positive review

136: Hotel Transylvania 3 Review

hotel1.jpg

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

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

hotel4.jpg

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

hotel5.jpg

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

hotel6.jpg

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

hotel8.jpg

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

Rating: Go See It!

130: The Secret of Kells Review

kell1.jpg

(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!)

Heads Up! I will be talking a bit about the ending. I’ll try to keep it as vague as possible, but I make no promises.

It was interesting when foreign animated films started to get wider recognition among the major award systems. Sure, we had a few sneak into the early days of the Best Animated Feature category, like Spirited Away and Triplets of Belleville, but it wasn’t until, say, 2009 when they started to really hit their stride. I might have said this before, but many animation fans would argue that 2009 was one of the best years of theatrical animation around. This was the year we got Fantastic Mr. Fox, Up, The Princess and the Frog, Coraline, Redline, Mary and Max, and A Town Called Panic. This was also the same year that GKids got their first Oscar nomination with their first official hit, The Secret of Kells. For those not in the know, The Secret of Kells was the first major theatrical film by studio Cartoon Saloon. It was co-directed by Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey, the duo directors that would later go on to create the Oscar-nominated Song of the Sea, the Oscar-nominated and Best Foreign Feature Annie winner The Breadwinner, the On Love sequence in The Prophet, and the upcoming Wolfwalkers. This one film put both Cartoon Saloon and GKids on the map, and made them Hollywood favorites among the critics and animation enthusiasts that are in that scene. I only have been able to check out this film recently, and, well, while I do love the movie, I think there are some faults with it. What are they? Let’s dive into the film!

kell3.jpg

The story takes place in a place called the Abbey of Kells. This is where a large wall is built around a small village and abbey in order to protect itself from Viking attacks and outside forces. Our lead character is Brendan, voiced by Evan McGuire, a young boy whose father, Abbot Cellach, voiced by Brendan Gleeson, is the leader of the people there, and puts a lot of the faith on the wall being completed. One day, an old illuminator named Brother Aidan, voiced by Mick Lally, decides to visit the abbey after his village and abbey were destroyed in a raid. The main focal point of the story revolves around an unfinished book called, well, Book of Kells. Brendan wants to help complete the book with Brother Aidan. As this task goes on, Brendan ends up having to go past the wall, and meets a mysterious individual named Aisling, voiced by Christen Mooney. Can Brendan help complete the book with the help of this individual and Aidan, and avoid the grasp of the Vikings and the other spiritual forces outside the wall?

kell5.jpg

So, I’m going to do something different. I love this movie, but I want to talk about its criticisms that I have for it first. I just felt like shaking things up, because I don’t hate the film, and I have plenty to say that’s positive, and how it has way more positives than negatives. So, my biggest problem with the film is the ending. It’s not a terrible ending per say. It has fairly solid closure to the overarching story, and what happens to the boy and his relationship with the old Illuminator and his father, but I’m probably not going to be the only one to say this, and why I prefer their second film, Song of the Sea. The Secret of Kells’ ending felt rushed. It’s like they wanted to do more, but then didn’t have time, or couldn’t get the production time extended, because after the Vikings attack the village, they rush through the boy’s life after escaping the village with Aidan. The visuals are amazing, but as a whole, the ending feels unsatisfying. I know many have said that this is the film that makes you think, compared to Song of the Sea’s “this one makes you feel”, but that doesn’t excuse it. Making the viewer think is not the problem, it’s rushing the ending that’s a problem. I also felt like the marketing for the movie played up Aisling’s involvement with the film. She’s a great character, but she’s not really in the movie a whole lot. She pops in every once in a while, but she could have been more important to the story. The poster even has her as the face of the film. They make her 1/3 of the trailer’s focus. You would believe that she was a major or the driving point of the plot. I understand that the film only had a 70-minute running time, but to me, that means the film wasn’t paced well, if I’m feeling like the ending was rushed, and characters were underutilized.

kell4.jpg

Okay, so, we got that out of the way, let’s talk about the good stuff! First off, the animation for this film is gorgeous. While this was a collaborative effort between Cartoon Saloon and Les Armateurs, this art style, inspired by Celtic and Medieval art, gives this film and the studio that made it, its own identity. It really does match that style, while being friendlier. Yeah, some parts look weird, and the perspective is wonky, but that is the point. Look back at all the great art of that era, and tell me who looks accurate in poses, and who looks like they just got kicked in the spine by The Juggernaut. Don’t take this to mean that it won’t be as finely detailed as the art that inspired it. It’s lush, it looks like Celtic buildings were taken over by nature with multiple beautiful colors and design work, and while a lot of the work was done using computers to put in all the textures, it’s never distracting. The animation itself is gorgeous, and everyone moves smoothly. You can tell they took this first project seriously.

kell6.jpg

In addition to the beautiful animation, it also has a strong voice cast. Evan McGuire does a great job bringing this optimistic and child-like innocence to Brendan, Brendan Gleeson is wonderful as the stern Abbot Cellach, and Christen Mooney offers an innocent, if way wearier and all-knowing persona, to this mysterious individual known as Aisling. I also really loved the late Mick Lally’s performance of Brother Aidan. Aidan is, simply put, a likable character. He’s wise, but isn’t above having fun, but when he’s serious, Mick Lally brought it. What else goes with great voice work? Music! Composed by Bruno Coulais with music from Kila, Bruno also did the music for Coraline. Both the composer and Kila bring all that Celtic and Irish flair that you would think would be in this film. It’s whimsical, fantastic, yet it can also be very mature, slow, and wonderfully atmospheric when the time came for it. It’s a very quiet film, in a time where it seems like studios think you need to be loud, but Kells decides to be a rather calm movie to sit through. I found the film to have some similarities to a recent GKids film, Birdboy. It has a familiar theme of finding the light in the world among the darkness, and how isolation is not really all that good. Life is going to have its challenges and dangers, and you are not always going to be prepared for it. Also, enjoy life. You only live once, so don’t wait for something to happen.

kell7.jpg

Originally, for the 130th review, I was going to tackle Happily Ever After, the animated film that touted itself as a sequel to Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. It bombed financially at the box office, got critically panned, got sued up the wazoo by Disney, and famously shut down the notorious animation studio, Filmation. However, I decided to do something positive. Why? Because for once, I didn’t feel like dredging up a dead horse to talk about a film that infamously shut down an entire studio. Sometimes, it’s way too easy to get super negative, and act like you are the cool kid by saying a studio like Sony Pictures Animation should shut down because they made The Emoji Movie, or say that the writers of Pixels need to have their fingers chopped off. If you are getting to that point in your life, and have no emotions for the people that work hard on making a movie that just happened to end up being bad, then you have no soul, and you need to reevaluate your life. It’s something I see a lot of online critics do, and to be honest, I’m so tired of it. Hate a movie, because you don’t like it, and don’t harass the people who worked on it, and be an actual human being with some empathy, because you only look like a garbage person if you think harassing and insulting people is actually going to help things. Anyway, back to the point, The Secret of Kells is a fantastic film. I might have some issues with the ending, but it’s a feature everyone should see. If you can find some time to pick up a copy and watch it, please do. Cartoon Saloon, Tomm Moore, and Nora Twomey are some of the best things going on right now in animation, and they deserve your attention. Let’s keep up the positivity with going into June with Far East Animation Month, the now third year of tackling animation from the Far East. Next time, we will be looking at Lu Over the Wall. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!  

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

119: Early Man

man1.jpg

(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!)

man4.jpg

There is something always exciting when Aardman makes a new film. While not financially successful here in the states for some sadly understandable/annoying reasons, I always get excited, since it brings something fresh and interesting to the table, even if the films have elements that we have seen before. I make sure to always see their films, because I want to support the studio. That’s no different here, with their newest film, Early Man. Directed by Nick Park, Early Man was his first theatrical directing gig since his Oscar-winning Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. It was released on February 16th, but is not doing well at all in the box office. It is getting positive reviews, but its financial take is discouraging. Granted, when you go against something like the important Black Panther and the decently reviewed Peter Rabbit, you are going to get into some trouble, especially if you are Lionsgate/Summit Entertainment, and you don’t market your movie! I can get into that bit of stupid, but I’ll save that for a different article. For now, let’s review Early Man!

man2.jpg

Eddie Redmayne plays our hero Dug, a caveman living with his tribe in a crater that, generations ago, was formed by a meteorite. He’s getting complacent about how his tribe only hunts rabbits. One day, after a successful rabbit hunt, their tribe gets invaded by a more evolved group of humans. This evolved group of individuals is led by a man named Lord Nooth, voiced by Tom Hiddleston. Dug accidentally gets himself “taken” to the new civilization, meets a woman named Goona, voiced by Maisie Williams, and finds out that his entire valley is being mined out for its metal. After interrupting a soccer game (and yes, I am going to call it soccer), Dug challenges Nooth to a soccer game. Unfortunately, Dug and his tribe don’t know how to play soccer. Dug then enlists the help of Goona, and they train to win their valley back!

man3.jpg

Let’s talk about the positives.  Since this is Aardman, the animation is fantastic. Each character has a unique design, and they each move beautifully. The sets are also vibrant, lush, and huge. These might even beat out The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and Pirates: Band of Misfits. As with most British comedy, it’s well-written, clever, and there are lots of foreground and background jokes. I found myself laughing at multiple points in the movie, along with others in my audience. I think a lot of the jokes flew over the kids in my group’s heads, but they still laughed quite a lot. Much of the humor works because the characters are fun to be around. While some are simple, which is a problem to a degree, I never found myself getting annoyed by them. They were fairly likable. Dug is a kind optimist, the tribe leader played by Timothy Spall is delightfully daft, Nooth is a blast as a villain who seems to enjoy being a villain, Goona is the strong female archetype, and Dug’s tribe all have their own amusing moments. I know the film’s humor is mostly pun-related, but if you can execute them properly, then I don’t mind it. I can understand if it’s not your type of humor, but I loved it. They even stay away from the more modern-style of humor you would see in films from Illumination and Blue Sky Studios. It’s great that they did that, since it makes the film more enjoyable to watch as time goes by. The performances were also really good. Eddie Redmayne captures the hopeful and maybe ignorant optimistic side of Dug, Tom Hiddleston gives Nooth a wonderfully cheesy and not-at-all accurate French accent that leads to many of the film’s best jokes, Maisie Williams does a good job at being a tough individual, and the rest of the cast, including Richard Ayoade, Selina Griffiths, Johnny Vegas, Mark Williams, Gina Yashere, Simon Greenall, Richard Webber, Rob Brydon, Kayvan Novak, Miriam Margoyles, all have humorous performances.    

man5.jpg

As much as I love Aardman and the fact we got a stop-motion film this year, I am going to criticize this film a bit. The film is, for the most part, hugely entertaining, clever, funny, and well-written. However, it does start to lose steam, when you get to the actual soccer part of the plot. It goes through a few sports clichés and puns that don’t work unless you know the sport, and it goes into sports film territory with the underdogs versus the champions. You can pick up on what’s going to happen very easily during this part. While I love a lot of the tribe members, many of them don’t get much development. About half of them get stuck with a single character trait. That also goes for the champion team that they compete against.  I also felt like the story could have been a bit more complex. I love that Aardman keeps things simple, but sometimes, that hurts them, since some of their stories become predictable. I know I can blame some of this film’s underperformance to Lionsgate/Summit Entertainment, since this should have been a big deal for their animation output, but they treated like it was just another direct-to-video animated film. However, Aardman is also partly to blame for a couple of this film’s problems. I just wonder how much better this film would have been received if they had chosen a more…world-loved sport, since the US doesn’t really care about soccer, or simply stuck with the caveman and Bronze Age civilization meet-up. I didn’t mind it being about soccer, since I caught a lot of the soccer jokes, but I know that won’t be for everyone.

man6.jpg

While I think I prefer Shaun the Sheep The Movie and The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, I did love Early Man. Personally, it’s the first good animated film of the year, and even if you didn’t fully care about it, you know deep down, it’s going to be better than Sherlock Gnomes. Early Man is a film that gets better the more I think about it. I definitely recommend checking it out. It’s an original film that’s not based on any pre-existing properties, and if you really want more original films to succeed, then you need to actually go see them. Well, it’s time to get to the 120th review, and I have a lot to say about that movie when we get to it. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 96: Cats Don't Dance Review

cat01
(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

I have a complicated relationship with cult films. It should be clear what I’m talking about, but I mean films that didn’t do well at release, but gained a huge and dedicated following later in life, and are now considered fondly memorable films. It’s not that I don’t get the admiration or ironic love for films like The Room, Birdemic, and so on. I just don’t get the idea that these films should be celebrated. We don’t really do this with any other type of media. If the show is bad, we don’t watch it, and let it die after one season. If the food at a restaurant is bad, we don’t go back to that place. Why should movies like the ones mentioned above get praise and enjoyment out of watching them? I know I’m not speaking for everyone, and I do have my own guilty pleasures, but still have no urge to really own those guilty pleasures, or truly watch them. I would rather spend time, money, and praise on something that is amazing, and support it. For me, I would rather invest into cult classic films that are actually good, but maybe came out in the wrong place and the wrong time. Something like Cats Don’t Dance is a good example. Cats Don’t Dance was collaboration between Turner Feature Animation and Warner Bros. Family Entertainment. It was directed by Mark Dindal, and was released on March 26th, 1997. It was unfortunately a massive bomb, and while it got decent reviews, it didn’t help the film make back it’s small $32 mil budget. It only made $3.6 mil back, but then became a cult classic after it was released on video and was shown a lot on channels like Cartoon Network. So, how does the film hold up over time? Let’s get started!

cat02

The story revolves around a cat named Danny, voiced by Scott Bakula. He moves from his hometown to Hollywood to make it big as a star. Unfortunately for him, he finds it harder than he thinks. Thankfully, he ends up meeting a likable cast of characters, including a female cat named Sawyer, voiced by Jasmine Guy, a hippo named Tilly, voiced by Kathy Najimy, a cynical goat named Cranston, voiced by Hal Holbrook, a nervous turtle named T.W., voiced by the late Don Knotts, and a sarcastic fish named Frances Albacore, voiced by the late Betty Lou Gerson. Danny even lands his first role as a cat for a Noah’s Ark film starring a Shirley Temple parody named Darla Dimple, voiced by Ashley Peldon. Sadly, Hollywood decides to chew Danny up and spit him out on the very first day. Can he make it in Hollywood where it’s hard to be an animal starring in films? Can he avoid the menacing grasp of Darla Dimple?

cat06

So, what does this film do right? I mean, it flopped, shouldn’t be that hard to see why it didn’t do well, right? Well, like usual, sometimes bad movies rightfully flop or underperform, and good movies flop or underperform. This is one of those good movies that sadly didn’t do so well. Alright, what’s good about it? While the film can be corny, there is this huge sense of passion that I think floats around the entire film. For example, let’s talk about the commitment to the setting and style of film. It’s obvious to see the tone of the older Hollywood films that your grandparents and parents probably grew up on with the 30/50s Hollywood setup, the references to old-time actors, and the type of characters you would probably see at this point in time. I love the fact the villain is a Shirley Temple parody, since back then, she was one of the biggest stars around. She is so cynical, yet hilarious, since this is the comedic approach everyone should take for an evil child star character. She’s also very expressive, and probably the best part about the movie. She is a blast to watch, and what sets her over-the-top is her butler, Max, voiced by the director himself, Mark Dindal. The way they use Max is always gut-busting hilarious. The way they shoot the angles, the way they portray his giant stature, and how they play with this character is always going to bring out a laugh. That doesn’t mean everyone else doesn’t have good chemistry, because they do. This film has a very likable cast of characters, who work well off one another. While not the most defined characters, everyone has a good line, a joke, and a fun moment within the film. The film also has a subtle and not so subtle theme of discrimination, that honestly hits harder today than ever before. While Hollywood has always had really crummy casting decisions, and making it a challenge for non-white actors to get anything done in Hollywood, with the recent white-washing incidences, the discrimination theme in this film is way more current than just another “be yourself” plot point in any other animated film.

cat03

That same spirit can be seen in the animation as well. Everyone is expressive, vibrant, and it shows why Warner Bros. animation is really good. During this period in time, when Warner Bros. was trying to copy the Disney formula, their animation suffered. They were not good at mimicking the emotion of Disney’s animation at the time, and the only good parts to a Warner Bros.-animated film was when it was comedy. I mean, when you are the studio behind Animaniacs and Looney Toons, that should be child’s play. Thankfully, since they wanted to go more for those more “cartoony” live-action comedies from back in the day, the animation, since they have total control of their movements and sequences, can match that speed that they wanted to try and pull off back then. The voice cast is also pretty stellar. I was surprised to see Scott Bakula do such a good job, and to see him be a rather good singer. Everyone felt totally committed to their characters, and I was never taken out of the film by an actor obviously playing themselves.

cat04

If I had to complain about something major in the film, it’s the fact that Danny is not the most interesting character. He’s pretty much blank slate as a character. He’s not a horrible character, but like the female lead, you know how his story arc is going to go. While I also enjoyed the rest of the cast, they didn’t have much to them either. The only ones to feel fully fleshed-out were Woolie and Darla Dimple. I think the film could have also been longer. It’s a comfy 70 minutes, and everything moves at a good pace, but I think they could have slowed it down a little more to expand on the characters. The film probably could have used a few more mil in the budget, because while the animation is great, you can tell at small points in the film where they are just standing still because they couldn’t animate them.

cat07

While the film does have its issues, and we are never going to get nor should we get a sequel or a remake, I enjoyed Cats Don’t Dance. It’s one of the few cult classic films I don’t mind watching from time to time. They recently rereleased this film in widescreen in the Warner Bros. Archive Collection. This is a fun film to watch, and I think anyone can get into it. Well, I love talking about fun cult films that are good for all ages, but next time, we shall look at a film that’s more adult, and while flawed, has my respect with Anomalisa. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you next time.

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 94: My Life as a Zucchini Review

life01
(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

I am very fortunate with my family life. My family is pretty healthy, we have a good life, I am close to everyone, and I wouldn’t want to trade it for the world. Sometimes, it’s good to remember how fortunate you are, if you have a good family situation. Not everyone can get that, and I can’t even begin to understand or imagine myself growing up in a broken home, or as an orphan. I’m never going to relate to it, and I’m not going to try and act like I can. I think that is what’s interesting about today’s review of My Life as a Zucchini. This is a stop-motion animated film from last year, that was directed by Claude Barras, and was distributed here in the states by the always-amazing GKids. It picked up a lot of critical acclaim and award nominations. While only 60 minutes long, you would be amazed at how mature this film can be.

life02

The story revolves around a young boy named Zucchini. He does have a real name, but he would rather be called Zucchini. After the death of his mother, he is brought to an orphanage by a police officer named Raymond, voiced by Nick Offerman. While there, he befriends the other kids who live there, and gets to learn a bit more about each of them as time goes on. One day though, a young girl moves into the orphanage named Camille, and changes Zucchini’s life.

life03

So, what’s so amazing for a movie that’s no longer than an episode of Game of Thrones? Well, there is a lot to love about this little movie. It has a laid-back atmosphere, and while the kids can get rowdy, and there are some dramatic moments, the movie is very quiet. It lets the kids be the main focus. It’s definitely a smaller story and is not epic or sweeping, but it doesn’t mean it sacrifices quality storytelling. You get little details, like how Zucchini keeps the memory of his parents in the form of a beer can and a kite, or how while not told specifically what happened to one of the girls, her gestures and outward mood says everything. It’s a film that tackles what these kids probably feel like being parentless. The world is scary, and they don’t really trust anyone, or feel like there is any real hope outside the orphanage. I don’t blame them. The film knows really well how to balance the darker themes of unconditional love, family, being alone, with more positive moments of finding a way to help each other stay optimistic. You get to learn a bit about these kids as the film goes on, and they act like real kids. You know how you watch a family movie or a movie in general where kids are a focus? You know how rare it is to find child characters or child actors who are actually good? In My Life as a Zucchini, they act and talk like little kids. Even how they interact with the adults feels genuine.

life05

The animation is just beautiful. The stop-motion movements are all gorgeously handled, and while having some interesting designs, they find ways to make the movements fluid, and expressive. The voice work is probably one of GKids’ best dubs. Not only because of the celebrities that they hired, like Nick Offerman, Ellen Page, Will Forte, and Amy Sedaris, but the child actors for the English dub do a perfect job. One of the charms of the film is that they had all child characters in the original dub sit in one room to make the interactions with one another realistic. I’m sure trying to work on a dub to do such a thing would be very daunting for child actors who may not have a lot of experience voice acting, but they found a way. The music reminds me of a lazy Sunday afternoon, with a more indie tone to the background music when it pops up.

life04

If I had to really complain about something, the film probably could have been longer to maybe 80 minutes instead of 60. I loved every moment, and the film does use that time wisely, but I would have liked to have spent some more time during certain areas. Sometimes, there is a comment that doesn’t land, but in general, the run-time is my only major complaint.

life07

I really loved watching this movie, and if you saw my Worst to Best of 2016, you saw that it was my 4th favorite movie of the year. It’s deceptive in how mature and quiet the film, considering it stars a bunch of kids, and it does a great job tackling what an orphan feels like, along with the sad reality that some children grow up in broken households. I’m happy this film got so much love with the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards. If you haven’t seen this movie, then you should. I want to keep this “theme” of family going, as next time, we will review Wolf Children. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

The Other Side of Animation 93: Porco Rosso Review

pork01
(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!)

For as much as the film and entertainment industry loves to do movies about war-time settings, we rarely get them outside of the World War II area. Sure, we have Vietnam war films like Platoon and Apocalypse Now, but whenever we get a war movie, it’s more or less the second World War. They have started to spread out the settings and plots with some truly fantastic films like Hacksaw Ridge, and the upcoming Dunkirk, but I rarely see a movie that takes place, or is set around a certain period of time in World War I. I feel like as content creators for the entertainment industry, we could start expanding out into different time periods. I think that’s what drew me into today’s review, Porco Rosso. Directed by the ever amazing Hayao Miyazaki, Porco Rosso was originally made and released in 1992, but the US only got it in the mid-2000s with the help of Disney. Yeah, normally I don’t tackle films made or distributed by Disney, but since they don’t technically have the full rights to distribute the film anymore, I’m going to talk about Ghibli films more often. So, is Porco Rosso truly unique? Does it deserve to be one of my all-time favorite films? Well, let’s take a look.

pork02

Porco Rosso follows our main hero, Porco Rosso/Marco Pagot/Rossolini (depending on what version you own or which dub you watch), voiced by Michael Keaton. He’s an ex Italian fighter pilot, who now lives in a post-World War I world, and is a bounty hunter. All he does is sleep the day away, drink wine, and on occasion, fight seaplane pirates. One day though, after seeing his longtime friend Madame Gina, voiced by Susan Egan, Porco gets called to task and ends up getting into a fight with an American pilot named Donald Curtis, voiced by Cary Elwes. After losing the fight with Curtis, Porco goes into hiding, and travels to Italy to get his plane fixed. He gets the help of a craftsman Mr. Piccolo, voiced by David Ogden Stiers, and with the help of his granddaughter Fio Piccolo, voiced by Kimberly Williams-Paisley, get Porco’s plane fixed. Can Porco get back into the air and take down Curtis?

pork05

So, what makes this one of my all-time favorite movies? Well, it has a lot of elements that blend well together. For one, it has the trademark laid-back atmosphere of what you normally see in a Studio Ghibli film. While this is a film about flying planes and getting into fights with them, the fighting takes a back seat to focus more on the characters, and their interaction with the world and time period they live in. While I can understand the confusion of that aspect and maybe wanting one more fight sequence in the air, the film is more about Porco and his life after the World War I. As you can probably tell from the title of the film or from his name, Porco is a walking talking humanoid pig. Apparently, after a rather terrible and sad incident during the war, he was cursed to be a pig. His outlook on life was more lazy and cynical, and he really didn’t mind that. He knew how the world worked, and was disgusted by it. He would rather live alone in an island out-cove with his valuable plane, while drinking and laying around all day, than join a side, and fight for a country with certain beliefs. A lot of people have asked why they made him a pig in the movie, and, well, I think what I just said describes a pig perfectly. Stubborn, prideful, lazy, they would rather just wallow where they rest, instead of doing something else. It was also an inside joke from the studio, since Hayao Miyazaki has been infamous for being a stubborn, grumpy individual. He apparently loved pigs, and has always portrayed himself as one. It’s more about what the pig symbolizes than a simple gimmick. I have seen some reviewers not understand that, and constantly be distracted by that fact, without taking a moment to think about it and understand it. It’s one of the few times where the phrase “you didn’t get it” comes into play, and rightfully deserves use of that phrase.

pork04

The film is also fairly light-hearted in tone. Everyone from Porco to the pirates are not really that imposing or intimidating. I mean, they kind of are, but it’s a more lightweight kind of intimidation. Even the leader of the pirates, voiced by Brad Garrett, is probably one of the best side characters Ghibli have ever come up with. He yells loudly, is also stubborn and prideful, but he isn’t above telling a bunch of little kids he kidnapped to calm down and not jump off the plane. The pirates don’t even hurt them. It does that thing I love where there is no real bad guy. Curtis is bad since he almost killed Porco, but he’s not evil. He’s just a celebrity in a time period where being a celebrity was becoming more of a big deal, and he thinks he should be getting everything a celebrity deserves. He even calls out Porco on some of his stubbornness in the last third of the film. This tone makes a lot of the characters fun to be around, from Mr. Piccolo, his family, and the seaplane pirates, to even smaller characters that Porco runs into, like the weapon crafters. Actually, I think the weapon crafters have one of my favorite scenes from any movie, where one of them asks what the difference between making money off war and bounty hunting is. The line basically goes “If you make money off of war, you’re scum, but if you can’t make money off of bounty hunting, you’re an idiot.” It took a few viewings for me to really hear that line, and find some charm in it. Don’t get me wrong, the tone can be rather mature, and it doesn’t shy away from the fact that a lot of people died in the war, and there is a lot to unpack with Porco as a character, but it’s not shoved in your face. It knows when to show off the more whimsical tones, the anti-war tones, and so on and so forth. It also feels unique, since it’s not really a war film. It takes place during that period in time, but it’s not about battles or killing soldiers. It’s just characters dealing with the changing times between periods of violent and terrifying war.

pork06

Animation-wise, well, it’s Studio Ghibli. What should you expect from none other than some of the best animation around? Great character movements, spot-on physical comedy, fantastic expressions, subtle movements, gorgeous colors, breath-taking scenery, fast and fun flight sequences, and great character designs. This film also has one of my favorite voice casts of all time, with Michael Keaton doing a perfect job as playing stubborn and prideful Porco, Brad Garrett as a great comedic antagonistic foil, Susan Egan as Gina, a beautiful, yet stern singer at her own private island, David Ogden Stiers as the quirky repairman, and Kimberly Williams-Paisley as the optimistic and strong-willed granddaughter Fio. Probably one of my favorite casting choices is Cary Elwes as Donald Curtis. At first, it’s really shocking, since they got a British guy to do a rather over-the-top American voice, but it fits that point in history of how a stereotypical American would sound, and he brings a lot of passion and energy to the role. Even the minor characters voiced by Bill Fagerbakke, Kevin Michael Richard, Frank Welker, Jeff Bennett, Dee Bradley Baker, and many more all do a fantastic job, no matter how small their roles are. Of course, I would be silly to not bring up the beautiful and fun soundtrack by Ghibli composer, Joe Hisaishi. He definitely has more light, bombastic, and whimsical tones, but also beautiful slow-paced songs that fit the quiet tone of certain areas in the film.

pork07

If I had to really nitpick, and I really do mean nitpick, I think I probably would have liked maybe the first time you see Curtis fight with the seaplane pirates not cut off so abruptly. I get why they did it, but I would have liked to have seen one more fun airplane fight.

pork08

Outside of that, I have no real complaints. I love this movie from head to toe. It’s one of my all-time favorite movies, and is easily a film I would highly recommend showing off to anyone new or old to cinema. It’s also one of the best wartime films, and if for some reason you haven’t seen it yet, please do. I could easily talk about different lines and different scenes from this movie all day, and it stands up there with Spirited Away, Castle in the Sky, and Paprika as one of my favorite Japanese animated films. Unfortunately, I must move onto the next movie to review. Luckily, it’s a film I also deeply love, as next time, we will take a look at My Life as a Zucchini. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

The Other Side of Animation 85: Japanese Animation Month 2 Part 3: Lupin the 3rd: Dead or Alive Review

lupin01
(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Well, it’s been a while since we have seen our favorite anime thief, Lupin the 3rd. As much as I love talking about this franchise, and not shy to say it’s one of my favorite anime franchises, I always want to choose specific films/specials from the series, since I don’t want to do every single film from the series. At the very least, not yet. That’s why to close out Japanese Animation Month 2, I am going to review Lupin the 3rd: Dead or Alive. This 1996 animated film is notable for a few things. For one, the director of the film is the creator of the franchise Monkey Punch, who hasn’t directed a film from the series before. The film is also considered by many of the fans to be one of the absolute best films about the lovable thief. So, is it as good as the fans make it out to be, or is The Castle of Cagliostro still the king of the films?

lupin02Lupin is back at it again, and this time voiced by Sonny Strait. Alongside his buddies Daisuke Jigen, voiced by Christopher Sabat, and Goemon, voiced by Mike McFarland, their goal in the film is to try and find this treasure that’s held on a deserted sunken ship. The downside to this is the fact that the ship has some kind of highly advanced defense system that keeps people from getting close to it. This means that the quirky thief must find a way to get past the defense system which seems to be connected to the country of Zufu. The good news is that finding the solution to the problem shouldn’t be a problem for our daring thief. The bad news is that the solution is being guarded over by the country’s current leader, General Headhunter. Not only that, but Inspector Zenigata, voiced this time by Phillip Willburn, is on Lupin’s case, and helps reinforce Headhunter’s already strong military force. Of course, shenanigans ensue as Fujiko, voiced by Meredith McCoy, also gets thrown into the situation, and the team now has one of their toughest opponents yet. Can they find a way to get the treasure, and avoid the eye of Headhunter and Zenigata? What about the female accomplice that they end up teaming up with? What exactly is the treasure?

lupin04

Let’s start with some of the good elements to the film. This is a very action-packed film in the franchise. It not only starts out with a prison break that’s a lot of fun to watch, but Lupin and his friends are kept on their toes during the entire film. I would argue that a lot of the intense action from this film is all from General Headhunter. He’s probably one of the most intimidating and imposing villains Lupin has ever had. He might be a bit one-note, but this guy is ruthless. Usually, Lupin and his gang always have the upper hand, but this time, they really, and I mean really, struggle. Endless goons and men armed with guns keep Lupin and his friends on their feet, and it was rather refreshing to see our heroes face such a challenge. I have mentioned before in my review of Jigen’s Gravestone that you want to watch the lead characters be stopped by a challenge, and overcome it. This hurdle we see our heroes go through makes much of the action intense and fun to watch them bob and weave through the enemy to find their way to the treasure. It gets even tougher when Zenigata is actually competent in this film.

lupin05

That’s probably the next thing to talk about, the interpretation of the characters. Most incarnations give Lupin, his friends, and the overall series a fun and light-hearted tone, with some good physical comedy and fast-paced action. This film has a slightly more serious edge, with less of a focus on comedy. I know a lot of people have said that it’s closer to how the manga was and how the original series was intended, but I can understand the more serious tone being a bit off-putting to more casual fans of the franchise. I think it works, since you still have some of the over-the-top sequences you should be familiar with from the franchise, and even with a more serious tone, it still feels like Lupin the 3rd. It’s still Lupin the 3rd, with all the hijinks and likable characters that you have come to know and love.

lupin07

In terms of animation, it’s good for what it is, a film based on an anime. Characters move pretty fluidly, and when the highly advanced security system sequences kick in, it looks fantastic. The designs are also worth noting, due to how non-cartoony they look. I mean, in terms of how the characters usually look. Everything feels a bit more “realistic”, but they still have those familiar designs you have come to expect. They just aren’t going to be the exaggerated versions you see like in the most recent anime series. It can be a tad distracting, since one of my favorite aspects of the series was how everyone looked. It made the anime stand out, and they still do here. I think it’s also nice to see two characters in this film, Fujiko and Inspector Zenigata. It’s yet one of the few films I have seen where Fujiko is actually helpful, and isn’t there for just pure fan service. It’s also nice to see Zenigata in a more serious light. Usually he is the buffoon that thinks he can capture Lupin, but never can. This time, he’s not holding back. He actually becomes a major threat to the characters. I enjoyed the voice cast. I think everyone does a solid job at their respective characters, even if I personally prefer the cast in The Castle of Cagliostro or the Geneon dub. Sonny Strait does a good job making a likable Lupin, Kyle Hebert is an intimidating villain, Chris Patton does a good job as Headhunter’s right hand, Phillip Wilburn does a hard-edged Zenigata, and you get the idea.

lupin03

If I had to complain about something, it’s with some of the tropes that come with feature films based on anime. The secondary leads are not very interesting, and are there to just get the plot going. It’s not their fault, but it’s a trope that I don’t personally care for. I also don’t care for the more sci-fi elements of the film. I don’t know, for some reason, I just don’t think sci-fi fits with the Lupin the 3rd universe. The security system in the film seems more like something from Patlabor than Lupin the 3rd. The only reason it’s in the film is because the tech used in the defense system used gold as a fuel source.

lupin06

While I don’t personally think it’s better than The Castle of Cagliostro, Lupin the 3rd: Dead or Alive is still a fun action movie to watch. Currently, Funimation has a DVD out for it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Discotek Media picks it up in the future, since they are distributing some of the Lupin the 3rd films that Funimation released back in the day. If you love the thief, and want an intense action adventure, then I highly recommend you check this film out. Well, Japanese Animation Month 2 was fun, but next time, it’s time to dip back into the well of DC animation with Teen Titans: The Judas Contract. Thanks for reading, I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Go see it!

The Other Side of Animation 56: Sausage Party Review

frank01
(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!)

WARNING/PARENTAL HEADS UP!:  This film is in no way meant for kids. It’s rated-R for a reason, with shock humor, swearing, sex jokes, sexual events by way of food, and graphic in its jokes and imagery. Do not watch this with your kids. Hope you enjoy the review!

As much as people like to think theatrical adult-animated films are new, they really aren’t. Back in the 70s, we had a lot of stylized-adult animated films with adult themes and softcore porn. Now, to say that they are rare to see these days is true. Due to how quickly the fad of adult-animated films came and went for only a few years, it’s now almost surprising to see an animated film made for theaters, directly aimed at adults. Not to say the direct-to-DVD market hasn’t seen them, since a few have popped up, but I wouldn’t put them in the same category or quality as ones released in theaters. Sure, we got Hell & Back, but that was in no way made to be on par with or of the same quality as, say, Eight Crazy Nights, another horrible adult-animated film that Adam Sandler somehow thought was a good idea. It’s definitely a thing to keep an eye out for, but just because it’s different doesn’t warrant that it’s going to be good. This is definitely a hurdle that today’s review of Sausage Party had to contend with. This 2016 stoner-comedy comes from the minds of Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, and duo of directors Conrad Vernon and Greg Tieman. It was a hyped film when it was first shown off during SXSW 2016, and a leaked script went viral online. It was a surprise hit for a month not known for great movies, but also is now caught in  some controversy that I will of course talk about later on in the review. I mean, I have to. It’s the biggest news story for this film, besides how big of a hit it is. So, is this film as good as some of the big classics it’s spoofing, or has the food gone into moldy-way-past-its-time milk? Let’s find out.

frank02

The story revolves around a hot dog named Frank, voiced by Seth Rogen. He lives in a supermarket with all the food that believes and sings a song about what supposedly happens once you leave the supermarket. Frank is also in love with a hot dog bun named Brenda, voiced by Kristen Wiig. One day, Frank finds out that he and Brenda are going to be leaving in the same cart. However, on that same day, they encounter a slightly “touched” individual named Honey Mustard, voiced by Danny McBride, who tells them what really happens to food after they enter the “great beyond”. After a cart crashes into another one causing mass chaos and death of certain food items, Frank and Brenda end up in the supermarket, along with a bagel named Sammy Bagel Jr, voiced by Edward Norton, a taco named Teresa del Taco, voiced by Salma Hayek, and a Lavash named Kareem Abdul Lavash, voiced by David Krumholtz. Can they find out what is exactly going on, and also avoid a villain, voiced by Nick Kroll? What will happen to Frank’s friends played by Jonah Hill and Michael Cera?

frank05

If I’m going to be honest, I’m going to start with the negatives with this film. I don’t hate this movie, but I do think it has its handful of flaws. Maybe it’s because I have been spoiled by Edgar Wright comedies and The LEGO Movie, but I found the humor to be hit-and-miss. It’s not consistent enough as it tries to balance crude humor, stoner humor, clever humor, and food puns. I would rather have had fewer jokes that hit bullseye than a bunch of jokes where only some work. I did find myself laughing at a lot of the jokes and finding some of the situations clever, but then you would run into jokes that were crude just to be crude, because some notes from the higher-up said they needed to be crude. I also found the pacing to slow down a bit in the middle part of the film.

frank07

Now then, let’s talk about the current may-or-may-not be true controversy revolving around the studio that made Sausage Party, Nitrogen. The controversy is revolving around a bunch of anonymous animators for this film, saying that many of the animators on the film were not credited, they all worked unpaid overtime, and were abused from one of the directors, Greg Tieman. Here is how I look at the situation. If the investigation turns out to be true, and I won’t be surprised if they are, since I also worked in an industry (the game industry) known for abusive work experiences, then screw Tieman and Nitrogen for making people work unpaid overtime. Humans are not machines, and they don’t deserve the fear of blacklisting, being left off the credits, or being fired because they are exhausted. I have also heard it was to keep production budgets low, and whoever thought that, whether it be Tieman or not, can go bugger off. People these days need to be able to make a living, and not giving them the time and relaxation they need is infuriating, since you can tell this film had so much love and work put into the animation. However, if these turn out to be fake allegations, then that’s also terrible. It would be a bad image for animators who have actually gone through abusive jobs, and if these complaints turn out to be false, who is to assume that all future complaints are false? I can see either being the case, but we will have to see what happens.

frank06

So, with that out of the way, what is great about this movie? Well, I like the animation. For a small budget (and if true, unfortunate unpaid overtime), the animation is fluid, expressive, and it captures that look and vibe of something from Disney, Pixar, or those old-fashioned concession stand ads that you would see. While most studios try to have that Disney/Pixar look, this film is yet another example, alongside The Little Prince, that does a good job at making good looking humans. I also liked the vibe and characters of the film. Granted, some of the characters are a bit one-note to get some social commentary out there, but I found myself enjoying their company, since some of them were able to be fleshed out, like Michael Cera’s character, and Frank. I also like the commentary about religion this film brings up because, at first it comes off like “why in tarnation do you all believe in something that we have no proof of?”, and then becomes a bit more evened out with “yeah, we all have different beliefs, and I should be more respectful, but we have to fight or else we will get eaten!” While some of its commentary is very shallow, I do like that a stoner comedy tried to be more than just, well, a stoner comedy. I think everyone brings their A game and feels fully invested with their huge or small amount of screentime given to them. Yes, it might have a bunch of Seth Rogen’s crew, like Jonah Hill, James Franco, Danny McBride, and Craig Robinson, but you also get hilarious performances from Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Michael Cera, Paul Rudd, Nick Kroll, Edward Norton, David Krumholtz, and the rest of the cast. I think this is why I tolerated a lot of the food puns, because when the good jokes rolled through, I was laughing hard. I even laughed at the shocking food orgy. While it was so out there, it was amazing that they got away with so much, only because it was all food. It literally gives a whole new meaning to “food porn.”

frank04

 

Now, in terms of it being a stepping stone for future animated films aimed at teens/older adults, I am all for it. While it might have that awkward controversy, it is a monster hit. I know some disagree with it being the film to bring in more adult-animated films, but I disagree, and think that’s just pessimistic and cynical thinking. While it might not be the very first adult-animated film, I do think it will have a place in helping more animated films get made that are aimed for an older audience. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want all adult-animated films to be just stoner comedies, but if this helps get more varied animated films than fast-paced comedies, then I welcome it.

frank03

Sausage Party might have its flaws, and while the controversy that neither Sony nor Seth Rogen have brought up at all is troubling if true, I still very much enjoyed the movie. I had a fun time even with its sometimes clunky jokes and pacing. However, this recommendation to see it does come with a huge asterisk next to it. If you can separate the film from its supposed controversy (which again, if proven to be true, I hope great things happen to those wronged in the situation, and if proven false, then screw those people), then definitely go see it. If you can’t do such a task, then maybe wait for a rental, or check it out at a discount theater so you don’t give too much money to the film. If you don’t like this movie, I perfectly understand, due to how divisive comedy can be. Well, that was tiring, but I must press ever onward with my one-year special, covering Rex the Runt. Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed the article, and see you all next time.

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 55: April and the Extraordinary World Review

april01
(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 far, 2016 in animation has been pretty fantastic. It is easily having one of the best years in animation. While there have been a few clunkers like Norm of the North, Ice Age: Collision Course, Batman: The Killing Joke, Ratchet & Clank, and Bling, the huge amount of great movies have outweighed the terrible in spades. I mean, this year’s Oscar race for best film will and should include Zootopia, Finding Dory, Kung Fu Panda 3, Boy and the Beast, Only Yesterday, The Little Prince, Kubo and the Two Strings, and depending on how good it is, Moana. I also feel like while there have been a lot of great and mature films for this year, I do wish there were a few films that were similar in spirit to films like Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Arc, The Rocketeer, and those old pulp sci-fi adventure shorts and books. Luckily, GKIDS has our backs yet again with April and the Extraordinary World. This 2D French and Belgium collaboration was directed by Christian Desmarues and Franck Ekinci, and produced by Michel Duthell, Franck Ekinci, and Marc Jousset. It was released back in April (ha ha), and was recently released on DVD and on-demand. So, is this adventure worth your time into an extraordinary world? Or is it a clunker like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow?

april02

The story places us into a world in the early 20th century, where all the scientists in the world are suddenly vanishing. As a result, the world doesn’t get introduced to electricity, and motor engines, and is stuck in this steam punk-like time period, where there are barely any trees or plant-like life left in the world. The story then goes on to focus on a young woman named April Franklin, voiced by Angela Galuppo. When she was a young girl, her parents and grandfather vanished after a chase sequence from the police. She is now living on her own with a talking cat named Darwin, voiced by Tony Hale.  During this time, April has been working on a formula that her parents had been working on before the incident when they vanished. Unfortunately for her, the police detective, Pizoni, voiced by Paul Giamatti, is looking for her and uses the help of a street urchin named Julius, played by Tod Fennell, to keep track of her goings-ons. What happens next is April discovers the serum, and gets chased by an unknown force that is behind the scientist kidnapping. Can she and Julius find her still-alive grandfather, voiced by Tony Robinow, and stop whatever is trying to capture them?

april04

What I like about this movie is, unlike Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, which only captures the look of the setting, but not its characters, is that it captures that penny dreadful/pulp fiction-style story and setting perfectly. You are kept invested with why this evil force is capturing scientists, and why this serum that April’s parents were making is so important to the force. It also leads to characters that, while some could consider them simple, are still very likable. I love April as a female lead, and that the film, like Big Hero 6, shows how science can be a pro rather than a stupid dated joke. The film definitely takes advantage of its setting, and you get a lot of creative and amazing visuals and technology for this world with barely any plant life left. While it might not be “scientifically accurate”, it does remind me of the creativity with the idea of steam punk, like in Steamboy with its massive machines. It also has some good adventurous scenes and chase sequences with the chase at the beginning of the movie easily being one of the best scenes in animation in 2016. It really does capture a The Last Crusade and Rocketeer-style adventure film that you rarely get to see these days.

april03

The animation is great. It has a lovely French-style comic look to the entire film, and it is smooth in terms of movements. Like most European animations, the physical humor is blended well into the story, and is truly funny and never feels forced. I don’t know why, but with the exception of a few people in Hollywood, European animation has found a way to make humor gel well, and not feel clunky or awkward. Maybe it’s the execution of the jokes, or maybe it’s the writing. I don’t know, but the look and atmosphere brings in elements of films you would see from Pixar and Studio Ghibli. Heck, this entire film reminds me of Castle in the Sky in some ways. It’s a film that will age really well for future viewings and generations. I also enjoyed the voice cast. While I think maybe one or two performances were just okay, I really liked everyone else. They also hired a pretty good cast of actors for this film, like Paul Giamatti, JK Simmons, Susan Sarandon, Tony Hale, and Angela Galuppo.

april05

Unfortunately, this tale of adventure in a steam punk world is slightly flawed. I think even though it almost has a two-hour running time, they could have maybe made it a bit longer to explain a few elements, or at the very least fix some of the clunky storylines, like the relationship with April and Julius. The conflict at times feels a bit forced with the two, and while I do like the two characters, I think they could have handled the relationship better.

april06

Still, I really do love this movie. I think it’s easily in my top 10 of the year with its, pardon the pun, extraordinary world, likable characters, creativity, and how fun it is to watch. I would have to think about where I would put it in terms of the best of GKIDS, but I think no matter where I put it, April and the Extraordinary World is still going to be a pretty big recommendation if you like fun adventure movies. Definitely get the Blu ray and DVD combo pack, and lose yourself in a world of steam and adventure.  Let’s keep these positive vibes going with the controversial Sausage Party. Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed the article, and see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 53: Belladonna of Sadness Review

bella01
(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!)

MAJOR WARNING/PARENTAL HEADS UP: This film is in no way meant for children or teenagers. This is a very adult animated film with graphic violence, and scenes of consensual sex, sexual images, and graphic assault using abstract imagery. Do not see this movie with your kids. If you decide to see this movie, please do some research and look up all that you can about this movie to see if it might be your cup of tea. I don’t know what else to say, but you have been warned! Viewer’s discretion is definitely advised with this movie. Hope you enjoy the review!

We are heading into some rough waters ahead. We are looking at another explicit and sexual animated film known as Belladonna of Sadness. As with Fritz the Cat, there was a time in animation where animators and filmmakers got very, and I mean very, experimental with their budgets and filmmaking experiences. What we got were a lot of adult-oriented animated films with mature themes, social commentary, and quite frankly, a lot of sex. This is where you would find a lot of “cult classics”, and I don’t blame them for being so, but being good is on a whole other situation onto itself. Sometimes you see the depth of the story with its characters and themes, and other times, you find self-indulgent schlock that got made because the creators promised nudity, and Hollywood was excited. Luckily, for the few films that escape that trapping, you have some of the most unique film experiences around. So, where does Belladonna of Sadness land? Belladonna was part of a trilogy of adult anime films called Animerama. This series of films included One Thousand and One Nights and Cleopatra. This third film, unlike the first two, was also not brought over here until recently. It was even restored with eight additional minutes of footage that was cut from the rerelease of the film in Japan. It was directed by Eiji Yamamoto, who has worked on all three films and has worked with Osamu Tezuka on other projects including Kimba the White Lion, Astro Boy, Odin, and Space Battleship Yamato. Though Osamu only worked on the first two, he was the one who put the wheels in motion for this trilogy of adult films. Yes, the creator of anime helped made three sexually-themed animated films. It’s really weird to see the contrast in themes and tone between Astro Boy and Belladonna of Sadness. So, does this film elevate itself into something ambitious and deserving of its praise? Or does it dissolve into some schlocky entertainment?

bella02

The story stars our newlywed couple Jeanne and Jean. They go to the Lord of their kingdom to get the Lord’s prayer. Unfortunately, the Lord denies their request, and Jeanne is sexually deflowered and assaulted by the Lord and his lackeys. After such a traumatic and horrifying experience that no one deserves to have happen, Jeanne makes it back to Jean, scarred and forever changed. During the night, Jeanne gets visits from an evil spirit that offers, in exchange for pleasure, her power to get revenge on the scumbags that ruined her life. During the story, she gains enough power to obtain the support of the town to rebel against the Lord. Can she use her powers well, or will she be consumed by the powers of the evil spirit?

bella03

I’m just going to be blunt right now with my opinion about this movie. If you do not like the sound of this movie because of the, quite frankly, delicate subject matter that’s hard to swallow, or if you have seen the film and do not like it for the same reasons I just mentioned, I 100% understand. This is one of the few times where I totally understand why you might or don’t like this movie. It’s definitely a tough film to sit through, and is probably the worst part about the film. It’s a revenge fantasy with a very, and I mean very, touchy subject. Sex and rape are fragile topics to use in stories, and you have to be extremely careful to execute it properly, or else it comes off as gimmicky or incredibly distasteful. It’s why I don’t fully respect animated films of this genre. They use sex as a means to get sloppy stories out there that gallivant around saying, “we have deep stories and commentary so the sex is part of the symbolism and the commentary!” It wants to be pro-feminist, and while some parts are done well, you have to keep reminding yourself of the horrific disturbing horrors that Jeanne had to go through to get these “pro-feminist” sequences. Also, for an animated film, it has very little animation. I can sort of understand if the fluid animation was used for artistic purposes, but this film is mostly panning shots over still images. I know this was 1973, but even then animation was starting to have fluid movement. Maybe because of the abstract art, but they have sequences where there is movement in the abstract art, so it’s confusing to know what kind of budget this film had. The film even ends on a still shot of the famous painting Liberty Leading the People. It works in the grand scheme of the film, but it’s a film with complex art that can be more distracting than focused.

bella04

So, outside of the rough subject matter, what is good about this movie? Well, unlike a lot of films in this sub-genre of animation, I actually feel like it does this type of story and style of film the best. You want to make sure Jeanne gets back at the royal scumbags that ruined her life, and feel badly for what happened to her. You want to see her stand up to the society that ruined her, and you want the ones that screwed her over six feet underground.  I think why these types of films fail is because they focus so much on the shock and awe of having sexual themes and visuals, but forget to have a coherent story and likable characters that don’t learn a lesson or develop as characters.

bella06

The animation and visuals are outstanding. For an animated film from 1973, this is one of the prettiest and visually abstract films I have ever seen. Sure, the animation itself is very limited, but when it does happen, it’s fluid, and looks better than most anime from that time period. I also adore how it doesn’t look like traditional Japanese animation. It doesn’t have any of the usual tropes you see with the art form, and it looks great. It also matches the visuals with a daunting and down tone. The atmosphere perfectly brings you into a world of dread and 70s acid trips. The studio that made this movie went all out to make the most challenging film of its time period. Fun fact, the studio that did make this movie actually went out of business because how ambitious Belladonna of Sadness was. It’s also partly a pro-feminist movie with how the female lead is going against authority, and how women were perceived at that time. Granted, I wish this came without the very touchy subject, and to me, it’s not the smoothest with its pro-feminist themes, but I still like that Jeanne was a very strong woman.

bella05

Like I have mentioned above, if you cannot get into this film or don’t like it for its subject matter and story, I perfectly understand and won’t deny that this will have a very small appeal to people not into films and animation. I still very much enjoyed Belladonna of Sadness, and do plan on watching it again, and think it’s an ambitious piece of cinema. If you want to pick up a copy, you can get it on Blu-ray that comes with a cool little 16-page booklet. Well, now that we got this interesting piece of lost cinema out of the way, next time, we will be looking at Kubo and the Two Strings. Thanks for reading, I hope you liked the article, and see you all next time.

Rating: Go See It!!

The Other Side of Animation 52: The Little Prince Review

 
prince01

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

In the field of animation in terms of animated films, you can always tell when an animated film was made with passion, and when one is made for the bottom dollar. When you watch a film that had love and effort put into it, you hear timeless dialogue, well written jokes, an engaging story, and a film that you want to re-watch multiple times. It’s a film you know you want to buy day one when it hits store shelves. When you see a cynical project, while it might hide behind good animation, and a stellar cast, you can tell through the same elements of story, characters, dialogue, the humor, and so on where you understand that this was made less by a studio of talented animators, and more like a bunch of higher-ups who have no idea what they are doing, and use focus groups to think what would make a good memorable movie. It’s sadly something that is going to take a while to change, but luckily, when a passion-filled project does come out, and you see how much effort and thought was put into it, it makes the experience enjoyable. This is where the recently released The Little Prince fits in. This is an American/French collaboration with the director of the first Kung Fu Panda, Mark Osbourne. It was originally set to be released in theaters in the states March of this year by Paramount, but for one reason or another, they dropped it. Some say it would have been dealing with big releases during that time, but if I have learned anything this year, The Little Prince would have had no competition besides Zootopia and The Jungle Book, due to the Hollywood machine putting out more flops and underperformers of projects no one wanted. Luckily, it was picked up by Netflix and was released on August 5th. So, what do I think of this movie? Let’s check it out!

prince03

While this film is about the book, The Little Prince, it actually has a lot more in common with a film I love, The Fall. Essentially, a small girl, voiced by Mackenzie Foy, lives with her mother, voiced by Rachel McAdams, and a father who is always away at work. While training and getting prepared to be accepted into a high-end academy, the girl ends up befriending an eccentric old man named the Aviator, voiced by Jeff Bridges. Over the course of their friendship, the little girl learns about the story that the Aviator wrote, known as The Little Prince, a story about a young boy with the same name, voiced by Riley Osborne. Will the young girl learn to grow up, but never forget about childhood?

prince04

So, is what’s great and interesting about this film? Well, to the few that may have not have watched this movie, the film is not just about The Little Prince. It actually uses the book itself as a device for the themes of the film. Now, is that a bad thing, like some critics make it out to be? I mean, it is called The Little Prince, and it should be about the book. However, I feel like the critics who can’t get past the fact that this isn’t 100% about the book, and this is probably the only time I’m ever going to say it, they didn’t get it. They were too set on this film being a 100% adaptation of a rather short book. They act like the additions to the story are as bad as the live action Dr. Seuss books. I guess what I and a majority of people who saw this movie are trying to say is, we disagree. For me, like I mentioned above, I saw a film called The Fall, and it essentially has the same set-up, with an older male character telling a story to a little girl, and how it symbolically relates to the real-life situation of the characters. Seriously, there are a lot of ways you can connect the characters from The Little Prince book with what’s going on with the little girl in the real world. It’s quite in-depth and smart for a film aimed at the whole family. I love a bunch of the symbolic elements, like how the Conceited Man, voiced by Ricky Gervais, represents the ideal of becoming something that is constantly applauded. Or how the Businessman can be connected to how the little girl thinks of her father. I know the theme of “forgetting about your childhood and losing your inner child” might not be the biggest topic as of right now, but in a way, it kind of is. In a world where it seems like there is nothing, but dread on the news, inexplicable presidential politics, violence every other week, and so on, I bet it could feel very daunting to be a kid growing up in this world we live in right now. While it is good to grow up and become more developed as a human being, don’t forget about your childhood.

prince02

I hear some people say the CGI animation is not good, but seriously, have you seen how bad European CGI animation can be? Have you seen The Snow Queen or Sir Billie? Heck, on the contrary, The Little Prince looks amazing. The textures look fantastic, the characters move fluidly, and the designs are very Pixarish in the best way possible. So many films try to have that Pixar and DreamWorks look, and this film captures it perfectly. I mean, it is directed by the guy who was in charge of the original Kung Fu Panda. Of course, one of the biggest elements talked about with this movie is its combination of both CGI animation and stop-motion. The stop-motion looks amazing. It looks like paper craft, and the designs of the CGI models translate well to and from the stop-motion. It’s a beautiful movie, with also a great soundtrack by Hans Zimmer, Richard Harvey, and female singer, Camille.

prince05

I really have no problems with this movie. I kept trying to find a major problem, and I honestly couldn’t. Yeah, I wish there were more stop-motion moments, but there are enough to feel special, and don’t overstay their welcome. I guess my only real complaint is that I wish there was going to be a more wide-spread physical release of the film here in the states. Everywhere else in the world it gets one, and I know Netflix has no plans in releasing their own properties onto other viable formats. Still, I wish I could get my hands on a US copy of the film because I want to see how this film was made, with behind-the-scenes features and interviews with the director and voice actors, something we could have gotten if this film was picked up by GKIDS.

prince06

I really freaking love this movie. It has the passion and timeless feel of an animated film that you rarely see these days. Easily one of the top three best animated films of 2016. It’s such a shame that Paramount Pictures decided to drop this flick. Still, if you live in the states and have Netflix, watch this movie. If you live anywhere else in the world and can buy a copy of the film, then go buy it. Well, while I do wish there were more movies like this, next time, we will be looking at a more polarizing film with Belladonna of Sadness. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and see you all next time.

Rating: Criterion/Essential

 

The Other Side of Animation 51: The Painting Review

paint01
(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!)

Every once in a while, after reviewing a huge amount of tripe, you need a pallet-cleanser. You need something that is creative, admirable, and in the end, a fantastic movie. It’s always a refreshing experience after you have watched multiple bad adaptations in a row, and one of those adaptations has one of the most infuriating characters I have ever seen (yes, I am talking about…..). This is why I decided to go to one of my favorite films from recent years, The Painting. This is a beautiful CGI-animated film by Jean-Francois Laguionie, who is the director of Gwen, or the Book of Sand. This is a visually exquisite CGI-animated film, with some of the most creative imagery in any animated film that I have ever seen. It has a few flaws, but how good is The Painting in terms of GKIDS-distributed films? Well, let’s find out.

paint02

The Painting’s story takes place inside, well, a painting where there is definitely a hierarchy in terms of how the people in the painting live. You have the Alldunns, people who are fully painted, the Halfies, people who are not completely painted, and the doodle-like Sketchies. Through a curious case of events, a male Alldunn, a female Halfie, and a male Sketchie team up to go find The Painter, who is pretty much their god, in order to get him to come back and finish everyone so there isn’t this needless hate for one another in the painting. In an interesting twist, the female Halfie ends up falling out of their painting and into the real world. She and the others then go on adventures by entering new paintings, meeting new characters, and end up learning about the actual fate of the person that created them.

paint03

Essentially, what you are getting is Inception, but with paintings, and that’s not a bad thing. I find the whole idea that these characters inside paintings can jump to and from a painting, and that the characters don’t want to conform to the ideals that are inside each painting. I like the different locations, like a painting where two armies fight for no other reason other than that is what they were painted doing, or a painting of Venice, Italy being a never-ending party. There is even a lot of visual wonder with the painting the three main leads are from, with a forest of giant flowers. It’s a very interesting set-up, with some creative visuals that really give this CGI animation some personality and its own identity that elevates this adventure film above the rest.

paint04

Speaking of animation, the animation in this film is great. I know I usually criticize European animation for their misuse of CGI in the past, because, yes, it’s distracting when the art direction doesn’t translate well to CGI, but due to the paint-like look of the film, it definitely allows the CGI to look better in terms of fluid movement, while giving the film its own look. They even find a way to make the CGI look good when they are in the real world. It’s honestly on par with Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Since this is a film about painting, the color pallet is bright and vibrant, with some quite whimsical designs that are visually pleasing to look at. I also love the different designs you see on the characters when the heroes bring back the paint. In terms of the characters, they are simple. The male lead is a romantic, the Sketchie is cynical, and the Halfie is the calm collected individual. However, they don’t come off as annoying or forgettable, and their goals are understandable. I found the ending to also be quite wonderful, with how the painter talks about that while the individuals in the painting thought they were imperfect, the creator sees the beauty in the incomplete. In a way, it’s like real art. What you might see as flawed or ugly, someone else could see as beautiful and abstract. Sure, sometimes certain art is indeed pretentious, and is just as bad as you think it is, but it’s all going to be different for each individual. It’s a good message.

paint05

If I had to complain about one thing about this movie, it would have to be that some of the elements are not fully explained. Like, how can our main leads exit through the painting, but others can’t without their help? Why are the giant flowers not actually aggressive? I can also see some people thinking the story is simple, but I think the story is deep enough to be enjoyable to everyone.

paint06

The Painting is a creative and visually beautiful animated film. It’s definitely one of the more abstract films from GKIDS’ library of films. I would highly recommend picking up this film for its creative visuals and story. Next time, we move from a GKIDS classic, to a new modern day classic from Netflix, The Little Prince. Thanks for reading, I hope you all liked the article, and see you all next time.

Rating: Go See It!!

The Other Side of Animation 45: The Prophet 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!)

Well, my next couple of reviews will be of adaptations of books, and yes, I’m going to be on the side of the idea that a film needs to be for everyone, and not just for the vocal minority fans of the source material. I agree that the source material should be well respected in the movie form, but if it doesn’t make for a great movie, in terms of characters and story execution, then it doesn’t really matter. Like I have mentioned in a previous review, there is only so much that fan service can cover until the flaws show up. After talking to a friend and fellow film critic, I decided to make a chart of sorts as to what makes a good film adaptation and what makes a bad one. On the bad side, you have films like Green vs Red and Vampire Hunter D. Vampire Hunter D is a sloppy adaptation of the manga that doesn’t let the people, who have never heard of the franchise, into its world by explaining what the heck is going on, why things are as they are, or talk about many little details like D’s freaky hand thing. Green vs Red is a poorly put together special that focuses too much on making winks, nods, and references to the franchise, and fails in making a compelling movie. On the good side of the chart, you have films like Ernest & Celestine, The LEGO Movie, Lupin the 3rd: Castle of Cagliostro, How to Train your Dragon series, 1989 Batman, and a majority of the Marvel films like Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Ant Man. You can watch these movies and not even know jack squat about the source material. In that middle area of the chart, you get films like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. You can still watch the movie, enjoy or hate it for what it is, but it isn’t a perfect translation from source material to film. So, with that entire chart now laid out, where does The Prophet rest? This film is based on Kahlil Gibran’s book of the same name. It was released in August of 2015, produced by Salma Hayek among others, distributed by GKIDS, and was directed by Roger Allers. If you know anything about animation, then you know Roger Allers was the co-director of The Lion King, and has worked on many animated classics and cult classics like Animalympics, Rock & Rule, The Little Mermaid, The Rescuers Down Under, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Emperor’s New Groove, and The Little Matchgirl. Another noteworthy element of the film is that at different points in it, scenes will be animated by different directors, and we will get to who the directors are in good time. So, how good is this film? Can you watch it without knowing the source material, or do you have to get out your tablet and download the book? Let’s find out.

The story follows a young mute girl named Almitra, voiced by Quvenzhane Wallis (Beast of the Southern Wilds, Annie). She is a little girl known for being a bit of a pest who upsets her mother Kamila, voiced by Salma Hayek. One day, Almitra decides to go to where her mother works as a maid cleaning up a house that is occupied by a “dangerous” criminal named Mustafa, voiced by Liam Neeson. Almitra befriends Mustafa, and the story then moves to Mustafa being deported from the country he detained in, and his many encounters with the townfolk as he drops them philosophical words of wisdom.

I am really excited to talk about the good elements of this film. During the philosophical essay parts of the film, each sequence is directed by a different director, and some of the essays are turned into songs sung by Damien Rice and the duo of Lisa Hannigan & Glen Hansard. Many of the essays focus on topics of love, children, war, death, marriage, and life. I know hearing the word “philosophical” sounds like you are about to get an earful of some angsty college professor or student thinking they are trying to make what they are saying deeper than it really is, but these essays actually have weight to them. They never sounded like they were aiming for something they couldn’t hit or a bunch of tripe that sounds important and deep, but isn’t. It all works pretty well when you throw in Liam Neeson’s calm and majestic voice. Neeson actually brings weight to the essays, and is just so soothing to listen to. I know it is easy to make fun of Liam Neeson due to his recent film endeavors, but he really puts his A+ game into this role. He makes Mustafa a very likable individual, who really wants to show the world there is a way to solve your conflicts without the need for violence. And really, that whole mindset is why he was a prisoner in the first place. He was bringing hope to people who are under a military rule. The government got afraid by his words, since they brought hope and optimism to the people they ruled over. Granted, the overall story is pretty lightweight, due to how it is really set up to focus on the essays, but you still care about the characters involved.

The animation is definitely a beautiful combination of 2D animation and CGI character models. When the film isn’t on an essay, the animation is CGI models on a 2D background. It sometimes looks a bit off, and the movements can be clunky, but it’s a consistently good looking cartoon CGI with pleasant designs. When it gets to the essays, each one is a different art style, with the directors pulling off amazingly beautiful sequences. Seriously, this is some of the best animation you will see in this decade. It is filled with so much passion and love that you can tell the creators put their all into each sequence. The directors for these moments include Tomm Moore (Song of the Sea, The Secret of Kells), Paul and Gaetan Brizzi (Asterix Versus Casesar, DuckTales the Movie, TaleSpin, A Goofy movie, Tarzan, Enchanted, and 9), Joan C. Gratz (Candyjam, Mona Lisa Descending A Staircase, Lost and Found, and Kubla Khan), Mohammed Saeed Harib (Freej), Nina Paley (Sita Sings the Blues), Bill Plympton (Idiots & Angels, I Married a Strange Person, Cheatin’, and Mutant Aliens), Joann Sfar (The Rabbi’s Cat), and Michal Socha (Chick and Loop). You have some pretty amazing powerhouses here, who have all worked on films with wildly different visuals and styles, and they put their own touches into each of the sequences. The voice acting is also pretty good, with a solid cast including Liam Neeson, Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Joh Keasinski, and Frank Langella.

If I had to nitpick a few elements of this film, it would be that Quvenzhane Wallis’s acting is not the best. Her voice acting is a bit clunky, and I can forgive this since this was probably her first time doing voicework. I also found a few lines to stick out too much due to how timeless the rest of the film feels. It’s not DreamWorks pop culture lingo bad or anything close to that, but they stick out nonetheless. I also wish the entire film was 2D animated. Like I said, the CGI character models are nice and do have expressive and fluid animation, but when it gets a little clunky, it’s noticeable. Still, I have seen CGI animation at its clumsiest, so I can give it a pass. Really, these minor complaints don’t take away a lot from the overall film.

To me, The Prophet is a fantastic movie, with likable characters, deep messages, and astounding animation. If you can get the film, I highly recommend doing so. I would consider it a new modern classic that everyone should check out. It’s so much more ambitious and different than what we usually get to see today, and shows how amazing the field of animation can be. This is definitely one of GKIDS’ best films. Well, next time, we go from well done philosophy, to one of the worst adaptations in film history with Tarzan. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it, and see you all next time

Rating: Criterion/Essenstials

The Other Side of Animation 43: Lupin the 3rd Special Part 3: Lupin the 3rd: Jigen's Gravestone 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!)

WARNING/PARENTAL HEADS UP: There is cursing and female nudity. Viewer’s discretion is advised. Enjoy the reviews!

Here we are, the final part of this three-part Lupin the 3rd special. If you had to ask me what elements make the Lupin the 3rd franchise great, it would be rather simple. You have to have a solid heist, a creative and fun execution of said heist, great interaction between the main characters, and be a lot of fun to watch. It might sound simple, but you won’t believe how many times something that seems so easy, could be so horribly messed up. Green vs Red was a prime example of this whole ordeal, because it focused so much on one element, but forgot to give just as much focus to the other elements. It resulted in a boring story, and an experience I feel like isn’t worth the price of entry. At the very least, due to a franchise that has been around for over 40 years, there are plenty of specials and films to look at, and for me, one of the better gems of the franchise comes in the form of Lupin the 3rd: Jigen’s Gravestone. This special was a spin-off two-part event that rides on the coattails of the 13-episode series, Lupin the 3rd: The Woman called Fujiko Mine. Jigen’s Gravestone was released back in 2014 in Japan, and was recently released by Discotek Media with their very first dub job. This special can also be seen as a starting point for the newest TV series that you can watch on Crunchyroll if that is your thing. So, how good is this special? Well, let’s put on our best blue coats, and check it out.

The film takes place after The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, but before Lupin the 3rd: Part 4. It once again stars our loveable thief, Lupin, voiced by Keith Silverstein, and who now dons a blue jacket. He is with his partner- in-crime, Jigen Daisuke, voiced by long-time voice actor, Dan Woren. During a job to obtain a precious stone, the plan goes belly-up. The two escape with the stone, but it just so happens that they are in a country known for its high-class security. If making a challenging escape wasn’t bad enough, the two of them are being stalked/hunted by a hitman named Yael Okuzaki, voiced by Jamieson Price. By the way, this is all going on with a background story of two nations, East and West Doroa, trying to make a peace agreement, and the queen of East Doroa was assassinated during a concert while in West Doroa. Is there a way to stop this madness, and what does the sub-plot with Fujiko Mine have to do with the overall situation?

One of the best elements of this special is how focused it all feels. There is pretty much one plot of Lupin and Jigen trying to find out what is going on while avoiding Yael Okuzaki, and uncovering the fiasco that was the assassination. It leads to some great action sequences that are intense. It’s always good to see the heroes struggle. When you have characters that are over-powerful, you don’t feel like investing your time with them, since you know they will always be okay. The best part about any film or any kind of story is having characters you can relate to. It’s like watching early Steven Segal films, the lead-in Sword for Truth or Damian Wayne in any of the current DC animated films. They are strong characters, but since nothing can’t stop them or cause them to struggle, you lose interest. This is also pretty shocking in terms of the struggles you see in Jigen’s Gravestone. Jigen is one of the best, if not, the best sharpshooter of all time. He can take down anything with a well-placed shot from his revolver. However, this movie brings in the hitman Yael Okuzaki, who actually beats him. Think about it. The best sharpshooter in anime/animation history loses a fight against someone better than him. Granted, you find out how Yael is able to be so good, later on in the special, but you get the idea. Even the ever agile Lupin gets knocked around. Sure, everything wraps up nicely in usual Lupin-style, but I was kept invested with the characters and the story until the end. I actually enjoyed the chemistry between Lupin’s light-hearted attitude and Jigen’s more stoic stubbornness. Yael is also a cool villain. He uses a special sniper rifle that is just the bare minimum of weight, and can shoot at extremely precise targets. Not only that, but he is also a great duelist, and drives a hot rod with a chain gun in the engine. He is a pretty imposing figure each time he is on screen.

For an hour-long spin-off, the special has some great and expressive animation. I love this look from The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, and what is similar to the style of the newest TV series. It updates the visuals with thicker lines and smoother animation, while having more retro/exaggerated anime designs. The ending theme song Revolver Fires is also delightfully cheesy in terms of being a very James Bond-sounding theme song. The voice work is also well-done. It’s Discotek Media’s first dub, and the actors they hired were great. Keith Silverstein (Vector the Crocodile in the Sonic franchise, and Robin from Batgirl: Year One) is a good Lupin, the ever-popular Dan Woren (Roy Fokker from Robotech, Rene D’Anclaude from Armitage III, Byakuya Kuchiki from Bleach, Jagi from Fist of the North Star movie, and Chapel the Evergreen from Trigun) does a solid job as Jigen, and Jamieson Price (Jelly Jiggler from Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo) is intimidating as Yael. The other actors from this special, including Kirk Thornton, Richard Epcar, and Cristina Vee, all do good jobs in their roles as Mamo, Zenigata, and Fujiko Mine, but they aren’t really the focus of this special.

I have a few problems with this special. First off is the pacing. The overall special is paced well enough to keep you invested, but for one reason or another, they cut the special in half. This means you get to hear the cheesy ending theme twice. I feel like there was no reason to do this. This isn’t The Hateful 8 in regards to length where you needed a mid-point break. It’s an hour long, I think if people can sit through the length of an Orange Is the New Black episode, they can sit through this. I also found Fujiko’s role in the film to be blatant fan service. Her role in the film isn’t entirely pointless, since where you see her is connected to the overarching plot, but she doesn’t add anything to the story. She doesn’t even help out in the end against Yael. This film’s story isn’t even about her, it’s about Jigen and Lupin’s first real heist gig together. This special was so good at keeping the focus on the two actual leads. They don’t even bring in Goemon, and Zenigata only comes in at the very end in a post-credit scene. I don’t mind Fujiko as a character, she is quite good and has an interesting relationship with Lupin, but you could have omitted her and her nude fan service, and the story would lose nothing of importance. I guess it would be better than just putting a female-in-distress in the film in place of Fujiko, but again, you would lose nothing. They could have easily replaced this with more time to develop Jigen and Lupin’s relationship.

Even with these gripes, Jigen’s Gravestone is a great little gem of an action flick to watch. Sure, it has some flaws, but after watching Green vs Red, this is Castle of Cagliostro levels of greatness. If you feel like owning either the DVD or Blu-ray version, you can get a copy off of Discotek Media’s website. It used to be up on Hulu, but apparently Hulu hated old anime, and doesn’t have it up there anymore.  We can hopefully see this on Netflix in the future, along with the anime Hulu removed. Now then, next time, we go from hidden gem, to a surprising little flick like The Angry Birds Movie. Thanks for reading, I hope you liked the review, and see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation Lupin the 3rd Special Part 1: Lupin the 3rd: The Castle of Cagliostro 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!)

Welcome to part one of the Lupin the 3rd special! This is where we look at films/specials that are all about our favorite thief! After such an enraging experience of watching of Norm of the North that will be topped by two other movies, I think it’s time to talk about one of the top 3 greatest animation icons of all time and has no equal, Hayao Miyazaki. Ask anyone who is into animation who this guy is, or heck, ask any film lover who this guy is, they will tell you that he is a one of a kind animation god. He executes stories and characters like no other, and has a creativity that animators and studios wish they could copy. Sure, not all of his ideas work, and his grumpy old man attitude can be a tad tedious, but those are just minor nitpicks since, when it comes to movies, I would watch anything he has done. I wanted to pick out a movie to talk about from him since his films are so special. I was thinking about talking about a TV show he worked on called Sherlock Hound, since it’s a wonderful hidden gem series that anyone should check out, but I haven’t watched all the episodes, and I want to make sure I see the whole thing before writing a review about it. I mean, how stupid would it be if critics wrote reviews of films or shows that they didn’t fully watch? So, what did I choose to review of the great Hayao Miyazaki? Well, I thought, “why not watch his directorial debut with Lupin the 3rd: The Castle of Cagliostro?”  This 1979 film was the second film based off of the Lupin the 3rd franchise, and came out essentially a year later after The Mystery of Mamo. It’s an interesting fact to know that we can thank a lot of the current characteristics of Lupin the 3rd and the gang, because of Hayao Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli partner/co-founder, Isao Takahata. It really does show off the best elements of the franchise, and cuts away all the tripe that would otherwise plague most anime these days. And if you are curious, this does mean I’m going to be talking about Lupin the 3rd more often now, because there’s so much to talk about with this franchise. Let’s get started on this great underrated gem.

The story once again revolves around our hero Lupin, voiced by David Hayter, and his best friend and partner-in-crime, Jigen, voiced by John Snyder. After a successful heist at a casino, they realize the bills are all forgeries. Lupin then hatches up a new plan to head toward a country where the forgeries might have originated. During a pit stop on the side of the road, Lupin and Jigen encounter and try to save a princess-in-distress named Lady Clarisse, voiced by Bridget Hoffman. After a creative car chase, they find out that she is the soon-to-be bride of the Count of Cagliostro, voiced by Kirk Thorton. Can Lupin and his friends find out about what the heck is going on and solve the mystery within the Grand Duchy of Cagliostro. By the way, the actors I listed are from the Animaze/Manga Entertainment dub. This film has a Streamline dub and the already-mentioned Animaze/Manga Entertainment dub.

So, what is so great about the second canonical film of the Lupin the 3rd franchise? Well, I find it to be a superior film to The Mystery of Mamo, and a lot of the Lupin the 3rd films/specials combined. Let’s talk about the designs for the first part. The art direction/animation has a lot of Miyazaki’s fingerprints. The characters are much more expressive, the lines are smoother, and the animation is actually quite fluid for the time. And that is saying something, since The Castle of Cagliostro came out essentially a year after The Mystery of Mamo. As much as I love the Lupin series from that period of time in the late 70s, the first movie’s animation wasn’t really movie quality. Everything here just feels more impressive in terms of the technical and animation side of the film.

Luckily, The Castle of Cagliostro is not just great animation from 1979 and has some really fun action sequences. The car chase that pops in at about five minutes into the movie is one of the best moments of any action/adventure film. It’s over-the-top, intense, there are stakes, and it put a smile on my face from beginning to end. There are many great scenes, from breaking into the castle to the climatic fight between the Count and Lupin in the clock tower. Another element that is lovingly executed is the slapstick. Unlike Go West!, the slapstick is restrained and is used only when the mood calls for it. It results in the comedy between the characters hitting its target, and makes me smile and laugh every time the quirky moments happen. The voice acting is top-notch. I think the Animaze/Manga Entertainment dub of the film is also pretty iconic and at the same level as the Geneon dub of the original Lupin the 3rd show. They get some pretty good actors for these parts, big and small, including David Hayter (Solid Snake from the Metal Gear Solid franchise), Kirk Thorton (Jin from Samurai Champloo), Bridget Hoffman (KOS-MOS from Xenosaga), John Snyder (Raoh from the Fist of the North Star animated series), Kevin Seymor (Tessai and Shijima from Ninja Scroll), Dorothy Elias-Fahn (Meryl Stryfe from Trigun) and the fantastic Michael Gregory (Professor Gill from the original Kikaider anime series, Laughing Bull from Cowboy Bebop, and Brilliant Dynamites Neon from Trigun). They all do fantastic work bringing the characters to life. One of the elements I love about Miyazaki’s interpretation of the Lupin cast is how he cuts the fat with everyone. Lupin isn’t as perverted as he is in the show, Fujiko isn’t seen as a great thief/sex object for Japanese sex jokes, but an actual great thief/character, Jigen is pretty much the same, and for what little time Goemon has on-screen, he is pretty humorous. I love the franchise, but I find some of its more anime trope-laden elements to be crude at best, and painfully distracting at worst. It’s like how in Lupin the 3rd: Jigen’s Gravestone, if you took out the scene where Fujiko is naked or just take her out entirely, you would lose nothing from the overall plot. I get why the Lupin cast is how they are, due to the time period they were made, and I still love them, but some of its elements either don’t age well or don’t translate well into other cultural mindsets.

If I had to pick apart a few things I didn’t like about the film, it was probably be because of the intense work schedule and elements that had to be taken out due to the said stressful work schedule, but I found some of the plot elements could have been handled better. Like, there is no mystery as to where the forgeries are coming from, since Lupin knows exactly where they are. While the plot element of Lupin knowing the countess from the past is charming, it could have been taken out. I also wish Goemon had more time on-screen. He had only 14 lines. Yeah, when you have a samurai that can cut a plane in half, you shouldn’t be underutilizing him.

In the end, The Castle of Cagliostro is one of the best adventure movies around. It’s fun, with likable characters, great action, and, for the time, amazing animation. Sure, it does have a little bit of fat it could trim from the plot, but for a first-time movie for Miyazaki, it’s pretty much spot-on. Not many directors can say their first movie was a huge hit. You can get either a DVD or Blu-ray version of this film from Discotek Media. I wish they did a combo pack, but overall, it’s a fantastic movie that I think anyone can enjoy, and not just fans of the franchise. Speaking of fans of the franchise, let’s dive into why making a film only catering to fans can be a bad thing with Lupin the 3rd: Green vs Red. Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed the review, and see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 39: The Monk and the Fish 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!)

For me, it’s always interesting to see what you can get done in a movie in such a short amount of time. How many times have we seen films that could have been longer, or didn’t have enough to fill out its runtime and you can tell there was obviously forced padding? That’s why it is fulfilling to watch a movie that uses its time wisely, and doesn’t need to be longer than it is. This is what attracted me to this short film called The Monk and the Fish. This is an Oscar-nominated short film released in 1994 by famed director Michael Dudok De Wit. If he sounds familiar to any film fans, he is the same director of the award-winning short, Father and Daughter, and the director of the upcoming Studio Ghibli co-produced film, The Red Turtle. Seriously, check out that trailer, it looks great! Anyway, this is the second short film made by Michael Dudok De Wit. So, is it any good? Well, let’s do a short review and find out.

The story is pretty simple in terms of a plot. A monk of the “robe and balding hair variety” sees a fish, and throughout the six minutes, tries to capture it. Can he get the fish? Or will something else entirely happen to the Monk?

So, what’s good about this short film? Well, it’s to the point, easy to get into, and has enjoyability for both the casual moviegoer and those who like looking for a deeper meaning in a film’s themes. For example, the film is very funny with its comedic animation and simple expressions from the monk, and can remind younger audiences of shorts from the Looney Toons era of cartoons. More adult filmgoers can see this short about a monk conflicted with himself and his faith, and in the end, find peace with himself and the fish. The best part about this entire short film is the fact that it’s done with no talking. After watching The Triplets of Belleville, I found myself really enjoying these animated films that can get you into its story and characters without having a single piece of dialogue from the individual characters. It’s something I wish more mainstream studios would do. Heck, Disney has done pretty well with its shorts that are told in a visual way. I feel like it would have made a movie like The Good Dinosaur way better than what we actually got. Another element I adored about The Monk and the Fish was how the music matched up with the animation. That’s very difficult to do, and many times, it can be a little distracting when it’s not done correctly.

Overall, The Monk and the Fish was a fantastic short movie. I can see why it was nominated for an Oscar, and it just shows what you can get done in such a short amount of time. While you can watch the entire short online, you can go to a website to get a physical DVD copy with two other short films. The site is called filmporium.com, and they have a huge number of animated short films that were all nominated, or have won an Oscar for best-animated short. I don’t really have anything negative to say about the film itself since it gets done what it set out to be. I can understand if it is not a film for you for its more artistic themes, but if you want to watch something different, then I would highly recommend you watch this great short film, and prepare yourself for the director’s newest movie that ruled the Cannes film festival, The Red Turtle. Well, it was fun looking at a short film, because next time, we go to our 40th review and quite possibly the worst film of 2016. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and see you next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

The Other Side of Animation 37: Mind Game 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!)

WARNING/PARENTAL HEADS UP!: There is male and female nudity (though oddly drawn), cursing, and some adult content and sexual abstract/non abstract scenes. It’s a weird movie, so if you are a parent thinking about watching this, really do watch it by yourself BEFORE even thinking about watching it with a younger individual. Did I mention that this film is really freaking weird? Because it is! Enjoy the review!

With a lot of films, including animated ones, there is always this attempt to be philosophical, to try and have a bigger message to say about whatever the film wants to say, and so on. This usually leads the film to be more abstract in either story execution or visually. We have seen films do this with something like 2014’s Birdman, with the illusion of the film looking like one long uncut shot, and having unique visuals attached to the lead character. In terms of results and the reception from critics and casual moviegoers, I think it’s always going to be divisive. Sometimes, it depends on the individual viewer to say if the film’s message is deep, or sometimes, it’s how the overall movie is handled, in terms of the message being strong or if it’s trying to grasp for a purpose that it can’t reach. This is why I was a bit baffled about Mind Game. This interesting film is from our animation buddies from Japan, and came out in 2004. Mind Game is a very unusual film that has gained a rather large cult following with its weird artstyle, and odd way of telling a story. One thing to note about this film is the director behind it, Masaaki Yuasa, who has directed a multitude of projects including Vamplyan Kids, Genius Party, Kaiba, Kick-Heart, Ping Pong, and even worked on shows/ like Adventure Time on the episode “Food Chain”, Welcome to the Space Show, Wakfu, and Space Dandy. It’s not readily available in a physical format here in the states, but you can check it out on Netflix if you live in the states. It was supposedly come over in a physical form, but plans fell through. So, how is it? Well, let’s find out!

The story is about a young man named Nishi, who wants to be a comic book artist. One evening he meets up with his school girl crush, Miyon, to have a bite to eat at her father’s restaurant with her sister Yan and Miyon’s fiancé. Unfortunately, a Yakuza and a mentally “touched” Soccer player walk in, and decided to cause a disturbance by the Soccer player punching Miyon’s potential future husband, perversely harassing Miyon, and then killing Nishi. Luckily for Nishi, his spirit runs into who is essentially God, and God decides to give him the motivation to turn back time, and redo his life once more at the exact time Nishi was killed. Nishi gets out of the situation by getting the gun out of the player’s hand, and ends up killing the Soccer player, which quickly reaches the ears of the leader of the Yakuza, and boy, what happens next is insane. Nishi makes a run for it with Miyon and Yan, as they go through an intense car chase. They end up inside a whale, and meet an old man who apparently has been living in the whale for 30 years. Yeah, this film deserves the title “Mind Game”.

So, what is good about this film? Well, if I haven’t used this word enough, this film is the purest definition of “weird.” It’s a truly abstract film, with unusual visuals and a very different animation style. If you look at any pictures or watch any footage of this film, it has a very rough and thin-lined style. While it’s not the prettiest, in terms of designs, the characters are still animated smoothly, and they are still expressive. It’s a visually vibrant film with bright colors, chicken-scratch doodle designs, a mixture of the doodles and realistic figures, and drug-infused visuals that is something to behold. I also like the theme of the film, or, at the very least, what I thought was the moral of “Don’t stay cooped up forever, go out and explore the world! You won’t get a second chance!” I think it hits home to some people, because I myself have had a fear of pushing forward with certain moments in life because I was afraid of the consequences. It’s definitely a film that gets its message across, while not feeling over-its-head in terms of ambitious animation. I also like the subtle story about the Yakuza that, while not the main focus, is subtly woven into the beginning, bits of the actual film, and ending montages.

With all that said, I think this film does fall a little flat, in terms of pacing. The first part of the film is so fast-paced and frenetic, that once it gets to the whale part, it slows down and sort of drags its heels in its pace until the final third when the four escape the whale, and the film returns to that quick rush of energy. I also think the visuals, from time to time, hinder its message and story. It truly gets into some bizarre designs and moments that take away from the characters that are sort of memorable. I also feel like that it’s trying to grab more meaning than it knows what to do with itself, with the quick montages at the beginning and end of the film, and how it just ends with “This Story Never Ends.” Maybe I’m not seeing what the message is, but if it didn’t have this super abstract visual presentation, I could get it more, but maybe that is just me. I can understand if someone can find deeper meaning in the overall movie. At least it doesn’t ruin its message by bad logic like in A Wind Named Amnesia.

In the end, I can totally understand if people cannot get past the surreal weird pacing and story, but if you are into something really, and I mean, really different from Japanese animation, then you won’t find a better contender than Mind Game. It might be a bit too weird and abstract to get its message across, but I like it. It’s definitely a lot more interesting than what gets pushed into theaters. I would definitely recommend checking something out that is ambitious and kind of gets its message across, instead of an ambitious film that fails to get its message across. Anyway, let’s travel to France once more to see a recent animated film based off of a popular franchise with Go West! A Lucky Luke Adventure. Thanks for reading! I hope you like what you saw and see you next time!

Rating: Go see it!

The Other Side of Animation 33: Japanese Animation Month: Short Peace 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!)

WARNING/PARENTAL HEADS UP: There is female nudity and violence in this movie. Parental Discretion is advised. Hope you enjoy the review!

Well, I might as well get another Katsuhiro Otomo film project under Japanese Animation Month. I mean, yes, I will be tackling Hayao Miyazaki and Mamoru Hosoda in the future, but for now, let’s take a look at Otomo’s most recent film project known as Short Peace. This anthology film was released back in 2013, and was brought over to the states by Sentai Filmworks. It got some publicity because one of the shorts, Possessions, was nominated for an Oscar for best animated short. Short Peace includes four different shorts, with an opening animated segment directed by Koji Morimoto (Franken’s Gears segment from Robot Carnival, and Magnetic Rose segment from Memories). The other directors besides Katsuhiro Otomo involved are Hiroaki Ando (Ajin, Five Numbers!, and Digital Juice) and Hajime Katoki (Gundam and Super Robot Wars series). So, how good are these shorts, individually? Well, let’s find out!

While not technically part of the four anthology films, the opening animated sequence from Koji Morimoto has a young girl following a rabbit into a bunch of magical worlds.

The first official short is called Possessions, and is directed by Shuei Morita (Freedom, Kakurenbo: Hide & Seek, Tokyo Ghoul, and Valvrave the Liberator). It’s about a lone traveler taking shelter in an abandoned shrine during a rainstorm. Once inside the shrine, he then has to deal with a group of spirits.

The second short is called Combustible, and is directed by Katsuhiro Otomo himself. Combustible tells the tale of a woman of royalty, and her experience with her childhood friend. It’s a tragic romantic story, which centers around traditions and firefighting in ancient Japan.

The third short is Gambo, which is directed by Hiroaki Ando. It’s probably the most violent of the four shorts, with a giant white bear in ancient Japan, who helps a little girl take care of a red demon that has plagued her village.

The final short is called A Farewell to Weapons. This entry in this anthology is directed by Hajime Katoki. It revolves around a group of men in the distant future that are tasked with destroying robotic tanks that are still lurking around, while finding important items from the past.

So, since these are all individual shorts themed around Japanese culture, how do they all compare? Well, all of them are visually creative, interesting, and impressive on a technical scale. Since this was made in 2013, they used more CGI animation, than the 2D animation with minimal CGI used in Memories. In that film, the CGI was used to help engross you into the world and help out with some of the more technical aspects. Now, usually, I don’t like it when Japan decides to mix 2D with CGI, since it’s always distracting, and never looks good. Sure, the three Berserk films look better than Sin the Movie in terms of 2D animation mixed with CGI, but even after years of technical progression, it’s still obvious to the eyes when they switch between the two. Luckily, in Short Peace, the mixture of 2D and CGI is not horrible. I actually like how fluid it all looks, and while it’s noticeable that there is CGI, it’s balanced out with some really, and I mean really, good art styles. Possessions, Combustible, Gambo, and A Farewell to Weapons are all distinct with Possessions having a beautiful CGI painted look, Combustible looking like those woodblock paintings, Gambo having a rough sketchy style, and A Farewell to Weapons having the more traditional anime that you would recognize. If I had to pick my favorite shorts in terms of overall enjoyability, I would have to choose Possessions and A Farewell to Arms. Possessions feels like a short film made by Mamoru Hosoda or Hayao Miyazaki. It’s charming, and shows what kind of stories can come out of anime when they aren’t catering to the lazy anime tropes we see today. It’s an experience with very little fighting, and that is impressive to me. A Farewell to Weapons is an intense action flick that is based on one of Otomo’s short stories, and has probably one of the most black comedy twist endings that I have ever seen. It really reminds me of the Stink Bomb segment from Memories in terms of endings.

Sadly, I found Gambo and Otomo’s Combustible to be the weaker of the two, but Combustible is definitely the weakest, in terms of shorts. I think the biggest problem with both shorts is that they should have been longer and had more details. Gambo is interesting, but who was Gambo? Was he a God? Was he a spirit? I mean, I can understand Gambo a bit more than Combustible. While elements of Combustible can be thrilling, like the intense firefighting scenes, and seeing what life was like back during that time period, the interaction and connection between the female and male lead is not super strong, and the female lead isn’t interesting. I also found her logic of trying to escape the fire questionable at best. Did she just not want to listen to the guy wanting to save her life?! I want to feel badly for her, but she does herself in by not telling anyone about a fire she started, or getting out of there instead of staying there until the fire got way out of hand. I honestly don’t know if the writers and Otomo wanted to make the final tragic scene something symbolic or not. I always hate saying that Otomo’s segments of these anthology films are the weakest parts, but his “emotional experience over proper storytelling” style does creep up in this film. Not to say you can’t get what is going on, and downright love/adore the unique art style and how it looks like it was all on a scroll, but it’s hard to overlook the narrative problems.

Still, the best part about this movie is that it’s good and very ambitious. In a day and age of CGI animation becoming very similar looking, since most third-party studios want to be the next Disney, DreamWorks, and Pixar, Japan and other countries still want to try out and use different styles, and for the most part, do 2D animation. Short Peace is a great example of both style and ambition to be something different. If you haven’t purchased this movie yet, you definitely should. Even with its shortcomings, it’s still a great watch. Sadly, Japanese Animation Month is over, but that doesn’t mean I am done talking about animated films from Japan, since next time, we take a look at Lupin the 3rd’s first outing in a movie with The Mystery of Mamo. Thanks for reading my work, I hope you like it, and see you all next time!

Rating: Go see it!

The Other Side of Animation 32: Japanese Animation Month: A Letter to Momo 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!)

For me, I always like to see what kind of project a director is working on, and see how it will differ from his or her last film. For example, today’s review is of a film directed by an individual named Hiroyuki Okiura. This Japanese director has been in the industry since the early 1980s. If you are into the big anime film scene, you would know his work as the director of the dark and gritty Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade. He is also credited for other anime, like Record of the Lodoss War, Hashire Melos!, Venus Wars, Patlabor: The Movie, Roujin Z, Memories, Blood: The Last Vampire, Metropolis, and Paprika. Today’s review will focus on his most recent movie, A Letter to Momo. This movie was released back in 2012, created by Production I.G, and was brought over here to the states by GKIDS in 2014. Compared to Okiura’s last movie, A Letter to Momo is different in tone and is the polar opposite of Jin-Roh. So, is it good? Well, you had better read on to find out.

The story revolves around a young girl named Momo, voiced by Amanda Pace. She is moving to a new town with her mother after the passing of her father. It’s funny, no matter what country these animated films come out of, there will always be a Disney-ish “one parent has to be dead” story element. Anyway, after moving into her new house with her mother’s grandparents, weird things start happening. How weird? Well, Momo can see spirits that are, for some reason, following her and staying in her family’s house. These three spirits are named Iwa, voiced by Fred Tatasciore, Kawa, voiced by Dana Snyder, and Mame, voiced by Bob Bergen. Will Momo find a way to deal with these spirits, and maybe find out why they are there for her? Will she also find out what her father wanted to say to her in an unfinished letter from him before he died?

So, what is so good about this new film from someone who directed something so dark and mature like Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade? Well, like I said at the end of the REDLINE review I wrote last time, the film is really charming. It’s a more down-to-earth kind of story about dealing with the emotional trauma of losing a loved one, and I know that sounds weird, since this film has talking spirits, and one of them is voiced by Master Shake from Aqua Teen Hunger Force. However, it all just works. It has that Mamoru Hosoda vibe not only in its animation, but how its story is executed, with its mix of themes including fantasy and family. I think a lot of people have had regrets with the last thing they have said to a family member or friend who has passed, and regret the last words or arguments where they can’t resolve the situation. It’s definitely a touching story, and one that good number of people could understand.

I really love the animation for the film. It’s the good fluid movements that you see in all good 2D animation, but in this film, they add this slightly more realistic vibe to everything, and isn’t the super hyper-expressive movements that you see for the most part. Another fantastic element to the animation is the comedy in the film. They pinpoint the best execution of movements for the comedy to hit it right out of the park. It’s some of the best comedic animation I have seen since Ernest & Celestine. The speed of it all makes the punchlines work perfectly. It also all works because the characters work well off each other, and they got some great English voice talent to make it all come together, with the three demons being played by Fred Tatasciore, Dana Snyder, and the current voice actor for Porky Pig, Bob Bergen. Even on top of the great physical comedy, the film gets it right, in terms of quiet and dramatic moments. Yes, there is one occasion of a fart joke, but it didn’t feel like a juvenile or lazy joke just thrown in because that’s what the suits think kids find funny. A Letter to Momo has a comedic style that is very easy to cross cultural barriers, and that is pretty tough to do, since the comedy culture in different countries can be vastly different, depending on where you live. I know there are fantasy elements in this film, but think of it like My Neighbor Totoro or Wolf Children, where it’s laid back and more slice-of-life than say Spirited Away or The Boy and the Beast. The mystical element doesn’t even play a huge part until the final act. The film also does a good job in terms of balancing out the drama, the laid-back, and comedic moments, so you can get some good interactions between Momo and her family and neighbors.

I sat down for a while, trying to find something to criticize about this movie, even if it was small since no film is perfect. Some of the jokes did feel like padding, and the film did take a bit to get going. However, these were minor nitpicks.

A Letter to Momo is a fantastic movie, and another classic that you should purchase from GKIDS. It hits a lot of the elements of the films I listed above with its slice-of-life comedy, connection to family, and the challenge of moving on after the passing of a loved one. It could have done some elements better, but the overall movie-going experience was aces. If you want to find a movie that can be on point with Studio Ghibli or Satoshi Kon’s work, then you should definitely pick this film up. Well, how about next time, we take a look at Katsuhiro Otomo’s most recent offerings in terms of short films? That’s right, we will be looking at Short Peace. Thanks for reading, and see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

The Other Side of Animation 31: Japanese Animation Month: REDLINE 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!)

WARNING/PARENTAL HEADS UP: There is some female nudity and crude language. Viewer’s discretion is advised.

Here we go! It’s the beginning of Japanese Animation Month! Say what you will about the huge amount of schlocky anime that you see come out of the land of the rising sun, but when they put their creative foot down on the pedal, they will speed by you with some of the best animated experiences to come out from there. Seriously, think about it. How many iconic animated films have come out from Japan? You have films like Akira, Ninja Scroll, Robot Carnival, Memories, Castle in the Sky, Porco Rosso, Ghost in the Shell, Wolf Children, The Garden of Words, Tokyo Godfathers, Paprika, Short Peace, Whisper of the Heart, and you get the idea. When they are allowed to make something diverse, interesting, and not held down by anime tripe, they can make some pretty awe-inspiring work. For the first title in Japanese Animation Month, I wanted to go with a more recent film that shows us what the 2008 Speed Racer film could have been if the Wachowskis knew at all what they were doing. REDLINE is a 2D animated film released in 2009 by Takeshi Koike, who has also worked on projects like the World Record segment from The Animatrix, the original pilot for Afro Samurai, a pilot for the Iron Man anime, and the OVA of Trava: Fist Planet. Yeah, you have quite the individual on your hands. REDLINE was originally supposed to appear alongside Summer Wars and Mai Mai Miracle at the 2009 Annecy International Animated Film Festival, but was pushed back, and missed the festival altogether. So, how good is REDLINE? Is it one of the best racing films of all time? Or should you slow down so the tripe police don’t give you a ticket for speeding? Let’s find out.

REDLINE stars our male lead, JP, voiced by Patrick Seitz. JP is a well-known human racer that for most of his career goes through races with a rigged machine to fail, and make loads of money for the mafia to work off loans and such. Luckily for him, after a few racers drop out of a special event, JP joins the roster of racers in the REDLINE, a special race that only offers the best of the best in terms of challengers. Unfortunately for them, they will also have to deal with the planet the race takes place on’s military and government, as it’s up to JP and a colorful cast of characters to make it through the race and try to win first place!

Let’s get into the driver seat and I’ll tell you my favorite elements of this animated film. The animation and character designs are just fantastic. The whole movie looks like a bright colorful comic book put into motion, and not as one of those stupid motion comics. It’s smooth, the designs are whimsical, and the characters all look like something from the F-Zero. All the characters look great, and are all very expressive. I think my favorite design comes from the main character, JP. Sure, he kind of has similarities with the typical male characters of current anime, but there is just something about him that stands out to me, compared to what you usually get in a male anime lead. Heck, I love him as a main character. He is confident, energetic, prone to crashes, and loves the feeling of racing at top speed. He’s a likable main character. The cars that everyone race in are definitely another design element that I love about the film. I think the cyborg racer is one of my favorites, since he becomes a part of his racing vehicle and his head looks like someone read The Mask comics and shoved an engine into the guy’s head. It reminds me of stuff like the already mentioned F-Zero, Star War Episode 1: Racer, Wacky Racers, and Fast Racing Neo. I also get a feeling like George Miller would make this, since it’s so over-the-top and entertaining.

For the racing itself, it’s stylish, fast, well-animated, and satisfying. It’s like if Fury Road’s chase sequences were animated, and had a huge dose of anime shoved into its veins. I mean, on top of colorful racers, they also have to deal with an over-the-top Power Rangers-style villain world trying to take them down. Who wouldn’t love something like this? Luckily, when you aren’t watching the eccentric animation, bounty hunters, hot ladies, and big cars, there are some small calm moments. There aren’t many of them, and they are simple, but when they pop up, it’s a welcome change of pace. In the end though, this film knows what it wants to be, unlike some recent big budget flicks that have recently been released.

Despite having some amazing qualities, there are some downsides to REDLINE as well. First off, don’t expect a deep story. It’s simple, and while that is great since this film knows what it wants to do with itself, this might not be the movie for you if you want deep storytelling and philosophically intriguing characters. I also didn’t care for the female characters in this film. They aren’t truly interesting, and are just hype- sexualized. It fits with the mood, and to be fair, not a lot of the side characters get a huge amount of development, but it’s something to bring up. Another thing to bring up is this little area in the film that is basically exposition and information dumping.  It introduces the other racers who you won’t really care about, and are basically there to show off even more flash and personality. It drags the pace down a bit, but you probably won’t care too much about it, since you will be distracted by goofy characters and slick, stylized animation. I also hate how a lot of Japanese animated films do this, but the ending is very abrupt. What is it with Japanese animation and not having a good ending? Granted, I guess the ending we got was enough, but it’s distracting when I have seen so many films do this.

REDLINE might be stupid sci-fi cheese, but it’s that good kind of stupid sci-fi cheese. It’s enjoyable, likable, a spectacle to behold, and shows off what Japanese animation can be when it’s not held down by most of the bullocks that comes with anime these days. I’m not going to say REDLINE is one of my all-time favorite movies or one of the best animated films, but this is a film that you could watch many times just for the pure entertainment value of it. It’s a movie you pick up for simple enjoyment and visual flair. Luckily, the film is not hard to obtain, since the multi-format version is about $10 plus shipping on Amazon.com. If you wanted to watch it for free and not feel crummy about it, tubitv.com has it for free, which is how I watched it. I love films like this, since it shows off how creative you can be with animation. For example, you can be over-the-top fun like REDLINE, or funny and touching like next time’s film review of A Letter to Momo. Thanks for checking out this review, and see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!