The Other Side of Animation 190: Animal Crackers 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!)

For the 190th review, I had a multitude of directions to go, in terms of what I wanted to review. I want to talk about a film that has an interesting development history, or something that is honestly fascinating about it. Today, we get a movie that’s both fascinating and had a rough development history, Animal Crackers. Based loosely on the graphic novel by Scott Cristian Sava, written by Sava and Dean Lorey, and directed by Sava and Tony Bancroft, Animal Crackers is a CGI animated film that showed up at the Annecy International Film Festival in 2017. It was one of the few US-produced animated films to be at the festival that was already stacked with films like Lu Over the WallIn This Corner of the World, and Loving Vincent

It was set to be released in the states soon after, but this is where the troubles began. It was originally going to be released by Relativity Media, but they went under. It was then going to be distributed by Serafini Releasing, but they also shut down in the same year. In 2018, the film was going to be released by Entertainment Studios, but the deal fell through a little bit before it was released, and Entertainment Studios went on to distribute Arctic Dogs, one of the worst animated films of the 2010s and one of the worst-performing animated films of all time. The film was released in China, but there was no real word about it ever getting an official US release, until Netflix saved the film and released it on July 24th, 2020 to mostly positive reviews. What do I think about this film that finally got an official release? Well, let’s take a look under the big top. 

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Our story revolves around a young couple named Owen and Zoe, voiced by John Krasinski and Emily Blunt. They both work at Zoe’s dad’s dog biscuit factory up until one day, Owen gets a call from the top clown at his uncle’s circus named Chesterfield, voiced by Danny DeVito. Owen’s uncle and aunt supposedly died in a fire, and Owen and Zoe are offered the chance to run the circus again, and Chesterfield offers Owen a box of supposedly magical animal crackers. Owen takes the box with him and Zoe to head back home for the day, and Owen finds out first-hand that the crackers are magical. It is up to Owen and Zoe to help bring back the circus with the help of their friends and those magical cookies, and avoid the evil rule of Horatio P. Huntington, voiced by Ian McKellen. 

First off, I know circuses don’t have the best reputation with animal safety and health, but this film isn’t about any of that. It’s a fairytale-like film, so if you are going into this with the exact rage you had for something like The Greatest Showman, you are reviewing this film incorrectly. Judge it for what it is.

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Let’s get the most obvious element about this film out of the way next, the animation. This film had a supposed budget of $17 mil, and if you are going to go down the route of comparing its visual quality to some of the bigger films of 2020, it’s not up to par. That’s a pointless observation to make to me because it seems like it’s too obvious of a comment. To me, the film’s visuals, textures, and animation might be lacking, but the designs to me help make the smaller budget stand out. The designs are cartoony, and that helps the visual style. I like the look of the overall film, and the animations are still pretty good. Some characters have a bit more intricate details to them than others, but I think it looks nice for a film that cost $17 million. It looks better and appropriate for films of that budget compared to ones that supposedly cost $50 to $100 mil like Wonder Park and/or Arctic Dogs, but do not show it. 

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Now that we have that out of the way, while the animation might lack in terms of visual fidelity, it makes up for it with a pretty snappy script. While the pop culture references abound and were hit-and-miss, there were many times where I chuckled or downright laughed at the dialogue. Everyone has good chemistry, and I think the directors and writers got the best out of them, and they had the proper amount of improved dialogued within the script. Anytime Owen and Zoe were on screen or Horatio and Zucchini (voiced by Gilbert Gottfried) were on screen, or when Dany DeVito was there, they usually had the best lines. Even Sylvester Stallone’s Bulletman character was used effectively. Of course, the scene-stealer himself Patrick Warburton as Brock is always a delight. I also like how the film tackles the arc of people following their passion. At first, Owen doesn’t think he could make the circus great again, because it wouldn’t bring in the money, and he wanted to do what would pay the bills. I think, for the most part, it tackles that topic well. I also love that they give simple rules to the crackers in general. They don’t try to explain everything about them, and the film’s dialogue even shoots down the people who love to nitpick films to death for no real reason. Sometimes, you need to sit back and just enjoy a more fantastical story. Not every little detail needs to be explained! 

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With all of that said, I do have some issues with the film. I love the ambition of some parts of the film, but it is stretched thin. For example, while the songs in the film were okay, I felt like they should have either committed to being a Disney-like musical or just use normal songs. I thought some of the lines in the songs also didn’t flow well within the film. Animal Crackers also overstays its welcome a little, as while it might be a little over 100 minutes, it takes a while for everything to happen and fall into place. The dog biscuit subplot also feels more like filler. It matches some parts of the overall story, but I cared much more about the circus stuff than the dog biscuit subplot. My final criticism is that Horatio’s villain motivation is, unfortunately, razor-thin. It’s a weak drive when maybe they could have done a darker backstory for what happened with Horatio. I don’t know how dark they wanted to go with this film, but it would have made him more of a threatening and or interesting villain, than, well, what we got. He’s more like the villain from The Curse of the Wererabbit in terms of being a delightful and amusing villain, but not a compelling one. 

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It might be rough around the edges, and I know not everyone is as on board with this film as I am, but I enjoyed it. I thought it was a pretty good and charming family film. I would put it over most of Netflix’s other film releases this year in terms of animation. I would say I highly recommend watching this film, but since it was a huge viewer hit for Netflix, I don’t need to, but do watch it if you are curious about this film’s history. So, next time, we will be talking about one of GKids’ newest features that they picked up from Annecy, On Gaku: Our Sound

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time! 

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 189: A Whisker Away 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 easy to get hyped for a film or product that is being made by talented individuals, only to then be disappointed by it. When you see the names of those people, the studio, or writer that you have been a fan of for a long time, it’s easy to be head over heels for its arrival. I fall into this trap from time to time, and it’s time to deal with the newest film to fall into that trap. It’s a new Netflix-bought animated film from Japan, A Whisker Away

Directed by Junichi Sato and Tomotaka Shibayama, written by Mari Okada, and animated by Studio Colorido, A Whisker Away was meant to come out in June, but due to the virus still killing theaters, along with the capitalist system we live in, Netflix came in and bought the worldwide rights to the film. So far, even though it hasn’t been that long on Netflix, the film has gotten mixed, but mostly positive reviews. So, what do I think about it? Well, let’s get started!

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Our story follows the antics of a young girl named Miyo Sasaki, voiced by Mirai Shida. She’s a young girl who is in love with this boy named Kento Hinode, voiced by Natsuki Hanae. Unfortunately, she is failing in her advances towards him. Not only that, but she’s also dealing with a broken home life of divorced parents. Her mom wanted nothing to do with her until recently, her dad is dating someone, and she thinks they are both being selfish. After running away from a festival one night, she meets a big chunky cat-like being named The Mask Seller, voiced by Koichi Yamadera. He offers her an escape from her life with a cat mask. Miyo then takes advantage of this deal, and uses it to turn into a cat and go see Kento. However, the more she uses the mask, the more she loses her humanity to The Mask Seller. Can she find joy in life and avoid the creepy grasp of The Mask Seller? Well, that would mean she would have to admit that she has stalker issues. 

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Yeah, I know I dropped that last sentence like a hot potato, but that is the major problem with the film; Miyo stalks Kento for a lot of the film. She fails to make herself an interesting character, because she’s annoying and, again, stalks Kento. Stalking is never okay, and if you are going to make a story that revolves around a character stalking another character, then you had better be creative and clever about it, or you show that stalking is not okay. Everyone has kind of said this already, but if you swapped the leads around with Kento being the one stalking Miyo, the internet would have railed against this anime for weeks. It’s a hypocritical standard that we are saying male stalkers are not okay, but female stalkers are okay. It’s the same issue I had with Summer Wars, and while Summer Wars is a way better movie, it still doesn’t excuse the fact that Miyo is a stalking, angsty, assault-heavy kid that does do things like “I have a voice recorder, let me record your voice!”

That may have sounded harsh, so what about the world-building and the famous cat tree? Well, that also falls flat as you have to get through the first half, to, well, get to the second half. It’s way easier as a film during the second half because the pacing is better than the first half. A lot of the first half is school time shenanigans, and from time to time, the lead turns into a cat. Sadly, a lot of it is also her being fairly creepy. It’s hard to get through the first part because of her, and the film tries to make her more likable by making some other bully characters even bigger jerks, but that’s a touch lazy in my opinion. Just because you made characters that are worse, doesn’t excuse Miyo from her actions. The second half has better pacing, better sequences, and commentary. I kind of wish the entire film took place in this magic cat tree village. 

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It’s a stone-cold bummer that I’m being so critical of this film, because I do love a lot about it. It’s themes of tackling depression is very creative. The film was mismarketed as a whimsical fantasy film with coming-of-age elements and mourning for loved ones who passed, but when you put into context with The Mask Seller and what Miyo putting on the mask represents, the film takes a darker turn, and it gets more in your face about it, once you reach the village sequences. It’s creative, but the whole experience is sadly not like that. 

I also liked the animation. It’s fluid, the designs are solid, some fun creative touches remind me of A Silent Voice, and The Mask Seller is probably the best character in the film. He’s delightfully evil, he knows what he’s doing, and his animation is the most creative. When you get to animate what is essentially a blob, and not have to worry about a skeletal structure, it can lead to a lot of fun. The visuals in the second half are also quite nice with the cat tree being something out of Princess Mononoke at some points. The voice cast is good, but due to the virus, the Japanese dub with English subtitles is the only available version as of writing this review. So far, there hasn’t been a date released for the English dub, but I’m sure with a lot of Netflix anime dubs, it’s going to be pretty good. The ending song as well by Yorushika is quite good. 

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Normally, I’m not expecting to be disappointed by the foreign animation scene, since I think their output is usually better than what the US side of things does, but it’s good to remember that a disappointing film can come from anywhere and from anyone. You could have the most talented team on your side and still put out a film that could be middling or worse. It also doesn’t help that there are plenty of films on Netflix that do what A Whisker Away does, but better. If you have yet to see this film, then I would recommend checking it out, or waiting to see it when it gets an English dub if you are not a subtitles-only person. Even then, there are films currently on Netflix that handle depression better like Okko’s Inn and A Silent Voice. Still, I can’t wait to see Mari Okada’s future work. Now then, we are getting to review number 190. I want to do a few editorials first before I get to this special film, but I won’t hint at what we will be tackling. You will just have to play the waiting game. 

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time! 

Rating: Rent it (it’s on Netflix for free, but still)

The Other Side of Animation 188: Next Door Spy 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!)

Since we just got done with reviewing SCOOB! I think it’s kind of amazing at how there isn’t much in the way of mystery thrillers for kids and families in animation. Sure, you get super simple mystery shows and to an extent, Scooby-Doo, but the animation scene doesn’t have a Murder on the Orient Express or a Knives Out, or anything to that kind of degree. Scooby-Doo might have its plots revolve around a mystery, but it’s never the main focus. I know it’s tough to balance out a smart plot that kids and families can both be invested in without alienating one or the other, but it would be cool to see a feature film try to give kids a Clue-style experience that, well, isn’t Clue. I recieved a screener, which is why I rambled on with this opening, because I needed to give some context to today’s review, Next Door Spy

Written and directed by Karla von Bengston, this film is from Denmark from the production company, Copenhagen Bombay. If that name doesn’t sound familiar, then you may know them for their film that I reviewed back in December, Finding Santa. They are also known for the film Tigers and Tattoos, and the TV series Me & SonnyNext Door Spy was released back in 2017 in its original release, but has now finally come over stateside by the distributor Tricoast Entertainment. So, this will be my second time encountering this company and the animation fare they have brought over. What do I think about this mysterious little film? Well, let’s find out. 

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The story follows a 10-year-old girl named, and I’m not kidding, Agathe Christine. Yes, it is just a two letter difference from the famous murder-mystery writer. Anyway, she lives with her police officer mother, her older sister, and younger brother. Her family is moving to a new location, and is having trouble fitting in, and decides to open up her own detective agency. She ends up encountering a boy around her age while visiting a convenience store, and catches that something is up with this boy. What is he hiding? Am I ever going to get over the fact this girl’s name is Agathe Christine?

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So, what do I like about this film? Well, as usual with my encounter with this studio, I like the art direction. It feels like a children’s book come to life. Sure, I have issues with how the animation was executed, but for all things considered, they could have easily gone with a super cheap CGI look to everything, but they didn’t. The film also has some decent colors and lighting. It even goes into little black and white sequences when the lead is imagining herself as a roaring 20s-style detective. As for the mystery itself, it’s simple, but I think kids will enjoy it. I don’t think the mystery is as thrilling as say A Cat in Paris or Phantom Boy, but it’s decent enough. I like the little details of the film, like the mother is a cop, which in concept adds some conflict of interest with the lead. There are bits and pieces in this film that seem like interesting ideas on paper. 

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Now, with all that said, there are a few elements I found flawed. First off, the dialogue. It doesn’t come off as natural, and the voice work sounds stilted at points. Some even sound like they directly translated it into English without fixing the proper grammatical elements. Also, there is a shocking amount of cursing involved. Maybe about two or three times in the entire film, you will hear the kids casually drop a swear word because, well, because. If this is meant for younger kids, you do not want them to hear those words at a young age. I don’t care if you are one of those “oh, my kids hear me swear all the time” people, there is a reason why you don’t hear swear words in most family films, and even in the ones you do hear, they always feel forced. 

Also, let’s talk about the giant lizard in the room. At the beginning of the film, you see our hero have an egg with her. It then hatches into a flipping komodo dragon-sized lizard by the end of the film. It has no real point in the story, and I feel like it was meant to come off like some kind of symbolic element to the lead’s struggle to solve the case, but it’s never really expanded upon, and no one else finds out about the lizard. Even when it’s taken away in the end, the mother doesn’t even bother asking the lead what the heck is up with the giant lizard. The lizard also talks and, yeah, there is no point in it. No other animals talk in the film. I also found the animation to be distracting. While I don’t think it looks as bad as children’s television shows using motion-tween programs for the animation, it does a disservice to the art style being used, and that’s a stone-cold bummer.

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At the end of this mystery, I simply don’t have enough energy to muster much anger at this film. I don’t love it, but it’s not anything incredibly mediocre either. Maybe it’s my fault for looking at this from the angle of someone my age, but I don’t know how kids will react to this one. I think some elements aren’t kid-friendly enough, but I don’t know if kids would have this much patience for a slow-burn mystery. However, I could see younger viewers liking this film. I’m not always the best judge on what kids may or may not like. If you are interested in checking this film out, it will be readily available to rent on digital platforms like Amazon, Itunes, DirectTV, AT&T, Fandango, FlixFling, and Vudu June 16th. If you are interested in more mystery-style family films for kids, I would recommend checking it out and seeing what you think. I’m just one person, and maybe you will agree or disagree with me on this one. Well, for now, I’m going to work on some editorials and will be focusing on Annecy content, but next time, we will be going back to Netflix with the Netflix exclusive A Whisker Away.

 Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time! 

Rating: Rent it!

The Other Side of Animation 187: Once Upon a Forest 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!)

Since the process of hand-drawn animation and animation, in general, takes time to create, sometimes, you will see a bunch of projects get greenlit when some film in the theatrical scene makes it big. The other studios see that, and want to capitalize on it or a popular trend. Sometimes, you just get four movies in a short period that happen to be around Bigfoot. Sometimes, you get a bunch of films about different takes on superheroes. In the 70s, you had so many sexually-driven animated adult films. Too many to be exact, but that’s beside the point. Heck, remember how many films have come out then and now since Despicable Me that want to make that Minions money? During the 90s, there were quite a lot of films coming out that were about protecting the trees and our forests. Many studios play the short-term, and it doesn’t always work out when you chase a trend. For some reason, 20th Century Fox, decades before getting bought out by Disney, had two animated films based on environmentalism with Ferngully: The Last Rainforest and today’s review of Once Upon a Forest

Directed by Charles Grosvenor, executively produced by William Hanna (and yes, Hanna-Barbera’s William Hanna), produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions and ITV Cymru Wales, Once Upon a Forest was released in 1993 and was unfortunately for everyone involved, a box office bomb, only making $6.6 million on a $13 million budget. Now, I haven’t seen this film in ages. It’s one of those animated films I sort of saw when I was little, but forgot everything about it. Maybe that’s for the best, but sometimes, you don’t remember much when you are a kid. It’s now time to see 27 years later how this film holds up in a fairly non-competitive year in animation as 1993. 

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Our story revolves around a group of humanoid animal children called furlings. I don’t know why they are called that, but that’s not the point. These include a mouse named Abigail, voiced by Ellen Blain, a mole named Edgar, voiced by Benji Gregory, Russell, a hedgehog voiced by Paige Gosney, and a young badger named Michelle, voiced by a super young Elisabeth Moss. They go to class one day to learn from an old badger named Cornelius, voiced by Michael Crawford. After going about a rambunctious lesson during the day, the kids learn about gravity, plants, and the evilest creature of all, man! After the lesson, a truck carrying poisonous gas crashes off the road, and the gas leaks into the forest. Everyone tries to get back to their families, only to find that everyone is gone. Michelle tries to go find her parents, but ends up getting ill from the gas. Cornelius offers a solution for Abigail, Edgar, and Russell to find some plants to make an antidote for Michelle. Along their journey, they encounter a monstrous owl, a group of gospel birds with their leader voiced by Ben Vereen, and a group of animals that fight over food. Can our three heroes get what they need and save Michelle’s life along with their forest? 

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So, what do I like about this movie? Well, while I wouldn’t say it’s one of the best films from 1993’s animation scene, I do like parts of the story. The film has some pretty decent atmospheric moments with some very lovely lush background art. The film also doesn’t try to undo any of the deaths that do appear in the film. Normally, other films would try to make a nice little ending where everything is, well, happy. The film has a happy ending, but it does accept the fact that things did happen, and it won’t all 100% be the same, but it still has a fairly optimistic look at it all. Even the forest that was damaged by the gas doesn’t suddenly return to normal. You don’t see children’s films with that kind of consequence set in stone. Even animated films today don’t always commit to certain decisions made in the story. It was gutsier than what a company like Warner Bros was doing at the time. The film also has a pretty decent list of themes, like friendship, teamwork, overcoming your fears, and the not-subtle environmentalism commentary. However, I do like how they frame the poison gas as a man-made accident. Sure, in real life and today’s climate, it would have the humans as 100% the villains, but the humans here aren’t portrayed that way. They are portrayed as somewhat antagonistic and uncaring of their environment, but the humans at the end of the film were not, and that’s what I admire about it. It has a bit of a Ghibli sense of there being no real “villain”. Maybe this is giving the film too much credit, but considering this was 1993 and this was the year we got stuff like the Tom and Jerry the Movie and the butchered cut of The Thief and the Cobbler, I’ll take any film that adds a bit more nuance to the story than nothing at all. Sure, this was also the same year the US got My Neighbor Totoro, which is a better film, but still.

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Animation-wise, for a film that cost $13 million to make, and where some of it probably went to Michael Crawford, it looks decent. Now, yes, you can tell where some animated objects like the miniature flying contraption do not blend well with the background, but it’s pretty decent animation. Everyone moves well, the designs are harmless to look at, and it reminds me of someone who was trying to capture that Don Bluth-style with how the characters move and look. It easily could be a film set in The Secret of Nimh universe. There isn’t much to say about the voice cast. It’s one of those animated films that heavily relies on the fact that it got Michael Crawford as Cornelius, but the acting overall is pretty good. Michael Crawford is probably the best one of the bunch, and yes, you can criticize his voice work for being a bit too whimsical, and his song sequence being hit-or-miss depending on how you like his singing voice, but I felt like he put a lot of heart into the role. Sure, his character vanishes for a huge majority of the movie, but when he does show up, he is the best part of the film. The child actors also do a decent job, and the cast of child actors is honestly interesting since there is a young Elizabeth Moss in one of her first film roles. I also liked Ben Vereen as the religious bird Phineas, and the other voice cast members they hired are good as well, with Charlie Adler, Paul Eiding, Susan Silo, Janet Waldo, and an uncredited Frank Welker as the barn owl they encounter. 

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So, what don’t I like about the film? It sounds like it’s rough around the edges, but a respectable title. A lot of what I talked about with the pros of the film comes from the third act. I found the pacing to be a touch slow as it takes a bit before the plot is moved forward by the poison gas situation, and much of the first act is spent with the three kids and Cornelius. After that, it plays out more like a road trip movie with events that come and go without much connection, and the side characters they encounter not being mentioned again. Some of them even happen too fast and end so quickly, that you wonder what the point was. It’s also a touch safe in terms of its themes and how it handles its story. It’s easily digestible for kids, which to be fair, is the target audience for this film, but it’s also a little too adult in spots for kids. It’s a weird uneven mix, and I think it should have either leaned more one way to slightly older kids, but in a PG (a serious PG) way or just go sugar sweet. Finding that balance is tough and it doesn’t always work. The characters are also not the most interesting. The three kids are all basic kid characters, and the most interesting of the characters, the one played by Michael Crawford, is not the focus. 

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Even with my criticisms aimed at this film, I can’t find myself hating it. Sure, it’s not the best animated film of 1993, the same year we got The Nightmare Before Christmas, but Once Upon a Forest is not the worst. I can see why people who grew up with this film enjoy it, but I also can see why it was maybe forgotten by many, despite having a lot of interesting facts surrounding it. For some reason, since 20th Century owns the rights to this film, it’s not available on Disney Plus, but that may also be due to Hanna-Barbera being the rights holders as well, but who knows. If you want to check it out, it’s pretty cheap on DVD. Now then, next time, we are going to look at another screener. That’s right, your possibly favorite animation reviewer has obtained another one! I’ll make sure you all get a clue about what I’m reviewing in my next review. 

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time! 

Rating: Rent it!

The Other Side of Animation 186: SCOOB! 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 franchise, Scooby-Doo has been able to stand the test of time and still be a relevant part of pop culture. Out of all of the Hanna-Barbera properties to still be around, it’s not all that surprising that it’s this one. And yes, technically, I know Joe Ruby and Ken Spears created the property, but it’s owned by Hanna-Barbera, so let’s not get into specifics about it. Anyway, the formula and premise easily translate itself to being able to transcend time and the ever-growing world of animation. Sadly, at times, at least, more recently, it has started to show its wear and tear, as I don’t think the creators know where to take the characters. A lot of their more recent films have been mediocre at best and insulting to previous films at worst. It’s a shame, because I do like a few of the direct-to-video films, and the voice cast for the gang has always been stellar. So, how does Scooby-Doo handle himself with his first major “theatrical” animated feature, SCOOB!

Directed by Tony Cervone, SCOOB! has had a fairly long production cycle, as it started in 2014 with Dax Shepard writing and co-directing the film. In 2018, Dax Shepard was kicked off the project, and Cervone took full directing responsibility with Matt Lieberman, Adam Sztykiel, Jack Donaldson, and Derek Elliot taking over writing duties. The film is also noteworthy for it being the first major animated film to skip out on theaters entirely due to the current viral situation and go straight-to-video. Trolls: World Tour doesn’t count since it was released in both theaters and on-demand the same day. So far, it has gotten a mixed reception, and where do I stand with this film? Well, you should grab your favorite flavor of Scooby Snacks and read the review. 

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The story revolves around the organization called Mystery Inc, a group of young adults that solve mysteries and crimes that are perpetrated by supposed ghoulish monsters. The gang includes Fred, voiced by Zac Efron, Daphne, voiced by Amanda Seyfried, Velma, voiced by Gina Rodriguez, Shaggy, voiced by Will Forte, and his talking dog Scooby-Doo, voiced by Frank Welker. After a business investment falls through the cracks, the gang separates, and what results are Scooby and Shaggy getting targeted by an evil villain known as Dick Dastardly, voiced by Jason Isaacs. Luckily, the two are saved by their favorite superhero Blue Falcon, or, at the very least, his son Brian, the new Blue Falcon, voiced by Mark Walhberg. The story then turns into a pseudo mystery about why Dick Dastardly is targeting Scooby and Shaggy, and what his ultimate plan is. Can the gang solve this mystery and save the world? 

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This movie is frustrating to review. Not because it’s the worst thing ever, or that I’m trying not to step on the toes of obviously hard-working animators and writers. However, it’s because the execution of everything is what I’m struggling with. On one hand, there is so much passion put into this project. You can tell the team behind it loved Scooby-Doo to the point of even almost 100% recreating the opening of the original Scooby-Doo! Where Are You? opening. There are references to other Hanna-Barbera properties all over the movie, and especially in the main part of the credits. There are small character quirks that show off that the people making the film understand Scooby-Doo as a franchise. Heck, they even made a dessert they had from one episode that made me chuckle. Even the other Hanna-Barbera properties mix well into the world of Scooby-Doo. The problem isn’t that they don’t mix. Scooby-Doo and Hanna-Barbera properties have always crossed over with one another. This isn’t even the first time the Mystery Inc has crossed over with Blue Falcon. Another high point in the film is the opening where we have Shaggy and Scooby-Doo meet for the first time. It’s probably the best part of the film, and is the emotional lynchpin holding the film together. There is a lot to like in this film, from the animation to the jokes that they slide into the dialogue. 

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On the other hand, there is a real good reason why this film is getting mixed reviews, and it once again comes down to how everything was executed. First off, the dialogue is clunky and awkward. When the film was at its best, it was with the characters talking like how they would from the show and previous animated features. There are a lot of pop culture references and shout-outs in this film, and they are so forced into the script. They don’t flow or come naturally to any of the scenes where they show up. It feels like this film got studio-noted in the same way Chicken Little did. It’s not like you can’t make pop culture references, because you can, but you have to be so careful with how they are implemented. The film isn’t going to age badly because it has Simon Cowell or a joke about Netflix. It’s going to age badly because of how awkwardly shoe-horned they are into the story. Only a few of the pop culture references work, and the only references that do work are the ones to the Scooby-Doo! IP or the greater Hanna-Barbera universe. At least with Ralph Breaks the Internet, the pop culture stuff felt a bit more fluid and natural. 

The film’s pacing could easily be noted as one of its biggest downfalls due to how the stakes are revealed in a very uneven fashion. It doesn’t build up properly to the initial mystery, and then it turns into a road trip-style faux superhero flick. It’s frustrating because the mystery has to be the film’s strongest element, but it is not, and I should know since I binged through 26+ direct-to-video Scooby-Doo films and shows. Due to the clunky nature of the pacing of the story and how it escalates, emotional moments don’t land properly and you feel taken out of the film. At least, that is how I felt. I’m mad about this because the emotional core of the film is Shaggy and Scooby’s relationship, but due to the execution, the conflict parts are readily predictable. It’s another film that’s too busy to just be one film, but also be a universe starter. It’s a Hanna-Barbera film, but it’s not really a Scooby-Doo film. They could have made all of these characters like Blue Falcon and Captain Caveman fit perfectly, since, again, this isn’t the first time a Hanna-Barbera connected universe has been made, but it’s not handled well. 

So, what about the characters? Sadly, they are pretty inconsistent. I liked Shaggy and Scooby, as they are the best part of the film, Dick Dastardly is a fun villain and you can tell Jason Isaacs is having a lot of fun in the role. Zac Efron’s take on Fred has some of the best jokes in the film, and Blue Falcon and Dynomutt have a decent arc together. Again, and say it with me, it’s the execution that falls flat. Daphne once again does very little, and I know that’s kind of the joke of the series, but she doesn’t do much. Neither does Velma. Oh, and as for Kiersey Clemon’s DeeDee Sykes, way to relegate the one black character as simply the person who drives everyone else around. Seriously, I don’t think this was intentional, but she does nothing else than drive Blue Falcon’s jet. When I first heard that Tracey Morgan was going to voice Captain Caveman, I was excited since it’s ideal casting, but while he does a solid job, he doesn’t bring any of the Captain Caveman mannerisms outside of his battle cry. Otherwise, he’s just playing himself from 30 Rock. Dastardly seems like the most consistent character in the entire film, and he is probably the most fleshed-out. Due to how everything is paced, the conflict points are easy to spot and are not shocking when they happen. It’s a film that leaves these characters to be fairly forgettable.

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So, let’s talk about the animation, which is a big deal breaker to many. Not because it’s CGI, but due to how it was handled. Listen, I know many are going to label the film as cheap-looking, when most people don’t even know what cheap CGI can really look like. The studio that animated the film, REEL FX, is a super talented studio that has worked on films like The Book of Life and Rock Dog, but the problem is not them, but the overall design and animation process. The characters are too weighty and sluggish, some of the characters’ proportions look off, and it really seems like this film needed to dive more into the cartoonish direction with the designs and animation. This needed something like the team behind Hotel Transylvania or STORKS to be the head of the animation and design work. Everyone needs to be snappier and not so realistic and robotic in their movements. It’s especially distracting when you get Simon Cowell in the same scene as Scooby, and the art style doesn’t match or work. The voice work is also hit-and-miss. This might be the first time where celebrity stunt casting has actually bothered me. I know Will Forte is doing his best as Shaggy, but when Mathew Lillard has been doing an amazing job as Shaggy for 10+ years in both live-action and animation, it’s obvious that Will Forte is just doing a Shaggy impression. Efron probably does the best out of the main Mystery Gang, but I still think if you have Frank Welker as Scooby, then why not keep him as Fred? Gina Rodriguez brought nothing to Velma when Kate Micucci has been doing a solid job as Velma for five years now. Amanda Seyfried can be funny, but come on, Grey Griffin is right there! She’s been Daphne for 20 years now. What is wrong with not getting her back? It’s not like the celebrities add anything to the experience. I think the only ones I enjoyed were parts of Tracey Morgan’s Captain Caveman, Jason Isaac’s Dick Dastardly, Mark Wahlberg’s Blue Falcon, Keon Jong’s Dynomutt, and Frank Welker as Scooby-Doo. 

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As you can tell, I’m all over the place. I don’t think it’s a good Scooby-Doo movie, but it’s not a bad Hanna-Barbera film. It’s too busy to commit to either. It’s a shame because you can make the format work, but once again, WB wanted another universe starter and they started with too much in the first film. They could easily cut out a lot of the universe stuff and just make it a more straight forward Scooby-Doo film. I want to see more from this universe in sequels, and since it’s getting some high digital download and purchase numbers (as far as we know), maybe we will. Now then, next time, I’m going to take a look at the last 20th Century Fox film that I will probably tackle due to them being swallowed by Disney with Once Upon a Forest

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time! 

Rating: Rent it!

The Other Side of Animation 185: Mortal Kombat Legends – Scorpion’s Revenge 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!)

You know, you would think I would tackle more video game adaptions in animation. Granted, the track record of good video game properties adapted to the world of animation is as shoddy as live-action attempts, but at the very least, animation takes away a lot of the limitations you get doing it in live-action. People in the entertainment industry might look down on animation for no reason, but with animation, while you may have to make everything by hand, it is not bound by physical limitations. The visual arts is a world with no boundaries, besides the ones you put on yourself. I mean, there is also time, money, manpower, but that’s beside the point. Today, we are taking a look at the newest film from the notoriously hyper-violent franchise, Mortal Kombat.

Today’s film, Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge, was directed by Ethan Spaulding and animated by Studio Mir. As mentioned above, it’s the newest film in the franchise since the disastrous Mortal Kombat Annihilation. Scorpion’s Revenge was released April 28th of this year to mostly positive reviews. So, do we have another video game disaster or do we have another video game hopeful? Well, let’s get over here and find out!

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So, the story revolves around Hanzo Hasashi aka Scorpion, voiced by Patrick Seitz. He’s on a mission to go after Bi-Han aka Sub-Zero, voiced by Steve Blum, who murdered his entire clan and family. After being sent to hell and making a deal with Quan Chi, voiced by Darin De Paul, Scorpion sets out to take down Sub-Zero, who will be attending an otherworldly fighting tournament hosted by Shang Tsung, voiced by Artt Butler. However, despite the film being called Scorpion’s Revenge, we also follow the story of three human fighters; Liu Kang, voiced by Jordan Rodriguez, Sonya Blade, voiced by Jennifer Carpenter, and Johnny Cage, voiced by Joel McHale. The three humans were chosen by the thunder god Raiden, voiced by Dave B Mitchell. Can Scorpion get his revenge, and can the humans save their realm from being taken over?

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So, let’s talk about the title of the film. Listen, I get it. Scorpion is pretty much the face of Mortal Kombat. However, the film is not really about him. Or at the very least, it’s not 100% about him. It’s one part Scorpion story, one part generic Mortal Kombat story, and one part universe starter. At first, the story focuses on him, but then the film also decides that it wants to be a franchise starter for a Mortal Kombat cinematic universe, so it has the three human leads who are unfortunately not all that interesting. It’s frustrating because while Scorpion is in the title and is what the film should focus on, Johnny Cage gets more of a focused storyline. Scorpion gets side-lined in his own movie. How much of the film is Scorpion in? Mostly, in the beginning, he vanishes for most of the middle part, and then stays in the third act. Because of this, the film has a real pacing issue throughout. The film spends a lot of time playing out like a normal MK storyline with the tournament, but then shuffles between the main characters, the villains, and shoving in cameos and fanservice appearances of certain characters. It even drops a plot twist 10 minutes before the film ends that lands like a lead balloon. It’s a real lopsided story, and it’s a shame because I do like the story when it actually follows Scorpion, and Johnny Cage, who, while annoying, was the most entertaining character in the film. It’s just a disappointment that this film isn’t really a Scorpion movie. There is a good story hidden in here. Even if it’s a typical revenge plot, this movie had more effort put into it than Annihilation did. Sadly, the focus went into the same mindset that the 2017 The Mummy went into, not to tell a single story, but to set up a bunch. This movie should be renamed Mortal Kombat Universe Pilot.

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The animation is where I also have some mixed feelings. It’s quite obvious that they went with an entirely different art style than trying to copy the style used in the major DC-animated features that WB puts out every year. The designs are more striking, and the characters look great. Sadly, this is a direct-to-video film under the Warner Animation Group collective. That means that while it’s nowhere near as bad looking as that 40-minute promo video that was made to promote the first film, it still suffers from having animation quality that’s basically on par with the DC TV series. Some scenes look fine, and then you can tell when they drop the frames of movements. However, with all that said, this film has some of the more striking visuals, and a lot of the gore and violence you play the games for. Mortal Kombat can have more story and more depth to their characters, but if you don’t have the gore, then what’s the point? I did like the action sequences that decided to have a little more money thrown into them because the action in this film is pretty stellar. I mean, it’s a film with martial arts and magic. If you fail at that, then what on earth are you doing? It’s like making lasagna without the creamy cheese, there is no point to it. I could complain about the film, but it nails the visuals. In terms of voice work, it’s good. It’s nothing groundbreaking, and they probably could have gotten someone other than Joel McHale, but the actors put in solid performances. You have people like Patrick Seitz, Kevin Michael Richardson, the always delightful Steve Blum, Grey Delisle, Dave B. Mitchell, Robin Atkin Downes, Jennifer Carpenter, Jordan Rodrigues, Ike Amadi, and Fred Tatasciore.

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This was a rough review to write. Not because the film was astronomically bad or a masterpiece that I was having trouble putting into words. It’s because this movie is okay. It’s probably the most okay movie of 2020. If it didn’t have the stellar action, the distinct visual style, and the gore, it would have probably been a decent if somewhat forgettable action film. It’s the second-best Mortal Kombat film, and so far, against what else is coming out, the best action film in the animation scene this year so far. I just hope this film did well enough to get a sequel, because the film itself leaves so much open for sequels that it isn’t funny. Honestly, if this film flops, then you wasted so many characters by focusing on the future film, and not the film you are currently making. Well, before I can get into the newest DC/WB animated feature that might cap off the entire storyline of the current animated film universe, let’s dive into another WB-focused film and hopeful universe starter with the newly released SCOOB!

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time!

Rating: Rent it!

The Other Side of Animation 184: The Willoughbys 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!)

Something I’m noticing that I would argue started back in 2015 with the release of Blue Sky’s The Peanuts Movie film, is the fact that bigger studios are starting to slowly move into being more experimental and creative with the visuals and usage of CGI animation. While I think CGI animation gets a bad rep due to how overwhelming it is, and I, of course, would love to see more 2D animated features from the bigger studios, getting more ambitious with CGI visuals is a good direction to go into. Think about it, we had the already mentioned The Peanuts MovieCaptain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, 2018 gave us Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and Disney/Pixar are doing more creative visuals in their shorts. We also have this year’s Connected from Sony Pictures Animation, and I think that’s pretty healthy. I have said in the past that studios and films need to have their distinct flavor and look, and the major studios are only now catching on what the indie/foreign scene has been doing for the better half of a decade or more. Unless the execution is off, I don’t see why more studios can’t experiment a little more. Heck, that’s why I adored Netflix’s newest animated feature, The Willoughbys.

Directed by Kris Pearn, co-directed by Rob Lodermeier, and written by both Kris Pearn and Mark Stanleigh, The Willoughbys is yet another film on Netflix’s streak of original animated projects! It’s produced and animated by Bron Animation, the same studio that did the unfortunately disappointing Henchmen film. So, how did Netflix’s next step into animation go? I say grow your beefiest mustache and let’s get to it!

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The story follows the four Willoughby children, Tim, voiced by Will Forte, Jane, voiced by Alessia Cara, and Barnaby A and Barnaby B, voiced by Sean Cullens. They are part of a famous family with a prolific legacy of adventurers, inventors, and so on. Unfortunately, the Willoughby children are the kids to the current Willoughby adults, Father, voiced by Martin Short, and Mother, voiced by Jane Krakowski. The two adults are neglectful of their kids to the point that when the children find an abandoned baby, they get kicked out of the house. The children then come up with a plan to “orphan” themselves by getting rid of their parents. They send the terrible duo on an epic adventure that has multiple areas that may result in them six feet underground. Along the way, the children will encounter other adult individuals, like Linda the nanny, voiced by Maya Rudolph, and the candymaker Commander Melanoff, voiced by Terry Crews. Can the children get rid of their parents? Or will they find their true family elsewhere?

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Let’s cut to the chase, and talk about the first thing that stands out about this film, the animation. For those that are curious, it’s using CGI, but everything is crafted and animated like it’s stop-motion. I know some have an issue with this for some unknown reason, but to me, it’s smart for CGI animation to start experimenting with how they tackle visuals. A lot of animation fans complain about how most CGI films look the same, so why not go out of your way to look distinct? It has a style that makes it stand out, and it looks gorgeous. There are so so many bright colors and fantastic designs that make the world the film takes place in pop. You can even see it in the trailer that the colors are vibrant, and it might be very candy-coated colors, but man, do I love it. They even match the snappy stop-motion movements of the style it’s imitating. It looks good and while it is fast-paced, the humor and movements are not fast enough to be missed or are too overbearing.

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Now, as for the story, while this film is not meant to be taken seriously, it does balance out the quirk with the more serious themes that it’s tackling. Sure, the major moral of the film is that family is what you make of it, and it’s a nice theme, but the film doesn’t excuse the fact that the parents in the film, while dialed to 11, are awful. Unlike most films, this one doesn’t try to redeem or sideline the parents. They are terrible, and the film constantly paints them in a negative light. Martin Short and Jane Krakowski do put in some very funny performances, but they are incredibly neglectful of the kids in the film. Luckily, the rest of the characters constantly mention it. The kids themselves also have great chemistry and distinct personalities that feel fairly grounded. Yes, this world is wacky and colorful, but you get why the kids act as they do. I know they are mostly played by adults, but for a comedy like this to work, I don’t know if I would run the risk of using child actors. Plus, the cast works well off of one another. Will Forte, Sean Cullen, Martin Short, Jane Krakowski, Terry Crews, Maya Rudolph, and Alessia Cara all put in charming performances. However, I will say that the film’s marketing is a touch misleading, as the main character is not Jane. In fact, the main character of the film, and who gets the most fulfilling character arc is Tim.

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For as much as I adore this dark comedy family feature, I have three issues with the film. The first criticism I have is that the absurd elements sometimes clash with the pacing of the more traditional story bits. Not in a distracting way, but it’s noticeable when the film has to halt the breaks on the absurdity for the story to hit certain beats. It’s not that the more story-focused beats are bad, but they are just story bits that you have seen before. The second issue I have is with the original song and the placement of it. I get that Netflix wants to get a chance to be nominated for an original song at something like the Oscars and such, but it felt like it was somewhat forced into the last third of the film. I bring this up because the film, as I have mentioned, does market Jane as the lead when she is not, and while the song is pretty solid, it was distracting. It’s a double-edged sword for the film, since you know why it’s there but still may not care for it. Finally, I did not like Ricky Gervais as the cat narrator. Yes, the cat does have a few great lines, but I think Gervais was miscast, and I do mean that without also admitting that I do not like him as a comedian or actor. The cat needed to be played by someone else, as I was thinking of maybe someone like Matt Lucas or Eddie Izzard. The character needed someone with a bit more energy and goodwill associated with them.

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While rough around the edges in some areas, The Willoughbys is a new Netflix hit that I think everyone should check out. I understand, if respectfully disagree, with some of the more negative reviews of the film, but I get why this film might not be for everyone. It’s a film that’s abstract and out there, and you are either for it or not. I simply hope one day, Netflix puts this film on Blu-ray alongside their other original animated features, so I can own them physically. So, we shall now move on from quirky family film to a film based on a video game that’s unintentionally a backdoor pilot for sequels. That’s right, next time, we are going to look at Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge.

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 183: Trolls World Tour 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!)

So, we live in a film industry where if your animated movie is a major hit, you, as a studio, will make a TV series, or, at the very least, a sequel. Normally, this sometimes comes off as short-sighted, because depending on how successful it is, you have to take in the context surrounding the film on release. Sometimes, the film was just that good, and sometimes, it was released during a time where there was a lack of competition. From films like The Nut Job 2 to The Secret Life of Pets 2, sometimes, the franchise isn’t strong enough to get people back into the theater to see the next film. However, that doesn’t mean that we don’t get good sequels. We get plenty of sequels that are as good as the original or surpass them in a few ways. One of those examples is the sequel to Trolls, Trolls: World Tour.

Directed by Walt Dohrn, this sequel to the 2016 DreamWorks Animation surprise hit is mostly in the news right now for being the first major animated film of 2020 to go directly to digital and on-demand. Onward doesn’t count, since it got a theatrical release. So far, as of writing this, it is getting mostly positive reviews, and from what rental and digital purchase services are saying, it’s doing pretty well financially. So, what do I personally think about this musical sequel? Do I find it superior to the original, or is this another sequel that got greenlit too quickly?

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Our story revolves around our leads from the last film, Queen Poppy, voiced by Anna Kendrick, and Branch, voiced by Justin Timberlake. They find out from Poppy’s dad that there are different kinds of musical races of trolls. These include country, funk, techno, classical, and rock. Sadly, the rock troll, Queen Barb, voiced by Rachel Bloom, is trying to get the six magical strings and rule the world. Can Branch and Poppy find the queen of rock and roll and stop her ways?

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Now, on the surface, and to an extent, this film looks like a lot of the same brightly colored family entertainment, but just like the previous film, there is more under the felt-like look of the world. So, the first film tackled themes about happiness, what does World Tour tackle? Well, for something based on a bunch of rainbow-colored hairy troll dolls, this film deals with themes of colonialism, LGBT elements, cultural appropriation, and plenty of commentary about pop music as a whole. Yeah, for a film that looks so candy-coated sweet, you wouldn’t expect that there would be themes this mature, and yet, here they are. Much of the dialogue in the film gives off these vibes, and the twist in the film also reinforces these topics. It leads to the film running into the same situation as WB’s Smallfoot, where it’s a comedy to a degree, and they do keep a lot of the weird trippy visuals and jokes, but it’s more story-focused. They like focusing on the clashing ideals and what happened to the different races of musical trolls, and I highly commend DreamWorks and the team that made this film for wanting to go a creative and mature route with the story. This is why, even with all of their faults, people still support DreamWorks, because, sometimes, they find a way to take an idea that sounds dumb on face value and run with it. I love it when a studio decides to do this, because it shows that they have an idea about how to make the film work. I’m not going to say other films based on intellectual properties didn’t try, but DreamWorks Animation was able to go the distance to make a more memorable product.

Animation-wise, the film still does look good. It’s doing more of that felt-like fabric that comes right out of Kirby’s Epic Yarn or Yoshi’s Wooly World. It’s even adding in more faux stop-motion movements into certain characters and parts of the world. It’s not going as far as to say, Netflix’s The Willoughbys, but the DreamWorks Trolls series still has one of the more unique looks out of any animated film series. Casting-wise, I’m mixed. On one hand, Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake were fine, and they have decent lines and good chemistry, but I found myself enjoying the other actors more. Rachel Bloom, James Corden, Ron Funches, and Sam Rockwell left more impressions on me than the other major celebrities. I also won’t deny that the celebrity casting was distracting. I get that everyone is enjoying a Kelly Clarkson bonanza, and she probably got on here the same way Gwen Stefani did in the first film by being on The Voice, but I found her distracting as the leader of the Country Trolls. Even minor characters who were played by celebrities were distracting, like the K pop group Red Velvet, the McElroy Brothers popping up all over the place that are only in there because they made some internet campaign to be in the sequel, even if they added nothing to the film, and you get the idea. To be fair, I did like some of the celebrity castings with George Clinton and Mary J Blige as the king and queen Funk Trolls, and Anderson Paak probably gets the best scene in the entire film. It’s a mixed bag for me in terms of the voice cast. The music is mostly cover songs, but they do have more original songs in this film than the last one, and I think if we get a third film, they should do all original songs.

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So, let’s talk about the faults in order of the least problematic to the biggest issue the film has under its belt. First off, this film stuffs in a couple of multi-song sequences, and unless you are a kid, you will find these parts obnoxious. One of those points is meant to be obnoxious, but it doesn’t mean it gets a free pass. When you get past those two moments, everything else is pretty okay pacing-wise. Also, for a film about how our differences make us unique and we should join forces into harmony with those unique traits, they still bash a couple of music genres like smooth jazz and disco. I think that last one, while funny in a cute way, is unfortunate due to the real reason why disco burned out so quickly, which is way darker than I have time to get into with this review. Once again, DreamWorks’ obsession with side characters that don’t do anything or add anything to the story is obnoxious. They have a few trolls from the original that don’t return for some unknown reason, and yet they introduce a new one voiced by Ester Dean, and she does nothing. She doesn’t have a major point to the overall story, and many of the returning troll characters don’t offer substance either. They are there, because they have to be, and I don’t care if they have more personality in the show, because people shouldn’t have to add an eight-season show to their list of shows to watch before this film. While the gaggle of music industry cameos of famous singers and musicians is appropriate here, many of them could have been replaced by voice actors and nothing would be missed.

Now then, let’s get into the real meaty issue with this film, Branch, and Poppy, but mostly Branch. Branch is another male lead in an animated sequel that has absolutely nothing to do. His entire arc was finished by the first film, and what does he get? A flimsy “I gotta tell Poppy how much I love her and I don’t know how to” plot. Yeah, not only does he get the same treatment as Gnomeo in Sherlock Gnomes, Ralph in Ralph Breaks the Internet, and Kristoff in Frozen II, Branch is quite possibly the worst of them. They even regressed his character’s design to be more like how he was in the first film. I don’t get that decision. At least you can talk about some commentary or themes with Kristoff’s Lost in the Woods sequence. Poppy gets a slightly better story, but she teeters on being too unlikable and stubborn. I get it’s the parallel story to Queen Barb, but you have to balance out a story arc with this kind of stubborn character carefully, because she could come off as more unlikable and annoying than anything else.

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While it aims high and doesn’t make the landing, I still enjoyed watching Trolls: World Tour. It’s one of those films that I think people will talk more about as time goes on. Now, this is a unique situation for this film as to how I would recommend it. On one hand, if you have kids, or want to do a watch party, then, yeah, I highly recommend checking it out. It will be worth the $20 asking price for rentals. On the other hand, if you are hesitant to put that much down for a rental, I would wait to buy it or rent it at a lower price point. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and I stand by my criticisms, but I still enjoyed watching it. We will have to see if we come back to this world in the future outside of the new animated series going up on NBC’s service Peacock in the future. It’s kind of up to you if you want to support it. Now then, next time, we will be talking about Netflix’s first major animated film of 2020, The Willoughbys.

The Other Side of Animation 182: Sword of the Stranger 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!)

Parental Warning/Heads up!: This film is not meant for younger viewers. It can be pretty bloody, and you will see limbs getting sliced off. Viewer’s discretion advised, and enjoy the review!

I have written almost 200 reviews about animated films, and the film genres I wish I could talk about more are animated films that revolve around samurai. You would think in Japan at least, there would be an abundant list of animated films that are inspired by the many classic samurai films of old cinema. We have many live-action samurai films we can name and recommend, but in terms of samurai or ninja films in animation, unless you count franchise films from something like Naruto, the pickings are slim. Sure, I could talk about Ninja Scroll, but that film comes with a lot of baggage that I need to sort out first with that director’s work. So, what am I personally left with? Well, why not Sword of the Stranger?

Directed by Masahiro Ando, animated by Bones, and originally released back in 2007, Sword of the Stranger is an action animated film that made the festival rounds before originally being brought over by Bandai with a dub by Oceans Studios. It had a positive reception through 2007 and its original US release in 2008, but after Bandai left the anime distribution game, Funimation picked up the rights and re-released it. I bought the Funimation re-release, but only now have had time to rewatch it, since we are all (at least, I hope you are all) isolating ourselves. It was time to go through my backlog, and I decided to start with this film. So, what did I think about it? I would recommend reading more to find out.

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Our story revolves around a young boy named Kotaro, dubbed by Aidan Drummond. He is first seen in the film running away from a burning monastery when it was attacked by a group known as the Ming. The Ming is a group of warriors from China that is in Japan to perform some kind of ritual that requires Kotaro. Luckily for the boy, Kotaro runs into a wandering swordsman named Nanashi, dubbed by Michael Adamthwaite. Nanashi is then hired by Kotaro to protect him from the villainous grasp of the Ming and the right hand of the group Luo-Lang, dubbed by Scott McNeil.

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In terms of stories, this samurai tale is nothing all that unique. We have seen the wandering swordsman with a dark past, the bratty kid that’s important to the main plot of the film, and villains with a plan that goes beyond simple conquering of the world. If you are looking for something that fully stands out from the classic samurai flicks of old cinema, then you probably won’t find much here. On one hand, you want to see something different or a style of film taken to new heights or interesting directions. With all that said, on the other hand, if you can execute your film with likable characters, great cinematography and heart-pounding action sequences, then being more of the same stuff that you love before is okay. It’s all in the execution, and the execution here is great. You get a lot of beautiful environmental shots, fairly quiet scenes with Nanshi and Kotaro bonding, and when the film decides to focus on the action, it gives you everything that you want with samurai action flicks. They set up the mood, and the action is fast-paced, but followable. The fights show how threatening and powerful the characters are. Nanashi is already hinting at it, because he can take down most opponents with his sword still in the hilt. Plus, who wouldn’t want to see the villain tear through a group of 10+ bandits with ease to set the stakes in the story? Luckily, the story has enough depth to it to simply not be an action-packed tech demo. The depth will be familiar sounding to many with a swordsman who can’t let go of his past actions, and what you are willing to do to keep ahold of your beliefs. It’s not a deep movie, but the movie didn’t need to be deep, it just needed to be this fun easy-to-get-into action flick.

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The animation in Sword of the Stranger is quite good. The studio behind this film’s visuals, Bones, the same animation studio behind Cowboy Bebop: The MovieWolf’s Rain, the two animated Fullmetal Alchemist films, the Prototype short from Halo Legends, RahXephon, and the universally popular My Hero Academia series and films, really flexes their talent here, as it’s a beautiful film to watch in motion. It has sequences that set up the spectacle of it all, and it’s all so fluid. Sure, sometimes they use a little shaky cam that feels unnecessary, but in general, the designs are consistent, expressive, and they all move well. Another highlight of the presentation is the music. The epic samurai film score by composer Naoki Sato fit perfectly into the film. It’s grand in scale, with sweeping tunes that carry the film and make you feel engrossed in its world. It’s especially effective during the fight sequences, as it has an eerie calmness, then bombastic drums and tunes to help keep everyone on edge as swords clash. The voice cast is also pretty great. I know many older anime fans will recognize the studio that did the dub for the film, Oceans Studios, so it’s not all that surprising to see names like Scott McNeil and Paul Dobson pop up. Aidan Drummond almost teeters on being annoying, but he does a good job portraying Kotaro. I do like the dub overall, as it has talented people like Tabitha St. Germain, Brian Dobson, Michal Adamthwaite, Alistair Abell, Maryke Hendrikse, Brian Drummond, and Hiro Kanagawa.

Now, as for complaints, I have a few. While the action and story can be thrilling, the characters aren’t all that interesting. They are your very typical characters for these samurai flicks, with the bratty kid and the lone ronin who has a dark past that he tries to forget. The villains are slightly undercooked as well. Sure, the main bad guy of the villains is entertaining, but the rest of them don’t have a whole lot of dimension to them. It doesn’t help either that the film has many side characters. Not too many to take away from the plot like an early Toei-made film, but you are introduced to a character who is a bit bland, and then is killed unceremoniously. Yeah, I wish I cared more about that one person before the film gives him a gruesome death, and isn’t so worried about being macho and maybe/maybe not being xenophobic to the Chinese villains of the film. The film also does that thing that I rarely like in Japanese-animated films, the abrupt ending. Yes, this film does have an actual ending, and not “oh, we ran out of time”, but it does come close to that feeling, since it’s like “well, the movie ended, the boy and the ronin are the only ones left, and -insert pause here- that’s it!” To put it lightly, it’s a little frustrating.

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While not original, Sword of the Stranger is a wonderful action flick that I find myself watching or thinking about anytime I want to watch an animated action flick. It’s really easy to find the film on Blu-ray and DVD since Funimation re-released it after Bandai left the anime distribution game. You can even watch it on Funimation’s streaming service. So, we reveled in samurai action, and now we must change the tune of the next review as we talk about Trolls: World Tour!

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 181: Shaun the Sheep: Farmageddon 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!)

Listen, what I’m about to say may sound silly and ridiculous, but I think if stop-motion animated features want to be around, they need to stop being in theaters. Let’s face it, the film-going community and the casual audience have failed to keep stop-motion alive in theaters, and while some of the blame should be put on the marketing teams and release strategies, you have to go see these films in theaters for them to make money. If you want to see them in theaters in the future, then you should have made sure Early ManMissing LinkKubo and the Two StringsThe Shaun the Sheep Movie, and other stop-motion films that weren’t Coraline made money in theaters, and not just afterward by renting or buying the Blu-ray. That’s why I thought it was smart when Netflix picked up and released Aardman’s recent animated outing, Shaun the Sheep: Farmageddon.

Directed by Will Becher and Richard Phelan, this is a sequel to the previous Shaun the Sheep film and series, but you can simply watch this film without having seen the first film or the series. It helps that this series is as basic as can be in all of the right ways possible. So, what do I think about the newest Aardman film? Well, let’s find the crop circles in the fields and check it out.

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The story revolves around our lovable shenanigans-driven sheep Shaun. After getting into more trouble with the farmer and Bitzer, Shaun encounters an odd new addition to the farm in the form of an alien! This spacey individual landed on the outskirts of the town, and is trying to get back home. That won’t be easy for Shaun, since not only does he have to take care of an alien that’s a child, but the Ministry of Alien Detection, also known as M.A.D, is on the lookout for it as well. Can Shaun help out his new alien friend while also learning to become more responsible?

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So, let’s talk about the story as a whole because unlike the previous film, this one is focusing on Shaun himself. The rest of the cast is there, including the other sheep, Bitzer, and the farmer, but until a little later on for Bitzer, everyone else gets relegated to a side story. The main theme and arc for Shaun in this film is for him to be an adult and to take responsibility in life. It’s not a complex theme, but it is something you see throughout the entire film, as Shaun and the alien explore the town and avoid the hands of M.A.D. You can tell that Shaun is characterized more as a teen, while the alien is the kid as you see him try to keep the alien kid out of trouble and to mature throughout the story. Despite there being no dialogue in the film, the chemistry among the characters is relatively strong. I’m sure anyone watching this can relate to Shaun on some level as he acts like a big brother or sibling to the alien. Another step up from the previous film is that the villain is more interesting. Yes, it’s a generic FBI/Area 51 organization, but the leader of the group is way more interesting than the animal control person from the first film. It also helps that her goons and the little robot assistant are also given a lot of personality. Like I said a second ago, there is no spoken dialogue, so you have to rely on the performances of the characters, main and secondary, to give the individual characters personality and life.

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Animation-wise, it’s Aardman, and their stop-motion work is always top-notch. It might not reach the impeccable work that Laika does with their stop-motion, but the animators at Aardman are still masters of the craft. Every single character is so easily identifiable in who they are as characters. Even down to the most minor of characters, you can tell who they are by their movements. Like the previous film and the two TV series, the physical comedy and the visual gags are always funny. Sure, this film has some slightly childish humor, but it’s executed well, so it’s not as distracting as the fart joke in Early Man or the juvenile humor seen in Ne-Zha.

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My only real complaint is how the film handles the side characters with the farmer and the other sheep. Due to the fact that the story focuses on Shaun, the side story of the farmer wanting to bank on the alien phenomenon isn’t as great. Or, at the very least, it takes a little too long for the payoff to be funny. It feels like a sequel problem that they have all of your favorite characters from the series, but they have nothing to do. Don’t get me wrong, there are still some very funny visual gags with the sheep, but I missed their presence through a lot of the film. It even takes to about the halfway point for Bitzer to have more to do with the main story. I will say that at least the payoff with the side story colliding with the main story is very entertaining, and leads to a much more endearing and enjoyable third act than the first film.

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While I don’t think it has the same charm and heart as the first film, I still loved Shaun the Sheep: Farmageddon. I wish this had a chance in theaters, but knowing how everyone has turned on stop-motion films in theaters, it’s for the best that it ended up on Netflix. They actually care to have different animated films with varied and creative animation styles. Since we are all under lockdown until further notice, I highly recommend watching this film, and the new Shaun the Sheep series on Netflix, Shaun the Sheep: Adventures from Mossy Bottom. It’s another feather in Aardman’s cap, and I can’t wait to see what they do next. Now then, it’s time to play a little catch-up before Trolls: World Tour and The Willoughbys, so let’s check out a film that I have needed to review for a while. Next time, we will be looking at Sword of the Stranger.

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!