217: Arlo the Alligator Boy Review

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Heads Up!: I was able to view this early with a screener. Thank you, Netflix!

(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 you know from my reviews old and new, I am a supporter of both original properties and shows and films based on some pre-existing property. My rule of thumb is that whether it’s original or pre-existing, it all comes down to execution. How many times have we seen original ideas flop or pre-existing IPs knock it out of the park and vice versa? Well, many times. That’s why I roll my eyes a little when I see people be in the mindset of “original ideas or nothing at all.” Listen, I want as many original ideas to flourish as possible, but that also means that if you want to see them flourish, that means you accept them warts and all. That is unless they are a hateful problematic piece of garbage or made by a troubling individual. I can’t repeat this enough that you need to support the original ideas. You watch them when they arrive, and you spend some time talking about them more than the pre-existing films and shows. The reason why I bring that up is that today’s review will be of Arlo The Alligator Boy on Netflix. 

Directed by Ryan Crego, this 2D animated original property is Ryan Crego’s first time in the feature film chair, and was an out of nowhere announcement from Netflix. It simply came out of nowhere, and due to Netflix doing what Netflix does, they also have a sequel TV series in the works that will be coming out sometime after the film. It has some big names like American Idol finalist Michael J. Woodard, Mary Lambert, Haley Tju, Jonathan Van Ness, Brett Gelman, Tony Hale, Flea, Annie Potts, Jennifer Coolidge, and Vincent Rodriguez III. It also has music by Alex Geringas and Ryan Crego himself. It was produced by both Titmouse, Inc and Netflix Animation. It’s obvious that Netflix, for all of their warts and problems as a service, wants to do animation that no one else is doing, and well, Arlo is one of those projects you wouldn’t normally see in the US. It would be just another day that ends in Y if this was from France or so, but a fresh-made 2D animated feature from the US that’s not some DC comics direct-to-video film? It’s rarer than you think. That’s why despite the few faults I have with it, I liked the film and think everyone should support it! Let’s dive in and see why I think you should support this film. 



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The story is about a young alligator boy named Arlo, voiced by Michael J Woodard. He lives with his adopted grandma in the swamps. He has a love for music and a fascination with the outside world. One day, he learns that he is not from the swamp, but has a father and is from New York City. He sets off on an adventure to find his father and a journey of self-discovery. Arlo is then joined by a woman named Bertie, voiced by Mary Lambert, a tiny individual named Teeny Tiny Tony, voiced by Tony Hale, a catgirl named Alia, voiced by Haley Tju, a hairy creature named Furlecia, voiced by Jonathan Van Ness, and a fish-man named Marcellus, voiced by Brett Gelman. Can Arlo find his real father and avoid the grasp of some hillbilly hunters voiced by Jennifer Coolidge and Flea?

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So, what do I love about this movie? Well, I love its animation. This is some of the most entertaining 2D animation I have seen for some time. It’s fluid, bouncy, it squishes, it squashes, it stretches, and you get the idea. It takes all of the elements that make great cartoony 2D animation and puts it through the wringer. It’s at the very least some of the most fun animation I have seen, and I can see this film being used for classes in animation and character movements. It checks off a lot of boxes with those two elements. It might take a little more from more recent animation trends, but it has plenty of theatrical and artful elements, and boy when the musical numbers kick in, the animation gets even better. The colors, the designs, the lighting, and so on, it’s all straight As across the board.

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In terms of themes, Arlo‘s biggest one is finding your place in the world. It’s sprinkled with other themes like abandonment, father and son bonds, discrimination, and self-love. What helps carry these themes is a fairly strong cast of characters. Arlo is a ball of joy and optimism and it never gets too annoying. I think it’s refreshing to see a lead character in something that’s not so teeth-grindingly defeatist and cynical. The other main characters are also good at bouncing off of one another, and they make for an enjoyable band of goofy individuals. I think some get a little more development than others, but due to the fact there is a TV series coming out, I’m sure it’s going to expand upon them there. Even the hillbilly hunters have a few funny lines. The music is also incredible. The background tunes are great, and the original songs are real knee slappers. They are easily some of the catchiest tunes you will find in a more recent musical. It’s also, simply put, nice to see Netflix make an honest-to-goodness animated musical. I know they have more than this one, but with some of their films, their musical song always seems like it’s there for a Best Original Song nominee and they don’t always fit the films they are in. Every song in Arlo though? They fit and are major parts of the story. 

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Sadly, it’s time to get down and talk about my criticisms of this film. First up on the docket, I find some of the characters lack development or purpose behind the plot. Like Marcellus doesn’t do a whole lot once he is introduced. I’m sure they will have more time in the TV show to be fleshed out, but since that’s not out yet, there isn’t a whole lot to some of the main cast. I also found the third act to be a little clunky in its execution. It still has some really strong moments and the themes of finding yourself and the battle against changing who you are to be accepted is great! It has plenty of striking visuals, touching moments, and great surreal jokes, but the transition of when Arlo finally gets to New York doesn’t feel as flowing as the previous two thirds. Now then, let’s move on to the villains or I guess obstacles would be more fitting. The hillbilly hunters do not do a lot in the film outside of the first and third act, and by the end of it, they were more like challenges that got in the way and an igniting point at the end for Arlo, but they could have been handled better. The way they wrap up their arc is a touch underwhelming, and some things about them are not explained well. Or at least, I didn’t find them explained well. Their final scene is funny, and maybe they will do more in the TV series, even though if we go by what happens in the end, that wouldn’t make a lot of sense, but we will have to see where the show goes in terms of story. 

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While the third act might stumble a little, I still enjoyed my time with Arlo the Alligator Boy. It has incredibly vibrant animation, catchy songs, likable characters, it has fun offbeat humor, a distinct personality, and is an original IP from the ground up. It’s also a super sweet and earnest film that I think everyone will love watching. It comes out on April 16th, and if you love original 2D animated films, this is one of this year’s best. Well, now it’s time to dive back into the pool of screeners! Again, I’m sorry I can’t tell you what it is, but I think you will dig what I’m going to be talking about next. 

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! 

Worst to Best Animated Films of 2020 Part 1

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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!)

So, 2020 was a stressful and soul-sucking year, wasn’t it? On top of, well, everything else that matters more than what I’m about to write about, the animation scene was a mess in the feature film department. Delays upon delays, and changing release strategies shook everything up. Luckily, animation was a bright spot despite other elements getting in the way, and not only did we get a lot of great movies, but also a lot of incredible shows. Sure, the major studios bowed out of the release windows, but that left room for multiple smaller indie films and streaming features to enter the scene, and overall, it turned out to be a solid year. Maybe not the strongest, but still entertaining enough. Plus, unlike some animation critics, I watched all of the major releases that mattered. Anyway, the rules still apply. They must have had some kind of US release, I tend to stick to if they were released in some way during 2020, and while I am still following the Oscar Submission List, I am moving some of the films to my 2021 list due to the fact they didn’t get proper 2020 releases. Let’s get started. 

38 Accidental Luxuriance of the Translucent Water Rebus

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Honestly, I didn’t want to add this to the list because it almost doesn’t count as animation. It mostly feels like a bunch of live-action footage with multiple filters with the bare minimum of rotoscoping the footage. It doesn’t feel like an animated film, but even if it was more traditionally animated, the plot was hard to follow, and trying to find out what the plot exactly was made my blood boil. Maybe it was a subtitle thing when I saw this at Annecy, but it’s no real shock this film had no chance at the Oscars or most award shows. It’s the exact kind of film that I would categorize as unpleasant to watch and is what I think of when people say they want something as far away from the big studio projects as possible. Well, this is what ya get, a film with such little interest in making sure you know what’s going on that it resulted in an experience I never want to have again. Sadly I do get that kind of experience, but we will get there on this list. 

37 Pets United

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I know it’s a cliche to bash Illumination, but you would realize how much talent and work goes into their films if you see a film like Pets United. It’s a weird mishmash of tones, ideas, and it doesn’t work at all. Say what you will about the Secret Life of Pets films, but they were at least fun to watch and kept your interest in some way to make you not forget them. Moments after I watched Pets United, I was forgetting details about the story, the themes, the characters, and so on. Its animation is fine, and some weird aspects stand out for how out-of-place they are, but that’s not enough to call it anything good. It’s one of the films that Netflix picked up because it didn’t cost much to purchase and translate. 




36 Fe@rless 

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Shockingly, a Vanguard Animation film wasn’t on the bottom of the list. Honestly, it does deserve it, because while it’s “better” than the previous two films, I wouldn’t call it good. It’s got all of the hallmarks of the studio’s work with a bad story, bland characters, and some decent ideas that are never expanded on or fleshed out. It all feels like a film that only had enough money in the budget for a rough draft and then got dumped onto Netflix with no fanfare. A few amusing lines do not make a good film. Otherwise, it’s just more straight-to-video/straight-to-streaming schlock. 



35 Pokemon Mewtwo Strikes Back: Evolution

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Who knew we would get our very own version of 2019’s Lion King, but instead of a bad remake of a good movie, we got a bad remake of a mediocre movie! Yeah, I am not a fan of the original film, and I know many love it due to how every kid saw it back in the day. Still, it’s an ugly CGI remake of a 2D animated film that does the bare minimum of improving the story, and while it might be closer to the original Japanese version of the film, that doesn’t change much due to how it’s already a mediocre story. The CGI Pokemon looked fine, and the voice cast was solid, but there was no real reason for this film to be made. 



34 Latte and the Magic Waterstone

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Oh, look, another foreign feature Netflix bought on the cheap and gave no other support for it. Honestly, out of the worst films on the list, it’s harmless. Its most offensive element is that it’s boring and forgettable. It has a few cool moments like this one sequence where a character’s shadow is hand-animated, and some of the moments with certain characters were amusing enough. The biggest offender of this film is that it feels like a feature that was dated in terms of storytelling, themes, and characters. 




33 Henchmen 

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It’s a real bummer the lead actor for this film is a garbage bin. I probably shouldn’t have it on there because of the recent news about Thomas Middleditch (on top of the other creepy and awful stories about him), but honestly, no one in this film is good. It’s a situation where the film’s production history is more interesting than the film itself. I mean, an animated superhero comedy written and produced by Adam McKay and Will Ferrell sounds incredible, right? Well, that is not what we got due to them leaving the project early on. Instead, we got a middling superhero parody that has a decent hook, but like most bad parodies, does nothing interesting with the hook. The animation is kind of cool, but it’s nothing incredible or as iconic as what Spider-Verse did with its visual style. It’s a film with a promising elevator pitch, but that’s about it. 



32 Ni No Kuni 

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What do you get when you are a film based on a video game? The answer is a film that’s not even remotely familiar to the video games it’s based on. It’s related by name only. While it has a few decent story beats, it plays out like a very generic fantasy film. The only part that is kind of cool is the moments in time where the leads go back and forward between the real world and the fantasy world, but that’s about it. It’s a real disappointing film. 




31 Superman Red Son 

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Do you know what my least favorite kind of DC animated film is? It’s the one based on an adaptation that shouldn’t have been one film! While the story of what if Superman was raised in Russia is a compelling one, it’s not given enough time to let the proper story beats play out, and it doesn’t feel as compelling as you would think this premise is. It’s easily one of the most forgettable films from DC’s animation lineup, and that’s a shame. 



30 Dragon Quest: Your Story 

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The video game curse strikes again! This is why truncating an entire video games’ story into one movie is a bad idea, and it’s even worse when it’s based on what might be the most popular entry in the biggest RPG franchise in Japan. The CGI animation while better than most, does a few things that irked me. Why do you have Akira Toriyama’s iconic designs, but take out distinct design details that end up making everything look generic? The action and music are quite fantastic, but then the film pulls a plot twist in the last 10 minutes that causes the entire experience to drive off of a cliff. I get what they were trying to do, but maybe don’t try to make your own story when you are based on a story that already existed. 




29 The Last Fiction 

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I might not like this film, but boy howdy do I respect and admire how this Iranian animated feature wanted to be this epic that had dark tones, violence, and plenty of action beats. That doesn’t mean I can’t find some things to criticize. The scale of the story is ambitious, but it feels badly paced with huge leaps through time, and characters I found forgettable. The combination of 2D animation and CGI was also something that felt like it was from the early 2000s. Still, there is something to admire about the ambition of this film. Hopefully, we can see some other promising projects from this corner of the world. 



28 Manou the Swift 

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Way back in 2017, I reviewed a film called A Stork’s Journey. I considered it one of the weaker films of that year, and I still stand by that. Well, to me, Manou the Swift was what that film wanted to be. While it’s not a marginally better film, it at least has a lot more that I like about it. It has a decent cast including Josh Keaton, Nolan North, Willem Dafoe, and Kate Winslet, the animation was better, and it wasn’t as obnoxious in the comedy department. It still had a lot of the same problems as A Stork’s Journey, but it did just enough better with the story beats to not make this a total borefest. 

Still, the next batch of films on this list are at the very least more interesting, so stay tuned! 

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!

The Other Side of Animation 216: Secret Magic Control Agency 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!)

A studio I haven’t talked about outside of one review is Wizart Animation. This famed Moscow animation studio has made a name for themselves for high-quality animated features from their country. Well, high-quality animation from the country of origin. A lot of countries seem to be stepping up their animation game by putting more time and effort into higher quality CGI fare. If this studio sounds familiar to any animation fans, it’s because they are behind the Ice Queen and Wolves & Sheep films. I only reviewed the first Ice Queen film, and to be honest, I wouldn’t call myself a fan of the studio. Not that I don’t see the effort and talent put into their films, and to give them kudos, I respect the outside film-making elements that they do, like founding an animation school to help revive what was a fruitful animation scene. I might not like many of their films, but I’m glad they are around. So, how have some of their newest projects turned out for them? Well, let’s find out with their newest film Hansel & Gretel aka Secret Magic Control Agency

Directed by Alexy Tsitsilin, this CGI feature is the newest film to start a possible new franchise of films. This film specifically was released in Russia on March 18th, 2021, and got a recent release on Netflix. So, how does this fantastical take on the Brothers Grimm story unfold? Well, you better read the review, or else you will never find out. 

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So, our story revolves around Agent Gretel, voiced by Sylvana Opeis. She is one of the top agents at the Secret Magic Control Agency, an organization that keeps track of all of the magicians and magic users in the world. She is brought in to help find a captured king, voiced by Marc Thompson. The king was captured by a sorceress who uses a lot of food magic named Ilvira, voiced by Erica Schroeder. However, Gretel is tasked with teaming up with her notorious brother Hansel, voiced by Nicholas Corda, an illusionist/con-artist. Things go topsy-turvy when on the mission, Hansel and Gretel end up getting turned into kids with Hansel being voiced by Alyson Leigh Rosenfeld, and Gretel being voiced by Courtney Shaw. Can our child-like duo find a way to work together and save the day before Ilvira uses her delicious ways to take over the kingdom? 

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When you see this film’s trailer, you assume it’s going to be like a Shrek-style film where it’s a parody/comedy on fantasy and fairy tales. Well, it’s not that kind of movie. I know everyone wants to lump in every fantasy comedy with references to fairy tales as a Shrek-rip off, but you have to look into what makes a Shrek-style clone. Anyway, this is more of a fantasy action film with some mild fun with references to other fairy tale stories like Aladdin‘s lamp and Pandora’s Box. So, what is this film’s main theme? From what I gathered, the real theme is about family with a heavy emphasis on the theme of trust. While these are admirable and good themes and morals to have, the rest of the film still needs to be interesting and or at the very least, executed in a way where this premise and setting feels unique. It sounds like a cool idea to have a M.I.B or Kingsman-style organization keeping magic in order, but they don’t do a whole lot with it, nor does it have anything that stands out about it. The film doesn’t do much with its magic setting outside of the food witch, but even then, I always felt like they could have pushed the envelope a little more. The characters are also very typical, and why is it in these types of stories, the sister of the two siblings is always considered the uptight workaholic? Why not the guy? Their arc is a little more interesting when they are kids, but why not start them as kids or just keep them as adults? It would just be more interesting with them as kid agents or fully adult. Not every animated film needs to just have kid protagonists. If you do make them the leads, then make them interesting. I tend to like Hansel a little more than Gretel, but they are still pretty bland. The side characters are also fairly forgettable, and I only find some of them interesting because of who their voice actors are. Seriously, I loved spotting Mike Pollock as the Prime Minister. While I’m not fond of the villain being yet another evil sorceress/witch or whatever, at least I found her creativity and design more interesting with the food magic. I admire the ambition of how grand and creative the story wanted to be, but the problem with making a film for everyone is that if you don’t have the proper execution, then you are going to be a film for no one. It’s 2021, we have almost 30 years of CGI animation and it’s been 20 years since the first Shrek film happened. You need to do a little more than just the bare minimum. I want to see Wizart be the best kind of studio they can be, but when other studios are stepping up their animation game with not only great visuals but also great stories, well, ya need to play ball on the same level. Not to say this film didn’t have any touching moments or moments of endearment, but it’s a mostly forgettable experience. 

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Animation-wise, it looks solid! It’s still not up to par with most animated features from this or the previous decade, but you can tell from their first film to their most recent that Wizart is getting better at their craft. I do think something is up with how characters in this world run because it reminds me of how humans in Shrek would run or how they make characters move in Vanguard Animation films. It’s not quite there, but I think they are getting better. It just needs a little more polish or a little more thought put into how you want the characters to move. The voice cast is solid. I found the lip-syncing to be better than previous efforts, and some of them put in some pretty good performances. They help elevate what is otherwise a fairly forgettable script. Doesn’t hurt to have some pretty talented voice actors. What about the music? Well, the soundtrack composed by Gabriel Hays and Brad Breeck is once again not bad, but I don’t remember any of the tunes or the more distracting pop and rock songs. It all meshed together. 

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Secret Magic Control Agency is one of the better films I have seen from Wizart Animation, but it still doesn’t get better than just, okay. It’s on Netflix so you won’t have a hard time debating if you want to pay the rental fee or not to watch it, but even then, there are better features that just happen to be animated coming out in April for Netflix that makes this one less of a priority. Still, you can find much worse on Netflix than this film. Oh well. Next time, we will be back with another screener, but that won’t be for a week or so. Sorry for all of the blind previews. 

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! 


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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!)

A studio I haven’t talked about outside of one review is Wizart Animation. This famed Moscow animation studio has made a name for themselves for high-quality animated features from their country. Well, high-quality animation from the country of origin. A lot of countries seem to be stepping up their animation game by putting more time and effort into higher quality CGI fare. If this studio sounds familiar to any animation fans, it’s because they are behind the Ice Queen and Wolves & Sheep films. I only reviewed the first Ice Queen film, and to be honest, I wouldn’t call myself a fan of the studio. Not that I don’t see the effort and talent put into their films, and to give them kudos, I respect the outside film-making elements that they do, like founding an animation school to help revive what was a fruitful animation scene. I might not like many of their films, but I’m glad they are around. So, how have some of their newest projects turned out for them? Well, let’s find out with their newest film Hansel & Gretel aka Secret Magic Control Agency

Directed by Alexy Tsitsilin, this CGI feature is the newest film to start a possible new franchise of films. This film specifically was released in Russia on March 18th, 2021, and got a recent release on Netflix. So, how does this fantastical take on the Brothers Grimm story unfold? Well, you better read the review, or else you will never find out. 

imageedit_3_2706745357.jpg

So, our story revolves around Agent Gretel, voiced by Sylvana Opeis. She is one of the top agents at the Secret Magic Control Agency, an organization that keeps track of all of the magicians and magic users in the world. She is brought in to help find a captured king, voiced by Marc Thompson. The king was captured by a sorceress who uses a lot of food magic named Ilvira, voiced by Erica Schroeder. However, Gretel is tasked with teaming up with her notorious brother Hansel, voiced by Nicholas Corda, an illusionist/con-artist. Things go topsy-turvy when on the mission, Hansel and Gretel end up getting turned into kids with Hansel being voiced by Alyson Leigh Rosenfeld, and Gretel being voiced by Courtney Shaw. Can our child-like duo find a way to work together and save the day before Ilvira uses her delicious ways to take over the kingdom? 

imageedit_5_2970690064.jpg

When you see this film’s trailer, you assume it’s going to be like a Shrek-style film where it’s a parody/comedy on fantasy and fairy tales. Well, it’s not that kind of movie. I know everyone wants to lump in every fantasy comedy with references to fairy tales as a Shrek-rip off, but you have to look into what makes a Shrek-style clone. Anyway, this is more of a fantasy action film with some mild fun with references to other fairy tale stories like Aladdin‘s lamp and Pandora’s Box. So, what is this film’s main theme? From what I gathered, the real theme is about family with a heavy emphasis on the theme of trust. While these are admirable and good themes and morals to have, the rest of the film still needs to be interesting and or at the very least, executed in a way where this premise and setting feels unique. It sounds like a cool idea to have a M.I.B or Kingsman-style organization keeping magic in order, but they don’t do a whole lot with it, nor does it have anything that stands out about it. The film doesn’t do much with its magic setting outside of the food witch, but even then, I always felt like they could have pushed the envelope a little more. The characters are also very typical, and why is it in these types of stories, the sister of the two siblings is always considered the uptight workaholic? Why not the guy? Their arc is a little more interesting when they are kids, but why not start them as kids or just keep them as adults? It would just be more interesting with them as kid agents or fully adult. Not every animated film needs to just have kid protagonists. If you do make them the leads, then make them interesting. I tend to like Hansel a little more than Gretel, but they are still pretty bland. The side characters are also fairly forgettable, and I only find some of them interesting because of who their voice actors are. Seriously, I loved spotting Mike Pollock as the Prime Minister. While I’m not fond of the villain being yet another evil sorceress/witch or whatever, at least I found her creativity and design more interesting with the food magic. I admire the ambition of how grand and creative the story wanted to be, but the problem with making a film for everyone is that if you don’t have the proper execution, then you are going to be a film for no one. It’s 2021, we have almost 30 years of CGI animation and it’s been 20 years since the first Shrek film happened. You need to do a little more than just the bare minimum. I want to see Wizart be the best kind of studio they can be, but when other studios are stepping up their animation game with not only great visuals but also great stories, well, ya need to play ball on the same level. Not to say this film didn’t have any touching moments or moments of endearment, but it’s a mostly forgettable experience. 

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Animation-wise, it looks solid! It’s still not up to par with most animated features from this or the previous decade, but you can tell from their first film to their most recent that Wizart is getting better at their craft. I do think something is up with how characters in this world run because it reminds me of how humans in Shrek would run or how they make characters move in Vanguard Animation films. It’s not quite there, but I think they are getting better. It just needs a little more polish or a little more thought put into how you want the characters to move. The voice cast is solid. I found the lip-syncing to be better than previous efforts, and some of them put in some pretty good performances. They help elevate what is otherwise a fairly forgettable script. Doesn’t hurt to have some pretty talented voice actors. What about the music? Well, the soundtrack composed by Gabriel Hays and Brad Breeck is once again not bad, but I don’t remember any of the tunes or the more distracting pop and rock songs. It all meshed together. 

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Secret Magic Control Agency is one of the better films I have seen from Wizart Animation, but it still doesn’t get better than just, okay. It’s on Netflix so you won’t have a hard time debating if you want to pay the rental fee or not to watch it, but even then, there are better features that just happen to be animated coming out in April for Netflix that makes this one less of a priority. Still, you can find much worse on Netflix than this film. Oh well. Next time, we will be back with another screener, but that won’t be for a week or so. Sorry for all of the blind previews. 

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 215: Dota: Dragon’s Blood Review

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Heads Up!: I was able to view this early with a screener. Thank you, Netflix!

(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!)

Video games have always been notoriously difficult to translate into other mediums. There have been some success stories like the very first Tomb Raider, the original Mortal KombatDetective Pikachu, and to some degree, 2020’s Sonic the Hedgehog. Still, even with those few successes, it’s not like a lot of them couldn’t have been better. Even the better video game films still have flaws that raise them to mostly entertaining and not much else. Some video game films are just liked because of how bad they are. Some adaptations, however, do seem to put in the effort to trying to capture the magic, the lore, the characters, and so on behind the property, and don’t treat it like it’s another gig. However, one of the biggest challenges is to grab the attention of the viewers who are not familiar with the brand. If you can grab people who don’t play your game or read your book, then you should be on the right track. What direction does  Dota: Dragon’s Blood go into?

Based on the hit Valve series, specifically Dota 2, this “anime” series is created by Ashley Miller and produced by Ashley Miller, Ki Hyun Ryu, Eugene Lee, and Steven Melching. The show came off of the heels of 2020’s Dragon’s Dogma, which to many, was a failure of capturing that video game’s spirit. Luckily, one of the bigger selling points outside of being a show based on a popular video game, is that it was produced by Studio MIR, the same studio behind Avatar The Last Airbender, Netflix/DreamWorks Voltron, and helped out with the best cartoon of 2020, Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts. So, does the show succeed in being faithful and good to newcomers? Well, let’s pick up our dragon-slaying swords and take a look! 

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Our main story involves Davion, voiced by Yuri Lowenthal, a famed Dragon Knight, who, well, specializes in slaying dragons. After coming to the savior of a town in dire straits of getting attacked by a dragon, Davion and his cohort encounter a woman, well, a princess in hiding named Mirana, voiced by Lara Pulver. While making sure she and her compatriot get out of a situation at a bar, Davion then hears the word of the captain of the guards going deep into a pit where a supposed Eldwurm, basically a dragon that rules over others is hiding. As he finds the captain of the guards, Davion realizes an evil force known as Terrorblade, voiced by JB Blanc, has taken the captain over and wants to possess an Eldwurm known as Slyrak the Ember Eldwurm, voiced by the Candyman himself, Tony Todd. Davion and Slyrak defeat Terrorblade for now, but the fight leaves Slyrak in a dire condition. Davion decides to give him the warrior’s death, but Slyrak pulls a last-minute move and ends up bonding with Davion. Luckily for Mirana, she and her right hand find Davion in a forest at a later point with no memory of his actions. The three then go on an adventure to do a few things including helping get Davion his memory back and to get back these special lotus flowers that were stolen from Mirana. The plot gets even denser when the story gets entangled with a cult-like group, a sorcerer that lives in a hidden tower, and so much more. 

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Yeah, that is right off the bat, the biggest problem with this show. For the first eight episodes, they build up a very Game of Thrones-style world-building with it focusing on a few heroes from the game, but filling it up with heavy amounts of lore, backstories, and multiple plot threads going on all at the same time. It gets to be a touch overbearing. It has a much more interesting world than say, Netflix’s previous anime based on a fantasy video game, Dragon’s Dogma. While Dota does have a familiar fantasy setting, it’s not as rampantly sexist, misogynistic, or filled with flawed ideals like feudalism and slavery are a good idea, and redistribution of wealth to the poor is bad actually. Yeah, Dragon’s Dogma didn’t have a great story and these elements flew past me because of how boring Dogma was. Anyway, major elements that the show introduces early on are either pushed to the side until the last episode or are sidelined for other story beats. For example, Terrorblade only shows up in the first and last episode. When I got to the final episode of the first season, it hit me that this was a season made to set up everything for the next season more than make the first season more impactful. There are no real satisfying arcs for the main characters and it ends on a fairly annoying cliffhanger for a second season. 

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Now, this isn’t to say there weren’t any story beats or characters I liked, but when it feels like the story isn’t going anywhere, or is going down another side path instead of sticking to the main road, then it feels grating to binge. However, I do like the characters. While they might be the more familiar and safe characters to base a series on, they are more compelling and likable than a lot of dark fantasy show heroes like in Dragon’s Dogma, where Ethan is a fairly bland and unlikable lead character. I know it’s not fun or fair to drag another show through the mud because it subjectively failed, but no matter what criticisms I have for Dota: Dragon’s Blood, it does what Dogma should have but didn’t do. I like Davion as a typical male swordsman, Mirana is a solid level-headed archer, and her right hand Marci is the best character in the show. There seems to be a bit more energy put into the characters and they aren’t simply trying to be like Game of Thrones. I want to be around these characters, and when the show focused on the drama of said characters, you can understand their point of view of why they are doing what they are, well, doing. 

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Animation-wise, I think it was smart to get a studio like Studio MIR on board with this project. The combination of 2D and CGI for the larger monsters makes for some great animation. The action is well-executed, and the characters are very expressive. You can even get subtle little details through some of the more unique characters like Marci who is one of the most expressive characters who doesn’t even say a single word. The English dub is also pretty good. Doesn’t hurt that you have a stellar voice cast that includes Yuri Lowenthal, Josh Keaton, Lara Pulver, Tony Todd, Troy Baker, Kari Wahlgren, Freya Tingley, Stephanie Jacobsen, Anson Mount, and JB Blanc. The music composed by Dino Meneghin is solid, but I wouldn’t call it the most memorable soundtrack. It kind of has a Game of Thrones and familiar fantasy-sounding tunes, but they get the job done. 

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While flawed and a bit too ambitious for its first season, Dota: Dragon’s Blood is a solid fantasy action series. It has a small selection of interesting characters, a great voice cast, good action scenes, and an interesting lore-filled story. I’m not entirely sure if it’s loyal to the source material, but if you want something to raise your spirits after a lot of mediocre fantasy epics from recent years, this show is one of the better ones. I mean, you can argue it’s not great, but does your series have Tony Todd as a giant red dragon? Of course not. Next time, I have another screener for a Netflix film! You will have to wait and see what it is! 

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 214: The Legend of Hei 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!)

While I have been praising the Chinese animation scene, let’s not forget that the country has had a very fruitful and bountiful scene for decades. It’s not like any of this is new. I know it feels new because of the recent smash hits like Nezha and White Snake, but their history of animation has been around for decades. They have even put out films from back in the day that matched Disney in animation quality. Heck, some of their work even succeeded it with how ambitious their use of watercolor was. Unfortunately, like with most animation history, there were times where the art and products became more propagandistic, and when Disney had their second wind in the 90s, something changed for the worst in Chinese animation. They found themselves crushed between powerhouses like Disney and the increasing popularity of animation from Japan. This led to a lot of lower-quality products and films that were trying to ape off of Disney and other companies. Luckily, with 2015’s The Monkey King: Hero is Back, the animation industry in China decided to bite back against the competition, and it has been putting out films with challenging art styles and distinct stories. This is where The Legend of Hei comes into play.

Directed by Mtjj, this 2D animated film is a prequel to the events that take place before the famous web series. It was shown off at Annecy 2020 Online in the Contrechamp section but lost. Luckily, it got pretty great reviews and was a financial hit in China. Another piece of good news is that the film itself while being at the New York International Children’s Film Festival, will be getting a US release thanks to Shout! Factory in May. So, does this film keep adding to the winning streak Chinese animation has been having? Well, let’s find out! 

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The story follows Hei, a small cat-like spirit that gets forced out of his forest home due to humans. After struggling to find a decent living situation, Hei is picked up by a group of spirits led by an individual named Stormend. After relaxing in his new home, Stormend and his gang are attacked by an individual known as Infinity. After the crew escapes, Hei is left behind with Infinity. Hei then makes a deal between him and Infinity to get off the island and find out where Hei belongs and what exactly is up with Stormend and his crew. 

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I think the coolest aspect about this being yet another film with the morality of humans vs nature commentary is how morally grey this film approaches those themes. I think the stigma of “people hate stories about saving the environment” is that people don’t hate these types of stories, but rather the problem comes down to how black and white they end up being. Yes, humans suck and big corporations are indeed killing our environments, but it always leads to an extremely boring story, which will make the always admirable message of “please for the love of everything, save our forests and oceans and stop killing the wildlife” fall flat due to how predictable the story is. With Hei, the story falls more in the middle. It’s not taking a side because both the humans and spirits with their actions are put under the microscope. It even has an overall hopeful message about the human’s relationship with nature with a few moments of cynical comments. It feels more realistic and will give you vibes with how Princess Mononoke handled its commentary of humans vs nature. Not every story needs to be morally grey or just one-sided, but it makes for a more interesting story when both sides are examined in detail. It all depends on how you execute the story that people won’t mind another story in this range. Luckily, there are strong character dynamics that also carry the themes and commentary. A lot of the film is spent with quiet montages between Hei and Infinity, and they are the two that carry the story. I love that we are seeing stories from China that are full of these strong character-building moments because you will even feel for Stormend and his plight. 

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The animation is gorgeous. This is some of the most fluid 2D animation I have seen from China. The designs are identifiable, they move with a good flow, and that leads to some extremely followable action sequences. I know it’s nothing new to see Chinese animated films have stellar action sequences, but boy howdy are these some of the most intense fights, and it does a great job of making you feel how heavy the strikes are. The music is also very beautiful with some tunes almost coming off like they were composed by Joe Hisaishi. If anyone is curious, there will be a sub and dub version available in May, but I saw the dub version at the New York International Children’s Film Festival. I adored the dub, and while I know there is some debate about how the dub changes the names of the characters, I am not here to talk about that. What I want to do is shout out the cast that includes Aleks Le, Howard Wang, Kaiji Tang, Caleb Yen, and Suzie Yeung. 

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I think my one real problem with this film is how many characters it introduces. I think they show off a few too many and while I get this is a prequel to the web series, they feel like they were placed there more for the fans, and unless you have seen the series, they are going to feel like a flavoring to spice up the world around the viewer. It still doesn’t make it any less awkward when they introduce a ton of new characters, but take it like the side characters you meet in films like Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away. They don’t do much, but they make the world feel more complete. Still, they could have dialed it back at points. 

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Whether you are aware of the web series or if this is your first time jumping into the universe from which this film is set, The Legend of Hei is a fantastic thrill ride. It’s easily one of the best animated films of the year so far, and one of the best animated features that have come out of China. Like I said earlier, Shout! Factory is going to be releasing this film in May on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital, and if you are up for something a bit different, then you should check it out! Well, I need to take a break from festival films, and next time, I will be talking about another Netflix series. I can’t tell you which one, but you will have to find out in the future. 

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




Rating: Go See It! 

The Other Side of Animation 213: The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily 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!)

One of the biggest problems with covering foreign animated features is a real lack of access to these films. You would think after so many of them getting nominated for awards, companies would be going head over heels to bring these films over. I recently wrote about the fact that there needs to be more companies like GKIDS, Shout! Factory, and LAAF out there bringing these films over. Luckily, with Neon picking up Flee and Magnolia picking up Cryptozoo, it means there will be more distributors putting their hats into the ring of foreign animation distribution to the US of A. One good thing about the pandemic is that film festivals, which would originally be offline and in person, are now all going digital. This is a great way for people to be able to see these films without having to resort to other means like importing them to view. I hope this situation continues because there needs to be a way for people to see films like The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily

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Directed by Lorenzo Mattotti, this CGI/2D animated feature is based on the book, The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily by Dino Buzzati. It was shown at Annecy 2018 in the Work-in-Progress section and was fully shown off at Annecy 2019. Unfortunately, the production company behind the film, Prima Linea, shut down and that’s just a real bummer because it probably killed some avenues for it to be brought over, but I hope that it can be brought over to the states by another company. Anyway, let’s see if it should come over because as we have seen, not every foreign animated film is instantly better than the films from the US. 

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The story starts us off with a traveling entertainment duo named Almerina, voiced by Leila Bekhti, and Gedeone, voiced by Thomas Bidegain. After taking shelter in a cave to avoid a snowstorm, they encounter a very large elderly bear and decide to perform a story for said bear. The story they tell is the famous tale of “The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily”. This is when we move into the story of the king of bears Leonzio, voiced by Thierry Hancisse, and his son, Tonio, voiced by Arthur Dupont. While playing in a lake one day catching fish, Tonio is swept away by the water and captured by hunters. Saddened by the potential loss of his son, Leonzio sits on top of a cliff overlooking the valley. When winter arrives, the king still sits on the cliff. Sadly for his clan of bears, they grow hungry and worry about their survival. The eldest bear among the ranks convinces Leonzio that his son could be among the humans. Once convinced, Leonzio takes his clan of bears and marches down the mountains to the city of Sicily to find his son and deal with whatever gets in his way. 

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I know a lot of my reviews recently have started with talking about the animation side of things, but I have to talk about the animation in this film. It’s a mix of 2D and CGI animation, and it’s some of the most striking visuals I have ever seen. The bountiful color pallet, the grand landscape shots, the surreal designs, the fantastical music that accompanies these visuals make for one of the most visually challenging films in the animation scene. Do you know the term “every frame is a painting”? Well, that describes every single frame of this film. If the Contrechampe section of Annecy is to challenge the perspective of how animation can look, then this film would sweep that category. It’s also one of the more seamless combinations of 2D and CGI that I have seen in European animation. It’s a visual treat if you can’t tell by my gushing about it. It all feels like a storybook brought to life. 

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However, a film with strong visuals also needs a strong story, and to be fair, this film uses fantasy and dream logic in its story of a civilization of bears invading a human kingdom to find the bear king’s son. Luckily, the story itself has some rather mature themes including death, forgiveness, the nature of humans, the bond between a father and son, anti-war sentiments, and it even has some elements of Animal Farm where the bears take hold of the vices of man. It’s a film that’s juggling plenty of plates, but I think the story was told well enough to not feel too busy or too jarring the transition from story 1 to story 2. It’s a different kind of story from the first to the second half. I didn’t mind it that much, but I can understand if people found it jarring. The performances were also stellar with each of the characters feeling distinct and not just because of the visuals that gave you pretty much all the details of who they were. 

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The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily is easily one of my favorite animated films of the year so far. With its striking visuals, fairytale-style storytelling that can mix complex themes about the flaws of humanity and corruption alongside a strong father/son dynamic makes it easily one of the most stellar animated experiences I have seen in a long time. It’s also an animated film that hits the target of being a film anyone can enjoy. It’s whimsical for kids, but it has enough of a mature edge to the overall story and themes that older kids and adults can enjoy. Well, next time, I will be talking about the second film I saw at the New York Children’s International Film Festival with the Chinese animated feat known as The Legend of Hei

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: Essential

The Other Side of Animation 212: Raya and the Last Dragon 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 forget, but Disney was not always this giant monster of a company that it is today. I mean, it was, but it wasn’t this big of a behemoth. Back when Walt Disney died, they hit a real dark spot, and while they clawed their way out of that dark spot during the late 80s and throughout the 90s, they then fell into another real dark spot in the 2000s. They hit a bad streak and probably one that was much more damaging during the early 2000s than the original Disney Dark Age, because of bad business practices. Almost every single animated film they put out during that period underperformed or downright bombed. When they felt like they needed to chase the trend of other studios coming to power like DreamWorks and Pixar, they fell apart. They lost who they were as filmmakers, and they let down the multiple talented artists that worked for them. While they still have problems with owning a bit too much of everything, it would be a lie to say they are artistically worse than they were back then. Sure, their live-action remakes are not all great, but their animation game has stepped up, and while you can argue about the quality of some of them like Frozen II and Ralph Breaks the Internet (they aren’t my favorites of the last decade, but if you think these were the worst, then you haven’t seen enough animated movies from outside the big film sphere), they have had more hits than misses, and that’s healthy for a company as problematically big as Disney. I won’t be supportive of some of their business elements, or the fact they shut down studios, and bury their non-inhouse-made films, but when they make a film I like, I am going to be supportive of it. For example, let’s talk about their recent film, Raya and the Last Dragon

Directed by Carlos Lopez Estrada and Don Hall, produced by Osnat Shurer and Peter Del Vecho, and written by Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim, this is the newest animated feature from the giant studio that was supposed to have come out last year, but the pandemic screwed over that release, and was recently released on March 5th via a theatrical/Disney+ premier access release strategy. This is Disney’s 59th animated feature. So, what do I think about it? I think you will need to read the review to find out! 

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Our story revolves around Raya, voiced by Kelly Marie Tran. She lives in the land of Kumandra, a land that was once prosperous but is now a barren wasteland due to a corporeal force known as the Druun. The Druun were taken care of due to the sacrifice made by the dragons. Kumandra was then separated into a set of kingdoms with their own ways of living and ideals. When Raya was young, her father attempted to bring the different kingdoms together, but that plan failed when the gem that was keeping the Druun sealed away broke, and essentially all of human civilization was screwed over. Years later, as an adult, Raya sets out to find the dragon that saved the humans back in the day. The good news is that she does find the dragon named Sisu, voiced by Awkwafhina. The bad news is that Sisu wasn’t technically the dragon that saved humanity. It is up to Raya and Sisu to reclaim the broken gemstones and reform the orb to destroy the Druun and bring everyone together. 

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So, this is Disney’s first original animated feature (not counting Pixar) since 2016’s Zootopia and Moana. It is kind of insane that it’s been that long. Luckily, their original animated features are still pretty strong. The main themes that are approached in this film are dealing with grief, loss, and trust. Throughout the entire runtime, you see many of the characters approach these themes in varying ways. Raya is not trusting of anyone, while her father was overly hopeful when she was younger. Even when Raya is searching for the last dragon, she was about to pull her sword out when she thought she saw some bandits that turned out to be people who turned to stone due to the Druun. It’s an interesting dynamic to see Raya bounce off of Sisu, Raya bounce off of Namaari, Raya bounce off of Noi and Buon, and you get the idea. You even see the darker sides of trust not only through Raya but characters like the Tail Chief. Seeing them deal with grief and loss is also eye-opening with how each of the main characters handles who they lost due to the Druun. A lot of the payoff with these themes and arcs feel very satisfying and that’s due to strong characters. Raya is a fantastic lead and Kelly Marie Tran pulls off her first major lead performance in a film. Awkwafhina as Sisu is divisive, but I don’t find her as annoying as previous comedic main characters, and if you know Disney’s other 58 feature films, there are much worse ones than Sisu. I love how Sisu is built up to be the key to solving the problems of the Druun, but she isn’t. She’s a piece of the puzzle, but not the end all be all. It’s up to the human characters to take what Sisu is requesting and do it on their own. Sisu also encapsulates these themes with her guilt and dealing with the loss of her dragon kind. While characters like Buon, voiced by Izaac Wang, and Noi, voiced by Thalia Tran are great twists on the kid characters, I think my favorite side character is Tong, voiced by Benedict Wong. He has some of my favorite story beats and is a delightful twist on the giant buff guy warrior. A lot of his moments show off great character animation and there is more storytelling within the film if you watch the animation unfold. 

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Speaking of animation, I think Disney has hit the next level in their animation game. While I think they have always had good CGI animation (outside of Chicken Little and Meet the Robinsons, but they were starting late at that point), they hit a point where some of the weak elements were revealing themselves. Now they have upped their texture work, their human designs look the best since Tangled, and their body types have improved as well. Everyone has distinct movements, the action is stellar, and it shows why Disney has some of the most top-tier animation talents in the world. Seriously, when was the last time you saw some great action in a Disney film? The hand-to-hand combat has weight and is choreographed with excellent precision. The music by James Newton Howard, the same composer behind Pretty WomanThe FugitiveWaterworldThe Sixth SenseDinosaurAtlantis: The Lost Empire, and Treasure Planet, is grand. I adore the epic scale and the intimate tunes found within the film. I dig that they also collaborated with Filipina singer KZ Tandingan, and she sounds fantastic. The voice cast is also pretty stellar. What I usually like about Disney animation casting is that they chose actors that fit the role. They don’t just go by who’s the biggest names they can get, which is something that has plagued animated features since everyone took the wrong lesson from Robin Williams in Aladdin, resulting in films hirings big names simply for the sake of big names. The cast including Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Izaac Wang, Daniel Dae Kim, Benedict Wong, Sandrah Oh, Thalia Tran, Lucille Soong, and Alan Tudyk all are pretty good in their roles. I dug their overall performances with the script, and while I didn’t laugh at every joke that they threw at me, I still had a few chuckles that made me laugh.  

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I don’t have any major complaints. Like, sure, some of the dialogue is a touch modern, but I’ve seen films that are in classical fantastical settings do worse. Namaari could have had a bit more time for her to be fleshed out, but I still love her dynamic with Raya and the small beats with her mother. I think in the end, whatever I could criticize, there is something to counterbalance it. I could go into what they did right or wrong with the Southeast Asian culture and their combining of multiple elements, but that’s not my place or my knowledge, and I don’t want to armchair diagnose any of the cultural elements. 

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All I can do is judge this film as a film, and, well, I loved it. It’s so refreshing to see an original film from Disney Animation that isn’t a sequel, and while I am bummed it’s underperforming, I don’t blame any film underperforming since we are still in a pandemic. If you feel like it’s safe to go to a theater, then go check it out that way, otherwise, you should either wait for it to be free on Disney+ or bite the bullet and spend the Premier Access price for it. At least it’s one time and it’s tied to your account. Either way, Raya is one of my favorite films of the year so far, and I can’t wait to see where it ebbs and flows on my Best to Worst list of 2021. Now then, let’s dive into some foreign animation goodness with The Bear’s Famous Invasion of Sicily


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: Essential Viewing

The Other Side of Animation 211: Lava 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!)

I love the foreign animation scene. I think it’s one of the most fascinating scenes to look at in where animation is going. You can find stuff that’s for kids, older kids, teens, young adults, adults, and whoever you want to cater to. The US is still in the same zone of shows or films either created just for kids or just for adults, but those lines are crossing and bleeding into one another more and more. It might be shocking to see something like Infinity Train in 2019, a show aimed at kids, but with a much more adult tone in terms of storytelling and themes, but it’s every other film or show in some foreign animation scenes that have that tone or outlook in how their stories are told. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any bad films. Let’s not beat around the bush here, while many animation fans may only think the US has put out some of the worst animated films, you can find some that are of equal or even worse quality everywhere. If a film can be made anywhere, then a bad film can come from anywhere. So, that is what leads me to today’s review of Lava.

Directed by Ayar Blasco and produced by Crudo Films, this foreign animated film is from Argentina and made itself known to me at the Annecy 2020 Online event in the Contrechamp section of the festival. It was not widely loved, and now has its official US release with the help of Rock Salt Entertainment. Listen, I will be as respectful as I can be, but be aware that no matter where the film is from, I will judge them on equal footing. Let’s get started, shall we? 

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Lava tells the story of Debora, dubbed by Janeane Garofalo, a tattoo artist who is going through life and not going anywhere. One night, she comes back home and realizes her friend has invited over two guys, her friend’s boyfriend and a guy who she has met before, but her roommate doesn’t realize that. One night, they are watching a crummy show, the power goes out and then weird images appear on the screen. After that happens, the world gets invaded by these giant cats and aliens. Well, it is up to Debora and her friends to find a way to save the world and survive this weird calamity. 

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It’s hard to talk about this film and not talk about the animation quality. Listen, I know not everyone can be like Disney, and it’s an impossible task to think every film needs to look as good or spend as much money as a Disney or Pixar film. It’s not possible. However, when your film looks like it could have been found on early Newgrounds or early Adult Swim during April Fools, then that’s a huge problem. The animation looks so lackluster, cheap, and lacks anything that I would consider good. The mouth movements are clunky, the movements look incredibly stiff and wonky, and it doesn’t look polished. On one hand, while you could maybe compare this to other films with simplistic art styles like On Gaku: Our Sound, the difference is On Gaku: Our Sound is good. It’s one of my favorite animated films from last year, and while it’s very simple looking, it executes its visuals with the same polish and perfection you would see in more big-budget animated features. I think the only place Lava‘s visuals could be acceptable is at film festivals, because otherwise, this would get laughed at if it ever hit a mainstream theater. The last bit of the film is just a bunch of small skits that really come off like they were a part of early Adult Swim or some random Adult Swim program that was only on for a day and then got kicked off the schedule rotation. I would admire it more if there was a bit more polish, but it comes off like someone who got way too ambitious for their first animation project and had only been in animation classes for one week. What’s even worse is that this isn’t the director’s first animated project, and that just makes this all look worse because it doesn’t look better than their last animation effort. 

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We have seen bad animation get carried by clever writing and storytelling, but you don’t get that here. It’s supposed to be a parody of cataclysmic disaster films, and it kind of has an interesting gimmick and some commentary about technology, but due to the mediocre visuals, whatever commentary this film’s script does have is lost among the rambling dialogue and bad sound mixing. I have seen this film twice now and whether you are watching this with subtitles or a dub, it’s not good no matter how you slice it. I know we are in a pandemic still, but there is no excuse for how bad the mics and recordings are in the English dub. Everything sounds so echo-filled, and it sounds like everyone was recording their lines off of their computers and not some proper mic set up. It’s like they spent whatever budget they had with bringing this film over on one star, and while I do like Janeane Garofalo, she adds nothing and neither do the other English voice actors. The acting in this film has the same stilted energy seen in the Tom & Jerry 2021 film. When we get to those skits at the last stretch of the film, the voice acting just gives up and sounds like 12-year-olds failing an improv bit. The music wasn’t great either. This entire movie’s commentary, story, and writing all go through one ear and out the other.

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For right now, Lava sits at the very bottom of my Best to Worst Animated Films of 2021 list. I found this film boring, not all that funny, and whatever creativity is there is botched by bad storytelling and an incredibly bad dub. It has maybe a joke here or there that works, but I really can’t find a reason to watch this film. If you are curious about South American animation, then give it a watch. I think there are a few better films to watch like Tito & the Birds, but even with this scathing of a review, I don’t want people who are curious about it to not watch it. It’s widely available on most on-demand/rental platforms. Next time, we will be talking about a much better movie with Raya and the Last Dragon


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

Rating: Blacklist 

The Other Side of Animation 210: The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run 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!)

Well, it’s finally out. If you have been following me and my cohost on Renegade Animation (on Renegade Pop Culture), we have made it a running joke to take a jab at anything SpongeBob-related due to the constant delays and radio silence around the US release of this film. We come off rather harsh, but only because Paramount acted like this was supposed to be this major release that just had to be in theaters. I mean, it got to be in theaters in other countries and got a Blu-ray release, but the US, for one reason or another, well, I know the reason, but still, had to wait until 2021 to finally see this movie. Really? Can you ever imagine that a company like Paramount would hold out for something like The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run? Well, they did! It’s finally out. 

Directed by Tim Hill, this CGI animated feature based on the long-running franchise went through quite a rocky development. It was originally announced back in 2015 after the release of Sponge Out of Water. You can read up about it as it went through titles like It’s a Wonderful Sponge, it had cat aliens at one point in the plot, and then it was supposed to mostly be an overall origin story for everyone’s favorite undersea characters. Granted, some of these elements would turn into the now notorious Kamp Koral spin-off series, but we are here to talk about the film. So, it was supposed to come out in 2019, but got pushed to 2020, and then it was pushed from the June 2020 release due to the pandemic, and then taken off the release schedule altogether. It got an overseas release and a theatrical release in Canada, but finally got released in the states on March 4th, 2021 to mostly above-average reviews. It just happens to be released alongside the Paramount+ Original, Kamp Koral. So, what do I think about this movie? Well, you will have to read on to find out! 

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We follow everyone’s favorite underwater fry cook SpongeBob, voiced by Tom Kenny. It’s mostly a typical day for our favorite yellow sponge as he hangs out with his friends, goes to work, and gives his pet snail all of the love in the world. So, what’s the real plot? Well, on the other side of the ocean at the Lost City of Atlantic City, King Trident, voiced this time by Matt Berry, wants to keep up his looks, and part of that process is using the slime that is produced by snails. Unfortunately for him, the snail that he was using is all dried up. Furious at this news, he sends out a royal announcement and bounty for a snail to be delivered to him. PLankton, voiced by Mr. Lawrence, decides to take advantage of this coincidence and kidnap SpongeBob’s snail, Gary. After coming back from work, SpongeBob realizes that Gary has been snailnapped and sets off on an adventure with his best friend Patrick Star, voiced by Peter Fagerbakke, on an adventure with a robot-driven boat voiced by Awkwafina to get Gary back! 

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I know on the podcast that I have been very critical about the release of this film, but I don’t hate this film. I have a few praises for it. First up to bat is the animation. If this film can lay claim to something, it is that it has some top-quality animation. I love the fact that the CGI looks like stop-motion. We are in an era where CGI animation is evolving with projects that are expanding on the ways we can use it with more cartoony physics and expressions without it looking weird. It’s some of the most expressive animation of 2021. They somehow made this all work by converting the 2D elements to CGI, and no matter how I feel about the rest of the film, it’s incredibly impressive. I would love to watch a behind-the-scenes look at how they made this animation work. It’s a film with an incredible and distinct visual identity, and I will always respect that. Outside of the animation, there were quite a few jokes where I found myself laughing. Even if all of the jokes didn’t land for me, the animation backed it up to still give me a chuckle. It’s still very zany, but it had the right vibe for my comedy preferences. The story itself is flawed, as we will get to that soon, but while it is partly connected to the spin-off, it does have a rather nice ending, and the overall idea of realizing how important someone is in your life is a solid idea for a theme.

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The overall story feels very non-existent. It’s incredibly bare-bones, and it feels like either there was supposed to be more but it was cut, or maybe there was a different story, but it got cut and they had to keep the story simple, I’m not sure. The dialogue also comes off like they had a few meta-joke/commentary setups, but then while lampooning the tropes or the topic at hand, they fall back into said tropes. It feels like they wanted to avoid certain story tropes, but then indulged in the ones they were making fun of. Some elements are a touch messed up. For example, early on in the film, Sandy builds a robot prototype for Mr. Krabs to essentially put SpongeBob out of a job. Sure, it can sort of play off of the themes of the film, but I find it shocking Sandy did not have a second thought about putting her best friend out of a job! That’s horrifying. Luckily, that plot point doesn’t go anywhere, but the fact that there are a lot of plot elements that are introduced, quickly solved, or dropped throughout the film feels like there were some problems with producing the story. I also find it amusing that whole the franchise has never cared about continuity, the Kamp Koral stuff seen in the film doesn’t add up to the spin-off. I don’t care, but I find it an amusing observation. I wouldn’t mind a weak story, but the film’s comedy is very miss than hit. That’s a problem when your film is partly a comedy. 

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After all of this build-up and after all of this frustration with having to wait a literal year for an already finished film when the film would have made its money back if it went through a virtual theater/theatrical/on-demand release because it’s SpongeBob, I just can’t find myself being mad about it. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a weak film, and I think the animation is the only thing that carries the experience, but after all that I went through with 2020 and this film having a flawed release, it’s not the worst film out there. I think if you are curious, it’s now on Paramount+ and the spin-off is there as well. Otherwise, maybe wait to find a Blu-ray of the film. I know it’s always a little deflating to build up all of this anger for a film that is in the end just okay, but it’s good to remember that there are worse things in the world than a middling SpongeBob movie. I’ll be back with a film that I consider the worst of 2021 so far, and you will have to wait to find out what it is! 

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 209: Bombay Rose Review

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Heads Up!: I was able to view this early with a screener. Thank you, Netflix!

(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!)

I have needed a break from the screeners that don’t come out until later, and while this film was a screener given to me by Netflix, I have seen the film previously in 2019, and they gave me no restrictions. It had me think about a few things. Recently, I have been thinking about what keeps me coming back to the foreign animation scene. Why do I love it so, and why do I make my entire site and writing career on covering these films from overseas? Well, because someone has to. I’m so tired of people crying about how the animation scene or Hollywood has no original movies, and only follow the big releases, and that’s simply not true. There are hundreds of movies coming out every year and many of them are original. Of course, the bigger releases are franchise films or remakes, but this is why, on top of some of the bigger releases, I cover the foreign films that would be considered indie, because no one else does! Instead of griping about another remake or spending too much of that anger on getting mad at studios doubling down on IP, you could go to Netflix and find a film like Bombay Rose

Directed by Gitanjali Rao, this 2D (via computers, but still)-painted animated film from India, made its US debut back in 2019 at the Animation is Film Festival. It was the third-to-last film shown on the final day of the festival. After a while, it was then bought by Netflix and was originally set to have been released back in December 2020 but got delayed due to probably not wanting to compete with fare like Disney/Pixar’s Soul. It’s going to be, as of writing this review, released on the streaming service on March 8th. This is Rao’s first animated feature, but she also made the 2006 short Printed Rainbow and 2014’s True Love Story. What do I think about her debut animated feature? Well, I’ve seen it twice, so I should have an opinion about it. Let’s dive in. 

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The story follows a woman known in the film as Kamala. She lives in Bombay with her grandfather and younger sister. She sells flowers every day to help pay for her younger sister’s school. She’s also trying to get a passport made to leave Bombay to find a better life for her and her family. One day, she encounters a young man who also sells flowers, though those flowers come from dubious sources. They start to fall for one another after the guy brings Kamala a Bombay Rose. However, life gets in the way of our two lovebirds as Kamala has to deal with a scummy individual who is holding her figuratively hostage with the passport, and the difference of ideals will make the path to love a bumpy ride. Will our two lovers be free of their situations and be able to love one another? 

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The most striking part of this film is its visual look. While it might not be on the same level of painted animation as Loving Vincent, the two films were animated in entirely different ways. I also think it’s distinct from films like Loving Vincent. It’s a vibrant and beautifully animated film and I love how the scenery changes depending on the viewpoint of the characters. For example, an older woman character sees the world around her from her younger years, and anytime the two love birds are thinking about one another or of the past, it goes into a more fantastical art style. What’s cool is that these style changes also have substantial context with hidden story beats that add elements to the characters that make them more interesting. 

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It’s a well-told story. The theme of the film is finding a better life and thriving for personal freedom. All of the characters are held back by some kind of situation, and by the end of the film, some find their freedom and identity of who they are, and it gives us a look at the past and present of the culture. It’s a dark story at times, but I found the narrative with the cultural history and context of Bombay especially engrossing. It’s a film you lose yourself into with the music, the visuals, and the characters. The music is also fantastic with some Bollywood-style tunes, but an overall spirit of the country that is composed by Cyli Khare and Yoav Rosenthal. The voice cast for both the sub and the dub are great, so I don’t have much to say, so whether you like listening to the original language or want to listen to an English version, you are in for a good time.

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The only real nitpick I have for the film is that our two leads are not the most interesting characters. I love them, but I can see some people finding them the least interesting out of the cast. The story also has a lot going on in it, and while I never found it distracting, because I think some of the side stories are great, I can understand if someone may find it a bit busy. 

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While it might have a tiny bit too much going on, Bombay Rose is an exquisite experience of which you won’t find too many. It’s one of the few animated films from India that I can think of, and I can’t wait to see more of them if they are anything like this one. It’s a dark, emotional, but romantic and optimistic tale about life. It’s on Netflix, and if you love some original foreign animation, then you should give this film a watch! I wish we could get more films like Bombay Rose in front of US audiences. Instead, we get films like the one I’m going to review next time. Sorry for the tease, but It’s going to be a film that I can finally talk about. 

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!