The Other Side of Animation 110: Guardian Brothers 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!)

When I wrote my editorial about The Weinstein Company, and how awful of an animation distributor they were, a few days later, they announced that they were going to open up a new animation distribution branch that will specifically handle animated films. This raised so many red flags, but against my more moral judgement, I decided to give them a chance. As much as I get annoyed with certain studios like Illumination or Blue Sky, I never want them to fail. Even my anger with Lionsgate is more to the fact that I want them to stop bringing over everything just because it’s cheap and affordable. I want studios and distributors to succeed because when they do something good, it should be rewarded. Too bad The Weinsteins lost that one chance in one move with the 110th review, Guardian Brothers. As a rule, I only look at infamous bombs, successes, and failures as every 10th review, since I would rather talk about awesome stuff, and not be tied to looking at only “bad” stuff. So, what’s so bad about this one? Well, this was supposed to be the next “big” animated film to be brought over by The Weinsteins. It had a large cast, including Edward Norton, Meryl Streep, Dan Fogler, Bella Thorne, and Nicole Kidman. I mean, that sounds impressive for a film to have that cast. Hopefully it means that the film is such a monumentally amazing product that they wouldn’t even dare just slip it onto Netflix with no one knowing unless someone said something, right? Yeah, if you couldn’t tell by that “oh so subtle” amount of sarcasm, they slipped it onto Netflix like they did with Underdogs. Kind of makes you wonder why they cared at all to bring this over, chop it up, and spend that money hiring those big actors if they are just going to act like cowards, and release it with no one to know that they did such a thing. Before we start, I wanted to be fair with this film, so I watched both the original Chinese version, and The Weinstein version. So, heads up to the fact that I’m going to be comparing the two. Oh, and screw The Weinsteins. Well, let’s get started.

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The film follows two brothers named Yu Lei and Shen Tu, voiced by Edward Norton and Dan Folger. They are gods that are feeling unloved by the humans, because no one is worshipping them for what they represent in the human’s lives. They then get taught about how they could possibly gain back the love and popularity with the humans, by adapting with the changing times. Unfortunately, they decided to shrug that off, because as you know, people fear change. Luckily, they get told of a different solution. The solution may come in the form of an evil spirit that was sealed in earth, after being defeated many years ago. Yu Lei decides to take on this task, while his brother Shen Tu  gets involved with trying to stop him, but also deal with a mother and daughter who are the only humans who keep their presence around, even as the world moves forward. Can Shen Tu stop his brother from unleashing a terrible evil? Can the gods find a way for humans to love them again?

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So, let’s just do a quick review of the original movie. I have to talk about the original first, because a lot of my complaints come from how Weinstein and his inept crew of animation individuals handled this movie. The original movie was called Little Door Gods. It was around 100 or so minutes, and to be frank, the movie is mediocre. It’s a film with a horrible pacing problem, jumping between Shen Tu interacting with the humans, and him trying to stop his brother from unleashing an ultimate evil. This is on top of the mother and daughter characters trying to stop a franchise mogul from taking over their restaurant. It ultimately takes away the stakes, due to how much the plot jumps around. It’s too much going on, and you don’t even see this large evil spirit until 15 minutes before the movie ends. Overall, the best part about the movie was the moral. Times change, and you need to adapt to the change, but you can still respect the past. It’s an interesting story element, and it gives the film a reason to exist. It’s like Meet the Robinsons or Monster’s University, two films that are not really that good, but have great morals near the end of their respective runtimes. It made slugging through the film less of a waste of time.

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Now, what do the Weinsteins do with this film? Well, you know the entire point of the film was to embrace change, but to stay true to yourself, and respect the past? Well, too bad if that was your favorite part! They entirely rewrote the script, and took out those aspects. So, what do you get? Not a whole lot. You still get the whole evil spirit plot point, but the overall story feels hollow. You can obviously tell they cut scenes to be shorter, or cut out scenes entirely. There is a great example of this stupid scene cutting, when Shen Tu and the little girl go get the health inspector, and the health inspector reminisces about a costume party that you never get to see. You even see a snippet of that scene in the end credits. Like, why cut it out? Granted, a lot of the film was padded to fill the runtime, but if you are going to cut a scene, then make sure it’s a scene that has no value to the overarching story. It doesn’t help that the film has all the cringe-inducing additions of a Weinstein-distributed animated film. They force in jokes, pop songs, and a terrible voice-over dub. For a film starring such a huge cast of actors, you would think they would care about their performances, but it sounds like they cranked out the dub in a day, found out Leap! didn’t do well in the box office, and just used the first take for the film, and shoved the film onto Netflix, with no warning or advertisement.

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Seriously, why was this film picked up? This was supposed to be the flagship title under the Weinstein’s new animated feature label, and yet, they just shoved it onto Netflix, with no one knowing unless you are in the animation scene. They already had the worst reputation in animation, and they made it worse by forcing this movie out. Even with the edits they made, it doesn’t fix anything. The movie was already flawed, so by editing it, the flaws are more apparent, and you don’t end up with a better product. It’s still a boring movie to watch, and all the added “benefits” don’t improve it. Animation has come so far since its inception, and the Weinsteins act like this is still 2001 when Shrek came out. Are you that ashamed that you started an animation branch, and knew Guardian Brothers wasn’t going to go over well?

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So, is there anything really good about the Weinstein version or the original version? I mean, kind of. While films like Kung Fu Panda 3 have better fight scenes, Guardian Brothers still has some scenes where the action is pretty decent. The last fight against the evil spirit is creative at points, and even though this next praise is only for the original version, I still like the moral of having to confront change, since I know that is hard for a lot of people. The animation, while not theatrical quality at all, is still better than most Chinese-theatrical animated films. You can tell they wanted this to look good. You can tell the country wants to make more films with the effort that Pixar puts into their films. It’s not there yet with Chinese-theatrical animation, but I respect that they are at least trying. That is something the Weinsteins have never done with animated films.

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It was challenging to know how to grade this movie. On one hand, it’s not a great movie, but the original is harmless. The Weinstein version is a chore to watch for a load of other reasons, and for their first flagship title under their short-lived animation branch, they messed up. They made a mediocre film worse, by simply removing the moral of the original film and simplifying everything. When you have an actress like Meryl Streep in the movie, and fail to use her, you know something is broken beyond repair. As much as I hate Spark: A Space Tail, it was, at the very least, presented as intended. Guardian Brothers was not, and it’s a worse film for it. Avoid it at all cost, and just watch or buy the Kung Fu Panda trilogy if you want some Chinese-themed action films with good stories, characters, and fight sequences. Well, it’s Christmas time, and this year, things are about to get a lot more oversaturated and yellow as we review the Despicable Me franchise with their first film. Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you next time.

Rating: Blacklist/The Worst!

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The Other Side of Animation 109: Leap! 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!)

Well, we are going to be doing something I thought I would never get to do. Since The Weinstein Company is going belly-up, because of the two brothers being walking pieces of garbage who did horrible things (to put it lightly), I am going to be reviewing their last two animated films. I was planning on blacklisting them after Leap! and Guardian Brothers due to their actions, but now I technically don’t have to. I have made an editorial in the past about how horrible they are with animated films, and I think they were the worst distributors. They don’t respect the medium, and end up spending money on films by either needlessly editing the film or recasting the actors. To honor the closing of the massive studio (sorry to everyone losing their jobs because of the two running the company), let’s look at what will possibly be considered their “best” film, Leap! Also known as Ballerina, Leap! was a CGI animated film collaboration between France and Canada, and was directed by Eric Summer and Eric Warin. While it had a fairly small budget for a CGI-animated film at $30, it was a financial hit in theaters, making $130+ million. Unfortunately, once it hit the states, it pretty much came and went. I did see some ads for it, but not much else. I’m guessing it didn’t do well over here stateside, and what possibly caused Guardian Brothers to be put directly onto Netflix without a heads-up to anyone. So, how damaged is Leap!? Is it possibly their “best” movie, or is it right up there with their release of Doogal? Let’s check it out.

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The story follows an orphan girl named Felicie Milliner, voiced by Elle Fanning. She lives at an orphanage with her friend Victor, voiced by Dane DeHaan in the UK version and Nat Wolff in the US version. She dreams of one day becoming a famous ballet dancer and Victor wants to be a famous inventor. They escape the orphanage and the hands of the supervisor of the orphanage, played by Mel Brooks in the US version, and head to France! Felicie tries to get into the dancing school that she saw in a picture, but gets thrown out. She meets up with the cleaning woman of the dance school named Odette, who is played by Carly Rae Jepsen. Can Felicie end up being a great ballerina? Or will she be caught and tossed back into the orphanage?

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I remember when I first saw the British version of this film, I did not like it. I thought the film was generic, annoying, and just not very good. I was floored by how many people said they actually liked the movie. Looking back at my thoughts after seeing both versions, and seeing how much worse animated films got this year, I was probably harsh on it. That’s why I’m going to start with the good. For an animated film with $30 mil to its production budget, it doesn’t look that bad. It has its moments and bits of animation that show that it has a lesser budget than most mainstream-animated films, but it did have pretty good movements and solid overall visuals for a foreign collaboration. Even the designs have a pretty charming look to them. Granted, I know there are pictures all over the net where the characters look horrifying, and yeah, that is a problem at certain points in the movie, but for what you usually get with foreign CGI, it’s better than most CGI animated films. Everything is so lush. France is both beautiful and grimy, the countrysides look green and vibrant, and any time when the characters are doing serious ballet dancing, it’s fun to watch, due to the combination of everything. The characters are also likable. They aren’t unique in any way, but I found myself paying attention to the story arcs of the individual characters. Well, most of them I was invested into. Sure, you have your cheery-eyed lead, the stern teacher, the mentor who has a past, the rival classmate, the quirky male cohort, and so on, but at least you want to see the lead succeed in her dancing.

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Now, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. How does the Weinstein version compare to the British/UK version? Well, out of all the times I have watched a Weinstein-distributed animated film, for one reason or another, Leap! was not completely damaged by Weinstein’s infamous shenanigans with animated films. There are additional lines, and yes, some of them are eye-rolling, but they are not terrible additions. The added lines only appeared when the mouths couldn’t be seen. I still don’t get why they replaced some of the actors, since they weren’t going to reel in anyone, but for what it is worth, they are decent choices. I was surprised by Mel Brooks’ performance, because of how distinct his voice is. This isn’t one of his best performances, but he was not the most annoying part of the film. It’s like he was actually trying. Some voices that were left in the original dub were, and still are, super annoying at times, but the overall dubs of both versions are tolerable.

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Unfortunately, that is all the kindness I have for this film. It’s time to talk about the bad aspects of it. While it is pretty harmless, Leap! is very predictable, and I knew what was going to happen, and while I was interested in the lead’s goal of being a great dancer, the story simply doesn’t go in any interesting or unique directions. It doesn’t help that the characters she interacts with are generic, forgettable, or grating. I’m sorry, but unless someone convinces me otherwise, Nat Wolff is not good in this. Granted, I don’t know how you make the character he plays entertaining, but he was almost on the level of some of this year’s most annoying side characters. I found the last-minute villain to be way too over-the-top. It’s this mother of the rival student, and she basically resorts to murdering the lead and her friend, because her daughter couldn’t get the big lead role. It felt out of place, and I was laughing more than engaged, due to her actions. Like I said above, sometimes the animation shows its budget, and sometimes the animation does not look good. At the very least, it’s with the facial animation. I also wasn’t laughing at the jokes that were popping up in the film. They were very basic, and due to them not really working, it took me out of the experience.

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In the end, Leap! is a harmless film. It’s not the worst, but it’s not a great film either. However, I can take a wild bet a lot of young girls would love this movie. I think I would rather show them something like Moana, Princess and the Frog, or Zootopia first, but I can imagine worst movies to show to young girls. But since this is under The Weinstein label, I suggest avoiding it at all cost. Maybe if it pops up for free on Amazon Prime or Netflix, check it out, but there are so many more movies with strong female protagonists that are out there. Well, now that we got this one out of the way, it’s time we go to what will be Weinstein’s last animated feature that you probably never knew existed with Guardian Brothers. Thanks for reading, I hope you liked it, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Lackluster!

The Other Side of Animation 108: Batman & Harley Quinn 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!)

Well, after a year of nothing, but positive reviews for a project, DC finally has what could be considered their worst outing of the year so far. Well, at least in the animation scene (I do know Justice League is not doing well). I mean, it’s bound to happen to some companies. Even GKids, Disney, and A24 will have a dud or a film that isn’t as good as their other offerings. I think it’s more disappointing, since DC has been really good so far this year. I enjoyed LEGO Batman, Justice League Dark, Teen Titans: The Judas Contract, and even though I haven’t seen it yet, Wonder Woman is one of the more important films of the year. Too bad that winning streak had to come to a halt with Batman and Harley Quinn. Probably one of the more hyped direct-to-video films from DC, this was promising from every aspect. It had Kevin Conroy and Loren Lester returning as Batman and Nightwing, Kevin Michael Richardson as one of the villains, and it was going to be this big comedic action film with Batman fighting alongside Harley Quinn, one of the most popular comic characters of all time. Sadly, as anyone can tell you by now, this film was not well received, and it was just another disappointment from DC’s animation front. Let’s dive into this Sam Liu-directed experience, and see what went wrong.

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The plot starts us off with Poison Ivy, voiced by Paget Brewster, teaming up with a rather low-key DC villain, Floronic Man, voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson. They break into a lab, and take a scientist hostage to unleash their evil plan. Batman, voiced by Kevin Conroy, teams up with Nightwing, voiced by Loren Lester, to find out what exactly is going on, and what specifically did the two plant villains steal. Unfortunately, if they want to find out about anything, they need to get in touch with Ivy’s long lost friend, Harley Quinn, this time voiced by Melissa Raunch of Big Bang Theory fame. Can they find Harley, and team up with her to stop Poison Ivy and Floronic Man?

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It’s really hard to talk about this film, and not bring up one of the biggest elephants in the room/problems with the film, Harley Quinn herself. She has been everywhere, and has enjoyed critical acclaim from all fandoms of DC. Sadly, she is incredibly hit-and-miss with this film. I don’t want to be too harsh on Melissa Rauch, because I know she has gotten the most criticism out of a lot of reviews, but she is part of the problem. Her voice for the character sounds like an incredibly obnoxious parody of how Tara Strong or Arleen Sorkin voiced her. It got grating quickly with her forced accent. I mean, she would be fine if the script and story did more with her than to be a sex icon. Listen, she is a very lovely character, but a lot of the jokes and scenes with her are focused around sex appeal, and I’m not some teen anymore. Her relationship with the Joker ruins any kind of sex appeal, due to how horrifying and damaging it was. The film just decides to give her a one-night-stand with Nightwing, and some scenes of fan service. Again, I wouldn’t mind a more mature edge to everything in this movie, if it didn’t clash with the more comedic tone of the film. This film is probably one of the more violent DC animated films. You will see blood, and the Floronic Man kills multiple people in the movie. The sleaze and the violence would have been better if the jokes landed. Sadly, the jokes don’t always land, and rarely did I laugh in the movie. The film tries out a lot of childish humor, adult humor, and clever humor, but it felt like too many people were trying to make the film’s comedy work. For example, they have a fun scene with Rob Paulsen playing two characters singing a country song, but then do full-on Harley Quinn fanservice, and it makes the fun part lose some weight. Also, does DC have something against Swamp Thing? This is the second film from DC this year with Swamp Thing, and he only appears in the last five minutes, and does nothing. He just spouts some philosophical garbage, and then says “peace!”, and sinks back into the swamp. Now, part of that is very funny, but at the same time, why have him in the movie if he isn’t going to do anything?

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The jokes and the action would probably be better as well, if the animation was better. At times, the animation is typical straight-to-video quality, but some scenes will dip in frames, and it’s really obvious that they spent more money on some scenes than others. It’s such a shame because they are using the old 90s animated series style. You know they can make that style work for multiple projects. I even noticed some weird details, like you can see Nightwing’s eyes through his mask, and you don’t know why they did that. His eyes are already super expressive with the mask on.

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So, what is great about this movie? Well, the voice cast is pretty outstanding. While I know I dragged Melissa Rauch through the ringer, the rest of the voice cast does a great job bringing their characters to life. Kevin Conroy, Kevin Michael Richardson, Paget Brewster, John DiMaggio, Rob Paulsen, and Loren Lester all have great performances. One of my favorite scenes is actually the scene I talked about above this sentence, where Paulsen plays twins singing a great country song. While the comedy doesn’t always land, when it does, the jokes are laugh-out-loud funny, though if you want a funny DC-animated film, you should just pick up The LEGO Batman Movie. Still, the comedy does work when the scenes line up with everything going on.

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Batman & Harley Quinn is a huge disappointment, and it doesn’t help Bruce Timm’s later work, since his reputation was hit with The Killing Joke last year. Like I said above, if you want a more comedy-focused DC animated film, you are better off getting The LEGO Batman Movie or Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders. It’s honestly a shame this didn’t work out as well as it could have, because the idea is really good. A dark comedy Batman movie. That sounds like it would sell well. However, if this is the best they could do, then maybe it’s best they stick to more serious stories. Not the worst of the year, but it’s still not that great. Well, let’s jump into the countdown to 110 reviews, and check out Leap! Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Rent it!

The Other Side of Animation 107: The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature 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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When you are making a movie these days, you have to go all in with the commitment of making it. You have to put 100% into directing, writing, acting, editing, composing, and you get the idea. If you are not using all cylinders while in production, the end product is going to show. This is especially true with sequels, due to their infamous nature of not always being better than the first film. You would think that making a sequel would be easier, but that is sadly not always the case. There is a reason why so many film series should have only stayed as one movie. Hence the focus on today’s review, The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature.  A sequel to the surprising financial hit from 2014, Nutty by Nature came out to the fanfare of no one. The original film got lucky, since it came out in January of 2014, made a lot of money during a month where mostly bad movies are dumped into theaters. Three years later, we have a sequel that had very little hype or excitement, and looked like a waste of time. To no surprise, this sequel to a film no one was asking for underperformed at the box office, only making a tiny bit over $40 mil on a $40 mil budget, and getting mostly negative reviews. I was not particularly looking forward to this one for obvious reasons, but after watching it, it’s the perfect example of my overall opening paragraph. What do I mean? Well, let’s see why no one went nutty over Nutty by Nature.

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The sequel picks up six months after the first film, as we follow Surly Squirrel, voiced by Will Arnett, living the big life inside the closed-down nut shop with his animal friends. They have all the nuts in the world to eat, and live like fat little piglets. Unfortunately for him and his friends, the store blows up, and they are forced to scavenge for food back in the park. Even more unfortunately for them, the mayor of the town, voiced by SNL alumni Bobby Moynihan, decides that he wants to tear down the park and make it an amusement park. It’s up to Surly and his friends to take back the park from the evil mayor and his animal control henchman played by Peter Stormare. Can Surly get the help of some city mice led by Jackie Chan to save the park? Have you seen any “save the environment” films from the 90s?

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Okay, before we talk about the bad, let’s talk about the good. First off, the animation is surprisingly solid. Textures don’t look so straight-to-video, movements are way more cartoony and fluid, and everything feels more polished than the first film. The original was decent, but I could personally argue that it wasn’t up to theatrical quality standards, but that’s just me. Thankfully, everything is way more lush and vibrant than the last film. You can tell the entire team wanted to make a better-looking movie, and it did so on a $40 mil budget. The physical comedy is way better as well. The previous film had decent physical comedy, but because of the mediocre animation, the jokes didn’t land. My guess is that the directors and writers watched what Warner Animation Group is doing with physical comedy, like in Storks, to learn proper Looney Toons-style comedy. The next improvement is that the film is way less mean-spirited, with characters who are more tolerable. Some are still as annoying as they were in the first film, but I wasn’t just grinding my teeth together waiting for characters that weren’t utterly terrible to appear onscreen. I think my two favorite characters were the villains, the mayor and the animal control guy. I think Peter Stormare and Bobby Moynihan were having a blast being cartoon levels of evil. They aren’t original villains, or villains that are interesting, but for this type of movie, they were way more entertaining than they could have been, and probably had some of the best lines in the movie. The action in this film is also well executed, especially when you have Jackie Chan coming into play, who probably has some of the best scenes in the later part of film. They even have this cute romance between the pug and the mayor’s French bulldog. All throughout the film, you can tell the people making it tried harder. They put more effort into the writing, the animation, the comedy, and put out a better product.

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With all that said, this film is by no means one of 2017’s best animated films. As much as I say everything has improved, a lot of the humor and writing is not great. It’s very weak writing, and if you have seen the film, you know they milk one joke multiple times. It’s not all that clever humor either. I think the only times I got laughs out of the film was because of the execution of the line read from the actors. Sometimes, a good comedic actor can make a bad joke work. Another huge problem is that the film is painfully generic. If you have seen any, and I do mean any environmental films, then you know how it’s all going to go down. I know not every film needs to be a “masterpiece” or on the level of Pixar, but if you are going to do something we have seen before, you had better execute it well, or get really creative. Sadly, the story is painfully simple with humans being evil, and the animals having to save the day. Heck, they heavily advertise Jackie Chan’s character for being in the movie, but he’s in it for pretty much 20 minutes total. Due to the lackluster writing, I didn’t find myself really caring about the emotional moments with all of the characters. Some interactions were cute, but when they tried to make you feel for the characters, it felt out of place.

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It’s an infuriating sit. You can tell the team behind the sequel tried harder, got the animation to work, improved the characters, and the story. However, they didn’t go full tilt on improving everything else. It’s not super funny, I didn’t care about the other characters, and in the end, I was perfectly fine with the film underperforming. The original back in 2014 got lucky because it was a family-animated film in January, and the studio thought they could get another financial hit with a sequel. For some reason or another, the movie-going audience said “we didn’t want this”, and made sure no one saw it. It’s an overall harmless film, but if you were going to get an animated film of this year to rent or purchase, I would pick up In This Corner of the World. It’s cheaper than buying The Nut Job 2, and it’s 100% better. If you do decide to watch it, eh, I hope you get some enjoyment out of seeing it. Next time, we are going to look at what is considered one of DC’s biggest disappointments in animation with Batman & Harley Quinn. Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Lackluster!

The Other Side of Animation 106: Loving Vincent 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!)

While CGI animation is and was a groundbreaking discovery in the world of animation, it has lost its luster. I mean, these days, you expect an animated film made with CGI to be exceptional or at the very least, theatrical quality. The same goes for when 2D animation was in theaters. It’s an even bigger deal these days when an animated film hits theaters, and it’s not even close to being theatrical quality. Sometimes, you get a CGI-animated film that elevates itself or does something super creative, but for the most part, CGI animated films are nothing super special. This is why today’s review of Loving Vincent is so impressive to me. Originally launched as a crowdfunding project, Loving Vincent, directed by Dorota Kobeila and Hugh Welchman, is being heralded as the first fully-painted animated film. After many years, and over a hundred different animators working their blood, sweat, passion, and tears into the film, it got a festival release during 2017, winning one of the major awards at the Annecy Film Festival, alongside Lu Over the Wall and In This Corner of the World, and had a more wide-release into theaters in September of this year. So, what do I think about this movie? Well, let’s pick up your paint brushes and find out.

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The story takes place a year after the death of artist Vincent Van Gogh. The story revolves around Armand Roulin, played by Douglas Booth. He is sent by his father, Postman Roulin, played by Chris O’Dowd, to deliver a letter to Vincent’s brother, Theo. While delivering the letter, Armand decides to take it in his own hands to find out what exactly happened for Vincent to kill himself.

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So, what is great about this movie? Well, I think it would be tough to talk about this film and not start with the animation. It’s easily the best thing about this movie. While technically, they use more than paint to make this film work, it’s still really impressive and mind-boggling that they got this to work. While it could be considered partly rotoscoped in terms of animation, it’s probably the best-looking animated film of the year. Everything looks so breathtaking in this painted style, and you can’t really believe that they made this insane plan work. Every frame is beautifully rendered in the art style used by the painter.  Sure, they had to cheat a little with some of his iconic paintings, but they still pay huge respect to the artist and his work. It technically uses two different painting styles. You have the usual style that Vincent used in his work, and for flashbacks, it goes into this more “realistic” black and white painting look. Both styles mesh well, giving you this other-worldly experience that is jaw-dropping to see in motion on screen. That’s saying something in a year where The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales, Mary and the Witch’s Flower, and The Breadwinner exist in terms of beautiful animation.

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Now, in terms of the story, this is where I have seen people split on this part of the overall experience. I have seen criticisms thrown at the film that it was more style over substance. The plot meanders around, and the mystery goes nowhere. Well, personally, I disagree. As Armand goes around the town where Vincent stayed, he tries to find out what may have driven the painter mad. Some people have complained that you are not given an answer to the mystery, even though you technically are given a couple of reasons. People didn’t treat him well; they laughed, mocked, and loathed his talents. No one treated him with respect. Even the people that supported him had underlying motives. Another complaint I hear is that there is no true ending to the mystery. There is no pure answer to the overall story. Well, you know what? Life doesn’t always give you answers, for as much as we would love to be able to explain everything that happens. Things aren’t always neatly tied up. It won’t matter how smart you are, or how much you know, sometimes, there is nothing conclusive. It’s bittersweet, since this painter worked for eight years, only sold two paintings, and only got famous after he killed himself. Sometimes, the world doesn’t want you to know why it does things. With that in mind, it was interesting and fun to watch Armand try to solve the situation, while talking to the various  individuals who all had different opinions on Vincent. Vincent was brilliant, he was mad, they felt sorry for him, they laughed at him, and you get the idea. I was kept invested till the very touching end of the movie.

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I also liked the actors in the movie. I thought the cast, including Robert Gulaczyk, Douglas Booth, Jerome Flynn, Saoirse Ronan, Helen McCrory, Chris O’Dowd, John Sessions, Eleanor Tomlinson, and Aidan Turner all put in very believable performances.  Combined with the amazing animation, you felt every emotion and facial movement they gave on-screen. I know a lot of it was on a stage, but that’s even more commendable. The music by Clint Mansell was also very fitting, giving calming numbers, intensive music during transitions and more serious moments, and touching moments when needed. Then again, when you are the composer behind Requiem for a Dream, the San Junipero episode of Black Mirror, The Wrestler, Black Swan, and Noah, you should expect some phenomenal music.

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If I had to complain about something, it’s the fact that some characters only appear once, and are not really seen again. They don’t offer much to the overall story and mystery, and I wish there was more to them than just certain one-off sequences.

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Loving Vincent is a loving tribute to one of the world’s greatest artistic minds, and simply a wonderful movie. It’s easily my new favorite animated film of the year so far, and it’s a triumph in filmmaking and animation. I understand some people won’t agree, but you know what? In the end, my opinion is all that matters to me, and Loving Vincent is one of my favorite movies of 2017, one of my favorite animated movies of the decade, and quite possibly one of my favorite movies period. I can’t wait to buy this movie on Blu-Ray and watch it again. I don’t really get that with a lot of movies, and I’m happy this was not simply a case of style over substance. If you can watch it, go see it. We need more films this ambitious and creative. Sadly, it’s time to go back to an animated film that tries harder, but still doesn’t hit the landing. Next time, we review The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature. 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 105: The Empire of Corpses 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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I have come to realize that I may have played my winning hand too early with picking out a “scary” or “horror”-themed animated film to review last year with Extraordinary Tales. It made me realize that there are not many dark or scary animated films. A lot of Halloween-themed specials are usually family friendly, and not really all that scary. It’s a shame, since animation breaks those chains that hold back horror in live-action movies, because you can do what you want with no limitations. That’s why I had to ask around a bit to see what I could review that was creepy or unsettling and not entirely made for a family audience. This is where The Empire of Corpses comes into play. This is part of a trilogy of films based on stories by late author Project Itoh or as he is known as, Satoshi Ito. It was followed up by Harmony and Genocidal Organ. It got a lot of hype behind it, because it was being animated by Wit Studio, the animation studio behind Attack on Titan. It was directed by Ryoutarou Makihara, and was brought over by Funimation. Once it was seen by more of the world, I didn’t really hear anyone talk about it. I think it’s honestly a cool little product, and that’s why I’m reviewing it here. Let’s get started.

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The film takes place in an alternate 19th century. In this world, back in the 18th century, England scientist Victor Frankenstein found a way to bring back dead corpses, and make them live again. After some shenanigans with the doctor ending up dead, and his one true prototype going missing, the technology he used called Necroware is now used in mass production, where the Government is using dead bodies and making them grunts, soldiers, workers, and so on. Jump to current day, and the technology has spread across the entire world. So, enter our lead, a promising Necroware engineer named John Watson, voiced by Jason Liebrecht. He has been working under the radar to bring his friend Friday, voiced by Todd Haberkorn, back to life after his passing. The good news is that Watson brings his friend Friday back to life! The bad news is that due to the current technology, Friday can’t talk or really do much besides a few simple actions. Oh, and I guess getting caught and almost getting a bullet through Watson’s head by the England Government is bad as well. Watson is then sent on a journey to find this book that had all of Frankenstein’s notes and blue prints on reanimating corpses. Along the way he meets his and Friday’s bodyguard Captain Frederick Gustavus Burnaby, voiced by J. Michael Tatum, a Russian guide named Nikolai Krasotkin, voiced by Micah Solusod, a Russian corpse engineer voiced by Mike McFarland, and a mysterious woman named Hadaly Lilith, voiced by Morgan Garrett. Together they try to find this book, and maybe find The One, voiced by R. Bruce Elliott.

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So, what is good about this film? Well, I love the idea. While not scream yourself silly scary, the idea of what the entire plot is based around is scary. I mean, people are able to bring back dead people to use for mindless tasks, and sending them to war, while the rich get fat and pampered. It gets even more disturbing when you realize that they can make zombies for different purposes, and give them back intelligence to a degree. I feel like there should, or would, be some kind of moral dilemma with this technology. I also enjoyed the chemistry between Watson and Friday. You really wanted to see Watson obtain his goal, and bring Friday back to 100% living. I also enjoyed their bodyguard, who was simply a fun character to watch fight, act snarky, and bring a good energy to the group of protagonists.

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Since this was animated by the studio that did Attack on Titan, Wit Studio, you can tell that you are going to get some high-grade animation. Everything moves fluidly, and the color pallet has a good mixture of drab colors and a vibrant color scheme when needed.  The action flows well with the movements, and they get really creative with the zombie types. I know some people complain that when you give zombies more to do than just stumble around, it makes them less interesting, but I think it helps the movie. You see different types of zombies, like the regular zombies, suicide bomb zombies, zombies that wear heavy armor and know how to fight, and you get the idea. It helps make the action more interesting, and kept me engaged when our merry group of heroes was under attack. The voice acting was pretty solid. I think some of the voice actors trying British or Russian voices are distracting, but everyone puts in a good performance.

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If I had to complain about something with the film, I think it would be the pacing. Now, as a movie, it’s a fun action romp with an interesting setting. On the other hand, I constantly felt this would have been better as a miniseries. Even at two hours, the pacing of the story feels weird. Like, I was really getting into the Russian guide and his comradery with our lead, the bodyguard, and Friday, but he then stops being in the film before the halfway point. It’s shocking what happens, but still. They also introduce elements to certain characters, and the twist feels forced. Not that they weren’t building up the twist in some way, but since the film is too long for its own good, I lost interest a couple of times, and had to take a break  of watching the film before getting back on the saddle. The final climax is intense, but so much goes on at once with the lead and the main villain, that it’s overload. I think everything would have been better if they made this a four to six episode miniseries, so they could have time to flesh out everything. It loses its steam by the end of the first hour, and that’s a real shame. You have a cool world, but not the best execution or intrigue of said world.

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In the end, The Empire of Corpses was a solid movie. I had fun watching it, and I am glad I watched it, but I don’t know if I would watch it again. I would recommend seeing if you can rent it, or see if a friend has it and watch it with them. When I’m usually on the fence about a film, a rental or free viewing helps me not waste $20+ buying a copy of the film. If you like zombie films, anime, or anime with zombies, then you will probably enjoy this movie. It might go off the rails at times, but for a non-family-friendly “spooky” animated feature, I think I did a good job finding this film. Well, I have had my fill of spooky ghosts, ghouls, and anime tropes, so how about we play a little catch-up with the year with Loving Vincent. Thanks for reading, I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you next time!

Rating: Rent It!

The Other Side of Animation 104: Napping Princess 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!)

With Mother! by director Darren Aronofsky causing an honestly interesting “controversy” because of it failing at the box office, and splitting people down the middle in terms of liking it or hating it, do we really want original movies? I mean, people complain about wanting to see original movies all the time, but then don’t go see them, when they get bigger budgeted marketing or wider release. It’s infuriating because you can’t have it both ways. You want more “original” movies getting wider spread releases and bigger marketing budgets? Then you had better go see them and not complain. I’m doing my part, and you should do the same. I know that sounds harsh, but it’s honestly true. That’s why I went to see Napping Princess. Released in the states back in September, Napping Princess was a surprise pick up by GKids. At the very least, it caught me by surprise. It was directed by Kenji Kamiyama of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Eden of the East fame, and was released earlier this year, and was a competitor at 2017’s Annecy Film Festival. Needless to say, it got overshadowed by Lu Over the Wall, Loving Vincent, and In This Corner of the World. I wanted to get this review out of the way so people don’t overlook this film. Let’s dive in.

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The story revolves around a high school student named Kokone Morikawa, voiced by Brina Palencia. She lives with her dad, who is sort of a dead beat, but very talented car mechanic. Kokone is a rather sleepy individual, as when she drifts off into sleep, she enters a dream world her father told her about. Unfortunately for her, Kokone’s dad is under some kind of investigation with a company that is accusing him of stealing something. The two worlds then start to collide with Kokone’s dream world starting to mirror the real world.

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So, what is good about Napping Princess? Well, since it’s animated by SIGNAL.MD., a sub studio of IG Port (the merger of animation studio Production I.G and manga publisher Mag Garden), the animation is quite nice. It’s fluid, expressive, snappy, and just like Production I.G’s other animated film, A Letter to Momo, it has more realistic movements, but also has snappy comedic animation. I was surprised to see a film that I wasn’t expecting to be funny, have some truly hilarious moments. The comedy is mostly from good physical comedy, expressive facial animation, and some funny lines. Sometimes, it shows that the 2D animation is paired up with CGI elements, but thankfully, they gel well together, and is not as distracting as late 90s/early 2000s anime that used CGI to replace actual objects. Since this film has fantasy elements in it, I found a lot of the action and visuals to be fun, and pretty on a technical scale. The fight with the lava monster in the dream world is always entertaining, and I was excited to see how characters from the real world would gel in the dream world. Plus, you have to have some fun when you have a transforming moped with a side-car, and a pirate fighting alongside a young magical girl with a talking stuffed animal.

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In terms of themes and characters, I found the themes of not giving up on your dreams, and changing to the times to be interesting ones to tackle. Most of the time, when you think of animation, you think of themes that are fairly light-weight, so kids can easily absorb them on-screen. It’s a bummer when you can tell the people behind the story and writing didn’t think ahead of time to slip something in that is more challenging for viewers to watch. This film shows that change will happen, and it’s good to get with the times, and that no matter what challenges get in your way, do not stop. I also liked the characters. Sure, Kokone and her friend Morio are not new to the animation scene, but they are likable characters. I enjoyed their chemistry together, and the dialogue exchanges they have with other characters. While the story does mostly focus on Kokone, her dad, Morio, and the villain, I found myself not getting annoyed by side characters. The music is also fun to listen to, and if it sounds similar to something like Kingdom Hearts, that’s because it was done by the same composer, Yoko Shimomura. It adds a whimsical tone to the film that fits its fantasy and dream-like setup. Usually, this is where I talk about the voice cast for the film, but I only saw the English subtitle version, so, from the few clips I have seen of the English dub, it was pretty solid. Not the best dub GKids has done with a Japanese-animated film (I think Miss Hokusai is their best one), but the actors do a good job.

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Unfortunately, my biggest complaint about the movie is that later on, it doesn’t know how to combine both the dream world and the real world. It’s a great third act, but the seamless fusing of both worlds isn’t fully executed well. The final fight of the film is amazing, but when it cuts back to the real world, it’s jarring, and I found myself wondering what happened, or how they got to said location in the first place, while the dream world was fusing with the real world. Napping Princess also rides the line of being too long. It’s a well-paced film, but it’s just two-hour runtime almost runs the idea dry. I also wish the dream world had more whimsical designs. I perfectly get why it was more technologically-themed, but I was enjoying the fantasy world to the point I wish the movie was set in this one setting.

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While it is definitely not going to be winning any major awards, and I can understand if some people don’t like it (though I don’t agree with the user scores for the film), I had a blast watching this movie. It was full of charm, personality, and wonderful animation. It was a fun fantasy adventure flick with a nice mystery, keeping all the abstract imagery together. While I will be rooting for other GKids/indie animated films to do well at the Oscars, Napping Princess was an awesome surprise, and I hope more people get to see it when it hits DVD. Well, Halloween is about to be upon us, so let’s review a film filled to the brim with corpses with The Empire of Corpses. Thanks for reading, I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Go See It!