The Other Side of Animation 206: Calamity 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/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

In terms of animated films, one of my favorite features from the 2010s was 2016’s Long Way North. While it was an animated film, it told a more mature story about a girl who went north to find her grandfather and protect his and her family’s legacy. Remi Chaye and his team made a compelling experience with some truly out of this world animation. It’s always a good reminder that a lot of films and shows from overseas are not made just for kids or just for adults. Storytelling in animation can span a wide grayscale of tones, themes, and experiences. The rest of the world has gotten this, and a good example of this is Chaye’s film from 2020, Calamity: a Childhood of Martha Jane Canary

Directed by Remi Chaye, written by Chaye, Sandra Tosello, Fabrice De Costil, and produced by Maybe Movies, Calamity made it big last year at the Annecy International Film Festival as the film that took home the main prize. It has gotten glowing reviews since its October release in France, and made its US debut in 2021 at the Animation First Festival alongside fellow acclaimed French film Josep. Of course, if it wasn’t obvious, this is an adaptation of the story of the famed frontier woman of the same name. So, with the year still being young, and the world of animation looking vibrant as usual, let’s dive in and see what this film is all about. 

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Our story revolves around a young girl named Martha Jane Canary, voiced by Salome Boulven. She is traveling with her father and siblings in a caravan to Oregon. While her family is not liked because of classism shenanigans, Martha is annoyed about how she is looked down upon due to her being a girl. Even the other girls and women don’t go out of their roles in the caravan. After some upsets, like her father getting injured and Martha having to take responsibility and control of her cart and family, Martha encounters a supposed northern soldier. He decides to help her and her people out, but then one night, the soldier leaves, and not only that, supposedly stole items from some of the families. Of course, with this being the period that it is, Martha is framed for the thievery and decides to go on a journey to reclaim the stolen goods. Along the way, she is joined by a dog named Pik, a young man trying to find his way in this land, and a woman who runs a mining company looking for gold. 

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If I had to pick a theme or a topic of what this film is all about, it’s about how we are perceived in this world. Whether it’s by our wealth, gender, or occupation, this film has a lot of focus on identity and how you define who you are. You can see that commentary throughout the film as you observe the small character-based interactions. Of course, with this being a western, there is a lot of lasso-throwing, adventure, and exploration through the wild. You will find yourself going through the lavish open fields and countryside, small mining towns, and encounters with Native Americans. Luckily, the encounter with the Native Americans in the film is brief but way more respectful than you would think. If this film was made in the 60s and 70s, that might be a different story, and Martha doesn’t disrespect them or talk down to them. It’s a rough world in Calamity, as our lead character has to deal with discrimination and sexism due to her gender. Martha is a great female lead as she’s tough, takes no bull from the boys and men she encounters, but is not just spunk and grit. She’s vulnerable and has a tomboyish side to her as well. She’s on par with Chaye’s previous film’s lead. While the boy she encounters after leaving her group starts out annoying and a bit much, he does get fleshed out and you get his entire arc by the end of the film. Even Samson, the northern soldier has some of the better moments in the film. It’s a wildly fleshed out film, and while there are some antics and goofy moments, they never feel like they talk down to the audience and are fairly funny. The entire experience with the story and watching this film feels more like a True Grit or News of the World than a Magnificent 7 or some melodramatic western drama. 

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Since this is by the same director behind Long Way North, you can expect the film to look downright amazing. No shock, it does look amazing. Its mix of 2D and CGI animation is gorgeous, and while there are points where you can tell what is CGI, it’s pretty consistent overall and the noticeable parts aren’t major. I love how the bodies and the world around them don’t have black outlines, and it gives a distinct look with its soft greens, browns, yellows, and oranges. It feels like a painting of the west in motion. The music by Florence Di Concilio is delightfully western with a heavy emphasis on string instruments. It’s a fantastic soundtrack with a cute song sung by a children’s choir during the credits. The voice cast is pretty good, but I have to say that my favorite performances were from Salome Boulven, Alexandra Lamy, Alexis Tomassian, Jochen Hagele, and Leonard Louf. The overall cast was great. 

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Outside of some slightly clunky CGI moments, and some of the side characters being fairly forgettable, I adored Calamity. It’s a film that shows how to write female characters well, tell a satisfying and grown-up story without having to dabble in dark and edgy for edgy sake content. It talks to you like it considers you it’s equal. Once this film gets a wider release, and a US distributor, I think everyone should watch it! I have heard rumbles there is a US distributor, but I can’t say it with full-on faith until I’m proven right. Still, if you can find some way to watch this movie, do so! Now then, one Animation First film down, and one more to go. Next time, I’m going to review the acclaimed French animated drama, Josep

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essential 

We Need More Companies like GKIDS

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

With this year being the year of film delays and a pandemic, it has dried up the foreign film market purchases. Granted, I don’t mean to come off as no purchases have happened, but they have been few and far between this year. I mean, it’s hard to know if you want to buy the US rights to a foreign film if there is no way to watch it. While I have loved being able to see some foreign film offerings via online film festivals, it’s less than what I would personally liked to take into my eyes and writing. It’s a real first world problem to complain about this, but as an animation and film fan of foreign animated features, this year has been lacking. When my co-host and I talked to Tony Bancroft and Scott Salva about getting their animated film Animal Crackers distributed, they talked about how it seems impossible for smaller animated films to get a foot in the door with a distributer. Sure, we have companies like GKIDS, but it does seem like other distributor hopefuls like Elevenarts and Shout! Factory seem to have dialed back their support. For example, Elevenarts’ only major animated film this year? The Wonderland.  At least in 2018, they had not only the franchise films they brought over, but also Maquia: When the Promised Flowers Bloom and Liz and the Blue Bird. The point of the matter is, as much as I love GKIDS, it can’t be the only company that’s shouldering the weight and fate of multiple animated films from overseas. 

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Thankfully, back in June of 2020, the Los Angelas Animation Festival founded a new distribution arm with the intent of distributing animated films from overseas. These include the first Iranian-animated film to be submitted to the Oscars for Best Animated Feature, The Last Fiction, and the Chinese stop-motion head trip SHe. Now, they may not have the biggest names or the most approachable films, but the fact of the matter is that they have a chance to be seen now, and that makes it all the better for animation and film fans like myself. I want to be able to support these movies, but I don’t want to support them under the table. Sadly, that may be the only way to do so until an official US release via GKIDS, Shout! Factory, Elevenarts, and or Netflix happens. 

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Due to the small and frankly, limited nature of theatrical animation discussions seen online, people seem to have very limited and sometimes flawed viewpoints on the overall animation line-up over certain years. You can talk about how underwhelming years like 2011, 2013, 2017, and to a degree, 2019 were, but when you look past all of the big films, pushing aside all of the DreamWorks, all of the Disney, Pixar, Illumination, and what have you, and in those years, you have a treasure trove of animated features. Now, that isn’t to say they are all perfect gems, because when you dig deep enough, you will find just as many or even more duds than what the US studios release. Remember, just because there are a lot of great foreign features, it doesn’t mean they don’t have their quick slap-dash productions. Still, when you expand your horizons, you get a better view of what animation can do, and what stories can be told using the medium. 

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It’s funny though, no matter how many Annie Award wins and Oscar/other award nominees a company like GKIDS gets with the films they bring over, other companies don’t even think about jumping on that hype train of being able to have some kind of foreign animation gem in their catalog. A24 is one of the most well-known indie distributors/production houses around with multiple award wins and nominations, but only recently have they finally decided to touch something animated. Could you imagine if A24 and Neon got into distributing foreign animated features? They tend to get more reach and theaters with their films. As much as I love GKids, their limited theatrical releases do hurt the number of people who can watch their work until it hits digital or physical format. Even companies like Well Go USA Entertainment have started to dip into the animation game. If they know what’s up, so should every other indie/film distributor.

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Now, if I’m being honest, I did make this editorial to partly vent that I want to see these amazing animated films from overseas as legally as I possibly can, but I did want to also talk about the fact that there is an audience for this stuff, and the fact GKIDS is the only one consistently doing this is painstakingly tiring. I don’t even care if I end up not liking the films 100%, I want to see them and make a judgment on their quality myself. To be fair, I get that the other countries will, of course, want their films to play in their homeland first, and there is a slew of legal copyright stuff with distributing it over in the states, but they must know that there is an audience for these films outside their own countries. With the success of films like Parasite and I Lost My Body, it should be a no brainer for other distributors to start picking up the slack and bringing these films over. I want to see films like CalamityWords Bubbling Up Like CiderLove Me Love Me NotThe NoseNahuel and the Magic Book, Stranger in the Spring, The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily, and you get the idea. Hollywood animation is only going so far as to show what kind of a world animation can create, but if you look on the other side, you will find so much more. 

 Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time!