2017 in Animation So Far

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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. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this editorial!)

So, it’s been over half a year now for 2017, and it’s time to look back at the year so far. I thought it would be interesting, since I don’t really talk about all the big movies until I do my Worst to Best list for every year. I’ll be setting this up differently as well, with the execution of this article. I’ll be doing separate little segments for what were my favorites so far, the biggest surprises so far, the most average films so far, the biggest disappointments so far, and the worst. At the end, I’ll put down some films that I am looking forward to, and hopefully some films that will come out in the states in the near future.

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Best Animated Films (so far)

My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea: Trippy, unusual, darkly comedic, and the definition of pure visual LSD, this indie film is the best animated film I have seen this year. With a great voice cast, a fun sense of humor, and a unique experience, I can’t wait to buy this movie for my collection.

LEGO Batman Movie: While I respect the comments that it relies too much on Batman references, and it doesn’t have the full heart of the original film, I went in wanting this to be a fantastic film, and that is what I got. Outside of My Entire High School, I haven’t laughed so much or enjoyed a theater-going experience this year as much as I have enjoyed LEGO Batman. It’s clever, the characters are likable, and I was smiling like a fool from beginning to end. Yeah, I have my issues with the film, but it’s actually good, unlike a lot of films from 2017.

Ethel & Ernest: This is such a simple movie, but it’s so good. It’s nothing super grand, or some characters going on a big adventure, it’s just the life and times of Raymond Brigg’s parents. It feels like such a personal film, and the team that made the movie obviously cared very much about the book the film is based on. With wonderful performances, multiple touching moments, and gorgeous animation, I am impatiently waiting for this film to get a US release.

Ocean Waves: Finally, after what seems like a century, the US finally gets a legit release of the last Studio Ghibli film to be brought over. While it is disappointing that there is no English dub for this film, it definitely has a lot of elements that would have made it hard to translate to English. It’s also a slower-paced and more realistic film about teens growing up during high school. It has its flaws in terms of story pacing and characters, but I still loved watching it, and when it hit it out of the park, it really hit it out of the park.

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Biggest Surprises (so far)

Captain Underpants: Who knew a film everyone was dreading ended up one of the most fun movies of the year? With characters that have charm, great animation, and an obvious amount of passion and soul put into the end product, I was pleasantly surprised by this film. Not to say it doesn’t have its problems, but I had more fun watching this than most of the animated films from this year. It knew what it wanted to do, and I respect that.

 Justice League Dark: It’s no surprise that DC has had an amazing year in 2017, and kicked it off with a fun and more mature story of magic, demons, and the return of Matt Ryan as John Constantine. It’s a film that takes advantage of its situation, and while it does have some pacing problems because of the 70-minute runtime, it’s still a blast to watch, and actually see some charm in the drab DC universe.

Teen Titans: The Judas Contract: This is pretty much an apology letter for Justice League vs Teen Titans as everything that was so good about this movie should have been in the previous film. Everyone has ample screen-time, the action is good, and I don’t want to strangle any of the characters. The main villain is definitely weak, and there are some predictable story beats, but it’s so much better than I was thinking it was going to be. I’m glad I was surprised.

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Biggest Disappointments (so far)

Cars 3: You would think by the third film, they would know what to do with this cash cow of a franchise. While I was definitely more emotionally invested in this one, and love that they just retconned Cars 2, I wouldn’t call this a great animated film by any stretch of the imagination. It’s definitely more of a sport movie than the previous films, but there is a bit too much going on, and it doesn’t know how to pace itself. The villains were weak, and the ending had some elements that I would call shenanigans on, since they just leave it open to make another Cars movie. While not the worst Pixar film by any means, it’s a shame the film didn’t live up to the extremely false advertising.

Despicable Me 3: Second verse, same as the first. Despicable Me 3 was better in a lot of ways to the previous installments, but was hugely flawed. It once again had way too many plots going on, and none of them get enough time to be fleshed out. It results in a movie that can be entertaining, but completely hollow at the same time. I don’t know how many more films they can make with the current style before people just turn on them. At the very least, Trey Parker’s portrayal as the villain was super entertaining. I’ll have more to say when I review it in the future.

Blame!: Since CGI animation in anime already has a tainted reputation for low quality products, you would hope a film like Blame! could show how to do it well. Sadly, all that you get is a rather boring and sometimes fun sci-fi world builder. The characters are bland, and even the higher quality movements can’t hide the fact that CGI animation in anime can and will be distracting.

 Seoul Station: While not a terrible zombie movie, I have no urge to rewatch this film. It has its moments and its social commentary, but since this film is supposedly connected to the fan favorite Train to Busan, then I think it needs to be more than just where the zombie outbreak started.

Smurfs: The Lost Village: While the trailer for this gave off both a good and bad impression, I was still hopeful that this would be a pretty solid film. Sadly, what we got was a rather predictable and yet again boring film. There is just nothing there for kids or adults. It’s way better than the live-action films, but that’s not saying much for a film that’s not willing to take risks.

The Boss Baby: While I don’t hate this movie, it’s obvious they went with one gimmick and didn’t really do much else. Alec Baldwin is the best part of the movie, but that’s not enough for this film to be good. It has good animation, and I liked a lot of the lines and jokes, but everything else felt so hollow, and lacked substance. We are sadly getting a sequel for some reason, but hopefully, it can be a Madagascar situation where they get better with each sequel.

Sahara: Probably one of the most disappointing films to hit Netflix. I was thinking they got a French animation gem on their hands, but instead, they got a French dud. While the CGI animation is pretty solid, the colors are vibrant, and there are points where the film does slow down, it doesn’t make up for an annoying cast, an English dub that forced me to watch it in French, and a film that’s not really interesting to watch. It definitely could have been a lot better in terms of story and characters.

Rock Dog: This film went through so much political baloney, that it’s hard to really trash this film. It has no focus, tone is an inconsistent wreck, the animation isn’t theatrical quality, and the side characters are pointless. It’s a shame, since it’s not a cynical cash grab, and it tried to be earnest in its intentions. It just didn’t pan out, and all we got was a mediocre film.

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The Worst (So far)

The Emoji Movie: While I know this is everyone’s favorite punching bag, it’s just a forgettable bad movie, people! It’s not super offensive outside of the concept, but it’s not super amazing either. It’s probably the most forgettable bad animated movie of 2017, that got pushed into the limelight because people call it the death to cinema. I’m working on a review of it right now, and I’ll say this, calm down, people!

Leap!: Yes, technically, I should wait to talk about this film when it’s officially released, but on the other hand, since it’s already available in an English format, and The Weinstein Company is simply redubbing and recasting for no reason, I have a right to say this movie is still 100% terrible. It’s an enjoyable type of terrible, since some choices in terms of animation and plot points are insane, but it’s otherwise bland and really forgettable with a terrible sense of humor, and animation that can be rather creepy-looking. I’m sure this had good intentions behind it, and I can’t say it’s the worst movie I have seen this year, but it’s still something I never want to watch again, but I sadly have to, since if I want to be fully fair to this film, I need to watch The Weinstein version.

A Stork’s Journey: I don’t get why this film had to get a limited release. Was anyone asking for this badly animated film? Its mean-spirited characters, bad pacing, and predictable plot also bog down the experience. It has one little scene that works, but that’s about it. Just avoid at all cost.

Spark: a Space Tail: Unlike the film mentioned above, I found nothing redeemable, or enjoyable about this movie. Open Roads didn’t give this film a wide release, and is now considered one of the biggest bombs in the animation scene. Even with that distinction, it has horrible animation, terrible characters, boring action sequences, a bland story, and it has no real reason to exist. Not even Patrick Stewart could save this. Until I say otherwise, this is still the worst animated movie of 2017.

Well, that was a bummer way to end the list, how about we close the editorial up with some movies that are coming out this year that I’m excited for? And yes, a lot of them are GKids films.

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The Remaining Films I’m Looking Forward to Through 2017

Coco: While Cars 3 did not fully deliver, Coco will hopefully be the one Pixar film to be fully satisfying with its themes of Day of the Dead, family, and music with a great art style, and gorgeous animation.

Mary and the Witch’s Flower: GKids recently picked up the rights to this film, and I’m not really surprised. It’s got veteran Studio Ghibli members, and GKids has a great connection with the famed studio. The first movie from Studio Ponoc looks really promising with beautiful animation, awesome character designs, and just a huge amount of creativity. I think this could easily be an Oscar contender for Best Animated Feature.

The Breadwinner: Probably the other Oscar contender for Best Animated Feature is yet another GKids-distributed film, based on the famous book. Cartoon Saloon is once again on a roll with a touching story, great animation, and they are mixing it up this time with two different styles of animation. It looks great, and I trust anything these two companies, GKids and Cartoon Saloon will put out.

The LEGO Ninajgo Movie: Well, so far, the two LEGO Movies we got have been pretty fantastic, can’t see a reason why not to be excited for this one. It’s also nice to see it be a mostly action-focused film, since it seems like we can’t get an action anything in animation these days. While the recent trailer probably showed off too much in terms of jokes, I’m still looking forward to the next LEGO Movie.

The Girl Without Hands: While I’m sort of disappointed this one-man film is not coming to my neck of the woods, I will wait for a DVD release, since I really want to see this visually ambitious and mature animated film. I have talked about it a bit on an Animation Tidbit, so I won’t go into much detail there.

Birdboy: The Forgotten Children: I have talked about this dark animated film as well, so if you want to see more of my thoughts about this Spanish-animated film, you can go to the link I put above for The Girl Without Hands, but none the less, I am looking forward to see how this dark tale unfolds.

In This Corner of the World: A big Annecy Film Festival winner about a young girl as she grows up during World War II. It has a luscious watercolor art style, a vibe that feels similar to a Studio Ghibli film, and a sad, but endearing story.

Loving Vincent: Hey look, another film I talked about in an Animation Tidbit editorial. It’s a beautifully abstract film, with a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and tons and tons of paint put into the overall project. I can’t wait for this film to get a wider release in October.

That is it for now, let’s hope more amazing films come out, and I will make a new list in the New Year covering the worst to best of 2017!

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The Other Side of Animation 91: Blame! Review

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In my Patema Inverted review, I talked about why universe building is important, and why you don’t really want to be taken out of the film because the world the film takes place in isn’t well defined. Sometimes, you need to take time to explain certain elements, because while the universe building could be seen as padding or exposition, it needs to make sense. However, if your entire film is just world building and set-up for an even bigger story, then you also need to be careful there. On one side of said spectrum, you have Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which talks about the origin/reboots the universe the franchise takes place in. It might be building up to what happens, but you still care about the characters and hate to see what happens. On the bad side of the spectrum, you have the first G.I. Joe live-action film where it’s not really interesting, has a lot of questionable elements, and doesn’t give us what we want until pretty much the end of the film. So, where does the Netflix-exclusive Blame! come into play? Based off the manga series and the online miniseries, Blame! is the first theatrical film adaptation of the property. It was directed by Hiroyuki Seshita, and was produced by Polygon Pictures, a studio well known for its help with CGI/CGI segments of films like Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, the Disney film Valiant, and the upcoming Godzilla: Monster Planet. I didn’t really see a lot of people get excited or talk about this film, and it got me concerned, since when there is no previews or that many articles talking about it, you wonder why that’s the case. Anyway, how is the actual movie? Well, let’s find out.

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Blame! takes place in a world where the entire earth is covered in giant metal skyscrapers, and there is barely any organic life left. It sucks to be a human in this world, since humans are considered pests by the security system that they ironically made, and are killed on the spot by the security system if they are spotted. Now, the human race is about to go extinct and live in these little settlements. As the viewer, you follow the lead of the film, Killy, voiced by Johnny Yong Bosch, a wandering individual who comes across one of the human settlements, and decides to help them out with the help of a decayed robot scientist. Can they survive? What will they find? Can they avoid the security system or maybe an even more dangerous threat?

blame02Right off the bat, Blame! does a couple of elements excellently. First off, let’s talk about the animation. CGI anime has been a touch controversial, due to the fact that 2D animation is more loved with this medium than CGI, since CGI in anime has been poorly used before, and is still poorly used. An obvious example of bad CGI anime would be the recent Berserk series, since it looks like they just replaced 2D characters with CGI puppets, and either don’t have the time or the effort to make sure they move fluidly. It’s aggravating, since you can understand that CGI animation might be cheaper and could get more jobs for people in that insane working conditions nightmare known as the anime industry. At the same time, CGI just doesn’t have the soul that 2D has, and it never, will unless they were willing to go the Disney/Pixar level quality route. Blame!, on the other hand, has for the most part, pretty good anime-style CGI. No one comes off as puppet-like, nothing is too floaty or cheap, and it makes the action scenes and overall film fun to watch. You can really tell with something like the recent Berserk series when the camera swings around or moves quickly to try and trick the viewer into not spotting the shoddy animation. It makes watching the series tough since you know how good action anime can be. You feel every shot, punch, and strike that are being given to the enemy and the lead characters.

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I think the world building is done pretty well. To me, it stands out, with while being very drab and gray, an interesting concept, since you always hear about how we, as a species can stop overpopulation. Granted, the story does fall into the “the humans forgot to do something, and now the thing we created, wants to kill us” trope, but I could look past that since so many sci-fi-focused products give us that story. I liked that these giant robots that build everything are not bothered by humans, I think it’s scary that there can be killer security robots that can disguise themselves as humans to avoid the barrier keeping the humans safe. I liked how bug-like the security robots moved, and so on. Killy is an interesting character, since he is a cyborg, but he’s left open enough to hopefully see more of him fleshed out in a movie or series. You wonder why this cyborg was made when everything else wants to kill the humans that are still surviving. I will also give Blame! credit, because it pulls off one of the best twists I have seen in not just anime, but animated films. Maybe I could have picked up on it more, but I found the twist to be legit shocking.

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However, this film does fail in a lot of areas. For one, this feels like one of those franchise films that are solely made to set up the universe, and then the second film is what you actually get. I say this because the characters outside of Killy, are really boring. I could care less about what happens to this set of humans. You get every single anime/sci-fi trope you can think of. The only two interesting characters are again, Killy, and the scientist that helps them out. By the end of the film, I had a lingering feeling they were expecting this to be super amazing, and either spawn more films, or a TV series. It gets a bit drab to watch, because the characters fight only two types of enemies. They also do that thing where Killy decides to stay behind to kill something horrifying looking so the rest of the human survivors can escape, but don’t show us the actual fight. Like, don’t do that! Don’t cut away from the most interesting character in the entire film. Nothing else besides the world the film introduces to you leaves a huge impression, and that’s a shame, since I could have seen this being one of the great anime action films. I also felt like some of the anime tropes that are in, well, anime are annoying. For example, why does the scientist, when she gets a new body, get heels? And why does the bigger threat in the film (not spoiling it here) have a skirt? I mean, it’s not that it’s attractive when this threat is killing people point blank with the same weapon Killy uses.

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Blame! is definitely one of the better animated films to come out this year, but in terms of animated films in general, I personally thought it was just okay. It’s nothing ground breaking, it has its moments, but I can’t see myself watching this movie again. It doesn’t have the full-on staying power that something like Ghibli and Hosoda would create and show off. I can’t really say rent it, since it’s a Netflix exclusive, but if you aren’t done watching the new season of House of Cards or Orange is the New Black, maybe give it a look. Though, if you haven’t seen The Little Prince, then watch that first.  Well, that was fun, and before we start heading into some really good movies, I want to tackle one more middling film that shouldn’t be getting a theatrical release, but it is. Next time, we will look at the Google Play exclusive, A Stork’s Journey. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Rent it!