The Other Side of Animation 300: Suzume Review

(If you like what you see, you can go to 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 It would help support my work, and keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Well, this is the 300th review I have written, so I decided to journey back to one of the animation world’s brightest stars, Makoto Shinkai. I’ve infamously been one of the more critical voices talking about Your Name when it was one of the most important animated films and films in general from 2016. Shinkai became a household name once that film connected with audiences even though he has been known and made films before that one. However, recently, I have been rethinking my thoughts about Your Name, and how I connect with it more than back then. Not that I still don’t have my own subjective viewpoints about the twist or some of the storytelling elements, but it did make me go out and buy the blu-ray of it and made me think more about why I like this director despite my more mixed thoughts on his filmography. Outside of his amazing visual presentation that is in all of his films, he tackles themes like romance, distance, relationships, feeling alone, and he captures a feeling of something that can be described as an emotional vibe. Sure, some of his film’s logic and storytelling may not be perfect, but if you can connect with the vibe of his films, then you may have a better time engrossing yourself into the worlds he crafts. Even if he isn’t my favorite Japanese director, like Naoko Yamada, Masaaki Yuasa, or Mamoru Hosoda, I still look forward to his films every time they get announced. With how much of a dry spell 2023 has been for animation so far, until we get flooded with them in June, seeing a film like Suzume makes you feel alive and love the animation experience all over again. 

Directed and written by Makoto Shinkai, we follow a teenager named Suzume Iwato, dubbed by Nicole Sakura. One day, as she is going to school, she encounters a young man named Sota Munakata, dubbed by Josh Keaton who is looking for some ruins that are around her hometown. A bit of the ol’ case of curiosity intrigues her, and she finds the ruins of the Onsen Resort herself. Upon opening a magical door standing in front of a ruined building, she ends up literally opening up a major can of worms in the form of a large magic worm-like entity that sprouts from the door that only she can see. As it turns out, the mysterious young man, Sota, can see it too, and when she leaves and returns to said ruins from where the giant worm thing is sprouting, she encounters him and helps him seal the door away. After tending to his wounds back at her place, she encounters a cat-like individual named or, well, nicknamed Daijin later in the film, dubbed by Lena Josephine Marano. She realizes that this cat was from the first encounter in the ruins, and before she or Sota can do anything, Sota is then turned into a chair! Yeah, the film doesn’t take any time to show off how fantastical this film is going to be. It then becomes a race for Sota and Suzume to travel across Japan to chase after Daijin to seal the doors so the entity doesn’t cause any major disasters and maybe return Sota to a human. 

Some of the reviews have pointed out that Suzume, as the newest film from Makoto Shinkai, is very different from his usual affair with what he likes to tackle in his films. You tend to get a lot about young love, distance in a metaphorical/literal sense, connection, and plenty of visually breathtaking skyscapes. This film definitely feels like one of the few times he went out of his way to avoid using his recurring story beats. Even though it could have been easy to do, this isn’t really a romance. Sure, Suzume somewhat falls for our male lead-turned-chair, but it’s very one-sided. The story is mostly about Suzume finding the strength to feel complete again after her life has felt broken and incomplete, which can be visually seen in the chair that her mother made for her. It’s all about forging the strong connections we make in life, whether it is with family members or with the people you meet along the way.

Even though much of this film’s runtime is the obviously high-stakes race across Japan to seal the doors, it is also about Suzume making connections with the random people she encounters through the journey. The other chunk of this film is also Shinkai taking a creative approach to deal with the trauma and pain brought onto Japan via the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. The worm-like entity is such a creative way to portray cataclysmic events. Other themes include fate/destiny that both of our leads go through, and Suzume coming full circle to terms with the loss she has been handed in life. It might be Shinkai’s most intimate film that while having grand-scale sequences seen throughout, lets our characters be more of the focus. Since it begins with the whimsical and fantastical stuff from scene one, you aren’t having to deal with the whiplash of something like Your Name or the third act of Weathering With You. Even though most people think of Miyazaki and Takahata as directors who focus on characters, Shinkai has a real charm and appeal with how he writes his character dynamics, as everyone works so well off of one another and doesn’t feel like overly archetypical anime characters for the majority of the runtime. Just because it’s an animated film doesn’t mean it can’t have grounded characters. The director even held back on going full-tilt anime in terms of the humor and expressions, which would have been distracting when the characters are already so full of life. Not that having hyper-expressive characters and wacky anime-style humor doesn’t work, since it’s still thrown into the film from time to time, but it all comes down to the execution of what kind of tone and story you are trying to create. 

It should be no shock to anyone that CoMix Wave Films and the other talented teams of animators that brought this film to life always put in some incredible work. The mix of CGI backgrounds, buildings, and vehicles blend extremely well into the 2D elements, Shinkai’s typical design philosophy is as recognizable as ever, especially with how every female lead now has that red string of fate motif that was from Your Name, and the character designs pop. However, the animation on the chair is incredible. Even with its limited moveset, you can absolutely tell how much personality was shoved into its movements. Even when he made Voices of a Distant Star, Shinkai has had this magic touch of making the world around you feel ethereal and vast. The constant wide shots of the landscapes and sky views really make the viewer look small. The world and universe around our leads look vast, and in context make them look so small compared to everything else in the universe. Due to how the film is executed, it makes one feel like the most important part of your life and so on and so forth. The voice cast is also very good. It’s one of the first times Crunchyroll has used a mix of character actors and the usual voice actors that you see in anime titles. Granted, it’s a Makoto Shinkai film, so they were going to get some slightly bigger names, but you expect that from distributors like ElevenArts and GKIDS, so it’s a little surprising to see Crunchyroll do it as well. Still, it’s very cool to see a successful animated film from overseas using a mix of actors. Nichole Sakura, Josh Keaton, Jennifer Sun Bell, Roger Craig Smith, Amanda C. Miller, Rosalie Chiang, Allegra Clark, Cam Clarke, Joe Ziegla, Lena Josephine Marano, and Mela Lee. They do good job with their respective roles and bring a lot of fantastic performances to one of the best films of 2023. This being a Shinkai film, he teamed up with the band RADWIMPS and Kazma Jinnouchi which offer another ethereal and delightful score that brings a whimsy that is a refreshing take from most film soundtracks these days. 

Honestly, even with all is said and done, Suzume is my new favorite Makoto Shinkai film experience. Seeing it on the big screen helped, but even on the smaller screen, this film feels the most focused on relationship dynamics between characters as they journey through the challenging world of relationships and find connections with those close to them. It helps that he has indeed moved away from what he has done in the past, and in interviews said he is done with making certain types of films that people love from him in order to branch out and craft new and exciting tales. It’s what’s fun when you journey through a director’s filmography to see how they change and grow as time goes on, from their own art style to what kind of stories they like to tell. It’s why animation is such a fun medium of storytelling. You can do anything with animation, and the only limits you have are the ones you put on yourself. If you can find a way to watch this movie, please do. If you want to see original 2D animated features on the big theatrical screens you all ride and die for, then you need to see them if they are in your area. Don’t go see the sequels, remakes, and whatever that you think flood every single screen. Actions speak louder than words, and your actions in supporting films like Suzume speak louder than complaining about it on Twitter. Now then, thank you all for 300 reviews, and I’m going to take a small break from reviewing films, (well, unless I get a screener of course), to work on some editorials, but I will see you all in June! 

Rating: Essentials

The Other Side of Animation 299: Unicorn Wars Review

(If you like what you see, you can go to 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 It would help support my work, and keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

When people hear the term “animation is cinema”, do you either think about the amazing lines from Guillermo Del Toro, or people trying to justify their love for animated films? There seems to be this very fierce debate about how genuine it is when people use “animation is cinema” to defend and stand up for animated films. Detractors of it are annoyed with how people keep choosing widely loved animated films that are aimed at families. So, does the argument hold up if people keep using films like The Incredibles, The Iron Giant, The Mitchells vs the Machines, and so on and so forth? I mean, I get the desire from the more grumpy individuals to choose different films to prove their point. Many of us already love and respect the films listed above, and quite a few films aimed at families hit it out of the park more than many live-action films that we all watch. But with that said, being a lover of animation does mean that you should at the very least try to explore something outside of that. Sadly, when people try to go the route of “yes, that much-loved family film is great, but have you tried to see non-family films” they are never as graceful about recommending them as they could be. The beauty of animation is that you can tell a multitude of stories through its unlimited visual power, and that means that you can talk about something as dark as war and religious extremism, and how love and hate can mold an individual. And the best part? You can tell that story through a war between unicorns and teddy bears! This is my review of Unicorn Wars

This darkly comedic drama is written and directed by Alberto Vázquez who did 2015’s Birdboy: The Forgotten Children. We follow a troop of teddy bears who are training to take down what is considered the biggest enemies of teddy bears, unicorns. We follow the story of two brothers Azulin and Gordi aka Bluey and Tubby, voiced by Jon Goiri and Jaoine Insausti. Their life has been less than stellar with their parents dealing with a divorce, and the two brothers dealing with said divorce very differently. We follow the journey of this troop of teddy bear soldiers to find out what exactly is going on. We will also find out the origin of the war between unicorns and bears. 

So, from how I have described this film in the first two paragraphs, this is absolutely not for kids right? Yeah, obviously, and it’s accurate if you watch the trailers for it. This is one of those films that use the usual imagery and designs that would normally be used for family-friendly storytelling and experiences, and are using them to tell a very intense, graphic, and tragic story of the two different sides of one complicated coin. You can see how one brother is raised with love, while the other is raised with hate as anger and bitterness toward the world build up inside of him. The way they react to the different characters they meet, and the news and events that unfold in front of them, allows the cast to truly show the different sides of the human experience of the right and wrong way to deal with grief. Alberto is famously or infamously known as a director who doesn’t want to sugarcoat his themes and stories for an audience, and considering how polarized the audience was when I saw this at Animation is Film, it’s an intensely uncomfortable sit. It’s also a lawyered experience that will definitely mean a lot to certain types of moviegoers, but while it is easy to write this film off as indulgent and nihilistic, there is a story of how we need to stop following individuals with extremist philosophies in terms of military and religious ideals. The villains are pretty much the entities that gained knowledge and used said knowledge to kill a group of living beings that were different from them and didn’t agree with their ways of thinking. Sound familiar? Just like the director’s previous film, the story overall tackles a ton of different stories like the already mentioned commentary towards war and religion extremists, vanity, love, hate, drugs, deforestation, manipulation, and you get the idea. Sometimes it feels like the message and point the director wants to say takes over the plot, but at the core of the film, it’s about two brothers and the tragedy of war. Also, it’s extremely violent and gory. Yeah, this might be one of the most intentionally violent animated films I have ever seen, because it does not apologize about how violent war is and doesn’t shy away from how some people will enact violence against people they should be protecting and or caring for. Unlike the previous film by the director, this one definitely has more of a depressing end between the war of teddy bears vs unicorns. In a time in the industry where it seems like people are pushing back against depressing films more and talking about the subjective take on going to the movies for escapism and not to be reminded of the real world around them while at the theater, it’s understandable why people will probably not like the ending. It makes a lot of sense how it unfolds, but after 93 minutes of intensely dark and sometimes funny moments mixed with violence and rage against war and religious zealots, it can be too heavy-handed with its message and a bit much on a visual level. Then again, if you come out of this film and start talking about it and the underlying themes, then that’s a positive instead of just leaving the theater not taking in anything about the film at all. Sometimes, we need to be told bluntly about how bad humans can be through a creative visual metaphor. 

On the animation side of things, it still has the same amazing animation quality that we have seen from the director’s previous film, but instead of a more drab/dire color palette, we get bright almost neon pinks, blues, whites, reds, purples yellows, oranges, creating a much more saturated and colorful visual presentation. The way they portray the bears as vain, and keep the unicorns as these ominous figures in the perspective of the bears makes a lot of sense with how the film frames the story of the two. It also has some ridiculous visuals that will definitely lean into one moment where the bears eat hallucinogenic bugs. It’s a visually striking film with how it shows off its visuals, does environmental storytelling, and frames its themes with every shot. The voice work is fantastic as it’s cartoony but is still filled with the emotional drive you would for something that goes into some very dark places. Jon Goiri and Jaoine Insausti do a lot of the heavy lifting and Ramón Barea is a great narrator. The rest of the cast includes Txema Regalado, Maribel Legarreta, Itxaso Quintana, Manu Heras, Gaizka Soria, Kepa Cueto, Juan Carlos Loriz, Estívaliz Lizárraga, Iker Diaz, and Pedro Arrieta. They all take what sounds like a very twisted and odd premise, and bring conviction and commitment to the roles when the darker story-turns come up. 

Whether you can gel with the premise or not, Unicorn Wars is an example of a film that deserves to be talked about when bringing up the conversation of how animation is film/cinema or what have you. Being supportive of animation is both supporting the big releases as respectfully as whatever gets released during the award circuit, and it also means animation fans need to venture out into animated fare that’s not just from the US, not just for families, and ones that might be unnerving and experimental. If you don’t, then when you use the “animation is cinema” argument, then you aren’t really for it if you don’t try and watch everything. Unicorn Wars might be a bit blunt and a lot with its messaging, and will definitely leave you speechless, but every animation fan should give this one a watch. It’s coming out on Blu-ray in May but is right now available to purchase or rent digitally. While his films might not be my favorite from each year they are released, I am always going to be excited and down to check out whatever Alberto makes next. Now then, next time, we shall take a look at the newest film from Makoto Shinkai with the 300th, review being Suzume

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 298: The Super Mario Bros. Movie Review

(If you like what you see, you can go to 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 It would help support my work, and keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

From what has been discussed and seen from recent films and shows, the video game adaptation curse seems to have been lifted. I don’t fully agree with that statement, but it is definitely a much better place than previous entries that included stuff like Double Dragons, DOOM, House of the Dead, Monster Hunter, Alone in the Dark, and you get the idea. Sure, some of them are still not perfect like the Sonic movies, but when you get stuff like Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, then you know that times have changed. Who would have thought that it took just getting the right people who actually cared about the material and a lot of involvement from the studio to make the films or shows that actually work and feel like they are from the same franchise. Granted, being 100% loyal to said source material isn’t necessarily going to result in a good adaptation since you need a story and characters to invest into, because otherwise, why would someone who isn’t a fan of the game in question care about what’s going on in the story? Anyway, 2023 decided to be weird with how it took until April to have our first major studio theatrical animated feature, and it just so happens to be a video game adaptation. Let’s talk about The Super Mario Bros. Movie

The movie is directed by Aaron Hovath and Michael Jelenic of Teen Titans Go!! fame and is written by Matthew Fogel. Of course, the animation is handled by Illumination Entertainment. We follow Mario and Luigi, voiced by Chris Pratt and Charlie Day. They just started their own plumbing company and messed up on their first gig. Beaten down and disappointed with their lack of achievements and support from their family, all seems lost with the duo until Brooklyn gets flooded and the two go save the city. Unfortunately for them, they find themselves getting warped to the Mushroom Kingdom that is led by Princess Peach, voiced by Anya Taylor-Joy, who is dealing with the looming threat of invasion from Bowser, the king of the koopas, voiced by Jack Black. Can Mario save the kingdom and get his brother back who has been kidnapped by Bowser? 

This film has been getting a lot of people on social media in a firestorm about who is in the right, and whether the critics are being too grumpy about a simple animated film aimed at overall audiences and crowds, or are audiences too forgiving of lightweight entertainment and not supporting the “real” art that gets released when most filmgoers know that some films won’t appeal to them. Plus, it helps that until this film was released, the family film landscape in theaters was pretty much dead. For those that say superhero films are default family entertainment are also dismissing the fact that a lot of superhero media right now is absolutely not for families, unless they are hardcore watching Invincible and The Boys at age 5. For some reason the industry thought that superheroes were all audiences needed, and considering that the first two have underperformed due to a multitude of reasons, it’s no shock that families showed up in droves for this Mario movie. 

So, who is in the right here? Hate to say the safe answer, but it’s what I honestly think. Both are right. For example, while I don’t think the lightweight story hurts the overall experience, I get why people have criticized it. The thing about the Mario franchise is that unless you dive into the spin-offs, the franchise is very light on plot. With the few exceptions where Peach plays alongside Mario and Luigi, it’s always about Mario stopping Bowser. They weren’t going to turn this film’s plot into one of Pixar’s more methodical and philosophical stories. Asking for a deep plot with Mario is like asking Sonic to not have an angsty teen persona, it won’t happen. Now, if they adapt something like Paper Mario or Super Mario RPG, then I will get frustrated with that plot being light on story. With all that said, the story does fall flat in a few spots. It introduces a ton of story beats that could have added a little more meat, with an overall story like Luigi getting over his cowardice, Mario and Donkey Kong’s disconnection with their dads who see them as disappointments, or heck, Mario and Luigi’s dynamic, since for a film called The Super Mario Bros. Movie, it is rather light on having them on the screen at the same time. The entire plot basically separates them for about 80% of the time and that feels a tad disappointing, because there are story beats that would have strengthened the film all throughout the runtime. It’s pretty much the beginning and the third act where they get to be together and they wrap everything up fairly easily. I’m sure there was some situation of how the characters would be portrayed since Nintendo was actually collaborating with Illumination this time around and they couldn’t go too far with the characters and stories, but in some ways, that works to its advantage. No matter how much you love the recent live-action Sonic films, those films pander to casual audiences a bit too much. You could argue they aren’t good at adapting the Sonic storylines either, if you really want to discuss how good they are as adaptations. The Mario movie on the other hand does none of that. It’s a purely straight forward film with very few references outside of the film’s distracting use of 80s music. Mario doesn’t say or reference any memes, and I think there is appeal to that. The appeal of Mario is how safe it is compared to other franchise leads. He hasn’t had to do stuff like rap or cater to the social media crowd to have a lasting appeal. Granted, it also helps that the franchise has some of the best games of all time. It had enough charm and appeal to not alienate everyone, and whether you hate it or love it for that reason, it works here. The only references getting made are basically Mario and or Nintendo-focused with references to Star Fox, Punch Out!!!, and Kid Icarus among many others. Even the minor antagonist Spike is a reference to The Wrecking Crew game that is Mario adjacent. I did hear some people say it has too many references, but you all eat up the MCU and other comic book movie references, so maybe pick a lane when you complain about references. It’s at least more loyal than that disaster that was the 90s Mario movie that was basically lacking in anything Mario for a majority of its runtime and yet people are trying to claim it as an unsung masterpiece that is actually loyal to the game when it’s really not. Sometimes reevaluating a film that got panned doesn’t need to happen. Anyway, if you do feel the Illumination movie vibe at all, it would probably come from Bowser and his dynamic with Kamek, but if you have played the games like Paper Mario or Super Mario RPG, then you know that their personalities in the film would be pretty accurate from the games. That’s the thing about this film, all of the characters act pretty on point and for those that are crying about Peach being more active in the story has never played a Mario game before or one of the many spin-offs. It’s absurd how many people are revealing themselves by this one complaint. The only one who gets a bit more edge is Toad, but who wouldn’t want a Toad whose first line is so intense? He brings some of the best laughs of the film, and Keegan Michael Key does a great job as the character. 

Since we just mentioned one of the cast members, let’s talk about that next. Chris Pratt as Mario is actually not that bad. Sure, I wish he had a little more of that Mario energy in him, but he does a perfectly fine job as the lead. I still wish Charles Martinet was the lead character and not just some secondary characters, but I think everyone was trying to hype up how bad it was when the trailers weren’t doing a good job with how good or bad his performance was going to be. Of course, there are a lot of reasons outside of his acting to hate Chris Pratt, but in terms of his performance, he does okay. Charlie Day is a lot of fun as Luigi and captures his more earnest and innocent personality. Anya Taylor-Joy is also okay as Peach. She does as good as the princess as you could expect. Now, speaking of recognizable voices, Seth Rogen as Donkey Kong is typical Rogen. While he does try to do more as the character and his voice as possible, he’s still going to be Seth Rogen, but he does keep a lot of his Seth Rogenisms outside of his laugh on the down low, which once again, helps to make this film feel more timeless than most video game adaptations. Still, Rogen captures what Donkey Kong would be as this cocky show-off compared to the more humble Mario. The only actor I felt was miscast was Fred Armisen as Cranky Kong. He could have been a touch sassier and more snarky instead of a sort of whiny grandpa. But all things considered, Jack Black, out of all of the celebrities, does the best job, because if you were going to cast Bowser, it had to be Jack Black. He puts it all into this performance with the best balance of comedic and threatening since Bowser can be both and also be a touch pathetic. Luckily, this film has a lot more voice actors playing side or minor roles than just getting a bunch of celebrity cameos to play all of them, but you will hear famed voice actors like Cree Summers, Kevin Michael Richardson, Eric Bauza, Khary Payton, Scott Menville, John DiMaggio, Jessica DiCicco, Rino Romano, Ashley Burch, and Phil LaMarr to name a few. It’s a pretty good cast in general, and probably one of the better casts for an Illumination Entertainment film. Brian Tyler does a great job at remixing the music from the franchise and it all sounds great. You can hear a multitude of different tracks from all over the franchise. As I said above, the only part that is distracting is when the film shoves in an 80s song, and while they are good ones, they are also the ones we have seen in almost every film ever made animated or live-action. 

As for the animation, for a collaboration between Nintendo and Illumination, the visuals and animation are perfect. You can tell the collaboration was a real commitment, because the characters move as they would in the games, and it just looks so good. Considering this is Illumination’s most expensive animated film to date at $100 mil, then it should look amazing. You can tell the resources went into the right spots for the animation and visuals. I don’t really agree with how this looks or feels like a typical Illumination film when all of the humans look like they were right out of a Mario game. It has some cartoony squash and stretches as well, which gives it a more bouncy feel that Illumination and Nintendo are really good at. Mario has a specific look and it needs to pretty much stay to said look. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be Mario. The worlds they crafted look jaw-dropping and grand in scale with some real ambiance and atmosphere that are in each location. They look like they were once again right out of the video games. Even the world of the Kongs looks like they were pulled out of the Donkey Kong Country games. Nothing feels out of place. Even the human world looks as if Nintendo and the Mario team were asked to craft their version of Brooklyn. You also stay in the Mushroom Kingdom and that world for a lot of the movie, which is nice since the Sonic films were so afraid to do that for some reason. Plus, it keeps with the fact that Mario is basically an isekai anime due to Mario and Luigi getting transported to another world. They also capture the wild and surreal feel of Rainbow Road and how horrifying it can be depending on the Mario Kart game you play. 

Listen, Illumination Entertainment family films are going to be aiming for mass audiences and they are never going to try and be Pixar or Disney films, and it’s time for film snobs and filmgoers to realize that. There is a reason why, while maybe lacking in some regards in substance, and I have had my issues with them as well, their films make all of the money. Sure, I wish people went to see other animated films that had stuff that went against the US animation tradition, but many of the people that complain about Illumination films also don’t see those more “complex films”, and it’s very telling how much that happens. Who knew there were animation fans and filmgoers who didn’t actually follow what they preach. If you all wanted to go and support something, then Suzume is literally coming out soon (it’s out now) and you all should go find a screening of that film. Or we could all accept that some audiences don’t want to go to a theater to sit down for a few hours being depressed or challenged. Sometimes, you just go and see something silly like Cocaine Bear or a fun fantasy romp like Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves or some amazing spectacle like John Wick 4

Back to the review of the film, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is an actually faithful adaptation of the games to a really impressive degree that offers everyone a fun and whimsical time at the theater. Honestly, I have some complicated feelings about it. It has some story beats that could have been fleshed out, and I wish Luigi was with Mario a lot more in the runtime, or that the film was longer than its extremely tight 90 minutes, but I found myself enjoying it a lot. I still have my issues with Illumination and that won’t change, but this is probably my favorite film from the studio, and so far is the best adaptation of a Nintendo property. It set out to be a loving adaptation of the video games and it passes with flying colors. I can see why some people may not like this film, but the beauty of animation is that it’s a medium that can be for everyone, and that means family and mass appeal audiences. Hopefully with the success of this film, the profits go into Illumination Entertainment’s new division that goes into more teen-to-adult-focused animated films, and I can’t wait to see what else they do next. I wouldn’t mind seeing them adapt the Mario franchise in another film since you can go in so many directions, and they have about 30+ years of games and spin-offs to pull from. I would say go see it, but due to how much money it’s making, you can tell everyone is going to see it. Like I said earlier, it helps that family audiences were starved of family entertainment for three months in 2023 so far. Now then, next time, we will be talking about the very intense Unicorn Wars

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 297: Ernest & Celestine: A Trip to Gibberitia Review

(If you like what you see, you can go to 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 It would help support my work, and keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Ernest & Celestine is a special film for me. It was the first animated film I saw from GKIDS that wasn’t Studio Ghibli-related, it was the first animated film I reviewed, and it was the first film to truly ignite my love for animation from around the world. It also helps that it was successful enough to get a TV series that we never got, and now, a brand new ‘hot off the presses’ sequel that has a lot to live up to, due to it having to follow up the incredible first film. Luckily for us, we didn’t run into a “sequel for sequel sake” like a lot of sequels to films where people weren’t really looking for them. What we ran into is a sequel that can be considered just as great as the original. 

Julien Chheng and Jean-Christophe Roger are our duo directors for this project. The writers for this film are Guillaume Mautalent, Sebastien Oursel, and Jean Regnaud. We follow our dynamic duo once more as they wake up after hibernation. As Celestine is getting breakfast ready and for them to enjoy a lovely new day, she accidentally breaks a violin that was on one of Ernest’s shelves. Heartbroken by this, Celestine offers to go on a trip with him to where he obtained the instrument to get it repaired. Where exactly? Why, Gibberitia of course! Unfortunately, Ernest is very set to not going back there due to some history there. After trying and failing to convince Ernest to go, Celestine embarks on the journey to get there. At one point, she forces Ernest’s hand and the two arrive in what is revealed to be Ernest’s home town. Something, though, is off about it. Children in the city dress like their parents and there is an odd hostility towards birds singing. It is revealed that the court system in the city has banned music, and it is up to Ernest & Celestine to figure out why that is and reconnect with some individuals that are personally connected to his life, aka, his family. 

Now, with the first film, it was mostly a Celestine-focused story that still had time for the two to bond as friends and deal with the film’s themes of capitalism, fearmongering, and discrimination. Not that Ernest played a secondary role, but you spent a lot more time in Celestine’s world and her backstory. With this one, Ernest takes more of the driver’s seat for the plot, as it focuses on him, and his relationship and history with his family that includes his doctor mother and judge father. You get a tiny bit of the backstory of Ernest in the first film, where his father was a judge and he didn’t want to be one. You find out why the city doesn’t allow music, and we see the themes of the film that include the censorship of art and the disconnect between generations as the parents in the city decide what the younger generation do with no ifs, ands, or buts about it. You finally get to see the repercussions of the fallout between Ernest and his family as you see how the children are dressed like their parents. 

Of course, we do get time to observe Ernest and his relationship with his entire family from his mother, father, and sister, and the film itself. Even though it’s only 79 minutes long, the film is able to breathe and let our two leads take in the world, the conversations, and some of the stellar comedy that was in the previous film. It might be as zany as the previous film, but it is still as Buster Keaton-driven as the first film with some truly fantastic physical comedy. It leads to a lot of tender moments that sit with you, even though there are just as many funny moments.

Speaking of comedy and animation, the visual presentation of this sequel is just as good as the last film. It still has that lovely watercolor look, and while it has more grounded expressions and movements outside its chase sequences, not much else has changed from the film’s previous amazing flair. It might not have as many trippy sequences, but the third act has a wild chase sequence that shows you why animation is a wonderful medium to tell a story. Even though the rules and world of Gibberitia are a touch ridiculous, the city itself feels lived-in, and has a ton of small details that are a lot of fun to notice when you see our leads travel across the city. Even the way you enter the town is so creative and offers a more mysterious and wondrous tone to the city due to how Ernest was building up the place in the first third of the film. It even has a more bright color palette due to being outside and or in spring whereas the previous film was more drab and dour, due to the tone and cold feel of the town. I only saw the French dub of the film, but the returning voices of Ernest and Celestine, Lambert Wilson and Pauline Brunner do a great job with their roles and still bring so much warmth with the two, especially now that they are way more comfortable chatting and joking with one another since they are the best of friends. 

While it would be tough to top the acclaim and impact left by the first film, A Trip to Gibberitia continues the fascinating journey of Ernest & Celestine by tackling the complicated theme of familial drama and finding the freedom to express yourself in a world that wants to limit those artistic voices. It’s a franchise that makes you feel good, and if you loved the previous film, then you will love this one. There is a reason why this film won the grand prize and the NYICFF, because it’s just an incredible journey through the world of animation. Now then, next time, we will be talking about a certain red and green-clothed duo of plumbers who just got their own movie with Illumination with The Super Mario Bros. Movie

Rating: Essential

The Other Side of Animation 296: Dounia and the Princess of Aleppo Review

(If you like what you see, you can go to 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 It would help support my work, and keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

As much as I love to tackle foreign animation due to how creative and beautiful it can all be, it’s a good reminder that not every animated feature from around the world is an Inu-Oh, a Children of the Sea, a Titina, a Triplets of Belleville, and you get the idea. It’s nigh impossible to keep the quality up for every film to be that standard. I am pretty sure this has been mentioned before, but theatrical feature animation has always been a gradient no matter where you go in the world. It isn’t just top-tier award-winning amazingness and bottom-of-the-barrel cheap kids’ stuff. No matter who the audience is, there are movies for everyone in the world of animation, and that means films like Dounia and the Princess of Aleppo are released. 

This is a Syrian/Canadian collaboration that’s directed by Marya Zarif and Andre Kadi. We follow the journey of a young girl named Dounia as she is forced to flee from Syria with her grandparents and others due to the war happening around them. As she traverses through multiple countries trying to find a place to call home, she will get the help of some magical seeds and her country’s history, making sure they all make it through the story safe and sound. 

Even with this film’s charming visuals and animation, it doesn’t hide or sugarcoat the facts of how awful the war is on anyone and everyone involved in the crossfire. People are getting killed and forced to leave their cities/towns to hopefully find a new life and to be with their loved ones. No matter where everyone is from, we are all people who inhabit this planet, and we shouldn’t be destroying it or people’s livelihoods through senseless violence and wars. It’s a very hopeful film that definitely does a solid enough job to balance out the darker tone of our character’s journey and life, but also finds moments of peace among them, despite what’s going on around them. It doesn’t go as far as something like The Breadwinner or The Swallows of Kabul, but it definitely isn’t as middling as Lamya’s Poem. There is a right and a wrong way to write stories like this one, and like so many hot button or complicated topics, it takes a skilled hand to carefully go through it all, because one flub will screw over the entire story. Sure, it might take some very fairytale-like approaches to get around the situations, but it feels like this film was made from the child’s perspective, so having more magical solutions to these situations make sense. It luckily keeps the charm and likability of the characters up enough to make it to the end credits, and that’s always something to look for when crafting compelling character arcs. 

The animation for Dounia is rather lovely. You can compare it to other films like Lanya’s Poem and criticize how it uses what is assumedly a motion-tween-based world with its characters, but many shows use this type of animation and can pull it off well. As usual, it’s all about time, talent, and money, and the animation here has a pleasantly fun story-book charm to its presentation. The fact that the characters look like stylized caricatures from magazines and have outlines on the bodies that make them look like paper cut-outs gives the animation that might look flat a lot of charm and appeal. The fact Dounia’s hair looks like everlasting starlight and space is an amazing touch. The lighting and shadows help give the 2D animation life, and at the end of the day, a lot of what makes animation good is appeal. These are attractive designs, and the world crafted is nice to look at despite having an entirely different visual feel than other animated films playing at festivals like NYCIFF, Annecy, or Animation is Film. The fact they took the time to also do different camera angles also helps make shots feel more dynamic. The musical sequences are also charming and add some soft beautiful moments in between the darker moments in the films. 

Honestly? I found Dounia to be a charming little experience. It might not last in my or anyone’s top 10 by the time the end of the year comes up, but there have been a lot of smaller animated films coming out that I have been truly charmed by, and that’s healthier than most years where smaller releases that aren’t good are given to everyone upfront and then the good stuff is released during the spring and summer releases before retreating back to the award season release timeline. Unfortunately, there is no word on an official US release, but since there is a US dub trailer, hopefully, that means it will be given one soon. Definitely give it a watch if you want something different from your usual animation enjoyment that shines. Next time though, we will be talking about one of my favorite films from NYCIFF with the decade-long follow-up to 2012/2013’s Ernest & Celestine with Ernest & Celestine: A Trip to Gibberitia

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 295: Titina Review

(If you like what you see, you can go to 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 It would help support my work, and keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

With Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio sweeping the award circuit as well as everyone’s heart, he has made it more vocal than ever that animation is film. There is not just one certain type of way of telling a story for a particular group of people in the movie-going world, and it shouldn’t have taken just one well-known director to make people realize this, when it has been a known fact that animation can be made for and loved by everyone. You can tell a multitude of stories with the medium, and it deserves as much respect as anything that comes out during award season. Even though it has been shown that most of the best films come out all throughout the year and not just the last three months, the film industry tends to only give respect to those films that are released during the award season. Heck, a lot of the ones that come out during this time period are terrible. Instead of giving focus to more mediocre biopics that all look the same, people should find time and give support to films like what was my favorite film during Animation is Film, Titina

This wonderful film is directed by Kaja Næss and is co-written by Kaja and Per Schreiner. The story follows the perspective of a world-spanning adventure through the eyes of a little dog named Titina, a stray that lives in Italy and is adopted by an aviator and airship designer named Umberto Nobile, voiced by Jan Gunnar Roise. Umberto gets a call from famed Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, voiced by Kare Conradi to craft a blimp to venture to the north pole. This, of course, is taking place during the 1920s during the early rise of Mussolini, and the two men are intertwined with this grand journey that we see all through the perspective of man’s best friend. 

This movie is so good at how it tells its story about our aviator and explorer with how they contrast with their goals of this journey to the North Pole. Both are doing it for their own countries, but Roald is doing it for personal pride. He thinks he is the only one that matters while Umberto sees it as a collaborative effort. Much of this movie is watching through visual storytelling and dialogue how the two treat the exploration, and it constantly goes back and forth with how the pair’s pride takes control of their ambitions. Each of our leads are flawed and not entirely likable individuals, but they feel more human than most live-action films due to how their strengths and faults really are brought up in the story. 

The decisions and actions they make or take feel reasonable and not out of left field. Granted, they had to go by history while crafting the story due to this being mostly based on true events, but the way the story is told through amazing 2D animation and footage from the actual adventure shows a compelling character study. It reminds me a lot of one of my favorite films from 2019, Bunuel and the Labyrinth of the Turtles due to how both films follow an individual/individuals who are on a journey of self-realization and reflection, ending up being driven more by pride and stubbornness that lead to the consequences for their actions. Just because it’s an animated film doesn’t mean this film doesn’t go into some really dark and depressing places. It has its surreal animated moments, with both funny and heartwarming moments, but the entire journey mixes all of those into a rollercoaster of emotions that gives you a bit of everything. No joke feels out of place, every emotional beat is earned, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome like most biopics. It’s also extremely critical of nationalistic pride, which is always a good thing. 

The animation is gorgeous. It uses a distinct and fun caricature style for its humans with soft colors that creatively use lighting and shadows to craft some of the best visuals seen in 2020’s feature animation. It reminds me a lot of foreign/indie comics with how it might all look flat in terms of textures to the world and everything in it, but it results in some truly beautiful visuals and some of the best cinematography in animation from 2022. The fact the film takes time to slow down and have quiet moments or moments of just pure beauty or trippy visuals shows that the director and the team knew what they were doing. That it’s able to capture the scale and the power of nature is a major win in my book. You can just feel the size of the blimp as it arrives on its first stop or how cold Alaska feels is nothing short of a miracle, revealing an art team that understood the assignment. The voice cast is stellar with some fantastic performances. An amusing point is that this is one of two films that makes fun of and punches down on Mussolini. It didn’t happen a lot during 2022, but the fact it happened more than once was a fun coincidence. The film also has a very Venust soundtrack. Not only does it have a fantastic cover of the titular song, but its infusion of jazz gives it a special flair that can’t be matched by other films. Thank you Kare Vestrheim for a hugely memorable soundtrack. 

Titina is a brilliant globe-trotting wonder of animation. It’s a human journey of what can happen when one’s pride gets in the way of an experience that was meant to be a positive one for the world in which they live. Of course, we see all of this through the eyes of one of the cutest animals in history, Titina and how what can get us through turbulent times is love, compassion, and connection. Unfortunately, this is one of those films where it doesn’t have a distributor as of writing this review, and that is a huge disappointment, because this is one of the best-animated films of the decade so far, and people need to see it as soon as possible, and that can only happen when or if companies like GKIDS or Shout! Factory can bring it over. There are so many amazing animated films in the world, and it’s a shame that some people won’t be able to watch them because of a lack of distribution/interest. Hopefully, this one can get picked up, because it truly is amazing. Now then, next time, we shall talk about another NYCIFF entry with Dounia and The Princess of Aleppo

Rating: Essentials

The Other Side of Animation 294: Little Nicholas: Happy as Can Be Review

(If you like what you see, you can go to 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 It would help support my work, and keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Nostalgia is a hot commodity right now in the world of media and art. People love to remember the films and shows that they watched back in the day when they were kids. Being able to relive the memories from back then has its charm, but there is a downside to it all. You know once something is popular, you see companies and studios want to capitalize on it. We get re-releases of games, shows, legacy sequels to said shows and films, and after a bit, it loses its appeal. Remember for a few years in the late 2000s and early 2010s when retro gaming was popular? Sure it’s still around, but when that fad died, it died hard. Nostalgia has now become sort of a, well, toxic might not be the correct word, but it has had more of a negative lens when you see something that is from the past brought back up again. Not because there is a new direction to take said IP, but because it’s a safe bet that makes money. It sucks, because there are a few IP-driven films that just so happen to have the right creatives and teams to tackle it in a way that doesn’t make you feel like you are being sold an advertisement. It happens, and it’s sad we can’t always have this happen. Because if we did, we could get something like Little Nicholas: Happy as Can Be. 

This film is directed by Amandine Fredon and Benjamin Massoubre. It’s written by Anne Goscinny, Michel Fessler, Benjamin Massoubre, Rene Goscinny, and Jean-Jacques Sempe. Obviously, it’s based on the comic by Rene Goscinny and Jean-Jacques Sempe. The story follows the two creators meeting up one day for a relaxing lunch and figuring out what to do next for their work together. They end up crafting a story about a little boy and his life with his family, classmates, and everything that you would think revolves around the life of a little boy. And that boy’s name? Nicholas. The story then unravels into a mixture of both Nicholas stories being told by the two, and the two creators recollecting about their own childhood. 

What’s truly and absolutely refreshing about this film is how it’s a biopic, but it isn’t a traditional biopic that you see around award season. This isn’t watching the two creators of the comic start from the very bottom to the top. It has the story beats of the two finding a comic/character to work off of, the personal drama, but you never see it as a typically produced film of this type. Normally we have their humble or rough beginnings, their rise to popularity, their downward spiral, and either a happy ending, a sad ending, or a sort of happy ending that’s only happy due to how the filmmakers crafted it when it really isn’t that happy. What we have here is a film that isn’t really interested in telling a condensed story of their lives. It’s nice, since we have seen so many of these films pop up during award season, and they aren’t all that great or interesting. It’s like watching anime recap films when we already saw the story told as a TV series. 

With this film, the main goal was to tell a story about the two creators, Rene and Jean-Jacques, and the two of them recollecting their own childhoods while weaving actual stories from the Little Nicholas comics, and how they connect to how the characters were feeling at the time. It actually lets the creators be actual people, and while this is a mostly positive and happy-vibed film, it doesn’t shy away from sharing the backgrounds of both creators, and they are handled with tact and respect. Just because there are some dark elements, it doesn’t mean the film needs to go all in on the visuals and make for a stressful watch. You can also see the connection between the stories that Little Nicholas has as means of expressing what childhood was like in their mind or what they wanted or wished their childhood would be. It’s a very down-to-earth film with how the story unfolds and how the comic-based stories are revealed. It results in some truly wonderful moments, hilarious comedic sequences, and heartwarming and heartbreaking moments in the comics and real-life parts. What works about the comic and real-life parts and when they mix together is how the children act like real honest-to-goodness children. They can be chaotic, loud, excitable, nervous, petty, energetic, selfish, obnoxious, unreliable, and happy. The way the creators talk to Nicholas is fascinating to see them open up about their own happiness, memories, and struggles, and see how Nicholas responds to them. It’s a film that not only respects the source material, but also respects the creators and shows how human everyone is. 

The animation is a delightful combination of joy and whimsy. It reminds me of the flashback sequences of Only Yesterday mixed with the visual flair of Ernest & Celestine. The soft watercolor tones and the line work feel like they were filled in after the colors were put in place. There is a faint fog of memory when it comes to the comic sequences and the memories from the two men. If you love the animation from Ernest & Celestine or Benjamin Renner’s The Big Bad Fox & Other Tales, then you will love what they did with this film. Even the two different designs of the humans and the comic characters never feel out of place. The fact you see Nicholas with the two men together and they don’t have contrasting designs really makes the world this film draws/paints feel alive and lived in. Sure, the comic world is more cartoonish, but it’s not like the “real” world doesn’t have its own cartoony moments. That’s the beauty of animation. You can do all of this without it being distracting. The music is gorgeous and is composed by Ludovic Bource who also did the music for films like The Artist. It brings an old-school Hollywood tone to the overarching composition and it helps that the main theme of the film is inspired by and uses a song from Ray Ventura and The Collegians called Qu’est-ce qu’on Attend. The voice cast also does a stellar job with the two men being voiced by Alain Chabat, Laurent Lafitte, and the iconic Nicholas being voiced by Simon Faliu. 

Little Nicholas: Happy as Can Be is, simply put, a wondrous ball of delight. It captures the feelings of childhood, memories, friendships, and kindness, and wraps it all up with a bow made of incredible 2D animation. This film set out to find its own way to obtain happiness and it did so with flying colors with it being a faithful adaptation of the comics, but also of the legacy of the two men who brought this iconic series to life. Unfortunately, there is no real way to watch this film unless you saw it during its big festival run, and without knowing when it will hit VOD or even get a physical release, it’s tough to know when and where to watch it, which sucks! This is one of the best films from 2022 that knew how to handle and approach nostalgia better than a few of the big award hopefuls that we will see duke it out at the Oscars. Well, either way, whoever gives it a proper physical release or a digital release should make sure everyone sees it because it’s just that darn good. Now then, next time, we will talk about yet another festival film that won me over last year, and I am hoping it gets a proper US release with Titina

Rating: Essential

The Other Side of Animation 293: Blue Thermal Review

(If you like what you see, you can go to 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 It would help support my work, and keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

There is something so universal about the thought of flight. Lots of animated films from the likes of DreamWorks, Disney, Pixar, and of course, Studio Ghibli have made use of flight, flying, and soaring through the air to immerse you into the world in which the story is set. Some make you feel like you are flying through the air, feeling the wind and air pressure against you, and having that feeling that you can’t have unless you are flying in a vehicle. There is a reason why a lot of people’s choice of superpower is flight. Who wouldn’t want to fly like Superman or Porco Rosso through the air? Animation is really good at capturing this feeling, which is why it’s such a cool way to tell a story and not have to worry about the live-action stuff unless you are going to pull a Tom Cruise with Top Gun: Maverick. Now it’s time for us to get into the pilot’s seat and check out an animated feature known as Blue Thermal.

This film is co-written and directed by Masaki Tachibana, co-written by Natsuko Takahashi, and produced by Telecom Animation Film. It follows the story of Tamaki Tsuru, voiced by Mayu Hotta. She leaves her hometown to go to college in Tokyo. One day, as she is trying out in the tennis courts to join a club and start a brand new romantic adventure in college, she hits a tennis ball that accidentally causes some shenanigans and ends up with the mascot of another club falling onto the wing of a large glider that was being hauled out of the school. Feeling guilty, she joins the club to try and repay the damage done and ends up being enthralled with the captain, the other members of the club, and of course, finds a love for flight while in a glider. 

As much as I enjoyed this film, there are a few issues that we should get out of the way first. The biggest hurdles this film doesn’t quite get around are how it handles its drama and the cast of side characters. While probably more interesting and or fleshed out in the manga, the overall cast is fairly forgettable. Many of them get one single trait to define themselves, and they only help to fill out the roster and make the school and the gliding activity feel more lived in. Some major secondary characters get some mythos and story build-up with personalities, but a majority of the cast won’t leave an impression on the viewer. This film needed a stronger cast of characters because some of them end up with nothing to work with, which is a shame due to how animated everyone is. As for the drama itself, the pacing is what killed it for me since the film does focus a lot on the interpersonal chemistry between our cast of characters, and then drops some fairly blunt hints about why they are as they are, and then either don’t finish the overarching storyline or miss the landing with some beats. This happens many times in the third act, where the twists and turns start to feel mishandled by the way they ramp up the stakes if our lead character doesn’t get first place in the championship. It hurts the emotional punchline of the overarching journey our lead takes, and that’s a shame, but it would have helped if they had more focus on building up her connections with everyone. The issue is overall hurt by how the film is paced. Even if it’s under two hours at about an hour and forty minutes, it takes certain spots in the film to slow the rhythm down a little too much at times. 

I know this review came out of the gate hitting on the subjective criticisms about the film, but that’s how honesty and saying what you truly feel about a movie works. You don’t want to lie to your audience or give a rating that contradicts the entire review. Because the opinions might seem critical here, they don’t detract from all of the positives that this film provides. First off, they deliver a creative hook to frame the story of our lead finding what drives her. 

You can tell she’s headstrong in wanting to go to Tokyo to start her life and wanting this trope-riddled college school life, but as the saying goes, sometimes what you want isn’t always what you need. She got a college school life, but one that felt more satisfying and fulfilling with friends and a relationship that matters more than just finding the cutest guy or the most artificial friend group to fulfill that fantasy. Being in the air in a glider and feeling the forces of nature around her opened her eyes to what she truly wanted in life. Like a lot of films with flight, Blue Thermal does capture that feeling of being in the air. Seeing the land and lake around you from hundreds of feet in the air is truly something we take for granted and the film captures those moments rather lovingly. The animation is also well done with expressive characters and is able to capture the weight of the gliders and the human movements all the while using more anime-style facial expressions. While the camera work could have given us more interesting shots, there are some moments that would look mighty fine as a poster or desktop wallpaper. It could have gone a little further with capturing the magic and wonder of flight, as in having more creative visuals or more dynamic angles, or more dream-like or magical touches to said flight sequences, but for what they do execute with its mix of cinematography, storyboarding, and high-quality animation, it does a good job. I only got to see the subtitled version, but the Japanese cast does a great job with the characters. The cast includes Mayu Hotta, Nobunaga Shimazaki, Junya Enoki, Mikako Komatsu, and Haruka Shiraishi, to name a few of the individuals in the cast that pull off some good performances. Shōgo Kaida is the composer for the film’s soundtrack and is mostly known for composing music for 91 Days, The Betrayal Knows My Name, and S.A. The film has a solid low-key atmosphere and fanciful tone when the flying sections happen, and while the soundtrack isn’t as memorable as others, it is rewarding enough.

While it suffers from some issues with how it executes its conflict in the third act, and the cast itself might not be all that memorable, Blue Thermal is still a good movie. It has its heart in the right place, and considering that this year has been light in terms of animated fare, and the previous few anime franchise films that have been reviewed were underwhelming, Blue Thermal flies with grace among the films released so far this year. It comes out on Blu-ray on March 14th via Shout! Factory and Elevenarts. If you are looking for a low-key slice-of-life drama this March, then definitely give this film a watch. Well, next up is one of the best films from 2022 with Little Nicholas: Happy as Can Be

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 292: The Magician’s Elephant Review

(If you like what you see, you can go to 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 It would help support my work, and keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Animal Logic has become a rather fascinating studio in the world of VFX and animation. Depending on how familiar you are with their work, their more recent efforts from the last decade will be recognizable to many an animation fan with the theatrical The LEGO Movies, Netflix’s The Sea Beast, and Warner Bros’ DC League of Super-Pets. They have one of the more interesting animation filmographies, and while there are some reasons to worry about why they were bought out by Netflix, if they are able to get the time and money needed to craft experiences like Chris Williams’ The Sea Beast, then I’ll always be rooting for them. Of course, a studio is just one part of the equation of filmmaking, and you need a good team of writers, editors, a director who knows what they are doing, and so on and so forth. So, what does that give us with Netflix and Animal Logic’s first major animated film of 2023? Today’s review will cover The Magician’s Elephant. 

The Magician’s Elephant is directed by Wendy Rogers, written by Martin Hynes, and based on the book by Kate DiCamillo. The story follows a young boy named Peter, voiced by Noah Jupe. He is an orphan who believes that he can’t find his missing sister since he lives within a kingdom that has lost metaphorical and literal magic among its people. One day, while in the market, Peter wanders into a tent that is being helmed by a mysterious woman voiced by Natasia Demetriou. She tells Peter that to find his sister, they must follow the elephant. Well, there’s a problem, there are no elephants in sight! In what is a coincidence to our lead, due to an accident caused by a magician voiced by Benedict Wong, an elephant is now within the kingdom walls. The countess of the kingdom would rather not let the elephant go or let it end up in the grasp of Peter, but due to the king, voiced by Aasif Mandvi, having a sense of humor, he offers Peter three challenges to conquer to try and get the elephant that could somehow help him find his sister. 

Here is what to expect from this film. If you are expecting a grand epic adventure like Animal Logic’s last film, The Sea Beast, then you will be disappointed. Do not go expecting another big film. It’s a smaller-scale story about a kid trying to overcome impossible odds in a world that has pretty much given up on living in a world that, while full of tough situations, still has magic that gives people hope. Some characters also encounter the commentary about how acts of kindness can do wonders for people who could use the help in finding happiness in a difficult world. It also tackles the theme of characters dealing with regrets from their actions, which pops up quite a lot during the film’s second act.  While it might be a smaller-scale story that takes place within one location, the story itself has layers to pull back and reveal the story beats connecting the overall experience together. It definitely feels formatted like a more fairy-tale-driven experience since this is based on the book by the same author that did Tales of Desperaux, so that makes a lot more sense. Like, there is a magician and an elephant that he magically poofs into being, but they play very little part in the story, and while they don’t get too much screen time, they play more metaphorical parts in the plot, while also having their own little histories and arcs that don’t feel out of place. It has some predictable story beats that you can see coming, and some of the characters are forgettable or don’t offer much to the overarching narrative, but the cast is likable enough to make the story compelling as we watch the unfolding of the mystery of the elephant, and the lead’s journey in finding his sister. It mixes its dream-like sequences and realism well, and when it goes full-on dream sequence, that’s when the film’s visuals and storytelling are at their best. The only real part of the narrative that is constantly distracting is the narrator. It feels distracting and doesn’t add much that the visuals couldn’t have told the audience. It feels more aimed at children than their last film’s audience of everyone, and that isn’t a bad thing, but it’s something worth knowing going into this film, depending on what kind of adventure you are wanting to partake in. 

The animation is one of the best and weakest parts of the overall package. The stylized human designs look great, and there are a ton of great stylistic touches, like the pillowy spherical clouds that cover the landscape. The human and animal animation also have proper weight and feel as though they aren’t too ‘floaty’. It even has elements that remind me of the more painted look of certain animated films like Puss in Boots: The Last Wish and The Painting. The visual presentation falls flat in some areas due to the smaller budget . The building and cityscape feel flat and rough looking, and not in a thematic way either. While the movements and overall animation look good, there is just something clunky about the overall vibe of the animation that feels like they weren’t able to polish the movements at times. If you have seen animated films that had slightly smaller budgets like The Amazing Maurice, then you will get where I’m coming from. There’s also a lack of lighting and shadow work with the film when it’s doing outside sequences, which may help expand upon why the buildings and the city itself look flat. When they do inside shots at night, they look fine. Though the big flashback sequence that shows the backstory of four of our characters is handled pretty well and obviously got the most focus, the best parts visually are the moments when it goes into the more magical and dream-like sequences, because the art gets to flex more and where you see the best moments on a presentation level. The voice cast is also pretty good. The overall cast includes Brian Tyree Henry, Noah Jupe, Benedict Wong, Pixies Davis, Aasif Mandvi, Cree Summers, Tom Kenny, Mandy Patinkin, Dawn French, Natasia Demetriou, Miranda Richardson, Sian Clifford, and Phil LaMarr to name a few. The musical score is composed by Mark Mothersbaugh, and while it is whimsical and fantastical, the tunes themselves weren’t as memorable as previous soundtracks Mark has worked on in animation. 

With it leaning more into its family-friendly audience, The Magician’s Elephant is a good movie in that genre. It isn’t my favorite animated film of the year so far, but of the films I have seen as of two months into 2023, it’s definitely the strongest one released. If you have liked Netflix’s output of feature animated films from the past few years, then there is no excuse for skipping out on this one. It will be hitting Netflix March 17th, and is a magical journey through the power of storytelling in animation. Next time, we shall be diving into some animated films playing at the New York Children International Film Festival. The first film taking flight will be Blue Thermal

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 291: DEEMO: Memorial keys Review

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Since 2019, there has been a small uptick in how video game adaptations have been handled. Instead of being the biggest burning money pits, the mostly positive reviews and receptions to projects like Detective Pikachu, the live-action Sonic films, Dragon Age: Absolution, DOTA: Dragon’s Blood, as well as the upcoming Mario movie cause me to think that maybe we are slowly and steadily heading into a realm where we don’t have to dread these productions anymore. Even the world of animation suffers from this situation, where the adaptations of famous and not-so-popular video games are inconsistent in quality. For every anime adaptation of a mobile game that succeeds like Princess Connect: Redive, we get 15 that fail and or miss the point. So, where does Deemo: Memorial Keys stand in terms of animation adaptations? 

This is based on the rhythm game by Rayark. It’s directed by Shuhei Matsushita, written by Junichi Fujisaku, and Bun’O Fijisawa, and produced by a collaboration between Production I.G. and Signal M.D. We focus on a young girl named Alice, dubbed by Anairis Quinones. She has lost her memory and is now stuck in an unknown world. That being said, she is not alone. Alongside her is a whimsical cast of characters that include the titular DEEMO, a mysterious entity that plays the piano every night.

Let’s talk about what may be the thing that will probably hold a lot of viewers back while watching this film, the animation. It’s pretty obvious that due to how rigid the movements are, a lot of the CGI is motion-captures, and the jittery look of the CGI models with smaller movements gives an uncanny valley feel to the characters in the film. It’s not Ex-Arm levels of bad motion capture since they did enough to smooth everything out to the best of their abilities, but it sure doesn’t look as good as something from Studio Orange or look as good as some of the recent CGI films from Japan like Lupin III The First or The First Slam Dunk. But with those two, they are franchises that were able to get the best CGI animation tools and teams around. It undercuts its visuals with this underwhelming CGI, due to how the film wants you to be enthralled in this mysterious place that our lead is in. It’s unfortunately drab looking. 

I hate talking about the visuals of this film, because they really do show how hollow the story comes off. It’s meant to be this fantastical take on finding connection and dealing with grief and loss. It’s trying to be this emotionally touching story about this girl’s journey of what I just listed in the previous sentence, but due to how floating and flat much of the world and the characters are, it only makes those issues stand out more. There also doesn’t seem to be a lot there in the overall execution of the plot. The characters are all uninteresting, and you can probably guess what will happen and what the twists will be. There are some decent moments where everything works, and when it’s letting the music and atmosphere do their trick, the film gives this ominous and otherworldly feel. Because DEEMO himself doesn’t talk gives you a feeling of what is behind the individuals’ intentions. The big problem is that there is very little going on in this film. It has story beats, but for a film that’s only 90 mins long, it drags the pacing out and then relies on you to be connected from beat to beat. It wants to run on emotional and fairy tale logic, but doesn’t go the distance to go all the way with said logic. It’s as if it has heard about films that do this, but didn’t go the distance. Who knows?. Maybe this film was meant to promote the game and be a tech demo for the music for the game. The 2D visual pieces during the ending credits are lush and beautiful. I just wish the CGI translated the designs well. There is a universe out there where DEEMO: Memorial Keys has a truly out there Fantasia-like experience, but we can only judge what we get here with the film’s visual and musical presentation. 

To be fair, the music is fantastic. The piano ballads are on point as they have these beautiful orchestrations that are the highlight of the movie. The composers for the film were Yoshichika Kuriyama, Shiho Terada, Kaho Suzuki, and Yu Sonoda, though the main theme was composed by Yuki Kaijura who worked on shows like Demon Slayer, Sword Art Online, Madoka Magika, and Noir. Without having played the game, these tunes were extremely catchy. Well, when you are based on a rhythm game that’s made to line up, or well, originally line up to release alongside the game, you should have killer music. The voice cast is small, but full of talented dub actors including Anairis Quinones, Bryce Pappenbrook, Mike Pollock, Stephanie Sheh, Luci Christian, and Michelle Marie. They do their best to work with the clunky dialogue. 

Some people assume that all animated features from Japan and other parts of the world are great, just because they are not made by Hollywood. It’s an extremely bad take that rings hollow, when no matter where you go, whether it’s budget is small or big, films of all levels of quality are going to be made everywhere. The film has a lot going for it, but it fumbles the execution by being a hollow experience based on a game that is made to sell the game. It’s a shame, because if it had a bit more polish and focus on its story, or went “all in’ on a symphonic experience, it could be something special. Sadly, that isn’t the case, so what we got is a film that falls flat in the story department. Still, it’s nice to see the film gain a bigger audience by getting a US release. if you are curious about this film, it will be coming to blu-ray and digital soon. For now, we will be diving into a multitude of different animated films from around the world and on streaming services. You will just have to wait and see what unfolds. 

Rating: Lackluster