middle of the road review

121: Have a Nice Day

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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 and live-action 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!)

For the last two years, I have seen China start to put their foot down, and really compete with animation. While not a great movie, The Monkey King: Hero is Back was a competent action-adventure flick that raked in millions. Big Fish & Begonia, a decade old 2D-animated film is getting positive reviews, and is coming out this year thanks to Funimation and Shout! Factory.  In general, it’s good to see that they want to put a lot of effort into their future projects, and not just coax by on cheap-animated schlock. Another animated film that I was looking forward to coming out in the states was Have a Nice Day. Directed by Liu Jian, Have a Nice Day made waves in the news when it was pulled from the Annecy Film Festival last year by the Chinese government. This caused a huge controversial backlash toward the country, because not only was China the guest country at the festival, but it was also considered a move of censorship by the country. While it was winning awards around the festival circuit, is Have a Nice Day worth the hype and controversy? Well, kind of. Let’s dive in.

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Have a Nice Day is a dark comedy with a mix of social commentary revolving around a cab driver who robs someone of $150 grand in US currency to help his girlfriend in South Korea with her plastic surgery.  Unfortunately for him, that money belonged to a mob boss, and it then turns into this mad dash between multiple characters to get that money from one another.

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Let’s talk about the most standout aspect of Have a Nice Day, the animation. Now, usually, I consider animation to be moving drawn pictures, or CGI models moving around. Have a Nice Day really stretches the terms of animation. A lot of the films are in still frames with mouths staying open when they talk. There is some movement, but it’s more like an underground motion comic. I can perfectly understand why this might turn people off. It all looks fine, but it’s as if you took still frames, and took inspiration from the animation philosophy from Adult Swim’s early days. I can understand if this was done on a shoe-string budget, and there wasn’t enough left over for the animation, but this will definitely put people off.  I know I have given the country flack for its bad animation, and while this one was probably more due to artistic decisions or budget limitations, it’s almost not an animated film. I know that sounds sort of gate-keeping to not call it animation, but once you see the trailer for this film, it’s understandable.

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So, since the animation is hugely kneecapped, what does this film have to counter-balance for the lack of animation? Thankfully, the best aspect of the movie is the dialogue. While you are definitely looking at a bunch of still frames, the dialogue between characters is interesting. It has a few solid jokes thrown in from time to time that are legit funny. It’s also interesting to see a bunch of the characters, major and minor, talk about money, and how China looks at money. Maybe that’s why it was pulled from the festival, but I personally found nothing offensive about this film, but I’m a white guy from Texas, so what do I know? It reminds me of The Rabbi’s Cat, since that film also had some odd animation, but you were kept invested with the film’s dialogue. The film also has a build-up to an immensely funny punchline at the end, but I won’t spoil it here.

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While I did find admiration that this was a mostly one-man job, I think my favorite aspect of the sound design was the music. Yes, there is one really random musical sequence in the film, but my favorite bit of music was the opening song by The Shanghai Restoration Project. It had a nice jazzy blues feel that fit over the decrepit and broken side of China. If anyone is curious, the track is called Dark Horse. While the animation was fairly, um, still, I found the acting to be pretty solid. I won’t say I remember one person being better than the other, but the chemistry between everyone felt cohesive. It was interesting to see how the acting would gel with the limited animation, and I was not all that distracted by it. Then again, I knew going in that this film would live and die by its dialogue and character interaction.

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Now then, let’s talk about the downsides. The animation is going to split people so hard down the middle. On one hand, it’s a style, and the director worked within his limitations of budget and time, while using more artistic liberties with what can be considered “animation”. On the other hand, it feels pointless to make this an animated film, because of how limiting the animation is. Sure, you can get the gestures and movements from the simple frames, but at the same time, it’s really pushing the definition of animation. It’s definitely going to distract a lot of people, and whether this was a purposeful decision or not, I did find myself at points being pulled out of the experience. While I love the entire punchline to the film at the end, it is a grind to get there. It’s not a very long movie, but it takes its time slow-burning its way to the finish line. It also does that thing where it cuts off at the end, leaving the ending to be up in the air in terms of what exactly happened after the big climatic sequence. I mean, sure, you can pick up what might have happened, but I think the film would have worked better with more closure. Then again, I know this technique is popular among many filmmakers like Tarantino, so your mileage may vary with the ending.

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While I was definitely happy to have a Movie Pass for this film, I’m still very glad I went out and supported it. It’s good to support original films and smaller creators if their films are showing in theaters in your area. I’m happy to see Chinese animation get ambitious with their goals with the medium, and while Have a Nice Day doesn’t check off all the boxes, it’s a way more important and interesting movie that’s out right now than 50 Shades Freed and that pointless Death Wish remake. If you can find a way to watch it, I would definitely recommend checking it out. Just look up the trailer for the film first to see if you might be into it. Well, let’s continue the support of animated films from overseas and look at the Annie Award-winning and Oscar-nominated The Breadwinner. 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 114: Despicable Me 3 Review

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

As you can tell, so far, my opinion on the Despicable Me franchise has been consistently, okay. Each film does something I like, but for every element I like, it does something that I don’t like. They have all been passable and harmless movies. And really, that’s sadly the term I would use for the studio, passable and harmless. They seem to be in this financially successful rut of not wanting to challenge themselves artistically. I respect and admire that not every film needs to be a Disney or Pixar heavy-weight, but at the same time, you can only go so far and so long in being successful when you are doing nothing different. Even though I like their film, SING, I still had plenty to dislike about it, and I can’t really say that I have a film of theirs I truly and utterly love and would recommend on the spot. I know there are talented people working on this franchise, and I think they don’t fully deserve a lot of this criticism, but you can’t help but think that they could be trying harder with their films. Sooner or later, another studio is going to come along, and be the next big thing, and Illumination will probably be in the same situation that Blue Sky was when they were churning out Ice Age sequels. I don’t want that to be the case, but if their future films are anything like Despicable Me 3, then I’m going to be concerned. Directed again by Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda, Despicable Me 3 came out June 30th, 2017, and while once again, gaining mixed reviews, was another billion dollar cash cow for the studio and Universal. So, where do I stand on the quickest franchise to reach a trilogy and a spin-off? Well, let’s see if my mind has changed with this film.

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The story starts off with Gru, voiced by Steve Carell, and his wife Lucy, voiced by Kristen Wiig, on a mission to stop an evil villain known as Balthazar Bratt, an ex-child star-turned super-villain, voiced by the co-creator of South Park, Trey Parker. The good news is that they stop Bratt from his plan of stealing a large diamond, but the bad news is that Gru and Lucy get chewed out and fired from the Anti-Villain League for not capturing him. While making sure to comfort his kids in knowing that they will be alright, Gru gets a letter and a surprise from his long-lost rich twin brother, Dru, voiced also by Steve Carell. Gru and his family decide to visit his brother, who tries to tempt Gru back into the world of villainy. Gru takes up his brother’s offer, and decides to use this opportunity to get at Bratt. All the while, the Minions are rioting, and have left Gru.  Lucy is trying to become a step-mother to Gru’s adopted daughters. Can they stop Bratt from pulling off an evil heist? Will Gru and Dru bond as brothers? Will this film try a bunch of storylines, while not putting in the effort into making those stories interesting?

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I would like to get into the criticisms with this one first, but I want to get into the positives first, because I don’t hate this entire movie. The animation is, once again, very impressive. It’s pretty much the same level of quality that Minions had. Though maybe it’s just me, but I think they got their physical comedy down. Like the other films, I did find myself laughing, and as usual, it helps when the comedic animation is snappy. It’s fast enough to not be too much, and a lot of the jokes land. Balthazar Bratt is definitely a more gimmick-focused villain, due to his 80s attire, gadgets, and, well, everything else about him. However, Trey Parker does a good job with this villain, and makes him the best villain of the franchise so far. I was curious to see how Trey Parker would handle the role, and he brought a lot of great energy to the character, even if he had some cringe/eye-rolling lines.

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I also respect that this film did attempt to do more than just be more comedy-oriented like the second film. I like that it brought up a few different storylines. I liked Gru and Dru’s chemistry and the stories about their parents’ reaction to them both growing up, I liked Lucy wanting to be a better mother to Gru’s kids, and I even like the mass majority of the Minions rioting and walking out on Gru because he isn’t being a super-villain anymore. I even like that throughout three major films, Gru is still a likable character. Even after being tempted to go back to the side of being a super-villain, he’s still getting back at Bratt to help his family. It would have been very easy for him to just think about himself and be this unlikable character, like Shrek was in the fourth film. Instead, he doesn’t want to stop being a father or a husband, and I like that. I was also surprised about how little the Minions were in the film. What you see in the trailers is basically what you see in the film. It has its hit-and-miss jokes, but it was decently entertaining.

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If you don’t think I have complaints about this film, then I don’t know where you have been for the past couple of reviews. Personally, Despicable Me 3 shows everything that is wrong with the franchise on a film and artistic level. For every plotline they set up, they either do the bare minimum into putting effort into said plotline, or go nowhere with it. Where do they go with Gru and Dru’s relationship and the fact their parents were both disappointed with them in their own separate ways? It goes nowhere. Where does Gru and Dru’s relationship go beyond a very soft “liar’s revealed” storyline? It goes essentially nowhere. How deep is the story arc of Lucy trying to be a good mother to the girls? It has barely any focus. Do they ever dive into social commentary about Bratt, and how Hollywood and entertainment treats child actors? They do not. What about one of the girl’s subplot about her faith that unicorns exist? They do nothing with it. Do the little girls get to do a whole lot? They get to do a whole lot of nothing! I know the girls are meant to be the “heart” of the franchise and films, but if you can’t find any meaningful way to fit them into the story, then write them out of the film, by saying they are off in summer camp or something. I also wish Dru was played by a different actor. It comes off as lazy and cheap that they essentially rehashed Gru’s character model, changed it up enough, and decided to save money by hiring Carell to do the other voice.

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There is so much going on, and yet, not a whole lot happens. When I wasn’t having one of the few occasional laughs, or being invested in the few decent heartfelt moments, I was bored. It once again feels like they had ideas, and the writers weren’t good enough to know what to do, or they weren’t given the freedom to risk a few elements to actually progress the story. It’s concerning, since this also made a billion dollars at the box office, and even more than that in DVD and merchandise sales. Am I missing something here? I feel like this franchise is going to turn into the new Ice Age franchise, if they don’t start putting in the effort to improve everything. Yes, I laughed, the animation is good, the voice cast does a fine job, and the action is fun to watch, but after watching the film, I was left not remembering much, or caring about what happened. It doesn’t help things that they basically set up a fourth film that’s now going to happen. In my opinion, if they cut out a few story arcs, and focused on sharper writing and storytelling, then we may have had a pretty good movie. Instead, we get fairly hollow storylines and wasted opportunities.

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In the end, Despicable Me 3 is fine. It’s probably the most average film I have ever seen out of the franchise so far. I liked Gru, Lucy, and the villain, but they weren’t strong enough to make this a good movie. It baffles me how people are finally sick of the Ice Age franchise, but are not sick of this franchise for becoming hollower and more manipulative than usual. It’s not a tough watch or anything, but if they don’t’ start improving, another studio is going to come marching on through with the next new shiny thing, and Illumination will be forgotten. I am not harsh on them, because of the community getting sick of Minions, I’m harsh on them because they are talented individuals working on these films, and yet, they are perfectly fine with being boiler-plate forgettable. I hope they can improve, and if they do, then I’ll be happy to be there at any screening, and to praise the hard work at making better films. For now, I’m tired of this franchise, and I need a break. Next time, we will look at the popular TV series known as HarmonQuest. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Rent it!

The Other Side of Animation 113: Minions Review

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

Spin-offs are something I don’t envy people having to make. With the popularity of a certain product or franchise, you know that the executives see nothing but dollar signs, and want to find a way to make even more fat stacks of cash. It’s why we don’t have a lot of good sequels or spin-off series or films that do well. They don’t really have heart or passion put into them. Still, you always want something to be good, because we know no one sets out to intentionally make a bad movie. So, where does Minions land on the scale of sequels, spin-offs, and prequels? Directed by Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda, this prequel/spin-off was now focused on the most marketable characters of the franchise, the already mentioned Minions. It came out July 10th, 2015, a month or so after Pixar’s amazing Inside Out. While not getting the best reviews with it sitting at a total aggregate score of 56%, it was a first for the animation company to break a little over a billion dollars at the box office. So, where do I stand with this film? Do I stand on the side of the Minions? Or do I stand on the side of the critics? Let’s check it out!

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The story follows the evolution and life span of the Minions, little yellow beings that look for the biggest villains to work for. Throughout their existence, they have served many evil empires, while also coincidentally ending them in darkly comedic ways. Over time, they found shelter, and made their own civilization, but soon found no purpose without serving a villain. Three specific Minions named Kevin, Stuart, and Bob, all voiced by Pierre Coffin, decide to go off on an adventure to find a new super-villain to work under. This leads the three to a convention for super-villains, and they meet Scarlet Overkill, an infamous female super-villain voiced by Sandra Bullock. Can they help Scarlet become the queen of England? Or will they get into more comedic hijinks? I mean, what do you expect from Minions other than comedic hijinks?

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As usual, let’s start with the positive aspects of the film. Once again, the animation is still pretty good. It even looks a little better than the second film. Again, I have to give Illumination Entertainment the respect and admiration that they improved very quickly on their animation. The comedy is fast, snappy, creative, silly, and amusing. It’s actually surprising how many dark comedic jokes and slightly adult jokes are in this movie. Not every suggestively adult joke works, but I, at the very least, respect that they tried out different types of jokes. For a film that’s once again trading story for comedy, I was definitely finding this film much funnier than the previous films in the franchise.

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I think the best aspect of the film is the first third. It was fairly risky to start the film, and have the lead characters that don’t speak English. It reminds me of what would happen a few months or so later during 2015, when Shaun the Sheep Movie was released, another animated film that had no real dialogue. Sure, you get a narration, but for the most part, a huge chunk of the film is told through movements, gibberish, and clever visuals. The Minions don’t speak English, so you have to make sure their gibberish can be easily understandable. It reminds me of some of my favorite films from the 2000s to now with Boy and the World, The Illusionist, and The Triplets of Belleville. It actually showed that Illumination wasn’t scared to try something different. It makes the film feel unique, and the three Minions that we do follow are kept simple enough to get their individual personalities. It’s a lot of fun to watch, since you aren’t being distracted by a huge amount of goofy humor and dialogue. Now, in terms of Scarlett Overkill as a villain, Sandra Bullock hits it right out of the park. Scarlett Overkill is a great comedic villain. Sadly, while there isn’t much to her powers-wise, her design is great, her lines are funny, her delivery is perfectly timed, and she is even better than the last villain. Even her husband in the film played by Jon Hamm is very funny in his own way. You get a family the Minions meet up with, where the couple is played by Allison Janney and Michael Keaton, that are entertaining. Even Steve Carrell returns for a small cameo that is actually built up during the villain convention, and his appearance later on pays off.

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Sadly, while I can definitely praise a lot of this film, I’m going to start heavily criticizing it. This is when the cracks in the base of the franchise really start to show. For every good idea this film has, it has a downside to it. Minions can be funny, but the humor becomes too much, due to the lack of any real emotional engagement later on in the film. The three characters are likable, but the Minions as a whole can’t carry an entire movie on their shoulders. Scarlett is a fun villain, but there isn’t too much to her, outside some cool tech and kung fu. The first third is very well-executed, but the other two thirds are not, due to the lack of story, heart, and energy. It’s not 100% downhill after the first third, but it becomes less interesting as the plot moves forward. I know that it’s a movie about the Minions, but it’s still a movie with a budget as big as the main films, and is competing with the other big films. It’s like the creators behind the film didn’t want to fully commit to some of the ideas they threw down on the table.

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In the end, Minions is fine. It’s silly, harmless, and entertaining, but unless you have kids that enjoy Minions, I see no reason to see it. I understand why it made a lot of money, and why we are getting a sequel. If you haven’t seen it yet, there is no harm in checking it out, but if you want a good comedic animated film with heart and laughs, I would check out Ernest & Celestine, LEGO Batman, or The Cat Returns. Well, we might be going overboard with Despicable Me, but we are down to one more movie in the franchise with the next review being Despicable Me 3. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the article, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Rent it!

The Other Side of Animation 112: Despicable Me 2 Review

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

After any movie in the theater makes a small country’s worth of money, you know Hollywood will want a sequel. It’s always a shame when a sequel doesn’t always hit the mark, since you would believe a sequel to a super popular movie would be easy to do. All you really need to do is progress the story, characters, and not repeat anything from the last film. Sadly, we do have more bad sequels than good ones. So, where does Despicable Me 2 land? Directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, Despicable Me 2 came out in 2013, and while it got mixed reviews, it was still a massive financial success by making $970.8 million on an increased $76 mil budget. It even got an oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature, but lost out to Frozen. So, is it better than the original? Is it funnier than the first film? Or is this the start of the downfall of Illumination Entertainment as an animation studio? Let’s get down to it!

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Steve Carrell is back as Gru, now living as a happy single father with his three girls. One day, he gets a visit from a mysterious woman, and is then kidnapped by her. This dangerous individual with a lipstick taser is Lucy Wilde, voiced by Kristen Wiig. Lucy has taken Gru to an organization known as the Anti-Villain League to help out in a situation where a mutagen called PX-41 was stolen by an unknown super-villain. At first, Gru is reluctant to join, but after his partner in crime, Dr. Nefario decides to quit, since Gru is no longer a super-villain, Gru takes up the job, and joins Lucy in trying to find out who stole the mutagen.

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Once again, let’s start with the good stuff. First up on the docket, the animation is 10 times better than the previous film. Say what you will about Illumination Entertainment, they quickly improved the quality. Even in that terrible The Lorax film they did, you can tell they had their animation down by that point. Everything looks better, from the textures, to the designs, to the snappier movements. It leads to the comedy being a lot funnier. Speaking of comedy, one of the biggest complaints I had of the first film was that the villain was very weak. Thankfully, the villain this time, Eduardo “El Macho” Perez, voiced by Benjamin Bratt, is a very entertaining villain. While not super complex in any way personality-wise, he’s way more amusing with a better design, lines, and probably one of the most over-the-top goofy deaths in any animated comedy. One of the big new additions to the franchise is Kristen Wiig’s Lucy Wilde. I’m usually hit-or-miss with Wiig as a comedy actress, but I think she has a lot of charm, and a couple of good laughs as well. The minions are, of course, in the movie, and do have some great laughs. I’ll even say they have some of the better laughs in the film.

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Sadly, while I think this sequel does improve in a couple of ways, this is where the series started to go south for me. For one, the three daughters of Gru do not have a lot to do. Really, the oldest one played by Miranda Cosgrove has a “plot”, and even then, it’s very straight forward, and they don’t do anything with it. The other two get sidelined, and are just there because they have to be there. It’s not like they can retcon them, but you can at least do something with them. While I think Kristen Wiig is funny in this, her character is a bit too hyper and goofy. She becomes a bit much, and I think she would have been better as the slightly quirky, but serious agent that she was at the beginning of the film. The film also sadly trades in the heart for more wacky antics. It can be funny and very entertaining, but the heart and the action tend to lose a lot of its luster when there isn’t that much time to focus on the best aspect of it with Gru. I’m fine with a film trading story for comedy, but the comedy has to be good enough to forgive the lack of focus to the story. Sadly, the comedy is hit-and-miss. Some parts are really funny, and some parts aren’t. It once again has predictable story patterns that you know are going to happen, and not that I need to be surprised every time I watch a movie, I want the predictability to be entertaining. It also leaves the action to be pretty forgettable. The last third can be fun, but it doesn’t have the action seen in other animated comedies.

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While improving in many ways, Despicable Me 2 is also middle-of-the-road. I enjoyed watching it for this review, and for when I made my Worst to Best Animated Films of 2013, but I don’t see myself wanting to watch it again. It has its good moments, but is just passable enough to not be anything hugely mediocre. Now then, we shall move on to the point of no return as we dive into the first spin-off film of the franchise with Minions. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Rent it!

The Other Side of Animation 61: Hotel Transylvania 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!)

Last year, I reviewed one of Adam Sandler’s best movies, Hotel Transylvania. I mean, it’s shocking when a project with Adam Sandler pops up and it’s not terrible. Sure, it still had a lot of problems, like its cliché plot elements, story, and characters. However, for me, it was an enjoyable experience with more good than bad, but I can understand if someone wasn’t into this movie. So, last year, a sequel came out, and let’s say that the supposed “hate train” that certain directors, actors, and films receive came running on through the Hotel Transylvania 2 station. It was critically panned with a lot more negative reviews than the first film. People were calling it the worst animated film of 2015, and to me, they only said so because they hadn’t seen Strange Magic. Listen, usually I’m pretty agreeable on certain receptions of films from both critics and fans, but there are times where I disagree with both. What do I think of this sequel? Well, let’s take a look.

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Hotel Transylvania 2 continues our story with Dracula, played by Adam Sandler, now having a five-year-old grandson named Dennis, voiced by Asher Blinkoff. Dracula tells his daughter, Mavis, voiced by Selena Gomez, that he is a little disappointed that Dennis hasn’t grown his fangs. In fact, Dracula is so peeved at this notion that he goes behind his daughter’s back with her husband Johnathan, voiced by Andy Samberg, for Johnathon to take Mavis to his neck of the woods to see his parents, while Dracula and his friends help Dennis gain his vampire powers. On top of all this, Dracula will also have to deal with his father, Vlad, voiced by Mel Brooks, and his bat servant, Bela, voiced by Rob Riggle.

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Let’s get the bad out of way, because while I think this film is perfectly fine and normal, it does have a lot more problems than the first film. First off, it falls into a lot of the same traps that most sequels fall into, with jokes and gags from the first film taking the space of newer jokes, being overly familiar in terms of story and pacing to the original film. It makes it out like the creators were afraid to progress the story, like in the sequels to How to Train your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda. Now, in some respects, they do show that progress has been made, in terms of the setting, where humans are now accepted into the hotel, but it’s not enough to make a difference. It’s also a story where the dad is being a giant jerk to his daughter, and I perfectly see why with this one story element, people might get upset or mad at the story cliché.

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You also get the feeling that the executives were a bit more hands-on with the film. I say this because much of the dialogue and music choices felt like they were forced to be in the film. Not that the dialogue is all horrible, because there are a some great jokes, a good amount of soul, and humorous interactions between the characters, but it definitely feels a bit more fabricated. The ending also feels rushed. The film heavily advertised in magazine and online articles that Mel Brooks was going to be in this movie, and yet, he is really only in it for the last 20 minutes. It doesn’t help either that the moral of the story about being okay with yourself gets ruined in the final fight sequence, where everyone gets what they want. The final fight is also undone by the fast animation. I love the animation style, but it’s way too fast during this part. I also wish they could have had more time to invest into the interaction between Dracula and his grandson. Like, take out the repeated elements and jokes from the first film, and replace it with more heartfelt interactions between the characters.

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So, what is actually very good about this movie? Well, the animation is very good. The film is directed once again by Genndy Tartakovsky, and his art style definitely translates well to CGI. The same attention to detail in how every character moves is in this film, as well as with new characters like Johnathon’s parents, played by Nick Offerman and Meghan Mullally, the vampire camp counselor, voiced by Dana Carvey, Jon Lovitz as The Phantom of the Opera, and even Mel Brooks, in his short time, still does enough to leave an impression in terms of his character. The voice performances are also once again great with the same effort put into the same characters from the last film. I don’t know what it is, but Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, David Spade, and Keegan-Michael Keye (taking over CeeLo Green’s character) work off each other well. It doesn’t feel like they were phoning it in, like they have in the live-action Sandler films. Even when the jokes don’t land, at least the eye rollers were better handled by the delivery of said actors. The humor in Hotel Transylvania 2 is definitely a tad more hit-and-miss, with some lowbrow humor that feels lazy, but it’s one of those situations where when the humor is good, it’s hilarious. You won’t believe what happens when actors actually act, they actually make themselves worth watching!

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Listen, media critics, I don’t agree with you this time. I thought Hotel Transylvania 2 was fine! It’s not a great movie, but it’s not the worst film of 2015. Yes, it’s a bit more corporate-feeling, but it still has great animation, energetic characters, and some hysterical jokes. I wouldn’t recommend checking it out if you didn’t like the first one, but if you liked the first one and haven’t seen the second one, I would recommend doing so. I don’t think it’s as good as the first film, but it still has enough charm to not be an utter waste of time. Well, next time, we take a look at the gothic poet himself, Edgar Allen Poe, with an anthology film based on his work with Extraordinary Tales. If you want more animated spooks, then you had better be ready next time! Thanks for reading!

Rating: Rent it!

The Other Side of Animation 58: Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV Review

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

In Short, multimedia projects are tricky to pull off. You could do well with the toys, comics, the movie, and TV show the multimedia project is based on, but one bad project could instantly spoil or give a bad first impression of said project. That’s what unfortunately happened to certain multimedia projects like Sonic Boom, which was all pretty solid until the Wii U tie-in game came out and ruined the first impressions of this new iteration of Sonic the Hedgehog. It was broken, not fun to play, not a well-designed game, and it is the worst selling game in the franchise. Luckily, everything else was pretty solid so, it saved itself from being an utter failure.  Well, Square Enix decided that they wanted to do something like Sonic Boom and decided to make an anime miniseries, and it is the topic of today’s review, Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV. This film that takes place in the upcoming games’ universe was directed by Takeshi Nozue, and has some surprisingly big actors in it, including Aaron Paul, Sean Bean, and Lena Headey. Normally, I wouldn’t review stuff like this, but since it had a limited run in theaters, and is connected to one of the biggest gaming franchises of all time, I definitely had to cover it. So, what do I think of the film? Well, unless you want to see some amazing realistic CGI, then you won’t get much unless you are planning on playing the video game.

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Anyway, this film is a prequel film that takes place before the opening hours of the video game. It follows a group of elite guards known as the Kingsglaive. They help protect the king of Lucis, Regis Lucis Caelum CXIII, voiced by Sean Bean. The lead character that the plot revolves around is one of the Kingsglaive named Nyx Ulric, voiced by Aaron Paul. One day after a major battle against the kingdom of Niflheim, Nyx, along with his friends, is hired to help protect a female political figure named Lunafreya Nox Fleuret, voiced by Lena Headey. Of course, things begin to go wrong, and it’s a race to protect the giant crystal guarding Lucis, making sure Lunafreya doesn’t get killed or captured, and of course, set up the events that will lead into the video game.

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So, what’s the best thing about this movie? Well, it’s the animation. While this might be a similar situation to Square Enix’s past CGI films, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, this is probably the best-looking of all the films. Its textures and animation are outstanding. This is easily some of the most realistic-looking character models and animation that I have ever seen done in terms of cgi-animated films. Everything looks amazing, and while it doesn’t fully do the whole “you won’t be able to tell this is cgi” kind of realistic, it’s still incredibly commendable with how good this looks. The fighting is also very flashy and fun to watch. I think it’s because of how agile the characters are, and how they use magic to throw their knives and be able to teleport to the knife. It’s definitely something you will have to see for yourself, or play the game to understand what I mean with the whole “teleporting combat”. The final act where the entire city is just torn apart and the enemies are invading is really intense, and it is a spectacle when you see the giant stone guardians of the city come to life.

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Sadly, that is pretty much it for the compliments, because everything else is pointless. The lead characters are not memorable in the slightest. If you have seen any generic anime or action show with a team of characters including the bland male lead, the heavier-set well-intentioned best friend, the tough chick, and the snarky male. Heck, some of them don’t get to even be characters, like the tough chick gets killed so early in the film that it’s hard to care about her death. Heck, it’s hard to feel invested with a lot of these characters, because only a handful actually matter to the main story that will be in the video game. This means that unless you plan on picking up the game, you probably won’t or already don’t care about what happens to these characters. The only time you get to see the actual leads from the video game is at the very beginning and at the very end. Even if you look past the whole video game tie-in aspect of the film, it’s a painfully generic and boring film with only a few highlights of action and animation. I mean, at least this film is attached to the newest game in the franchise, and isn’t a pointless film like The Spirits Within, which is barely part of the Final Fantasy franchise.

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I also found the film to be difficult to watch at times. It’s too flashy, and sometimes there is too much on screen to make it easy to watch. I think it’s because the film is overly detailed with its world and characters. It’s a beautiful movie that is just sometimes clustered with details and sometimes not-so-subtle product placements.

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Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV is an almost pointless film that is part of a multi-media product. Unless you are a gamer and want to check this out, I would avoid it unless you want to see every animated film that was able to be in theaters. It’s a film that is flawed because it’s tied to a video game. If it had more freedom with its setting, and essentially, not being a part of a multi-media project, then it would have been better. As a film, I can think of much worse movies I have seen this year, like next week, we will look at one of the biggest U.S. bombs of 2016 and of all time, The Wild Life. Thanks for reading, I hope you all liked the article, and see you all next time.

Rating: Rent it!

The Other Side of Animation 47: The BFG Review


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

When you hear the term “made-for-TV movie”, quality entertainment isn’t usually what you think of. I mean, there are exceptions today if you see an exclusive film on Netflix or HBO, but usually, it’s a film with a TV-sized budget that has the off chance of being good, but is mostly low quality schlock. Not to say that there can’t be a good animated TV film, but they are rare and far between. Now, if this was back in the day, I would say a different answer entirely, since depending on the company, you could get some top-notch animation. This is where today’s film, The BFG (Big Friendly Giant) comes into play. This was a British-animated film that was a TV special that aired in 1989. It was produced by Cosgrove Hall Films, which is most famous for Danger Mouse, and Count Duckula. The BFG was directed by the late Brian Cosgrove, who was a director for both Danger Mouse and Count Duckula. At its release, this movie was rated pretty positively, and I have seen many people nostalgically comment on the film. So, does it hold up today? Let’s find out!

The main story revolves around a young orphan girl named Sophie, voiced by Amanda Root. One night at the orphanage, she is kidnapped by this massive hooded individual, and taken to Giant Country. Of course, like anyone in this situation, she is terrified to be in front of a giant. Luckily, it turns out that she was accidentally kidnapped by the BFG, or as he says, The Big Friendly Giant, voiced by David Jason. The BFG doesn’t eat humans unlike the rest of his kind. It then turns into a film where Sophie bonds with The BFG, and the goal becomes trying to stop the other nasty giants from eating the humans of the world.

Let’s get whizzpopped, and look at the good parts of the film. Being made in Europe and in the end of the 1980s, the 2D animation is rather nice looking. It’s always pleasant to see how the rest of the world treats 2D animation with the respect it deserves, and while there are a few elements showing off its TV budget limitation, the character’s movements are fluid, expressive, and look so much better than what you would expect TV animation to be. Not to say there wasn’t good TV animation in this time period, but I wouldn’t say it was all great either, which is why I adore the visually pleasing animation of The BFG. Due to the time period this was released, you also get a lot of trippy and atmospheric scenery that engrosses you into its fantasy world, with its mix of bright and dark colors that set the tone of the different scenes. I also liked how there is a bit of an edge to the overall film, like seeing the giants actually eat children. Sure, it’s off-screen, but to show that this actually happens is still admirable. The voice acting is also pretty solid. I think David Jason brings an enjoyable light-hearted tone to the BFG, and captures the elements that make the character charming, like his speech impediment, and how he actually goes out and gives children and people happy dreams.

With that said, I do think this film does have some problems. The little girl is not really that interesting, as she comes off more like any normal child character that you still sadly see these days, and I feel like they could have made her bond with the BFG much stronger. I also found the BFG, while likable, to be a tiny bit too goofy. He wasn’t downright annoying, but they could have toned the goofy side down a bit. The other human characters are also pretty forgettable. Oh, and that little animal thing that is sort of in the movie is also pointless. I saw no reason for that little critter to be there. I think overall, the film needed more…interesting writing. If this film was done during Don Bluth’s hit line of films, or maybe done by a different director, they could have made the film a lot more fascinating. They could have delved into the darker themes, more into the other deadly giants, shown on-screen the humans getting eaten instead of off-screen. I also get why they had song sequences, but I wouldn’t say they were necessary.

While I can see why the original author of the book, Roald Dahl, liked this film, and you can tell the creators were very passionate for it, I just think it’s okay. If you really love this movie, then more power to you, I don’t think this is a bad movie by any stretches of the imagination. It has great animation, a likable lead character, some gorgeous scenery and atmosphere, and was not a waste of my time to watch the 92 minutes. I just think it could have been a lot more interesting. The DVD copy of this film is very easy to find and is cheap on Amazon.com. If you want to see another version of The BFG that is not the recently released and sadly flopping live-action version by Steven Spielberg, then you won’t be wasting too much time with this old animated gem. Now then, you might not be wasting your time with this movie, but you will feel like it’s a waste of time for the next movie as we look at A Wind Named Amnesia. Thanks for reading, I hope you liked the article, and I will see you next time.

Rating: Rent It

The Other Side of Animation 44: The Angry Birds Movie Review


(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!)

This has been an odd year for video game movies. How? Well, how about the fact that we are getting movies that actually looks like their gaming counterparts. To be honest, I find that so shocking, since either due to technology or no one caring, it was always so hard for Hollywood to make these kinds of movies look like the games on which they are based. Too bad they still can’t be good movies, with this year’s Ratchet & Clank being one of the contenders for one of the worst movies of 2015. It might look like the game, have the same voice actors, and is basically the game turned into a movie, but it can’t save itself from sloppy storytelling and boring characters. That’s why today’s review of The Angry Birds Movie is such a surprise. It’s actually not bad! Released on May 20th, 2016, this CGI animated film directed by Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly, who both have animation film experiences, including films like Tangled, Hotel Transylvania, and Wreck-It-Ralph, The Angry Birds Movie is honestly the biggest surprise of this year. I mean, not a surprise that it’s fantastic, but it isn’t a mess on arrival. I think everyone was thinking The Angry Birds Movie was going to bomb, hard! So, how is it? Well, let’s find out!

The film takes place on this island full of flightless birds. The main story focuses on Red, voiced by Jason Sudekis. Red is an angry individual among a village of happy- go-lucky birds. After getting into an incident with a customer, he is forced to to attend anger management, run by a bird named Matilda, voiced by Maya Rudolph. While there, Red meets up with a few individuals like Chuck, voiced by Josh Gad, Bomb, voiced by Danny McBride, and Terrance, voiced, or grumbled by Sean Penn. While attending the class, a ship of pigs arrives on the island led by Leonard, voiced by Bill Hader. And if you have played the games at all, the pigs steal the eggs, and it is up to Red and the gang to find the Mighty Eagle and save the eggs before the pigs eats them. Can they get them back? Will the birds get angry?

So, what is actually good about this film? Well, the best element that the film has going for it is the bright, colorful, and fast animation. It actually looks better than what I was expecting. It definitely makes Ratchet & Clank look so much worse, in terms of textures. While the overall look of the birds might be odd with the feet and arms, the designs don’t look that bad. I also found the script to be not that bad. Sure, it doesn’t totally devoid itself from modern animated film tropes in terms of hip dialogue and pop cultural references, but there was a lot less of it than I was expecting. The script also led itself to some pretty funny jokes. Not all the jokes land, in fact, a lot of them don’t, but I did find myself laughing a couple of times. I think that is because the actors they did get for the roles of the characters actually put effort into their acting. It could have been so easy for this film to get actors who would do nothing more than play themselves. The celebrities they hired are mostly comedians and comedic actors from sketch shows, and I was praising the casting choices when I wrote about this film a few months back. And yes, there is stunt casting and celebrity cameos that really weren’t worth the money due to how few lines they are given during the film. Still, my favorite performances came from Jason Sudekis, due to how relatable he makes Red, Danny Mcbride since I’m a sucker for big dumb characters like Bomb, Bill Hadder as the main antagonist Lenard, Keegan-Michael Key, since, well, he is Keegan Michael Key, and he made that bird judge lively, and to my surprise, Sean Penn as Terrence. Honestly, the Sean Penn casting is pretty hilarious in a very meta way due to his past history of anger, and his character, who is a giant caveman-like angry bird. The biggest surprise from this entire experience is how much effort was honestly put into this film. This could have easily been worse than both Ratchet & Clank and Warcraft combined, and yet, this is probably the best video game movie adaptation of the year. Granted, we have to see how Assassin’s Creed does, but so far, The Angry Birds Movie has more effort put into an overall experience than the two other video game movies out right now. I’ll be honest though, Rovio, the company behind Angry Birds probably put their best time and consideration into this film, since they have been going into a downward spiral of popularity with all the recent financial losses and layoffs throughout the last couple of years.

With all that praise being said, this film still has a huge amount of problems. First off, the film suffers from the usual children’s animated film tropes of pop cultural references, fast musical elements, and potty humor. Can studios get it through their thick skulls that you don’t need to make a film around those elements? Like I said above, they really didn’t need to stunt cast so many of the celebrities due to how they don’t have many lines at all. It just seems like a pointless expense to worry about. The pacing also could have been better. Once you hit the halfway point, and to no surprise, the pigs steal the eggs. The film does waste so much time with this Mighty Eagle character, and that is such a huge disappointment. They get Peter Dinklage as this character, and unfortunately, the Mighty Eagle bit goes on for way too long, and has the worst jokes of the film. Oh, and what is with this film and its fetish with its butt-shaking jokes? Like, wow! There are so many butt jokes! The ending is enjoyable, since you get to see the birds fly from a sling shot into the pig’s kingdom, but the pacing during this scene could have been slower, due to how you can’t really take a breather. This is why when you get those quiet moments of the good guys trying to find what they are looking for, or running into the bad guy between the action sequences, it gives the viewers time to take in what has been happening.

Okay, let’s talk about the elephant in the room, the political undertone. A lot of critics have pointed out that apparently, The Angry Birds Movie has some political themes under its belt, with Red representing the conservative individual stuck in a liberal PC world, and some other elements. So, what do I think about all this? Well, while I can see where some of them are coming from, I think people were looking too deeply into a movie that has a Sean Penn caveman bird with some intentional or unintentional comedy with said character, and an extended peeing joke at the halfway point of the film. I think it’s unintentional timing due to the current political landscape. And that is about as political as you are going to see me get with these reviews.

Overall, The Angry Birds Movie is a surprise. It’s not a great movie by any means since it falls into so many of the traps seen in bad kids films, but it was still so much more enjoyable than a lot of the animated films that have come out and will be coming out from the likes of LionsGate. I have already seen the worst movie of the year, Norm of the North, so anything that actually put effort into the overall package gets my thumbs up. I don’t know if I would recommend picking it up at release, but it’s not going to be the worst purchase or viewing in the world or of this year. Well, we are going from a surprise, to a new modern day classic with Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet. Thanks for reading, and see you all next time!

Rating: Rent It

The Other Side of Animation 38: Go West! A Lucky Luke Adventure Review


(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!)

So, on The Other Side of Animation, we have seen a lot of animated films that try to capture that old Tex Avery and Looney Toons-style of speed and comedy. It has worked for some, from the more subtle physical comedy of Ernest & Celestine, to the overly hyper Cool World. It can be a tricky line from either being really good comedic animation to being mentally draining to watch. You have to pretty much pick and choose when to make the animation work, and not be an eye sore on the viewer. Today’s review is a film that straddles that line. Go West! A Lucky Luke Adventure is a French animated film based off of the popular long-running franchise that was released back in 2007. It was also a part of the 32nd Annecy International Animated Film Festival, and was in the same year as Nocturna and Sita Sings the Blues. You can guess correctly that Sita Sings the Blues won, but how is Go West!? Well, let’s find out.

The story follows our main cowboy hero Lucky Luke. He arrives in a city to oversee the Dalton brothers, four brothers who end up breaking loose from jail and going down a street of banks robbing them. After a creative car chase and great slapstick, Luke and the Daltons get wrapped up in helping out a caravan of people. They make it to California to acquire a piece of land that will otherwise be owned by a greedy individual. Can Luke make sure all goes well?

Well, let’s get the good out of the way first, since there are some great elements to the film. For a film based on a popular license, you would think no effort would be put into the animation. Luckily, this is French animation and not American animation, because the 2D animation for Go West is fantastic. It’s good fluid cartoony animation that made me think of some elements from Looney Toons, Ren and Stimpy, and Tex Avery cartoons. There was no time where I felt like the animation felt out of place. Even though slapstick can be done poorly these days, the slapstick is admirable here since it, for the most part, feels genuine and thought out. It might be a bit too cartoony for the physical timing, but it’s pretty enjoyable, especially in the first 16 minutes of the film. Speaking of those 16 minutes, that is probably the best part of the movie. It’s like a longer version of the great chase sequence from Ernest & Celestine, but with a Looney Toons flare. It’s a creative chase to try and get the Daltons from stealing the money.

With all that said, this is one of the few French films I have found to be a disappointment in many ways. After the 16-minute mark, the film becomes boring and tiring. Due to the fluid cartoony animation, it becomes too busy at points, and it feels like it’s trying to be funny all the time. A lot of gags and jokes fall flat. Why do they fall flat? Well, because a majority of the characters, besides Lucky Luke himself, are stupid. Comedy doesn’t work if everyone is acting the same. It comes off of the interaction between two or more different characters. That’s why it works in Pinky and the Brain or Tom and Jerry because the two duos are different in terms of personalities. The stupidity of the characters also leads to there being no real threat, since like I said, the characters are not that bright. The film also feels like it had no real plot to begin with, and tries to fill it out with slapstick and character quirks that don’t work. I can’t feel invested with a lot of the characters besides Lucky Luke. I also found some of the logic to not be executed well. Why would one of the Daltons get really upset at his brother for cleverly hiding the stolen money inside the balls and chains that were attached to them? I feel like that’s a creative plan. I also found a lot of the characters forgettable. I don’t remember any of them. Even most animated comedies try to make you care about the characters.

It’s such a shame that so much effort went into the animation, but the story fell flat. I mean, if this is what the original source material was like, then that’s fine, but it doesn’t really attract or appeal to anyone outside of the fan base. You should always make a good movie first, than worry about the fan base. This is why films like Ratchet & Clank are not working. And yes, we will get to Ratchet & Clank at a later date. Go West is not a horrible movie by any means, at least it had a few memorable parts, but unless you want to own every animated film released in the states, then you are better off finding the full English version on YouTube than going out and finding a copy of the film to own. I can also understand if this was made for a younger audience in mind, but wouldn’t you rather make a movie everyone can see? I know sometimes it’s best to make a movie geared toward one crowd, but sometimes, it’s good to make it all around enjoyable. Well, let’s move onto something different. How about an animated short film called The Monk and the Fish? Thanks for checking this article out! I hope you liked it, and see you all next time!

Rating: Rent It

The Other Side of Animation 34: Lupin the 3rd: The Mystery of Mamo Review


(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!)

Parental Warning: There is some partial male and female nudity, but nothing like Game of Thrones or Orange is the New Black levels of nudity. Just be aware of this if you decide to watch this movie. Enjoy the review!

Well, Japanese Animation Month might be over, but that doesn’t mean I can’t take a look at some more Japanese-animated movies! I wanted to tackle something different in terms of famous Japanese animated films, since I want to save Hayao Miyazaki and Mamoru Hosoda’s films for special occasions. I then thought about all the movies based off of popular anime that are out there. They mostly are of low-quality, since they don’t really connect to the plot, have villains that will be found nowhere or even mentioned in the main TV series, and will have plot elements that would have been helpful in the main show’s story. And you won’t believe how true that statement is. Find a long-going anime series, pick out one of the films from said series, and watch them. This is why I wanted to choose a film from a long-running anime series that actually works, and that’s where one of my favorite anime characters of all time comes into play, Lupin the 3rd. The famous series began as a manga way back in 1967, and has spun off multiple TV series, TV specials, video games, live action adaptations, and movies. My first time experiencing the franchise was when it was on Adult Swim’s anime block on Saturday, and the very first episode I watched was A Bouquet of Bills Blossom in Rio’s Sunset, which was episode 2 of the second Lupin the 3rd TV series. The overall series is like a cartoon-ier take on heist films, where the episodes revolve around some kind of heist or job that Lupin and his crew are going to pull off. It’s a really fun, if a tad dated series that I could recommend to any new anime viewer. I decided to finally take it upon myself to check out and review the first full-length movie based off of the franchise, The Mystery of Mamo. The Mystery of Mamo was released in 1978. It was directed by Soji Yoshikawa, who worked on Tomorrow’s Joe, Armored Trooper Votoms, City Hunter, Cyborg 009, Future Boy Conan, and The Mysterious Cities of Gold. It had a pretty positive reception, but as someone who doesn’t watch a lot of anime anymore, what do I think of this? Well, let’s find out.

The gang is together once again after the mysterious rumor is circulated around that someone who looked like Lupin the 3rd was killed. Of course, by the stubborn nature of Detective Zenigata, voiced by Dan Lorge, this turns out to be false as he finds Lupin, voiced by Tony Oliver, to be alive and well. Lupin’s next heist is to find the philosopher’s stone. The twist that comes into play about this is because the heist is actually part of a bigger plan to find out about a mysterious individual known as Howard Lockewood aka Mamo, voiced by Paul St. Peter. Can Lupin the 3rd find out what is going on, with the help of his friends like the firearm specialist Jigen, voiced by Richard Epcar, the samurai Goemon, voiced by Lex Lang, and Lupin’s love interest/rival Fujiko, voiced by Michelle Ruff? Well, you will have to watch the movie to find out.

One thing I will say about having movie tie-ins with Lupin the 3rd is that the series was more or less just a series of heists that didn’t connect to one another, so really, the problems that a lot of shows have that I listed above don’t appear here. You can watch this and not have anything glaringly wrong with the TV series. As a first movie, the overall execution isn’t that bad. You still have a big heist, the finding of the philosopher’s stone, dealing with a mysterious little person, car chases, action, and the great interaction that has made these characters stand up through the passage of animation and time. I actually respect that this movie also tries to be a bit more with its themes, by being more philosophical with topics of identity, mortality, love, and honor. On top of the action and offbeat humor and exchanges, the film also gives time for the characters to talk and develop a little more with one another. It’s great when you find not just animated films, but films in general, that let the audience breathe, relax, and watch characters grow. Some of the action is quite impressive and fun to watch, with some scenes that inspire sequences you see in the next Lupin the 3rd movie, Castle of Cagliostro.

With that being said, I think its overly ambitious story becomes a bit too much for itself, since the last third is just bonkers. I personally think Lupin the 3rd, or at least during this time period of the franchise, doesn’t blend well with philosophical themes. It tries to reach for higher moments than most animated films during this time, but to me, it falls flat, and the big twist about who Mamo is doesn’t help either. Speaking of Mamo, I found him to be a boring villain. Not to say he wasn’t evil or anything, but his personality was not interesting. Another element that falls flat is the animation. It is the same quality of animation you see from the TV series of that time. It feels cheap, and it really pales in comparison to Castle of Cagliostro. I know that isn’t fully fair, but when the two films came out a year from one another, and the second one has famed director Hayao Miyazaki behind it, it’s hard to not compare the two. I also found the more perverse side of Lupin to be an annoyance, since The Mystery of Mamo carries the joke of Lupin always wanting to “Marvin Gaye” and get it on with Fujiko. It’s not that it isn’t funny, but to some, I can see them not liking the aggressiveness of Lupin, since in Japan, his womanizing sleaze is part of the comedy of the show. It’s just an example of humor not translating well into another culture. If you like this kind of stuff, that’s fine, and more power to you, but the partial nudity seen in this film could have been taken out without it affecting the film or story. I also found it odd that the film just ditches Goemon after a certain scene. He just vanishes for the rest of the movie. It’s like how the princess in Disney’s animated Robin Hood film isn’t seen for the third act, and then pops up at the very end. You are told why he leaves, but to not come back until the very end is odd to me.

The overall film might be a bit complicated, and it might not reach those big philosophical goals that it aims for, but The Mystery of Mamo is still a solid enough action adventure movie. If you want to buy this movie because you like action/adventure animated movies, or want to get into Lupin the 3rd, Discotek Media has the definitive edition of the film with a huge amount of content, including the different English dubs from the Streamline dub to Manga Entertainment’s dub. That is the one I watched, since the voices from Manga Entertainment’s version is what I personally think of whenever Lupin the 3rd comes to mind. It might not age as well as Castle of Cagliostro, but there is enough here to warrant a purchase and a watch. Well, how about we take a break from Japan, and let’s go over to Spain and look at an underrated GOYA award winner with Nocturna. Thanks for reading, I hope you liked what you saw, and see you all next time!

Rating: Rent it!

The Other Side of Animation 30: Akira Review


(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work with video game reviews, editorials, lists, talk about Kickstarters, interview developers, and review/talk about animated films. If you want to, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview.biz. 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 funny, to me, anyway, that I am going to review pretty much everything by Katsuhiro Otomo before I get to anything by Hayao Miyazaki or Mamoru Hosoda. I didn’t plan this at all, but it’s interesting to look at a well-known director’s work, and see his little touches in whatever he is working on. Of course, the casual moviegoer won’t know who this guy is, but if you know anything about anime or animation, you have definitely seen his prized pupil, Akira. This legendary film, based off Otomo’s manga of the same name, was released in Japan in 1988, and was brought over to the states in 1991. It’s considered one of the greatest animated films of all time, and one of the best pieces of Japanese animation around. It’s a landmark title, not only for Japanese animation, but for filmmaking, in general. So, what do I think of the film?  Well, let’s dive into Otomo’s classic, and you will see what’s up.

The story takes place after Japan was hit by a large explosion during World War III, and it is now 2019. One of the many plots that go on in this movie revolves around a young biker named Tetsuo Shima, voiced in the redub by Joshua Seth, who is in a gang with his friend, Shotaro Kaneda, voiced by the lovable Johnny Yong Bosch. One day, after picking a fight with another gang, Tetsuo crashes his bike in front of a small blue-skinned boy with white hair. This somehow unleashes the psychic powers that were inside Tetsuo. After gaining said powers and being experimented on, he goes on a bit of a rampage to find a being that these psychic children (like the blue-skinned one that I just mentioned) know as Akira. Now, the entire city is after Tetsuo, including the government, a military organization, a terrorist group, a cult that worships an individual known as Akira, and even his own friend, Shotaro. On top of all this, you also have a huge rebellion going on inside the city that is causing mass destruction, with the main goal of taking down a corrupt government.

Before we get into what is wrong with this adaptation, let’s talk about the good stuff since there is just so much to love about this movie from a technical point of view. For Japanese-made animation, it is truly breathtaking. Knowing that a lot of this had to be done by hand is just a feat that is herculean, since cel animation is expensive work. It’s so smooth, and not herky-jerky like anime was in the past. This was during a time where anime was getting slightly better in terms of being able to move every single part of the character, but Akira was the starting point for anime to start looking like it had a budget behind it. I also adore the music. I know it can be made fun of, but it sounds emotional and primal. It helps immerse you in this film that is definitely about emotion, as the overall experience felt like a volcano just building up and ready to explode.

Too bad that volcano’s explosion is no more than just a bunch of nothing. Yeah, as much as I love watching Akira for its visuals and pristine animation, the story is not well put together. I mean, there is plenty of it, but since it’s 2016, it’s time to start laying down the fact that the film version Akira is a poorly put together adaptation. Basically, it pulled an Age of Ultron and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice by having way too much going on in it. You see what’s going on, but don’t understand it. I have watched this film four times in my lifetime, and each time I have watched it, I always felt a bit confused about certain elements. Sure, I could go read the manga that is 2000 pages long, and look up the facts on the internet, but an adaptation should stand up on its own without having to know the source material. Films like Mary Poppins and the How to Train your Dragon series are a blast to watch, and you don’t need to have to know about the product at hand to enjoy them. It’s an argument I never fully agreed with since this is a movie, and what we see should be good, first and foremost. Make sure the story/characters are good, then worry about everything else. It’s quite obvious Otomo didn’t really know how to tell the entire story properly. It’s something I have known/heard about Otomo, where he’d rather make a film as a more emotional experience than a “set in stone” story. It’s an interesting quirk about him that you see in his films, like his directed segments in MemoriesRobot Carnival, and Short Peace.

With how condensed and cut up the story feels, it leads you with characters who are not really interesting. Why should I care? What the heck is going on? Why does Tetsuo’s change from arrogant biker punk to psycho feel a little out of left field? Why do they want the kids with the psychic abilities? I was asking a lot of these kinds of questions during the film’s two-hour runtime. While I do enjoy longer movies, due to how the story was set up in this movie, it personally feels a tad too long. A lot of the second half and final third is basically Tetsuo cleaning house with the military, which could have been used to either show or dump exposition on the world that this film is set in. Here’s an idea, why not make Akira into two movies, or not make it a movie at all? Sometimes, the source material is not made or set up to be turned into a movie. Or at the very least, Akira should have been two movies instead of one. You don’t really learn why the public is turning to terrorism, or a bunch of little details that could help explain elements better about the psychic abilities, and so on. The ending is such a non-ending, where I overall felt cheated out of something that so many people praise as an all-time classic. Nothing is more infuriating than having so much potential built up, and it all falls flat in the end. It makes this film tedious to watch.

Listen, I’m not saying Akira is a horrible movie. Sure, its story is denser than 15 hummers crushed into one giant metal cube, but there is something to admire about the movie as a whole. It’s an animated marvel, and I never want this movie to lose its legacy just because I didn’t care for the story. It deserves the legacy that it brought with it, and should be checked out if you haven’t seen it. It might be a mess, in terms of storytelling, but it’s a film everyone should see. It just reminds me how great Japanese animation can be when it’s done well, and not the usual male gaze-filled tripe we see today. How about for the rest of April, we do a Japanese Animation Month!? Next time, we will be looking at REDLINE. Thanks for reading this article! I hope you liked it, and see you all next time!

Rating: Rent It!

The Other Side of Animation: Henry & Me Review


(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!)

Sometimes, it’s hard to tackle certain animated films. This is especially true when the film has obvious problems, and is really schmaltzy, but you feel bad or at least a little uncomfortable criticizing since it’s about a kid going through cancer. Yeah, this is review is about Henry & Me. This animated film was directed by Barrett Esposito, created by Reveal Animation Studios, distributed by Henry & Me Productions, and was released on August 18th, 2014. This is an interesting movie. It’s definitely a lot more interesting to talk about than most of the animated schlock that comes out. It’s a 2D animated film with some CGI elements and a cast that includes Richard Gere, Chazz Palminteri, Cyndi Lauper, Paul Simon, and a slew of famous New York Yankee players from past to present. So, how well executed is this animated film of baseball and a child going through cancer? Well, let’s find out.

The story revolves around a young boy named Jack, voiced by Austin Williams, who was living a good life until cancer shows up and, well, ruins it. As he is waiting in the hospital by his loving parents and nurse played by Cyndi Lauper, Jack is greeted by a magical individual. The individual himself is a man named Henry, voiced by Richard Gere. Henry decides to take Jack through a dream-like experience, meeting both past and current New York Yankee players to cheer him on through the experience.

I feel more comfortable talking about the positives first since I don’t want to come off like a jerk reviewing a film about this subject. First off, the animation is actually better than I was thinking. The 2D hand-drawn stuff is gorgeous to look at. Sure, it doesn’t blend well with the CGI, but seeing it at all in this day of CGI animation is quite nice. I also like the voice cast. It’s nothing mind-blowing, but they do a serviceable performance, considering what kind of film this is. You actually get a tiny bit invested in a film that has some, quite honestly, corny lines. Even the child actor, who is usually the more challenging to take seriously as an actor, does a decent job. I also like the bright vibrant colors. In an industry that seems like you can only have drab colors, it’s nice to see something with vibrant colors. I also give the film credit for getting a lot of actual Yankee players to actually “act” in the film as themselves.

That said, Henry & Me, has a lot of problems. I hate to criticize this film due to the subject matter, but it is way too sweet and mushy for its own good.  There is just too much overly cheerful dialogue and “you can do it” speeches, and it can be a bit much. Speaking of “you can do it” speeches, the film is rather repetitive since each person Jack and Henry meet, tells him the same thing. I wouldn’t mind this, but it’s basically the same thing over and over again in a film that already doesn’t have a lot of substance to it. It also feels a tad cynical, since it is all about the most popular players in Yankees’ history, and, well, they do skip over a few glaring/bad moments in the history like Alex Rodriguez’s drug fiasco. A bit of my cynical side also tells me that this was just to support the purchase of Yankee merchandise. I know that seems harsh, but this film does have a lot of stuff to poke fun at. It also takes a bit of a weird twist where you think the entire thing was a dream, but then, yeah…you can kind of guess what happens in the end.

Henry & Me is tough to talk about in a couple of ways. It’s not a great movie by a long shot, due to a lot of problems. On the other hand, it is touching, and it wasn’t just made to promote the Yankees. I can understand if some child who might be going through the horrible experience of cancer gets inspired to keep pushing and make sure to stomp cancer into the ground, but you could also argue that it has a limited market and limited mass appeal. Like I said though, it feels like a film that had nothing but good intentions in its creation. I would see if you can find a way to check out this film if you are curious. Not the greatest baseball-focused movie ever, but you can do a lot worse. Well, I might not like Henry & Me much, but considering what I may be reviewing for my 30th review, Henry & Me is going to look like a masterpiece! Thanks for reading! I hope you liked this article, and see you next time!

Rating: Rent It!

The Other Side of Animation: Halo Legends Review


(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work. If you want to, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. Thanks for checking out the article!)

So, to quickly follow up on my Robot Carnival review, I recently picked up the Discotek Media version, watched it through to the end, and compared it to the import copy I already had. You get a crisper visual quality to the Discotek version, but overall, both are pretty much the same. If I had to look back and suggest getting one version over the other, I would get the Discotek version, but neither DVD has a lot of content to them.

Now then, let’s take a look at another anthology film that is, sadly, not one of the better ones. Released in 2010, Halo Legends is one of the larger anthology films I know about, with eight individual stories by different animation studios. I mean, technically, it’s seven, since two of them are part one and two of a single story, but still. The release of Halo Legends on February 16th, 2010 got mixed reviews, with the criticism of the stories being uneven in quality, and making the odd choice to combine Halo and Japanese animation. Let’s see if these criticisms are valid years after the release.

The first and second stories are called Origins, which are animated by Studio 4°C and directed by Hideki Futamura (Beyond, The Second Renaissance Part I & II, A Detective Story, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, and Perfect Blue). The plot to this story is basically a briefing of the Halo universe from the original invasion of the Flood, the Forerunners, and the massive weapons known as Halos, to what happened in Halo 3.

The third is called The Duel, animated by Production I.G, and directed by Hiroshi Yamazaki (Karas: The Prophecy, Eden of the East, and Ghost in the Shell.) The plot is set up like some kind of samurai short film where an alien known as an Arbiter seeks revenge for the death of his wife by the hands of The Covenant religion for not converting to their beliefs.

The fourth story is called Homecoming, and is animated by Production I.G again, and directed by Koji Sawai (Patlabor, Ranma ½, Trigun, and .Hack//Sign). The plot is about a group of soldiers who are rescued by this female red-armored Spartan, and their attempt to escape a warzone full of The Covenant.

The fifth story is called Odd One Out. It’s animated by Toei Animation, and directed by Daisuke Nishio (Dragon Ball franchise, and One Piece franchise.) This is a more humorous story about a Spartan soldier named 1337, who has a massive ego, but a huge case of bad luck as his body crash-lands on a planet and away from the ship on which he was riding.

Our sixth story is called Prototype. It’s produced by Studio Bones, and directed by Tomoki Kyoda (RahXephon, Saiyuki, and Darker than Black) and Yasushi Muraki (Steamboy, Welcome to the Space Show, and Cowboy Bebop: The Movie). Prototype tells the story of a marine sergeant with a devastating past, who goes by the nickname of Ghost. He and his demolition team are sent to protect a weapon facility from being overrun by The Covenant,and get rid of a new prototype weapon.

The seventh story is called The Babysitter. This segment is produced by Studio 4°C again, and directed by Toshiyuki Kanno (Berserk: The Golden Age Arc 1- The Egg of the King, Black Lagoon, Trigun, Digimon: The Movie, and has worked on multiple Dragon Ball Z films). It follows a group of elite soldiers, who help a Spartan soldier to take down an important target known as The Prophet.

The eighth and final story, which was only put on the physical disc versions of this anthology series, is called The Package. Produced by Casio Entertainment, and directed by Shinji Aramaki (Appleseed Alpha, Star Diver, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Soul Eater, and Harlock: Space Pirate), The Package follows Master Chief and a group of soldiers that must obtain a very important package on an enemy ship.

So, with eight (seven if you are being a stickler) stories with different settings and animation-styles, how do they gel? Well, I do not have a lot of positive elements to say about this anthology, but let’s get the good out of the way, okay?

In my opinion, the best stories are The Duel, One Odd Out, and Homecoming. The Halo franchise is not really known for in-depth and amazing storytelling, but the stories for these three are rather well executed. If I had to pick my favorite story, it would have to be The Duel. I chose this one because it did something different with the lore and universe of the games, and turned it into a samurai film with a downright gorgeous painting-like presentation. It also hits on a lot of elements, like having atmosphere and characters you want to invest in. Odd One Out also does this same thing, but instead of characters you emotionally invest in, you just turn your brain off and laugh at some fun, over-the-top anime-style entertainment. It helps that while Odd One Out does stand out in tone, it has some of the better writing since it’s committed to being silly. This is what works with the shorts, like in The Animatrix. In that anthology, the directors and producers took their own ideas about The Matrix, and got creative in, well, creativity and emotions.

Unfortunately, the rest of the anthology is rather forgettable. It doesn’t help that, in my opinion, the universe of Halo is not very interesting. Origins is a helpful tool to tell the backstory of the franchise, but it doesn’t have that visual flair that The Animatrix has, and the history pretty much boils down to “humans are stupid for constantly fighting, and when The Flood returns, we will ban together and fight, but then go back to killing each other.” I felt like the story was trying to be more than what it was. The anime-ish tropes that plagued the stories like The Babysitter and Homecoming also take me out of the experience, since I felt like I was watching a boring sci-fi anime. I will say at least Homecoming has the better story, but beyond the plot twist of the red female Spartan’s past, the rest is pretty forgettable. Babysitter suffers as well, because this anthology loves to drill into your head that anyone that wears the Master Chief Spartan armor is not interesting, personality-wise. Instead, Babysitter incorporated not only characters that die and we don’t care about, but it also has the whiny, talented individual that is supposed to learn some lesson at the end, but it all falls on deaf ears. Another unintentional element of some of the Spartans dying in these shorts is that they are built up to be these invincible super-soldiers, but fail. I mean, I guess if you make your character godlike, then you stop caring about them, but still. However, the final short that was on the disc, The Package, is boring. It’s just forgettable action with again, characters you don’t really care about. I know short films are limited in terms of building up multi-dimensional worlds, but this short I think hurt Halo more than helped. I also found the animation to be the least impressive of the core shorts

As of now, Halo Legends, is the weakest of the anthology films I have seen. It has a few good elements, but for every good part, it has about three bad parts. I originally picked up the film for $10, but that is a tiny bit much if you ask me. For this middle of the road anthology film, I would recommend spending maybe $5 or so on it. It at least has enough in it to make it worth seeing once. I know this was a downer review, but that is bound to happen from time to time. Sometimes, we have a good day and sometimes, we don’t. You just keep pushing through, and if you are like next week’s review of M.D. Geist, then you are bound to have something good happen to you. Thanks for reading, and see you all next time!

Rating: Rent It

The Other Side of Animation 2015 Christmas Special Part 2: Santa's Apprentice Review


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Adaptation is a tricky thing to pull off in filmmaking when you are making something based off a popular product. You want to stay loyal to the source material whether it is a show, book, comic book series, and so on. However, making a film is a lot different than writing a book. You have to make changes, and adapt the license so it can fit into a film format. For example, you shouldn’t shove a full 20-episode season into a film that is 103 minutes. You know, like how The Last Airbender turned out. But, you don’t want to change it up too much and use very little of the original source material, like the recent worst movie of 2015, Jem and the Holograms. There are other bad adaptations of popular franchises, like Galaxy Express 999, but since this is the holidays, I wanted to talk about an animated film based off a TV series called Santa’s Apprentice. This French/Australian/Irish animated film is based off the animated series, SantApprentice. It was originally released in 2010 to a solid reception. So, why did I choose this animated film for Christmas instead of many other animated Christmas films? Well, this film was co-produced by the team at Cartoon Saloon, who made one of my favorite films of 2015, Song of the Sea, and The Secret of Kells. So, without knowing anything about the original source material, I am going to go into this film as if it was its own thing. I feel like that would be the correct thing to do, since an adaptation of something should be enjoyable for all, and not just for the fans, hardcore or not. Now then, let’s begin!

This film is set in a world where Santa exists, and has a very particular rule. After a certain period of time, the current Santa must bring in a new apprentice to become the new Santa Claus. So, where shall we find our new future Santa? Well, why not Sydney, Australia? The individual that was chosen is a young orphan boy named Nicholas. As the movie goes from the beginning to the end, Nicholas encounters a baby polar bear, a female orphan that lives in the same orphanage as him, a really crummy bully, a reindeer with lights on his antlers, and magical Christmas wonder. Can Nicholas become the new Santa Claus? Can this 77-minute film stand on its own, without relying on the original animated series?

Let’s begin with the positive elements of the film. Since this is animated by the same studio that made Song of the Sea and The Secret of Kells, it is beautifully animated. While it might not be up-to-par with Song of the Sea, it still looks fantastic. Fluid movements, visually impressive locales, and bright colors are all gift-wrapped into a really remarkable-looking film. A lot of the backgrounds and scenery moments look like something out of a children’s storybook. It just screams Christmas. I also like the whole process of training to become Santa. Having to get presents under the tree without being spotted, going down a chimney on a house with no chimney, having  to play with toys from the past to get an idea of what to make in the future, learning how to fly in the sleigh, and so on. It’s pretty cool to see the movie break the job of Santa Claus down into individual challenges. I also like the voice work. Most of it can be soup of the day, but I think my favorite actor in the film is the one behind Santa’s voice, Shane Jacobson, who is most famous for his role in the mockumentary, Kenny. Maybe it’s because it the accent, but I really like this version of Santa. He likes jokes, is a hard worker, and is a pretty likable individual. I also liked Santa’s wife/personal assistant, Beatrice Lovejoy, who is voiced by Magda Szubanski. If that name sounds the tiniest bit familiar, she was Esme Hoggett from the Babe films. Anyway, Beatrice is also a hard-working and committed individual making sure Santa is okay.

Sadly, this is yet another one of those animated films that is lovely to look at, but has some lumps of coal under the tree. As much as I love the animation and scenery, the animation itself can get a little choppy at times. Another problem I have with the film is that the characters, besides the current Santa and his assistant, are not that memorable. The kid characters are boiler-plate, and they put in a really tacked-on antagonist, which is another orphan boy. I really don’t like the forced conflict of this villain, since I feel like the stake of the entire film is that Nicholas needs to be the new Santa. This jerk of an orphan is just not needed. Seriously, this kid should be in juvenile detention, not an orphanage. It’s funny how rotten this evil boy acts, since he is upset he wasn’t chosen to be the next Santa Claus. Well, maybe because you are a rude mean-spirited individual is the reason why you can’t be the new Santa. The little girl orphan is also forgettable, since she is just there to be the love interest for the main character.  I also think the pacing of the film could have been better. For a film that is 77 minutes long, they really cram in a lot of plot points, with characters who are not interesting, and are there for, well, plot reasons. It feels like to me they took a few story bits from the animated series and threw them in. You don’t even find out the orphan girl’s name until the last five minutes of the movie. It’s tedious to have to watch these forgettable characters, since it makes me focus on the somewhat ignorable art style of the film. The only design that stands out is Santa, and everyone else looks like something from a children-focused magazine. Granted, it looks much better than the animated series, but still, I think this film could have more unique designs in the kids and other characters.

So, that was Santa’s Apprentice. I honestly really wanted to love this movie. It has everything that I want in a good/entertaining Christmas special, but it so clunky in its plot, pacing, and characters, that it just misses that “Check it out!” rating. I think if they streamlined the plot, took their time, had more genuine emotional moments, fleshed out the relationship between Santa, Nicholas, and the young orphan girl, the film would be a true hidden gem. Who knows, maybe I’m being a bit too much like a Scrooge in terms of this movie, since I have seen a lot of positive reviews for the film. I don’t 100% hate this movie, I adore a lot of elements this film brings to the table, but if it’s flawed, then it needs to be talked about. I do know there is a sequel of sorts to this film, but from what I have read, and by read, I mean the 50% internet research and 50% personal guessing from said internet research, Cartoon Saloon didn’t help animate the sequel that is titled, The Magic Snowflake. Maybe if I can find this movie, I will review it for next year’s Christmas special. If you are looking for something a little different from a very talented studio, then maybe you should check out Santa’s Apprentice. Maybe you’ll like it more than I did. Well, that might have been somewhat underwhelming, but let’s end the year on a positive note with Robot Carnival. Thanks for reading, and see you next time!

Rating: Rent it!