The Other Side of Animation 187: Once Upon a Forest 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!)

Since the process of hand-drawn animation and animation, in general, takes time to create, sometimes, you will see a bunch of projects get greenlit when some film in the theatrical scene makes it big. The other studios see that, and want to capitalize on it or a popular trend. Sometimes, you just get four movies in a short period that happen to be around Bigfoot. Sometimes, you get a bunch of films about different takes on superheroes. In the 70s, you had so many sexually-driven animated adult films. Too many to be exact, but that’s beside the point. Heck, remember how many films have come out then and now since Despicable Me that want to make that Minions money? During the 90s, there were quite a lot of films coming out that were about protecting the trees and our forests. Many studios play the short-term, and it doesn’t always work out when you chase a trend. For some reason, 20th Century Fox, decades before getting bought out by Disney, had two animated films based on environmentalism with Ferngully: The Last Rainforest and today’s review of Once Upon a Forest

Directed by Charles Grosvenor, executively produced by William Hanna (and yes, Hanna-Barbera’s William Hanna), produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions and ITV Cymru Wales, Once Upon a Forest was released in 1993 and was unfortunately for everyone involved, a box office bomb, only making $6.6 million on a $13 million budget. Now, I haven’t seen this film in ages. It’s one of those animated films I sort of saw when I was little, but forgot everything about it. Maybe that’s for the best, but sometimes, you don’t remember much when you are a kid. It’s now time to see 27 years later how this film holds up in a fairly non-competitive year in animation as 1993. 

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Our story revolves around a group of humanoid animal children called furlings. I don’t know why they are called that, but that’s not the point. These include a mouse named Abigail, voiced by Ellen Blain, a mole named Edgar, voiced by Benji Gregory, Russell, a hedgehog voiced by Paige Gosney, and a young badger named Michelle, voiced by a super young Elisabeth Moss. They go to class one day to learn from an old badger named Cornelius, voiced by Michael Crawford. After going about a rambunctious lesson during the day, the kids learn about gravity, plants, and the evilest creature of all, man! After the lesson, a truck carrying poisonous gas crashes off the road, and the gas leaks into the forest. Everyone tries to get back to their families, only to find that everyone is gone. Michelle tries to go find her parents, but ends up getting ill from the gas. Cornelius offers a solution for Abigail, Edgar, and Russell to find some plants to make an antidote for Michelle. Along their journey, they encounter a monstrous owl, a group of gospel birds with their leader voiced by Ben Vereen, and a group of animals that fight over food. Can our three heroes get what they need and save Michelle’s life along with their forest? 

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So, what do I like about this movie? Well, while I wouldn’t say it’s one of the best films from 1993’s animation scene, I do like parts of the story. The film has some pretty decent atmospheric moments with some very lovely lush background art. The film also doesn’t try to undo any of the deaths that do appear in the film. Normally, other films would try to make a nice little ending where everything is, well, happy. The film has a happy ending, but it does accept the fact that things did happen, and it won’t all 100% be the same, but it still has a fairly optimistic look at it all. Even the forest that was damaged by the gas doesn’t suddenly return to normal. You don’t see children’s films with that kind of consequence set in stone. Even animated films today don’t always commit to certain decisions made in the story. It was gutsier than what a company like Warner Bros was doing at the time. The film also has a pretty decent list of themes, like friendship, teamwork, overcoming your fears, and the not-subtle environmentalism commentary. However, I do like how they frame the poison gas as a man-made accident. Sure, in real life and today’s climate, it would have the humans as 100% the villains, but the humans here aren’t portrayed that way. They are portrayed as somewhat antagonistic and uncaring of their environment, but the humans at the end of the film were not, and that’s what I admire about it. It has a bit of a Ghibli sense of there being no real “villain”. Maybe this is giving the film too much credit, but considering this was 1993 and this was the year we got stuff like the Tom and Jerry the Movie and the butchered cut of The Thief and the Cobbler, I’ll take any film that adds a bit more nuance to the story than nothing at all. Sure, this was also the same year the US got My Neighbor Totoro, which is a better film, but still.

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Animation-wise, for a film that cost $13 million to make, and where some of it probably went to Michael Crawford, it looks decent. Now, yes, you can tell where some animated objects like the miniature flying contraption do not blend well with the background, but it’s pretty decent animation. Everyone moves well, the designs are harmless to look at, and it reminds me of someone who was trying to capture that Don Bluth-style with how the characters move and look. It easily could be a film set in The Secret of Nimh universe. There isn’t much to say about the voice cast. It’s one of those animated films that heavily relies on the fact that it got Michael Crawford as Cornelius, but the acting overall is pretty good. Michael Crawford is probably the best one of the bunch, and yes, you can criticize his voice work for being a bit too whimsical, and his song sequence being hit-or-miss depending on how you like his singing voice, but I felt like he put a lot of heart into the role. Sure, his character vanishes for a huge majority of the movie, but when he does show up, he is the best part of the film. The child actors also do a decent job, and the cast of child actors is honestly interesting since there is a young Elizabeth Moss in one of her first film roles. I also liked Ben Vereen as the religious bird Phineas, and the other voice cast members they hired are good as well, with Charlie Adler, Paul Eiding, Susan Silo, Janet Waldo, and an uncredited Frank Welker as the barn owl they encounter. 

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So, what don’t I like about the film? It sounds like it’s rough around the edges, but a respectable title. A lot of what I talked about with the pros of the film comes from the third act. I found the pacing to be a touch slow as it takes a bit before the plot is moved forward by the poison gas situation, and much of the first act is spent with the three kids and Cornelius. After that, it plays out more like a road trip movie with events that come and go without much connection, and the side characters they encounter not being mentioned again. Some of them even happen too fast and end so quickly, that you wonder what the point was. It’s also a touch safe in terms of its themes and how it handles its story. It’s easily digestible for kids, which to be fair, is the target audience for this film, but it’s also a little too adult in spots for kids. It’s a weird uneven mix, and I think it should have either leaned more one way to slightly older kids, but in a PG (a serious PG) way or just go sugar sweet. Finding that balance is tough and it doesn’t always work. The characters are also not the most interesting. The three kids are all basic kid characters, and the most interesting of the characters, the one played by Michael Crawford, is not the focus. 

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Even with my criticisms aimed at this film, I can’t find myself hating it. Sure, it’s not the best animated film of 1993, the same year we got The Nightmare Before Christmas, but Once Upon a Forest is not the worst. I can see why people who grew up with this film enjoy it, but I also can see why it was maybe forgotten by many, despite having a lot of interesting facts surrounding it. For some reason, since 20th Century owns the rights to this film, it’s not available on Disney Plus, but that may also be due to Hanna-Barbera being the rights holders as well, but who knows. If you want to check it out, it’s pretty cheap on DVD. Now then, next time, we are going to look at another screener. That’s right, your possibly favorite animation reviewer has obtained another one! I’ll make sure you all get a clue about what I’m reviewing in my next review. 

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

Rating: Rent it!

Worst to Best Animated Films of 2019 Part 3

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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!)

Welcome back! Now, it’s time to get into the films that I enjoyed! This is the long part as we count down from 27 to 11! If you have yet to see the first two parts, make sure to use the tags in this editorial to get to Part 1 and Part 2. Now then, let’s keep counting down!

27. Son of the White Mare

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While this is a film from a few decades ago, it was never fully or officially released in the states until last year and will be coming out on Blu-ray this year. That’s a bloody shame, because this movie is awesome. The visuals are striking; the storytelling is straight-forward, but really, you watch this movie to see the amazing visual experience that it offers. Otherwise, it’s a simple fairy-tale-style story that relies way more on its abstract visuals to comment on certain topics. However, sometimes, you want to sit back and take in a film that offers outstanding visuals and enjoy the ride! I can’t wait until more people see Son of the White Mare.

26. This Magnificent Cake

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I honestly contemplated whether I would include this film on the list. Not because it doesn’t count as one, but I just find it odd that a 45-minute or as it’s called, a mid-length feature, is a film. Still, outside of that personal opinion, this is a very poignant and very dark piece about colonialism in the Congo. It obviously could have used a longer running time for everything to be a bit more impactful, and the ending fizzles out into abstract weirdness that is symbolic and meaningful, but it’s still one of the most unique experiences you can find in animation. I can understand why Barry Jenkins loved this film.

25. Abominable 

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It’s always a gamble nowadays on whether a DreamWorks release will be good or not, and that’s a shame because when they release something like Abominable, it shows why people still support them. Sure, it might not have the strongest characters or the beefiest story, but Jill Culton and her team were able to still bring a solid story with some gorgeous visuals to life with a way more interesting villain and tone that you don’t see a whole lot from the studio. I still have my issues with this studio, but Abominable shows that they still have a better sense of talent and storytelling than most animation studios.

24. Teen Titans Go! vs Teen Titans

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While I’m not a huge hater on the current iteration of the teen superhero team, I’m starting to get a little tired of it all now. It’s still a delightfully funny experience, the action is decent, and they were able to make the chemistry between the two different versions of the characters work. It’s always funny to see the same voice actor play two different versions of the same character. This iteration of the franchise might be losing its steam now, but if you enjoyed 2018’s Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, then you will find a lot to enjoy in this one.

23. Aya of Yop City 

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Produced by the director of 2013’s The Rabbi’s Cat, and directed by the creator of the comic series it’s based on, Aya of Yop City is easily one of the hidden gems of foreign animation. Not only is it one of the few animated films I have encountered that star an all African cast of characters, but isn’t about any of the major turmoils that are set in that country in a manipulative way. It’s more of a slice-of-life story, as Aya and her family and friends go through the challenges of relationships, love, jobs, and life. It can be surprisingly funny, endearing, and has a great visual look. It’s a shame that it wasn’t released until this year. Sadly, the story flounders in the end, and Aya herself is not the most interesting character, but people should still really check out this film. Just be ready to experience a film that doesn’t have a traditional story.

22. Wonder Woman: Bloodlines

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It’s rather sad that we finally got a second animated feature after 10 years, but the wait was worth it. The drama between Wonder Woman and one of the villains was compelling, the action was stellar, and it was nice to see a superhero film with a mostly female-lead cast. It’s also a bummer that there are a few moments where you can tell a guy directed the film, and the final act falls into generic action fare, but for a direct-to-video DC animated film, I enjoyed this one!

21. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

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It might be the weakest of the three DreamWorks Dragon films, and it 100% shows that DreamWorks doesn’t know how to handle its side characters, but it’s still a pretty stellar finale with downright stupidly good-looking animation, fantastic scenes with Hiccup and Toothless, and it shows how to somewhat properly cap off an incredible franchise.

20. I Lost My Body

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This shouldn’t be a big shock. Yes, I was not as huge of a fan as everyone else in the world with this multi-festival winning film. I didn’t think the film balanced out both stories well, I found the humans to be the biggest issue with the film, and I felt like other films should have been nominated. With all that said, this is easily one of 2019’s most unique films. It’s ethereal and mesmerizing watching the sequences with the hand and how the story unfolds. It also has a unique visual style that no other film in 2019 can copy. While I do not have the same love and support of it, I still found the experience to be enthralling from beginning to end.

19. Batman versus TMNT

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It seems like that my love for the DC animated films that go direct-to-video always leans to the non-Action 52-style storyline going on right now. I adored the art direction, the action was thrilling, and due to the two properties getting combined into one movie, the story goes bonkers with some sequences. It’s 2019’s Batman Ninja, and I am all here for it.

18. Frozen II

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The first film was lightning in a bottle, and Frozen II was going to have to go through some hurdles to overcome the giant challenge of trying to be as good or better than the first film. To a degree, I do like Frozen II better. I like the songs better, I like the tone, I like the commentary, and the film still does show why Anna and Elsa are great. It’s also a film that feels like the last act got changed due to probably being too dark. I don’t know if I’ll ever know what exactly happened with the third act that rubbed me and others the wrong way, and how Sven got the short end of the stick in terms of plots, but despite the rough spots, I still enjoyed my time with Frozen II.

17. Spies in Disguise

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It’s rather refreshing to sit here and type out the fact that I absolutely loved a Blue Sky Studios film. Seriously, outside of The Peanuts Movie and to an extent Robots and FerdinandSpies in Disguise feels like Blue Sky’s most cohesive film. The animation, the lighting, the designs, the characters, and the themes it tackles with how it handles aggressive and defensive tactics in spy work is rather ambitious for a film from a studio that has a mixed reputation. It doesn’t do it perfectly, and certain casting choices are distracting/bad, but overall, I would absolutely watch Spies in Disguise again in the future.

16. Mai Mai Miracle

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Don’t worry, this is the last of the “we didn’t get this movie until now” films on the list. Honestly, it is shocking that it took until 2019 to get one of the more charming animated features from Japan. It’s very much a film in the same vein as My Neighbor Totoro or the director’s recent work, In This Corner of the World. The story is about two girls from different financial classes enjoying and exploring the countryside post-World-War II. It has the same kind of problem as with the other films listed, where it seems like they had to have some kind of conflict, but if you love films like My Neighbor Totoro, you will love Mai Mai Miracle.

15. Okko’s Inn

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Technically, I saw this film two years ago at Animation is Film, and I still stand by my opinion that it is easily one of 2019’s hidden gems to check out. It’s a delightfully low-key coming-of-age drama that despite having a more simplistic art style, was able to really invest you into Okko’s trials of losing her parents. It also has some set pieces that are a wonder to the eye to see unfold with the power of animation.

14. I Want to Eat Your Pancreas

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I perfectly get why people would absolutely be on the fence with this one. It’s another one of those teen dramas that has one of the teens with a deadly disease and, yeah, sometimes it milks it a bit too much, and the film is a touch too long, and the designs aren’t all that memorable. However, In terms of these types of films, it’s easily one of the best versions of it. The animation is great, the characters have actual chemistry, and I was able to be fully sucked into the drama and romance. Your reception to this film will vary, but one thing we can all agree on is that this film costs way too much to purchase, Aniplex! Lower the blu-ray’s price!

13. Penguin Highway

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For a first time directing gig, Penguin Highway is a smart and creative coming-of-age story about a boy going through puberty and wondering about the world around him. Granted, I don’t know if your journey through growing up included a random infestation of penguins, but still. It overstays its welcome a tiny bit, and I can understand people having an issue with the boy’s fixation on an older woman character, but other than that, I really enjoyed it. I can’t wait to check out Studio Colorido’s future projects.

12. The LEGO Movie 2

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It’s truly a shame WB decided to burn through too much of the LEGO IP and it’s understandable as to why this film underperformed. I think it deserved to do better because it’s still a fantastic film with a great theme of boy vs girl mentalities, toxic masculinity, and identity. It’s still lighting quick with its wit, highly enjoyable comedy, and the characters are still strong, and I would argue are better than the first film. It might not have that lightning in a bottle hype the first film got, but overall, this film deserved to have done better.

11. Toy Story 4

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While I disagree with its Oscar win for Best Animated Feature due to it being the safest bet of the films nominated, and it runs into the DreamWorks situation of not being able to do anything with its side characters that aren’t the new ones, Toy Story 4 is still a stellar film in probably the most consistently high-quality franchise in animation. It might be an epilogue for Woody’s story, and Buzz gets short-changed, but the story is still strong, the characters are likable, the jokes are funny, and it still has a lot of that Pixar love that people adore about the studio.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: Rent it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 175: Batman Hush 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 I was a writer, I would not want to be in charge of writing a mystery thriller. Not only that, but one that has to revolve around Batman and the DC universe. When I think about the process of writing a mystery thriller, you have to be a few steps ahead of the audience. You don’t want to be too complex for the viewers to not follow along, but you don’t want to be so predictable that everyone gets the twist before it happens. This sounds so stressful, and it’s even more nerve-wracking when you are then tasked with adapting a well-known Batman story and having to make it work in a film format. This is why we are talking about Batman: Hush.

Directed by Justin Copeland, and released back in July 2019, Batman: Hush is based on the famous comic of the same name, but upon release, the reviews were generally positive, but not as glowing as other animated films released under this series of DC properties. So, what do I, a casual comic book and Batman fan, think about it? Well, let’s look under the cape and find out.

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Our story follows Superman. Nah, I’m kidding. It follows Batman, voiced again by Jason O’Mara, as he’s doing his usual Batman business of taking care of crime in Gotham City and going through his social life as Bruce Wayne. During an evening party, he encounters Selina Kyle, voiced by Jennifer Morrison, and his friend Thomas Elliot, voiced by Maury Sterling. After getting a call that Bane, voiced by Adam Gifford, is holding a kid hostage, Batman then runs into Selina Kyle as Catwoman, who took the ransom money that was for Bane. While on this pursuit, Batman is almost killed by a new masked antagonist, and after recovering from a near-fatal fall, learns that the villains of Gotham are being threatened by this new villain named Hush, voiced by Geoffrey Arend. Supposedly, Hush has dirt on every single villain in Gotham, and that includes Batman himself. Can Batman find out who Hush is and stop his nefarious scheme?

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One of the elements about this film that stood out to me was how much time we see Batman as Bruce Wayne. Seriously, the film does take a lot of time from the mystery of who Hush is to have Bruce and Selina’s relationship be a focal point of the story. Normally, I worry when a superhero film decides to not be about the superhero elements, because then you have to work hard on the rest of the story to justify keeping the characters out of their hero suits. The chemistry between Bruce and Selina is fairly cute. I like seeing Bruce let loose of being this stone-cold stoic individual, and his sidekicks reacting to the situation at hand. Even Damian, who is consistently the worst part of this new iteration of DC films, has a few funny lines. Since I never read the original comic, I was judging how the story was told, and I was kept invested due to the script being stronger and the character dynamics being more amusing than previous films. There were even fun sequences where Batman and Catwoman travel to Metropolis and fight Superman, and an amusing sequence with the Joker. In terms of action, I mean, you have a film where Batman fights the big hitters of his rogue’s gallery, a new villain that was able to almost cripple the Batman, and a stellar Superman fight. It checks off my boxes for a superhero film to be entertaining. The fights are intense and mostly satisfying. You have to try hard and make fight sequences with Batman look bad.

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Animation-wise, while I try to keep my criticisms limited to the next segment of this review, Batman: Hush looks okay. I know that due to releasing so many of these films a year, the animation takes a hit, but if you like how Young Justice or the new Harley Quinn look, then you know what to expect with these films. When the action is going, the animation is great, but when it’s not, it’s simply doable. I still think I would rather have DC stop releasing so many of these films a year, if that meant they could put a bit more of the budget into the animation. At least Batman vs. TMNT and Teen Titans Go! vs. Teen Titans had visually distinct looks. The voice cast for Batman: Hush, while still the same as previous films, are elevated by the tighter script. Seriously, this is probably some of the best voice work done for these films in a long time.

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Sadly, while the first two-thirds of this film are clunky, but charming, the third act is what drags this film down for me. From what I have read and what people have told me, the twist on who Hush was in the comics was wildly different from the film, and they changed who he is in the film, and to me, the film didn’t properly execute the new twist. It felt very last minute on who Hush was, and the film’s mystery element wasn’t as compelling during the last act of the film. It didn’t even have those nice details you see on the second time around like Knives Out did. The film felt like it forgot that this new villain was wandering around and was able to blackmail other villains into helping him out. The non-hero stuff is great, but it makes me think Bruce forgot (even with the head injury he took) what was going on. It also made Hush way less interesting when you found out who he was. It didn’t kill the entire mood of the film, but it almost did for me.

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While better in many ways compared to the previous DC animated films, Batman: Hush still disappoints. I don’t know if I could fully recommend it if you were a fan of the comic, but if you need to own every one of these films, then go ahead and check it out. For now though, let’s move away from the grimy Gotham City streets to a magical realm as we jump into Netflix’s first animated feature purchase with Ni No Kuni.

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

 

Rating: Rent it.

The Other Side of Animation 173: I Lost My Body 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!)

We seem to have a peculiar relationship with films that go through the festival circuit. Unless you get to be a critic, and fly out to Sundance, Cannes, Annecy, and all of the big and small film festivals, audiences and most critics don’t get to see much from these festivals until they are released in theaters. Then, when more people can lay their eyeballs onto the film, the reaction tends to be different than the festival reactions. Is there a certain kind of air to festivals that changes your perspective on film? Should people trust quick impressions or reviews from said festivals? Either way, I find it interesting when a big festival winner makes it to wide release, and the reaction is different across the board than what the critics say during the festivals. This was my experience with I Lost My Body.

Directed by Jeremy Clapin with a screenplay by Guillaume Laurant, this French animated film was the big cheese of the festival circuit. It was winning left and right, showered with critical acclaim, and was the Grand Prize winner at the 3rd Animation is Film Festival. Now then, despite getting all the acclaim in the world, did it fall victim to the festival crowd, or does it deserve the huge amount of acclaim under its belt? Well, let’s see how attached I feel to this unique film.

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Our story follows a severed hand, as it ventures across an entire city to try and get back together with the body it was attached to. Well, that’s only half of the story. The other half is following a young man named Naofel, dubbed by Dev Patel, as we follow his life from childhood to being a young adult, and his relationship with a woman named Gabrielle, dubbed by Alia Shawkat.

So, where do I stand with this film? Outside of the glowing festival-time reviews, there are two different camps for this film. You are either on the side of loving both sides of the film. Or, you are on the side of loving the severed hand’s adventure, but not the human side of the story. Granted, you need both sides for the story to make sense, but I get it. On one hand (heh), you have a story about a young man who feels confined to a narrow-minded way of living, and feels like he can’t be free. It’s a film with a lot more of an emotional/philosophical logic behind the incidents in the story. It’s a film about connection and freedom. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t get why the hand segments are more loved than the human segments. There is something way more fascinating about watching this hand traverse its way around a city, and try to get back with the body it belongs to. The way the animators have the hand movement is so animalistic and real. It’s like a twisted fairy tale as you see the encounters this hand goes through from fending off rats to ending up in a baby’s crib. Due to the power of animation, there is something magical and entertaining to watching the hand sequences. You get so much emotion and life out of the hand when you compare those moments with the human.

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I’m not saying the human parts are bad, because there are some emotional moments in the film as well. Again, you can’t have just one part, because you need both sides of the film to make sense. If you wanted to make it just about the hand, then you would need to rework half of the story. Unfortunately, there are areas where the human love story has some questionable elements around it. Now, the film is aware of this, and it has a better conclusion than you would think. The film is aware that the male lead encountering the female lead and what happens between them can be considered a touch stalkerish, and it’s not like you can’t make an interesting romance with an iffy set up. The problem is that you have to make it so you forget about the ickier parts, and I don’t really forget that this guy does go around stalking this woman. I know this film is working on more magical/dream logic, but there still needs to be this consistency within the story and tone, and it’s not really there through a majority of the human side of the story. The ending was also underwhelming to me. To be fair, I get what the ending was doing, but it felt a little too open arthouse for me. I get it, but it’s not for me.

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Still, there is a lot to love about this film. The mix of 2D designs with CGI bodies is wonderful, and while the humans are obviously animated with more limitation to them than the dismembered hand, you can tell what the characters are feeling, and the designs are delightful to look at. I had a hard time wondering how they pulled off this look, because you don’t get to see a lot of CGI features that get to branch out, and not look like a third-rate Disney or Pixar film. I highly recommend finding the behind-the-scenes videos about how the director got the look of the film down. I can’t stress again how much I adore the hand sequences. There is a reason this film picked up a lot of traction just for this part of the story alone. The music by Dan Levy is also gorgeous, giving off an ethereal and atmospheric vibe to the overall experience

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Yeah, by the wording of this review, you can probably tell that I’m not fully on board with the immense amount of festival hype, and if I had to be honest, I’m really happy I saw White Snake instead of I Lost My Body at Animation is Film Festival. However, with all that said, I still did enjoy I Lost My Body. Even if I’m not fully on board with arthouse films, I’m glad they exist. I guess you can say I have a complicated relationship with them. I don’t think it fully accomplished its goal, but I also like having something this ambitious and creative around. It’s widely available on Netflix right now, so if you are looking for an animated film to wash out the taste of Arctic Dogs and Playmobil: The Movie, then I would highly recommend I Lost My Body. Speaking of Playmobil: The Movie, why don’t we look at that film next?

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

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 172: Finding Santa 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!)

Heads up!: I obtained this film through a screener given to me by Tricoast Entertainment for review purposes. I did not get any other kind of compensation other than this screener. Thank you, Tricoast Entertainment for reaching out to me to review this film!

So, for the first time in my writing career as an animation critic, I got a screener! For those that are not familiar with screeners, they are essentially ways for critics to watch upcoming releases of new films either physically or digitally. I was originally going to review something else, but when I received an email offering to tackle an animated film, I had to put Batman vs. TMNT and I Lost My Body on hold, and now, I’m tackling another Christmas film called Finding Santa.

Directed by Jacob Ley, this is a Swedish animated film that was released back in 2016 and was brought over to the states by Tricoast Entertainment. Did this Christmas feature deserve the cold shoulder? Or did it deserve a little love during this festive time of year?

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The story revolves around an orphan boy named Julius. Like I just said, he lives at an orphanage with other kids, and loves Christmas and especially Santa Claus. Sadly, some of the other orphans despise Julius, and decide to reveal that Santa isn’t real. It breaks his heart once he finds out that their caretaker pretended to be Santa, and he runs to a shed out in the woods where he keeps a small box of trinkets. As he arrives and opens the box, a blue light shines, and Julius is sucked into a magical realm where Santa is missing, and the evil Krampus has taken over his duties and wants to deliver coal to the children around the world. It is up to Julius, and his new friends to save Santa and Christmas.

So, what is good about this Christmas film? While not my favorite visual look, I do admire the direction the animation took. The way the characters move, look, and are painted, the entire film looks like a children’s book. It matches that visual tone easily, and I can tell they had a certain look they wanted to go with. It reminds me of Broken Age with that same children’s book look. I know some might scoff at the paper puppet human designs, but unlike some films that use Flash and motion-tween to make the characters move, they have a bit more animation to them, so they aren’t lifeless like those 2D wood or paper puppets. However, I will also admit that sometimes the designs do become unintentionally creepy. To me, it’s the teeth that make the characters look unnatural.

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In terms of what I liked about the story, while I have my issues with it due to the dialogue, I can tell they tried to do something different here. I see a team trying to make a more whimsical and fantastical fairytale-like Christmas story. There is also a bit more at stake with Julius who wants to find out where he is from. As an orphan, I bet there is a lot of that kind of wondering due to the situation they are put in by being at an orphanage. It might not fully work out, but I get the sense there was more depth to the story than you would think.

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Sadly, even for 80 minutes, I found Finding Santa to be a slog to get through, and I can name the main reason why, with the two villain children. There is a difference between making children mean for the sake of the story, and then there is making them so mean, that even if there is development and they take a chill pill, they are too mean for their own good. I know it can be a joke that children can be unintentionally or intentionally monsters, but the two antagonists push it too far, and the film grinds to a halt each time they show up. The film has a mean streak at a lot of points, and they don’t feel naturally planted within the story. Also, I feel this film is at different sides of the tone it wants to reach. Finding Santa was obviously made for younger audience members, but it also has some slightly darker and more mature moments that don’t gel well. It doesn’t earn the darker moments, and the dialogue and characters don’t mix well. The English dub is not the greatest. I found the English dub to be grating, and that doesn’t help things when Krampus is so high-pitched and whiny sounding.

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As a whole, I admire the ambition and effort put into Finding Santa, because unlike a lot of foreign made-quick animated fare that gets quietly brought over to the states, you can tell the director and his team had an idea in mind. Unfortunately, I found elements of the film to clash with other elements, and the overall experience to be lacking. Still, at least I found stuff to admire and/or enjoy about this than say, Wonder Park or UglyDolls. If you are curious about this film and want to see it for yourself, it is on DVD, and it will be readily available on most digital on-demand platforms like VUDU, Itunes, Google Play, AT&T, DirectTV, Hoopla, Sling/Dish, and Amazon December 3rd. I think I would want to check out Klaus and Arthur Christmas more, but I’m glad I found out about films like Finding Santa. I’m always down for Christmas films for kids and families that put in the elbow grease to do something that isn’t a typical Christmas film. Now then, let’s talk about the newest Netflix animated feature that they purchased, I Lost My Body.

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

Rating: Rent it

The Other Side of Animation 171: Klaus 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!)

When it comes to films centered around the holidays, I’m very picky about which ones I want to watch. I’m especially picky when it comes to Christmas movies. I don’t hate them, because my family has a slew of Christmas classics we love to watch, but much of the time, most films based around a holiday like Christmas aren’t great. So many are either try-hard, cornier than a monster made of corn, or unintentionally mean-spirited. It doesn’t help either that most Christmas-related fare gets shoved into romance films that Hallmark makes all of the time. Like making any movie, all you need to do is focus on writing and story, and you should be good! That’s why when I find a Christmas movie I adore, I support it with all of my strength, which is why I’m tackling Netflix’s Klaus!

Directed by Sergio Pablo, and animated by SPA Studios, it was picked up and distributed by Netflix, and released November 8th in the US to pretty positive reviews, and will be getting an Oscar push for this year’s award season. It’s also the first original animated-feature for the streaming service. I was personally excited about the film, and I only got more excited when I saw the behind-the-scenes event at Animation is Film. So, what do I think about this festive new film? Well, let’s get to that part of the review!

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Our story focuses on a young man named Jesper, voiced by Jason Schwartzman, an individual who has no real drive in life who would rather lay around and be lazy since his father is wealthy. After trying to get kicked out of the postal academy his father enrolled him in, his father has a different idea. Instead of falling for Jesper’s shenanigans, he sends Jesper off to the furthest place on the map to a small town called Smeerensburg to be that town’s postman. Unfortunately for him, Jesper quickly finds out that Smeerensburg is the unhappiest place on earth, with two rival clans of families that have been fighting since the literal dawn of time. Jesper only has one year to make a functioning postal service in this town, or else he’s cut off from his family’s money. Can he change his ways and make a living postal service work in such a wretched town? What about this mysterious woodcutter, voiced by J.K. Simmons, at the end of the island, and the woodcutter’s mysterious barn of toys?

As the marketing, the behind-the-scenes event, and the story have revealed, this is an origin story for Santa Claus. It’s essentially, a modern-day and better-animated version of the Rankin-Bass classic, Santa Claus is Coming to Town. I don’t mind that, because it’s a pretty straight forward origin story for the jolly red man. It’s about the origins of a fictional character told through the view of a young man learning to be a better person, and how a nice gesture creates another nice gesture. That theme, by the way, is why this movie is so good! I always enjoyed themes like this, because, while it might be a simple one, it sticks with you. I mean, when has an act of meanness ever inspired someone to work with you or do something mean to someone else? It doesn’t take that much effort to do something kind and caring. The theme sticks with me more, because of the premise of the town Jesper is in. It’s a town that has had a long-standing rivalry bred by toxic and hateful behaviors and traditions. One an act of kindness starts in the town, it spreads and everyone becomes better people, and they get rid of the traditions that were brought upon them by the previous generations.

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In terms of the characters, I enjoyed my time with them. Sure, Jesper can be a little annoying at first, but since he’s another in a long line of “whiny individuals that redeems themselves in the end”, I find him to be one of the better versions of this character. He does start as a jerk, but then realizes what his good deeds lead up to, and he’s written better than most of these types. The other characters also ooze and flow with charm and personality. A lot of it is who they got for the roles and the animation, but I loved the characters. From Rashida Jones’ Alva to Will Sasso and Joan Cusacks as Mr. Ellingboe and Mrs. Krum, the film is full of amusing characters. I also adored J.K. Simmons as Klaus. They give him a lot of pathos in who he is, and Simmons puts in another fantastic performance. Even Norm Macdonald as Mogens, the boatman, has a lot of character to him. The villains are especially deviant as, while they are joke villains, there is a bit more imposing and threatening to their centuries of hatred and ignorance that makes them threats. As for the comedy, I remember busting out into laughter many times due to the delivery of the jokes, and I’m sure everyone had fun playing these characters. The jokes range from mostly physical and visual gags, but the dialogue is kept timeless as to not add any pop culture references to date the script. Some lines may feel a touch more modern, but it’s in the way that the Emperor’s New Groove has more modern-sounding dialogue, but still fits the setting.

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The animation though, we have to talk about it! This is one of the most visually splendid films of 2019. It’s pure 2D animation goodness. Sure, some parts may have used a tiny bit of CGI, and yeah, it’s a lot of digital coloring and lighting, but due to how talented the team of animators is, and how much passion and little details are put into the final product, the result is a film that feels like Christmas. You look at the lush landscapes and the bitter cold town that Jesper is stuck in, and you feel like you are there. The film feels grand in scale as the cinematography brings you into this world. It’s a film with a visual presentation that I would have loved to have fully seen on a big screen.

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I love this movie, and it’s not just because it’s 2D animation. However, I do have some very minor complaints about it. First off, the pop songs. Now, the main soundtrack to Klaus by composer Alfonso Aguilar Gonzalez is incredible. What’s forgettable and just okay are the pop songs in the film, and while one of them is played as a joke that works, the other ones heard are okay, but nothing special. I wonder if this was a thing that Netflix requested, because if you took out the pop songs, you would miss nothing. They don’t ruin the scenes they are in, but they stick out.

I wish there was more time for Jesper and Alva’s relationship to bloom. They have decent chemistry, but I wanted there to be more time for the two to spend with each other instead of the film relegating her to be the love interest in the second half of the film. It almost makes me wish they didn’t end up together, but their chemistry was cute. They also pull the third act “liar revealed” gag, and while it’s not the worst trope I know, and it is a bummer it was used, it still makes sense in a way? Like, I wish animated films and films in general would stop using this trope, but as long as they are executed well, I don’t mind seeing them in the film.

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Normally, I temper my hype, because I always go into a movie ready to be disappointed by it, but Klaus was worth all of the hype, and it is worth getting all of the support it needs to help bring back interest in 2D animation to the theatrical scene. I highly recommend everyone who has Netflix to watch this movie right now, and constantly during the holidays. It’s a new Christmas classic, and one I would put on par with The Nightmare Before Christmas. In terms of animated Christmas movies from this decade, I would argue that it’s better than Arthur Christmas, but that’s just me. Now then, we got our Christmas movie out of the way early, how about we jump into some DC comic book movies for a while? I need to catch up on them, but before we tackle Batman vs. TMNT, I got a screener to review first, and that will be a surprise to you and me with how this next film turns out!

 

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

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

The Other Side of Animation 161: Funan 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!)

Warning/Parental Heads up!: This film is absolutely not aimed at a children’s audience. This is an extremely adult film that focuses on a true historical genocide that happened in Cambodia. Younger viewers should avoid this flick, and go see The Angry Birds Movie 2. Viewer’s discretion is advised.

Animation unfortunately gets pigeonholed into being aimed at a children and family audience. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing, because sometimes, a film or show aimed at a family audience, given the right writers and the right execution, can tackle tough subject matter.  Sadly, something that the entertainment industry sadly seems to limit is animation for more teen and older adult audiences. Just because it’s animated, it doesn’t mean you can’t tackle something aimed at an older audience. We get plenty of adult animated shows like Bojack Horseman and Big Mouth, but feature films are, for some reason, kept off the production line. Yeah, we got 2016’s Sausage Party, but that film’s controversy of how the animators were treated unfortunately killed the theatrical chance of seeing more on the big screen. This is why the foreign animation scene is so incredible, because it knows that you can tackle different genres, themes, and have all kinds of audiences. Plus, when will the live-action Hollywood scene tackle something like Dennis Do’s Funan? Directed by, well, Dennis Do, and distributed in the states by GKIDS, this French-animated feature ruled the film festival scene in 2018 by taking home major accolades from Annecy, second place-Jury Prize from the 20th Bucheon International Animation Festival, and the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at the 2nd Animation is Film Festival. As far as I can tell, this is 2019’s best animated feature. Why? Well, let’s dive in, shall we?

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The story follows a Cambodian woman named Chou, her husband Khuon, Sovanh, their son, Khuon’s brother Meng, Chou’s mother, grandmother, and their other children Hout, Tuch, and Lili. They are living peacefully in Cambodia, but are unfortunately caught up in the notoriously destructive Khmer Rouge, as they are separated from each other and try to survive and reunite. Can they try to avoid being killed, and become stronger by making it through this violent time?

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So, you think with this film being animated and such, they would pull back on the punches and darkness of the events shown. I mean, that’s what Sgt. Stubby did. Well, Dennis Do did not pull back on any punches. The film is unapologetic about showing the darker moments of this incident, and that includes scenes of murder, innocents stepping on hidden landmines, suicide, and so on. It’s definitely a film that is, to no surprise, aimed at a much older audience. However, it’s not really all about the terror of this incident. It really does focus on the family, and how they try to make sense out of what is going on, as they try to survive and not end up in front of an extremist’s rifle. You get the closeness of the family as they attempt to play along until they are able to reconnect or find a way to escape the hell in which they are put. You get a sense of everyone in the family, although the real main characters are the father, mother, and son. It’s a fairly quiet film as the emotions are told through the visuals. You feel for the family, and you want them to survive. Dennis Do knew how to balance it all out as every intense moment constantly hits hard. It’s a powerful emotional experience.

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The animation is incredible. It has a beautiful lush watercolor art direction that has smooth animation and great character designs. You can feel the emotion coming off of the characters’ faces. Gorgeous backgrounds and scenery is found among the regime-riddled camps that the film is usually set in for a chunk of the story. What also helps bring the emotions to a perfect level is the music by composer Thibault Kientz Agyenman. A lot of the soundtrack is full of tunes that set a somber, but optimistic tone that really envelopes you into the situation. This also includes powerful performances from Berenice Nejo and Louis Garrel.

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I knew I was in for something special when I saw the trailer, the news that it was doing well on the festival circuit, and how it was one of the first films selected for the Animation is Film Festival, and I was happy to be one of the first US film fans to see this breathtaking experience. Sure, some critics, for one reason or another, think it should have been about the genocide, but that wasn’t the point of the film. Just because it’s set during an intense period of time, doesn’t mean that has to be the entire focus. The entire film was inspired by the stories that Do would ask his mother about that time period, and it was crafted into this beautiful story. To me, that comment comes off like they wanted the film to be something different than what they got. Funan is a powerful film, and when it comes out on Blu-ray, or if you are lucky to find a theater playing it, buy the Blu-ray or see the film! Seriously, if you want more original films that help animation’s image in the US, please see this film. Unfortunately, since these types of films don’t get much screentime, how about we move on to a delightful surprise with The Angry Birds Movie 2? I think that would be pretty nice! Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

The Other Side of Animation 157: Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles 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!)

I haven’t made it subtle that I have found a real lack of enjoyment with talking about bad movies. I don’t know what has gotten me into this funk, but it then made me think about why I love talking about films I want to love and talk about. It’s because it takes no effort to talk about them. Words flow easily. I don’t have to think about how to structure them, and who doesn’t want to talk about stuff they love? The problem with talking about movies that you don’t like ends up with you having to structure everything, because every bad film usually has their own unique problems. It’s why I don’t really pick a bad movie just for the sake of it. If I choose a movie I love or do not like, it’s because I want to talk about it. For right now, I want to talk about a movie that I could go on about for a few good hours, Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles. Directed by Salvador Simo, this was a film from Spain, and made the festival circuits last year with an official wide/limited release this year. It was a critical darling in the festival circuit, and was one of the winners of the three major awards at 2018’s Animation is Film Festival. I was lucky enough to see the film last year, and was not surprised at all that GKids wanted to distribute this film in the west. It was easily one of my favorite films at a festival that had nothing, but strong films to show. Now then, let’s get started!

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We follow the life of Luis Bunuel, voiced by Jorge Uson, a surrealist filmmaker that has made films in the same style and spirit of Salvador Dali. Unfortunately for him, people want to compare his work to Dali, when he wants to be seen as his own genius. Even worse for him, is that the country where he lives, has decided to blacklist him, which results in him not being able to get money to make movies. One night, he is drinking with his friend Ramon Acin, voiced by Fernando Ramos. Ramon decides to enter the local lottery and promises to Luis that if he wins, he will fund his next venture, which is a documentary that Luis was looking at doing. Months pass, and out of the blue, Ramon calls Bunuel to tell him that he won the money! They then get Bunuel’s two cohorts Pierre Unik, voiced by Luis Enrique de Tomas, and Eli Lotar, voiced by Cyril Corral, and head down through different villages in Spain to base the documentary around Las Hurdes and in the poorest area known as Las Hurdes Atlas. Can Bunuel regain his filmmaking credentials, and maybe absolve him of some of his issues from his past?

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I have to admit, ever since I saw this film back in October last year, I have had an unhealthy obsession with it. I have been patiently waiting to see it again. Normally, I would have waited to see it again in theaters, but I can’t wait any longer to review it. This film’s story of Bunuel redeeming himself as a human being and a filmmaker kept me constantly invested with what was going on. You can see the struggle every time Bunuel wants to do something drastic and shocking to the world about Las Hurdes Atlas, when really, that isn’t the way it should be shot. You see how he struggles to make this documentary work as he conflicts with the real life struggles and lives of the people that live in this village and wanting to show his vision, which is more harmful to him, the crew, and the people there. All of the struggle of making this documentary comes crashing around him and his friends as memories of his relationship with his father start popping up, and you see how Bunuel acts like he does. I just love seeing all of the small scenes of the leads interacting off of one another, and with the townsfolk they encounter on this journey. However, while a lot of this film is mature and serious, I was laughing probably the loudest I have ever laughed in a movie theater at this screening. This was some of the wittiest writing and the most well-timed jokes that I have seen in an animated film from overseas. It was able to balance out both the laughs when needed, and focus on the dire situation in which the people in the village live, and the importance for this documentary to succeed for Bunuel.

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In terms of the animation, I know some will talk about how limited it is, and maybe call it a bit stiff, but I think it’s great considering this film cost about $2 million to make. Characters move well, the designs are very appealing in a more serious Disney way, and they are still very emotive. They knew they didn’t have the biggest budget, but they made some breathtaking visuals and sequences with that budget. Since it’s about a surrealist filmmaker, they do take advantage of crafting some delightfully dream-like sequences. Another smart move is that since this was based on a real life documentary, they took footage from said documentary, and added it into the movie. It’s not all that distracting either, because the writing is so good, and it helps that this was based on a real life person and a real life documentary. The music by composer Arturo Cardelus, who also did the music for the acclaimed animated short, In a Heartbeat, is outstanding in this film. I find myself humming the tunes a couple of times. It reminds me of the music from Loving Vincent, which is elegant and dramatic.

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Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles is a film I would call a unique experience. So many elements of this film clicked for me like not many have, and I hugely adore it. It’s one of my favorites, and I really hope people can find a way to watch this in a theater or, at the very least, catch it when it gets on Blu-ray and DVD. Could I complain about some nitpicky elements about the script? Sure, but in the end, my love for this film, and how incredible the experience of watching it drowns out any minor issue I have with this movie. Again, if you can, please do watch this movie. Sadly, we must take a break from the positivity to talk about Illumination Entertainment’s next….I don’t think I would consider it a hit, but we will see. Next time, we will talk about The Secret Life of Pets 2. Thanks for checking out my review, I hope you all enjoyed it, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials