The Other Side of Animation 197: Over the Moon 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/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!)

Heads up!: I was able to watch this film before it’s release due to obtaining an advance screener from Netflix.

As I get closer and closer to reviewing 200 animated films, I hope it’s clear that, as many of these are non-Pixar/Disney, I do not hate Disney or Pixar animated films. Honestly, they can be some of my favorite films from the years they are released. I don’t have some deep-seated grudge against them. Now, I don’t like a lot of the business side of things with Disney as a whole, but in terms of what we are talking about right now, I enjoy and even love the animated films they make. However, taking out the Pixar gems, I do think something changed right around the time after Moana was released. I like Ralph Breaks the Internet and to a degree, Frozen II, but they were missing something that I think is filled by the foreign/indie scene of animation. They missed a very genuine heart, and while their last two films do have some great elements, would you consider them the best of their 2010s output? I wouldn’t. Even with the Pixar gems like Inside OutCoco, and so on, my attention and love for animation has gone into supporting what everyone else is doing. Making money and making art is a balancing act, so if you want to make it in the industry, you have to do both. I’ve seen the worst of both the money and art side, and it makes me more thankful when I get to see films like Over the Moon.

Directed by Glen Keane in his first feature film gig as a director, co-directed by John Kahrs, written by the late great Audrey Wells, and animated by Pearl Studios and Sony Pictures Imageworks, this is the newest film in the push for the streaming service Netflix to have exclusive animated features. Last year, we saw that come through with Klaus, and this year, we have The Willoughbys, Animal Crackers, and now Over the Moon. Not going to lie, if this is the level of quality a streaming service is going to be putting out in top-shelf animated features, then everyone else needs to step up after this and Wolfwalkers

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Our story revolves around Fei Fei, voiced by Cathy Ang. She lives with her mother, voiced by Ruthie Ann Miles, and her father aka Ba Ba, voiced by John Cho. Unfortunately, in animated film fashion from an ex-Disney veteran, the mom passes away while Fei Fei is young. After a few years pass, she finds out that her dad is seeing someone else, and meets a young boy who may or may not end up being her brother-in-law. His name is Chin, voiced by Robert G. Chiu. After a blow-up one night when the entire family is over, Fei Fei decides to make a rocket and head to the moon to meet the Moon Goddess that her mom told her stories about! The only catch is that her stepbrother, her rabbit, and her stepbrother’s frog get roped in, and they crash on the moon. Luckily, they are safe, but are then taken to the Goddess of the Moon named Chang’e, voiced by Phillipa Soo. Fei Fei wants to get proof that she exists, and the Goddess is willing to give her that proof. However, the catch is that Fei Fei needs to get a gift for her, and she needs to get it before the entire moon is dark. Can Fei Fei get this supposed gift and bring back proof that the Goddess is a real entity? 

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So, for Glen Keane’s first directorial feature, I think he overall did a great job with his team in crafting this film’s story. If I had to say what the film is about, in terms of story and themes, I think the film is about family, love, dealing with loss, loneliness, and pushing forward. I think one of my favorite aspects of the writing is that there are fun little symbolic elements thrown into the mix, but they have layers to them. The more you invest your time into paying attention to the story, there are satisfying payoffs. For example, Chen says he can go through walls, and anytime that he does try to, he yells “No Barriers!” Well, sure there is a payoff to that aspect of his character, but you can also see it as a way of saying ‘there are no barriers between us as brother, sister, and family”. Even during the big family dinner sequence, the grandfather will throw out a line that may be about his obsessions with hairy crabs, but it matches with what is thematically going on with Fei Fei’s character at that moment. Even Fei Fei’s hair has little story elements to it, and I adore this much detail that Glen and Audrey Wells put into the story beats. I bring up these story beats because I think the trailer undersells the actual maturity and depth that the film offers. It’s very much a Smallfoot and Abominable situation, if you catch my drift with how the marketing made the films look sillier than they are. Don’t get me wrong, this film can be silly, and not all of its jokes land, but it’s still pretty funny with a fairly universal style of humor. Still, a lot of Over the Moon reminds me of how Moana and Studio Ghibli have handled antagonistic forces in films. Chang’e might be a goddess on the moon, but she isn’t evil or wants to wreck the world or the universe. She’s alone, and bitter about what happened in her past. There is more nuance to Chang’e and Fei Fei’s connection as characters, and it reminds me of films like Song of the Sea, where it plays around with the themes of emotion, love, and connection. Even if I think some characters could have had better connections or maybe a little more plot or scenes together, I can’t think of a character that was truly superficial to what was going on in the story. I know some people cringed when they saw Ken Jeong as Gobi, and they were dreading him being the comedic side character, but I found him pretty tolerable, and his scenes with Fei Fei are cute and earnest. He even gets some lines that help the story move forward. 

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Everything feels cohesive in this film, and that includes the animation. With Pearl Studios doing the previous year’s Abominable in 2019, and Sony Pictures Imageworks helping out, the animation in this film is high quality. The humans look great, their animation is expressive, and when we get to the kingdom of the moon, it’s a rainbow of colors. Seriously, when I saw the teaser back in June, and the new trailer recently, I loved the colors. It’s very unique compared to much that has come out this year. The simplistic designs and vibrant colors remind me of Yayoi Kusama or something Science Saru would do. It even has a little bit of the online world Summer Wars has. Now, since this is directed by an ex-Disney animation legend, of course, the movie is a musical. The music has a little bit of the magic that The Little Mermaid had, and that shouldn’t be a shock, since Keane was also an animator in that movie. The songs themselves are quite good. I might like some more than others, but I couldn’t find one that was pure filler or felt out of place. The team of Steven Price, Christopher Curtis, Marjorie Duffield, and Helen Park deserves a major shoutout for making some amazing music that captured that old Disney spirit that I think was missing from many of their recent output. It’s funny how ex-Disney animators have been able to be more Disney on top of their own identity than Disney themselves. The voice cast is also pretty strong, with a cast including Cathy Ang, Robert G Chiu, Phillipa Soo, Ken Jeong, John Cho, Ruthie Ann Miles, Margaret Cho, Sandra Oh, Kimiko Glenn, and Artt Butler. It’s a great cast, and I felt their genuine chemistry between the characters. I think my favorite moments are the scenes with the family. It reminds me of a time where we could get together for a big family meal around the holidays. 

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Now, while I think this is a very cohesive film, I do have a few complaints. I think I would have liked at least one more scene of Fei Fei and Chun bonding, because they are separated for the majority of the film, and I think it would have helped make their bond at the end stronger. I know this film was more about Fei Fei’s personal growth as an individual, but still. While I am probably more on the side of loving Ken Jeong’s character than hating him, I wanted a stronger outcome for his character. He came back after being exiled, so wouldn’t the goddess have some kind of comment about that or something? I don’t think he was added for the sake of having another animal sidekick, since the film already had two with Bungie and the frog, and even then, the frog is barely in the film. My point is, I wish there was a little more of a satisfying ending to Gobi’s arc.

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Outside of some of the secondary and minor characters getting criticized, I love Over the Moon. It’s a touching film about love and family. It’s easily one of the best animated films of the year, and in a year where animation has taken front seat even though most of the big players have delayed their releases to next year, Over the Moon would still be in my top five animated films of the year. Once it hits Netflix later this month on the 23rd, I highly recommend everyone check it out. If you need a pick-me-up for what has been going on throughout this year, Over The Moon will be that pick-me-up. So, let’s move on from our trip to the moon, and back down to the world of Lupin the 3rd. Since his newest film is coming out in the states (better have some virtual screenings of it), I think it would be fair for us to check out the last special in the trilogy of specials from The Woman Called Fujiko Mine with Lupin the 3rd: Fujiko’s Lie

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time! 

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 196: Wolfwalkers 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/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!)

With everything that is going on in the year 2020, it does seem like foreign animated films are having a much harder time finding wider audiences. Even with film festivals going online, very few are being shown outside of their country of origin. From what I have seen, only a handful have been able to go online, due to probable legal shenanigans and not wanting to risk the film leaking online through piracy and whatnot. I get that, but it then makes the overall film year feel bone dry. No real news either has been announced for some of the other major foreign releases from last year, like Swallows of Kabul. People want to see these films, but due to the pandemic, and the legal complications of it all, the films are stuck in release/distribution limbo. So, when film festivals or distribution companies do make these films available to see for a wider audience, it’s a pleasant surprise, and it also gives financial support to the festivals, distributors, and studios. That’s why I was so excited to check out what is probably going to be the best animated film of 2020, Wolfwalkers

Directed by Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart, written by Will Collins, and animated by the ever-amazing Cartoon Saloon, this is the newest film by Tomm Moore that made its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival 2020. It will soon be released on Apple TV+ and will have a limited theatrical release by GKIDS. So far, it has gotten critical acclaim, and it rightfully deserves it. Let’s bear our fangs and get right down to talk about this film. 

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The story follows a young girl named Robyn Goodfellowe, voiced by Honor Kneafsey. She has moved from England to Ireland with her father Bill Goodfellowe, voiced by Sean Bean. Her father is a hunter for the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, voiced by Simon McBurney, who is the leader of the town in which the Goodfellowes live. The town is having a bit of a wolf problem that is preventing the town from chopping down the forest to, well, colonize the rest of the land. As Robyn follows her dad into the forest (against his request, of course), She encounters the pack of wolves that are led by a young girl who calls herself a Wolfwalker. Her name is Mebh MacTire, voiced by Eva Whittaker. 

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I think it would be tough to talk about this movie without first talking about what might be some of the most visually stunning animation of 2020. Wolfwalkers is hands down, some of the prettiest 2D animation ever put to film. The fluidity of the movements, the designs, the colors, the rough 70s Disney/early Don Bluth is a sight to behold. I may have only been able to see this on a laptop, but it didn’t stop me from picking my jaw off the floor with how this film looked. It’s Cartoon Saloon’s most ambitious project in the art department. I love how the film uses rough sketchbook-looking characters, and they don’t clean it up at all. It gives the entire film a rough dirty look that matches the atmosphere and grunge of the period in which the film takes place. The film’s beautiful visuals are also executed perfectly, with quite wonderful editing and Samurai Jack-style split-screen effects to add tension and to enhance the emotional experience. Even the lighting in the animation makes everything look like it was animated on wood grain. It’s insane how visually stunning this film looks, and I just reviewed Children of the Sea, and this is on that level. 

The music is also wonderful as per usual. The team behind the music is the same team-up of Bruno Coulais and the folk group Kila, and to no shock at all, the music is fantastical, whimsical, atmospheric, elegant, energetic, and heavy when need be. On top of the amazing music, the voice cast is stellar. Besides the two lead actresses playing the, well, lead roles, Honor Kneafsey and Eva Whittaker, you also have the great Sean Bean, who is always fun to see in a film or show. You also have Maria Doyle Kennedy, Simon McBurney, Tommy Tiernan, John Morton, Jon Kenny, Oliver McGrath, Niamh Moyles, Sofia Coulais, and even Nora Twomey makes a cameo in the film. It’s a wonderful and lively cast. 

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However, most of this film would fall flat without a good story, and to be frank, the story is great. While The Breadwinner is probably Cartoon Saloon’s darkest and most mature film story-wise, Wolfwalkers is up there in that same area. Seriously, this film tackles such themes as colonialism, environmentalism, sexism, freedom, family, discrimination, and you even see the villain use mass hysteria to get people on his side. None of these themes would work if the characters that encounter them weren’t great, and they are. Robyn and Mebh have fantastic chemistry and act like a real pair of sisters. It brings a lot of memories of My Neighbor Totoro, due to that film having sisters as the leads. Even Robyn’s father, Ben, is one of the better dads of animation. I know many “I have to protect my daughter” film dad tropes get tiring, annoying, and unintentionally creepy at points, but that’s not here in this film. Even the villain, while not the most original or three-dimensional, is extremely effective. He’s intense, intimidating, uses hysteria to get people on his side, and if need be, he can get off of his literal and metaphorical high horse and try to get the job done himself. The only one who doesn’t get to be fleshed out, and probably the film’s one nitpick is Mebh’s mom, but she turns out to be a sweet and caring individual and  make sure Robyn and Mebh are safe whenever she gets the chance to be onscreen. 

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Anyway, Wolfwalkers is a masterpiece of animation and filmmaking. It’s hands down the best animated film of 2020, and the rest of the 2020 offerings need to step it up if they want to beat Apple TV+ and Cartoon Saloon’s film. Sadly, there are no release dates yet for the film on AppleTV+, but if you are okay enough to go to a theater (I wouldn’t personally go to one, but that’s just me), GKIDS will be distributing it through theaters in the US. Either way, see this film when it’s released. Now then, I think it’s time to review a very special screener. I can’t tell you what it is, but I bet you will all love the review!  

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time! 

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

The Other Side of Animation 195: 5 Year Special – Children of the Sea 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/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!)

In terms of media that we consume and observe, a term that gets thrown around is tech demo. It essentially describes a product that’s made more to show off what a studio or game engine or whatever can do. It might look pretty and powerful, but it’s made to show off something more than anything else. I’ve seen this term used a lot to describe certain studios’ work, and the one that seems to get that title a lot is Studio 4°C. Founded in 1986 by Koji Morimoto and Eiko Tanaka, most anime and animation fans would know them for their work on films like Memories, Princess Arete, Spriggan, Mind Game, Tekkonkinkreet, the Berserk: Golden Age Arc films, MFKZ, Birdboy: The Forgotten Children, some sequences of The Animatrix, certain sequences of Batman: Gotham Knight, Halo Legends, and Genius Party and its sequel Genius Party Beyond. Most of their films or work are known for their interesting visual aesthetics, and to me, they push the limit of anime. Unfortunately, most consider their work more style over substance, and that might be true in some areas, but I think they are better than what most people give them credit for. Out of a lot of the anime studios that are around right now, at least Studio 4°C has an identity. I can tell what a film or project from them looks like. I also love that they want to push the boundaries of what anime visuals can be. This is why for my 5th anniversary special, I want to talk about a film that has been hovering around my brain since last October, Studio 4°C’s Children of the Sea.

Based on the manga by Daisuke Igarashi, directed by Ayumu Watanabe, and produced by Eiko Tanaka, Children of the Sea was originally released back in 2019, and has toured the film festival scene, from Annecy to Animation is Film. It even won Best Animation Film at the Mainichi Film Awards and the Grand Prize in the Animation Division at the Japan Media Arts Festival Awards. It was brought over to the states by GKIDS, and is now widely available to purchase on Blu-ray, DVD, digital, and you can watch it, as of writing this review, on Netflix, so let’s dive into the deep ocean, and check out one of 2019’s best films and one of the most stand-out films in animation. 

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We follow the life of Ruka Azumi, dubbed by Anjali Gauld. She is a junior high school student who is going through a bit of a rough patch in her life. Her parents are in the midst of possible separation, she ends up in a falling out with her classmates during an altercation during sports practice, and all of this while her summer vacation is was about to begin. After some friction with her mother, she goes to the aquarium where her father works. There, she meets a boy named Umi, dubbed by Lynden Prosser, who was raised by dugongs (manatees), and must be soaked or in the water in order to survive. While befriending Umi, Ruka also encounters Umi’s “brother” Sora, dubbed by Ben Niewood. What mysteries do these two water boys hold, and what is their connection with the huge migration of ocean life? 

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So, what is this film about? What kind of message and themes is it trying to convey? Well, to me and many others, it’s a film about loneliness, finding your place, and our connection to the ocean and the universe. Our main character feels alone in the world, and honestly, after the day she had and her family situation, I don’t blame her. Even a normal person can understand or have a point in their life where they feel lost. Sure, the film in the third act gets a little 2001: A Space Odyssey with its psychedelic imagery, but the overall theme and story I think are universal. The world feels vast, and you realize how small you are compared to everything else. It’s a very Men in Black way of looking at the world, but without the dark comedy cynicism. It’s a film that takes its story seriously, and you do feel for our lead character and her trials of finding out where her journey takes her. The other characters like Sora and Umi are interesting as well, with their free-spirited personalities that contrast with Ruka. The other characters are likable, but they are mostly there to help elevate Ruka, Umi, and Sora. Still, I dug the interactions and dialogue between everyone. It’s a hefty script, but without the feeling of the script being pretentious and bloated. The dialogue felt natural, and that’s sometimes very hard for an anime and Japanese animated film to pull off. 

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Now then, the highest praise for this film should absolutely go to the animation. I mean, look at it. Watch a trailer, find a clip, and look at the still frames of it! This is hands down, the prettiest and one of the most well-animated films I have ever seen. It does use a mix of 2D and CGI, but the studio mixes it up so well, that you can’t tell unless you know what you are looking for. It’s probably the most visually stunning animated film of the last decade. I know that sounds shocking, since we have also had films like The CongressKlausI Lost My Body, and you get the idea, but I think Children of the Sea outweighs them all on a visual level. You can tell they were painstakingly recreating the manga’s gorgeous artwork, and they do a good job with everything looking like it was drawn and colored by colored pencils. It’s like you can see every little hand-drawn line. The color palette is also gorgeous and just as detailed. Almost every frame could be taken out of the film and put in a picture frame, because of how jaw-dropping gorgeous the film is. 

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In terms of music, it’s also top-notch, as we have the reoccurring Studio Ghibli maestro himself, Joe Hisaishi composing the music for this film, and you can tell it’s him with his ethereal scores. It feels atmospheric and otherworldly as you try to figure out everything. In terms of acting, I saw the film both dubbed and subbed, and you can’t go wrong with either language, but as usual, I prefer listening to the dub, because I want to focus on the visuals. Still, the dub is a good one with a strong cast including Anjali Gauld, Lynden Prosser, Ben Niewood, Beau Bridgland, Marc Thompson, Karen Strassman, Wally Wingert, Michael Sorich, and Denise Lee. I also have to give a shout-out to the theme song of the film, Spirits of the Sea by singer-songwriter Kenshi Yonezu. It brings out all of the emotions and the grand nature of the visuals. 

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The only nitpick I have is that the third act might be a bit much. It’s very 2001, and you are either down with what happens or not. There is also a small side plot going on, and I don’t know if it needed to be there, but like I said, these are minor nitpicks. This is one of those films that I think I regret putting at no. 10 on my Worst to Best List of 2019. If I could redo that list, I would probably put it higher than some other films on the list. It’s a one-of-a-kind film in a year that had some incredible and stellar animated films. As of writing this review, it’s readily available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital. It’s also on Netflix, so now you have no excuse to not see this artistic and cosmic experience. Watch it however you can. It deserves a re-release in theaters once everything dies down. Well, it’s been five years, and I’m going to hope for five more years of writing about animated films. Now then, let’s move on to another artistic triumph in animation with Cartoon Saloon and Tomm Moore’s newest masterpiece, Wolfwalkers

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time! 

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

The Other Side of Animation 194: Summer Days with Coo

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

With everything that is going on, it makes me want to watch movies about summertime and summer vacation. You know, flying or driving to another place, maybe the countryside, the beach, going to a campsite, and so on. It brought back a lot of childhood memories about my time by the lake, going to the beach, and finding weird little critters to show to my family and friends. It brings me back to a much simpler time, and as pretentious as that sounds, I still miss those days. It’s why after that trainwreck of a film I reviewed last time, Fe@rless, I wanted to review a film that could give me that vibe. That’s why I chose Summer Days with Coo

Directed and written by Keiichi Hara, animated by Shin-Ei Animation, and originally released back in 2007, Summer Days with Coo went around the film festival circuit where it swooped up Best Animated Film wins at the Mainichi Film Awards, the 11th Japan Media Arts Festival, the 2008 Tokyo Anime Award, and was nominated at the Japanese Academy Awards and the Asia Pacific Screen Awards for Best Animated Film. For some reason, the film never made its way over to the states until recently with the help of our favorite distributor, GKIDS. So, what do I think about Hara’s first non-franchise-based animated feature? Well, let’s take a look. 

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Our main story revolves around a kappa named Coo, voiced by Kazato Tomizawa. 200 years before the modern-day, he was with his father, who was killed during an incident with a samurai, and a sudden earthquake after said incident. Coo is then fossilized in the earth, that is, until a young boy named Koichi Uehara, voiced by Takahiro Yokokawa finds him and revitalizes him. Now Coo is stuck in the modern world alone, and slice-of-life shenanigans ensue. 

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So, what do I personally think about this movie? It’s Hara’s first film not based on any franchise like Crayon Shin-chan or Doraemon. It’s based on a book by Masao Kogure called Kappa Osawagi and Kappa Bikkuri Tabi. Well, I’m mixed. On one hand, I love the scenes where Coo interacts with Koichi’s family. They are genuinely nice scenes where the film is a more laid-back affair like Hara’s future film, Miss Hokusai. The plot takes its sweet time getting to different points of conflict to push the story and Coo’s development forward. I like that the film is casual in its tone and atmosphere. I even adore the fact that they throw away the trope of the family fully freaking out about a living folklore creature. The dad simply comes back from work and is like “huh, neat”. Coo himself is a fun and likable character, and the final scene with him is touching. 

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Animation-wise, this is where the mixed opinions become more noticeable. I know the studio is known for working on Crayon Shin-chan, and due to the designs sometimes being very chunky, it’s quite obvious. There are some nice movements and sequences from time to time, but the art direction looks inconsistent. Lesser characters in the background look clunky, while more important humans look okay, but nothing super impressive. The coloring on the humans is also not great. The digital colors look too plain and simple. It was so bland to me that I thought it was from the earlier days of digital coloring in anime, but this came out in 2007, the year before that had films like PaprikaThe Girl Who Leapt Through Time, and Tekkonkinkreet, three of the most visually stunning Japanese animated films of the 2000s. It has some great music, and some solid performances, but the animation falls flat in some areas. Sometimes there is a great physical gag or facial reaction, but it’s not often. 

The animation isn’t the only problem. This is a long movie. A touch too long. It’s two hours and fourteen minutes long. For a film to be that long, and to have a plot that doesn’t have focus, and meanders from plot point to plot point, that’s a long runtime. It doesn’t help that the stakes seem out of order. Like, the major conflict happens, and then, another major conflict happens that doesn’t seem as impactful as the previous one. The tone is also all over the place. Most of the time, it’s harmless and family-friendly, but then some fairly violent parts caught me off guard. Hara’s later films would have much better tone consistencies. It’s frustrating, because when the film is great, it’s really good. I do love a lot of the character interactions. I just wish some of the other characters, like the love interest for Koichi were more interesting. She doesn’t do a lot until the very end. It’s not like there isn’t any substance to the film, because it does deal with themes of change, death, family, connection, and preserving nature. It’s the fact that this film’s pacing is not great. If it had better pacing for its long runtime, then this might well be one of the 2000s best hidden gems. 

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Despite my issues with the film, I do mostly enjoy Summer Days with Coo. I don’t consider it one of GKIDS’ best film releases in terms of what else they have brought over, but it’s still a unique experience all things considered. I would wait to maybe see if this film goes down in price before buying it, but if you want to own all of Keiichi Hara’s films, then pick it up and watch it for yourself. Now then, let’s continue with the somewhat summer vacation-related tangent at the beginning of this review, and end this summer with another GKIDS release, Children of the Sea

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time! 

Rating: Rent it!

The Other Side of Animation 193: Fe@rless 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/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!)

2020 has been an underwhelming year for theatrical animation. The obvious reason being COVID-19, and COVID-19 is awful. Everything has either been pushed back or is now having to either do small limited screenings at safe places like drive-thru theaters, or virtual screenings that are only viable through a computer, and requires some tedium and such if you don’t have a smart TV. As an animation critic, it’s not hard to find stuff to review. I have an immense back-catalog of films I need to write reviews for, and I’m a co-host of Tooned Up! podcast where we mostly talk about the TV shows that are on streaming services. Unfortunately, in between the major show releases and the bare-bones film releases, you will have to scavenge for any new features that may go under the radar, for both good and for bad. Guess which side Fe@rless stands on? 

Animated by Vanguard Animation, and directed by Cory Edwards, this is the newest film from the notorious low-budget feature studio that had no real marketing outside of a trailer on “not Netflix”’s main YouTube channel. For some reason, I have searched the internet, and there are no real news stories or press release articles about this film. I learned about it last month before its August 14th release, and to no real shock, the film has very few reviews, and what reviews are there are universally negative. If you want to hear me talk about this film, you can go to this link here to listen to me and my co-hosts talk about it. For now, though, these are my written thoughts and my review of the film. 

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So, how do I explain this story to everyone? We follow our lead, a young male gamer named Reid, voiced by Miles Robbins. He is the only gamer in the known world to get far in a game, Captain Lightspeed, that is notoriously difficult. He beats the second to the final level of the game as the titular hero, voiced by Jadakiss, who also happens to have three babies with superpowers. Well, within the game itself, the villain known as Arcannis, voiced by Miguel J. Pimentel, attempts to steal the babies with his henchman named Fleech, voiced by Tom Kenny. They succeed in kidnapping the babies, but then the babies end up escaping and going through a wormhole. By the way, all of this is happening while Reid is playing the game. Anyway, the wormhole opens up into the real world, and Reid has to take care of the babies, alongside his classmate who he ends up roping into the situation. It’s up to him to protect the babies and avoid the grasp of both the military and Arcannis. 

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So, while the story summary that I have given is as good as I can offer, the film goes out of its way to make this setup way more complicated. The entire story comes off like it’s the first draft of a premise that didn’t have time to go through a second or third run. Why does Captain Lightspeed need to be a videogame character? There is nothing in this film that required him to be a videogame character or having to do with games. He could have easily been a human-like alien from another galaxy. Also, the video game elements don’t come into play a whole lot for the entire story. They are brought up, the film tries to have a “don’t waste your days away playing video games, do more!”, and then the day is saved because Reid played a video game. The film doesn’t do a good job showing off how Captain Lightspeed gets from his video game realm to the real world, and somehow gets connected to one of Reid’s not-shown gamer friends. Another part of the story that doesn’t work is the villain. Arcannis is easily one of the animation world’s most non-threatening villains. He only becomes a threat, because the story, by no will of his own, gives him easy outs in terms of getting far into the plot. The story tries to have something akin to Jack Jack from The Incredibles, but it misses the entire point of Jack Jack’s storyline from the first and second Incredibles film. I know it seems unfair that I’m ripping apart the story of this film, when most bad movies, or films I considered bad, don’t get this kind of under-the-microscope treatment. It’s because in a year where the theatrical film experience has been limited to non-existent, if animated films want to come out this year, then they are going to get critically judged like the rest. It’s also the fact that the characters are bland, and the story is not engaging enough to not make me notice all of the flaws or plot holes. Like how Arcannis does eventually absorb the babies of their powers, but the babies still have their powers during the final fight. So, did Arcannis not absorb all of it? Also, why are Captain Lightspeed’s upgradable weapons, babies with superpowers? Maybe the game he’s in is notoriously difficult, but only because all of your weapons in-game are babies, and babies are, well, not useful in a fight. The film does nothing to keep you invested with the characters, the story, and the writing. This might be yet another Vanguard Animation project, but even then, the studio does have moments where there is a fun idea at hand, like with their still unreleased in the US film Charming. Once again, without really knowing, unless someone from the team wanted to speak up about it to me personally, everything feels like a first draft that got sent into production, and it shows. Everything is so bare-bones from the dialogue, the jokes, to the character dynamics, and how the overall world works. You don’t even see some characters mentioned.

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Speaking of what feels bare-bones and what didn’t get a second or third pass-through, let’s talk about the animation. I know this studio is known for having very small budgets, and you don’t need $75 mil to make a good looking film, but I will not take anyone seriously if they tell me that an Illumination Entertainment film looks worse than Fe@rless. You can make a visually stunning film on a smaller budget, and we saw that with films like On Gaku: Our Sound, but doing straight-up generic-looking CGI fare on a small budget is only going to make the film look worse, and Fe@rless looks awful. It, again, looks like a first run, in terms of animation. They are all very basic textures, movements, designs, and visuals. Normally, other studios would keep rendering, polishing, and doing what they need to in order to make it look visually better, but it’s obvious Vanguard Animation does not have that time or that’s, for some reason, not high priority. It was more important that the budget be used for Lionel Richie royalties than anything else. I know I haven’t talked about the voice cast, and that’s because it’s a mixed-to-mostly-negative bag of thoughts and comments. On one hand, the film has a predominantly black cast, which is rare for animated films, and I think that’s highly commendable. On the other hand, I think only one person gives a decent performance, while everyone else doesn’t know how to act or were given bad direction. Everyone sounds so wooden, bored, or like they aren’t even trying. The only one who is doing anything worth giving credit to is Gabrielle Union, who plays General Blazerhatch. She has one of the few funny or chuckle-worthy lines in the entire film. The problem is that you could have easily gotten voice actors for all of the roles, and they probably would have done a better job with the material. Why the heck did this film even need Susan Sarandon for a voice cameo? It’s a waste of talent that wasn’t used well at all. It’s the most bare-bones example of celebrity stunt casting being used, and the film coming out worst for it. I hate that I have to say that, but the acting is not great in this film. 

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Sometimes, there is a decent line and the character of Captain Lightspeed himself could have been a decent Saturday morning cartoon character, but outside of that, this film is bad. It’s easily the worst animated film I have seen this year, and I wish I didn’t have to say that. Not all animated films are going to be made equally, but after multiple years of seeing nothing but mediocre from Vanguard Animation, it’s disheartening. No real change seems to be at hand with the studio, and the fact that Netflix thought this should have been one of the high points of August is disappointing since Netflix is already under fire for a lot of their business decisions. I would say avoid this film, but I know people already have. If you are 100% curious to check this film out, then do so, but there are so many better films on Netflix and in general that you can watch. Well, we can only go up from here, and you know what? I want to review something I enjoy and it’s time we go back to GKIDS and Keichi Haara with Summer Days with Coo.

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time! 

Rating: Blacklist/The Worst

The Other Side of Animation 192: The Princess and the Pilot 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/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!)

We have talked about distributors in the past, like GKIDS, Funimation, Shout! Factory, Central Park Media, Elevenarts, and we will be talking about many more of them as more animated films from overseas are released in the states. However, today, we are going to talk about an animated film I have had my eye on for a while, and didn’t know it got a US release until I saw a distributor who brought it over, NIS America. While mostly a video game distributor, they did partake in releasing anime over in the US up until the mid-2010s. The most noteworthy title that they have brought over is the anime adaptation of the beloved, if notorious, Bunny Drop and the Love Live! seriesWhile not known for much else, I’m always interested to see what distributors like to bring over, and that includes today’s film, The Princess and the Pilot

Directed by Jun Shishido, who has directed other anime like Yuri!!! On IceKamen No Maid Guy, and To the Abandoned Sacred BeastsThe Princess and the Pilot is based on the light novel by Koroku Inumura. The film was also written by Satoko Okudera, who has written the scripts for many animated features like Summer WarsWolf ChildrenThe Girl Who Leapt Through Time, and Miyori no Mori. So, did this animated feature deserve to fly under the radar? Well, you will have to get into the co-pilot seat and find out!

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The story is set in a land where two nations, the Levamme Empire and the Amatsukami Imperium are, well, at war with each other. No one can live in peace or anything. Anyway, we focus on a pilot named Charles Karino, voiced by Ryunosuke Kamiki, who is tasked with escorting the princess of the Levamme Empire, Juana Del Moral, voiced by Seika Taketomi. The catch is that they are flying a plane that has no real combat experience, and must get across enemy lines to the homeland of the princess. 

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What do I like about the film? Well, despite showing off air-based combat, the film is more focused on our lead characters and the relationship and chemistry between them. If there was a theme or a topic that the film focuses on, it’s the theme of freedom. The pilot loves flying since he isn’t held down by the rules and limitations of the ground. The princess feels free of her legacy and her royalty while in the air. The two make for a fairly cute romantic couple, even if their fates are as clear as the blue sky. The film also does tackle other issues like racism, corruption, and discrimination, but they are more like flavor packets to the overall experience. The film does spend a lot of time with the two leads, but when the air combat happens, it’s impactful. Due to the fact the duo are flying a plane made for speed more than combat, they take advantage of Charles’ supposed flying skills, and the combat sequences are thrilling. Sure, they are using CGI for these planes and airships, but it doesn’t stop the fights from being fun to watch. It’s all in the execution. 

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Animation-wise, the film was produced by TMS and Studio Madhouse, and the results are pretty. The animation is gorgeous, and when they do use CGI, it blends pretty well. I know people love to rag on CGI used in anime, and yes, there are still some pretty bad examples of it today, but with the proper execution, it can look great. It also helps that the CGI is used sparingly. The music is also atmospheric and more environmental than grandiose, but it’s a solid soundtrack by composer Shiro Hamaguchi. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because he composed the music for One PieceFinal Fantasy: UnlimitedOh My Goddess!Final Fantasy VII, and the original Monster Hunter. Unfortunately, the US release doesn’t have an English voice cast, but I found the overall Japanese cast to do well.

It was tough to write about this film because anytime I could try to layout this review, I kept thinking about Porco Rosso. To be clear, any criticisms I have for this film are not because this film isn’t one of my favorite Studio Ghibli movies. With that said, while I do, in general, like this movie, I want to talk about some of the issues. For a film that takes place in a fictional world, they try to act like it is a “based on a true story” award season film. Even down to the villains in the film being a touch too cartoony in their hatred. Not to say there aren’t just cartoonishly racist people in the real world, but the characters who are hateful are too “on the nose” about it. I also wish the film didn’t use so many of its flying sequences taking place from inside the cockpit of the plane. Not to compare every part of it to Porco Rosso, but that film made the sky and landscapes feel alive. Porco Rosso loved to show landscape shots and show the beauty of the world around Porco. Too many times The Princess and the Pilot only focus on the cockpit view, and it takes me out of the film. The ending is also abrupt and, again, it ends with “historical” text like they were real people. It’s a shame because I loved the ending up to that point. The side characters are also not all that interesting, and you don’t see many of them again after they are introduced. Honestly, one of the more fleshed-out characters is an antagonist pilot later on in the film, and unfortunately, he doesn’t stay long either. 

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Despite my criticisms of the film, I enjoyed my time with The Princess and the Pilot. It’s still readily available on DVD and Blu-ray, and you can find it on Amazon or on Rightstuf Anime. If you want to expand your anime film collection, then I recommend this film. It’s a shame not more people know about it, but I guess that’s what happens when you are with a distributor like NIS America that has pretty much stopped distributing anime. Well, it was fun to explore a new title, but we now must tackle an animated film that Netflix did nothing to advertise, and for good reason with Fe@rless

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time! 

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 191: On Gaku: Our Sound

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

When you think of Japanese animation, the films themselves might be considered foreign and maybe indie, compared to what the US releases, but when I think about Japanese animation, I don’t think about the label of “indie” for them. Most anime these days are made by major studios, and sure, they are brought over by the likes of Shout! Factory, Elevenarts, and GKIDS, but they are made with bigger animation budgets, like most animated films. It would have to be pretty small-scale and small-budgeted to count as indie, and you don’t get to see that a lot. Oh, you see it in shorts, but not feature-length films, and when you do, it’s “indie” for a reason that’s not flattering. Luckily, I think I have seen, at least for me and my experience, the first Japanese-animated film that I would consider to be truly indie, On Gaku: Our Sound

Directed by first-time animation director Kenji Iwaisawa, and at a budget of supposedly $40K, On Gaku: Our Sound is one of the cheapest animated films in existence. It has been going around the festival circuit since last year winning the Grand prize for Feature Animation award at the Ottawa International Animation Festival, and Best Original Music at Annecy 2020 Online. During its screening at Annecy 2020, it was picked up by GKIDS and will have a US release sometime soon. I was able to catch this during Japan Cuts 2020. So, what do I think about this low-fi indie animated feature? Well, let’s dive in. 

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The story revolves around a group of three high school delinquents named Kenji, Ota, and Asakura. They are the tough guys of their school, but are also delightfully dumb and bored most of the time. One day, Kenji gets an idea that the three of them should start a rock band. Can their newfound hobby get them somewhere in life while also avoiding the evil grasp of a rival high school gang?

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This is a tough film to write about. As I sat down to write the review, I didn’t know how to approach it. The film’s major appeal is how slow, low-key, and offbeat the entire experience is. It’s not set up like a School of Rock, or a music biopic. It’s more like a slice of life film about three delinquents chilling, hanging out, and then wanting to start a band. Not a whole lot happens from beginning to end, and the beats that do happen in the story feel smaller in scale than films of this kind. The rival thugs? They don’t even come into the movie’s plot properly until much later. The music? It’s not just instantly amazing like in Bohemian Rhapsody. Many shots are still, the dialogue is slow, and due to limitations of budget and a team of mostly first-time animators, limited. Now, with any other film, I would say this is why the film doesn’t work and was more ambitious than what the filmmakers could produce. However, that is the charm of the film. The quirks of the overall film make it stand out from the rest. Plus, who doesn’t want a different take on music-focused films? The overall appeal of the film is watching the three punks form a band, talk about instruments, chill, make new friends among the music scene at their school, and choose what they want to do in the future. In a lot of ways, the film goes out of its way to play with the tropes of these characters. For example, early on, they get word that a rival high school gang wants to beat them in a fight. They dryly say “okay” and make their way to the rival school, but then find out they don’t know where to go, try to find directions, and then end up giving up due to how bored they are. The comedy is very dry. If you are into more dialogue-driven comedy or are familiar with shows like Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law, then you will know what to expect with the humor. It’s just a fun little movie with some likable characters that have a distinct chemistry that you won’t find in many animated films. 

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Animation-wise, at the very least, no matter what you think about the overall visual and technical presentation, this does look like a film made with $40 grand. How many times have you seen an animated film or a film in general, and then looked at the budget and wondered how on earth it cost that much when the results on screen, production troubles or not, do not equal what it cost? Sure, movements are limited, the line art can sometimes be jittery, it’s obvious when the film uses rotoscoping to make a lot of the characters move, and the characters themselves look like something out of Crayon Shin-Chan. Well, again, I think it all works. It’s a very consistent art style up until the third act when you can tell they threw in a sizable chunk of the budget for the smoother and wilder animation. Still, for its budget and a team of first-time animators, it’s a consistently solid package. The voice cast is also solid, as they do a good job of carrying the dry delivery and sense of humor. Granted, I don’t know if they will dub this one, since I worry the dry humor wouldn’t work with an English dub, but I wouldn’t be shocked if they hired some specific actors to dub this film in the future. Of course, we can’t talk about a film about music and not mention the music by Tomohiko Banse, Grandfunk, and Wataru Sawabe. Simply put, it’s nice to hear some rock music and folkish alternative again after seeing those genres getting stuck in the background as pop music took over.

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While I will defend this film’s technical and budgetary limitations, I will say that sometimes, those limitations showed their flaws. The story itself takes a bit to get going, and that’s a bit troubling with the runtime of the film being 71 or so minutes. It can lead to maybe a little too much dead air between the characters and story beats. Like I said above, the “villains” of the film don’t even play that much of a role. That’s probably the point, but still. I thought they could have used a bit more tightening of the story beats so it flowed better. 

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Even then, I adored this experience. On Gaku: Our Sound won’t be for everyone, and if you find this film boring or tedious, I won’t blame ya. I don’t know when this film will be widely available to watch via a virtual screening experience or going straight to Blu-ray, but if you can find some way to watch it, do it. Well, since the animation scene is dry in terms of feature films, how about we look at a film I have been wanting to review for a while with The Princess and the Pilot

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time! 

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 190: Animal Crackers 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/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!)

For the 190th review, I had a multitude of directions to go, in terms of what I wanted to review. I want to talk about a film that has an interesting development history, or something that is honestly fascinating about it. Today, we get a movie that’s both fascinating and had a rough development history, Animal Crackers. Based loosely on the graphic novel by Scott Cristian Sava, written by Sava and Dean Lorey, and directed by Sava and Tony Bancroft, Animal Crackers is a CGI animated film that showed up at the Annecy International Film Festival in 2017. It was one of the few US-produced animated films to be at the festival that was already stacked with films like Lu Over the WallIn This Corner of the World, and Loving Vincent

It was set to be released in the states soon after, but this is where the troubles began. It was originally going to be released by Relativity Media, but they went under. It was then going to be distributed by Serafini Releasing, but they also shut down in the same year. In 2018, the film was going to be released by Entertainment Studios, but the deal fell through a little bit before it was released, and Entertainment Studios went on to distribute Arctic Dogs, one of the worst animated films of the 2010s and one of the worst-performing animated films of all time. The film was released in China, but there was no real word about it ever getting an official US release, until Netflix saved the film and released it on July 24th, 2020 to mostly positive reviews. What do I think about this film that finally got an official release? Well, let’s take a look under the big top. 

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Our story revolves around a young couple named Owen and Zoe, voiced by John Krasinski and Emily Blunt. They both work at Zoe’s dad’s dog biscuit factory up until one day, Owen gets a call from the top clown at his uncle’s circus named Chesterfield, voiced by Danny DeVito. Owen’s uncle and aunt supposedly died in a fire, and Owen and Zoe are offered the chance to run the circus again, and Chesterfield offers Owen a box of supposedly magical animal crackers. Owen takes the box with him and Zoe to head back home for the day, and Owen finds out first-hand that the crackers are magical. It is up to Owen and Zoe to help bring back the circus with the help of their friends and those magical cookies, and avoid the evil rule of Horatio P. Huntington, voiced by Ian McKellen. 

First off, I know circuses don’t have the best reputation with animal safety and health, but this film isn’t about any of that. It’s a fairytale-like film, so if you are going into this with the exact rage you had for something like The Greatest Showman, you are reviewing this film incorrectly. Judge it for what it is.

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Let’s get the most obvious element about this film out of the way next, the animation. This film had a supposed budget of $17 mil, and if you are going to go down the route of comparing its visual quality to some of the bigger films of 2020, it’s not up to par. That’s a pointless observation to make to me because it seems like it’s too obvious of a comment. To me, the film’s visuals, textures, and animation might be lacking, but the designs to me help make the smaller budget stand out. The designs are cartoony, and that helps the visual style. I like the look of the overall film, and the animations are still pretty good. Some characters have a bit more intricate details to them than others, but I think it looks nice for a film that cost $17 million. It looks better and appropriate for films of that budget compared to ones that supposedly cost $50 to $100 mil like Wonder Park and/or Arctic Dogs, but do not show it. 

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Now that we have that out of the way, while the animation might lack in terms of visual fidelity, it makes up for it with a pretty snappy script. While the pop culture references abound and were hit-and-miss, there were many times where I chuckled or downright laughed at the dialogue. Everyone has good chemistry, and I think the directors and writers got the best out of them, and they had the proper amount of improved dialogued within the script. Anytime Owen and Zoe were on screen or Horatio and Zucchini (voiced by Gilbert Gottfried) were on screen, or when Dany DeVito was there, they usually had the best lines. Even Sylvester Stallone’s Bulletman character was used effectively. Of course, the scene-stealer himself Patrick Warburton as Brock is always a delight. I also like how the film tackles the arc of people following their passion. At first, Owen doesn’t think he could make the circus great again, because it wouldn’t bring in the money, and he wanted to do what would pay the bills. I think, for the most part, it tackles that topic well. I also love that they give simple rules to the crackers in general. They don’t try to explain everything about them, and the film’s dialogue even shoots down the people who love to nitpick films to death for no real reason. Sometimes, you need to sit back and just enjoy a more fantastical story. Not every little detail needs to be explained! 

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With all of that said, I do have some issues with the film. I love the ambition of some parts of the film, but it is stretched thin. For example, while the songs in the film were okay, I felt like they should have either committed to being a Disney-like musical or just use normal songs. I thought some of the lines in the songs also didn’t flow well within the film. Animal Crackers also overstays its welcome a little, as while it might be a little over 100 minutes, it takes a while for everything to happen and fall into place. The dog biscuit subplot also feels more like filler. It matches some parts of the overall story, but I cared much more about the circus stuff than the dog biscuit subplot. My final criticism is that Horatio’s villain motivation is, unfortunately, razor-thin. It’s a weak drive when maybe they could have done a darker backstory for what happened with Horatio. I don’t know how dark they wanted to go with this film, but it would have made him more of a threatening and or interesting villain, than, well, what we got. He’s more like the villain from The Curse of the Wererabbit in terms of being a delightful and amusing villain, but not a compelling one. 

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It might be rough around the edges, and I know not everyone is as on board with this film as I am, but I enjoyed it. I thought it was a pretty good and charming family film. I would put it over most of Netflix’s other film releases this year in terms of animation. I would say I highly recommend watching this film, but since it was a huge viewer hit for Netflix, I don’t need to, but do watch it if you are curious about this film’s history. So, next time, we will be talking about one of GKids’ newest features that they picked up from Annecy, On Gaku: Our Sound

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time! 

Rating: Go See It!

My Time at Annecy Online 2020

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Well, Annecy 2020 Online has come and gone, and for the first time since I have been covering Annecy, I have been able to participate in it due to them moving the event online. Well, they moved a chunk of it online, but we will get to that when we get to it. 

Overall, I had a great time, since I can’t afford to fly to France and partake in the full event there. Plus, it going online means it was more widely available to the mass public! So, what was my takeaway from Annecy 2020 Online? What would I say were the pros and cons of the overall online experience? Well, I have made a list of thoughts in no particular order. 

PRO: Making it more approachable and accessible to the public. 

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I mean, it’s not like this wasn’t possible, but unless you lived in France, you had to pay out the wazoo to get a ticket to there, buy a pass, and then hotel and food budgets as well. It’s a little disappointing that it took a deadly pandemic for them to finally make it available online. I know there were probably some major legal and distribution issues to take care of to make it possible, but film festivals like Annecy should be open to anyone who wants to get into animation, and moving it online helps! Anyone who wants to check out what the foreign animation side has going on can now get a sneak peek or viewing of what might come over to the states and everywhere else. 

CON: The Extracts

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Listen, I get it. Moving the festival online must have had a giant stack of legal and distribution papers to go through to make it possible, but I think there is something crummy when a lot of the films that most animation fans and critics wanted to see in full, were not widely available! Yeah, unless you were the Jury and Judges of the festival, not every feature film was available to watch in full. What also makes this a fumble is that the films people wanted to see, only had either behind-the-scenes production videos or up to 13 minutes of footage. Okay, so the rest of the films were fully watchable, yes? Well, yeah they were, but they were probably the films you weren’t interested in, and are now a Russian roulette of quality. 

Sure, sometimes going into the unknown is exciting and can result in some great experiences, but if you were someone hoping to see the new CGI Lupin the 3rd film, would you rather watch that or some slow personal pet project by an artist that you are not going to gel with? It’s like why bother opening it up to the public when the public isn’t allowed to watch all of the films. It also makes it frustrating since one of the films in the main category, Jungle Beat: The Movie was going to be widely available during the second week of the festival! That means its placement here feels cynical and more of a marketing stunt. If this was a price thing, I would have been happy to pay more than $16 to see the full films! 

Also, as a side note, Beauty Water had the worst extract, because it was a supercut of the entire plot! Why should I see the movie now?

PRO: Work-in-Progress section 

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Honestly, the reason why I don’t look at the animation fandom with much praise is that a lot of the loudest individuals tend to be fairly unintelligent individuals who don’t care or want to learn about the behind-the-scenes, or the actual work, and the number of people that goes into making animated movies. They like to trade education for unintelligible snark and ignorance. This one category was probably my favorite part of the entire festival. Getting to see what went into making an animated film or TV show was wildly educational! I mean, you can’t get much more educated about an upcoming animated film than by the creators that are working on it! Granted, I wish some had more footage to look at, but, well, they are works in progress for a reason. 

CON: Sirocco and the Kingdom of the Winds‘ release date. 

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This one isn’t that big of a deal, but it was disheartening to hear that films like Sirocco and the Kingdoms of the Winds would not be out by this point in time. It’s just me being greedy, because you see the trailer, and it looks amazing, and then become disappointed when its release is two years from now in 2022. 

Real CON: Some Work-in-Progress videos were lacking 

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The real issue I had with this category of the festival was that there wasn’t much to see in some films. Some of them were even just the trailers that we saw a few months back. Like, they were a bit too early to show off for their own good, but even then, there was a lot of promise. 

PRO: Old Man the Movie

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In the end, I don’t know if I would consider this a great movie due to how all over the place the tone was, but man, did I enjoy it more than the more artful-driven films at the festival. I don’t think I laughed this hard at an animated film since The Willoughbys this year. It’s too adult for kids, and too juvenile for adults, but it’s an experience you will never forget. 

PRO: Mosley

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Probably one of the biggest surprises of the festival was being able to watch this movie, and while I wasn’t able to fully watch it during the festival time, I caught it elsewhere, and it was way better than most of the fully viewable films at the festival. It feels like an 80s film pulled from the sands of time in terms of its tone, pacing, and themes. It’s not perfect, but I highly recommend people check this film out if it ever gets a proper US release. 

PRO: Connected Preview

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Being able to see a snippet of a highly anticipated animated film is just a delightful treat. I feel like people are sleeping on Connected as it’s coming off like a sleeper hit of 2020. It’s look into the animation process, the production, and learning about the inspiration for the story and characters, made for quite a delightful preview 

CON: Lava 

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Lava is a film I feel like could only be shown at a festival, and nowhere else. If it ended up on YouTube or had some theatrical release here in the states, it would get turned into the next punchline. Not that it didn’t have any real promising ideas, but on top of unlikeable characters, the animation was downright ugly. It looked like super early 2000s flash animation. If you want to be alongside the big kid animated films at the festival, then you are going to get judged like a big kid, and to be frank, Lava was not good. 

CON: Accidental Luxuriance of the Translucent Water Rebus 

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How the heck did this film count as animation? I know it’s the Contrechamp category, but it barely counts as animation with mostly filters and just enough rotoscope to be “animated”. It was also wildly boring and possibly the worst of the fully watchable films. If I can’t follow the plot, and I had to find some kind of plot summary online, then your movie failed in one of the most important aspects of storytelling. Again, just like Lava, how did this film get on here when there were supposedly 76 films that were submitted? What made this one stand out from the rest? Was it because it was more artistically driven? Well, okay, but it made for a slog of a film to sit through. 

PRO: To: Gerard 

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Probably my favorite animated short of the bunch and one of the few US short films to be at Annecy this year was this new one by DreamWorks Animation. It showed a much more wholesome and heartfelt side of a studio mostly known for snarky comedies. It was a cute short about bringing magic to three different generations of people. I hope DreamWorks makes this short widely available to watch soon, because everyone should watch it, and I hope DreamWorks can bring the charm and heart from this short to their main film line-up. 

PRO: The Town 

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Another highlight of the shorts was The Town, a Chinese short by a first-time director that was pretty much the premise of a Twilight Zone or Black Mirror episode about a city that’s population’s entire future is reliant on getting a certain surgery done. It’s a creepy and poignant short that warrants the commentary about living in a society and being an individual. I hope it can be made available soon, because it’s also one of the best-animated shorts that I could watch from the festival. 

CON: Running on French time

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Yeah, this is a real minor criticism, but due to the different time zones, the festival ended on the same day here as there, but I wish I could have gotten a few more hours to watch some of the other shorts, master classes, and making of sections. 

CON: The site could have been better set up

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While I think the site was well designed, there were some aspects that were a bit tedious to go through. For example, due to how many shorts there were, they were all put into sections of 8 or so shorts each. It made finding specific shorts, previews, and specials more cumbersome to get to and enjoy, because I had to dig through different sections to find them.

In general, as I said above, I did love my time with Annecy Online, and I hope that they can do this again with having both the live version and the online version. It pulled in over 15K people. You can’t tell me that isn’t some kind of positive incentive to do it again. Still, I hope more people get to try and enjoy Annecy Online in 2021

The Other Side of Animation 189: A Whisker Away 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/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!)

It’s easy to get hyped for a film or product that is being made by talented individuals, only to then be disappointed by it. When you see the names of those people, the studio, or writer that you have been a fan of for a long time, it’s easy to be head over heels for its arrival. I fall into this trap from time to time, and it’s time to deal with the newest film to fall into that trap. It’s a new Netflix-bought animated film from Japan, A Whisker Away

Directed by Junichi Sato and Tomotaka Shibayama, written by Mari Okada, and animated by Studio Colorido, A Whisker Away was meant to come out in June, but due to the virus still killing theaters, along with the capitalist system we live in, Netflix came in and bought the worldwide rights to the film. So far, even though it hasn’t been that long on Netflix, the film has gotten mixed, but mostly positive reviews. So, what do I think about it? Well, let’s get started!

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Our story follows the antics of a young girl named Miyo Sasaki, voiced by Mirai Shida. She’s a young girl who is in love with this boy named Kento Hinode, voiced by Natsuki Hanae. Unfortunately, she is failing in her advances towards him. Not only that, but she’s also dealing with a broken home life of divorced parents. Her mom wanted nothing to do with her until recently, her dad is dating someone, and she thinks they are both being selfish. After running away from a festival one night, she meets a big chunky cat-like being named The Mask Seller, voiced by Koichi Yamadera. He offers her an escape from her life with a cat mask. Miyo then takes advantage of this deal, and uses it to turn into a cat and go see Kento. However, the more she uses the mask, the more she loses her humanity to The Mask Seller. Can she find joy in life and avoid the creepy grasp of The Mask Seller? Well, that would mean she would have to admit that she has stalker issues. 

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Yeah, I know I dropped that last sentence like a hot potato, but that is the major problem with the film; Miyo stalks Kento for a lot of the film. She fails to make herself an interesting character, because she’s annoying and, again, stalks Kento. Stalking is never okay, and if you are going to make a story that revolves around a character stalking another character, then you had better be creative and clever about it, or you show that stalking is not okay. Everyone has kind of said this already, but if you swapped the leads around with Kento being the one stalking Miyo, the internet would have railed against this anime for weeks. It’s a hypocritical standard that we are saying male stalkers are not okay, but female stalkers are okay. It’s the same issue I had with Summer Wars, and while Summer Wars is a way better movie, it still doesn’t excuse the fact that Miyo is a stalking, angsty, assault-heavy kid that does do things like “I have a voice recorder, let me record your voice!”

That may have sounded harsh, so what about the world-building and the famous cat tree? Well, that also falls flat as you have to get through the first half, to, well, get to the second half. It’s way easier as a film during the second half because the pacing is better than the first half. A lot of the first half is school time shenanigans, and from time to time, the lead turns into a cat. Sadly, a lot of it is also her being fairly creepy. It’s hard to get through the first part because of her, and the film tries to make her more likable by making some other bully characters even bigger jerks, but that’s a touch lazy in my opinion. Just because you made characters that are worse, doesn’t excuse Miyo from her actions. The second half has better pacing, better sequences, and commentary. I kind of wish the entire film took place in this magic cat tree village. 

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It’s a stone-cold bummer that I’m being so critical of this film, because I do love a lot about it. It’s themes of tackling depression is very creative. The film was mismarketed as a whimsical fantasy film with coming-of-age elements and mourning for loved ones who passed, but when you put into context with The Mask Seller and what Miyo putting on the mask represents, the film takes a darker turn, and it gets more in your face about it, once you reach the village sequences. It’s creative, but the whole experience is sadly not like that. 

I also liked the animation. It’s fluid, the designs are solid, some fun creative touches remind me of A Silent Voice, and The Mask Seller is probably the best character in the film. He’s delightfully evil, he knows what he’s doing, and his animation is the most creative. When you get to animate what is essentially a blob, and not have to worry about a skeletal structure, it can lead to a lot of fun. The visuals in the second half are also quite nice with the cat tree being something out of Princess Mononoke at some points. The voice cast is good, but due to the virus, the Japanese dub with English subtitles is the only available version as of writing this review. So far, there hasn’t been a date released for the English dub, but I’m sure with a lot of Netflix anime dubs, it’s going to be pretty good. The ending song as well by Yorushika is quite good. 

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Normally, I’m not expecting to be disappointed by the foreign animation scene, since I think their output is usually better than what the US side of things does, but it’s good to remember that a disappointing film can come from anywhere and from anyone. You could have the most talented team on your side and still put out a film that could be middling or worse. It also doesn’t help that there are plenty of films on Netflix that do what A Whisker Away does, but better. If you have yet to see this film, then I would recommend checking it out, or waiting to see it when it gets an English dub if you are not a subtitles-only person. Even then, there are films currently on Netflix that handle depression better like Okko’s Inn and A Silent Voice. Still, I can’t wait to see Mari Okada’s future work. Now then, we are getting to review number 190. I want to do a few editorials first before I get to this special film, but I won’t hint at what we will be tackling. You will just have to play the waiting game. 

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time! 

Rating: Rent it (it’s on Netflix for free, but still)