Let’s Fix the Animation Scene Part 3: Award Season

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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/list!)

Here we are! This is Part 3 of this continuous animation editorial. I know it will end for right now with this section, but I think we can talk about individual films or film studios in the future. For now, let’s talk about the Award Season! We recently had the Golden Globes, and are going to be heading into the Academy Awards soon. I know many say, well, why should I care? Because there are obvious problems with the current way award seasons are being held, and are suffering because of it. You can only say “I don’t care” or “this is fine” until it becomes a problem that can’t be pushed away. You can say you don’t care, but deep down you do. After the “controversy” of last year where Ferdinand and The Boss Baby got nominated for Best Animated Feature alongside Coco, Loving Vincent, and The Breadwinner, there needs to be some course correction. So, these are my two cents on what I would do. There’s nothing I can do about it right now, but who knows! Maybe in the future, they will start doing some of these changes. Let’s get started.

Define what gets into the five Best Animated Feature slots!

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So, let’s talk about this first part. Should there be a definition for Best Animated Feature? When you look at the reviews for the five films from 2017, two stood out. The Boss Baby’s overall Rotten Tomatoes score was one of the lowest scores for an animated film being nominated for Best Animated Feature alongside Shark Tale, and Ferdinand’s overall score was just above average. We can go into the intricate details of Rotten Tomatoes another time. This definitely caused film and animation fans to turn their heads with loud spit takes. So, how did these two films make it over The Big Bad Fox & Other Tales, The LEGO Batman Movie, Window Horses, The Girl Without Hands, Napping Princess, A Silent Voice, and Mary and the Witch’s Flower? Well, maybe the definition on what qualifies for the five slots should be clearer. Is it the quality of animation? Well, they all had pretty good animation in their own respective ways, so that shouldn’t just be the case, or else The Girl Without Hands would have definitely gotten one of the spots. Is it the quality of the writing? If that was the case, The Boss Baby and Ferdinand, while not being as bad as toxic individuals make them out to be, did not have as strong writing as say, Coco or Loving Vincent. It’s not just one thing that makes an animated film great, and we will get to For Your Consideration Campaigns later on in the editorial. Maybe there needs to be tighter rules for the nominations, like…

Maybe gate off the lesser received animated features?

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Now, that doesn’t sound fair, right? What makes someone’s work more awards worthy than another? Again, I’m simply spit-balling ideas here. Well, if the award shows like the Oscars want to be about “the best of the best”, then maybe not letting films like The Boss Baby or the infamous Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close get nominated for the major awards of their categories. No one goes out to make a bad movie. Even making a self-aware film that knows it’s fairly cheesy and schlocky, has to have effort put into it.  Maybe there does need to be a certain entry fee in terms of the overall reception of the movie that makes or breaks your entry into the awards? Let’s be real here, if The Boss Baby and Ferdinand were getting universal acclaim, no one would have had an issue with them getting nominated. Sure, maybe not bringing in the review scores into the calculation seems tough, because film is subjective. However, if you want to be awarding or nominating the best films of any category, then films that get certain scores below a certain number shouldn’t be allowed into the competition. While films like Illumination’s The Grinch are major money-makers, that shouldn’t be the only reason it makes it onto the list, because the reviews of it are not all that great. It would mean that the Academy either picks the five best reviewed animated features, or just have three or four films nominated that year, because the rest were not all that stellar in the Hollywood animation scene. Still, that won’t fix the problem that…

The animation section of the award organizations should be the only ones voting for animation!

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Yeah, while it might have been a good idea on paper to open up the voting of Best Animated Feature to everyone at the Academy or the Globes, or whatever, there is a reason the Academy has an animation branch. Why on earth would you dissolve that section, if you made it for the specific reason to vote on the Best Animates Features and Best Animated Shorts category? That’s like having expert meat people letting a vegetarian grade a side of beef. Other arms of the Academy don’t have the knowledge or the awareness of how animation works, or the fact that foreign/indie features exist. This bleeds opportunity for For Your Consideration Campaigns to strike at voters who may not know better, or even care about animation. It doesn’t help either that…

The Academy members/Globe Critics/everyone need to watch all the submissions!

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Listen, it’s been well known that members of the Academy and other award groups do not watch all of the submissions. I mean, on one hand, having to take time to watch over 50+ films for multiple categories, takes up a lot of time on a really tight schedule for the voters. On the other hand, since most of the members in the Academy are actors, tech individuals, producers, directors, and so on, you look like a jerk if you do not watch the work by other members. It also gives the short hand to films that are not as recognizable as the big budget flicks. It’s funny, because despite having multiple nominations under their belt, GKids are still held as this oddity, which isn’t fair to the hard-working people of that company, and the studios, animators, composers, and actors that worked on those films. You owe it as a member of the Academy to watch all the submissions for the animation category. You are essentially discriminating against films that are not US-made. Maybe if you saw the ones that weren’t good, you can skip them, but watch the ones you haven’t seen. Who knows, maybe GKids would be raking in more awards if it didn’t have to compete with Disney, Pixar, or DreamWorks. So…

Should the Oscars and other award groups pull an Annie?

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So, for those that don’t know what I’m talking about, the Annie awards are an animation-focused award show. A few years back, they decided to do a foreign/indie category so films like Mirai, Ernest & Celestine, Loving Vincent, and In This Corner of the World could have a chance. They would get their own award category, because they honestly deserved just as much recognition, and sometimes more recognition than the big budget Hollywood films. Granted, doing so might come off like giving the foreign/indie films a “kid’s table” award, but maybe this could be a “Best US-made Animated Feature” and a “Best Foreign/Indie Animated Feature” situation that could be fruitful, and then have a third animation category that is like Best Animated picture or something. It would mean other companies like Funimation, Elevenarts, and Shout! Factory would have a chance alongside GKids to be nominated for awards. Because, as it is right now, the one thing preventing true competition between big budget and foreign animation releases are…

Beware the For Your Consideration Campaigns! Fix them!

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I get it. These marketing campaigns cost money, but if they pay off, it means people’s interests will be piqued, and that means more people will go see the film, which means more money. However, can we please stop having them be so invasive? How many times have these campaigns actually backfired and earned the studios and filmmakers ridicule? Like, there was Shark Tales, and then there was, again, the infamous Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close campaign. It got no other major awards outside of one Best Picture nomination from the Academy. I’m sure that’s what you want to be remembered for, right? Being an incredibly terrible film that paid its way into one award nom? I’m also simply tired of these campaigns being the reason you voted for the film in question, but not the film itself. Did you watch the film? Did you vote for it, because you thought it deserved the award most, or because a company spammed you with its campaign? I would rather vote for a film that I liked, and thought it deserved it, more than being harassed or manipulated by campaigns. I heard some changes were made to the rules of how campaigns can be handled, but it was hard for me to find the specific changes. Remember, vote on which animated film you think should win, and not because of some dumb campaign, or you being a stubborn mule in not checking out all of the nominees.

There we go! Part three is done, and I think I’m done talking about this topic for a while. That is, unless the voters decide to misuse the votes, and give me plenty of ammunition to talk about the Academy some more.

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My Two Cents on the Animation Submissions for the 2019 Oscars

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

Recently, the animation submission for the upcoming Oscars/award season has been revealed. There are 25 animated features competing for those five sacred spots. While I was too late in doing a first half of 2018 look-back at animation, I think I’ll pretty much combine it with this editorial. 2018 has been an incredible year for animation, both big and small. This was definitely a step up from 2017, where outside of Coco, Captain Underpants, and LEGO Batman, the big-budget releases were either okay or hugely mediocre. It was like they got all of the filler titles put into 2017, so the better-made projects could all be in 2018. The indie side of things has also been incredible. While I am disappointed that some of my favorite films from the Animation is Film Festival are not a part of this submission list, the indie scene was still fantastic. So, like last year, I’m going to categorize each of the films that have 100%, 75% 50%, 25%, or 0% on getting one of those five sacred spots through the hopes that they earned it because of their quality, and not because of a big For Your Consideration campaign. Let’s get started.

The films that have a 100% chance

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Isle of Dogs: Wes Anderson is a darling of the award scene, and if you doubt that, you will need to see the how many awards The Grand Budapest Hotel won (I love that movie). Plus, it’s a unique stop-motion animated feature and it did pretty good business when it was in its limited release run before hitting wide release.

Ralph Breaks the Internet: While some may say the original is better, I find the sequel to Wreck it Ralph to be even better. I think it handled its concept extremely well, it was funny, charming, touching, and overall, was another home run from the major Disney animation front. I find that it’s going to age better as an animated feature than the other big Disney/Pixar film out now.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse: Before I saw this film, I was excited, but hesitant about it getting any award chance. However, as the nominations started to stack up, and I finally saw the film, yeah, it was incredible. It’s easily the best US-made animated feature of 2018, and it would be surprising if the Academy turned this film down. Like I said though, its multiple award nominations will definitely help get it nominated for an Oscar.

Mirai: If GKids had a potential film this year, it would be Mirai. They are marketing like it’s a Ghibli film, it’s been getting the biggest festival push, it’s gotten rave reviews from critics who have seen it, and its story and setting can be universally approachable to any voter in the academy. Or at the very least, it should be, because the Academy has some kind of issue against Japanese non-Ghibli movies, but I digress.

Ruben Brandt Collector: Sony Pictures Classics might not pick up as many animated features as GKids or Shout! Factory, but they pick out unique films that stand out among the rest, and you would have to be blind to not see the unique and visually stunning Ruben Brandt Collector. Along with its surreal art style, it’s a more mature animated feature, and the Academy would look really good if they chose something that was unique and different. Plus, Sony Pictures Classics is a favorite among the voters.

The films that have a 75% chance

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Lu Over the Wall: before I knew GKids picked up Mirai, this was the film I was going to place my entire bet on which GKids film was going to get the Oscar love. While it might fall apart in the third act, and normal viewers will compare it a lot to Ghibli’s Ponyo or Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Lu Over the Wall is still a fantastic film with a unique art style, and likable characters. It’s more approachable to non-foreign animation viewers than Masaaki Yuasa’s other option in this race.

Tito and the Birds: A foreign animated feature with a grunge art style that sticks out, and is about a world that is infested with a virus that is caused by fear and paranoia? Yeah, this is an ideal film that could be very approachable to Oscar voters. It’s stylish, but also has a message. It gets a bit of that nostalgia with a lot of the inspiration for this great film being from 80s adventure films like The Goonies. It’s a topical film that has themes that can be timeless of how we should stand together against the fear-mongering individuals.

Incredibles 2: While the critical reception of the film is starting to die down as people realize that the film is good, but still not Pixar’s best and wasn’t worth the wait, the first film in the series did win an Oscar, and the Academy does love its safe bets, but we will have to see. The Academy also doesn’t like nominating Pixar sequels that aren’t Toy Story.

The Night is Short, Walk on Girl: I’m more hopeful about this movie, because it’s an adult animated feature, but it’s not adult in the sense of a stoner comedy, but adult in its themes, visuals, and humor. It’s a wild ride, but it’s probably a bit too experimental and zany for individuals who are looking for more “safe” features.

Maquia: When the Promised Flowers Bloom: I think it would be smart for the voters to look into this one to give an animated theatrical feature by a female director a chance, because it’s easily one of the most endearing and personally touching films of 2018. It’s one of the few films this year that has made me cry, and it has a unique and intensely intimate story about motherhood. I think the only thing that might hurt this film’s chances is that it’s a non-Ghibli Japanese feature, and the designs are not its greatest strengths.

The films that have a 50% chance

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Liz and the Blue Bird: On one hand, the Academy has a huge bias against Japanese animation that isn’t made from Ghibli. On the other hand, the Academy sure does love its small-scale character-driven dramas. It’s a smaller-scale film that might turn people off who want to see more epic-scale adventures or stories, but Liz and the Blue Bird is one of the best character-focused stories of 2018, but I don’t know if it fully has a chance.

Early Man: I would love to see Aardman get a nomination, simply because Early Man is a pretty good movie. However, I do think what will hurt it ultimately is that the film is too simple, and it just got buried under Black Panther. It doesn’t help that Lionsgate’s company Summit Entertainment didn’t really do well at marketing the film or releasing it during a proper period of time. It just sucks that this film will get overlooked, but it’s also a film I feel like that kneecaps itself for being award-worthy. We will have to see.

MFKZ: I probably should put this on the 25% chance, but it’s a film that could make for an interesting choice, because it’s basically They Live (the John Carpenter horror movie) mixed with French/Japanese animation. It’s a thrill ride of over-the-top action, characters, and the Academy is always looking for something different that stands out. They might as well go with the one that stands out the most.

Smallfoot: While surviving pretty well in the top 10 box office films of September and through October, Smallfoot simply didn’t make a lasting impression. It’s a shame, because Smallfoot might be one of the biggest animated surprises of 2018. It might have a few jokes that fall flat, but it has a story that kept me and many others invested.

The films that have a 25% chance

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Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation: While this might be the best film of the series with the most consistent visuals, story, characters, and laughs, no one really talks about the film anymore, and its popularity came and went fast. Plus, the others haven’t had a chance in Hades of getting nominated, and that’s no different here. Maybe it had a chance if it was released last year, but sadly, it has very little here.

On Happiness Road: While I am aware of this movie, it’s still going through its festival run, and I haven’t heard of a US distributor for it yet. It was at the Annecy 2018 film festival, but this film has no presence in the US, even though it does look great. Maybe its positive reviews will give it some clout, but it has very little chance in the award show circuit.

Teen Titans Go to the Movies: I like this movie, but it’s a film based on a TV show. It has very little chance in getting any kind of buzz. It’s also worth noting that it’s also another superhero movie. If a superhero film this year is going to get some kind of major award, it’s Black Panther.

Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero: I can sum up why this film has very little chance. It’s the biggest animated failure of 2018. At the very least, the other big animated flops like Early Man and Sherlock Gnomes made back their main budgets. When you can’t even muster $5 mil of a $25 mil budget, then that’s saying something. It might have its setting to boast about, but let’s not kid ourselves here. I don’t think anyone truly cared, or even knew about this film.

The films that have a 0% chance

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Ana and Bruno: While I know Ana and Bruno is a big deal in Mexican animation as it’s the most expensive animated feature from that part of the world, but outside of the animation scene, do people even know about this flick? It has slightly higher than average ratings, but who is distributing this film? I’m sorry, but this is one of the most obscure animated films in the submissions. It also has some less than stellar animation. It unfortunately has no chance.

Have a Nice Day: The only noteworthy element of this film is the controversy it caused last year for getting removed by China’s government for no real reason. It also has some interesting story beats, but with the very limited animation, and its fairly clunky story, there is no way this film has a chance. Plus, no one really knows about it.

Fireworks: I still stand that this is GKids’ worst outing in a while. The story is terrible, it wastes so any opportunities, because it needed to stick to the original story of the TV show episode it’s based on, and it’s not even the best looking animated feature from Japan this year. It’s a shame that the reviews were pretty much spot-on with this one. If you like it, that’s fine, but it has no chance when Mirai is the superior flick.

Sherlock Gnomes: I’m sorry to all of the people who worked hard on this film, but this has no chance! It was widely panned by critics and audiences, bombed at the box office, and is one of the few films I think I can safely say had no reason to exist. No one was asking for a sequel to a film no one cared about.

Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch: The Grinch might be making money, but that’s all it’s going to do. Illumination got lucky with Despicable Me 2 getting an Oscar nomination, but they haven’t been getting much award love since. No one will be talking about this Grinch until next Christmas, when people are reminded that Illumination made another one. Just because you made a lot of cash, doesn’t mean you will rake in the awards.

Tall Tales: I’m going to sound like a broken record, but it was very hard to find information about this movie, and it has no real presence in the US animation scene. It doesn’t even have any presence in the overall animation scene. When no one has any opinion or knowledge of your film, how are you going to expect an Oscar nomination?

The Laws of the Universe Part 1: The very first film in this series was submitted back a couple of years ago, but since no one I know talks about either that or this film, it has no chance. I know Elevenarts is finally putting their films on DVD, but when I haven’t been able to see either film because of limited screenings, then that’s a problem. It’s also going to have to beat out the other amazing anime titles of this year, and it simply won’t.

There you go! These are my predictions of which films have a chance, and what films have no chance in making it onto the list. Hopefully the Academy will get over their hatred for non-US animated features, but we will have to see how long that lasts.

Let’s Fix the Animation Scene Part 1: Theatrical Films

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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/list!)

A common complaint I hear every year when any award show for films pops up is that no matter who is nominated, the combination of Disney/Pixar is always going to win. While I definitely shrug my shoulders, and sort of agree with the masses who are tired of seeing Pixar or Disney win, there is a reason why they are consistent winners every year. Yes, there are a few years where I thought there were better films, but for the most part, Disney as a whole constantly earns and deserves the massive praise and success. It has led to me wanting to talk about this situation, but it’s a gigantic task at hand. What can I talk about? Is it right to give Disney and Pixar so much flack? Is it really their fault for no one else being able to compete?

I mean, I don’t normally like commenting on topics with hot takes, because hot takes are a terrible way to form an argument, because it shows you put an unintelligible effort into your comment. Instead, I’m going to do a cool take, which is more thought-out, and worth talking about. So, for this situation, this is my cool take, it’s not Disney/Pixar’s fault for having way more success than everyone else! Listen, they don’t always earn it. I think the Oscars from the years 2012 to 2014 should have gone to different Best Animated Feature films, but instead of blaming Disney for other studios not being able to compete, maybe it’s not all Disney’s fault? To me, Disney and Pixar are being smart with their films, and are constantly making films that people keep coming back to. Maybe the industry needs to start stepping up to the plate. For this editorial, I’m going to talk about how certain parts of the film industry can be improved with “optimistic solutions” as to how they can compete with Disney and Pixar. The first part will be about the industry, and how the other big studios can take some steps into getting on the level of Disney and Pixar’s success. The second part will be tackling the indie/foreign scene, and the final part will be tackling the Oscars. Let’s get started!

Don’t Chase Trends/Find Your Own Identity!

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Let’s cut to the chase. As much as other studios want to be the next big Pixar and or Disney animation studio, there is only one Pixar and one Disney. This happens a lot when you see other studios lock their eyes on a film or franchise that becomes a massive hit, and they want to follow that success with their own take. We saw this with Warner Bros and Don Bluth in the 90s trying to follow Disney’s massive money train. DreamWorks consistently took cynical jabs at Disney, and tried to follow up a Disney or Pixar film with their own take on the basic set-up. Heck, DreamWorks tried to copy Illumination Entertainment’s success with Home. In the end, when you try to chase a trend, and it’s not executed well, people are going to catch on quickly. What studios need to do is to find their own identity. Disney and Pixar have their identities with interesting takes on fairy tales and family films with timeless topics, writing, and characters. DreamWorks has suffered with an identity for years, but always has a consistent identity when they make good character-driven films. Studio Ghibli flips anime onto its head by being so anti-anime with more western ideals and less focus on what makes anime in Japan popular. Science Saru has their own simple, yet stretchy visuals that would rather the movements look good and fluid, rather than how much detail they can put into each character. Laika makes mature family films using stop-motion. Aardman makes charming and well-written animated features. Warner Bros. Animation Group has made consistently entertaining and very funny comedies with heart. Heck, the identities you can give to Blue Sky and Illumination Entertainment as their claim to fame is that they don’t really have one. That is its own problem, but still. When I watch a film by a certain studio, I want to be able to point out that this film is from that studio. Variety is the spice of life, and competition is good. Be your own creative filmmakers. I know having your own identity can come from many elements, like having certain writers and directors at your beck and call, but I still stand that you should make sure you stick out. The worst thing you can do is be a forgettable studio.

Don’t Half-bake Your Overall Plots

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So, most of the time, the big budget animated films are comedies with some story attached to them. Okay, that’s fine. There is nothing wrong with being more about the jokes than the story. However, what seems to happen to many films is that they know and have seen Disney and Pixar films, but only follow the base steps of their plots to put into their own plots. For example, last year, there were probably more films made that had no real idea how to make their stories emotionally connect with the audience. Despicable Me 3 has a slew of potential story arcs for their characters, but either don’t do anything with them, or do only the bare minimum in execution. Ferdinand has some of the more emotionally gripping and interesting story and character moments out of Blue Sky’s films, but they still threw in so much of their bad family film pandering elements, that makes it frustrating to watch. The Emoji Movie doesn’t even bother to try anything to be more complex, have some kind of clever commentary about social media or the young generation who do act like they are glued to their phones. Cars 3, a film from Pixar themselves comes so close to making it one of their best films, but fumbles when having the villains have more to them than their simple traits. The Boss Baby might be heavy on the creative visuals and a lot of fun humor, but it lacks emotional stakes, because I do not care about the characters, and they try so hard to force the family bond on the two leads. Lego Ninjago and My Little Pony dump out what made their respective properties fun and entertaining, and their films are fun, but they lack substance. It’s fine if you want to be more about story, be more about the comedy, or be a mixture of both. Just put in the mental power that you would if you were working on a film you cared about. Don’t treat it like a paycheck film.

Find your own designs/animation style!

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While this could go into the identity part of the list, I feel like this was worthy of its own entry on the editorial. A problem that I see studios have is that their films are all visually similar, and fail to show off the distinct style that only that studio has. You can tell when you are seeing an Aardman film. You can tell when you are seeing a Disney film. You can tell when you are seeing a Laika film. You can tell when you are seeing a Ghibli film. Heck, even Illumination had learned from this, and you can tell by their designs when you are watching their films. DreamWorks and Blue Sky are constantly changing their styles for better or for worse, and they don’t make me think “oh man! This is a film by those guys!” You don’t even need to spend massive amounts of money. In terms of animation budgets, if you can’t get as much as other studios, get creative. That’s why people were so impressed with Captain Underpants. It looked impressive for a film that had a budget of $30 million. Even other studios overseas are finding ways to get creative with their small budgets. Sure, some will still look awful, but the ones that stick out, found a way to make their films work with creative visuals and smart writing. You would be amazed at how many foreign animated films trade big budgets for creative visuals, and focus more on writing. Just be careful about what textures you use as well. If you are going use more realistic textures and designs, then don’t do cartoony movements and reactions. Leap! is a good example of this, because it had pretty decent CGI animation, but due to the odd choice to have realistic textures and somewhat more realistic designs, any time a cartoony reaction happened, it looked creepy. Make sure you have got a visual style you can call your own.

Not Everything Needs To Be a Comedy!

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Listen, I get why most animated films are comedies. I know that’s a very popular genre of film that can easily be taken advantage of with animation, due to its limitless potential. However, not everything needs to be a comedy. The worst part about this is if you are a comedy, and you don’t measure up to the other animated comedies of that year, I’m going to forget about you. It’s like how the game industry is trying to make “live services” a thing. When a better “live service” comes around, I’m going to go to that one instead. Same goes for animation. Once a better comedy comes around, I’m going to watch that comedy more than yours. I have done that plenty of times with the films from 2017. Spice things up a bit and try out different genres. Why do you think people still love talking about Kubo and the Two Strings, UP, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Isle of Dogs, Inside Out, Kung Fu Panda 1-3, The LEGO Movie, How to Train your Dragon, or Wolf Children? While they have their own comedic elements that work out for them, they still fall back heavily on writing, characters, action, and story. Just because it’s an animated feature, doesn’t mean that you can’t be an action film, a thriller, a horror film, a rom-com, or whatever. Don’t box yourselves into one genre. Don’t make a comedy for the sake of making one.

Thanks for reading part 1! Next time, we will talk about the foreign/indie side of animation!

The Other Side of Animation 123: Isle of Dogs 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 honestly won’t get tired of thinking this, but I’m surprised more directors in Hollywood don’t direct an animated feature. While there are pros and cons doing an animated feature or a live-action feature, one thing that always catches my eye about animation is that you can have literal control over a mass majority of the production. You don’t have to worry about sets, lighting, physical performances, and a lot of elements that plague live-action films. Really, the one major downside is that you then have to make everything from scratch. It’s why I love seeing directors known for their live-action films go into animation and vice versa. It’s fun to see them bring their personality into a new medium of filmmaking, and why today’s review is of Wes Anderson’s critically acclaimed Isle of Dogs. Released to the world on March 23rd, 2018, Isle of Dogs gained critical acclaim from film festivals, and won a couple of festival awards before starting its US release. While people did fall in love with this movie for a lot of good reasons, some critics have criticized it for its implementation of Japanese culture. As usual, it’s hard to talk about a movie, when there is some controversy attached to it. I will talk about it, but for now, let’s begin the review. Actually, before we begin, a friend of mine showed me a fun little secret about the title. Say it three times in a row quickly, and the title changes to a wonderful sentiment.

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Isle of Dogs takes place in Japan 20 or so years in the future. An outbreak of diseases affecting dogs has plagued the country, and the mayor of Nagasaki, played by Kunichi Nomura, has decided to ban all dogs to a trash island. Six months pass, and the dogs live there in small packs, trying to survive on scraps and garbage to get by. One pack includes Chief, voiced by Bryan Cranston, Rex, voiced by Edward Norton, King, voiced by Bob Balaban, Duke, voiced by Jeff Goldblum, and Boss, voiced by Bill Murray. One day, they see a kid named Atari Kobayashi, voiced by Koyu Rankin, crash his plane on the Isle of Dogs, who is there to find his bodyguard dog Spots, voiced by Liev Schreiber. Chief and his gang decide to help him as they try to find Spots, and try to uncover a grand conspiracy plotted by the mayor.

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Usually, when I love a movie, I want to talk about the positive aspects, because that is what deserves the most attention. I don’t see why I need to change tradition here. The stop-motion animation seen in Isle of Dogs is amazing. I mean, it’s the same studio that made Fantastic Mr. Fox, so I shouldn’t be surprised, but I was constantly impressed with the animation throughout the entire film. This includes making Trash Island visually interesting. Sure, it’s all garbage, but you would be amazed at how visually creative they got with the locations on the island. There are bright colors, terraformed landscapes, rusted out vehicles and buildings, and you get the idea.  Even down to little details, like how the dogs moved, reacted, their fur gently moving in the breeze, and even having little fleas running around at times shows that they paid very close attention to detail with the animals. I work at an animal shelter, and I see animals twice a week there, and dogs and cats there have their own spirit to them. No one animal is alike. The detail to the dogs is also shared with the humans. While moving like they did in Fantastic Mr. Fox, their animation was also fluid and full of little fun bits that made the artificial look of everything so alive. They even have some cool 2D sequences that are used when showing off characters on a TV screen.

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I love the characters. I mean, it’s a Wes Anderson film, what do you expect from the characters? They are quirky, they have their own personality traits, and when he decides to drop it on the viewer, can be emotionally engaging. While there are definitely a lot of characters, the bond that holds the entire film together is between Atari and Chief. Their bond is fantastic, and it was fun to see Chief grow fonder of helping Atari when he is shown kindness by the boy. Many of the characters work well off each other, as the entire cast of dogs is stacked with actors who felt very natural with one another. Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Scarlett Johansson, Harvey Keitel, F. Murray Abraham, Liev Schreiber, and Tilda Swinton all have their memorable moments and, of course, very funny lines. The human characters are also well acted, with Koyu Rankin, Greta Gerwig, Kunichi Nomura, Akira Yakayama, Yoko Ono, Frances McDormand, and Courtney B. Vance. They might have smaller roles, but they do not feel out of place with the overall weird world in which Anderson has put us. No one feels like they are simply playing themselves, and although some have very distinct voices, just because I knew who each character was played by, I was never taken out of the film. The story itself is simple, but it’s all in the execution, as the story carries themes of mass hysteria, government corruption, fear mongering, being outcasts, love, honor, friendship, and being against animal abuse. As in most Wes Anderson productions, the music is fantastic. It’s composed by Alexandre Desplat, who also did the music for Fantastic Mr. Foxand other Wes Anderson productions like The Grand Budapest Hotel, and recently won an award for The Shape of Water. Of course, much  of the music has plenty of Japanese musical flair that you would hear in old samurai flicks (figuratively and literally). The main song, I Won’t Hurt You by The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band (that’s a mouthful), was quite wonderful.

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So, let’s talk about that controversy that this film is receiving. Multiple online articles by Asian/Japanese-American critics and online users are calling out the film for using cultural appropriation with Japan and the people of Japan for the backdrop, and the dogs, voiced by white actors, along with Greta’s character, are the heroes. There are other issues, but that seems to be the biggest problem that is causing an issue for some. Now, as I partly jokingly said in my Have a Nice Day Review, I am a white guy from Texas, what do I know? I will never have the full understanding of the pain and anger of seeing my culture misused or taken advantage of (though I wish reality shows would stop making Texas out to be nothing but ranch owners, and saying we all wear ten gallon hats). I can’t pull that card. I understand, to the best of my knowledge, why people are having an issue with it, and to an extent, I agree with some of the issues. However, if I had to look at the whole film from my perspective, I don’t think it’s not as bad as say, Ghost in the Shell or the incident with the Hellboy Reboot from last year. I felt like Wes Anderson did not intentionally set up this film to be punching down on the culture or its people. Even one of the actors who played the mayor was a consultant on the story. He said that he was fine with a lot of it, but did chime in from time to time. I also disagree with the criticism of how the script has the Japanese characters talk. Unless there is a translator nearby, all the Japanese human characters speak Japanese with very little English or subtitles. The issue I see talked about is that they are limited to saying simple, to-the-point lines. I don’t agree with this criticism, because if you aren’t going to be using subtitles 100% of the time, what the characters say needs to be short and to the point. I also feel like that just ties in with Wes Anderson’s style. In the end, I could break it all down from what I have seen, and all I can say is, I don’t fully agree with the backlash this film is getting, but I do understand that Wes Anderson does tow the line in paying respect and tribute in this fantastical setting, because he wanted to make a film that was set in Japan. If you have an issue with how he uses the culture, then by all means, have an issue with it. I do agree with some aspects of the criticism.

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So, what did I not like about the film? Well, I wish we had more time with the side characters. Chief’s group of friends vanishes at one point, and we don’t see them for a good, maybe 10-15 minutes before we see what happened to them. They could have used a bit more to them outside of certain quirks, like Rex wanting order among the pack, Duke being a lover of gossip, Boss being played by Bill Murray, and so on. They were really fun to be around, and I wish they could have been there more. The female characters are also not handled well. Not terrible, but underdeveloped. Scarlett Johansson is barely in the film, and is set up as this weak pseudo love interest for Chief. Though the one that people and I have an issue with is Greta Gerwig’s character, an American foreign exchange student who kicks the pro-dog rally into overdrive. She’s a strong character, and has her own personality, but I do think there is a problem with her ethnicity. I think a lot of the problems people have with the film would be gone if they didn’t make her American. Maybe instead, they could have made her a Japanese school girl, voiced by Rinko Kikuchi or another young Japanese American actress to play her. Because you can definitely see the whole, “Hey, the American student is brave, while the Japanese people are easily manipulated by their government and afraid to rebel” angle people have with her character.

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I respect the issues some are having with the film, but they do not detract from my personal enjoyment of the film. I love this movie, and until said otherwise, Isle of Dogs is the best animated film of the year. I loved the animation, the humor, the heart, and everything about it. Once it opens in wide release, please go see this movie. I want more people to see this film and support an original idea. It’s not like anyone here is going to go see Sherlock Gnomes or Duck Duck Goose. You shouldn’t see those, and again, go see Isle of Dogs. Well, speaking of gnomes, next time, before we get to Sherlock Gnomes, we shall look at Gnomeo & Juliet. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials