Animation Tidbits: Annecy 2019 Part 1

imageedit_1_6954650919.jpg

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

So, it’s another year, and that means the E3 of animation, the Annecy International Film Festival, is going to happen! This year, the special guest country is Japan, and the line-up that includes films from Japan is impressive! This article will tackle the films that are in the main competition. The line-up has many strong films, and I’ll be talking about a few that I have mentioned before.

Honorable Mention: Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles

Competing last year in the “Out of Competition” section, I have seen the full film at Animation is Film 2018, and I loved it. It’s easily one of my favorite animated films of this decade, and it told a compelling story about a real-life filmmaker saving his career and finding out about himself. It has beautiful animation. The only reason why I’m putting it in the Honorable Mentions category is that it’s about to have a US release as well. Still, if you are going to Annecy, and you can go see this film, do so!

 

Now then, let’s get on with the other films!

Birthday Wonderland

Directed by Keiichi Hara, the director of one of 2016’s best animated features, Miss Hokusai, Birthday Wonderland tells the story of a young girl named Akane, who gets visited by an alchemist named Hippocrates and the student of the alchemist Pipo. They tell Akane that they are on a quest to save the world, and go into a basement to teleport into a world known as Wonderland. One of the stand-out details for me is the art direction. It looks incredible, but it’s more who is attached to it that is interesting to me. The visuals and character designs are being done by a Russian artist named Iiya Kuvshinov. You don’t really see outside artists work on Japanese productions. It’s a rare sight indeed. It definitely looks like a fun fantastical adventure with plenty of whimsical visuals and a cheerful tone that I hope delivers a wonderful experience.

Ride Your Wave

Directed by Masaaki Yuasa, famed director of Lu Over the Wall Mindgame, and The Night is Short, Walk on Girl, the story follows the relationship of Hinako, a college girl who loves to surf, and Minato, a firefighter who also loves to surf. After Minato passes away during a surfing accident, Hinako goes into a depression. However, when she sings a song that was close to the two, she finds that Minato is back! Well, as a ghost that’s trapped in the water. Yeah, this is going to be another odd and abstract film from the creative anime director. It looks to be a film about dealing with grief and growing up. I’m just sitting here now waiting for it to pop up at the Animation is Film Festival line-up, and for GKids to pick it up!

White Snake

Directed by Amp Wong and Ji Zhao, and a prequel to the Chinese Fable, Legend of the White Snake, it tells the story about a hunter and a snake disguised as a woman. I’m a bit worried how people who are not familiar with the original story will react to this, and its slightly more adult tone may turn off certain people, but I think for Chinese animation, it looks impressive. Their CGI might not be all there yet, but it looks better than most features that come out of China. Hopefully, the story will be compelling and interesting enough for those not aware of the fable.

Swallows of Kabul

I know I have talked about this film by duo directors Zabou Breitman and Elea Gobbe-Mevellec, but since we have a new trailer of the film based on the book of the same name, I wanted to make sure people know about it. It still has a lot of the incredible animation that we saw in the previous teaser for the film, and we get a little more about the story about two families that become intertwined by a corrupt society. It looks great, and I bet we will see this one at Animation is Film later this year.

I Lost My Body

Directed by Jeremy Clapin, this French animated feature focuses on a living human hand that goes on a perilous adventure to be reattached to its body. Yeah, this is easily one of the more complex animated features competing this year. You get an adult vibe from the trailer, which could lead to some fairly mature topics. I’m not entirely sure how this premise is going to carry on through a feature-length film, but it’s a film that stands out from the rest, due to its premise!

The Famous Bear Invasion of Sicily

We finally have a trailer for this one! The story itself hasn’t changed, about a bear prince that ends up in the human kingdom that causes a stir between them and the bears. I wanted to bring up the insanely creative visuals. This is done by the same studio that did the Oscar-nominated The Red Turtle and Zarafa, Prima Linea Productions. The vibrant colors, the well-executed CGI animation, and the fantastical imagery really give this film some life that not a lot of other animated features can have. All the visuals look like they are part of some kind of painting come to life, and it’s crazy how lush the colors are! I really hope this comes over to the Animation is Film Festival later this fall.

Marona’s Fantastic Tale

TheExtraordinaryVoyageOfMarona from Aparte Film on Vimeo.

Finally, we have Marona’s Fantastic Tale! Directed by Anca Damian, this Romania, France, and Belgium collaboration follows a dog, which recently passes away, and goes through a journey through her life and the people that she encountered. This is a truly unique-looking animated feature with a pastel painting look to the characters, with a bunch of bright colors and eye-opening visuals to tell a story about love. It’s a small-scale-looking film that I think would be awesome to watch.

Advertisements

The Other Side of Animation 156: UglyDolls Review

imageedit_1_8998867612.jpg

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

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

imageedit_3_5962488196.jpg

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

imageedit_5_5518184732.jpg

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

imageedit_7_6435037698.jpg

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

imageedit_9_7454154800.jpg

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

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

imageedit_11_3058999147.jpg

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

Rating: The Worst/Blacklist

The Other Side of Animation 155: Justice League vs. The Fatal Five Review

imageedit_1_3340249996.jpg

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

Recently, in terms of quality, the DC brand has made a sudden course move to much better pastures. Sure, Aquaman is a bloated mess that felt like two movies in one, but it was such a blast to watch, and then Shazam! came out of nowhere, and was just an incredible movie. It’s easily my favorite superhero movie of 2019 so far, and I’m typing this as Avengers: Endgame comes out, so we will see how that ends up. Anyway, I’m happy that the company is doing a better job with its features, and I’m seeing some slight improvement in the animation department as well. While some of the films from last year were still okay at best, Batman Ninja was such an entertaining ride. It seems like whenever DC goes off the beaten path of something that’s not working correctly for them, they tend to get better results. For example, let’s see how Justice League vs. The Fatal Five does. Directed by Sam Liu, we see the return of not only Sam Liu as the director, but Bruce Timm as executive producer, and his designs take over the art direction of the film. This was also touted as the first DC-animated feature to deal with not only the Green Lantern Jessica Cruz, but also will be tackling characters with mental health challenges. So, how does it work juggling all of that? Well, let’s get started!

imageedit_3_4922738164.jpg

The story sets us up in the future with the Legion of Superheroes, a “Justice League” of the future, to put it shortly. They are being attacked by three of a villain group known as The Fatal Five. The three members include Mano, voiced by Philip Anthony-Rodriguez, The Persuader, voiced by Matthew Yang King, and Tharok, voiced by Peter Jessop. So, what are they after? They are after a time machine to go into the past to get something. They get past Legion member Saturn Girl, voiced by Tara Strong, and Star Boy, voiced by Elyes Gabel. Fortunately, Star Boy ends up screwing up the three baddies’ plans, and ends up going into the past with them. Along the way, he encounters the current day’s Justice League members Batman, voiced by Kevin Conroy, Superman, voiced by George Newbern, Wonder Woman, voiced by Susan Eisenberg, Mr. Terrific, voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson, and young hopeful Miss Martian,  voiced by Daniela Bobadilla. Another side of the story has a unknown player in the overall plot with Jessica Cruz, the current Earth’s Green Lantern, voiced by Diane Guerrero. Will the Justice League be able to stop three of the Fatal Five members while dealing with the mystery of Star Boy and Jessica Cruz’s connection?

imageedit_7_8922409728.jpg

So, how about we talk about the elephant in the room? This film deals with two characters who have mental health issues. Star Boy has a drug in the future that he takes to prevent some kind of mental breakdown, which the film describes as  paranoid schizophrenic, but even then, it’s a doctor from the past that describes it, so who knows if that’s really what it is. They don’t say what Jessica Cruz suffers from, and I want to take a guess, but I don’t want to mislabel it. That’s a big risk to have a film that tackles those types of issues. You have to be respectful about it, and tread lightly with making sure these disorders or issues are treated with delicate hands. For the most part, I think they do handle their struggles with the proper weight of said challenges. They aren’t just added in for no reason to give the story some kind of artificial struggle. Jessica Cruz, after surviving a pretty traumatic experience, struggles with getting up and socializing with the rest of the world. I could see how going through what happened would close one’s self away from the world. While they don’t really go into full detail as to what exactly happened with Star Boy, he’s more interesting as a character with his struggle to be helpful. He also realizes how crippling his issues are that could hinder the League’s attempts to stop the Fatal Five. You get a lot of quiet moments between Star Boy, Jessica Cruz, and the other characters. It might be fairly action-packed, but it does pull back to let the characters talk. Speaking of the action, while it might seem kind of busted for two of the villains seen for most of the film being a cyborg and a guy with a sharp axe, the action is pretty good! It’s nice to see the Fatal Five, for the most part, treated as major threats, which usually doesn’t happen a lot with most superhero films. Granted, I have some issues with the villains, but we will save that for a later part of the review. Even someone who I was very afraid would get the short stick, in terms of being important to the plot, Mr. Terrific, gets some great lines and action beats.

imageedit_11_5056156631.jpg

Animation-wise, this is becoming the most boring part to talk about with these DC-animated films. Not that it’s badly animated, but it’s like talking about the LEGO games from Travelers Tales; it’s pretty much on-par with the other films recently released by DC and Warner Bros. When the action kicks in, the animation is great! You can still tell where they lessen the frames of animation, and some very minute parts feel like they slowed-down the footage, but it’s all on par for these animated features. It doesn’t hurt that the Bruce Timm designs are still very iconic. The voice cast is also stellar. While it could be seen as fanservicey to bring back Kevin Conroy, Susan Eisenberg, and George Newbern as Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman, I am always happy to hear those voices. The rest of the cast also pulls their weight, with newcomers Elyes Gabel and Diane Guerrero doing splendid jobs as Star Boy and Green Lantern Jessica Cruz. The villains are also threatening with Peter Jessop, Matthew Yang King, and Philip Anthony-Rodruiguez’s performances. It’s always nice to see Kevin Michael Richardson, and I would totally watch a Mr. Terrific TV series or DC-animated film with Kevin Michael Richardson as the lead voice actor.

imageedit_5_6634846050.jpg

So, where does this film fall flat? It’s funny how many people complain about the third act in Marvel films, and while some of them are definitely not handled the best, I would take the least liked third act of any of the Marvel films over the wonky and surprisingly sloppy third act of this movie. The plans the villains follow at first is pretty great as you find out why the Fatal Five went back in time, but then you find out about the actual plan, and it’s really stupid. I want to really talk about it, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet. My opinion on the overall third act had me asking too many questions, and maybe some of it is my lack of knowledge of certain characters, but I just couldn’t fully get into it outside of the ending.  I also wish Miss Martian was not in the film. It’s not that she isn’t entertaining, voiced well, and so on, but she felt out of place with the other characters. I don’t know, maybe I’m too caught up with how Young Justice handles her character on that show.

imageedit_9_3122114248.jpg

Still, despite my gripe with the third act, I did find myself enjoying Justice League vs. The Fatal Five. It’s a film I can see myself rewatching more than other DC-animated features and other animated features overall. It also makes me wish they would reboot and make a new League of Superheroes show or series of films. It’s a cool premise, and the original series was pretty decent. Maybe we will see more of these futuristic heroes in the future, but for now, I recommend Justice League vs. The Fatal Five. Now then, we shall move from superheroes dealing with complex issues, to a film about a brand of toys that haven’t been popular in years. Next time, we dive into the world of the UglyDolls movie. Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go see it!

The Other Side of Animation 154: Missing Link Review

imageedit_2_6068977005.jpg

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

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!

imageedit_4_3127202175.jpg

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?

imageedit_6_5426779609.jpg

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.

imageedit_10_8992631796.jpg

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.

imageedit_8_4288443394.jpg

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.

imageedit_12_9535678349.jpg

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

The Other Side of Animation 153: Maquia: When the Promised Flowers Bloom Review

imageedit_1_5927479263.jpg

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

Something that’s unfortunate not only in the animation scene, but the theatrical animation scene in general is that there is a huge lack of non- white male directors. At least, I find that to be a major observation. Maybe it’s a lack of awareness for the directors in question, because we know about women like Lauren Faust and Nora Twomey, but it could also be the fact that many powerful male creators for studios like the ex-head of Pixar and other areas of the animation scene have ruined the chances and passion many non-white male had with working in animation. Not every great story is going to come from one type of person. The more diversity we get with animation, the more stories we can tell, and the more voices that can be heard. A darn good example of getting a unique voice that told a compelling and powerful movie would be Mari Okada’s Maquia: When the Promised Flowers Bloom. Released last year by Eleven Arts in the states, Mari Okada’s fantasy drama was her first theatrical directorial debut for which she also wrote the script. This is on top of a successful career of writing, including Anohana, Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans, and The Anthem of the Heart. So then, let’s dive in and see why this was one of the best animated films of 2018.

imageedit_5_3145693723.jpg

The story follows a young woman named Maquia, dubbed by Xanthe Huynh. She is a being known as a Lorph, a race of human-like individuals that stay young and live longer than normal humans. They also weave their stories in these giant cloth-like fabrics. One day, a kingdom attacks her people to take a maiden from her clan to offer to the kingdom’s prince, so they can make long-living children and keep the kingdom afloat forever. Luckily for Maquia, she escapes when one of the dragon creatures the knights rode on goes berserk, and she ends up riding on it out of the reach of the kingdom. She then finds herself in a village that was attacked by bandits. Among the debris, she finds a human baby in the arms of his dead mother. Maquia decides to take care of the infant as the film follows the challenges of raising a child, learning about life, the trials of love, and being a mother.

Maq2.jpg

So, what really cements Okada’s writing and directorial work in this film? Well, the themes this film tackles of loss, love, and motherhood. We have seen those themes before in films like Wolf Children, which has unfortunately been compared and contrasted with Maquia due to the focus on a mother raising a kid in a unique situation. What makes this film so dastardly with its way of using emotionally powerful moments is how Okada catches you off-guard. It’s like she sneaks up behind you, pokes you with a knife to tell you to get ready, and then when the time comes, stabs you right in the feels to deliver an extra powerful punch to your heart. I don’t think I have seen a film like Maquia that has made me cry harder the two times that I have seen it. Its themes are beautifully woven into the story as you get involved with the trials of Maquia taking care of this child when she is, considering her kind, young herself, and doesn’t really know what to do. You watch as decades pass and she stays the same, but everyone grows up and dies around her. You watch as her son gets older, and the challenge of their relationship and dynamic starts to get in the way of how they come off to other people. Everyone, from the kingdom to the immortal beings, see the rise and fall of mystical creatures becoming extinct and the fall of the kingdom at the end of the film. It’s a brilliantly somber but touching film that, while having incredibly gorgeous animation, shows Okada’s strengths as a writer. You feel heavily invested with the characters and what is going on with them. You want to see Maquia become a mother, you want to see her make sure her son grows up, you want to make sure the son doesn’t get killed, and you want to see her friendships blossom and stay connected. It’s a well-paced story that knows what main plot elements to focus on, and when to sparingly show off what is going on with the other characters.

imageedit_9_9421793330.jpg

Animation-wise, Maquia is a gorgeous movie with beautiful vistas, great camera work, soft rounded character designs, and very well composted CGI. Yeah, once again, a Japanese animated film shows how to do it properly where many anime series fail in regards to the CGI. It can still be noticeable, but it’s not as distracting as say, any of Polygon Pictures’ products or that horrible Berserk continuation. In terms of the original language and the dubbed version, I think you can’t go wrong with either. Xanthe Huynh is incredible as Maquia and simply goes through the gambit of emotions, and you believe her every time. The other actors are good as well with Ryan Shanahan, Eddy Lee, Cherami Leigh, Kevin T. Collins, Brooklyn Nelson, Marc Thompson, H.D. Quinn, Ryan Bartley, and many other voice actors do great with their respective roles. While the music is nothing that you haven’t really heard before, Kenji kawai, the composer for shows and movies like Patlabor, Ranma ½, Devilman, Project A-ko, Burn up!, Ghost in the Shell, Dai-Guard, and Ip Man still delivers a sweeping epic score and soothing tunes that pull you into the experience.

imageedit_7_9931435536.jpg

If I had to complain about something with this wonderfully touching film, I would say that the art direction isn’t all that creative. Yes, it’s a more human and adult story, but when you have the character designer Yuriko Ishii, who was inspired by the artist who did Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story, and Tactics Ogre, Akihiko Yoshida, you kind of expect something more creative. It all looks great visually, but there is nothing that unique or outstanding about the fantasy world that they live in. Also, while it’s not as bad as other films or anime series, you can definitely see when they use CGI. It’s not a major detractor, but it’s something worth noting. I also found a few times where the dub sounded like it got slightly drowned out by the music.

imageedit_11_7975011557.jpg

Even with those criticisms, they are incredibly minor, because Maquia is such a powerful and moving film. It makes me excited to see what other directing gigs Okada will get in the future, and it makes me want to check out what she has done in the past. It’s finally out on DVD, but heads up. You can only get the Japanese dub version with the Blu-ray version of the film. The DVD version only comes with the English dub. Still, I’m happy and hopeful more people can finally check out this classic from Japan. Now then, we travel from Japan to go on a trip around the world! Next time, we are going to check out Laika’s newest film, Missing Link. Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

The Other Side of Animation 152: Wonder Park Review

canva-photo-editor - 2019-03-22T013425.367.png

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

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

canva-photo-editor - 2019-03-22T013536.175.png

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

canva-photo-editor - 2019-03-22T013913.002.png

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

canva-photo-editor - 2019-03-22T013837.080.png

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

canva-photo-editor - 2019-03-22T013709.146.png

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

Rating: The Worst/Blacklist

The Other Side of Animation 151:How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World Review

canva-photo-editor - 2019-03-19T133225.004.png

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

Well, it has happened. I am finally able to review DreamWorks animated movies! Now that they are under Universal’s banner, and not Fox’s banner, I can now talk about today’s film and any of their future projects. It’s fascinating to see the entire history of DreamWorks. The company was founded by Jeffery Katzenberg after a nasty break-up with Disney, and made a name for not really having an identity, making edgier/mostly mediocre films that tried to ape off of what Disney/Pixar were doing at the time. They finally made a name for themselves with hits like Shrek 2, the Kung Fu Panda and How to Train your Dragon films, and then lost so much money after one failed business decision after another, we are now at the current part of the timeline. Once they lost about 500 employees and a couple of double digit millions when their 2014 films failed to bring in the money, they were then bought out by Universal. That’s a fairly rough and compacted history, but this isn’t about the history of DreamWorks, and how they started out to where they are now. I’m not getting paid enough on my Patreon to do something like that (link to my Patreon if you would like to support it). We are here to talk about How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World. Directed and written by Dean DeBlois, The Hidden World wraps up the entire trilogy of one of DreamWorks’ best franchises. It came out near the end of February to critical acclaim and commercial success. So, how is the actual film? Let’s see what unfolds in this hidden world.

canva-photo-editor - 2019-03-19T141310.219.png

The third film takes place a year after the second film, as Hiccup, voiced once again by Jay Baruchel, is now officially the leader of his people, and has gone on frequent missions to take down and free dragons from people who capture them. Unfortunately, his home and people are at risk of having to find a new land, and come to the realization about the relationship his people have with the dragons. This doesn’t help things when a group of dragon hunters hire a notoriously dangerous individual known as Grimmel the Grisly, voiced by F. Murray Abraham, who wants to kill all of the dragons, especially the Night Fury and Light Fury species. Hiccup then suggests that they find the Hidden World, a place where all the dragons live. Since this is the third film as well, let’s throw in a mysterious Light Fury, a white version of the franchise’s icon Toothless. Can Hiccup save his people and dragons from annihilation?

canva-photo-editor - 2019-03-19T140851.602.png

Before I talk about the positives, and there are a lot of positives, I wanted to counter against some of the criticisms that have been thrown at this film. The first criticism I see is that it doesn’t tie into the Netflix series at all. To be frank, I’m happy they didn’t. Sure, the Netflix series was able to expand upon the characters and the world with more villages, villains, and other heroes. However, if push comes to shove, I’d rather it stay exclusively within the film world. It’s not really fair to expect everyone going into this third film to have watched the Netflix series, or the series that came out before the second film. I get that even the slightest little easter eggs or cameos would have been nice for fans of the TV series, but at the same time, most people going into this wouldn’t have seen the entire series. The next criticism I see is aimed at how some of the characters are handled. I have a mixed reaction to this part overall. Again, a lot of people pointed out that the TV series was doing a better job at fleshing out these characters. Well, duh. You have a TV series that has multiple episodes and more time to flesh everything out. I think the writing is strong enough that a good chunk of the characters are still true to them and are still great.

canva-photo-editor - 2019-03-19T140610.407.png

That’s really all I have to disagree with. Now, we talk about the actual criticisms. To me, the How to Train your Dragon franchise runs parallel with DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda franchise. The first film was a surprise hit, and both have really good first films. The second films arguably are better films expanding the world, the story, the characters, and have a better villain. The third films are not as good as the second ones, but are great closers to the franchise, however, they have weaker villains. Yeah, while being voiced well by F. Murray Abraham, Grimmel the Grisly was not as interesting as a villain as other animated film villains. He had a bit of mystery to him, and was a threat with the other warriors and those dragon killers, but he felt underutilized. While I disagree that all of the side characters suffered from being underdeveloped, both Kung Fu Panda and Dragons sure do not give their side protagonists a lot to do. This is especially true for Jonah Hill’s Snotlout. He is just the worst character in this film. While Fishlegs, voiced by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Ruffnut and Tuffnut, voiced by Kristen Wiig and Justin Rupple, all have some more focus and things to do in the story, Snotlout never has a good scene, is always the butt of the joke, is constantly trying to hit on Hiccup’s mom for some creepy reason, and if that’s not creepy enough, apparently, Snotlout is worse in the original books. It always comes off like DreamWorks puts in so many characters, because they are banking on a TV series. They also don’t let us, the viewers, spend much time in the Hidden World. I kind of wish there was more time spent on Hiccup, Toothless, the Hidden World, America Ferrera’s Astrid, than focusing on the side characters who don’t have much to them.

canva-photo-editor - 2019-03-19T140810.958.png

So, what’s amazing about this film? Everything! The animation is beautiful. I’m so blown away at how incredible the franchise’s visuals have become, as even the first film from 2010 still looks pretty darn good! I love the details of the textures used, the slightly aged characters, and the immense amount of detail used in every house, island, dragon, human, and you get the idea. Once again, DreamWorks shows that while the overarching plot might not be the best, it makes up for it with some really good character moments. Throughout the entire film, there will be little moments between two characters that bring this film so much life and personality. Many of the best moments in the previous films were the quiet moments as Hiccup interacted with either Toothless or someone else. This film ups those scenes, as we get the final chapter of Hiccup’s coming-of-age tale of becoming the new tribe leader for his people. One of the most memorable scenes for me was when Hiccup was a kid, and he saw his dad mourn the loss of his wife/Hiccup’s mother, and you just get so much out of that one scene alone. Of course, the chemistry between Toothless and his new love interest is also a hugely entertaining scene, as it involves the least amount of dialogue out of any scene in this movie, and is so adorable and funny that you think it would backfire in some possible way, but it doesn’t. There are quite a few scenes of Toothless and his girlfriend that are all just wonderful to watch.  The film tackles plenty of complex themes, like learning to change, how Hiccup comes to terms with doing what’s best for everyone involved, and learning and working on making your own path through life.

canva-photo-editor - 2019-03-19T141342.847.png

How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World might have a few flaws under its wings, but it’s another fantastic ride from DreamWorks. I know it’s easy to worry about DreamWorks Animation and their film line-up in the future, but for now, why not enjoy this movie and go see it? I highly recommend that you do so if you haven’t already. It shows that when DreamWorks wants to, they can put out a high quality product. Now then, we shall now move from dragons that you form an emotional bond with, to a film about a magical amusement park that doesn’t quite work. Next time, we shall talk about the notorious and infamous Wonder Park. Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed this review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!