The Other Side of Animation 186: SCOOB! Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: Rent it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: Rent it!

The Other Side of Animation 184: The Willoughbys Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 183: Trolls World Tour Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Other Side of Animation 182: Sword of the Stranger Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 181: Shaun the Sheep: Farmageddon Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 180: Pokemon: Mewtwo Strikes Back-Evolution

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

Well, it took 179 reviews, but I am finally talking about something from the Pokémon franchise. I know that seems a touch nutty that I avoided talking about this franchise for so long, but I wanted to tackle something Pokémon-related when I found a film I wanted to talk about. There are so many films to dig into that it’s a daunting task. I could probably get a good few months of content from just reviewing Pokémon films alone, but that didn’t interest me. If I wanted to talk about Pokémon, I needed a film that had more meat on its bones. That’s why, out of all of the films to talk about, I want to talk about the recent remake, Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back-Evolution.

Directed by Pokémon movie mainstay Kunihiko Yuyama and Motonori Sakakibara, this is Pokemon‘s first foray into CGI theatrical animation by Oriental Light & Magic. It was released last year in July 2019 and finally got a wide release in February 2020. So, did giving the first film in the franchise a CGI remake improve and evolve? Or did it take an Everstone and not evolve or improve one bit?

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Well, the story of this remake is, well, the story of the original Pokémon film. I could keep it at that, but that wouldn’t be very professional of me. We follow our original trio of ragtag Pokémon trainers with Ash Ketchum, dubbed this time by Sarah Natochenny, Misty, dubbed by Michele Knotz, and Brock, dubbed by Bill Rogers. After having another fruitful battle, Ash and the gang are invited to an island where the supposed “strongest trainer in the world” lives. If only Ash knew that the trainer in question was Mewtwo, dubbed by Dan Green, a Pokémon that is the clone of the legendary Mew. Once Ash and his friends get to the island and find out about Mewtwo, the cloned Pokémon decides to reveal his plan of destroying the human race and any Pokémon that sides with humans. Can Ash find a way to stop Mewtwo from taking over the world? Will Team Rocket get in the way and maybe steal the film like usual? Did you see the original film?

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So, let’s not beat around the bush. This remake is the Lion King 2019 remake of the Japanese animation franchise film scene. Every problem you have had with Disney live-action remakes can essentially be found here with this remake. There is one major difference though to compare this remake to the Disney remakes like The Lion King, this is a worse remake. Listen, I get that this film is super nostalgic for many people. It’s super nostalgic for me! I went to see the original Pokémon film in theaters with my sister when we were young and loved Pokémon as well. However, the film’s story was flawed in its execution, and you can only use so much nostalgia to cover up the plot points that don’t fully work out or are counterproductive to the story’s themes and tone. So, why do I consider this a worse remake than Lion King 2019? Because it doesn’t do anything to improve upon the original. It’s a mediocre remake of a mediocre film. It even ruins some of the original film’s most iconic shots. Sure, you can move the camera around easier in a 3D-dimensional space, but the film looks boring, and it makes you remember how important storyboarding is to the overall execution of scenes. As I said, the story problems don’t get fixed. Mewtwo is still a gullible hypocrite, some of his actions make no sense, the characters say something that is then shot down by a later scene, the film’s morals are contradictive to the main point of the show, the ending is awful because it cuts any stakes or progression in the film had short, and if you are wondering, some characters show up and are never seen again.

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So, what about the animation? Well, the CGI used in the film is okay, but it doesn’t look all that good in motion. The Pokémon look great, because of course they do, but the humans do not look good at all. They are stiff, their animation wants to be cartoony, but it’s not fast or snappy enough, and the look of some characters make them look creepy. Ash and Misty look like porcelain dolls from a horror movie. Team Rocket looks great, but obviously, something happened when the translation from 2D to 3D took place, since the iconic Pokémon human designs become hit-and-miss. Okay, what about the dub? That should mean that they are using a script more akin to the original, right? None of that 4Kids tedious dubbing is there, right? Well, yes. The script is definitely missing that 4Kids kind of cheese, but it’s also missing that 4Kids cheese. Say what you will, 4Kids wasn’t a good company, but sometimes, the writers behind Pokémon got away with a few puns and jokes. Sadly, due to some scene changes, the better jokes from the 4Kids dub weren’t there, and were replaced with slightly more annoying jokes. I will say that at least the dubbing is solid stuff. The actors are doing their best, and they even brought back some returning voice actors for the characters. They do fix a few lines that made the original worse.

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Pokemon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution is a frustrating sit, because it does everything a bad remake does, and yet, everyone is just going to overlook it, because they liked the original movie. It’s just as cynical, or in my opinion, way more cynical than the Disney live-action remakes. At the very least, the Disney remakes have their original films to go back to. This film only has the original mediocre film to fall back on, and that’s not a good thing. I can’t say it’s the worst movie I have seen so far this year, but until further notice, it will be listed as the worst one until something else comes in. I know I was hard on this film, but you have to leave childhood nostalgia at the door for these kinds of films. I don’t recommend it, but there is nothing wrong if you find yourself or your kids enjoying this film. It’s easily the most harmless bad movie I have seen this year. It’s just another mediocre Pokémon movie in a series that has quite a few of them. Now then, let’s tackle one more Netflix animated film, and review Shaun the Sheep: Farmageddon.

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

Rating: Lackluster

The Other Side of Animation 178: The Wonderland Review

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

It is nice that in the Japanese animation scene, more directors and creators are becoming more popular. Japan has some of the most talented individuals working in the animation scene, and it is satisfying that Makoto Shinkai, Masaaki Yuasa, Mari Okada, and Mamoru Hosoda are now world-renowned, but I feel like one director deserves some more recognition than he gets, Keiichi Hara. While starting by working on some iconic shows like Doraemon and Crayon Shin-chan, he has also had a small, but fruitful directorial film career working on films from those franchises, and his own films like Summer Days with CooColorful, and one of my faves from 2016, Miss Hokusai. However, we are talking about his newest film that got a small release thanks to Elevenarts, The Wonderland.

Originally titled Birthday Wonderland, and based on the 1988 story Strange Journey from the Basement, Hara’s newest film premiered last year in April, and was able to compete in the 2019 Annecy International Film Festival, but like many of the films there at the festival, lost to the festival smash hit, I Lost My Body. It even missed out on being shown at Animation is Film 2019, and hasn’t had the most fanfare. It doesn’t help either that while it got pretty positive reviews, they still came with hefty criticism. So, what do I think about this adventurous film? Well, you have to read the review.

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The story revolves around a teenage girl named Akane, a pretty average teenage girl with not a whole lot of self-confidence. One day, her mother requests she go visit her aunt named Chi to pick up a special gift. While there, she peruses the items that Chi has acquired. One of the items that stands out is this piece of stone with a handprint in it. Akane then decides to put her hand in the print and it ends up with the hand fitting in the, well, stone. Then, out of the store’s basement, a dapper individual walks out. He turns out to be a famed alchemist known as Hippocrates. He explains that he is from another world, and since Akane’s hand fits the print, she is the Green Goddess, and must come back with Hippocrates and his assistant Pipo back to The Wonderland. Reluctantly, Akane and her aunt go with Hippocrates to save their land and to avoid the evil plans of a masked individual. Can Akane save the day? Can she find the courage to make it through a magical world?

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There is a lot we can start with, but let’s talk about the standout element to the film, the visuals, and animation. This is a very pretty film with lush vibrant colors, beautiful landscapes, and fantastical locations. While there is CGI used in this film, you can tell it’s better integrated into the 2D animation than Ni No Kuni. I was in awe most of the time looking at all of the creative landscapes and designs. It’s hard to be grumpy at a film with large puffball sheep and being able to ride giant koi fish. The designs also stand out from the rest of the pack. Sure, the designs of the humans may not look unique, but it’s the person behind them that makes all of the difference. The designs are by Russian Illustrator Ilya Kushinov. She brings in a very unique look to the film, and it stands out among the different anime films coming out. In terms of themes, the film is another coming-of-age film about dealing with self-doubt and becoming a better person through trust and helping others. Akane starts out as a nervous wreck, who is reluctant to better herself, but throughout the film, she becomes a more self-reliant individual who has faith in herself. Even the villain this time around is more interesting, due to his circumstances brought upon him. The voice work is pretty solid, but I have only seen the subtitle version for right now, but since this is Elevenarts, I’m sure the dub will be good. The music is also stellar, especially with the film’s theme song by Milet, which has been stuck in my head for weeks.

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Now, I do have a few negatives to talk about. While I love the majority of the cast, Akane isn’t the most interesting female lead. She isn’t terrible, but she’s fairly boilerplate. I also wasn’t fully on board with some of the mannerisms of Chi. She’s great, but there are a few moments that made me roll my eyes. I think my favorite characters were Hippocrates and the villain. I also found the pacing to be wonky. A lot of the film has the characters driving around, and I don’t mind that aspect, but once it hits the third act, the pacing becomes very stop-and-go. It’s almost jarring how oddly paced the last third is. I also wish there could have been more time expanding on this world than it being taken up by driving, because I loved the fantasy world.

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While I still prefer Miss Hokusai, I liked Keiichi Hara’s newest film. It has a lot of personality, charm, and fantasy whimsy to recommend to anyone looking for a fun adventure. Sadly, with its limited release, you will have to wait for it to arrive on Blu-ray, but if you don’t mind the wait, then you will probably enjoy this flick! Well, it’s time to move onto our next film, but sadly, we have to wait for it to arrive on Netflix. Next time, we will be talking about one of three animated films based on video games this year. We already talked about Ni No Kuni, so we will be moving down to Dragon Quest: Your Story.

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

Rating: Go see it!

The Other Side of Animation 177: Ride Your Wave Review

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

While I love the vibrant and constantly creative world of foreign animation, it’s not always easy to find theaters that are willing to play them. It doesn’t help either that most of them are Fathom Events that don’t get wider releases. There are so many incredible experiences with these films, but most people are not able to see them, and it’s frustrating. For example, while they are amazing distributors like GKids, Elevenarts, Shout! Factory, and so on, their word of mouth campaigning doesn’t always work. This is especially frustrating when GKids’ distribution of today’s film, Ride Your Wave, is not getting that many screenings.

Directed by Masaaki Yuasa, Ride Your Wave is his newest film that was released last year in June, having its world premiere at the 2019 Annecy International Film Festival. It also won some major awards at the Shanghai International Film Festival, Fantasia International Film Festival, and the Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival. Sadly, it seems like, to me, it was overshadowed by the release of Weathering With You and I Lost My Body. Did it get overlooked for a reason? Or should everyone watch this film?

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Our story follows a college woman named Hinako Mukaimizu, voiced by Rina Kawaei. She recently moved to an ocean-side city town to go to college and surf. One night, her apartment complex catches fire, and she is saved by a male firefighter named Minato Hinageshi, voiced by Ryota Katayose. They bond and fall in love with one another. Minato even gets into surfing because of Hinako. Sadly, on a stormy day, Minato ends up dying at sea, which sends Hinako into a spiraling depression. Then, out of the blue, when she starts to sing a song that they bonded with, Minato appears within the water. What is going on? Why is Minato appearing in the water? Will Hinako be able to move on and ride her waves through life?

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So, let’s do our best to ride a surfboard, and surf our way through the good aspects of this flick! For one, I have to disagree with a few people feeling disappointed by how “tame” this film is, in terms of Masaaki Yuasa as a filmmaker. I think this one is more focused in terms of tone and themes. I love The Night is ShortWalk on Girl and Lu Over the Wall, but to me, Ride Your Wave has the best balance. If you didn’t see the trailers, the film’s theme is finding your way in life, which is something I’m sure most young adults after high school try to find. Even adults at one point or another think about where they are going, and what kind of life they want to live. You think you know where you are going, but then become unsure, due to incidences that send you off the rails, or in this case, wiping out. It’s a touching theme that is handled well throughout the entire film. The script by writer Reiko Yoshida, who also wrote the script for The Cat Returns and A Silent Voice is full of charm and young adults who feel fairly realistic. Some of them have typical anime traits, but even with the joke that this is Japan’s Shape of Water, I felt very invested with the characters. A lot of the time is spent with the young leads talking to one another, and the Yuasa weirdness only comes in when necessary.

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Animation-wise, it’s gorgeous. I know many despise the fact that studios like Yuasa’s Science Saru are using flash or computer over traditional 2D animation, but you wouldn’t know that if I didn’t already tell you. There always seems to be this tendency with animation fans thinking that flash animation or 2D digital animation is inferior to traditional 2D, but as usual, it’s not the tool, it’s the person behind the tool that gives you the results that show how incredible the quality is. The character designs are expressive, and the cartoony exaggerations are more controlled this time than what you see in Lu Over the Wall or The Night is Short. That style of cartoony stretch and squash is important for animation, but it, like any rule in animation, needs to be in control of what kind of film you are making. The voice cast does a great job, and while I wish there was an English dub, I get why they kept it to just the Japanese language track. Even though they made it work with Lu Over the Wall, I think there is a difference when a licensed song is used, and they probably didn’t want to deal with retranslating it to make it work. Plus, just like Parasite‘s Bong Joon-Ho said, once you get over the 1-inch barrier, you will be fine. The music is pretty good, but be prepared to hear the main song the film uses over and over. It’s almost its own drinking game due to how it’s intertwined with the story.

The one downside I have for the film is how the third act happen. Due to how Ride Your Wave moves at the pace of low-key animated features like My Neighbor Totoro, the conflict to start the third or so act never happens fluidly. It’s abrupt. I always wonder what happens in these films that make the filmmaker go, “Man, we need to find a way for the film to have a satisfying closing act”. It’s not a terrible ending by the way. The film wraps itself up quite nicely.

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While it might not have the same zany energy to Masaaki Yuasa’s previous films, I find Ride Your Wave to be his best film. The animation is wonderful, the characters are likable, and I highly recommend everyone try to catch the one-night screening of the film on February 19th, and to buy the film when it comes out on Blu-ray. Well, now we must move onto ride our own waves, and next time, I’ll be talking about Keichi Haara’s newest film The Wonderland.

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

The Other Side of Animation 176: Ni No Kuni Review

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

Well, it’s 2020. The start of the New Year, a new decade, and I want to focus on the feature-length animation side of things. This year is going to be wild because we have mostly original animated films coming out. I am always hopeful that what looks great turns out to be great, and films that might be bad eggs to be, well, not bad eggs. I’m always going to be like this going into every animated film no matter the situation, but sometimes, the walk down the yellow-brick road will lead to disappointing films. This where we are with the newest Netflix animation purchase, Ni No Kuni.

Directed by Yoshiyuki Momose, written by Akihiro Hino, based on the popular video game franchise, animated by Oriental Light and Magic (the same studio that animates the Pokémon anime and film series), and put out by Netflix here in the US, is our first major animated film. I was surprised by the sudden release of Ni No Kuni because once it was released in Japan last year, there was barely any news about it. No box office reports, and barely any reviews. Now that I’ve seen it, I can understand why. Why? Well, let’s dive in.

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The story revolves around three young teens named Yusuke Ninomiya, dubbed by Max Mittelman, Haruto Ichihara, dubbed by Alejandro Saab, and Kotona Takashina, dubbed by Abby Trott. They are best friends, even though some tension is there with Yusuke being confined to a wheelchair. One day, Kotona calls both Yusuke and Haruto because she’s being chased by a shadowy and creepy looking individual. The two boys save her, but were too late to prevent her from getting stabbed. As they try to take her to a hospital to get better, they almost get hit crossing a crosswalk. Luckily, instead of dying, Yusuke and Haruto get warped to a magical world known as Ni No Kuni. The two boys try to find their friend, and discover that this magical world runs parallel with their real world, and that every person in both worlds has a version of themselves. They find out that their friend Kotona who was hurt is the princess in the magical world. They also realize that if something happens in this magical world, it affects their world as well. Can the two find out how to make it back and solve the crisis of who attacked the princess and their friend?

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On paper, this movie looks like a fantasy feature that would offer something complex with its theme of what are you willing to do for the people you love. Unfortunately, the biggest downside to this film is the story and writing. The film is not based on either the first or second game, and I like that it tries its own story, but it’s too basic. The characters don’t evolve beyond their character traits, the side characters aren’t interesting, and the villain is boring. The drama of the two male leads should be strong enough to carry the film, but it’s not. It’s even more disappointing when the female lead is then relegated to the damsel in distress. This is bad, because the female leads in the first two games are great and active characters. Also, don’t be going in thinking the mystery of who tried to kill the two women to be captivating or something on the level of Knives Out. If you know anything about anime character designs, then you know who’s going to be the bad guy. The last-minute twists in the film are also so lazily integrated that I rolled my eyes when they happened.

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So, the script plays it safe, but what about the animation? Well, it looks like a Studio Ghibli and Studio Ponoc film, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to look as good as films from those studios. Like I said above, it’s animated by the people who do the Pokémon series and films, and it looks as good as some of their regular films, but at this point, you are wanting to see all of the little details that come with seeing a Ghibli or Ponoc film. You take it for granted, because while it’s not badly animated, it has nothing that I would say looks grand or theatrical. It also has CGI that doesn’t blend well. It doesn’t take full advantage of its setting, and that drags the experience down. What about the film’s voice work? Well, it’s not bad, and it at least tries to match the European/British tone of the two games. You have a solid cast including Max Mittelman, Alejandro Saab, Abby Trott, Patrick Seitz, Erica Lindbeck, Armen Taylor, Robbie Daymond, John DeMita, Spike Spencer, Wendee Lee, Kyle Hebert, Derek Stephen Prince, Kirk Thorton, Ray Chase, and others. Joe Hisaishi returns to compose the music, and it’s fine. Maybe it’s more of the Ghibli bias in me, or it’s the fact that another recent film he worked on, Children of the Sea had a much better soundtrack, but Ni No Kuni‘s usually iconic sound was not here. I think I liked one of the songs, and that’s it.

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I still stand by my opening statement that I go into every film hoping for the best. Sometimes I end up enjoying the film, and sometimes, I don’t. It helps that I also go in with a mid-level hype for every film because then, I don’t judge the film too harshly if they didn’t reach my impossible sky-high standards. Sadly, not every film can be a hit, and while I don’t think Ni No Kuni will be one of the worst animated films I have seen, it will be one of the most disappointing. I can now see why Netflix sort of buried the release of Ni No Kuni, and why most of the reviews were fairly mixed to negative. It had all of the elements to be a great film, but due to a bad script and weak story, the film falls flat. Check it out if you are curious, but there is no rush to watch Ni No Kuni. Now then, I think it’s time to check out Masaaki Yuasa’s newest film, Ride Your Wave.

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

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