The Other Side of Animation 73: Sing 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!)

Spoiler Warning/Parental Heads up: I will be spoiling this movie in its entirety to bring up some points about the problems Illumination has. Then again, the trailers already ruined the plots and endings to many of the characters in their advertising, so I don’t feel too bad spoiling it.

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To me, I shoot from the hip, in terms of how I feel about animation studios. I will praise and support a film that is good and has great elements to talk about, but I will not hold back if there is something bad, or worth criticizing. I won’t fully label a company with their pros and cons in some witty phrase or quote, but I’m going to mention when a film doesn’t work for me on a personal level. That’s why I’m so willing to praise and criticize Illumination Entertainment. They are obviously super-talented, and have a lot of great or entertaining ideas, but they either don’t go all the way with them, or the writers or storytellers don’t branch out enough in terms of making a unpredictable or messy story. This is true with their newest movie Sing. It’s definitely a very entertaining movie, but you get the feeling that they could have done a bit more, and changed a few things to make it an even better bit of harmless fun entertainment. Let’s pick out our favorite songs and find out what I like and don’t like about Garth Jennings’ Sing.

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The story revolves around a Koala theater owner named Buster Moon, voiced by Matthew McConaughey. He is unfortunately not raking in the dough, and is in danger of being bought out by the bank. As a last resort, he decides to hold a singing competition, with a thousand dollar prize. Unfortunately due to a typo caused by his secretary, the fliers say $100K, and of course catches the attention of the entire city. After a slew of auditions that range in quality and song choice, the finalists are chosen. They include a Frank Sinatra-style mouse named Mike, voiced by Seth MacFarlane, a punk rock porcupine named Ash, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, a shy teenage elephant named Meena, voiced by Tori Kelly, Rosita, an overworked pig mother of 25 kids, voiced by Reese Witherspoon, Johnny, a gorilla who is the son of a crime lord voiced by Taron Egerton, and Gunther, an eccentric German pig voiced by Nick Kroll. Who will win, and can Buster find the money to save the theater? Well, you have all probably seen the movie, so you draw your own conclusion.

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So, I brought up in the opening paragraph that Illumination has great potential in their film ideas, but essentially don’t fully take advantage of them. How does that work here? Well, easy. Due to how many characters there are, their stories either feel incomplete or really rushed. Like, there could have been so much more to these story arcs if they did a couple of different things. The first change I would make would be to make the movie longer. Maybe two hours would have been nice, since then you could give characters time to breath and talk, and not just play out their character arcs away from each other. The second change would to have the characters interact more. A lot of the crucial character moments in this film are happening when the individual characters are alone. Why couldn’t they put these characters more in the same room, or work off one another? You have some great talent here, but there is only really one real scene where some of the characters interact with each other. For about 90% of the film, they are not in the same room together. Why would you do that? Why not have them in the same room and have their arcs interact with one another? It would save screentime. It also doesn’t help when you have a character like Buster Moon. For me, Buster flip-flopped between being likable, and a crummy individual. Now, I didn’t get this impression from the trailers or marketing, but I was hoping he would be like Professor Harold Hill from The Music Man and less like a seedy individual. At times he really wants to make this whole singing competition work, but a lot of his screentime is spent begging for money, stealing, and trying to forcefully change contestants who are good with one genre of music to sing a different type. His story was not the most interesting one out of the six or so that were going on. I was more invested with Johnny or Rosita more so than Buster.

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It also hurts going into the movie that you know what’s going to happen. It’s not even just the fact that the advertising showed off so much that you were left with the meh and boring sequences to look forward to. Each character’s story is very predictable, and even if the advertising didn’t ruin it for you, you know what will happen with everyone’s story. Having familiar story elements are fine, but if you don’t put a twist to them or execute them to be interesting, then nothing will be surprising. If I know what’s going to happen, then why should I watch your movie? It’s always a big problem with studios like Illumination, since you can tell they put a huge amount of money into the animation, comedy, and marketing, but not into their scripts and stories. I want to be super-supportive for newer studios or studios with obviously amazing talent, but I’m going to be critical of them when other studios, big and small, are doing much better work. Oh, and speaking of comedy, a lot of people have mentioned this and I am too, but this has quite possibly the worst fart joke I have ever seen in any animated film. It’s out of nowhere, doesn’t even fit the tone of the scene, and it’s probably the most forced fart joke that has ever been put in an animated film. Luckily, this kind of humor only pops up once, but it’s so notorious that it does affect the overall experience, due to how distracting it is.

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So, I must not like this movie huh? Well, no. I actually do like the movie. It has a lot of great positives that at the very least push it above Illumination’s other blockbuster hit, The Secret Life of Pets. While the characters are tropes, I did find them very likable and endearing, which helped because of some great actors that are behind the characters. I don’t know if it was because they were super-invested in their roles or the person in charge of their performances, but everyone did a great job. While the film does use a couple of modern songs that are painfully distracting and pandering, they only pop up here or there, and the majority of the songs are pretty good. I also give the film kudos that like DreamWorks’ Trolls, they chose actors who can sing and act, and not one or the other. I mean, when you have someone like Seth MacFarlane, you are in good hands in terms of someone who can do both. I also like that they actually wrote some original songs for the film. Granted, one of the three original songs plays at the end, and the other two are mostly sung by Scarlet’s character, but still. Everyone did a great job with their singing moments. The performances were entertaining, and personally, as an individual that watches stuff like The Voice, I got a huge kick out of how Buster talked to some of the contestants, since it was eerily similar to how some of the judges on The Voice work. I know that is a niche bit of enjoyment, but that’s just me.

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The animation is also nice. The humanoid animal designs are great and appealing to look at. Sure, the world they inhabit isn’t as wildly creative as Zootopia, but it’s decent, and unlike Zootopia, they use more than just mammals for the townsfolk. Granted, they rarely show up, but still.

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So, yeah, while this film is incredibly flawed, I still had a solid time with it. Sure, Sing could have been much better than a feel-good time waster, but for what it does do, it’s good. I won’t say it deserved to be one of the films nominated for The Golden Globes or the Oscars, but I get why it’s a hit. It’s probably the one Illumination Entertainment film I would watch the most out of their entire library, and I do like that they made two original films in 2016. A lot of people have probably already seen it, but if you haven’t, I can think of worse films to see in January than Sing. Well, we got the musical out of the way, how about we go into a more comedic film with Storks? Thanks for reading, I hope you all enjoyed the article, and see you all next time.

Rating: Go See it!

The Other Side of Animation 72: The Secret Life of Pets Review

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

When I made the rules to my reviews, there was a reason why I didn’t put down certain bigger animation studios. I say this, because I’m sure you would be asking why I am looking at one of the most successful animated films from 2016, The Secret Life of Pets from Illumination Entertainment? A relatively new studio, Illumination Entertainment, has made a big name for themselves in the animation scene with their Despicable Me franchise. While they are very well known and have been making a huge amount of bank for Universal, I don’t consider them on the same level as Pixar, Disney, or DreamWorks. It’s not that they don’t have talent or skill behind their films, but they are slowly turning into a studio that is more about the flash of the high quality animation and humor, over a story that’s actually engaging. I know that sounds like I’m looking down on them, but since they are really good at the animation, humor, and over-marketing the heck out of their films, they should be able to make more compelling stories. It’s a problem I have with all of their films, and it’s the same here. So, what do I think overall about The Secret Life of Pets? Well, let’s find out.

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So, you ever wonder what happens to your pets while you are away? Well that is what this film answers. The story follows a dog named Max, voiced by Louis C.K. He lives happily with his owner until one day, she brings back a big new dog named Duke, voiced by Eric Stonestreet. Of course, the two don’t get along, and Max gets jealous of Duke’s arrival. One day, while being walked by a very bad dog walker, the two get stuck with each other and lost within the big city. This leads to a group of Max’s friends to go on the search for the two. These friends include a snarky cat named Chloe, voiced by Lake Bell, an elderly dog played by Dana Carvey, a fluffy little pomeranian named Gidget, voiced by Jenny Slate, a pug named Mel, voiced by Bobby Moynihan, a dachshund named Buddy voiced by Hannibal Buress, a guinea pig played by Chris Renaud, and a hawk voiced by Albert Brooks. The duo of Max and Duke even run into a group of rogue stray animals led by a bunny named Snowball, voiced by Kevin Hart.

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There is pretty much one word with which I can describe The Secret Life of Pets. That one word is safe. I mean, I have more words to describe it, but safe sums it up pretty nicely. It’s the most harmless, painfully average movie I have seen from 2016. I had no real super- grievance with the film. It wasn’t offensive like Norm of the North, or amazing like Kubo and the Two Strings. If you have ever seen something like Toy Story or any film that puts two polar opposite characters together and they have to go on an adventure together, you’ve seen this movie. It’s quite frankly surprising that they got away with how generic this story is. You know every story moment and every line. It’s a shame too, since the idea of knowing what your pets are doing when you aren’t looking is incredibly relatable. Who doesn’t have a pet and watches this movie, laughing or observing something their own pet does? It’s just all the more of a bummer that the story itself is so ho-hum.

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The film also has way too many characters. You barely get to know about the many characters they introduce, and it becomes annoying when you can’t really invest in anyone. The story also doesn’t take advantage of any of the possible touching or mature story bits. They bring it up, but then don’t let it sit for the audience to take in. It’s something that Illumination has a problem with. I know not everything has to have the emotional maturity of a Pixar or Disney film, but I don’t want to watch just pretty animation. I want to come away feeling something, and yet, I don’t from this film. I can understand if Secret Life of Pets doesn’t want to be mature or deep, but just good animation shouldn’t be the only thing worth going to a movie for.

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So, after I moaned and groaned, what do I like about the movie? Well, the animation is pretty great. It is very detailed, smooth, has solid designs, and it’s good to look at. No matter what bad things I have to say about Illumination, I am very impressed with how good their animation got in such a short span of time. The film’s greatest strength, though, is how the animals act. I am sure anyone who has ever had a bird, cat, dog, fish, or whatever, has watched this movie, and has pointed out or observed something the animals did in the movies that your own pets have done before. It’s a universally relatable thing that anyone can understand. I also enjoyed the cast. While not everyone gets the best character development, everyone had good chemistry, and worked off each other well. Even Kevin Hart, who is usually very annoying in his movies, is actually funny in this film. Maybe he works better as a comedian/voice actor instead of an actual actor. And even though I have been harsh, the film does wrap up all nice and warm, and can be a tad heartfelt.

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As much as I bash this film for it being unoriginal, and being a success when there is nothing super noteworthy about the film, it’s not harmful to anyone. I can understand why it was so big and why so many people saw it. I even feel good an original film is getting a sequel, and was a hit due to how many reboots, remakes, and sequels we got in 2016 that no one asked for. Still, I wish Illumination could get better at what they do. It’s weird, because next time, we look at a film from Illumination that I actually enjoyed with Sing. Thanks for reading, I hope you all enjoyed the article, and I will see you next time!

Rating: Rent it!

Hit-or-Miss Movie Predictions: SING

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

Welcome back to Hit-or-Miss Movie Predictions! This is where I give my first impressions of upcoming animated films, and point out the good, the bad, and the interesting. In the end, I shall predict if it will be a hit, a miss, or something different altogether.

To me, and I will repeat this for my Worst to Best list, 2016 has been an amazing year for animation. It’s easily one of the strongest years for certain companies like Disney and Pixar, but the indie scene has also been quite satisfying, with films like Miss Hokusai and Long Way North. Yes, we have had some clunkers like Norm of the North and The Wild Life, but in terms of pure overall quality, 2016 has been fantastic. In an interesting situation, the animated film to close out the year is Illumination’s second highly anticipated film, SING. This cgi-animated film is being directed by Garth Jennings of the duo, Hammer & Tongs, the directors of the 2005 film, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It boasts a pretty expansive cast, including Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, John C. Reilly, Tori Kelly, Peter Serafinowicz, Taron Egerton, Nick Kroll, and Nick Offerman, to name a majority of the cast. When the first trailer came out, it definitely got a mixed reception, with some being cynical about its Jukebox-style musical, and bland character designs. I still have some concerns, since I feel like Illumination is starting to show its flaws, but I know early screenings have been mostly positive. Now then, let’s begin shall we?

STORY

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At least you can say that the set-up for this film is easy to get into. Matthew McConaughey plays a koala named Buster Moon, who runs a theater with his partner in the business, Eddie, a sheep played by John C. Reilly. Unfortunately, the theater is going through some hard times, and is in close proximity of closing down. In a last ditch effort to gain some business, they hold a massive city-wide singing competition that gets the attention of many citizens of this animal world. These include a crooner jazzy mouse named Mike, voiced by Seth MacFarlane, Ash, a female Porcupine rocker voiced by Scarlett Johansson, Meena, a teenage elephant played by Tori Kelly, Johnny, a gorilla played by Taron Egerton, Rosita, a pig/mother of 25 kids voiced by Reese Witherspoon, and Bob, a German-accented pig voiced by Nick Kroll. Who will win? Will the competition be a hit?

Animation/Art Direction

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Illumination Entertainment, if anything, has shown that they were quick to adapt in terms of animation. They improved super-quickly in just a few years. Even if some of their films are the worst things of all time, like their version of The Lorax, you can’t deny that the film has great animation, and it’s no different in SING. It’s great fluid animation. On the other hand, the character designs are a mixed bag. They are harmless, but they don’t really stand out a whole lot. However, even if they are bland looking to some, they are still able to look alive and express themselves.

The Cast

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While having a cast with some big names in it doesn’t mean your film is going to be good, it still doesn’t mean that it can’t be impressive. It’s actually nice to see some actors that you wouldn’t normally see do voicework, like Scarlett Johansson. It’s also going to be the second time in 2016 that Matthew McConaughey will be doing voicework, and something that I have noticed about animated films recently is that some actors are actually attempting to immerse themselves into the roles, instead of voice-mugging for the audience. There is no excuse for actors in animated films to stop caring, even if you can’t see them visually on the screen. It’s even hard to tell that Matthew McConaughey is actually the lead character, due to how “into it” he is as Buster Moon.

Any looming concerns about the movie?

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The biggest problem with films from Illumination is that they don’t really have the best storywriters. Even by their standards, Despicable Me probably has the best of everything about them, but even then, it’s still not that amazing of a film. It’s good, but it lacks the substance that you would see in Pixar, DreamWorks, or Disney. Not every film needs to be at those companies’ levels, but there needs to be a standard in terms of storytelling. SING has always had the looming criticism from early screenings and first impressions that the story isn’t really original. Not being original is fine as long as you execute it well, but that was the big problem with Illumination’s previous film The Secret Life of Pets. It had good animation and it got the personality quirks of the animals down, but the story was boring, with clichéd characters. It’s not a good sign when you can tell what’s going to happen way before it actually happens.

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It also doesn’t help that Illumination has pretty much shown off the entire film through its advertising. That is one element that Illumination has always been called out for. They advertise their movies about six or eight months in advance, and flood the market in those months with clips, trailers, and ad spots. It makes me and many other people fatigued by how heavily they advertised it. They need to probably do two or three trailers at most. It leaves to no surprising moments in the film, since they showed it off in the trailers. I hate this about trailers, since they essentially ruin everything. Give Storks credit, they showed off a lot of the best jokes in their trailers, but they didn’t show off all of them. I know this doesn’t hurt the company in any way, since they make so much money off their movies that it’s ridiculous, but I know if I go see this in December, I’m going to go in knowing what’s going to happen. Will I enjoy it? Probably, but I’m not going to be surprised like I was with Kubo and the Two Strings or Miss Hokusai. On a side note, if SING becomes a financially successful film, I really don’t want to see them make a sequel. This looks like a one-off film. It’s like making a sequel to UP. It’s entirely pointless.

Prediction: Hit?

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This film will probably do well, since Illumination Entertainment’s films always rake in the money, even if the films themselves are not that great. I thought at first that this was going to be Illumination’s version of Shark Tale, a film that was made with no other reason than to get big celebrities together, say a couple of catchphrases, and make a soundtrack of popular songs. As the trailers have continued to be shoved into our faces, with no way of avoiding them, it definitely showed it had more to it than what everyone was thinking. I think SING will be a hit, since it has a tad more soul than what it might advertise. Early screenings of the film have been positive, but due to 2016 being a raging dumpster fire in terms of the overall quality of films this year, I don’t trust early previews, and you really shouldn’t. Early buzz for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was great, but then it came out, and people hated it, with a small minority of positive reviews. Still, I have hope for SING. I do think Illumination has something there to be a great studio, but they never quite do it for me with their films. Will they get better? I hope so.