, it would have saved them a huge chunk of change by cutting out 90% of the cast, so they didn’t have to spend money on Ozzy Ozbourne, Richard Wilson, Julie Walters, Stephen Merchant (though he did deliver the film’s best joke), Matt Lucas, Ashley Jensen, Maggie Smith, Michael Caine, Emily Blunt, and James McAvoy.

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A lot of defenses I see lobbed at critical animated feature reviews is that “hey, my kid liked it, so that means it’s okay!” Well, this time, I actually had kids at the theater watching it, and they were bored. They were either asleep, or asking their parents/grandparents to tell them what was going on.  You ever think that maybe a kid who doesn’t have proper critical thinking is not the best way to judge a film’s quality? Kids aren’t the ones paying for the tickets, the parents are.

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So, what does that mean for the music? One of the big marketing deals with both films was that Elton John’s music was going to be in both films with some new songs. Well, I hope you like terrible remixes and forgettable original songs, because that is what you are going to get. I’m Still Standing is in the marketing, but it’s not in the movie. Even the song Mary J. Blige sings is very short, and while she sings it well, it’s not memorable. When one of your biggest selling points is the music, and the music isn’t good or is extremely misguided, then you messed up.

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Oh, and before we move on, let’s talk about the Asian market scene. While only in the film for, at the very least, 10 minutes, it’s another example of a long line of taking someone else’s culture, and not implementing it well. This entire Asian market acts like Chinese and Japanese culture are the same thing. Say what you will about Isle of Dogs, and it has its own debatable issues, the implementation of the cultures in Sherlock Gnomes is worse. While I don’t fully blame James Hong for having to do the voice for this salt shaker, the accent he throws out there is bad. It is shocking that this was not brought up more, but that’s probably because no one cared, or did not see this movie. I don’t care if this was a film aimed at kids, you can’t be giving it a free pass because it’s aimed at a younger demographic. Everyone deserves great movies. Don’t be short changing an age group because you can.

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So, I know I have harped on this film a lot, but there are a few things that I can say were good about it. While many of the cast members are pointless, the performances are okay. They aren’t as entertaining as they could be, considering who they have, but they do decent jobs. I think the best performances go to Johnny Depp, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Jamie Demetriou. It sounded like they were taking it seriously, and having fun with it. The animation is also pretty solid. Compared to the last film, textures look better and the movements look better. They definitely either had better talent, tech, or a combination of both for this film. Sure, I think the more realistic humans and animals look weird when side-by-side with the gnomes, but it at least looks theatrical in its animation. However, I do understand the complaint people have that the film is now too polished, and you lose some of the charm and one of the few things that worked about the original. I think my favorite aspect, and probably the best aspect of the film, is Sherlock Gnomes himself. They capture his mannerisms, and they do this cool 2D animated sequence when they are going into his mind. The 2D sequences are really well-animated, and the 3D designs translate well to 2D. I honestly wish the film was more like these mental moments. Finally, when it gets to the Sherlock Gnomes parts of the story, it can be pretty amusing. It just makes it more aggravating that the entire film couldn’t be about him, instead of forcing characters from a previous film into it.

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Listen, like I said above, no one intentionally goes into it to make a bad movie. No one is scheming to make an utter waste of time and the studio’s money. The writers, the director, animators, editors, and so on do not come into work and say “let’s make a horrible movie.” That still doesn’t mean you get a free pass. There are aspects and ideas where this could have worked. The animation is better than before, the 2D sequences are great, and Depp and Ejiofor are solid lead characters. When it’s focusing on the Sherlock Holmes homages, it’s a decent flick. It just needed to not force and cram in the characters from the first film. It also needed better writing and a less predictable story, but in the end, it’s harmless. It has a decent moral message, but that doesn’t save anything. If you want to watch a good or very fun Sherlock Holmes homage or parody, watch the Sherlock Hound series. It’s a lot of fun, and is way more entertaining to watch than this movie. For now, Sherlock Gnomes is the weakest big-budget animated feature of 2018. Now then, let’s actually talk about a movie I enjoyed, and one I thought was snubbed at the Oscars. Next time, we shall talk about The Girl Without Hands. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: The Worst/Blacklisted

124: Gnomeo & Juliet Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: Lackluster!

 

116: Ferdinand 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!)

I was talking to my friend the other day about something I never really thought about, do I care about the state of a studio because I’m a critic, and do only the critics and hardcore filmgoers care about the status of studios like Blue Sky Studios and Illumination Entertainment? I ask this question, since while critics are meant to judge a film, and focus more on the finer details, and break it down in a manner that makes sense, and to look beyond the film and at the studio at times. However, casual moviegoers are probably not invested as much with what the studio is doing and if they are evolving their craft or not. I do think that is somewhat changing. While people are still really fine with seeing Illumination Entertainments offerings, franchises like Ice Age, Transformers, and to a lesser degree, The Nut Job, recently bombed at the domestic box office in the states. Even though they sort of picked up traction overseas, there were signs that people were ready to move on, and find something different and more worth their time. I do think both critics and audiences do care about what a studio puts out, but the amount that casual moviegoers will put up with will vary. Hence, why I was curious to see how Ferdinand would do. Directed by Carlos Saldanha, and made by Blue Sky Studios, I thought Ferdinand was going to be an interesting film. I use interesting in the sense that this was the next film right after Ice Age: Collision Course, one of, if not, the worst-reviewed Blue Sky Studios film. I think after Collision Course, people were beginning to get weary and not really trust what the studio had coming next. The film was released December 15th here in the states, and while it got overall pretty solid reviews, its box office numbers were definitely a sluggish climb up past its $111 mil budget. I mean, then again, when you are going against Star Wars: The Last Jedi, your numbers may vary. It isn’t technically bombing, but I think it was obvious people were weary. Did they have a right to be? Well, let’s check it out.

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The story obviously revolves around Ferdinand, voiced by John Cena. Back in the day, he grew up in a bull fighting ranch where bull fighters go to pick the biggest and best bulls to fight. Of course, if you know anything about the source material, Ferdinand would rather smell the flowers and not fight. One night after escaping the ranch when he finds out his dad never came back, Ferdinand ends up being adopted by a flower farmer and his daughter. After spending years with them, Ferdinand grows to be gigantic in size. One day, when he decides to go to the flower festival to see his owners, an accident occurs with him looking like a giant monster. He then gets sent right back to the same bull farm from many years ago. It’s up to Ferdinand, along with his friends, to escape the horrific nature of bull fighting, and be free animals.

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So, I know the trailers for this film didn’t look the best, but if you actually watch it, there is honestly a lot of aspects to like. First up, let’s talk about John Cena as Ferdinand. It was a bit concerning, since while he has acted in films before, this was essentially his first major lead role. You simply don’t hear enough about good acting career stories from wrestlers. Luckily, Cena does a pretty good job as the lead. He’s likable, energetic, has decent comedic timing, and it was never distracting that he was the main character. In fact, a lot of the big downsides to Blue Sky Studios films are the fact that you never see the characters as characters, but as the celebrities who play them. Again, the celebrities are not distracting in this film. Sure, you can recognize a few by the tone of their voices alone, but they actually put in the time to act, and get into their own respected characters. Yes, not all of them are endearing, and some are annoying, but at least more effort was put into these performances than most bad animated films. I think my favorite performances came from the bull characters. Anthony Anderson, Peyton Manning, Bobby Cannavale, David Tennant, and Tim Nordquist were all distinct and fairly memorable. I think my favorite was David Tennant as Angus. He had the funniest delivery of the other bulls, but the rest hold their weight. I found the bulls’ chemistry to be more of the heart of the film, outside of Ferdinand and the family he grew up with.

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I also respect that the story does actually go the distance to a degree about the life of bull fighting and the sad fates of many bulls that either fight or are not up to par. Seriously, it was almost tonal whiplash that they do show what happens when bulls are not up to par, and the fact that for the most part, most bulls will die and never make it back after they fight. It was actually shocking, because much of this film is that pandering kids film vibe that you normally see in a Blue Sky Studios film. From time to time however, they will show off the darker side of bullfighting, and even let Ferdinand and some of the characters have moments of quiet. I think one of my favorite parts was when Ferdinand helped Angus out, and the two got to sit down and look at the beautiful landscape. I adore that this film went the extra mile to show that you don’t need constant comedy or loud noises to keep kids focused. It felt like it was trying to be something on the level of Pixar or Disney. I was honestly emotionally invested throughout a lot of the story. With the exception of the first Ice Age, Robots, and The Peanuts Movie, I’m usually fairly checked out of a lot of Blue Sky films, because they don’t always do a good job with making interesting stories and characters.

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In terms of animation, the film is very beautiful. It has a few faults that I will mention later, but the animation is fluid, it has a good energy to it, and the designs seem very old-school cartoon, exaggerated in terms of their designs and how they move. The backgrounds and field shots are lush, the colors are vibrant, and the human designs are pretty decent. It’s nice to see humans that don’t instantly look like something similar to Disney and Pixar. I even liked the music by John Powell and the obvious original songs by Nick Jonas.

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So, it’s all the more irritating that I have many complaints about Ferdinand as well. It’s so close to being a really good animated film, but it’s only good. Why? Well, because it has a tone problem. The calm and collected tone is constantly shoved to the side for more of the comedy/audience pandering aspects, like multiple side characters that don’t really offer much purpose to the main story, more childish humor, and a dance-off. The dance-off really sums up everything bad about the film. It comes out of nowhere, apparently everyone knows how to dance, and once it is finished, it is never mentioned again by any of the characters. I get that it probably tested well with test audiences that were full of kids, and while I did enjoy it to a degree, it’s distracting to the overall tone. The side characters outside of the bulls are not all that interesting. The hedgehogs, while played well by Gina Rodriguez, Daveed Diggs, and Gabriel Iglesias, don’t do much in the movie. Early footage from the first trailer made it look like they had more to do, but they don’t serve much of a purpose, outside of Ferdinand trying to get out of the bull ranch. The German show horses played by Flula Borg, Boris Kodjoe, and Sally Philips also have the same problem. You never see them after the bulls escape. Yes, I get that they sort of symbolize humans’ need to compete, but as characters that help progress the story, they didn’t do much. And yes, Kate McKinnon isn’t given good enough material to be tolerable. She’s not the worst, and I know she can be funny, but she comes off more annoying than anything else as the goat. Even the villain is not great. You have this bullfighter played by Miguel Angel Silvestre, who is just a boring villain. They had a lot of chances to make him more complex before and after the third act fight between him and Ferdinand, but they don’t do anything. The animation is pretty consistent, but the humans come off as clunky. It’s not a problem with them being snappy in their movements, it’s the fact that they look stiff. By the way, while they are minimal in how much they appear, no one likes twerk, butt, or fart jokes. Stop adding them into your movies, Blue Sky. I know they are not the only studios to do this with animated films, but they do it more often than others.

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In the end, Ferdinand is good, but it had so much lost potential. It succeeds in what it wanted to do, but it’s not a steady ride to the finish, and your experience may vary. There is a reason why this film dragged itself across a month or more due to the success of Coco and then having to deal with Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I see no harm in actually seeing this in theaters, and if you have children that have watched Coco to death in theaters, and can’t find a theater playing Mary and the Witch’s Flower, then definitely go see it or rent it. It’s an ultimately harmless film, and easily one of Blue Sky’s best offerings. Well, that was fun, but we shall now move on to more indie stuff as we look at GKids’ Birdboy: The Forgotten Children. Thanks for reading, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go see it

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 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!