The Other Side of Animation 190: Animal Crackers Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: Go See It!

My Time at Annecy Online 2020

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

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

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

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

CON: The Extracts

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

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

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

PRO: Work-in-Progress section 

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

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

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

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

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

PRO: Old Man the Movie

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

PRO: Mosley

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

PRO: Connected Preview

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

CON: Lava 

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

CON: Accidental Luxuriance of the Translucent Water Rebus 

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

PRO: To: Gerard 

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

PRO: The Town 

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

CON: Running on French time

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

CON: The site could have been better set up

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

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

The Other Side of Animation 189: A Whisker Away Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worst to Best Animated Films of 2019 Finale

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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!)

Finally, we are here to talk about the top 10 animated films of 2019! These are the films that I will recommend out of the year. I will rewatch them the most, and I hope people can see them. If you have yet to see part 1, part 2, or part 3, then I recommend checking out those parts before getting to this one. Now then, it’s time to finally count down my Top 10 Best Animated Films of 2019!

10. Children of the Sea

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The third act may be a bit too busy, and I can tell why some would not gel with Children of the Sea, but it’s such a euphoric experience that it was hard to find a film quite like it last year. Its mind-blowing 2D animation, the unique designs and art style, the gorgeous music of Joe Hisaishi, the complex themes of the mysteries of the universe and our connection with it, all leads to one of the most outstanding experiences you can think of for an animated film. 

9. Missing Link

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Due to this film’s failure, we may never see another stop-motion film in theaters, because the audience would rather see Avengers Endgame for the 60th time instead of a film that was original, unique, and refreshing in the scene of comedy adventures. I might like Kubo and Coraline more, but Missing Link still had plenty of charm, wit, clever jokes, and fantastic animation to make it worthy of that Golden Globes win. 

8. Marona’s Fantastic Tale

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I was super fortunate to see this film last year at Animation is Film, and it earned one of that festival’s highest awards, and for good reason. It’s a somber yet beautiful tale of a dog remembering her life with the humans she lived with. Its use of mixed media animation gives the film such a unique identity. It’s a beautiful film and it’s currently doing a virtual theater experience. You should all check it out. 

7. White Snake

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China might have had a prolific if troubled animation history, but if you want to show the world what you can do as a country in animation, then White Snake is going to be the best gateway drug into the world of Chinese animation. It’s an action-packed operatic epic about destiny and love. I loved this film, plus, if you look at the extras on the blu-ray, you can see me in the Animation is Film Q&A. Still, even with some minor issues with pacing and tone, White Snake is a unique experience that everyone should see. 

6. Promare

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Studio Trigger has become one of the most acclaimed anime studios of the last decade with popular series like Kill la Kill, Gridman, and the upcoming Brand New Animal. However, we are here to talk about their first feature film. While it is easy to call this their tech demo, Promare is more than flashy visuals. With likable characters, subtle yet complex themes about discrimination, it’s all wrapped up in some of 2019’s most vibrant visuals. It’s a film that knows what it wants to be, and everyone should own it! 

5. Weathering With You 

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I know some people have had issues with me not loving Makoto Shinkai’s work as much as I should for some reason, but it should mean something that I say that this is my favorite Makoto Shinkai film. It has the best visuals, the best story, and the best romance. Listen, I liked Your Name, but a lot of Shinkai films seem to have an issue with stories that have an actual connection. I loved the romance and chemistry with the leads, and I love the bond the characters share. It might have a rather shocking ending, but I can’t get enough of Shinkai’s newest film, and you all need to check it out. 

4. Klaus

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While Netflix can be criticized for many things in terms of how they handle movies and shows, you have to give them proper and actual credit when they are willing to invest in films like Klaus. Think about it for a moment. This 2D animated film about the origins of Santa Claus has a higher rating critically than any other big Hollywood animated film, and beat out Disney at the Annies. Which is even funnier when you consider that the director was an ex-Disney animator. Outside of all of that, the film is still a super touching and complex film about kindness wrapped up with wrapping paper made of some of the best 2D visuals you have ever seen. Even if it’s limited to only being watched at Christmas, I can still find myself watching this film any day of the year. 

3. The Swallows of Kabul

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As we wait for the inevitable GKids US release of this film, I still have to be one of the few people who have seen it and will shower it with praises. This somber story of living through a tyrannical reign of power focuses on characters going through what they believe and trying to find a way out of the chaos. The downright amazing watercolor animation is elevated by some of the best vocal performances of the year. You feel the struggle and conflicting thoughts that the characters have and go through. It’s a rough sit at points, but it’s one that’s worth watching. 

2. Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles 

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I’m still shocked that this film went under the radar for many because this should have gotten more eyes in the film fandom. It’s an animated film biopic about the famed surrealist filmmaker going through making the documentary that will save his career, while coming to terms with his relationship with his father. Bunuel is a poetic and powerful experience that tells a very human story of finding one’s self and what the bigger picture is. Seriously, this is one of my favorite films of recent years, and it’s a better biopic than most of the schlock that award season pumps out. 

1. Funan 

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Big shock, another year where a GKids-distributed animated film tops the list. It’s like they bring over the best animated films or something. Snark aside, Funan is the best animated film of 2019, as it brought over the most emotionally powerful film about a family caught in a rough situation dealing with the Khmer Rouge of 1975. It’s a film that checks all of the boxes for me, and should have been a major awards contender. It’s a story about love, family, and survival. It’s a film that pulled me in and never let go. It’s why I think it’s 2019’s Best animated movie. 

The Other Side of Animation 188: Next Door Spy 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!)

Since we just got done with reviewing SCOOB! I think it’s kind of amazing at how there isn’t much in the way of mystery thrillers for kids and families in animation. Sure, you get super simple mystery shows and to an extent, Scooby-Doo, but the animation scene doesn’t have a Murder on the Orient Express or a Knives Out, or anything to that kind of degree. Scooby-Doo might have its plots revolve around a mystery, but it’s never the main focus. I know it’s tough to balance out a smart plot that kids and families can both be invested in without alienating one or the other, but it would be cool to see a feature film try to give kids a Clue-style experience that, well, isn’t Clue. I recieved a screener, which is why I rambled on with this opening, because I needed to give some context to today’s review, Next Door Spy

Written and directed by Karla von Bengston, this film is from Denmark from the production company, Copenhagen Bombay. If that name doesn’t sound familiar, then you may know them for their film that I reviewed back in December, Finding Santa. They are also known for the film Tigers and Tattoos, and the TV series Me & SonnyNext Door Spy was released back in 2017 in its original release, but has now finally come over stateside by the distributor Tricoast Entertainment. So, this will be my second time encountering this company and the animation fare they have brought over. What do I think about this mysterious little film? Well, let’s find out. 

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The story follows a 10-year-old girl named, and I’m not kidding, Agathe Christine. Yes, it is just a two letter difference from the famous murder-mystery writer. Anyway, she lives with her police officer mother, her older sister, and younger brother. Her family is moving to a new location, and is having trouble fitting in, and decides to open up her own detective agency. She ends up encountering a boy around her age while visiting a convenience store, and catches that something is up with this boy. What is he hiding? Am I ever going to get over the fact this girl’s name is Agathe Christine?

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So, what do I like about this film? Well, as usual with my encounter with this studio, I like the art direction. It feels like a children’s book come to life. Sure, I have issues with how the animation was executed, but for all things considered, they could have easily gone with a super cheap CGI look to everything, but they didn’t. The film also has some decent colors and lighting. It even goes into little black and white sequences when the lead is imagining herself as a roaring 20s-style detective. As for the mystery itself, it’s simple, but I think kids will enjoy it. I don’t think the mystery is as thrilling as say A Cat in Paris or Phantom Boy, but it’s decent enough. I like the little details of the film, like the mother is a cop, which in concept adds some conflict of interest with the lead. There are bits and pieces in this film that seem like interesting ideas on paper. 

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Now, with all that said, there are a few elements I found flawed. First off, the dialogue. It doesn’t come off as natural, and the voice work sounds stilted at points. Some even sound like they directly translated it into English without fixing the proper grammatical elements. Also, there is a shocking amount of cursing involved. Maybe about two or three times in the entire film, you will hear the kids casually drop a swear word because, well, because. If this is meant for younger kids, you do not want them to hear those words at a young age. I don’t care if you are one of those “oh, my kids hear me swear all the time” people, there is a reason why you don’t hear swear words in most family films, and even in the ones you do hear, they always feel forced. 

Also, let’s talk about the giant lizard in the room. At the beginning of the film, you see our hero have an egg with her. It then hatches into a flipping komodo dragon-sized lizard by the end of the film. It has no real point in the story, and I feel like it was meant to come off like some kind of symbolic element to the lead’s struggle to solve the case, but it’s never really expanded upon, and no one else finds out about the lizard. Even when it’s taken away in the end, the mother doesn’t even bother asking the lead what the heck is up with the giant lizard. The lizard also talks and, yeah, there is no point in it. No other animals talk in the film. I also found the animation to be distracting. While I don’t think it looks as bad as children’s television shows using motion-tween programs for the animation, it does a disservice to the art style being used, and that’s a stone-cold bummer.

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At the end of this mystery, I simply don’t have enough energy to muster much anger at this film. I don’t love it, but it’s not anything incredibly mediocre either. Maybe it’s my fault for looking at this from the angle of someone my age, but I don’t know how kids will react to this one. I think some elements aren’t kid-friendly enough, but I don’t know if kids would have this much patience for a slow-burn mystery. However, I could see younger viewers liking this film. I’m not always the best judge on what kids may or may not like. If you are interested in checking this film out, it will be readily available to rent on digital platforms like Amazon, Itunes, DirectTV, AT&T, Fandango, FlixFling, and Vudu June 16th. If you are interested in more mystery-style family films for kids, I would recommend checking it out and seeing what you think. I’m just one person, and maybe you will agree or disagree with me on this one. Well, for now, I’m going to work on some editorials and will be focusing on Annecy content, but next time, we will be going back to Netflix with the Netflix exclusive A Whisker Away.

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

Rating: Rent it!

The Other Side of Animation 187: Once Upon a Forest 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!)

Since the process of hand-drawn animation and animation, in general, takes time to create, sometimes, you will see a bunch of projects get greenlit when some film in the theatrical scene makes it big. The other studios see that, and want to capitalize on it or a popular trend. Sometimes, you just get four movies in a short period that happen to be around Bigfoot. Sometimes, you get a bunch of films about different takes on superheroes. In the 70s, you had so many sexually-driven animated adult films. Too many to be exact, but that’s beside the point. Heck, remember how many films have come out then and now since Despicable Me that want to make that Minions money? During the 90s, there were quite a lot of films coming out that were about protecting the trees and our forests. Many studios play the short-term, and it doesn’t always work out when you chase a trend. For some reason, 20th Century Fox, decades before getting bought out by Disney, had two animated films based on environmentalism with Ferngully: The Last Rainforest and today’s review of Once Upon a Forest

Directed by Charles Grosvenor, executively produced by William Hanna (and yes, Hanna-Barbera’s William Hanna), produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions and ITV Cymru Wales, Once Upon a Forest was released in 1993 and was unfortunately for everyone involved, a box office bomb, only making $6.6 million on a $13 million budget. Now, I haven’t seen this film in ages. It’s one of those animated films I sort of saw when I was little, but forgot everything about it. Maybe that’s for the best, but sometimes, you don’t remember much when you are a kid. It’s now time to see 27 years later how this film holds up in a fairly non-competitive year in animation as 1993. 

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Our story revolves around a group of humanoid animal children called furlings. I don’t know why they are called that, but that’s not the point. These include a mouse named Abigail, voiced by Ellen Blain, a mole named Edgar, voiced by Benji Gregory, Russell, a hedgehog voiced by Paige Gosney, and a young badger named Michelle, voiced by a super young Elisabeth Moss. They go to class one day to learn from an old badger named Cornelius, voiced by Michael Crawford. After going about a rambunctious lesson during the day, the kids learn about gravity, plants, and the evilest creature of all, man! After the lesson, a truck carrying poisonous gas crashes off the road, and the gas leaks into the forest. Everyone tries to get back to their families, only to find that everyone is gone. Michelle tries to go find her parents, but ends up getting ill from the gas. Cornelius offers a solution for Abigail, Edgar, and Russell to find some plants to make an antidote for Michelle. Along their journey, they encounter a monstrous owl, a group of gospel birds with their leader voiced by Ben Vereen, and a group of animals that fight over food. Can our three heroes get what they need and save Michelle’s life along with their forest? 

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So, what do I like about this movie? Well, while I wouldn’t say it’s one of the best films from 1993’s animation scene, I do like parts of the story. The film has some pretty decent atmospheric moments with some very lovely lush background art. The film also doesn’t try to undo any of the deaths that do appear in the film. Normally, other films would try to make a nice little ending where everything is, well, happy. The film has a happy ending, but it does accept the fact that things did happen, and it won’t all 100% be the same, but it still has a fairly optimistic look at it all. Even the forest that was damaged by the gas doesn’t suddenly return to normal. You don’t see children’s films with that kind of consequence set in stone. Even animated films today don’t always commit to certain decisions made in the story. It was gutsier than what a company like Warner Bros was doing at the time. The film also has a pretty decent list of themes, like friendship, teamwork, overcoming your fears, and the not-subtle environmentalism commentary. However, I do like how they frame the poison gas as a man-made accident. Sure, in real life and today’s climate, it would have the humans as 100% the villains, but the humans here aren’t portrayed that way. They are portrayed as somewhat antagonistic and uncaring of their environment, but the humans at the end of the film were not, and that’s what I admire about it. It has a bit of a Ghibli sense of there being no real “villain”. Maybe this is giving the film too much credit, but considering this was 1993 and this was the year we got stuff like the Tom and Jerry the Movie and the butchered cut of The Thief and the Cobbler, I’ll take any film that adds a bit more nuance to the story than nothing at all. Sure, this was also the same year the US got My Neighbor Totoro, which is a better film, but still.

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Animation-wise, for a film that cost $13 million to make, and where some of it probably went to Michael Crawford, it looks decent. Now, yes, you can tell where some animated objects like the miniature flying contraption do not blend well with the background, but it’s pretty decent animation. Everyone moves well, the designs are harmless to look at, and it reminds me of someone who was trying to capture that Don Bluth-style with how the characters move and look. It easily could be a film set in The Secret of Nimh universe. There isn’t much to say about the voice cast. It’s one of those animated films that heavily relies on the fact that it got Michael Crawford as Cornelius, but the acting overall is pretty good. Michael Crawford is probably the best one of the bunch, and yes, you can criticize his voice work for being a bit too whimsical, and his song sequence being hit-or-miss depending on how you like his singing voice, but I felt like he put a lot of heart into the role. Sure, his character vanishes for a huge majority of the movie, but when he does show up, he is the best part of the film. The child actors also do a decent job, and the cast of child actors is honestly interesting since there is a young Elizabeth Moss in one of her first film roles. I also liked Ben Vereen as the religious bird Phineas, and the other voice cast members they hired are good as well, with Charlie Adler, Paul Eiding, Susan Silo, Janet Waldo, and an uncredited Frank Welker as the barn owl they encounter. 

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So, what don’t I like about the film? It sounds like it’s rough around the edges, but a respectable title. A lot of what I talked about with the pros of the film comes from the third act. I found the pacing to be a touch slow as it takes a bit before the plot is moved forward by the poison gas situation, and much of the first act is spent with the three kids and Cornelius. After that, it plays out more like a road trip movie with events that come and go without much connection, and the side characters they encounter not being mentioned again. Some of them even happen too fast and end so quickly, that you wonder what the point was. It’s also a touch safe in terms of its themes and how it handles its story. It’s easily digestible for kids, which to be fair, is the target audience for this film, but it’s also a little too adult in spots for kids. It’s a weird uneven mix, and I think it should have either leaned more one way to slightly older kids, but in a PG (a serious PG) way or just go sugar sweet. Finding that balance is tough and it doesn’t always work. The characters are also not the most interesting. The three kids are all basic kid characters, and the most interesting of the characters, the one played by Michael Crawford, is not the focus. 

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Even with my criticisms aimed at this film, I can’t find myself hating it. Sure, it’s not the best animated film of 1993, the same year we got The Nightmare Before Christmas, but Once Upon a Forest is not the worst. I can see why people who grew up with this film enjoy it, but I also can see why it was maybe forgotten by many, despite having a lot of interesting facts surrounding it. For some reason, since 20th Century owns the rights to this film, it’s not available on Disney Plus, but that may also be due to Hanna-Barbera being the rights holders as well, but who knows. If you want to check it out, it’s pretty cheap on DVD. Now then, next time, we are going to look at another screener. That’s right, your possibly favorite animation reviewer has obtained another one! I’ll make sure you all get a clue about what I’m reviewing in my next review. 

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

Rating: Rent it!

The Other Side of Animation 186: SCOOB! 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!)

As a franchise, Scooby-Doo has been able to stand the test of time and still be a relevant part of pop culture. Out of all of the Hanna-Barbera properties to still be around, it’s not all that surprising that it’s this one. And yes, technically, I know Joe Ruby and Ken Spears created the property, but it’s owned by Hanna-Barbera, so let’s not get into specifics about it. Anyway, the formula and premise easily translate itself to being able to transcend time and the ever-growing world of animation. Sadly, at times, at least, more recently, it has started to show its wear and tear, as I don’t think the creators know where to take the characters. A lot of their more recent films have been mediocre at best and insulting to previous films at worst. It’s a shame, because I do like a few of the direct-to-video films, and the voice cast for the gang has always been stellar. So, how does Scooby-Doo handle himself with his first major “theatrical” animated feature, SCOOB!

Directed by Tony Cervone, SCOOB! has had a fairly long production cycle, as it started in 2014 with Dax Shepard writing and co-directing the film. In 2018, Dax Shepard was kicked off the project, and Cervone took full directing responsibility with Matt Lieberman, Adam Sztykiel, Jack Donaldson, and Derek Elliot taking over writing duties. The film is also noteworthy for it being the first major animated film to skip out on theaters entirely due to the current viral situation and go straight-to-video. Trolls: World Tour doesn’t count since it was released in both theaters and on-demand the same day. So far, it has gotten a mixed reception, and where do I stand with this film? Well, you should grab your favorite flavor of Scooby Snacks and read the review. 

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The story revolves around the organization called Mystery Inc, a group of young adults that solve mysteries and crimes that are perpetrated by supposed ghoulish monsters. The gang includes Fred, voiced by Zac Efron, Daphne, voiced by Amanda Seyfried, Velma, voiced by Gina Rodriguez, Shaggy, voiced by Will Forte, and his talking dog Scooby-Doo, voiced by Frank Welker. After a business investment falls through the cracks, the gang separates, and what results are Scooby and Shaggy getting targeted by an evil villain known as Dick Dastardly, voiced by Jason Isaacs. Luckily, the two are saved by their favorite superhero Blue Falcon, or, at the very least, his son Brian, the new Blue Falcon, voiced by Mark Walhberg. The story then turns into a pseudo mystery about why Dick Dastardly is targeting Scooby and Shaggy, and what his ultimate plan is. Can the gang solve this mystery and save the world? 

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This movie is frustrating to review. Not because it’s the worst thing ever, or that I’m trying not to step on the toes of obviously hard-working animators and writers. However, it’s because the execution of everything is what I’m struggling with. On one hand, there is so much passion put into this project. You can tell the team behind it loved Scooby-Doo to the point of even almost 100% recreating the opening of the original Scooby-Doo! Where Are You? opening. There are references to other Hanna-Barbera properties all over the movie, and especially in the main part of the credits. There are small character quirks that show off that the people making the film understand Scooby-Doo as a franchise. Heck, they even made a dessert they had from one episode that made me chuckle. Even the other Hanna-Barbera properties mix well into the world of Scooby-Doo. The problem isn’t that they don’t mix. Scooby-Doo and Hanna-Barbera properties have always crossed over with one another. This isn’t even the first time the Mystery Inc has crossed over with Blue Falcon. Another high point in the film is the opening where we have Shaggy and Scooby-Doo meet for the first time. It’s probably the best part of the film, and is the emotional lynchpin holding the film together. There is a lot to like in this film, from the animation to the jokes that they slide into the dialogue. 

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On the other hand, there is a real good reason why this film is getting mixed reviews, and it once again comes down to how everything was executed. First off, the dialogue is clunky and awkward. When the film was at its best, it was with the characters talking like how they would from the show and previous animated features. There are a lot of pop culture references and shout-outs in this film, and they are so forced into the script. They don’t flow or come naturally to any of the scenes where they show up. It feels like this film got studio-noted in the same way Chicken Little did. It’s not like you can’t make pop culture references, because you can, but you have to be so careful with how they are implemented. The film isn’t going to age badly because it has Simon Cowell or a joke about Netflix. It’s going to age badly because of how awkwardly shoe-horned they are into the story. Only a few of the pop culture references work, and the only references that do work are the ones to the Scooby-Doo! IP or the greater Hanna-Barbera universe. At least with Ralph Breaks the Internet, the pop culture stuff felt a bit more fluid and natural. 

The film’s pacing could easily be noted as one of its biggest downfalls due to how the stakes are revealed in a very uneven fashion. It doesn’t build up properly to the initial mystery, and then it turns into a road trip-style faux superhero flick. It’s frustrating because the mystery has to be the film’s strongest element, but it is not, and I should know since I binged through 26+ direct-to-video Scooby-Doo films and shows. Due to the clunky nature of the pacing of the story and how it escalates, emotional moments don’t land properly and you feel taken out of the film. At least, that is how I felt. I’m mad about this because the emotional core of the film is Shaggy and Scooby’s relationship, but due to the execution, the conflict parts are readily predictable. It’s another film that’s too busy to just be one film, but also be a universe starter. It’s a Hanna-Barbera film, but it’s not really a Scooby-Doo film. They could have made all of these characters like Blue Falcon and Captain Caveman fit perfectly, since, again, this isn’t the first time a Hanna-Barbera connected universe has been made, but it’s not handled well. 

So, what about the characters? Sadly, they are pretty inconsistent. I liked Shaggy and Scooby, as they are the best part of the film, Dick Dastardly is a fun villain and you can tell Jason Isaacs is having a lot of fun in the role. Zac Efron’s take on Fred has some of the best jokes in the film, and Blue Falcon and Dynomutt have a decent arc together. Again, and say it with me, it’s the execution that falls flat. Daphne once again does very little, and I know that’s kind of the joke of the series, but she doesn’t do much. Neither does Velma. Oh, and as for Kiersey Clemon’s DeeDee Sykes, way to relegate the one black character as simply the person who drives everyone else around. Seriously, I don’t think this was intentional, but she does nothing else than drive Blue Falcon’s jet. When I first heard that Tracey Morgan was going to voice Captain Caveman, I was excited since it’s ideal casting, but while he does a solid job, he doesn’t bring any of the Captain Caveman mannerisms outside of his battle cry. Otherwise, he’s just playing himself from 30 Rock. Dastardly seems like the most consistent character in the entire film, and he is probably the most fleshed-out. Due to how everything is paced, the conflict points are easy to spot and are not shocking when they happen. It’s a film that leaves these characters to be fairly forgettable.

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So, let’s talk about the animation, which is a big deal breaker to many. Not because it’s CGI, but due to how it was handled. Listen, I know many are going to label the film as cheap-looking, when most people don’t even know what cheap CGI can really look like. The studio that animated the film, REEL FX, is a super talented studio that has worked on films like The Book of Life and Rock Dog, but the problem is not them, but the overall design and animation process. The characters are too weighty and sluggish, some of the characters’ proportions look off, and it really seems like this film needed to dive more into the cartoonish direction with the designs and animation. This needed something like the team behind Hotel Transylvania or STORKS to be the head of the animation and design work. Everyone needs to be snappier and not so realistic and robotic in their movements. It’s especially distracting when you get Simon Cowell in the same scene as Scooby, and the art style doesn’t match or work. The voice work is also hit-and-miss. This might be the first time where celebrity stunt casting has actually bothered me. I know Will Forte is doing his best as Shaggy, but when Mathew Lillard has been doing an amazing job as Shaggy for 10+ years in both live-action and animation, it’s obvious that Will Forte is just doing a Shaggy impression. Efron probably does the best out of the main Mystery Gang, but I still think if you have Frank Welker as Scooby, then why not keep him as Fred? Gina Rodriguez brought nothing to Velma when Kate Micucci has been doing a solid job as Velma for five years now. Amanda Seyfried can be funny, but come on, Grey Griffin is right there! She’s been Daphne for 20 years now. What is wrong with not getting her back? It’s not like the celebrities add anything to the experience. I think the only ones I enjoyed were parts of Tracey Morgan’s Captain Caveman, Jason Isaac’s Dick Dastardly, Mark Wahlberg’s Blue Falcon, Keon Jong’s Dynomutt, and Frank Welker as Scooby-Doo. 

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As you can tell, I’m all over the place. I don’t think it’s a good Scooby-Doo movie, but it’s not a bad Hanna-Barbera film. It’s too busy to commit to either. It’s a shame because you can make the format work, but once again, WB wanted another universe starter and they started with too much in the first film. They could easily cut out a lot of the universe stuff and just make it a more straight forward Scooby-Doo film. I want to see more from this universe in sequels, and since it’s getting some high digital download and purchase numbers (as far as we know), maybe we will. Now then, next time, I’m going to take a look at the last 20th Century Fox film that I will probably tackle due to them being swallowed by Disney with Once Upon a Forest

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

Rating: Rent it!

Worst to Best Animated Films of 2019 Part 3

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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!)

Welcome back! Now, it’s time to get into the films that I enjoyed! This is the long part as we count down from 27 to 11! If you have yet to see the first two parts, make sure to use the tags in this editorial to get to Part 1 and Part 2. Now then, let’s keep counting down!

27. Son of the White Mare

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While this is a film from a few decades ago, it was never fully or officially released in the states until last year and will be coming out on Blu-ray this year. That’s a bloody shame, because this movie is awesome. The visuals are striking; the storytelling is straight-forward, but really, you watch this movie to see the amazing visual experience that it offers. Otherwise, it’s a simple fairy-tale-style story that relies way more on its abstract visuals to comment on certain topics. However, sometimes, you want to sit back and take in a film that offers outstanding visuals and enjoy the ride! I can’t wait until more people see Son of the White Mare.

26. This Magnificent Cake

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I honestly contemplated whether I would include this film on the list. Not because it doesn’t count as one, but I just find it odd that a 45-minute or as it’s called, a mid-length feature, is a film. Still, outside of that personal opinion, this is a very poignant and very dark piece about colonialism in the Congo. It obviously could have used a longer running time for everything to be a bit more impactful, and the ending fizzles out into abstract weirdness that is symbolic and meaningful, but it’s still one of the most unique experiences you can find in animation. I can understand why Barry Jenkins loved this film.

25. Abominable 

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It’s always a gamble nowadays on whether a DreamWorks release will be good or not, and that’s a shame because when they release something like Abominable, it shows why people still support them. Sure, it might not have the strongest characters or the beefiest story, but Jill Culton and her team were able to still bring a solid story with some gorgeous visuals to life with a way more interesting villain and tone that you don’t see a whole lot from the studio. I still have my issues with this studio, but Abominable shows that they still have a better sense of talent and storytelling than most animation studios.

24. Teen Titans Go! vs Teen Titans

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While I’m not a huge hater on the current iteration of the teen superhero team, I’m starting to get a little tired of it all now. It’s still a delightfully funny experience, the action is decent, and they were able to make the chemistry between the two different versions of the characters work. It’s always funny to see the same voice actor play two different versions of the same character. This iteration of the franchise might be losing its steam now, but if you enjoyed 2018’s Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, then you will find a lot to enjoy in this one.

23. Aya of Yop City 

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Produced by the director of 2013’s The Rabbi’s Cat, and directed by the creator of the comic series it’s based on, Aya of Yop City is easily one of the hidden gems of foreign animation. Not only is it one of the few animated films I have encountered that star an all African cast of characters, but isn’t about any of the major turmoils that are set in that country in a manipulative way. It’s more of a slice-of-life story, as Aya and her family and friends go through the challenges of relationships, love, jobs, and life. It can be surprisingly funny, endearing, and has a great visual look. It’s a shame that it wasn’t released until this year. Sadly, the story flounders in the end, and Aya herself is not the most interesting character, but people should still really check out this film. Just be ready to experience a film that doesn’t have a traditional story.

22. Wonder Woman: Bloodlines

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It’s rather sad that we finally got a second animated feature after 10 years, but the wait was worth it. The drama between Wonder Woman and one of the villains was compelling, the action was stellar, and it was nice to see a superhero film with a mostly female-lead cast. It’s also a bummer that there are a few moments where you can tell a guy directed the film, and the final act falls into generic action fare, but for a direct-to-video DC animated film, I enjoyed this one!

21. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

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It might be the weakest of the three DreamWorks Dragon films, and it 100% shows that DreamWorks doesn’t know how to handle its side characters, but it’s still a pretty stellar finale with downright stupidly good-looking animation, fantastic scenes with Hiccup and Toothless, and it shows how to somewhat properly cap off an incredible franchise.

20. I Lost My Body

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This shouldn’t be a big shock. Yes, I was not as huge of a fan as everyone else in the world with this multi-festival winning film. I didn’t think the film balanced out both stories well, I found the humans to be the biggest issue with the film, and I felt like other films should have been nominated. With all that said, this is easily one of 2019’s most unique films. It’s ethereal and mesmerizing watching the sequences with the hand and how the story unfolds. It also has a unique visual style that no other film in 2019 can copy. While I do not have the same love and support of it, I still found the experience to be enthralling from beginning to end.

19. Batman versus TMNT

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It seems like that my love for the DC animated films that go direct-to-video always leans to the non-Action 52-style storyline going on right now. I adored the art direction, the action was thrilling, and due to the two properties getting combined into one movie, the story goes bonkers with some sequences. It’s 2019’s Batman Ninja, and I am all here for it.

18. Frozen II

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The first film was lightning in a bottle, and Frozen II was going to have to go through some hurdles to overcome the giant challenge of trying to be as good or better than the first film. To a degree, I do like Frozen II better. I like the songs better, I like the tone, I like the commentary, and the film still does show why Anna and Elsa are great. It’s also a film that feels like the last act got changed due to probably being too dark. I don’t know if I’ll ever know what exactly happened with the third act that rubbed me and others the wrong way, and how Sven got the short end of the stick in terms of plots, but despite the rough spots, I still enjoyed my time with Frozen II.

17. Spies in Disguise

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It’s rather refreshing to sit here and type out the fact that I absolutely loved a Blue Sky Studios film. Seriously, outside of The Peanuts Movie and to an extent Robots and FerdinandSpies in Disguise feels like Blue Sky’s most cohesive film. The animation, the lighting, the designs, the characters, and the themes it tackles with how it handles aggressive and defensive tactics in spy work is rather ambitious for a film from a studio that has a mixed reputation. It doesn’t do it perfectly, and certain casting choices are distracting/bad, but overall, I would absolutely watch Spies in Disguise again in the future.

16. Mai Mai Miracle

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Don’t worry, this is the last of the “we didn’t get this movie until now” films on the list. Honestly, it is shocking that it took until 2019 to get one of the more charming animated features from Japan. It’s very much a film in the same vein as My Neighbor Totoro or the director’s recent work, In This Corner of the World. The story is about two girls from different financial classes enjoying and exploring the countryside post-World-War II. It has the same kind of problem as with the other films listed, where it seems like they had to have some kind of conflict, but if you love films like My Neighbor Totoro, you will love Mai Mai Miracle.

15. Okko’s Inn

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Technically, I saw this film two years ago at Animation is Film, and I still stand by my opinion that it is easily one of 2019’s hidden gems to check out. It’s a delightfully low-key coming-of-age drama that despite having a more simplistic art style, was able to really invest you into Okko’s trials of losing her parents. It also has some set pieces that are a wonder to the eye to see unfold with the power of animation.

14. I Want to Eat Your Pancreas

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I perfectly get why people would absolutely be on the fence with this one. It’s another one of those teen dramas that has one of the teens with a deadly disease and, yeah, sometimes it milks it a bit too much, and the film is a touch too long, and the designs aren’t all that memorable. However, In terms of these types of films, it’s easily one of the best versions of it. The animation is great, the characters have actual chemistry, and I was able to be fully sucked into the drama and romance. Your reception to this film will vary, but one thing we can all agree on is that this film costs way too much to purchase, Aniplex! Lower the blu-ray’s price!

13. Penguin Highway

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For a first time directing gig, Penguin Highway is a smart and creative coming-of-age story about a boy going through puberty and wondering about the world around him. Granted, I don’t know if your journey through growing up included a random infestation of penguins, but still. It overstays its welcome a tiny bit, and I can understand people having an issue with the boy’s fixation on an older woman character, but other than that, I really enjoyed it. I can’t wait to check out Studio Colorido’s future projects.

12. The LEGO Movie 2

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It’s truly a shame WB decided to burn through too much of the LEGO IP and it’s understandable as to why this film underperformed. I think it deserved to do better because it’s still a fantastic film with a great theme of boy vs girl mentalities, toxic masculinity, and identity. It’s still lighting quick with its wit, highly enjoyable comedy, and the characters are still strong, and I would argue are better than the first film. It might not have that lightning in a bottle hype the first film got, but overall, this film deserved to have done better.

11. Toy Story 4

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While I disagree with its Oscar win for Best Animated Feature due to it being the safest bet of the films nominated, and it runs into the DreamWorks situation of not being able to do anything with its side characters that aren’t the new ones, Toy Story 4 is still a stellar film in probably the most consistently high-quality franchise in animation. It might be an epilogue for Woody’s story, and Buzz gets short-changed, but the story is still strong, the characters are likable, the jokes are funny, and it still has a lot of that Pixar love that people adore about the studio.

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

The Other Side of Animation 185: Mortal Kombat Legends – Scorpion’s Revenge 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!)

You know, you would think I would tackle more video game adaptions in animation. Granted, the track record of good video game properties adapted to the world of animation is as shoddy as live-action attempts, but at the very least, animation takes away a lot of the limitations you get doing it in live-action. People in the entertainment industry might look down on animation for no reason, but with animation, while you may have to make everything by hand, it is not bound by physical limitations. The visual arts is a world with no boundaries, besides the ones you put on yourself. I mean, there is also time, money, manpower, but that’s beside the point. Today, we are taking a look at the newest film from the notoriously hyper-violent franchise, Mortal Kombat.

Today’s film, Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge, was directed by Ethan Spaulding and animated by Studio Mir. As mentioned above, it’s the newest film in the franchise since the disastrous Mortal Kombat Annihilation. Scorpion’s Revenge was released April 28th of this year to mostly positive reviews. So, do we have another video game disaster or do we have another video game hopeful? Well, let’s get over here and find out!

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So, the story revolves around Hanzo Hasashi aka Scorpion, voiced by Patrick Seitz. He’s on a mission to go after Bi-Han aka Sub-Zero, voiced by Steve Blum, who murdered his entire clan and family. After being sent to hell and making a deal with Quan Chi, voiced by Darin De Paul, Scorpion sets out to take down Sub-Zero, who will be attending an otherworldly fighting tournament hosted by Shang Tsung, voiced by Artt Butler. However, despite the film being called Scorpion’s Revenge, we also follow the story of three human fighters; Liu Kang, voiced by Jordan Rodriguez, Sonya Blade, voiced by Jennifer Carpenter, and Johnny Cage, voiced by Joel McHale. The three humans were chosen by the thunder god Raiden, voiced by Dave B Mitchell. Can Scorpion get his revenge, and can the humans save their realm from being taken over?

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So, let’s talk about the title of the film. Listen, I get it. Scorpion is pretty much the face of Mortal Kombat. However, the film is not really about him. Or at the very least, it’s not 100% about him. It’s one part Scorpion story, one part generic Mortal Kombat story, and one part universe starter. At first, the story focuses on him, but then the film also decides that it wants to be a franchise starter for a Mortal Kombat cinematic universe, so it has the three human leads who are unfortunately not all that interesting. It’s frustrating because while Scorpion is in the title and is what the film should focus on, Johnny Cage gets more of a focused storyline. Scorpion gets side-lined in his own movie. How much of the film is Scorpion in? Mostly, in the beginning, he vanishes for most of the middle part, and then stays in the third act. Because of this, the film has a real pacing issue throughout. The film spends a lot of time playing out like a normal MK storyline with the tournament, but then shuffles between the main characters, the villains, and shoving in cameos and fanservice appearances of certain characters. It even drops a plot twist 10 minutes before the film ends that lands like a lead balloon. It’s a real lopsided story, and it’s a shame because I do like the story when it actually follows Scorpion, and Johnny Cage, who, while annoying, was the most entertaining character in the film. It’s just a disappointment that this film isn’t really a Scorpion movie. There is a good story hidden in here. Even if it’s a typical revenge plot, this movie had more effort put into it than Annihilation did. Sadly, the focus went into the same mindset that the 2017 The Mummy went into, not to tell a single story, but to set up a bunch. This movie should be renamed Mortal Kombat Universe Pilot.

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The animation is where I also have some mixed feelings. It’s quite obvious that they went with an entirely different art style than trying to copy the style used in the major DC-animated features that WB puts out every year. The designs are more striking, and the characters look great. Sadly, this is a direct-to-video film under the Warner Animation Group collective. That means that while it’s nowhere near as bad looking as that 40-minute promo video that was made to promote the first film, it still suffers from having animation quality that’s basically on par with the DC TV series. Some scenes look fine, and then you can tell when they drop the frames of movements. However, with all that said, this film has some of the more striking visuals, and a lot of the gore and violence you play the games for. Mortal Kombat can have more story and more depth to their characters, but if you don’t have the gore, then what’s the point? I did like the action sequences that decided to have a little more money thrown into them because the action in this film is pretty stellar. I mean, it’s a film with martial arts and magic. If you fail at that, then what on earth are you doing? It’s like making lasagna without the creamy cheese, there is no point to it. I could complain about the film, but it nails the visuals. In terms of voice work, it’s good. It’s nothing groundbreaking, and they probably could have gotten someone other than Joel McHale, but the actors put in solid performances. You have people like Patrick Seitz, Kevin Michael Richardson, the always delightful Steve Blum, Grey Delisle, Dave B. Mitchell, Robin Atkin Downes, Jennifer Carpenter, Jordan Rodrigues, Ike Amadi, and Fred Tatasciore.

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This was a rough review to write. Not because the film was astronomically bad or a masterpiece that I was having trouble putting into words. It’s because this movie is okay. It’s probably the most okay movie of 2020. If it didn’t have the stellar action, the distinct visual style, and the gore, it would have probably been a decent if somewhat forgettable action film. It’s the second-best Mortal Kombat film, and so far, against what else is coming out, the best action film in the animation scene this year so far. I just hope this film did well enough to get a sequel, because the film itself leaves so much open for sequels that it isn’t funny. Honestly, if this film flops, then you wasted so many characters by focusing on the future film, and not the film you are currently making. Well, before I can get into the newest DC/WB animated feature that might cap off the entire storyline of the current animated film universe, let’s dive into another WB-focused film and hopeful universe starter with the newly released SCOOB!

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

Rating: Rent it!

The Other Side of Animation 184: The Willoughbys 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!)

Something I’m noticing that I would argue started back in 2015 with the release of Blue Sky’s The Peanuts Movie film, is the fact that bigger studios are starting to slowly move into being more experimental and creative with the visuals and usage of CGI animation. While I think CGI animation gets a bad rep due to how overwhelming it is, and I, of course, would love to see more 2D animated features from the bigger studios, getting more ambitious with CGI visuals is a good direction to go into. Think about it, we had the already mentioned The Peanuts MovieCaptain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, 2018 gave us Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and Disney/Pixar are doing more creative visuals in their shorts. We also have this year’s Connected from Sony Pictures Animation, and I think that’s pretty healthy. I have said in the past that studios and films need to have their distinct flavor and look, and the major studios are only now catching on what the indie/foreign scene has been doing for the better half of a decade or more. Unless the execution is off, I don’t see why more studios can’t experiment a little more. Heck, that’s why I adored Netflix’s newest animated feature, The Willoughbys.

Directed by Kris Pearn, co-directed by Rob Lodermeier, and written by both Kris Pearn and Mark Stanleigh, The Willoughbys is yet another film on Netflix’s streak of original animated projects! It’s produced and animated by Bron Animation, the same studio that did the unfortunately disappointing Henchmen film. So, how did Netflix’s next step into animation go? I say grow your beefiest mustache and let’s get to it!

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The story follows the four Willoughby children, Tim, voiced by Will Forte, Jane, voiced by Alessia Cara, and Barnaby A and Barnaby B, voiced by Sean Cullens. They are part of a famous family with a prolific legacy of adventurers, inventors, and so on. Unfortunately, the Willoughby children are the kids to the current Willoughby adults, Father, voiced by Martin Short, and Mother, voiced by Jane Krakowski. The two adults are neglectful of their kids to the point that when the children find an abandoned baby, they get kicked out of the house. The children then come up with a plan to “orphan” themselves by getting rid of their parents. They send the terrible duo on an epic adventure that has multiple areas that may result in them six feet underground. Along the way, the children will encounter other adult individuals, like Linda the nanny, voiced by Maya Rudolph, and the candymaker Commander Melanoff, voiced by Terry Crews. Can the children get rid of their parents? Or will they find their true family elsewhere?

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Let’s cut to the chase, and talk about the first thing that stands out about this film, the animation. For those that are curious, it’s using CGI, but everything is crafted and animated like it’s stop-motion. I know some have an issue with this for some unknown reason, but to me, it’s smart for CGI animation to start experimenting with how they tackle visuals. A lot of animation fans complain about how most CGI films look the same, so why not go out of your way to look distinct? It has a style that makes it stand out, and it looks gorgeous. There are so so many bright colors and fantastic designs that make the world the film takes place in pop. You can even see it in the trailer that the colors are vibrant, and it might be very candy-coated colors, but man, do I love it. They even match the snappy stop-motion movements of the style it’s imitating. It looks good and while it is fast-paced, the humor and movements are not fast enough to be missed or are too overbearing.

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Now, as for the story, while this film is not meant to be taken seriously, it does balance out the quirk with the more serious themes that it’s tackling. Sure, the major moral of the film is that family is what you make of it, and it’s a nice theme, but the film doesn’t excuse the fact that the parents in the film, while dialed to 11, are awful. Unlike most films, this one doesn’t try to redeem or sideline the parents. They are terrible, and the film constantly paints them in a negative light. Martin Short and Jane Krakowski do put in some very funny performances, but they are incredibly neglectful of the kids in the film. Luckily, the rest of the characters constantly mention it. The kids themselves also have great chemistry and distinct personalities that feel fairly grounded. Yes, this world is wacky and colorful, but you get why the kids act as they do. I know they are mostly played by adults, but for a comedy like this to work, I don’t know if I would run the risk of using child actors. Plus, the cast works well off of one another. Will Forte, Sean Cullen, Martin Short, Jane Krakowski, Terry Crews, Maya Rudolph, and Alessia Cara all put in charming performances. However, I will say that the film’s marketing is a touch misleading, as the main character is not Jane. In fact, the main character of the film, and who gets the most fulfilling character arc is Tim.

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For as much as I adore this dark comedy family feature, I have three issues with the film. The first criticism I have is that the absurd elements sometimes clash with the pacing of the more traditional story bits. Not in a distracting way, but it’s noticeable when the film has to halt the breaks on the absurdity for the story to hit certain beats. It’s not that the more story-focused beats are bad, but they are just story bits that you have seen before. The second issue I have is with the original song and the placement of it. I get that Netflix wants to get a chance to be nominated for an original song at something like the Oscars and such, but it felt like it was somewhat forced into the last third of the film. I bring this up because the film, as I have mentioned, does market Jane as the lead when she is not, and while the song is pretty solid, it was distracting. It’s a double-edged sword for the film, since you know why it’s there but still may not care for it. Finally, I did not like Ricky Gervais as the cat narrator. Yes, the cat does have a few great lines, but I think Gervais was miscast, and I do mean that without also admitting that I do not like him as a comedian or actor. The cat needed to be played by someone else, as I was thinking of maybe someone like Matt Lucas or Eddie Izzard. The character needed someone with a bit more energy and goodwill associated with them.

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While rough around the edges in some areas, The Willoughbys is a new Netflix hit that I think everyone should check out. I understand, if respectfully disagree, with some of the more negative reviews of the film, but I get why this film might not be for everyone. It’s a film that’s abstract and out there, and you are either for it or not. I simply hope one day, Netflix puts this film on Blu-ray alongside their other original animated features, so I can own them physically. So, we shall now move on from quirky family film to a film based on a video game that’s unintentionally a backdoor pilot for sequels. That’s right, next time, we are going to look at Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge.

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

Rating: Go See It!