The Other Side of Animation 144: Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch (2018) 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 another year, and that means another Illumination Entertainment movie. It also means another time to say how Illumination is not a horrible studio in the sea of vitriolic hate and anger that is the internet that hates this studio with a passion. Listen, in the grand scheme of things, there are worse things to worry about than a studio that makes middle-of-the-road movies that rakes in boatloads of money, because they hit a massive audience. Now, in the context of the animation scene, I get the annoyance. You want films that put all the elbow grease into their animation, story, and writing to make all the money, or people to go see the incredible indie animation scene. Sadly, that’s an all too head-in-the-clouds way of knowing what’s going to actually happen. People are going to go see films that might not be perfect, but they personally find enjoyable. So, it is annoying that Illumination seems to do the bare minimum with their work, but rake in cash because of smart budgeting and business. It’s not their fault they are doing something that, at the end of the day, is going to make the studio money. Art might be why we make movies, but you can’t simply rely on that on its own to make the industry run. It’s a balancing act, and that’s why for every Missing Link, we get a Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch. Directed by Scott Mosier and Yarrow Cheney, this newest take on the beloved short story was released November 9th, and while getting mostly middling reviews, is raking in the money. To be fair, this is way better than the Ron Howard live-action version by millions of miles. Why? Well, let’s find out!

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Benedict Cumberbatch voices our main character, the Grinch, a green furry individual who hates everyone in Whoville, and especially the Christmas holiday. He doesn’t like the cheerfulness, he doesn’t like the joy, nor does he like his overly happy neighbor “friend” Bricklebaum, voiced by Kenan Thompson. The only proper thing to be mad about is the aggressive groups of Christmas carolers that harass him while he goes to the store. When he finds out that the Whoville citizens are going to throw a Christmas celebration that’s three times bigger than normal, Grinch decides to steal the Who’s Christmas with the help of his dog Max. He has only a few hours to get it all done, and will encounter a few challenges, like cookies and little Cindy Lou Who, voiced by Cameron Seely. Can he do it? I mean, you know about the original story by now, or at the very least, you should.

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Let’s talk about the positives that the film brings to the table. While sounding more snarky, sassy, and almost making you wonder what would have happened if Bill Hader got the role, Benedict Cumberbatch does a solid job as our grumpy green icon. I like that if you aren’t paying attention, or know that it’s him beforehand, you might actually think it’s Bill Hader doing the voice of the Grinch. The rest of the voice cast is also pretty solid. While not all of the characters get worthwhile dialogue sequences, like Rashida Jones’ role as Cindy Lou’s mother, other actors like Kenan Thompson get some of the better laughs in the movie. Oh, and the Whos are actually nice in this film. It’s fine if you grew up and love the Jim Carrey/Ron Howard version, but the one thing the film royally screwed up in that movie was making the Whos the most unlikable blithering individuals. They even have a few story elements that, while they do not go into them at all because it’s Illumination, I liked the ideas of. For example, Grinch has a “neighbor” who is always happy, optimistic, and friendly toward him, while being fairly unaware that Grinch hates him. But you can kind of see two different individuals who deal with the same kind of loneliness, but deal with it in different ways.  It would have been nice if they went more into that, but again, it’s Illumination, depth isn’t their strong point.

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On an animation side of things, The Grinch is probably Illumination’s most visually impressive movie. You can tell that whatever the studio is using to animate this film, the artists and animators they have are incredibly talented. It’s colorful, has some of that Seuss whimsy in its designs, but also has its own Illumination touch. A lot of the textures and details were simply impressive to look at on the big screen. I even heard the 3D version is decent, but my viewing was in 2D. The animation on the character work also made for some solid physical comedy moments. All the visuals accumulate into the heist sequence, and while it is short, is a lot of fun to watch with the fantastical Christmas designs.

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Many of the film’s problems come into the fray with making this story feature-length. Due to the original special being about 25 minutes in length, you don’t get to the actual heist part of the film until maybe halfway or a little over halfway through the 80-minute runtime. It adds in sequences of the Grinch interacting with the Who, and while this could have led to something interesting, it’s more lightweight snark and physical comedy. Along with more sequences of the Grinch with the Who, they give Cindy Lou a subplot and a group of friends who do not add anything at all to the overall story. It even takes out the major threat of the Grinch by giving him a reason why he slightly hates Christmas. The strength of the original special was that he didn’t really have a set reason to hate the holiday. As I sat through the film, I found myself bored at times, because some of the jokes weren’t landing. The audience I was with was the same, but they definitely got a few more chuckles out of the film than me. I also found myself thinking about scenes and ways the film could have improved upon itself through visual storytelling. However, I can’t judge the film because of scenes or ways of filmmaking I would found to be better, but with the film I have here, and it’s simply put, it’s another Illumination film.

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In general, it’s another safe, visually pretty, decently funny, and forgettable animated feature. It might have a nice ending, Benedict Cumberbatch was good as the Grinch, and again, visually splendid animation, but why would you waste the money to go to this film? Just go see Ralph Breaks the Internet, or go and try to find a screening of Mirai or Liz and the Blue Bird to watch. I still stand by my opinion that Illumination isn’t the worst studio around, but it’s becoming harder to defend them when they are not willing to try and push themselves into more creative directions. They make money hand over fist, and they should be able to now experiment a little with different writers, directors, and animation styles. Hopefully, they start doing that more in the future. Now then, let’s talk about one of the great action-animated films of 2018 with MFKZ. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Rent it!

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The Other Side of Animation 143: Ruben Brandt Collector 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!)

(Warning/Parental Heads up: this film is absolutely not meant for children. It’s incredibly adult. This film includes intense scares, violence, and nudity. Enjoy the review!)

As I mentioned recently, I went to the second annual Animation is Film Festival in L.A., California. While I still wish it wasn’t in such an expensive part of the US, it was worth the price, because I saw 11 diverse and incredible movies. However, while Mamoru Hosoda’s Mirai was my favorite animated feature of the festival and of 2018, I want to review one of my favorite films of the year, Ruben Brandt Collector. Directed by Milorad Krstic, and being distributed by Sony Pictures Classics, Ruben Brandt was the final film in the recent Animation is Film Festival lineup, and was easily one of the most visually stunning films of the festival. It also happens to be one of the best animated features of the year. I know, big shock, that Sony Pictures Classics found an incredible animated feature. How about we get started then, and diagnose what this movie is about?

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We follow a psychologist named Ruben Brandt. He’s famous around the world for his unique ways of treating patients. Lately, he has been getting nightmares that famous paintings are trying to kill him. With the help of his patients, who happen to be thieves, they go around the world stealing the paintings that haunt him, while avoiding the police and gangsters.

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Let’s talk about the elephant in the room, which is the incredible visual style. While it is a mix of 2D and CGI animation, the art direction is where this film truly stands out. Everything looks like a mix of Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, and maybe a small hint of Yellow Submarine. While everyone has mostly human shapes and designs, every human also has long faces, two noses, three eyes, maybe two mouths, and you get the idea. Even certain animals have fairly cool designs to them, like a mosquito you see looks like it’s wearing a mask from Eyes Wide Shut. It brings a visual identity all of its own to the table, and you can’t deny that no other film on the market right now looks like Ruben Brandt. They even give certain characters quirks that take advantage of the incredible visual style and that it’s an animated film.

Outside of the great visuals, the story itself is rather fascinating. As it shows in the trailer, Ruben is haunted by specific famous paintings, and you get to explore his childhood and his relationship with his father and how that affected him. Even the police officer that chases down Ruben and his crew has a captivating story arc about the mystery behind who his father is, and his connection with Ruben. The heist group is full of likable characters, from the quirky two-dimensional bank robber, to an egocentric three-eyed hacker.

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Easily one of the best parts about this movie is its action. Wait, you mean we have an honest true-blooded action movie? Yes! Finally, we have an animated film with a major emphasis on action that isn’t a DC film! In terms of the action, it truly feels like a Mission Impossible film, with how it has chase sequences on foot, car chases, up-close combat, and really intense moments via one-on-one fights.  You will easily be hooked and entertained by the beautiful animation and fight sequences.

If I had to criticize something about Ruben Brandt, it is that the story arc for the police officer ends a bit abruptly. Now, the twist during his story is shocking, and it just adds layers to the overall story, but after he finds out about the twist, it just ends. The overall ending also feels a little clunky. It’s not bad, but it wraps up too quickly. There is also some nudity near the end that the film lingers on a bit too long. It’s not that it’s distasteful, but you wonder if we really needed to see it, or if they could have made some more tasteful angles. However, that is just minor nitpicking.

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Ruben Brandt Collector is one of the best animated films of 2018. It has great visuals, highly-entertaining action, and a story that was compelling from beginning to end. While it is not available on DVD yet, Sony Pictures Classics is going to be distributing it in theaters, and I hope it’s soon. If you want to see something truly different this year, then definitely put this movie on your radar. Well, that was great to talk about. Next time, before we dive into MFKZ, Smallfoot, and Next Gen, we are going dive early into the Christmas season, just like the rest of the US, with Ilumination’s Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch. Thanks for reading! I hope you like the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

My Time at Animation is Film 2018

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

This year, I decided to go to the 2nd annual Animation is Film Festival in Los Angeles. It was a three day film festival that was all about showing off and supporting the smaller foreign releases that were from countries like France, Japan, and Brazil. Out of the 40 films (both feature-length and short films), I saw 11 of the major releases, because that is why I wanted to go last year. While I can say I wish the festival was not in L.A., because this was one of the most expensive trips in my lifetime, I would have loved it to be in some place like say, Austin, Texas at the Alamo Drafthouse’s South Lamar location. There was also no real swag to purchase, like movie posters of the films being shown with the exception of maybe the Prince of Egypt 20th Anniversary screening, which I wish had two screenings, because I would have loved to have seen it on the big screen myself. In general, this was one of my favorite things to happen in my year of 2018. I really enjoyed seeing US/world premieres of films from around the world, getting my questions during Q&A sessions answered by the directors themselves, shaking hands with a few of them, taking a selfie with the director of Funan, which won the two major awards at the festival, and the possibility of having a future interview with the director of Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles, which won the Special Jury Prize. From my personal perspective, the films that I saw at the festival show that the foreign theatrical animation scene is still going as strong as ever. In this editorial, I’m simply going to go over what I took away from my observations of the animation scene happening all over the world.

2D animation is alive and well, and can be done!

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Recently when talking about the new upcoming CGI SpongeBob movie, Paramount made a comment about how they thought 2D animation couldn’t be done anymore because it’s too hard. It’s not too hard. These studios overseas, while having to go through challenges of their own, still are able to use animation software to make beautiful and vibrant 2D animation. Some didn’t even break the bank in costs. For example, one of my favorite films of the festival, Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles, only cost a little over two million dollars. Sure, with maybe an extra million, they could have added more frames of animation, but the film not only had a great visual look, but the motions were snappy, polished, you understood what they were doing, and had a really good script to balance out the animation. 2D isn’t dead! Either the studio doesn’t have or know about the tech or talent that they have, or they are too lazy to actually give 2D animation a try. It’s not like you need to go back to cel animation to make great 2D. Simply put, films like The Breadwinner and The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales are possible, and don’t always need to cost double-digit millions to make them work.

Animation can tell different kinds of stories!

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One of the best things about animation is that it is such a versatile medium of filmmaking, that if you really put your back into it, you can tell other types of stories than just comedies. You can tell so many stories. Just because it is animated, doesn’t mean you have to write for kids in mind. So many of the films I saw at this festival were not really for kids. They weren’t stoner comedies either, but instead told very endearing, intense, depressing, and intimate stories. A majority of the films were fairly adult, like Funan, Ruben Brandt, Seder Masochism, Bunuel, and even Tito and the Birds. Sure, some of the films were easily approachable to children, like Pachamama and Okko’s Inn, but everything else? Yeah, I don’t think a kid could handle what Ruben Brandt was dishing out. It simply shows that people can and will be enticed to see different stories in animation.

Animation can be visually different!

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A common issue I hear with a lot of animation, whether you say it’s the cartoons from the US, anime from Japan, or the CGI animated features in theaters right now, is that they all look the same. While that’s not really true, I understand. Unless you are doing something outright different with your visuals, it can all feel very repetitive. Luckily, Animation is Film showed how vibrant and diverse the art for every film was. Even some of the films that didn’t have my favorite art direction like Seder Masochism and Okko’s Inn were visually different. Heck, the one film you need to see that has one of the most standout visual styles is Ruben Brandt, with its Picasso-inspired human designs and world. You don’t have to try and look like a Disney film anymore. Find a pleasing artstyle that you can call your own, and use it!

 

Even for more family focus features, they didn’t talk down to the audience!

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A common issue I have with animated films that end up being bad, is that they don’t seem to respect the time or intelligence of the audience. This is a common occurrence with bad family films, like Monster Family, Duck Duck Goose, and Gnome Alone for a few examples from this year. Sure, feeling like the film is talking down to you and assuming you are stupid can be annoying, no matter whom the film is aimed at, but it’s simply delightful when a film does not do that. Even the films that were aimed at younger audiences at the festival did not shy away from trauma or none-happy moments from the film. Okko’s Inn, from its look and tone, is definitely not offering much for many adult viewers, but it does not shy away from what happens to our main character, or the theme of forgiveness. Again, just because it’s animated doesn’t mean you can’t tackle something more mature. Mirai handled its theme of family and growing up without ever wagging a finger at one type of person. Treat your audience with respect!

In general, the Animation is Film festival was incredible, and I hope more people support it in the future. Again, I wish it wasn’t just in California and could be a touring road show and come to cities like Austin, but I would definitely recommend going to this event, if you are a huge fan of animation.

The Other Side of Animation 142: The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales

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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!)

Comedy is probably the most consistent genre that animation is saddled with in the mainstream market area. It’s not like that’s a bad thing, to be honest. Comedy lends itself very well to animation, since you have full control of any kind of comedy that you want to do, from physical comedy to visual gags. As much as live-action can do great comedy, it’s limited by the fact that you can do more with animation. Unfortunately, comedic animation, unless you are Warner Bros., simply means fast movements and not much else. I think a lot of US animation studios wanting to make a comedy should look at Benjamin Renner’s The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales. Distributed by GKids here in the states, and originally a planned trio of TV specials, The Big Bad Fox was one of the films I was super excited to see. Probably for understandable reasons, it took forever to finally see this movie, and I’m happy to say, that the year-long wait was worth it. Let’s quickly dive in, and get on with this comedic masterpiece.

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The story revolves around three plays! The first story focuses on Rabbit, dubbed by Adrian Edmondson, and Duck, dubbed by Bill Bailey. The two are sent on an adventure to deliver a baby, when a stork crashes into a tree. Unfortunately, Duck and Rabbit are not the brightest bulbs, and Pig, dubbed by Justin Edwards, must go along to make sure the baby gets to where it needs to go. The second story revolves around Fox, dubbed by Giles New, who wants to be big and tough, but constantly fails to get a chicken to eat. After getting some help from Wolf, dubbed by Matthew Goode, Fox ends up with three eggs that hatch, and the chicks think that Fox is their mother. The final story centers around Duck and Rabbit thinking that they accidentally killed Santa Claus, and go on an adventure with Pig to save Christmas!

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There has been a lot of great comedies this year that have made my sides split, including Game Night, The Death of Stalin, and Blockers. However, I think The Big Bad Fox has the best comedy out of any film in 2018. Why? Because it knows what makes comedy work. Sure, it has plenty of physical gags, but the writing is also very witty, grounded, and just the right amount of sass that makes these talking farm animals feel real. Although, I have to say, the physical comedy in this film is really funny. It’s not too cartoonish or fast. It’s the right pace that you would see in Animaniacs or the old Looney Toons shorts. You can see the control the animators had over the movements that made, quite honestly, every joke land. It’s rare when a joke will land time after time after time. I think it’s because the jokes that you see in this film are pretty universal. It’s not full of gross-out humor, its dialogue is not meant to shock for shock’s sake, like Paradise P.D., and you can tell that they were careful with picking out each and every joke. Of course, good jokes wouldn’t work unless the characters did as well. While this is definitely not a story-driven experience, I still found myself loving the strictness of Pig, the wimpy demeanor of Fox, the silly goofiness of Duck and Rabbit, and the laziness of Dog. They still have moments where they change as characters, and do grow.

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In terms of the animation, it’s beautiful. The same 2D-flash watercolor look from the director’s previous film gels so well. Sure, you can see multiple lines on the characters not linking to one another, but Renner’s style has always been fast, and you get the overall point. The children’s book-style look fits the stories that are told for this film. The animation is still expressive, snappy, and wonderful to look at. In terms of the voice cast, while I wish they could have gotten actors like Bobby Moynihan and Steve Blum to play certain characters, I do think the British cast was the right choice. Sure, the trailer with the English dub on it doesn’t give off the best impression, but while watching the movie, it’s pretty well synced. I can maybe say one small moment where the lips and the dialogue might not match, but it’s more of an animation issue than the script.

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Really, the biggest gripe I have with the film is that, while I love the play aspect, I do wish they had found a better way to weave the story together. You see these characters all the time, but due to how this was originally supposed to be three TV specials, there is nothing truly connecting one story to the other. Some characters don’t even appear in the other stories. Also, for a film called The Big Bad Fox, his story is set in the middle of the film. I guess it’s to break the pacing of the two other stories revolving around Rabbit, Duck, and Pig, but it is odd that there wasn’t a different name to the overall film. Then again, it’s based off of Renner’s graphic novel of the same name, and honestly, at this point, I’m nitpicking.

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While it might not be as emotionally in-depth as Ernest & Celestine, The Big Bad Fox is still an amazing movie! It’s easily the best comedy of 2018, and one of the best animated features of this year. I luckily got to see this at an advance screening, and it will be going through a limited release on October 19th, so keep an eye out for a release in your neck of the woods. If you can’t see it, buy it on DVD. The wait was worth it, and I’m happy with that. Since it’s now October, it’s time to look at something that has more of an edge to it, and maybe, be one of the most entertaining animated flicks of 2018 with Ruben Brandt Collector. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

The Other Side of Animation 141: The Night is Short, Walk on Girl Review

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

So, it’s been three years since I have started to review animated films! I keep missing the date that I started, which is September 11th, 2015. While I was not intentionally setting this review up to be the 3rd year special, I thought, why not? I will never get over how adventurous reviewing animated films has been. You simply don’t know at times what path a film will take you down. It’s might be fate that I choose the ones that I do, but I like being surprised, and one of the biggest surprises for me was The Night is Short, Walk on Girl. Directed by Masaaki Yuasa of Lu Over the Wall, Devilman Crybaby, and Mind Game fame, The Night is Short, based off of a book, sort of acts like a spiritual successor to the Tatami Galaxy, with multiple characters that show up in minor and major roles in this film. I mean, it’s not a coincidence that the same author wrote both Tatami Galaxy and The Night is Short. Some have said to watch Tatami Galaxy first, but to me, a film should work no matter if you know about the source material or not. Plus, the plot lines of both properties are highly unrelated. The surprise for me has been how much I have loved this movie. It’s been in my top five animated features for pretty much the entire year, with no real competition pushing it down on the list. Anyway, let’s dive in and see how long this night will go.

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The film’s main protagonist is a college girl named, well, The Girl with Black Hair, voiced by Kana Hanazawa. She decides to, one night, see what adult life is like with heavy amounts of drinking, and seeing what path fate will take her down that night. While that is going on, she is being followed by a male student named Senior, voiced by Gen Hoshino. He thought that meeting up with her multiple times by what he considers coincidence, will show her that the two were meant for each other. As that goes on, multiple weird events happen, the two star-struck “lovers” meet interesting characters, and the night proves to be one full of mystery and wonder.

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So, what’s good about this movie? Well, for one, while the plot is more of a thin piece of string holding all the events together, I was surprised at how invested I was with the overarching story. Seeing the two leads interact with other characters, and encountering nightly shenanigans, like a book festival, multiple stops for drinking, a rebellious theater group, and so on, lead to some enticing and captivating dialogue sequences. It shows the world that is seen through the eyes of cynicism and hope, how books and people are connected by one another, and how stupid Senior is for wanting to directly interact with the female lead. Yeah, let’s talk about the characters for a moment. I have seen the criticism of Senior for what is essentially stalking the female lead, and not really wanting to put the effort into actually getting to know her. Well, that is true, but the film knows that. His actions are never rewarded, until the end when he gets rid of all that nonsense. Any time he thinks he has found a way to indirectly make her his girlfriend/future wife, it’s instantly shot down. It’s not lampshading the situation either, which is smart, because it’s so easy to lampshade a toxic or bad habit with meta jokes, and the show or film being self-aware that their characters are honestly horrible. The other characters are simply fun and interesting to see, from two other college students that travel with the female lead, a loan shark with a three-story train, a man who won’t change his underwear until he finds the woman he crushed on ala love-at-first-sight, and the supposed God of the Used Book Market. The overall film is more like an experience of a night that takes many twists and turns, seeing the best and most cynical of human beings. It’s a story with plenty of great lines and very funny physical comedy that is more in the vein of the black and white film days, and less The Three Stooges.

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On the animation side of things, The Night is Short is a visual treat. It has Masaaki Yuasa’s signature style, with not-so typical designs, wildly expressive movements, on-point physical comedic moments, and a vibrant color pallet. You can tell they also used different art styles at points where character models have solid colors. It’s a trippy look that gives you many memorable moments. As for the voice work, while I am sad that they never did a dub for this film, I don’t mind. You would have to wonder how they would have made certain scenes work, especially the singing sequences. Not to say you can’t, because Lu Over the Wall did it, but I think it was the right choice to make this one a sub-only film.

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My major complaint with this film comes in the form of a certain reoccurring joke. It’s a common joke for most anime to have a boob grab joke, where the creep gets punched in the face for being a creep. I get that they instantly lampshade these jokes, and I know different cultures like different kinds of jokes, but this one needs to die in a ditch. It’s never funny, and it’s one of those anime tropes that keeps popping up, and it hurts the image of Japanese animation. It’s not like the rest of the humor in The Night is Short is like this, because it’s not. It simply sticks out among the great jokes and visual gags in the film. There is also a scene that may or may not intentionally come off as homophobic. I won’t spoil the scene in question, but it did make me raise my brow a little on how certain viewers might portray this scene.

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The Night is Short, Walk on Girl is a fantastic animated film with a more adult lean. I highly recommend picking this film up when it comes out on Blu-ray and DVD. Masaaki Yuasa has put out a very impressive filmography, not counting his TV work. I can’t wait to see what else he comes up with. If you want to see a crazy and wildly imaginative animated film aimed more for older teens/adults, then check it out. I hope more of my future reviews are for films like this. Next time, I think it’s time to finally talk about a film I have been waiting for a year to watch, The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales. Thanks for reading! I hope you liked my review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

The Other Side of Animation 140: Big Fish & Begonia Review

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

In the span of a few years, China has started to throw its hat into the ring of animation. They have now made it a goal to not just be the country other countries use for their animation, or the creator of a flood of mediocre features. While The Monkey King: Hero is Back was a good first step, I would hardly call it a good movie. The true first step for the country would come in the form of an animated feature that came out back in 2016, but finally got a release here in the states, Big Fish & Begonia. This unique and important title was the passion project behind the directors, Liang Xuan and Zhang Chun. It was based on a Chinese Taoist story called Zhuangzi, but apparently drew from other Chinese classic tales as well. After going through up to over a decade of financial troubles of getting funding, spending it, and lack of animation talent, the film was finally finished. It was picked up by Shout! Factory last year, and was a feature that people payed major attention to during film festivals, including being one of the big features of the Animation is Film Festival. So, was a decade of development worth the hype and final product? Well, let’s check it out.

The story follows Chu, dubbed by Stephanie Sheh. She is a 16 year-old girl who lives in a world that lies on the other side of the human world’s ocean. It’s full of powerful individuals and spirits. Chun has to go through a rite of passage, and venture into the human world as a red dolphin. While in the human world, Chun is smitten by a human male named Kun, dubbed by Todd Haberkorn. After a few days swimming around, Chun gets caught inside a fishing net, and Kun tries to save her. Luckily, he gets her out, but ends up drowning in the process. Feeling guilty as all get-out about Kun dying, Chun ends up going to a place called the Island of Souls to try and bring Kun back. She offers the caretaker, Ling Po, dubbed by JB Blanc, half of her life to bring Kun back. After that, she spends the next chunk of her life taking care of Kun as he grows bigger, and makes sure he can go back to the human world. The bad news is that while Kun is there, the world that she lives in is in major peril. Can she make sure Kun gets back alive? What is she willing to sacrifice to make sure that happens?

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A problem I see with many passion projects that take a good decade or so to fully complete is that the creators try to shove in too much into the film, and never think about cutting certain story elements, or redoing some of the script. Of course, animation can be a huge endeavor, and making changes on the fly can be costly, but you can run the risk of making the film feel too busy, bloated, and or unfocused. Unfortunately, a lot of the problems with Big Fish & Begonia is that there is too much going on. Much of the film is Chun’s relationship with Kun, and her learning about life, death, sacrifice, and the consequences to certain actions, but they shove in a lot of characters, and a lot of time spent with Chun over vast landscapes. I’ll admit, many of the logical issues I keep questioning throughout my time watching the film are probably more of a cultural thing, and how the film wants to be more of a fairy tale. However, how far can you go with those kinds of defenses until they become too distracting? How much homework does one need to do on Chinese culture to fully understand the magical logic used in the film? It shouldn’t turn into a homework project to fully get what’s going on, and who everyone is. I don’t mind learning about the culture, but the film should be explaining to me visually what’s going on. For example, there is this rat woman who is an obvious threat, but you don’t get why she wants to go to the human world, and you don’t see her again after a certain period of time. I mean, yes, you can tell by her design and the way she interacts with everyone, that she is a threat, but why? I also get that having Kun stay in their world brings upon a lot of damage and danger, but why? Why does having a human spirit cause such chaos? The story also goes at a rather fast pace. It’s not a truly horrible thing, but I think the film’s atmosphere and emotional investment would have been stronger if they let some time pass between certain moments. While Studio MiR, the same studio behind Avatar: The Last Airbender and Netflix’s Voltron series, has some breathtaking animation done for Big Fish & Begonia, its use of CGI is definitely distracting. It’s not as bad as, say, Blue Submarine No. 6, but you can always tell when it’s CGI. It becomes more distracting when you see the giant flying whales that look like something out of that Fantasia 2000 short.

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With all that said, Big Fish & Begonia has great elements in its overall package. Like I said above, the animation is gorgeous. The backgrounds are awe inspiring, the designs are whimsical, the movements are fluid, and it’s an incredible visual feast for the eyes. You can tell there was a heavy dose of passion throughout this entire film’s visual presentation. It’s an incredible treat for the eyes that you need to see on the biggest screen you can. I even regret not seeing this one when it came out in my neck of the woods! As for the dub, I have seen both the original with subtitles, and the dub that Funimation helped out with. I think the cast is pretty stellar that includes actors such as Stephanie Sheh, Johnny Yong Bosch, Todd Haberkorn, JB Blanc, Cindy Robinson, Yuri Lowenthal, Greg Chun, Kate Higgins, Kyle Hebert, Erika Ishii, and Cam Clarke. The music by Kiyoshi Yoshida is full of that Chinese flair. It’s fantastical, mystical, and epic when needed. You might have heard of his name and his music if you have seen The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, where he did the soundtrack for that film. Another strong element is the relationship between Chun, Kun, and Chun’s friend Qui, dubbed by Johnny Yong Bosch. Most of the time you see Chun and Kun together is done with very little dialogue. The visuals tell the story, which, you know, is sort of important in a visual medium like animation.

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Big Fish & Begonia might be a bit of a mess, but it’s an important film for China and the Chinese animation scene. If you watch the trailers or clips, and you think you would like this film, I definitely recommend checking it out. It’s an impressive start, and I hope that means that other 2D animated projects that are going on over in China, can start raising the bar as time goes on. Well, after this, I definitely need something a bit zanier, a bit more focused, and maybe something that can make the night go on forever. Next time, we are going to check out Masaaki Yuasa’s other hit film, The Night is Short, Walk on Girl. Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

Worst to Best Animated Features of 2017 Part 2

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

Welcome to part 2 of the list! If you have not yet read part 1, then please do so to see films that will not be on this part of the list. We are counting down from the worst to best of the animation offerings from 2017!

28. The Nut Job 2

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While it’s a marginally better sequel with better animation, better physical gags, a decent villain, and more entertaining voice work, it’s still not much better than the original. It’s still annoying, filled with annoying characters, and underutilizes its gimmicks. The Jackie Chan mouse is barely used. If you are going to have Jackie Chan, use him! Plus, this was only greenlit because the first one made money in a slow month back in 2014. Well, I hope the company that’s going under hoped it was worth the cash they spent and lost on it.

27. Batman & Harley Quinn

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While slightly better than many of the mediocre DC-animated features, it’s still a mess, no matter how you look at it. Most of the jokes don’t work, it’s too focused on Harley Quinn fan service, the story abruptly ends, and the animation quality dropped a lot in certain scenes. However, when the jokes did land, it was a laugh riot, and probably has one of the best mid-credit scenes out of any DC movie. It’s also always nice to see Kevin Conroy as Batman. Not the best, but not the worst, it’s pretty much okay.

26. Blame!

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It might have some fun fight sequences, some creepy designs, and a decent twist that caught me off-guard, this film works better as a world-builder than anything else. I didn’t care much for the characters, the animation was clunky, and sometimes, it looked like they duplicated character models. It has its moments, but I can see why this one got buried.

25. Smurfs: The Lost Village

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Man, even being the best of the films based on the Smurfs franchise still doesn’t mean much. It has visually beautiful animation, pleasant designs, good voice work, and some likable characters, but it seemed like they stopped halfway through production, and made it another forgettable animated feature. I do like a couple of aspects of it, but it still could have been better.

24. The Boss Baby

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I do think the hate this film got back then and still does is a bit much. It’s really not a bad movie. It has some of the best animation from 2017, some good laughs, and physical comedy that made me watch it as a film to just turn on and chill to. However, I still found the emotional investment of the characters to be lacking, because I never cared about what happened. It also shouldn’t have been nominated for Best Animated Feature, but it’s been almost a year now, and it’s time to let that go. I’m also not really looking forward to the sequel, but I hope it can be just as zany and visually entertaining as this one.

23. Despicable Me 3

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Man, this franchise got to the third film fast! While I think it’s technically the best one of the franchise, with great animation, a fun villain, the Minions not being in the film a lot, and Gru still being the best character of this entire franchise, it still falls flat. It had so many potential story arcs that it could have been fleshed out, but it chose to be the safest animated feature of 2017. Sooner or later, Illumination, you will need to start putting more emotional effort into your films, or people are going to get tired of the Minions and this franchise fast.

22. Cars 3

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Speaking of being the best film in an alright franchise, Cars 3 was a surprise. While it has its own pacing problems, more wasted potential with its story and villains, it also has the best animation, some of the story moments were touching, and Lightning is more worthy of my time than in the other films. It’s still the final film in a trilogy that gave Pixar their first official bad movie, but still.

21. Ferdinand

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While I can definitely still be mad that this film wimped out on its more serious tone, it’s forced family film tropes, and how it also shouldn’t have been nominated for Best Animated Feature, I still found myself really enjoying Ferdinand. It has some of Blue Sky’s most likable characters, best voice work, and some of the darkest story moments. I just wish it committed to its tone and not take the easy way out.

20. Teen Titans: The Judas Contract

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I could complain about how Brother Blood is a weak character, and the fact that if you have seen the 2000s Teen Titans show, or read the comic, you will know what happens, and they kind of kept one of the ickier parts of that storyline partly in the film. Outside of that, it’s still a pretty good flick! It gives the rest of the team time to be fleshed out, the action is great, the writing is better, and Damian isn’t the lead character! It did essentially sequel-bait as well, but overall, I still enjoyed this DC venture, and I hope the next film is even better.

19. Captain Underpants

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Now, we are heading into the films I loved from this year. Captain Underpants must be one of the biggest comedic surprises from last year. It had vibrant and wonderful animation, great jokes, was hugely entertaining to watch, and it was all done with a budget of $30 mil! That’s incredible! Sure, it had a few jokes that didn’t land, and its humor is not super original, but I find myself watching this film a lot!