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One of the best aspects of animated features which go the distance is that they are more than willing to talk about a problem that we have to deal with in real life. Maybe it’s something relating to family, maybe it’s related to society as a whole, and they felt like it was important to talk about it. The best-animated films either made in the US or overseas usually have something to say underneath the main story. Sadly, not all studios have that freedom, and either can’t go too deep with the commentary or have to stay within the parameters of a film aimed at a family audience. I think that is what happened with Zombillenium.
Directed and written by Arthur de Pins and Alexis Ducord, and based on the comic series of the same name and by the same duo, Zombillenium was released back in May 2017 in France, and from what I could gather, bombed, only making a little over $1 mil of its $15 mil budget. It then appeared at the Annecy Film festival in 2017 where it competed against films like Tehran Taboo, Ethel and Ernest, Big Fish & Begonia, A Silent Voice, Animal Crackers, Lu Over the Wall, Loving Vincent, and In This Corner of the World. It was even one of the first films chosen for the first annual Animation is Film Festival in LA that same year. After that, the film’s release went silent, until recently, when fans or unknowing animation-goers saw that it was brought over quietly by Universal and went straight-to-DVD. Even the few reviews I have found for this film were mixed to negative. So, was it worth the wait? Or did this film get buried for a reason? Let’s zombie shuffle our way through the park and find out!
The main story revolves around a man named Hector, a compliance officer who essentially makes sure things are running well. You can say he’s a health inspector for companies. After he drops his daughter off at school, he then arrives at the famous amusement park, Zombillenium. He finds the park not staying up to code, but Hector pushes on, as the manager of the park, a vampire named Francis tries to stall the inspector as many times as he can. Hector then stumbles onto something he shouldn’t see, and Francis decides to take care of it personally. He turns Hector into a monster who can’t leave the park. Maybe another monster in the park can help raise attendance because the park is losing customers fast. It’s being threatened by Satan himself to be shut down, and all the monsters there will be sent to hell. Can Hector find a way to help revitalize the park? Can he ever become human again? Will he be able to see his daughter?
So, what is the overall point of this film? I have finally seen it, and to me, it’s juggling a “we have to save the park, because we are all a family” storyline and, to me, the film’s main appeal, a commentary about the workforce. Having the film set in a theme park, where most of the workers are zombies and other monsters add a fun creative spin to the commentary about how employees are treated at places like this, and in general. The film is full of symbolic context that gives the film much more substance under the skin than you might think. However, that’s also the biggest problem. The film wants to show off that commentary, and it does bring it up in the dialogue, but it’s not the focus. The focus is more on the family-friendly storyline of saving the park. Granted, the stakes are high, since if they don’t save the park, they all go to literal hell, but still. The more family-friendly side of things isn’t even all that interesting. The dialogue feels clunky, a lot of the jokes do not land, and the pop culture references are sadly dated. It’s the problem when it takes so long to make indie animation that the jokes may not land, or the references are dated. Expect a lot of Twilight-related jabs.
So, the overall story is flawed, but what about the characters and the dubbing? Sadly, I did not like the English dub for this film. Some dialogue moves fast, sometimes they don’t match the lip movements, and I found most of the voices grating. It’s one of those times where I prefer the subtitles over the English casting. It’s not that everyone is bad, it’s the execution and the voice choice for some of the characters. Speaking of the characters, I found many of them to look cool, but lack dimension within their personality. I don’t know if it’s because they had to cram an entire story into 80 or so minutes, but it suffers for it. I found myself only rooting for a few of the monsters like Francis, the cool skeleton guy, adoring the witch, and a day of the dead-looking zombie woman. Hector isn’t a bad leading male, but his redemption arc happens abruptly at times, and it never felt natural. I’m going to assume that the characters are way more fleshed out in the comics, because some of this screams that it maybe should have been a TV series and not a movie.
So, what do I like about it? Well, the animation, while showing some clunky movements here and there, is very unique compared to what usually comes out of CGI from overseas. They translated the look of the comic perfectly, and despite not having the biggest budget, they made the characters stand out. Everyone has a different look and movement. It’s a unique looking movie that looks like it was made with 2D designs wrapped around CGI bodies. Despite not caring for many of the jokes due to how they don’t land or are outdated, when the jokes work, they are really funny. I think the best jokes revolve around the skeleton, and they take advantage of him a lot. Once again, I also adored the commentary when they focused on it.
I can see Zombillenium growing a fanbase over the years to come, but I can also see why no one knows about it, and why Universal quietly threw it on DVD. It feels incomplete and fighting against itself to be both a family film and a slightly more creative young teen/older adult film. It has a bit too much edge for younger kids, but it’s too childish for adults. If you want to see it. I would recommend renting it, but the DVD itself is only $10 on Amazon if you want to buy it. Maybe if they can make a sequel, they can improve upon the writing and story, but seeing how it bombed, and not fully knowing if they are not hurt by all of this, I don’t think we will be returning to Zombillenium anytime soon. Still, I would rather go back to the zombie-filled amusement park than where we will be going next time. I won’t even say where we are going, and you will have to find out.
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Rating: Rent it!