The Other Side of Animation 107: The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature 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!)

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When you are making a movie these days, you have to go all in with the commitment of making it. You have to put 100% into directing, writing, acting, editing, composing, and you get the idea. If you are not using all cylinders while in production, the end product is going to show. This is especially true with sequels, due to their infamous nature of not always being better than the first film. You would think that making a sequel would be easier, but that is sadly not always the case. There is a reason why so many film series should have only stayed as one movie. Hence the focus on today’s review, The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature.  A sequel to the surprising financial hit from 2014, Nutty by Nature came out to the fanfare of no one. The original film got lucky, since it came out in January of 2014, made a lot of money during a month where mostly bad movies are dumped into theaters. Three years later, we have a sequel that had very little hype or excitement, and looked like a waste of time. To no surprise, this sequel to a film no one was asking for underperformed at the box office, only making a tiny bit over $40 mil on a $40 mil budget, and getting mostly negative reviews. I was not particularly looking forward to this one for obvious reasons, but after watching it, it’s the perfect example of my overall opening paragraph. What do I mean? Well, let’s see why no one went nutty over Nutty by Nature.

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The sequel picks up six months after the first film, as we follow Surly Squirrel, voiced by Will Arnett, living the big life inside the closed-down nut shop with his animal friends. They have all the nuts in the world to eat, and live like fat little piglets. Unfortunately for him and his friends, the store blows up, and they are forced to scavenge for food back in the park. Even more unfortunately for them, the mayor of the town, voiced by SNL alumni Bobby Moynihan, decides that he wants to tear down the park and make it an amusement park. It’s up to Surly and his friends to take back the park from the evil mayor and his animal control henchman played by Peter Stormare. Can Surly get the help of some city mice led by Jackie Chan to save the park? Have you seen any “save the environment” films from the 90s?

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Okay, before we talk about the bad, let’s talk about the good. First off, the animation is surprisingly solid. Textures don’t look so straight-to-video, movements are way more cartoony and fluid, and everything feels more polished than the first film. The original was decent, but I could personally argue that it wasn’t up to theatrical quality standards, but that’s just me. Thankfully, everything is way more lush and vibrant than the last film. You can tell the entire team wanted to make a better-looking movie, and it did so on a $40 mil budget. The physical comedy is way better as well. The previous film had decent physical comedy, but because of the mediocre animation, the jokes didn’t land. My guess is that the directors and writers watched what Warner Animation Group is doing with physical comedy, like in Storks, to learn proper Looney Toons-style comedy. The next improvement is that the film is way less mean-spirited, with characters who are more tolerable. Some are still as annoying as they were in the first film, but I wasn’t just grinding my teeth together waiting for characters that weren’t utterly terrible to appear onscreen. I think my two favorite characters were the villains, the mayor and the animal control guy. I think Peter Stormare and Bobby Moynihan were having a blast being cartoon levels of evil. They aren’t original villains, or villains that are interesting, but for this type of movie, they were way more entertaining than they could have been, and probably had some of the best lines in the movie. The action in this film is also well executed, especially when you have Jackie Chan coming into play, who probably has some of the best scenes in the later part of film. They even have this cute romance between the pug and the mayor’s French bulldog. All throughout the film, you can tell the people making it tried harder. They put more effort into the writing, the animation, the comedy, and put out a better product.

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With all that said, this film is by no means one of 2017’s best animated films. As much as I say everything has improved, a lot of the humor and writing is not great. It’s very weak writing, and if you have seen the film, you know they milk one joke multiple times. It’s not all that clever humor either. I think the only times I got laughs out of the film was because of the execution of the line read from the actors. Sometimes, a good comedic actor can make a bad joke work. Another huge problem is that the film is painfully generic. If you have seen any, and I do mean any environmental films, then you know how it’s all going to go down. I know not every film needs to be a “masterpiece” or on the level of Pixar, but if you are going to do something we have seen before, you had better execute it well, or get really creative. Sadly, the story is painfully simple with humans being evil, and the animals having to save the day. Heck, they heavily advertise Jackie Chan’s character for being in the movie, but he’s in it for pretty much 20 minutes total. Due to the lackluster writing, I didn’t find myself really caring about the emotional moments with all of the characters. Some interactions were cute, but when they tried to make you feel for the characters, it felt out of place.

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It’s an infuriating sit. You can tell the team behind the sequel tried harder, got the animation to work, improved the characters, and the story. However, they didn’t go full tilt on improving everything else. It’s not super funny, I didn’t care about the other characters, and in the end, I was perfectly fine with the film underperforming. The original back in 2014 got lucky because it was a family-animated film in January, and the studio thought they could get another financial hit with a sequel. For some reason or another, the movie-going audience said “we didn’t want this”, and made sure no one saw it. It’s an overall harmless film, but if you were going to get an animated film of this year to rent or purchase, I would pick up In This Corner of the World. It’s cheaper than buying The Nut Job 2, and it’s 100% better. If you do decide to watch it, eh, I hope you get some enjoyment out of seeing it. Next time, we are going to look at what is considered one of DC’s biggest disappointments in animation with Batman & Harley Quinn. Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Lackluster!

The Other Side of Animation 79: The Monkey King: Hero is Back

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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!)

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So, if I told you that I found an animated film from China that is pretty solid, would you believe me? I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t believe me. There has always been this stigma of China going for a quantity-over-quality style of filmmaking, and yeah, when you realize just how many animated films they make, it definitely shows how low the quality can be. I’m sure there are plenty of good animated films from China, but since most are never brought over here unless Lionsgate has  another bad spending day, then I won’t know about them. Granted, there are some great looking animated films coming out that are really promising. Today’s review is one of those promising films from China, Monkey King: Hero is Back. This was released in 2015, and has the noteworthy title of being China’s highest grossing animated film of all time. Well, until Kung Fu Panda 3 and Zootopia overtook it, but still. In terms of just China-made animated films, it’s the highest grossing animated film from that country. It’s weird because there were so many movies based on the Monkey King, and they got passable reviews. What about this film specifically made a dent in terms of films based on such a mystical character? Well, let’s find out.

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The story revolves a young boy who lives with a monk, played by James Hong, after his parents were killed by trolls. One day, the boy’s town is attacked by the same trolls from long ago. The boy does escape them, but ends up falling into a cave and accidentally awakens the imprisoned Monkey King, voiced by Jackie Chan. The Monkey King really doesn’t want anything to do with the kid, but is then forced into a quest of taking down an evil lord, voiced by Feodor Chin. Can the great Monkey King take down the evil force and bond with the young boy?

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I will start out with the negatives about this film; it might have the worst dub job that I have seen so far. It’s so rushed and poorly synced that it wouldn’t be a shock if they did this dubbing in an afternoon. I mean, it feels like no effort was put into having the voices sync up with the lip movements. The actors also didn’t put in much into their performances. It’s like they knew this was a trainwreck, and that they were going to be in a better animated film together with Kung Fu Panda 3, so they didn’t put too much effort into their roles. Even this annoying comedic side character played by Roger Craig Smith has a, “I really don’t care that I’m here” attitude. Or, maybe they were trying their best, and the individual in charge of the dub wasn’t doing their job! The film is also very annoying in terms of humor, with a lot of pandering fart jokes and other jokes that don’t really work. It’s distracting, and makes the film-going experience tough to sit through, since sitting through a movie with very bad jokes is a massive chore.

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The animation is also not really impressive. Granted, we are seeing small signs that China is getting better with their animation quality, but the CGI is pretty low level, and the animations are stiff when there aren’t any fight sequences or grand movements on screen. Textures are low quality, but the designs are fine. They aren’t anything amazing, but when you have seen how ugly bad foreign CGI character designs can be, it’s higher-up on the totem pole than most. The story is also very generic. On top of not really explaining how a few incidences in the film happened, it’s a very Hollywoodized version of the Monkey King legend that is apparently the biggest property to make films out of in China. I mean, I get it, since the US has the biggest turn-on for most young adult novels that have no right in being made into movies. The characters are not that interesting either. They were boring, generic, or really annoying. I don’t get the deal behind having an annoying kid team up with the lead character, who is much more interesting. The kid was really grating, and I don’t know if I’m right about this, but I think the creators knew that since there were way too many times in the movie where the kid would have or should have died. They did it just to annoy people. It even takes the weight out of the final climatic fight scene, because they don’t kill the kid in the end. I mean, why would you do that? It’s like when they “killed” Superman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and then teased at the very end that he’s coming back. Like, yeah, now you have ruined that character’s story arc. I don’t get why you would do that. Unless this was some clever Edgar Wright comedy, you shouldn’t ruin something like a death of a major character.

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So, what is actually good about this movie? Well, out of all the Chinese CGI trainwrecks that I can think of, The Monkey King: Hero is Back (and I still don’t get why they couldn’t fix that weird title) is at the very least watchable. It’s not something like Gods of Egypt or Norm of the North, where watching it is a chore. While it can get annoying, The Monkey King: Hero is Back does at the very least have some tension and investment in taking down the demon lord. The fights are also fun to watch. You can tell a lot of the budget and effort went into these sequences. While they never reach the heights of the Kung Fu Panda series or Kubo and the Two Strings, they are still entertaining enough to get you through the slog of bad jokes and horrible voicework. While the villain wasn’t anything that interesting, I at least enjoyed the campy personality, and the final fight with him and the Monkey King was fun to watch.

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While I totally get why this film got so much acclaim, I still don’t think it is all that great. It’s just very average. The only real reason to rent this film on any occasion would be because of its legacy and its status. Maybe if you can find this film for $5 or less, I could recommend it, but if you want good kung fu/action in animated form, just get the Kung Fu Panda trilogy or Kubo and the Two Strings. There are a ton of animated films that have much better action sequences and just better overall experiences that you should check out before even putting money down on The Monkey King: Hero is Back. It’s a shame since if the story and animation was better, I would have easily called this film the hidden gem of 2016, but that title goes to Mune: Guardian of the Moon and 25 April. Well, I’ll say this. I would rather watch The Monkey King: Hero is Back much more than what the next review will tackle. I won’t say what it is, but it is quite possibly the biggest flop in terms of animation from 2016. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Rent it.