The Other Side of Animation 35: Nocturna Review

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Last time we looked at a GOYA Award-winning animated film, it was the less than stellar Tad: The Lost Explorer. I know I was admittedly harsh on the award system for not having enough high quality films, but I was being harsh for a reason. When you have such great movies like Nocturna, Wrinkles, and Chico & Rita, they set a standard of how good these films should be, but they seem to either not make a lot of animated films over in Spain, or the barrier of entry is low. When your list of winners includes Planet 51, The Missing Lynx, Pinocchio 3000, and the previously reviewed Tad: The Lost Explorer, then you need to start making the barrier of entry higher and more controlled in terms of quality. That is why I wanted to talk about today’s film, Nocturna, because it is simply one of the best animated films to come out of Spain. Nocturna was originally released back in 2007, and was brought over by GKIDS in 2014. It was created by Filmax Animation, and was directed by Adria Garcia and Victor Maldonado. So, was this film worthy of winning its GOYA Award? Well, let’s find out!

The story revolves around a young boy named Tim, who lives in an orphanage. Every night, he sleeps by the window in the moonlight since it protects him from his fear of the dark. One night, after some kids decide to become jerks, Tim runs out to the top of the building, where he usually likes to be during the day. That night, though, changes when he realizes that a star that he has called his own, vanishes. After almost falling to his death, he is saved by an unknown being called the Cat Shepard, a humanoid balloon-like being that herds cats around the night. Tim then finds out that there is a whole other world at night known as Nocturna, where these unusual characters and creatures do different things during the night. Accidentally, Cat Shepard tells Tim that Moka, the ruler/boss of Nocturna, can help him with his problem. Will Tim be able to solve what is going on before the entire world of Nocturna is destroyed by a big shadowy monster? Well, you have to watch to find out!

Let’s get started with the animation and creativity, the film’s strongest elements. The 2D animation is amazingly smooth. It’s gorgeous to look at, and the character designs are whimsical. The entire world of Nocturna is creative. Think of it like M.I.B, but for nighttime situations. How do you get messy hair? They’ve got individuals for that! What about fresh dew? They’ve got people for that. Those cricket sounds? Well, they are beings that ride bikes that sound like crickets. Heck, dreams are basically TV/movie scripts that are read to you by specialists. It’s such a creative world, and they take advantage of any trope that goes on at night. The film does take its time to invest you into the world in which the story takes place. The entire art direction is just gorgeous. It looks stylized, and it reminds me of if Tim Burton did something more lighthearted. I also like the idea of the overall twist in the film being that Tim’s fear of the dark is what is causing all the problems. It’s not just a villain who wants to take over the world or anything of that caliber. Something that I have liked about foreign animated films is that they want to be more about the characters, the world, and the stories. Even the little clichéd elements like the “the lie that breaks the two apart” is done better with no huge amounts of moping around. Both Tim and Cat Shepard go do their own thing, but still end up together. It’s not drawn out or boring.

One of my few problems with Nocturna is the sound design. I don’t know if it was a transfer thing for the Blu-ray version I have, but at some points in the movie, the English dub is hard to hear. It’s like watching a UK-based crime drama. Sometimes they can speak clearly, but other times, the accents get in the way. It’s actually like that joke in Hot Fuzz! Anyway, another nitpicky problem I have with this movie is the way the big twist is handled. So, the main villain is Tim’s physical manifestation of his fear of the dark. It’s interesting in terms of design, and is beautifully animated. But Moka, the big boss of all Nocturna, is really unwilling to help or tell the boy about the situation. I guess the story wanted to be like “you need to face your fears by yourself” and all, but it doesn’t feel fully fleshed out due to Moka being so curmudgeonly about the whole situation. At first, I thought it was Moka who was making the stars disappear, but in the end, it wasn’t. I think this is one element of the story that could have been developed more.

I really love Nocturna. It’s pretty to look at, has a fleshed-out world, and any time we can get traditional 2D animation is a good thing to me. You can either get a Blu-ray version or a DVD version. I think pick your personal choice, since most video game consoles and DVD players can play both. I wish GKIDS did a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, but you deal with the cards given to you. Well, that was a lot of fun looking at another GKIDS film. Let’s take a look at a DC animated film next time with Justice League vs. Teen Titans. Thanks for reading, I hope you like what you read, and see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation: Tad the Lost Explorer Review

 

While doing research for a film I want to review, Nocturna by Adrià Garcìa and Victor Maldonado, I came across Spain’s film award system known as Goya. It’s basically Spain’s answer to the Oscars. I bring this up because Nocturna was a film that won the Goya award for best animated feature back in 2007. I decided to do some digging to see what other films won, and you won’t believe how many other animated films that I want to cover, ended up winning this award. Chico & Rita, Nocturna, and Wrinkles, are obviously going to appear later on down the review line. For now, I just want to say that the standard of entry for a Goya must be rather low. I have seen a lot of these movies that won a Goya award, and they are usually those movies that are brought over and slapped onto the early morning run of Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon when no one is watching the channel. For example, today’s review will cover one of the winners of the Goya award for animation. Directed by Enrique Gato, Tad the Lost Explorer was released in 2012 to a positive reception in its home country of Spain, but to a more lukewarm reception everywhere else.  It’s essentially baby’s first Indiana Jones. It’s harmless and entertaining to an extent, but it’s also not as good as the really good Indiana Jones movies. It’s at least better than Temple of Doom, though.

The story revolves around Tad, voiced by Kerry Shale, who you might know better as Rufus from the popular Deponia adventure games. He is an aspiring archeologist who wants to hit it big and find treasure from all over the world. Unfortunately, his aspiring goals seem to get him in a lot of trouble at his construction job. After bringing a bottle that was buried underground to a professor at a museum, Tad ends up taking the professor’s place on a plane to Peru to solve some long lost puzzle that could lead the archeologist group to a mysterious city and the power of immortality. Along the way, Tad meets up with a female archeologist voiced by Ariel Winter of Modern Family fame, a “quirky” con man voiced by Cheech Marin, and a voiceless parrot, as they try to stop an evil group of modern day pirates from reaching the lost city first.

So, with all the Indiana Jones name dropping, it should be a fun action movie for kids. Well, if you really wanted something like Indiana Jones, but for a younger audience, you are better off finding a copy of the Ducktales movie, since the characters in Tad the Lost Explorer are very boilerplate for this kind of movie. Tad is your eccentric hopeful, the main female, Sara is your plain Jane character, and Cheech Marin’s character is your con artist with a heart of gold. Even the villains, who are usually the most interesting and entertaining characters of an animated film, are as stale as a loaf of ciabatta that has been outside in the sun for four days. I mean, how many times must I say how boring the characters in a film like this are? Let’s see if I can come up with something new to say about the boring characters. Well, I did find some uncomfortably offensive moments with Cheech Marin’s character, Freddy. There is never a time where Freddy isn’t either trying to sell you something, running away like a coward, only doing something for money, or attempting to be the comic relief of the film. It doesn’t really help that in a film that takes place in Peru, Freddy doesn’t really portray a likable character. It’s like saying “hey, all of my people are cowardly con artists!” Not that he is trying to be a positive role model, but still.  It doesn’t help either that a running gag at the beginning of the film is where Freddy tries to convince people he has a family to feed, and each time he says this, he pulls out a photo of him taped onto another picture with a random family. The first picture that shows up is this family from Africa. Yeah, let’s just say that apparently, Spain does not share the same ideals of racial sensibility that Americans do. It feels like a cheap laugh. The picture at hand might appear for a few seconds, but it’s enough to be noticeable. Since we are talking about jokes, the jokes never made me laugh. I didn’t get one single chuckle. I think the blame can be sourced at how this film is aimed at kids. The best part about any movie is that it hits both kids and adults at the same time. It’s why I love films distributed by GKIDS, and even though I have my issues with them, Disney, Dreamworks, and especially Pixar. These companies hit it out of the park by making films that anyone, young or old, can enjoy. There always seems to be this thing where the rule of thumb is that if the film is aimed at kids, there doesn’t need a whole lot of effort put into it. Well, sorry to those lazy executives who think that, but it’s not true. We will keep rewatching films like Inside Out, Ernest & Celestine, Spirited Away, and How to Train your Dragon because while they might have a goofy kid moment here and there, the message, the characters, the story, and the breath-taking moments pulled us into the film’s world. We were right there with each of the characters. When you limit your audience, you don’t give them the respect they deserve, and the effort put into the movie will most likely not be there. You end up with a movie that seems slow and drawn out for a 92 minute-long movie.

The animation is your cookie cutter Pixar rip-off art style that so many films try to pull off, but don’t. The animation itself is clunky, and is about as good as any CGI you see in any modern children cartoons that are done in CGI. I don’t know what fetish Europe has with making clunky looking CGI films, but they need to start upping the budget or technology so they can to make better animated films using CGI.

With all this said, did I find something about the movie that I actually liked or at least tolerated? Well, I think if a kid has not seen Indiana Jones, though I don’t know who hasn’t seen it, I could see them thinking this film is exciting. It tries to capture that timeless feel of adventure/action in some ways, like the moment they find the city and where it is located. If you lower your expectations, you can find some slightly above average entertaining sequences for what is the diet version of Indiana Jones. I also like the passion that Tad and Sara have for their jobs. I like how Sara, even though she falls into so many tropes of women in animated films like being the love interest and being a tad sexualized, does actually have a profession, and she does something instead of being a damsel in distress 99% of the time in the movie. I also enjoy the sad irony of the fate of the villain in this movie. While the villain is boring as tar, and predictable, the end result of finding immortality, while seen before, is rather scary in a sense. Like I said, the outcome isn’t mind-blowing, but at least it’s something different.

As I sat here and typed the review, I found myself curious as to how to label this film. Was it terrible? Yeah, it was, but was it as bad as something like The Snow Queen or Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return? No. I think it’s just middle of the road bad. Nothing outstandingly horrible besides one offensive joke, but nothing that amazing either. It’s on the American Netflix, if you are curious, but there are so much better movies to watch and check out like A Cat in Paris, Chico & Rita, and The Rabbi’s Cat. Well, now that we got this film out of the way, how about we shift our focus back onto a French animated film that tries to be too much all at once? Next time, we shall be looking at A Monster in Paris. Thanks for reading and see you all next time!

Rating: Lackluster!