The Other Side of Animation 171: Klaus Review


(If you like what you see, you can go to 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 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 it comes to films centered around the holidays, I’m very picky about which ones I want to watch. I’m especially picky when it comes to Christmas movies. I don’t hate them, because my family has a slew of Christmas classics we love to watch, but much of the time, most films based around a holiday like Christmas aren’t great. So many are either try-hard, cornier than a monster made of corn, or unintentionally mean-spirited. It doesn’t help either that most Christmas-related fare gets shoved into romance films that Hallmark makes all of the time. Like making any movie, all you need to do is focus on writing and story, and you should be good! That’s why when I find a Christmas movie I adore, I support it with all of my strength, which is why I’m tackling Netflix’s Klaus!

Directed by Sergio Pablo, and animated by SPA Studios, it was picked up and distributed by Netflix, and released November 8th in the US to pretty positive reviews, and will be getting an Oscar push for this year’s award season. It’s also the first original animated-feature for the streaming service. I was personally excited about the film, and I only got more excited when I saw the behind-the-scenes event at Animation is Film. So, what do I think about this festive new film? Well, let’s get to that part of the review!


Our story focuses on a young man named Jesper, voiced by Jason Schwartzman, an individual who has no real drive in life who would rather lay around and be lazy since his father is wealthy. After trying to get kicked out of the postal academy his father enrolled him in, his father has a different idea. Instead of falling for Jesper’s shenanigans, he sends Jesper off to the furthest place on the map to a small town called Smeerensburg to be that town’s postman. Unfortunately for him, Jesper quickly finds out that Smeerensburg is the unhappiest place on earth, with two rival clans of families that have been fighting since the literal dawn of time. Jesper only has one year to make a functioning postal service in this town, or else he’s cut off from his family’s money. Can he change his ways and make a living postal service work in such a wretched town? What about this mysterious woodcutter, voiced by J.K. Simmons, at the end of the island, and the woodcutter’s mysterious barn of toys?

As the marketing, the behind-the-scenes event, and the story have revealed, this is an origin story for Santa Claus. It’s essentially, a modern-day and better-animated version of the Rankin-Bass classic, Santa Claus is Coming to Town. I don’t mind that, because it’s a pretty straight forward origin story for the jolly red man. It’s about the origins of a fictional character told through the view of a young man learning to be a better person, and how a nice gesture creates another nice gesture. That theme, by the way, is why this movie is so good! I always enjoyed themes like this, because, while it might be a simple one, it sticks with you. I mean, when has an act of meanness ever inspired someone to work with you or do something mean to someone else? It doesn’t take that much effort to do something kind and caring. The theme sticks with me more, because of the premise of the town Jesper is in. It’s a town that has had a long-standing rivalry bred by toxic and hateful behaviors and traditions. One an act of kindness starts in the town, it spreads and everyone becomes better people, and they get rid of the traditions that were brought upon them by the previous generations.


In terms of the characters, I enjoyed my time with them. Sure, Jesper can be a little annoying at first, but since he’s another in a long line of “whiny individuals that redeems themselves in the end”, I find him to be one of the better versions of this character. He does start as a jerk, but then realizes what his good deeds lead up to, and he’s written better than most of these types. The other characters also ooze and flow with charm and personality. A lot of it is who they got for the roles and the animation, but I loved the characters. From Rashida Jones’ Alva to Will Sasso and Joan Cusacks as Mr. Ellingboe and Mrs. Krum, the film is full of amusing characters. I also adored J.K. Simmons as Klaus. They give him a lot of pathos in who he is, and Simmons puts in another fantastic performance. Even Norm Macdonald as Mogens, the boatman, has a lot of character to him. The villains are especially deviant as, while they are joke villains, there is a bit more imposing and threatening to their centuries of hatred and ignorance that makes them threats. As for the comedy, I remember busting out into laughter many times due to the delivery of the jokes, and I’m sure everyone had fun playing these characters. The jokes range from mostly physical and visual gags, but the dialogue is kept timeless as to not add any pop culture references to date the script. Some lines may feel a touch more modern, but it’s in the way that the Emperor’s New Groove has more modern-sounding dialogue, but still fits the setting.


The animation though, we have to talk about it! This is one of the most visually splendid films of 2019. It’s pure 2D animation goodness. Sure, some parts may have used a tiny bit of CGI, and yeah, it’s a lot of digital coloring and lighting, but due to how talented the team of animators is, and how much passion and little details are put into the final product, the result is a film that feels like Christmas. You look at the lush landscapes and the bitter cold town that Jesper is stuck in, and you feel like you are there. The film feels grand in scale as the cinematography brings you into this world. It’s a film with a visual presentation that I would have loved to have fully seen on a big screen.


I love this movie, and it’s not just because it’s 2D animation. However, I do have some very minor complaints about it. First off, the pop songs. Now, the main soundtrack to Klaus by composer Alfonso Aguilar Gonzalez is incredible. What’s forgettable and just okay are the pop songs in the film, and while one of them is played as a joke that works, the other ones heard are okay, but nothing special. I wonder if this was a thing that Netflix requested, because if you took out the pop songs, you would miss nothing. They don’t ruin the scenes they are in, but they stick out.

I wish there was more time for Jesper and Alva’s relationship to bloom. They have decent chemistry, but I wanted there to be more time for the two to spend with each other instead of the film relegating her to be the love interest in the second half of the film. It almost makes me wish they didn’t end up together, but their chemistry was cute. They also pull the third act “liar revealed” gag, and while it’s not the worst trope I know, and it is a bummer it was used, it still makes sense in a way? Like, I wish animated films and films in general would stop using this trope, but as long as they are executed well, I don’t mind seeing them in the film.


Normally, I temper my hype, because I always go into a movie ready to be disappointed by it, but Klaus was worth all of the hype, and it is worth getting all of the support it needs to help bring back interest in 2D animation to the theatrical scene. I highly recommend everyone who has Netflix to watch this movie right now, and constantly during the holidays. It’s a new Christmas classic, and one I would put on par with The Nightmare Before Christmas. In terms of animated Christmas movies from this decade, I would argue that it’s better than Arthur Christmas, but that’s just me. Now then, we got our Christmas movie out of the way early, how about we jump into some DC comic book movies for a while? I need to catch up on them, but before we tackle Batman vs. TMNT, I got a screener to review first, and that will be a surprise to you and me with how this next film turns out!


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 I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

The Other Side of Animation 82: Rock Dog Review


(If you like what you see, you can go to 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 It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

As the internet becomes bigger and louder, there is a concern that when it comes to game and film reviews, people are going to blow up a bad or good game even more than they should. I mean, people on the internet are already known to over-react to everything, without taking a moment to think about it and see if there is more to something than what is there at face value. I mean, yeah, sometimes, the issue at hand with a game or movie deserves the flack it gets, but sometimes, you get something like Rock Dog. Released recently near the tail end of February, Rock Dog was an American/Chinese animation collaboration, and cost $60 mil. It was interesting since the Chinese part of this co-production went to the states to find an animation studio to do the bulk of the work at Reel FX Entertainment, the team behind The Book of Life. It was released in China first, and was meant to be part of this big push for the American and Chinese film industry to start collaborating more. Unfortunately, petty business politics forced Rock Dog to flop in theaters, due to a lack of theatrical distribution in Chinese theaters. It was a little concerning when there was no real talk to bring it over, even though there was English voice work done. For better or for worse, Summit Entertainment and Lionsgate picked up the American distribution rights, and, well, the film isn’t doing well here either. Kind of a shame, since if you know anything about the Chinese animation industry, it’s like the late 80s early 90s anime scene, utter chaos and nightmarishly terrible schlock. So, how is it? Well, let’s find out.


The story revolves around Bodi, voiced by Luke Wilson. He lives in a village where he’s training to be a guard, but after obtaining a radio that fell from a plane, would rather be a musician. After convincing his dad, voiced by J.K. Simmons that he should go to the big city to become a rock star, Bodi ventures forth to find a famous rock star named Angus Scattergood, voiced by Eddy Izzard. Unfortunately, and unbeknownst to him, a group of wolves led by a leader voiced by Lewis Black plan to take over the village and eat its sheep civilians. Can Bodi save the day and become a glorious rock star?


Let’s get the bad out of the way, since while this is in no way near the raging cesspool that is Norm of the North, it still has a hefty amount of problems. The biggest issue comes in the form of the story. It’s a huge mess. It has way too many elements that are too similar to recent offerings. It has elements of Kubo and the Two Strings, Kung Fu Panda, a pinch of Zootopia with the animals, and any music-based film you can think of. Rock Dog is like the fattiest piece of meat you can think of, and it needed about 80% of that fat trimmed right off to make it a better movie. There was no reason to have mystical kung fu elements, or the wolves to want to eat the bi-pedal sheep people of this one town. Heck, the wolf mafia seems to be making money and doing fine without having to deal with this one town. I also find the fact they want to eat the living and breathing sheep people kind of creepy. It’s why you don’t want to have these types of thoughts come up in worlds with bi-pedal animals, since it would be like me wanting to take over a town in the middle of nowhere Texas and wanting to chop up the animals and eat them. I would care more about the characters involved, but you could also cut a lot of them from the film and not lose anything. Luke Wilson does a decent job as Bodi, but the father is your stereotypical father character who doesn’t fully understand his son’s passion for something. The creepy Sam Elliot yak doesn’t do much, Eddie Izzard is okay as a cynical rock star, for some reason Matt Dillon is here as a jerk character, and the two friends that Bodi meets in the city, a fox and goat, are just nothing. They have no personality or any real character. They are just there to fill out some kind of story quota, when they don’t give us any reason to care about them. I also find it distracting that you have all these big names like Luke Wilson, J.K. Simmons, Sam Elliot, Kenan Thompson, Jorge Garcia, and Matt Dillon, when they could have cut some of them, and hired proper voice actors. I’m sure they were brought on because China found these actors appealing, but I don’t see the characters they play as; I see them simply as actors getting paychecks, but without the effort for said paychecks. Okay, that may be a bit harsh, since the script isn’t all that inspiring either. Granted, the script isn’t horrible, and it does stay away from a lot of kid film tropes, but I don’t remember a lot of lines, and the jokes weren’t funny. The only time I did chuckle was when Lewis Black or Kenan Thompson was onscreen, and even then, it’s more in how they deliver their lines than the lines themselves. I know this happens more often than not, but I’m always very disappointed when you get such good or funny actors, and then pair them with a weak script.


The animation is also underdeveloped. While not super horrible and cheap-looking as, say, a lot of the straight-to-video animated films from China, it’s not high enough quality to be theater-worthy. It’s definitely better-looking than Norm of the North and The Wild Life by miles, but you still see awkward animation and lack of any memorable designs. It feels cheap in the sense that there are only 5 or so animal types in the films. It makes you respect and admire how much effort was put into Zootopia’s living, breathing world, how many animals they had, and how many variations of them were in the film. No two animals felt similar in Zootopia. In Rock Dog, a lot of the animals look very copy-and-paste. It really needed $10 mil or $20 mil more to make the animation look better. Sure, not everyone has Illumination, Pixar, or Disney money to throw around, but if you are going to be shoved into theaters with the other big films, you are going to get criticized for not being as high quality as the big releases. And no, cheap or clunky animation isn’t always an artistic choice.


So, it sounds like I don’t really like this movie. I mean, I don’t think it’s the worst, but I do have some positives to say about it. While it is a mess in terms of story and character, to me, the film never felt cynical or manipulative like in Norm of the North or Ice Age: Collision Course. It felt like the writers and directors were being as earnest as they possibly could with the story and characters. It’s a very basic script and story, but I never felt like I was being insulted for watching it, like a lot of bad animated films do to the audience. I also found the main song from the film, Glorious by Adam Friedman enjoyable. I know it sounds like a lot of indie rock bands right now, but hey, I like this type of music. Granted, it’s distracting hearing Adam’s voice coming out of a character voiced by Luke Wilson, and it is yet another musical concert-style ending, but still, I could think of much worse songs on which to end a film.


So, yeah, Rock Dog is not a good movie. In terms of animation from 2017 so far, Rock Dog is not going to be the worst of the worst either. In the end, it’s a very harmless movie. It doesn’t feel super-cynical or soulless, like Norm of the North, but it doesn’t have that charm that something like The Book of Life had. Still, I can’t say that it would be the worst thing to show off to a kid. I can see families renting it for a night and then returning it. It’s too early in the year for reviewers and critics to say Rock Dog is going to be the worst of the year. I have already seen one film that was worse, Nerdland, and there are plenty of upcoming films that look like pure trainwrecks and pessimistic cash grabs more so than Rock Dog. Rent it if you are curious, but don’t feel badly if you decide to skip out on it. Well, that was fun, so how about we celebrate April with another Japanese Animation Month, and take a look at one of the most recent GKids offerings with Welcome to the Space Show. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Lackluster!

Hit-or-Miss Movie Predictions: Rock Dog

(If you like what you see, you can go to 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 It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

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.

When I started these editorials talking about upcoming movies, these were never meant to be a set-in-stone prediction. How many times have we seen a movie or played a game that we all thought would be a failure, but then turned out to be amazing, or films that should have been amazing, but then became failures? Anyway, these are just my thoughts and opinions on the upcoming animated films and I am not making instant predictions. Even if the film is just asking for snap judgements like DreamWorks’ Trolls or Lionsgate’s upcoming The Wild Life, which we will talk about at a later date since they are both trainwrecks just asking for snap judgments. With that said, let’s get going with today’s impression of Rock Dog, a CGI animated film collaboration between China and Reel FX studios, the same studio behind The Book of Life. What do I think of this upcoming flick? Well, let’s find out! If you want to form your own opinion, here is a link to the trailer!

Animation/Art Direction

To be frank, this looks a lot better than what you would think of a Chinese-funded animated film, since so many that come out of the country look really bad in terms of theater-quality animation. Rock Dog actually looks pretty solid. The textures and some of the animation seen in the trailer could be better, but the overall presentation looks theater-quality enough to not get the “the animation looks like a made-for-TV/direct to DVD” criticism when it comes out. I think that’s because the two Chinese companies that are making this film, Huayi Brothers and Mandoo Pictures, outsourced the animation to be done by Reel FX, the same studio that made The Book of Life and Free Birds. It’s an interesting situation since most companies would rather outsource their projects to foreign companies to do all the heavy lifting. Anyway, in terms of the art style shown off in the trailer, it appears good. At least it looks different than the DreamWorks and Pixar rip-offs that are coming out.


Just going off of the first trailer since future trailers love to show off that there are in fact potty humor-style jokes (which are stupid), the humor seems more down to earth. Nothing too lowbrow, but I won’t be surprised if there was one crude joke slipped into the whole film that doesn’t work. It seems like this film is more about telling a story, and not trying to cram in jokes every five minutes. I’m down for a film that wants to be good harmless entertainment in the humor department.


The plot revolves around a Tibetan mastiff named Bodi, voiced by Luke Wilson. After obtaining a radio that fell from the sky, he becomes obsessed with music. This doesn’t go over well with his father, Khampa, voiced by J.K. Simmons who wants Bodi to be the next village guard. Bodi decides to travel to the city to find a super popular artist named Angus Scattergood, voiced by Eddie Izzard. While this is all going on, a wolf named Linnux, voiced by Lewis Black, decides to take advantage of this situation by trying to kidnap Bodi so he can take over Bodi’s home village. Can Bodi realize his musical destiny, or will Linnux win out?


While not the biggest named cast, the overall list of actors they got for this film is still solid nonetheless. The cast include Luke Wilson, Eddie Izzard, J.K. Simmons, Lewis Black, Kenan Thompson, Jorge Garcia, Mae Whitman, Matt Dillon, and Sam Elliot.


Well, for one, it seems like it’s going to come out when Illuminations’ SING comes out, which is another animal-oriented movie with a major theme of music. Granted, Rock Dog at least looks less cynical that SING. And yes, I will be talking about SING when another trailer is released, but so far, I’m not impressed. I just worry that Rock Dog is going to be overshadowed by another film that probably won’t be that good in the first place, which has happened to a lot of movies, like Kung Fu Panda 2 and any film from GKIDS. Also, I wonder how people feel about a Chinese-funded film starring a character from Tibet. I don’t know, maybe I’m looking too much into that element.

Prediction: Unknown

I really don’t know where this one will go. I can see it being an honest-to-goodness good movie, or a harmless underwhelming flick. That is more than I can say for what Lionsgate has coming out this year *coughs* The Wild Life *coughs*. Another high point for this film to succeed is that the director, Ash Brannon, has worked on hit movies in the past in different areas of development in films like Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Over the Hedge, and was a co-director for Toy Story 2 and Surf’s Up. Who knows, all we can do is wait and see once Rock Dog is released later this year.