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I love the foreign animation scene. I think it’s one of the most fascinating scenes to look at in where animation is going. You can find stuff that’s for kids, older kids, teens, young adults, adults, and whoever you want to cater to. The US is still in the same zone of shows or films either created just for kids or just for adults, but those lines are crossing and bleeding into one another more and more. It might be shocking to see something like Infinity Train in 2019, a show aimed at kids, but with a much more adult tone in terms of storytelling and themes, but it’s every other film or show in some foreign animation scenes that have that tone or outlook in how their stories are told. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any bad films. Let’s not beat around the bush here, while many animation fans may only think the US has put out some of the worst animated films, you can find some that are of equal or even worse quality everywhere. If a film can be made anywhere, then a bad film can come from anywhere. So, that is what leads me to today’s review of Lava.
Directed by Ayar Blasco and produced by Crudo Films, this foreign animated film is from Argentina and made itself known to me at the Annecy 2020 Online event in the Contrechamp section of the festival. It was not widely loved, and now has its official US release with the help of Rock Salt Entertainment. Listen, I will be as respectful as I can be, but be aware that no matter where the film is from, I will judge them on equal footing. Let’s get started, shall we?
Lava tells the story of Debora, dubbed by Janeane Garofalo, a tattoo artist who is going through life and not going anywhere. One night, she comes back home and realizes her friend has invited over two guys, her friend’s boyfriend and a guy who she has met before, but her roommate doesn’t realize that. One night, they are watching a crummy show, the power goes out and then weird images appear on the screen. After that happens, the world gets invaded by these giant cats and aliens. Well, it is up to Debora and her friends to find a way to save the world and survive this weird calamity.
It’s hard to talk about this film and not talk about the animation quality. Listen, I know not everyone can be like Disney, and it’s an impossible task to think every film needs to look as good or spend as much money as a Disney or Pixar film. It’s not possible. However, when your film looks like it could have been found on early Newgrounds or early Adult Swim during April Fools, then that’s a huge problem. The animation looks so lackluster, cheap, and lacks anything that I would consider good. The mouth movements are clunky, the movements look incredibly stiff and wonky, and it doesn’t look polished. On one hand, while you could maybe compare this to other films with simplistic art styles like On Gaku: Our Sound, the difference is On Gaku: Our Sound is good. It’s one of my favorite animated films from last year, and while it’s very simple looking, it executes its visuals with the same polish and perfection you would see in more big-budget animated features. I think the only place Lava‘s visuals could be acceptable is at film festivals, because otherwise, this would get laughed at if it ever hit a mainstream theater. The last bit of the film is just a bunch of small skits that really come off like they were a part of early Adult Swim or some random Adult Swim program that was only on for a day and then got kicked off the schedule rotation. I would admire it more if there was a bit more polish, but it comes off like someone who got way too ambitious for their first animation project and had only been in animation classes for one week. What’s even worse is that this isn’t the director’s first animated project, and that just makes this all look worse because it doesn’t look better than their last animation effort.
We have seen bad animation get carried by clever writing and storytelling, but you don’t get that here. It’s supposed to be a parody of cataclysmic disaster films, and it kind of has an interesting gimmick and some commentary about technology, but due to the mediocre visuals, whatever commentary this film’s script does have is lost among the rambling dialogue and bad sound mixing. I have seen this film twice now and whether you are watching this with subtitles or a dub, it’s not good no matter how you slice it. I know we are in a pandemic still, but there is no excuse for how bad the mics and recordings are in the English dub. Everything sounds so echo-filled, and it sounds like everyone was recording their lines off of their computers and not some proper mic set up. It’s like they spent whatever budget they had with bringing this film over on one star, and while I do like Janeane Garofalo, she adds nothing and neither do the other English voice actors. The acting in this film has the same stilted energy seen in the Tom & Jerry 2021 film. When we get to those skits at the last stretch of the film, the voice acting just gives up and sounds like 12-year-olds failing an improv bit. The music wasn’t great either. This entire movie’s commentary, story, and writing all go through one ear and out the other.
For right now, Lava sits at the very bottom of my Best to Worst Animated Films of 2021 list. I found this film boring, not all that funny, and whatever creativity is there is botched by bad storytelling and an incredibly bad dub. It has maybe a joke here or there that works, but I really can’t find a reason to watch this film. If you are curious about South American animation, then give it a watch. I think there are a few better films to watch like Tito & the Birds, but even with this scathing of a review, I don’t want people who are curious about it to not watch it. It’s widely available on most on-demand/rental platforms. Next time, we will be talking about a much better movie with Raya and the Last Dragon.
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