The Other Side of Animation 98: The Emoji Movie 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!)

 

Every year, we always hear the loud wails and haunted screams that cinema is dead. It just so happens that in 2017, with Sony Pictures Animation’s The Emoji Movie, it just got too loud to ignore. The film is directed by Tony Leondis, a story artist and director. He worked on films like The Prince of Egypt, The Road to El Dorado, Kronk’s New Groove, Home on the Range, and directed Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a GlitchIgor, and Kung Fu Panda: Secret of the Masters. For some reason, out of all the years of movies made, The Emoji Movie just drove people up a wall. It came out a few weeks ago, and instantaneously, it was labeled as the worst movie of all time, the death of cinema, people were saying and demanding that Sony Pictures of Animation should be shut down, and you get the idea. Even though we made it through years that had Movie 43, Jack & Jill, Pixels, Gods of Egypt, 50 Shades of Grey, 50 Shades of Black, Meet the Blacks, Legend of Hercules, Saving Christmas, Troll 2, North, and so on, The Emoji Movie is the one that broke the camel’s back. Listen, it’s not a good movie, but people are overreacting and going into hyperbole territory to get clicks and views. Why would I say that if I just admitted that it was not a good movie? Well, let’s pick your favorite emoji and send that text.

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The entire story takes place inside one teen’s phone, as we enter the world of Textopolis, a city where all the emojis live. We focus on one in particular emoji named Gene, voiced by T.J. Miller. He is a “meh” emoji, who has a bit of a problem. He can’t simply be a “meh”, and has too many emotions to count! After a failed first day on the job, Gene wants to find a way to fix himself by hacking the code to solve his problem. He gets the help of a high-five emoji, voiced by James Corden, and a hacker emoji named Jailbreak, voiced by Anna Faris. Hopefully, they can get past the dastardly grasp of Smiler, a creepy smile emoji voiced by Maya Rudolph. Can Gene fix himself and somehow help the teen out in a real world problem of getting to know a girl?

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The biggest problem about talking about this film is while it will not affect the actual rating of this film, I have to talk about the overwhelming clickbait/hyperbolic backlash this film has gotten. People call it the worst movie of the year, the worst movie of all time, and the film that is what’s wrong with cinema. It’s not because I’m going to be defending this film as something good. It’s not a good movie by any stretches of the imagination, and is definitely on the lower end of my best to worst animated films of 2017, but people need to really stop acting like this is the film that’s going to kill cinema. Like I said above, people are using clickbait and hyperbolic opinions of this movie to get views, clicks, and whatever, and making it out to be a worse movie than it actually is. If there was a film that made the cinema industry actually halt in their tracks, then we have pretty much survived hundreds of extinctions after every time some knucklehead said, “this is the film that will kill the film industry”. It’s officially gotten to the point that if you are using hyperbole in your review or comment, I’m not going to take your opinion seriously. I know that sounds close-minded and very one-sided, but we live in a world where there are worse things going on every single day, and yet The Emoji Movie is apparently worth more of your anger than anything else. And to the people who want the studio that made this to shut down because they didn’t like it, or are stuck in a bad situation because of executive shenanigans, you have no right to say they should force 100s of people to lose their jobs because you don’t like their movie. It’s the most immature mentality that I have ever seen, and if you are that toxic about it, then you need to get a life.

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Let’s face honest 100% objective fact here, The Emoji Movie is not a good movie, but it’s the wrong kind of bad movie. It’s not the most super offensive thing with super hate-worthy characters and cheap straight-to-DVD quality animation. It’s not Norm of the North or Strange Magic levels of bad. Heck, I have seen movies that I enjoy that have way more repulsive elements to it like Belladonna of Sadness. It’s just boring bad. It’s a bad movie that doesn’t have a whole lot going for it, because the film itself feels like they had a base idea around what they wanted to do, but couldn’t or were not allowed to get past the “cynical cash grab” look and feel of the film. The universe this film takes place in is kind of confusing, since if you think about it, why are there emojis that have to be one emotion, while there are shrimp, elephant, and Christmas tree emojis that don’t coincide with a single personality? I mean, should they be deleted as well? Its world is not as clever that I think the writers are making it out to be. I don’t see other whimsical realms that our heroes go through, I just see the product placements that companies paid the most to have advertised in the film. It’s a universe with no real soul or identity to it. A bland world is one thing, but what about the three leads? Well, despite having good actors behind them, there is nothing really all that interesting about them. Gene is your generic lead who thinks being unique isn’t a good thing. James Corden, while super entertaining in other forms of media, has no real character with the high-five emoji, since all he does is try to spew a joke every 30 seconds. Jailbreak is obviously trying to be like the female lead from The LEGO Movie, but has none of the charm of said character. I also kind of love the horrible implication in this universe that if you stand out in this world, you deserve to die. What about the human characters? Yeah, couldn’t really get hooked on them either. They don’t act like real kids, but that, “I’m trying to make this kid like the one you saw in Inside Out, but not understanding that the girl in Inside Out was a complex character.” I also found a lot of the celebrity casting distracting, like Patrick Stewart as the poop emoji. Like, I get there is a bit of that niche-style appeal of, “oh tee hee, this wildly acclaimed actor is voicing poop”, but outside of that, again, I only saw the celebrities, and not the characters.

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I feel like this movie would have been so much better with maybe more freedom to the writers to do something more complex, or go full-tilt cynical. Like, I could imagine this film being way more interesting if it was a cynical lashing out at the audience who the execs think would watch this movie. Go black comedy on the characters and such, and sneak in some legit good morals inside the cynical jokes and clever writing. What happened is that they probably got a set of writers who wanted to go full-tilt and go crazy, but either weren’t allowed to, or were not talented enough to do such a thing. You can see how this movie could have worked if it was aimed at a more general audience and not just one part of the movie-going audience. That’s why films like Inside Out and The LEGO Movie were so amazing, because they could talk to every part of the audience. They weren’t talking to one side, and ignoring the other. The Emoji Movie is just a generic film with generic writing and morals. It’s something we haven’t seen a hundred times over in other movies, and have done a better job at saying these messages.

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So, what’s actually good about this movie? Well, the animation is pretty solid. I know the designers on Twitter spoke highly about having fun working with the designs, and the characters move pretty well. Even the human characters look better than most DreamWorks movies. The designs might be basic, but emojis are generally very basic in terms of designs. At the very least, this movie has more theatrical-quality animation than a lot of animated films that get limited releases by Lionsgate. I also enjoyed Maya Rudolph as the villain. She was hugely entertaining as this psychotic smile emoji, and she definitely had fun with the role. I also liked Gene’s parents, who were played by Steven Wright and Jennifer Coolidge. Any time they were on screen, I at least got a chuckle out of their delivery of their lines. It’s not the perfect mix of casting and writing, like Lewis Black as Anger in Inside Out, but it’s ideal casting in terms of who should play the meh emoji. The one scene I thought was pretty cool was when Gene’s parents were inside the Instagram app. I liked the idea of going inside a photo and it brings you into that photo’s location and everything around them is still. It was a nice artistic moment that I can respect.

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In the end, everyone is overreacting to this, and ironically going to see it because of said hyperbole. We have had cash-grab films made every year, like Dragonball Z Evolution, Jem and the Holograms, Baywatch, and so on. If Hollywood didn’t crumble and fall after those films, then it won’t with this one. The Emoji Movie is just a forgettable and bland film. I was honestly bored watching the movie, and spent a lot of time thinking what I would have done to make it a better movie than simply just a cash-grab/advertisement movie. It wants to be so many other films, but fails to do anything those films did well. If you really want to see it, just wait to rent it. It’s making enough to make back its budget, and it will just underperform before it leaves theaters. It’s bad, but it’s not the worst, and no one at Sony Pictures Animation deserves to lose their jobs over it. Now, if you want to see a really cynically made movie, join me next time as we talk about Digimon The Movie. Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the article, and I will see you next time.

Rating: Lackluster!

2017 in Animation So Far

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

So, it’s been over half a year now for 2017, and it’s time to look back at the year so far. I thought it would be interesting, since I don’t really talk about all the big movies until I do my Worst to Best list for every year. I’ll be setting this up differently as well, with the execution of this article. I’ll be doing separate little segments for what were my favorites so far, the biggest surprises so far, the most average films so far, the biggest disappointments so far, and the worst. At the end, I’ll put down some films that I am looking forward to, and hopefully some films that will come out in the states in the near future.

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Best Animated Films (so far)

My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea: Trippy, unusual, darkly comedic, and the definition of pure visual LSD, this indie film is the best animated film I have seen this year. With a great voice cast, a fun sense of humor, and a unique experience, I can’t wait to buy this movie for my collection.

LEGO Batman Movie: While I respect the comments that it relies too much on Batman references, and it doesn’t have the full heart of the original film, I went in wanting this to be a fantastic film, and that is what I got. Outside of My Entire High School, I haven’t laughed so much or enjoyed a theater-going experience this year as much as I have enjoyed LEGO Batman. It’s clever, the characters are likable, and I was smiling like a fool from beginning to end. Yeah, I have my issues with the film, but it’s actually good, unlike a lot of films from 2017.

Ethel & Ernest: This is such a simple movie, but it’s so good. It’s nothing super grand, or some characters going on a big adventure, it’s just the life and times of Raymond Brigg’s parents. It feels like such a personal film, and the team that made the movie obviously cared very much about the book the film is based on. With wonderful performances, multiple touching moments, and gorgeous animation, I am impatiently waiting for this film to get a US release.

Ocean Waves: Finally, after what seems like a century, the US finally gets a legit release of the last Studio Ghibli film to be brought over. While it is disappointing that there is no English dub for this film, it definitely has a lot of elements that would have made it hard to translate to English. It’s also a slower-paced and more realistic film about teens growing up during high school. It has its flaws in terms of story pacing and characters, but I still loved watching it, and when it hit it out of the park, it really hit it out of the park.

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Biggest Surprises (so far)

Captain Underpants: Who knew a film everyone was dreading ended up one of the most fun movies of the year? With characters that have charm, great animation, and an obvious amount of passion and soul put into the end product, I was pleasantly surprised by this film. Not to say it doesn’t have its problems, but I had more fun watching this than most of the animated films from this year. It knew what it wanted to do, and I respect that.

 Justice League Dark: It’s no surprise that DC has had an amazing year in 2017, and kicked it off with a fun and more mature story of magic, demons, and the return of Matt Ryan as John Constantine. It’s a film that takes advantage of its situation, and while it does have some pacing problems because of the 70-minute runtime, it’s still a blast to watch, and actually see some charm in the drab DC universe.

Teen Titans: The Judas Contract: This is pretty much an apology letter for Justice League vs Teen Titans as everything that was so good about this movie should have been in the previous film. Everyone has ample screen-time, the action is good, and I don’t want to strangle any of the characters. The main villain is definitely weak, and there are some predictable story beats, but it’s so much better than I was thinking it was going to be. I’m glad I was surprised.

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Biggest Disappointments (so far)

Cars 3: You would think by the third film, they would know what to do with this cash cow of a franchise. While I was definitely more emotionally invested in this one, and love that they just retconned Cars 2, I wouldn’t call this a great animated film by any stretch of the imagination. It’s definitely more of a sport movie than the previous films, but there is a bit too much going on, and it doesn’t know how to pace itself. The villains were weak, and the ending had some elements that I would call shenanigans on, since they just leave it open to make another Cars movie. While not the worst Pixar film by any means, it’s a shame the film didn’t live up to the extremely false advertising.

Despicable Me 3: Second verse, same as the first. Despicable Me 3 was better in a lot of ways to the previous installments, but was hugely flawed. It once again had way too many plots going on, and none of them get enough time to be fleshed out. It results in a movie that can be entertaining, but completely hollow at the same time. I don’t know how many more films they can make with the current style before people just turn on them. At the very least, Trey Parker’s portrayal as the villain was super entertaining. I’ll have more to say when I review it in the future.

Blame!: Since CGI animation in anime already has a tainted reputation for low quality products, you would hope a film like Blame! could show how to do it well. Sadly, all that you get is a rather boring and sometimes fun sci-fi world builder. The characters are bland, and even the higher quality movements can’t hide the fact that CGI animation in anime can and will be distracting.

 Seoul Station: While not a terrible zombie movie, I have no urge to rewatch this film. It has its moments and its social commentary, but since this film is supposedly connected to the fan favorite Train to Busan, then I think it needs to be more than just where the zombie outbreak started.

Smurfs: The Lost Village: While the trailer for this gave off both a good and bad impression, I was still hopeful that this would be a pretty solid film. Sadly, what we got was a rather predictable and yet again boring film. There is just nothing there for kids or adults. It’s way better than the live-action films, but that’s not saying much for a film that’s not willing to take risks.

The Boss Baby: While I don’t hate this movie, it’s obvious they went with one gimmick and didn’t really do much else. Alec Baldwin is the best part of the movie, but that’s not enough for this film to be good. It has good animation, and I liked a lot of the lines and jokes, but everything else felt so hollow, and lacked substance. We are sadly getting a sequel for some reason, but hopefully, it can be a Madagascar situation where they get better with each sequel.

Sahara: Probably one of the most disappointing films to hit Netflix. I was thinking they got a French animation gem on their hands, but instead, they got a French dud. While the CGI animation is pretty solid, the colors are vibrant, and there are points where the film does slow down, it doesn’t make up for an annoying cast, an English dub that forced me to watch it in French, and a film that’s not really interesting to watch. It definitely could have been a lot better in terms of story and characters.

Rock Dog: This film went through so much political baloney, that it’s hard to really trash this film. It has no focus, tone is an inconsistent wreck, the animation isn’t theatrical quality, and the side characters are pointless. It’s a shame, since it’s not a cynical cash grab, and it tried to be earnest in its intentions. It just didn’t pan out, and all we got was a mediocre film.

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The Worst (So far)

The Emoji Movie: While I know this is everyone’s favorite punching bag, it’s just a forgettable bad movie, people! It’s not super offensive outside of the concept, but it’s not super amazing either. It’s probably the most forgettable bad animated movie of 2017, that got pushed into the limelight because people call it the death to cinema. I’m working on a review of it right now, and I’ll say this, calm down, people!

Leap!: Yes, technically, I should wait to talk about this film when it’s officially released, but on the other hand, since it’s already available in an English format, and The Weinstein Company is simply redubbing and recasting for no reason, I have a right to say this movie is still 100% terrible. It’s an enjoyable type of terrible, since some choices in terms of animation and plot points are insane, but it’s otherwise bland and really forgettable with a terrible sense of humor, and animation that can be rather creepy-looking. I’m sure this had good intentions behind it, and I can’t say it’s the worst movie I have seen this year, but it’s still something I never want to watch again, but I sadly have to, since if I want to be fully fair to this film, I need to watch The Weinstein version.

A Stork’s Journey: I don’t get why this film had to get a limited release. Was anyone asking for this badly animated film? Its mean-spirited characters, bad pacing, and predictable plot also bog down the experience. It has one little scene that works, but that’s about it. Just avoid at all cost.

Spark: a Space Tail: Unlike the film mentioned above, I found nothing redeemable, or enjoyable about this movie. Open Roads didn’t give this film a wide release, and is now considered one of the biggest bombs in the animation scene. Even with that distinction, it has horrible animation, terrible characters, boring action sequences, a bland story, and it has no real reason to exist. Not even Patrick Stewart could save this. Until I say otherwise, this is still the worst animated movie of 2017.

Well, that was a bummer way to end the list, how about we close the editorial up with some movies that are coming out this year that I’m excited for? And yes, a lot of them are GKids films.

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The Remaining Films I’m Looking Forward to Through 2017

Coco: While Cars 3 did not fully deliver, Coco will hopefully be the one Pixar film to be fully satisfying with its themes of Day of the Dead, family, and music with a great art style, and gorgeous animation.

Mary and the Witch’s Flower: GKids recently picked up the rights to this film, and I’m not really surprised. It’s got veteran Studio Ghibli members, and GKids has a great connection with the famed studio. The first movie from Studio Ponoc looks really promising with beautiful animation, awesome character designs, and just a huge amount of creativity. I think this could easily be an Oscar contender for Best Animated Feature.

The Breadwinner: Probably the other Oscar contender for Best Animated Feature is yet another GKids-distributed film, based on the famous book. Cartoon Saloon is once again on a roll with a touching story, great animation, and they are mixing it up this time with two different styles of animation. It looks great, and I trust anything these two companies, GKids and Cartoon Saloon will put out.

The LEGO Ninajgo Movie: Well, so far, the two LEGO Movies we got have been pretty fantastic, can’t see a reason why not to be excited for this one. It’s also nice to see it be a mostly action-focused film, since it seems like we can’t get an action anything in animation these days. While the recent trailer probably showed off too much in terms of jokes, I’m still looking forward to the next LEGO Movie.

The Girl Without Hands: While I’m sort of disappointed this one-man film is not coming to my neck of the woods, I will wait for a DVD release, since I really want to see this visually ambitious and mature animated film. I have talked about it a bit on an Animation Tidbit, so I won’t go into much detail there.

Birdboy: The Forgotten Children: I have talked about this dark animated film as well, so if you want to see more of my thoughts about this Spanish-animated film, you can go to the link I put above for The Girl Without Hands, but none the less, I am looking forward to see how this dark tale unfolds.

In This Corner of the World: A big Annecy Film Festival winner about a young girl as she grows up during World War II. It has a luscious watercolor art style, a vibe that feels similar to a Studio Ghibli film, and a sad, but endearing story.

Loving Vincent: Hey look, another film I talked about in an Animation Tidbit editorial. It’s a beautifully abstract film, with a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and tons and tons of paint put into the overall project. I can’t wait for this film to get a wider release in October.

That is it for now, let’s hope more amazing films come out, and I will make a new list in the New Year covering the worst to best of 2017!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 95: Wolf Children 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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While many other filmgoers and I cry and rally behind the idea that more original films should be made, we do accept that franchise/blockbuster films have a purpose. They rake in the cash, along with the sequels, reboots, and remakes. Hopefully, when they have a few big hits on their hands, Hollywood will invest into some more original projects and throw caution to the wind. Of course, there is the risk that no one will see the original film, since the studios do advertise them, but not enough or help get them into as many theaters for the mass public to see. If word of mouth is good enough, then more people will see it, but it’s a struggle, since the original films in question have to be good. So, where am I going with this opening bit? When you do find that one original movie, and it’s just the bee’s knees, it’s a great feeling to have. That is why I chose one of my new favorite movies of this decade, Wolf Children. Directed by Mamoru Hosoda, animated by both Hosoda’s own studio, Studio Chizu with help from Studio Madhouse, Wolf Children was originally released in 2012, but got a stateside release in 2013. If you have seen my Worst to Best Animated Films of 2013, then you know this was my favorite movie of that year. I probably don’t need to remind you why that is, but let’s gush about it anyway.

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The story is about a young college woman named Hana, voiced by Collen Clinkenbeard. As she is going to classes and working a job to pay the bills, she becomes interested in this male student who comes to her classes from time to time. After getting to know him, the two bond, and become romantically involved. Hana even finds out that the guy she likes, who is voiced by David Matranga, is actually a werewolf of sorts. However, that doesn’t stop them from having two kids named Yuki and Ame. Sadly, the husband ends up passing away, leaving Hana with their two kids. What doesn’t help the situation either is that her children are also part wolf, and can shapeshift into wolves. After thinking about it, Hana decides to move to the countryside with her two kids and raise them there. Along the way, they meet likable side characters, and we get to see how the two kids grow up.

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There is a lot to unload with this movie, but I think I will start off by talking about one of my favorite aspects of watching a Mamoru Hosoda film, its themes. From the films I have seen of his, Hosoda likes to have a lot of themes revolving around families. Like in The Boy and the Beast, where it was about a father-son dynamic, being upfront with your kids, and different family living situations, Wolf Children follows themes of a mother and her children, and adds in the topic of how kids will grow up differently. Throughout the movie, the two kids end up being vastly different from one another, and as the film follows their journey, grow up and define themselves by their surroundings. Ame becomes more connected to nature and his more wolf-like side of him, while Yuki wants to be more like her human side. Both children make the film really interesting in how they interact with other humans, nature, and their own mother. I know that sounds odd to say that a movie has great and complex kid characters, but for some reason, Hosoda knows how to write them expertly. Hana is also a great inspirational female character, since it could have been so easy for this film to simply show how overburdened she is with raising the two kids, and play her misery off as comedy. Luckily, the film is smarter than that, and makes her a very capable woman. She does work hard and is a fast learner. She almost succumbs to the stress, but since we are human, she finds the strength to keep pushing.

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The film, while having mystical elements, is a very laid back film that’s more about the day-to-day life of Hana and her children. There are conflicts, and I would definitely not label it as laid back as say Only Yesterday or My Neighbor Totoro, but it doesn’t dissolve into anime action schlock. It’s more about the life between Hana, and her children growing up in the environments surrounding them, and that’s all the film needed to be. Heck, they even find ways to make good jokes around their situation, like when one of the kids gets sick, Hana doesn’t know whether to use a human doctor, or a vet to look at them.

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The animation is beautiful. Hosoda always has a unique look to his designs, where it has its anime design tropes, but everyone moved more realistically. Yes, you can see certain scenes where Hosoda uses CGI crowds and faceless characters to put focus on the leads, but it’s still fantastic animation. The film does a great job making lush countrysides, lovely white snow-covered fields, and damp rainy days. The music by composer Takagi Masakatsu compliments the visuals. I think the best scene in the movie that combines Hosoda’s great animation and Masakatsu’s music is when it becomes winter in the countryside. The scene with them playing in the snow is powerful, and it really hits me seeing the family be happy for this moment in time. No struggle to grow food, or what the kids are going to do for education, or anything else. It’s a moment where they can enjoy each other’s company and love. The voice dub is also great. I think everyone does a good job with their roles, and Micah Solusod and Jad Saxton, the actors for the kids, do a good job making them likable and endearing.

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If I had to complain about something with the film, it’s the fact that there is a sort of forced romance for Yuki. I won’t spoil what happens, but her relationship with the kid could have been fleshed out more. I get why they had this relationship, but there is no time set up for it. However, that is my only real complaint.

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Wolf Children is an emotionally powerful movie that did a better job at being a Disney/Pixar film than either of those two companies back in 2013. It’s easily one of my favorite films from this decade, and one of the few films that I think can stand up to the Ghibli best like Porco Rosso and Spirited Away. For some reason, if you do not have this movie in your collection, Funimation put out a great collector’s edition of the film that has a lot of nice extra stuff, like a small booklet that comes with the film. If I haven’t said it enough, do watch and buy this movie. I want it to be remembered as much as the bigger animated films, and not wallow in cult classic territory. Speaking of cult classics, next time, we will be looking at what could be one of the 90s most beloved underrated cult films with Cats Don’t Dance. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed this review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

 

Is The Weinstein Company the Worst Animation Distributor?

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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!)

Last year, I wrote an editorial calling out Lionsgate as the worst animation distributors in Hollywood. I still stand by that opinion that they are one of, if not the worst distributors of the animated film scene. Lionsgate is to animation distribution as Central Park Media was to anime distribution, where they chose quantity over quality, and forever stained their reputation. Sure, both companies might have a bright spot here and there, but 99.9% of the time, there was just pure garbage in their library. However, I have come to realize that there are plenty of bad animation distributors that are terrible in many different ways. Like I said above, Lionsgate is bad because they choose to bring over whatever, without thinking that it might look questionable that they bring over low-budget title after low-budget title without thinking if it’s of any high quality. Today though, we are looking at The Weinstein Company.

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While they may have plenty of high quality live-action films under their belt like Lionsgate does, their presence in the animation scene can be seen as just as bad as Lionsgate, or by some people worse. And to be honest, I agree. Let’s talk about what makes them one of the worst distributors of animated films.

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Since I can’t just retread comparing them to GKids once again, let’s take a look at their history of distributing animated films. Luckily, they have a much smaller library of films than Lionsgate, since they didn’t go for the “let’s buy any cheap animated film we can and shove a bunch of YouTube stars and C list celebrities into them” strategy. Unfortunately, what they have chosen for their small lineup of animated features doesn’t at all scream of quality. Instead of going the route of GKids or Shout! Factory by choosing pristine titles that deserve it, The Weinstein Company does hand-pick their titles, but I wouldn’t call them classics. Their lineup of titles include The Magical Roundabout, or as it’s also known as Doogal, Underdogs, the upcoming Leap!, Arthur and the Land of the Invisibles, Hoodwinked, Hoodwinked Too: Hood vs. Evil, TMNT, and Escape from Planet Earth. Yeah, that’s not a stellar lineup. Sure, you could argue films like Hoodwinked, at the very least, had a style and personality to it, and Azur & Asmar: The Prince’s Quest is visually beautiful, but that doesn’t really help or save their lineup.

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So, like a lot of companies, they distributed some terrible movies, but what makes them exactly the worst? I’m sure you guys are wondering that, since I haven’t really brought that up. Well, if you look at the reviews for Underdogs, Escape from Planet Earth, Doogal, and Arthur, you see that they are some of the worst reviewed films, in terms of animation. What exactly happened? The Weinsteins have a very notorious reputation of editing, cutting out, and recasting the films they bring over. You know all of those obnoxious pop culture references, pointless celebrities, and bad jokes in Doogal? Yeah, the original didn’t have a lot of them. Does Arthur and the Land of the Invisibles seem very choppy and annoying? The original wasn’t like that. Why does Leap! have recasted actors for minor or lead roles? Are you catching what I’m throwing right now? Instead of spending money and marketing on the film itself, they tend to hire a bunch of celebrities to redub lines, voice characters who didn’t talk in the original, and taking out any of the charm the original films may have had. It’s like they really didn’t care what they were doing, spent money for changes that didn’t need to be made, and then realized that they invested a bunch of cash into these films, knowing they will not make it back.

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That’s probably the worst part. I always think that they realize that they have yet another project that will not be reviewed well, won’t make them money, and secretly toss it into release date limbo, and then quietly release it onto Netflix without anyone knowing. Luckily, I am one of those people that find out about films like the ones they release, and make sure to remind people that they chose to distribute these films. Why would they go through the trouble of getting the rights, spending money on unnecessary changes, and then pull out and quietly take the loss?

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What would I change about their tactics? I would change everything. If you are going to bring over animated films, bring over ones people actually want to watch. If the film already has an English dub, then don’t recast and waste more money on new actors. If you think about cutting and editing a film for some unknown reason, then take Hayao Miyazaki’s advice when you thought about cutting and editing Princess Mononoke, and don’t. If you honestly don’t want to put it in theaters because it will make you look bad and it won’t perform well, then put it straight to DVD, and people will instantly forget about it. That way, you don’t set off a bunch of red flags and alarm sounds, when you keep moving release dates for the movie. Also, if they aren’t so committed to helping get animation from overseas here in the states, then why bother? Why not just focus on the films you obviously put more effort put into them? It’s obvious that they have never made money on their animated films.

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So, is The Weinstein Company the worst animation distributor? Well, they are really bad, but for entirely different reasons than Lionsgate or Open Road Films. While Lionsgate is bad because they will literally bring over or pick up anything, The Weinstein Company is bad because they will pick up a film, do an insane amount of editing, recasting, redubbing, and so forth to films that end up as worse for wear. Instead of picking the right projects like Sony Pictures Classics and GKids, they pick up films that are already middle-of-the-road or bottom-of-the-barrel, and make them worse. I think the only film I can suggest seeing from their library of animation is Azur & Asmar, but be prepared to watch it in French, and look at some stiff animation. Even then, GKids helped with that film, so I wouldn’t really call it a Weinstein Company film. Who knows how they will handle Leap!, but I am sure if you don’t see it get even a limited release, then they don’t care, and are, once again, ashamed that they put money into such a terrible movie.

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