The Other Side of Animation 163: Ne Zha Review

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

It’s been wild to see what the rest of the world has been doing in animation. There is always something happening, some kind of film that’s going to push the boundaries for that country’s animation status quota, and that’s no different from China. This year alone, the US is getting two Chinese CGI features with GKids bringing over White Snake, and Well Go USA Entertainment bringing over the biggest Chinese animated feature right now, Ne Zha. Directed by Jiaozi, as of writing this review, Ne Zha is currently the highest-grossing Chinese-animated feature in the world, and the highest-grossing animated feature in China that isn’t made by the likes of Disney, Pixar and you get the idea. Calling this a hit is an understatement. It’s a monster, but, what did I think about it? Well, let’s find out!

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The story revolves around a young boy named Nezha, voiced by Lu Yanting. He is a young boy who was born with the power of a Demon Pill, the one half of a Chaos Pearl that threatened to destroy the world but was split into two different pieces long ago. For now, though, Nezha lives a complicated life of being feared by the townsfolk for being a supposed demon, his family won’t tell him what’s going on, he encounters a new mysterious friend, and now has to deal with a potential new threat, and his ultimate fate in life. Can Nezha overcome adversity to avoid his fate?

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 Ne Zha is a lot more mature in how it tells its story than most animated films. It’s not that it has no humor or comedic characters/moments, but for the most part, it does focus on the drama and the chemistry between Nezha and the different people he encounters. It has its moments where you, as an audience member can sit back and take in the volatile state of mind Nezha is in. He feels unloved despite both parents loving him. He is told he should become a slayer of monsters and demons, but would that change how people see him? The film is filled with themes of discrimination and most importantly, the idea of fate. It’s another film that tackles how, while you think you already have a predetermined fate, you are the only one that can take charge of your fate.

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It also has a bit of The Boy and the Beast that is thrown into the mix with how Nezha and this mysterious friend of his have different living situations, and how they were treated while growing up. It’s nice to see an animated feature from China feel more focused, and know where the story’s strengths need to be. It doesn’t have an overload of side characters, and the story isn’t thrown into the background for the antics of all of the characters, it’s a coming-of-age drama first and foremost. Well, a drama with some great action sequences.

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Animation-wise, the CGI animation on display is probably the most impressive computer animation from China yet. The designs translate well into CGI, the movements are smooth, and there are no herky-jerky movement issues you see in cheaper CGI films from China. The textures look wonderful, and the film has a better understanding of character movement than previous CGI endeavors that I have seen from the country. It looks like an animated film you would expect to see in theaters.

It’s not Pixar or Disney incredible, but this film shows that China is getting their serious business faces on to show that they can make it look good. Of course, being a film from China, the action sequences are well done. The camera isn’t too close, it’s not too dark to see anything, the camera isn’t moving around like a kid with a heavy dose of sugar injected into his veins, and it feels epic. The action sequences remind me of how Dragon Ball Super: Broly choreographed their fights, as you follow closely to the characters as they trade blows. The visual spectacle alone in this movie will delight people looking forward to some action set pieces in their animation.

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Ne Zha has so many admirable elements, that it’s all the more frustrating, that it has a lot of the same flaws as most Chinese-animated features! The biggest problem with the film is the tone. It’s not uncommon for animated films to sprinkle in humorous bits into more dramatic moments, but the film can’t hold back on having jokes every few minutes during the more intense scenes. It feels like they don’t ask themselves if the jokes they include add or subtract from the scene, and keep them in there anyway.

A couple of the jokes are fart and piss jokes, and, once again, are the worst jokes in the movie. It’s agonizing because there are some great physical gags and funny dialogue bits. The humor detracts more than it adds, and I’m so annoyed by that. They are so close at getting a consistent vibe, and they fumble it. I think the problem might be, that a lot of the tone and jokes are what Chinese audiences love to see in films, and that’s perfectly fine if they do, but if the filmmakers want to have more widespread love and support, then they need to know that no one likes kiddy gross-out humor.

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Out of all of the Chinese features I have seen so far, which is very minor compared to the overall catalog, this is easily their best effort yet. It’s more cohesive, more polished, and more enjoyable to watch than most of the animated films from that country. It might be going to physical and digital soon after its limited release, so if you can find a theater that is playing it, please go out and support it! (I saw it on an IMAX screen and in 3D!) If you want to support more original features, and want other companies to know that you want more variety in your animation, then please go see Ne Zha. For now, let’s travel back to Japan, and, next time, review one of 2019’s hidden gems with Okko’s Inn.

Thanks for reading my review! I hope you enjoyed it, be sure to share the review with friends and family, and if you would like to help support my work, you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I hope you all have a good day, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

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The Other Side of Animation 162: The Angry Birds Movie 2 Review

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

While I do stand by the fact that animation in the states should try to be more versatile and needs to start mixing it up on the theatrical side of things, it doesn’t mean I’m against animated features being cartoony. There has been a fairly toxic backlash towards animated films for being cartoony. I never got that, because if you hate a cartoon for being cartoony, then you must hate and despise almost a century of animation and hundreds of films and shorts because they are cartoony. Sure, I’m simplifying the argument, but to me, not every animated film needs to like Funan or Coco.

Sometimes, people want an animated film to be, well, cartoony, like today’s review, The Angry Birds Movie 2. Directed by Thurop Van Orman, this sequel was a curious case of how they were going to expand on the original film. While not a great film, the first Angry Birds film had its charm. However, the sequel is getting rave reviews not only from critics, but audiences as well, which I don’t think anyone saw coming. While it might not be raking in the cash the first film did, a sequel to a video game movie doing this well critically is surprising. Why is it doing well with audiences and critics alike? What is it about this film that has everyone really enjoying it? Let’s dive in, shall we?

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It’s been a year or so since Red, voiced by Jason Sudekis, Chuck, voiced by Josh Gad, and Bomb, voiced by Danny McBride helped save their island’s eggs from the evil pigs led by Leonard, voiced by Bill Hader. Every now and again, they launch stuff at each other from their respective islands. That is until Leonard and his crew finds out that there is a third island called Eagle Island that is run by a bird named Zeta, voiced by Leslie Jones. She plans on wrecking everyone else’s islands to get them to go away, take them over, and turn the islands into a water park. It is now up to Red and Leonard to team up to take down the threat, but they can’t go at it alone. Along with Chuck and Bomb, they also get the help of Mighty Eagle, voiced by Peter Dinklage, Silver, Chuck’s sister voiced by Rachel Bloom, Courtney, voiced by Awkwafina, and Garry, voiced by Sterling K. Brown. Can they reach Eagle Island and save the day?

So, how do you go about making a sequel to something like The Angry Birds Movie? Well, by getting the creator of The Misadventures of Flapjack, and go bonkers with the humor. Seriously, 2019 hasn’t really been the best year for comedic movies, and yet, here is The Angry Birds Movie 2 going the Mel Brooks route of comedy, and throwing different kinds of jokes at the audience, and they work! You’ve got physical gags, background gags, dialogue-driven gags, situational gags, meta gags, and you get the idea. It’s a theatrical cartoon that knows it’s a cartoon, and it will not apologize for it. I think that’s quite admirable.

So many cartoon fans want every theatrical release to be dramas, and yeah, it would be nice for some family films to take their stories more seriously, but at the same time, again, not every film needs to be like a Pixar drama. I found myself laughing multiple times during this film, and I wasn’t the only one. The entire theater I was sitting in was roaring with laughter, and while some jokes didn’t work, you would forget about them, because a good joke would then make you forget the bad joke. Of course, comedy is subjective, but the fact that the humor is hitting a home run consistently was a nice surprise.

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 Animation-wise, it’s Sony Pictures Animation, it’s pretty good for what the budget has, the colors are vibrant, and the movements are snappy and quick, but not overly quick. The designs are fun to look at, and everyone is fairly expressive. It helps that the characters have a lot of good chemistry with dialogue that bounces off one another. While there are plenty of great voices and performances, Leslie Jones’ Zeta steals the entire film. She had the best lines and the best jokes. For a comedy villain, she really works. Sure, they give her a little more pathos with who she is, but you can tell they focused more on the comedy angle, and combined with some witty writing, she turns in one of the funniest performances of the film. While you can guess from the trailers that they do a “they hate each other but end up together by the end” plot with Red and Silver, they definitely do, and while I’m not a fan of the trope, Jason and Rachel do have good timing. I also like how the film does add in themes of overcoming your fears, dealing with insecurities, and becoming a better person for the sake of your own health and the people around you. It might not be as fleshed out as it would be with a team from Disney or Pixar, but the film does handle those themes well.

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Now, it’s time to talk about the flaws of the film. While the comedy in this film is filled to the brim and bursting with different kinds of humor, I wish they would have taken out the jokes that were the worst part of the original film, the gross-out humor. Granted, the film does a great piss joke, but it’s the only one that works. It’s the same issue with Teen Titans Go! to the Movies, where the really good jokes are really good, but the immature jokes fall flat. The film also feels disjointed, as it has a subplot going along in the background that could have been its own animated short on the Blu-ray of this film. It also has some great laughs, but it’s always distracting when it’s cutting to and from the main story.

I also wish Gary was funnier. He has some good lines, and Sterling K. Brown is having a lot of fun with his character, but I wish he had some better lines. Josh Gad’s Chuck’s relationship with Silver is also the weakest and the creepiest part of the film. He’s the overly protective brother who comes off like he’s a bit, well, too close to his own sister, and I’m not sure if that’s intended to play off some offbeat humor to the film, but it’s awkward. While the film’s focus was on a more comedic experience, I wish the romance subplots were handled better.

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Still, even with the complaints, I was looking for a fun time, and I got a fun time. I wanted to see some good jokes, and I got some good jokes. It’s a film that sets out to be this quirky offbeat sequel to a film not many cared about but ended up being one of the big critic and audience hits of the year. Am I shocked to see a few people be in the minority by not liking it? No. Comedy is subjective, and while I really enjoyed the film, I can perfectly get why others don’t. It’s a bummer that this film is not performing as well as I think it should, but I’m also not surprised. I highly recommend people go see The Angry Birds Movie 2. Oh, and you should all go see this film to support the wonderful short that plays in front of the movie, Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry. That short alone deserves its own review. So, now that we will have to wait for the next major feature, let’s travel to China as I review what is considered the biggest-animated film in China right now with Ne Zha. Thanks for reading my review! I hope you all enjoyed it, feel free to share my work, and if you want, you can show some support by donating to my Patreon at Patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 161: Funan Review

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

Warning/Parental Heads up!: This film is absolutely not aimed at a children’s audience. This is an extremely adult film that focuses on a true historical genocide that happened in Cambodia. Younger viewers should avoid this flick, and go see The Angry Birds Movie 2. Viewer’s discretion is advised.

Animation unfortunately gets pigeonholed into being aimed at a children and family audience. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing, because sometimes, a film or show aimed at a family audience, given the right writers and the right execution, can tackle tough subject matter.  Sadly, something that the entertainment industry sadly seems to limit is animation for more teen and older adult audiences. Just because it’s animated, it doesn’t mean you can’t tackle something aimed at an older audience. We get plenty of adult animated shows like Bojack Horseman and Big Mouth, but feature films are, for some reason, kept off the production line. Yeah, we got 2016’s Sausage Party, but that film’s controversy of how the animators were treated unfortunately killed the theatrical chance of seeing more on the big screen. This is why the foreign animation scene is so incredible, because it knows that you can tackle different genres, themes, and have all kinds of audiences. Plus, when will the live-action Hollywood scene tackle something like Dennis Do’s Funan? Directed by, well, Dennis Do, and distributed in the states by GKIDS, this French-animated feature ruled the film festival scene in 2018 by taking home major accolades from Annecy, second place-Jury Prize from the 20th Bucheon International Animation Festival, and the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at the 2nd Animation is Film Festival. As far as I can tell, this is 2019’s best animated feature. Why? Well, let’s dive in, shall we?

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The story follows a Cambodian woman named Chou, her husband Khuon, Sovanh, their son, Khuon’s brother Meng, Chou’s mother, grandmother, and their other children Hout, Tuch, and Lili. They are living peacefully in Cambodia, but are unfortunately caught up in the notoriously destructive Khmer Rouge, as they are separated from each other and try to survive and reunite. Can they try to avoid being killed, and become stronger by making it through this violent time?

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So, you think with this film being animated and such, they would pull back on the punches and darkness of the events shown. I mean, that’s what Sgt. Stubby did. Well, Dennis Do did not pull back on any punches. The film is unapologetic about showing the darker moments of this incident, and that includes scenes of murder, innocents stepping on hidden landmines, suicide, and so on. It’s definitely a film that is, to no surprise, aimed at a much older audience. However, it’s not really all about the terror of this incident. It really does focus on the family, and how they try to make sense out of what is going on, as they try to survive and not end up in front of an extremist’s rifle. You get the closeness of the family as they attempt to play along until they are able to reconnect or find a way to escape the hell in which they are put. You get a sense of everyone in the family, although the real main characters are the father, mother, and son. It’s a fairly quiet film as the emotions are told through the visuals. You feel for the family, and you want them to survive. Dennis Do knew how to balance it all out as every intense moment constantly hits hard. It’s a powerful emotional experience.

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The animation is incredible. It has a beautiful lush watercolor art direction that has smooth animation and great character designs. You can feel the emotion coming off of the characters’ faces. Gorgeous backgrounds and scenery is found among the regime-riddled camps that the film is usually set in for a chunk of the story. What also helps bring the emotions to a perfect level is the music by composer Thibault Kientz Agyenman. A lot of the soundtrack is full of tunes that set a somber, but optimistic tone that really envelopes you into the situation. This also includes powerful performances from Berenice Nejo and Louis Garrel.

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I knew I was in for something special when I saw the trailer, the news that it was doing well on the festival circuit, and how it was one of the first films selected for the Animation is Film Festival, and I was happy to be one of the first US film fans to see this breathtaking experience. Sure, some critics, for one reason or another, think it should have been about the genocide, but that wasn’t the point of the film. Just because it’s set during an intense period of time, doesn’t mean that has to be the entire focus. The entire film was inspired by the stories that Do would ask his mother about that time period, and it was crafted into this beautiful story. To me, that comment comes off like they wanted the film to be something different than what they got. Funan is a powerful film, and when it comes out on Blu-ray, or if you are lucky to find a theater playing it, buy the Blu-ray or see the film! Seriously, if you want more original films that help animation’s image in the US, please see this film. Unfortunately, since these types of films don’t get much screentime, how about we move on to a delightful surprise with The Angry Birds Movie 2? I think that would be pretty nice! Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

The Other Side of Animation 160: Fantastica: A Boonie Bears Adventure Review

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

As I come close to reaching 200 reviews, something that I have wanted to avoid is now becoming more and more unavoidable, direct-to-video features. I have nothing against filmmakers or animated features from overseas that can only find some ray of light under the sun with being sent directly to video, but unfortunately, that phrase “Direct-to-Video” comes with some big and not very helpful signs of quality. When you hear those three words, it usually means films that were made for cheap, they scrounged up enough for at least one C-list actor, cast the rest with YouTubers looking for a big break, fill out the rest with voice actors, and animation that would be good enough for a TV release back in the late 90s early 2000s. Sure, sometimes you get the films like GKids put out direct-to-video that are way better than the stuff you find on random shelves in grocery stores or bargain bins, but Direct-to-Video doesn’t carry a positive distinction. So, if I was going to tackle something that went directly to store shelves, I might as well pick something that had some cultural weight and has made an impression on the animation culture. This led me to China’s The Boonie Bears. This is a Chinese CGI-animated series starring two bears, Bramble and Briar, who constantly try to stop Logger Vick’s plans to chop down the trees. To say this is a massive show would be an understatement, as it has over 600 episodes, is translated into multiple languages including Mandarin, English, Russian, Spanish, French, and Hindi,  and it has been distributed in over 82 countries. Since this was a popular series by Fantawild Animation, you knew spin-offs and films were going to be a thing. We will be looking at one of the films today. Currently, the franchise has six films released, but today, we will be covering the fourth film, Fantastica: A Boonie Bears Adventure. Directed by Ding Liang, Fantastica, or as the original title is listed, Boonie Bears: Entangled Worlds, was released in China back in 2017, but got a recent US release by Viva Pictures, a distributor that I wish I had more positive things to say about. Anyway, how does this film actually hold up for a US release, and for people who may not know anything about this brand or the distributor? Let’s see what happens!

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The story starts off pretty typically. Logger Vick, dubbed by Paul Rinehart is up to his devilish deeds of trying to chop down the trees. Luckily, Briar and Bramble Bear, dubbed by Mario Lopez and Josh Peck, chase after him. However, Vick ends up running into a robot, dubbed by Siobhan Lumsden, who was part of an archeological team that was ambushed by a group of thieves. The robot ends up being named Coco, and tells Vick and the two bears about an ancient artifact called the Golden Antlers that are in a land called Fantastica. The four end up going on an adventure to find Fantastica and the Antlers while avoiding the group of thieves that works for a tech expert that is also looking for the Antlers. Can they find the Antlers before the baddies do?

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So, let’s mix things up a bit, and talk about the elephant in the room. There are two different dubs for this film. One has the cast from the English dub of the show, and the one we have from Viva Pictures is the one that just adds two celebrities to the title with Mario Lopez and Josh Peck. I watched both side to side, and while the Viva Pictures version might not be a Weinstein-level hatchet job to the film, there’s not a lot that changes, outside of Josh Peck trying to throw out some on-the-spot pop culture references or joke lines when his character’s mouth is not on screen. While I do not approve of just redubbing with two celebrities to have two names on the digital storefront or DVD, I’m at the very least glad they didn’t try to edit the film in any major ways. That’s already making this film way better than 99% of The Weinstein Company’s animation library. Besides, even if this film didn’t get a Weinstein-level hatchet job, you wouldn’t believe me by how the story is told.

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Yeah, while it isn’t butchered to the point of being confusing, a lot of story elements are confusing or not fleshed out enough to make sense. For one, let’s talk about the villains. Apparently, the villains are from a different universe and place in time. I say this, because they look more live-action, but when they enter the Boonie Bears’ universe, they look more cartoonish. Okay, I don’t think they needed this to happen. It’s not like there aren’t human characters. Why did they need to over-complicate their origins? They also don’t flesh out the villains enough, in terms of why they want the Golden Antlers. They try to throw in some kind of backstory for the main bad guy, but then it’s resolved by the end of the movie. Yeah, none of it is satisfying, nor do they make the villains entertaining. They are pretty dime-a-dozen with little to no personality. No matter whom you focus on in this film, and that includes the main characters, it feels undercooked. Vick ends up being this secondary neutral character, but then has an abrupt villain turn, but then becomes the good guy again in the end. Even the two Boonie Bears don’t do much, but react to the situation. They interact and do help out a little, but not enough to matter. They felt like side characters within their own movie, which is always obnoxious. It’s meant to be this big fantastical fantasy adventure, and yet, once we finally get to Fantastica, they rush through it. Even the highly marketed female archer person you see both leads talk about in their videos is bland. Sure, she is a good shot, but that’s about it. It’s a film that, while China is having a serious resurgence in animation, they still have a lot to learn with storytelling. Oh, and the ending is all kinds of abrupt and disappointing.

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So, the story and overall experience is a slightly negative disappointment. Is there anything I do like about the film? Well, while the comedy in the film doesn’t really work and they try too many kinds of jokes, there were a few laughs to be had. The voice cast is mostly annoying, but even if there was no real reason to hire Josh Peck, I think he does the best out of the two celebrities they hired. Seriously though, a few of the actors they obtained for certain characters have some of the most obnoxious voices I have ever heard from fictional characters. I will also give them credit that a part of the fantastical world of, well, Fantastica does look creative. A lot of what you see in this magical land can be rather typical for fantasy land elements, but I was digging the creatures that inhabit the land of Fantastica. It at the very least, leads to some pretty visuals. Animation-wise, it was okay. It’s still not up there with some of China’s recent efforts, and some of the animation is janky, but its way better than something like The Adventures of Panda Warrior.

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Sadly, Fantastica: A Boonie Bears Adventure is another disappointment from China’s animation offerings. I found it odd that Viva Pictures, the notorious distributors of films like Foodfight, Son of Bigfoot, Monster Family, Monkey King: Hero is Back, Gaturro, and Ozzy, decided to pick just one of the films. Though I’m sure it’s not going to do well for them, because it’s not the first film, and barely anyone that I have talked to has ever heard of this franchise. Viva Pictures probably picked it up, because it was cheap, and they don’t have a quality control person to tell them to stop picking up the bargain bin titles. Oh well, maybe one day Viva Pictures will have a film that’s both worth talking about and worth seeing. Now then, let’s get back to the positive vibes and look at what might be 2019’s best animated feature with Dennis Do’s Funan. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Lackluster!

The Other Side of Animation 159: Pachamama Review

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

In October 2018, I was with my father in Hollywood to go to the Animation is Film Festival. I was a fan when I sat down and watched the first film in the lineup that was Mamoru Hosoda’s Mirai. It was a fantastic experience, and I can’t wait to go back this year for the next festival. On the second day, my dad and I were going to go do different things that day. I decided to go see a film that wasn’t on my list of films to see at the festival, but I decided to check it out, Pachamama! Directed by Juan Antin, Pachamama was the first film shown off on the second day of the festival, and while the crowd for it wasn’t huge, it was still another feather in the cap of the overall event. Recently, Netflix decided to bring it onto their service as one of their exclusives, but outside of one trailer and a snippet of the film being shown off in the promotional video for July 2019, no one knows about this movie.

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The story revolves around a young boy named Tepulpai, voiced by Andrea Santamaria. He lives in a small village where he dreams to become the village Shaman, but is too selfish and inconsiderate to be one yet. In his village, they worship the mighty earth goddess Pachamama and have a festival in her honor. Unfortunately, a follower of the Golden City, where the lord of the land lives, arrived during their festivities and decides to take the village’s most prized possession. It is up to Tepulpai and his friend Naira, voiced by India Coenen, to get the village’s possession back, and also avoid the grasps of an evil outside force.

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So, this is going to sound harsh, but Pachamama is a very simple film. It’s obvious that it’s aimed at a younger audience, and there is nothing super deep about it like in a Pixar, or the rare DreamWorks film. And you know what? That’s perfectly okay! Not every film needs to be seen or approached to as wide of an audience as possible. Sometimes, it’s good to find an audience you want to focus on, and make the best product as possible for that group. Pachamama is an easy-going low-key adventure that relies on charm and its unique visual look to get you through the story. Sure, it does get a touch dark in tone and is not apologize about who the villains are in the film, but you can still watch it, and kids can understand and get an early preview about some rather terrible points in history. Its themes focus on not being selfish, becoming brave, and is very anti-greed. It’s a deep enough film that doesn’t dissolve into mindless colors and noise. It has a story, it’s for a young audience, it has likable characters, and it’s executed pretty well. I would rather a film be executed in this fashion, than what we got with that HELLS film from last year.

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Now, where Pachamama really shines are in its visuals. While it was originally going to be a stop-motion film, I think the overall visual style works better in CGI. It has beautiful and vibrant colors, the character designs work in CGI, and every background shot reminds me of paintings and posters of Argentinian and South American culture. It can truly stand out among the animated films made with CGI, with its children’s book/fairy tale look and unique human designs. While you can tell that this was a film with a limited budget, you can also tell that they took full advantage of what they could do, and the end product is still a visually splendid affair that makes it stand out among not only the foreign animated features, but also the Netflix-exclusive animated features.

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If I had to pick a few things to criticize, one of them would be about some of the English voice work. It’s not terrible, but at certain points in the film, the two actors playing the leads sound flat. The script is also fairly basic. You won’t see much deeper themes or concepts within the script, because of how this was mainly made for a younger audience. It’s very straight forward, and while I personally don’t mind that, I can see it being a bit too safe for other people. The main villains are also not that interesting. They are meant to be this faceless group of Spanish explorers, but that’s about it. They fit the theme of these new “gods” arriving on their land, but don’t expect a complex villain from the head of the explorers.

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While this was not my favorite film from the festival, I did find myself enjoying the charm, the animation, the gorgeous artwork, and my experience with Pachamama. You really have no excuse to not see this film, because it’s on Netflix. I know some people might want something more artistic, complex, and challenging in their animation, but sometimes, you want a film that knows what it is, and knows how to do it well. Like I said, it’s on Netflix right now, and I would highly recommend checking it out! Now then, I don’t really know what we are going to do for the 160th review. Maybe it’s time to go into some uncharted territory! Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 158: The Secret Life of Lets 2 Review

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

As a reviewer, I have seen so many arguments and comments thrown at films, studios, brands, and what have you, that are clichéd and boring. One of the most boring and trite comments and arguments I keep seeing are about Illumination Entertainment. Listen, I’m not saying their films are secretly good, or you have to stop hating on them. I will say though that they aren’t lazy. They have talented animators and people there making these films that rake in millions. However, I would argue a more proper criticism would be that they lack ambition, and are too nervous to step out of their safety bubble to expand their horizons of writing and storytelling. There is nothing wrong with not wanting to be a Disney or a Pixar-caliber film, but that doesn’t mean you slack off on the writing, animation, and story. Sooner or later, you will find yourself being forgotten for the next flashy animated experience. It’s actually kind of happening to Illumination’s newest film, The Secret Life of Pets 2. Directed by Illumination Entertainment mainstay Chris Renaud, Pets 2 is the sequel to the smash hit original film from 2016. It came out on June 7th of 2019, and while it was getting the usual mixed-to-mostly-negative reviews, it wasn’t the instant smash hit most of their films tend to be, financially. While it has made $203 mil on its $80 mil budget as of writing this review, it’s not the runaway hit as their other films were. Sure, it’s probably going to make more money as time goes on and after leaving theaters, but it is interesting to see this happen. Are people finally getting tired of Illumination’s style of filmmaking, or was a possibly good film caught victim in 2019’s summer film drought? Well, let’s dive into this world of fluffy animal shenanigans.

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The story once again follows our hero Max, a small dog now voiced by Patton Oswalt. Along with his buddy Duke, voiced by Eric Stonestreet, they are happy with their current life with their owner Katie, voiced by Ellie Kemper. That is, until Katie falls in love with a man she meets named Chuck, voiced by Pete Holmes. After the two get married, they have a kid, and while at first Max and the new kid don’t get along, Max soon begins to love him, and then becomes overly protective and afraid of the world around him. To solve this issue, he and Duke go on a trip to the countryside to a farm, and end up meeting an old sheep dog named Rooster, voiced by Harrison Ford. While this is going on, two other stories are happening. The second story revolves around Gidget, a pomeranian voiced by Jenny Slate, who ends up losing Max’s favorite toy inside the crazy cat lady’s home, and must get the help of Chloe, voiced by Lake Bell, to learn the ways of the cat to get it back. The third story revolves around Snowball, voiced by Kevin Hart, who is contacted by a shih tzu named Daisy, voiced by Tiffany Haddish to help save a tiger that is being held hostage by a cruel circus owner that is voiced by Nick Kroll.

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Yeah, if that sounds like a lot, then it is. Once again, we find Illumination having trouble trying to stretch out plots that could fill the 80+ minute runtime, and it’s not like they couldn’t have. Some of these plots might be generic with typical animated tropes that you have seen before, but at least it would have been focused. They could have easily made this film entirely around Max and Rooster’s dynamic, because the theme of overcoming your fears is not a bad one. I actually enjoyed bits and pieces of Max and Rooster’s relationship with one another, and in a better movie, they probably would have explored the idea of how to overcome your fears. It’s not executed in the best way possible, but I give them credit for at least trying a little. That theme does connect the three stories, but the pacing and flow of the three stories in the film is so awkward, that it keeps abruptly pushing you into each story as it unfolds. It comes off like they weren’t fully sure on how to keep you interested with the multitude of characters that are in the previous film that are now in this film. Most of them don’t really do much, or do anything to help the story. It’s a case of too many characters, huge expensive names attached to them, and they are given little to do. I remember a friend of mine suggesting that this franchise should turn to making a series of shorts or a TV series, and that would make sense. That way, you can flesh everyone out more, and not have to worry about using them, because you forgot to do something with them. The final act has decent action, but due to how low the stakes are, it’s hard to feel invested. Like, it’s so hard to care about half of the storylines because they either end abruptly, or the characters vanish for a mass majority of the film, like the kid and the owner’s new husband. There was seriously no reason to hire Pete Holmes for the role of the husband. He has, like, four lines in the film, and they could have been done by Jeff Bennett or Steve Blum.

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Now, it’s time for some positives. I found the animation to be quite good. It’s another sign that Illumination is still getting better at their animation skills. Character movements and facial expressions are vibrant, and once again, they get little animal characteristics down for the different pets that you see. I also enjoyed the voice cast. Patton Oswalt takes over for Louis C.K. as Max, and to be frank, Patton Oswalt is a way better Max. He knows how to capture that casual innocence of a dog. Harrison Ford is also a pleasant surprise as this was his first voice-over role. Isn’t that surprising? His first voice-over role in his entire career. Anyway, he captures Rooster’s stoic nature, but he also shows he isn’t just a hard-edged individual. Of course, Lake Bell steals any scene that she is in as this pedantic sarcastic cat. The others do a good job, and it was fun to see Dana Carvey as his old dog character from the first film, have a few good laughs in this film with his character interacting with a bunch of puppies.

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There isn’t a whole lot to say about The Secret Life of Pets 2. It’s a dull experience. It might be the most forgettable film Illumination Entertainment has made yet. It might be making a bit of money, but with Toy Story 4 out right now, it’s probably going to dry up. Maybe this is a sign that people are getting tired of Illumination Entertainment, or maybe it’s just a realization that this was never meant to be a big theatrical franchise. Maybe it’s time for them to start making this into a series of shorts, or a TV series for Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime. Maybe with a TV design philosophy, they can flex their creative muscles. All I know is that there is no reason to see this in theaters. I would have been much happier that, since this was animated by a French studio, if it was a smaller character-focused story that has a more laid-back vibe to it. People tend to not know that many French/European/Foreign animated features have very laid-back paces and stories, and that is something American studios can learn from overseas studios. Anyway, it’s time to move onto something that’s more interesting to talk about. Next time, we will talk about one of three Netflix-exclusive animated features out this year with Pachamama. Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Lackluster!

The Other Side of Animation 157: Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles Review

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

I haven’t made it subtle that I have found a real lack of enjoyment with talking about bad movies. I don’t know what has gotten me into this funk, but it then made me think about why I love talking about films I want to love and talk about. It’s because it takes no effort to talk about them. Words flow easily. I don’t have to think about how to structure them, and who doesn’t want to talk about stuff they love? The problem with talking about movies that you don’t like ends up with you having to structure everything, because every bad film usually has their own unique problems. It’s why I don’t really pick a bad movie just for the sake of it. If I choose a movie I love or do not like, it’s because I want to talk about it. For right now, I want to talk about a movie that I could go on about for a few good hours, Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles. Directed by Salvador Simo, this was a film from Spain, and made the festival circuits last year with an official wide/limited release this year. It was a critical darling in the festival circuit, and was one of the winners of the three major awards at 2018’s Animation is Film Festival. I was lucky enough to see the film last year, and was not surprised at all that GKids wanted to distribute this film in the west. It was easily one of my favorite films at a festival that had nothing, but strong films to show. Now then, let’s get started!

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We follow the life of Luis Bunuel, voiced by Jorge Uson, a surrealist filmmaker that has made films in the same style and spirit of Salvador Dali. Unfortunately for him, people want to compare his work to Dali, when he wants to be seen as his own genius. Even worse for him, is that the country where he lives, has decided to blacklist him, which results in him not being able to get money to make movies. One night, he is drinking with his friend Ramon Acin, voiced by Fernando Ramos. Ramon decides to enter the local lottery and promises to Luis that if he wins, he will fund his next venture, which is a documentary that Luis was looking at doing. Months pass, and out of the blue, Ramon calls Bunuel to tell him that he won the money! They then get Bunuel’s two cohorts Pierre Unik, voiced by Luis Enrique de Tomas, and Eli Lotar, voiced by Cyril Corral, and head down through different villages in Spain to base the documentary around Las Hurdes and in the poorest area known as Las Hurdes Atlas. Can Bunuel regain his filmmaking credentials, and maybe absolve him of some of his issues from his past?

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I have to admit, ever since I saw this film back in October last year, I have had an unhealthy obsession with it. I have been patiently waiting to see it again. Normally, I would have waited to see it again in theaters, but I can’t wait any longer to review it. This film’s story of Bunuel redeeming himself as a human being and a filmmaker kept me constantly invested with what was going on. You can see the struggle every time Bunuel wants to do something drastic and shocking to the world about Las Hurdes Atlas, when really, that isn’t the way it should be shot. You see how he struggles to make this documentary work as he conflicts with the real life struggles and lives of the people that live in this village and wanting to show his vision, which is more harmful to him, the crew, and the people there. All of the struggle of making this documentary comes crashing around him and his friends as memories of his relationship with his father start popping up, and you see how Bunuel acts like he does. I just love seeing all of the small scenes of the leads interacting off of one another, and with the townsfolk they encounter on this journey. However, while a lot of this film is mature and serious, I was laughing probably the loudest I have ever laughed in a movie theater at this screening. This was some of the wittiest writing and the most well-timed jokes that I have seen in an animated film from overseas. It was able to balance out both the laughs when needed, and focus on the dire situation in which the people in the village live, and the importance for this documentary to succeed for Bunuel.

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In terms of the animation, I know some will talk about how limited it is, and maybe call it a bit stiff, but I think it’s great considering this film cost about $2 million to make. Characters move well, the designs are very appealing in a more serious Disney way, and they are still very emotive. They knew they didn’t have the biggest budget, but they made some breathtaking visuals and sequences with that budget. Since it’s about a surrealist filmmaker, they do take advantage of crafting some delightfully dream-like sequences. Another smart move is that since this was based on a real life documentary, they took footage from said documentary, and added it into the movie. It’s not all that distracting either, because the writing is so good, and it helps that this was based on a real life person and a real life documentary. The music by composer Arturo Cardelus, who also did the music for the acclaimed animated short, In a Heartbeat, is outstanding in this film. I find myself humming the tunes a couple of times. It reminds me of the music from Loving Vincent, which is elegant and dramatic.

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Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles is a film I would call a unique experience. So many elements of this film clicked for me like not many have, and I hugely adore it. It’s one of my favorites, and I really hope people can find a way to watch this in a theater or, at the very least, catch it when it gets on Blu-ray and DVD. Could I complain about some nitpicky elements about the script? Sure, but in the end, my love for this film, and how incredible the experience of watching it drowns out any minor issue I have with this movie. Again, if you can, please do watch this movie. Sadly, we must take a break from the positivity to talk about Illumination Entertainment’s next….I don’t think I would consider it a hit, but we will see. Next time, we will talk about The Secret Life of Pets 2. Thanks for checking out my review, I hope you all enjoyed it, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials