The Other Side of Animation 126: The Girl Without Hands Review

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

Warning/Heads up: There will be scenes of female nudity, blood, violence, and dark themes. I mean, it’s a Brother’s Grimm fairy tale, what do you expect? Viewer’s discretion is advised. Enjoy the review!

The common complaint I see about animated features these days, is that there is no variety. To a degree, that is true and especially true if you do not follow the other side of animation. It seems like it’s all CGI, with no room for action or drama-focused animated films. They all have to be comedies, and every studio has to have some kind of Pixar/Disney look to them, before they actually branch out with their own visual identity. I think the last time there was some truly diverse options among the mainstream animation scene was 2000. In the year 2000, we had Chicken Run a stop-motion flick, The Emperor’s New Groove, 2D, The Road to El Dorado, 2D that uses some CGI, Fantasia 2000, which had a mix to the overall experience, and you get the idea. By 2001, when the Oscars decided to let the animated features get their time in the sun, the first three nominees were all CGI flicks. Sure, if you look past the mainstream today, there is plenty of variety in terms of writing, stories, characters, and animation styles, but that’s not always going to be the case, and most filmgoers won’t know about films like The Girl Without Hands. Directed by Sébastien Laudenbach, and based on the Brothers Grimm tale, The Girl Without Hands is a 2D animated feature that caught a lot of traction, because it was mostly done by one person. Of course, multiple people helped out with voice work, editing, and so on, but Sébastien Laudenbach did a mass majority of the work. While on the short side at 76 minutes, it won critical acclaim, and stands out as one of the 2010’s most unique films on a visual level. Let’s jump into this atmospheric film, and check it out!

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The plot pretty much follows the original story. A farmer and his family is about to starve, because they were unable to grow crops and water. The father of the family ends up meeting this shady and not-at-all suspicious individual, who offers him and his family riches. In return, the individual wanted the farmer’s daughter. Of course, after making the deal and making his family rich, the individual that made them so turns out to be the devil. The daughter, of course, declines the offer to be his bride. When push comes to shove, the devil decides to take her hands. I won’t go into much detail after that.

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The story itself is rather bare bones, to say the least. It’s not super complex with underlying themes of some sort, or any obvious ones, but still. However, where that could be a problem with a lesser film, the simple and to-the-point narrative of The Girl Without Hands really fits. Like I said, the film is only 76-minutes long, but you can tell the story does not waste time or feel padded as it tells this dark fairy tale story. It’s also a very quiet movie, with most of the music only coming in at specific moments. The rest is mostly ambient noise from nature, until the characters decide to speak. It brings this tense atmosphere whenever the devil decides to drop in, or a peaceful moment in time when it’s focusing on the girl. Even with the minimalist story, you are able to follow the motivation of the characters. I even like that it doesn’t try to be realistic. It’s a fairy tale, and it’s going to have the logic of a fairy tale. Do not try to bring logical complaints into this film.

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It’s very easy to follow this film, and that’s helpful, due to the concern of the film’s biggest reason to be seen, the animation. The Girl Without Hands has some of the most interesting animation from a film released last year. It’s a film that’s fun to show off in stills, but even more visually interesting when you watch it in motion. With all the high polished animation out there, seeing this film’s minimal brush strokes and simple outlines were a limitation, but also a very effective way to tell the film’s story. It brings this fantastical, if ominous vibe to the story. It feels other-worldly. Yet, there is this beauty to it. It’s very smooth and very expressive with how the characters move. It’s especially fun to see the animation used for the devil character and his shapeshifting. It has a lot of empty space in every frame, but that’s the point in this dreamlike tale. The voice cast is also pretty good at portraying their minimalist-made characters. It’s a case of there being no dub, but I think a dub wouldn’t really add much to the experience. No celebrity or famous voice actors would bring much. Granted, I know some people, including me, would rather have a dub, but this is one of the few cases where I’m fine with there not being one. The actors do a good job, and bring a lot of emotion and life into the film.

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My only real nitpick is that it’s sometimes hard to see what exactly you are looking at, but for the most part, the minimal style translates very well to the screen. Honestly, all I have for complaints are nitpicks. I kind of wish there was a dub, just so I wouldn’t have to read subtitles. It would also let people be able to focus on the beautiful artwork instead of having to train their brain to follow both the subtitles and the story. I also felt like the ending, while satisfying, was a bit confusing at the very last bit, in terms of exactly knowing what happened. I won’t spoil it here, but it’s “abstract” to say the least.

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The Girl Without Hands is a truly unique and a one-of-a kind animated film. It’s an animated feature everyone should check out, and one I highly recommend purchasing. Sure, it has no dub, but I think the beautiful art work and fairy tale-like story will be strong enough to keep you invested into the 76-minute runtime. Our next film is one that I have wanted to talk about for a while, but now I have to, with the sad passing of Isao Takahata. The next review will be of what I considered to be his best film that I have seen, Only Yesterday. Thanks for reading this review! I hope you enjoyed it, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

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The Other Side of Animation 125: Sherlock Gnomes Review

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

It’s hard to approach passion projects that don’t make the reviewer/critic look like a giant jerk, when the product doesn’t turn out all that great. Recently, we have had a flood of “passion” projects that have fallen either flat critically, financially, or both. Everyone should know that no one goes into a film to make it bad. Sometimes, films end up getting screwed over by the lack of talent, executive orders, time, budget, and other elements that could lead to them not landing. Still, at the end of the day, I do not care if this is a passion project or not. I’m not here to tell you that you get a free pass, because it’s a passion project. I’m here to judge and critique it, and hopefully explain why the film didn’t work. I say this, because while I love Elton John’s music, his animated features have been, to put it lightly, extremely lacking. So, how does Sherlock Gnomes work? Directed by John Stevenson, who was the co-director of Kung Fu PandaSherlock Gnomes is an utterly confusing mess of a film. It’s supposed to be a sequel to Gnomeo & Juliet, but the marketing makes it out to not be a sequel with no mention of the original, and instead, as its own movie. It was released March 23rd, and not surprisingly, the animated feature by Rocket Pictures, Elton John’s production company, and Paramount, got panned.  Even on a supposed $59 million budget, it’s not making that much money. I mean, when you can either go see Pacific Rim: UprisingIsle of DogsA Quiet Place, or Black Panther still, I can see people putting Sherlock Gnomes way on the back burner. So, does it work? Let’s check it out.

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The story is sort of hard to put together, because it feels like a multitude of plot points, smashed together. Anyway, the main story revolves around our gnome version of the famous detective, Sherlock Gnomes, voiced by Johnny Depp. Sherlock and his trusted side-kick Watson, voiced by Chiwetel Ejiofor, are on a mission to stop an evil pie mascot, Moriarty, voiced by Jamie Demetriou, from stealing London’s garden gnomes. Unfortunately for the two, Moriarty’s next group of victims is the garden of Gnomeo and Juliet, voiced by James McAvoy and Emily Blunt, who are going through their own relationship issues when they are named the new rulers of the garden. Suffice to say, the other gnomes in the garden that Gnomeo and Juliet live in are kidnapped, and they must team up with Sherlock Gnomes and Watson to find them.

So, let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. I want to talk about the marketing. I don’t normally do this, because marketing is temporary, and you shouldn’t really judge a film by its marketing, and instead judge the film as a film with its own merits, but the marketing has to be talked about. The original release trailer is one of the most misleading and worst marketing decisions ever made for animation this decade. Basically, all the bad fart jokes, twerk jokes, and puns that everyone was dreading when the movie came out, are not in the movie. It has a few puns, but 95% of the footage seen in the trailer is not in the movie. Yes, scenes get changed up, and some are taken out before the final product hits theaters, but this was one of the worst ways to show off your movie. Whoever decided that was going to be the film’s best foot forward needs to re-learn their classes in marketing. I know sometimes that when trailers are made, they have to use what they have, but if they didn’t need any of these scenes, then why add them? It’s going to backfire on them in the long run.

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Now, for the film itself. It’s a mess. You can tell that the marketing team did not advertise this as a Gnomeo & Juliet sequel, but tried to market it as its own spin-off/stand-alone/sequel movie where Sherlock Gnomes was the lead. And boy, you can really tell how clunky and not well put together this film is. It struggles to try to be a spin-off, a stand-alone, and a sequel, and fails miserably. Fans of Sherlock Holmes won’t be happy, because it forces these characters from the first movie to be in what is essentially Sherlock’s story, and Gnomeo & Julietfans won’t be happy, because they got turned into side characters in their own sequel.  Why would you do that? Why not just make a fresh batch of new gnome characters for Sherlock Gnomes? Why did you force them into this film that’s not even a full-fledged sequel? Because fans wanted to see them? I think the writers, director, and Elton John lacked a real understanding about how people remember Gnomeo & Juliet. You can also tell that forcing these two stories into one film didn’t fill up the 80+ minute runtime, just because they add in a few side stories that really go nowhere, or are not fleshed out enough. This should have simply been its own standalone story about Sherlock Gnomes. Heck, it would have saved them a huge chunk of change by cutting out 90% of the cast, so they didn’t have to spend money on Ozzy Ozbourne, Richard Wilson, Julie Walters, Stephen Merchant (though he did deliver the film’s best joke), Matt Lucas, Ashley Jensen, Maggie Smith, Michael Caine, Emily Blunt, and James McAvoy.

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A lot of defenses I see lobbed at critical animated feature reviews is that “hey, my kid liked it, so that means it’s okay!” Well, this time, I actually had kids at the theater watching it, and they were bored. They were either asleep, or asking their parents/grandparents to tell them what was going on.  You ever think that maybe a kid who doesn’t have proper critical thinking is not the best way to judge a film’s quality? Kids aren’t the ones paying for the tickets, the parents are.

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So, what does that mean for the music? One of the big marketing deals with both films was that Elton John’s music was going to be in both films with some new songs. Well, I hope you like terrible remixes and forgettable original songs, because that is what you are going to get. I’m Still Standing is in the marketing, but it’s not in the movie. Even the song Mary J. Blige sings is very short, and while she sings it well, it’s not memorable. When one of your biggest selling points is the music, and the music isn’t good or is extremely misguided, then you messed up.

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Oh, and before we move on, let’s talk about the Asian market scene. While only in the film for, at the very least, 10 minutes, it’s another example of a long line of taking someone else’s culture, and not implementing it well. This entire Asian market acts like Chinese and Japanese culture are the same thing. Say what you will about Isle of Dogs, and it has its own debatable issues, the implementation of the cultures in Sherlock Gnomes is worse. While I don’t fully blame James Hong for having to do the voice for this salt shaker, the accent he throws out there is bad. It is shocking that this was not brought up more, but that’s probably because no one cared, or did not see this movie. I don’t care if this was a film aimed at kids, you can’t be giving it a free pass because it’s aimed at a younger demographic. Everyone deserves great movies. Don’t be short changing an age group because you can.

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So, I know I have harped on this film a lot, but there are a few things that I can say were good about it. While many of the cast members are pointless, the performances are okay. They aren’t as entertaining as they could be, considering who they have, but they do decent jobs. I think the best performances go to Johnny Depp, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Jamie Demetriou. It sounded like they were taking it seriously, and having fun with it. The animation is also pretty solid. Compared to the last film, textures look better and the movements look better. They definitely either had better talent, tech, or a combination of both for this film. Sure, I think the more realistic humans and animals look weird when side-by-side with the gnomes, but it at least looks theatrical in its animation. However, I do understand the complaint people have that the film is now too polished, and you lose some of the charm and one of the few things that worked about the original. I think my favorite aspect, and probably the best aspect of the film, is Sherlock Gnomes himself. They capture his mannerisms, and they do this cool 2D animated sequence when they are going into his mind. The 2D sequences are really well-animated, and the 3D designs translate well to 2D. I honestly wish the film was more like these mental moments. Finally, when it gets to the Sherlock Gnomes parts of the story, it can be pretty amusing. It just makes it more aggravating that the entire film couldn’t be about him, instead of forcing characters from a previous film into it.

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Listen, like I said above, no one intentionally goes into it to make a bad movie. No one is scheming to make an utter waste of time and the studio’s money. The writers, the director, animators, editors, and so on do not come into work and say “let’s make a horrible movie.” That still doesn’t mean you get a free pass. There are aspects and ideas where this could have worked. The animation is better than before, the 2D sequences are great, and Depp and Ejiofor are solid lead characters. When it’s focusing on the Sherlock Holmes homages, it’s a decent flick. It just needed to not force and cram in the characters from the first film. It also needed better writing and a less predictable story, but in the end, it’s harmless. It has a decent moral message, but that doesn’t save anything. If you want to watch a good or very fun Sherlock Holmes homage or parody, watch the Sherlock Hound series. It’s a lot of fun, and is way more entertaining to watch than this movie. For now, Sherlock Gnomes is the weakest big-budget animated feature of 2018. Now then, let’s actually talk about a movie I enjoyed, and one I thought was snubbed at the Oscars. Next time, we shall talk about The Girl Without Hands. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: The Worst/Blacklisted

The Other Side of Animation 124: Gnomeo & Juliet Review

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

Many would argue that animation’s darkest year was 1985. This was the year Disney’s The Black Cauldron came out, bombed, got panned, and lost to The Care Bears Movie. Outside of Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, and Gwen, The Book of Sand, there was nothing else. I do agree with that opinion, but there have been a lot of bad/underwhelming years for animation. You not only have 1985, but you have 1987, 1997, 2006, and one of the more interesting years to talk about, 2011. 2011 had a lot of the same problems 2017 had, where there was not much to look forward to, and much of it felt like filler, just to get to the few mainstream films and the indie darlings. Even the indie animation wasn’t stellar in 2011. So, where does Gnomeo & Juliet rest on the list of films from 2011? Directed by Kelly Asbury, the same director behind the DreamWorks hit Shrek 2Gnomeo & Juliet, if you couldn’t tell by the title, is a variation on the famous tragic romance story of, well, Romeo & Juliet. While it didn’t get the best reviews, with an overall rating of 56% and a reviewer average of 5.6/10 on Rotten Tomatoes, it was a surprise financial hit. Then again, when you do not have a lot of competition, you are bound to do well. It even spawned a sequel that we will get to next time. So, after seven years, and learning that this was a passion project for Elton John, does this film actually hold up? Let’s check it out, and see what happens.

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The story takes place between two gardens that are next to each other. One belongs to Mrs. Montague, and the other belongs to Mr. Capulet. Once they leave the house, the garden gnomes from both gardens come to life. We then focus on our two leads, Gnomeo, played by James McAvoy and Juliet, voiced by Emily Blunt. Their families hate each other, and oddly enough, the two gnomes fall for each other. Can they find a way to be in love with one another before war breaks out between the two families? Can Elton John shove in as many references to himself as possible?

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So, let’s talk about the positives first. While I am not the biggest fan of this film, nor do I think it’s some underrated gem, I do have a few positives aspects to talk about. While not having a huge budget, the film’s budget was at a supposed $36 mil, they did find a way to work with it. The animation is not fluid, but you could argue that is the point. Because of how they are made of clay, you can excuse the textures and their clunky movements. I mean, it’s not like garden gnomes stay clean 24-7. They get affected by the environment and weather. This argument can’t be used for every part of the film’s CGI animation, but at the very least, the garden gnomes and garden items can use it.

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When the film isn’t focusing on pandering family film elements, and decides to focus on Gnomeo and Juliet, their chemistry is cute. Emily Blunt and James McAvoy work well off each other, and their relationship dynamic can be adorable at times. I also like the lawn flamingo, but that could be because he’s voiced by one of the greatest voice actors of all time, Jim Cummings. The flamingo probably has the second best story bits besides Gnomeo and Juliet. While I didn’t laugh a whole lot, there were a few jokes and moments that did get a small chuckle. Some of the Elton John references were cute, but that’s because I know who he is. The ad for the super lawnmower that is narrated by Hulk Hogan is also enjoyable, but in that “oh, I know who that is” kind of way. I don’t know if kids would find any of this film funny, because I saw this by myself. Now, you can calculate how sad that a 28 year old is watching an animated feature by himself on your own time.

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Everything else from this point on, fumbles and cracks onto the ground like a potted plant falling from a three-story window. The story is fairly predictable, and since this will not follow the ending of the film, it’s hard to sit there, knowing what’s going to happen at the end. This is especially the case when you are watching this to review its sequel. Many of the side characters are harmless, but they don’t leave that much of an impression on you. It makes you wonder why they got Ozzy Osbourne for the deer when he doesn’t really add anything to the role. At least in Brutal Legend, he was himself and was having an obvious blast with his character. It always bugs me when you get celebrities for cameos, and do nothing with them. While I give a somewhat pass to the animation, you can definitely tell this needed more polish. Of course, more polish might be a bad thing at times, but I wouldn’t be taken out of the experience when the animation quality dropped at the level of straight-to-DVD films.

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Really, it’s tough to be mad at this film. Gnomeo and Juliet is harmless. It’s really forgettable, and while not a good film at all, it’s not super memorable enough to be as the filmgoers like to say “terra-bad”. If you see it for a dollar or something, then I think you would be seeing a harmless, if ultimately mediocre animated feature. It’s definitely way better than Mars Needs Moms and Hoodwinked Too, but only by a slim margin, because it had some heart in the production. I definitely would be recommending films like Song of the Sea or Ernest & Celestine over Gnomeo & Juliet. Well, you won’t have to wait much longer, as the next review is of the sequel, Sherlock Gnomes. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Lackluster!

The Other Side of Animation 123: Isle of Dogs Review

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

I honestly won’t get tired of thinking this, but I’m surprised more directors in Hollywood don’t direct an animated feature. While there are pros and cons doing an animated feature or a live-action feature, one thing that always catches my eye about animation is that you can have literal control over a mass majority of the production. You don’t have to worry about sets, lighting, physical performances, and a lot of elements that plague live-action films. Really, the one major downside is that you then have to make everything from scratch. It’s why I love seeing directors known for their live-action films go into animation and vice versa. It’s fun to see them bring their personality into a new medium of filmmaking, and why today’s review is of Wes Anderson’s critically acclaimed Isle of Dogs. Released to the world on March 23rd, 2018, Isle of Dogs gained critical acclaim from film festivals, and won a couple of festival awards before starting its US release. While people did fall in love with this movie for a lot of good reasons, some critics have criticized it for its implementation of Japanese culture. As usual, it’s hard to talk about a movie, when there is some controversy attached to it. I will talk about it, but for now, let’s begin the review. Actually, before we begin, a friend of mine showed me a fun little secret about the title. Say it three times in a row quickly, and the title changes to a wonderful sentiment.

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Isle of Dogs takes place in Japan 20 or so years in the future. An outbreak of diseases affecting dogs has plagued the country, and the mayor of Nagasaki, played by Kunichi Nomura, has decided to ban all dogs to a trash island. Six months pass, and the dogs live there in small packs, trying to survive on scraps and garbage to get by. One pack includes Chief, voiced by Bryan Cranston, Rex, voiced by Edward Norton, King, voiced by Bob Balaban, Duke, voiced by Jeff Goldblum, and Boss, voiced by Bill Murray. One day, they see a kid named Atari Kobayashi, voiced by Koyu Rankin, crash his plane on the Isle of Dogs, who is there to find his bodyguard dog Spots, voiced by Liev Schreiber. Chief and his gang decide to help him as they try to find Spots, and try to uncover a grand conspiracy plotted by the mayor.

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Usually, when I love a movie, I want to talk about the positive aspects, because that is what deserves the most attention. I don’t see why I need to change tradition here. The stop-motion animation seen in Isle of Dogs is amazing. I mean, it’s the same studio that made Fantastic Mr. Fox, so I shouldn’t be surprised, but I was constantly impressed with the animation throughout the entire film. This includes making Trash Island visually interesting. Sure, it’s all garbage, but you would be amazed at how visually creative they got with the locations on the island. There are bright colors, terraformed landscapes, rusted out vehicles and buildings, and you get the idea.  Even down to little details, like how the dogs moved, reacted, their fur gently moving in the breeze, and even having little fleas running around at times shows that they paid very close attention to detail with the animals. I work at an animal shelter, and I see animals twice a week there, and dogs and cats there have their own spirit to them. No one animal is alike. The detail to the dogs is also shared with the humans. While moving like they did in Fantastic Mr. Fox, their animation was also fluid and full of little fun bits that made the artificial look of everything so alive. They even have some cool 2D sequences that are used when showing off characters on a TV screen.

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I love the characters. I mean, it’s a Wes Anderson film, what do you expect from the characters? They are quirky, they have their own personality traits, and when he decides to drop it on the viewer, can be emotionally engaging. While there are definitely a lot of characters, the bond that holds the entire film together is between Atari and Chief. Their bond is fantastic, and it was fun to see Chief grow fonder of helping Atari when he is shown kindness by the boy. Many of the characters work well off each other, as the entire cast of dogs is stacked with actors who felt very natural with one another. Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Scarlett Johansson, Harvey Keitel, F. Murray Abraham, Liev Schreiber, and Tilda Swinton all have their memorable moments and, of course, very funny lines. The human characters are also well acted, with Koyu Rankin, Greta Gerwig, Kunichi Nomura, Akira Yakayama, Yoko Ono, Frances McDormand, and Courtney B. Vance. They might have smaller roles, but they do not feel out of place with the overall weird world in which Anderson has put us. No one feels like they are simply playing themselves, and although some have very distinct voices, just because I knew who each character was played by, I was never taken out of the film. The story itself is simple, but it’s all in the execution, as the story carries themes of mass hysteria, government corruption, fear mongering, being outcasts, love, honor, friendship, and being against animal abuse. As in most Wes Anderson productions, the music is fantastic. It’s composed by Alexandre Desplat, who also did the music for Fantastic Mr. Foxand other Wes Anderson productions like The Grand Budapest Hotel, and recently won an award for The Shape of Water. Of course, much  of the music has plenty of Japanese musical flair that you would hear in old samurai flicks (figuratively and literally). The main song, I Won’t Hurt You by The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band (that’s a mouthful), was quite wonderful.

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So, let’s talk about that controversy that this film is receiving. Multiple online articles by Asian/Japanese-American critics and online users are calling out the film for using cultural appropriation with Japan and the people of Japan for the backdrop, and the dogs, voiced by white actors, along with Greta’s character, are the heroes. There are other issues, but that seems to be the biggest problem that is causing an issue for some. Now, as I partly jokingly said in my Have a Nice Day Review, I am a white guy from Texas, what do I know? I will never have the full understanding of the pain and anger of seeing my culture misused or taken advantage of (though I wish reality shows would stop making Texas out to be nothing but ranch owners, and saying we all wear ten gallon hats). I can’t pull that card. I understand, to the best of my knowledge, why people are having an issue with it, and to an extent, I agree with some of the issues. However, if I had to look at the whole film from my perspective, I don’t think it’s not as bad as say, Ghost in the Shell or the incident with the Hellboy Reboot from last year. I felt like Wes Anderson did not intentionally set up this film to be punching down on the culture or its people. Even one of the actors who played the mayor was a consultant on the story. He said that he was fine with a lot of it, but did chime in from time to time. I also disagree with the criticism of how the script has the Japanese characters talk. Unless there is a translator nearby, all the Japanese human characters speak Japanese with very little English or subtitles. The issue I see talked about is that they are limited to saying simple, to-the-point lines. I don’t agree with this criticism, because if you aren’t going to be using subtitles 100% of the time, what the characters say needs to be short and to the point. I also feel like that just ties in with Wes Anderson’s style. In the end, I could break it all down from what I have seen, and all I can say is, I don’t fully agree with the backlash this film is getting, but I do understand that Wes Anderson does tow the line in paying respect and tribute in this fantastical setting, because he wanted to make a film that was set in Japan. If you have an issue with how he uses the culture, then by all means, have an issue with it. I do agree with some aspects of the criticism.

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So, what did I not like about the film? Well, I wish we had more time with the side characters. Chief’s group of friends vanishes at one point, and we don’t see them for a good, maybe 10-15 minutes before we see what happened to them. They could have used a bit more to them outside of certain quirks, like Rex wanting order among the pack, Duke being a lover of gossip, Boss being played by Bill Murray, and so on. They were really fun to be around, and I wish they could have been there more. The female characters are also not handled well. Not terrible, but underdeveloped. Scarlett Johansson is barely in the film, and is set up as this weak pseudo love interest for Chief. Though the one that people and I have an issue with is Greta Gerwig’s character, an American foreign exchange student who kicks the pro-dog rally into overdrive. She’s a strong character, and has her own personality, but I do think there is a problem with her ethnicity. I think a lot of the problems people have with the film would be gone if they didn’t make her American. Maybe instead, they could have made her a Japanese school girl, voiced by Rinko Kikuchi or another young Japanese American actress to play her. Because you can definitely see the whole, “Hey, the American student is brave, while the Japanese people are easily manipulated by their government and afraid to rebel” angle people have with her character.

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I respect the issues some are having with the film, but they do not detract from my personal enjoyment of the film. I love this movie, and until said otherwise, Isle of Dogs is the best animated film of the year. I loved the animation, the humor, the heart, and everything about it. Once it opens in wide release, please go see this movie. I want more people to see this film and support an original idea. It’s not like anyone here is going to go see Sherlock Gnomes or Duck Duck Goose. You shouldn’t see those, and again, go see Isle of Dogs. Well, speaking of gnomes, next time, before we get to Sherlock Gnomes, we shall look at Gnomeo & Juliet. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

The Other Side of Animation 122: The Breadwinner Review

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

Warning/Heads up: There will be scenes of violence against women, guns, and blood. Viewer’s discretion is advised. Enjoy the review!

One of the most recent trends that Hollywood is starting to hopefully change for the better is representation. Films like Get OutThe Big Sick, and Black Pantherare doing well, critically and financially, and while they are only a few examples, they are making sure to pave the way for more stories to be told through different perspectives. It’s something that needs to happen, and people need to learn that just because you aren’t of that character’s nationality, race, or whatever, it doesn’t mean you can’t connect to them or their struggle. Sadly, most don’t seem to understand or seem to have empathy toward hearing stories about others that they can’t relate to. This is why a film like The Breadwinnerwas important. Released back in late 2017, The Breadwinner was the newest film from Cartoon Saloon and director Nora Twomey, the director of The Secret of Kells. It was also executively produced by Angelina Jolie, and distributed by GKids. It won critical acclaim, won the Annie for Best Foreign/Indie Feature, and was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards and The Golden Globes, but lost out to both awards to Coco. It sadly didn’t perform well, but thanks to being put on Netflix, people are now seeing what was subjectively the best animated film of 2017, a year that had very little competition, and you had to be on the lookout for smaller/indie viewings of the actual good movies. So, did The Breadwinner deserve to be crowned the best animated film of 2017? Well, let’s find out.

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The story revolves around a young girl named Parvana, voiced by Saara Chaudry. One day, after helping her father in the market, her father is arrested for being against the Taliban, and other false crimes. With no real man to help out Parvana and her family, consisting of her mother, baby brother, and older sister, she does what will help get her family the help and care that they need. After some failed attempts, she decides to disguise herself as a boy to get work around the city, in which she lives. Along the way, she meets some friends, and finds a way to get her father out of prison.

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What I think is the best element of the film is how real it feels. These might be 2D characters, but the way they act, talk, and interact with each other feels so grounded. Just because this is animated, it doesn’t mean it can’t bring you into a world that is accurate in depicting life different from our own. It also means that this is not an animated film for children. You will see guns fired at the lead, women getting beaten, and blood. It does not shy away about how much the country this takes place in is run by religious beliefs, and how extreme certain individuals are. However, it also doesn’t make it just a miserable and overly exaggerated version of that country. Even among the more radical individuals, there are people there that are kind, caring, and do not always side with the ones who are way too invested with their beliefs. Not everyone in this country is a monster, and this film brings humanity to the world around our lead character. Even characters that you would think were terrible, end up being more complex than you would have thought. There is a psychotic young teen that is in the film, who gets a heavy dose of reality for his loyalty to the Taliban. It could have been so easy to turn this into a propaganda-style film, but Nora and her team made sure to give the people that live there actual character.

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I haven’t even gotten to how good the animation is. While there are points where you can tell what is a CGI model, the 2D animation has more of a realistic flow to it. Yeah, they are cartoon characters, but that doesn’t mean they have to be bouncy and something more like Storks or Hotel Transylvania. It would have looked distracting, because this is a rather mature story with very mature elements. I also adored how vibrant and beautiful the film was. Sure, a lot of the color pallet was specific shades of brown, but they also threw in bright colors for clothing, spices, food, water, and that’s not even counting the beautiful 2D puppet animation. From time to time, the lead character will be telling a story that uses that style of animation. It reminds me of how the story was handled in The Fall, where the stuntman would tell the young girl a fantastical story that would mirror aspects of reality. I won’t say what happens, but both the A and B story do connect, so pay attention. I also liked the actors. I give whoever the casting director was so much credit, as he or she actually casted all middle-eastern actors. Saara Chaudry Is Parvana, and she really carries this movie. She is strong, determined, but also vulnerable. She owns this movie. However, the other actors are fantastic like Soma Bhatia, Ali Badshah, Shaista Latif, Laara Sadiq, Kawa Ada, and Noorin Gulamgaus. They all work well off each other, and make this story work.

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While I think this movie is downright amazing, and you should all watch it no matter what I criticize about it, I do have a few small criticisms. The first one is with the film’s ending. Now, it ends probably as it should, but I do wish it was more fulfilling. Like I said above, you can also sometimes tell where CGI is used, but it’s very rare.

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The Breadwinner is the best animated film of 2017 in my opinion, and one of the most important animated films of the decade. While I wish it did better at the box office, and that’s a problem GKids consistently has with their films, it’s a movie everyone needs to see. An animated film, set in the middle-east, with strong middle-eastern characters is rare, and it’s worth supporting. Of course, it’s available right now, as of writing this review, on Netflix, but I think you should support the film and GKids by buying the DVD/Blu-ray of the film. It’s a one-of-a-kind animated film that every animation fan needs to get their hands on. While I do love this movie, and everyone should go support it, they should also go support the next film that’s getting a review. Next time, we will be reviewing the new Wes Anderson animated feature, Isle of Dogs. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

Favorite Shorts from the 19th Animation Show of Shows

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

Recently, I went with my dad to the 19th Animation Show of Shows. This was a viewing of 16 different animated shorts from around the world. It was a blast, and there were plenty of amazing shorts that were shown. I decided to do a list of my favorite ones. I’m not going to go in any order, because one being better than another one came down to splitting hairs, and really, they all deserve a place on this list.

Can You Do It

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This was the first short shown as a cool mix of CGI and a wonderful modern pop art style by director Quentin Baillieux. While it is a glorified music video for the song by Charles X, it’s a fantastic and fairly optimistic song laid over a mix of economic classes, coming together for this one event. It’s an incredible short, and has an incredible song.

Next Door

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While this short is from 1990, this 2D animated short from now-famed director Pete Docter was full of charm. The 2D animation was fluid, and the cute story of a young girl and a grumpy old guy bonding over something made my heart flutter around with happiness. It’s also a good historic short for people curious to see Pete’s earlier work.

The Alan Dimension

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This was a fun and charming short by Jac Clinch. Its mix of 2D, CGI, and stop-motion made it one of the more visually unique animated shorts about an old man who has this special power to see into the future. It was the right balance of funny and heartwarming, as it showed what happens when you think too much about the future, but not enough about what’s important to you right here and right now in the present.

Hangman

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If I was putting these in order, I think Hangman, a short from 1964 by Paul Julian and Les Goldman, that was remastered in 2017, would be my favorite out of the 16. This animated adaptation of a philosophical poem, while lacking in pure 2D animation, made up for it in a strong, foreboding, eerie, and uncomfortable atmosphere. Seeing how the Hangman worked, and how the people reacted to the individual was the highlight of the short. While a lot of it was still frames, I could argue that when there is animation, it elevates the horror aspect of the short. You can find it on YouTube (though not in amazing quality), but if they can somehow restore this, and upload it to YouTube or on a DVD with some extras talking about it, I would definitely recommend checking it out.

Gokurosama

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After Hangman, my second favorite of the shorts was this French animation called Gokurosama. It was an effort by Clémentine Frère, Aurore Gal, Yukiko Meignien, Anna Mertz, Robin Migliorelli, and Romain Salvini. The CGI animation was perfect for this type of short. It had a nice misty glow to the entire Japanese shopping mall location, and everyone looked like small model figurines that you would see in a miniature display of a building that you would show to investors. While there is no dialogue, the fact that it perfectly paces itself with the physical comedy and a very simple slice-of-life story is what made this a highly watchable short. It reminds me how creative certain people can be when working with certain limitations, and I want to see more animated films try and be like this short or Hangman.

Dear Basketball

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I’ll admit, when I was writing my editorial about the Oscar-animated shorts, I was fairly harsh on this short. I know there is a lot of talk about Kobe’s past allegations, and while I still enjoyed LOU and Revolting Rhymes more, Glen Keane and Kobe Bryant’s Dear Basketball was a fantastic short. I still adore the fanciful pencil sketch style that flowed well with the elegant John Williams score. It’s not just a short about basketball, it’s about a man who gave his life, body, and soul to the love and passion he had for his sport. It’s an emotionally touching short, and I can’t wait to see what Glen Keane does next with his upcoming feature film.

Island

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This German short by director Max Mortl and Robert Lobel had a very cute stop-motion look to the rhythm of nature. It has no dialogue in it, and only has the sounds of the wildlife that end up making a catchy tune. Its designs might be simple, but they get the job done, and make for some pretty humorous animal designs. It was one of the shorter shorts on this list, but it was the right amount.

Unsatisfying

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Unsatisfying was probably the shortest of the shorts on this list of favorites, but it seems like it was intentionally short. This humorous 3D/CGI short was showed the most unsatisfying moments in life. They are simply small moments that kept building up as to how unsatisfying certain moments in life are. I think anyone who watches this short can relate to something, like a soda getting stuck in a vending machine, missing the bullseye playing darts, and you get the idea. It’s bittersweet, but all around hilarious.

 My Burden

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My Burden is a stop-motion film by Niki Lindroth Von Bahr about the night lives of night shift employees, all of which are animals, at a customer support service, a hotel, a grocery store, and a fast-food joint. While the tone has music and individuals dancing, it also shows darker themes that the director described of boredom, being alone, and existential anxiety. While I have never really worked night shifts, I can understand on an emotional level how that feels. The stop-motion animation was charming, and there was a subtle sense of humor with certain moments, like an anchovy at the hotel saying he’s alone, because he has bad skin. It might be a weird short about animals with night-shift jobs, but that weird feel is what makes this a favorite short.

Our Wonderful Nature: The Common Chameleon

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Listen, I love nature documentaries, and whenever I see one on TV, I do watch it. However, I loved this wonderful CGI short parodying a segment of a nature show. Directed by Tomer Eshed, this German-animated short was misleading, in a good way. At first, you see the fairly realistic-looking CGI chameleon, but then you see the animation side of things slowly ooze out with how the chameleon smiles after eating a small fly, and then watch as his constant hunger gets the best of him. It’s another short that has no real dialogue besides the faux nature documentary narrator, and relies on physical comedy. It’s short, but very effective. It was probably the one short that got some of the biggest laughs in my theater.

Everything

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Now, I do have some issues with this one being considered an animated short. It’s a really good short, but should it count as an animated short when it’s a video game? It’s basically some slightly altered gameplay footage. However, I can’t deny that this was a very effective short. The voice-over narration done by late British philosopher Alan Watts really makes you have an existential moment about life. He unloads about how everything is connected, from the smallest atom, to the biggest living creature. Everyone has a role to play, and we constantly rely on one another to live. The visuals are simple, but they get the job done. Plus, the simple visuals get really surreal when you see a bunch of items flying around in space. While I can debate if this actually counts as an animated short, it’s still a short worth checking out!

The Other Side of Animation 121: Have a Nice Day 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 and live-action films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

For the last two years, I have seen China start to put their foot down, and really compete with animation. While not a great movie, The Monkey King: Hero is Back was a competent action-adventure flick that raked in millions. Big Fish & Begonia, a decade old 2D-animated film is getting positive reviews, and is coming out this year thanks to Funimation and Shout! Factory.  In general, it’s good to see that they want to put a lot of effort into their future projects, and not just coax by on cheap-animated schlock. Another animated film that I was looking forward to coming out in the states was Have a Nice Day. Directed by Liu Jian, Have a Nice Day made waves in the news when it was pulled from the Annecy Film Festival last year by the Chinese government. This caused a huge controversial backlash toward the country, because not only was China the guest country at the festival, but it was also considered a move of censorship by the country. While it was winning awards around the festival circuit, is Have a Nice Day worth the hype and controversy? Well, kind of. Let’s dive in.

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Have a Nice Day is a dark comedy with a mix of social commentary revolving around a cab driver who robs someone of $150 grand in US currency to help his girlfriend in South Korea with her plastic surgery.  Unfortunately for him, that money belonged to a mob boss, and it then turns into this mad dash between multiple characters to get that money from one another.

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Let’s talk about the most standout aspect of Have a Nice Day, the animation. Now, usually, I consider animation to be moving drawn pictures, or CGI models moving around. Have a Nice Day really stretches the terms of animation. A lot of the films are in still frames with mouths staying open when they talk. There is some movement, but it’s more like an underground motion comic. I can perfectly understand why this might turn people off. It all looks fine, but it’s as if you took still frames, and took inspiration from the animation philosophy from Adult Swim’s early days. I can understand if this was done on a shoe-string budget, and there wasn’t enough left over for the animation, but this will definitely put people off.  I know I have given the country flack for its bad animation, and while this one was probably more due to artistic decisions or budget limitations, it’s almost not an animated film. I know that sounds sort of gate-keeping to not call it animation, but once you see the trailer for this film, it’s understandable.

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So, since the animation is hugely kneecapped, what does this film have to counter-balance for the lack of animation? Thankfully, the best aspect of the movie is the dialogue. While you are definitely looking at a bunch of still frames, the dialogue between characters is interesting. It has a few solid jokes thrown in from time to time that are legit funny. It’s also interesting to see a bunch of the characters, major and minor, talk about money, and how China looks at money. Maybe that’s why it was pulled from the festival, but I personally found nothing offensive about this film, but I’m a white guy from Texas, so what do I know? It reminds me of The Rabbi’s Cat, since that film also had some odd animation, but you were kept invested with the film’s dialogue. The film also has a build-up to an immensely funny punchline at the end, but I won’t spoil it here.

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While I did find admiration that this was a mostly one-man job, I think my favorite aspect of the sound design was the music. Yes, there is one really random musical sequence in the film, but my favorite bit of music was the opening song by The Shanghai Restoration Project. It had a nice jazzy blues feel that fit over the decrepit and broken side of China. If anyone is curious, the track is called Dark Horse. While the animation was fairly, um, still, I found the acting to be pretty solid. I won’t say I remember one person being better than the other, but the chemistry between everyone felt cohesive. It was interesting to see how the acting would gel with the limited animation, and I was not all that distracted by it. Then again, I knew going in that this film would live and die by its dialogue and character interaction.

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Now then, let’s talk about the downsides. The animation is going to split people so hard down the middle. On one hand, it’s a style, and the director worked within his limitations of budget and time, while using more artistic liberties with what can be considered “animation”. On the other hand, it feels pointless to make this an animated film, because of how limiting the animation is. Sure, you can get the gestures and movements from the simple frames, but at the same time, it’s really pushing the definition of animation. It’s definitely going to distract a lot of people, and whether this was a purposeful decision or not, I did find myself at points being pulled out of the experience. While I love the entire punchline to the film at the end, it is a grind to get there. It’s not a very long movie, but it takes its time slow-burning its way to the finish line. It also does that thing where it cuts off at the end, leaving the ending to be up in the air in terms of what exactly happened after the big climatic sequence. I mean, sure, you can pick up what might have happened, but I think the film would have worked better with more closure. Then again, I know this technique is popular among many filmmakers like Tarantino, so your mileage may vary with the ending.

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While I was definitely happy to have a Movie Pass for this film, I’m still very glad I went out and supported it. It’s good to support original films and smaller creators if their films are showing in theaters in your area. I’m happy to see Chinese animation get ambitious with their goals with the medium, and while Have a Nice Day doesn’t check off all the boxes, it’s a way more important and interesting movie that’s out right now than 50 Shades Freed and that pointless Death Wish remake. If you can find a way to watch it, I would definitely recommend checking it out. Just look up the trailer for the film first to see if you might be into it. Well, let’s continue the support of animated films from overseas and look at the Annie Award-winning and Oscar-nominated The Breadwinner. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Rent It!