The Other Side of Animation 163: Ne Zha Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

It’s been wild to see what the rest of the world has been doing in animation. There is always something happening, some kind of film that’s going to push the boundaries for that country’s animation status quota, and that’s no different from China. This year alone, the US is getting two Chinese CGI features with GKids bringing over White Snake, and Well Go USA Entertainment bringing over the biggest Chinese animated feature right now, Ne Zha. Directed by Jiaozi, as of writing this review, Ne Zha is currently the highest-grossing Chinese-animated feature in the world, and the highest-grossing animated feature in China that isn’t made by the likes of Disney, Pixar and you get the idea. Calling this a hit is an understatement. It’s a monster, but, what did I think about it? Well, let’s find out!

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The story revolves around a young boy named Nezha, voiced by Lu Yanting. He is a young boy who was born with the power of a Demon Pill, the one half of a Chaos Pearl that threatened to destroy the world but was split into two different pieces long ago. For now, though, Nezha lives a complicated life of being feared by the townsfolk for being a supposed demon, his family won’t tell him what’s going on, he encounters a new mysterious friend, and now has to deal with a potential new threat, and his ultimate fate in life. Can Nezha overcome adversity to avoid his fate?

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 Ne Zha is a lot more mature in how it tells its story than most animated films. It’s not that it has no humor or comedic characters/moments, but for the most part, it does focus on the drama and the chemistry between Nezha and the different people he encounters. It has its moments where you, as an audience member can sit back and take in the volatile state of mind Nezha is in. He feels unloved despite both parents loving him. He is told he should become a slayer of monsters and demons, but would that change how people see him? The film is filled with themes of discrimination and most importantly, the idea of fate. It’s another film that tackles how, while you think you already have a predetermined fate, you are the only one that can take charge of your fate.

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It also has a bit of The Boy and the Beast that is thrown into the mix with how Nezha and this mysterious friend of his have different living situations, and how they were treated while growing up. It’s nice to see an animated feature from China feel more focused, and know where the story’s strengths need to be. It doesn’t have an overload of side characters, and the story isn’t thrown into the background for the antics of all of the characters, it’s a coming-of-age drama first and foremost. Well, a drama with some great action sequences.

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Animation-wise, the CGI animation on display is probably the most impressive computer animation from China yet. The designs translate well into CGI, the movements are smooth, and there are no herky-jerky movement issues you see in cheaper CGI films from China. The textures look wonderful, and the film has a better understanding of character movement than previous CGI endeavors that I have seen from the country. It looks like an animated film you would expect to see in theaters.

It’s not Pixar or Disney incredible, but this film shows that China is getting their serious business faces on to show that they can make it look good. Of course, being a film from China, the action sequences are well done. The camera isn’t too close, it’s not too dark to see anything, the camera isn’t moving around like a kid with a heavy dose of sugar injected into his veins, and it feels epic. The action sequences remind me of how Dragon Ball Super: Broly choreographed their fights, as you follow closely to the characters as they trade blows. The visual spectacle alone in this movie will delight people looking forward to some action set pieces in their animation.

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Ne Zha has so many admirable elements, that it’s all the more frustrating, that it has a lot of the same flaws as most Chinese-animated features! The biggest problem with the film is the tone. It’s not uncommon for animated films to sprinkle in humorous bits into more dramatic moments, but the film can’t hold back on having jokes every few minutes during the more intense scenes. It feels like they don’t ask themselves if the jokes they include add or subtract from the scene, and keep them in there anyway.

A couple of the jokes are fart and piss jokes, and, once again, are the worst jokes in the movie. It’s agonizing because there are some great physical gags and funny dialogue bits. The humor detracts more than it adds, and I’m so annoyed by that. They are so close at getting a consistent vibe, and they fumble it. I think the problem might be, that a lot of the tone and jokes are what Chinese audiences love to see in films, and that’s perfectly fine if they do, but if the filmmakers want to have more widespread love and support, then they need to know that no one likes kiddy gross-out humor.

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Out of all of the Chinese features I have seen so far, which is very minor compared to the overall catalog, this is easily their best effort yet. It’s more cohesive, more polished, and more enjoyable to watch than most of the animated films from that country. It might be going to physical and digital soon after its limited release, so if you can find a theater that is playing it, please go out and support it! (I saw it on an IMAX screen and in 3D!) If you want to support more original features, and want other companies to know that you want more variety in your animation, then please go see Ne Zha. For now, let’s travel back to Japan, and, next time, review one of 2019’s hidden gems with Okko’s Inn.

Thanks for reading my review! I hope you enjoyed it, be sure to share the review with friends and family, and if you would like to help support my work, you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I hope you all have a good day, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

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The Other Side of Animation 162: The Angry Birds Movie 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/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

While I do stand by the fact that animation in the states should try to be more versatile and needs to start mixing it up on the theatrical side of things, it doesn’t mean I’m against animated features being cartoony. There has been a fairly toxic backlash towards animated films for being cartoony. I never got that, because if you hate a cartoon for being cartoony, then you must hate and despise almost a century of animation and hundreds of films and shorts because they are cartoony. Sure, I’m simplifying the argument, but to me, not every animated film needs to like Funan or Coco.

Sometimes, people want an animated film to be, well, cartoony, like today’s review, The Angry Birds Movie 2. Directed by Thurop Van Orman, this sequel was a curious case of how they were going to expand on the original film. While not a great film, the first Angry Birds film had its charm. However, the sequel is getting rave reviews not only from critics, but audiences as well, which I don’t think anyone saw coming. While it might not be raking in the cash the first film did, a sequel to a video game movie doing this well critically is surprising. Why is it doing well with audiences and critics alike? What is it about this film that has everyone really enjoying it? Let’s dive in, shall we?

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It’s been a year or so since Red, voiced by Jason Sudekis, Chuck, voiced by Josh Gad, and Bomb, voiced by Danny McBride helped save their island’s eggs from the evil pigs led by Leonard, voiced by Bill Hader. Every now and again, they launch stuff at each other from their respective islands. That is until Leonard and his crew finds out that there is a third island called Eagle Island that is run by a bird named Zeta, voiced by Leslie Jones. She plans on wrecking everyone else’s islands to get them to go away, take them over, and turn the islands into a water park. It is now up to Red and Leonard to team up to take down the threat, but they can’t go at it alone. Along with Chuck and Bomb, they also get the help of Mighty Eagle, voiced by Peter Dinklage, Silver, Chuck’s sister voiced by Rachel Bloom, Courtney, voiced by Awkwafina, and Garry, voiced by Sterling K. Brown. Can they reach Eagle Island and save the day?

So, how do you go about making a sequel to something like The Angry Birds Movie? Well, by getting the creator of The Misadventures of Flapjack, and go bonkers with the humor. Seriously, 2019 hasn’t really been the best year for comedic movies, and yet, here is The Angry Birds Movie 2 going the Mel Brooks route of comedy, and throwing different kinds of jokes at the audience, and they work! You’ve got physical gags, background gags, dialogue-driven gags, situational gags, meta gags, and you get the idea. It’s a theatrical cartoon that knows it’s a cartoon, and it will not apologize for it. I think that’s quite admirable.

So many cartoon fans want every theatrical release to be dramas, and yeah, it would be nice for some family films to take their stories more seriously, but at the same time, again, not every film needs to be like a Pixar drama. I found myself laughing multiple times during this film, and I wasn’t the only one. The entire theater I was sitting in was roaring with laughter, and while some jokes didn’t work, you would forget about them, because a good joke would then make you forget the bad joke. Of course, comedy is subjective, but the fact that the humor is hitting a home run consistently was a nice surprise.

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 Animation-wise, it’s Sony Pictures Animation, it’s pretty good for what the budget has, the colors are vibrant, and the movements are snappy and quick, but not overly quick. The designs are fun to look at, and everyone is fairly expressive. It helps that the characters have a lot of good chemistry with dialogue that bounces off one another. While there are plenty of great voices and performances, Leslie Jones’ Zeta steals the entire film. She had the best lines and the best jokes. For a comedy villain, she really works. Sure, they give her a little more pathos with who she is, but you can tell they focused more on the comedy angle, and combined with some witty writing, she turns in one of the funniest performances of the film. While you can guess from the trailers that they do a “they hate each other but end up together by the end” plot with Red and Silver, they definitely do, and while I’m not a fan of the trope, Jason and Rachel do have good timing. I also like how the film does add in themes of overcoming your fears, dealing with insecurities, and becoming a better person for the sake of your own health and the people around you. It might not be as fleshed out as it would be with a team from Disney or Pixar, but the film does handle those themes well.

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Now, it’s time to talk about the flaws of the film. While the comedy in this film is filled to the brim and bursting with different kinds of humor, I wish they would have taken out the jokes that were the worst part of the original film, the gross-out humor. Granted, the film does a great piss joke, but it’s the only one that works. It’s the same issue with Teen Titans Go! to the Movies, where the really good jokes are really good, but the immature jokes fall flat. The film also feels disjointed, as it has a subplot going along in the background that could have been its own animated short on the Blu-ray of this film. It also has some great laughs, but it’s always distracting when it’s cutting to and from the main story.

I also wish Gary was funnier. He has some good lines, and Sterling K. Brown is having a lot of fun with his character, but I wish he had some better lines. Josh Gad’s Chuck’s relationship with Silver is also the weakest and the creepiest part of the film. He’s the overly protective brother who comes off like he’s a bit, well, too close to his own sister, and I’m not sure if that’s intended to play off some offbeat humor to the film, but it’s awkward. While the film’s focus was on a more comedic experience, I wish the romance subplots were handled better.

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Still, even with the complaints, I was looking for a fun time, and I got a fun time. I wanted to see some good jokes, and I got some good jokes. It’s a film that sets out to be this quirky offbeat sequel to a film not many cared about but ended up being one of the big critic and audience hits of the year. Am I shocked to see a few people be in the minority by not liking it? No. Comedy is subjective, and while I really enjoyed the film, I can perfectly get why others don’t. It’s a bummer that this film is not performing as well as I think it should, but I’m also not surprised. I highly recommend people go see The Angry Birds Movie 2. Oh, and you should all go see this film to support the wonderful short that plays in front of the movie, Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry. That short alone deserves its own review. So, now that we will have to wait for the next major feature, let’s travel to China as I review what is considered the biggest-animated film in China right now with Ne Zha. Thanks for reading my review! I hope you all enjoyed it, feel free to share my work, and if you want, you can show some support by donating to my Patreon at Patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 159: Pachamama Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

In October 2018, I was with my father in Hollywood to go to the Animation is Film Festival. I was a fan when I sat down and watched the first film in the lineup that was Mamoru Hosoda’s Mirai. It was a fantastic experience, and I can’t wait to go back this year for the next festival. On the second day, my dad and I were going to go do different things that day. I decided to go see a film that wasn’t on my list of films to see at the festival, but I decided to check it out, Pachamama! Directed by Juan Antin, Pachamama was the first film shown off on the second day of the festival, and while the crowd for it wasn’t huge, it was still another feather in the cap of the overall event. Recently, Netflix decided to bring it onto their service as one of their exclusives, but outside of one trailer and a snippet of the film being shown off in the promotional video for July 2019, no one knows about this movie.

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The story revolves around a young boy named Tepulpai, voiced by Andrea Santamaria. He lives in a small village where he dreams to become the village Shaman, but is too selfish and inconsiderate to be one yet. In his village, they worship the mighty earth goddess Pachamama and have a festival in her honor. Unfortunately, a follower of the Golden City, where the lord of the land lives, arrived during their festivities and decides to take the village’s most prized possession. It is up to Tepulpai and his friend Naira, voiced by India Coenen, to get the village’s possession back, and also avoid the grasps of an evil outside force.

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So, this is going to sound harsh, but Pachamama is a very simple film. It’s obvious that it’s aimed at a younger audience, and there is nothing super deep about it like in a Pixar, or the rare DreamWorks film. And you know what? That’s perfectly okay! Not every film needs to be seen or approached to as wide of an audience as possible. Sometimes, it’s good to find an audience you want to focus on, and make the best product as possible for that group. Pachamama is an easy-going low-key adventure that relies on charm and its unique visual look to get you through the story. Sure, it does get a touch dark in tone and is not apologize about who the villains are in the film, but you can still watch it, and kids can understand and get an early preview about some rather terrible points in history. Its themes focus on not being selfish, becoming brave, and is very anti-greed. It’s a deep enough film that doesn’t dissolve into mindless colors and noise. It has a story, it’s for a young audience, it has likable characters, and it’s executed pretty well. I would rather a film be executed in this fashion, than what we got with that HELLS film from last year.

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Now, where Pachamama really shines are in its visuals. While it was originally going to be a stop-motion film, I think the overall visual style works better in CGI. It has beautiful and vibrant colors, the character designs work in CGI, and every background shot reminds me of paintings and posters of Argentinian and South American culture. It can truly stand out among the animated films made with CGI, with its children’s book/fairy tale look and unique human designs. While you can tell that this was a film with a limited budget, you can also tell that they took full advantage of what they could do, and the end product is still a visually splendid affair that makes it stand out among not only the foreign animated features, but also the Netflix-exclusive animated features.

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If I had to pick a few things to criticize, one of them would be about some of the English voice work. It’s not terrible, but at certain points in the film, the two actors playing the leads sound flat. The script is also fairly basic. You won’t see much deeper themes or concepts within the script, because of how this was mainly made for a younger audience. It’s very straight forward, and while I personally don’t mind that, I can see it being a bit too safe for other people. The main villains are also not that interesting. They are meant to be this faceless group of Spanish explorers, but that’s about it. They fit the theme of these new “gods” arriving on their land, but don’t expect a complex villain from the head of the explorers.

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While this was not my favorite film from the festival, I did find myself enjoying the charm, the animation, the gorgeous artwork, and my experience with Pachamama. You really have no excuse to not see this film, because it’s on Netflix. I know some people might want something more artistic, complex, and challenging in their animation, but sometimes, you want a film that knows what it is, and knows how to do it well. Like I said, it’s on Netflix right now, and I would highly recommend checking it out! Now then, I don’t really know what we are going to do for the 160th review. Maybe it’s time to go into some uncharted territory! Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 158: The Secret Life of Lets 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/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

As a reviewer, I have seen so many arguments and comments thrown at films, studios, brands, and what have you, that are clichéd and boring. One of the most boring and trite comments and arguments I keep seeing are about Illumination Entertainment. Listen, I’m not saying their films are secretly good, or you have to stop hating on them. I will say though that they aren’t lazy. They have talented animators and people there making these films that rake in millions. However, I would argue a more proper criticism would be that they lack ambition, and are too nervous to step out of their safety bubble to expand their horizons of writing and storytelling. There is nothing wrong with not wanting to be a Disney or a Pixar-caliber film, but that doesn’t mean you slack off on the writing, animation, and story. Sooner or later, you will find yourself being forgotten for the next flashy animated experience. It’s actually kind of happening to Illumination’s newest film, The Secret Life of Pets 2. Directed by Illumination Entertainment mainstay Chris Renaud, Pets 2 is the sequel to the smash hit original film from 2016. It came out on June 7th of 2019, and while it was getting the usual mixed-to-mostly-negative reviews, it wasn’t the instant smash hit most of their films tend to be, financially. While it has made $203 mil on its $80 mil budget as of writing this review, it’s not the runaway hit as their other films were. Sure, it’s probably going to make more money as time goes on and after leaving theaters, but it is interesting to see this happen. Are people finally getting tired of Illumination’s style of filmmaking, or was a possibly good film caught victim in 2019’s summer film drought? Well, let’s dive into this world of fluffy animal shenanigans.

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The story once again follows our hero Max, a small dog now voiced by Patton Oswalt. Along with his buddy Duke, voiced by Eric Stonestreet, they are happy with their current life with their owner Katie, voiced by Ellie Kemper. That is, until Katie falls in love with a man she meets named Chuck, voiced by Pete Holmes. After the two get married, they have a kid, and while at first Max and the new kid don’t get along, Max soon begins to love him, and then becomes overly protective and afraid of the world around him. To solve this issue, he and Duke go on a trip to the countryside to a farm, and end up meeting an old sheep dog named Rooster, voiced by Harrison Ford. While this is going on, two other stories are happening. The second story revolves around Gidget, a pomeranian voiced by Jenny Slate, who ends up losing Max’s favorite toy inside the crazy cat lady’s home, and must get the help of Chloe, voiced by Lake Bell, to learn the ways of the cat to get it back. The third story revolves around Snowball, voiced by Kevin Hart, who is contacted by a shih tzu named Daisy, voiced by Tiffany Haddish to help save a tiger that is being held hostage by a cruel circus owner that is voiced by Nick Kroll.

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Yeah, if that sounds like a lot, then it is. Once again, we find Illumination having trouble trying to stretch out plots that could fill the 80+ minute runtime, and it’s not like they couldn’t have. Some of these plots might be generic with typical animated tropes that you have seen before, but at least it would have been focused. They could have easily made this film entirely around Max and Rooster’s dynamic, because the theme of overcoming your fears is not a bad one. I actually enjoyed bits and pieces of Max and Rooster’s relationship with one another, and in a better movie, they probably would have explored the idea of how to overcome your fears. It’s not executed in the best way possible, but I give them credit for at least trying a little. That theme does connect the three stories, but the pacing and flow of the three stories in the film is so awkward, that it keeps abruptly pushing you into each story as it unfolds. It comes off like they weren’t fully sure on how to keep you interested with the multitude of characters that are in the previous film that are now in this film. Most of them don’t really do much, or do anything to help the story. It’s a case of too many characters, huge expensive names attached to them, and they are given little to do. I remember a friend of mine suggesting that this franchise should turn to making a series of shorts or a TV series, and that would make sense. That way, you can flesh everyone out more, and not have to worry about using them, because you forgot to do something with them. The final act has decent action, but due to how low the stakes are, it’s hard to feel invested. Like, it’s so hard to care about half of the storylines because they either end abruptly, or the characters vanish for a mass majority of the film, like the kid and the owner’s new husband. There was seriously no reason to hire Pete Holmes for the role of the husband. He has, like, four lines in the film, and they could have been done by Jeff Bennett or Steve Blum.

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Now, it’s time for some positives. I found the animation to be quite good. It’s another sign that Illumination is still getting better at their animation skills. Character movements and facial expressions are vibrant, and once again, they get little animal characteristics down for the different pets that you see. I also enjoyed the voice cast. Patton Oswalt takes over for Louis C.K. as Max, and to be frank, Patton Oswalt is a way better Max. He knows how to capture that casual innocence of a dog. Harrison Ford is also a pleasant surprise as this was his first voice-over role. Isn’t that surprising? His first voice-over role in his entire career. Anyway, he captures Rooster’s stoic nature, but he also shows he isn’t just a hard-edged individual. Of course, Lake Bell steals any scene that she is in as this pedantic sarcastic cat. The others do a good job, and it was fun to see Dana Carvey as his old dog character from the first film, have a few good laughs in this film with his character interacting with a bunch of puppies.

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There isn’t a whole lot to say about The Secret Life of Pets 2. It’s a dull experience. It might be the most forgettable film Illumination Entertainment has made yet. It might be making a bit of money, but with Toy Story 4 out right now, it’s probably going to dry up. Maybe this is a sign that people are getting tired of Illumination Entertainment, or maybe it’s just a realization that this was never meant to be a big theatrical franchise. Maybe it’s time for them to start making this into a series of shorts, or a TV series for Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime. Maybe with a TV design philosophy, they can flex their creative muscles. All I know is that there is no reason to see this in theaters. I would have been much happier that, since this was animated by a French studio, if it was a smaller character-focused story that has a more laid-back vibe to it. People tend to not know that many French/European/Foreign animated features have very laid-back paces and stories, and that is something American studios can learn from overseas studios. Anyway, it’s time to move onto something that’s more interesting to talk about. Next time, we will talk about one of three Netflix-exclusive animated features out this year with Pachamama. Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Lackluster!

Animation Tidbits: Annecy Part 2

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(Originally written: May 29th: 2019. Sorry for posting this late!)

(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!)

Alrighty, for the final part of this look at Annecy 2019, I decided to combine a bunch of films from different categories. This is because the various categories don’t have enough to warrant talking about in individual articles. At least, that is my opinion on the other categories. The one major change they made was a new category called Contrechamp, a category with animated features that are in competition, but have visuals that challenge the medium of animation. Otherwise, the films on the list will be from the screening events and In Production section of the festival. Let’s get started!

Children of the Sea (Contrechamp)

Directed by Ayumu Watanabe, the story focuses on a girl named Ruka, who saw a ghost in her dad’s aquarium when she was little. She becomes attracted to the aquarium and the appearance of two mysterious boys named Umi and Sora, all the while the adults who work there figure out the mass disappearance of the earth’s fish. In a lot of ways, it’s almost unfair that this film is the perfect representation for the Contrechamp section of the festival. It’s almost unfair how downright jaw-dropping-off-your-face beautiful the film is. Studio 4C has done a lot of great work, but this easily looks like it will be their best. Plus, with GKids now attached to bringing it over to the states this year, I have major hopes it’s going to be at Animation is Film 2019! If that wasn’t enough to get you hyped, Joe Hisaishi, the composer behind many of the Studio Ghibli classics, is composing the music for this film.

Away (Contrechamp)

Directed by Gints Zilbalodis, Away is about a young man who’s riding a motorcycle, trapped on a mystical island while trying to avoid a shadowy monster chasing him. This is also a film that looks like it will be taking advantage of the Contrechamp title. Sure, it kind of looks like an indie game that’s trying to be the next artistic achievement in gaming, but that’s sort of the fun of it. Plus, this was directed and animated by someone who is 25 years old. That is wildly ambitious and I give him kudos for that. It looks like a visually creative film that I hope does well.

Underdog (Contrechamp)

Directed by Sung-Yoon Oh and Chun Baek Lee, the story revolves around a blue dog that was once a house pet, but ends up back in the wild. He encounters wild dogs, and tries to help them survive and live freely. Generic title aside, I really like the visual look of this film. It reminds me of the work arounds French animation uses in projects like The Painting. It has a super vibrant color palette, and while the CGI may not be Pixar or Disney level at all, it has its own identity and personality to it. I’m happy to see South Korean animation finally making some break-out titles to show that they can make animated features that aren’t tied down to propaganda, and can be watchable by all. Though seeing some of the marketing blurbs say it was more emotionally gripping than Zootopia? Yeah, we will have to see about that.

Ville Neuve (Contrechamp)

Directed by Felix Dufour Laperriere, Ville Neuve focuses on a man named Joseph, who moves into a house with his friend, and tries to get back with his ex-wife, and this is happening with the 1995 Quebec Referendum happening in the background. I like the minimalist approach with its focus on whites, blacks, and grays. It comes off like a more personal and intimate film, and I can’t wait to see what the reviews say about this one.

Playmobil (Screening)

Now then, let’s jump in with the first film in the “Screening” category. Directed by Lino DiSalvo, the story focuses on a young woman named Marla, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, who gets pulled into this Playmobil world with her brother Carlie, played by Gabriel Bateman. They get separated, and it’s up to Marla to team up with Rex Dasher, a secret agent voiced by Daniel Radcliffe and Del, a food truck driver voiced by Jim Gaffigan, to get her brother back and avoid the evil clutches of Emperor Maximus, played by Adam Lambert. Yeah, this film did not get the warmest impression, being negatively compared to the 2014 The LEGO Movie. I can understand why. It comes off as a bit outdated that there needs to be a reason for the Playmobil world to exist, when people would rather just enjoy the world that they make. Still, the film looks silly and aware about itself, and some of the jokes I saw got a chuckle out of me. Hopefully it can be an entertaining flick once it releases later this year.

The Prince’s Voyage (Screening)

Directed by Jean-Francois Languionie and Xavier Pircard, this is a follow-up to a film Jean Francois did a while back called A Monkey’s Tale, which follows the prince from that film, as he washes up on the shore of an island, and encounters an individual named Young Tom and his two parents, who were exiled scientists. The film itself looks great, but that should be no surprise, because it’s the same guy behind The Painting, but I am curious to see how they make this film work, because who remembers A Monkey’s Tale? It has only gotten an English UK release, and no one in America has probably heard of this guy or his films. Still, the CGI looks stylized, and I’m curious to see how this film does in continuing the story with these characters in a travel diary-style form.

Abominable (Screening)

Finally, we are seeing actual trailers and footage for this film. Directed by Jill Culton and Todd Wilderman, we follow the exploits of a young Chinese woman named Yi, voiced by Chloe Bennet, as she encounters an actual Yeti on the rooftop of her apartment building. It was previously caught by a scientist named Dr. Zara, voiced by Sarah Paulson, and an evil rich man named Burnish, voiced by Eddie Izzard. It is up to Yi, her friends Peng, voiced by Albert Tsai, and Jin, voiced by Tenzing Norgay Trainor, to get the Yeti back to his home in the mountains. This is an important film, due to this being DreamWorks first Chinese collaboration with Pearl Studio. As per usual with their non-comedy stuff, Abominable looks visually great, and has some endearing moments, but the jokes and references made in the first trailer and in the recent trailer are iffy. Hopefully, this is more of DreamWorks working at a How to Train your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda level, and not Shrek the Third level. Also, what is up with their marketing for this film? Everyone has already seen a trailer for the film for two or so months before the “official” trailer was released last week. What was the point of having two trailers and one of them was already viewable in theaters? Oh well, I hope this is a good movie.

Toy Story 4 (Screening)

Directed by Josh Cooley, we follow our heroes dealing with their new lives and a new encounter with a self-made toy named Forky, voiced by Tony Hale. One day, Forky gets out, and Woody, voiced by Tom Hanks, sets out to bring Forky back, but also runs into Bo Peep, voiced by Annie Potts. Shenanigans then ensue as Woody and the gang try to get Forky back to their new owner Bonnie, and Woody starts to have a crisis of what it means to be a toy. It’s too easy and frankly lazy, to say how this is a “cash grab”, when all films are cash grabs. We didn’t need a 4th one, but if we needed this one to get back on the train of original films starting with next year’s Onward, then so be it. Plus, I have been hearing good early word of mouth, and plus, who doesn’t want to see Keanu Reeves in his first ever voice role? Even if we might “not need it”, I’m glad to go back if the story is good.

Frozen 2 (Screening)

Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, our heroes from the first film, Elsa, Anna, Kristoff, and Olaf are off on another adventure to go beyond the kingdom of Arendelle. Yeah, there isn’t much known about the film right now, so let’s talk about how incredible the teaser trailer was. This film looks jaw-dropping-off-your-face-and-exploding gorgeous. I’m sure a lot of this is just teaser editing, and the film may not be this serious in tone, but wouldn’t that be awesome if it was? I know there is a bit of Frozen burnout, but I liked the first movie, and I’m excited to see how this new one unfolds.

Weathering With You (WIP)

In the Work in Progress section, we have the newest film from Makoto Shinkai. The story revolves around a young boy who moves to Tokyo alone, and almost becomes broke, until he gets a writing job for an odd occult magazine. His life feels like it’s constant misery, as rain and dark clouds follow him everywhere. One day, he encounters a young girl who has a mysterious power to clear the sky of the clouds and rain. While I have been critical of some of Shinkai’s efforts and directorial touches in the past, this one has me very excited. To no surprise that Shinkai has more drop-dead eye-popping visuals, something about the story feels instantly likable, and GKids recently announced that they will be bringing it over! I can’t wait to see this film, and I hope to see it sometime soon.

Promare (Midnight Special)

Finally, for the Midnight Special, we have Promare. Directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi, and animated by Studio Trigger, we follow Galo Thymos and his team, the Burning Rescue Fire Department. Their main goal is to take down a group of evil mutants called BURNISH that emits and can control a special fire that is engulfing the planet. This movie looks so over-the-top, silly, nonsensical, it’s super drenched in its anime identity, and this is why I follow foreign/indie animation. This movie looks crazy in the most positive way possible. Sure, if you know anything about Studio Trigger’s previous work like Kill la Kill, Space Patrol Luluco, Little Witch Academia, and SSSS Gridman, then you know you are going to get some of the most vibrant Japanese animation around. It looks like a lot of fun, and I hope to also see it soon.

And that wraps up what I think looks to be the most promising at the Annecy International Film Festival. Even with these listed, there are truly more interesting features being shown in their completed form or work-in-progress form. Just go check out the site, and see the multitude of animated projects being shown, and find your favorites.

 

 

The Other Side of Animation 156: UglyDolls 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!)

The big problem with making an animated film based on a property is that it can take a while to get it off the ground. While animated features can be easier to make cohesive in terms of everything looking like it belonged on screen, trends and popular brands come and go at lightning-fast speeds. Animation is a long process that usually takes up to three or four years (usually) to go into production and animate. That’s why it’s really odd to see films like The Angry Birds Movie, the upcoming Dora the Explorer movie, and Playmobil movie, because they haven’t been popular for years before their release. It’s also not easy to simply halt production. As you already spent a lot of money on the rights, talent, and animation, the investors and studios would love to see that product come to life. Rarely do you hear about an animated film getting halted mid-production and delayed to redo a year or two of work. Unfortunately, by the time your film based on the popular brand comes out, it could be years since anyone last talked about it or even knew about it. This is the situation that the UglyDolls movie finds itself in. Directed by Kelly Asbury of Shrek 2, Gnomeo & Juliet, Smurfs: The Lost Village, and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron fame, the movie based on the cult-favorite toy line has more of an interesting history behind It than anything else. Originally announced back in 2011, Illumination got the rights to make the feature, with Chris Meledandri to produce the film alongside the creators of the brand David Horvath and Sun-Min Kim also set to executive produce. Obviously, something happened to that relationship, as in 2015, the rights and production swapped to STX Entertainment, and the animation was being done by Reel FX Entertainment, the same studio behind The Book of Life, Rock Dog, Sherlock Gnomes, and the upcoming Scoob. What’s even crazier is that Robert Rodriguez is now the executive producer, and is behind the story of the film, and was set to direct. Obviously, Kelly Asbury took over, but Robert Rodriguez is still behind the story, and is executive producer alongside Jane Hartwell and Oren Aviv. With what I can tell, the original creators of UglyDolls are no longer attached as producers of this film. So, we have a film that has been in development for quite a long time, switched hands and directors a couple of times, based on a toy line that only had a cult fanbase, and, as of writing this review, is a critical and financial bomb. Yeah, let’s dive in!

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UglyDolls follows our lead character Moxy, voiced by Kelly Clarkson. She is an Uglydoll that lives in a realm called Uglyville, a part of a world where rejected/”ugly” dolls are tossed. Moxy lives there with her friends Lucky Bat, voiced by Wang Leehom, Ugly Dog, voiced by Pitbull, Wage, voiced by Wanda Sykes, Babo, voiced by Gabriel Iglesias, and the town’s mayor Ox, voiced by Blake Shelton. Moxy’s dream is to find a human to live with, but is constantly told that humans are a myth. Of course, she and her friends decide to leave the town to find a new world. As they venture out of Uglyville, they find themselves in a place known as Perfection, a town where the “perfect” dolls end up to be with children. The leader of this place is a guy doll named Lou, voiced by Nick Jonas, that is pretty much going to tell you to your face that you aren’t perfect. Well, Moxy and her friends aren’t going to stand down, and are going to show that they are just as worthy of being with children as the regular dolls. Can they thwart Lou’s evil plan? Can they show that being yourself is great? Can this film actually make sense of its world and how it works?

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That’s literally one of the biggest issues this film has. Due to its rushed development, the world-building of UglyDolls doesn’t make a lick of sense. It becomes confusing when they introduce a portal to the human world in Perfection. So, where does the portal go? Is it a single toy store? Is it linked to multiple stores? Do the humans know of this realm of living toys? Who made this factory? If the toys can go to and from the human world, where do they go for the portal? It seems like another run-through on the script was not in the favor of the writers, because a lot of this could have been fixed if they just went through the setting another time. Just take out the humans and let them be this world of living dolls. Granted, fixing the setting and premise wouldn’t have fixed the writing.

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This has to be one of the most repetitive scripts that I have ever seen in an animated film. None of the jokes landed outside of one from the one-eyed unicorn, and the pacing of the script was essentially the same thing every single scene. They get a challenge thrown at them by Lou, everyone gives up, Moxy says they can’t give up, her friends doubt her, she pushes through, and then they make it through. It’s the same set-up for almost every scene. They do have a weak twist in the story, but no one in the audience cares, because it’s not subtly telegraphed. A lot of the film’s themes and morals are essentially “hit over your head” with the light touch of a wrecking ball crashing through a building. Outside of maybe Moxy and Lou, none of the other characters have a lot of personality to them. They really have one character trait, and that doesn’t equal having an identity. This might be because STX, in all of their wisdom, are making a TV series based on the film for Hulu, which I don’t even think is going to get made now. I don’t know why you would, because the movie is bombing, and I haven’t seen one truly positive review for it.

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The lack of refinement bleeds into the voice work. This movie showcases the worst of celebrity voice casting. There are so many that you could easily just recast with voice actors who, while maybe not able to save the material they are given, could, you know, voice act! You never once see the characters. You only see the celebrities that they hired, which takes you out of the story in a super frustrating way. The animation also lacks polish. While $45 mil is still a lot of money, it definitely shows that this film needed more time, more money, and more creativity. A couple of the song sequences just put the characters in flat backgrounds, you can tell when some characters are sliding across the ground, and while Perfection fits the themes of the film, it also looks like they copy and pasted a lot of the doll models and houses. They try to go for that felt design seen in films like 2016’s Trolls, but it fails to capture Trolls’ wildly colorful world.

So, what do I actually like about the film? Very little. I hate saying that, but it’s true! I think out of all the actors in this film, the only ones that are trying are Kelly Clarkson, Nick Jonas, and Blake Shelton. I thought they put in the most decent performances. In terms of the animation, I like how accurate the dolls look. Sure, they aren’t truly ugly, but they were based on a toy line, and they translated well to animation. Uglyville looks pretty solid as well. It’s vibrant, and probably the most creative-looking location in the entire film. While I do despise how cynical and manipulative this film feels, it was at least presented as intended, which is better than Wonder Park trying to be deeper than it knew how to be.

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I feel badly for UglyDolls. It never truly stood a chance when STX Entertainment decided to rush the product out to try and start a franchise. I’m not surprised it’s bombing, but I only feel sympathy for the animators for this film. It’s not easy to be working on tighter budgets and development times. I would say don’t go see this film, but seeing how it’s one of the newest films to bomb at the box office this year, no one is going to see it. Not even for a bad movie night, it’s just too boring for something like that. I hope Reel FX can get back on track with making some good films, but we will have to see how their next project turns out. Also, at the end of the day, it’s just another bad movie in a sea of bad movies. Once June comes around, and Toy Story 4 hits theaters, everyone, including me, will have forgotten about this film. It’s not worth hating on it for a long time, nor is it worth making awful YouTube videos that say all theatrical animation past 2009 sucks when it doesn’t. For now, I think it’s time head back over to Spain, and take a look at a film that was one of my favorite animated film experiences of last year and that’s going to get an official US release this year!  Next time, we shall dive into Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles. Thanks for reading, I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: The Worst/Blacklist

The Other Side of Animation 151:How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Well, it has happened. I am finally able to review DreamWorks animated movies! Now that they are under Universal’s banner, and not Fox’s banner, I can now talk about today’s film and any of their future projects. It’s fascinating to see the entire history of DreamWorks. The company was founded by Jeffery Katzenberg after a nasty break-up with Disney, and made a name for not really having an identity, making edgier/mostly mediocre films that tried to ape off of what Disney/Pixar were doing at the time. They finally made a name for themselves with hits like Shrek 2, the Kung Fu Panda and How to Train your Dragon films, and then lost so much money after one failed business decision after another, we are now at the current part of the timeline. Once they lost about 500 employees and a couple of double digit millions when their 2014 films failed to bring in the money, they were then bought out by Universal. That’s a fairly rough and compacted history, but this isn’t about the history of DreamWorks, and how they started out to where they are now. I’m not getting paid enough on my Patreon to do something like that (link to my Patreon if you would like to support it). We are here to talk about How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World. Directed and written by Dean DeBlois, The Hidden World wraps up the entire trilogy of one of DreamWorks’ best franchises. It came out near the end of February to critical acclaim and commercial success. So, how is the actual film? Let’s see what unfolds in this hidden world.

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The third film takes place a year after the second film, as Hiccup, voiced once again by Jay Baruchel, is now officially the leader of his people, and has gone on frequent missions to take down and free dragons from people who capture them. Unfortunately, his home and people are at risk of having to find a new land, and come to the realization about the relationship his people have with the dragons. This doesn’t help things when a group of dragon hunters hire a notoriously dangerous individual known as Grimmel the Grisly, voiced by F. Murray Abraham, who wants to kill all of the dragons, especially the Night Fury and Light Fury species. Hiccup then suggests that they find the Hidden World, a place where all the dragons live. Since this is the third film as well, let’s throw in a mysterious Light Fury, a white version of the franchise’s icon Toothless. Can Hiccup save his people and dragons from annihilation?

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Before I talk about the positives, and there are a lot of positives, I wanted to counter against some of the criticisms that have been thrown at this film. The first criticism I see is that it doesn’t tie into the Netflix series at all. To be frank, I’m happy they didn’t. Sure, the Netflix series was able to expand upon the characters and the world with more villages, villains, and other heroes. However, if push comes to shove, I’d rather it stay exclusively within the film world. It’s not really fair to expect everyone going into this third film to have watched the Netflix series, or the series that came out before the second film. I get that even the slightest little easter eggs or cameos would have been nice for fans of the TV series, but at the same time, most people going into this wouldn’t have seen the entire series. The next criticism I see is aimed at how some of the characters are handled. I have a mixed reaction to this part overall. Again, a lot of people pointed out that the TV series was doing a better job at fleshing out these characters. Well, duh. You have a TV series that has multiple episodes and more time to flesh everything out. I think the writing is strong enough that a good chunk of the characters are still true to them and are still great.

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That’s really all I have to disagree with. Now, we talk about the actual criticisms. To me, the How to Train your Dragon franchise runs parallel with DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda franchise. The first film was a surprise hit, and both have really good first films. The second films arguably are better films expanding the world, the story, the characters, and have a better villain. The third films are not as good as the second ones, but are great closers to the franchise, however, they have weaker villains. Yeah, while being voiced well by F. Murray Abraham, Grimmel the Grisly was not as interesting as a villain as other animated film villains. He had a bit of mystery to him, and was a threat with the other warriors and those dragon killers, but he felt underutilized. While I disagree that all of the side characters suffered from being underdeveloped, both Kung Fu Panda and Dragons sure do not give their side protagonists a lot to do. This is especially true for Jonah Hill’s Snotlout. He is just the worst character in this film. While Fishlegs, voiced by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Ruffnut and Tuffnut, voiced by Kristen Wiig and Justin Rupple, all have some more focus and things to do in the story, Snotlout never has a good scene, is always the butt of the joke, is constantly trying to hit on Hiccup’s mom for some creepy reason, and if that’s not creepy enough, apparently, Snotlout is worse in the original books. It always comes off like DreamWorks puts in so many characters, because they are banking on a TV series. They also don’t let us, the viewers, spend much time in the Hidden World. I kind of wish there was more time spent on Hiccup, Toothless, the Hidden World, America Ferrera’s Astrid, than focusing on the side characters who don’t have much to them.

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So, what’s amazing about this film? Everything! The animation is beautiful. I’m so blown away at how incredible the franchise’s visuals have become, as even the first film from 2010 still looks pretty darn good! I love the details of the textures used, the slightly aged characters, and the immense amount of detail used in every house, island, dragon, human, and you get the idea. Once again, DreamWorks shows that while the overarching plot might not be the best, it makes up for it with some really good character moments. Throughout the entire film, there will be little moments between two characters that bring this film so much life and personality. Many of the best moments in the previous films were the quiet moments as Hiccup interacted with either Toothless or someone else. This film ups those scenes, as we get the final chapter of Hiccup’s coming-of-age tale of becoming the new tribe leader for his people. One of the most memorable scenes for me was when Hiccup was a kid, and he saw his dad mourn the loss of his wife/Hiccup’s mother, and you just get so much out of that one scene alone. Of course, the chemistry between Toothless and his new love interest is also a hugely entertaining scene, as it involves the least amount of dialogue out of any scene in this movie, and is so adorable and funny that you think it would backfire in some possible way, but it doesn’t. There are quite a few scenes of Toothless and his girlfriend that are all just wonderful to watch.  The film tackles plenty of complex themes, like learning to change, how Hiccup comes to terms with doing what’s best for everyone involved, and learning and working on making your own path through life.

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How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World might have a few flaws under its wings, but it’s another fantastic ride from DreamWorks. I know it’s easy to worry about DreamWorks Animation and their film line-up in the future, but for now, why not enjoy this movie and go see it? I highly recommend that you do so if you haven’t already. It shows that when DreamWorks wants to, they can put out a high quality product. Now then, we shall now move from dragons that you form an emotional bond with, to a film about a magical amusement park that doesn’t quite work. Next time, we shall talk about the notorious and infamous Wonder Park. Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed this review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!