The Other Side of Animation 255: Human Resources Review

(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 keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Heads up: I was able to watch this film via a screener sent to me from Netflix. I received no other form of monetization other than the screener. Thank you Netflix for this opportunity.

Out of all of the shows that get people hot and bothered on Netflix, Big Mouth gets people the most bothered. The iconic adult comedy that revolves around the life of a bunch of kids going through the disastrous and horrifying time of puberty with the help of monsters and creatures representing different sides of the human condition has split viewers down the middle. Some love this raunchy comedy for what it’s tackling with puberty, sex, gender identity, and relationships. On the other hand, many do not care for it due to how it’s yet another crass raunchy animated comedy that supposedly skates by with an artificial approach to said topics mentioned in the previous sentence. It doesn’t help that other shows got canceled while Big Mouth was able to fester. Luckily, shows like Tuca and Bertie were able to find new life on other services, but you get the idea. People who hate adult animation and comedies tend to point to this one being the worst of them all as it lingers grossly on the service. And now Nick Kroll and his creative team have a spin-off show that focuses on the monsters at hand. Now then, let’s make a trip to the third floor to Human Resources

This new show was created by  Nick Kroll, Andrew Goldberg, Kelly Galuska, Mark Levin, and Jennifer Flackett. This takes place in the world of the creatures that inhabited Big Mouth. We follow a group of different creatures including love bugs, anxiety mosquitos, logic rocks, hormone monsters, depression kitties, addiction angels, and you get the idea. We follow them through their daily lives as they help deal with the problems, minute and personal. 

So, with this being a spin-off to Big Mouth, expect a lot of the same elements that defined the iconic yet polarizing series. Comedy-wise, expect this to be fairly raunchy with so many sex jokes, swearing, and essentially, a small army worth of innuendos and visual gags. There will be nudity and some fairly graphical moments with violence and sex, but at this point with adult animated comedies on the streaming service, you should expect there to be no real limitations. As we have seen with shows like The Prince or HOOPS, being crass, shocking, offensive, and or in bad taste is not enough to make shows good, due to how you need something else to balance out the crass, cynical, and or mean-spirited nature of the art you are offering to viewers. Like how Big Mouth has a flawed if not admirable path of talking about the ugly side of puberty and coming of age with its kid characters becoming teens, Human Resources focuses more on the adult side of the lifespan. Granted, that sounds weird since this show is reliant on you loving the monsters and creatures that helped out the humans in the original show. 

Luckily, there is substance to this show. We see themes and storylines dealing with friendships, workplace situations, trust, dealing with loss and grief, toxic traits, the unpredictable reasons behind being in love, the battle between love and logical thinking, self-love, complicated relationships, sex, and you get the idea. The show does give a lot of characters time to bounce off of one another, and while your tolerance for these characters will make this series enjoyable, there are a few likable characters including Randall Park as Peter the logic rock. Everyone does a good job working off of one another, and while the crass humor is, say it with this critic now, the ride-or-die element of your tolerance for the story and how it all unfolds, there are a few really solid jokes and gags. 

Animation-wise, this show has the common adult-animated comedy visual look caused by problems that originate with bad production cycles made by giant studios and companies not giving the teams making these shows the time they need. As usual, people in the animation industry need new deals, so make sure you show support with stuff like #NewDeal4Animation, #StoryCraftUnite, and #EqualPay4EqualPaint. While it may not have the most appealing designs, there are a few designs that are fun to look at. I love the logic rocks and the need demons the most. It also seems like some moments in the show were able to breathe a little more and have a more fluid feel.  The voice cast is also pretty good with a great cast of comedic and character actors. You have Aidy Bryant, Nick Kroll, Maya Rudolph, David Thewlis, Keke Palmer, Pamela Adlon, Randall Park, Ali Wong, Thandie Newton, Bobby Cannavale, Jemaine Clement, Maria Bamford, Rosie Perez, Henry Winkler, and even guest appearances from Hugh Jackman, Helen Mirin, Lupita Nyong’o, and Janelle Monae to name a majority of a really stacked cast. 

Now, in terms of criticisms, with most comedies, the humor is hit-and-miss, and, well, that’s no different here. A lot of the humor can be a touch much. It has musical moments, but sometimes it can feel too chaotic onscreen all at once.  Some of the comedy even goes down to just yelling, and it’s not fun to watch when everything is going bananas on screen. It also has issues from time to time of balancing out the crass comedy and its more sincere moments. Sometimes the morals hit, and sometimes the comedic punchline or gross-out joke tends to take away the emotional punch. Yes, these characters can be deplorable and gross, but shows like this need to be careful with wanting to have their cake and eat it too. 

While your mileage will very much vary with this spin-off, Human Resources offers a more human experience to the adult animation landscape. If you like Big Mouth, but more for the times it hits more human themes and the creatures involved, then you will probably enjoy this show. If not, well, you can go watch something like Undone on Amazon Prime or Primal on HBO Max for your adult animated needs. Now then, next time, we will be taking a good look at Pixar’s Turning Red

Rating: Go See It! 

The Other Side of Animation 116: Ferdinand 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. 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 was talking to my friend the other day about something I never really thought about, do I care about the state of a studio because I’m a critic, and do only the critics and hardcore filmgoers care about the status of studios like Blue Sky Studios and Illumination Entertainment? I ask this question, since while critics are meant to judge a film, and focus more on the finer details, and break it down in a manner that makes sense, and to look beyond the film and at the studio at times. However, casual moviegoers are probably not invested as much with what the studio is doing and if they are evolving their craft or not. I do think that is somewhat changing. While people are still really fine with seeing Illumination Entertainments offerings, franchises like Ice Age, Transformers, and to a lesser degree, The Nut Job, recently bombed at the domestic box office in the states. Even though they sort of picked up traction overseas, there were signs that people were ready to move on, and find something different and more worth their time. I do think both critics and audiences do care about what a studio puts out, but the amount that casual moviegoers will put up with will vary. Hence, why I was curious to see how Ferdinand would do. Directed by Carlos Saldanha, and made by Blue Sky Studios, I thought Ferdinand was going to be an interesting film. I use interesting in the sense that this was the next film right after Ice Age: Collision Course, one of, if not, the worst-reviewed Blue Sky Studios film. I think after Collision Course, people were beginning to get weary and not really trust what the studio had coming next. The film was released December 15th here in the states, and while it got overall pretty solid reviews, its box office numbers were definitely a sluggish climb up past its $111 mil budget. I mean, then again, when you are going against Star Wars: The Last Jedi, your numbers may vary. It isn’t technically bombing, but I think it was obvious people were weary. Did they have a right to be? Well, let’s check it out.

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The story obviously revolves around Ferdinand, voiced by John Cena. Back in the day, he grew up in a bull fighting ranch where bull fighters go to pick the biggest and best bulls to fight. Of course, if you know anything about the source material, Ferdinand would rather smell the flowers and not fight. One night after escaping the ranch when he finds out his dad never came back, Ferdinand ends up being adopted by a flower farmer and his daughter. After spending years with them, Ferdinand grows to be gigantic in size. One day, when he decides to go to the flower festival to see his owners, an accident occurs with him looking like a giant monster. He then gets sent right back to the same bull farm from many years ago. It’s up to Ferdinand, along with his friends, to escape the horrific nature of bull fighting, and be free animals.

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So, I know the trailers for this film didn’t look the best, but if you actually watch it, there is honestly a lot of aspects to like. First up, let’s talk about John Cena as Ferdinand. It was a bit concerning, since while he has acted in films before, this was essentially his first major lead role. You simply don’t hear enough about good acting career stories from wrestlers. Luckily, Cena does a pretty good job as the lead. He’s likable, energetic, has decent comedic timing, and it was never distracting that he was the main character. In fact, a lot of the big downsides to Blue Sky Studios films are the fact that you never see the characters as characters, but as the celebrities who play them. Again, the celebrities are not distracting in this film. Sure, you can recognize a few by the tone of their voices alone, but they actually put in the time to act, and get into their own respected characters. Yes, not all of them are endearing, and some are annoying, but at least more effort was put into these performances than most bad animated films. I think my favorite performances came from the bull characters. Anthony Anderson, Peyton Manning, Bobby Cannavale, David Tennant, and Tim Nordquist were all distinct and fairly memorable. I think my favorite was David Tennant as Angus. He had the funniest delivery of the other bulls, but the rest hold their weight. I found the bulls’ chemistry to be more of the heart of the film, outside of Ferdinand and the family he grew up with.

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I also respect that the story does actually go the distance to a degree about the life of bull fighting and the sad fates of many bulls that either fight or are not up to par. Seriously, it was almost tonal whiplash that they do show what happens when bulls are not up to par, and the fact that for the most part, most bulls will die and never make it back after they fight. It was actually shocking, because much of this film is that pandering kids film vibe that you normally see in a Blue Sky Studios film. From time to time however, they will show off the darker side of bullfighting, and even let Ferdinand and some of the characters have moments of quiet. I think one of my favorite parts was when Ferdinand helped Angus out, and the two got to sit down and look at the beautiful landscape. I adore that this film went the extra mile to show that you don’t need constant comedy or loud noises to keep kids focused. It felt like it was trying to be something on the level of Pixar or Disney. I was honestly emotionally invested throughout a lot of the story. With the exception of the first Ice Age, Robots, and The Peanuts Movie, I’m usually fairly checked out of a lot of Blue Sky films, because they don’t always do a good job with making interesting stories and characters.

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In terms of animation, the film is very beautiful. It has a few faults that I will mention later, but the animation is fluid, it has a good energy to it, and the designs seem very old-school cartoon, exaggerated in terms of their designs and how they move. The backgrounds and field shots are lush, the colors are vibrant, and the human designs are pretty decent. It’s nice to see humans that don’t instantly look like something similar to Disney and Pixar. I even liked the music by John Powell and the obvious original songs by Nick Jonas.

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So, it’s all the more irritating that I have many complaints about Ferdinand as well. It’s so close to being a really good animated film, but it’s only good. Why? Well, because it has a tone problem. The calm and collected tone is constantly shoved to the side for more of the comedy/audience pandering aspects, like multiple side characters that don’t really offer much purpose to the main story, more childish humor, and a dance-off. The dance-off really sums up everything bad about the film. It comes out of nowhere, apparently everyone knows how to dance, and once it is finished, it is never mentioned again by any of the characters. I get that it probably tested well with test audiences that were full of kids, and while I did enjoy it to a degree, it’s distracting to the overall tone. The side characters outside of the bulls are not all that interesting. The hedgehogs, while played well by Gina Rodriguez, Daveed Diggs, and Gabriel Iglesias, don’t do much in the movie. Early footage from the first trailer made it look like they had more to do, but they don’t serve much of a purpose, outside of Ferdinand trying to get out of the bull ranch. The German show horses played by Flula Borg, Boris Kodjoe, and Sally Philips also have the same problem. You never see them after the bulls escape. Yes, I get that they sort of symbolize humans’ need to compete, but as characters that help progress the story, they didn’t do much. And yes, Kate McKinnon isn’t given good enough material to be tolerable. She’s not the worst, and I know she can be funny, but she comes off more annoying than anything else as the goat. Even the villain is not great. You have this bullfighter played by Miguel Angel Silvestre, who is just a boring villain. They had a lot of chances to make him more complex before and after the third act fight between him and Ferdinand, but they don’t do anything. The animation is pretty consistent, but the humans come off as clunky. It’s not a problem with them being snappy in their movements, it’s the fact that they look stiff. By the way, while they are minimal in how much they appear, no one likes twerk, butt, or fart jokes. Stop adding them into your movies, Blue Sky. I know they are not the only studios to do this with animated films, but they do it more often than others.

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In the end, Ferdinand is good, but it had so much lost potential. It succeeds in what it wanted to do, but it’s not a steady ride to the finish, and your experience may vary. There is a reason why this film dragged itself across a month or more due to the success of Coco and then having to deal with Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I see no harm in actually seeing this in theaters, and if you have children that have watched Coco to death in theaters, and can’t find a theater playing Mary and the Witch’s Flower, then definitely go see it or rent it. It’s an ultimately harmless film, and easily one of Blue Sky’s best offerings. Well, that was fun, but we shall now move on to more indie stuff as we look at GKids’ Birdboy: The Forgotten Children. Thanks for reading, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go see it