The Other Side of Animation 114: Despicable Me 3 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!)

As you can tell, so far, my opinion on the Despicable Me franchise has been consistently, okay. Each film does something I like, but for every element I like, it does something that I don’t like. They have all been passable and harmless movies. And really, that’s sadly the term I would use for the studio, passable and harmless. They seem to be in this financially successful rut of not wanting to challenge themselves artistically. I respect and admire that not every film needs to be a Disney or Pixar heavy-weight, but at the same time, you can only go so far and so long in being successful when you are doing nothing different. Even though I like their film, SING, I still had plenty to dislike about it, and I can’t really say that I have a film of theirs I truly and utterly love and would recommend on the spot. I know there are talented people working on this franchise, and I think they don’t fully deserve a lot of this criticism, but you can’t help but think that they could be trying harder with their films. Sooner or later, another studio is going to come along, and be the next big thing, and Illumination will probably be in the same situation that Blue Sky was when they were churning out Ice Age sequels. I don’t want that to be the case, but if their future films are anything like Despicable Me 3, then I’m going to be concerned. Directed again by Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda, Despicable Me 3 came out June 30th, 2017, and while once again, gaining mixed reviews, was another billion dollar cash cow for the studio and Universal. So, where do I stand on the quickest franchise to reach a trilogy and a spin-off? Well, let’s see if my mind has changed with this film.

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The story starts off with Gru, voiced by Steve Carell, and his wife Lucy, voiced by Kristen Wiig, on a mission to stop an evil villain known as Balthazar Bratt, an ex-child star-turned super-villain, voiced by the co-creator of South Park, Trey Parker. The good news is that they stop Bratt from his plan of stealing a large diamond, but the bad news is that Gru and Lucy get chewed out and fired from the Anti-Villain League for not capturing him. While making sure to comfort his kids in knowing that they will be alright, Gru gets a letter and a surprise from his long-lost rich twin brother, Dru, voiced also by Steve Carell. Gru and his family decide to visit his brother, who tries to tempt Gru back into the world of villainy. Gru takes up his brother’s offer, and decides to use this opportunity to get at Bratt. All the while, the Minions are rioting, and have left Gru.  Lucy is trying to become a step-mother to Gru’s adopted daughters. Can they stop Bratt from pulling off an evil heist? Will Gru and Dru bond as brothers? Will this film try a bunch of storylines, while not putting in the effort into making those stories interesting?

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I would like to get into the criticisms with this one first, but I want to get into the positives first, because I don’t hate this entire movie. The animation is, once again, very impressive. It’s pretty much the same level of quality that Minions had. Though maybe it’s just me, but I think they got their physical comedy down. Like the other films, I did find myself laughing, and as usual, it helps when the comedic animation is snappy. It’s fast enough to not be too much, and a lot of the jokes land. Balthazar Bratt is definitely a more gimmick-focused villain, due to his 80s attire, gadgets, and, well, everything else about him. However, Trey Parker does a good job with this villain, and makes him the best villain of the franchise so far. I was curious to see how Trey Parker would handle the role, and he brought a lot of great energy to the character, even if he had some cringe/eye-rolling lines.

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I also respect that this film did attempt to do more than just be more comedy-oriented like the second film. I like that it brought up a few different storylines. I liked Gru and Dru’s chemistry and the stories about their parents’ reaction to them both growing up, I liked Lucy wanting to be a better mother to Gru’s kids, and I even like the mass majority of the Minions rioting and walking out on Gru because he isn’t being a super-villain anymore. I even like that throughout three major films, Gru is still a likable character. Even after being tempted to go back to the side of being a super-villain, he’s still getting back at Bratt to help his family. It would have been very easy for him to just think about himself and be this unlikable character, like Shrek was in the fourth film. Instead, he doesn’t want to stop being a father or a husband, and I like that. I was also surprised about how little the Minions were in the film. What you see in the trailers is basically what you see in the film. It has its hit-and-miss jokes, but it was decently entertaining.

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If you don’t think I have complaints about this film, then I don’t know where you have been for the past couple of reviews. Personally, Despicable Me 3 shows everything that is wrong with the franchise on a film and artistic level. For every plotline they set up, they either do the bare minimum into putting effort into said plotline, or go nowhere with it. Where do they go with Gru and Dru’s relationship and the fact their parents were both disappointed with them in their own separate ways? It goes nowhere. Where does Gru and Dru’s relationship go beyond a very soft “liar’s revealed” storyline? It goes essentially nowhere. How deep is the story arc of Lucy trying to be a good mother to the girls? It has barely any focus. Do they ever dive into social commentary about Bratt, and how Hollywood and entertainment treats child actors? They do not. What about one of the girl’s subplot about her faith that unicorns exist? They do nothing with it. Do the little girls get to do a whole lot? They get to do a whole lot of nothing! I know the girls are meant to be the “heart” of the franchise and films, but if you can’t find any meaningful way to fit them into the story, then write them out of the film, by saying they are off in summer camp or something. I also wish Dru was played by a different actor. It comes off as lazy and cheap that they essentially rehashed Gru’s character model, changed it up enough, and decided to save money by hiring Carell to do the other voice.

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There is so much going on, and yet, not a whole lot happens. When I wasn’t having one of the few occasional laughs, or being invested in the few decent heartfelt moments, I was bored. It once again feels like they had ideas, and the writers weren’t good enough to know what to do, or they weren’t given the freedom to risk a few elements to actually progress the story. It’s concerning, since this also made a billion dollars at the box office, and even more than that in DVD and merchandise sales. Am I missing something here? I feel like this franchise is going to turn into the new Ice Age franchise, if they don’t start putting in the effort to improve everything. Yes, I laughed, the animation is good, the voice cast does a fine job, and the action is fun to watch, but after watching the film, I was left not remembering much, or caring about what happened. It doesn’t help things that they basically set up a fourth film that’s now going to happen. In my opinion, if they cut out a few story arcs, and focused on sharper writing and storytelling, then we may have had a pretty good movie. Instead, we get fairly hollow storylines and wasted opportunities.

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In the end, Despicable Me 3 is fine. It’s probably the most average film I have ever seen out of the franchise so far. I liked Gru, Lucy, and the villain, but they weren’t strong enough to make this a good movie. It baffles me how people are finally sick of the Ice Age franchise, but are not sick of this franchise for becoming hollower and more manipulative than usual. It’s not a tough watch or anything, but if they don’t’ start improving, another studio is going to come marching on through with the next new shiny thing, and Illumination will be forgotten. I am not harsh on them, because of the community getting sick of Minions, I’m harsh on them because they are talented individuals working on these films, and yet, they are perfectly fine with being boiler-plate forgettable. I hope they can improve, and if they do, then I’ll be happy to be there at any screening, and to praise the hard work at making better films. For now, I’m tired of this franchise, and I need a break. Next time, we will look at the popular TV series known as HarmonQuest. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Rent it!

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The Other Side of Animation 112: Despicable Me 2 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!)

After any movie in the theater makes a small country’s worth of money, you know Hollywood will want a sequel. It’s always a shame when a sequel doesn’t always hit the mark, since you would believe a sequel to a super popular movie would be easy to do. All you really need to do is progress the story, characters, and not repeat anything from the last film. Sadly, we do have more bad sequels than good ones. So, where does Despicable Me 2 land? Directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, Despicable Me 2 came out in 2013, and while it got mixed reviews, it was still a massive financial success by making $970.8 million on an increased $76 mil budget. It even got an oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature, but lost out to Frozen. So, is it better than the original? Is it funnier than the first film? Or is this the start of the downfall of Illumination Entertainment as an animation studio? Let’s get down to it!

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Steve Carrell is back as Gru, now living as a happy single father with his three girls. One day, he gets a visit from a mysterious woman, and is then kidnapped by her. This dangerous individual with a lipstick taser is Lucy Wilde, voiced by Kristen Wiig. Lucy has taken Gru to an organization known as the Anti-Villain League to help out in a situation where a mutagen called PX-41 was stolen by an unknown super-villain. At first, Gru is reluctant to join, but after his partner in crime, Dr. Nefario decides to quit, since Gru is no longer a super-villain, Gru takes up the job, and joins Lucy in trying to find out who stole the mutagen.

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Once again, let’s start with the good stuff. First up on the docket, the animation is 10 times better than the previous film. Say what you will about Illumination Entertainment, they quickly improved the quality. Even in that terrible The Lorax film they did, you can tell they had their animation down by that point. Everything looks better, from the textures, to the designs, to the snappier movements. It leads to the comedy being a lot funnier. Speaking of comedy, one of the biggest complaints I had of the first film was that the villain was very weak. Thankfully, the villain this time, Eduardo “El Macho” Perez, voiced by Benjamin Bratt, is a very entertaining villain. While not super complex in any way personality-wise, he’s way more amusing with a better design, lines, and probably one of the most over-the-top goofy deaths in any animated comedy. One of the big new additions to the franchise is Kristen Wiig’s Lucy Wilde. I’m usually hit-or-miss with Wiig as a comedy actress, but I think she has a lot of charm, and a couple of good laughs as well. The minions are, of course, in the movie, and do have some great laughs. I’ll even say they have some of the better laughs in the film.

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Sadly, while I think this sequel does improve in a couple of ways, this is where the series started to go south for me. For one, the three daughters of Gru do not have a lot to do. Really, the oldest one played by Miranda Cosgrove has a “plot”, and even then, it’s very straight forward, and they don’t do anything with it. The other two get sidelined, and are just there because they have to be there. It’s not like they can retcon them, but you can at least do something with them. While I think Kristen Wiig is funny in this, her character is a bit too hyper and goofy. She becomes a bit much, and I think she would have been better as the slightly quirky, but serious agent that she was at the beginning of the film. The film also sadly trades in the heart for more wacky antics. It can be funny and very entertaining, but the heart and the action tend to lose a lot of its luster when there isn’t that much time to focus on the best aspect of it with Gru. I’m fine with a film trading story for comedy, but the comedy has to be good enough to forgive the lack of focus to the story. Sadly, the comedy is hit-and-miss. Some parts are really funny, and some parts aren’t. It once again has predictable story patterns that you know are going to happen, and not that I need to be surprised every time I watch a movie, I want the predictability to be entertaining. It also leaves the action to be pretty forgettable. The last third can be fun, but it doesn’t have the action seen in other animated comedies.

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While improving in many ways, Despicable Me 2 is also middle-of-the-road. I enjoyed watching it for this review, and for when I made my Worst to Best Animated Films of 2013, but I don’t see myself wanting to watch it again. It has its good moments, but is just passable enough to not be anything hugely mediocre. Now then, we shall move on to the point of no return as we dive into the first spin-off film of the franchise with Minions. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Rent it!

The Other Side of Animation 111: Despicable Me 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!)

Well, we are finally here. We are going to be talking about the cash cow of cash cow animation franchises, Despicable Me. I can’t think of a film franchise that took animation by storm in such a short amount of time than Despicable Me. Sure, we have had worldwide success stories for animation, but to be constantly successful, that’s at the very least commendable. Sadly, Despicable Me has also become one of the most hated franchises, due to the films being not high quality, oversaturation of Universal and Illumination’s marketing, and the fact that for animation/film goers, they find success while not trying hard. Well, I think it’s time to take a look at the franchise. For the rest of December, I’m going to be looking at the four films that are currently available. Let’s start at the very beginning with 2010’s Despicable Me. Directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, with a story by Sergio Pablos, this film came out of nowhere making $546 million on a $69 mil budget. That is of course not adding all the money they made on merchandise and DVD sales. Still, I thought I would look back and see how this film holds up. Does it deserve its legacy, or was it just a product of its time? Let’s see what happens.

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The story revolves around Gru, voiced by Steve Carell, a super-villain with plans of being the world’s best super-villain. After being discouraged that an unknown super-villain stole the pyramids, he decides to set up a goal of stealing the moon! With the help of his lab assistant, Dr. Nefario, voiced by Russell Brand, and his army of the now iconic Minions, Gru goes to try and steal a shrink ray being held by another villain named Vector, voiced by Jason Segal. After failing to do so, Gru decides to get the help of three orphan girls that were able to get past Vector’s security. The three are named Margo, Edith, and Agnes, voiced by Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, and Elsie Fisher. Can Gru get the shrink ray, and steal the moon with the help of the three girls, or will he be only a middle-of-the-pack supervillain?

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Since this is before the time the films became annoying audience-fodder, I think it’s fair to talk about the good aspects. I know that sounds silly to the hyperbolic hate crowd, but the first film does have a few elements that are noteworthy. First off, Gru is a great character. He’s probably the most consistently likable element throughout the entire franchise. He’s energetic, his movements are lively, and he is the right amount of evil to be fun to watch. I think it helps that Steve Carrell brings in his comedic charm to the character. Sure, his character is nothing new or revolutionary, being the bad guy with a heart of gold, but his interaction with the characters is the heart of the movie. The voice work is also pretty spectacular. While a lot of the film’s voice work is done by celebrities you can recognize, you get a few performances that you wouldn’t recognize, like Russell Brand is unrecognizable in the film as the elderly Dr. Nefario. While the animation is starting to show its age, for a studio’s first comedic film outing, the physical Looney-Toons-style comedy is pretty funny. It has the right amount of snappiness that you would see perfected in the later films. It’s not too fast to be exhausting, but it’s not too slow for the comedy to not land. And yes, let’s talk about those little yellow pills known as the Minions. I know people are really sick of them now, due to being over-saturated in the pop culture world, they were pretty funny in this movie. They had good expressions, had some funny lines, and were the right amount of funny without being annoying. However, that is just me. I know that these guys have been the punching bag for what’s wrong with animation, pop culture, and so on. Still, for the time, they were genius and memorable.

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What works about this movie is that it’s kept fairly on course. While the film does have laughs, it also has the right amount of heart to keep you invested in-between the laughs. You do feel for Gru, and his interaction with his three adopted daughters, and while he tries not to connect with them, even a super-villain has his limits. Especially when he knows a carnival game is rigged when one of the girls wants a large stuffed unicorn. What I mean is that the story knows what it wants to happen, and it doesn’t deviate, or do a lot of the things the later films would do with having multiple subplots. No, the first film is just about Gru, the girls, the plan to steal the moon, and the other super-villain, Vector. I like when a story knows what it wants to do, and it gives characters equal screen time. No one felt like they got the short end of the stick in terms of a character arc.

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Unfortunately, the film does have some flaws. For one, Vector is the weakest part about this film. He has the most annoying lines and jokes, and his design is simply not that great. He almost looks out of place among everyone else. There was just nothing that pleasant or entertaining. I know the actor behind him, Jason Segal is doing his best, but I don’t think Vector’s lines were strong enough for the performance. The film is also fairly predictable. You know every story beat and character arc. I wouldn’t mind that, if the writing was better. It’s not an annoying movie to sit through, but the writing isn’t strong enough to excuse the fact that you have seen this style of movie before. Like I said above as well, the animation is starting to show its age. The designs aren’t fully there yet, the smoothness of the animation isn’t there yet, the textures aren’t there yet, and while it’s hard to explain, watch all the movies in order of release, and you will see what I mean. I’m impressed that it looks as good as it does for CGI animation on a non-Pixar/Disney budget, but I guess they couldn’t iron out all the kinks yet, or didn’t have the tech for it yet.

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Overall, I like the first film. I don’t think I would like to own this movie at all, but it was enjoyable. It was a film that wanted to be a solid romp, and for the most part, it succeeds. I know some can say this film lays the groundwork for why people have issues with Illumination Entertainment, but at least it’s still a decent movie to watch. It’s also an interesting time capsule film to watch, since while the franchise may have lost its appeal seven years later, it’s always interesting to go back and see where it all started. There is a reason why this franchise took off and makes millions for Illumination and Universal. Plus, I can think of multiple animated films that are worse than the first Despicable Me. If you surprisingly haven’t seen it, I see no harm in picking up a copy. Even then, I could see myself watching this with my niece. Well, we will now step into the sequel that came out three years later with Despicable Me 2. Thanks for reading the review! I hope you liked it, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Rent it!

The Other Side of Animation 110: Guardian Brothers 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!)

When I wrote my editorial about The Weinstein Company, and how awful of an animation distributor they were, a few days later, they announced that they were going to open up a new animation distribution branch that will specifically handle animated films. This raised so many red flags, but against my more moral judgement, I decided to give them a chance. As much as I get annoyed with certain studios like Illumination or Blue Sky, I never want them to fail. Even my anger with Lionsgate is more to the fact that I want them to stop bringing over everything just because it’s cheap and affordable. I want studios and distributors to succeed because when they do something good, it should be rewarded. Too bad The Weinsteins lost that one chance in one move with the 110th review, Guardian Brothers. As a rule, I only look at infamous bombs, successes, and failures as every 10th review, since I would rather talk about awesome stuff, and not be tied to looking at only “bad” stuff. So, what’s so bad about this one? Well, this was supposed to be the next “big” animated film to be brought over by The Weinsteins. It had a large cast, including Edward Norton, Meryl Streep, Dan Fogler, Bella Thorne, and Nicole Kidman. I mean, that sounds impressive for a film to have that cast. Hopefully it means that the film is such a monumentally amazing product that they wouldn’t even dare just slip it onto Netflix with no one knowing unless someone said something, right? Yeah, if you couldn’t tell by that “oh so subtle” amount of sarcasm, they slipped it onto Netflix like they did with Underdogs. Kind of makes you wonder why they cared at all to bring this over, chop it up, and spend that money hiring those big actors if they are just going to act like cowards, and release it with no one to know that they did such a thing. Before we start, I wanted to be fair with this film, so I watched both the original Chinese version, and The Weinstein version. So, heads up to the fact that I’m going to be comparing the two. Oh, and screw The Weinsteins. Well, let’s get started.

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The film follows two brothers named Yu Lei and Shen Tu, voiced by Edward Norton and Dan Folger. They are gods that are feeling unloved by the humans, because no one is worshipping them for what they represent in the human’s lives. They then get taught about how they could possibly gain back the love and popularity with the humans, by adapting with the changing times. Unfortunately, they decided to shrug that off, because as you know, people fear change. Luckily, they get told of a different solution. The solution may come in the form of an evil spirit that was sealed in earth, after being defeated many years ago. Yu Lei decides to take on this task, while his brother Shen Tu  gets involved with trying to stop him, but also deal with a mother and daughter who are the only humans who keep their presence around, even as the world moves forward. Can Shen Tu stop his brother from unleashing a terrible evil? Can the gods find a way for humans to love them again?

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So, let’s just do a quick review of the original movie. I have to talk about the original first, because a lot of my complaints come from how Weinstein and his inept crew of animation individuals handled this movie. The original movie was called Little Door Gods. It was around 100 or so minutes, and to be frank, the movie is mediocre. It’s a film with a horrible pacing problem, jumping between Shen Tu interacting with the humans, and him trying to stop his brother from unleashing an ultimate evil. This is on top of the mother and daughter characters trying to stop a franchise mogul from taking over their restaurant. It ultimately takes away the stakes, due to how much the plot jumps around. It’s too much going on, and you don’t even see this large evil spirit until 15 minutes before the movie ends. Overall, the best part about the movie was the moral. Times change, and you need to adapt to the change, but you can still respect the past. It’s an interesting story element, and it gives the film a reason to exist. It’s like Meet the Robinsons or Monster’s University, two films that are not really that good, but have great morals near the end of their respective runtimes. It made slugging through the film less of a waste of time.

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Now, what do the Weinsteins do with this film? Well, you know the entire point of the film was to embrace change, but to stay true to yourself, and respect the past? Well, too bad if that was your favorite part! They entirely rewrote the script, and took out those aspects. So, what do you get? Not a whole lot. You still get the whole evil spirit plot point, but the overall story feels hollow. You can obviously tell they cut scenes to be shorter, or cut out scenes entirely. There is a great example of this stupid scene cutting, when Shen Tu and the little girl go get the health inspector, and the health inspector reminisces about a costume party that you never get to see. You even see a snippet of that scene in the end credits. Like, why cut it out? Granted, a lot of the film was padded to fill the runtime, but if you are going to cut a scene, then make sure it’s a scene that has no value to the overarching story. It doesn’t help that the film has all the cringe-inducing additions of a Weinstein-distributed animated film. They force in jokes, pop songs, and a terrible voice-over dub. For a film starring such a huge cast of actors, you would think they would care about their performances, but it sounds like they cranked out the dub in a day, found out Leap! didn’t do well in the box office, and just used the first take for the film, and shoved the film onto Netflix, with no warning or advertisement.

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Seriously, why was this film picked up? This was supposed to be the flagship title under the Weinstein’s new animated feature label, and yet, they just shoved it onto Netflix, with no one knowing unless you are in the animation scene. They already had the worst reputation in animation, and they made it worse by forcing this movie out. Even with the edits they made, it doesn’t fix anything. The movie was already flawed, so by editing it, the flaws are more apparent, and you don’t end up with a better product. It’s still a boring movie to watch, and all the added “benefits” don’t improve it. Animation has come so far since its inception, and the Weinsteins act like this is still 2001 when Shrek came out. Are you that ashamed that you started an animation branch, and knew Guardian Brothers wasn’t going to go over well?

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So, is there anything really good about the Weinstein version or the original version? I mean, kind of. While films like Kung Fu Panda 3 have better fight scenes, Guardian Brothers still has some scenes where the action is pretty decent. The last fight against the evil spirit is creative at points, and even though this next praise is only for the original version, I still like the moral of having to confront change, since I know that is hard for a lot of people. The animation, while not theatrical quality at all, is still better than most Chinese-theatrical animated films. You can tell they wanted this to look good. You can tell the country wants to make more films with the effort that Pixar puts into their films. It’s not there yet with Chinese-theatrical animation, but I respect that they are at least trying. That is something the Weinsteins have never done with animated films.

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It was challenging to know how to grade this movie. On one hand, it’s not a great movie, but the original is harmless. The Weinstein version is a chore to watch for a load of other reasons, and for their first flagship title under their short-lived animation branch, they messed up. They made a mediocre film worse, by simply removing the moral of the original film and simplifying everything. When you have an actress like Meryl Streep in the movie, and fail to use her, you know something is broken beyond repair. As much as I hate Spark: A Space Tail, it was, at the very least, presented as intended. Guardian Brothers was not, and it’s a worse film for it. Avoid it at all cost, and just watch or buy the Kung Fu Panda trilogy if you want some Chinese-themed action films with good stories, characters, and fight sequences. Well, it’s Christmas time, and this year, things are about to get a lot more oversaturated and yellow as we review the Despicable Me franchise with their first film. Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you next time.

Rating: Blacklist/The Worst!

The Other Side of Animation 109: Leap! 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!)

Well, we are going to be doing something I thought I would never get to do. Since The Weinstein Company is going belly-up, because of the two brothers being walking pieces of garbage who did horrible things (to put it lightly), I am going to be reviewing their last two animated films. I was planning on blacklisting them after Leap! and Guardian Brothers due to their actions, but now I technically don’t have to. I have made an editorial in the past about how horrible they are with animated films, and I think they were the worst distributors. They don’t respect the medium, and end up spending money on films by either needlessly editing the film or recasting the actors. To honor the closing of the massive studio (sorry to everyone losing their jobs because of the two running the company), let’s look at what will possibly be considered their “best” film, Leap! Also known as Ballerina, Leap! was a CGI animated film collaboration between France and Canada, and was directed by Eric Summer and Eric Warin. While it had a fairly small budget for a CGI-animated film at $30, it was a financial hit in theaters, making $130+ million. Unfortunately, once it hit the states, it pretty much came and went. I did see some ads for it, but not much else. I’m guessing it didn’t do well over here stateside, and what possibly caused Guardian Brothers to be put directly onto Netflix without a heads-up to anyone. So, how damaged is Leap!? Is it possibly their “best” movie, or is it right up there with their release of Doogal? Let’s check it out.

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The story follows an orphan girl named Felicie Milliner, voiced by Elle Fanning. She lives at an orphanage with her friend Victor, voiced by Dane DeHaan in the UK version and Nat Wolff in the US version. She dreams of one day becoming a famous ballet dancer and Victor wants to be a famous inventor. They escape the orphanage and the hands of the supervisor of the orphanage, played by Mel Brooks in the US version, and head to France! Felicie tries to get into the dancing school that she saw in a picture, but gets thrown out. She meets up with the cleaning woman of the dance school named Odette, who is played by Carly Rae Jepsen. Can Felicie end up being a great ballerina? Or will she be caught and tossed back into the orphanage?

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I remember when I first saw the British version of this film, I did not like it. I thought the film was generic, annoying, and just not very good. I was floored by how many people said they actually liked the movie. Looking back at my thoughts after seeing both versions, and seeing how much worse animated films got this year, I was probably harsh on it. That’s why I’m going to start with the good. For an animated film with $30 mil to its production budget, it doesn’t look that bad. It has its moments and bits of animation that show that it has a lesser budget than most mainstream-animated films, but it did have pretty good movements and solid overall visuals for a foreign collaboration. Even the designs have a pretty charming look to them. Granted, I know there are pictures all over the net where the characters look horrifying, and yeah, that is a problem at certain points in the movie, but for what you usually get with foreign CGI, it’s better than most CGI animated films. Everything is so lush. France is both beautiful and grimy, the countrysides look green and vibrant, and any time when the characters are doing serious ballet dancing, it’s fun to watch, due to the combination of everything. The characters are also likable. They aren’t unique in any way, but I found myself paying attention to the story arcs of the individual characters. Well, most of them I was invested into. Sure, you have your cheery-eyed lead, the stern teacher, the mentor who has a past, the rival classmate, the quirky male cohort, and so on, but at least you want to see the lead succeed in her dancing.

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Now, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. How does the Weinstein version compare to the British/UK version? Well, out of all the times I have watched a Weinstein-distributed animated film, for one reason or another, Leap! was not completely damaged by Weinstein’s infamous shenanigans with animated films. There are additional lines, and yes, some of them are eye-rolling, but they are not terrible additions. The added lines only appeared when the mouths couldn’t be seen. I still don’t get why they replaced some of the actors, since they weren’t going to reel in anyone, but for what it is worth, they are decent choices. I was surprised by Mel Brooks’ performance, because of how distinct his voice is. This isn’t one of his best performances, but he was not the most annoying part of the film. It’s like he was actually trying. Some voices that were left in the original dub were, and still are, super annoying at times, but the overall dubs of both versions are tolerable.

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Unfortunately, that is all the kindness I have for this film. It’s time to talk about the bad aspects of it. While it is pretty harmless, Leap! is very predictable, and I knew what was going to happen, and while I was interested in the lead’s goal of being a great dancer, the story simply doesn’t go in any interesting or unique directions. It doesn’t help that the characters she interacts with are generic, forgettable, or grating. I’m sorry, but unless someone convinces me otherwise, Nat Wolff is not good in this. Granted, I don’t know how you make the character he plays entertaining, but he was almost on the level of some of this year’s most annoying side characters. I found the last-minute villain to be way too over-the-top. It’s this mother of the rival student, and she basically resorts to murdering the lead and her friend, because her daughter couldn’t get the big lead role. It felt out of place, and I was laughing more than engaged, due to her actions. Like I said above, sometimes the animation shows its budget, and sometimes the animation does not look good. At the very least, it’s with the facial animation. I also wasn’t laughing at the jokes that were popping up in the film. They were very basic, and due to them not really working, it took me out of the experience.

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In the end, Leap! is a harmless film. It’s not the worst, but it’s not a great film either. However, I can take a wild bet a lot of young girls would love this movie. I think I would rather show them something like Moana, Princess and the Frog, or Zootopia first, but I can imagine worst movies to show to young girls. But since this is under The Weinstein label, I suggest avoiding it at all cost. Maybe if it pops up for free on Amazon Prime or Netflix, check it out, but there are so many more movies with strong female protagonists that are out there. Well, now that we got this one out of the way, it’s time we go to what will be Weinstein’s last animated feature that you probably never knew existed with Guardian Brothers. Thanks for reading, I hope you liked it, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Lackluster!

My Two Cents On The Submissions For Best Animated Feature at the 90th Academy Awards.

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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!)

The recent line-up of animated feature films for the Oscars next year have popped up, and for the first time, I decided to break down the chances each of the contenders have to make it into the five spots. Overall, the line-up is pretty strong! I know that sounds weird, since the mainstream big budget films from the bigger studios have not been all that great, but if you look at the indie film offerings, you have quite possibly, the best line-up of smaller animated films of this decade so far. It’s probably just as good as 2013 with the wide variety of indie animation. Now then, I’m going to break it down into different categories with films that have spots already filled, films that have amazing chances, films that might have a chance, and films that have no chance. Little side note, I find it hilarious that none of the Weinstein-animated films like Guardian Brothers and Leap! are not on the list. Thankfully, that is great, because screw Harvey Weinstein and his horrible take on animated films. Now then, let’s get started!

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100% Certified Spots

Coco*: While it just came out, the amazing amount of hype this film has gotten and the early positive previews, this is probably the only Pixar film that has a chance at making it into one of the five sacred slots for Best Animated Feature. Plus, it just looks like a great movie. Way more than most of the films released this year from bigger companies.

* Despite the recent controversy of now ex-head of Pixar John Lasseter’s leave because of allegations, I don’t think it would be fair for everyone else who made Coco suffer because of his actions.

Loving Vincent: While not getting as wide of a release as Coco or other big animated films, Loving Vincent has been a critical darling and a constantly talked about movie since making its runs in festivals. Plus, winning one of the three major prizes at Annecy Film Festival sounds good as well. It’s just a unique film that has caught the film world by storm.

The Breadwinner: We have a movie being made by a veteran of the Best Animated Features section, Cartoon Saloon, which had The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea nominated, the distributor GKids, and so much universal acclaim from reviewers and people who have seen it combined, it would be a shock if this didn’t make it onto the shortlist. Plus, it got a lot of attention during the Animation is Film Festival, and won the main prize there.

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75% Possible Contenders

In This Corner of the World: Lots of festival buzz and highly positive reviews. It probably has the best chance out of Japanese animated films, besides Mary and the Witch’s Flower. Plus, what Academy voter doesn’t love a war time-era film?

The Big Bad Fox & Other Tales: It’s being directed by one of the directors of the Oscar-nominated Ernest & Celestine. Plus, it’s under the GKids banner, and they have had two or so films in the running before for Best Animated Feature. Though I am concerned with how it doesn’t have an official release date yet for 2018, I would hate for it to be viewable after the awards.

The Girl Without Hands: Another festival favorite, and an almost entirely a one-man job. That alone is very noteworthy. Plus, high reviews and again, GKids. The beautiful and stylized animation doesn’t hurt either.

Mary and the Witch’s Flower: Let’s check off the boxes. GKids? Check! Made by ex-Studio Ghibli individuals? Check! Director of Oscar-nominated When Marnie Was There? Check! I think that covers it. Though I’m concerned that the release is just a month away from the awards, but we shall see.

Birdboy: The Forgotten Children: Another well-received animated film being distributed by GKids, and won a couple of awards including the GOYA award for Best Animated Feature, and has gotten mileage for being an animated film with a twisted edge to it and dark themes under the cute designs.

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50% Maybe?

Ethel & Ernest: As much as I love this movie when I watched it, with no real release date, I don’t know if its legacy as Raymond Brigg’s work will make it noteworthy enough to make it into the sacred five slots. I love this movie, but man, they should do something to compete.

A Silent Voice: I loved this movie, and I think it has more of a chance than Your Name did last year, because it was released in theaters in the states months before the award show, but that might not be enough, since most people, unless they are film or animation fans, know a lot about this movie. The biggest amount of coverage it got was when it beat out Your Name as Best Animated Film of 2016 from the Japan Movie Critics Award. I just hope the distributor in charge of the theater distribution for this film makes a big enough push for more people to see it.

Cinderella the Cat: To be perfectly honest, this was a surprise to see on the list. I have been following this film for a while, and all I know about it is the positive reception it has alongside that one review from Variety.com. However, since there has been no news on a US distributor, I don’t know how much its positive foreign reception will win people over.

Window Horses The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming: This is a cute and utterly charming movie about a girl trying to find peace for herself, while finding her father. I don’t hear too many people talking about this one, but it has enough festival buzz for a chance to make it, but it’s an uphill battle to get past some of the other indie/foreign films.

The LEGO Batman Movie: While I do love this movie, and think it came out at the right time, due to people still grieving about what happened three months earlier in 2016, the original didn’t get nominated (still sort of annoyed by that), so what chance does this one have? Plus, while I do love it, it’s not as good as The LEGO Movie. It doesn’t have the full heart and soul the previous film had. It’s a great and hugely entertaining watch, but I don’t know if they will give it a pity vote.

Napping Princess: Personally, this is one of my favorite movies to watch in 2017. However, it’s probably the GKids film, along with another on the list, to get the least amount of talk or push. It’s a fun adventure movie with some great characters and sequences, and some festival buzz, but it’s critically one of the less loved films of the 2017-distributed GKids films. Not going to stop me from enjoying it, but I can see it having more of a struggle than the others that I listed above.

Captain Underpants: This was one of the biggest surprises of the year, and while I am confident in putting it in the 50% range, it would sound odd, wouldn’t it? Oscar-nominated Captain Underpants. I don’t know how they will take this one seriously enough to consider it.

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25% Very Slim Chances

The LEGO Ninjago Movie: While it was still much better than most of the films on this list, it was also the least liked of the three films, and underperformed. It wasn’t a bomb, but it did not rake in as much cash as they were expecting. Plus, it’s the only one that you can consider to be more of a cash grab than the others. It also has the weakest story and writing out of the three LEGO Movies.

The Boss Baby: This film is mostly noteworthy for coming out around the same time as Alec Baldwin’s Donald Trump skits became the funniest bits of comedy for a while, so that probably helped push this movie’s financial success, but outside of that, the film itself was not well received, and in general is not regarded as one of the best animated films of the year. I know some have put it high on their list, but that’s only because they haven’t seen many movies.

Cars 3: Unlike The Boss Baby or the next entry, Cars 3 doesn’t have that much to say “yeah, this movie deserves an Oscar!” it’s more emotionally investing than the second film, but it still has a slew of problems in terms of its story and the ending. Plus, it underperformed because nobody wanted another flipping Cars movie! It’s not a horrible film, but I doubt it will have a chance.

Despicable Me 3: While a financial hit all over the world, Despicable Me 3 has too much going against it. For one, the story is not great, the characters are now barely there, and any advantages they had with improving or pushing the story forward, they don’t take, and just keep staying in that safe circle because it worked for them in the past. Sure, they got one nomination with Despicable Me 2, but that was a pity nomination in a rather underwhelming year. If SING and The Secret Life of Pets couldn’t get a nomination, then Despicable Me 3 won’t either.

Ferdinand: Listen, I don’t like picking on Blue Sky Studios, because I think they are a super talented group of people. However, they are having the same problems as Illumination Entertainment has. It’s why I put Ferdinand low on the list. Granted, the movie looks better than a lot of their offerings, but I just can’t find myself trusting that it’s going to be a great movie. Plus, Blue Sky doesn’t have much notoriety in the Oscar races.

My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea: I love this movie. It’s still my favorite animated comedy of 2017 so far, but looking at it now compared to the other contenders, I don’t see it getting nominated. It would be awesome, and GKids is behind it, but it’s too indie for its own good, and I think GKids has had better animated offerings now than back then.

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0% No Chance in Hades

The Emoji Movie: Come on, I might not think it’s the worst animated film of the year (that goes to The Guardian Brothers), but it’s still really terrible, and it has no chance in Hades in making it. Even when Sony sort of knows it doesn’t have a chance, then that is saying something.

Sword Arts Online: The Movie – Ordinal Scale: Yeah, sorry, but nope. It’s a film based on a pre-existing anime, and those never get nominated. It didn’t happen then, and it won’t happen now.

Moomins and the Winter Wonderland: I have a fondness for The Moomins, and I do love the cast they are building it up for, but I highly doubt it will have enough people knowing the source material to care. I love weird and unique foreign stuff, but this will not have one of those sacred spots.

The Star: I do not think the organization is going to let this one get a chance. It looks cheap, the advertising is  not giving the film justice, and I just don’t see it making it. I love the cast, and I wish they were in a better movie, but I’m sorry, The Star is going to have to shine somewhere else.

There you have it, my guess as to what films have the most to the least amount of chances to get those five spots for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars. As of right now, I am fairly confident that I am going to be correct with these placements, and hey, if any of the films that haven’t come out yet turn out to be good, then I am all for pushing them up the ranks. Do you all have any guesses? What five films would you love to get chosen for the Oscars?

 

The Other Side of Animation 107: The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature 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!)

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When you are making a movie these days, you have to go all in with the commitment of making it. You have to put 100% into directing, writing, acting, editing, composing, and you get the idea. If you are not using all cylinders while in production, the end product is going to show. This is especially true with sequels, due to their infamous nature of not always being better than the first film. You would think that making a sequel would be easier, but that is sadly not always the case. There is a reason why so many film series should have only stayed as one movie. Hence the focus on today’s review, The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature.  A sequel to the surprising financial hit from 2014, Nutty by Nature came out to the fanfare of no one. The original film got lucky, since it came out in January of 2014, made a lot of money during a month where mostly bad movies are dumped into theaters. Three years later, we have a sequel that had very little hype or excitement, and looked like a waste of time. To no surprise, this sequel to a film no one was asking for underperformed at the box office, only making a tiny bit over $40 mil on a $40 mil budget, and getting mostly negative reviews. I was not particularly looking forward to this one for obvious reasons, but after watching it, it’s the perfect example of my overall opening paragraph. What do I mean? Well, let’s see why no one went nutty over Nutty by Nature.

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The sequel picks up six months after the first film, as we follow Surly Squirrel, voiced by Will Arnett, living the big life inside the closed-down nut shop with his animal friends. They have all the nuts in the world to eat, and live like fat little piglets. Unfortunately for him and his friends, the store blows up, and they are forced to scavenge for food back in the park. Even more unfortunately for them, the mayor of the town, voiced by SNL alumni Bobby Moynihan, decides that he wants to tear down the park and make it an amusement park. It’s up to Surly and his friends to take back the park from the evil mayor and his animal control henchman played by Peter Stormare. Can Surly get the help of some city mice led by Jackie Chan to save the park? Have you seen any “save the environment” films from the 90s?

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Okay, before we talk about the bad, let’s talk about the good. First off, the animation is surprisingly solid. Textures don’t look so straight-to-video, movements are way more cartoony and fluid, and everything feels more polished than the first film. The original was decent, but I could personally argue that it wasn’t up to theatrical quality standards, but that’s just me. Thankfully, everything is way more lush and vibrant than the last film. You can tell the entire team wanted to make a better-looking movie, and it did so on a $40 mil budget. The physical comedy is way better as well. The previous film had decent physical comedy, but because of the mediocre animation, the jokes didn’t land. My guess is that the directors and writers watched what Warner Animation Group is doing with physical comedy, like in Storks, to learn proper Looney Toons-style comedy. The next improvement is that the film is way less mean-spirited, with characters who are more tolerable. Some are still as annoying as they were in the first film, but I wasn’t just grinding my teeth together waiting for characters that weren’t utterly terrible to appear onscreen. I think my two favorite characters were the villains, the mayor and the animal control guy. I think Peter Stormare and Bobby Moynihan were having a blast being cartoon levels of evil. They aren’t original villains, or villains that are interesting, but for this type of movie, they were way more entertaining than they could have been, and probably had some of the best lines in the movie. The action in this film is also well executed, especially when you have Jackie Chan coming into play, who probably has some of the best scenes in the later part of film. They even have this cute romance between the pug and the mayor’s French bulldog. All throughout the film, you can tell the people making it tried harder. They put more effort into the writing, the animation, the comedy, and put out a better product.

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With all that said, this film is by no means one of 2017’s best animated films. As much as I say everything has improved, a lot of the humor and writing is not great. It’s very weak writing, and if you have seen the film, you know they milk one joke multiple times. It’s not all that clever humor either. I think the only times I got laughs out of the film was because of the execution of the line read from the actors. Sometimes, a good comedic actor can make a bad joke work. Another huge problem is that the film is painfully generic. If you have seen any, and I do mean any environmental films, then you know how it’s all going to go down. I know not every film needs to be a “masterpiece” or on the level of Pixar, but if you are going to do something we have seen before, you had better execute it well, or get really creative. Sadly, the story is painfully simple with humans being evil, and the animals having to save the day. Heck, they heavily advertise Jackie Chan’s character for being in the movie, but he’s in it for pretty much 20 minutes total. Due to the lackluster writing, I didn’t find myself really caring about the emotional moments with all of the characters. Some interactions were cute, but when they tried to make you feel for the characters, it felt out of place.

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It’s an infuriating sit. You can tell the team behind the sequel tried harder, got the animation to work, improved the characters, and the story. However, they didn’t go full tilt on improving everything else. It’s not super funny, I didn’t care about the other characters, and in the end, I was perfectly fine with the film underperforming. The original back in 2014 got lucky because it was a family-animated film in January, and the studio thought they could get another financial hit with a sequel. For some reason or another, the movie-going audience said “we didn’t want this”, and made sure no one saw it. It’s an overall harmless film, but if you were going to get an animated film of this year to rent or purchase, I would pick up In This Corner of the World. It’s cheaper than buying The Nut Job 2, and it’s 100% better. If you do decide to watch it, eh, I hope you get some enjoyment out of seeing it. Next time, we are going to look at what is considered one of DC’s biggest disappointments in animation with Batman & Harley Quinn. Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Lackluster!