The Other Side of Animation 140: Big Fish & Begonia 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!)

In the span of a few years, China has started to throw its hat into the ring of animation. They have now made it a goal to not just be the country other countries use for their animation, or the creator of a flood of mediocre features. While The Monkey King: Hero is Back was a good first step, I would hardly call it a good movie. The true first step for the country would come in the form of an animated feature that came out back in 2016, but finally got a release here in the states, Big Fish & Begonia. This unique and important title was the passion project behind the directors, Liang Xuan and Zhang Chun. It was based on a Chinese Taoist story called Zhuangzi, but apparently drew from other Chinese classic tales as well. After going through up to over a decade of financial troubles of getting funding, spending it, and lack of animation talent, the film was finally finished. It was picked up by Shout! Factory last year, and was a feature that people payed major attention to during film festivals, including being one of the big features of the Animation is Film Festival. So, was a decade of development worth the hype and final product? Well, let’s check it out.

The story follows Chu, dubbed by Stephanie Sheh. She is a 16 year-old girl who lives in a world that lies on the other side of the human world’s ocean. It’s full of powerful individuals and spirits. Chun has to go through a rite of passage, and venture into the human world as a red dolphin. While in the human world, Chun is smitten by a human male named Kun, dubbed by Todd Haberkorn. After a few days swimming around, Chun gets caught inside a fishing net, and Kun tries to save her. Luckily, he gets her out, but ends up drowning in the process. Feeling guilty as all get-out about Kun dying, Chun ends up going to a place called the Island of Souls to try and bring Kun back. She offers the caretaker, Ling Po, dubbed by JB Blanc, half of her life to bring Kun back. After that, she spends the next chunk of her life taking care of Kun as he grows bigger, and makes sure he can go back to the human world. The bad news is that while Kun is there, the world that she lives in is in major peril. Can she make sure Kun gets back alive? What is she willing to sacrifice to make sure that happens?

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A problem I see with many passion projects that take a good decade or so to fully complete is that the creators try to shove in too much into the film, and never think about cutting certain story elements, or redoing some of the script. Of course, animation can be a huge endeavor, and making changes on the fly can be costly, but you can run the risk of making the film feel too busy, bloated, and or unfocused. Unfortunately, a lot of the problems with Big Fish & Begonia is that there is too much going on. Much of the film is Chun’s relationship with Kun, and her learning about life, death, sacrifice, and the consequences to certain actions, but they shove in a lot of characters, and a lot of time spent with Chun over vast landscapes. I’ll admit, many of the logical issues I keep questioning throughout my time watching the film are probably more of a cultural thing, and how the film wants to be more of a fairy tale. However, how far can you go with those kinds of defenses until they become too distracting? How much homework does one need to do on Chinese culture to fully understand the magical logic used in the film? It shouldn’t turn into a homework project to fully get what’s going on, and who everyone is. I don’t mind learning about the culture, but the film should be explaining to me visually what’s going on. For example, there is this rat woman who is an obvious threat, but you don’t get why she wants to go to the human world, and you don’t see her again after a certain period of time. I mean, yes, you can tell by her design and the way she interacts with everyone, that she is a threat, but why? I also get that having Kun stay in their world brings upon a lot of damage and danger, but why? Why does having a human spirit cause such chaos? The story also goes at a rather fast pace. It’s not a truly horrible thing, but I think the film’s atmosphere and emotional investment would have been stronger if they let some time pass between certain moments. While Studio MiR, the same studio behind Avatar: The Last Airbender and Netflix’s Voltron series, has some breathtaking animation done for Big Fish & Begonia, its use of CGI is definitely distracting. It’s not as bad as, say, Blue Submarine No. 6, but you can always tell when it’s CGI. It becomes more distracting when you see the giant flying whales that look like something out of that Fantasia 2000 short.

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With all that said, Big Fish & Begonia has great elements in its overall package. Like I said above, the animation is gorgeous. The backgrounds are awe inspiring, the designs are whimsical, the movements are fluid, and it’s an incredible visual feast for the eyes. You can tell there was a heavy dose of passion throughout this entire film’s visual presentation. It’s an incredible treat for the eyes that you need to see on the biggest screen you can. I even regret not seeing this one when it came out in my neck of the woods! As for the dub, I have seen both the original with subtitles, and the dub that Funimation helped out with. I think the cast is pretty stellar that includes actors such as Stephanie Sheh, Johnny Yong Bosch, Todd Haberkorn, JB Blanc, Cindy Robinson, Yuri Lowenthal, Greg Chun, Kate Higgins, Kyle Hebert, Erika Ishii, and Cam Clarke. The music by Kiyoshi Yoshida is full of that Chinese flair. It’s fantastical, mystical, and epic when needed. You might have heard of his name and his music if you have seen The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, where he did the soundtrack for that film. Another strong element is the relationship between Chun, Kun, and Chun’s friend Qui, dubbed by Johnny Yong Bosch. Most of the time you see Chun and Kun together is done with very little dialogue. The visuals tell the story, which, you know, is sort of important in a visual medium like animation.

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Big Fish & Begonia might be a bit of a mess, but it’s an important film for China and the Chinese animation scene. If you watch the trailers or clips, and you think you would like this film, I definitely recommend checking it out. It’s an impressive start, and I hope that means that other 2D animated projects that are going on over in China, can start raising the bar as time goes on. Well, after this, I definitely need something a bit zanier, a bit more focused, and maybe something that can make the night go on forever. Next time, we are going to check out Masaaki Yuasa’s other hit film, The Night is Short, Walk on Girl. Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

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Worst to Best Animated Features of 2017 Part 2

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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!)

Welcome to part 2 of the list! If you have not yet read part 1, then please do so to see films that will not be on this part of the list. We are counting down from the worst to best of the animation offerings from 2017!

28. The Nut Job 2

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While it’s a marginally better sequel with better animation, better physical gags, a decent villain, and more entertaining voice work, it’s still not much better than the original. It’s still annoying, filled with annoying characters, and underutilizes its gimmicks. The Jackie Chan mouse is barely used. If you are going to have Jackie Chan, use him! Plus, this was only greenlit because the first one made money in a slow month back in 2014. Well, I hope the company that’s going under hoped it was worth the cash they spent and lost on it.

27. Batman & Harley Quinn

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While slightly better than many of the mediocre DC-animated features, it’s still a mess, no matter how you look at it. Most of the jokes don’t work, it’s too focused on Harley Quinn fan service, the story abruptly ends, and the animation quality dropped a lot in certain scenes. However, when the jokes did land, it was a laugh riot, and probably has one of the best mid-credit scenes out of any DC movie. It’s also always nice to see Kevin Conroy as Batman. Not the best, but not the worst, it’s pretty much okay.

26. Blame!

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It might have some fun fight sequences, some creepy designs, and a decent twist that caught me off-guard, this film works better as a world-builder than anything else. I didn’t care much for the characters, the animation was clunky, and sometimes, it looked like they duplicated character models. It has its moments, but I can see why this one got buried.

25. Smurfs: The Lost Village

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Man, even being the best of the films based on the Smurfs franchise still doesn’t mean much. It has visually beautiful animation, pleasant designs, good voice work, and some likable characters, but it seemed like they stopped halfway through production, and made it another forgettable animated feature. I do like a couple of aspects of it, but it still could have been better.

24. The Boss Baby

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I do think the hate this film got back then and still does is a bit much. It’s really not a bad movie. It has some of the best animation from 2017, some good laughs, and physical comedy that made me watch it as a film to just turn on and chill to. However, I still found the emotional investment of the characters to be lacking, because I never cared about what happened. It also shouldn’t have been nominated for Best Animated Feature, but it’s been almost a year now, and it’s time to let that go. I’m also not really looking forward to the sequel, but I hope it can be just as zany and visually entertaining as this one.

23. Despicable Me 3

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Man, this franchise got to the third film fast! While I think it’s technically the best one of the franchise, with great animation, a fun villain, the Minions not being in the film a lot, and Gru still being the best character of this entire franchise, it still falls flat. It had so many potential story arcs that it could have been fleshed out, but it chose to be the safest animated feature of 2017. Sooner or later, Illumination, you will need to start putting more emotional effort into your films, or people are going to get tired of the Minions and this franchise fast.

22. Cars 3

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Speaking of being the best film in an alright franchise, Cars 3 was a surprise. While it has its own pacing problems, more wasted potential with its story and villains, it also has the best animation, some of the story moments were touching, and Lightning is more worthy of my time than in the other films. It’s still the final film in a trilogy that gave Pixar their first official bad movie, but still.

21. Ferdinand

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While I can definitely still be mad that this film wimped out on its more serious tone, it’s forced family film tropes, and how it also shouldn’t have been nominated for Best Animated Feature, I still found myself really enjoying Ferdinand. It has some of Blue Sky’s most likable characters, best voice work, and some of the darkest story moments. I just wish it committed to its tone and not take the easy way out.

20. Teen Titans: The Judas Contract

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I could complain about how Brother Blood is a weak character, and the fact that if you have seen the 2000s Teen Titans show, or read the comic, you will know what happens, and they kind of kept one of the ickier parts of that storyline partly in the film. Outside of that, it’s still a pretty good flick! It gives the rest of the team time to be fleshed out, the action is great, the writing is better, and Damian isn’t the lead character! It did essentially sequel-bait as well, but overall, I still enjoyed this DC venture, and I hope the next film is even better.

19. Captain Underpants

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Now, we are heading into the films I loved from this year. Captain Underpants must be one of the biggest comedic surprises from last year. It had vibrant and wonderful animation, great jokes, was hugely entertaining to watch, and it was all done with a budget of $30 mil! That’s incredible! Sure, it had a few jokes that didn’t land, and its humor is not super original, but I find myself watching this film a lot!

Let’s Fix the Animation Scene Part 1: Theatrical Films

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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!)

A common complaint I hear every year when any award show for films pops up is that no matter who is nominated, the combination of Disney/Pixar is always going to win. While I definitely shrug my shoulders, and sort of agree with the masses who are tired of seeing Pixar or Disney win, there is a reason why they are consistent winners every year. Yes, there are a few years where I thought there were better films, but for the most part, Disney as a whole constantly earns and deserves the massive praise and success. It has led to me wanting to talk about this situation, but it’s a gigantic task at hand. What can I talk about? Is it right to give Disney and Pixar so much flack? Is it really their fault for no one else being able to compete?

I mean, I don’t normally like commenting on topics with hot takes, because hot takes are a terrible way to form an argument, because it shows you put an unintelligible effort into your comment. Instead, I’m going to do a cool take, which is more thought-out, and worth talking about. So, for this situation, this is my cool take, it’s not Disney/Pixar’s fault for having way more success than everyone else! Listen, they don’t always earn it. I think the Oscars from the years 2012 to 2014 should have gone to different Best Animated Feature films, but instead of blaming Disney for other studios not being able to compete, maybe it’s not all Disney’s fault? To me, Disney and Pixar are being smart with their films, and are constantly making films that people keep coming back to. Maybe the industry needs to start stepping up to the plate. For this editorial, I’m going to talk about how certain parts of the film industry can be improved with “optimistic solutions” as to how they can compete with Disney and Pixar. The first part will be about the industry, and how the other big studios can take some steps into getting on the level of Disney and Pixar’s success. The second part will be tackling the indie/foreign scene, and the final part will be tackling the Oscars. Let’s get started!

Don’t Chase Trends/Find Your Own Identity!

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Let’s cut to the chase. As much as other studios want to be the next big Pixar and or Disney animation studio, there is only one Pixar and one Disney. This happens a lot when you see other studios lock their eyes on a film or franchise that becomes a massive hit, and they want to follow that success with their own take. We saw this with Warner Bros and Don Bluth in the 90s trying to follow Disney’s massive money train. DreamWorks consistently took cynical jabs at Disney, and tried to follow up a Disney or Pixar film with their own take on the basic set-up. Heck, DreamWorks tried to copy Illumination Entertainment’s success with Home. In the end, when you try to chase a trend, and it’s not executed well, people are going to catch on quickly. What studios need to do is to find their own identity. Disney and Pixar have their identities with interesting takes on fairy tales and family films with timeless topics, writing, and characters. DreamWorks has suffered with an identity for years, but always has a consistent identity when they make good character-driven films. Studio Ghibli flips anime onto its head by being so anti-anime with more western ideals and less focus on what makes anime in Japan popular. Science Saru has their own simple, yet stretchy visuals that would rather the movements look good and fluid, rather than how much detail they can put into each character. Laika makes mature family films using stop-motion. Aardman makes charming and well-written animated features. Warner Bros. Animation Group has made consistently entertaining and very funny comedies with heart. Heck, the identities you can give to Blue Sky and Illumination Entertainment as their claim to fame is that they don’t really have one. That is its own problem, but still. When I watch a film by a certain studio, I want to be able to point out that this film is from that studio. Variety is the spice of life, and competition is good. Be your own creative filmmakers. I know having your own identity can come from many elements, like having certain writers and directors at your beck and call, but I still stand that you should make sure you stick out. The worst thing you can do is be a forgettable studio.

Don’t Half-bake Your Overall Plots

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So, most of the time, the big budget animated films are comedies with some story attached to them. Okay, that’s fine. There is nothing wrong with being more about the jokes than the story. However, what seems to happen to many films is that they know and have seen Disney and Pixar films, but only follow the base steps of their plots to put into their own plots. For example, last year, there were probably more films made that had no real idea how to make their stories emotionally connect with the audience. Despicable Me 3 has a slew of potential story arcs for their characters, but either don’t do anything with them, or do only the bare minimum in execution. Ferdinand has some of the more emotionally gripping and interesting story and character moments out of Blue Sky’s films, but they still threw in so much of their bad family film pandering elements, that makes it frustrating to watch. The Emoji Movie doesn’t even bother to try anything to be more complex, have some kind of clever commentary about social media or the young generation who do act like they are glued to their phones. Cars 3, a film from Pixar themselves comes so close to making it one of their best films, but fumbles when having the villains have more to them than their simple traits. The Boss Baby might be heavy on the creative visuals and a lot of fun humor, but it lacks emotional stakes, because I do not care about the characters, and they try so hard to force the family bond on the two leads. Lego Ninjago and My Little Pony dump out what made their respective properties fun and entertaining, and their films are fun, but they lack substance. It’s fine if you want to be more about story, be more about the comedy, or be a mixture of both. Just put in the mental power that you would if you were working on a film you cared about. Don’t treat it like a paycheck film.

Find your own designs/animation style!

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While this could go into the identity part of the list, I feel like this was worthy of its own entry on the editorial. A problem that I see studios have is that their films are all visually similar, and fail to show off the distinct style that only that studio has. You can tell when you are seeing an Aardman film. You can tell when you are seeing a Disney film. You can tell when you are seeing a Laika film. You can tell when you are seeing a Ghibli film. Heck, even Illumination had learned from this, and you can tell by their designs when you are watching their films. DreamWorks and Blue Sky are constantly changing their styles for better or for worse, and they don’t make me think “oh man! This is a film by those guys!” You don’t even need to spend massive amounts of money. In terms of animation budgets, if you can’t get as much as other studios, get creative. That’s why people were so impressed with Captain Underpants. It looked impressive for a film that had a budget of $30 million. Even other studios overseas are finding ways to get creative with their small budgets. Sure, some will still look awful, but the ones that stick out, found a way to make their films work with creative visuals and smart writing. You would be amazed at how many foreign animated films trade big budgets for creative visuals, and focus more on writing. Just be careful about what textures you use as well. If you are going use more realistic textures and designs, then don’t do cartoony movements and reactions. Leap! is a good example of this, because it had pretty decent CGI animation, but due to the odd choice to have realistic textures and somewhat more realistic designs, any time a cartoony reaction happened, it looked creepy. Make sure you have got a visual style you can call your own.

Not Everything Needs To Be a Comedy!

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Listen, I get why most animated films are comedies. I know that’s a very popular genre of film that can easily be taken advantage of with animation, due to its limitless potential. However, not everything needs to be a comedy. The worst part about this is if you are a comedy, and you don’t measure up to the other animated comedies of that year, I’m going to forget about you. It’s like how the game industry is trying to make “live services” a thing. When a better “live service” comes around, I’m going to go to that one instead. Same goes for animation. Once a better comedy comes around, I’m going to watch that comedy more than yours. I have done that plenty of times with the films from 2017. Spice things up a bit and try out different genres. Why do you think people still love talking about Kubo and the Two Strings, UP, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Isle of Dogs, Inside Out, Kung Fu Panda 1-3, The LEGO Movie, How to Train your Dragon, or Wolf Children? While they have their own comedic elements that work out for them, they still fall back heavily on writing, characters, action, and story. Just because it’s an animated feature, doesn’t mean that you can’t be an action film, a thriller, a horror film, a rom-com, or whatever. Don’t box yourselves into one genre. Don’t make a comedy for the sake of making one.

Thanks for reading part 1! Next time, we will talk about the foreign/indie side of animation!

The Other Side of Animation 139: Summer Wars 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!)

A fun part about tackling animated films is that you get to go through the director’s entire history of work, and see when certain parts of their craftsmanship start to pop up. That’s the entertaining part to watch an artist evolve. For example, today’s review will be a film that I think truly showed the colors of the creator, Summer Wars. Yes, we are dipping back into the filmography of Mamoru Hosoda with his second film after The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. It was released back in 2009 in Japan, but came over to the states in 2010. While he has done film and anime projects before Summer Wars, to me, it’s the film that encapsulates a lot of the details that Hosoda would use in his future films. Let’s dive in, shall we?

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The story follows a teen male named Kenji Koiso, dubbed by Michael Sinterniklaas. He’s a math-savvy teen, who helps moderate part of this massive online world known as Oz, where you can do anything from socialize, play games, and even use it for real business. While working alongside his friend, Kenji ends up taking an offer from a female student named Natsuki Shinohara, dubbed by Brina Palencia. She asks Kenji to come with her to this huge family summer get-together to celebrate the 90th birthday of her grandmother. The catch is that he has to be her boyfriend/soon-to-be husband to impress her grandmother. Unfortunately, while meeting the large family of rather likable individuals, a virus gets loose into Oz, and causes massive world-wide chaos, and the virus plans to launch powerful missiles on power plants to cause widespread destruction. This is on top of also having to deal with the family drama of an illegitimate grandson, who may be behind the virus. Can Kenji balance this all out?

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Let’s talk about the elephant in the room with this film. No, it’s not the fact that the script does has some choice words bashing the US, nor is it it the fact that, at first, the female lead is kind of terrible, because if a guy did what she did with forcing him to go along for a huge charade, the world would have rioted. It’s the fact that Mamoru Hosoda, in all of his infinite wisdom, basically remade an earlier work of his that was essentially the infamous Digimon Movie. Or, if we want to be more specific, one of the Digimon specials he directed. Yeah, it’s hard not to see Hosoda simply taking a bunch of the plot elements, like the virus, the nukes, and the bunny fixation in this film. The world of Oz looks like how the internet looks in the Digimon Movie, with the blank white open space and gears/Ferris wheel motif. It’s like he took a look at the reviews and ridicule the Digimon Movie got because of how Fox cut it up, and decided to give the middle finger to the US release of his work, and made it better. It’s not a major negative, but it’s a negative none the less.

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Like I said above, while she becomes more endearing as the film goes on, I found Natsuki to be annoying. Instead of just bringing Kenji to her family celebration, she forces him to lie to her family on a rather large scale, and then doesn’t get why the family doesn’t like this one illegitimate grandson. I can understand if this is how teens are, and I get not wanting to worry your grandparents about your future. I’m sure I’m missing a couple of cultural aspects of her reasons behind her actions, but it took a bit for me to warm up to her. She becomes more endearing when time goes on, but you have to stick with it. It just seems like if this was a role reversal, people would be calling this out more. While I love the family that this film focuses on, they aren’t all fully fleshed out. I don’t remember half of their names, and some of them are just annoying and don’t interact with the others to be aware of what’s going on. At two separate points, three family members cause the situation to get worse. Sure, you can write it off as two of them being obnoxious kids, but one of them is a police officer, and he doesn’t talk to the family members that are trying to take down the evil virus that could kill them? Like, it’s not a plot hole, but it seems like lazy writing.

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I know it sounds like I’m trashing this movie, but I do really love it. I have a lot of positives to say about it. As usual with Hosoda’s animation, it’s beautifully crafted, grounded, and the designs are all super appealing to look at. The online world also gives the film a good excuse to make fun avatar designs that I think fit each person in the film perfectly. This is also a major point of where we can see his amazing eye for up-close combat. The fighting in this film is gorgeous, with fluid and realistic movements. It gets a bit more absurd when you enter the online world, but it still doesn’t negate the force you feel from the punches and kicks. While you are technically watching a bunch of people sit around and look at a bunch of screens, you are still kept invested with what’s going on online and offline. It’s fairly nice to see a film that’s about technology not be an anti-internet or anti-technology message that anime unfortunately loves to do. Listen, technology has made some pretty horrible things, and made gateways for toxic and horrible people to spread their toxic roots all over the world. However, technology has also done wonders, and has connected us in many ways. It’s not just one-sided, in terms of tackling the commentary about Oz and its use by most people around the world. I also liked the dub cast. While the original Japanese version used accurately aged actors to voice their animated counterparts, and you lose that when Funimation uses a bunch of adults for everything, I still like the English dub. As usual, to play every moody male teen these days, you have Michael Sinterniklaas, and a slew of other incredible talents, like Mike McFarland, Patrick Seitz, Christopher Sabat, Colleen Clinkenbeard, Caitlin Glass, John Swasey, and many more. To me, this was the film where Hosoda started to really use his family motif in his films. While you might not remember everyone’s name, the characters truly feel like a family.

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It’s not Hosoda’s best film, and it probably apes too much off of his previous work for its own good, Summer Wars is still a visually stunning, heartfelt, and entertaining movie about technology and family. While there is a normal version of this film available from Funimation, they recently made a special edition for Hosoda’s other films like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, up to The Boy and the Beast. If you haven’t picked up this wonderful film already, I recommend picking up that special version. This just makes me super excited for Hosoda’s new film, Mirai coming out this year. Now then, we are onto the next review, and we will be tackling what might be China’s most ambitious, visually pretty, and busiest animated feature. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

Worst to Best Animated Features of 2017 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. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this editorial!)

I apologize for this being so late, but here we are! This is the Worst to Best of Animated Films from 2017! It’s easy to look at 2017, and see it as not that fantastic of a year for animation. There was very little to be excited about, and it felt like the big studios dumped all of their filler projects in one year. It definitely looks inferior, compared to 2018’s line-up of animated films. However, looking past the big budget film scene that honestly had only two good animated features, the indie/foreign scene in 2017 was actually drop-dead amazing. It might actually be the strongest year for indie/foreign films since 2013. As usual, the rules are the same for these lists. They must have been released in the states in 2017. They also must be a part of the Oscar submission list. I sadly won’t be able to get to The Big Bad Fox, because GKids is, for one reason or another, not putting that film out yet, and I simply do not have the time to wait any longer to see it. I won’t tackle any direct-to-video films unless they are the DC-animated features, or if they are a big deal. Let’s get started!

39. Guardian Brothers

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Man, talk about a pointless film. While the original Chinese version is not that great either, at least it had a point to it. The Weinstein cut took out the one theme that made the film worthwhile, and they made it a bland, boring, obnoxious, cynical, and utterly pointless animated feature. It has decent animation, but it’s nowhere near as impressive as China’s Big Fish & Begonia. Screw this movie, and screw the Weinsteins for being utter garbage people, and utter garbage animation distributors. I am so happy they are gone.

38. Spark: a Space Tail

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The only thing this film has going for it, is that it was not Guardian Brothers. It was at the very least, presented as intended. It’s still a horrible film though, with bland visuals, boring jokes, unlikable characters, and generic action. It’s also one of two films from 2017 that wasted the talent of Sir Patrick Stewart. I saw no reason why this film needed to get made, when it’s full of nothing original or creative. Maybe Open Road Films will make sure to pick up better films in the future, but for now, they need to find something more worth their time.

37. A Stork’s Journey

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While I commend German animators trying out CGI theatrical animation, it helps when you have a thought-out film. This film’s CGI is ugly, the animation looks unfinished, and the characters are either forgettable or unlikable. I hated these characters, and they were a real reason why this film did not work. I liked the owl and her backstory, but that one character alone is not worth watching this film that Lionsgate thought was a good idea to bring over.  I also wish Lionsgate would stop thinking that just because a YouTuber is in it, it means people will buy it. 

36. The Deep

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This film is insane. While it has slightly better textures and animation than A Stork’s Journey, the lead character is just as bad. He is a selfish, inconsiderate brat. The film also doesn’t know how to make its world-building  sound logical with what happens in the third or so act. The only reason it’s above A Stork’s Journey is purely because of technical aspects. It actually doesn’t look that terrible for a very limited/straight-to-video release. It also outright lies about saying the people that worked on Madagascar made this film, when I couldn’t find anything about them. Unless proven otherwise, they lied in their marketing.

35. Leap!

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While not the worst of the Weinstein-distributed animated films with the least amount changed, it doesn’t mean it’s good. I can see it being a guilty pleasure, or a favorite among young kids, but it’s an awfully forgettable experience. The characters are not that memorable, it’s predictable, the music is not catchy, the acting was a touch annoying, and there were story points that felt out of place. While the animation was better than most films, the super-realistic textures to everything made more comedic moments look creepy and unrealistic. The dancing is sort of nice, and I didn’t hate the lead character, but if Hollywood wants to advertise great European animated films, they should have pushed The Little Prince and the many French films GKids brought over, like The Girl Without Hands, more than this forgettable, if ultimately harmless film.

34. The Emoji Movie

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Yes, if I was only doing the major releases, this would be the worst of the animated films. Yes, it’s cynical, uncreative, boring, and annoying. However, how many people actually saw this film from beginning to end? Yes it’s a horrible movie that Sony shouldn’t have rushed out and put into theaters, but at the same time, no one really talks about it anymore. It’s bad, but it never had any long-lasting value, outside of being infamous on the internet. It’s still nicely animated, and I liked some lines and sequences, but yeah, this movie is not good.

33. Seoul Station

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Listen, there is nothing wrong with a prequel story. They can add more lore and world-building to the original film. However, Seoul Station fails as a prequel. It doesn’t truly say how the outbreak in Train to Busan happened, the characters they focus on are bland, the story doesn’t really do all that much to add to Train to Busan, the animation is stiff, and the dialogue is not all that great. I wish I liked this more, because I think Asian countries outside of Japan can make some truly good work. I just don’t think this is one of them. It’s real only highlight is that you get to see an animated film that is a horror flick. You don’t get to see that often in the animation scene.

32. Nerdland

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You would think a comedy starring Patton Oswalt and Paul Rudd would be amazing, but this was not. You can tell this product flip-flopped in development. The characters weren’t all that likable, the jokes didn’t really land, and its depiction of Los Angeles was boring and typical. However, I do like the art direction, and when it was funny, it was really funny. I just wish I could have been more positive about the film, but I’m not going to give it a pass, because it happens to have two of my favorite actors in it.

31. Sahara

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I was honestly curious about this one. I was surprised to see Netflix bring it onboard for the US, and was wondering why they didn’t really advertise it. Well, once you watch it, you will see why. The English dub was so obnoxious, that I had to switch it over to the original French dub. The animation was not all that great, and the story was cluttered and forgettable. I liked some of the color usage, some of the dancing, and the few quiet moments, but they weren’t enough to make this a good experience.

30. The Star

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Boy, did this not need to be in theaters. If this was on Netflix from the start, that would have been fine. It’s probably the most positive of the Christian-based family films, and even with a $20 mil budget, its animation is not super terrible. However, it was still not all that funny, the story was boring, the side characters were too many and not at all entertaining, and I just felt badly for the cast that had to be in this movie. Again, it’s harmless, but there was no real reason this had to be in theaters.

29. Rock Dog

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 This movie’s development history, Lewis Black, and Eddie Izzard are the only good/interesting aspects to this film. The lead is bland, the film needed a bit more cash to polish out the animation, and it was a mess story-wise. It felt like it didn’t know what it wanted to be, so it copied a bunch of other elements from other and way better films. It has its moments, and I like the song at the end, but sadly, when this is one of Lionsgate’s better animated offerings, you know something is up with this film.

 

Stay tuned for Part two in the future!

The Other Side of Animation 138: Flavors of Youth 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!)

In general, a problem I keep seeing within the animation scene is that twitch reaction to when something like a film or show hits it big, and then everyone and their long dead grandma wants to jump in on the hype. It leads to a profitable, but artistically limited batch of shows or films that want to be like that one popular thing, but only go so far. Sure, some films or shows break out and form their own bit of popularity and greatness, and this is nothing new, but you would think studios would make sure to play the long game, and keep doing what makes them great. For example, due to the success of Your Name, we are getting a slew of teen romance films with fantastical quirks. We already had A Silent Voice, which was pretty good, Fireworks, which was not, and now we have a studio that pretty much asked the studio that made Your Name to make a movie that is essentially a Makoto Shinkai film, Flavors of Youth. This is a Chinese/Japanese collaboration with the Japanese animation studio, CoMix Wave Films. It was put together by Li Haoling, who was inspired by Makoto Shinkai’s 5 Centimeters Per Second. It was then distributed by Netflix here in the states recently, but, thanks to Netflix, I don’t really hear anyone talk about it. Let’s see if this anthology rises above as its own thing, or falls flat as it tries to be like Makoto Shinkai’s other work.

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The first short is called Rice Noodles, and is directed by Jiaoshou Yi Xiaoxing. It’s about a young man named Xiao Ming, dubbed by Crispin Freeman, who reminisces about his love for a rice noodle dish he would get in his childhood. It brings back loving memories of him and his grandmother, a girl he had a crush on, and his youth.

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The second short is called A Little Fashion Show, and is directed by the lone Japanese director of the group, Yoshitaka Takeuchi. It’s about a fashion model named Yi Lin, dubbed by Evan Rachel Wood. She lives with her younger sister, and is going through the typical trials of being a fashion model, like age, personal life ordeals, and the ever-growing competition for younger models.

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The final short is directed by Li Haoling, the creator of the overall project, and the story is called Shanghai Love. It follows a young man named Limo, dubbed by Ross Butler. He is moving into a new downtown apartment that is near a couple of old buildings that hold nostalgic memories of his childhood friendship, his crush, and the changing landscape of Shanghai. He does this by listening to some old cassette tapes.

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So, what does this anthology get right? Well, I found two out of the three stories to be very interesting. The Rice Noodles story was probably my favorite out of the three, because I think everyone can connect a piece of their childhood to a dish, and how the unfortunate constant movement of time will cause things to change. Sure, not being able to regain that feeling of the past can feel soul crushing, but it’s never truly gone from you. The three stories revolve around a Chinese idiom, that translates to “clothing, food, housing, and transport”. I can definitely see how some of that idiom is used, as in the Rice Noodles short. There are also themes of dealing with regrets, as the second and third short have more plot elements dealing with actions from the past, and somehow making amends with said actions to make a better future. I think there will definitely be something for everyone to connect to within these three stories.

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Animation-wise, it looks pretty good from what you can expect from a Chinese/Japanese co-production. I have my issues with certain elements of its appearance, but only because I hold the animation studio, CoMix Waves to a high standard, due to their more recent work being downright beautiful. It still looks good, and has more polish than most anime films. I also enjoyed the music for the three shorts. It was mostly very calming, and set more in the background, but it fit the mood that the three shorts were going for. The dub is a mixed bag, but overall, it’s more good than bad. I liked Crispin Freeman in the first short, and how he captured the somber, but uplifting tone found in the main character during the Rice Noodles short.

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I think the biggest problem with Flavors of Youth is that while it can definitely be called its own thing in a lot of areas, like the story and setting, it never got rid of that feeling that this did feel like another Makoto Shinkai film. I get that the chief director/person in charge of this project was inspired by one of Shinkai’s first films, but I didn’t see unique visions. I saw directors trying to copy what Makoto Shinkai does. I know I can dish out some tough criticisms towards Shinkai, but at least when I was watching a film of his, I knew that it was his work. The art also isn’t as good as Shinkai’s other films. Sure, they look prettier than most series, but you get the feeling that they missed out on Shinkai’s little touches and bits of flair. I found the animation to also be stiffer. While the studio’s usual designs were not always the most interesting or memorable, they moved beautifully. The overall feel of the stories felt like they needed some more time to be fleshed out. The middle one with the fashion model feels the longest, due to how bored I got. It was a story with no real twists or turns with some rather generic story bits that come with the storyline. The first short also relies too much on the narration. It makes you wonder if the short would have been better if you didn’t have it, and expressed everything through music and the visuals. I also know that the voice actor, Ross Butler’s first role was in this film in the third story, but I found it to be the worst part of the English dub. He sounds so bored and disinterested. Even in the most emotional moments, he sounded wooden. I’m sure he’s a nice guy, and maybe he will improve, but either he wasn’t putting in his all, or the director didn’t tell him that we weren’t in the 90s anime dub scene, and people need to start, well, emoting.

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Your enjoyment of Flavors of Youth will probably vary depending on your standards and hype for this animation studio. As a whole, I think it worked, but the hang-ups for me were really distracting. I definitely recommend checking it out, because unless you can catch the smaller animation releases, this will have to do until Small Foot comes out near the end of September. I respect this production, and I hope more projects come from this collaboration, and we get more anthologies with beautiful animation and interesting stories. Speaking of limited releases, I think it’s time to review one of the two Mamoru Hosoda films I have yet to do with Summer Wars. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 137: Teen Titans Go! To the Movies 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!)

While following the animation scene is a lot of fun, with finding new directors and discovering new animation projects, any scene in the entertainment industry or any industry at all has its dark side. One of the loudest toxic reactions you will ever get is if you dare like a show like Teen Titans Go! Listen, I get the annoyance and anger of them canceling the original show for, from what I remember, no real reason, and then years later replacing it with something more comedic and less violent. However, people really need to let go of the anger for this show. Yes, it can be fairly vapid and stupid, but the show has a lot of great episodes, moments of clever writing, and really funny jokes. It just seems unfair to throw this show under the bus, when the original Teen Titans show from the 2000s had mostly that same kind of humor. You can easily connect the two shows without much effort. Not every episode was dark and mature. The new show isn’t perfect, and the original isn’t either. If people like both shows, then that’s fine. I’ll say this though, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is a way better movie than Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo. Directed by the series creators Michael Jelenic and Aaron Horvath, in terms of animation this year from the big studios, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies might be one of the biggest surprise of th eyear. What do I mean by this? Well, let’s check it out.

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The story follows our rambunctious group of “heroes”, Robin, voiced by Scott Menville, Beast Boy, voiced by Greg Cipes, Cyborg, voiced by Khary Payton, Raven, voiced by Tara Strong, and Starfire, voiced by Hynden Walch. After attempting to take down Balloon Man, voiced by Greg Davies, the villain is actually stopped by the combined forces of Wonder Woman, voiced by Halsey, Green Lantern, voiced by Lil Yachty, and Superman, voiced by Nicolas Cage. The three heroes call out the Titans for not really being heroes and all that comes with the responsibility. However, before the Titans can get chewed out too much by the adult heroes, they leave to go to Batman’s new movie premiere of Batman Again! Once there, and getting hugely ridiculed for not getting a movie, Robin decides that the only way to be taken seriously as heroes, is to get their own movie! Unfortunately, there are two things standing in his way, a movie director named Jade Wilson, voiced by Kristen Bell, and the fact that they don’t have a supervillain to call their own. Luckily for them, a supervillain named Slade, voiced by Will Arnett is trying to steal this stone to make his diabolical plan come to fruition! Can the Titans stop Slade? Will Robin get his own movie?

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I think it’s only fair if I started out with the positives. I have way too much to praise to save it for the last part of the review. First off, for a film on a $10 mil budget, and a simplistic art style, it looks really good. With these types of films, you have to grade on a slight curve. What saves it from simply looking like another film based on a TV show that didn’t really need to be in theaters, is the fact it constantly uses varying art styles during certain sequences. It’s mostly in the song sequences and certain gags, but I love that they were given the freedom to go all out on visuals. I would argue that it looks more visually interesting than most CGI films from this year. The backgrounds look crisper, and while the designs are still simple, I felt like the movements were smoother. This isn’t something like that awful She-ra film from decades ago that was pretty much done on the same budget as one of the episodes of He-Man.

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The biggest highlight of the film however is its comedy. From left to right, the film takes full advantage of being a superhero comedy that uses a lot of its best style of jokes and gags from the well-received episodes of the show. Teen Titans Go! To the Movies has some of the wittiest meta, self-deprecating, and best visual jokes of any comedy this year. It even has some of the darkest humor of 2018, where they take joy in what they do. I was surprised by this, because the writers and directors could have easily made this film a feature length version of an episode of the show that no one liked. Luckily for us, they lathered up all that elbow grease, and made sure this film had consistent laughs that were great for the kids, parents, and comic book fans. Even though it has a decent amount of low-brow humor, it does have a defense, in terms of reinforcing why the Titans got called out in the first place. I found myself consistently laughing alongside the audience when I went to go see this movie, and I was happy to see everyone young and old enjoying the film. You might even have to watch this film multiple times to spot all the jokes in the backgrounds. I could tell I missed a few. A lot of the reoccurring gags still have bite to them.

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However, one of the greatest aspects of this film is not on the visual or writing side of things, though, those are incredible, it’s the fact that the voice actors of the show and film get top billing. Yes, there are a huge amount of celebrities in small roles or rather questionable cameos, but they don’t get top billing. The ones you see on the posters and in the credits are the voice actors. I’m so happy about this, because they could have taken the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic the Movie, and put all the big celebrities who had varying amounts of screen time first in the credits and posters. Yes, Kristen Bell and Will Arnett get billing, but Greg Cipes, Tara Strong, Khary Payton, Hynden Walch, and Scott Menville deserve it more than everyone else. I’ll say this though, my favorite celebrity cameo was Patton Oswalt as the Atom, who has some of the best laughs out of the movie.

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I love Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, and I found it hysterical from beginning to end, but I do have some complaints about this silly movie. While I get that the film needed a plot to keep the jokes rolling, the overall plot is not the most interesting. It’s a case where everything that happens between the predictable story beats are more entertaining than Robin’s arc of getting over his crippling self-esteem issues of living under the shadow of the Batman. While I did care enough for our heroes to save the day and be fully okay with being silly characters, I think I would have rather them not try to make this film have emotional stakes. Like, I care, but it felt like the film wanted you to feel invested with the Titans, but also laugh at a lot of the comedic scenes that go into surprisingly dark comedic areas. It clashes with the comedy, when you are also told to care about the characters. Not to say you can’t be emotionally invested with characters in a comedy, but you have to be careful with how you execute it. My final complaint is that I wish the film didn’t lean on the lowbrow humor. It might have a reason to be there, but when the rest of the humor is so good, the fart, toilet, and twerk jokes feel out of place.

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In general, this film reminded me that everyone shouldn’t be taking everything so seriously about the franchise and this type of media in general. Listen, there is nothing wrong with having legit issues with the franchise. However, there is also nothing wrong with enjoying the series and loving this movie. I’m not going to apologize for having a great time with Teen Titans Go! To the Movies. It’s easily one of my favorite comedy films of 2018. I can see myself rewatching this film when it comes out on DVD. I highly recommend everyone go see it. The only reason I would say not to see this film, is because this series isn’t your cup of tea, or simply aren’t interested in seeing it. I will say this though, they are not blackmailing fans of the original with this movie. You simply need to learn about how the current animation climate on TV works. Also, don’t go see this if you are going to hate on it. That doesn’t solve anything. While I have had fun talking about comedies for the past two reviews, it’s time to move on to another Netflix-exclusive animated feature with Flavors of Youth. Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!