stop-motion

154: Missing Link Review

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

SPOILER TALK HEADS UP!: Due to a certain joke occurring in the movie, I am going to be talking about one of the most important scenes of the film, and talking a little bit about where I stand with the situation.

As I sit here and type this review, a cloud of sadness and frustration looms over me. Not because of the movie I’m reviewing itself; it’s because of the current state of what thrives and dies within the current Hollywood theatrical film climate. It’s this uneven balancing act between the studios and the audiences to make this dance work, because when both forces aren’t synced up, good films end up falling by the wayside. People want original ideas and films, but then don’t go to see them, and instead, go see something that is based on a pre-existing property. However, studios need to know that not every film they release needs to be making billions, or cost $300 million. Because of the current climate, certain films seem to be popping up less and less on the big screen, but then flourish on streaming services. Maybe stop-motion animation should join that list due to today’s review, Missing Link. Directed and written by Chris Butler, Missing Link is the next film in Laika’s long line-up of beautifully-crafted stop-motion features that garner high praise, but sadly, underperform or bomb. Missing Link seems to be suffering from that scenario as of writing this review. Maybe this film’s box office was more elusive than the Missing Link himself. Let’s see what’s up!

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The story revolves around Sir Lionel Frost, voiced by Hugh Jackman. He is an explorer who seeks out legendary and mythical monsters to prove that they exist. His main goal is to join this Adventurer’s club, but is constantly rejected for lack of proof of his adventures. One day, after getting back from another adventure, Lionel finds a letter that says that the individual in the letter is Big Foot, and tells Lionel to meet him in the Pacific Northwest to find him. Once getting there, Lionel meets the Big Foot in question, Mr. Link, who later goes by Susan, voiced by Zack Galifianakis. Susan asks Lionel to take him around the world to where the Yetis live, to help him find his own kind, and to find his place in the world. Along the way, the two are joined by Adelina Fortnight, a widow and old love interest of Lionel, voiced by Zoe Saldana, and avoiding the grasps of Lord Piggot-Dunceby, voiced by Stephen Fry, and Willard Stenk, voiced by Timothy Olyphant. Can Lionel help Susan find his people? Will Lionel make it into the club?

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I think what I love the most about this movie, is how laid back it is. It’s a grand adventure, but it feels smaller in scale, due to how intimate the story is. For me, what makes the low-key charm of the film work is the chemistry between the three main characters. I know when the first trailer for Missing Link came out, people were worried, for some reason, that Laika was going to give up on their identity to be more mainstream. Well, to all of the skeptics out there, I was right, and had nothing to worry about! The character interactions in Missing Link always felt natural, especially the scenes with Lionel and Susan. They hold this movie together, and they work off each other well. Both characters have the same goal of being accepted and being a part of a community, but they cleverly show off the difference between the two. Susan wants to find the Yetis, because he is the last of his kind, and wants to find his way in the world, and being with the Yetis might help him, because they are “relatives”. Lionel wants to join this adventurer club for the sake of doing so, because he was told “no”. One is obviously more selfish than the other. Both characters though share that drive of wanting something so much, that it hurts when they aren’t able to get it. It also deals with themes of identity and looking at the bigger picture. While I know some were disappointed that Lionel is Laika’s first adult protagonist, because they think kids really want to see themselves as the heroes, I like him. He’s entertaining and enough of a jerk that you don’t just hate his guts throughout the entire film. Susan, voiced by Zack Galifianakis, is easily the most likable character. Either because of the writing or great directing, Zack makes Susan a very funny character. I know it’s easy to label Galifianakis as the inept weirdo comedy relief due to the Hangover trilogy and other films, but I think he has proven that he can be more than that, and this film is a great example of it. A lot of the humor is very witty and British in tone, and I think that makes it a more watchable film for the years to come. People will be coming back to this one more than any Illumination or Blue Sky comedy. It shows how smart comedic writing that’s not loud, fast, and pop-culture-focused can work. I also adored Zoe Saldana as Adelina Fortnight. She was a strong, fiery female who would always call out Lionel for his buffoonery, and it’s one of the few animated features that have the male and female lead not end up together. Good! Not every animated feature needs to have the male and female lead get together.

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Of course, I can’t talk about this film, without talking about the gorgeous animation. This is easily the most ambitious animation Laika has done. You just see the blood, sweat, and tears put into the detailed environments, the characters, the movements, how smoothly everything moves, and the colors. It’s a beautiful movie to look at and be amazed how a lot of it was made by hand with very little CGI used. Even if you aren’t fully on board with the film or its characters, you can’t deny that the animation is well done. The voice cast is, to no surprise, good! I know there is this push for more voice actors to take lead roles, but you also have to understand that most casual movie audiences don’t know who famous voice actors like Tom Kenny, Jim Cummings, or Tara Strong are. That’s why they use celebrities, and while sometimes you can’t separate the actor from the character, here they do a good job with their respective roles.

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I think the biggest issues this film has can be attributed to a few different criticisms. The first one revolves around the villains. I get what they were going for with Piggot and Stenk, with them being villains that you would have seen back in the old action adventure movie days, but they are easily the weakest characters of the film. They are played well by Stephen Fry and Timothy Olyphant, but they are a touch too simple. There was also another tired male prisoner joke in the film. It’s short, but I’m getting tired of seeing this joke being used. I also wish they did more with the Yetis. They aren’t in the film much, but are more of an obstacle that the heroes have to overcome than actual characters. It’s a shame too, because Emma Thompson, who voices the lead Yeti, probably has the best joke in the movie. It seems like sometimes, Laika has a problem with their third acts with how they are paced. There is also a joke that I have seen split people down the middle about when Mr. Link decides to go by the name of Susan. It’s a touching scene, but I can see why it sparked some debate if it’s unintentionally hurtful due to the fact that Lionel will sometimes, either accidently or the script forgot to make that change, will call Susan, Mr. Link. I have heard many opinions on the gradient of this discussion, and I don’t really have a fully-fledged opinion. I don’t think it’s as bad as others make it out to be, but I’m not dismissing the fact that it could be taken the wrong way. I think it’s unintentional in its execution. While I loved the chemistry between the characters, I wish there was maybe one more scene with the characters bonding. It’s one of the few times a film that’s 95 minutes long, could be almost two hours due to how laid back and enjoyable it is.

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While I am mad that people are not seeing Missing Link, and are instead going to see Pet Sematary and Little, and Laika not having enough resources for marketing, I still love Missing Link. It might not be Kubo and the Two Strings or Coraline, but I love this movie. Heck, I love all of Laika’s movies. If people truly desire and want new or original stories and films, then they need to not hesitate on seeing films like Missing Link, because it’s stop-motion. Go see the film, and if you love it, that’s awesome, and if you didn’t find it to be impressive, then that’s okay as well! What matters is, is that you went to see and supported an original property. I can’t wait to own this flick on blu-ray when it comes out. Well, while we wait to see how enjoyable or cynical Ugly Dolls is in May, let’s check out one of DC’s newest films with Justice League vs. The Fatal Five. Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed it, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/essentials

My Two Cents on the Animation Submissions for the 2019 Oscars.

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

Recently, the animation submission for the upcoming Oscars/award season has been revealed. There are 25 animated features competing for those five sacred spots. While I was too late in doing a first half of 2018 look-back at animation, I think I’ll pretty much combine it with this editorial. 2018 has been an incredible year for animation, both big and small. This was definitely a step up from 2017, where outside of Coco, Captain Underpants, and LEGO Batman, the big-budget releases were either okay or hugely mediocre. It was like they got all of the filler titles put into 2017, so the better-made projects could all be in 2018. The indie side of things has also been incredible. While I am disappointed that some of my favorite films from the Animation is Film Festival are not a part of this submission list, the indie scene was still fantastic. So, like last year, I’m going to categorize each of the films that have 100%, 75% 50%, 25%, or 0% on getting one of those five sacred spots through the hopes that they earned it because of their quality, and not because of a big For Your Consideration campaign. Let’s get started.

The films that have a 100% chance

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Isle of Dogs: Wes Anderson is a darling of the award scene, and if you doubt that, you will need to see the how many awards The Grand Budapest Hotel won (I love that movie). Plus, it’s a unique stop-motion animated feature and it did pretty good business when it was in its limited release run before hitting wide release.

Ralph Breaks the Internet: While some may say the original is better, I find the sequel to Wreck it Ralph to be even better. I think it handled its concept extremely well, it was funny, charming, touching, and overall, was another home run from the major Disney animation front. I find that it’s going to age better as an animated feature than the other big Disney/Pixar film out now.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse: Before I saw this film, I was excited, but hesitant about it getting any award chance. However, as the nominations started to stack up, and I finally saw the film, yeah, it was incredible. It’s easily the best US-made animated feature of 2018, and it would be surprising if the Academy turned this film down. Like I said though, its multiple award nominations will definitely help get it nominated for an Oscar.

Mirai: If GKids had a potential film this year, it would be Mirai. They are marketing like it’s a Ghibli film, it’s been getting the biggest festival push, it’s gotten rave reviews from critics who have seen it, and its story and setting can be universally approachable to any voter in the academy. Or at the very least, it should be, because the Academy has some kind of issue against Japanese non-Ghibli movies, but I digress.

Ruben Brandt Collector: Sony Pictures Classics might not pick up as many animated features as GKids or Shout! Factory, but they pick out unique films that stand out among the rest, and you would have to be blind to not see the unique and visually stunning Ruben Brandt Collector. Along with its surreal art style, it’s a more mature animated feature, and the Academy would look really good if they chose something that was unique and different. Plus, Sony Pictures Classics is a favorite among the voters.

The films that have a 75% chance

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Lu Over the Wall: before I knew GKids picked up Mirai, this was the film I was going to place my entire bet on which GKids film was going to get the Oscar love. While it might fall apart in the third act, and normal viewers will compare it a lot to Ghibli’s Ponyo or Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Lu Over the Wall is still a fantastic film with a unique art style, and likable characters. It’s more approachable to non-foreign animation viewers than Masaaki Yuasa’s other option in this race.

Tito and the Birds: A foreign animated feature with a grunge art style that sticks out, and is about a world that is infested with a virus that is caused by fear and paranoia? Yeah, this is an ideal film that could be very approachable to Oscar voters. It’s stylish, but also has a message. It gets a bit of that nostalgia with a lot of the inspiration for this great film being from 80s adventure films like The Goonies. It’s a topical film that has themes that can be timeless of how we should stand together against the fear-mongering individuals.

Incredibles 2: While the critical reception of the film is starting to die down as people realize that the film is good, but still not Pixar’s best and wasn’t worth the wait, the first film in the series did win an Oscar, and the Academy does love its safe bets, but we will have to see. The Academy also doesn’t like nominating Pixar sequels that aren’t Toy Story.

The Night is Short, Walk on Girl: I’m more hopeful about this movie, because it’s an adult animated feature, but it’s not adult in the sense of a stoner comedy, but adult in its themes, visuals, and humor. It’s a wild ride, but it’s probably a bit too experimental and zany for individuals who are looking for more “safe” features.

Maquia: When the Promised Flowers Bloom: I think it would be smart for the voters to look into this one to give an animated theatrical feature by a female director a chance, because it’s easily one of the most endearing and personally touching films of 2018. It’s one of the few films this year that has made me cry, and it has a unique and intensely intimate story about motherhood. I think the only thing that might hurt this film’s chances is that it’s a non-Ghibli Japanese feature, and the designs are not its greatest strengths.

The films that have a 50% chance

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Liz and the Blue Bird: On one hand, the Academy has a huge bias against Japanese animation that isn’t made from Ghibli. On the other hand, the Academy sure does love its small-scale character-driven dramas. It’s a smaller-scale film that might turn people off who want to see more epic-scale adventures or stories, but Liz and the Blue Bird is one of the best character-focused stories of 2018, but I don’t know if it fully has a chance.

Early Man: I would love to see Aardman get a nomination, simply because Early Man is a pretty good movie. However, I do think what will hurt it ultimately is that the film is too simple, and it just got buried under Black Panther. It doesn’t help that Lionsgate’s company Summit Entertainment didn’t really do well at marketing the film or releasing it during a proper period of time. It just sucks that this film will get overlooked, but it’s also a film I feel like that kneecaps itself for being award-worthy. We will have to see.

MFKZ: I probably should put this on the 25% chance, but it’s a film that could make for an interesting choice, because it’s basically They Live (the John Carpenter horror movie) mixed with French/Japanese animation. It’s a thrill ride of over-the-top action, characters, and the Academy is always looking for something different that stands out. They might as well go with the one that stands out the most.

Smallfoot: While surviving pretty well in the top 10 box office films of September and through October, Smallfoot simply didn’t make a lasting impression. It’s a shame, because Smallfoot might be one of the biggest animated surprises of 2018. It might have a few jokes that fall flat, but it has a story that kept me and many others invested.

The films that have a 25% chance

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Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation: While this might be the best film of the series with the most consistent visuals, story, characters, and laughs, no one really talks about the film anymore, and its popularity came and went fast. Plus, the others haven’t had a chance in Hades of getting nominated, and that’s no different here. Maybe it had a chance if it was released last year, but sadly, it has very little here.

On Happiness Road: While I am aware of this movie, it’s still going through its festival run, and I haven’t heard of a US distributor for it yet. It was at the Annecy 2018 film festival, but this film has no presence in the US, even though it does look great. Maybe its positive reviews will give it some clout, but it has very little chance in the award show circuit.

Teen Titans Go to the Movies: I like this movie, but it’s a film based on a TV show. It has very little chance in getting any kind of buzz. It’s also worth noting that it’s also another superhero movie. If a superhero film this year is going to get some kind of major award, it’s Black Panther.

Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero: I can sum up why this film has very little chance. It’s the biggest animated failure of 2018. At the very least, the other big animated flops like Early Man and Sherlock Gnomes made back their main budgets. When you can’t even muster $5 mil of a $25 mil budget, then that’s saying something. It might have its setting to boast about, but let’s not kid ourselves here. I don’t think anyone truly cared, or even knew about this film.

The films that have a 0% chance

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Ana and Bruno: While I know Ana and Bruno is a big deal in Mexican animation as it’s the most expensive animated feature from that part of the world, but outside of the animation scene, do people even know about this flick? It has slightly higher than average ratings, but who is distributing this film? I’m sorry, but this is one of the most obscure animated films in the submissions. It also has some less than stellar animation. It unfortunately has no chance.

Have a Nice Day: The only noteworthy element of this film is the controversy it caused last year for getting removed by China’s government for no real reason. It also has some interesting story beats, but with the very limited animation, and its fairly clunky story, there is no way this film has a chance. Plus, no one really knows about it.

Fireworks: I still stand that this is GKids’ worst outing in a while. The story is terrible, it wastes so any opportunities, because it needed to stick to the original story of the TV show episode it’s based on, and it’s not even the best looking animated feature from Japan this year. It’s a shame that the reviews were pretty much spot-on with this one. If you like it, that’s fine, but it has no chance when Mirai is the superior flick.

Sherlock Gnomes: I’m sorry to all of the people who worked hard on this film, but this has no chance! It was widely panned by critics and audiences, bombed at the box office, and is one of the few films I think I can safely say had no reason to exist. No one was asking for a sequel to a film no one cared about.

Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch: The Grinch might be making money, but that’s all it’s going to do. Illumination got lucky with Despicable Me 2 getting an Oscar nomination, but they haven’t been getting much award love since. No one will be talking about this Grinch until next Christmas, when people are reminded that Illumination made another one. Just because you made a lot of cash, doesn’t mean you will rake in the awards.

Tall Tales: I’m going to sound like a broken record, but it was very hard to find information about this movie, and it has no real presence in the US animation scene. It doesn’t even have any presence in the overall animation scene. When no one has any opinion or knowledge of your film, how are you going to expect an Oscar nomination?

The Laws of the Universe Part 1: The very first film in this series was submitted back a couple of years ago, but since no one I know talks about either that or this film, it has no chance. I know Elevenarts is finally putting their films on DVD, but when I haven’t been able to see either film because of limited screenings, then that’s a problem. It’s also going to have to beat out the other amazing anime titles of this year, and it simply won’t.

 

There you go! These are my predictions of which films have a chance, and what films have no chance in making it onto the list. Hopefully the Academy will get over their hatred for non-US animated features, but we will have to see how long that lasts.

Animation Tidbits #7: Annecy 2018 Edition Part 2

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

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

Out of Competition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

123: Isle of Dogs Review

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

I honestly won’t get tired of thinking this, but I’m surprised more directors in Hollywood don’t direct an animated feature. While there are pros and cons doing an animated feature or a live-action feature, one thing that always catches my eye about animation is that you can have literal control over a mass majority of the production. You don’t have to worry about sets, lighting, physical performances, and a lot of elements that plague live-action films. Really, the one major downside is that you then have to make everything from scratch. It’s why I love seeing directors known for their live-action films go into animation and vice versa. It’s fun to see them bring their personality into a new medium of filmmaking, and why today’s review is of Wes Anderson’s critically acclaimed Isle of Dogs. Released to the world on March 23rd, 2018, Isle of Dogs gained critical acclaim from film festivals, and won a couple of festival awards before starting its US release. While people did fall in love with this movie for a lot of good reasons, some critics have criticized it for its implementation of Japanese culture. As usual, it’s hard to talk about a movie, when there is some controversy attached to it. I will talk about it, but for now, let’s begin the review. Actually, before we begin, a friend of mine showed me a fun little secret about the title. Say it three times in a row quickly, and the title changes to a wonderful sentiment.

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Isle of Dogs takes place in Japan 20 or so years in the future. An outbreak of diseases affecting dogs has plagued the country, and the mayor of Nagasaki, played by Kunichi Nomura, has decided to ban all dogs to a trash island. Six months pass, and the dogs live there in small packs, trying to survive on scraps and garbage to get by. One pack includes Chief, voiced by Bryan Cranston, Rex, voiced by Edward Norton, King, voiced by Bob Balaban, Duke, voiced by Jeff Goldblum, and Boss, voiced by Bill Murray. One day, they see a kid named Atari Kobayashi, voiced by Koyu Rankin, crash his plane on the Isle of Dogs, who is there to find his bodyguard dog Spots, voiced by Liev Schreiber. Chief and his gang decide to help him as they try to find Spots, and try to uncover a grand conspiracy plotted by the mayor.

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Usually, when I love a movie, I want to talk about the positive aspects, because that is what deserves the most attention. I don’t see why I need to change tradition here. The stop-motion animation seen in Isle of Dogs is amazing. I mean, it’s the same studio that made Fantastic Mr. Fox, so I shouldn’t be surprised, but I was constantly impressed with the animation throughout the entire film. This includes making Trash Island visually interesting. Sure, it’s all garbage, but you would be amazed at how visually creative they got with the locations on the island. There are bright colors, terraformed landscapes, rusted out vehicles and buildings, and you get the idea.  Even down to little details, like how the dogs moved, reacted, their fur gently moving in the breeze, and even having little fleas running around at times shows that they paid very close attention to detail with the animals. I work at an animal shelter, and I see animals twice a week there, and dogs and cats there have their own spirit to them. No one animal is alike. The detail to the dogs is also shared with the humans. While moving like they did in Fantastic Mr. Fox, their animation was also fluid and full of little fun bits that made the artificial look of everything so alive. They even have some cool 2D sequences that are used when showing off characters on a TV screen.

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I love the characters. I mean, it’s a Wes Anderson film, what do you expect from the characters? They are quirky, they have their own personality traits, and when he decides to drop it on the viewer, can be emotionally engaging. While there are definitely a lot of characters, the bond that holds the entire film together is between Atari and Chief. Their bond is fantastic, and it was fun to see Chief grow fonder of helping Atari when he is shown kindness by the boy. Many of the characters work well off each other, as the entire cast of dogs is stacked with actors who felt very natural with one another. Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Scarlett Johansson, Harvey Keitel, F. Murray Abraham, Liev Schreiber, and Tilda Swinton all have their memorable moments and, of course, very funny lines. The human characters are also well acted, with Koyu Rankin, Greta Gerwig, Kunichi Nomura, Akira Yakayama, Yoko Ono, Frances McDormand, and Courtney B. Vance. They might have smaller roles, but they do not feel out of place with the overall weird world in which Anderson has put us. No one feels like they are simply playing themselves, and although some have very distinct voices, just because I knew who each character was played by, I was never taken out of the film. The story itself is simple, but it’s all in the execution, as the story carries themes of mass hysteria, government corruption, fear mongering, being outcasts, love, honor, friendship, and being against animal abuse. As in most Wes Anderson productions, the music is fantastic. It’s composed by Alexandre Desplat, who also did the music for Fantastic Mr. Fox and other Wes Anderson productions like The Grand Budapest Hotel, and recently won an award for The Shape of Water. Of course, much  of the music has plenty of Japanese musical flair that you would hear in old samurai flicks (figuratively and literally). The main song, I Won’t Hurt You by The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band (that’s a mouthful), was quite wonderful.

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So, let’s talk about that controversy that this film is receiving. Multiple online articles by Asian/Japanese-American critics and online users are calling out the film for using cultural appropriation with Japan and the people of Japan for the backdrop, and the dogs, voiced by white actors, along with Greta’s character, are the heroes. There are other issues, but that seems to be the biggest problem that is causing an issue for some. Now, as I partly jokingly said in my Have a Nice Day Review, I am a white guy from Texas, what do I know? I will never have the full understanding of the pain and anger of seeing my culture misused or taken advantage of (though I wish reality shows would stop making Texas out to be nothing but ranch owners, and saying we all wear ten gallon hats). I can’t pull that card. I understand, to the best of my knowledge, why people are having an issue with it, and to an extent, I agree with some of the issues. However, if I had to look at the whole film from my perspective, I don’t think it’s not as bad as say, Ghost in the Shell or the incident with the Hellboy Reboot from last year. I felt like Wes Anderson did not intentionally set up this film to be punching down on the culture or its people. Even one of the actors who played the mayor was a consultant on the story. He said that he was fine with a lot of it, but did chime in from time to time. I also disagree with the criticism of how the script has the Japanese characters talk. Unless there is a translator nearby, all the Japanese human characters speak Japanese with very little English or subtitles. The issue I see talked about is that they are limited to saying simple, to-the-point lines. I don’t agree with this criticism, because if you aren’t going to be using subtitles 100% of the time, what the characters say needs to be short and to the point. I also feel like that just ties in with Wes Anderson’s style. In the end, I could break it all down from what I have seen, and all I can say is, I don’t fully agree with the backlash this film is getting, but I do understand that Wes Anderson does tow the line in paying respect and tribute in this fantastical setting, because he wanted to make a film that was set in Japan. If you have an issue with how he uses the culture, then by all means, have an issue with it. I do agree with some aspects of the criticism.

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So, what did I not like about the film? Well, I wish we had more time with the side characters. Chief’s group of friends vanishes at one point, and we don’t see them for a good, maybe 10-15 minutes before we see what happened to them. They could have used a bit more to them outside of certain quirks, like Rex wanting order among the pack, Duke being a lover of gossip, Boss being played by Bill Murray, and so on. They were really fun to be around, and I wish they could have been there more. The female characters are also not handled well. Not terrible, but underdeveloped. Scarlett Johansson is barely in the film, and is set up as this weak pseudo love interest for Chief. Though the one that people and I have an issue with is Greta Gerwig’s character, an American foreign exchange student who kicks the pro-dog rally into overdrive. She’s a strong character, and has her own personality, but I do think there is a problem with her ethnicity. I think a lot of the problems people have with the film would be gone if they didn’t make her American. Maybe instead, they could have made her a Japanese school girl, voiced by Rinko Kikuchi or another young Japanese American actress to play her. Because you can definitely see the whole, “Hey, the American student is brave, while the Japanese people are easily manipulated by their government and afraid to rebel” angle people have with her character.

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I respect the issues some are having with the film, but they do not detract from my personal enjoyment of the film. I love this movie, and until said otherwise, Isle of Dogs is the best animated film of the year. I loved the animation, the humor, the heart, and everything about it. Once it opens in wide release, please go see this movie. I want more people to see this film and support an original idea. It’s not like anyone here is going to go see Sherlock Gnomes or Duck Duck Goose. You shouldn’t see those, and again, go see Isle of Dogs. Well, speaking of gnomes, next time, before we get to Sherlock Gnomes, we shall look at Gnomeo & Juliet. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

119: Early Man

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

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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!

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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!

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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.    

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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.

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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 97: Anomalisa Review

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

Warning/Parental Heads Up: This film is absolutely not for children and includes nudity and a really realistic and awkward sex scene. This film is truly and 100% adult. Do not show this to kids. This is your only warning and if you do any of the things I listed in this warning, you are responsible. Oh, and I’m going to be spoiling elements of the movie, since it’s hard to talk about it without talking about the entire movie. Enjoy the review!

For a while, adult and animation was never a really promising combination. When you hear those two words together, you usually think of the animated shows shown on Fox or Adult Swim like Family Guy, The Simpsons, and you get the idea. It was never really a match made in heaven when it came to animated films. Sure, you had your adult indie animated films, but not much else. For better or for worse, Sausage Party’s success opened the door for more adult-focused animation. Hopefully, they aren’t just stoner comedies, and can be something like today’s review, Anomalisa. Directed by Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson, and based on a play that he wrote, Anomalisa was a surprise critical hit, and was even nominated for Best Animated Feature in 2015, but lost to Inside Out (big surprise). After its release, I decided to see what people thought about the movie, and while it is definitely a well-received film, I can understand and relate to the detractors who couldn’t get into it. What do I think? Well, let’s take a look and see what we find.

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The story of Anomalisa is about a middle-aged man named Michael Stone, voiced by David Thewlis. He’s an author and customer service expert arriving in Cincinnati for a big speech. Michael is a very miserable individual who doesn’t have a spark for life. Everyone he sees or speaks to all sound similar, have pointless conversations, and have the same faces. That is, until one day after a failed attempt to reconnect with an old fling, he hears a unique voice down the hallway. He ends up meeting this woman named Lisa Hesselman, voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh. After talking a bit, they form a bond. Does Michael have a new view on life, or will be fall right back into his own sad world?

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So, where to begin with this movie? Let’s talk about Michael as a lead character. Something that many may not pick up on the first time watching this movie is the fact that Michael literally sees everyone else around him with the same face and the same voice. His life has no passion. He just goes on business trips, and has a rather middling marriage with his wife and son. I can understand this kind of mentality as sometimes, life will come crashing down and everything will just feel so mundane, and there is nothing there to raise up your spirits. The film also has little tidbits that help expand on his mindset, like the name of the hotel he stays at called Fregoli. The name is based on the Fregoli Delusion, where people think everyone is actually just one person. He doesn’t see the passion in life and everyone sounds and looks the same. It’s rather interesting, because then you mix in his mood and demeanor with the female lead, Lisa. She also has self-esteem issues, and doesn’t see herself as anything amazing, but Michael sees her as this beacon of beauty and rainbows, because she stands out to him. It then helps her arc by the end of the film to feel better about herself, and not fall into the same fate as Michael.

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This film does such a good job at bringing out raw real emotion out of the actors, since that’s really another big part of this film. You might have seen the phrase used in the trailer that essentially says it’s the most human film of 2015 and it doesn’t star real humans. While some could find that kind of comment pompous, I agree with it. The film has subtle realistic movements in the characters, how they talk, interact, walk, and so on. Combine that with our characters, and you have a film that’s mature, and shouldn’t be shrugged off because it’s animated. Let’s just say this, there is a reason why Michael is lonely, and his intentions are definitely not 100% okay.

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Speaking of animation, while not Kubo and the Two Strings level of wow, the animation is really good. Like I said, it has incredible detail in how the characters move, and it’s truly awe-inspiring. You can tell they broke their backs making sure this movie looked good. It even has some creepy surreal moments that play with the fact that they don’t cover up the different face parts of the models. The voice cast is great. For only three people, they found a way for the chemistry to work. David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Tom Noonan all do a great job delivering raw and organic lines, and that’s saying something when Tom Noonan is playing 98% of the cast. Everything feels real, and even though they are all models, and it’s stop-motion, I was never really taken out of the experience.

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If I had to complain about something, I think the film could have been better in a few ways. While I like the idea of this being a smaller story, I wish there were a few more locations instead of just the hotel. I would have liked to have seen Michael and Lisa bond, and go to a few different areas. I found myself enjoying the film’s first two-thirds more than the last third, but I understand that they probably only wanted this to take place in only a few places. Since this was originally a play, it definitely has that Fences vibe, where there wasn’t anything done to adapt it to film, and everything felt like it was meant to be on a stage. It’s not a bad thing, but I wish the world the film takes place in felt bigger.

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While I can definitely understand people being split about this movie, I like it. It’s definitely a film that you need to watch twice to maybe get the overall idea that it’s tossing at you. I wish the third act was handled better, but it’s a unique movie to check out. If you like smaller stories, and an animated film aimed at adults, then definitely check this out. Well, this was fun, but I must get back into talking about more current movies. Next time, let’s talk about the “controversial” film of the century with The Emoji Movie. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed this review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Go See It!

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

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

I 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 66: Fantastic Mr. Fox Review

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

With animation becoming more of a big deal in the film industry, I think it would be cool to see some directors known for their live-action dramas, horror, action, romance, and indie films try to tackle animation. I mean, how cool would it be to see QuentinTarantino make an animated action flick? Or how about James Wan make an animated horror film, or the Duffer Brothers make an animated sci-fi film? When I got more into films, I found an early love for Wes Anderson, for his unique stories and characters. It’s why I was amazed to see that he made an animated film based on the book by Roehl Dahl, Fantastic Mr. Fox. This stop-motion film was released on October 14th, in 2009, to many an animation fan the best year of animation. It received critical acclaim, was nominated for multiple awards, and is easily one of the best book-to-film adaptations of all time. It might have only made $46 mil on a $40 mil budget, but I’ll say this. This might be my favorite movie from 2009. Why? Well, let’s find out.

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The story is about, well, a fox named, well, Mr. Fox, voiced by George Clooney. He used to be a bird thief, but after an incident with his wife, Felicity Fox, voiced by Meryl Streep, he retires and settles down with Felicity, and has a child named Ash, voiced by Jason Schwartzman. Mr. Fox decides to move his family to a new home, and discovers that there are three farmers. He starts to get those stealing urges back. After doing a couple of heists from the farmers, Mr. Fox ends up getting his entire family and friends in trouble, due to the farmers creating a plan to destroy them. The story also deals with Mr. Fox essentially going through a mid-life crisis, and his son Ash being jealous of his cousin Kristofferson, voiced by Eric Anderson. Can they make it out alive? Will Mr. Fox learn from this horrifying, albeit hilarious situation?

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Right off the bat, when you watch this movie, the imagery is striking. The animation definitely stands out among anything released in 2009. It has an old-fashioned stop-motion style that has characters with actual fur. Normally with stop-motion, they make everything out of the same material, like in Laika or Aardman-made films. However, the stop-motion in this film is very retro in terms of the visuals. A lot of stop-motion used to have characters with actual fur or fur-like material on them, but it’s something you don’t really see a lot of anymore, unless you look at indie projects. Even with its retro look, the animation is smooth, communicative, and it’s an incredibly gorgeous movie. The entire movie screams the fall season, with its mixtures of browns and oranges. It gives off a calm and cool atmosphere where you can feel the leaves falling around you, and a slightly chilly breeze dances in the air. Wes Anderson also gets the characters and the “quirk” perfectly, since you can clearly get the motivations between the characters. Whenever you see indie films that have a personality, you always hope it feels natural, like in Dope or another Wes Anderson film, Moonrise Kingdom.  Being quirky doesn’t necessarily mean a good character. You get why Mr. Fox is having a midlife crisis, or how his son is angry that his cousin is more popular, and how the wife is constantly worried about Mr. Fox’s angsty ambitions.

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Even in this world, you never feel like the combination of stop-motion, humans, and bi-pedal animals wearing clothes are distracting. With Wes Anderson’s signature style and personality, it all gels well, due to how down-to-earth the dialogue comes off. Yes it has its moments of indie quirk, but due to how well defined the characters are, it doesn’t come off as gimmicky. It’s a film that anyone and everyone can get into, which is something animated films should strive to be, instead of “oh, we are just making this for the kids, since kids are dumb and don’t know any better” crowd.

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I enjoyed the voice cast. Usually when you see big names in an animated film, it raises concerns of how into it they will be with their characters. Some studios like Blue Sky Studios don’t get why people hate it when there is “celebrity mugging”. Luckily, everyone who is in this movie really put their all into it. I mean, it should be no surprise when you have actors like George Clooney, Bill Murray, and Meryl Streep, but I never once felt like I was taken out of the experience because an actor was just being themselves. The cast was just perfect, and Wes Anderson usually has an eye for who he wants in his movies. You have, of course, the already mentioned George Clooney, Meryl Streep, and Bill Murray, but the rest of the cast includes Jason Schwartzman, Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson, Helen McCrory, Wallace Wolodarsky, Eric Anderson, and some cameos from celebrities like Mario Batali. It’s one of the best casts in animated form that I have reviewed. The movie is also very funny, with some great gags and jokes thrown in that the actors pull off perfectly.

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Now then, what would I say is “bad” or “distracting” that may detract from the film itself? Well, nothing major. I don’t really care if some elements of the book were not put into the movie. I’m not one of those people who think that the book is always better than the movie. To me, I look at all movies based on something as a stand-alone experience. If I happen to know the source material, then I’m going to add that into my judgement of the end product.

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Fantastic Mr. Fox is witty, funny, touching, engaging, and overall, enjoyable. It shows how good Wes Anderson can be, and I wish he could do more animated films like this one. If you haven’t checked this film out, you can either get it on DVD, Blu Ray, or even Criterion. If you like stop-motion films with an indie personality, or want a film that will be timeless, you should definitely check this film out. Well, now that we are heading into the holidays, before we head into the Christmas-themed reviews, let’s get into one of my favorites from 2016, The Boy and the Beast. Thanks for reading. I hope you all had a good Thanksgiving, and I will see you next time.

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

The Other Side of Animation 57: Rex the Runt Review

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

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WARNING/PARENTAL HEADS UP: This series is full of crass adult humor and dry wit. Parental Discretion is advised. I Hope you all like the review!

So, it’s been a little over a year since I started reviewing animated films. I’m feeling proud about that, so I decided to change things up a bit and talk about a TV series. I still plan on reviewing Sherlock Hound, but for now, I’m going to check out a short-lived series by our friends at Aardman. To celebrate their 40th birthday, I decided to write about the obscure series, Rex the Runt. This stop-motion series was directed mostly by Richard Starzak (aka Richard “Golly” Goleszowski) with other directors, including Dan Capozzi, Peter Peake, Christopher Sadler, and Sam Fell. It ran for two seasons from 1998-1999 to 2001, and was on A&E in the states. So, does this show about animated dogs age from back then? Let’s take a look.

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The show revolves around four dogs that live in a house together. You have the lead, Rex, voiced by Andrew Franks in season 1 and Colin Rote in season 2, Bad Bob, voiced by Kevin Wrench in season 1 and Andy Jeffers in season 2, Wendy, the token female voiced by Elisabeth Hadley, and Vince, voiced by Steve Box. The show pretty focuses on them going through creative and surreal British hijinks, while interacting with a quirky cast of characters.

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So, what made this show stand out to me, besides the fact that I barely know anyone who has heard or seen this show? Well, it was one of the few animated shows aimed at adults that dealt with stop-motion. The only other show I can think of that came out around the same time was The PJs. It also had a unique art style to it with the characters all being, for the most part, exaggeratedly flat designs. They even apparently put the characters against a glass sheet in front of the background to help keep that 2D look of the characters in certain sequences. Like most British comedy that I have seen, it’s peculiar and very dry in its execution. However, unlike a lot of British comedy that I have seen, I found a lot of the humor in this show to work. Yeah, you would get a dud of an episode or a few jokes that don’t hit, or to be honest, flew over my head, but I was laughing a lot during the show’s two seasons. The characters themselves are mostly of type, like Wendy is the token girl and Rex is the snarky, quick-witted protagonist, but the two characters of the main leads that stand out are Bad Bob and Vince. As the series went on, I found myself really loving both of these characters the most. Bob is smart, has an eye patch that switches from eye to eye, and carries around a normal-sized revolver, which just happens to look giant compared to him. Vince is the “pet” of the crew, and has a quite frankly hilarious, if underused in season two, disorder called “Random Pavarotti Disease”, where he will spew random opera from his mouth. He also has a habit of speech where he will only say one word or maybe an unfinished sentence for comedic effect. He easily gets the best laughs out of the entire show with how random and wacky he is.

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The animation is solid. For a show with episodes lasting about 10-15 minutes tops, the animation and the style of the characters are still done well. I mean, this is Aardman, so I would be surprised if this was bad animation. It might not be as detailed as Aardman’s bigger projects, but you won’t be distracted by low quality stuff here. The adventures they go on are as well pretty funny, like going to a Home Depot-style gardening center only to be captured by a race of alien plant pots, having to get their house back from an alternate timeline version of themselves, Bob losing weight, traveling into Vince’s head, finding out what is at the center of the earth, and so on. Most of them lead to creative jokes, and are fun to watch.

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However, with all that said, there are a few things you must know about this show. I sometimes felt like the episodes had no focus, or any real urgency to them. It leads to some episodes of the show feeling really boring, or the agency of the situation coming in at the last five or so minutes. The humor, while funny and clever, can be a bit too dry at times. Maybe the jokes flew over my head, or they probably weren’t funny, but some of the jokes were definitely duds. I also found the show to be at times a tad too British for an American viewer, if that makes any sense. I can perfectly see why some people will probably not find this show funny or entertaining. For example, I know the original version of The Office is looked at as a very funny show, I found it to be incredibly boring.

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In the end though, I love Rex the Runt, and I definitely feel like it’s another hit for Aardman. Can I see why it only lasted two seasons? Of course. Can I see why some people might not like the show? Yes. But do I like it? Indeed I do! I even showed it off to a lot of my friends and family friends, and they have great love for the series. You can easily pick up this show on the cheap, and you should check it out when or if you can. Well, now that one year has passed, and I covered my first TV series, it’s time to get back into movies with the promotional prequel film to Final Fantasy XV, Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy. Thanks for reading, I hope you like what you saw, and I will see you next time

Rating: Go see it!

The Other Side of Animation 54: Kubo and the Two Strings Review

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

I am very passionate about animated movies that don’t get the treatment they deserve. I think it’s obvious everyone would rather watch a great movie and support it than something drummed up from Hollywood that shows they have no idea what they are doing. Still, it’s probably the most infuriating thing when a great movie is drowned out by utter garbage. I think one of the best examples of this was with Kung Fu Panda 2. This 2011 sequel was released around the same week that The Hangover Part 2 was released. What happened? More people went to see the mediocre sequel to a film that wasn’t really that great in the first place, instead of a sequel that did everything right by being not just a great movie, but a great sequel. Kung Fu Panda 2 did well enough, but seeing it get beat out by a mediocre sequel was no short of maddening. I could go into detail about why the public movie-going audience can be a major problem about the movie industry, but I‘ll tackle that another time. Today, I’m going to talk about what is quite possibly the best animated movie of the year, Kubo and the Two Strings. Yes, the masters at Laika have made the best animated movie of the year that tops even the amazing Zootopia and The Little Prince. This film, by director Travis Knight in his first directorial position, wowed me. I mean, why did it wow me? Well, let’s find out.

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The story follows the adventure of a young boy named Kubo, voiced by Art Parkinson. He lives in a mountainside cave with his mother. During the day he performs magical shows with his shamisen bringing origami characters to life, but always returns by nightfall at his mother’s request. One day, Kubo accidentally stays after the sun has set, and encounters two creepy raven-like women named Sisters, both voiced by Rooney Mara. Kubo’s mother comes down to save him, but ends up sending Kubo away. Kubo then wakes up in a snowy part of the world, and is now accompanied by a white monkey, voiced by Charlize Theron. They run into a humanoid beetle-like samurai named, well, Beetle, voiced by Matthew McConaughey. The three set off to find a legendary set of weapons and armor to take down the Moon King, voiced by Ralph Fiennes, the powerful being that has been trying to take Kubo for his own needs. Can Kubo survive and find the weapons to take down the Moon King?

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Let’s talk about the good, because I have nothing but good things to say about this remarkable movie. The story is perfectly packed with what you want in a good action adventure movie. It has a great male lead. Kubo is one of the best child characters I have ever seen, not only this year, but in animation in general. He cares for his mother, is enjoyable around the people in his town, and has a great realistic child personality. Speaking of great personalities, the film has an impressive cast of side characters. These are some of the most likable secondary characters, with Monkey’s protective and serious persona, and Beetle being a great fighter, but a mostly light-hearted tone to him. The three characters, Kubo, Monkey, and Beetle work so well off each other, and that happens because of a terrific script. The best part about scripts from Laika is the fact that the humor gels well with classic dialogue that, like The Little Prince, is timeless. Everyone sounds like they were from that time period. The film has a great voice cast. While I could argue the tightrope argument of why Laika didn’t cast more Asian actors for the roles, since the two that they hired, George Takei and Cary-Hiroyuki are side characters who play no major role of the story, but that’s for another article that I won’t talk about here, because even with that little hiccup, the cast they hired for this movie is perfect. The actors all pull off amazing performances that make you see the characters, and not just actors being actors. I have noticed that recently, many animated films have made sure to get actors that fit the roles, and can immerse themselves within them. Charlize Theron, Rooney Mara, Ralph Fiennes, Matthew McConaughey, Art Parkinson, Brenda Vaccaro, and George Takei and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, for as big or small as their roles are, all did amazing jobs. I don’t know whether the person in charge of the performances did a great job, or whether these actors felt super passionate about the project and animation, or both, but give them all A+ on their performances. The movie knows how to pace itself with fights, story, and world-building. While some could argue that they could have added another fight, I am so happy that this film balanced out some really good fights, and how they took their time with developing the characters and the world around them. Too many times do action adventure-oriented films put all their bets on the animation and action, while not having much focus on everything else. Kubo and the Two Strings was just a remarkable movie to be in, and has stakes and sequences that keep you invested and wanting to know what happens until the very end.

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The animation is beautiful. It’s easily the best stop-motion animation I have ever seen. It’s so fluid, the world and character designs have personality, and look unique. The fight scenes are well-animated, and are choreographed beautifully. It’s some of the best action you will ever see in animation, alongside Kung Fu Panda, Ninja Scroll, How to Train your Dragon 2, The Boy and the Beast, and Read or Die. They take advantage of everything about the film, from the surrounding environment to who the characters are, like Beetle being able to fly and crawl on walls. The music is gorgeous to listen to, with some great tunes from Kubo’s Shamisen sequences to the amazing score by famed composer Dario Marianelli, who also did the soundtrack for Everest, The Boxtrolls, and V for Vendetta. The ending song that plays in the credits, While My Guitar Gently Weeps by Regina Spektor, (which she covers so well, it was originally a Beatles song by George Harrison) is performed on a Shamisen. That is so incredible that this singer went all out with this song in terms of performing the song on the main instrument of the film.

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I really don’t have major complaints about the movie. I think this is one of those rare perfect movies that even if you could come up with any negative issues, they wouldn’t bring the movie down at all. Actually the biggest problem this film has is being released in August. I am so upset and irritated that Universal decided to release this during the worst part of August, due to the target audience not being able to see it until the weekend because of school starting, and while a mediocre comic book movie is still at number one. That’s another problem. Why would people go see a movie that is flawed, clunky, and had obvious scenes cut out or sloppily edited, instead of a complete, passion-filled animated film that had more effort and creativity put into it than 99% of the films released this year. This is exactly what happened to Kung Fu Panda 2, and that is a crime that the movie-going public doesn’t fully respect animation and think it’s just for kids. That will be an argument for another time. As you can tell, I’m very passionate about this movie, and I want it to be doing better than as of 8/24/16.

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If you couldn’t tell, I love Kubo. I stand by my opinion that this is the best animated film of 2016. I thought nothing would top Zootopia and The Little Prince, but Laika did it.  It’s not only one of the best stop-motion films of all time, it’s one of the best animated films of all time. Seriously, people, go see this movie. It deserves much more of your attention than a remake of a remake nobody asked for. I don’t mean to bash other movies out right now, and I do like a lot of modern/current movies, but people cry and complain that we don’t get to see enough unique and original movies, and then when one comes out and is critically acclaimed, no one sees it because of maddening reasons. If you love original movies, and want to support something that isn’t a big budget disaster, then seriously check out Kubo and the Two Strings. I have felt so satisfied reviewing good movies, and I want to continue that with one of my favorite indie-animated films of 2016, April and the Extraordinary World. Thanks for reading, I hope you liked the movie, and see you all next time.

Rating: Criterion/Essentials!

The Other Side of Animation 52: The Little Prince Review

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

In the 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!

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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: Hell & Back Review


(If you like what you see, you can go camseyeview.biz to see the rest of my work, where I review video games, write editorials, lists, talk about video game Kickstarters, interview developers, and review animated films. If you want to, you can contribute to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help make running the site easier. Thank you so much for checking out my work, and I hope you like it!)

WARNING/PARENTAL HEADS UP!: This film is full of crude adult humor and sexual themes and some nudity. It also has a lot of shock-value jokes that are more offensive than funny. Viewer’s discretion is advised. Do not watch this unless your children are at least 15 or 18. Enjoy the review!

You know what is a really crummy thing about movie trailers these days? No matter what kind of movie it is, the trailer is either way too misleading in terms of what the movie is actually about, shows too much in terms of the best jokes/action sequences, feels cynically produced to think the common moviegoer is stupid, or essentially shows the entire movie. However, sometimes you get a trailer to a movie that had no other choice than to show off what the main product is going to end up as. Today’s movie review had a trailer that was basically, “what you see is what you get. Sorry.” This week, we take a look at the stop-motion film from ShadowMachine films, Hell & Back. This limited release was directed by Tom Gianas and Ross Shuman. It was released back in October 2nd, 2015 to, like I said, a limited release. It had very little marketing, and the critics and individuals who did see it, attacked the movie with mostly negative reviews. Not really that hard to see why this animated film didn’t do much for the movie-going world. Let’s dive in anyway, and see why it might not be worth going to Hell & Back.

The story is about two young guys named Remy, voiced by Nick Swardson, and Augie, voiced by T.J. Miller, as they work at a pretty horrible carnival. One night, with a friend of theirs, Curt Myers, voiced by Rog Riggle, they have Curt sign a blood oath to a satanic book in front of a very specific ride. After breaking said blood oath literally a few seconds after said oath, Curt is sucked into Hell, and it is up to Remy and Augie to go find him before he is sacrificed by the Devil, voiced by Bob Odenkirk. Along the way, the two young dudes meet up with Deema, a half-demon girl, voiced by Mila Kunis, and the legendary Orpheus, voiced by Danny McBride.

Yeah, since this by the same company that used to distribute the hit show, Robot Chicken, you can guess that there will be a lot of raunchy shock humor. While not as shocking as say, South Park or those really bad comedies that go off of shock comedy with no substance (A majority of Comedy Central’s shows), the humor is not really that great. Comedy might be subjective, but good lord, the writers needed to calm the heck down. It felt too busy, and for every joke that had potential, it got run over by five bad jokes. Oh, and this film has a really big fetish with jokes about male molestation, because you know, making jokes about someone getting assaulted/harassed/worse always works! If you couldn’t tell, I was being sarcastic! This is why I really can’t stand shows like Drawn Together or the thankfully cancelled Brickleberry. If you have shock humor just to be offensive with no meaning behind said shocking jokes, then don’t be a comedy writer, since you have no idea what you are doing. I wouldn’t mind the raunchy mean-spirited humor if the characters in this movie were worth investing into, but in reality, they really aren’t that great. They are either incredibly unlikable or flat-out boring. I can tell the actors are trying to make the chemistry work, and from time to time, it does, but you have to get through a lot of the tripe the film throws at you to get to them. I also get the idea of “saving your friend from the devil” and all, and the twist is sort of funny, but we have seen it done before with better writers and shows.

The animation is fine, and it is nice to see stop-motion more than just the films from Laika and Aardman Entertainment, but it’s not up-to-par with those two studios. It’s more in line with a higher budgeted episode of Robot Chicken or those stop-motion TV specials that you see from time to time. The movements are just a bit janky, and are not as smooth as the crisp buttery smoothness you see in Laika-made films. I also found the overall look of Hell to be rather unremarkable. The demons look decent, but the overall design of it all is forgettable at best.

With all of this negativity I have for this film, did I personally find something I liked about the movie? Well, I like the voice cast. Even though the script is pretty lousy with jokes and making actual characters, the actors do a decent job in terms of trying to make it all work. The cast includes Nick Swardson, T.J. Miller, Mina Kunis, Danny Mcbride, Bob Odenkirk, Susan Sarandon, Dana Snyder, H. Jon Benjamin, John P. Farley, Michael Pena, Jennifer Coolidge, and Brian Posehn to name a few. I also find Bob Odenkirk entertaining as the devil. Nothing new or anything, but this is a good actor, and he does what he can to put some likability into the Devil himself.

Still, a solid comedic cast can’t save this movie. Besides a few laughs and some performances, I just couldn’t get into it. I know this style of comedy is probably is not for me, but it seems like I’m not alone in calling the script weak and mediocre. There is a reason why there was barely any advertising for this film. It just came and went like most under-marketed/mediocre films. I guess if you like this style of humor, and any of the terrible schlock that tries to be funny, but is just painful to sit through on Comedy Central, and want a raunchy low-brow stop-motion flick, then you might like it. As for me, I would just skip it and get something like Rex the Runt, or any of the other Aardman and Laika films if you want to watch a stop-motion film. Just comes to show that, sometimes, what the marketing gives you is what you get. Well, we are getting close to the 30th review, so how about we talk about a movie that is an interesting bit of animation? Next time, we take a look at Henry & Me. Thanks for reading this article, I hope you liked it, and see you next time!

Rating: Lackluster!

The Other Side of Animation: Shaun the Sheep Movie Review


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

While I do consider myself a movie lover, I tend to enjoy movies that are easier to follow. Not to say that I can’t get into films with complex themes and stories, since one of my favorite movies of 2015 was Anomalisa, but sometimes, it seems like filmmakers or studios want to make a film look and feel complex and deep, but end up being more confusing, hard to follow, and not very good. It’s alright to have a movie that is good simple fun. It’s why I really loved today’s film, Shaun the Sheep Movie. This was a stop-motion film made by Aardman, and was released on August 5th here in the states, and was directed by Richard Starzak and Mark Burton. It was a solid hit with it making over $96 mil of its $25 mil budget. So, how good was this movie to me? Is it truly one of the best animated films of 2015? Maybe you should be like the sheep, and mosey on through the review, and find out.

The movie is about a sheep named Shaun and his flock of sheep friends that live on a farm that is owned by, well, a farmer. After going through the same routine after a number of days, Shaun decides to find a way to get a day off, which results in some shenanigans, resulting with the farmer ending up in the big city. It is up to Shaun and his friends to go into the big city and to save their farmer!

So, what does this stop-motion animated film do so well that it was considered one of the best animated films of 2015 and one of famous game designer Hideo Kojima’s favorite movies? One element it does well is that it has no real dialogue. Yeah, it’s a The Triplets of Belleville kind of situation, where the film relies more on its visual format to actually tell the story and get emotions out of the characters. It’s actually nice to see animated films do this, since it means that the writers and story creators don’t have to lean on lazy writing and pop culture lingo. Now, with that said, there are actors, but the most you will get out of them are grunts and other noises. Still, the choice of having no real words spoken won’t mean anything if the animation isn’t top-notch, and well, it’s Aardman, so it is top-notch animation. The characters move fluently, and the facial expressions are just hilarious to see unfold. Since this is Aardman, the physical humor is sidesplitting. It’s easily some of the best physical comedy you will ever see.

If I had to complain about something, it’s the story. The story is well told, but it is simple, and the villain, while funny, is not very interesting. It’s just a nitpick, but I can see some people for one reason or another not wanting to see this sort of silent film.

Overall, Shaun the Sheep Movie is a simple, charming, kind-hearted, entertaining, and beautifully-executed movie. It rightfully deserves that Oscar nomination and all of the high praise it received. It also makes you wish that Lionsgate, the distributors of the film, could use Shaun the Sheep as a milestone in what good animated films are, and help out other creative studios instead of well, Norm of the freaking North! Seriously, your first good animated family film in forever, and they think a good follow-up is a film where Rob Schneider is a polar bear? However, I’m telling you, if you pick up Shaun the Sheep Movie, for the love of everything that is amazing, skip the previews. It’s nothing but garbage. Well, we got that out of the way. I am feeling up to looking at an anthology film once more, but not just any anthology film, an anthology film based off of Halo. Thanks for reading, and see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation: The Boxtrolls Review


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Before I get officially started, I just wanted to be clear about my editorial on Kubo and the Two Strings. I don’t think there was any intentional racism or anything like that in terms of the casting. I just thought it was a bit weird to see only two Asian actors in a film that was heavily based on Japanese mythology. I don’t think the people at Laika are bad for casting who they did. Heck, if they see this review and my editorial, I would be happy to get in touch with them for an interview about Kubo. It’s honestly my most anticipated animated film of the year. Now then, let’s begin with the actual review for today!

I sort of surprised myself here with this series of reviews. The first surprise is that I haven’t talked about the amazing Studio Ghibli films yet, but I will get to them in good time. The second surprise is that I haven’t really talked about Laika yet. This studio is well known among the animation scene, for being one of the few studios that does the back-breaking work of stop-motion animation and has been very popular among the movie-going audience for their previous hits, Coraline and Paranorman. So, with this series of reviews talking about movies that are lesser known, why am I talking about Laika? Well, I think they are the underrated studio of the animation scene. People might know of their films, but they always seem to be overshadowed by the bigger releases. Since I did an article on their upcoming film, Kubo and the Two Strings, I decided to tackle their most recent film, The Boxtrolls. The Boxtrolls was even better than Big Hero 6. The film was released on September 16th, 2014, and was directed by Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi. These two talented individuals have huge experiences within animation and visual effects for films like Hook, The Rocketeer, Paranorman, Back to the Future, Antz, James and the Giant Peach, A Goofy Movie, and video games like Full Throttle, The Dig, Bone: Out of Boneville, and Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent. So, how good is this film with boxes full of trolls, and a governmental organization that has a weird obsession with cheese? Well, get your favorite box and let’s find out!

The Boxtrolls takes place in a place called Cheesebridge. A story goes out that the local monsters known as Boxtrolls have kidnapped a baby and are going to eat it. Luckily, the audience gets to learn that the Boxtrolls have not eaten the child, but instead, have raised it like one of their own. The young boy is named Eggs, voiced by Isaac Hempstead-Wright (you know, Bran Stark from Game of Thrones) and once old enough, he learns about the cruel upper world with the villains of the film, the red hats, who were tasked to get rid of all the Boxtrolls. Along this frightful experience, he gets to know the mayor of the town’s daughter named Winnie, voiced by Elle Fanning. Can Eggs save his Boxtroll family, and learn the truth about his past?

While I do have a lot of praise for this film, I do have a few criticisms. If you have seen the advertising and have seen the movie, you know that the film does not have its dark/mature-toned stories that were in Laika’s other work. It has dark imagery, but I remember when I watched Paranorman for the first time, and was surprised at how in-depth the film was with its characters. The story is also a tad predictable, since we have seen some of these story elements in other films like Tarzan, with Eggs being raised by creatures. Normally, I would be a lot harsher on the more predictable story elements, since we should be seeing something done differently with said tropes, but just like in How to Train your Dragon, they are executed well enough to where I don’t care. I also wish the Boxtrolls got a little more development in terms of how they arrived and why they have boxes in the first place.

With those negatives out of the way, let’s gush! This film has some of the best stop-motion animation around, that might even be slightly better than Aardman! I love the art design with the slightly gothic/Victorian look of the world in which they put the characters. While the theme of class disparity is not very subtle, with the white hats and the boxtrolls, it does bring up some pretty entertaining elements to the characters, like how the white hats would rather spend money on cheese than things that would help the community. While Eggs is a decent enough and likable character, the other characters overlap him as the more entertaining individuals. I love Winnie, and how instead of being constantly afraid of the trolls, is headstrong and has a thing about wanting to see the so-called vicious nature of the Boxtrolls. However, the characters that steal the show are the villains. The Red Hats are probably some of the most entertaining villains I have ever seen in a family film. It helps that the casting for the villains are great, and these actors are hardly recognizable as said characters. You have Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, and a hard-to-recognize Tracy Morgan as the goons, but the one who I was surprised by the most was the lead villain, who was played by Ben Kingsley. Kingsley’s character also has elements that have reminded many people of Nightcrawler, where you work so hard to obtain your goal whether or not it ends up killing you. Even though I think the villains have the best lines and characters, the rest of the voice cast does a stellar job at fitting the setting. This is why I praise actors who can pull off voice work. It’s not easy as heck, as Chris Rock made into an infamous joke about how much celebrity mugging there is in animated films. Instead of voice mugging, you get actual actors who care about their job of bringing the characters to life. I also adore that the film doesn’t lean on modern pop culture lingo. It makes the movie more timeless for sticking to normal lingo. In terms of humor, some of the jokes fall flat, but it’s a film that made me laugh a lot.

While The Boxtrolls might be a bit more simple compared to Laika’s previous work, it’s still a very creative and entertaining film. If for some reason you have not picked this film up, you should. It was also filmed in 3D, and not retrofitted, so if you had to pick a version of the film to purchase, get the one that has the 3D, Blu-ray, and DVD combo pack. It’s one of the best animated films I have seen of the 2010s. You know what? I loved getting to talk about stop-motion so much, I want to talk about another recent stop-motion classic. Next time, we will take a look at Shaun the Sheep Movie. Thanks for reading, and see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

Hit-or-Miss Movie Predictions: Kubo and the Two Strings


(If you like what you see, go to camseyeview.biz to see the rest of my work. If you want to, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. Thanks for reading my article! I hope you enjoy it!)

Welcome back to Hit-or-Miss Trailer Predictions, which will now be called Hit-or-Miss Movie Predictions! This is where I give my first impressions of upcoming animated films, and point out the good, the bad, and the interesting. In the end, I shall predict if it will be a hit, a miss, or something different altogether.

Out of all the studios I have yet to talk about, I have surprised myself that I haven’t talked about Laika. I mean, I should since they are the only ones making stop-motion animated films that really do push the envelope of what can go into a film aimed at all ages. Don’t fret though; I will review their work in the near future. For now, let’s talk about what is quite frankly, my most anticipated animated movie of 2016, Kubo and the Two Strings. Let’s get started with the impressions! Oh, and here is a link to the trailer if you want to watch it for yourself!

Animation/Art Direction

There is no doubt in my mind or anyone’s mind that this is one heck of a beautiful-looking movie. I mean, these individuals at Laika have made some visually impressive movies in the past, and they seem to get better and better after each film. The film’s look just hits all of those moods of delightful, ominous, and weird. You can tell how much love and effort Laika put into their movies, which is leagues more than most third-party studios, even studios like Dreamworks.

 

Humor

I will say, and probably say again in the future, that the comedic aspects of Laika films have always been hit-or-miss with me. For every joke that works, there is one that doesn’t. It definitely depends on the film itself, since I found the jokes in Paranorman to work better than the ones in The Boxtrolls, but my point still stands that the humor is not consistent. Of course, I realize that humor is subjective. It seems like the humor is taking more of a backseat in this film, and I am all for it. Granted, you can probably see one of the jokes coming when they introduce George Takei’s character in the trailer, but overall, it seems like the humor will be more subtle or not as heavy in this movie. I do hope I’m right though, I would hate for something this atmospheric and beautiful to be riddled with bad comedy.

 

The story

Kubo is a young boy who lives with his mother in a village. One day, a spirit from the past releases an age-old vendetta, and causes mass chaos with gods and monsters invading the land to get Kubo and his powers. Kubo then sets off on a journey to obtain a magical armor his father wore to save the land.

 

Any concerns?/Casting

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room, the voice cast. Listen, I can probably guess why they made these casting decisions, but it’s 2016, so this is kind of awkward. With the recent Oscar controversy and the Gods of Egypt casting problems, you would think Hollywood would have been more…cautious with the casting. Not that the actors this film hired are bad, because they aren’t. George Takei, Ralph Fiennes, Charlize Theron, and Matthew McConaughey are not bad actors at all. The problem is that in a film that is heavily inspired by Japanese folklore and mythology, they only hire two Asian actors. I’m sorry, but you can’t tell me this isn’t a bit tone deaf in terms of casting.

Now, with that being said, I can probably understand why they got so many recognizable actors. My guess is that due to stop-motion being a hard sell for some reason, they promised to get some big actors who are popular right now. It’s a shame that Hollywood thinks you can’t make an animated family film in any other form than CGI. I think the acclaim films like Song of the Sea, Ernest & Celestine, and Laika’s other films proven that other animated art forms are still amazing and can lead to great products, but I digress. It just seems like it’s a bummer that they couldn’t find some other great Asian actors that could have fit some of these roles perfectly. Now, of course, if the actors do a good job immersing themselves in their characters, then that is a good thing, but like I said, it is 2016, and to have only two Asian actors in a film that is heavily leaning on themes of Japanese mythology, it’s hard not to notice this.

Another interesting fact is that Laika has made two films in a row with a male lead. Why not make the lead a female? I can understand if by the end, if the main lead isn’t an interesting character, then the gender wouldn’t change anything, but I wonder if they will make another movie with a female lead again, as in Coraline.

 

Prediction: Hit!

Now, whether I think the casting is a big deal or not, I do feel like the film will be a critical hit! To me, Laika hasn’t made a bad movie. Some of their films might have better elements than others, but so far, not one is what I would consider to be an official dud. I think if you have enjoyed their other films, then you should definitely go out and see this movie when it’s released in theaters later this year!