The Other Side of Animation 266: Paws of Fury – The Legend of Hank Review

(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 keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Productions in animation and in most films and shows are never as fluid and hopeful as you would like them to be. Most of the time, things will happen in the production that you will have to account for, but for films like today’s review, well, an animated film shouldn’t take a decade to get made, unless it was some kind of intensely personal passion project. It was originally announced back in 2014 and was going to be made by Arc Productions, but then that studio closed in 2016 and the film was stuck in limbo until it was revived back in 2020 by an entirely different set of producers, studios, and directors. So, with all this wait and production trouble, what’s the final result for Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank? Was the wait and troubled production worth it? 

It was directed by Rob Minkoff, Chris Bailey, and Mark Koetsier, written by Ed Stone and Nate Hopper, and produced by Cinesite, Aniventures, Flying Tiger Entertainment, Align, HB Wink Animation, Brooksfilms, and GFM Animation. The story revolves around a beagle named Hank, voiced by Michael Cera. He is a dog that has been arrested for crossing the border to have a better life and to become a noble samurai. Instead of getting executed, he is sent to a small town by the warmonger Ika Chu, voiced by Ricky Gervais. When Hank arrives in the village, he finds that being a samurai isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be, and struggles to get the people’s trust. To help him on his way, he encounters an ex-samurai or in this case, a ronin by the name of Jimbo, voiced by Samuel Jackson. Can Hank learn the ways of the samurai via Jimbo so he can prevent Ika Chu’s evil plans from coming to realization? 

So, no matter how the end product was going to be by the time it finally came out, making a family-friendly Blazing Saddles was going to be a bad idea, because it’s just not remaking or adapting a comedy, it’s adapting and loosely making a comedy based around a film that had extremely specific goals. The origins of the 70s comedy classic were all about demystifying the western that was made through the lens of Hollywood media, and constantly poking fun at how absurd and awful racists are. Translating that for a modern-day family audience was no easy task, and unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work. What you get with this film is a compromised vision of it being more of a loose adaptation of the original film, but instead of humans, they use cats and dogs for the allegory. It’s a touch head-tilting when they try to translate actual jokes from the film, especially really risky ones, and when they shape it around this world of cats and dogs, the results don’t work. Now, that isn’t to say that the entire batch of jokes whether they be reinterpretations of gags from the original or made exclusive for this film don’t work. You can tell at very different points in the film, they worked extremely hard to make this comedy fly like an eagle. They go out of their way to make a ton of visual gags, dialogue gags, and physical comedy bits, and sometimes, they have one that works super well. Shockingly enough, a film that took almost over a decade or so to finally get made, doesn’t feel so pieced and patched together. It was impressive to see how creative they got at points to try and make this world work, but sadly, it is inconsistent as a result. 

Not to say there wasn’t anything to like about the story, since the comedy edge gives it a fun angle to be amusing and silly, but where other films that had goofy premises like Seal Team went all of the way with their stories and settings and made them intensely entertaining experiences, this one did not. What we have here is a film that knows it’s super silly, but also has moments where it wants to have an emotional weight to its story, and the emotional weight turns into boilerplate by-the-numbers underdog hero story beats. There are some decent morals to be had with Hank’s journey, but when you try to compromise to fit a family film angle to an iconic R-rated comedy, then you can see where the pieces don’t quite fit into each place like it should. We end up with fairly one-dimensional characters that are all voiced by talented individuals who are given a script that’s as uneven as their characters’ purposes in the film. Like, look at this cast. Michael Cera, Samuel Jackson, George Takei, Mel Brooks, Michelle Yeoh, Djimon Hounsou, Gabriel Iglesias, and Aasif Mandvi to name a few. This sounds like it could be a real fun cinematic journey, but due to how little screen time half of these characters get, you wonder why they spent the money on getting big names. Yes, you need the celebrity names for the people who pay for the tickets and not the kids who are actually there to see the movie, but at the end of the day, you are having to make a film that everyone can enjoy. Even without the questionable point of casting big names for roles that lack meatier impressions, even the bigger names seem to be sleepwalking through it, and that’s no more clear than Ricky Gervais as the villain. First off, the villain isn’t all that well written and comes off as a ‘what if the lead from The Emperor’s New Groove was more bloodthirsty and was a middling actor?’.  Gervais also just can’t act to save his life. He brings a boring performance that is stilted and has no life to it. You needed someone else with more energy and wit to make the villain more entertaining. 

Animation-wise, it’s fine-looking. For a film that cost $45 mil and was being handled by what felt like 100 different animation studios, it looks like it cost that much. It’s a shame they didn’t fully commit to the more stylized comic book segments, because going the generic CGI route leaves the film looking middling. When they were able to use the 2D animation or the comic book filter on the designs, the film looked its best. Otherwise, it looks like every other CGI film out there, which is a shame. You could work with this kind of premise if you are able to do so from the very beginning. The music is fine. Bear McCreary is super talented and the opening theme that plays at the beginning of the film is great, but everything else was mostly forgettable. It’s the typical samurai and 70s-style tones that you could hear everywhere else. It’s a shame, because the film’s opening song is still named after the film’s original title of Blazing Samurai. 

Overall, while this will be the target of many a roasting and hyperbolic rage baiting reviews as the worst thing of 2022 or to ever happen to humankind, Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank is more harmless and forgettable than downright offensive. It’s hard to be mad at it when they actually put in the effort to make the comedy funny and not just be another boilerplate experience that somehow got into theaters. With that said, there is a reason why this film is tanking in theaters and why it will probably be on Paramount+ soon. Honestly, it probably would have been a better deal for it to be on the streaming service than the theaters where it’s dying against competition from the big studios and indie releases that people should check out. If you must check it out, wait for it to show up on Paramount+. It’s a shame this project took so long to get made, went through a terrible production cycle, and then gets released to mostly meh reviews and middling box office returns, but at least it has some memorable aspects and wasn’t leaving me with thoughts of feeling like I wasted my time. Now then, next time, we will be talking about a film I have been wanting to talk about forever, but for now, I can’t say what it is. 

Rating: Rent it!

The Other Side of Animation 237: Maya and The Three

(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!)

Jorge Gutierrez is one of the most visually distinct artists in the animation scene. His distinct Hispanic/Lantinx inspiration has made him a fan-favorite artist for his work on El Tigre and 2014’s The Book of Life, to name a few of his incredible works. When we talk about artists with visually distinct styles, he is one to be on the lookout for. There is something so incredibly charming and appealing about his work, and hearing that he was one of the original artists picked up to make something original for Netflix was thrilling to hear. Luckily, his newest project, Maya and The Three, a nine-part limited event series, is quite possibly his best work and one of the best new shows/event series of 2021. 

The story revolves around a young lass named Maya, voiced by Zoe Saldaña. She lives with her family who are mighty warriors that include her father King and queen Teca, voiced by real-life couple and creators of the show Jorge R. Gutierrez and Sandra Equihua. On her 15th birthday, the underworld gods tell her that she must come with them to pay for her sins and past actions made by her family. To try and prevent her fate, Maya goes on an adventure to try and uphold the prophecy that her parents told her, about how a mighty eagle warrior and her allies will take down the God of War and save their people. 

The best part about this limited series is how well it fleshes out its characters. The creators tend to take an admirable amount of time to set everything up, and it never feels awkward or unnatural for the plot to snap back from giving each of the backstories of our characters to going back to the main plot of the episode. It’s a straightforward story as Maya encounters her three allies while taking on Gods of all shapes and sizes. It makes for a fun watch that never skips on what needs to be told and the stellar action sequences. While there are goofy and silly elements to the overarching story, it’s one that can get dark, and there will be character deaths. It’s a tale that has themes of death, dealing with loss, family, discrimination, and dealing with legacy. You may assume this is for kids only, but be ready to turn into an emotional messy blob with how difficult the story beats will impact you in the feels. If you have loved the stories from films like Kubo and the Two Strings, then you will feel right at home with this show’s tone. There are some that may say it would have been cool to see as a movie, but the nine-episode runtime gives everything enough room to develop. Sure, there could be some downtime for the characters to breathe, but it’s a show that knows where it wants to go with its story. 

One of the goals for this show from Jorge and Sandra was to make Maya a series with a theatrical look and budget, and boy howdy, they got it down. This is one of the best-looking tv/event series you could find on the streaming service. The CGI is top quality from the animation studio Tangent Animation, Mexopolis, Maya Entertainment, and Netflix Animation. The designs carry Jorge and Sandra’s iconic visual flair with the designs with Jorge translating extremely well into CGI. Characters have a ton of detail to them, but it never feels too busy. You can tell what kind of character each individual is by the look of their designs. They even throw in some 2D sequences to add a little flair to the overall polished package. The world they craft is so creative. Rooster-shaped magic schools, lunar moon islands, mist-covered temples, colossal golems, neon speed lines, upside-down pyramids, gods that can cause tornadoes, gator-headed gods, and you get the idea. They went all out to make a fantastic world in which everyone thrives. 

The voice cast is fantastic, with a Hispanic/Latinx cast that has a ton of amazing actors and some of them get to play against type, which is really refreshing to see when you sometimes only see these actors play one type of character. You, of course, have the incredible  Zoe Saldaña who is fantastic as our lead heroine. You also have Diego Luna, Stephanie Beatriz, Gabriel Iglesias, Alfred Molina, Gael Garcia Bernal, Danny Trejo, Allen Maldonado, Cheech Marin, Rosie Perez, Wyclef Jean, Queen Latifah, Carlos Alazraqui, Eric Bauza, Joaquin Cosio, Isabela Merced, Rita Moreno, and other incredible voices. They put out some of their best work as these characters, and the voice acting is matched by an incredible score composed by Gustavo Santaolalla, who composed the music for The Last of Us series, Brokeback Mountain, The Book of Life, and Narcos: Mexico. Tim Davies, who also helped with music for Darksiders, Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time, Batman: Arkham City, The Simpsons Movie, Ant-Man, Crimson Peak, Frozen II, and many other shows, films, and games also composed the show’s score.

The fact of the matter is, Maya and the Three is incredible. This is one of those event series that you get hyped for, and the hype is 100% worth it. It’s incredible to see a creator like Jorge and his amazing team put together something truly inspiring, grand, and beautiful. You have one of the best stories told in animation this year, and if you are in the mood for something truly distinct, then you will need to watch this epic series. Now then, I’m going to keep what’s coming next under wraps. You will just have to check in next time to see the next review. 

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time!

Rating: Essential

The Other Side of Animation 156: UglyDolls Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: The Worst/Blacklist