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We seem to live in a world where many people seem to think film criticism is black and white. A film is either good or bad, and, well, that’s limiting to the world of art and film. Criticism should be more of a gradient. No one is ever like “yeah, I like and hate everything”. You all have films you love, like, think are good, okay, mediocre, bad, the worst, and you get the idea. Sometimes ya love a film because it’s uneven or maybe you hate it for the same reason. This is how I feel about Netflix’s newest adult animated film with Matt Thompson’s America: The Motion Picture.
Written by Dave Callaham, directed by Matt Thompson, produced by Channing Tatum, Adam Reed, Matt Thompson, Will Allegra, Peter Kiernan, Reid Carolin, Eric Sims, and Christopher Miller, and Phil Lord, this 2D animated feature was produced by Floyd County Productions, Free Association, and Netflix Animation. This is their newest attempt to reign over the animation scene with a film that you wouldn’t see in the theaters or on TV. Well, what do I think of this absurd take on American history that sounds like it was a film made by Jake Peralta from Brooklyn 99 for a history report?
Our story revolves around George Washington, voiced by Channing Tatum. He lives in an alternate history where he was alive at the same time as Abe Lincoln and many other important and pseudo-important historical icons. As he is enjoying a show with his best pal Abe, it is interrupted by Benedict Arnold, voiced by Andy Samberg. Arnold pulls a, well, Benedict Arnold and has not only interrupted the signing of the Declaration of Independence but also killed Abe Lincoln in his plan to take over the United States for King James, voiced by Simon Pegg. George decides to rise against the evil tyrants and finds a team of individuals to take down the British. These include Sam Adams, voiced by Jason Mantzoukas, Thomas Edison, voiced by Olivia Munn, Paul Revere, voiced by Bobby Moynihan, Geronimo, voiced by Raoul Trujillo, and Blacksmith, voiced by Killer Mike. Can our rebellious group of rabble-rousers save the soon-to-be-titled United States of America?
Listen, when the trailer for this film came out, it’s understandable that the reception to it and its wildly free take on American history would be polarizing. When you make commentary about politics, you have to, well, take small careful steps. However, after finally watching this film, it’s not meant to be taken seriously as a political comedy. Don’t come into this thinking you are going to get a Death of Stalin. Like I said above, I joked, but this does come off like a history report made by Jake Peralta, which is fitting since Andy Samberg is in this film. It has some commentary and I’ll have some thoughts about that, but it’s meant to be this cracked-out take on history that reads more like a pulp action story. It’s a fast-paced action comedy that takes full advantage of its nonsensical period of history, as it keeps you moving to each quirky setup, punchline, and action beat. It has some themes about working together to take down hate and to support stuff like science, but you will be here to enjoy the high-octane action and absurd characterizations of historical figures. The action is creative, violent, and has some of the better laughs in the overall film. It also helps that the cast is delightful and how they all bounce off of one another. It’s not perfect character dynamics, but some of the angles they take with the leads are delightful.
Animation-wise, it’s a bigger budgeted production of Archer, I think it looks better than Archer due to how much more movement and polish the character models are given. It helps that the film has a more comic book cartoony look that makes it stand out from Archer. They move fluidly, and they do have dynamic movements and much more expressive facial animation than the studio’s usual work. Hopefully, the studio that animated this film Floyd County Productions unionizes because animators should have better working conditions, but the team that worked on the film’s visual look did a fantastic job. I also enjoyed the voice cast. Channing Tatum, Will Forte, Jason Mantouzkas, Olivia Munn, Bobby Moynihan, Judy Greer, Raoul Trujillo, Killer Mike, Simon Pegg, and Andy Samberg put in some fantastic performances. It comes off like everyone had a ton of fun acting in this film since it’s not a traditional project for these individuals. The music by Mark Mothersbaugh is fun, but I wouldn’t call it his best work. It helps fit the tone and the mood, but outside of the mix of rock and hip hop thrown into the story, I don’t remember much.
I wish the music was the only thing I had criticism about this film. Like most comedies, I found some of the jokes to be hit and miss. It’s more of a dumb popcorn flick than a groundbreaking political comedy. The political jokes that are there are familiar and nothing you haven’t heard before. It’s like this movie wanted to be a pulpy schlocky action flick, but then also had to deal with the question of people overthinking this film with how it was going to handle its political themes. To me, it’s very basic in its views. It’s pro-science, anti-racism, and the ending is fairly funny and cynical in a realistic way of how America turned out in the end. To be clear, it doesn’t love or support the far right. Even the POC characters are constantly calling out George or Sam Adams on their shenanigans and insults. However, I don’t think it balances out its cynical political comedy and the violent pulp action elements very well. I wouldn’t call it the sharpest comedy or action film that Lord and Miller have helped produce. A good handful of the main characters are also not that interesting. Some of them are more fleshed out than others. It’s also a bummer that Blacksmith sits out for a major chunk of the second act alongside Geronimo, but I am happy that the two have some of the best lines and the best moments in the final battle. America: The Motion Picture is also very macho-driven. Outside of Olivia Munn’s Edison, the female characters do not get as much support and love as the male characters.
While it is extremely uneven in its execution, I enjoyed it. I can also understand if other critics and animation/film fans do not tolerate this one. It’s, at the very least, an interesting film to come out and doesn’t feel as boring and boilerplate as Spirit Untamed. If you are in the mood for something a bit different than the usual family-focused animated films out right now, then give it a watch. I’m glad something like this exists even if it’s not perfect, because more distinct animated films deserve to be made and either succeed or fail. If you want more diversity in what stories are told, then you need to support the ones trying to stand out. For now, though, let’s travel to Germany as the next film I will be reviewing is Snotty Boy.
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Rating: Go See It!