The Other Side of Animation 119: Early Man Review

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

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There is something always exciting when Aardman makes a new film. While not financially successful here in the states for some sadly understandable/annoying reasons, I always get excited, since it brings something fresh and interesting to the table, even if the films have elements that we have seen before. I make sure to always see their films, because I want to support the studio. That’s no different here, with their newest film, Early Man. Directed by Nick Park, Early Man was his first theatrical directing gig since his Oscar-winning Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. It was released on February 16th, but is not doing well at all in the box office. It is getting positive reviews, but its financial take is discouraging. Granted, when you go against something like the important Black Panther and the decently reviewed Peter Rabbit, you are going to get into some trouble, especially if you are Lionsgate/Summit Entertainment, and you don’t market your movie! I can get into that bit of stupid, but I’ll save that for a different article. For now, let’s review Early Man!

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Eddie Redmayne plays our hero Dug, a caveman living with his tribe in a crater that, generations ago, was formed by a meteorite. He’s getting complacent about how his tribe only hunts rabbits. One day, after a successful rabbit hunt, their tribe gets invaded by a more evolved group of humans. This evolved group of individuals is led by a man named Lord Nooth, voiced by Tom Hiddleston. Dug accidentally gets himself “taken” to the new civilization, meets a woman named Goona, voiced by Maisie Williams, and finds out that his entire valley is being mined out for its metal. After interrupting a soccer game (and yes, I am going to call it soccer), Dug challenges Nooth to a soccer game. Unfortunately, Dug and his tribe don’t know how to play soccer. Dug then enlists the help of Goona, and they train to win their valley back!

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Let’s talk about the positives.  Since this is Aardman, the animation is fantastic. Each character has a unique design, and they each move beautifully. The sets are also vibrant, lush, and huge. These might even beat out The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and Pirates: Band of Misfits. As with most British comedy, it’s well-written, clever, and there are lots of foreground and background jokes. I found myself laughing at multiple points in the movie, along with others in my audience. I think a lot of the jokes flew over the kids in my group’s heads, but they still laughed quite a lot. Much of the humor works because the characters are fun to be around. While some are simple, which is a problem to a degree, I never found myself getting annoyed by them. They were fairly likable. Dug is a kind optimist, the tribe leader played by Timothy Spall is delightfully daft, Nooth is a blast as a villain who seems to enjoy being a villain, Goona is the strong female archetype, and Dug’s tribe all have their own amusing moments. I know the film’s humor is mostly pun-related, but if you can execute them properly, then I don’t mind it. I can understand if it’s not your type of humor, but I loved it. They even stay away from the more modern-style of humor you would see in films from Illumination and Blue Sky Studios. It’s great that they did that, since it makes the film more enjoyable to watch as time goes by. The performances were also really good. Eddie Redmayne captures the hopeful and maybe ignorant optimistic side of Dug, Tom Hiddleston gives Nooth a wonderfully cheesy and not-at-all accurate French accent that leads to many of the film’s best jokes, Maisie Williams does a good job at being a tough individual, and the rest of the cast, including Richard Ayoade, Selina Griffiths, Johnny Vegas, Mark Williams, Gina Yashere, Simon Greenall, Richard Webber, Rob Brydon, Kayvan Novak, Miriam Margoyles, all have humorous performances.

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As much as I love Aardman and the fact we got a stop-motion film this year, I am going to criticize this film a bit. The film is, for the most part, hugely entertaining, clever, funny, and well-written. However, it does start to lose steam, when you get to the actual soccer part of the plot. It goes through a few sports clichés and puns that don’t work unless you know the sport, and it goes into sports film territory with the underdogs versus the champions. You can pick up on what’s going to happen very easily during this part. While I love a lot of the tribe members, many of them don’t get much development. About half of them get stuck with a single character trait. That also goes for the champion team that they compete against.  I also felt like the story could have been a bit more complex. I love that Aardman keeps things simple, but sometimes, that hurts them, since some of their stories become predictable. I know I can blame some of this film’s underperformance to Lionsgate/Summit Entertainment, since this should have been a big deal for their animation output, but they treated like it was just another direct-to-video animated film. However, Aardman is also partly to blame for a couple of this film’s problems. I just wonder how much better this film would have been received if they had chosen a more…world-loved sport, since the US doesn’t really care about soccer, or simply stuck with the caveman and Bronze Age civilization meet-up. I didn’t mind it being about soccer, since I caught a lot of the soccer jokes, but I know that won’t be for everyone.

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While I think I prefer Shaun the Sheep The Movie and The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, I did love Early Man. Personally, it’s the first good animated film of the year, and even if you didn’t fully care about it, you know deep down, it’s going to be better than Sherlock Gnomes.  Early Man is a film that gets better the more I think about it. I definitely recommend checking it out. It’s an original film that’s not based on any pre-existing properties, and if you really want more original films to succeed, then you need to actually go see them. Well, it’s time to get to the 120th review, and I have a lot to say about that movie when we get to it. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

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The Other Side of Animation 118: Mary and the Witch’s Flower Review

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

I’m sure when you are a director who has a few hit movies under his belt while working under one studio, it’s imposing and challenging when you decide to leave that studio to start your own. Which I am sure is the case with Hiromasa Yonebayashi when he left Studio Ghibli and founded Studio Ponoc. While his name might not be as big as Hayao Miyazaki or Mamoru Hosoda, you would recognize his directing work in two Studio Ghibli films, Arrietty, and the Oscar-nominated When Marnie Was There. It’s also tough that the studio itself is being called Studio Ghibli 2, even though I feel like with the uncertain future of Ghibli after Miyazaki and his son are done with their films, I am fine with Ponoc being Ghibli 2.0. Sure, I would like to see them branch out a bit more into their own identity, but for now, I’m simply happy that we are still getting unique Japanese-animated films that aren’t just high-school romance films. For now, let’s take a look at Ponoc’s first film, Mary and the Witch’s Flower. Released last year and distributed by GKids, Mary and the Witch’s Flower gained a lot of hype during the period of time before Hayao Miyazaki decided to make one more movie. When it was finally released last month, critics and audience-goers gave it high praise as one of the best Japanese-animated films from 2017. Sadly, its award recognition has been less than stellar. I think they simply released it too late to get the hype going for it, and, well, award groups have a certain bias towards Japanese-animated films. So, does it deserve more love? Well, let’s see.

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The story follows a young red-headed girl named Mary, voiced by Ruby Barnhill. She recently moved to the countryside with her great aunt, while her parents are working. She doesn’t have any friends, and decides to explore a little. While exploring the forest, she runs into two cats that end up taking her deep into the forest, where she finds a magical blue plant. She takes it back, and finds out the plant gives her magical powers. After finding a real witch’s broom in the forest, she ends up taking off, and finding an academy for the magically inclined. She meets the principle of the school, voiced by Kate Winslet, and the professor, played by Jim Broadbent. Even though Mary is being praised for her magical skills, she ends up getting into a situation much bigger than what she thought.

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Let’s talk about the good stuff about Studio Ponoc’s first film. Since everyone at the studio used to work at Studio Ghibli, you would guess that the animation would be amazing. And, well, it is. It’s very top-notch animation with creative designs, fluid movements, and lush colors. The designs are memorable, and I love that it’s not just Harry Potter-looking. It’s its own spin that’s way more visually creative and entertaining to look at than typical fantasy settings. It’s a film that knows it’s animated, and takes advantage of having out-of-this-world visuals and fun designs. The music is also wonderful, and while it’s not Joe Hisashi, Takatsugu Muramatsu composes some amazing scores for this film. Then again, this is the same guy that did When Marnie Was There and Lu Over the Wall.

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I also enjoyed the characters. Mary was a well-rounded female lead that was not stuck with a “chosen one” plot, the side characters are likable, and like in a lot of Studio Ghibli films, the villains are not simply evil people. You learn about why they desire to go this route with the research of fusing magic and technology. It turns out to be more of misguided ambitions than “I want to take over the world”, like the villain from Castle in the Sky. They aren’t downright evil people, they wanted to make magic greater for the overall world, but lost their way while doing so. I love it when films do this, because it adds layers to the film and the overall story.

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While I do think this is a generally fantastic first film from the studio, there are some flaws that I wish they wouldn’t have carried over from Studio Ghibli. While it’s perfectly fine to be more character-focused, it wouldn’t have hurt to have more action with the magic in the film. I mean, yes, it was never meant to be a Castle in the Sky-style action adventure, but with all this buildup of magic and spells, I would have liked to have seen more than the goopy spells. The ending also felt abrupt. Not From Up on Poppy Hill abrupt, but it wrapped up too quickly and was too clean. It made me wish it had a bit of Princess Mononoke’s ending, where the villains had a moment to sit back, look at nature, and realize that they have been wrong in what they were doing with their magic or something. It didn’t ruin the movie at all for me, but it felt like there could have been more, in terms of the last couple of minutes, but they couldn’t, due to time constraints.

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I know it has a few flaws, but I loved Mary and the Witch’s Flower. For a first-time film from a brand new studio, it hits it out of the park. Now, would I say it’s one of the best Ghibli alumni films? I would say it’s in the top 10. If you can somehow see this film, please do. If you can’t find a theater playing it, then go buy the DVD when it comes out. I know many, including myself, want to see the studio branch out of that shadow, but for now, I am super excited to see what they do in the future. Now then, I think it’s time to move on and talk about a more recent film with Aardman’s Early Man. 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 117: Birdboy: The Forgotten Children Review

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

WARNING/PARENTAL HEADS UP: This film is not meant for children. It’s a dark and twisted film with themes of depression, violence, sex, drugs, and humanity. This is not for younger viewers. Viewer’s discretion advised. Enjoy the review!

It’s funny how limiting most moviegoers see animation as a film-making medium. They only see it as a thing for kids and families, and while that can be true, it can be so much more. I have pretty much reviewed a ton of animated films or shows aimed more at an older teen and adult audience, but sadly, those don’t get a lot of traction in Hollywood. Sure, Sausage Party from 2016 showed that it could work, but all that good will was probably thrown out the window when the controversy of the animators being forced to work un-paid overtime was revealed. Animation has no limits, and you can tell any type of story with it. Sure, some limitations are needed to make sure nothing goes too overboard and such, but it’s a medium that’s way more creative, and can be aimed at all audiences. For example, today’s review will be of Birdboy: The Forgotten Children. Directed by Alberto Vazquez and Pedro Rivero, based on the comic by Alberto Vazquez, and distributed by GKids, this 2D animated film was a dark horse among the 2017 animated films. It was much darker and more mature than a lot of the offerings last year that were more comedy-oriented. It didn’t get a huge release, and while it won a couple of awards, I don’t see many people talk about it. I think it’s time for that to change.

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Taking place on an island after a nuclear explosion destroys the island, the animal inhabitants’ resort to scavenging and trying to live a life, even if the island they live on is mostly covered in garbage. The story is more about the study of the characters, but there is a plot. It revolves around a mouse girl named Dinky, who is not happy with living with her parents who keep complaining about how she is slipping in her school work, and love her dog brother/thing more. This is on top of her parent’s reliance on “happy pills” and how they suspect that Dinky might be a drug user. Dinky decides to get with two of her friends, get some money, and leave the island. Although Dinky is fine leaving with her two friends, she is also worried about another individual, Birdboy. Birdboy’s story is that his father, who used to run the lighthouse before the explosion wrecked the island, turned to selling drugs and was shot. Birdboy, on the other hand, has been turned into an outcast, and is constantly hunted by the police, due to being accused of selling drugs, when more or less, he takes them. Can Dinky and her friends get off the island? What exactly is going on with Birdboy? Why is he taking the drugs? Why does this film look as if David Lynch made an animated movie?

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So, let’s talk about the positive aspect of this film. I’m going to be calling Birdboy the Anomalisa of 2017. Now, why would I be calling it that? It’s because a lot of what makes Birdboy great is the symbolic and psychological nature of the entire film. The film might look innocent and adorable, due to the round designs, but no one is a perfectly okay person. Dinky is a delinquent, one of her friends has supposed schizophrenic thoughts, Dinky’s parents are heavily religious individuals that suffer from depression, Birdboy is a drug-addicted outsider who is suppressing personal violent demons, and the entire rat population, that call themselves “The Forgotten Children”, are violent scavengers that have no problem skinning you for your copper materials. There are multiple layers to dig into with this film, and it is not subtle at showing that a couple of the characters in this film have personal demons that can manifest themselves into horrific monsters. Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom, but it’s definitely a depressing world. Thankfully, you care about the characters, since while some have major issues, they do have humanity to them. The movie basically says that not everyone is inherently evil or a monster.

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Birdboy probably has the most interesting animation out of any film from this year. I think it’s quite obvious from my comments above that the world the characters live in is very misleading. The round innocent designs clash, and make the much darker sequences pop, making them way more effective. If everything was just grizzly from the beginning, then the effect of certain scenes and characters wouldn’t be as powerful as they are with the more child-friendly designs. I know some say that this type of misconception can lead to it backfiring on the film, but the animation works extremely well. It has designs that are almost similar to ones you would find in Adventure Time, and that franchise has plenty of mature and dark moments. I was never taken out of the experience due to the animation, and I think that’s something worth mentioning, since if this was handled by anyone else, it would have probably been a disaster. I saw this with the English dub, and while the English trailer for the film may make some lines look weird in terms of syncing with the clips, it was pretty good all-around in the actual film.

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If I had to nitpick or criticize this film for anything, it would be that it might go too symbolic with everything. Due to the 75-minute runtime, I found myself noticing the film liked to be a bit more abstract than a little more logical, but even by saying this, I’m staying on the back of my heels. I say this because this might be one of those films you will need to see twice. I know that sounds like I’m excusing elements that might just be bad storytelling, but at the same time, seeing a film twice would probably help in some cases.

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In general, I can tell Birdboy: The Forgotten Children is a film that will be splitting people down the middle. It’s beautifully animated, emotionally poignant, and wonderfully atmospheric and dark. Though the story and how it is executed is definitely going to be the part where you like it or not, some will like the dark nature and symbolic elements, but I can see that alienating other viewers as well. Still, if you can somehow watch this movie, definitely do so. It’s a unique film that I wouldn’t mind supporting. Since we are on a GKids run, it’s time to keep that going with their most recent offering, Mary and the Witch’s Flower. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go see it!

The Oscars Relationship With Animation

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

So, I’m sure no one saw the Oscar nomination reveals and no one cares, even though we all care and get mad no matter what happens. All joking aside, in general, the Oscars this year is exceptionally fantastic. It has lots of variety in films, directors, actors, and movies. I know some are bummed out about Wonder Woman not headlining any awards even though it was one of the most important films of the year, but I get it.  However, out of all the categories to cause uproar, it was the ghettos of the Best Animated Feature category. The five officially nominated animated films for this category are Coco, Loving Vincent, The Breadwinner, Ferdinand, and The Boss Baby. I’m sure reading and knowing that, the Sesame Street song of “One of these things is not like the other” pops right up in your mind as you stare at those five films. Of course, the one that’s causing the biggest issue for many is The Boss Baby. Out of any movie, this is the one causing the biggest stir. Does it deserve such hate? Or is the problem deeper and grayer than black and white?

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Let’s get the personal subjective opinion out of the way first before we can get into the more layered conversation pieces of this editorial. In my personal opinion, I think The Boss Baby can be a very charming and a very funny movie with some downright amazing and trippy animation. However, seeing it as an overall film, it’s not great. It has a weak story, forgettable characters, and the film’s lineups of jokes don’t bring in many laughs. It only was a financial hit because it lined up its release with the very popular Alec Baldwin Donald Trump skits from SNL. It’s a mostly flat experience, but it’s also fairly harmless with a solid amount of creativity. It simply needed more fleshing out in the story and world-building department. It is a tad distracting to see an organization that’s all about awarding and giving attention to the best of the best from every year, nominate a film with a 52% overall score on Rotten Tomatoes and was not a critical or audience hit. I could think of 10 or so films that could take its spot. In short, I don’t like that it took one of those spots.

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Now then, let’s dive into the conundrum of the category of “Best Animated Feature”. The first question that comes up is what should be considered for a spot in this category? Well, since film is a visual medium and The Boss Baby does have some rather impressive animation, should that be enough to just have amazing animation? On the other hand, film does rely on a good story, writing, and characters. The Boss Baby, in terms of critic and audience reaction to it, was found to be lacking, so that should disqualify it from the running, despite having amazing animation. Does that mean the five contenders should have good writing, story, and characters? I mean, we kind of expect high quality animation for these awards. Even with this current conundrum, the voters wouldn’t be dumb enough to vote for something like Norm of the North.   But does that mean we should sacrifice the quality of the animation if we look at these award nominees in terms of story, writing, and characters?

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Okay then, so, what about the Academy itself? Can a lot of this be put on them? Well, we saw this coming when they announced that the voting pool was going to be open for all Academy members, and my overly hopeful editorial from last year thought it wouldn’t change. It’s not like it was a surprise that this could have happened. With this side of the argument, does that mean the Academy should bring back the voting limitations? On one hand, they probably should. You have a branch for the people that work in animation for this reason. Why on earth would you let outsiders who don’t know jack, and don’t even watch every film (which is funny since most foreign animated films are at the very least, 75 minutes long) into an area that was specially made for one group of voters and only that group of voters? You don’t tell a football player to bake a cake for a baking competition, why would you want anyone else, but the animation section of the academy to vote on this category? Then again, the entire point of opening up the voter account to non-animation individuals was to open up nominees of more casually popular films. I know that sounds like a bad idea, but then again, don’t we constantly criticize the Oscars for nominating and awarding critically acclaimed films that no one gets to see until like, the last minute on demand or a month before the awards? Shouldn’t we have more than what the critics got to see in limited screenings? You could argue they opened up the voting because animation is getting more recognition, since a lot of the most successful films of every year are animated films. At the same time though, the Academy is cynical about praising the best of the best, so why would they choose a film with such negative reviews to nominate, besides the obvious fact that DreamWorks marketed that film hard to the Academy?

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So, how would I solve this? I don’t know if I have a right answer to this situation. I mean, yeah, the obvious solution would be to gate off the animation section again, and have them vote for that section only. That way, something like The Boss Baby doesn’t get through again. Or, maybe the Academy needs to do something like the Annies, and have a US theatrical feature category and a foreign animated feature category to make it fair for both sides. I feel like the Academy needs to define what qualifies for certain categories, and not let it be handled by how much a studio is willing to give to individual voters. I feel like being more limiting would be regressive, and if we want to see improvement, and have more diverse films getting nominated, we need to be open to change. Maybe talking about how studios bribe/market their films to voters should be its own discussion, along with how if you are an Academy voter, you should watch every film being nominated. In the end, let’s be real, Coco is going to win, and The Boss Baby won’t. Let’s keep the conversation going though. What do you think about The Boss Baby being nominated? Do you think it deserves it? Doesn’t deserve it? Or do you think it’s a bigger problem with the Academy in general?

The Other Side of Animation 116: Ferdinand Review

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

I was talking to my friend the other day about something I never really thought about, do I care about the state of a studio because I’m a critic, and do only the critics and hardcore filmgoers care about the status of studios like Blue Sky Studios and Illumination Entertainment? I ask this question, since while critics are meant to judge a film, and focus more on the finer details, and break it down in a manner that makes sense, and to look beyond the film and at the studio at times. However, casual moviegoers are probably not invested as much with what the studio is doing and if they are evolving their craft or not. I do think that is somewhat changing. While people are still really fine with seeing Illumination Entertainments offerings, franchises like Ice Age, Transformers, and to a lesser degree, The Nut Job, recently bombed at the domestic box office in the states. Even though they sort of picked up traction overseas, there were signs that people were ready to move on, and find something different and more worth their time. I do think both critics and audiences do care about what a studio puts out, but the amount that casual moviegoers will put up with will vary. Hence, why I was curious to see how Ferdinand would do. Directed by Carlos Saldanha, and made by Blue Sky Studios, I thought Ferdinand was going to be an interesting film. I use interesting in the sense that this was the next film right after Ice Age: Collision Course, one of, if not, the worst-reviewed Blue Sky Studios film. I think after Collision Course, people were beginning to get weary and not really trust what the studio had coming next. The film was released December 15th here in the states, and while it got overall pretty solid reviews, its box office numbers were definitely a sluggish climb up past its $111 mil budget. I mean, then again, when you are going against Star Wars: The Last Jedi, your numbers may vary. It isn’t technically bombing, but I think it was obvious people were weary. Did they have a right to be? Well, let’s check it out.

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The story obviously revolves around Ferdinand, voiced by John Cena. Back in the day, he grew up in a bull fighting ranch where bull fighters go to pick the biggest and best bulls to fight. Of course, if you know anything about the source material, Ferdinand would rather smell the flowers and not fight. One night after escaping the ranch when he finds out his dad never came back, Ferdinand ends up being adopted by a flower farmer and his daughter. After spending years with them, Ferdinand grows to be gigantic in size. One day, when he decides to go to the flower festival to see his owners, an accident occurs with him looking like a giant monster. He then gets sent right back to the same bull farm from many years ago. It’s up to Ferdinand, along with his friends, to escape the horrific nature of bull fighting, and be free animals.

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So, I know the trailers for this film didn’t look the best, but if you actually watch it, there is honestly a lot of aspects to like. First up, let’s talk about John Cena as Ferdinand. It was a bit concerning, since while he has acted in films before, this was essentially his first major lead role. You simply don’t hear enough about good acting career stories from wrestlers. Luckily, Cena does a pretty good job as the lead. He’s likable, energetic, has decent comedic timing, and it was never distracting that he was the main character. In fact, a lot of the big downsides to Blue Sky Studios films are the fact that you never see the characters as characters, but as the celebrities who play them. Again, the celebrities are not distracting in this film. Sure, you can recognize a few by the tone of their voices alone, but they actually put in the time to act, and get into their own respected characters. Yes, not all of them are endearing, and some are annoying, but at least more effort was put into these performances than most bad animated films. I think my favorite performances came from the bull characters. Anthony Anderson, Peyton Manning, Bobby Cannavale, David Tennant, and Tim Nordquist were all distinct and fairly memorable. I think my favorite was David Tennant as Angus. He had the funniest delivery of the other bulls, but the rest hold their weight. I found the bulls’ chemistry to be more of the heart of the film, outside of Ferdinand and the family he grew up with.

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I also respect that the story does actually go the distance to a degree about the life of bull fighting and the sad fates of many bulls that either fight or are not up to par. Seriously, it was almost tonal whiplash that they do show what happens when bulls are not up to par, and the fact that for the most part, most bulls will die and never make it back after they fight. It was actually shocking, because much of this film is that pandering kids film vibe that you normally see in a Blue Sky Studios film. From time to time however, they will show off the darker side of bullfighting, and even let Ferdinand and some of the characters have moments of quiet. I think one of my favorite parts was when Ferdinand helped Angus out, and the two got to sit down and look at the beautiful landscape. I adore that this film went the extra mile to show that you don’t need constant comedy or loud noises to keep kids focused. It felt like it was trying to be something on the level of Pixar or Disney. I was honestly emotionally invested throughout a lot of the story. With the exception of the first Ice Age, Robots, and The Peanuts Movie, I’m usually fairly checked out of a lot of Blue Sky films, because they don’t always do a good job with making interesting stories and characters.

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In terms of animation, the film is very beautiful. It has a few faults that I will mention later, but the animation is fluid, it has a good energy to it, and the designs seem very old-school cartoon, exaggerated in terms of their designs and how they move. The backgrounds and field shots are lush, the colors are vibrant, and the human designs are pretty decent. It’s nice to see humans that don’t instantly look like something similar to Disney and Pixar. I even liked the music by John Powell and the obvious original songs by Nick Jonas.

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So, it’s all the more irritating that I have many complaints about Ferdinand as well. It’s so close to being a really good animated film, but it’s only good. Why? Well, because it has a tone problem. The calm and collected tone is constantly shoved to the side for more of the comedy/audience pandering aspects, like multiple side characters that don’t really offer much purpose to the main story, more childish humor, and a dance-off. The dance-off really sums up everything bad about the film. It comes out of nowhere, apparently everyone knows how to dance, and once it is finished, it is never mentioned again by any of the characters. I get that it probably tested well with test audiences that were full of kids, and while I did enjoy it to a degree, it’s distracting to the overall tone. The side characters outside of the bulls are not all that interesting. The hedgehogs, while played well by Gina Rodriguez, Daveed Diggs, and Gabriel Iglesias, don’t do much in the movie. Early footage from the first trailer made it look like they had more to do, but they don’t serve much of a purpose, outside of Ferdinand trying to get out of the bull ranch. The German show horses played by Flula Borg, Boris Kodjoe, and Sally Philips also have the same problem. You never see them after the bulls escape. Yes, I get that they sort of symbolize humans’ need to compete, but as characters that help progress the story, they didn’t do much. And yes, Kate McKinnon isn’t given good enough material to be tolerable. She’s not the worst, and I know she can be funny, but she comes off more annoying than anything else as the goat. Even the villain is not great. You have this bullfighter played by Miguel Angel Silvestre, who is just a boring villain. They had a lot of chances to make him more complex before and after the third act fight between him and Ferdinand, but they don’t do anything. The animation is pretty consistent, but the humans come off as clunky. It’s not a problem with them being snappy in their movements, it’s the fact that they look stiff. By the way, while they are minimal in how much they appear, no one likes twerk, butt, or fart jokes. Stop adding them into your movies, Blue Sky. I know they are not the only studios to do this with animated films, but they do it more often than others.

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In the end, Ferdinand is good, but it had so much lost potential. It succeeds in what it wanted to do, but it’s not a steady ride to the finish, and your experience may vary. There is a reason why this film dragged itself across a month or more due to the success of Coco and then having to deal with Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I see no harm in actually seeing this in theaters, and if you have children that have watched Coco to death in theaters, and can’t find a theater playing Mary and the Witch’s Flower, then definitely go see it or rent it. It’s an ultimately harmless film, and easily one of Blue Sky’s best offerings. Well, that was fun, but we shall now move on to more indie stuff as we look at GKids’ Birdboy: The Forgotten Children. Thanks for reading, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go see it

The Other Side of Animation 115: HarmonQuest Review

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Warning/Parental Heads up!: This show does have some profanity in every episode, and some suggestive elements at times. Don’t watch with younger kids. Viewer’s discretion is advised. Hope you enjoy the review!

So, since I review animated films and video games, it should be no surprise that I have dabbled in Dungeons & Dragons/Pathfinders. I’m no master of it, and I only play it when my best friend from Seattle comes to town, but I always love fantasy stuff like that. There is something about making your own character, and having a story unfold with you and your friends’ actions in epic or comedic fashion. Sadly, most shows or entertainment don’t really do a good job at using D&D/Pathfinders in an entertaining way. I know there are popular videos online of lengthy sessions, but the problem is, no one has really found a way to make it both entertaining, and also work in a show-like format. Luckily, we do have such a product. Today’s review will be of the two current seasons of HarmonQuest. Inspired by the HarmonTown podcast tradition of having D&D sessions, HarmonQuest was created by Community creator and Rick & Morty co-creator Dan Harmon and Spencer Crittenden. It’s a half hour, half-live-action and half-animated show. It was originally part of the streaming service Seeso, but due to that service’s failing, the second season is now at home on VRV. So, is it great? Does Dan Harmon have a hit on his hands? Well, let’s get out our character sheets, roll the dice, and find out.

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To be clear, I am reviewing both seasons, so I’m going to be talking about the plot for both. I’ll try my best to keep spoilers out as much as possible. The first season stars a half-orc ranger named Fondue Zoobag, played by Dan Harmon, a goblin rogue named Bone Weevil, voiced by Jeff B. Davis, and a half-elf barbarian named Beor O’Shift, voiced by Erin McGathy. The three are sent on a mission to get back three magical rune stones that are being used by an evil cult to summon the Great Manticore. The second season has our leads trying to stop an evil sorcerer from fusing the demon and the human realms together.

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Let’s start with the positives. I mean, I technically can say that every positive this show has comes with a small negative attached, but in general, I have a lot of praise for this series. For one, this makes the whole concept of Pathfinders and Dungeons & Dragons approachable. Like I said, I’m not the biggest player for this kind of stuff, but due to how the story is kept moving and exciting, it really makes you wonder why more people who dabble in this hobby don’t do this. You are a show, don’t just give us unfiltered bore fests that are four hours long. Of course, the show wouldn’t be getting two seasons if the characters weren’t interesting. Luckily, the show does a great combination of having scripted events and improv comedy. What I mean by this is that they will have situations given to them, but the actors involved don’t have precisely worded scripts, and instead, have to think on their feet. Everyone from the main cast to the special guests work wonderfully off one another, and I don’t remember a current animated show that made me laugh harder than HarmonQuest. Sure, the show has plots and “character moments”, but you watch this show for the interactions of everyone. The first season probably had my favorite interactions, and that’s mostly because, while not every guest has played the game the entire show is based around, their reactions, actions, and lines do work, and no one feels like they are out of place. Season two also does a good job, but unfortunately, I have a few issues with season two, but we will get to that later.

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Since this is an animation review series, and this show is 50% animation, I think for what it is, it holds up, and gets the job done well. I like that every character’s designs are based around the likeness of the actors portraying them (Well, most of the time), and no one feels out of place. I can understand people calling it simple, but for an online series with big names attached to it, it’s not too flashy, but it’s not cheap looking either. You can tell the animators had fun listening to the actors play out the plot and then think, “how we can make this look great, and hilarious at the same time?” The designs are also not confusing. You can tell who is what if you are into this type of game.

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So, it’s time to bring up those negatives I have with the series. Like I said, it comes off as a pro and a con at the same time. While I love the special guests that they get, like Patton Oswalt, Paul F. Tompkins, Paul Scheer, Kumail Nanjiani, Elizabeth Olsen, Jason Mantzoukas, Steve Agee, Thomas Middleditch, and Aubrey Plaza, sometimes, it seems like the guest character doesn’t really have a lot to do in the plot. They are more there to get the plot going than to do much. I felt like this with the episodes that had Aparna Nancherla and Rob Corddry in them. I love the improv between the characters, but the two seasons lack a major story or arcs for the characters. I think that’s partly the compromise with doing the bulk of the story on the spot, but I feel like not a whole lot happens to make the characters grow. Enough happens to give some outlines for the characters, but they are never the focus. And sadly, the comedy doesn’t always land. I don’t think it’s the actors fault, improv is probably one of the single hardest forms of comedy to pull off correctly, but some of the guest role-players don’t mesh well with each other. I was so excited when I saw actors like Patton Oswalt, and Rob Coddry in certain episodes, and while they have maybe a laugh here and there, I found myself liking those episodes less than others.

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In general though, HarmonQuest is one of the funniest animated shows around right now. Sure, it’s not always consistently entertaining, but it’s definitely a show I have watched multiple times, and I don’t do that often. Unfortunately, this isn’t on something like Amazon Prime or Netflix, which is easily the two biggest streaming platforms, but if you want to watch it, you have to get a subscription for VRV. I do hope that it can get a third season, since it ended on a cliffhanger. If you are into anything fantasy, or if any of this sounds appealing, definitely go watch it. Well, that was fun, but next time, we shall dive into Blue Sky Studios once more to check out their latest film, Ferdinand. Thank you for reading this review! I hope you enjoyed it, and I will see everyone next time!

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 114: Despicable Me 3 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!)

As you can tell, so far, my opinion on the Despicable Me franchise has been consistently, okay. Each film does something I like, but for every element I like, it does something that I don’t like. They have all been passable and harmless movies. And really, that’s sadly the term I would use for the studio, passable and harmless. They seem to be in this financially successful rut of not wanting to challenge themselves artistically. I respect and admire that not every film needs to be a Disney or Pixar heavy-weight, but at the same time, you can only go so far and so long in being successful when you are doing nothing different. Even though I like their film, SING, I still had plenty to dislike about it, and I can’t really say that I have a film of theirs I truly and utterly love and would recommend on the spot. I know there are talented people working on this franchise, and I think they don’t fully deserve a lot of this criticism, but you can’t help but think that they could be trying harder with their films. Sooner or later, another studio is going to come along, and be the next big thing, and Illumination will probably be in the same situation that Blue Sky was when they were churning out Ice Age sequels. I don’t want that to be the case, but if their future films are anything like Despicable Me 3, then I’m going to be concerned. Directed again by Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda, Despicable Me 3 came out June 30th, 2017, and while once again, gaining mixed reviews, was another billion dollar cash cow for the studio and Universal. So, where do I stand on the quickest franchise to reach a trilogy and a spin-off? Well, let’s see if my mind has changed with this film.

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The story starts off with Gru, voiced by Steve Carell, and his wife Lucy, voiced by Kristen Wiig, on a mission to stop an evil villain known as Balthazar Bratt, an ex-child star-turned super-villain, voiced by the co-creator of South Park, Trey Parker. The good news is that they stop Bratt from his plan of stealing a large diamond, but the bad news is that Gru and Lucy get chewed out and fired from the Anti-Villain League for not capturing him. While making sure to comfort his kids in knowing that they will be alright, Gru gets a letter and a surprise from his long-lost rich twin brother, Dru, voiced also by Steve Carell. Gru and his family decide to visit his brother, who tries to tempt Gru back into the world of villainy. Gru takes up his brother’s offer, and decides to use this opportunity to get at Bratt. All the while, the Minions are rioting, and have left Gru.  Lucy is trying to become a step-mother to Gru’s adopted daughters. Can they stop Bratt from pulling off an evil heist? Will Gru and Dru bond as brothers? Will this film try a bunch of storylines, while not putting in the effort into making those stories interesting?

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I would like to get into the criticisms with this one first, but I want to get into the positives first, because I don’t hate this entire movie. The animation is, once again, very impressive. It’s pretty much the same level of quality that Minions had. Though maybe it’s just me, but I think they got their physical comedy down. Like the other films, I did find myself laughing, and as usual, it helps when the comedic animation is snappy. It’s fast enough to not be too much, and a lot of the jokes land. Balthazar Bratt is definitely a more gimmick-focused villain, due to his 80s attire, gadgets, and, well, everything else about him. However, Trey Parker does a good job with this villain, and makes him the best villain of the franchise so far. I was curious to see how Trey Parker would handle the role, and he brought a lot of great energy to the character, even if he had some cringe/eye-rolling lines.

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I also respect that this film did attempt to do more than just be more comedy-oriented like the second film. I like that it brought up a few different storylines. I liked Gru and Dru’s chemistry and the stories about their parents’ reaction to them both growing up, I liked Lucy wanting to be a better mother to Gru’s kids, and I even like the mass majority of the Minions rioting and walking out on Gru because he isn’t being a super-villain anymore. I even like that throughout three major films, Gru is still a likable character. Even after being tempted to go back to the side of being a super-villain, he’s still getting back at Bratt to help his family. It would have been very easy for him to just think about himself and be this unlikable character, like Shrek was in the fourth film. Instead, he doesn’t want to stop being a father or a husband, and I like that. I was also surprised about how little the Minions were in the film. What you see in the trailers is basically what you see in the film. It has its hit-and-miss jokes, but it was decently entertaining.

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If you don’t think I have complaints about this film, then I don’t know where you have been for the past couple of reviews. Personally, Despicable Me 3 shows everything that is wrong with the franchise on a film and artistic level. For every plotline they set up, they either do the bare minimum into putting effort into said plotline, or go nowhere with it. Where do they go with Gru and Dru’s relationship and the fact their parents were both disappointed with them in their own separate ways? It goes nowhere. Where does Gru and Dru’s relationship go beyond a very soft “liar’s revealed” storyline? It goes essentially nowhere. How deep is the story arc of Lucy trying to be a good mother to the girls? It has barely any focus. Do they ever dive into social commentary about Bratt, and how Hollywood and entertainment treats child actors? They do not. What about one of the girl’s subplot about her faith that unicorns exist? They do nothing with it. Do the little girls get to do a whole lot? They get to do a whole lot of nothing! I know the girls are meant to be the “heart” of the franchise and films, but if you can’t find any meaningful way to fit them into the story, then write them out of the film, by saying they are off in summer camp or something. I also wish Dru was played by a different actor. It comes off as lazy and cheap that they essentially rehashed Gru’s character model, changed it up enough, and decided to save money by hiring Carell to do the other voice.

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There is so much going on, and yet, not a whole lot happens. When I wasn’t having one of the few occasional laughs, or being invested in the few decent heartfelt moments, I was bored. It once again feels like they had ideas, and the writers weren’t good enough to know what to do, or they weren’t given the freedom to risk a few elements to actually progress the story. It’s concerning, since this also made a billion dollars at the box office, and even more than that in DVD and merchandise sales. Am I missing something here? I feel like this franchise is going to turn into the new Ice Age franchise, if they don’t start putting in the effort to improve everything. Yes, I laughed, the animation is good, the voice cast does a fine job, and the action is fun to watch, but after watching the film, I was left not remembering much, or caring about what happened. It doesn’t help things that they basically set up a fourth film that’s now going to happen. In my opinion, if they cut out a few story arcs, and focused on sharper writing and storytelling, then we may have had a pretty good movie. Instead, we get fairly hollow storylines and wasted opportunities.

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In the end, Despicable Me 3 is fine. It’s probably the most average film I have ever seen out of the franchise so far. I liked Gru, Lucy, and the villain, but they weren’t strong enough to make this a good movie. It baffles me how people are finally sick of the Ice Age franchise, but are not sick of this franchise for becoming hollower and more manipulative than usual. It’s not a tough watch or anything, but if they don’t’ start improving, another studio is going to come marching on through with the next new shiny thing, and Illumination will be forgotten. I am not harsh on them, because of the community getting sick of Minions, I’m harsh on them because they are talented individuals working on these films, and yet, they are perfectly fine with being boiler-plate forgettable. I hope they can improve, and if they do, then I’ll be happy to be there at any screening, and to praise the hard work at making better films. For now, I’m tired of this franchise, and I need a break. Next time, we will look at the popular TV series known as HarmonQuest. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Rent it!