The Other Side of Animation 145: MFKZ 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/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

One of the things I can’t stand about the current image of animation is how many see it in a fairly limited way. They think that animation can’t be successful or good if they step beyond the family market, which is just incredibly ignorant thinking. That’s like saying adult comedies can’t go past a Seth Rogen stoner comedy, or horror films can only have jump scares and gore. The best part about animation, and I will say it as many times as I need to, is that animation is limitless. You can do anything you want with the medium. For every Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch (2018), you get a Liz and the Blue Bird. For every Incredibles 2, you get a Mirai. For every Duck Duck Goose, you get a How to Train your Dragon. My point is, films like today’s review, MFKZ, is to show how varied and vibrant animation can be. Directed by Shojiro Nishimi and Guillaume Renard, and produced by Ankama Animations and Studio 4C, this high-octane action flick stood out from rest of the films from 2018 for its odd, grimy, and intense visuals that were based on the comics made by Guillaume Renard himself. It was one of the first films during 2017’s Animation is Film Festival, but got a wider US release in October of 2018. So, was the wait worth it? Well, let’s check it out!

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So, what is this movie about? Well, a lot. We follow the story of Angelino, dubbed by Kenn Michael. He lives in Dark Meat City, a hyper-stylized, grimy, and grungy version of Los Angeles. He scrapes by making rent money with his friend Vinz, who’s a walking skeleton boy, dubbed by Vince Staples. They have to deal with living in the more poverty-riddled parts of the city and deal with the rent situation from their landlord Willy, dubbed by Dino Andrade. One night however, Angelino and Vinz get their apartment raided by Stormtrooper-like policemen that are chasing down Angelino for yet unknown reasons. This is on top of Angelino getting over an accident where he crashed into an armored car. The accident in question has him able to see individuals who are not who they supposedly are. This is probably why Angelino is being targeted. After that, Angelino and Vinz get sucked into a world that mirrors They Live (the John Carpenter horror flick). They encounter a group of luchadores who protect the world from evil forces, a group of thugs led by a man named Shakespeare, dubbed by RZA, a lovely woman named Luna, dubbed by Dascha Polanco, and getting relentlessly chased down by an evil man named Mr. K, dubbed by Giancarlo Esposito and his right hand Bruce, dubbed by Danny Trejo. Can the two make it out alive, and find out the mystery behind Angelino’s new abilities?

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So, yeah, let’s get this out of the way first, this film has a lot going on. However, unlike many movies with plenty of plots happening, MFKZ is definitely more focused. It’s more They Live, but with over-the-top action. I know nothing can beat that infamous brawl between Keith David and Rowdy Piper, but the action in MFKZ is easily one of the best elements of this film. Once again, with the knowledge that its animation, and the fact that Studio 4C is the studio that animated the film, the action is topnotch. It’s fast, intense, gritty, over-the-top, and varied. You get car chases, luchadores body-slamming Stormtroopers, Angelino gains new tentacle nightmare powers, and gunfights. For the most part of the film, you are constantly moving and learning about the characters. It’s a lot of fun to see them deal with one another, while dealing with constant action and darkly comedic dialogue. I mean, you can be critical of this film, but you can’t be mad at a thug leader who quotes Shakespeare while carrying large machine guns. It’s deep enough for you to care about the characters, but the film knows you want the fun schlocky sci-fi action, too.

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Another major highlight is that the cast is probably one of the most diverse groups of actors for dubbing and films in general. Rarely do you ever hear or see voice actors who aren’t white. There are ethnic voice actors, but they don’t seem to balance out with how many white voice actors there are in the business. It makes sense that MFKZ would then have ethnic actors/voice actors, including Kenn Michael, Vince Staples, Dino Andrade, Michael Chiklis, Giancarlo Esposito, Jorge Gutierrez, Dascha Polanco, RZA, Danny Trejo, and you get the idea. They all do a pretty good job with their roles.

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While I do love this movie, am happy that it exists, and overjoyed to see an action-animated feature aimed at adults, I’m not entirely surprised by the overall rating and the critic-rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Not saying that it’s bad, because I really enjoyed it, but it is flawed. The third act especially has some pacing issues. It goes full steam ahead when the story gets going, but then it halts in its tracks. It then underplays some of the major plot elements by that point in time, and scales it back down to being more intimate and personal about not losing yourself to your darker intentions, and being human on top of the anti-establishment They Live story beats. The final scene also ends on a sequel bait joke that was funny, but also rubbed me the wrong way, because who knows if we are going to get a sequel or not.

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While it sort of unravels in the end, and I get why people aren’t fully on-board with this movie, I love that this movie exists. I’m always down for more action animation and films with weird and out-there plots. I find it hard for myself to be mad at its flaws, because there are a group of luchadores that protect the world from demons, and it’s essentially a wacked-out version of They Live. I definitely recommend either finding a theater that will play this, or checking it out when it hits DVD. While not perfect, I’m glad films like MFKZ and Ruben Brandt exist. For now, let’s talk about what is possibly the best animated feature of 2018 with Mamoru Hosoda’s Mirai. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoy the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation: The Book of Life

(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz for more of my work. If you want to, consider contributing my Patreon on patreon.com/camseyeview. Hope you enjoy the article!)

I wouldn’t blame everyone or anyone saying that animated movies, anime, and animated shows all look the same today. I mean, this isn’t new, like how in the 90s, most Warner Bros and Don Bluth films were trying to look like Disney. In the 2000s to now, third-party animation studios want to look like the Dreamworks or Pixar/Disney films. A lot of animated cartoons look like Adventure Time. Anime today, with the exception of the rare few, all look the same. Sure, sometimes, the reasons why they make these artistic decisions are easy to explain, like how the Adventure Time look is easier to animate, and so on. However, it does end up making everything look really forgettable or mediocre when it’s done wrong. I know that in the end, it‘s what the show and movie offer in terms of story and character, but you have to admit that everything starts to blend together at one point. This is why I adore The Book of Life. While it has its problems, it’s a visually pleasing film that has a unique look that stands out from everyone who’s trying to copy and failing to be the next Dreamworks. For those that want some info on this film, The Book of Life was released back in 2014 in October by Free Birds’ studio Reel FX Entertainment, and was directed by Jorge Gutiérrez, the individual behind El Tigre. Now then, let’s get started!

The story revolves around a group of snotty classmates as they arrive at a museum and are taken inside to check out a Mexican folk and myths exhibit. The tour guide, Mary Beth, voiced by Christina Applegate, begins the tour by opening up The Book of Life. The book includes all the stories within the world, and out of all the stories, she picks one about two young men and a woman. The actual story begins (yeah, I know, it’s annoying) with the focus on three individuals, Manolo Sánchez, voiced by Diego Luna, Maria Posada, voiced by Zoe Saldana, and Joaquin Mondragon, voiced by Channing Tatum. It’s your basic love triangle story, but it’s only when two gods enter the story that things become interesting. One god is La Muerte, the ruler of the Land of the Remembered, voiced by Kate Del Castillo, and Xibalba, the ruler of the Land of the Forgotten, voiced by the always awesome Ron Pearlman. The two gods make a deal as to who will win the heart of Maria. Of course, Xibalba tricks Manolo and ends up getting him killed to win the bet. Manolo then ends up in the Land of the Remembered, and it is up to him, with the help of his ancestors, to get back to the world of the living.

Now that I got that out of the way, what’s good about the film? First off, it’s very unique-looking, due to the director Jorge Gutiérrez’s art style. I adore the wooden puppet character design, the really vibrant colors, and just how well the art style transfers well to 3D character models. The animation is also so expressive and smooth. It’s obvious that either the studio got more of a budget, or better talent due to how amazing it looks compared to their first big film, Free Birds. I also love the fact that it does tackle themes of death and losing a loved one, being yourself, and for Manolo’s case, finding an alternate solution that does not use violence. I also like a lot of the characters, like Manolo, the two Gods, Manolo’s family, and even the Candle Maker character was not as annoying as I thought he would be alongside Manolo’s musical friends. The voice cast was great. While they do have individuals like Ron Pearlman and Channing Tatum, the rest of the cast is Hispanic. Granted, seeing Ice Cube, was a tad off-putting at first, and I do think they could have gotten a Hispanic actor instead of him, but he did a great job as the Candle Maker. While the music is somewhat forgettable, it fits in better than the 900 different pop songs that are forced into Strange Magic. There are some original songs, and they are fine.

It’s all the more of a shame that with all the great stuff The Book of Life does, that the story and some of the characters have a lot of problems. Like Hotel Transylvania, the story has too many clichés that should be dead or done better/differently. You have the two guys fighting over a girl, the modern-day audience being told of the story, the liar revealed, the secondary villain since the God of Death is not enough, modern talk in a time in the past, modern songs, and a female character that has some personality, but not a whole lot. I love this movie, but I don’t want to ignore my criticisms toward it. I also don’t care for how the ending plays out. Basically, this whole film that has death as a focus on the story, plays it off like an episode of Dragon Ball Z, where in the end, death is like a mosquito bite. And before you ask, I did try and think of other anime that gave the middle finger to death, but couldn’t since, well, it’s Dragon Ball Z. My biggest complaint about the film is the modern-day school kid group element. They really didn’t need to be there, and they really brought me out of the immersion of the film by popping in from time to time. Heck, the whole museum set-up was interesting, but if it was just the museum tour guide and the janitor, it would have been so much better.

I might have criticized this film a lot since this was released in 2014, and by now, we should know certain tropes should die off, but The Book of Life was and still is a great movie. Its negative aspects don’t outweigh the positive elements. I would definitely recommend seeing this film, since it’s unique in a lot of areas, like being the first mainstream Hispanic fairytale, and having that beautiful colorful puppet art style. Well, we might have been on a positive streak, but depending on what you all voted for, we might have to dip right back into the infamous negativity. Thanks for reading, and see you next time!

Rating: Go See It!