The Other Side of Animation 121: Have a Nice Day 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 and live-action 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 the last two years, I have seen China start to put their foot down, and really compete with animation. While not a great movie, The Monkey King: Hero is Back was a competent action-adventure flick that raked in millions. Big Fish & Begonia, a decade old 2D-animated film is getting positive reviews, and is coming out this year thanks to Funimation and Shout! Factory.  In general, it’s good to see that they want to put a lot of effort into their future projects, and not just coax by on cheap-animated schlock. Another animated film that I was looking forward to coming out in the states was Have a Nice Day. Directed by Liu Jian, Have a Nice Day made waves in the news when it was pulled from the Annecy Film Festival last year by the Chinese government. This caused a huge controversial backlash toward the country, because not only was China the guest country at the festival, but it was also considered a move of censorship by the country. While it was winning awards around the festival circuit, is Have a Nice Day worth the hype and controversy? Well, kind of. Let’s dive in.

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Have a Nice Day is a dark comedy with a mix of social commentary revolving around a cab driver who robs someone of $150 grand in US currency to help his girlfriend in South Korea with her plastic surgery.  Unfortunately for him, that money belonged to a mob boss, and it then turns into this mad dash between multiple characters to get that money from one another.

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Let’s talk about the most standout aspect of Have a Nice Day, the animation. Now, usually, I consider animation to be moving drawn pictures, or CGI models moving around. Have a Nice Day really stretches the terms of animation. A lot of the films are in still frames with mouths staying open when they talk. There is some movement, but it’s more like an underground motion comic. I can perfectly understand why this might turn people off. It all looks fine, but it’s as if you took still frames, and took inspiration from the animation philosophy from Adult Swim’s early days. I can understand if this was done on a shoe-string budget, and there wasn’t enough left over for the animation, but this will definitely put people off.  I know I have given the country flack for its bad animation, and while this one was probably more due to artistic decisions or budget limitations, it’s almost not an animated film. I know that sounds sort of gate-keeping to not call it animation, but once you see the trailer for this film, it’s understandable.

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So, since the animation is hugely kneecapped, what does this film have to counter-balance for the lack of animation? Thankfully, the best aspect of the movie is the dialogue. While you are definitely looking at a bunch of still frames, the dialogue between characters is interesting. It has a few solid jokes thrown in from time to time that are legit funny. It’s also interesting to see a bunch of the characters, major and minor, talk about money, and how China looks at money. Maybe that’s why it was pulled from the festival, but I personally found nothing offensive about this film, but I’m a white guy from Texas, so what do I know? It reminds me of The Rabbi’s Cat, since that film also had some odd animation, but you were kept invested with the film’s dialogue. The film also has a build-up to an immensely funny punchline at the end, but I won’t spoil it here.

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While I did find admiration that this was a mostly one-man job, I think my favorite aspect of the sound design was the music. Yes, there is one really random musical sequence in the film, but my favorite bit of music was the opening song by The Shanghai Restoration Project. It had a nice jazzy blues feel that fit over the decrepit and broken side of China. If anyone is curious, the track is called Dark Horse. While the animation was fairly, um, still, I found the acting to be pretty solid. I won’t say I remember one person being better than the other, but the chemistry between everyone felt cohesive. It was interesting to see how the acting would gel with the limited animation, and I was not all that distracted by it. Then again, I knew going in that this film would live and die by its dialogue and character interaction.

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Now then, let’s talk about the downsides. The animation is going to split people so hard down the middle. On one hand, it’s a style, and the director worked within his limitations of budget and time, while using more artistic liberties with what can be considered “animation”. On the other hand, it feels pointless to make this an animated film, because of how limiting the animation is. Sure, you can get the gestures and movements from the simple frames, but at the same time, it’s really pushing the definition of animation. It’s definitely going to distract a lot of people, and whether this was a purposeful decision or not, I did find myself at points being pulled out of the experience. While I love the entire punchline to the film at the end, it is a grind to get there. It’s not a very long movie, but it takes its time slow-burning its way to the finish line. It also does that thing where it cuts off at the end, leaving the ending to be up in the air in terms of what exactly happened after the big climatic sequence. I mean, sure, you can pick up what might have happened, but I think the film would have worked better with more closure. Then again, I know this technique is popular among many filmmakers like Tarantino, so your mileage may vary with the ending.

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While I was definitely happy to have a Movie Pass for this film, I’m still very glad I went out and supported it. It’s good to support original films and smaller creators if their films are showing in theaters in your area. I’m happy to see Chinese animation get ambitious with their goals with the medium, and while Have a Nice Day doesn’t check off all the boxes, it’s a way more important and interesting movie that’s out right now than 50 Shades Freed and that pointless Death Wish remake. If you can find a way to watch it, I would definitely recommend checking it out. Just look up the trailer for the film first to see if you might be into it. Well, let’s continue the support of animated films from overseas and look at the Annie Award-winning and Oscar-nominated The Breadwinner. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Rent It!

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The Other Side of Animation 120: Your Name 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/Heads up!: I will be talking about the story and will be spoiling a bit to explain my criticism. If you have not seen this film yet, then by all means, watch it, and then come back to this review. Enjoy!

To be honest, I was having a brain tickler of a time choosing the 120th review. The beginning part of the year is usually not swarmed with obviously bad or notoriously awful films. Instead, I decided to choose a popular film. It’s an animated film that was universally loved, and won critical acclaim around the world. This Japanese film in question is Your Name. Directed by Makoto Shinkai, Your Name was released back in 2016, and became the biggest animated hit in Japan of all time. It even beat out Spirited Away, which held the title for highest grossing Japanese-animated film. When it was competing in the 2016 Oscars, everyone online got mad that it didn’t get nominated. It’s a film that surpassed expectations, and got so big that Makoto Shinkai told fans of the film to back down on the praise. Not that he fully hated it, but he felt like the film was flawed, and some aspects could be fixed. So, for me, I have been fairly vocal about not liking it as much as everyone else, but do I think it’s bad? Well, let’s find out.

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Our story follows the life of two teens. They are named Taki Tachibana, voiced by Michael Sinterniklaas, and Mitsuha Miyamizu, voiced by Stephanie Sheh. These two live in different parts of Japan, where Taki lives in Tokyo, and Mitsuha lives in Itomori, a small rural town. They live their fairly typical teenage lives without many problems. Well, besides the fact that they have somehow swapped bodies with one another. Yeah, for one reason or another, they constantly wake up in the other’s body, and don’t know who the other is. It then becomes a ticking clock for the two to find out who the other is, all the while going through their days in each other’s body.

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As usual, let’s talk about the positives. Even if my opinion on Makoto Shinkai’s work does not line up with everyone else’s, I do still have a lot to say that’s positive. As usual, his animation in the later part of the 2000s is gorgeous. I say later part of the 2000s, because I was never a fan of early 2000s digital anime with the flat colors and bland designs. It was also the time period when anime was trying to combine 2D and CGI, and it was distracting. To me, Your Name is his best animation yet. Even from his first film, Shinkai has always had amazing skyscapes. They are just so vibrant and awe-inspiring. They are also grand in scope, and really show off how huge the sky is. While I find the character designs to be fairly generic, in terms of looking like most polished anime designs you see today, they do move well, and are fairly expressive. The colors are also very lavish. It’s a gorgeous movie no matter where you stand on the overall quality. There are plenty of scenes and shots that could be put into frames and hung on a wall.

While I am not always on board with teenage characters, and what archetypes Makoto Shinkai likes to use in his movies, I found myself really invested with the two leads in Your Name. One of my consistent problems with Makoto Shinkai films is that he constantly has the emotion down, but the characters never end up as that interesting. It has pulled me out of his films quite a lot. Thankfully, at least for me, I was constantly invested in what was going on. It was fun to see how being in each other’s bodies would affect how they would interact with people in their own respective days. I know we have seen this premise in films like Freaky Friday, and there are a few jokes that are predictable with this kind of plot point, but the gimmick of the plot for the first half starts out slow, and then builds up to a twist and sequences that will keep you invested throughout the two-hour runtime.

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So, what do I not like about the film? Let’s start with the small complaints. While I find the film to be downright visually gorgeous, the designs are not all that memorable. They look like most polished generic anime characters you can see in most anime these days. While the themes and style of film is all Makoto Shinkai, I wish he had his own designs as well. When I watch a film by Miyazaki, Takahata, Hosoda, and Yuasa, I can tell when it’s their film by their art style. I also found the anime-style opening to be fairly jarring, since this is a movie, and having an anime series intro feels clunky. I also found a few jokes to fall flat. Like, you know the first joke they are going to go to when the male lead finds himself in the body of the female lead. It’s rather tasteless. Sadly, they play out that joke a couple of times, and it’s really eye-rolling.

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So, let’s talk about the biggest problem I have with the film. It is not with people overhyping it. While I can make an argument about hype culture and how it can really be a film’s downfall, and the fact YouTubers hyped this film up without having the foresight to not hype it to heaven and back, that’s all temporary. The hype will die down, and you leave all levels of expectations at the door. The biggest problem with Your Name is the twist. About halfway through the film, something happens that makes the entire plot way more confusing than it should be. I know some people will tell me some half-baked college drop-out philosophy about the twist, but it simply ruined the film for me. You can tell me how it works, but even then, I’m still not going to like it. I don’t get why this couldn’t be this fun romantic mystery film about the two finding themselves. The twist simply makes a charming and simple plot way more complicated. I don’t get why this couldn’t be simply Freaky Friday, but animated. Another problem I have with this film, and I feel like most people don’t notice or care to bring up, is the fact that outside of the improvements, it’s another Makoto Shinkai film. While I think he is good at what he does, it does feel like he is making the same film over and over. Every film of his deals with teen romance, skyscapes, long distance relationships, and feeling alone. It’s almost the same exact story as his other films. At least with directors like Yuasa, Miyazaki, and Hosoda, they use the themes they like, but still make every film feel vibrant and different. While I was watching Your Name, I kept thinking back to his other films more so than seeing Your Name as its own film. There is nothing wrong with a director using familiar themes in all of his work, but you, at the very least, want every film to feel different. It’s why my favorite of Makoto Shinkai’s films is Children Who Chase Lost Voices. While it might be similar to the works of directors like Miyazaki, it feels different from his other films. I’m not mad or dislike Makoto Shinkai because he’s a bad filmmaker, because he’s not. I do not like his work, because it’s repetitive. I want him to expand on other ideas. I also get that some of his themes are tied to Japan’s culture, but the best animated films from Japan do not make me think of that. I want to feel like I can get where a film is coming from, despite its place of origin.

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I know I came off strong with the criticism, but do not misunderstand me. I do think Your Name is a good film. It’s beautiful, has endearing characters, the emotional moments are powerful, and the music is wonderful. I do not agree that it’s the best animated film of 2016, or when it was released in 2017 stateside, and I’ll admit, some bitterness towards the film was because people did overhype. I do see some people start to criticize it more in recent times, but they still enjoy it. I enjoyed Your Name, and when I don’t have other purchasable priorities on the mind, I will purchase a copy of Your Name. It’s a film that is worth experiencing, if you want to see non-Ghibli animated features. Personally, I prefer directors like Masaaki Yuasa and Mamoru Hosoda more, but I do think Makoto Shinkai is one of the great Japanese animation directors. I just want him to grow as an artist. Now then, let’s move to a Chinese-animated film that had some controversy behind it, and let’s talk about Have a Nice Day. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 119: Early Man 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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There is something always exciting when Aardman makes a new film. While not financially successful here in the states for some sadly understandable/annoying reasons, I always get excited, since it brings something fresh and interesting to the table, even if the films have elements that we have seen before. I make sure to always see their films, because I want to support the studio. That’s no different here, with their newest film, Early Man. Directed by Nick Park, Early Man was his first theatrical directing gig since his Oscar-winning Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. It was released on February 16th, but is not doing well at all in the box office. It is getting positive reviews, but its financial take is discouraging. Granted, when you go against something like the important Black Panther and the decently reviewed Peter Rabbit, you are going to get into some trouble, especially if you are Lionsgate/Summit Entertainment, and you don’t market your movie! I can get into that bit of stupid, but I’ll save that for a different article. For now, let’s review Early Man!

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Eddie Redmayne plays our hero Dug, a caveman living with his tribe in a crater that, generations ago, was formed by a meteorite. He’s getting complacent about how his tribe only hunts rabbits. One day, after a successful rabbit hunt, their tribe gets invaded by a more evolved group of humans. This evolved group of individuals is led by a man named Lord Nooth, voiced by Tom Hiddleston. Dug accidentally gets himself “taken” to the new civilization, meets a woman named Goona, voiced by Maisie Williams, and finds out that his entire valley is being mined out for its metal. After interrupting a soccer game (and yes, I am going to call it soccer), Dug challenges Nooth to a soccer game. Unfortunately, Dug and his tribe don’t know how to play soccer. Dug then enlists the help of Goona, and they train to win their valley back!

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Let’s talk about the positives.  Since this is Aardman, the animation is fantastic. Each character has a unique design, and they each move beautifully. The sets are also vibrant, lush, and huge. These might even beat out The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and Pirates: Band of Misfits. As with most British comedy, it’s well-written, clever, and there are lots of foreground and background jokes. I found myself laughing at multiple points in the movie, along with others in my audience. I think a lot of the jokes flew over the kids in my group’s heads, but they still laughed quite a lot. Much of the humor works because the characters are fun to be around. While some are simple, which is a problem to a degree, I never found myself getting annoyed by them. They were fairly likable. Dug is a kind optimist, the tribe leader played by Timothy Spall is delightfully daft, Nooth is a blast as a villain who seems to enjoy being a villain, Goona is the strong female archetype, and Dug’s tribe all have their own amusing moments. I know the film’s humor is mostly pun-related, but if you can execute them properly, then I don’t mind it. I can understand if it’s not your type of humor, but I loved it. They even stay away from the more modern-style of humor you would see in films from Illumination and Blue Sky Studios. It’s great that they did that, since it makes the film more enjoyable to watch as time goes by. The performances were also really good. Eddie Redmayne captures the hopeful and maybe ignorant optimistic side of Dug, Tom Hiddleston gives Nooth a wonderfully cheesy and not-at-all accurate French accent that leads to many of the film’s best jokes, Maisie Williams does a good job at being a tough individual, and the rest of the cast, including Richard Ayoade, Selina Griffiths, Johnny Vegas, Mark Williams, Gina Yashere, Simon Greenall, Richard Webber, Rob Brydon, Kayvan Novak, Miriam Margoyles, all have humorous performances.

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As much as I love Aardman and the fact we got a stop-motion film this year, I am going to criticize this film a bit. The film is, for the most part, hugely entertaining, clever, funny, and well-written. However, it does start to lose steam, when you get to the actual soccer part of the plot. It goes through a few sports clichés and puns that don’t work unless you know the sport, and it goes into sports film territory with the underdogs versus the champions. You can pick up on what’s going to happen very easily during this part. While I love a lot of the tribe members, many of them don’t get much development. About half of them get stuck with a single character trait. That also goes for the champion team that they compete against.  I also felt like the story could have been a bit more complex. I love that Aardman keeps things simple, but sometimes, that hurts them, since some of their stories become predictable. I know I can blame some of this film’s underperformance to Lionsgate/Summit Entertainment, since this should have been a big deal for their animation output, but they treated like it was just another direct-to-video animated film. However, Aardman is also partly to blame for a couple of this film’s problems. I just wonder how much better this film would have been received if they had chosen a more…world-loved sport, since the US doesn’t really care about soccer, or simply stuck with the caveman and Bronze Age civilization meet-up. I didn’t mind it being about soccer, since I caught a lot of the soccer jokes, but I know that won’t be for everyone.

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While I think I prefer Shaun the Sheep The Movie and The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, I did love Early Man. Personally, it’s the first good animated film of the year, and even if you didn’t fully care about it, you know deep down, it’s going to be better than Sherlock Gnomes.  Early Man is a film that gets better the more I think about it. I definitely recommend checking it out. It’s an original film that’s not based on any pre-existing properties, and if you really want more original films to succeed, then you need to actually go see them. Well, it’s time to get to the 120th review, and I have a lot to say about that movie when we get to it. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 118: Mary and the Witch’s Flower 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’m sure when you are a director who has a few hit movies under his belt while working under one studio, it’s imposing and challenging when you decide to leave that studio to start your own. Which I am sure is the case with Hiromasa Yonebayashi when he left Studio Ghibli and founded Studio Ponoc. While his name might not be as big as Hayao Miyazaki or Mamoru Hosoda, you would recognize his directing work in two Studio Ghibli films, Arrietty, and the Oscar-nominated When Marnie Was There. It’s also tough that the studio itself is being called Studio Ghibli 2, even though I feel like with the uncertain future of Ghibli after Miyazaki and his son are done with their films, I am fine with Ponoc being Ghibli 2.0. Sure, I would like to see them branch out a bit more into their own identity, but for now, I’m simply happy that we are still getting unique Japanese-animated films that aren’t just high-school romance films. For now, let’s take a look at Ponoc’s first film, Mary and the Witch’s Flower. Released last year and distributed by GKids, Mary and the Witch’s Flower gained a lot of hype during the period of time before Hayao Miyazaki decided to make one more movie. When it was finally released last month, critics and audience-goers gave it high praise as one of the best Japanese-animated films from 2017. Sadly, its award recognition has been less than stellar. I think they simply released it too late to get the hype going for it, and, well, award groups have a certain bias towards Japanese-animated films. So, does it deserve more love? Well, let’s see.

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The story follows a young red-headed girl named Mary, voiced by Ruby Barnhill. She recently moved to the countryside with her great aunt, while her parents are working. She doesn’t have any friends, and decides to explore a little. While exploring the forest, she runs into two cats that end up taking her deep into the forest, where she finds a magical blue plant. She takes it back, and finds out the plant gives her magical powers. After finding a real witch’s broom in the forest, she ends up taking off, and finding an academy for the magically inclined. She meets the principle of the school, voiced by Kate Winslet, and the professor, played by Jim Broadbent. Even though Mary is being praised for her magical skills, she ends up getting into a situation much bigger than what she thought.

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Let’s talk about the good stuff about Studio Ponoc’s first film. Since everyone at the studio used to work at Studio Ghibli, you would guess that the animation would be amazing. And, well, it is. It’s very top-notch animation with creative designs, fluid movements, and lush colors. The designs are memorable, and I love that it’s not just Harry Potter-looking. It’s its own spin that’s way more visually creative and entertaining to look at than typical fantasy settings. It’s a film that knows it’s animated, and takes advantage of having out-of-this-world visuals and fun designs. The music is also wonderful, and while it’s not Joe Hisashi, Takatsugu Muramatsu composes some amazing scores for this film. Then again, this is the same guy that did When Marnie Was There and Lu Over the Wall.

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I also enjoyed the characters. Mary was a well-rounded female lead that was not stuck with a “chosen one” plot, the side characters are likable, and like in a lot of Studio Ghibli films, the villains are not simply evil people. You learn about why they desire to go this route with the research of fusing magic and technology. It turns out to be more of misguided ambitions than “I want to take over the world”, like the villain from Castle in the Sky. They aren’t downright evil people, they wanted to make magic greater for the overall world, but lost their way while doing so. I love it when films do this, because it adds layers to the film and the overall story.

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While I do think this is a generally fantastic first film from the studio, there are some flaws that I wish they wouldn’t have carried over from Studio Ghibli. While it’s perfectly fine to be more character-focused, it wouldn’t have hurt to have more action with the magic in the film. I mean, yes, it was never meant to be a Castle in the Sky-style action adventure, but with all this buildup of magic and spells, I would have liked to have seen more than the goopy spells. The ending also felt abrupt. Not From Up on Poppy Hill abrupt, but it wrapped up too quickly and was too clean. It made me wish it had a bit of Princess Mononoke’s ending, where the villains had a moment to sit back, look at nature, and realize that they have been wrong in what they were doing with their magic or something. It didn’t ruin the movie at all for me, but it felt like there could have been more, in terms of the last couple of minutes, but they couldn’t, due to time constraints.

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I know it has a few flaws, but I loved Mary and the Witch’s Flower. For a first-time film from a brand new studio, it hits it out of the park. Now, would I say it’s one of the best Ghibli alumni films? I would say it’s in the top 10. If you can somehow see this film, please do. If you can’t find a theater playing it, then go buy the DVD when it comes out. I know many, including myself, want to see the studio branch out of that shadow, but for now, I am super excited to see what they do in the future. Now then, I think it’s time to move on and talk about a more recent film with Aardman’s Early Man. 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 117: Birdboy: The Forgotten 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!)

WARNING/PARENTAL HEADS UP: This film is not meant for children. It’s a dark and twisted film with themes of depression, violence, sex, drugs, and humanity. This is not for younger viewers. Viewer’s discretion advised. Enjoy the review!

It’s funny how limiting most moviegoers see animation as a film-making medium. They only see it as a thing for kids and families, and while that can be true, it can be so much more. I have pretty much reviewed a ton of animated films or shows aimed more at an older teen and adult audience, but sadly, those don’t get a lot of traction in Hollywood. Sure, Sausage Party from 2016 showed that it could work, but all that good will was probably thrown out the window when the controversy of the animators being forced to work un-paid overtime was revealed. Animation has no limits, and you can tell any type of story with it. Sure, some limitations are needed to make sure nothing goes too overboard and such, but it’s a medium that’s way more creative, and can be aimed at all audiences. For example, today’s review will be of Birdboy: The Forgotten Children. Directed by Alberto Vazquez and Pedro Rivero, based on the comic by Alberto Vazquez, and distributed by GKids, this 2D animated film was a dark horse among the 2017 animated films. It was much darker and more mature than a lot of the offerings last year that were more comedy-oriented. It didn’t get a huge release, and while it won a couple of awards, I don’t see many people talk about it. I think it’s time for that to change.

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Taking place on an island after a nuclear explosion destroys the island, the animal inhabitants’ resort to scavenging and trying to live a life, even if the island they live on is mostly covered in garbage. The story is more about the study of the characters, but there is a plot. It revolves around a mouse girl named Dinky, who is not happy with living with her parents who keep complaining about how she is slipping in her school work, and love her dog brother/thing more. This is on top of her parent’s reliance on “happy pills” and how they suspect that Dinky might be a drug user. Dinky decides to get with two of her friends, get some money, and leave the island. Although Dinky is fine leaving with her two friends, she is also worried about another individual, Birdboy. Birdboy’s story is that his father, who used to run the lighthouse before the explosion wrecked the island, turned to selling drugs and was shot. Birdboy, on the other hand, has been turned into an outcast, and is constantly hunted by the police, due to being accused of selling drugs, when more or less, he takes them. Can Dinky and her friends get off the island? What exactly is going on with Birdboy? Why is he taking the drugs? Why does this film look as if David Lynch made an animated movie?

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So, let’s talk about the positive aspect of this film. I’m going to be calling Birdboy the Anomalisa of 2017. Now, why would I be calling it that? It’s because a lot of what makes Birdboy great is the symbolic and psychological nature of the entire film. The film might look innocent and adorable, due to the round designs, but no one is a perfectly okay person. Dinky is a delinquent, one of her friends has supposed schizophrenic thoughts, Dinky’s parents are heavily religious individuals that suffer from depression, Birdboy is a drug-addicted outsider who is suppressing personal violent demons, and the entire rat population, that call themselves “The Forgotten Children”, are violent scavengers that have no problem skinning you for your copper materials. There are multiple layers to dig into with this film, and it is not subtle at showing that a couple of the characters in this film have personal demons that can manifest themselves into horrific monsters. Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom, but it’s definitely a depressing world. Thankfully, you care about the characters, since while some have major issues, they do have humanity to them. The movie basically says that not everyone is inherently evil or a monster.

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Birdboy probably has the most interesting animation out of any film from this year. I think it’s quite obvious from my comments above that the world the characters live in is very misleading. The round innocent designs clash, and make the much darker sequences pop, making them way more effective. If everything was just grizzly from the beginning, then the effect of certain scenes and characters wouldn’t be as powerful as they are with the more child-friendly designs. I know some say that this type of misconception can lead to it backfiring on the film, but the animation works extremely well. It has designs that are almost similar to ones you would find in Adventure Time, and that franchise has plenty of mature and dark moments. I was never taken out of the experience due to the animation, and I think that’s something worth mentioning, since if this was handled by anyone else, it would have probably been a disaster. I saw this with the English dub, and while the English trailer for the film may make some lines look weird in terms of syncing with the clips, it was pretty good all-around in the actual film.

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If I had to nitpick or criticize this film for anything, it would be that it might go too symbolic with everything. Due to the 75-minute runtime, I found myself noticing the film liked to be a bit more abstract than a little more logical, but even by saying this, I’m staying on the back of my heels. I say this because this might be one of those films you will need to see twice. I know that sounds like I’m excusing elements that might just be bad storytelling, but at the same time, seeing a film twice would probably help in some cases.

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In general, I can tell Birdboy: The Forgotten Children is a film that will be splitting people down the middle. It’s beautifully animated, emotionally poignant, and wonderfully atmospheric and dark. Though the story and how it is executed is definitely going to be the part where you like it or not, some will like the dark nature and symbolic elements, but I can see that alienating other viewers as well. Still, if you can somehow watch this movie, definitely do so. It’s a unique film that I wouldn’t mind supporting. Since we are on a GKids run, it’s time to keep that going with their most recent offering, Mary and the Witch’s Flower. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go see it!

The Other Side of Animation 116: Ferdinand 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 was talking to my friend the other day about something I never really thought about, do I care about the state of a studio because I’m a critic, and do only the critics and hardcore filmgoers care about the status of studios like Blue Sky Studios and Illumination Entertainment? I ask this question, since while critics are meant to judge a film, and focus more on the finer details, and break it down in a manner that makes sense, and to look beyond the film and at the studio at times. However, casual moviegoers are probably not invested as much with what the studio is doing and if they are evolving their craft or not. I do think that is somewhat changing. While people are still really fine with seeing Illumination Entertainments offerings, franchises like Ice Age, Transformers, and to a lesser degree, The Nut Job, recently bombed at the domestic box office in the states. Even though they sort of picked up traction overseas, there were signs that people were ready to move on, and find something different and more worth their time. I do think both critics and audiences do care about what a studio puts out, but the amount that casual moviegoers will put up with will vary. Hence, why I was curious to see how Ferdinand would do. Directed by Carlos Saldanha, and made by Blue Sky Studios, I thought Ferdinand was going to be an interesting film. I use interesting in the sense that this was the next film right after Ice Age: Collision Course, one of, if not, the worst-reviewed Blue Sky Studios film. I think after Collision Course, people were beginning to get weary and not really trust what the studio had coming next. The film was released December 15th here in the states, and while it got overall pretty solid reviews, its box office numbers were definitely a sluggish climb up past its $111 mil budget. I mean, then again, when you are going against Star Wars: The Last Jedi, your numbers may vary. It isn’t technically bombing, but I think it was obvious people were weary. Did they have a right to be? Well, let’s check it out.

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The story obviously revolves around Ferdinand, voiced by John Cena. Back in the day, he grew up in a bull fighting ranch where bull fighters go to pick the biggest and best bulls to fight. Of course, if you know anything about the source material, Ferdinand would rather smell the flowers and not fight. One night after escaping the ranch when he finds out his dad never came back, Ferdinand ends up being adopted by a flower farmer and his daughter. After spending years with them, Ferdinand grows to be gigantic in size. One day, when he decides to go to the flower festival to see his owners, an accident occurs with him looking like a giant monster. He then gets sent right back to the same bull farm from many years ago. It’s up to Ferdinand, along with his friends, to escape the horrific nature of bull fighting, and be free animals.

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So, I know the trailers for this film didn’t look the best, but if you actually watch it, there is honestly a lot of aspects to like. First up, let’s talk about John Cena as Ferdinand. It was a bit concerning, since while he has acted in films before, this was essentially his first major lead role. You simply don’t hear enough about good acting career stories from wrestlers. Luckily, Cena does a pretty good job as the lead. He’s likable, energetic, has decent comedic timing, and it was never distracting that he was the main character. In fact, a lot of the big downsides to Blue Sky Studios films are the fact that you never see the characters as characters, but as the celebrities who play them. Again, the celebrities are not distracting in this film. Sure, you can recognize a few by the tone of their voices alone, but they actually put in the time to act, and get into their own respected characters. Yes, not all of them are endearing, and some are annoying, but at least more effort was put into these performances than most bad animated films. I think my favorite performances came from the bull characters. Anthony Anderson, Peyton Manning, Bobby Cannavale, David Tennant, and Tim Nordquist were all distinct and fairly memorable. I think my favorite was David Tennant as Angus. He had the funniest delivery of the other bulls, but the rest hold their weight. I found the bulls’ chemistry to be more of the heart of the film, outside of Ferdinand and the family he grew up with.

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I also respect that the story does actually go the distance to a degree about the life of bull fighting and the sad fates of many bulls that either fight or are not up to par. Seriously, it was almost tonal whiplash that they do show what happens when bulls are not up to par, and the fact that for the most part, most bulls will die and never make it back after they fight. It was actually shocking, because much of this film is that pandering kids film vibe that you normally see in a Blue Sky Studios film. From time to time however, they will show off the darker side of bullfighting, and even let Ferdinand and some of the characters have moments of quiet. I think one of my favorite parts was when Ferdinand helped Angus out, and the two got to sit down and look at the beautiful landscape. I adore that this film went the extra mile to show that you don’t need constant comedy or loud noises to keep kids focused. It felt like it was trying to be something on the level of Pixar or Disney. I was honestly emotionally invested throughout a lot of the story. With the exception of the first Ice Age, Robots, and The Peanuts Movie, I’m usually fairly checked out of a lot of Blue Sky films, because they don’t always do a good job with making interesting stories and characters.

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In terms of animation, the film is very beautiful. It has a few faults that I will mention later, but the animation is fluid, it has a good energy to it, and the designs seem very old-school cartoon, exaggerated in terms of their designs and how they move. The backgrounds and field shots are lush, the colors are vibrant, and the human designs are pretty decent. It’s nice to see humans that don’t instantly look like something similar to Disney and Pixar. I even liked the music by John Powell and the obvious original songs by Nick Jonas.

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So, it’s all the more irritating that I have many complaints about Ferdinand as well. It’s so close to being a really good animated film, but it’s only good. Why? Well, because it has a tone problem. The calm and collected tone is constantly shoved to the side for more of the comedy/audience pandering aspects, like multiple side characters that don’t really offer much purpose to the main story, more childish humor, and a dance-off. The dance-off really sums up everything bad about the film. It comes out of nowhere, apparently everyone knows how to dance, and once it is finished, it is never mentioned again by any of the characters. I get that it probably tested well with test audiences that were full of kids, and while I did enjoy it to a degree, it’s distracting to the overall tone. The side characters outside of the bulls are not all that interesting. The hedgehogs, while played well by Gina Rodriguez, Daveed Diggs, and Gabriel Iglesias, don’t do much in the movie. Early footage from the first trailer made it look like they had more to do, but they don’t serve much of a purpose, outside of Ferdinand trying to get out of the bull ranch. The German show horses played by Flula Borg, Boris Kodjoe, and Sally Philips also have the same problem. You never see them after the bulls escape. Yes, I get that they sort of symbolize humans’ need to compete, but as characters that help progress the story, they didn’t do much. And yes, Kate McKinnon isn’t given good enough material to be tolerable. She’s not the worst, and I know she can be funny, but she comes off more annoying than anything else as the goat. Even the villain is not great. You have this bullfighter played by Miguel Angel Silvestre, who is just a boring villain. They had a lot of chances to make him more complex before and after the third act fight between him and Ferdinand, but they don’t do anything. The animation is pretty consistent, but the humans come off as clunky. It’s not a problem with them being snappy in their movements, it’s the fact that they look stiff. By the way, while they are minimal in how much they appear, no one likes twerk, butt, or fart jokes. Stop adding them into your movies, Blue Sky. I know they are not the only studios to do this with animated films, but they do it more often than others.

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In the end, Ferdinand is good, but it had so much lost potential. It succeeds in what it wanted to do, but it’s not a steady ride to the finish, and your experience may vary. There is a reason why this film dragged itself across a month or more due to the success of Coco and then having to deal with Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I see no harm in actually seeing this in theaters, and if you have children that have watched Coco to death in theaters, and can’t find a theater playing Mary and the Witch’s Flower, then definitely go see it or rent it. It’s an ultimately harmless film, and easily one of Blue Sky’s best offerings. Well, that was fun, but we shall now move on to more indie stuff as we look at GKids’ Birdboy: The Forgotten Children. Thanks for reading, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go see it

The Other Side of Animation 115: HarmonQuest Review

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Warning/Parental Heads up!: This show does have some profanity in every episode, and some suggestive elements at times. Don’t watch with younger kids. Viewer’s discretion is advised. Hope you enjoy the review!

So, since I review animated films and video games, it should be no surprise that I have dabbled in Dungeons & Dragons/Pathfinders. I’m no master of it, and I only play it when my best friend from Seattle comes to town, but I always love fantasy stuff like that. There is something about making your own character, and having a story unfold with you and your friends’ actions in epic or comedic fashion. Sadly, most shows or entertainment don’t really do a good job at using D&D/Pathfinders in an entertaining way. I know there are popular videos online of lengthy sessions, but the problem is, no one has really found a way to make it both entertaining, and also work in a show-like format. Luckily, we do have such a product. Today’s review will be of the two current seasons of HarmonQuest. Inspired by the HarmonTown podcast tradition of having D&D sessions, HarmonQuest was created by Community creator and Rick & Morty co-creator Dan Harmon and Spencer Crittenden. It’s a half hour, half-live-action and half-animated show. It was originally part of the streaming service Seeso, but due to that service’s failing, the second season is now at home on VRV. So, is it great? Does Dan Harmon have a hit on his hands? Well, let’s get out our character sheets, roll the dice, and find out.

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To be clear, I am reviewing both seasons, so I’m going to be talking about the plot for both. I’ll try my best to keep spoilers out as much as possible. The first season stars a half-orc ranger named Fondue Zoobag, played by Dan Harmon, a goblin rogue named Bone Weevil, voiced by Jeff B. Davis, and a half-elf barbarian named Beor O’Shift, voiced by Erin McGathy. The three are sent on a mission to get back three magical rune stones that are being used by an evil cult to summon the Great Manticore. The second season has our leads trying to stop an evil sorcerer from fusing the demon and the human realms together.

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Let’s start with the positives. I mean, I technically can say that every positive this show has comes with a small negative attached, but in general, I have a lot of praise for this series. For one, this makes the whole concept of Pathfinders and Dungeons & Dragons approachable. Like I said, I’m not the biggest player for this kind of stuff, but due to how the story is kept moving and exciting, it really makes you wonder why more people who dabble in this hobby don’t do this. You are a show, don’t just give us unfiltered bore fests that are four hours long. Of course, the show wouldn’t be getting two seasons if the characters weren’t interesting. Luckily, the show does a great combination of having scripted events and improv comedy. What I mean by this is that they will have situations given to them, but the actors involved don’t have precisely worded scripts, and instead, have to think on their feet. Everyone from the main cast to the special guests work wonderfully off one another, and I don’t remember a current animated show that made me laugh harder than HarmonQuest. Sure, the show has plots and “character moments”, but you watch this show for the interactions of everyone. The first season probably had my favorite interactions, and that’s mostly because, while not every guest has played the game the entire show is based around, their reactions, actions, and lines do work, and no one feels like they are out of place. Season two also does a good job, but unfortunately, I have a few issues with season two, but we will get to that later.

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Since this is an animation review series, and this show is 50% animation, I think for what it is, it holds up, and gets the job done well. I like that every character’s designs are based around the likeness of the actors portraying them (Well, most of the time), and no one feels out of place. I can understand people calling it simple, but for an online series with big names attached to it, it’s not too flashy, but it’s not cheap looking either. You can tell the animators had fun listening to the actors play out the plot and then think, “how we can make this look great, and hilarious at the same time?” The designs are also not confusing. You can tell who is what if you are into this type of game.

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So, it’s time to bring up those negatives I have with the series. Like I said, it comes off as a pro and a con at the same time. While I love the special guests that they get, like Patton Oswalt, Paul F. Tompkins, Paul Scheer, Kumail Nanjiani, Elizabeth Olsen, Jason Mantzoukas, Steve Agee, Thomas Middleditch, and Aubrey Plaza, sometimes, it seems like the guest character doesn’t really have a lot to do in the plot. They are more there to get the plot going than to do much. I felt like this with the episodes that had Aparna Nancherla and Rob Corddry in them. I love the improv between the characters, but the two seasons lack a major story or arcs for the characters. I think that’s partly the compromise with doing the bulk of the story on the spot, but I feel like not a whole lot happens to make the characters grow. Enough happens to give some outlines for the characters, but they are never the focus. And sadly, the comedy doesn’t always land. I don’t think it’s the actors fault, improv is probably one of the single hardest forms of comedy to pull off correctly, but some of the guest role-players don’t mesh well with each other. I was so excited when I saw actors like Patton Oswalt, and Rob Coddry in certain episodes, and while they have maybe a laugh here and there, I found myself liking those episodes less than others.

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In general though, HarmonQuest is one of the funniest animated shows around right now. Sure, it’s not always consistently entertaining, but it’s definitely a show I have watched multiple times, and I don’t do that often. Unfortunately, this isn’t on something like Amazon Prime or Netflix, which is easily the two biggest streaming platforms, but if you want to watch it, you have to get a subscription for VRV. I do hope that it can get a third season, since it ended on a cliffhanger. If you are into anything fantasy, or if any of this sounds appealing, definitely go watch it. Well, that was fun, but next time, we shall dive into Blue Sky Studios once more to check out their latest film, Ferdinand. Thank you for reading this review! I hope you enjoyed it, and I will see everyone next time!

Rating: Go See It!