Animation Tidbits: The 2019 Oscar-Nominated Shorts

canva-photo-editor - 2019-02-24T174110.036.png

(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!)

(Originally Posted: February 24th, 2019)

I was fortunate enough to see the Oscar-nominated animated shorts at my local theater, and, well, like last year, I am going to do a quick set of reviews for the five shorts that are nominated. Overall, my opinions on this year’s nominees are pretty positive! Unlike last year, where there was some controversial baggage with Dear Basketball, none of the shorts that I know of have that kind of need to put a note next to them. The five chosen are varied, endearing, and charming. They each have their own visual style and their own stories that make them stand out. The two shorts from the Highly Commended section were good, but it’s not hard to see why they didn’t make it into the top spots. Let’s get started! I’m going to go in the order they were shown.

Bao

canva-photo-editor - 2019-02-24T174649.128.png

Directed by Domee Shi, Bao tells the story of a wife who ends up becoming a mother to a sentient dumpling. It’s your usual Pixar fare, with endearing designs, beautiful animation, and a touching story about the connection between a mother and her son. Sure, a lot of people reacted mostly to one scene near the end, and decided that was the only thing worth taking away from it, but I love this short from beginning to end. It’s a good sign that the reaction to this short was so good, that Domee Shi, is now going to work on her own theatrical feature. If Bao is any indication of her talent, I can’t wait to see what she comes up with in the future. Congrats, Domee Shi and Becky Neiman-Cobb on the win!

Late Afternoon

canva-photo-editor - 2019-02-24T174739.057.png

Directed by Louise Bagnall, this one tells the story of an elderly woman remembering moments of her life that connect back to what is going on with her in the present time. It’s a beautiful 2D animated short with some awe-inspiringly creative visuals, and a simple but loving visual look for the human characters. Having lost my last grandparent recently, this short really struck a chord with me as you see that while the elderly woman is not all there, there is still a part of her that is there and loves her daughter. It’s an incredible short and I highly recommend seeing it! Hopefully, Cartoon Saloon taps her for some future projects. Congrats, Louise Bagnall!

Animal Behavior

canva-photo-editor - 2019-02-24T175534.709.png

Directed by David Fine and Alison Snowden, Animal Behavior may come off like an odd duck among the five nominees. Its animation style is fluid, but the designs are storybook looking in execution. It’s about a bunch of animals in a therapy session talking about their problems, until an Ape named Victor joins the group and things go into an interesting direction. It doesn’t sound all that compelling. However, when you actually watch it, it ends up being the funniest of the shorts. It comes off like a more well-written Adult Swim animated show pilot. It has some very funny lines, and you get a big laugh out of some of the problems the animals are having. For example, there is a parasite that has attachment issues, and a praying mantis who is having trouble with her dating life. I’m not fond of every detail of the designs, like how they have noticeable butts, but that’s the only part I didn’t like. It’s a funny and entertaining short that shows how strong writing can make an odd idea into a comedic experience. Congrats, David Fine and Alison Snowden! I would love to see this become a miniseries!

Weekends

canva-photo-editor - 2019-02-24T175622.331.png

Directed by Trevor Jimenez, this one tackles the life of a boy who lives in a divorced household as he travels from his dad and mom’s place, and how he sees their lives and his life changes. It’s a somber story that doesn’t really have an answer about what the proper way to handle the realistic situation for certain children. How do you cope with the fact that your parents aren’t together anymore, having to move on with their lives, and that they may see other people? There are a lot of surreal visuals that are great to look at, but I wish there probably was a solid answer as to what should happen? Sometimes, it’s good to not have a definitive answer, but I think the short gets too visually abstract to tell such a conclusion. Still, you can tell this was a very intimate and passionate story from the director, and I think it’s a good short. Congrats to Trevor Jimenez and his team!

One Small Step

canva-photo-editor - 2019-02-24T175647.838.png

Directed by Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas, this short tackles the story of a young girl living with her grandfather, and dreams of becoming an astronaut. I think what is most striking about this film is the visuals. The CGI animation looks like it’s almost 2D. It’s easily one of the standout shorts from 2018. As a short that has no dialogue in it, you feel the love and connection the girl has with her grandfather, and both characters have their own unique little characteristics that I love. It’s probably one of three shorts from the nominees that made me almost cry. I fell in love with this short’s visuals, animation, and characters. It even made me think if they could do this for a feature length film. I would love to see more CGI films learn from films like One Small Step and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse in being visually unique. Congrats to Andrew Chesworth,  Bobby Pontillas, and their entire team for the nomination!

Now then, we will talk about the two Highly Commended shorts that didn’t make the cut.

Wishing Box

canva-photo-editor - 2019-02-24T181324.015.png

Directed by Lizzie Zhang, Wishing Box is a simple comedy short about a pirate who finds a treasure chest with nothing in it. The twist is that his monkey sidekick can pull things out of the chest, like bananas, sharks, and lobsters. There really isn’t much to talk about with this one. It’s a comedy about the troubles of human greed done in a fairly solid comedic way. I can sort of see why it didn’t make it into the top five, but it’s a good short to check out.

Tweet Tweet

canva-photo-editor - 2019-02-24T181412.257.png

Finally, we have Tweet Tweet by director Zhanna Bekmambetova. This short follows the friendship between a small bird and a woman who goes from being a baby to old age. The gimmick here is that the entire short is from the view of the bird and the woman’s feet as they go across a rope. It becomes a tiny bit gimmicky with certain shots that look like they were supposed to be in VR, but that doesn’t really detract from the experience as you watch the woman grow up, find love, have a child, and be at the literal end of her rope. In terms of the CGI visuals, it’s not my favorite short, but the artistry is there, and I was invested with the story. I hope more Russian animation can be this creative and endearing.

Advertisements

The Other Side of Animation 130: The Secret of Kells Review

kell1.jpg

(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!)

Heads Up! I will be talking a bit about the ending. I’ll try to keep it as vague as possible, but I make no promises.

It was interesting when foreign animated films started to get wider recognition among the major award systems. Sure, we had a few sneak into the early days of the Best Animated Feature category, like Spirited Away and Triplets of Belleville, but it wasn’t until, say, 2009 when they started to really hit their stride. I might have said this before, but many animation fans would argue that 2009 was one of the best years of theatrical animation around. This was the year we got Fantastic Mr. FoxUpThe Princess and the FrogCoralineRedlineMary and Max, and A Town Called Panic. This was also the same year that GKids got their first Oscar nomination with their first official hit, The Secret of Kells. For those not in the know, The Secret of Kells was the first major theatrical film by studio Cartoon Saloon. It was co-directed by Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey, the duo directors that would later go on to create the Oscar-nominated Song of the Sea, the Oscar-nominated and Best Foreign Feature Annie winner The Breadwinner, the On Love sequence in The Prophet, and the upcoming Wolfwalkers. This one film put both Cartoon Saloon and GKids on the map, and made them Hollywood favorites among the critics and animation enthusiasts that are in that scene. I only have been able to check out this film recently, and, well, while I do love the movie, I think there are some faults with it. What are they? Let’s dive into the film!

kell3.jpg

The story takes place in a place called the Abbey of Kells. This is where a large wall is built around a small village and abbey in order to protect itself from Viking attacks and outside forces. Our lead character is Brendan, voiced by Evan McGuire, a young boy whose father, Abbot Cellach, voiced by Brendan Gleeson, is the leader of the people there, and puts a lot of the faith on the wall being completed. One day, an old illuminator named Brother Aidan, voiced by Mick Lally, decides to visit the abbey after his village and abbey were destroyed in a raid. The main focal point of the story revolves around an unfinished book called, well, Book of Kells. Brendan wants to help complete the book with Brother Aidan. As this task goes on, Brendan ends up having to go past the wall, and meets a mysterious individual named Aisling, voiced by Christen Mooney. Can Brendan help complete the book with the help of this individual and Aidan, and avoid the grasp of the Vikings and the other spiritual forces outside the wall?

kell5.jpg

So, I’m going to do something different. I love this movie, but I want to talk about its criticisms that I have for it first. I just felt like shaking things up, because I don’t hate the film, and I have plenty to say that’s positive, and how it has way more positives than negatives. So, my biggest problem with the film is the ending. It’s not a terrible ending per say. It has fairly solid closure to the overarching story, and what happens to the boy and his relationship with the old Illuminator and his father, but I’m probably not going to be the only one to say this, and why I prefer their second film, Song of the SeaThe Secret of Kells’ ending felt rushed. It’s like they wanted to do more, but then didn’t have time, or couldn’t get the production time extended, because after the Vikings attack the village, they rush through the boy’s life after escaping the village with Aidan. The visuals are amazing, but as a whole, the ending feels unsatisfying. I know many have said that this is the film that makes you think, compared to Song of the Sea’s “this one makes you feel”, but that doesn’t excuse it. Making the viewer think is not the problem, it’s rushing the ending that’s a problem. I also felt like the marketing for the movie played up Aisling’s involvement with the film. She’s a great character, but she’s not really in the movie a whole lot. She pops in every once in a while, but she could have been more important to the story. The poster even has her as the face of the film. They make her 1/3 of the trailer’s focus. You would believe that she was a major or the driving point of the plot. I understand that the film only had a 70-minute running time, but to me, that means the film wasn’t paced well, if I’m feeling like the ending was rushed, and characters were underutilized.

kell4.jpg

Okay, so, we got that out of the way, let’s talk about the good stuff! First off, the animation for this film is gorgeous. While this was a collaborative effort between Cartoon Saloon and Les Armateurs, this art style, inspired by Celtic and Medieval art, gives this film and the studio that made it, its own identity. It really does match that style, while being friendlier. Yeah, some parts look weird, and the perspective is wonky, but that is the point. Look back at all the great art of that era, and tell me who looks accurate in poses, and who looks like they just got kicked in the spine by The Juggernaut. Don’t take this to mean that it won’t be as finely detailed as the art that inspired it. It’s lush, it looks like Celtic buildings were taken over by nature with multiple beautiful colors and design work, and while a lot of the work was done using computers to put in all the textures, it’s never distracting. The animation itself is gorgeous, and everyone moves smoothly. You can tell they took this first project seriously.

kell6.jpg

In addition to the beautiful animation, it also has a strong voice cast. Evan McGuire does a great job bringing this optimistic and child-like innocence to Brendan, Brendan Gleeson is wonderful as the stern Abbot Cellach, and Christen Mooney offers an innocent, if way wearier and all-knowing persona, to this mysterious individual known as Aisling. I also really loved the late Mick Lally’s performance of Brother Aidan. Aidan is, simply put, a likable character. He’s wise, but isn’t above having fun, but when he’s serious, Mick Lally brought it. What else goes with great voice work? Music! Composed by Bruno Coulais with music from Kila, Bruno also did the music for Coraline. Both the composer and Kila bring all that Celtic and Irish flair that you would think would be in this film. It’s whimsical, fantastic, yet it can also be very mature, slow, and wonderfully atmospheric when the time came for it. It’s a very quiet film, in a time where it seems like studios think you need to be loud, but Kells decides to be a rather calm movie to sit through. I found the film to have some similarities to a recent GKids film, Birdboy. It has a familiar theme of finding the light in the world among the darkness, and how isolation is not really all that good. Life is going to have its challenges and dangers, and you are not always going to be prepared for it. Also, enjoy life. You only live once, so don’t wait for something to happen.

kell7.jpg

Originally, for the 130th review, I was going to tackle Happily Ever After, the animated film that touted itself as a sequel to Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. It bombed financially at the box office, got critically panned, got sued up the wazoo by Disney, and famously shut down the notorious animation studio, Filmation. However, I decided to do something positive. Why? Because for once, I didn’t feel like dredging up a dead horse to talk about a film that infamously shut down an entire studio. Sometimes, it’s way too easy to get super negative, and act like you are the cool kid by saying a studio like Sony Pictures Animation should shut down because they made The Emoji Movie, or say that the writers of Pixels need to have their fingers chopped off. If you are getting to that point in your life, and have no emotions for the people that work hard on making a movie that just happened to end up being bad, then you have no soul, and you need to reevaluate your life. It’s something I see a lot of online critics do, and to be honest, I’m so tired of it. Hate a movie, because you don’t like it, and don’t harass the people who worked on it, and be an actual human being with some empathy, because you only look like a garbage person if you think harassing and insulting people is actually going to help things. Anyway, back to the point, The Secret of Kells is a fantastic film. I might have some issues with the ending, but it’s a feature everyone should see. If you can find some time to pick up a copy and watch it, please do. Cartoon Saloon, Tomm Moore, and Nora Twomey are some of the best things going on right now in animation, and they deserve your attention. Let’s keep up the positivity with going into June with Far East Animation Month, the now third year of tackling animation from the Far East. Next time, we will be looking at Lu Over the Wall. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

Animation Tidbits #2: What’s Cam Looking Forward To? 5/5/17

coco01

(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, in my personal life, I love to make emails about a bunch of upcoming films for my family, who may or may not know much about what’s coming out. I recently did an email with all the upcoming animated films that are being released here in the states or somewhere around the world where I hope they get a stateside release. I decided to make a series of Animation Tidbits, where I show off some trailers or clips of upcoming animated films that have caught my eye. Now, some of these are already well known, but I’m sure many people have not heard of many of the films listed in this editorial. Let’s get started.

Early Man 

Up first is the trailer for Nick Park’s newest stop-motion feature, Early Man. I mean, I love Aardman Entertainment and all of their films. I don’t see why I shouldn’t be up for this one. While I don’t usually get super-hyped for big-named cast members in general anymore, I think Early Man has an incredible cast, including Tom Hiddleston (Marvel films, The Night Manager), Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), Timothy Spall (The Last Samurai, Enchanted, and Sweeney Todd), and Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones). Unfortunately, I have to wait until 2018 for this promising flick.

Coco

While Cars 3 doesn’t technically look terrible, and it does seem like Pixar wants to make a good movie from this flawed and merchandise-spewing trilogy, Pixar’s original film is what I’m looking forward to more. Yes, it’s another animated film based on Day of the Dead, and I do know the pointless turf war Coco fans and The Book of Life fans brought up with each other on Twitter with the two films’ directors, but it’s Pixar. I know their recent track record has been bumpy, but I usually feel like I can be excited and love their original content. The voice cast for this film is also pretty stellar with Benjamin Bratt, Gael Garcia Bernal, Renee Victor, and newcomer Anthony Gonzalez. Hopefully, this becomes another great original film in Pixar’s line up.

Wolfwalkers

I’m patiently waiting (badly) to hear a release date, and for GKids to pick this film up. Wolfwalkers is the next film by two-time Oscar-nominated director Tomm Moore, who was the director of Song of the Sea, and The Secret of Kells. The animation looks beautiful, you can sense and feel the atmosphere and Irish cultural elements, and it’s a downright gorgeous 2D animated film. I do wish the movie-going world would give this director and the super talented team at Cartoon Saloon a lot of support.

Gatta Cenerentola

Or as it’s known in English, Cat Cinderella. This is the first obscure film that I hope gets an English release. It’s an Italian CGI animated film, using mostly motion-capture for the animation. It’s a modern dark take on the Cinderella story, and it looks amazing. I know the movements can come off as clunky, since motion-capture can be finicky if not done correctly, but I think the tone, setting, and the idea will elevate it. Plus, it has a gorgeous art style, and I could listen to that song in the trailer all day.

The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales

If you watched the amazing Ernest & Celestine, the art style should look familiar to you, since one of the directors of the film, Benjamin Renner is behind this film. It’s based off of his comic, and while the trailer is in French, you can pretty much understand what is going on. It has good animation, a great sense of humor, and it’s just adorable. Hopefully, GKids can pick this one up.

Calamity

One of my favorite films from last year was the French film, Long Way North. While I think it went under the radar way too much last year, the same group that made Long Way North are back with another female lead-driven film. While it might be based on the historical figure, Calamity Jane, the filmmakers are taking on the character in their own story. I know that might be a bad idea in some cases, but Long Way North was so fantastic, and these guys know what they are doing.

 Icarus

While I love a lot of the films on this list, I think Icarus has me the most excited in terms of the setting. It’s a mixed-media animated film, using CGI and beautiful 2D animation. It makes the three Greek Gods, Zeus, Poseidon, and Aphrodite not just Gods, but Newspaper Journalist Gods as they try to weave interesting tales out of Greek Mythology for the paper. First off, the idea itself is awesome. I could see a lot of commentary about journalistic integrity, and how a lot of sites like to use clickbait-style headlines for not very interesting stories. I also love the combination of CGI and the lovely 2D animation. You just watch the trailer, and you get a lot of great visual eye candy. It also helps that there is a Pixar Veteran directing the film named Carlos Volgele. I just love the idea, and I definitely want GKids or Shout! Factory to bring it over.

Well, there you have it. These are the animated films that I am looking forward to at this point in time. I will do these from time to time when I find enough films to warrant a list like this, but do expect more of these. I might do these more so than a “Most Anticipated Films of –insert year here-“lists. Thanks for reading, and I hope you all have a good day!

The Other Side of Animation 2015 Christmas Special Part 2: Santa’s Apprentice Review

(If you like what you see, go to camseyeview.biz to see the rest of my work. If you want to, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. Thanks for reading and enjoy the review! )

Adaptation is a tricky thing to pull off in filmmaking when you are making something based off a popular product. You want to stay loyal to the source material whether it is a show, book, comic book series, and so on. However, making a film is a lot different than writing a book. You have to make changes, and adapt the license so it can fit into a film format. For example, you shouldn’t shove a full 20-episode season into a film that is 103 minutes. You know, like how The Last Airbender turned out. But, you don’t want to change it up too much and use very little of the original source material, like the recent worst movie of 2015, Jem and the Holograms. There are other bad adaptations of popular franchises, like Galaxy Express 999, but since this is the holidays, I wanted to talk about an animated film based off a TV series called Santa’s Apprentice. This French/Australian/Irish animated film is based off the animated series, SantApprentice. It was originally released in 2010 to a solid reception. So, why did I choose this animated film for Christmas instead of many other animated Christmas films? Well, this film was co-produced by the team at Cartoon Saloon, who made one of my favorite films of 2015, Song of the Sea, and The Secret of Kells. So, without knowing anything about the original source material, I am going to go into this film as if it was its own thing. I feel like that would be the correct thing to do, since an adaptation of something should be enjoyable for all, and not just for the fans, hardcore or not. Now then, let’s begin!

This film is set in a world where Santa exists, and has a very particular rule. After a certain period of time, the current Santa must bring in a new apprentice to become the new Santa Claus. So, where shall we find our new future Santa? Well, why not Sydney, Australia? The individual that was chosen is a young orphan boy named Nicholas. As the movie goes from the beginning to the end, Nicholas encounters a baby polar bear, a female orphan that lives in the same orphanage as him, a really crummy bully, a reindeer with lights on his antlers, and magical Christmas wonder. Can Nicholas become the new Santa Claus? Can this 77-minute film stand on its own, without relying on the original animated series?

Let’s begin with the positive elements of the film. Since this is animated by the same studio that made Song of the Sea and The Secret of Kells, it is beautifully animated. While it might not be up-to-par with Song of the Sea, it still looks fantastic. Fluid movements, visually impressive locales, and bright colors are all gift-wrapped into a really remarkable-looking film. A lot of the backgrounds and scenery moments look like something out of a children’s storybook. It just screams Christmas. I also like the whole process of training to become Santa. Having to get presents under the tree without being spotted, going down a chimney on a house with no chimney, having  to play with toys from the past to get an idea of what to make in the future, learning how to fly in the sleigh, and so on. It’s pretty cool to see the movie break the job of Santa Claus down into individual challenges. I also like the voice work. Most of it can be soup of the day, but I think my favorite actor in the film is the one behind Santa’s voice, Shane Jacobson, who is most famous for his role in the mockumentary, Kenny. Maybe it’s because it the accent, but I really like this version of Santa. He likes jokes, is a hard worker, and is a pretty likable individual. I also liked Santa’s wife/personal assistant, Beatrice Lovejoy, who is voiced by Magda Szubanski. If that name sounds the tiniest bit familiar, she was Esme Hoggett from the Babe films. Anyway, Beatrice is also a hard-working and committed individual making sure Santa is okay.

Sadly, this is yet another one of those animated films that is lovely to look at, but has some lumps of coal under the tree. As much as I love the animation and scenery, the animation itself can get a little choppy at times. Another problem I have with the film is that the characters, besides the current Santa and his assistant, are not that memorable. The kid characters are boiler-plate, and they put in a really tacked-on antagonist, which is another orphan boy. I really don’t like the forced conflict of this villain, since I feel like the stake of the entire film is that Nicholas needs to be the new Santa. This jerk of an orphan is just not needed. Seriously, this kid should be in juvenile detention, not an orphanage. It’s funny how rotten this evil boy acts, since he is upset he wasn’t chosen to be the next Santa Claus. Well, maybe because you are a rude mean-spirited individual is the reason why you can’t be the new Santa. The little girl orphan is also forgettable, since she is just there to be the love interest for the main character.  I also think the pacing of the film could have been better. For a film that is 77 minutes long, they really cram in a lot of plot points, with characters who are not interesting, and are there for, well, plot reasons. It feels like to me they took a few story bits from the animated series and threw them in. You don’t even find out the orphan girl’s name until the last five minutes of the movie. It’s tedious to have to watch these forgettable characters, since it makes me focus on the somewhat ignorable art style of the film. The only design that stands out is Santa, and everyone else looks like something from a children-focused magazine. Granted, it looks much better than the animated series, but still, I think this film could have more unique designs in the kids and other characters.

So, that was Santa’s Apprentice. I honestly really wanted to love this movie. It has everything that I want in a good/entertaining Christmas special, but it so clunky in its plot, pacing, and characters, that it just misses that “Check it out!” rating. I think if they streamlined the plot, took their time, had more genuine emotional moments, fleshed out the relationship between Santa, Nicholas, and the young orphan girl, the film would be a true hidden gem. Who knows, maybe I’m being a bit too much like a Scrooge in terms of this movie, since I have seen a lot of positive reviews for the film. I don’t 100% hate this movie, I adore a lot of elements this film brings to the table, but if it’s flawed, then it needs to be talked about. I do know there is a sequel of sorts to this film, but from what I have read, and by read, I mean the 50% internet research and 50% personal guessing from said internet research, Cartoon Saloon didn’t help animate the sequel that is titled, The Magic Snowflake. Maybe if I can find this movie, I will review it for next year’s Christmas special. If you are looking for something a little different from a very talented studio, then maybe you should check out Santa’s Apprentice. Maybe you’ll like it more than I did. Well, that might have been somewhat underwhelming, but let’s end the year on a positive note with Robot Carnival. Thanks for reading, and see you next time!

Rating: Rent it!