The Other Side of Animation 153: Maquia: When the Promised Flowers Bloom 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!)

Something that’s unfortunate not only in the animation scene, but the theatrical animation scene in general is that there is a huge lack of non- white male directors. At least, I find that to be a major observation. Maybe it’s a lack of awareness for the directors in question, because we know about women like Lauren Faust and Nora Twomey, but it could also be the fact that many powerful male creators for studios like the ex-head of Pixar and other areas of the animation scene have ruined the chances and passion many non-white male had with working in animation. Not every great story is going to come from one type of person. The more diversity we get with animation, the more stories we can tell, and the more voices that can be heard. A darn good example of getting a unique voice that told a compelling and powerful movie would be Mari Okada’s Maquia: When the Promised Flowers Bloom. Released last year by Eleven Arts in the states, Mari Okada’s fantasy drama was her first theatrical directorial debut for which she also wrote the script. This is on top of a successful career of writing, including Anohana, Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans, and The Anthem of the Heart. So then, let’s dive in and see why this was one of the best animated films of 2018.

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The story follows a young woman named Maquia, dubbed by Xanthe Huynh. She is a being known as a Lorph, a race of human-like individuals that stay young and live longer than normal humans. They also weave their stories in these giant cloth-like fabrics. One day, a kingdom attacks her people to take a maiden from her clan to offer to the kingdom’s prince, so they can make long-living children and keep the kingdom afloat forever. Luckily for Maquia, she escapes when one of the dragon creatures the knights rode on goes berserk, and she ends up riding on it out of the reach of the kingdom. She then finds herself in a village that was attacked by bandits. Among the debris, she finds a human baby in the arms of his dead mother. Maquia decides to take care of the infant as the film follows the challenges of raising a child, learning about life, the trials of love, and being a mother.

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So, what really cements Okada’s writing and directorial work in this film? Well, the themes this film tackles of loss, love, and motherhood. We have seen those themes before in films like Wolf Children, which has unfortunately been compared and contrasted with Maquia due to the focus on a mother raising a kid in a unique situation. What makes this film so dastardly with its way of using emotionally powerful moments is how Okada catches you off-guard. It’s like she sneaks up behind you, pokes you with a knife to tell you to get ready, and then when the time comes, stabs you right in the feels to deliver an extra powerful punch to your heart. I don’t think I have seen a film like Maquia that has made me cry harder the two times that I have seen it. Its themes are beautifully woven into the story as you get involved with the trials of Maquia taking care of this child when she is, considering her kind, young herself, and doesn’t really know what to do. You watch as decades pass and she stays the same, but everyone grows up and dies around her. You watch as her son gets older, and the challenge of their relationship and dynamic starts to get in the way of how they come off to other people. Everyone, from the kingdom to the immortal beings, see the rise and fall of mystical creatures becoming extinct and the fall of the kingdom at the end of the film. It’s a brilliantly somber but touching film that, while having incredibly gorgeous animation, shows Okada’s strengths as a writer. You feel heavily invested with the characters and what is going on with them. You want to see Maquia become a mother, you want to see her make sure her son grows up, you want to make sure the son doesn’t get killed, and you want to see her friendships blossom and stay connected. It’s a well-paced story that knows what main plot elements to focus on, and when to sparingly show off what is going on with the other characters.

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Animation-wise, Maquia is a gorgeous movie with beautiful vistas, great camera work, soft rounded character designs, and very well composted CGI. Yeah, once again, a Japanese animated film shows how to do it properly where many anime series fail in regards to the CGI. It can still be noticeable, but it’s not as distracting as say, any of Polygon Pictures’ products or that horrible Berserk continuation. In terms of the original language and the dubbed version, I think you can’t go wrong with either. Xanthe Huynh is incredible as Maquia and simply goes through the gambit of emotions, and you believe her every time. The other actors are good as well with Ryan Shanahan, Eddy Lee, Cherami Leigh, Kevin T. Collins, Brooklyn Nelson, Marc Thompson, H.D. Quinn, Ryan Bartley, and many other voice actors do great with their respective roles. While the music is nothing that you haven’t really heard before, Kenji kawai, the composer for shows and movies like Patlabor, Ranma ½, Devilman, Project A-ko, Burn up!, Ghost in the Shell, Dai-Guard, and Ip Man still delivers a sweeping epic score and soothing tunes that pull you into the experience.

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If I had to complain about something with this wonderfully touching film, I would say that the art direction isn’t all that creative. Yes, it’s a more human and adult story, but when you have the character designer Yuriko Ishii, who was inspired by the artist who did Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story, and Tactics Ogre, Akihiko Yoshida, you kind of expect something more creative. It all looks great visually, but there is nothing that unique or outstanding about the fantasy world that they live in. Also, while it’s not as bad as other films or anime series, you can definitely see when they use CGI. It’s not a major detractor, but it’s something worth noting. I also found a few times where the dub sounded like it got slightly drowned out by the music.

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Even with those criticisms, they are incredibly minor, because Maquia is such a powerful and moving film. It makes me excited to see what other directing gigs Okada will get in the future, and it makes me want to check out what she has done in the past. It’s finally out on DVD, but heads up. You can only get the Japanese dub version with the Blu-ray version of the film. The DVD version only comes with the English dub. Still, I’m happy and hopeful more people can finally check out this classic from Japan. Now then, we travel from Japan to go on a trip around the world! Next time, we are going to check out Laika’s newest film, Missing Link. Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

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The Other Side of Animation 152: Wonder Park 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!)

Like I said in my 150th review of the Godzilla Netflix Trilogy, I’m not really finding joy in reviewing movies I would consider bad. I do it, and will not falter in my opinions about them, but I take no joy in certain films that obviously had a rough development. Many things can go wrong with making animated films, and I can’t think of a rougher development for an animated film this year than Paramount and Nickelodeon’s Wonder Park. Honestly, as far as I can tell right now, Wonder Park had probably some of the most negative PR surrounding it before release. Starting development back in 2014, Wonder Park was animated by a studio in Spain called Ilion Animation Studios, the same studio that did 2009’s Planet 51 and the upcoming film Paramount/Skydance production, Luck. Then, in January of 2018, the original director, Dylan Brown, who was an animator for Pixar, was fired after sexual misconduct, and was replaced by David Feiss, Clare Kilner, and Robert Iscove. Well, you would not really know that, because the film is notorious for not having an actual literal director credit! Not even a fake director name. No one wanted full-fledged credit. Even after that trainwreck, it has been getting bombarded with negative reviews, and may be Paramount’s first flop of 2019. Yeah, let’s check it out, shall we?

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The story follows this little girl name June, voiced by Brianne Denski. June, along with her mother, voiced by Jennifer Garner, has made this beautiful, vibrant, and outlandishly-creative theme park called Wonderland, where her stuffed animals help run it. These animals include a blue bear who greets the park guests named Boomer, voiced in the US by Ken Hudson Campbell and the UK version by Tom Baker, two beavers named Gus and Cooper, voiced in the US version by Kenan Thompson and Ken Jeong and in the UK version by Ryan Fitzgerald and Wippa, a wild boar that runs everything named Greta, voiced by Mila Kunis, and a porcupine that is the safety inspector named Steve, voiced by John Oliver. However, the most important animal in the park is a chimp named Peanut, voiced by Norbert Leo Butz, who is the park icon and ride creator. Unfortunately, as June started to build a smaller scale version of Wonderland, June’s mom gets sick and has to leave for a while. They won’t say what she is sick with exactly, but that really won’t matter as the story and my review goes on. She is now stuck with her dad, voiced by Matthew Broderick, and stews away in her sadness about the possibility of not seeing her mother again. After getting sent to math camp, June escapes the bus taking her to the camp, and stumbles into a forest, and with no real explanation, ends up in Wonderland, but nature decided to take it back. She ends up seeing her stuffed animals come to life as more “realistic-looking”, and the park is overrun by this ominous cloud of darkness that has wrecked the park with the help of the Chimpanzombies. Can June find a way to get her creative spark back and save the park? What about the fate of her mother? What about the fact that this park came to life with no real reason given how? Why is there no real director credit?

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So, what happened? How did this film become such an unfocused $100 mil mess? It’s really tough to say what’s positive about it, because with every positive, comes a negative. For example, the animation is fine. It has solid enough animation, but it really doesn’t look like it cost $100 mil. Some of the movements look solid enough, but some movement styles are janky and too fast. With how fast the two beaver brothers move, you can’t really tell what they are doing when they are running or fighting with one another. The end credits literally cut out the characters from the film footage, and slaps them onto the big names. Not only that, but they either slow down or rewind the footage used to make it look like they made entirely original animation. It looks sloppy and rushed. The characters move well enough, but there aren’t that many little quirks outside of maybe Peanut and Boomer. No one has little movements that make each character feel like their own. Some of the shots and the rides are well-animated and shot well, but at other times, the camera is either too close or snapping back and forward like that one scene in Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s hard to know what’s fully going on. The film’s animation also lacks a bit of that creative spark that something like this film needs. Why don’t the animals look like their stuffed animal counterparts? They had CG models of the stuffed animals set up for each of them, but their “living” versions are just generic animals. The chimpanzombies and the Darkness could have been interesting, but due to how wonky, rushed, and undercooked the script is, they end up being very forgettable threats that you will not remember at all. I don’t really get how clunky the animation has been for Nickelodeon’s original films that get TV series. Even by the years they were released, with Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius back in 2001 and Barnyard back in 2006, they never look as good as other big studio films at those times. Oh, and Wonder Park also has this very heavy emphasis on shine and bloom effects. You know how video games during the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Wii generation really exploited the heck out of the bloom tool in games? That’s Wonder Park’s other notable animation issue. It looks like a short CGI film made by a student who was learning how to balance out CGI lighting tools. However, I will say that for foreign animation from Spain, it does look better than a lot of the films that I see that either look like they are almost at the Hollywood scale, or very straight-to-video.

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So, the animation is a mixed to mostly negative bag, but what about the story, writing, and characters? Well, unfortunately, the one positive/one negative trick used above is sadly usable here. The story had potential to be more complex with how June is connected to the park with the animal characters being different symbolic forms of June. For example, Peanut is her imagination and optimism, and Steve is her current mood that’s all about safety regulations. Sadly, they really don’t go into that, or expand upon it. Because of the 85-minute runtime, it’s one of the few times an animated film should have been 120 minutes. You aren’t given time to breath, or know about the characters, or how the plot works. You are never told how the park came to life, how the animals don’t know who she is, and plenty of other story elements that don’t really get fleshed out. It’s great that June is a creative and imaginative individual, and I would argue that she would make a much better protagonist if she was given a better story and overall film. If the film didn’t introduce these themes that you have seen done better in Inside Out and A Monster Calls, then we wouldn’t be criticizing how lacking in punch the overall film feels. The writing is never creative, the jokes don’t land, and I don’t remember the character’s names, their personalities, or any real scenes. Due to how much of a rush the film is in to get itself done with, you are never caring on an emotional level, and that’s a shame. Again, there is stuff that could work here, but those elements are as under-baked as most baked desserts on Chopped.

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In the end, I feel badly for the people that worked on Wonder Park. It’s the weakest animated film of 2019, and I don’t like saying that. There are elements of a much better movie hiding under all the flaws, and the fact that this entire film feels like a rush job to prepare viewers for the upcoming animated series, which may not happen now, or will go for a season before cancelation, says a lot. A lot of my issues with this film are because we know very little of what happened behind the scenes to make many of these issues center-stage, and I feel badly for the animators and production people who may or may not have had a great work schedule to get this completed. It won’t change my opinion on the film, but I would, at the very least, understand what went down. I feel like with a better direction and more time to actually flesh out certain elements of this film, it could have been a solid gem that would have found a cult following. Who knows, maybe a few years down the line we might re-review films like this, and find something we missed the first time around. I simply don’t recommend seeing Wonder Park. It will probably find its way onto Netflix in the future, and or maybe Amazon Prime. Until then, just go see How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World, The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part, or try to find screenings for some of the upcoming foreign animated features coming out, like This Magnificent Cake!, Penguin Highway, or Okko’s Inn. Until then, just wait until Missing Link comes out in April. For now, since we have some time before Laika’s newest feature, how about we talk about some smaller releases that I think people should check out? Next time, let’s talk about a really cool female-directed animated feature called Maquia: When the Promised Flowers Bloom. Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the review, and let’s hope we can learn about Wonder Park’s development history in more educated detail in the future! I will see you all next time!

Rating: The Worst/Blacklist

The Other Side of Animation 151:How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World 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 has happened. I am finally able to review DreamWorks animated movies! Now that they are under Universal’s banner, and not Fox’s banner, I can now talk about today’s film and any of their future projects. It’s fascinating to see the entire history of DreamWorks. The company was founded by Jeffery Katzenberg after a nasty break-up with Disney, and made a name for not really having an identity, making edgier/mostly mediocre films that tried to ape off of what Disney/Pixar were doing at the time. They finally made a name for themselves with hits like Shrek 2, the Kung Fu Panda and How to Train your Dragon films, and then lost so much money after one failed business decision after another, we are now at the current part of the timeline. Once they lost about 500 employees and a couple of double digit millions when their 2014 films failed to bring in the money, they were then bought out by Universal. That’s a fairly rough and compacted history, but this isn’t about the history of DreamWorks, and how they started out to where they are now. I’m not getting paid enough on my Patreon to do something like that (link to my Patreon if you would like to support it). We are here to talk about How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World. Directed and written by Dean DeBlois, The Hidden World wraps up the entire trilogy of one of DreamWorks’ best franchises. It came out near the end of February to critical acclaim and commercial success. So, how is the actual film? Let’s see what unfolds in this hidden world.

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The third film takes place a year after the second film, as Hiccup, voiced once again by Jay Baruchel, is now officially the leader of his people, and has gone on frequent missions to take down and free dragons from people who capture them. Unfortunately, his home and people are at risk of having to find a new land, and come to the realization about the relationship his people have with the dragons. This doesn’t help things when a group of dragon hunters hire a notoriously dangerous individual known as Grimmel the Grisly, voiced by F. Murray Abraham, who wants to kill all of the dragons, especially the Night Fury and Light Fury species. Hiccup then suggests that they find the Hidden World, a place where all the dragons live. Since this is the third film as well, let’s throw in a mysterious Light Fury, a white version of the franchise’s icon Toothless. Can Hiccup save his people and dragons from annihilation?

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Before I talk about the positives, and there are a lot of positives, I wanted to counter against some of the criticisms that have been thrown at this film. The first criticism I see is that it doesn’t tie into the Netflix series at all. To be frank, I’m happy they didn’t. Sure, the Netflix series was able to expand upon the characters and the world with more villages, villains, and other heroes. However, if push comes to shove, I’d rather it stay exclusively within the film world. It’s not really fair to expect everyone going into this third film to have watched the Netflix series, or the series that came out before the second film. I get that even the slightest little easter eggs or cameos would have been nice for fans of the TV series, but at the same time, most people going into this wouldn’t have seen the entire series. The next criticism I see is aimed at how some of the characters are handled. I have a mixed reaction to this part overall. Again, a lot of people pointed out that the TV series was doing a better job at fleshing out these characters. Well, duh. You have a TV series that has multiple episodes and more time to flesh everything out. I think the writing is strong enough that a good chunk of the characters are still true to them and are still great.

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That’s really all I have to disagree with. Now, we talk about the actual criticisms. To me, the How to Train your Dragon franchise runs parallel with DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda franchise. The first film was a surprise hit, and both have really good first films. The second films arguably are better films expanding the world, the story, the characters, and have a better villain. The third films are not as good as the second ones, but are great closers to the franchise, however, they have weaker villains. Yeah, while being voiced well by F. Murray Abraham, Grimmel the Grisly was not as interesting as a villain as other animated film villains. He had a bit of mystery to him, and was a threat with the other warriors and those dragon killers, but he felt underutilized. While I disagree that all of the side characters suffered from being underdeveloped, both Kung Fu Panda and Dragons sure do not give their side protagonists a lot to do. This is especially true for Jonah Hill’s Snotlout. He is just the worst character in this film. While Fishlegs, voiced by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Ruffnut and Tuffnut, voiced by Kristen Wiig and Justin Rupple, all have some more focus and things to do in the story, Snotlout never has a good scene, is always the butt of the joke, is constantly trying to hit on Hiccup’s mom for some creepy reason, and if that’s not creepy enough, apparently, Snotlout is worse in the original books. It always comes off like DreamWorks puts in so many characters, because they are banking on a TV series. They also don’t let us, the viewers, spend much time in the Hidden World. I kind of wish there was more time spent on Hiccup, Toothless, the Hidden World, America Ferrera’s Astrid, than focusing on the side characters who don’t have much to them.

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So, what’s amazing about this film? Everything! The animation is beautiful. I’m so blown away at how incredible the franchise’s visuals have become, as even the first film from 2010 still looks pretty darn good! I love the details of the textures used, the slightly aged characters, and the immense amount of detail used in every house, island, dragon, human, and you get the idea. Once again, DreamWorks shows that while the overarching plot might not be the best, it makes up for it with some really good character moments. Throughout the entire film, there will be little moments between two characters that bring this film so much life and personality. Many of the best moments in the previous films were the quiet moments as Hiccup interacted with either Toothless or someone else. This film ups those scenes, as we get the final chapter of Hiccup’s coming-of-age tale of becoming the new tribe leader for his people. One of the most memorable scenes for me was when Hiccup was a kid, and he saw his dad mourn the loss of his wife/Hiccup’s mother, and you just get so much out of that one scene alone. Of course, the chemistry between Toothless and his new love interest is also a hugely entertaining scene, as it involves the least amount of dialogue out of any scene in this movie, and is so adorable and funny that you think it would backfire in some possible way, but it doesn’t. There are quite a few scenes of Toothless and his girlfriend that are all just wonderful to watch.  The film tackles plenty of complex themes, like learning to change, how Hiccup comes to terms with doing what’s best for everyone involved, and learning and working on making your own path through life.

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How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World might have a few flaws under its wings, but it’s another fantastic ride from DreamWorks. I know it’s easy to worry about DreamWorks Animation and their film line-up in the future, but for now, why not enjoy this movie and go see it? I highly recommend that you do so if you haven’t already. It shows that when DreamWorks wants to, they can put out a high quality product. Now then, we shall now move from dragons that you form an emotional bond with, to a film about a magical amusement park that doesn’t quite work. Next time, we shall talk about the notorious and infamous Wonder Park. Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed this review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 150: Netflix Godzilla Trilogy 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 much as I like writing reviews for films, I will say that the one thing that has lost its magic is the discourse of talking about movies that I don’t like. With the current film climate that is focused on being hyperbolic, toxic, nitpick-obsessed, and pedantic about everything for the sake of “comedy”, it ruins talking about movies, because people think that is how you approach movies, when it’s not. Film criticism is wildly subjective, and is never a straight path to whether a film is good or bad. Everyone has different priorities when they look into movies. I wish it was more of a conversation piece, and not a race of who can be the biggest pedantic waste of air that drags down film culture rather than elevating it. I may have had more energy to put into talking about bad movies two or so years ago, but now I don’t. However, to be a good critic, you have to look at a wide range of films from big budget to small budget, action to romance, and theatrical or straight-to-video. So, where do I sit with the Netflix-distributed Godzilla trilogy? The trilogy was directed by Kobun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita, with the screenplay written by Gen Urobuchi. The trilogy of films were made by Polygon Pictures, the studio that animated films and shows like Transformers: Prime, Tron: Uprising, Knights of Sidonia, Blame!, the CGI elements of Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, Star Wars Resistance, and helped Studio Ghibli co-produce Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter. The trilogy came out over the span of 2018, and suffice it to say, there was very little fanfare or warm welcomes after the trilogy was complete. While Netflix might have a promising animation output in 2019 and onwards for feature-animated films, this, to me, was one of their biggest blunders. Why? Read on to find out.

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I’m going to review this as one giant review, because the movies themselves feel like an overly long three part OVA special. So, the trilogy takes place in the future at the end of the 20th century. Giant monsters have ravaged Earth to a point where everyone on Earth decides to do the sensible thing and pack up, leave Earth, and try to find a non-monster-filled planet.  That seems a bit drastic, but when one of those monsters is Godzilla, you wouldn’t really want him as your next door neighbor. I mean, he could be a good neighbor, but I’m getting off track. Anyway, the humans were joined by two other alien races, the religious Exif, and the technologically-advanced Bilusaludo. After not finding a planet after years of searching, a young man named Haruo Sakaki, dubbed by Chris Niosi, tries to pull rank and suggest that the current living situation that is 11.9 lightyears away from Earth is not going to be livable for everyone. After a failed scout ship exploded going down to a planet they were looking at, Haruo finds out some prime time information about Godzilla’s weaknesses from an Exif named Metphies, dubbed by Lucien Dodge. Haruo convinces the committee in charge to go back to Earth, retake it from Godzilla, and live there again. They head back to Earth to find that nature has pretty much taken back the entire planet. They encounter ravenous life, a mysterious race of humanoid individuals, and, shocker of shock, Godzilla. Can the humans retake the planet and take down Godzilla? Do the other alien races have ulterior motives? Who are the mysterious beings living on the planet?

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So, it was really tough to find a starting point as to what to talk about first. How about the directing and writing? So, what have the directors and the writer of the films worked on? Kobun Shizuno has mostly directed Detective Conan films and the Soul Buster and Knights of Sidonia series. The other director, Hiroyuki Seshita, has mostly worked on Polygon Picture-related properties like Knights of Sidonia and Ajin. So, where does that leave us? Well, let’s talk about the writer of the three films, Gen Urobuchi. He is mostly known for writing the scripts to Fate/Zero and Psycho-Pass. While I have not really seen Psycho-Pass, that other title I mentioned is pretty telling at what kind of movies I should have expected. The three Godzilla films that make up this trilogy are drawn-out, boring, convoluted, and don’t really feel like Godzilla movies. I know Godzilla has had movies that range from the fun monster-fighting romps, to the social commentary side of films, but these three films essentially show off the worst of both Godzilla and anime at the same time. When you think of Godzilla, you think of grand scale destruction, fighting other colossal monsters with their own creative attacks. Now, what are usually the most boring aspects of Godzilla films? The humans! The human/humanoid characters are fairly dull anime archetypes that you see in a lot of anime. You have the angsty young male, the calm-headed best friend, the token female character, the religious nut that has ulterior motives, the war-hungry meathead, and you get the idea. No one is really that interesting, and the story/writing constantly focuses on philosophical elements of living, being on a world ruled by Godzilla, and life, which are just boring as tar.

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A story about a planet ruled by Godzilla didn’t need to be this complicated. Why is it so hard to make something with giant monsters just giant monsters and action? I’m not judging this movie by what it’s not, but what we got, and what we get is not interesting. Godzilla isn’t even a major player in any of the three movies. He rarely shows up, and it’s really at the end of each movie. Also, for a film series that takes place on a planet taken back by nature and swarming with giant monsters, the other monsters involved are really boring. They are just these generic-looking rock monsters that don’t look good, and the iconic giant monsters you want to see from Toho are only seen in still frames. You only get, like, three of the iconic Toho monsters, but one is only spoken of, while the other one is Ghidorah, but not the traditional Ghidorah. It’s like this movie was afraid to be a giant monster movie. I know we all make fun of the old Toho monster flicks, but they were very entertaining, because seeing giant monsters fight was, and will always be, entertaining. They even have Mecha Godzilla, but not in the same sense. It could have been interesting, but it was sadly not. That’s the big takeaway from this trilogy, it could have been interesting, but it was drawn out between three films, and the few action scenes that were there, were not enough to save the film’s sluggish and confusing story.

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Animation-wise, it’s getting a bit tiring to criticize Japanese CGI animation, because there are good signs of some studios knowing what to do, like Land of the Lustrous, but I didn’t really find anything all that impressive about Godzilla’s CGI. It was fine, everything was animated decently, the action was mostly readable, and when you could tell where the budget went, it looked good. You just see a lot the films reusing character models, and you get the typical clunky anime CGI movements from time to time. Polygon Pictures is getting close to showing how well CGI can work, but a show like the mentioned above Land of the Lustrous does it better.

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So, do I like anything about this trilogy? Well, like I said above, the CGI anime is pretty decent. When Godzilla is actually on screen, you do feel his presence, and when he actually does something, it’s a lot of fun. It’s just common knowledge that watching Godzilla blow stuff up and fight actual monsters is a proven good time. The dub script is pretty okay. I don’t really say this will be anyone’s best performances, but they did a good job with reading the scripts given to them.

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I think the biggest failure of these films were that they got the wrong team to make them. Godzilla didn’t need to be yet another philosophical think piece, when the most recent live-action Godzilla film was flawed, but way better at tackling such subjects, and had much better action set pieces. If you are a hardcore Godzilla fan and haven’t checked out these films, I wouldn’t recommend it, but if you must see every single film, then check them out. I just couldn’t be bothered to be hyperbolic and angry about these films. The more I hated these films, the more draining it became. They aren’t good movies on their own, and it’s not a good overall story as a trilogy. It wastes opportunities by being a three-part film, doesn’t take as many opportunities with its premise as it should, and shows how far some studios still have to go to make good-looking CGI-focused animation. However, after seeing this trilogy, it made me realize why I like talking about movies I enjoy, so, next time, how about we talk about the smash hit How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World? Thanks for reading, and let’s keep spreading the support for more positive film conversations and more mature and in-depth film criticism. I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating for all Three Films: Blacklist/The Worst

Animation Tidbits: The 2019 Oscar-Nominated Shorts

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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!)

(Originally Posted: February 24th, 2019)

I was fortunate enough to see the Oscar-nominated animated shorts at my local theater, and, well, like last year, I am going to do a quick set of reviews for the five shorts that are nominated. Overall, my opinions on this year’s nominees are pretty positive! Unlike last year, where there was some controversial baggage with Dear Basketball, none of the shorts that I know of have that kind of need to put a note next to them. The five chosen are varied, endearing, and charming. They each have their own visual style and their own stories that make them stand out. The two shorts from the Highly Commended section were good, but it’s not hard to see why they didn’t make it into the top spots. Let’s get started! I’m going to go in the order they were shown.

Bao

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Directed by Domee Shi, Bao tells the story of a wife who ends up becoming a mother to a sentient dumpling. It’s your usual Pixar fare, with endearing designs, beautiful animation, and a touching story about the connection between a mother and her son. Sure, a lot of people reacted mostly to one scene near the end, and decided that was the only thing worth taking away from it, but I love this short from beginning to end. It’s a good sign that the reaction to this short was so good, that Domee Shi, is now going to work on her own theatrical feature. If Bao is any indication of her talent, I can’t wait to see what she comes up with in the future. Congrats, Domee Shi and Becky Neiman-Cobb on the win!

Late Afternoon

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Directed by Louise Bagnall, this one tells the story of an elderly woman remembering moments of her life that connect back to what is going on with her in the present time. It’s a beautiful 2D animated short with some awe-inspiringly creative visuals, and a simple but loving visual look for the human characters. Having lost my last grandparent recently, this short really struck a chord with me as you see that while the elderly woman is not all there, there is still a part of her that is there and loves her daughter. It’s an incredible short and I highly recommend seeing it! Hopefully, Cartoon Saloon taps her for some future projects. Congrats, Louise Bagnall!

Animal Behavior

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Directed by David Fine and Alison Snowden, Animal Behavior may come off like an odd duck among the five nominees. Its animation style is fluid, but the designs are storybook looking in execution. It’s about a bunch of animals in a therapy session talking about their problems, until an Ape named Victor joins the group and things go into an interesting direction. It doesn’t sound all that compelling. However, when you actually watch it, it ends up being the funniest of the shorts. It comes off like a more well-written Adult Swim animated show pilot. It has some very funny lines, and you get a big laugh out of some of the problems the animals are having. For example, there is a parasite that has attachment issues, and a praying mantis who is having trouble with her dating life. I’m not fond of every detail of the designs, like how they have noticeable butts, but that’s the only part I didn’t like. It’s a funny and entertaining short that shows how strong writing can make an odd idea into a comedic experience. Congrats, David Fine and Alison Snowden! I would love to see this become a miniseries!

Weekends

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Directed by Trevor Jimenez, this one tackles the life of a boy who lives in a divorced household as he travels from his dad and mom’s place, and how he sees their lives and his life changes. It’s a somber story that doesn’t really have an answer about what the proper way to handle the realistic situation for certain children. How do you cope with the fact that your parents aren’t together anymore, having to move on with their lives, and that they may see other people? There are a lot of surreal visuals that are great to look at, but I wish there probably was a solid answer as to what should happen? Sometimes, it’s good to not have a definitive answer, but I think the short gets too visually abstract to tell such a conclusion. Still, you can tell this was a very intimate and passionate story from the director, and I think it’s a good short. Congrats to Trevor Jimenez and his team!

One Small Step

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Directed by Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas, this short tackles the story of a young girl living with her grandfather, and dreams of becoming an astronaut. I think what is most striking about this film is the visuals. The CGI animation looks like it’s almost 2D. It’s easily one of the standout shorts from 2018. As a short that has no dialogue in it, you feel the love and connection the girl has with her grandfather, and both characters have their own unique little characteristics that I love. It’s probably one of three shorts from the nominees that made me almost cry. I fell in love with this short’s visuals, animation, and characters. It even made me think if they could do this for a feature length film. I would love to see more CGI films learn from films like One Small Step and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse in being visually unique. Congrats to Andrew Chesworth,  Bobby Pontillas, and their entire team for the nomination!

Now then, we will talk about the two Highly Commended shorts that didn’t make the cut.

Wishing Box

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Directed by Lizzie Zhang, Wishing Box is a simple comedy short about a pirate who finds a treasure chest with nothing in it. The twist is that his monkey sidekick can pull things out of the chest, like bananas, sharks, and lobsters. There really isn’t much to talk about with this one. It’s a comedy about the troubles of human greed done in a fairly solid comedic way. I can sort of see why it didn’t make it into the top five, but it’s a good short to check out.

Tweet Tweet

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Finally, we have Tweet Tweet by director Zhanna Bekmambetova. This short follows the friendship between a small bird and a woman who goes from being a baby to old age. The gimmick here is that the entire short is from the view of the bird and the woman’s feet as they go across a rope. It becomes a tiny bit gimmicky with certain shots that look like they were supposed to be in VR, but that doesn’t really detract from the experience as you watch the woman grow up, find love, have a child, and be at the literal end of her rope. In terms of the CGI visuals, it’s not my favorite short, but the artistry is there, and I was invested with the story. I hope more Russian animation can be this creative and endearing.

The Other Side of Animation 149: The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part 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!)

People forget how certain films were lightning-in-a-bottle situations. It was just the right time period with the right directors, writers, and ideas that make films like Ghostbusters, Spirited Away, Tim Burton’s Batman, Moonstruck, Mad Max: Fury Road, Pan’s LabyrinthSpider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and you get the idea. It’s not fair to them if some of them get sequels and rarely live up to the expectations set on them. This is why I go into everything with middle-ground expectations. It’s to not over-hype myself or under-hype myself for any movie and can go into it with proper expectations. Now then, sometimes, lightning does strike twice, and it has for The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part. Directed this time by Mike Mitchell, who also directed DreamWorks’ Trolls, Sky High, and Shrek Forever After, the original writers and directors of the first film, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, returned as producers and writers of the film alongside Dan Lin, Roy Lee, and Jinko Gotch. Luckily, for many, the newest movie in the LEGO franchise ends up being another dose of awesome. Why? Read the review to find out.

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The sequel starts us off five years after the first film where the world of Brickburg is now a dystopian wasteland called Apocalypseburg after the invasion of the beings from the planet Duplo. Chris Pratt returns as Emmet, who really isn’t affected by the cynical dystopian wasteland, with his girlfriend Lucy, voiced again by Elizabeth Banks. One day, as Lucy tries to force Emmet to change, a new “alien” encounter arrives in the city and comes off as an aggressive alien force taking down anything that tries to stop it. This alien force turns out to be a new character named General Mayhem, voiced by Stephanie Beatriz. After beating everyone, Mayhem ends up taking Lucy, Benny, voiced by Charlie Day, Unikitty, voiced by Alison brie, MetalBeard, voiced by Nick Offerman, and Batman, voiced by Will Arnett back with her to the Systar System to her queen, Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi, voiced by Tiffany Haddish. Emmet decides to go save the day, and runs into another character named Rex Dangervest, also voiced by Chris Pratt. Can Emmet save the day and get his friends back from the Systar System before the Our-Mom-Ageddon happens?

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So, what does this sequel do to progress the story and build upon the original? Well, a lot. I think many will tell you that there is a very heavy theme of tackling toxic masculinity. Sure, it’s not new with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Ralph Breaks the Internet also tackling it, but since it still keeps being a thing in the culture of right now in fandoms, I’m always grateful to directors and writers telling people to stop being jerks! It shows how metaphorically and literally, toxic masculinity is damaging and destructive. I also loved the commentary about the current times we live in. Back in 2014, everything was pretty awesome. Sadly, with how things are being run in the world, the world is not always awesome. It’s really easy to simply slide into edgy cynicism and just hate everything. However, while things do suck, find the positive in the world. It’s not fun just sitting in a puddle of misery and think everything is terrible. There are still good things going on that are happening. You don’t need to harden yourself with a shell of cynicism and hate to take on the world. Just be you.

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I love the returning characters and the new characters added to the LEGO Movie universe. Tiffany Haddish’s Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi, is easily my favorite new character to the franchise. She’s a fun, complex, and entertaining character to watch. With this being an animated feature, they take full advantage of her being, well, Watevra Wa-Nabi. Of course, talking about the new characters can’t be complete if we don’t talk about Rex Dangervest. While on the surface, it’s a very obvious walking Chris Pratt joke, but as the film goes on, you do get a little deeper with him about his bro attitude and his connection to the themes and stories of the film. It just shows how talented Lord and Miller are in writing. While there might not be as much of that magic that was in the first film, the sequel is still full of topical subject matter that was executed properly and was easy for kids and adults in my two theater screenings of it to get. There are layers to this film that will keep people thinking and talking about it way past 2019.

Animation-wise, this is the best-looking LEGO movie yet. They seem to have found the proper balance and speed of the LEGO visual aesthetic and combining it with a few real life textures of the sand in Apocalypseburg. They also slowed down the speed of the comedy as the jokes are now more dialogue-based and less cram a joke into every scene in the foreground, background, and in the script.  Still, I think that’s for the best. One of the few issues the original had was that it was just too fast and flashy. It’s still a visual spectacle that you can’t believe is all CGI, but at least you aren’t needing to turn your head away for a moment or pause to give your eyes a rest. The voice cast is also stellar with returning actors and the new actors. Chris Pratt just has his loveable goofy persona down, Elizabeth Banks as Lucy is still a great female lead, Will Arnett is just funny as Batman, Charlie Day and Nick Offerman are still a hoot, this is probably my favorite Tiffany Haddish performance, and even minor characters from actors like Richard Ayoade, Maya Rudolph, and Ben Schwartz pulled in multiple laughs. We can’t go talking about this film without mentioning the insanely catchy musical numbers! I was floored by the fact that this was a musical, which was kept out of the marketing of the movie. Heck, a lot of the twists and turns were kept out of the movie, but we won’t go into those. Anyway, the musical numbers were like the ones from Moana, no filler and all were killer.

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If there was something that could be said that detracts from the film, it would be that there isn’t much that can be considered surprising. It doesn’t try to push the boundary like the first film did. It’s really not the film’s fault that we had two spin-off LEGO films that came out in one year, which may have sort of taken the spark out of the franchise. To me, I look at it as a Godfather and Godfather Part II situation.  Both are incredible movies, and while you can say not much was expanded or revolutionary, you wouldn’t call the second movie a lesser movie, would you? Both are incredible movies. Now, one thing I will agree with is that some of the pacing is not as fluid as the first film, as it does seem to stop and halt a bit more with one plot until near the end of the second act when everything starts to come together.

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While it is a bummer that this film isn’t doing as well in terms of financial success, due to either LEGO movie burnout or the weather that’s keeping everyone inside their respected homes, I still love LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part. I think it’s just as good as the first film with its story, writing, jokes, and music. However, I would be happy to not have to see another one anytime soon. I think if Warner Bros. was smart, they would slow down for a bit, and make some more animated features that are not based on the LEGO franchise. Maybe see what else Lord and Miller can do, or maybe use them to talent scout new directors and writers that they recommend. Either way, I still highly recommend going out and seeing The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part. Well then, next time, it will be the 150th animated review. I think we shall go big with a look at an unfortunate trilogy of films that Netflix decided to bring over. Thank you for reading! I hope you all enjoyed this review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials.

The Other Side of Animation 148: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse 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!)

If you saw my editorials, talking about what I would like to see change in the big budget US animation scene, I talked about how certain studios should and could use a “shot in the arm” with trying out more ambitious storylines and visual styles. Animation is such a wonderful medium that is hamstrung by studios not bothering with stepping out of their comfort zones. Thankfully, Sony Pictures Animation decided to be a brave individual, and show that not only do you not need to spend triple digit millions, but can also make massive long-term profit and award acclaim with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Directed by the trio of Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti, and Rodney Rothman, Spider-Verse was released back in December to universal acclaim, winning a massive pile of awards, and has certified itself by a team of me, myself, and I, as the best US animated film of 2018. Shall we swing into the review?

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The story revolves around Miles Morales, voiced by Shameik Moore. He’s a high school student who lives in a world where Spider-Man exists. Nothing is really all that different here in this universe. Spider-Man, voiced by Chris Pine, is loved, Miles dad, voiced by Brian Tyree Henry doesn’t trust Spider-Man, and Miles doesn’t really care about going the distance in becoming a better person. After hanging out with his uncle Aaron Davis, voiced by Mahershala Ali, Miles encounters Spider-Man attempting to stop King Pin, voiced by Liev Schreiber from using a giant machine to cause some supposed chaos. Luckily, Spider-Man sort of stops the machine from working while fending off Green Goblin and The Prowler. The bad news is that Spider-Man ends up getting killed by King Pin. The city is then swept over by sorrow from the loss of Spider-Man, and Miles feels responsible for the death of his universe’s Spider-Man. That is, until he encounters a much more self-defeated Peter Parker aka Spider-Man, voiced by Jake Johnson, from another universe. As the two try to find a way to get the alternate Spider-Man back to his own dimension, they encounter other Spider-Men from different dimensions. This includes Spider-Gwen, voiced by Hailee Steinfeld, Spider-Man Noir, voiced by Nicholas Cage, SP//dr, a Japanese anime-style Spider-Man/robot pilot voiced by Kimiko Glenn, and Spider-Ham, voiced by John Mulaney. They team up to try and stop King Pin, along with his lackeys Prowler, Tombstone, voiced by Marvin Jones III, Doctor Octopus, voiced by Kathryn Han, and Scorpion, voiced by Joaquin Cosio, from starting up the machine again, and possibly destroying Miles’ universe.

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Like a couple of times in my reviews, I want to talk about the animation first. This was the first big selling point when everyone saw the first teaser trailer for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. The visuals are literally jaw dropping. You will lose your jaw, and then have to go get it surgically reattached with how incredible and striking the visuals are. Everyone has said it, and it’s true, it looks like a literal moving comic book. The bright colors, the many details you would see in most comic books, the textures, the lighting, the designs, and how it all meshes well. Not one character from the different dimensions stands out in a bad way. Everything flows and gels well. I have seen some people argue that the animation is bad, but I’m sorry, that’s just objectively wrong. If you follow animation, then you know Spider-Verse does not have bad animation. The slower framerate and movements are there for a reason. If everything moved as fast as say, Sony’s Hotel Transylvania franchise, it would be an eye sore with all the bright and multi-colored visuals. It’s a style of animation that is used in other parts of the world, like in The Painting and Zombillenium. It’s used to work with the unique art style and not a budget limitation. When you see as much animation that varies in both budget and quality, you can see what is style and what is bad animation. Norm of the North is bad animation. Spider-Man into the Spider-Verse is good animation. End of lecture.

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In terms of the story, Spider-Verse has one of the most complex and complete stories out of most animated films in 2018. It’s the best told story among the US-made films. Films like Incredibles 2 and Ralph Breaks the Internet felt like they either didn’t go far enough with their themes and story, or only went at them in ways where they only go 50% and not 100%. Spider-Man fully commits to its multi-verse storyline mixed in with themes of coming of age, finding your own identity, not being fixated on events from the past, what it means to be a hero, and the harsh realities of being a hero. Every character works well with one another, and they treat everyone as characters. Sure, you can argue and nitpick and say that three of the six Spider-Mans don’t get as much development as the other three, but all six aren’t the main focus. The real focus is on Spider-Gwen, Miles, and Jake Johnson’s Peter Parker. Even Miles’ parents and Parker’s Aunt May are easily some of the best characters out of the movie. It’s so shocking to see an animated film treat everyone with actual dimension and not as one-note archetypes. While you can say that this film’s version of King Pin is not as good as the Netflix one, that isn’t really fair. This is one movie, whereas the Netflix one had three seasons to flesh out the character. It’s not really a perfect one on one comparison. However, you still get why King Pin is doing what he’s doing in the movie, and that’s pretty good. I also like how the film skims over origin stories. We really don’t need another Spider-Man movie that takes 40 minutes of its runtime to flesh out what happens. At least, it’s not a 100% origin story with the exception of Miles Morales, who has probably one of the best developments and stories out of any superhero movie.

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The voice cast for this film is perfect, and everyone seems to be on board and on the same level as everyone else. This isn’t like Venom or The Meg, where everyone, but one or two people know what kind of movie they are in. The talent is crazy good with Shameik Moore, Brian Tyree Henry, Mahershala Ali, Hailee Steinfield, Nicolas Cage, John Mulaney, Liev Schreiber, Jake Johnson, Lily Tomlin, Luna Lauren Velez, Kimiko Glenn, and as usual, seeing the late great Stan Lee in one of his last cameos is touching and endearing. The music is also incredible with plenty of amazing pop and rap songs that fit the tone perfectly. I even bought the soundtrack after I saw the film. I still listen to Vince Staples’ track.

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I really have no complaints about this movie. It’s truly the best US-made animated film of 2018, and congrats to Sony Pictures Animation for their successful 2018 line-up of animated features. Sure, I have minor gripes, but they really don’t matter when everything else is so strong. I highly recommend checking this film out, or getting it on blu-ray the day it comes out. It’s smart, funny, endearing, action-packed, and a blast. I think anyone who thought Sony Pictures Animation should just shut down and “drop dead” need to go crawl under a rock and never come back. Now then, before we hit 150, let’s keep making sure everything is awesome with LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part. Thanks for reading, I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Criterion/Essentials