The Other Side of Animation 124: Gnomeo & Juliet Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: Lackluster!

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Favorite Shorts from the 19th Animation Show of Shows

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

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

Can You Do It

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

Next Door

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

The Alan Dimension

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

Hangman

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

Gokurosama

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

Dear Basketball

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

Island

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

Unsatisfying

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

 My Burden

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

Our Wonderful Nature: The Common Chameleon

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

Everything

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

The Other Side of Animation 116: Ferdinand Review

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

I was talking to my friend the other day about something I never really thought about, do I care about the state of a studio because I’m a critic, and do only the critics and hardcore filmgoers care about the status of studios like Blue Sky Studios and Illumination Entertainment? I ask this question, since while critics are meant to judge a film, and focus more on the finer details, and break it down in a manner that makes sense, and to look beyond the film and at the studio at times. However, casual moviegoers are probably not invested as much with what the studio is doing and if they are evolving their craft or not. I do think that is somewhat changing. While people are still really fine with seeing Illumination Entertainments offerings, franchises like Ice Age, Transformers, and to a lesser degree, The Nut Job, recently bombed at the domestic box office in the states. Even though they sort of picked up traction overseas, there were signs that people were ready to move on, and find something different and more worth their time. I do think both critics and audiences do care about what a studio puts out, but the amount that casual moviegoers will put up with will vary. Hence, why I was curious to see how Ferdinand would do. Directed by Carlos Saldanha, and made by Blue Sky Studios, I thought Ferdinand was going to be an interesting film. I use interesting in the sense that this was the next film right after Ice Age: Collision Course, one of, if not, the worst-reviewed Blue Sky Studios film. I think after Collision Course, people were beginning to get weary and not really trust what the studio had coming next. The film was released December 15th here in the states, and while it got overall pretty solid reviews, its box office numbers were definitely a sluggish climb up past its $111 mil budget. I mean, then again, when you are going against Star Wars: The Last Jedi, your numbers may vary. It isn’t technically bombing, but I think it was obvious people were weary. Did they have a right to be? Well, let’s check it out.

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The story obviously revolves around Ferdinand, voiced by John Cena. Back in the day, he grew up in a bull fighting ranch where bull fighters go to pick the biggest and best bulls to fight. Of course, if you know anything about the source material, Ferdinand would rather smell the flowers and not fight. One night after escaping the ranch when he finds out his dad never came back, Ferdinand ends up being adopted by a flower farmer and his daughter. After spending years with them, Ferdinand grows to be gigantic in size. One day, when he decides to go to the flower festival to see his owners, an accident occurs with him looking like a giant monster. He then gets sent right back to the same bull farm from many years ago. It’s up to Ferdinand, along with his friends, to escape the horrific nature of bull fighting, and be free animals.

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So, I know the trailers for this film didn’t look the best, but if you actually watch it, there is honestly a lot of aspects to like. First up, let’s talk about John Cena as Ferdinand. It was a bit concerning, since while he has acted in films before, this was essentially his first major lead role. You simply don’t hear enough about good acting career stories from wrestlers. Luckily, Cena does a pretty good job as the lead. He’s likable, energetic, has decent comedic timing, and it was never distracting that he was the main character. In fact, a lot of the big downsides to Blue Sky Studios films are the fact that you never see the characters as characters, but as the celebrities who play them. Again, the celebrities are not distracting in this film. Sure, you can recognize a few by the tone of their voices alone, but they actually put in the time to act, and get into their own respected characters. Yes, not all of them are endearing, and some are annoying, but at least more effort was put into these performances than most bad animated films. I think my favorite performances came from the bull characters. Anthony Anderson, Peyton Manning, Bobby Cannavale, David Tennant, and Tim Nordquist were all distinct and fairly memorable. I think my favorite was David Tennant as Angus. He had the funniest delivery of the other bulls, but the rest hold their weight. I found the bulls’ chemistry to be more of the heart of the film, outside of Ferdinand and the family he grew up with.

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I also respect that the story does actually go the distance to a degree about the life of bull fighting and the sad fates of many bulls that either fight or are not up to par. Seriously, it was almost tonal whiplash that they do show what happens when bulls are not up to par, and the fact that for the most part, most bulls will die and never make it back after they fight. It was actually shocking, because much of this film is that pandering kids film vibe that you normally see in a Blue Sky Studios film. From time to time however, they will show off the darker side of bullfighting, and even let Ferdinand and some of the characters have moments of quiet. I think one of my favorite parts was when Ferdinand helped Angus out, and the two got to sit down and look at the beautiful landscape. I adore that this film went the extra mile to show that you don’t need constant comedy or loud noises to keep kids focused. It felt like it was trying to be something on the level of Pixar or Disney. I was honestly emotionally invested throughout a lot of the story. With the exception of the first Ice Age, Robots, and The Peanuts Movie, I’m usually fairly checked out of a lot of Blue Sky films, because they don’t always do a good job with making interesting stories and characters.

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In terms of animation, the film is very beautiful. It has a few faults that I will mention later, but the animation is fluid, it has a good energy to it, and the designs seem very old-school cartoon, exaggerated in terms of their designs and how they move. The backgrounds and field shots are lush, the colors are vibrant, and the human designs are pretty decent. It’s nice to see humans that don’t instantly look like something similar to Disney and Pixar. I even liked the music by John Powell and the obvious original songs by Nick Jonas.

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So, it’s all the more irritating that I have many complaints about Ferdinand as well. It’s so close to being a really good animated film, but it’s only good. Why? Well, because it has a tone problem. The calm and collected tone is constantly shoved to the side for more of the comedy/audience pandering aspects, like multiple side characters that don’t really offer much purpose to the main story, more childish humor, and a dance-off. The dance-off really sums up everything bad about the film. It comes out of nowhere, apparently everyone knows how to dance, and once it is finished, it is never mentioned again by any of the characters. I get that it probably tested well with test audiences that were full of kids, and while I did enjoy it to a degree, it’s distracting to the overall tone. The side characters outside of the bulls are not all that interesting. The hedgehogs, while played well by Gina Rodriguez, Daveed Diggs, and Gabriel Iglesias, don’t do much in the movie. Early footage from the first trailer made it look like they had more to do, but they don’t serve much of a purpose, outside of Ferdinand trying to get out of the bull ranch. The German show horses played by Flula Borg, Boris Kodjoe, and Sally Philips also have the same problem. You never see them after the bulls escape. Yes, I get that they sort of symbolize humans’ need to compete, but as characters that help progress the story, they didn’t do much. And yes, Kate McKinnon isn’t given good enough material to be tolerable. She’s not the worst, and I know she can be funny, but she comes off more annoying than anything else as the goat. Even the villain is not great. You have this bullfighter played by Miguel Angel Silvestre, who is just a boring villain. They had a lot of chances to make him more complex before and after the third act fight between him and Ferdinand, but they don’t do anything. The animation is pretty consistent, but the humans come off as clunky. It’s not a problem with them being snappy in their movements, it’s the fact that they look stiff. By the way, while they are minimal in how much they appear, no one likes twerk, butt, or fart jokes. Stop adding them into your movies, Blue Sky. I know they are not the only studios to do this with animated films, but they do it more often than others.

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In the end, Ferdinand is good, but it had so much lost potential. It succeeds in what it wanted to do, but it’s not a steady ride to the finish, and your experience may vary. There is a reason why this film dragged itself across a month or more due to the success of Coco and then having to deal with Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I see no harm in actually seeing this in theaters, and if you have children that have watched Coco to death in theaters, and can’t find a theater playing Mary and the Witch’s Flower, then definitely go see it or rent it. It’s an ultimately harmless film, and easily one of Blue Sky’s best offerings. Well, that was fun, but we shall now move on to more indie stuff as we look at GKids’ Birdboy: The Forgotten Children. Thanks for reading, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go see it

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!

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!