The Other Side of Animation 98: The Emoji Movie Review

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

 

Every year, we always hear the loud wails and haunted screams that cinema is dead. It just so happens that in 2017, with Sony Pictures Animation’s The Emoji Movie, it just got too loud to ignore. The film is directed by Tony Leondis, a story artist and director. He worked on films like The Prince of Egypt, The Road to El Dorado, Kronk’s New Groove, Home on the Range, and directed Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a GlitchIgor, and Kung Fu Panda: Secret of the Masters. For some reason, out of all the years of movies made, The Emoji Movie just drove people up a wall. It came out a few weeks ago, and instantaneously, it was labeled as the worst movie of all time, the death of cinema, people were saying and demanding that Sony Pictures of Animation should be shut down, and you get the idea. Even though we made it through years that had Movie 43, Jack & Jill, Pixels, Gods of Egypt, 50 Shades of Grey, 50 Shades of Black, Meet the Blacks, Legend of Hercules, Saving Christmas, Troll 2, North, and so on, The Emoji Movie is the one that broke the camel’s back. Listen, it’s not a good movie, but people are overreacting and going into hyperbole territory to get clicks and views. Why would I say that if I just admitted that it was not a good movie? Well, let’s pick your favorite emoji and send that text.

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The entire story takes place inside one teen’s phone, as we enter the world of Textopolis, a city where all the emojis live. We focus on one in particular emoji named Gene, voiced by T.J. Miller. He is a “meh” emoji, who has a bit of a problem. He can’t simply be a “meh”, and has too many emotions to count! After a failed first day on the job, Gene wants to find a way to fix himself by hacking the code to solve his problem. He gets the help of a high-five emoji, voiced by James Corden, and a hacker emoji named Jailbreak, voiced by Anna Faris. Hopefully, they can get past the dastardly grasp of Smiler, a creepy smile emoji voiced by Maya Rudolph. Can Gene fix himself and somehow help the teen out in a real world problem of getting to know a girl?

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The biggest problem about talking about this film is while it will not affect the actual rating of this film, I have to talk about the overwhelming clickbait/hyperbolic backlash this film has gotten. People call it the worst movie of the year, the worst movie of all time, and the film that is what’s wrong with cinema. It’s not because I’m going to be defending this film as something good. It’s not a good movie by any stretches of the imagination, and is definitely on the lower end of my best to worst animated films of 2017, but people need to really stop acting like this is the film that’s going to kill cinema. Like I said above, people are using clickbait and hyperbolic opinions of this movie to get views, clicks, and whatever, and making it out to be a worse movie than it actually is. If there was a film that made the cinema industry actually halt in their tracks, then we have pretty much survived hundreds of extinctions after every time some knucklehead said, “this is the film that will kill the film industry”. It’s officially gotten to the point that if you are using hyperbole in your review or comment, I’m not going to take your opinion seriously. I know that sounds close-minded and very one-sided, but we live in a world where there are worse things going on every single day, and yet The Emoji Movie is apparently worth more of your anger than anything else. And to the people who want the studio that made this to shut down because they didn’t like it, or are stuck in a bad situation because of executive shenanigans, you have no right to say they should force 100s of people to lose their jobs because you don’t like their movie. It’s the most immature mentality that I have ever seen, and if you are that toxic about it, then you need to get a life.

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Let’s face honest 100% objective fact here, The Emoji Movie is not a good movie, but it’s the wrong kind of bad movie. It’s not the most super offensive thing with super hate-worthy characters and cheap straight-to-DVD quality animation. It’s not Norm of the North or Strange Magic levels of bad. Heck, I have seen movies that I enjoy that have way more repulsive elements to it like Belladonna of Sadness. It’s just boring bad. It’s a bad movie that doesn’t have a whole lot going for it, because the film itself feels like they had a base idea around what they wanted to do, but couldn’t or were not allowed to get past the “cynical cash grab” look and feel of the film. The universe this film takes place in is kind of confusing, since if you think about it, why are there emojis that have to be one emotion, while there are shrimp, elephant, and Christmas tree emojis that don’t coincide with a single personality? I mean, should they be deleted as well? Its world is not as clever that I think the writers are making it out to be. I don’t see other whimsical realms that our heroes go through, I just see the product placements that companies paid the most to have advertised in the film. It’s a universe with no real soul or identity to it. A bland world is one thing, but what about the three leads? Well, despite having good actors behind them, there is nothing really all that interesting about them. Gene is your generic lead who thinks being unique isn’t a good thing. James Corden, while super entertaining in other forms of media, has no real character with the high-five emoji, since all he does is try to spew a joke every 30 seconds. Jailbreak is obviously trying to be like the female lead from The LEGO Movie, but has none of the charm of said character. I also kind of love the horrible implication in this universe that if you stand out in this world, you deserve to die. What about the human characters? Yeah, couldn’t really get hooked on them either. They don’t act like real kids, but that, “I’m trying to make this kid like the one you saw in Inside Out, but not understanding that the girl in Inside Out was a complex character.” I also found a lot of the celebrity casting distracting, like Patrick Stewart as the poop emoji. Like, I get there is a bit of that niche-style appeal of, “oh tee hee, this wildly acclaimed actor is voicing poop”, but outside of that, again, I only saw the celebrities, and not the characters.

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I feel like this movie would have been so much better with maybe more freedom to the writers to do something more complex, or go full-tilt cynical. Like, I could imagine this film being way more interesting if it was a cynical lashing out at the audience who the execs think would watch this movie. Go black comedy on the characters and such, and sneak in some legit good morals inside the cynical jokes and clever writing. What happened is that they probably got a set of writers who wanted to go full-tilt and go crazy, but either weren’t allowed to, or were not talented enough to do such a thing. You can see how this movie could have worked if it was aimed at a more general audience and not just one part of the movie-going audience. That’s why films like Inside Out and The LEGO Movie were so amazing, because they could talk to every part of the audience. They weren’t talking to one side, and ignoring the other. The Emoji Movie is just a generic film with generic writing and morals. It’s something we haven’t seen a hundred times over in other movies, and have done a better job at saying these messages.

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So, what’s actually good about this movie? Well, the animation is pretty solid. I know the designers on Twitter spoke highly about having fun working with the designs, and the characters move pretty well. Even the human characters look better than most DreamWorks movies. The designs might be basic, but emojis are generally very basic in terms of designs. At the very least, this movie has more theatrical-quality animation than a lot of animated films that get limited releases by Lionsgate. I also enjoyed Maya Rudolph as the villain. She was hugely entertaining as this psychotic smile emoji, and she definitely had fun with the role. I also liked Gene’s parents, who were played by Steven Wright and Jennifer Coolidge. Any time they were on screen, I at least got a chuckle out of their delivery of their lines. It’s not the perfect mix of casting and writing, like Lewis Black as Anger in Inside Out, but it’s ideal casting in terms of who should play the meh emoji. The one scene I thought was pretty cool was when Gene’s parents were inside the Instagram app. I liked the idea of going inside a photo and it brings you into that photo’s location and everything around them is still. It was a nice artistic moment that I can respect.

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In the end, everyone is overreacting to this, and ironically going to see it because of said hyperbole. We have had cash-grab films made every year, like Dragonball Z Evolution, Jem and the Holograms, Baywatch, and so on. If Hollywood didn’t crumble and fall after those films, then it won’t with this one. The Emoji Movie is just a forgettable and bland film. I was honestly bored watching the movie, and spent a lot of time thinking what I would have done to make it a better movie than simply just a cash-grab/advertisement movie. It wants to be so many other films, but fails to do anything those films did well. If you really want to see it, just wait to rent it. It’s making enough to make back its budget, and it will just underperform before it leaves theaters. It’s bad, but it’s not the worst, and no one at Sony Pictures Animation deserves to lose their jobs over it. Now, if you want to see a really cynically made movie, join me next time as we talk about Digimon The Movie. Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the article, and I will see you next time.

Rating: Lackluster!

The Other Side of Animation 97: Anomalisa Review

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

Warning/Parental Heads Up: This film is absolutely not for children and includes nudity and a really realistic and awkward sex scene. This film is truly and 100% adult. Do not show this to kids. This is your only warning and if you do any of the things I listed in this warning, you are responsible. Oh, and I’m going to be spoiling elements of the movie, since it’s hard to talk about it without talking about the entire movie. Enjoy the review!

For a while, adult and animation was never a really promising combination. When you hear those two words together, you usually think of the animated shows shown on Fox or Adult Swim like Family Guy, The Simpsons, and you get the idea. It was never really a match made in heaven when it came to animated films. Sure, you had your adult indie animated films, but not much else. For better or for worse, Sausage Party’s success opened the door for more adult-focused animation. Hopefully, they aren’t just stoner comedies, and can be something like today’s review, Anomalisa. Directed by Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson, and based on a play that he wrote, Anomalisa was a surprise critical hit, and was even nominated for Best Animated Feature in 2015, but lost to Inside Out (big surprise). After its release, I decided to see what people thought about the movie, and while it is definitely a well-received film, I can understand and relate to the detractors who couldn’t get into it. What do I think? Well, let’s take a look and see what we find.

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The story of Anomalisa is about a middle-aged man named Michael Stone, voiced by David Thewlis. He’s an author and customer service expert arriving in Cincinnati for a big speech. Michael is a very miserable individual who doesn’t have a spark for life. Everyone he sees or speaks to all sound similar, have pointless conversations, and have the same faces. That is, until one day after a failed attempt to reconnect with an old fling, he hears a unique voice down the hallway. He ends up meeting this woman named Lisa Hesselman, voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh. After talking a bit, they form a bond. Does Michael have a new view on life, or will be fall right back into his own sad world?

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So, where to begin with this movie? Let’s talk about Michael as a lead character. Something that many may not pick up on the first time watching this movie is the fact that Michael literally sees everyone else around him with the same face and the same voice. His life has no passion. He just goes on business trips, and has a rather middling marriage with his wife and son. I can understand this kind of mentality as sometimes, life will come crashing down and everything will just feel so mundane, and there is nothing there to raise up your spirits. The film also has little tidbits that help expand on his mindset, like the name of the hotel he stays at called Fregoli. The name is based on the Fregoli Delusion, where people think everyone is actually just one person. He doesn’t see the passion in life and everyone sounds and looks the same. It’s rather interesting, because then you mix in his mood and demeanor with the female lead, Lisa. She also has self-esteem issues, and doesn’t see herself as anything amazing, but Michael sees her as this beacon of beauty and rainbows, because she stands out to him. It then helps her arc by the end of the film to feel better about herself, and not fall into the same fate as Michael.

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This film does such a good job at bringing out raw real emotion out of the actors, since that’s really another big part of this film. You might have seen the phrase used in the trailer that essentially says it’s the most human film of 2015 and it doesn’t star real humans. While some could find that kind of comment pompous, I agree with it. The film has subtle realistic movements in the characters, how they talk, interact, walk, and so on. Combine that with our characters, and you have a film that’s mature, and shouldn’t be shrugged off because it’s animated. Let’s just say this, there is a reason why Michael is lonely, and his intentions are definitely not 100% okay.

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Speaking of animation, while not Kubo and the Two Strings level of wow, the animation is really good. Like I said, it has incredible detail in how the characters move, and it’s truly awe-inspiring. You can tell they broke their backs making sure this movie looked good. It even has some creepy surreal moments that play with the fact that they don’t cover up the different face parts of the models. The voice cast is great. For only three people, they found a way for the chemistry to work. David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Tom Noonan all do a great job delivering raw and organic lines, and that’s saying something when Tom Noonan is playing 98% of the cast. Everything feels real, and even though they are all models, and it’s stop-motion, I was never really taken out of the experience.

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If I had to complain about something, I think the film could have been better in a few ways. While I like the idea of this being a smaller story, I wish there were a few more locations instead of just the hotel. I would have liked to have seen Michael and Lisa bond, and go to a few different areas. I found myself enjoying the film’s first two-thirds more than the last third, but I understand that they probably only wanted this to take place in only a few places. Since this was originally a play, it definitely has that Fences vibe, where there wasn’t anything done to adapt it to film, and everything felt like it was meant to be on a stage. It’s not a bad thing, but I wish the world the film takes place in felt bigger.

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While I can definitely understand people being split about this movie, I like it. It’s definitely a film that you need to watch twice to maybe get the overall idea that it’s tossing at you. I wish the third act was handled better, but it’s a unique movie to check out. If you like smaller stories, and an animated film aimed at adults, then definitely check this out. Well, this was fun, but I must get back into talking about more current movies. Next time, let’s talk about the “controversial” film of the century with The Emoji Movie. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed this review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 96: Cats Don’t Dance Review

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

I have a complicated relationship with cult films. It should be clear what I’m talking about, but I mean films that didn’t do well at release, but gained a huge and dedicated following later in life, and are now considered fondly memorable films. It’s not that I don’t get the admiration or ironic love for films like The Room, Birdemic, and so on. I just don’t get the idea that these films should be celebrated. We don’t really do this with any other type of media. If the show is bad, we don’t watch it, and let it die after one season. If the food at a restaurant is bad, we don’t go back to that place. Why should movies like the ones mentioned above get praise and enjoyment out of watching them? I know I’m not speaking for everyone, and I do have my own guilty pleasures, but still have no urge to really own those guilty pleasures, or truly watch them. I would rather spend time, money, and praise on something that is amazing, and support it. For me, I would rather invest into cult classic films that are actually good, but maybe came out in the wrong place and the wrong time. Something like Cats Don’t Dance is a good example. Cats Don’t Dance was collaboration between Turner Feature Animation and Warner Bros. Family Entertainment. It was directed by Mark Dindal, and was released on March 26th, 1997. It was unfortunately a massive bomb, and while it got decent reviews, it didn’t help the film make back it’s small $32 mil budget. It only made $3.6 mil back, but then became a cult classic after it was released on video and was shown a lot on channels like Cartoon Network. So, how does the film hold up over time? Let’s get started!

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The story revolves around a cat named Danny, voiced by Scott Bakula. He moves from his hometown to Hollywood to make it big as a star. Unfortunately for him, he finds it harder than he thinks. Thankfully, he ends up meeting a likable cast of characters, including a female cat named Sawyer, voiced by Jasmine Guy, a hippo named Tilly, voiced by Kathy Najimy, a cynical goat named Cranston, voiced by Hal Holbrook, a nervous turtle named T.W., voiced by the late Don Knotts, and a sarcastic fish named Frances Albacore, voiced by the late Betty Lou Gerson. Danny even lands his first role as a cat for a Noah’s Ark film starring a Shirley Temple parody named Darla Dimple, voiced by Ashley Peldon. Sadly, Hollywood decides to chew Danny up and spit him out on the very first day. Can he make it in Hollywood where it’s hard to be an animal starring in films? Can he avoid the menacing grasp of Darla Dimple?

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So, what does this film do right? I mean, it flopped, shouldn’t be that hard to see why it didn’t do well, right? Well, like usual, sometimes bad movies rightfully flop or underperform, and good movies flop or underperform. This is one of those good movies that sadly didn’t do so well. Alright, what’s good about it? While the film can be corny, there is this huge sense of passion that I think floats around the entire film. For example, let’s talk about the commitment to the setting and style of film. It’s obvious to see the tone of the older Hollywood films that your grandparents and parents probably grew up on with the 30/50s Hollywood setup, the references to old-time actors, and the type of characters you would probably see at this point in time. I love the fact the villain is a Shirley Temple parody, since back then, she was one of the biggest stars around. She is so cynical, yet hilarious, since this is the comedic approach everyone should take for an evil child star character. She’s also very expressive, and probably the best part about the movie. She is a blast to watch, and what sets her over-the-top is her butler, Max, voiced by the director himself, Mark Dindal. The way they use Max is always gut-busting hilarious. The way they shoot the angles, the way they portray his giant stature, and how they play with this character is always going to bring out a laugh. That doesn’t mean everyone else doesn’t have good chemistry, because they do. This film has a very likable cast of characters, who work well off one another. While not the most defined characters, everyone has a good line, a joke, and a fun moment within the film. The film also has a subtle and not so subtle theme of discrimination, that honestly hits harder today than ever before. While Hollywood has always had really crummy casting decisions, and making it a challenge for non-white actors to get anything done in Hollywood, with the recent white-washing incidences, the discrimination theme in this film is way more current than just another “be yourself” plot point in any other animated film.

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That same spirit can be seen in the animation as well. Everyone is expressive, vibrant, and it shows why Warner Bros. animation is really good. During this period in time, when Warner Bros. was trying to copy the Disney formula, their animation suffered. They were not good at mimicking the emotion of Disney’s animation at the time, and the only good parts to a Warner Bros.-animated film was when it was comedy. I mean, when you are the studio behind Animaniacs and Looney Toons, that should be child’s play. Thankfully, since they wanted to go more for those more “cartoony” live-action comedies from back in the day, the animation, since they have total control of their movements and sequences, can match that speed that they wanted to try and pull off back then. The voice cast is also pretty stellar. I was surprised to see Scott Bakula do such a good job, and to see him be a rather good singer. Everyone felt totally committed to their characters, and I was never taken out of the film by an actor obviously playing themselves.

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If I had to complain about something major in the film, it’s the fact that Danny is not the most interesting character. He’s pretty much blank slate as a character. He’s not a horrible character, but like the female lead, you know how his story arc is going to go. While I also enjoyed the rest of the cast, they didn’t have much to them either. The only ones to feel fully fleshed-out were Woolie and Darla Dimple. I think the film could have also been longer. It’s a comfy 70 minutes, and everything moves at a good pace, but I think they could have slowed it down a little more to expand on the characters. The film probably could have used a few more mil in the budget, because while the animation is great, you can tell at small points in the film where they are just standing still because they couldn’t animate them.

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While the film does have its issues, and we are never going to get nor should we get a sequel or a remake, I enjoyed Cats Don’t Dance. It’s one of the few cult classic films I don’t mind watching from time to time. They recently rereleased this film in widescreen in the Warner Bros. Archive Collection. This is a fun film to watch, and I think anyone can get into it. Well, I love talking about fun cult films that are good for all ages, but next time, we shall look at a film that’s more adult, and while flawed, has my respect with Anomalisa. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you next time.

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 95: Wolf Children Review

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

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While many other filmgoers and I cry and rally behind the idea that more original films should be made, we do accept that franchise/blockbuster films have a purpose. They rake in the cash, along with the sequels, reboots, and remakes. Hopefully, when they have a few big hits on their hands, Hollywood will invest into some more original projects and throw caution to the wind. Of course, there is the risk that no one will see the original film, since the studios do advertise them, but not enough or help get them into as many theaters for the mass public to see. If word of mouth is good enough, then more people will see it, but it’s a struggle, since the original films in question have to be good. So, where am I going with this opening bit? When you do find that one original movie, and it’s just the bee’s knees, it’s a great feeling to have. That is why I chose one of my new favorite movies of this decade, Wolf Children. Directed by Mamoru Hosoda, animated by both Hosoda’s own studio, Studio Chizu with help from Studio Madhouse, Wolf Children was originally released in 2012, but got a stateside release in 2013. If you have seen my Worst to Best Animated Films of 2013, then you know this was my favorite movie of that year. I probably don’t need to remind you why that is, but let’s gush about it anyway.

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The story is about a young college woman named Hana, voiced by Collen Clinkenbeard. As she is going to classes and working a job to pay the bills, she becomes interested in this male student who comes to her classes from time to time. After getting to know him, the two bond, and become romantically involved. Hana even finds out that the guy she likes, who is voiced by David Matranga, is actually a werewolf of sorts. However, that doesn’t stop them from having two kids named Yuki and Ame. Sadly, the husband ends up passing away, leaving Hana with their two kids. What doesn’t help the situation either is that her children are also part wolf, and can shapeshift into wolves. After thinking about it, Hana decides to move to the countryside with her two kids and raise them there. Along the way, they meet likable side characters, and we get to see how the two kids grow up.

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There is a lot to unload with this movie, but I think I will start off by talking about one of my favorite aspects of watching a Mamoru Hosoda film, its themes. From the films I have seen of his, Hosoda likes to have a lot of themes revolving around families. Like in The Boy and the Beast, where it was about a father-son dynamic, being upfront with your kids, and different family living situations, Wolf Children follows themes of a mother and her children, and adds in the topic of how kids will grow up differently. Throughout the movie, the two kids end up being vastly different from one another, and as the film follows their journey, grow up and define themselves by their surroundings. Ame becomes more connected to nature and his more wolf-like side of him, while Yuki wants to be more like her human side. Both children make the film really interesting in how they interact with other humans, nature, and their own mother. I know that sounds odd to say that a movie has great and complex kid characters, but for some reason, Hosoda knows how to write them expertly. Hana is also a great inspirational female character, since it could have been so easy for this film to simply show how overburdened she is with raising the two kids, and play her misery off as comedy. Luckily, the film is smarter than that, and makes her a very capable woman. She does work hard and is a fast learner. She almost succumbs to the stress, but since we are human, she finds the strength to keep pushing.

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The film, while having mystical elements, is a very laid back film that’s more about the day-to-day life of Hana and her children. There are conflicts, and I would definitely not label it as laid back as say Only Yesterday or My Neighbor Totoro, but it doesn’t dissolve into anime action schlock. It’s more about the life between Hana, and her children growing up in the environments surrounding them, and that’s all the film needed to be. Heck, they even find ways to make good jokes around their situation, like when one of the kids gets sick, Hana doesn’t know whether to use a human doctor, or a vet to look at them.

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The animation is beautiful. Hosoda always has a unique look to his designs, where it has its anime design tropes, but everyone moved more realistically. Yes, you can see certain scenes where Hosoda uses CGI crowds and faceless characters to put focus on the leads, but it’s still fantastic animation. The film does a great job making lush countrysides, lovely white snow-covered fields, and damp rainy days. The music by composer Takagi Masakatsu compliments the visuals. I think the best scene in the movie that combines Hosoda’s great animation and Masakatsu’s music is when it becomes winter in the countryside. The scene with them playing in the snow is powerful, and it really hits me seeing the family be happy for this moment in time. No struggle to grow food, or what the kids are going to do for education, or anything else. It’s a moment where they can enjoy each other’s company and love. The voice dub is also great. I think everyone does a good job with their roles, and Micah Solusod and Jad Saxton, the actors for the kids, do a good job making them likable and endearing.

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If I had to complain about something with the film, it’s the fact that there is a sort of forced romance for Yuki. I won’t spoil what happens, but her relationship with the kid could have been fleshed out more. I get why they had this relationship, but there is no time set up for it. However, that is my only real complaint.

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Wolf Children is an emotionally powerful movie that did a better job at being a Disney/Pixar film than either of those two companies back in 2013. It’s easily one of my favorite films from this decade, and one of the few films that I think can stand up to the Ghibli best like Porco Rosso and Spirited Away. For some reason, if you do not have this movie in your collection, Funimation put out a great collector’s edition of the film that has a lot of nice extra stuff, like a small booklet that comes with the film. If I haven’t said it enough, do watch and buy this movie. I want it to be remembered as much as the bigger animated films, and not wallow in cult classic territory. Speaking of cult classics, next time, we will be looking at what could be one of the 90s most beloved underrated cult films with Cats Don’t Dance. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed this review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

 

The Other Side of Animation 94: My Life as a Zucchini Review

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

I am very fortunate with my family life. My family is pretty healthy, we have a good life, I am close to everyone, and I wouldn’t want to trade it for the world. Sometimes, it’s good to remember how fortunate you are, if you have a good family situation. Not everyone can get that, and I can’t even begin to understand or imagine myself growing up in a broken home, or as an orphan. I’m never going to relate to it, and I’m not going to try and act like I can. I think that is what’s interesting about today’s review of My Life as a Zucchini. This is a stop-motion animated film from last year, that was directed by Claude Barras, and was distributed here in the states by the always-amazing GKids. It picked up a lot of critical acclaim and award nominations. While only 60 minutes long, you would be amazed at how mature this film can be.

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The story revolves around a young boy named Zucchini. He does have a real name, but he would rather be called Zucchini. After the death of his mother, he is brought to an orphanage by a police officer named Raymond, voiced by Nick Offerman. While there, he befriends the other kids who live there, and gets to learn a bit more about each of them as time goes on. One day though, a young girl moves into the orphanage named Camille, and changes Zucchini’s life.

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So, what’s so amazing for a movie that’s no longer than an episode of Game of Thrones? Well, there is a lot to love about this little movie. It has a laid-back atmosphere, and while the kids can get rowdy, and there are some dramatic moments, the movie is very quiet. It lets the kids be the main focus. It’s definitely a smaller story and is not epic or sweeping, but it doesn’t mean it sacrifices quality storytelling. You get little details, like how Zucchini keeps the memory of his parents in the form of a beer can and a kite, or how while not told specifically what happened to one of the girls, her gestures and outward mood says everything. It’s a film that tackles what these kids probably feel like being parentless. The world is scary, and they don’t really trust anyone, or feel like there is any real hope outside the orphanage. I don’t blame them. The film knows really well how to balance the darker themes of unconditional love, family, being alone, with more positive moments of finding a way to help each other stay optimistic. You get to learn a bit about these kids as the film goes on, and they act like real kids. You know how you watch a family movie or a movie in general where kids are a focus? You know how rare it is to find child characters or child actors who are actually good? In My Life as a Zucchini, they act and talk like little kids. Even how they interact with the adults feels genuine.

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The animation is just beautiful. The stop-motion movements are all gorgeously handled, and while having some interesting designs, they find ways to make the movements fluid, and expressive. The voice work is probably one of GKids’ best dubs. Not only because of the celebrities that they hired, like Nick Offerman, Ellen Page, Will Forte, and Amy Sedaris, but the child actors for the English dub do a perfect job. One of the charms of the film is that they had all child characters in the original dub sit in one room to make the interactions with one another realistic. I’m sure trying to work on a dub to do such a thing would be very daunting for child actors who may not have a lot of experience voice acting, but they found a way. The music reminds me of a lazy Sunday afternoon, with a more indie tone to the background music when it pops up.

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If I had to really complain about something, the film probably could have been longer to maybe 80 minutes instead of 60. I loved every moment, and the film does use that time wisely, but I would have liked to have spent some more time during certain areas. Sometimes, there is a comment that doesn’t land, but in general, the run-time is my only major complaint.

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I really loved watching this movie, and if you saw my Worst to Best of 2016, you saw that it was my 4th favorite movie of the year. It’s deceptive in how mature and quiet the film, considering it stars a bunch of kids, and it does a great job tackling what an orphan feels like, along with the sad reality that some children grow up in broken households. I’m happy this film got so much love with the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards. If you haven’t seen this movie, then you should. I want to keep this “theme” of family going, as next time, we will review Wolf Children. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

The Other Side of Animation 93: Porco Rosso Review

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

For as much as the film and entertainment industry loves to do movies about war-time settings, we rarely get them outside of the World War II area. Sure, we have Vietnam war films like Platoon and Apocalypse Now, but whenever we get a war movie, it’s more or less the second World War. They have started to spread out the settings and plots with some truly fantastic films like Hacksaw Ridge, and the upcoming Dunkirk, but I rarely see a movie that takes place, or is set around a certain period of time in World War I. I feel like as content creators for the entertainment industry, we could start expanding out into different time periods. I think that’s what drew me into today’s review, Porco Rosso. Directed by the ever amazing Hayao Miyazaki, Porco Rosso was originally made and released in 1992, but the US only got it in the mid-2000s with the help of Disney. Yeah, normally I don’t tackle films made or distributed by Disney, but since they don’t technically have the full rights to distribute the film anymore, I’m going to talk about Ghibli films more often. So, is Porco Rosso truly unique? Does it deserve to be one of my all-time favorite films? Well, let’s take a look.

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Porco Rosso follows our main hero, Porco Rosso/Marco Pagot/Rossolini (depending on what version you own or which dub you watch), voiced by Michael Keaton. He’s an ex Italian fighter pilot, who now lives in a post-World War I world, and is a bounty hunter. All he does is sleep the day away, drink wine, and on occasion, fight seaplane pirates. One day though, after seeing his longtime friend Madame Gina, voiced by Susan Egan, Porco gets called to task and ends up getting into a fight with an American pilot named Donald Curtis, voiced by Cary Elwes. After losing the fight with Curtis, Porco goes into hiding, and travels to Italy to get his plane fixed. He gets the help of a craftsman Mr. Piccolo, voiced by David Ogden Stiers, and with the help of his granddaughter Fio Piccolo, voiced by Kimberly Williams-Paisley, get Porco’s plane fixed. Can Porco get back into the air and take down Curtis?

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So, what makes this one of my all-time favorite movies? Well, it has a lot of elements that blend well together. For one, it has the trademark laid-back atmosphere of what you normally see in a Studio Ghibli film. While this is a film about flying planes and getting into fights with them, the fighting takes a back seat to focus more on the characters, and their interaction with the world and time period they live in. While I can understand the confusion of that aspect and maybe wanting one more fight sequence in the air, the film is more about Porco and his life after the World War I. As you can probably tell from the title of the film or from his name, Porco is a walking talking humanoid pig. Apparently, after a rather terrible and sad incident during the war, he was cursed to be a pig. His outlook on life was more lazy and cynical, and he really didn’t mind that. He knew how the world worked, and was disgusted by it. He would rather live alone in an island out-cove with his valuable plane, while drinking and laying around all day, than join a side, and fight for a country with certain beliefs. A lot of people have asked why they made him a pig in the movie, and, well, I think what I just said describes a pig perfectly. Stubborn, prideful, lazy, they would rather just wallow where they rest, instead of doing something else. It was also an inside joke from the studio, since Hayao Miyazaki has been infamous for being a stubborn, grumpy individual. He apparently loved pigs, and has always portrayed himself as one. It’s more about what the pig symbolizes than a simple gimmick. I have seen some reviewers not understand that, and constantly be distracted by that fact, without taking a moment to think about it and understand it. It’s one of the few times where the phrase “you didn’t get it” comes into play, and rightfully deserves use of that phrase.

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The film is also fairly light-hearted in tone. Everyone from Porco to the pirates are not really that imposing or intimidating. I mean, they kind of are, but it’s a more lightweight kind of intimidation. Even the leader of the pirates, voiced by Brad Garrett, is probably one of the best side characters Ghibli have ever come up with. He yells loudly, is also stubborn and prideful, but he isn’t above telling a bunch of little kids he kidnapped to calm down and not jump off the plane. The pirates don’t even hurt them. It does that thing I love where there is no real bad guy. Curtis is bad since he almost killed Porco, but he’s not evil. He’s just a celebrity in a time period where being a celebrity was becoming more of a big deal, and he thinks he should be getting everything a celebrity deserves. He even calls out Porco on some of his stubbornness in the last third of the film. This tone makes a lot of the characters fun to be around, from Mr. Piccolo, his family, and the seaplane pirates, to even smaller characters that Porco runs into, like the weapon crafters. Actually, I think the weapon crafters have one of my favorite scenes from any movie, where one of them asks what the difference between making money off war and bounty hunting is. The line basically goes “If you make money off of war, you’re scum, but if you can’t make money off of bounty hunting, you’re an idiot.” It took a few viewings for me to really hear that line, and find some charm in it. Don’t get me wrong, the tone can be rather mature, and it doesn’t shy away from the fact that a lot of people died in the war, and there is a lot to unpack with Porco as a character, but it’s not shoved in your face. It knows when to show off the more whimsical tones, the anti-war tones, and so on and so forth. It also feels unique, since it’s not really a war film. It takes place during that period in time, but it’s not about battles or killing soldiers. It’s just characters dealing with the changing times between periods of violent and terrifying war.

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Animation-wise, well, it’s Studio Ghibli. What should you expect from none other than some of the best animation around? Great character movements, spot-on physical comedy, fantastic expressions, subtle movements, gorgeous colors, breath-taking scenery, fast and fun flight sequences, and great character designs. This film also has one of my favorite voice casts of all time, with Michael Keaton doing a perfect job as playing stubborn and prideful Porco, Brad Garrett as a great comedic antagonistic foil, Susan Egan as Gina, a beautiful, yet stern singer at her own private island, David Ogden Stiers as the quirky repairman, and Kimberly Williams-Paisley as the optimistic and strong-willed granddaughter Fio. Probably one of my favorite casting choices is Cary Elwes as Donald Curtis. At first, it’s really shocking, since they got a British guy to do a rather over-the-top American voice, but it fits that point in history of how a stereotypical American would sound, and he brings a lot of passion and energy to the role. Even the minor characters voiced by Bill Fagerbakke, Kevin Michael Richard, Frank Welker, Jeff Bennett, Dee Bradley Baker, and many more all do a fantastic job, no matter how small their roles are. Of course, I would be silly to not bring up the beautiful and fun soundtrack by Ghibli composer, Joe Hisaishi. He definitely has more light, bombastic, and whimsical tones, but also beautiful slow-paced songs that fit the quiet tone of certain areas in the film.

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If I had to really nitpick, and I really do mean nitpick, I think I probably would have liked maybe the first time you see Curtis fight with the seaplane pirates not cut off so abruptly. I get why they did it, but I would have liked to have seen one more fun airplane fight.

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Outside of that, I have no real complaints. I love this movie from head to toe. It’s one of my all-time favorite movies, and is easily a film I would highly recommend showing off to anyone new or old to cinema. It’s also one of the best wartime films, and if for some reason you haven’t seen it yet, please do. I could easily talk about different lines and different scenes from this movie all day, and it stands up there with Spirited Away, Castle in the Sky, and Paprika as one of my favorite Japanese animated films. Unfortunately, I must move onto the next movie to review. Luckily, it’s a film I also deeply love, as next time, we will take a look at My Life as a Zucchini. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

The Other Side of Animation 92: A Stork’s Journey Review

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

One of my main rules is that I don’t tackle straight-to-video animated films, unless it has a reason for me to check it out, whether it be a streaming exclusive, or getting a limited theatrical released. I don’t do it with every straight-to-video schlock, because if I did, I would probably not want to review another animated film for life. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have to watch films like Spark or today’s review of yet another Lionsgate alumni, A Stork’s Journey. This German-animated film is directed by Toby Genkel and Reza Memari. It was a Google Play exclusive, but got a theatrical release at the end of June 2017. Listen, I know I have been critical towards Lionsgate and their animation distribution, since they tend to bring over some truly awful films, but I’m always willing to give them a chance. Let’s dive in and see if they should have made an “art house” film instead of this “wide appeal” film.

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The story is about a small sparrow named Richard, voiced by Drake Bell. After the movie decided to go Tarzan on his parents within the first three minutes, he was raised by storks. He feels upset that his father doesn’t love him, and isn’t allowed to travel with his adopted family to Africa. Richard then decides to say “screw it” to how birds actually work, and not realizing that sparrows don’t travel, tries to fly to Africa. Along the way he meets an owl named Olga, voiced by Jane Lynch, and a parakeet named Kiki, voiced by Marc Thompson. They travel, and go on a high flying adventure to find Richard’s parents.

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This movie was another chore to watch. While I get that not every studio around the world can throw around money or talent like Pixar and Disney, you would think by now, they could get the tech, tools, and talent used by, at the very least, 2011 Pixar. A Stork’s Journey doesn’t look good on a visual level. Everything looks like it was ripped right out of a full-motion cut scene from the original PlayStation days. It has flat textures, and everything from the grassy fields to the desert lands of Africa look so dull, way too shiny, and lifeless. While it doesn’t look as bad as Spark, Stork’s Journey is still way below theatrical-quality animation. Normally, I could look past wonky animation if the story or characters were any good. Sadly, that is not the case here. Richard is a really grating individual who is a pill of a character to watch. It doesn’t help that he’s kind of bone-headed, and constantly puts himself in danger. Jane Lynch’s character’s gimmick is that she has an imaginary friend, and while there are some scenes that almost hit a decent emotional note, it grows tiring really fast. Kiki, on the other hand, is just unlikable for the first half of the film, and became a character I lost interest in mere minutes after he appeared on screen. His story arc is so rushed, that it pretty much ends within, say, 14 minutes after he is introduced into the story.

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Actually, a lot of areas of the film feel rushed. Richard’s parents are killed within five minutes of the film, Kiki has no character besides being foppish after his “arc” wraps up, and they throw in a real last-minute villain into the mix. So the main characters can’t hold the story, what about the side characters? Yeah, good luck with that. The mother is bland, and the father is just the worst type of person. He will constantly put the rest of the stork flock in danger because of his stubborn pride, and the old “I’m a guy so I don’t need help” trope. Like, they get to Africa, find out the watering hole they usually go to is dried up. He gets an offer to find another watering hole, but he, for no reason, declines the offer. It’s 2017, and parents can be portrayed in unique and various ways. They don’t need to be the most hateful characters anymore. It’s a boring film to sit through, since you know how these buddy road trip films go, and since I don’t care for anyone in the film, I can’t think of a reason to watch it.

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The film also has this weird element of having yet another YouTuber as one of the actors getting top billing when they don’t even show up in the movie a whole lot. The “actor” this time is famous YouTuber ijustine as one of the couple of internet-addicted pigeons that you see throughout the film. I mean, I’m sure she is a nice person and all, but did she truly need to be one of the three actors mentioned at the top of the DVD case? It’s not like they really needed her for the role, when any actress could do what she did. This might just be me pushing a bias issue of YouTubers attempting to be more than what they are, but I never found why hiring them was such a big deal. I understand to get with the times and know that YouTubers are some of the bigger “celebrities” out there, but at the same time, incidences like the hugely mediocre EA E3 conference and the recent Vidcon stories makes them look horrible, no matter if they are personally involved or not.

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So, this must be truly worse than Spark right? Well, not really. Spark is still the worst animated film of the year, because it feels cynical and no real passion went into making the movie. While I don’t think A Stork’s Journey is great, I can, at the end of the day, tell that they were at least trying to tell a good story and have a story of being true to yourself no matter what, and so on. It doesn’t work at all and the film is obnoxious to sit through, but there was an attempt to make a film. I also think Jane Lynch, while her character is aggravating at points, has probably the only semi-emotional moment where she talks about her backstory and how she met her imaginary friend. It’s also done in a nice 2D animated sequence that doesn’t look bad. It makes you wonder why the rest of the film wasn’t done in 2D. I also respect the idea behind the pigeons being addicted to the internet as they sit along the wires. It could have led to an interesting bit of social commentary.stork09Even then, while it’s not as bad as Spark: A Space Tail, A Stork’s Journey is still terrible, and I have no idea why Google Play and Lionsgate wanted anything to do with this movie. You wonder with how much money they make being Google, and Lionsgate’s live-action stuff, they can’t afford to invest into some foreign films that people would actually want to watch. This is just another mediocre animated film that will be forgotten by the passage of time, with actors like Jane Lynch wasting their talents in it instead of firing their agent to find better projects. This movie annoyed me more than I thought it would, and I don’t want all of the animated films I’m reviewing counting down to the 100th review to be bad. How about next time, we try to do nothing but animated films that are amazing? Next time, we will look at Porco Rosso. Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the article, and I will see you next time.

Rating: Blacklist/The Worst