Least Favorite Animated Films of 2022

(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 keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Sorry to keep getting these types of articles up late, but sometimes you need time to just let everything simmer about how amazing and chaotic a year like 2022 was in animation. Lots of great stuff, but also stuff that missed the mark. The talented crews and artists made some of the best animated films for Netflix, while the streaming service also had some of the most panned animated films of 2022. Only in this chaotic world of the animation industry can this happen. As usual, these will be the nine animated films I liked the least during this year, and it’s always a shame that I can’t like everything. No one wants to criticize the people who work in a chaotic industry that needs all the love and support they can get right now. Despite this list and ranking, and however I feel about these films, I’m always going to be rooting for everyone to succeed.  Now then, let’s get started. 

9. Night at the Museum: Kahmunra’s Revenge

Maybe it would have been better if I had more attachment to the franchise, but this film felt like it was made to be a pilot for an animated TV series. The script does have a few moments where the comedy hits and the 2D animation is better than what I was expecting. Still, the story and themes feel undercooked and needlessly complicated with the introduction of an art museum and how the portraits can be portals to the past. It doesn’t help either that a good chunk of the cast is there for nostalgia and fans, and then they don’t do anything. Still, if it’s here, then that means I still enjoyed it, but their non-Pixar-released-to-Disney Plus films have not been great. 

8. Ryoma: The Prince of Tennis 

The biggest sin that a sports film can commit is to not be about the sport itself. Instead of being based on the main series, this film is based on the stageplays. This means a much heavier focus on big grand musical moments and very little focus on story cohesion and characters. You think the plot of our lead getting sent back in time to see his dad would be interesting, but it’s not. You keep watching to see how absurd this film gets with rap battles and duets while playing one of the few scant games of tennis that you do see in the film. The CGI is also really ugly. It looks like a higher-end PlayStation 2 cinematic cutscene at points, and it’s a definite downgrade compared to the other CGI films from Japan that show how far they have come with films like The First Slam Dunk. The characters are forgettable, and once you are over the absurd things that ignite the musical sequences, the film is boring. Even when our lead meets and faces off with his dad, it’s too little too late. For a franchise that already doesn’t have a huge foothold in the US market, the fact we got this is wild. It was probably brought over when they were dubbing the second Prince of Tennis series, but it’s going to be a bad time if you make this your first piece of media to intake from the franchise. 

7. Hotel Transylvania: Transformania 

While Genndy Tartakovsky was still attached to the writing of this film, it feels like it also had the same energy as a DTV Disney film from back in the day. It had a creative hook of Andy Samberg’s character turning into a monster, and Drac and his friends turning human, but it doesn’t do much with the premise that feels like they weren’t given enough time to flesh out the story. It was part regressive of the character growth, lacked the same silly humor that was mastered in the third film, and once again, they bring a lot of your favorite characters back only for them to do very little. Even if the very little they do was decent, it just feels like a film that was running on fumes, and hopefully, the talented group of animators at Sony Pictures Animation hit it out of the park in the future, which seeing their lineup, probably will. 

6. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Roderick Rules 

Yeah, the promise of Diary of a Wimpy Kid animation adaptations has been a real disappointment so far. This one looks slightly better and has a better overall story, but a lot of these characters are not fun to be around. I still wish they had more time or a budget to make this film more visually interesting than it is, and I’m glad that they tried to put more of an emphasis on the family feeling more connected with one another. Still, Disney needs to give these people more time to craft an excellent animated adaptation of the books with the visual flair that they deserve. 

5. Riverdance: The Animated Adventure 

For a film based on the dance sensation, you would think there would be a bit more to it than dancing elk. To be fair, it does try to with trying to tie the story around a young boy dealing with the grief of losing his relative, but the animation and creativity on display don’t match the whimsy, and the more fantastical aspects of it don’t feel all that whimsical The dance sequences are also way more robotic due to either time or budgeting making the iconic dancing look more stiff and lifeless than it should be. Just a real forgettable experience and that’s a shame. In a world where we have films like The LEGO Movie and silly films like Seal Team, a Riverdance film is not that out there, but it just feels like they didn’t go far enough with their premise and production. 

4. The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild 

No matter how good this film could have been, it was always going to have the stink of Disney’s corporate greed of letting this film get made by a third-party studio, and banked on the love for the franchise and the return of Simon Pegg as Buck Wild. Sadly, this is essentially a direct-to-video plot with no other returning cast members and a huge downgrade to the CG animation from the theatrical films. It became less of a high-flying adventure of Buck saving the day, and more of a sad state of things as Disney shut down Blue Sky Studios and then made a film from one of their IPs that resulted in a cheap experience.

3. Pinocchio: Based on a True Story

Honestly, these next three films could tie for the worst. People elevated this film thinking it was going to be some gonzo disaster that was fueled by the meme of Pauly Shore’s take on Pinocchio, but when you take out the clips of Shore’s performance, the film is absurdly boring, badly animated, and will leave your mind once the film ends its sluggish finale. It banks on the meme factor and ends up with a frustratingly mediocre experience. Oh, and how is this fantastical story a “true story”? Seriously, there is a reason why this came and went as it did after it got its 15 seconds of fame. 

2. The Soccer Football Movie 

I’m still baffled by how this film came to be. There were no news announcements, no real trailers, the audiences only getting clips of this film a few days before it was released, and no production history that you could find beforehand. It just arrived on Netflix with no real mention of it from the company itself. Was this half-baked fever dream supposed to have originally come out during the World Cup? For whom was this made? Who was the target demographic? Why did this film need to get made? Even the creator of Angry Beavers who was the director of this, Tom Kenny, and Weird Al couldn’t save this heap from just feeling like a movie put together by an ai. Hopefully, the two soccer players who star in the film got to have a good time, but this is yet again, another film that just came and went with no real fanfare or reason to exist. 

1. Marmaduke 

Like I said above, The Soccer Football Movie, Pinocchio: Based on a True Story, and Marmaduke are tied for my least favorite animated films of the year. Something about Marmaduke filled me with dread, due to how it had a trailer that failed to impress, and when I was finally able to watch the film, I had a rough time sitting through it. You can tell this was trying to do more than what it possibly could on a small budget, but what it does try to do falls flat on its face with annoying characters, ugly designs, gags that fall flat, a weak story that doesn’t grab you at all, and some of the worst animation of 2022. Who knows what the animation production was for this film since it was supposed to come out before the pandemic happened, but it feels like they just made a first run-through of what the film will look like, and then couldn’t do a pass with adding better textures or anything like that. Better animation wouldn’t have helped a garbage story, but it would have at least made it a little bit more tolerable. A lot can happen in the production of animated features and this may have had a bad production, but it was probably a bad idea in the first place to make a film based on an IP that no one outside of rights holders care about. It was one of the few films I watched in 2022 that made me feel like I wasted my time, and the fact Netflix could put this out in the same year as The Sea Beast and Pinocchio is shocking.

The Other Side of Animation 300: Suzume Review

(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 keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Well, this is the 300th review I have written, so I decided to journey back to one of the animation world’s brightest stars, Makoto Shinkai. I’ve infamously been one of the more critical voices talking about Your Name when it was one of the most important animated films and films in general from 2016. Shinkai became a household name once that film connected with audiences even though he has been known and made films before that one. However, recently, I have been rethinking my thoughts about Your Name, and how I connect with it more than back then. Not that I still don’t have my own subjective viewpoints about the twist or some of the storytelling elements, but it did make me go out and buy the blu-ray of it and made me think more about why I like this director despite my more mixed thoughts on his filmography. Outside of his amazing visual presentation that is in all of his films, he tackles themes like romance, distance, relationships, feeling alone, and he captures a feeling of something that can be described as an emotional vibe. Sure, some of his film’s logic and storytelling may not be perfect, but if you can connect with the vibe of his films, then you may have a better time engrossing yourself into the worlds he crafts. Even if he isn’t my favorite Japanese director, like Naoko Yamada, Masaaki Yuasa, or Mamoru Hosoda, I still look forward to his films every time they get announced. With how much of a dry spell 2023 has been for animation so far, until we get flooded with them in June, seeing a film like Suzume makes you feel alive and love the animation experience all over again. 

Directed and written by Makoto Shinkai, we follow a teenager named Suzume Iwato, dubbed by Nicole Sakura. One day, as she is going to school, she encounters a young man named Sota Munakata, dubbed by Josh Keaton who is looking for some ruins that are around her hometown. A bit of the ol’ case of curiosity intrigues her, and she finds the ruins of the Onsen Resort herself. Upon opening a magical door standing in front of a ruined building, she ends up literally opening up a major can of worms in the form of a large magic worm-like entity that sprouts from the door that only she can see. As it turns out, the mysterious young man, Sota, can see it too, and when she leaves and returns to said ruins from where the giant worm thing is sprouting, she encounters him and helps him seal the door away. After tending to his wounds back at her place, she encounters a cat-like individual named or, well, nicknamed Daijin later in the film, dubbed by Lena Josephine Marano. She realizes that this cat was from the first encounter in the ruins, and before she or Sota can do anything, Sota is then turned into a chair! Yeah, the film doesn’t take any time to show off how fantastical this film is going to be. It then becomes a race for Sota and Suzume to travel across Japan to chase after Daijin to seal the doors so the entity doesn’t cause any major disasters and maybe return Sota to a human. 

Some of the reviews have pointed out that Suzume, as the newest film from Makoto Shinkai, is very different from his usual affair with what he likes to tackle in his films. You tend to get a lot about young love, distance in a metaphorical/literal sense, connection, and plenty of visually breathtaking skyscapes. This film definitely feels like one of the few times he went out of his way to avoid using his recurring story beats. Even though it could have been easy to do, this isn’t really a romance. Sure, Suzume somewhat falls for our male lead-turned-chair, but it’s very one-sided. The story is mostly about Suzume finding the strength to feel complete again after her life has felt broken and incomplete, which can be visually seen in the chair that her mother made for her. It’s all about forging the strong connections we make in life, whether it is with family members or with the people you meet along the way.

Even though much of this film’s runtime is the obviously high-stakes race across Japan to seal the doors, it is also about Suzume making connections with the random people she encounters through the journey. The other chunk of this film is also Shinkai taking a creative approach to deal with the trauma and pain brought onto Japan via the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. The worm-like entity is such a creative way to portray cataclysmic events. Other themes include fate/destiny that both of our leads go through, and Suzume coming full circle to terms with the loss she has been handed in life. It might be Shinkai’s most intimate film that while having grand-scale sequences seen throughout, lets our characters be more of the focus. Since it begins with the whimsical and fantastical stuff from scene one, you aren’t having to deal with the whiplash of something like Your Name or the third act of Weathering With You. Even though most people think of Miyazaki and Takahata as directors who focus on characters, Shinkai has a real charm and appeal with how he writes his character dynamics, as everyone works so well off of one another and doesn’t feel like overly archetypical anime characters for the majority of the runtime. Just because it’s an animated film doesn’t mean it can’t have grounded characters. The director even held back on going full-tilt anime in terms of the humor and expressions, which would have been distracting when the characters are already so full of life. Not that having hyper-expressive characters and wacky anime-style humor doesn’t work, since it’s still thrown into the film from time to time, but it all comes down to the execution of what kind of tone and story you are trying to create. 

It should be no shock to anyone that CoMix Wave Films and the other talented teams of animators that brought this film to life always put in some incredible work. The mix of CGI backgrounds, buildings, and vehicles blend extremely well into the 2D elements, Shinkai’s typical design philosophy is as recognizable as ever, especially with how every female lead now has that red string of fate motif that was from Your Name, and the character designs pop. However, the animation on the chair is incredible. Even with its limited moveset, you can absolutely tell how much personality was shoved into its movements. Even when he made Voices of a Distant Star, Shinkai has had this magic touch of making the world around you feel ethereal and vast. The constant wide shots of the landscapes and sky views really make the viewer look small. The world and universe around our leads look vast, and in context make them look so small compared to everything else in the universe. Due to how the film is executed, it makes one feel like the most important part of your life and so on and so forth. The voice cast is also very good. It’s one of the first times Crunchyroll has used a mix of character actors and the usual voice actors that you see in anime titles. Granted, it’s a Makoto Shinkai film, so they were going to get some slightly bigger names, but you expect that from distributors like ElevenArts and GKIDS, so it’s a little surprising to see Crunchyroll do it as well. Still, it’s very cool to see a successful animated film from overseas using a mix of actors. Nichole Sakura, Josh Keaton, Jennifer Sun Bell, Roger Craig Smith, Amanda C. Miller, Rosalie Chiang, Allegra Clark, Cam Clarke, Joe Ziegla, Lena Josephine Marano, and Mela Lee. They do good job with their respective roles and bring a lot of fantastic performances to one of the best films of 2023. This being a Shinkai film, he teamed up with the band RADWIMPS and Kazma Jinnouchi which offer another ethereal and delightful score that brings a whimsy that is a refreshing take from most film soundtracks these days. 

Honestly, even with all is said and done, Suzume is my new favorite Makoto Shinkai film experience. Seeing it on the big screen helped, but even on the smaller screen, this film feels the most focused on relationship dynamics between characters as they journey through the challenging world of relationships and find connections with those close to them. It helps that he has indeed moved away from what he has done in the past, and in interviews said he is done with making certain types of films that people love from him in order to branch out and craft new and exciting tales. It’s what’s fun when you journey through a director’s filmography to see how they change and grow as time goes on, from their own art style to what kind of stories they like to tell. It’s why animation is such a fun medium of storytelling. You can do anything with animation, and the only limits you have are the ones you put on yourself. If you can find a way to watch this movie, please do. If you want to see original 2D animated features on the big theatrical screens you all ride and die for, then you need to see them if they are in your area. Don’t go see the sequels, remakes, and whatever that you think flood every single screen. Actions speak louder than words, and your actions in supporting films like Suzume speak louder than complaining about it on Twitter. Now then, thank you all for 300 reviews, and I’m going to take a small break from reviewing films, (well, unless I get a screener of course), to work on some editorials, but I will see you all in June! 

Rating: Essentials

The Other Side of Animation 299: Unicorn Wars Review

(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 keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

When people hear the term “animation is cinema”, do you either think about the amazing lines from Guillermo Del Toro, or people trying to justify their love for animated films? There seems to be this very fierce debate about how genuine it is when people use “animation is cinema” to defend and stand up for animated films. Detractors of it are annoyed with how people keep choosing widely loved animated films that are aimed at families. So, does the argument hold up if people keep using films like The Incredibles, The Iron Giant, The Mitchells vs the Machines, and so on and so forth? I mean, I get the desire from the more grumpy individuals to choose different films to prove their point. Many of us already love and respect the films listed above, and quite a few films aimed at families hit it out of the park more than many live-action films that we all watch. But with that said, being a lover of animation does mean that you should at the very least try to explore something outside of that. Sadly, when people try to go the route of “yes, that much-loved family film is great, but have you tried to see non-family films” they are never as graceful about recommending them as they could be. The beauty of animation is that you can tell a multitude of stories through its unlimited visual power, and that means that you can talk about something as dark as war and religious extremism, and how love and hate can mold an individual. And the best part? You can tell that story through a war between unicorns and teddy bears! This is my review of Unicorn Wars

This darkly comedic drama is written and directed by Alberto Vázquez who did 2015’s Birdboy: The Forgotten Children. We follow a troop of teddy bears who are training to take down what is considered the biggest enemies of teddy bears, unicorns. We follow the story of two brothers Azulin and Gordi aka Bluey and Tubby, voiced by Jon Goiri and Jaoine Insausti. Their life has been less than stellar with their parents dealing with a divorce, and the two brothers dealing with said divorce very differently. We follow the journey of this troop of teddy bear soldiers to find out what exactly is going on. We will also find out the origin of the war between unicorns and bears. 

So, from how I have described this film in the first two paragraphs, this is absolutely not for kids right? Yeah, obviously, and it’s accurate if you watch the trailers for it. This is one of those films that use the usual imagery and designs that would normally be used for family-friendly storytelling and experiences, and are using them to tell a very intense, graphic, and tragic story of the two different sides of one complicated coin. You can see how one brother is raised with love, while the other is raised with hate as anger and bitterness toward the world build up inside of him. The way they react to the different characters they meet, and the news and events that unfold in front of them, allows the cast to truly show the different sides of the human experience of the right and wrong way to deal with grief. Alberto is famously or infamously known as a director who doesn’t want to sugarcoat his themes and stories for an audience, and considering how polarized the audience was when I saw this at Animation is Film, it’s an intensely uncomfortable sit. It’s also a lawyered experience that will definitely mean a lot to certain types of moviegoers, but while it is easy to write this film off as indulgent and nihilistic, there is a story of how we need to stop following individuals with extremist philosophies in terms of military and religious ideals. The villains are pretty much the entities that gained knowledge and used said knowledge to kill a group of living beings that were different from them and didn’t agree with their ways of thinking. Sound familiar? Just like the director’s previous film, the story overall tackles a ton of different stories like the already mentioned commentary towards war and religion extremists, vanity, love, hate, drugs, deforestation, manipulation, and you get the idea. Sometimes it feels like the message and point the director wants to say takes over the plot, but at the core of the film, it’s about two brothers and the tragedy of war. Also, it’s extremely violent and gory. Yeah, this might be one of the most intentionally violent animated films I have ever seen, because it does not apologize about how violent war is and doesn’t shy away from how some people will enact violence against people they should be protecting and or caring for. Unlike the previous film by the director, this one definitely has more of a depressing end between the war of teddy bears vs unicorns. In a time in the industry where it seems like people are pushing back against depressing films more and talking about the subjective take on going to the movies for escapism and not to be reminded of the real world around them while at the theater, it’s understandable why people will probably not like the ending. It makes a lot of sense how it unfolds, but after 93 minutes of intensely dark and sometimes funny moments mixed with violence and rage against war and religious zealots, it can be too heavy-handed with its message and a bit much on a visual level. Then again, if you come out of this film and start talking about it and the underlying themes, then that’s a positive instead of just leaving the theater not taking in anything about the film at all. Sometimes, we need to be told bluntly about how bad humans can be through a creative visual metaphor. 

On the animation side of things, it still has the same amazing animation quality that we have seen from the director’s previous film, but instead of a more drab/dire color palette, we get bright almost neon pinks, blues, whites, reds, purples yellows, oranges, creating a much more saturated and colorful visual presentation. The way they portray the bears as vain, and keep the unicorns as these ominous figures in the perspective of the bears makes a lot of sense with how the film frames the story of the two. It also has some ridiculous visuals that will definitely lean into one moment where the bears eat hallucinogenic bugs. It’s a visually striking film with how it shows off its visuals, does environmental storytelling, and frames its themes with every shot. The voice work is fantastic as it’s cartoony but is still filled with the emotional drive you would for something that goes into some very dark places. Jon Goiri and Jaoine Insausti do a lot of the heavy lifting and Ramón Barea is a great narrator. The rest of the cast includes Txema Regalado, Maribel Legarreta, Itxaso Quintana, Manu Heras, Gaizka Soria, Kepa Cueto, Juan Carlos Loriz, Estívaliz Lizárraga, Iker Diaz, and Pedro Arrieta. They all take what sounds like a very twisted and odd premise, and bring conviction and commitment to the roles when the darker story-turns come up. 

Whether you can gel with the premise or not, Unicorn Wars is an example of a film that deserves to be talked about when bringing up the conversation of how animation is film/cinema or what have you. Being supportive of animation is both supporting the big releases as respectfully as whatever gets released during the award circuit, and it also means animation fans need to venture out into animated fare that’s not just from the US, not just for families, and ones that might be unnerving and experimental. If you don’t, then when you use the “animation is cinema” argument, then you aren’t really for it if you don’t try and watch everything. Unicorn Wars might be a bit blunt and a lot with its messaging, and will definitely leave you speechless, but every animation fan should give this one a watch. It’s coming out on Blu-ray in May but is right now available to purchase or rent digitally. While his films might not be my favorite from each year they are released, I am always going to be excited and down to check out whatever Alberto makes next. Now then, next time, we shall take a look at the newest film from Makoto Shinkai with the 300th, review being Suzume

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 297: Ernest & Celestine: A Trip to Gibberitia Review

(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 keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Ernest & Celestine is a special film for me. It was the first animated film I saw from GKIDS that wasn’t Studio Ghibli-related, it was the first animated film I reviewed, and it was the first film to truly ignite my love for animation from around the world. It also helps that it was successful enough to get a TV series that we never got, and now, a brand new ‘hot off the presses’ sequel that has a lot to live up to, due to it having to follow up the incredible first film. Luckily for us, we didn’t run into a “sequel for sequel sake” like a lot of sequels to films where people weren’t really looking for them. What we ran into is a sequel that can be considered just as great as the original. 

Julien Chheng and Jean-Christophe Roger are our duo directors for this project. The writers for this film are Guillaume Mautalent, Sebastien Oursel, and Jean Regnaud. We follow our dynamic duo once more as they wake up after hibernation. As Celestine is getting breakfast ready and for them to enjoy a lovely new day, she accidentally breaks a violin that was on one of Ernest’s shelves. Heartbroken by this, Celestine offers to go on a trip with him to where he obtained the instrument to get it repaired. Where exactly? Why, Gibberitia of course! Unfortunately, Ernest is very set to not going back there due to some history there. After trying and failing to convince Ernest to go, Celestine embarks on the journey to get there. At one point, she forces Ernest’s hand and the two arrive in what is revealed to be Ernest’s home town. Something, though, is off about it. Children in the city dress like their parents and there is an odd hostility towards birds singing. It is revealed that the court system in the city has banned music, and it is up to Ernest & Celestine to figure out why that is and reconnect with some individuals that are personally connected to his life, aka, his family. 

Now, with the first film, it was mostly a Celestine-focused story that still had time for the two to bond as friends and deal with the film’s themes of capitalism, fearmongering, and discrimination. Not that Ernest played a secondary role, but you spent a lot more time in Celestine’s world and her backstory. With this one, Ernest takes more of the driver’s seat for the plot, as it focuses on him, and his relationship and history with his family that includes his doctor mother and judge father. You get a tiny bit of the backstory of Ernest in the first film, where his father was a judge and he didn’t want to be one. You find out why the city doesn’t allow music, and we see the themes of the film that include the censorship of art and the disconnect between generations as the parents in the city decide what the younger generation do with no ifs, ands, or buts about it. You finally get to see the repercussions of the fallout between Ernest and his family as you see how the children are dressed like their parents. 

Of course, we do get time to observe Ernest and his relationship with his entire family from his mother, father, and sister, and the film itself. Even though it’s only 79 minutes long, the film is able to breathe and let our two leads take in the world, the conversations, and some of the stellar comedy that was in the previous film. It might be as zany as the previous film, but it is still as Buster Keaton-driven as the first film with some truly fantastic physical comedy. It leads to a lot of tender moments that sit with you, even though there are just as many funny moments.

Speaking of comedy and animation, the visual presentation of this sequel is just as good as the last film. It still has that lovely watercolor look, and while it has more grounded expressions and movements outside its chase sequences, not much else has changed from the film’s previous amazing flair. It might not have as many trippy sequences, but the third act has a wild chase sequence that shows you why animation is a wonderful medium to tell a story. Even though the rules and world of Gibberitia are a touch ridiculous, the city itself feels lived-in, and has a ton of small details that are a lot of fun to notice when you see our leads travel across the city. Even the way you enter the town is so creative and offers a more mysterious and wondrous tone to the city due to how Ernest was building up the place in the first third of the film. It even has a more bright color palette due to being outside and or in spring whereas the previous film was more drab and dour, due to the tone and cold feel of the town. I only saw the French dub of the film, but the returning voices of Ernest and Celestine, Lambert Wilson and Pauline Brunner do a great job with their roles and still bring so much warmth with the two, especially now that they are way more comfortable chatting and joking with one another since they are the best of friends. 

While it would be tough to top the acclaim and impact left by the first film, A Trip to Gibberitia continues the fascinating journey of Ernest & Celestine by tackling the complicated theme of familial drama and finding the freedom to express yourself in a world that wants to limit those artistic voices. It’s a franchise that makes you feel good, and if you loved the previous film, then you will love this one. There is a reason why this film won the grand prize and the NYICFF, because it’s just an incredible journey through the world of animation. Now then, next time, we will be talking about a certain red and green-clothed duo of plumbers who just got their own movie with Illumination with The Super Mario Bros. Movie

Rating: Essential

The Other Side of Animation 296: Dounia and the Princess of Aleppo Review

(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 keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

As much as I love to tackle foreign animation due to how creative and beautiful it can all be, it’s a good reminder that not every animated feature from around the world is an Inu-Oh, a Children of the Sea, a Titina, a Triplets of Belleville, and you get the idea. It’s nigh impossible to keep the quality up for every film to be that standard. I am pretty sure this has been mentioned before, but theatrical feature animation has always been a gradient no matter where you go in the world. It isn’t just top-tier award-winning amazingness and bottom-of-the-barrel cheap kids’ stuff. No matter who the audience is, there are movies for everyone in the world of animation, and that means films like Dounia and the Princess of Aleppo are released. 

This is a Syrian/Canadian collaboration that’s directed by Marya Zarif and Andre Kadi. We follow the journey of a young girl named Dounia as she is forced to flee from Syria with her grandparents and others due to the war happening around them. As she traverses through multiple countries trying to find a place to call home, she will get the help of some magical seeds and her country’s history, making sure they all make it through the story safe and sound. 

Even with this film’s charming visuals and animation, it doesn’t hide or sugarcoat the facts of how awful the war is on anyone and everyone involved in the crossfire. People are getting killed and forced to leave their cities/towns to hopefully find a new life and to be with their loved ones. No matter where everyone is from, we are all people who inhabit this planet, and we shouldn’t be destroying it or people’s livelihoods through senseless violence and wars. It’s a very hopeful film that definitely does a solid enough job to balance out the darker tone of our character’s journey and life, but also finds moments of peace among them, despite what’s going on around them. It doesn’t go as far as something like The Breadwinner or The Swallows of Kabul, but it definitely isn’t as middling as Lamya’s Poem. There is a right and a wrong way to write stories like this one, and like so many hot button or complicated topics, it takes a skilled hand to carefully go through it all, because one flub will screw over the entire story. Sure, it might take some very fairytale-like approaches to get around the situations, but it feels like this film was made from the child’s perspective, so having more magical solutions to these situations make sense. It luckily keeps the charm and likability of the characters up enough to make it to the end credits, and that’s always something to look for when crafting compelling character arcs. 

The animation for Dounia is rather lovely. You can compare it to other films like Lanya’s Poem and criticize how it uses what is assumedly a motion-tween-based world with its characters, but many shows use this type of animation and can pull it off well. As usual, it’s all about time, talent, and money, and the animation here has a pleasantly fun story-book charm to its presentation. The fact that the characters look like stylized caricatures from magazines and have outlines on the bodies that make them look like paper cut-outs gives the animation that might look flat a lot of charm and appeal. The fact Dounia’s hair looks like everlasting starlight and space is an amazing touch. The lighting and shadows help give the 2D animation life, and at the end of the day, a lot of what makes animation good is appeal. These are attractive designs, and the world crafted is nice to look at despite having an entirely different visual feel than other animated films playing at festivals like NYCIFF, Annecy, or Animation is Film. The fact they took the time to also do different camera angles also helps make shots feel more dynamic. The musical sequences are also charming and add some soft beautiful moments in between the darker moments in the films. 

Honestly? I found Dounia to be a charming little experience. It might not last in my or anyone’s top 10 by the time the end of the year comes up, but there have been a lot of smaller animated films coming out that I have been truly charmed by, and that’s healthier than most years where smaller releases that aren’t good are given to everyone upfront and then the good stuff is released during the spring and summer releases before retreating back to the award season release timeline. Unfortunately, there is no word on an official US release, but since there is a US dub trailer, hopefully, that means it will be given one soon. Definitely give it a watch if you want something different from your usual animation enjoyment that shines. Next time though, we will be talking about one of my favorite films from NYCIFF with the decade-long follow-up to 2012/2013’s Ernest & Celestine with Ernest & Celestine: A Trip to Gibberitia

Rating: Go See It!


(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 keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this editorial!)

There was a time when a lot of animated projects were greenlit or crafted because of reasons that are either tying-in with a recently released film, have some major celebrity attached to it, or selling some brand-spanking new toy. While that still happens in some cases, like a ton of anime being based on video games, mobile games, or what have you, it has slowed down a bit elsewhere. We still get the occasional toy tie-in show like Transformers: Earthspark, but the “oh I’m a big celebrity and want to have my own cartoon” era seems to be done with. I mean, it’s hard to find a way to make a show work with the celebrity in question unless you go all out in a certain direction. For example, we have this editorial’s impressions on Agent Elvis, an adult action-comedy animated series now on Netflix. 

The show was created by the late Priscilla Presley and John Eddie, who were also executive producers on the show. It unleashes adventures of the rockabilly god himself going on spy missions on the side of being, well, Elvis. Obviously, by the trailers and the premise, this won’t be the most historically accurate plot of all time, but if you want something normal out of someone like Elvis, then you might expect to see something in the same vein as Baz Lurhman’s Elvis film from last year. Now how different the history is and what kind of twists and turns the tales take, well, you will have to see for yourself. 

For the most part, the reason to be excited to check out this series is to watch the lovely animation with designs by the amazing and always fantastic Robert Valley. Even for a TV budget, Titmouse, the studio that handled the animation, pulled off a very fun-looking show with some of the most stylish animations of the year so far. Also, it is always nice to see an action spy show in the sea of shows that tend to be more slice-of-life comedies until they start to branch out into their own things. Here, you better love the concept of Elvis being a secret agent because it is pretty much all of that. The cast is stacked with Matthew McConaughey as the rock icon himself, and he does a good job of portraying him. It’s nice to see a main character who is married and loves his wife and does not want to fully indulge in trope-filled spy stuff. I mean, granted, there is a lot of spy stuff and tropes, but it doesn’t fully overshadow Elvis as a character. It flips a few of the tropes and still makes for a compelling story of why Elvis is doing this spy stuff during the second half of the season’s 10 episodes. The rest of the cast is also good, including Tom Kenny, Johnny Knoxville, Kaitlin Olsen, Niecy Nash, and Don Cheadle who plays a delightful dirtbag. However, the journey of watching this film has one major hurdle. 

I think the one real downside about this show is how a lot of this show’s entertainment value is coming from the absurd action and Robert Valley’s amazing designs and visuals. Those are the best parts of the show on top of the incredible voice cast. Why is that? Personally, the biggest hurdle and issue this show has as far as this batch of episodes goes is how it has amazing visuals, but its comedy writing is a very traditional feeling in the adult animation feel. It’s crass, shocking, violent, horny, and extremely quippy in the vein of shows like Archer. It has its moments where it all gels well and can be a truly bombastic ride of watching Elvis save the day, but a lot of it is your typical crass adult animation writing. I get this is meant to be an over-the-top experience, like being akin to the other absurd horror-comedy Bubba Ho-Tep, but it feels as though they are trying very hard with its dialogue at times. McConaughey, Kaitlin Olsen, Johnny Knoxville, Niecy Nash, Tom Kenny, and Don Cheadle can only carry so much of this show on their shoulders, and the show needed to either polish up its dialogue or tone down the massive number of quips that it throws at the audience. It’s not as obnoxious as it sounds in this paragraph, but there were definitely times when it felt like the tone clashed with certain story beats because it’s trying to be edgy and above it all. It works better when the entire show is on all cylinders, when it’s focusing on the fun camp and grindhouse premise with some focus on the overarching themes of Elvis and his history. It’s a shame, because so much of the typical crass adult animation comedy stuff takes up a lot of time, when it’s the stuff outside of the crass bits that makes it a fun time! 

Agent Elvis is a rather rocky rockabilly time that is fun to watch, but if you are tired of the typical adult animated comedy elements, then you might not enjoy this one. If you are looking for something other than Archer with a similar premise and style of execution though, then you will probably want to check this show out! It’s now available on Netflix, and while it has its rough edges, I hope people support it due to how terrible Netflix’s renewal system works on what gets renewed or canceled. IT Doesn’t help that the algorithm is the worst thing ever, forcing users of Netflix to curate their own playlists and so on. If you are wanting a rocking and a rolling good time, then get inside your bright pink Cadillac and have yourself an explosive good time.

The Other Side of Animation 295: Titina Review

(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 keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

With Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio sweeping the award circuit as well as everyone’s heart, he has made it more vocal than ever that animation is film. There is not just one certain type of way of telling a story for a particular group of people in the movie-going world, and it shouldn’t have taken just one well-known director to make people realize this, when it has been a known fact that animation can be made for and loved by everyone. You can tell a multitude of stories with the medium, and it deserves as much respect as anything that comes out during award season. Even though it has been shown that most of the best films come out all throughout the year and not just the last three months, the film industry tends to only give respect to those films that are released during the award season. Heck, a lot of the ones that come out during this time period are terrible. Instead of giving focus to more mediocre biopics that all look the same, people should find time and give support to films like what was my favorite film during Animation is Film, Titina

This wonderful film is directed by Kaja Næss and is co-written by Kaja and Per Schreiner. The story follows the perspective of a world-spanning adventure through the eyes of a little dog named Titina, a stray that lives in Italy and is adopted by an aviator and airship designer named Umberto Nobile, voiced by Jan Gunnar Roise. Umberto gets a call from famed Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, voiced by Kare Conradi to craft a blimp to venture to the north pole. This, of course, is taking place during the 1920s during the early rise of Mussolini, and the two men are intertwined with this grand journey that we see all through the perspective of man’s best friend. 

This movie is so good at how it tells its story about our aviator and explorer with how they contrast with their goals of this journey to the North Pole. Both are doing it for their own countries, but Roald is doing it for personal pride. He thinks he is the only one that matters while Umberto sees it as a collaborative effort. Much of this movie is watching through visual storytelling and dialogue how the two treat the exploration, and it constantly goes back and forth with how the pair’s pride takes control of their ambitions. Each of our leads are flawed and not entirely likable individuals, but they feel more human than most live-action films due to how their strengths and faults really are brought up in the story. 

The decisions and actions they make or take feel reasonable and not out of left field. Granted, they had to go by history while crafting the story due to this being mostly based on true events, but the way the story is told through amazing 2D animation and footage from the actual adventure shows a compelling character study. It reminds me a lot of one of my favorite films from 2019, Bunuel and the Labyrinth of the Turtles due to how both films follow an individual/individuals who are on a journey of self-realization and reflection, ending up being driven more by pride and stubbornness that lead to the consequences for their actions. Just because it’s an animated film doesn’t mean this film doesn’t go into some really dark and depressing places. It has its surreal animated moments, with both funny and heartwarming moments, but the entire journey mixes all of those into a rollercoaster of emotions that gives you a bit of everything. No joke feels out of place, every emotional beat is earned, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome like most biopics. It’s also extremely critical of nationalistic pride, which is always a good thing. 

The animation is gorgeous. It uses a distinct and fun caricature style for its humans with soft colors that creatively use lighting and shadows to craft some of the best visuals seen in 2020’s feature animation. It reminds me a lot of foreign/indie comics with how it might all look flat in terms of textures to the world and everything in it, but it results in some truly beautiful visuals and some of the best cinematography in animation from 2022. The fact the film takes time to slow down and have quiet moments or moments of just pure beauty or trippy visuals shows that the director and the team knew what they were doing. That it’s able to capture the scale and the power of nature is a major win in my book. You can just feel the size of the blimp as it arrives on its first stop or how cold Alaska feels is nothing short of a miracle, revealing an art team that understood the assignment. The voice cast is stellar with some fantastic performances. An amusing point is that this is one of two films that makes fun of and punches down on Mussolini. It didn’t happen a lot during 2022, but the fact it happened more than once was a fun coincidence. The film also has a very Venust soundtrack. Not only does it have a fantastic cover of the titular song, but its infusion of jazz gives it a special flair that can’t be matched by other films. Thank you Kare Vestrheim for a hugely memorable soundtrack. 

Titina is a brilliant globe-trotting wonder of animation. It’s a human journey of what can happen when one’s pride gets in the way of an experience that was meant to be a positive one for the world in which they live. Of course, we see all of this through the eyes of one of the cutest animals in history, Titina and how what can get us through turbulent times is love, compassion, and connection. Unfortunately, this is one of those films where it doesn’t have a distributor as of writing this review, and that is a huge disappointment, because this is one of the best-animated films of the decade so far, and people need to see it as soon as possible, and that can only happen when or if companies like GKIDS or Shout! Factory can bring it over. There are so many amazing animated films in the world, and it’s a shame that some people won’t be able to watch them because of a lack of distribution/interest. Hopefully, this one can get picked up, because it truly is amazing. Now then, next time, we shall talk about another NYCIFF entry with Dounia and The Princess of Aleppo

Rating: Essentials

The Other Side of Animation 294: Little Nicholas: Happy as Can Be Review

(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 keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Nostalgia is a hot commodity right now in the world of media and art. People love to remember the films and shows that they watched back in the day when they were kids. Being able to relive the memories from back then has its charm, but there is a downside to it all. You know once something is popular, you see companies and studios want to capitalize on it. We get re-releases of games, shows, legacy sequels to said shows and films, and after a bit, it loses its appeal. Remember for a few years in the late 2000s and early 2010s when retro gaming was popular? Sure it’s still around, but when that fad died, it died hard. Nostalgia has now become sort of a, well, toxic might not be the correct word, but it has had more of a negative lens when you see something that is from the past brought back up again. Not because there is a new direction to take said IP, but because it’s a safe bet that makes money. It sucks, because there are a few IP-driven films that just so happen to have the right creatives and teams to tackle it in a way that doesn’t make you feel like you are being sold an advertisement. It happens, and it’s sad we can’t always have this happen. Because if we did, we could get something like Little Nicholas: Happy as Can Be. 

This film is directed by Amandine Fredon and Benjamin Massoubre. It’s written by Anne Goscinny, Michel Fessler, Benjamin Massoubre, Rene Goscinny, and Jean-Jacques Sempe. Obviously, it’s based on the comic by Rene Goscinny and Jean-Jacques Sempe. The story follows the two creators meeting up one day for a relaxing lunch and figuring out what to do next for their work together. They end up crafting a story about a little boy and his life with his family, classmates, and everything that you would think revolves around the life of a little boy. And that boy’s name? Nicholas. The story then unravels into a mixture of both Nicholas stories being told by the two, and the two creators recollecting about their own childhood. 

What’s truly and absolutely refreshing about this film is how it’s a biopic, but it isn’t a traditional biopic that you see around award season. This isn’t watching the two creators of the comic start from the very bottom to the top. It has the story beats of the two finding a comic/character to work off of, the personal drama, but you never see it as a typically produced film of this type. Normally we have their humble or rough beginnings, their rise to popularity, their downward spiral, and either a happy ending, a sad ending, or a sort of happy ending that’s only happy due to how the filmmakers crafted it when it really isn’t that happy. What we have here is a film that isn’t really interested in telling a condensed story of their lives. It’s nice, since we have seen so many of these films pop up during award season, and they aren’t all that great or interesting. It’s like watching anime recap films when we already saw the story told as a TV series. 

With this film, the main goal was to tell a story about the two creators, Rene and Jean-Jacques, and the two of them recollecting their own childhoods while weaving actual stories from the Little Nicholas comics, and how they connect to how the characters were feeling at the time. It actually lets the creators be actual people, and while this is a mostly positive and happy-vibed film, it doesn’t shy away from sharing the backgrounds of both creators, and they are handled with tact and respect. Just because there are some dark elements, it doesn’t mean the film needs to go all in on the visuals and make for a stressful watch. You can also see the connection between the stories that Little Nicholas has as means of expressing what childhood was like in their mind or what they wanted or wished their childhood would be. It’s a very down-to-earth film with how the story unfolds and how the comic-based stories are revealed. It results in some truly wonderful moments, hilarious comedic sequences, and heartwarming and heartbreaking moments in the comics and real-life parts. What works about the comic and real-life parts and when they mix together is how the children act like real honest-to-goodness children. They can be chaotic, loud, excitable, nervous, petty, energetic, selfish, obnoxious, unreliable, and happy. The way the creators talk to Nicholas is fascinating to see them open up about their own happiness, memories, and struggles, and see how Nicholas responds to them. It’s a film that not only respects the source material, but also respects the creators and shows how human everyone is. 

The animation is a delightful combination of joy and whimsy. It reminds me of the flashback sequences of Only Yesterday mixed with the visual flair of Ernest & Celestine. The soft watercolor tones and the line work feel like they were filled in after the colors were put in place. There is a faint fog of memory when it comes to the comic sequences and the memories from the two men. If you love the animation from Ernest & Celestine or Benjamin Renner’s The Big Bad Fox & Other Tales, then you will love what they did with this film. Even the two different designs of the humans and the comic characters never feel out of place. The fact you see Nicholas with the two men together and they don’t have contrasting designs really makes the world this film draws/paints feel alive and lived in. Sure, the comic world is more cartoonish, but it’s not like the “real” world doesn’t have its own cartoony moments. That’s the beauty of animation. You can do all of this without it being distracting. The music is gorgeous and is composed by Ludovic Bource who also did the music for films like The Artist. It brings an old-school Hollywood tone to the overarching composition and it helps that the main theme of the film is inspired by and uses a song from Ray Ventura and The Collegians called Qu’est-ce qu’on Attend. The voice cast also does a stellar job with the two men being voiced by Alain Chabat, Laurent Lafitte, and the iconic Nicholas being voiced by Simon Faliu. 

Little Nicholas: Happy as Can Be is, simply put, a wondrous ball of delight. It captures the feelings of childhood, memories, friendships, and kindness, and wraps it all up with a bow made of incredible 2D animation. This film set out to find its own way to obtain happiness and it did so with flying colors with it being a faithful adaptation of the comics, but also of the legacy of the two men who brought this iconic series to life. Unfortunately, there is no real way to watch this film unless you saw it during its big festival run, and without knowing when it will hit VOD or even get a physical release, it’s tough to know when and where to watch it, which sucks! This is one of the best films from 2022 that knew how to handle and approach nostalgia better than a few of the big award hopefuls that we will see duke it out at the Oscars. Well, either way, whoever gives it a proper physical release or a digital release should make sure everyone sees it because it’s just that darn good. Now then, next time, we will talk about yet another festival film that won me over last year, and I am hoping it gets a proper US release with Titina

Rating: Essential

The Other Side of Animation 293: Blue Thermal Review

(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 keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

There is something so universal about the thought of flight. Lots of animated films from the likes of DreamWorks, Disney, Pixar, and of course, Studio Ghibli have made use of flight, flying, and soaring through the air to immerse you into the world in which the story is set. Some make you feel like you are flying through the air, feeling the wind and air pressure against you, and having that feeling that you can’t have unless you are flying in a vehicle. There is a reason why a lot of people’s choice of superpower is flight. Who wouldn’t want to fly like Superman or Porco Rosso through the air? Animation is really good at capturing this feeling, which is why it’s such a cool way to tell a story and not have to worry about the live-action stuff unless you are going to pull a Tom Cruise with Top Gun: Maverick. Now it’s time for us to get into the pilot’s seat and check out an animated feature known as Blue Thermal.

This film is co-written and directed by Masaki Tachibana, co-written by Natsuko Takahashi, and produced by Telecom Animation Film. It follows the story of Tamaki Tsuru, voiced by Mayu Hotta. She leaves her hometown to go to college in Tokyo. One day, as she is trying out in the tennis courts to join a club and start a brand new romantic adventure in college, she hits a tennis ball that accidentally causes some shenanigans and ends up with the mascot of another club falling onto the wing of a large glider that was being hauled out of the school. Feeling guilty, she joins the club to try and repay the damage done and ends up being enthralled with the captain, the other members of the club, and of course, finds a love for flight while in a glider. 

As much as I enjoyed this film, there are a few issues that we should get out of the way first. The biggest hurdles this film doesn’t quite get around are how it handles its drama and the cast of side characters. While probably more interesting and or fleshed out in the manga, the overall cast is fairly forgettable. Many of them get one single trait to define themselves, and they only help to fill out the roster and make the school and the gliding activity feel more lived in. Some major secondary characters get some mythos and story build-up with personalities, but a majority of the cast won’t leave an impression on the viewer. This film needed a stronger cast of characters because some of them end up with nothing to work with, which is a shame due to how animated everyone is. As for the drama itself, the pacing is what killed it for me since the film does focus a lot on the interpersonal chemistry between our cast of characters, and then drops some fairly blunt hints about why they are as they are, and then either don’t finish the overarching storyline or miss the landing with some beats. This happens many times in the third act, where the twists and turns start to feel mishandled by the way they ramp up the stakes if our lead character doesn’t get first place in the championship. It hurts the emotional punchline of the overarching journey our lead takes, and that’s a shame, but it would have helped if they had more focus on building up her connections with everyone. The issue is overall hurt by how the film is paced. Even if it’s under two hours at about an hour and forty minutes, it takes certain spots in the film to slow the rhythm down a little too much at times. 

I know this review came out of the gate hitting on the subjective criticisms about the film, but that’s how honesty and saying what you truly feel about a movie works. You don’t want to lie to your audience or give a rating that contradicts the entire review. Because the opinions might seem critical here, they don’t detract from all of the positives that this film provides. First off, they deliver a creative hook to frame the story of our lead finding what drives her. 

You can tell she’s headstrong in wanting to go to Tokyo to start her life and wanting this trope-riddled college school life, but as the saying goes, sometimes what you want isn’t always what you need. She got a college school life, but one that felt more satisfying and fulfilling with friends and a relationship that matters more than just finding the cutest guy or the most artificial friend group to fulfill that fantasy. Being in the air in a glider and feeling the forces of nature around her opened her eyes to what she truly wanted in life. Like a lot of films with flight, Blue Thermal does capture that feeling of being in the air. Seeing the land and lake around you from hundreds of feet in the air is truly something we take for granted and the film captures those moments rather lovingly. The animation is also well done with expressive characters and is able to capture the weight of the gliders and the human movements all the while using more anime-style facial expressions. While the camera work could have given us more interesting shots, there are some moments that would look mighty fine as a poster or desktop wallpaper. It could have gone a little further with capturing the magic and wonder of flight, as in having more creative visuals or more dynamic angles, or more dream-like or magical touches to said flight sequences, but for what they do execute with its mix of cinematography, storyboarding, and high-quality animation, it does a good job. I only got to see the subtitled version, but the Japanese cast does a great job with the characters. The cast includes Mayu Hotta, Nobunaga Shimazaki, Junya Enoki, Mikako Komatsu, and Haruka Shiraishi, to name a few of the individuals in the cast that pull off some good performances. Shōgo Kaida is the composer for the film’s soundtrack and is mostly known for composing music for 91 Days, The Betrayal Knows My Name, and S.A. The film has a solid low-key atmosphere and fanciful tone when the flying sections happen, and while the soundtrack isn’t as memorable as others, it is rewarding enough.

While it suffers from some issues with how it executes its conflict in the third act, and the cast itself might not be all that memorable, Blue Thermal is still a good movie. It has its heart in the right place, and considering that this year has been light in terms of animated fare, and the previous few anime franchise films that have been reviewed were underwhelming, Blue Thermal flies with grace among the films released so far this year. It comes out on Blu-ray on March 14th via Shout! Factory and Elevenarts. If you are looking for a low-key slice-of-life drama this March, then definitely give this film a watch. Well, next up is one of the best films from 2022 with Little Nicholas: Happy as Can Be

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 290: Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of Deep Night Review

(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 keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Well, here we are back again with the Sword Art Online Progressive films. Well, you would hope with sequels that they would improve, build upon, and make up for any faults or flaws that the original had, or find a creative way to continue the story from the original film. That sadly isn’t always the case, as we have found out, with the retreads that don’t do enough to be worthy of following up the first film. A lot of anime franchise films have that issue due to a multitude of reasons, and it’s a shame because some have moments of greatness, but then feel like they were made because the first one made money. Of course, when a film hits it big, studios want to capitalize on it with similar experiences or follow-ups, but when you don’t take the time to take in why the original film was a success, then all you will be doing is hurting the original. Not that the original is going anywhere, but it’s more metaphorically hurting the original. With Sword Art Online, the least you can do is be better than the main original series, and with the Progressive films seeing how successful the Evangelion Rebuild films were, you know that they want to follow in that vein, but appeal to fans of the original series while also catering to new ones. Hopefully, with all that synergy, they will go out and check out the first film or the original show, and buy the blu-rays, games, soundtracks, and what have you. So, where does this new film land after following up the last one? 

Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of Deep Night is directed by Ayako Kono, written by Yukito Kizawa, produced by A-1 Pictures, and distributed by Crunchyroll and Aniplex. We follow our gamer couple Kirito and Asuna as a month has passed since the first film’s story ended. We see them teaming up with another player named Argo, dubbed by Kimberly Ann Campbell. On top of trying to start and build up a thriving community among the players, they get caught up in a conflict caused by two guilds who want to take on the next raid floor to get a special item. With the future of the game’s world and players in the hands of what or who takes down the next boss, it is up to our two leads to stop a war from breaking out and also deal with a handful of players who get their kicks by killing other players. As a reminder, if you die in the game, you die in real life. 

Let’s get this out of the way first, this film does skip over Argo’s real introduction to the story after the last film teased their arrival from the last film. It’s underwhelming that for newcomers, it’s a bit jarring to see them interacting with this new character who has some ties with our male lead, who we haven’t been properly introduced to, and yet the film isn’t really interested in that. This is all about Asuna’s side of the story, but they set the story to a point that’s already set them up as friends with this individual. It’s like I missed an entire film or short that showed our characters meeting this new individual and how she just vanishes right after they beat the main threat of this film’s story, the boss on the 5th level. What’s frustrating is that the film creates some rather fascinating and interesting story beats that include the budding beginning of building a society of peace where all the players help one another and don’t try to kill one another. Obviously there are hiccups, and for some moments, the film does follow through with wanting those beats to be the focus of the story. It also introduces the element of how some MMOs have players who take joy in being player killers, but that doesn’t fully come back until the end as well. It’s pretty much the final conflict in the last 10 minutes of the film, and will be foreshadowing for future events. It’s a very lopsided story that doesn’t feel satisfying to be a part of, and the fact the film repeats not only moments from the original story but also the last film, it makes for a real downer of a journey into this popular franchise’s world. 

Now, they do have some good story beats. It’s not all just squandered and missed opportunities. For once, while still having to pop up as the secondary lead, Kirito is not the focus of the story as it puts Asuna more in the spotlight. Her moments when she reunites with her ex best friend and her bonding time with Argo are the best parts of the movie. It really does show how much better this franchise would have been if she was the lead and not the template for boring male protagonists for franchises to come. Once again, A-1 Pictures put in the budget for the action sequences, and while I was not really on the same level as the story wanted me to be, the action sequences are well executed, thrilling, and show off some fun spectacle. The animation overall is still pretty good in general, even if it just looks like a more polished version of the original show. They do combine the CGI elements well with the 2D assets and they feel cohesive. That is very hard to pull off unless you have a team that knows exactly what they are doing with the compositing, and making the overall visuals look good on the same screen. The voice cast is as good as expected with Bryce Papenbrook and Cherami leigh reprising their roles of the iconic duo from the franchise. We also get Derek Stephen Prince, Patrick Seitz, Arnairis Quinones, Howard Wang, Amanda lee, Bill Butts, AJ Beckles, Xander Mobus, Alejandro Saab, Yong Yea, Griffin Puatu, and as already mentioned Kimberly Ann Campbell. The music is once again great as it brings this fun celtic Dot Hack vibe to the overall world and it’s all thanks to Yuki Kajiura who also composed music for Fena Pirate princess, The Case Study of Vanitas, Erased to name a few shows they worked on. 

With this new sequel repeating similar story beats from the last film, still continuing to readapt certain tiring story beats and aspects from the anime, skipping entire story beats just to get to a certain point, and truly falling flat in terms of overall satisfying storytelling with the obvious catch that there will be a new one coming out soon, Scherzo of Deep Night falls flat as a follow-up. It makes you wonder why they couldn’t have just rebuilt everything from the ground up instead of just retreading tracks, but with a slightly different paint job. It shows the faults of readapting a first season’s storyline that wasn’t all that great or lacks great storytelling when you are willing to skip over more possibly interesting story beats. Like, yeah, fans of this franchise will love this film, but most fans aren’t thinking critically about the shows/films they are partaking in. They just want to see more media from their favorite franchises, and that’s fine, but after a bit it gets tiring to just see something made for a fanbase that isn’t looking for something better. Maybe they are, and maybe they will agree with this review and others calling out this franchise’s faulty storytelling, but at one point, they should be taking this opportunity of being able to retell the storyline that will sooner or later hit some rather problematic points and just give it something new. I mean, the only reason this film series is getting made is because of the popularity and financial success Evangelion had with the Rebuild Films. If you love the franchise and just want to see more of the same, then so be it. Go check this film out if you want to, and I hope you have a good time! Otherwise, hopefully Crunchyroll or GKIDS will bring over that First Slam Dunk or Blue Giant film or some other interesting Japanese-animated fare that we all should be watching. Now then, next time, we will be tackling something. Not entirely sure what will be written first, but we will be talking about animation once more. 

Rating: Lackluster