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Since we just got done with reviewing SCOOB! I think it’s kind of amazing at how there isn’t much in the way of mystery thrillers for kids and families in animation. Sure, you get super simple mystery shows and to an extent, Scooby-Doo, but the animation scene doesn’t have a Murder on the Orient Express or a Knives Out, or anything to that kind of degree. Scooby-Doo might have its plots revolve around a mystery, but it’s never the main focus. I know it’s tough to balance out a smart plot that kids and families can both be invested in without alienating one or the other, but it would be cool to see a feature film try to give kids a Clue-style experience that, well, isn’t Clue. I recieved a screener, which is why I rambled on with this opening, because I needed to give some context to today’s review, Next Door Spy.
Written and directed by Karla von Bengston, this film is from Denmark from the production company, Copenhagen Bombay. If that name doesn’t sound familiar, then you may know them for their film that I reviewed back in December, Finding Santa. They are also known for the film Tigers and Tattoos, and the TV series Me & Sonny. Next Door Spy was released back in 2017 in its original release, but has now finally come over stateside by the distributor Tricoast Entertainment. So, this will be my second time encountering this company and the animation fare they have brought over. What do I think about this mysterious little film? Well, let’s find out.
The story follows a 10-year-old girl named, and I’m not kidding, Agathe Christine. Yes, it is just a two letter difference from the famous murder-mystery writer. Anyway, she lives with her police officer mother, her older sister, and younger brother. Her family is moving to a new location, and is having trouble fitting in, and decides to open up her own detective agency. She ends up encountering a boy around her age while visiting a convenience store, and catches that something is up with this boy. What is he hiding? Am I ever going to get over the fact this girl’s name is Agathe Christine?
So, what do I like about this film? Well, as usual with my encounter with this studio, I like the art direction. It feels like a children’s book come to life. Sure, I have issues with how the animation was executed, but for all things considered, they could have easily gone with a super cheap CGI look to everything, but they didn’t. The film also has some decent colors and lighting. It even goes into little black and white sequences when the lead is imagining herself as a roaring 20s-style detective. As for the mystery itself, it’s simple, but I think kids will enjoy it. I don’t think the mystery is as thrilling as say A Cat in Paris or Phantom Boy, but it’s decent enough. I like the little details of the film, like the mother is a cop, which in concept adds some conflict of interest with the lead. There are bits and pieces in this film that seem like interesting ideas on paper.
Now, with all that said, there are a few elements I found flawed. First off, the dialogue. It doesn’t come off as natural, and the voice work sounds stilted at points. Some even sound like they directly translated it into English without fixing the proper grammatical elements. Also, there is a shocking amount of cursing involved. Maybe about two or three times in the entire film, you will hear the kids casually drop a swear word because, well, because. If this is meant for younger kids, you do not want them to hear those words at a young age. I don’t care if you are one of those “oh, my kids hear me swear all the time” people, there is a reason why you don’t hear swear words in most family films, and even in the ones you do hear, they always feel forced.
Also, let’s talk about the giant lizard in the room. At the beginning of the film, you see our hero have an egg with her. It then hatches into a flipping komodo dragon-sized lizard by the end of the film. It has no real point in the story, and I feel like it was meant to come off like some kind of symbolic element to the lead’s struggle to solve the case, but it’s never really expanded upon, and no one else finds out about the lizard. Even when it’s taken away in the end, the mother doesn’t even bother asking the lead what the heck is up with the giant lizard. The lizard also talks and, yeah, there is no point in it. No other animals talk in the film. I also found the animation to be distracting. While I don’t think it looks as bad as children’s television shows using motion-tween programs for the animation, it does a disservice to the art style being used, and that’s a stone-cold bummer.
At the end of this mystery, I simply don’t have enough energy to muster much anger at this film. I don’t love it, but it’s not anything incredibly mediocre either. Maybe it’s my fault for looking at this from the angle of someone my age, but I don’t know how kids will react to this one. I think some elements aren’t kid-friendly enough, but I don’t know if kids would have this much patience for a slow-burn mystery. However, I could see younger viewers liking this film. I’m not always the best judge on what kids may or may not like. If you are interested in checking this film out, it will be readily available to rent on digital platforms like Amazon, Itunes, DirectTV, AT&T, Fandango, FlixFling, and Vudu June 16th. If you are interested in more mystery-style family films for kids, I would recommend checking it out and seeing what you think. I’m just one person, and maybe you will agree or disagree with me on this one. Well, for now, I’m going to work on some editorials and will be focusing on Annecy content, but next time, we will be going back to Netflix with the Netflix exclusive A Whisker Away.
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Rating: Rent it!