The Other Side of Animation 94: My Life as a Zucchini 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 am very fortunate with my family life. My family is pretty healthy, we have a good life, I am close to everyone, and I wouldn’t want to trade it for the world. Sometimes, it’s good to remember how fortunate you are, if you have a good family situation. Not everyone can get that, and I can’t even begin to understand or imagine myself growing up in a broken home, or as an orphan. I’m never going to relate to it, and I’m not going to try and act like I can. I think that is what’s interesting about today’s review of My Life as a Zucchini. This is a stop-motion animated film from last year, that was directed by Claude Barras, and was distributed here in the states by the always-amazing GKids. It picked up a lot of critical acclaim and award nominations. While only 60 minutes long, you would be amazed at how mature this film can be.

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The story revolves around a young boy named Zucchini. He does have a real name, but he would rather be called Zucchini. After the death of his mother, he is brought to an orphanage by a police officer named Raymond, voiced by Nick Offerman. While there, he befriends the other kids who live there, and gets to learn a bit more about each of them as time goes on. One day though, a young girl moves into the orphanage named Camille, and changes Zucchini’s life.

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So, what’s so amazing for a movie that’s no longer than an episode of Game of Thrones? Well, there is a lot to love about this little movie. It has a laid-back atmosphere, and while the kids can get rowdy, and there are some dramatic moments, the movie is very quiet. It lets the kids be the main focus. It’s definitely a smaller story and is not epic or sweeping, but it doesn’t mean it sacrifices quality storytelling. You get little details, like how Zucchini keeps the memory of his parents in the form of a beer can and a kite, or how while not told specifically what happened to one of the girls, her gestures and outward mood says everything. It’s a film that tackles what these kids probably feel like being parentless. The world is scary, and they don’t really trust anyone, or feel like there is any real hope outside the orphanage. I don’t blame them. The film knows really well how to balance the darker themes of unconditional love, family, being alone, with more positive moments of finding a way to help each other stay optimistic. You get to learn a bit about these kids as the film goes on, and they act like real kids. You know how you watch a family movie or a movie in general where kids are a focus? You know how rare it is to find child characters or child actors who are actually good? In My Life as a Zucchini, they act and talk like little kids. Even how they interact with the adults feels genuine.

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The animation is just beautiful. The stop-motion movements are all gorgeously handled, and while having some interesting designs, they find ways to make the movements fluid, and expressive. The voice work is probably one of GKids’ best dubs. Not only because of the celebrities that they hired, like Nick Offerman, Ellen Page, Will Forte, and Amy Sedaris, but the child actors for the English dub do a perfect job. One of the charms of the film is that they had all child characters in the original dub sit in one room to make the interactions with one another realistic. I’m sure trying to work on a dub to do such a thing would be very daunting for child actors who may not have a lot of experience voice acting, but they found a way. The music reminds me of a lazy Sunday afternoon, with a more indie tone to the background music when it pops up.

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If I had to really complain about something, the film probably could have been longer to maybe 80 minutes instead of 60. I loved every moment, and the film does use that time wisely, but I would have liked to have spent some more time during certain areas. Sometimes, there is a comment that doesn’t land, but in general, the run-time is my only major complaint.

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I really loved watching this movie, and if you saw my Worst to Best of 2016, you saw that it was my 4th favorite movie of the year. It’s deceptive in how mature and quiet the film, considering it stars a bunch of kids, and it does a great job tackling what an orphan feels like, along with the sad reality that some children grow up in broken households. I’m happy this film got so much love with the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards. If you haven’t seen this movie, then you should. I want to keep this “theme” of family going, as next time, we will review Wolf Children. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

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The Other Side of Animation 58: Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV 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!)

In Short, multimedia projects are tricky to pull off. You could do well with the toys, comics, the movie, and TV show the multimedia project is based on, but one bad project could instantly spoil or give a bad first impression of said project. That’s what unfortunately happened to certain multimedia projects like Sonic Boom, which was all pretty solid until the Wii U tie-in game came out and ruined the first impressions of this new iteration of Sonic the Hedgehog. It was broken, not fun to play, not a well-designed game, and it is the worst selling game in the franchise. Luckily, everything else was pretty solid so, it saved itself from being an utter failure.  Well, Square Enix decided that they wanted to do something like Sonic Boom and decided to make an anime miniseries, and it is the topic of today’s review, Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV. This film that takes place in the upcoming games’ universe was directed by Takeshi Nozue, and has some surprisingly big actors in it, including Aaron Paul, Sean Bean, and Lena Headey. Normally, I wouldn’t review stuff like this, but since it had a limited run in theaters, and is connected to one of the biggest gaming franchises of all time, I definitely had to cover it. So, what do I think of the film? Well, unless you want to see some amazing realistic CGI, then you won’t get much unless you are planning on playing the video game.

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Anyway, this film is a prequel film that takes place before the opening hours of the video game. It follows a group of elite guards known as the Kingsglaive. They help protect the king of Lucis, Regis Lucis Caelum CXIII, voiced by Sean Bean. The lead character that the plot revolves around is one of the Kingsglaive named Nyx Ulric, voiced by Aaron Paul. One day after a major battle against the kingdom of Niflheim, Nyx, along with his friends, is hired to help protect a female political figure named Lunafreya Nox Fleuret, voiced by Lena Headey. Of course, things begin to go wrong, and it’s a race to protect the giant crystal guarding Lucis, making sure Lunafreya doesn’t get killed or captured, and of course, set up the events that will lead into the video game.

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So, what’s the best thing about this movie? Well, it’s the animation. While this might be a similar situation to Square Enix’s past CGI films, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, this is probably the best-looking of all the films. Its textures and animation are outstanding. This is easily some of the most realistic-looking character models and animation that I have ever seen done in terms of cgi-animated films. Everything looks amazing, and while it doesn’t fully do the whole “you won’t be able to tell this is cgi” kind of realistic, it’s still incredibly commendable with how good this looks. The fighting is also very flashy and fun to watch. I think it’s because of how agile the characters are, and how they use magic to throw their knives and be able to teleport to the knife. It’s definitely something you will have to see for yourself, or play the game to understand what I mean with the whole “teleporting combat”. The final act where the entire city is just torn apart and the enemies are invading is really intense, and it is a spectacle when you see the giant stone guardians of the city come to life.

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Sadly, that is pretty much it for the compliments, because everything else is pointless. The lead characters are not memorable in the slightest. If you have seen any generic anime or action show with a team of characters including the bland male lead, the heavier-set well-intentioned best friend, the tough chick, and the snarky male. Heck, some of them don’t get to even be characters, like the tough chick gets killed so early in the film that it’s hard to care about her death. Heck, it’s hard to feel invested with a lot of these characters, because only a handful actually matter to the main story that will be in the video game. This means that unless you plan on picking up the game, you probably won’t or already don’t care about what happens to these characters. The only time you get to see the actual leads from the video game is at the very beginning and at the very end. Even if you look past the whole video game tie-in aspect of the film, it’s a painfully generic and boring film with only a few highlights of action and animation. I mean, at least this film is attached to the newest game in the franchise, and isn’t a pointless film like The Spirits Within, which is barely part of the Final Fantasy franchise.

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I also found the film to be difficult to watch at times. It’s too flashy, and sometimes there is too much on screen to make it easy to watch. I think it’s because the film is overly detailed with its world and characters. It’s a beautiful movie that is just sometimes clustered with details and sometimes not-so-subtle product placements.

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Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV is an almost pointless film that is part of a multi-media product. Unless you are a gamer and want to check this out, I would avoid it unless you want to see every animated film that was able to be in theaters. It’s a film that is flawed because it’s tied to a video game. If it had more freedom with its setting, and essentially, not being a part of a multi-media project, then it would have been better. As a film, I can think of much worse movies I have seen this year, like next week, we will look at one of the biggest U.S. bombs of 2016 and of all time, The Wild Life. Thanks for reading, I hope you all liked the article, and see you all next time.

Rating: Rent it!

The Other Side of Animation 56: Sausage Party 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!)

WARNING/PARENTAL HEADS UP!:  This film is in no way meant for kids. It’s rated-R for a reason, with shock humor, swearing, sex jokes, sexual events by way of food, and graphic in its jokes and imagery. Do not watch this with your kids. Hope you enjoy the review!

As much as people like to think theatrical adult-animated films are new, they really aren’t. Back in the 70s, we had a lot of stylized-adult animated films with adult themes and softcore porn. Now, to say that they are rare to see these days is true. Due to how quickly the fad of adult-animated films came and went for only a few years, it’s now almost surprising to see an animated film made for theaters, directly aimed at adults. Not to say the direct-to-DVD market hasn’t seen them, since a few have popped up, but I wouldn’t put them in the same category or quality as ones released in theaters. Sure, we got Hell & Back, but that was in no way made to be on par with or of the same quality as, say, Eight Crazy Nights, another horrible adult-animated film that Adam Sandler somehow thought was a good idea. It’s definitely a thing to keep an eye out for, but just because it’s different doesn’t warrant that it’s going to be good. This is definitely a hurdle that today’s review of Sausage Party had to contend with. This 2016 stoner-comedy comes from the minds of Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, and duo of directors Conrad Vernon and Greg Tieman. It was a hyped film when it was first shown off during SXSW 2016, and a leaked script went viral online. It was a surprise hit for a month not known for great movies, but also is now caught in  some controversy that I will of course talk about later on in the review. I mean, I have to. It’s the biggest news story for this film, besides how big of a hit it is. So, is this film as good as some of the big classics it’s spoofing, or has the food gone into moldy-way-past-its-time milk? Let’s find out.

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The story revolves around a hot dog named Frank, voiced by Seth Rogen. He lives in a supermarket with all the food that believes and sings a song about what supposedly happens once you leave the supermarket. Frank is also in love with a hot dog bun named Brenda, voiced by Kristen Wiig. One day, Frank finds out that he and Brenda are going to be leaving in the same cart. However, on that same day, they encounter a slightly “touched” individual named Honey Mustard, voiced by Danny McBride, who tells them what really happens to food after they enter the “great beyond”. After a cart crashes into another one causing mass chaos and death of certain food items, Frank and Brenda end up in the supermarket, along with a bagel named Sammy Bagel Jr, voiced by Edward Norton, a taco named Teresa del Taco, voiced by Salma Hayek, and a Lavash named Kareem Abdul Lavash, voiced by David Krumholtz. Can they find out what is exactly going on, and also avoid a villain, voiced by Nick Kroll? What will happen to Frank’s friends played by Jonah Hill and Michael Cera?

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If I’m going to be honest, I’m going to start with the negatives with this film. I don’t hate this movie, but I do think it has its handful of flaws. Maybe it’s because I have been spoiled by Edgar Wright comedies and The LEGO Movie, but I found the humor to be hit-and-miss. It’s not consistent enough as it tries to balance crude humor, stoner humor, clever humor, and food puns. I would rather have had fewer jokes that hit bullseye than a bunch of jokes where only some work. I did find myself laughing at a lot of the jokes and finding some of the situations clever, but then you would run into jokes that were crude just to be crude, because some notes from the higher-up said they needed to be crude. I also found the pacing to slow down a bit in the middle part of the film.

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Now then, let’s talk about the current may-or-may-not be true controversy revolving around the studio that made Sausage Party, Nitrogen. The controversy is revolving around a bunch of anonymous animators for this film, saying that many of the animators on the film were not credited, they all worked unpaid overtime, and were abused from one of the directors, Greg Tieman. Here is how I look at the situation. If the investigation turns out to be true, and I won’t be surprised if they are, since I also worked in an industry (the game industry) known for abusive work experiences, then screw Tieman and Nitrogen for making people work unpaid overtime. Humans are not machines, and they don’t deserve the fear of blacklisting, being left off the credits, or being fired because they are exhausted. I have also heard it was to keep production budgets low, and whoever thought that, whether it be Tieman or not, can go bugger off. People these days need to be able to make a living, and not giving them the time and relaxation they need is infuriating, since you can tell this film had so much love and work put into the animation. However, if these turn out to be fake allegations, then that’s also terrible. It would be a bad image for animators who have actually gone through abusive jobs, and if these complaints turn out to be false, who is to assume that all future complaints are false? I can see either being the case, but we will have to see what happens.

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So, with that out of the way, what is great about this movie? Well, I like the animation. For a small budget (and if true, unfortunate unpaid overtime), the animation is fluid, expressive, and it captures that look and vibe of something from Disney, Pixar, or those old-fashioned concession stand ads that you would see. While most studios try to have that Disney/Pixar look, this film is yet another example, alongside The Little Prince, that does a good job at making good looking humans. I also liked the vibe and characters of the film. Granted, some of the characters are a bit one-note to get some social commentary out there, but I found myself enjoying their company, since some of them were able to be fleshed out, like Michael Cera’s character, and Frank. I also like the commentary about religion this film brings up because, at first it comes off like “why in tarnation do you all believe in something that we have no proof of?”, and then becomes a bit more evened out with “yeah, we all have different beliefs, and I should be more respectful, but we have to fight or else we will get eaten!” While some of its commentary is very shallow, I do like that a stoner comedy tried to be more than just, well, a stoner comedy. I think everyone brings their A game and feels fully invested with their huge or small amount of screentime given to them. Yes, it might have a bunch of Seth Rogen’s crew, like Jonah Hill, James Franco, Danny McBride, and Craig Robinson, but you also get hilarious performances from Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Michael Cera, Paul Rudd, Nick Kroll, Edward Norton, David Krumholtz, and the rest of the cast. I think this is why I tolerated a lot of the food puns, because when the good jokes rolled through, I was laughing hard. I even laughed at the shocking food orgy. While it was so out there, it was amazing that they got away with so much, only because it was all food. It literally gives a whole new meaning to “food porn.”

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Now, in terms of it being a stepping stone for future animated films aimed at teens/older adults, I am all for it. While it might have that awkward controversy, it is a monster hit. I know some disagree with it being the film to bring in more adult-animated films, but I disagree, and think that’s just pessimistic and cynical thinking. While it might not be the very first adult-animated film, I do think it will have a place in helping more animated films get made that are aimed for an older audience. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want all adult-animated films to be just stoner comedies, but if this helps get more varied animated films than fast-paced comedies, then I welcome it.

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Sausage Party might have its flaws, and while the controversy that neither Sony nor Seth Rogen have brought up at all is troubling if true, I still very much enjoyed the movie. I had a fun time even with its sometimes clunky jokes and pacing. However, this recommendation to see it does come with a huge asterisk next to it. If you can separate the film from its supposed controversy (which again, if proven to be true, I hope great things happen to those wronged in the situation, and if proven false, then screw those people), then definitely go see it. If you can’t do such a task, then maybe wait for a rental, or check it out at a discount theater so you don’t give too much money to the film. If you don’t like this movie, I perfectly understand, due to how divisive comedy can be. Well, that was tiring, but I must press ever onward with my one-year special, covering Rex the Runt. Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed the article, and see you all next time.

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 55: April and the Extraordinary 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. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

So far, 2016 in animation has been pretty fantastic. It is easily having one of the best years in animation. While there have been a few clunkers like Norm of the North, Ice Age: Collision Course, Batman: The Killing Joke, Ratchet & Clank, and Bling, the huge amount of great movies have outweighed the terrible in spades. I mean, this year’s Oscar race for best film will and should include Zootopia, Finding Dory, Kung Fu Panda 3, Boy and the Beast, Only Yesterday, The Little Prince, Kubo and the Two Strings, and depending on how good it is, Moana. I also feel like while there have been a lot of great and mature films for this year, I do wish there were a few films that were similar in spirit to films like Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Arc, The Rocketeer, and those old pulp sci-fi adventure shorts and books. Luckily, GKIDS has our backs yet again with April and the Extraordinary World. This 2D French and Belgium collaboration was directed by Christian Desmarues and Franck Ekinci, and produced by Michel Duthell, Franck Ekinci, and Marc Jousset. It was released back in April (ha ha), and was recently released on DVD and on-demand. So, is this adventure worth your time into an extraordinary world? Or is it a clunker like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow?

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The story places us into a world in the early 20th century, where all the scientists in the world are suddenly vanishing. As a result, the world doesn’t get introduced to electricity, and motor engines, and is stuck in this steam punk-like time period, where there are barely any trees or plant-like life left in the world. The story then goes on to focus on a young woman named April Franklin, voiced by Angela Galuppo. When she was a young girl, her parents and grandfather vanished after a chase sequence from the police. She is now living on her own with a talking cat named Darwin, voiced by Tony Hale.  During this time, April has been working on a formula that her parents had been working on before the incident when they vanished. Unfortunately for her, the police detective, Pizoni, voiced by Paul Giamatti, is looking for her and uses the help of a street urchin named Julius, played by Tod Fennell, to keep track of her goings-ons. What happens next is April discovers the serum, and gets chased by an unknown force that is behind the scientist kidnapping. Can she and Julius find her still-alive grandfather, voiced by Tony Robinow, and stop whatever is trying to capture them?

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What I like about this movie is, unlike Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, which only captures the look of the setting, but not its characters, is that it captures that penny dreadful/pulp fiction-style story and setting perfectly. You are kept invested with why this evil force is capturing scientists, and why this serum that April’s parents were making is so important to the force. It also leads to characters that, while some could consider them simple, are still very likable. I love April as a female lead, and that the film, like Big Hero 6, shows how science can be a pro rather than a stupid dated joke. The film definitely takes advantage of its setting, and you get a lot of creative and amazing visuals and technology for this world with barely any plant life left. While it might not be “scientifically accurate”, it does remind me of the creativity with the idea of steam punk, like in Steamboy with its massive machines. It also has some good adventurous scenes and chase sequences with the chase at the beginning of the movie easily being one of the best scenes in animation in 2016. It really does capture a The Last Crusade and Rocketeer-style adventure film that you rarely get to see these days.

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The animation is great. It has a lovely French-style comic look to the entire film, and it is smooth in terms of movements. Like most European animations, the physical humor is blended well into the story, and is truly funny and never feels forced. I don’t know why, but with the exception of a few people in Hollywood, European animation has found a way to make humor gel well, and not feel clunky or awkward. Maybe it’s the execution of the jokes, or maybe it’s the writing. I don’t know, but the look and atmosphere brings in elements of films you would see from Pixar and Studio Ghibli. Heck, this entire film reminds me of Castle in the Sky in some ways. It’s a film that will age really well for future viewings and generations. I also enjoyed the voice cast. While I think maybe one or two performances were just okay, I really liked everyone else. They also hired a pretty good cast of actors for this film, like Paul Giamatti, JK Simmons, Susan Sarandon, Tony Hale, and Angela Galuppo.

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Unfortunately, this tale of adventure in a steam punk world is slightly flawed. I think even though it almost has a two-hour running time, they could have maybe made it a bit longer to explain a few elements, or at the very least fix some of the clunky storylines, like the relationship with April and Julius. The conflict at times feels a bit forced with the two, and while I do like the two characters, I think they could have handled the relationship better.

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Still, I really do love this movie. I think it’s easily in my top 10 of the year with its, pardon the pun, extraordinary world, likable characters, creativity, and how fun it is to watch. I would have to think about where I would put it in terms of the best of GKIDS, but I think no matter where I put it, April and the Extraordinary World is still going to be a pretty big recommendation if you like fun adventure movies. Definitely get the Blu ray and DVD combo pack, and lose yourself in a world of steam and adventure.  Let’s keep these positive vibes going with the controversial Sausage Party. Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed the article, and see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 54: Kubo and the Two Strings 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 am very passionate about animated movies that don’t get the treatment they deserve. I think it’s obvious everyone would rather watch a great movie and support it than something drummed up from Hollywood that shows they have no idea what they are doing. Still, it’s probably the most infuriating thing when a great movie is drowned out by utter garbage. I think one of the best examples of this was with Kung Fu Panda 2. This 2011 sequel was released around the same week that The Hangover Part 2 was released. What happened? More people went to see the mediocre sequel to a film that wasn’t really that great in the first place, instead of a sequel that did everything right by being not just a great movie, but a great sequel. Kung Fu Panda 2 did well enough, but seeing it get beat out by a mediocre sequel was no short of maddening. I could go into detail about why the public movie-going audience can be a major problem about the movie industry, but I‘ll tackle that another time. Today, I’m going to talk about what is quite possibly the best animated movie of the year, Kubo and the Two Strings. Yes, the masters at Laika have made the best animated movie of the year that tops even the amazing Zootopia and The Little Prince. This film, by director Travis Knight in his first directorial position, wowed me. I mean, why did it wow me? Well, let’s find out.

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The story follows the adventure of a young boy named Kubo, voiced by Art Parkinson. He lives in a mountainside cave with his mother. During the day he performs magical shows with his shamisen bringing origami characters to life, but always returns by nightfall at his mother’s request. One day, Kubo accidentally stays after the sun has set, and encounters two creepy raven-like women named Sisters, both voiced by Rooney Mara. Kubo’s mother comes down to save him, but ends up sending Kubo away. Kubo then wakes up in a snowy part of the world, and is now accompanied by a white monkey, voiced by Charlize Theron. They run into a humanoid beetle-like samurai named, well, Beetle, voiced by Matthew McConaughey. The three set off to find a legendary set of weapons and armor to take down the Moon King, voiced by Ralph Fiennes, the powerful being that has been trying to take Kubo for his own needs. Can Kubo survive and find the weapons to take down the Moon King?

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Let’s talk about the good, because I have nothing but good things to say about this remarkable movie. The story is perfectly packed with what you want in a good action adventure movie. It has a great male lead. Kubo is one of the best child characters I have ever seen, not only this year, but in animation in general. He cares for his mother, is enjoyable around the people in his town, and has a great realistic child personality. Speaking of great personalities, the film has an impressive cast of side characters. These are some of the most likable secondary characters, with Monkey’s protective and serious persona, and Beetle being a great fighter, but a mostly light-hearted tone to him. The three characters, Kubo, Monkey, and Beetle work so well off each other, and that happens because of a terrific script. The best part about scripts from Laika is the fact that the humor gels well with classic dialogue that, like The Little Prince, is timeless. Everyone sounds like they were from that time period. The film has a great voice cast. While I could argue the tightrope argument of why Laika didn’t cast more Asian actors for the roles, since the two that they hired, George Takei and Cary-Hiroyuki are side characters who play no major role of the story, but that’s for another article that I won’t talk about here, because even with that little hiccup, the cast they hired for this movie is perfect. The actors all pull off amazing performances that make you see the characters, and not just actors being actors. I have noticed that recently, many animated films have made sure to get actors that fit the roles, and can immerse themselves within them. Charlize Theron, Rooney Mara, Ralph Fiennes, Matthew McConaughey, Art Parkinson, Brenda Vaccaro, and George Takei and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, for as big or small as their roles are, all did amazing jobs. I don’t know whether the person in charge of the performances did a great job, or whether these actors felt super passionate about the project and animation, or both, but give them all A+ on their performances. The movie knows how to pace itself with fights, story, and world-building. While some could argue that they could have added another fight, I am so happy that this film balanced out some really good fights, and how they took their time with developing the characters and the world around them. Too many times do action adventure-oriented films put all their bets on the animation and action, while not having much focus on everything else. Kubo and the Two Strings was just a remarkable movie to be in, and has stakes and sequences that keep you invested and wanting to know what happens until the very end.

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The animation is beautiful. It’s easily the best stop-motion animation I have ever seen. It’s so fluid, the world and character designs have personality, and look unique. The fight scenes are well-animated, and are choreographed beautifully. It’s some of the best action you will ever see in animation, alongside Kung Fu Panda, Ninja Scroll, How to Train your Dragon 2, The Boy and the Beast, and Read or Die. They take advantage of everything about the film, from the surrounding environment to who the characters are, like Beetle being able to fly and crawl on walls. The music is gorgeous to listen to, with some great tunes from Kubo’s Shamisen sequences to the amazing score by famed composer Dario Marianelli, who also did the soundtrack for Everest, The Boxtrolls, and V for Vendetta. The ending song that plays in the credits, While My Guitar Gently Weeps by Regina Spektor, (which she covers so well, it was originally a Beatles song by George Harrison) is performed on a Shamisen. That is so incredible that this singer went all out with this song in terms of performing the song on the main instrument of the film.

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I really don’t have major complaints about the movie. I think this is one of those rare perfect movies that even if you could come up with any negative issues, they wouldn’t bring the movie down at all. Actually the biggest problem this film has is being released in August. I am so upset and irritated that Universal decided to release this during the worst part of August, due to the target audience not being able to see it until the weekend because of school starting, and while a mediocre comic book movie is still at number one. That’s another problem. Why would people go see a movie that is flawed, clunky, and had obvious scenes cut out or sloppily edited, instead of a complete, passion-filled animated film that had more effort and creativity put into it than 99% of the films released this year. This is exactly what happened to Kung Fu Panda 2, and that is a crime that the movie-going public doesn’t fully respect animation and think it’s just for kids. That will be an argument for another time. As you can tell, I’m very passionate about this movie, and I want it to be doing better than as of 8/24/16.

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If you couldn’t tell, I love Kubo. I stand by my opinion that this is the best animated film of 2016. I thought nothing would top Zootopia and The Little Prince, but Laika did it.  It’s not only one of the best stop-motion films of all time, it’s one of the best animated films of all time. Seriously, people, go see this movie. It deserves much more of your attention than a remake of a remake nobody asked for. I don’t mean to bash other movies out right now, and I do like a lot of modern/current movies, but people cry and complain that we don’t get to see enough unique and original movies, and then when one comes out and is critically acclaimed, no one sees it because of maddening reasons. If you love original movies, and want to support something that isn’t a big budget disaster, then seriously check out Kubo and the Two Strings. I have felt so satisfied reviewing good movies, and I want to continue that with one of my favorite indie-animated films of 2016, April and the Extraordinary World. Thanks for reading, I hope you liked the movie, and see you all next time.

Rating: Criterion/Essentials!

The Other Side of Animation 53: Belladonna of Sadness 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!)

MAJOR WARNING/PARENTAL HEADS UP: This film is in no way meant for children or teenagers. This is a very adult animated film with graphic violence, and scenes of consensual sex, sexual images, and graphic assault using abstract imagery. Do not see this movie with your kids. If you decide to see this movie, please do some research and look up all that you can about this movie to see if it might be your cup of tea. I don’t know what else to say, but you have been warned! Viewer’s discretion is definitely advised with this movie. Hope you enjoy the review!

We are heading into some rough waters ahead. We are looking at another explicit and sexual animated film known as Belladonna of Sadness. As with Fritz the Cat, there was a time in animation where animators and filmmakers got very, and I mean very, experimental with their budgets and filmmaking experiences. What we got were a lot of adult-oriented animated films with mature themes, social commentary, and quite frankly, a lot of sex. This is where you would find a lot of “cult classics”, and I don’t blame them for being so, but being good is on a whole other situation onto itself. Sometimes you see the depth of the story with its characters and themes, and other times, you find self-indulgent schlock that got made because the creators promised nudity, and Hollywood was excited. Luckily, for the few films that escape that trapping, you have some of the most unique film experiences around. So, where does Belladonna of Sadness land? Belladonna was part of a trilogy of adult anime films called Animerama. This series of films included One Thousand and One Nights and Cleopatra. This third film, unlike the first two, was also not brought over here until recently. It was even restored with eight additional minutes of footage that was cut from the rerelease of the film in Japan. It was directed by Eiji Yamamoto, who has worked on all three films and has worked with Osamu Tezuka on other projects including Kimba the White Lion, Astro Boy, Odin, and Space Battleship Yamato. Though Osamu only worked on the first two, he was the one who put the wheels in motion for this trilogy of adult films. Yes, the creator of anime helped made three sexually-themed animated films. It’s really weird to see the contrast in themes and tone between Astro Boy and Belladonna of Sadness. So, does this film elevate itself into something ambitious and deserving of its praise? Or does it dissolve into some schlocky entertainment?

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The story stars our newlywed couple Jeanne and Jean. They go to the Lord of their kingdom to get the Lord’s prayer. Unfortunately, the Lord denies their request, and Jeanne is sexually deflowered and assaulted by the Lord and his lackeys. After such a traumatic and horrifying experience that no one deserves to have happen, Jeanne makes it back to Jean, scarred and forever changed. During the night, Jeanne gets visits from an evil spirit that offers, in exchange for pleasure, her power to get revenge on the scumbags that ruined her life. During the story, she gains enough power to obtain the support of the town to rebel against the Lord. Can she use her powers well, or will she be consumed by the powers of the evil spirit?

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I’m just going to be blunt right now with my opinion about this movie. If you do not like the sound of this movie because of the, quite frankly, delicate subject matter that’s hard to swallow, or if you have seen the film and do not like it for the same reasons I just mentioned, I 100% understand. This is one of the few times where I totally understand why you might or don’t like this movie. It’s definitely a tough film to sit through, and is probably the worst part about the film. It’s a revenge fantasy with a very, and I mean very, touchy subject. Sex and rape are fragile topics to use in stories, and you have to be extremely careful to execute it properly, or else it comes off as gimmicky or incredibly distasteful. It’s why I don’t fully respect animated films of this genre. They use sex as a means to get sloppy stories out there that gallivant around saying, “we have deep stories and commentary so the sex is part of the symbolism and the commentary!” It wants to be pro-feminist, and while some parts are done well, you have to keep reminding yourself of the horrific disturbing horrors that Jeanne had to go through to get these “pro-feminist” sequences. Also, for an animated film, it has very little animation. I can sort of understand if the fluid animation was used for artistic purposes, but this film is mostly panning shots over still images. I know this was 1973, but even then animation was starting to have fluid movement. Maybe because of the abstract art, but they have sequences where there is movement in the abstract art, so it’s confusing to know what kind of budget this film had. The film even ends on a still shot of the famous painting Liberty Leading the People. It works in the grand scheme of the film, but it’s a film with complex art that can be more distracting than focused.

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So, outside of the rough subject matter, what is good about this movie? Well, unlike a lot of films in this sub-genre of animation, I actually feel like it does this type of story and style of film the best. You want to make sure Jeanne gets back at the royal scumbags that ruined her life, and feel badly for what happened to her. You want to see her stand up to the society that ruined her, and you want the ones that screwed her over six feet underground.  I think why these types of films fail is because they focus so much on the shock and awe of having sexual themes and visuals, but forget to have a coherent story and likable characters that don’t learn a lesson or develop as characters.

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The animation and visuals are outstanding. For an animated film from 1973, this is one of the prettiest and visually abstract films I have ever seen. Sure, the animation itself is very limited, but when it does happen, it’s fluid, and looks better than most anime from that time period. I also adore how it doesn’t look like traditional Japanese animation. It doesn’t have any of the usual tropes you see with the art form, and it looks great. It also matches the visuals with a daunting and down tone. The atmosphere perfectly brings you into a world of dread and 70s acid trips. The studio that made this movie went all out to make the most challenging film of its time period. Fun fact, the studio that did make this movie actually went out of business because how ambitious Belladonna of Sadness was. It’s also partly a pro-feminist movie with how the female lead is going against authority, and how women were perceived at that time. Granted, I wish this came without the very touchy subject, and to me, it’s not the smoothest with its pro-feminist themes, but I still like that Jeanne was a very strong woman.

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Like I have mentioned above, if you cannot get into this film or don’t like it for its subject matter and story, I perfectly understand and won’t deny that this will have a very small appeal to people not into films and animation. I still very much enjoyed Belladonna of Sadness, and do plan on watching it again, and think it’s an ambitious piece of cinema. If you want to pick up a copy, you can get it on Blu-ray that comes with a cool little 16-page booklet. Well, now that we got this interesting piece of lost cinema out of the way, next time, we will be looking at Kubo and the Two Strings. Thanks for reading, I hope you liked the article, and see you all next time.

Rating: Go See It!!

The Other Side of Animation 52: The Little Prince 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!)

In the field of animation in terms of animated films, you can always tell when an animated film was made with passion, and when one is made for the bottom dollar. When you watch a film that had love and effort put into it, you hear timeless dialogue, well written jokes, an engaging story, and a film that you want to re-watch multiple times. It’s a film you know you want to buy day one when it hits store shelves. When you see a cynical project, while it might hide behind good animation, and a stellar cast, you can tell through the same elements of story, characters, dialogue, the humor, and so on where you understand that this was made less by a studio of talented animators, and more like a bunch of higher-ups who have no idea what they are doing, and use focus groups to think what would make a good memorable movie. It’s sadly something that is going to take a while to change, but luckily, when a passion-filled project does come out, and you see how much effort and thought was put into it, it makes the experience enjoyable. This is where the recently released The Little Prince fits in. This is an American/French collaboration with the director of the first Kung Fu Panda, Mark Osbourne. It was originally set to be released in theaters in the states March of this year by Paramount, but for one reason or another, they dropped it. Some say it would have been dealing with big releases during that time, but if I have learned anything this year, The Little Prince would have had no competition besides Zootopia and The Jungle Book, due to the Hollywood machine putting out more flops and underperformers of projects no one wanted. Luckily, it was picked up by Netflix and was released on August 5th. So, what do I think of this movie? Let’s check it out!

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While this film is about the book, The Little Prince, it actually has a lot more in common with a film I love, The Fall. Essentially, a small girl, voiced by Mackenzie Foy, lives with her mother, voiced by Rachel McAdams, and a father who is always away at work. While training and getting prepared to be accepted into a high-end academy, the girl ends up befriending an eccentric old man named the Aviator, voiced by Jeff Bridges. Over the course of their friendship, the little girl learns about the story that the Aviator wrote, known as The Little Prince, a story about a young boy with the same name, voiced by Riley Osborne. Will the young girl learn to grow up, but never forget about childhood?

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So, is what’s great and interesting about this film? Well, to the few that may have not have watched this movie, the film is not just about The Little Prince. It actually uses the book itself as a device for the themes of the film. Now, is that a bad thing, like some critics make it out to be? I mean, it is called The Little Prince, and it should be about the book. However, I feel like the critics who can’t get past the fact that this isn’t 100% about the book, and this is probably the only time I’m ever going to say it, they didn’t get it. They were too set on this film being a 100% adaptation of a rather short book. They act like the additions to the story are as bad as the live action Dr. Seuss books. I guess what I and a majority of people who saw this movie are trying to say is, we disagree. For me, like I mentioned above, I saw a film called The Fall, and it essentially has the same set-up, with an older male character telling a story to a little girl, and how it symbolically relates to the real-life situation of the characters. Seriously, there are a lot of ways you can connect the characters from The Little Prince book with what’s going on with the little girl in the real world. It’s quite in-depth and smart for a film aimed at the whole family. I love a bunch of the symbolic elements, like how the Conceited Man, voiced by Ricky Gervais, represents the ideal of becoming something that is constantly applauded. Or how the Businessman can be connected to how the little girl thinks of her father. I know the theme of “forgetting about your childhood and losing your inner child” might not be the biggest topic as of right now, but in a way, it kind of is. In a world where it seems like there is nothing, but dread on the news, inexplicable presidential politics, violence every other week, and so on, I bet it could feel very daunting to be a kid growing up in this world we live in right now. While it is good to grow up and become more developed as a human being, don’t forget about your childhood.

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I hear some people say the CGI animation is not good, but seriously, have you seen how bad European CGI animation can be? Have you seen The Snow Queen or Sir Billie? Heck, on the contrary, The Little Prince looks amazing. The textures look fantastic, the characters move fluidly, and the designs are very Pixarish in the best way possible. So many films try to have that Pixar and DreamWorks look, and this film captures it perfectly. I mean, it is directed by the guy who was in charge of the original Kung Fu Panda. Of course, one of the biggest elements talked about with this movie is its combination of both CGI animation and stop-motion. The stop-motion looks amazing. It looks like paper craft, and the designs of the CGI models translate well to and from the stop-motion. It’s a beautiful movie, with also a great soundtrack by Hans Zimmer, Richard Harvey, and female singer, Camille.

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I really have no problems with this movie. I kept trying to find a major problem, and I honestly couldn’t. Yeah, I wish there were more stop-motion moments, but there are enough to feel special, and don’t overstay their welcome. I guess my only real complaint is that I wish there was going to be a more wide-spread physical release of the film here in the states. Everywhere else in the world it gets one, and I know Netflix has no plans in releasing their own properties onto other viable formats. Still, I wish I could get my hands on a US copy of the film because I want to see how this film was made, with behind-the-scenes features and interviews with the director and voice actors, something we could have gotten if this film was picked up by GKIDS.

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I really freaking love this movie. It has the passion and timeless feel of an animated film that you rarely see these days. Easily one of the top three best animated films of 2016. It’s such a shame that Paramount Pictures decided to drop this flick. Still, if you live in the states and have Netflix, watch this movie. If you live anywhere else in the world and can buy a copy of the film, then go buy it. Well, while I do wish there were more movies like this, next time, we will be looking at a more polarizing film with Belladonna of Sadness. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and see you all next time.

Rating: Criterion/Essential