The Other Side of Animation 108: Batman & Harley Quinn 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!)

Well, after a year of nothing, but positive reviews for a project, DC finally has what could be considered their worst outing of the year so far. Well, at least in the animation scene (I do know Justice League is not doing well). I mean, it’s bound to happen to some companies. Even GKids, Disney, and A24 will have a dud or a film that isn’t as good as their other offerings. I think it’s more disappointing, since DC has been really good so far this year. I enjoyed LEGO Batman, Justice League Dark, Teen Titans: The Judas Contract, and even though I haven’t seen it yet, Wonder Woman is one of the more important films of the year. Too bad that winning streak had to come to a halt with Batman and Harley Quinn. Probably one of the more hyped direct-to-video films from DC, this was promising from every aspect. It had Kevin Conroy and Loren Lester returning as Batman and Nightwing, Kevin Michael Richardson as one of the villains, and it was going to be this big comedic action film with Batman fighting alongside Harley Quinn, one of the most popular comic characters of all time. Sadly, as anyone can tell you by now, this film was not well received, and it was just another disappointment from DC’s animation front. Let’s dive into this Sam Liu-directed experience, and see what went wrong.

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The plot starts us off with Poison Ivy, voiced by Paget Brewster, teaming up with a rather low-key DC villain, Floronic Man, voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson. They break into a lab, and take a scientist hostage to unleash their evil plan. Batman, voiced by Kevin Conroy, teams up with Nightwing, voiced by Loren Lester, to find out what exactly is going on, and what specifically did the two plant villains steal. Unfortunately, if they want to find out about anything, they need to get in touch with Ivy’s long lost friend, Harley Quinn, this time voiced by Melissa Raunch of Big Bang Theory fame. Can they find Harley, and team up with her to stop Poison Ivy and Floronic Man?

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It’s really hard to talk about this film, and not bring up one of the biggest elephants in the room/problems with the film, Harley Quinn herself. She has been everywhere, and has enjoyed critical acclaim from all fandoms of DC. Sadly, she is incredibly hit-and-miss with this film. I don’t want to be too harsh on Melissa Rauch, because I know she has gotten the most criticism out of a lot of reviews, but she is part of the problem. Her voice for the character sounds like an incredibly obnoxious parody of how Tara Strong or Arleen Sorkin voiced her. It got grating quickly with her forced accent. I mean, she would be fine if the script and story did more with her than to be a sex icon. Listen, she is a very lovely character, but a lot of the jokes and scenes with her are focused around sex appeal, and I’m not some teen anymore. Her relationship with the Joker ruins any kind of sex appeal, due to how horrifying and damaging it was. The film just decides to give her a one-night-stand with Nightwing, and some scenes of fan service. Again, I wouldn’t mind a more mature edge to everything in this movie, if it didn’t clash with the more comedic tone of the film. This film is probably one of the more violent DC animated films. You will see blood, and the Floronic Man kills multiple people in the movie. The sleaze and the violence would have been better if the jokes landed. Sadly, the jokes don’t always land, and rarely did I laugh in the movie. The film tries out a lot of childish humor, adult humor, and clever humor, but it felt like too many people were trying to make the film’s comedy work. For example, they have a fun scene with Rob Paulsen playing two characters singing a country song, but then do full-on Harley Quinn fanservice, and it makes the fun part lose some weight. Also, does DC have something against Swamp Thing? This is the second film from DC this year with Swamp Thing, and he only appears in the last five minutes, and does nothing. He just spouts some philosophical garbage, and then says “peace!”, and sinks back into the swamp. Now, part of that is very funny, but at the same time, why have him in the movie if he isn’t going to do anything?

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The jokes and the action would probably be better as well, if the animation was better. At times, the animation is typical straight-to-video quality, but some scenes will dip in frames, and it’s really obvious that they spent more money on some scenes than others. It’s such a shame because they are using the old 90s animated series style. You know they can make that style work for multiple projects. I even noticed some weird details, like you can see Nightwing’s eyes through his mask, and you don’t know why they did that. His eyes are already super expressive with the mask on.

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So, what is great about this movie? Well, the voice cast is pretty outstanding. While I know I dragged Melissa Rauch through the ringer, the rest of the voice cast does a great job bringing their characters to life. Kevin Conroy, Kevin Michael Richardson, Paget Brewster, John DiMaggio, Rob Paulsen, and Loren Lester all have great performances. One of my favorite scenes is actually the scene I talked about above this sentence, where Paulsen plays twins singing a great country song. While the comedy doesn’t always land, when it does, the jokes are laugh-out-loud funny, though if you want a funny DC-animated film, you should just pick up The LEGO Batman Movie. Still, the comedy does work when the scenes line up with everything going on.

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Batman & Harley Quinn is a huge disappointment, and it doesn’t help Bruce Timm’s later work, since his reputation was hit with The Killing Joke last year. Like I said above, if you want a more comedy-focused DC animated film, you are better off getting The LEGO Batman Movie or Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders. It’s honestly a shame this didn’t work out as well as it could have, because the idea is really good. A dark comedy Batman movie. That sounds like it would sell well. However, if this is the best they could do, then maybe it’s best they stick to more serious stories. Not the worst of the year, but it’s still not that great. Well, let’s jump into the countdown to 110 reviews, and check out Leap! Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Rent it!

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The Other Side of Animation 93: Porco Rosso 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!)

For as much as the film and entertainment industry loves to do movies about war-time settings, we rarely get them outside of the World War II area. Sure, we have Vietnam war films like Platoon and Apocalypse Now, but whenever we get a war movie, it’s more or less the second World War. They have started to spread out the settings and plots with some truly fantastic films like Hacksaw Ridge, and the upcoming Dunkirk, but I rarely see a movie that takes place, or is set around a certain period of time in World War I. I feel like as content creators for the entertainment industry, we could start expanding out into different time periods. I think that’s what drew me into today’s review, Porco Rosso. Directed by the ever amazing Hayao Miyazaki, Porco Rosso was originally made and released in 1992, but the US only got it in the mid-2000s with the help of Disney. Yeah, normally I don’t tackle films made or distributed by Disney, but since they don’t technically have the full rights to distribute the film anymore, I’m going to talk about Ghibli films more often. So, is Porco Rosso truly unique? Does it deserve to be one of my all-time favorite films? Well, let’s take a look.

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Porco Rosso follows our main hero, Porco Rosso/Marco Pagot/Rossolini (depending on what version you own or which dub you watch), voiced by Michael Keaton. He’s an ex Italian fighter pilot, who now lives in a post-World War I world, and is a bounty hunter. All he does is sleep the day away, drink wine, and on occasion, fight seaplane pirates. One day though, after seeing his longtime friend Madame Gina, voiced by Susan Egan, Porco gets called to task and ends up getting into a fight with an American pilot named Donald Curtis, voiced by Cary Elwes. After losing the fight with Curtis, Porco goes into hiding, and travels to Italy to get his plane fixed. He gets the help of a craftsman Mr. Piccolo, voiced by David Ogden Stiers, and with the help of his granddaughter Fio Piccolo, voiced by Kimberly Williams-Paisley, get Porco’s plane fixed. Can Porco get back into the air and take down Curtis?

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So, what makes this one of my all-time favorite movies? Well, it has a lot of elements that blend well together. For one, it has the trademark laid-back atmosphere of what you normally see in a Studio Ghibli film. While this is a film about flying planes and getting into fights with them, the fighting takes a back seat to focus more on the characters, and their interaction with the world and time period they live in. While I can understand the confusion of that aspect and maybe wanting one more fight sequence in the air, the film is more about Porco and his life after the World War I. As you can probably tell from the title of the film or from his name, Porco is a walking talking humanoid pig. Apparently, after a rather terrible and sad incident during the war, he was cursed to be a pig. His outlook on life was more lazy and cynical, and he really didn’t mind that. He knew how the world worked, and was disgusted by it. He would rather live alone in an island out-cove with his valuable plane, while drinking and laying around all day, than join a side, and fight for a country with certain beliefs. A lot of people have asked why they made him a pig in the movie, and, well, I think what I just said describes a pig perfectly. Stubborn, prideful, lazy, they would rather just wallow where they rest, instead of doing something else. It was also an inside joke from the studio, since Hayao Miyazaki has been infamous for being a stubborn, grumpy individual. He apparently loved pigs, and has always portrayed himself as one. It’s more about what the pig symbolizes than a simple gimmick. I have seen some reviewers not understand that, and constantly be distracted by that fact, without taking a moment to think about it and understand it. It’s one of the few times where the phrase “you didn’t get it” comes into play, and rightfully deserves use of that phrase.

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The film is also fairly light-hearted in tone. Everyone from Porco to the pirates are not really that imposing or intimidating. I mean, they kind of are, but it’s a more lightweight kind of intimidation. Even the leader of the pirates, voiced by Brad Garrett, is probably one of the best side characters Ghibli have ever come up with. He yells loudly, is also stubborn and prideful, but he isn’t above telling a bunch of little kids he kidnapped to calm down and not jump off the plane. The pirates don’t even hurt them. It does that thing I love where there is no real bad guy. Curtis is bad since he almost killed Porco, but he’s not evil. He’s just a celebrity in a time period where being a celebrity was becoming more of a big deal, and he thinks he should be getting everything a celebrity deserves. He even calls out Porco on some of his stubbornness in the last third of the film. This tone makes a lot of the characters fun to be around, from Mr. Piccolo, his family, and the seaplane pirates, to even smaller characters that Porco runs into, like the weapon crafters. Actually, I think the weapon crafters have one of my favorite scenes from any movie, where one of them asks what the difference between making money off war and bounty hunting is. The line basically goes “If you make money off of war, you’re scum, but if you can’t make money off of bounty hunting, you’re an idiot.” It took a few viewings for me to really hear that line, and find some charm in it. Don’t get me wrong, the tone can be rather mature, and it doesn’t shy away from the fact that a lot of people died in the war, and there is a lot to unpack with Porco as a character, but it’s not shoved in your face. It knows when to show off the more whimsical tones, the anti-war tones, and so on and so forth. It also feels unique, since it’s not really a war film. It takes place during that period in time, but it’s not about battles or killing soldiers. It’s just characters dealing with the changing times between periods of violent and terrifying war.

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Animation-wise, well, it’s Studio Ghibli. What should you expect from none other than some of the best animation around? Great character movements, spot-on physical comedy, fantastic expressions, subtle movements, gorgeous colors, breath-taking scenery, fast and fun flight sequences, and great character designs. This film also has one of my favorite voice casts of all time, with Michael Keaton doing a perfect job as playing stubborn and prideful Porco, Brad Garrett as a great comedic antagonistic foil, Susan Egan as Gina, a beautiful, yet stern singer at her own private island, David Ogden Stiers as the quirky repairman, and Kimberly Williams-Paisley as the optimistic and strong-willed granddaughter Fio. Probably one of my favorite casting choices is Cary Elwes as Donald Curtis. At first, it’s really shocking, since they got a British guy to do a rather over-the-top American voice, but it fits that point in history of how a stereotypical American would sound, and he brings a lot of passion and energy to the role. Even the minor characters voiced by Bill Fagerbakke, Kevin Michael Richard, Frank Welker, Jeff Bennett, Dee Bradley Baker, and many more all do a fantastic job, no matter how small their roles are. Of course, I would be silly to not bring up the beautiful and fun soundtrack by Ghibli composer, Joe Hisaishi. He definitely has more light, bombastic, and whimsical tones, but also beautiful slow-paced songs that fit the quiet tone of certain areas in the film.

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If I had to really nitpick, and I really do mean nitpick, I think I probably would have liked maybe the first time you see Curtis fight with the seaplane pirates not cut off so abruptly. I get why they did it, but I would have liked to have seen one more fun airplane fight.

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Outside of that, I have no real complaints. I love this movie from head to toe. It’s one of my all-time favorite movies, and is easily a film I would highly recommend showing off to anyone new or old to cinema. It’s also one of the best wartime films, and if for some reason you haven’t seen it yet, please do. I could easily talk about different lines and different scenes from this movie all day, and it stands up there with Spirited Away, Castle in the Sky, and Paprika as one of my favorite Japanese animated films. Unfortunately, I must move onto the next movie to review. Luckily, it’s a film I also deeply love, as next time, we will take a look at My Life as a Zucchini. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Criterion/Essentials