The Other Side of Animation 145: MFKZ 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!)

One of the things I can’t stand about the current image of animation is how many see it in a fairly limited way. They think that animation can’t be successful or good if they step beyond the family market, which is just incredibly ignorant thinking. That’s like saying adult comedies can’t go past a Seth Rogen stoner comedy, or horror films can only have jump scares and gore. The best part about animation, and I will say it as many times as I need to, is that animation is limitless. You can do anything you want with the medium. For every Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch (2018), you get a Liz and the Blue Bird. For every Incredibles 2, you get a Mirai. For every Duck Duck Goose, you get a How to Train your Dragon. My point is, films like today’s review, MFKZ, is to show how varied and vibrant animation can be. Directed by Shojiro Nishimi and Guillaume Renard, and produced by Ankama Animations and Studio 4C, this high-octane action flick stood out from rest of the films from 2018 for its odd, grimy, and intense visuals that were based on the comics made by Guillaume Renard himself. It was one of the first films during 2017’s Animation is Film Festival, but got a wider US release in October of 2018. So, was the wait worth it? Well, let’s check it out!

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So, what is this movie about? Well, a lot. We follow the story of Angelino, dubbed by Kenn Michael. He lives in Dark Meat City, a hyper-stylized, grimy, and grungy version of Los Angeles. He scrapes by making rent money with his friend Vinz, who’s a walking skeleton boy, dubbed by Vince Staples. They have to deal with living in the more poverty-riddled parts of the city and deal with the rent situation from their landlord Willy, dubbed by Dino Andrade. One night however, Angelino and Vinz get their apartment raided by Stormtrooper-like policemen that are chasing down Angelino for yet unknown reasons. This is on top of Angelino getting over an accident where he crashed into an armored car. The accident in question has him able to see individuals who are not who they supposedly are. This is probably why Angelino is being targeted. After that, Angelino and Vinz get sucked into a world that mirrors They Live (the John Carpenter horror flick). They encounter a group of luchadores who protect the world from evil forces, a group of thugs led by a man named Shakespeare, dubbed by RZA, a lovely woman named Luna, dubbed by Dascha Polanco, and getting relentlessly chased down by an evil man named Mr. K, dubbed by Giancarlo Esposito and his right hand Bruce, dubbed by Danny Trejo. Can the two make it out alive, and find out the mystery behind Angelino’s new abilities?

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So, yeah, let’s get this out of the way first, this film has a lot going on. However, unlike many movies with plenty of plots happening, MFKZ is definitely more focused. It’s more They Live, but with over-the-top action. I know nothing can beat that infamous brawl between Keith David and Rowdy Piper, but the action in MFKZ is easily one of the best elements of this film. Once again, with the knowledge that its animation, and the fact that Studio 4C is the studio that animated the film, the action is topnotch. It’s fast, intense, gritty, over-the-top, and varied. You get car chases, luchadores body-slamming Stormtroopers, Angelino gains new tentacle nightmare powers, and gunfights. For the most part of the film, you are constantly moving and learning about the characters. It’s a lot of fun to see them deal with one another, while dealing with constant action and darkly comedic dialogue. I mean, you can be critical of this film, but you can’t be mad at a thug leader who quotes Shakespeare while carrying large machine guns. It’s deep enough for you to care about the characters, but the film knows you want the fun schlocky sci-fi action, too.

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Another major highlight is that the cast is probably one of the most diverse groups of actors for dubbing and films in general. Rarely do you ever hear or see voice actors who aren’t white. There are ethnic voice actors, but they don’t seem to balance out with how many white voice actors there are in the business. It makes sense that MFKZ would then have ethnic actors/voice actors, including Kenn Michael, Vince Staples, Dino Andrade, Michael Chiklis, Giancarlo Esposito, Jorge Gutierrez, Dascha Polanco, RZA, Danny Trejo, and you get the idea. They all do a pretty good job with their roles.

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While I do love this movie, am happy that it exists, and overjoyed to see an action-animated feature aimed at adults, I’m not entirely surprised by the overall rating and the critic-rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Not saying that it’s bad, because I really enjoyed it, but it is flawed. The third act especially has some pacing issues. It goes full steam ahead when the story gets going, but then it halts in its tracks. It then underplays some of the major plot elements by that point in time, and scales it back down to being more intimate and personal about not losing yourself to your darker intentions, and being human on top of the anti-establishment They Live story beats. The final scene also ends on a sequel bait joke that was funny, but also rubbed me the wrong way, because who knows if we are going to get a sequel or not.

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While it sort of unravels in the end, and I get why people aren’t fully on-board with this movie, I love that this movie exists. I’m always down for more action animation and films with weird and out-there plots. I find it hard for myself to be mad at its flaws, because there are a group of luchadores that protect the world from demons, and it’s essentially a wacked-out version of They Live. I definitely recommend either finding a theater that will play this, or checking it out when it hits DVD. While not perfect, I’m glad films like MFKZ and Ruben Brandt exist. For now, let’s talk about what is possibly the best animated feature of 2018 with Mamoru Hosoda’s Mirai. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoy the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 74: Storks 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 The LEGO Movie came out back in 2014, it took the world by storm. It was one of the biggest films of the year, and one of the biggest surprises in movie history. Everyone thought this was going to be a cynical cash-in like Home or Minions, but it ended up being better than what anyone could imagine. The directors and writers put in their all for this one movie, and it paid off with being one of the best animated films of the decade. It also showed that just because you are based on a toy, doesn’t mean you have to be terrible. It was a huge victory for Warner Brothers, and a great start to their new redone animation branch. So, to me, Storks had a lot to live up to. Released back in 2016, Storks was released by Warner Brothers, and while not bombing, it didn’t do as well as The LEGO Movie, and got mixed reviews. You either enjoyed the movie, or you got really irritated with it. Where do I stand on this film from director duo Doug Sweetland and Nicholas Stoller? Well, let’s find out.

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Storks is set in a world where, well, storks don’t deliver babies to households anymore, and are more like a cartoon version of what Amazon wants to do with delivery drones and delivery-packaged goods. The lead or one of the leads is a stork named Junior, voiced by Andy Samberg, who is close to being the new boss of the company that is, as of right, now run by a stork named Hunter, voiced by Kelsey Grammar. While Junior may be close to getting the new position of boss, he is told to fire and get rid of the one human that is working there, an orphan named Tulip, voiced by Katie Crown. After some shenanigans, Junior and Tulip end up accidentally turning on the old baby-making machine (literally a machine) and, well, make a baby. It’s then up to them to get it to the family that requested it, while avoiding Hunter, a small pigeon voiced by Stephen Kramer Glickman, a pack of wolves played by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, and a stork that went rogue long ago named Jasper, voiced by Danny Trejo.

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So, this is a lot to take in with its comedic set-up, execution, and world. How does it all work? Well, for me at the very least, this is one of those movies that could and should have had a couple of more lookovers to polish it all out. I knew going in, that this movie would be more on the comedic side of things, and that would be okay. I’m fine when a comedy wants to be a comedy, but if you are going to add heart and soul to your comedy, it needs to be balanced out with the funny moments. I mean, think about some of the great comedies of the last two decades or so. Comedies like Hot Fuzz, Kung Fu Panda, and Shrek 2 work because while they are very funny, you still cared about the characters and what they were going through. It was icing on the cake that the movie was gut busting hilarious. At least for me, Storks doesn’t really reach that height of comedy.  I don’t think its two leads, while well-voiced and can work off each other well, have the greatest of character development. You get Tulip’s drive to find her family and to make sure the baby gets to its family, but Junior doesn’t really have the best drive as a character. It doesn’t help either that it goes through a “liar’s reveal” trope, but I can give it credit that it doesn’t daudle too long on that part of the story. It also would have been nice if characters like Jasper and Hunter could have had more time to be fleshed out or be even funnier or more entertaining as characters. Even the family that the baby is supposed to be taken to, with parents played by Ty Burrell and Jennifer Aniston, should be funnier than what you get in the movie. Maybe it’s because they are fairly white bread overworked parents, but when you have those two actors, you can do more with them, and we know they can do more since both have been in fantastic animated films like The Iron Giant and Finding Dory.

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Now then, how is the comedy? Well, like most comedies that can be considered good or entertaining, there are some great jokes that are hilarious when done well, a few amusing jokes that make you chuckle, and some that fall flat. It’s a shame more films don’t take the route that the best comedies have taken, and pick and choose their jokes and not fall onto some of the more popular tropes in comedies. A lot of the visual gags and lines work, due to the animation of the film, but you do hear a groaner here and there, and characters like Pigeon Toady will either be annoying or hilarious depending on whom you are as an individual.

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Now, the film does try to cover up some plot holes by being very meta about it, with characters literally asking why these things exist, and that became fairly distracting. To me, meta humor is starting to slowly hit that point where it’s less about being very funny and clever, and more about using meta humor to hide and ignore that the story has issues. Why is the baby machine still around? Why were there storks delivering babies when there are more…natural ways of having babies? Why did the incident with Tulip shut down everything in terms of baby delivery? Why is the ‘off button’ behind a bunch of razor blades? I know when it comes to cartoon comedies, you have to just go with the flow, but the meta humor rides the line of covering up lazy world-building and writing.

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Now, that is not to say that I hate this movie. I know I just criticized it a whole bunch, but I found Storks to be an incredibly entertaining ride. The animation is great, it’s the right kind of fast, it helps the physical comedy hit it out of the park multiple times, and it’s got great designs. This is the same studio that did Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, and it looks so much better than what the studio had to do with in Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2. Seriously, watch that movie and tell me that you see how cheap it looks compared to the original Cloudy film.

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Anyway, the voice cast also does a fantastic job. Sure, you get some pretty solid performances from some of the actors like Ty Burrell and Jennifer Aniston, and a majority of the cast sounds very engaged with their performances. I also give Warner Brothers so much credit for casting an actual honest-to-goodness voice actress for Tulip. Tulips’ actress, Katie Crown, is an actress most known for her role as Izzy from the Total Drama franchise. It’s just so rare that actual voice actors get major roles in animated films. It could have been so easy to just get a bubbly big-name actress to do this role, but they pretty much said “screw that”, and got an honest-to-gravy voice actress. As for a comedic cast, it’s really solid stuff. Andy Samberg, Keegan Michael Keye, Jordan Peele, Kelsey Grammar, Stephen Kramer Glickman, Danny Trejo, and Katie Crown all work off each other well and have some pretty great chemistry. For the comedy itself, I was laughing at multiple points in the movie, from the introduction of Key and Peele’s wolf characters, to the encounter with the penguins. Storks brings in very much “out there” brands of comedy that you would see in a Looney Toons short. I mean, it is Warner Brothers, they should know how this all works by now. Even the somewhat boring white bread family gets some great lines, but that should be no surprise, due to Ty Burrell and Jennifer Aniston being used to flexing their comedic muscles before.

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Storks might be a bit clunky in the world-building and story department, but it brings in so many laughs that it pretty much makes for an enjoyable ride. However, do I understand why it didn’t do well in the box office, and why critics were split on the film? Of course I do. I might like the film and recommend it for a good fun animated comedy, but you should be able to understand when someone else couldn’t get into it. Still, if you feel like you are in the mood for a comedy that’s less reliant on raunchy comedy and stock humor, Storks is that comedy. Well then, it’s time we look at films from 2017, and we shall start with Nerdland. Thank you for reading. I hope you all enjoyed the article, and I will see you next time.

Rating: Go see it!