The Other Side of Animation 289: New Gods: Yang Jian Review

(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 keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Light Chaser Animation has been a rather fantastic new addition to the animation game. Since its founding in 2013, they have made it their goal to elevate the animation scene in China after years of stagnation and questionable quality. While they haven’t made a banger every single time, their contribution to the animation scene has been nothing but positive, especially after  2019, which was just a good year for China’s film scene with three major hits with The Wandering Earth, Nezha, and Light Chaser’s White Snake. After that, they have been hitting it out of the park. They are one of the most well-known animation houses in China, and they are putting out some killer films like New Gods: Yang Jian. 

Directed by Ji Zhao, and written by Muchuan, This is the second film in the New Gods franchise that takes place after New Gods: Nezha Reborn. Our story follows Yang Jian, dubbed by Nicholas Andrew Louie. He used to be a powerful god, but after an incident that happened 1500 years ago, he is now skating on by in life as a bounty hunter, as he and his crew go from bounty to bounty so their ship doesn’t run out of fuel and they don’t starve. After taking care of a recent bounty, they are approached by a mysterious woman named Wanluo, dubbed by Christine Lin. She requests Yang to help capture a young man named Chenxiang, who has taken a precious and important artifact with powerful properties. Yang Jian takes on the task as he tries to find this individual, leading to conspiracies, murder, and finding out what exactly is going on with the incident that happened so long ago and the characters at play in this overall scheme of things. 

Who knew that they could top the world-building from the previous film? What we get in this outing is essentially a steampunk take on Cowboy Bebop, where we follow our bounty hunter and his crew through different cities and unique locations, travel through warp stations, fight criminals from the underworld and the deities that help run things, all of which is backed by some very funky jazz/blues-like tunes. Of course, all of this is mixed with the distinct identity of the architect, which is so full of life, details, and personality. It’s rather shocking how much they fit into each scene as you truly feel like you are traversing a living world with bustling crowds and beautiful landscapes that show a world ravaged by war and other cataclysmic events. There are so many neat world-building moments, like the energy Chexiang steals during the early part of the film being guarded by a multi-armed beast with eyes in the palm of its hands. They put in a lot of effort to make the world feel cohesive and sensible as we explore a world where demons and gods use ships to race across the skies. Not only that, but we also have some of the most well-executed fight sequences seen in animation. At first, you think they aren’t going to bring back the power abilities from the previous film for this one due to how low-key and grounded the fights are during the beginning hour of the two-hour runtime. Then, during an important fight sequence with an obstacle in Chenxiang’s way, the powers come back, revealing how certain individuals can unlock special powers from their past. The studio really knows how to make these powers feel grand in scale and larger than life, especially when we see Yang Jian unleash his powers after so much of the film had him be like an animated version of Jackie Chan as he tries to avoid aggressive action unless required. It makes sense, due to how Yang’s story arc is basically holding onto the regrets of his past actions, and trying to let go of them. There are many twists and turns with how the story unfolds, with it feeling so cut and dry with what’s going on until you dive deeper and deeper into the morally gray and messy history and wires that are crossed between everyone involved. Some characters are holding back secrets from others, and some manipulate and use others for their own selfish needs. It’s a fascinating journey as it goes from steampunk action to fantastical action thriller as everything falls into place. We go from Yang being a laid-back reluctant hero who would rather not get involved with the bigger picture and then seeing him push against literal gods to fix the mistakes from the past, taking down the threat that wants to unleash powerful chaotic forces to wipe the world clean. 

Animation-wise, it might feel like they are sticking close to the human designs and visual fidelity that their previous films have used, but they find ways to still have these creative touches from the combination of CGI and ink painting visuals. When they look good from the ghetto, no need to make as many improvements as you would think. Sure, I want to see them experiment like other studios doing stuff like China’s other major release this year, Deep Sea, but New Gods is doing enough to not feel repetitive. The matter of fact is that all of the designs are appealing to look at and aren’t detracting from the story and experience of the film. The cast is great and the English dub is also doing fantastic with the cast that includes Nicholas Andrew Louie, Luke Naphat Sath, Parry Shen, Christine Lin, James Sie, Johnny Young Bosch, Stephanie Sheh, Su Ling Chan, David Chen, Angela Tan, Mick Lauer, Jimmie Yamaguchi, and many others. The music, as mentioned before, is a mixture of both jazz and fantastical. It gives the film a different flavor of music compared to the last film.

While some may prefer the dieselpunk visual look of the first New Gods film, and while this film makes some small stumbles in the second half, New Gods: Yang Jian is exactly the change of pace everyone should want to go out and find if they are getting burned out by US animation. It has a lot of the best aspects from Light Chasers Animation, and with this obviously building up of an epic franchise, we will have to see where they go with this retelling of mythological epics and their continued evolution of incredible CGI animated fare. Next time though, we will be talking about the next film in the Sword Art Online retelling films with Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of Deep Night

Rating: Essentials

The Other Side of Animation 288: The Amazing Maurice Review

(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 keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

You would think for such a famous author, Terry Pratchett, the creator of the popular Discworld series, there would be more adaptations of his work. His writing was whimsical, charming, and filled with delightful bits of humor and memorable characters. There haven’t been too many out in the wild and when you find them, they are not all that accessible. The most animated-related adaptation is probably Wyrd Sisters or Soul Music, which is noted for having the late great Christopher Lee who played the voice of Death. How on earth do we have a Discworld point-and-click adventure game, but not a Discworld animated series or animated feature? Still, I’m sure the estate is picky with what gets adapted, and who knows, maybe some of his work is easier to adapt than others for a feature film-length experience. This is where The Amazing Maurice comes into play and is one of the first feature films in the US in 2023.

Based on the book The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, this film is directed by Toby Genkel and written by Terry Rossio, who co-wrote some of your childhood favorite animated features like Aladdin, Shrek, and live-action films like The Mask of Zorro and the Pirates of the Caribbean films. The story revolves around a talking cat named Maurice, voiced by Hugh Laurie, who works with a human named Keith, voiced by Himesh Patel, to clear any town or city of rats. Though the thing that many will not know is that the two of them actually work with the group of rats that just so happen to be in town when they arrive. These include a few named ones like Darktan, voiced by Ariyon Bakare, Peaches, voiced by Gemma Arterton, Sardines, voiced by Joe Sugg, Nourishing, voiced by Julie Atherton, and Dangerous Beans, voiced by David Tenant. As they head into town for one last con, they realize something is up when there are no rats to be had or seen. With the help of the mayor’s daughter Malicia, voiced by Emilia Clarke, can they solve the town’s mystery and take down an individual named Boss Man, voiced by David Thewlis? 

One of the first details that should be pointed out about this film is the animation. Listen, it’s going to be a bit before the major studios put out their films, and that means we are going to get a couple of smaller releases before March and April. So, you should adapt your expectations to what varying degrees of quality you will probably see on the big and small screen. What’s impressive about this is how great the character animation is. You will see where the budget was invested, since despite having a mostly empty-looking city, the character animation is the best aspect of the film. The team of animators did these little details here and there that bring so much charm into the characters we see onscreen. Doing something as simple as Sardine’s movements differently than the other rats is such a fun little detail that people will probably not see or care about when first seen onscreen. It perfectly encapsulates his character and personality without hearing a single bit of dialogue. A lot of the comedy is executed well also. Even the villain has some of my favorite character animation of the year so far, due to how ragdoll he moves, but is still immensely imposing and threatening. While stills may not do his design justice, Maurice looks great. Just a quirky and cartoony cat that has a multitude of different facial expressions. Sure, a lot of the backgrounds and environments are empty and flat, but they do look nice. It’s not like they look like first-draft rough renders or anything like that. It’s polished for what the possibly small budget for this was. 

As for the story, it’s mostly a journey of connection through our characters realizing why they are important for one another and finding their inner talent and being able to save the day from actual corrupt forces that want to do bad in the world. The fact we have a group of flawed thieves is perfect for what the story is all about seeing as how they are crooks, but they aren’t literally stealing everything from right under the town’s people’s noses. I mean, they are stealing cash at first, but not to the extent the villains are. Sometimes, it’s fun to have flawed protagonists. You just have to make them likable, and while only some of the rats get personalities and names you can remember, they are likable. Maurice is egocentric and cocky, but he gets more sympathetic as time goes on. The human characters are pretty okay. The only one who has any real major personality is Emilia Clarke’s character, who is meta and self-aware about the ways stories are told and the tropes that unfold from within them. Keith is a decent wide-eyed and likable lead, but he has the more typical route of becoming a real hero. It really helps though that it has a killer voice cast that has been listed in the top part of this review. Cast the characters wrong, and it could derail everything. It also helps that this wasn’t a film that needed to be dubbed over since the stars are big enough for their own movie. For the comedy, it is more dialogue driven with wordplay and the reliant eeriness of the meta nature of the female lead. It isn’t always consistently funny, but it’s consistently charming. That’s more of a victory than if it had the most laughs. Sometimes, being more consistent is better than being ambitious but inconsistent. Also, if you are curious, yes, a certain fan-favorite character does show up, but he isn’t in the film a whole lot. 

In general, while it probably won’t be winning any major awards, The Amazing Maurice is a delightful surprise during a part of the year that was originally a time to dump smaller films to write off as failures or for people to catch up on the award season fodder. If you can see it in theaters, then give it a watch! Seeing a mostly positive reception to the film definitely makes this the most accessible and watchable film brought over by Viva Kids, and the fact they are confident enough to give it a theatrical release is admirable. Now, how big that release ends up being is probably the usual NYC and LA release and not an actual wide release. Still, if you can find time to watch this film, then do it! Definitely recommend checking it out while we wait until Netflix and the big studios drop their big films. Now then, it’s time to go big and epic as we talk about New Gods: Yang Jian. 

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 287: That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime The Movie: Scarlet Bond Review

(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 keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

While the isekai genre is flooding the anime scene like how tentpole genre films have taken up theater screenings, it doesn’t mean that there can’t be great titles in the genre. There are reasons why so many light novel authors, manga creators, and anime studios/production committees chase trends and want their next big isekai hit. The problem then comes with how most aren’t willing to try hard to differentiate themselves from others. It results in productions that result in bland characters, bland world-building, mediocre animation, and just end up wasting time and space, when there could be other more interesting stories that could have been told instead. Thankfully, for shows like That Time I was Reincarnated as a Slime, they do show you why isekais can be great by doing everything right. They can have compelling characters, fantastic animation, stories that are not just about a power fantasy for a male audience, and no harem so the female characters are able to shine as characters. While some of the anime tropes can be a bit much at points, the franchise has stayed near the top of the best isekai shows for a reason. Sadly, isekai franchises don’t really lend themselves to films like other action franchises in the anime world. Still, that won’t stop production committees from doing so, and now we have That Time I was Reincarnated as a Slime: Scarlett Bond

This film is directed by Yasuhito Kikuchi, written by Kazuyuki Fudeyasu, and produced by 8bit. We follow our main lead Rinmaru Tempest, dubbed again by Brittney Karbowski. On a rather normal day while crafting the ever-so-major road that connects his kingdom to another that has been talked about for two seasons now, the orcs get attacked by a raging ogre named Hiiro, dubbed by Jonah Scott. Thankfully, the other ogres come to help and realize that they know him as a pseudo-brother/leader of the village in which they used to live. As things calm down, Hiiro learns that his fellow ogres were okay and learns more about what happened. After hearing what was going on since he last saw everyone, Hiiro asks for help with the kingdom he was from, due to the queen being cursed and the land around them dying. Can Rimiru figure out what’s going on with the kingdom, the queen, and find out who is behind these dastardly deeds?

The biggest problem with isekais is the fact that most shows in that genre of anime can have well-told stories, but due to the lead being an overly powerful ball of destruction and invincibility, the stakes tend to be low, unless the power level, while strong, isn’t stronger than most other opponents the hero could face. When every fight is one-sided, then no one will be happy or invested with the story since we know the lead can’t get hurt. It’s why it’s aggravating that some shows still keep this up, even after franchises like One Punch Man and Konosuba have pretty much ruined those fantasies of either being able to stop any foe with no sweat or have a harem of lovely ladies who all want you because they show the flaws in those types of stories. So, making a film based on an isekai power fantasy should have some easy solutions that include not making Rimuru the lead, letting other characters shine, and or make a threat strong enough to even outshine Rimuru. It would be basic plot stuff, sure, but if you don’t take those elements into consideration, then you end up with a story that’s hard to invest in, not because of it’s confusing or hard to follow, but because our lead can just do anything and everything and that doesn’t result in a compelling arc or story to sit through that’s almost two hours long. A lot of the charm and appeal of the franchise is that while it has its power fantasy moments, it’s more about building an optimistically-fueled utopia where everyone, no matter the origin or life, can live peacefully among one another in a prosperous world. While there is a ton of action, it’s also about world-building, conversations, negotiations, and political power structures. It just so happens that all of those details are sandwiched between appealing-looking anime characters and bombastic and vibrant action set pieces. Sadly, the fact that Rimuru does take up the mantle as the lead instead of the other characters like Hiiro is a real downside to this overall product. Hiiro’s angle of seeing the actions caused by Tempest are way more interesting. The first 10 or so minutes before the misunderstanding is essentially squashed to make way for everything else are probably the best part of the film. 

Heck, any scene where it’s Hiiro being alongside his other ogre friends is genuinely fun, but there are so few of them due to the political conspiracy of what exactly is going on with this kingdom. The problems also come in with how forgettable a lot of the new characters are. The old geezers and the two guards that follow Hiiro don’t leave much of an impression. It’s a real problem when the queen is just as bland. Even adding some small personality quirks or details in their movements would have left much more of an impression. Oh, and it doesn’t stop there either. The villain? This villain might be one of the most forgettable villains in anime franchise film history. He doesn’t even appear in the film until the halfway point, and you will quickly forget his name and his antics that could have led to more interesting layers to Hiiro’s journey, but when he starts to be all one-note evil, there isn’t much else. The story isn’t entirely helpful to newcomers either, due to at this point in two seasons of the show, a ton of characters have been introduced and they don’t get a lot of screen time. Their roles within the story vary depending on who is who in the ranking of power in the world this franchise has crafted. Not that some don’t leave a fun quirk or moment for themselves, but be ready to just wing it and just assume they were shown or introduced at some point during the show’s run. The film is at one point so disinterested in the clash with Hiiro and the villain that it cuts away to another character who knows how to take down the curse, and once again, I found that plot more compelling. Maybe that’s harsh to say, but it sure feels like it wanted to focus on the other characters more, and give us exposition and backstory as to why the kingdom is as it is and or why the tiara/crown is cursed and who cursed it. Even when we do focus back on the fight with the main villain, the film has to have flimsy excuses for the lead not to end his life with the snap of his fingers. It’s aggravating to sit here and not feel immersed in the story or drama because you know in the back of your head that this could have been 20 minutes shorter.

Sorry if this review sounds very negative so far, but there are aspects to adore. The animation looks great and the dynamic fight sequences are thrilling to watch unfold. The voice cast is as good as usual with Ricco Fajardo doing some stellar work as Benimaru, alongside Jonah Scott. Not to say the others don’t have their moments, because the dub cast for this franchise tends to hit it out of the park with names like Mallorie Rodak, Tyson Rinehart, Michelle Rojas, Tia Ballard, Chris Rager, Ken Williams, Ryan Reynolds (the voice actor, not the Hollywood actor), Charles Campbell, Daman Mills, Kristen McGuire, Cherami Leigh, Cris George, and Caitlin Glass to name a few. The composer is Hitoshi Fujima, who has composed for anime before including 2021’s Visual Prison. 

It’s a shame because what this film ends up ultimately being is just another action franchise film, but an isekai franchise film. I’m sure this will maybe be connected in some way to the rest of the franchise, since having films that actually take place within the continuity of the show are more popular than ever, but the fact is that Scarlet Bond is a sadly forgettable romp. It’s not a terrible film, and if you love the franchise, you will love the film, but if you are looking for more substantial stories in Japanese animated features, you are better off going somewhere else for them. Still, if you want to see more Japanese animated features, you should see as many of them as you can in theaters. Who knows, maybe you will love this one more than me. Now then, next time, we will be tackling the CGI feature based on the beloved work of Terry Pratchett. Next time, we will be getting a visit from The Amazing Maurice

Rating: Rent it

The Other Side of Animation 286: The Legend of Vox Machina Season 2 Review

(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 keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Critical Role has made itself known as one of the most popular and best DnD adjacent series to watch nerdy voice actors play Dungeons & Dragons. In three major campaigns for almost 10 years now, Matthew Mercer and his cohorts have crafted some of the most iconic fantasy adventuring parties. While Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast higher-ups and execs are trying to put out the fire they have put out with the situation with the Original Game License as of writing this, it doesn’t detract that Critical Role is one of the series that has revitalized  interest in the gaming. All the while, the owners of said franchise are trying to burn the fanbase to the ground right when a new film is about to come out. Anyway, that doesn’t and won’t stop people from loving Critical Role, and this new season is worth all of the hype. 

Created by Matthew Mercer, based on his own personal Dungeons & Dragons campaign, and produced by Titmouse. Directly picking up after season 1, our group of heroes that includes sibling elves Vex and Vax Vessar, voiced by Liam O-Brien and Laura Bailey, Grog Strongjaw, voiced by Travis Willingham, Percy, voiced by Taliesin Jaffe, Pike Trickfoot, voiced by Ashley Johnson, Scanlan Shorhalt, voiced by Sam Riegel, Keyleth, voiced by Marisha May, now must take on an epic journey to save not only the kingdom, but the realm from a group of dragons called the Chroma Conclave. This is a group of ancient dragons led by a red dragon named Thordak, voiced by Lance Reddick. The other dragons include Umbrasyl, voiced by Matthew Mercer, Vorugal, voiced by Liam O’Brien, and Raishan, voiced by Cree Summers. Our motley crew of adventurers realizes they are not strong enough to take down any of them and decide to find some special magical items to help them take down these dragons. Along the way, they will go through their own personal story arcs and encounter personal roadblocks that will get in their way of killing the dragons that want to rule the world. 

So, what does season 2 improve upon and add on top of the stellar first season? Because, this is the story arc that takes up a mass majority of the first Critical Role campaign and while we all love listening and relistening to the video versions of their adventures that go on for a few hours, there is no way they could fit all of that into each episode. What’s interesting is how they have pretty much had to rewrite the entire backstory for some characters to fit an entirely new origin story. Now, it isn’t as dramatic as it sounds, because many of the characters you love in this quirky crew of dragon slayers keep their origins like Vax, Vex, and Grog. The only one who ends up getting any major change to the story is Scanlan, but you will find out what happens when you get to that point in the show. Still, they make some changes to how certain side or guest characters from the original campaign play into the respective arcs. From the trailer for season two, you will see the animated incarnations of fan-favorite campaign 1 guest stars Zahra Hydris, voiced by Mary Elizabeth McGlynn (who is also a major part of the behind-the-scenes side of production for this show) and Kashaw Vesh, voiced by Will Friedle. Not much has truly changed about their personalities, but since we skipped the original arc where these two were introduced, they reworked their first arrival to the show as pretty good foils to the team with some backstory and some of the details and interactions intact and or changed for the better. At the end of the day, you have to recraft a lot of this show to fit a TV series that’s more story-driven than a streaming series. Not that it’s a bad thing, because while fans of the franchise will know or recognize certain story beats that will be tackled in this season, you would worry that out of 12 episodes, they are going to shove in too much and be a bundled mess of trying to get through as much story from the original campaign as possible. Luckily, every main character gets about two-three episodes to have an arc, and they tend to keep the most important story beats and moments from the start of the arc to the first encounter with one of the dragons. 

It’s a nice change of pace to see everyone else get some time in the spotlight. Not that the first season didn’t have any moments where everyone got to shine, because it did, but let’s be real, a lot of the first season is the Percy show due to how it becomes about his dangerous journey to get revenge on his family. Everyone had their moments to shine, but you wouldn’t say they got the most focus. It helps the new season feel more like it was all about the entire team. It helps everyone have more focused plots and they weren’t rushing to get to the end of this arc. That’s what happens when ya get renewed for a third season before the second season airs. Still, seeing everyone show off different shades and sides of their characters is a real high point of this season. 

Animation-wise, this is a vast improvement from the first season. The backgrounds look better, the movements look better, the compositing looks better, the dynamic action feels snappier, and its use of CGI is vastly superior to its use from the first season. The dragons especially look amazing. The way they craft their bodies and textures makes it look less like a cel-shaded CGI creature than the first season’s dragon looked like, compared to everyone else. It seemed out of place, but these dragons in season 2 felt like they were in the same shot as the 2D characters and backgrounds. The voice cast is as stellar as usual. When you base your entire DnD show with some of the industry’s best voice actors, then you know you are going to get stellar performances, and the new actors they brought in for the new cast members include Henry Winkler, Billy Boyd, Lance Reddick, Cree Summers, Will Friedle, Alanna Ubach, Cheech Marin, Troy Baker, Sendhil Ramamurthy, Ralph Inerson, and Mary Elizabeth McGlynn. 

Critical Role’s The Legend of Vox Machina Season 2 is how you do a second season right. You up the stakes, you don’t slow down the pacing, you expand upon the characters, you build up the world around them, and for those that don’t watch the video form of the first campaign, feel welcome into jumping into this world that will probably get them interested to see the original campaign. It’s a win-win for everyone because both are a great way to experience solid storytelling and fun character interactions from some of the industry’s best voice actors. The only difference is that while the video form of campaign 1 is great, season 2 cuts a lot of the fat and streamlines it. Since everyone who is a major part of season 1 has creative control over how they tell the story, and how to tell it the best, this is how you do perfect adaptations. It’s a shame that Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast were or still are trying to burn as many bridges as possible by trying to make Dungeons and Dragons as monetized and hostile as possible, please don’t take it out on the people working on the game when the higher-ups are at fault there, and don’t let their antics take away from enjoying Critical Role and this new season of Vox Machina. Definitely give it a watch on Prime Video and it’s doing the usual three-episode-a-week release strategy. You will definitely be down for some dragon slaying with this party. Now then, next time, we will be talking about a particularly self-titled “amazing” cat with The Amazing Maurice

Rating: Essential

The Other Side of Animation 285: Puss in Boots The Last Wish Review

(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 keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

A lot can change for a franchise when it is now over 20 years old. The Shrek franchise is one of the most influential franchises in the world of animation. With all that said, it is interesting to look back and see what has changed from 2001 to now. Animation and storytelling in the medium of filmmaking have evolved and while you can’t take away the impact the first film had, it’s easy to see how the franchise has moved away from Shrek to the other popular character of the series, Puss in Boots. It has honestly outlived the rest of the franchise due to having a popular Netflix animated series years after there were any talks or plans to really bring the brand back to life. Sure, there were talks about how a new Puss in Boots film started all the way back in 2012, but they didn’t really get the ball rolling until six or so years ago. This was probably due to being on and off in development because of what was going on with DreamWorks at that point in time before and after they got bought out by Universal, and Illumination’s Chris Melandandri taking up the job to executive produce and help helm both Illumination and DreamWorks. Obviously, it got a boost in getting put back in production after 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. It’s interesting to see how one character has become its own franchise within a major franchise. I guess you can call it “franchiseception” or some other outdated pop culture joke. Either way, this film got audience-goers wondering what direction this film would go in, and how it might or might not be a testing ground to see if people still cared about the franchise. There was also the push of the development of a fifth Shrek film, resulting in one of 2022’s best animated films and one of the best films from the studio. 

This film is directed by Joel Crawford, written by Tom Wheeler and Tommy Swerdlow, and created at DreamWorks Animation. The story follows the titular brave, fearless, and heroic individual we all know and love named Puss in Boots, voiced once again by Antonio Banderas. After having a party that results in the slaying of a giant, he’s about to perform another toe-tapping tune, when Puss ends up dying. After being told by the town’s doctor/vet/jack-of-all-trades that he only has one more life, Puss stomps out, mad that he was told to basically hang up his boots and live a peaceful life. After having an encounter with one of DreamWorks’ most imposing antagonists, voiced by Wagner Moura, and losing against this dangerous foe, Puss goes into hiding at Mama Luna’s for the remainder of his days. Upon meeting a dog that’s hiding at Luna’s named later as Perrito, voiced by Harvey Guillen, the house is ransacked by a group of bounty hunters that force Puss to jump back out of retirement to find this wishing star to gain back his nine lives. Along the way, Puss and Perrito join back up with Kitty Softpaws, voiced by Salma Hayek, and try to avoid the grasps of Goldie Locks and the Three Bears, voiced by Florence Pugh, Way Winstone, Olivia Colman, and Samson Kayo,  and Big Jack Horner, voiced by John Mulaney. Can Puss realize what’s important in living a good life? Will he avoid the grasp of this new dangerous foe? Will Perrito not have some of the darkest humor in the film? 

The big thing with DreamWorks is that they are never in one spot in terms of tone with every film they make. Some of them are more story-driven. Some are more comedy-driven, and leave plot and emotional connections to the side. Some even try to balance it out in both drama and comedy. Sometimes, it doesn’t really work. You have some films that are all jokes, but no cohesive story, or the story wasn’t good enough to walk alongside the jokes that were being thrown a mile a minute. Sometimes, they struggle with keeping a tone that feels consistent, and it has only worked a couple of times. Mostly in their Kung Fu Panda films has it worked the best. Puss in Boots: The Last Wish though? It has reached that point where its humor and drama are perfectly synced with one another. Who would have thought that a legacy sequel to a spin-off of the franchise would go this hard with its story, themes, action, animation, and characters? It could have easily lapped up the nostalgia from people who have made the franchise live on by having it be a part of their childhood and through the internet culture of memes. Instead, they didn’t make a film until they had a story to tell, which follows Puss’s arc about him realizing his own morality and what’s important in his life. It also tackles elements of found family and dealing with things like death. Oh, and shout-out to the small story-important moment of introducing viewers to what panic attacks look like and what Perrito as a service dog’s job is to do. You will rarely see a studio tackle something like that and we can only hope more studios are willing to tackle some difficult topics or show some things that happen in real life. 

It’s a shockingly complex film despite it also having some of the best comedy in it, not just relying on making references to real-world things or doing a simple flip or take on a pre-existing fairy tale trope. It all comes from the characters, and at every point, it almost becomes too much with how much the entire cast steals the scenes when they are the focus on the screen, or when they banter with other characters. While many are talking about our mysterious wolf friend for being one of the most realized villains DreamWorks has ever put on screen, Jack Horner is an absolute scene stealer and such a distinct villain idea that it’s amazing that the previous films didn’t try something like a nursery rhyme character with a severe case of inferiority. They could have easily done that for the third and fourth film, but instead, we got the third film rehashing one of the villains from the second film, and the fourth film using another fairytale character as a villain. Nothing feels undercooked or throwaway. 

The other element that people have adored has been making buzz in just about every review and word-of-mouth discussion of the film, the animation. Yes, every studio is taking notes from Spider-Verse, but who cares anymore? The animation industry has needed a kick in the butt to evolve and expand upon its visual horizon. It might only do the lower framerate thing during certain action beats, but the painted look of the world and designs are gorgeous. We can finally make concept art into reality, and all it takes is for the team to do it from ground zero when the film is in production. DreamWorks has some of the best character animation in the industry and the humans have finally moved away from the realism route the previous Shrek films took and are way better-looking. It makes you wonder what DreamWorks could do with previous releases if they were able to go all the way with the stylized looks of things with films like Monsters vs. Aliens. DreamWorks is also incredible with their action set pieces, and that is no different here as this has some of the most exciting action in animation history.  Heitor Pereira crafts the exciting and atmospheric soundtrack and worked on franchises like Despicable Me and films like Madagascar 2, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimmaron, and Pearl Harbor. The voice cast is stellar. Not only is it apparent that Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek do not skip a beat with their characters, but everyone else feels more immersed within their characters. You can probably pick up who they are, but they are never being as distracting as certain films that have star-studded casts.  Ray Winstone, Olivia Colman, Harvey Guillen, Samson Kayo, Joh Mulaney, Wagner Moura, Florence Pugh, and Da’Vine Joy Randolph do a great job with their roles and put in some of the best voice performances of 2022. 

No matter how many lives you have, no matter how you slice it with this new iteration of the Shrek franchise, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is a triumph, not only for the studio or the franchise but animation in general. It might have some of the usual clunky DreamWorks tropes and ideals, but they are overshadowed by a fantastic script, the most endearing characters in the franchise, and some of the most stunning anime from 2022. Now then, next time, we will talk about the new season of a well loved animated series from 2022. Sadly, it is coming out when the higher ups of Wizards of The Coast and Hasbro are trying to be really scummy about Dungeons & Dragons. You will see what I mean soon. 

Rating: Essential

The Other Side of Animation 284 – Scrooge: A Christmas Carol

(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 keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)



One of the biggest problems with having a timeless classic is how it branches off into a multitude of different adaptations of the said classic. You will see them take one form, and then another one, or maybe a musical! And then, you will see that musical get adapted into a film, and then people want their crack at that version of the timeless tale. It’s tough, because you don’t want to radically change anything that makes the original amazing, but not every adaptation needs to fully be a 1 on 1 comparison. You need to have some kind of fingerprint that makes your take distinct due to how many versions of something like A Christmas Carol there are in the world. You can usually find one that has stuck with you whether it has Mickey Mouse, The Muppets, or the film adaptation of the Leslie Bricusse Scrooge starring Albert Finney, which is my favorite version. So, this year’s Christmas review will be of Scrooge: A Christmas Carol, a CGI animated feature that is an animated take on the musical. 

This version of the classic tale is directed by Stephen Donnelly, co-written by Donnelly and the original writer of Scrooge, Leslie Bricusse (which is probably more of a royalty/rights situation due to Leslie passing away in 2021). The animated version of the story obviously stars Mr. Ebaneneezer Scrooge, voiced by Luke Evans. As the story goes, Scrooge hates Christmas with a vengeance and how everyone delights in partaking in it, including his employee Bob Cratchit, voiced by Johnny Flynn. That night on Christmas Eve, Scrooge goes home with his dog Prudence only to have the arrival of the ghostly spirit of Scrooge’s last partner, Jacob Marley, voiced by the High Sparrow himself, Jonathan Pryce. Marley puts the fear of the afterlife in Scrooge and tells him that he will be visited by three spirits. These include the candle wax-like Ghost of Christmas Past, voiced by Olivia Coleman, the bombastic and lively Ghost of Christmas Present, voiced by Trevor Dion Nicholas, and the ghoulishly evil-looking Ghost of Christmas Future. Can Scrooge change his ways? 

So, not to get personal with this review, but the 1970s Scrooge is one of my, if not my favorite Christmas movie. I watch it every year with the family on Christmas Day, and it’s the adaptation of the book I watch the most. So, if I sound more critical, it’s because this incarnation is basing itself on a film that’s close to this critic’s heart. What was one of the fun aspects of the original story is how it’s a cautionary tale, but also gothic horror. It was a dark story, and to be frank, this film does seem like it wanted to have its gothic horror, but their main focus was making a family-friendly version of the tale so it would be in that roundtable of A Christmas Carol viewings for families, alongside the Disney and Muppet version. It leans a bit too much on the family-friendly side, as they do what a lot of Toei animated films used to do all of the time back then with the small animal mascots. Scrooge gets a dog, and The Ghost of Christmas Past and Future share these little sprite-like beings that have no real reason to be there. Sure, depending on the version you watch, Christmas Carol can get dark, but it’s a fun dark, and not intensely stressful like Smile, Nope, or Hereditary. They expand upon Scrooge’s past and show more scenes of his slow turn from a kind human to who he was in the present time period. It just seems like they didn’t need to do this because you get the idea of what happens when the “Happiness” sequence happens, but they shorten that part to make room for more scenes and original song sequences that are exclusive to this version of the film. 

Oh, right, there are original songs in this film, and they are a mixed bag. This wouldn’t be so distracting if they didn’t remove songs from the original musical to make room for these new ones. They feel too modern and really detract when they do use music from the original musical. Not that they aren’t sung well, but the first song used in this version of the film is very forgettable. That being said, you can tell that the animators by Timeless Films did a lot of great work during this opening sequence, and make sure to give this film its own distinct visual flair. It has a lot of bright vibrant colors that do detract from the original’s more somber atmosphere. The other new songs are fine, but they feel out of place with the other ones including Luke Evan’s rock opera song that he sings before Marley arrives. It just has a ton of different story decisions that really do hamper the original tone that, while having its own moments that work, don’t compare to the original. The one song sequence I did like was between Luke Evans and Jessie Buckley, but when push comes to shove, the original version of Happiness is still the best version of that moment in the film when Scrooge sees his past. They even push the side characters even more to the side and don’t leave much of an impression unlike the live-action film. The rest of the humans look great and while they come close to looking like they are from something from either advertisements or some of the more well-known mobile games, the film looks fine for what was assumedly not on a large budget. They throw in a lot of Christmas flair and visuals, but personally, the ghosts got the best design boost by being in animation. The Ghost of Christmas Past and Jacob Marley have probably my favorite visual designs. Marley’s more ice/blue flame look is awesome to see unfold when he arrives and Christmas Past is inspired by a candle and made of wax has some of the best animation in the film. You can tell the animators had a ton of fun making her work. Even if Olivia Coleman is maybe hamming it up too much. Ghost of Christmas Future has the least interesting design, and what makes some other adaptations work is how they handle this specific ghost in general. Even Jim Carrey and Robert Zemeckis’ take on the ghost does some truly spooky things by making it a shadow along the walls, and that’s great. Sadly, the animation isn’t consistently well done when you get to the Thank You Very Much scene, the animation took a hit and is way too robotic and stiff when it is one of the more darkly comedic and lively scenes from the original musical. The one thing this film doesn’t fully mess up is the stuff with Tiny Tim. I mean, it’s hard to mess up one of the most adorable kids in fiction. If you mess that up, then you aren’t a good director. 

It sounds like this isn’t a very good adaptation, but there is stuff to like. A lot of the animation looks good, and at moments, it really captures the somber and eerie tone of the film even when it’s aiming for a more family-friendly version. The voice cast is pretty good with Luke Evans, Johnny Flynn, Jessie Buckley, Olivia Coleman, James Cosmo, Fra Fee, Rupert Turnbull, Rebecca Gethings, and Giles Terera to name a few of the major actors they got for the film. When it does slow down and show some of the plot beats from the original, it does do those scenes well. The music is composed well by Jeremy Hollen-Smith, and while I’m not super fond of the new and old songs in how they are executed, they are sung well. When you have a guy who was the Genie on the Aladdin Broadway show, you know you are going to have a fantastic Ghost of Christmas Present. 

It’s a solid adaptation, but if it didn’t try to feel so modern and family-friendly, even compared to other more family-friendly adaptations of the source material, it would leave a more lasting impression. It has some solid visuals, a few decent musical numbers, and good voice performances. It’s a fun time, but I wouldn’t call it one of the better films of the year. If you have yet to see this version, then there is a reason to give it a watch. It’s different enough to stand out, but even with my underwhelming impressions of this version, I bet this one will make the rounds every Christmas. Most people will watch more than one version of A Christmas Carol every year during this time period. Either way, see it for yourself and come up with your own thoughts about it. For now, it’s time to relax, work on some editorials, and enjoy the holidays. 

Rating: Rent it (well, it’s a streaming-only film, but still.)

The Other Side of Animation 283: Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio Review

(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 keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Guillermo Del Toro is one of the most recognizable and beloved filmmakers in the film industry. Anytime he makes a new film, you know you are going to be in for a whimsically crafted experience of mature tones and a wonder that you won’t find with any other filmmaker. Who else could jump between genres crafting films like Pacific Rim, Mimic, The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth, Nightmare Alley, The Shape of Water, Blade II, Hellboy, and Crimson Peak? Every film he has created has resulted in one that is distinct and could not be mistaken for any other filmmaker’s work. He has such a passion for what he loves, and there is a reason why so many have fallen head over heels for his films. Of course, to me, it’s no shock that he has a love for animation and not just because he has produced the hit Netflix series Trollhunter or was a producer on films like Rise of the Guardians. Del Toro probably loves animation and the art of the medium more than most fans, including myself. You have probably seen the clips of him speaking to a late-night host or someone and calling out the entertainment industry’s lack of respect for the medium and how it’s not just for kids. Sure, films and shows might be aimed at kids, but the best filmmakers make films and series that kids and adults will enjoy. This is how the best directors and studios stick around, and that’s no different here with Guillermo Del Toro throwing his newest directorial effort, an animated film, at us on Netflix called Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio

This lovingly-created stop-motion feature is directed by Guillermo Del Toro and Mark Gustafson, written by Del Toro and Patrick McHale, and produced by Double Dare You! Productions, ShadowMachine, and The Jim Henson Company. This iteration of the famous story by Carlo Collodi takes place during World War I, where we follow Geppetto, voiced by David Bradley, a wood carver that lives with his son in Italy. After working on a cross for the church, the town in which Geppetto and his son live gets hit by a bombing raid, and his son named Carlo is killed when a bomb hits the church. In his grief, for years on end, Geppetto drinks his days away in front of the grave where his son is buried. In his anger and depression, Geppetto cuts down the tree that they planted and crafts a wooden boy that just happens to have a talking cricket inside named Sebastian J Cricket, voiced by Ewan McGregor, who is also the narrator of our story. That night as Geppetto falls asleep, a blue fairy arrives voiced by Tilda Swinton, and brings the boy to life and makes a deal with Cricket for him to guide this wooden boy in the right way. The next morning, the boy comes to life and is named Pinocchio, voiced by Gregory Mann. Can Geppetto and Pinocchio bond as father and son together? 

We have had an absurd number of animated films based on Pinocchio this year, the Lionsgate DTV film, another Russian-animated Pinocchio film that’s entirely different, and then the Disney remake. To no shock, they all lost the core reason why the story is so beloved and therefore have no real reason to be watched. Del Toro and Patrick McHale’s focus on actual character and story leads this adaptation miles and leagues above other adaptations. Setting it during 1930 Italy while changing the setting to a degree, doesn’t actually change much from the original story or if you have seen the classic Disney version. Instead of dealing with a walking talking fox, his cat compatriot, and the carnie that takes Pinocchio on his traveling puppet show, we get those three wrapped up into the duo of Spazzatura, voiced by Cate Blanchett, and Count Volpe, voiced by Christoph Waltz. They may have changed the island where the boys get turned into donkeys and sold to mining, but instead, we get Podesta, voiced by Ron Pearlman, who takes his son Candlewick, voiced by Finn Wolfhard and Pinocchio to a youth camp that trains boys to become soldiers. As you can tell, not much has changed and it fits into the overarching themes of the film. 

This iteration tackles themes of the disconnect between generations, dealing with loss, growing up, and dealing with and defying a world full of hate via nationalistic extremes. Yeah, with this taking place in 1930 Italy, expect this film’s story to take an entirely different side of mature tones with Pinocchio discovering how fascist the country is. Also, alongside Titina, this is the second film this year that has brutal jokes and jabs at Mussolini and fascist extremists. Just a fun observation of recurring themes or gags against horrible human beings across multiple films. It even makes a poop joke work when those would normally be the lowest-hanging fruit of humor. It’s not all doom and gloom, but a lot of the journey is of Geppetto and Pinocchio’s broken relationship as Geppeto deals with the fact that he has a son, but can’t get let go of his sadness for the gift of life and having a second chance of being a father to our wooden lead. Pinocchio’s arc is more or less invincible when revealed by Death, and is also voiced by Tilda Swinton. Pinocchio’s arc then becomes learning how important and precious life is and how we can only do our best to find happiness in this life. It’s a compelling and deep story that still finds ways to be funny, heartwarming, intense, and fantastical. It’s something that only Del Toro and his team could craft into existence. 

The animation is breathtaking. With the combination of ShadowMachine and The Jim Henson Company, Del Toro and his team of artists were able to craft an unbelievable visual treat. The way the characters look has this wooden doll/figure look to everyone, but are flooded with personality as you can tell what kind of people they are by their designs alone. They find ways to make things that would be unsettling to be full of whimsy. The reveal of Pinocchio is a good example of that. The craft on screen might not be as polished as you see in Aardman and Laika productions, but keeping the imperfections the same way Wendell & Wild does bring more charm than being overly polished with their animation. The lush backgrounds, the lived feeling of the world, the fact that parts of the world they live in does change with wear and tear make this one of the most fully realized worlds seen in film and animation. The voice cast is delightful. One of those most perfect ways to use a mixture of both named voice actors, character actors, and big names. It has some of its recurring Del Toro regulars like Ron Pearlman and Burn Gorman, but with the previously mentioned actors, they have Tom Kenny, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson, and Finn Wolfhard. Though it is great that in the credits, the animators are listed first over the celebrities, which should be a normal thing required by every animated film. The music is composed by Alexandre Desplat of The Shape of Water, Isle of Dogs, and The Grand Budapest Hotel fame. So you know he has a way of finding fantastical tunes and combinations that help elevate the moments in the entire run. Now, this movie is a musical with songs written by Del Toro, Desplat, and Roeban Katz, and while they aren’t the most memorable tunes, they grow on you and have their own charm to them with some great singing by our cast. They also add to the story and don’t detract from them. 

Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio is a miracle of filmmaking. A beautifully crafted adaptation of a classic story that adapts and changes some of the elements most people know about from the original tale, but loses none of the heart and soul of the journey from beginning to end. Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio is what can be considered a perfect film. A fabulous journey through the trials and hurdles of a father and son’s journey through loss, grief, acceptance, and overcoming adversity for being different, while also criticizing religious and nationalistic extremists. A film that doesn’t sugarcoat the flaws in our characters, and still leads you on one of the most satisfying journeys of storytelling in 2022. A film that not only tops the best animated films of 2022, but also the best film of 2022. It’s a reminder that animation is indeed film, and one needs to remember and accept that. Treat animation with respect. Now then, here is hoping we get a Criterion release of this film because it sorely needs a physical release alongside other animated films Netflix is keeping locked up on their service. For now, let’s go on a journey to Christmas time in London and talk about Scrooge: A Christmas Carol Netflix didn’t do a great job at letting you know existed. Anyway, see ya next time! 

Rating: Essentials!

The Other Side of Animation 282: My Father’s Dragon Review

(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 keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Since 2009, Cartoon Saloon has been in the major conversation of being one of the greatest animation studios around. With five films under their belt with a multitude of award nominations and critical acclaim, they have become one of the landmark heads of animation. The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea, The Breadwinner, and Wolfwalkers have shown what they can do with their stories that are aimed at all ages, telling compelling stories of family and showing off some of the last decade’s best 2D animation. Tom Moore and Nora Twomey have both put out some incredible works, and that won’t stop anytime soon, especially with the acclaim of Nora’s newest film, My Father’s Dragon, which took home one of the main three prizes at Animation is Film a few weeks ago. 

Directed by Nora Twomey, written by Meg Lefauve, and produced by Cartoon Saloon and Mockingbird Pictures, we follow the story of a boy named Elmer, voiced by Jacob Trembly, who moves from a vibrant village to a cold and imposing new city due to his hometown falling under economic despair. After an argument with his mother, he runs away to the docks to scream his frustration with the world and how his mother and he are unfortunately given a bad hand. With all that said, Elmer encounters a talking cat voiced by Whoopi Goldberg, and she tells Elmer how he can change his luck around by going to an island that’s far off into the ocean blue to find a real-life dragon to bring back. As he journeys to this island with the help of a whale, he finds that the dragon is being held hostage by a large gorilla named Saiwa, voiced by Ian McShane. After freeing the dragon, he catches a ride and ends up crashing into a different part of the island with said dragon. As he awakens, he meets the dragon in the flesh whose name is Boris, voiced by Gaten Matarazzo. The two go on a journey to assist Elmer to get off the island to help his mother, and for Boris to be a stronger dragon. Can they do all of this while the island is slowly sinking and tensions are rising between the island’s inhabitants? 

One of the first things you will notice is how this film has a more western film vibe to it. Not that it’s a bad thing, but it definitely stands out from the rest of Cartoon Saloon’s catalog. From the writing to the more celebrity-studded cast, it has more American film ideologies. The cast is great, and it’s not like Cartoon Saloon hasn’t used celebrities before, but not to this unusual degree. Still, if your agent told you there was an opening for a film from this prestigious studio, I wouldn’t say no to that possible casting gig. Some of the jokes and humor come off as slightly modern, but it’s all pretty universal humor, so don’t expect me to say that it has more western sensibilities than something on the level of old DreamWorks. With the writing and how the story unfolds, it’s probably the most approachable film from the studio. The other films are also approachable by any film and animation fan of all ages, but this one is more family-friendly, and that isn’t a bad thing. Not every film needs to be aimed at hardcore film fans. Animation has no age limit. 

With all that said, what does that mean for the overall story? From Animation is Film, Nora and her team talked about how they needed to expand upon the story as the book wasn’t very long. The story itself added on the struggling mother and son storybeat to give a reason for Elmer to arrive at the island, and how we see the animals on Wild Island are reliant on a temporary solution to stop a long-term problem. The fun thing about how the story unfolds is while there are some antagonistic forces like Kwan, everyone is driven by fear of change and uncertainty. There are no real overarching villains, as Saiwa wants to save the island and protect everyone by using Boris to solve the problem. It’s a coming-of-age story as we take a journey to Elmer becoming brave for him and his mother, and Boris becoming a better dragon. Much of the time, the characters are told that being afraid is a bad thing, but it’s okay. Fear is a natural part of living. Like a Sam Elliot-voiced T-rex from Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur once said “You can’t get rid of fear. It’s like mother nature. Can’t beat her or outrun her, but you can get through it.” I know we are quoting a Pixar film to describe one of the major storybeats of My Father’s Dragon. Suit up. Now, granted, how the story gets from point A to point B can be a tad predictable, which is a shame due to how many Cartoon Saloon films tend to have solutions and outcomes that are not the easiest things to obtain. The story also touches upon how greed/selfishness can force us to make bad decisions, and how working together to help one another can make fixing the solution better. It might be aimed at an overall audience, but the beauty of this film’s story can still be seen through its visuals and writing. 

The animation is jaw-dropping and gorgeous. It’s Cartoon Saloon and its iconic visual style, so what do you expect? Sure, they didn’t use the distinct felt-like visuals of the original, but they were able to adapt the designs from the book to this film and they pulled it off. The world they create feels like it’s right out of a children’s book with how they craft the locations from the original story of Elmer and his mom, the gloomy and soulless look of the city they move into, to the patchwork and vibrant locales of Wild Island. Even the smaller locations have so much life to them, and, of course, seeing them all on the big screen made those visuals pop even more. The music by brother duo Jeff and Mychael Danna brings a fanciful approach to the world this film throws you into, and the two are extremely talented individuals. Mychael Danna was the same composer behind The Life of Pi, whereas Jeff Danna was behind films like Silent Hill, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, and Pixar’s Onward. He composed the latter two films alongside his brother. While the English voice cast is definitely more star-studded than in previous endeavors, they still chose some pretty good actors. Of course, Jacob Trembly does a fabulous job as Elmer, Ian McShane and Chris O’Dowd are imposing as the antagonistic force of the Saiwa and Kwan. The one that was the biggest surprise to me is Gaten Matarazzo as Boris the titular dragon. Most would know Gaten from the hugely successful Stranger Things franchise and the recently released Honor Society. It was good to see him in a different realm outside of the hit Netflix series to see where he could go, and he brings a delightfully goofy, but layered performance to the character. The rest of the cast that also perform their roles well include Golshifteh Farahani, Jackie Earl Haley, Dianne West, Alan Cumming, Judy Greer, Rita Moreno, Leighton Meester, and Spence Moore II. Some leave a stronger impression than others, but the cast definitely vibes well with the overall adventure rather than becoming distracting.  

While a touch clunky at times, My Father’s Dragon is a whimsical journey for our young hero to overcome the fear of the unknown and hurdles that life may throw at you. It’s a shame that many people weren’t able to see this on a big screen. Pandemic or not, this deserved to have had a wider big-screen release than it got. Sure, I might rank it a touch lower than other Cartoon Saloon films, but considering how they don’t have a bad film in their lineup, then that doesn’t really mean much. It’s a good movie that deserves to be checked out by everyone. We need to make sure films by studios and teams like Cartoon Saloon do well, because they show a different side to animation that most US audiences won’t get. Now then, next time, we will be talking about one of the most critically acclaimed animated films of the year. You will just have to see what it is next time. 

Rating: Essential

The Other Side of Animation 281: One Piece Film Red Review

(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 keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Just like how we have finally started to talk about Dragonball, we are now finally jumping into one of Japan’s longest-running, and most successful franchises, One Piece. Unlike Dragonball, One Piece has had a fraught story of coming over to the US. On one hand, you had the infamous butchering and hatchet work 4KIDS did to the series despite giving us a fantastic US-made rap song, and then the franchise has struggled to find more footing to get in the spotlight of the busy US anime market. Not that it isn’t successful, but it makes you wonder what would have happened if One Piece had come out around the same time as Dragonball, and not gotten royally butchered, how much stronger One Piece’s US fandom would be? It’s big, since with a franchise that is considered one of if not the top-selling franchise in the manga and anime industry, it’s gonna have a footprint. What’s been a huge bummer though is that while Dragonball and Pokemon have had their films and specials brought over, One Piece hasn’t been given that treatment. Whether it’s because of the botched first US rollout or the typical rights issues, a mass majority of One Piece’s film catalog has been closed off from US fans. Sure, you could go the way of the pirate and search the high seas for fansubbed versions, but you would think by how big the franchise is, Crunchyroll or even Discotek would have brought the films over here. They have been pushing out the more recent films, but accessibility to everything the franchise has to offer would be nice. It has some films that were even directed by famous anime directors like Mamoru Hosoda. Well, at least we are getting the newer films and they are making bank with the newest film in the series, One Piece Film: Red

The newest adventure is directed by Goro Taniguchi, written by Tsutomu Kuroiwa, and animated by Toei. We are once again following our favorite pirate crew, The Straw Hat Pirates, as we see them stopping by Elegia, an island where a massive concert is happening that has the famous idol/performer named Uta, voiced by Amanda Lee. What happens after a real banger of a first musical number, is that some pirates happen to show up to capture Uta that include some members of the Big Mom Pirates. After revealing that Uta has the power of the sing sing fruit that lets her pull off some amazing powers, Luffy, the leader of the Straw Hat Pirates, dubbed by Colleen Clinkenbeard also reveals that he knows Uta. It’s revealed that Uta and Luffy used to be childhood friends due to Uta being the daughter of Shanks, the infamous leader of the Red Hair Pirates. However, the reunion doesn’t last long as Uta starts to use her powers to bend the entire world’s people to her whim and essentially take all of their souls with her to be in a world that’s nothing but peace and joy. Can Luffy and the gang stop her? 

The major appeal of this film is Uta, who is one of the best villains that the franchise has had. Most of the time, villains can come off as unimpressive, depending on when the film’s timeline takes place, as to who’s on Luffy’s crew. Some leave more of an impression than others. On top of a fantastic design, Uta is lively, being an idol in a world of pirates results in some extremely creative world-building of how she becomes an idol/influencer, and the sing sing fruit leads to really cool visuals and powers. While she definitely lands in the realm of “wants to cause the loss of millions of lives because her viewpoint makes her think the plan is in the right”, the additional details of her backstory make her compelling. Giving her a connection to Luffy and being the daughter of Shanks makes her way more complex than just being just another pirate or another disgraced Navy general. The universe of this anime is chock full of memorable villains, and the tragedy of her backstory makes her one of the best villains in the franchise’s history, and that’s saying something due to when this film’s plot may or may not take place in the main storyline. The emotional core that drives the story is between the friendship and clash of ideals between Luffy and Uta, the themes of strained friendships, and how Uta dealt with abandonment and her hatred for pirates. Granted, if you are expecting the Red Hair Pirates to be a major part of the story, well, yes they are, as they show up a couple of times during the first half of the film, but they mostly play important screen roles in the second half of the film. It’s weird how they marketed their appearance when they don’t come into the story properly until much later.

A lot of the runtime is spent on building up Uta and the island’s backstory. There is only one other major player in Uta’s past, but he and a lot of the characters get the bare minimum, which is a shame due to how likable and interesting the characters are. The main Straw Hat crew members get sidelined and are pretty much there to make sure Luffy and Uta are okay. They go around exploring the exact thing up with the world, and find out how and why Uta has all of this immense power. When the navy and the government of the world are put at a standstill, then you know the story has some major stakes. Even if the navy and the government are still portrayed as the major villains as the plot rolls on through. The characters that are from previous story arcs do show up to deliver a splendid addition to the formula, even if some of them only have at best two scenes. Still, this definitely feels like a more cohesive and thrilling story than most franchise films that feel like padded-out filler arcs. 

The animation is definitely stellar. While it might look like a fancier version of the show, the franchise’s iconic visual style looks great no matter if you are watching it on the big or small screen. You will never mistake One Piece for any other anime on the market, and as usual, every new film gives the Straw Hat pirates some snazzy new duds and the action set pieces are bombastic even if it gets chaotic on screen. Luckily, the mix of 2D and CGI is handled well and the CGI when used is expressive as it helps that the franchise art style is just bursting at the seams with personality. Even with the addition of influencers and idols into the world of pirates, they still find a way for them to fit and make sense. The voice cast is, as usual, stellar with the returning cast of Colleen Clinkenbeard, Brandon Potter, Christopher Sabat, Luci Christian, Sonny Strait, Eric Vale, Brina Palencia, Stephanie Young, Patrick Seitz, Ian Sinclair, and Daniel Baugh always a delight as the Straw Hats, and Amanda Lee gets all of the points to balance out the happiness, the unhinged, sadness, anger, and every emotion under the rainbow. Doesn’t hurt either that the singing voice for Uta is Ado, and holy cow the musical sequences become the best parts of the overall movie. Each song is different from the last, and they all have individually unique arrangements. They truly are, as the film describes Uta’s music as, “otherworldly”. Something about each song pulls you in and it will not let you go. You have your more pop numbers, but there’s also rock and a sort of metal tune as well. Not to say the rest of the soundtrack suffers compared to the amazing tunes, because Yasutaka Nakata’s ambient tunes aren’t overshadowed, but when the main villain is a pop idol, ya give them the attention. 




As usual with these films, there are some flaws. Since the films from this franchise don’t follow the show’s continuity, it’s hard to feel invested at points with some major lore and story beats dropped into this fantastical world that should be super important. They even make some of the elements pseudo-canon in the manga, but trying to find out where this film exactly takes place in the show’s timeline is confusing due to how certain characters show up who really shouldn’t be there. What’s worse is that due to how long this franchise has been going, the crew is going to get bigger and bigger as time goes on, so having these adventures still not in canon with the main timeline is maddening at this point. You can easily find time to fit everything in and it’s not like One Piece’s lore is flimsy, because it’s a complex world filled with political backgrounds of a variety of types and upbringings. It also pads out its time a bit too much as it feels unfocused at times with everyone either finding out what exactly Uta is going to use to make her plans come true or twiddling their thumbs because Uta has control of the situation. It moves at a decent enough pace, but with how many characters there are, some get way more attention than others. There is a reason why most shonen franchise films give the antagonist a big enough team so everyone on the protagonists all have someone to fight. 



While a bit bloated in the runtime and suffering from the usual shonen franchise films, One Piece Film Red shows why people love the world of One Piece, and its box office success shows how much people want to see more anime in theaters. I don’t know how many more times the execs need to hear that, but it’s good to see the trend continue of animated films from Japan mostly doing well in theaters. I wish the same people making these franchise films hits in the states would go and see other non-franchise films from Japan or around the world, but that’s an argument for another time. Also, here’s hoping in the future that all the money that these franchise films are making goes to the translators, animators in Japan, scriptwriters, and voice actors that actually deserve more of the praise for bringing these films to life and to other areas of the world and not just the execs. If you love One Piece, you will probably enjoy this film, and it’s always good to support foreign cinema no matter where it pops up. The world of film and animation is diverse, and we could all use something different every once in a while. Next time, we will be talking about Nora Twomey’s newest Cartoon Saloon feature with My Father’s Dragon. 

Rating: Go see it! 

The Other Side of Animation 280: Aurora’s Sunrise Review

(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 keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Content Warning: There will be scenes of real life dead bodies, graphic violence, and assault

Do you know what has been a cool thing to happen with animation recently? How it was able to help bring back what was lost media and give it new life, or how it’s able to tell a different kind of story, like following the life of someone with a very rich history. If animation “fans” want to say they support new and distinct ways of telling stories through the medium, then that means you need to support and watch stuff like today’s review of Aurora’s Sunrise, which has been making its festival runs through some major places like Annecy and Animation is Film, where it took home the audience award over films like Titina, My Father’s Dragon, Little Nicholas, and Wendell & Wild. Seeing audiences for this festival choosing something so different was definitely a surprise. Then again, it was one of the few sold-out screenings at the festival. So, what is the film all about? 

Directed by Inna Sahakyan, this documentary animated feature follows the story of Arshaluys Mardiganian aka Aurora Mardiganian, her experience of surviving a multitude of horrors of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, and her journey to America to tell her story, only to have to deal with a different kind of horror of dealing with Hollywood execs. It’s a combination of live-action footage of people interviewing Arshaluys, some actual found footage of the Auction of Souls film that was said to be lost to time, and animation that looks like it uses something akin to puppet or motion tween rigs to tell the majority of the story. It won’t be an easy sit, as the story of Arshaluys is a tragic one of losing her entire family, being sold into slavery, and escaping the horrors for a small moment in time, but only to find herself with another set of challenges. That’s even before arriving in America and dealing with an entirely different set of abuse and challenges. It’s a tough watch, but it’s fascinating to observe how she strived and survived, even when she was in Hollywood, where they censored or changed what actually happened to her. She wanted to help tell the story of what was going on, but they weren’t willing to share all of the details and so changed them for an American audience to consume. There was even one point where I don’t even know how it wouldn’t make your blood boil. Even if it ended on a positive note of change making the world better for individuals affected by genocide and horrible events, what happened to her by people she trusted will make you despise the darkness in some people’s heart. It’s all interesting and eye-opening stuff to what was going on during that point in history, but you can definitely tell this was directed by someone who has mostly worked on documentaries. The story and plot play out in a very narrative-driven way of telling the details, and while they do have actors who portray young Arshaluys and so on, if you have seen any documentaries, you know how they don’t really follow a 3-act structure or a traditional film narrative. They mostly use the runtime to fill up the details of what exactly was going on. It can be a bit tough to sit through all of the details and history notes, but it’s really more so in the pacing due to how this film is 90 minutes long. It wants to be very atmospheric to let you soak up the mood of the sequences and the quiet moments, but it can feel a bit slow. Still, it’s more the fact this is such a harrowing and depressing story of Arhslauys’ history and the genocide that was happening. It just has trouble at times working as both a documentary and as a film. 




The animation does look good. The only times where it was a touch distracting was any time they used motion blurs to mimic fast movements. It looked a bit clunky, but the visuals themselves look fantastic. The painted look of everything gives the film a distinct visual flair that matches the tone of the story, and while they are definitely using plenty of tricks and work-arounds to make it look good to keep you captivated by the story being told, they definitely help show you the horrors that unfold. They show the beauty and darkness of history and the journey one person took to tell her story. The acting was a mixed bag, though to be honest, it’s mostly in terms of when anyone speaks English in the film. When they have American individuals, the acting sounds flat. At least, that is what it sounds like. You can tell the focus was more on telling the story than having compelling performances. 



While maybe not a recurring rewatchable kind of animated feature that some are, Aurora’s Sunrise is one of those animated features that focuses more on the documentary side of things rather than telling a story in a more filmlike way. Seeing more mature stories being told in animation means getting films like this. It’s important to see stories like this one told because it’s our world’s history, and to see a piece of filmmaking history get partly restored and preserved is something to treasure. You can not deny or ignore when such world-changing events and stories happen. It’s a shame that there are already some stories and films that are lost to time. Hopefully, Aurora’s Sunrise gets some proper US release/distribution, because films that are interesting to talk about are worthy of being remembered. We all need to remember the history of our world, whether it’s the darkest of times or the sunrise that shows us the beauty of our world. Definitely give this one a watch if you find it at a festival (it’s playing at the Asian World Film Festival nov 10th and 14th, IDFA, and Tallinn Black Nights) or when it becomes available to rent or own via a physical release or a digital one. Now then, next time, we will talk about something a bit lighter in tone, but remember, animation is a medium of storytelling and art. Animation is film, and animation can tell stories like Aurora’s Sunrise.

Rating: Go see it!