The Other Side of Animation 134: Metropolis 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!)

Ambition feels like such a double-edged sword. You can be respected and admired for how far you take your project, but if it doesn’t entirely work out, all of that ambition will fall flat, due to execution. I’ve seen a lot of Japanese animated films, and that tends to happen to many of them. They might have great visuals, a grand scale in their themes, and so on, but due to either not a good director or writer, you end up with a films that feels clunky in their presentation. This is something I heard a lot about with Osamu Tezuka’s Metropolis. Directed by Rintaro, and written by Katsuhiro Otomo, this film was based on the late creator’s manga that was inspired by the famous sci-fi film of the same name. It’s noteworthy as well for being one of the first animated features to be submitted to the Oscars for Best Animated Feature in 2001, but didn’t make it, Instead, that awful Jimmy Neutron movie got nominated. With a list of talent like Rintaro directing, Tezuka’s original manga, and Otomo’s writing, this should be a slam dunk. It did get rave reviews, calling it one of the best animated films from Japan, and I do agree with that. However, let’s dive in and see what else we can find.

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Our story takes place in, where else, Metropolis! It’s a high tech city, filled to the brim with humans, rich and poor, having to live with robots that do a mass majority of “lower-class” work. The city is in a bit of a complicated moment in time, as the President, dubbed by Steve McGowan, is presenting a new massive tower, along with Duke Red, dubbed by Jamieson Price, who might have an alterior motive other than just showing how rich he is. At the same time, a detective named Shunsaku Ban, dubbed by Tony Pope, and his nephew Kenichi, dubbed by Brianne Siddall, arrive in the city to bring in a scientist named Dr. Laughton, dubbed by Simon Prescott. The scientist also happens to be working for Duke Red to make a special project for him. On the day that Shunsaku and Kenichi arrive in the city, and with the help of a robot detective named Pero, dubbed by Dave Mallow, they end up getting caught in a much bigger scheme. Dr. Laughton is then shot by an underling working for Duke Red named Rock, dubbed by Michael Relsz, and his lab is destroyed, with only a mysterious young girl named Tima, dubbed by Rebecca Forstadt, surviving. Why does Duke want her? Will the robots and humans find a way to not get into a revolution against one another? What motives does the President have in terms of the massive tower?

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The major complaint I heard about this movie is that the film is very busy. You not only have Tima and Kenichi, the mystery of Tima’s purpose, the lower class revolution, the discrimination against robots, Duke Red wanting to be a God, Babylon references, government corruption, and yeah, when I list all of that, so the film is busy. I don’t know if they wanted to adapt the entire story of Tezuka’s manga, since Tezuka wasn’t alive anymore when this film was made, but it does come off like that. There are different points in the second half where it seems like time skipped ahead, and nothing is filled in. You see the beginning of the revolution, but then it cuts to the end of it a few minutes later. It definitely feels like they could have cut some characters, because some of the motivations for how certain characters, like Rock and Duke Red, act are not fully explained to the audience. It definitely could have used some fine tuning in the writing, as the huge philosophical elements come off as wonky in the final product. Nothing wrong with combining religion and philosophy on what makes you human, but it does make the film overly complicated. It should have stuck with the story focusing on Tima and Kenichi, because while I do think their bond is strong, I wish there were more scenes with the two.

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I know it sounds like I might hate this movie, and I know some people do, but I really love it. I actually love quite a lot about this film, and I do still agree it’s one of the best and most important animated films from Japan. If you watch any clip of this film, you can tell that the combination of 2D animation and CGI is gorgeous. I love seeing Tezuka’s retro designs on a film budget. This entire film is brimming with beautiful animation, a lot of detail, and personality that makes the city of Metropolis thrive and feel alive. It definitely stands out among the animation seen in more modern day Japanese-animated films.

I also love its jazzy New Orleans-style soundtrack and orchestrated score by Toshiyuki Honda and Atsuki Kimura. However, the best song in this entire film is the Ray Charles version of I Can’t Stop Loving You. It makes the ending so much more emotionally powerful as you see what happens with everyone. It’s a song that always sticks in my mind, and I am actually addicted to it right now as I type this. As for the English dub, it’s pretty sweet, and they have a powerhouse of voice actors for the English dub. You have Brianne Siddall, Rebecca Forstadt, Tony Pope, Jamieson Price, Michael Reisz, Steve Blum, Dave Mallow, Simon Prescott, Dan Woren, Doug Stone, William Frederick Knight, and Barbara Goodson to name some of the best talent you can find in anime. Even though some characters could have been fleshed out more, I still felt for them, and was invested in the overall story. The main heart of the film is definitely when Kenichi and Tima are together. They have some of the best scenes and interactions together. Even if I think this film doesn’t handle philosophical themes well, I still admire that it wanted to be more than just another animated film. It’s at the very least, more than you can say about studios like Blue Sky and Illumination, which I would argue have no ambition to be more than just animated features.

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I find myself constantly coming back to Metropolis. I have seen it probably five or so times now, and I still love it despite its flaws. Unfortunately the original DVD release of this film is entering the $30 range, and I don’t think I would recommend doing that when Mill Creek Entertainment is about to put out a new steel book Blu-ray release of it. If you love animation, the works of Osamu Tezuka, and Japanese-animation history, you should definitely check out this film. For now, let’s take a break from Japanese animation, and move on over to what might be Netflix’s best animated feature since The Little Prince with White Fang. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

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The Other Side of Animation 129: Batman Ninja 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!)

You know, there is only so much you can do with a character, before you have to start getting creative. You either find new ways to tackle a character that has been around forever, or you simply stop their story right then and there. There are also tactics and plans to be had in-between those two decisions, but when you are someone like Batman, you have pretty much done it all. Batman Ninja, directed by Junpei Mizusaki, is one of the rare DC animated features to not be tied down to the more strict DC-animated film tropes. It’s a Batman film that decided to take a big shot of anime in its veins, and that is what we got. It also had some big names attached to it, like Takashi Okazaki, who was the creator of Afro Samurai, and Yugo Kanno, who did the music for Blame!Psycho-Pass, and the PlayStation 4 game, Nioh. It’s also one of the more interesting animated features, due to its mix of CGI and 2D animation. So, is it as good as the best action anime out there? Is it one of the best DC animated films out there? Let’s find out.

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The story starts us off with Batman, dubbed this time by Roger Craig Smith, during a mission at night, as he tries to stop Gorilla Grodd, dubbed by Fred Tatasciore, from selling another mighty invention of his to the black market for supervillains. These villains include Poison Ivy, dubbed by Tara Strong, Deathstroke, dubbed by Fred Tatasciore, Two-Face, dubbed by Eric Bauza, The Penguin, dubbed by Tom Kenny, Harley Quinn, dubbed by Tara Strong, and of course, The Joker, dubbed by Tony Hale. After Batman gets into a fight with Grodd, the machine goes haywire, and sends all of them, including some of Bruce’s closest allies and partners, back into feudal-era Japan. Now, along with Catwoman, dubbed by Grey Griffin, his butler Alfred, dubbed by Adam Croasdell, Nightwing, also dubbed by Adam Croasdell, Robin, dubbed by Yuri Lowenthal, Red Robin, dubbed by Will Friedle, and Red Hood, also dubbed by Yuri Lowenthal, must stop the villains, turn back time, and save the day.

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So, what’s so amazing about this film? Well, for one of the rare occasions, DC decided to let someone else take the wheel, and they take the wheel hardBatman Ninja is unapologetically dumb, fun, over-the-top, Japanese, and it will not stand down. Out of many of the DC-animated features I have seen the past few years, this one felt like it had the most consistent tones outside of the Adam West Batman films. It’s Batman in Japan, fighting a version of the Joker, whose grand master plan is to make a giant mech, and rewrite history. It will not let up on how anime this entire film is. From the designs to the action-packed fight sequences, it was clear that they knew what they were doing. Heck, they even have giant robot fights. Again, giant robot fights between the villains and Batman in feudal Japan. While there is definitely a story arc for Batman having to remember to rely less on his gadgets and more on his closest allies and his own skill, it’s balanced out enough within the main plot to keep you invested among the insanity.

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While I was fairly disappointed in how this film was going to be mostly CGI, and CGI on a small budget can be a gamble if you do not have the right creative team, I felt like it worked. Sure, they act like puppets sometimes, but the models used are way more expressive, detailed, and they feel like they have some kind of life to them. I was concerned about how action sequences would be handled, but I never found it distracting that they were CGI. The action is fast, brutal, satisfying, full of energy, and very entertaining to watch. The last fight between Batman and Joker is probably one of the best fights among these animated DC features. I never found myself wondering what the heck was going on during the fights. I think that’s because, unlike the Berserk anime series that uses CGI, Batman Ninja has proper direction in how the fights flow. On top of the crazy action, the color pallet is used well, the CGI models look good on the 2D planes, and they even have an entire surreal sequence done in 2D animation, and it looks fantastic. The music by Yugo Kanno was also matched up well with the film’s pacing and style. The big action theme that plays near the end is quite heart-pounding, and it makes the final fight so intense to watch.

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In terms of the voice cast, I was surprised. While we have some returning faces like Roger Craig Smith, Tom Kenny and Tara Strong reprising their roles as Batman, Penguin, and Harley Quinn, the rest of the voice cast is pretty spot-on. I was curious to see how Tony Hale would do as The Joker, and while a bit off-putting at first, he does a good job capturing that zany crazy nature of the character. As you can tell, many of the actors in this film pull double shifts with voicing multiple characters, but they are each unique sounding enough to not be an issue or a distracting element to the overall film. It was also simply fun to see other villains outside of the main Batman library, like Gorilla Grodd, who is definitely one of the more entertaining aspects of the film.

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While I do love this film in terms of how willing it is to be not only visually creative, but fun with its plot and setting, I do have a few complaints. I get why they used CGI animation, and it’s not the worst I have seen, but it definitely shows itself at times with how limiting it is. Sometimes characters seem more like puppets, and less like actual characters that are on the screen. It’s even more distracting when you can tell that not everyone is a CGI model. It is better than what I have seen Polygon Pictures or the Berserk series use, but I wish they went full-stop 2D animation for this film. For as fun as the action is, the final battle that is not Batman and The Joker is really underwhelming. You have all of these amazing villains and characters with the unlimited creativity of anime fight sequences, and the villains end up losing in under a minute. It’s really underwhelming, because all the other action sequences in the film are great. The one full 2D sequence was fun to see in the film, but it sticks out like a sore thumb. I don’t think I fully got why it was only that one scene, and why it was animated in such a way. The rest of the complaints are minor, like even though I respect how much the film wrapped itself up in the anime culture, some parts were just a bit much, like the little monkey sidekick. Some of Batman’s sidekicks also don’t have a lot to do, or get that many line reads.

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Overall, Batman Ninja is just a fun movie. By the end of the year, it probably won’t be in my top ten or five, depending on what else comes out, but it will be one that people should definitely pick up. If you were burned by their other animated features, definitely pick this one up. I had a lot of fun, and it’s easily one of the most entertaining DC animated films you can get right now. For now, we must move on to the 130th review as we take a look at another film that may be good or bad for infamous reasons. I won’t say what it is, but you will have to see next time! Thanks for reading the review! I hope you enjoyed it, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Go See It!

Animation Tidbits #7: Annecy 2018 Edition Part 2

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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/list!)

Last time, we looked at the Annecy’s In Competition line-up of films. Now, we are going to look at the Out of Competition films. These are the films that are showing, but not competing for the awards. It doesn’t make them any less interesting or important, because some of the films in this section are important. Let’s not waste anymore time, and let’s dive into the films that look the most promising to me. If you want to see part 1, you can go to this link right here! Let’s get started!

Out of Competition

Captain Morten and the Spider Queen: While its use of stop-motion might be more similar to something like My Life as a Zucchini, and less of the Aardman and Laika-style, this film does look creative. The story is about a boy who is shrunk down to a small size, and must sail his toy boat across a flooded café, avoiding the Spider Queen and Scorpion Pirate. Hopefully, they take advantage and have some fun with the “I shrunk down to the size of an action figure” setting, and it also seems like it’s going to be more than just a “shrinking movie” with everything probably having some kind of symbolic meaning to it.

Chris the Swiss: Here is one of the few partly animated, part-documentary films from this event. Chris the Swiss tells the story of, well, a Swiss man named Chris, who decades ago joined an army, and died. His cousin, an animation film director, decides to investigate what exactly happened with Chris, from what was going on at the time, and from the journals and war reports going on. I’m definitely curious to see where this takes us, in terms of the story, and how much animation will be in the film. It definitely will give us some unique visuals and a dark and interesting tone you don’t see in a lot of animated features.

Chuck Steel: Night of the Trampires: There is a surprising amount of stop-motion at this year’s festival. Chuck Steel is essentially an 80s action cop film about Chuck Steel, who must save the day from an outbreak of Trampires, a horrific mixture of vampires and homeless people. It’s definitely aiming for that dumb schlock fun, and the stop-motion reminds me of the work by Will Vinton. It has a lot of detail and personality, and while it definitely shows the budget at times, Chuck Steel will hopefully be a fun time.

Hoffmaniada: Man, we are just getting so many of stop-motion projects this year. This is the story of a writer who gets sucked into his own book, and must escape the world in which the book takes place. It seems like it would lead to many creative and surreal visuals. I have seen about 30 minutes of the film, and it looks great. Sure, it looks like if the Rankin & Bass team had more budget in their specials, but the designs look great, and it reminds me of a lot of period dramas, due to the designs. Hopefully we can get a distributor like Good Deed Entertainment to bring it over.

Liz and the Blue Bird: From director Naoko Yamada, the individual behind the critically acclaimed A Silent Voice, is back with a new film called Liz and the Blue Bird. It follows the story of two female high school students, as they bond and get over challenges that life brings them while they are in band class. I think everyone can relate to when reality strikes you down, and starts to cause fissures around your life that will inevitably cause change.  It definitely looks interesting, and since it’s the same studio that did A Silent Voice, the animation is gorgeous. Sure, it has a bit of that “anime-style” that will probably turn non-Japanese animation watchers off, but the story sounds promising, and from what reviews I have read, it sounds like it’s going to be a good movie.

Maquia: When the Promised Flowers Blooms: What’s fairly cool about this year’s selection is that there are two female-directed Japanese-animated films. Liz and the Blue Bird, and this film, Maquia, by director Mari Okada. This one tells the story about a young woman named Maquia, who lives with a bunch of magical beings that weave the threads of human fate. One day, an invasion happens. She survives, but also finds a young boy to take care of, who was a survivor of the attack. Like our previous film on this list, it has some anime design choices I don’t personally care for, like the human designs, but I can overlook that, due to the goal and themes of the film. Okada is implementing themes of motherhood and adolescence into a touching tale. I trust she’s going to do a good job, and on top of Mari Okada, who was the screenwriter for The Anthem of the Heart, you also have character designer Akihiko Yoshia (Final Fantasy Tactics), and the music will be composed by Kenji Kawai, who did the music for Ghost in the Shell. I just love that more female directors are getting to work in animation, and are bringing in new perspectives, something that is sorely needed in animation.

North of Blue: This film by famed indie animation director Joanna Priestley is a visual wonder. It’s a film that’s more of an emotional and visual experience about our history and connectedness. It’s definitely a film that you are either going to love, due to all the emotion that the downright amazing visuals bring, or think it’s all style and no substance. I didn’t know what to expect when I watched the trailer for this film, but I can’t wait to see it!

On Happiness Road: So, I have been on the record of loving Only Yesterday, because it brings up adult topics of being adults, and looking back at our past to see if we are fine or happy with where we are now. This animated feature from Taiwan, On Happiness Road, directed by Hsin-Yin Sung, looks to capture that aspect that I loved about Only Yesterday. Yes, the animation looks more like a really good indie animated short from YouTube, but I think what’s going to help this film is the lovely visuals, writing, and the characters. I think everyone has had a moment to look back at where they are now, and wonder if they are accepting of what has happened since being a child. Plus, how many animated features from Taiwan do you see that look super promising? I can’t wait to see how this one turns out.

The Last Fiction: This action fantasy flick, based on the Iranian tale, The Shahnameh (The Book of Kings), is coming to us from Iran by director Ashkan Rahgozar. While there are definitely bits and pieces that you can point at to show off the budget, when are you ever going to get an action animated feature? So many US-made animated features don’t have variety, and while some have action sequences, a lot of them are played up more for laughs, than to watch something thrilling. It looks like a grand epic, and while it can definitely be compared visually to something like Avatar: The Last Airbender, I’m happy to see something coming from Iran. The more countries that invest into high quality animation, the better.

The Tower: I swear this is the last stop-motion film on the list. There are simply too many to count this year! This multi-country collaboration is a mix of 2D flash animation and stop-motion about a young girl living in a refugee camp. While its stop-motion looks like the style used in shows like The Amanda Show or the Oscar-nominated Negative Space, and the flash animation might not look impressive to many, it’s going to have to come down to the story and the characters to push us through the experience. I definitely think this has potential to be well-received, but we will have to see.

The Angel in the Clock: While I can definitely criticize some aspects, like the art style and the animation looking a bit too child-friendly, I have to give respects to Mexico for their entry in feature animation. It’s also a story that would get no traction from the big animation studios here in the states. It’s about a young girl who has leukemia, who wants to stop time. She then meets an angel named Malachi that lives inside her cuckoo clock. I love the idea that this film is going to be tackling such a dark and uncomfortable topic, and talking about how more people need to learn to enjoy what’s happening here and now, and worry less about the future. Like I said, the animation and designs are not my favorite, but the visuals look great, and I’m always down for more films aimed at children to tackle different topics.

A Man is Dead: And finally, we have this hour-long French animated feature called A Man is Dead. It’s based on the comics that are set during the strikes in Brest back in April of 1950 that caused the death of a union worker. While again, definitely showing its budget, it also does a good job to bring us into this rather tough and violent time period. Yes, the characters look like French comic characters with the small dot eyes, but we will have to see how the story and pacing carries over the span of the film. It doesn’t have a lot of time to get an entire story told, because it’s an hour long, but as usual, any film that talks about certain periods of time that are unique and original through the power of animation, gets my thumbs up and approval.

Thanks for reading! Next time, we will be looking at the films in the “Work in Progress/Others” section!

Animation Tidbits #6: Annecy 2018 Edition Part 1

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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/list!)

For every kind of hobby or job, you bet there is going to be a massive festival, convention, or what have you, to celebrate all that. Like, for me, you’ve got your gaming events like E3, and for the sake of this article, your Animation is Film Festivals and Annecy. For this editorial, I’m going to be talking about the Annecy 2018 festival. I always look forward to seeing what the rest of the world is doing, and it shows that the foreign animation scene is still incredibly healthy. I’m going to only go over the choices in three categories of the festival. I will be talking about the films competing, the films showing out of competition, and the films in the work-in-progress section. However, I won’t talk about previous films that I have talked about in the past Animation Tidbits editorials, like The Breadwinner and Gatta Cenerentola. Let’s get started with the films In Competition.

In Competition

Funan: This is a film by Denis Do, and is from Belgium, Cambodia, France, and Luxembourg. It’s about a woman who has to fight back and survive during the Khmer Rouge regime. Its animation reminds me of Long Way North, where they had the human designs, and everything else lacks the black outlines. It doesn’t seem to shy away about the horrific incident during this period in time, and what happened to the people in Funan.

Mirai: It’s always an exciting time when Mamoru Hosoda is making a new movie, and Mirai is interesting. If you haven’t heard about this film, it’s about a four year old boy, who has to deal with getting a new younger sister. However, while in a garden, he ends up meeting a woman who happens to be his future younger sister as a teen. It has a lot of Hosoda’s wonderful touches, like his gorgeous animation, distinct character designs, and his focus on themes of family with a magical element to it. While I love most of the Japanese/Asian-animated films released stateside this year, I really can’t wait to see Mirai.

Okko’s Inn: Okko’s Inn is based on a manga and anime series. It’s about a young girl who helps her grandmother at her hot spring inn, and learns how to run it. Along the way, she ends up meeting new human and supernatural friends. I’m a bit turned off by the art style, due to the more simple designs. I’m also fairly concerned with how the story will be handled, due to the fact that while it’s not going to be based on any stories in the series or books, anime film adaptations of existing properties don’t always end up being that good. Still, that could simply be me not being that impressed by its trailer. If we can actually see this film in the states, I would be down to checking it out.


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/264768954″>Seder-Masochism Trailer April 2018</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user2983855″>Nina Paley</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Seder-Masochism: If this trailer’s art style and vibe look familiar, it’s by the same director who did the very interesting Sita Sings the Blues, Nina Paley. This story follows multiple stories, including the story of Moses, the angel of death, and much more. While it is definitely on the more limited budget side, it’s visually amazing, it has its own personality, and once again, the music choice is inspired. This just reminds me that I need to review Sita Sings the Blues.


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/268483632″>Tito and the Birds (Tito e os P&aacute;ssaros) – trailer of the feature film</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/bitsproductions”>Bits Productions</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Tito and the Birds: This is one of the few South American (specifically Brazil) animated features that caught my interest. It is the story of a boy who must save his city from an epidemic that causes people to get sick when they experience fear. At first, I was concerned about the visuals, while watching the trailer for this film. The movements looked stiff, but with the help of fluid expressions, colors, visuals, you don’t really notice some of the clunky movements. I’m curious to see how in-depth they go with this “fear epidemic” situation, because I could see something similar to how propaganda was used in Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards. Tito and the Birds definitely has me intrigued.

Wall: While some people probably could argue that this film’s animation shouldn’t count, since it looks like Waltz with Bashir and the upcoming Another Day of Life, but it’s not really live-action either. The striking visuals tell the story of the wall between Israel and Palestine. It’s more grounded and more serious than other entries, and I’m curious to see how much advantage they take of the film being animated for some creative visuals. It will include politics, social issues, and economic topics that are caused by this wall.


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/256309682″>La Casa Lobo / The Wolf House OFFICIAL TRAILER</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/diluvio”>Diluvio</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

The Wolf House: Probably the creepiest animated feature of the festival, this stop-motion nightmare of surreal and disturbing imagery is about a woman who finds refuge inside a house, while hiding from German religious fanatics in Chile. You definitely have to watch the trailer to see how insane some parts are.  This could also lead into a style-over-substance experience, but we will have to see how dreamlike the film gets, before it becomes too much. Still, I wasn’t expecting something like this, and I can’t wait to hopefully see it someday.

That’s it for part 1! Next time, we shall look at the films in the Out of Competition category.

The Other Side of Animation 124: Gnomeo & Juliet 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!)

Many would argue that animation’s darkest year was 1985. This was the year Disney’s The Black Cauldron came out, bombed, got panned, and lost to The Care Bears Movie. Outside of Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, and Gwen, The Book of Sand, there was nothing else. I do agree with that opinion, but there have been a lot of bad/underwhelming years for animation. You not only have 1985, but you have 1987, 1997, 2006, and one of the more interesting years to talk about, 2011. 2011 had a lot of the same problems 2017 had, where there was not much to look forward to, and much of it felt like filler, just to get to the few mainstream films and the indie darlings. Even the indie animation wasn’t stellar in 2011. So, where does Gnomeo & Juliet rest on the list of films from 2011? Directed by Kelly Asbury, the same director behind the DreamWorks hit Shrek 2Gnomeo & Juliet, if you couldn’t tell by the title, is a variation on the famous tragic romance story of, well, Romeo & Juliet. While it didn’t get the best reviews, with an overall rating of 56% and a reviewer average of 5.6/10 on Rotten Tomatoes, it was a surprise financial hit. Then again, when you do not have a lot of competition, you are bound to do well. It even spawned a sequel that we will get to next time. So, after seven years, and learning that this was a passion project for Elton John, does this film actually hold up? Let’s check it out, and see what happens.

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The story takes place between two gardens that are next to each other. One belongs to Mrs. Montague, and the other belongs to Mr. Capulet. Once they leave the house, the garden gnomes from both gardens come to life. We then focus on our two leads, Gnomeo, played by James McAvoy and Juliet, voiced by Emily Blunt. Their families hate each other, and oddly enough, the two gnomes fall for each other. Can they find a way to be in love with one another before war breaks out between the two families? Can Elton John shove in as many references to himself as possible?

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So, let’s talk about the positives first. While I am not the biggest fan of this film, nor do I think it’s some underrated gem, I do have a few positives aspects to talk about. While not having a huge budget, the film’s budget was at a supposed $36 mil, they did find a way to work with it. The animation is not fluid, but you could argue that is the point. Because of how they are made of clay, you can excuse the textures and their clunky movements. I mean, it’s not like garden gnomes stay clean 24-7. They get affected by the environment and weather. This argument can’t be used for every part of the film’s CGI animation, but at the very least, the garden gnomes and garden items can use it.

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When the film isn’t focusing on pandering family film elements, and decides to focus on Gnomeo and Juliet, their chemistry is cute. Emily Blunt and James McAvoy work well off each other, and their relationship dynamic can be adorable at times. I also like the lawn flamingo, but that could be because he’s voiced by one of the greatest voice actors of all time, Jim Cummings. The flamingo probably has the second best story bits besides Gnomeo and Juliet. While I didn’t laugh a whole lot, there were a few jokes and moments that did get a small chuckle. Some of the Elton John references were cute, but that’s because I know who he is. The ad for the super lawnmower that is narrated by Hulk Hogan is also enjoyable, but in that “oh, I know who that is” kind of way. I don’t know if kids would find any of this film funny, because I saw this by myself. Now, you can calculate how sad that a 28 year old is watching an animated feature by himself on your own time.

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Everything else from this point on, fumbles and cracks onto the ground like a potted plant falling from a three-story window. The story is fairly predictable, and since this will not follow the ending of the film, it’s hard to sit there, knowing what’s going to happen at the end. This is especially the case when you are watching this to review its sequel. Many of the side characters are harmless, but they don’t leave that much of an impression on you. It makes you wonder why they got Ozzy Osbourne for the deer when he doesn’t really add anything to the role. At least in Brutal Legend, he was himself and was having an obvious blast with his character. It always bugs me when you get celebrities for cameos, and do nothing with them. While I give a somewhat pass to the animation, you can definitely tell this needed more polish. Of course, more polish might be a bad thing at times, but I wouldn’t be taken out of the experience when the animation quality dropped at the level of straight-to-DVD films.

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Really, it’s tough to be mad at this film. Gnomeo and Juliet is harmless. It’s really forgettable, and while not a good film at all, it’s not super memorable enough to be as the filmgoers like to say “terra-bad”. If you see it for a dollar or something, then I think you would be seeing a harmless, if ultimately mediocre animated feature. It’s definitely way better than Mars Needs Moms and Hoodwinked Too, but only by a slim margin, because it had some heart in the production. I definitely would be recommending films like Song of the Sea or Ernest & Celestine over Gnomeo & Juliet. Well, you won’t have to wait much longer, as the next review is of the sequel, Sherlock Gnomes. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Lackluster!

Favorite Shorts from the 19th Animation Show of Shows

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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/list!)

Recently, I went with my dad to the 19th Animation Show of Shows. This was a viewing of 16 different animated shorts from around the world. It was a blast, and there were plenty of amazing shorts that were shown. I decided to do a list of my favorite ones. I’m not going to go in any order, because one being better than another one came down to splitting hairs, and really, they all deserve a place on this list.

Can You Do It

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This was the first short shown as a cool mix of CGI and a wonderful modern pop art style by director Quentin Baillieux. While it is a glorified music video for the song by Charles X, it’s a fantastic and fairly optimistic song laid over a mix of economic classes, coming together for this one event. It’s an incredible short, and has an incredible song.

Next Door

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While this short is from 1990, this 2D animated short from now-famed director Pete Docter was full of charm. The 2D animation was fluid, and the cute story of a young girl and a grumpy old guy bonding over something made my heart flutter around with happiness. It’s also a good historic short for people curious to see Pete’s earlier work.

The Alan Dimension

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This was a fun and charming short by Jac Clinch. Its mix of 2D, CGI, and stop-motion made it one of the more visually unique animated shorts about an old man who has this special power to see into the future. It was the right balance of funny and heartwarming, as it showed what happens when you think too much about the future, but not enough about what’s important to you right here and right now in the present.

Hangman

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If I was putting these in order, I think Hangman, a short from 1964 by Paul Julian and Les Goldman, that was remastered in 2017, would be my favorite out of the 16. This animated adaptation of a philosophical poem, while lacking in pure 2D animation, made up for it in a strong, foreboding, eerie, and uncomfortable atmosphere. Seeing how the Hangman worked, and how the people reacted to the individual was the highlight of the short. While a lot of it was still frames, I could argue that when there is animation, it elevates the horror aspect of the short. You can find it on YouTube (though not in amazing quality), but if they can somehow restore this, and upload it to YouTube or on a DVD with some extras talking about it, I would definitely recommend checking it out.

Gokurosama

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After Hangman, my second favorite of the shorts was this French animation called Gokurosama. It was an effort by Clémentine Frère, Aurore Gal, Yukiko Meignien, Anna Mertz, Robin Migliorelli, and Romain Salvini. The CGI animation was perfect for this type of short. It had a nice misty glow to the entire Japanese shopping mall location, and everyone looked like small model figurines that you would see in a miniature display of a building that you would show to investors. While there is no dialogue, the fact that it perfectly paces itself with the physical comedy and a very simple slice-of-life story is what made this a highly watchable short. It reminds me how creative certain people can be when working with certain limitations, and I want to see more animated films try and be like this short or Hangman.

Dear Basketball

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I’ll admit, when I was writing my editorial about the Oscar-animated shorts, I was fairly harsh on this short. I know there is a lot of talk about Kobe’s past allegations, and while I still enjoyed LOU and Revolting Rhymes more, Glen Keane and Kobe Bryant’s Dear Basketball was a fantastic short. I still adore the fanciful pencil sketch style that flowed well with the elegant John Williams score. It’s not just a short about basketball, it’s about a man who gave his life, body, and soul to the love and passion he had for his sport. It’s an emotionally touching short, and I can’t wait to see what Glen Keane does next with his upcoming feature film.

Island

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This German short by director Max Mortl and Robert Lobel had a very cute stop-motion look to the rhythm of nature. It has no dialogue in it, and only has the sounds of the wildlife that end up making a catchy tune. Its designs might be simple, but they get the job done, and make for some pretty humorous animal designs. It was one of the shorter shorts on this list, but it was the right amount.

Unsatisfying

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Unsatisfying was probably the shortest of the shorts on this list of favorites, but it seems like it was intentionally short. This humorous 3D/CGI short was showed the most unsatisfying moments in life. They are simply small moments that kept building up as to how unsatisfying certain moments in life are. I think anyone who watches this short can relate to something, like a soda getting stuck in a vending machine, missing the bullseye playing darts, and you get the idea. It’s bittersweet, but all around hilarious.

 My Burden

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My Burden is a stop-motion film by Niki Lindroth Von Bahr about the night lives of night shift employees, all of which are animals, at a customer support service, a hotel, a grocery store, and a fast-food joint. While the tone has music and individuals dancing, it also shows darker themes that the director described of boredom, being alone, and existential anxiety. While I have never really worked night shifts, I can understand on an emotional level how that feels. The stop-motion animation was charming, and there was a subtle sense of humor with certain moments, like an anchovy at the hotel saying he’s alone, because he has bad skin. It might be a weird short about animals with night-shift jobs, but that weird feel is what makes this a favorite short.

Our Wonderful Nature: The Common Chameleon

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Listen, I love nature documentaries, and whenever I see one on TV, I do watch it. However, I loved this wonderful CGI short parodying a segment of a nature show. Directed by Tomer Eshed, this German-animated short was misleading, in a good way. At first, you see the fairly realistic-looking CGI chameleon, but then you see the animation side of things slowly ooze out with how the chameleon smiles after eating a small fly, and then watch as his constant hunger gets the best of him. It’s another short that has no real dialogue besides the faux nature documentary narrator, and relies on physical comedy. It’s short, but very effective. It was probably the one short that got some of the biggest laughs in my theater.

Everything

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Now, I do have some issues with this one being considered an animated short. It’s a really good short, but should it count as an animated short when it’s a video game? It’s basically some slightly altered gameplay footage. However, I can’t deny that this was a very effective short. The voice-over narration done by late British philosopher Alan Watts really makes you have an existential moment about life. He unloads about how everything is connected, from the smallest atom, to the biggest living creature. Everyone has a role to play, and we constantly rely on one another to live. The visuals are simple, but they get the job done. Plus, the simple visuals get really surreal when you see a bunch of items flying around in space. While I can debate if this actually counts as an animated short, it’s still a short worth checking out!

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