The Other Side of Animation 45: The Prophet Review

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Well, my next couple of reviews will be of adaptations of books, and yes, I’m going to be on the side of the idea that a film needs to be for everyone, and not just for the vocal minority fans of the source material. I agree that the source material should be well respected in the movie form, but if it doesn’t make for a great movie, in terms of characters and story execution, then it doesn’t really matter. Like I have mentioned in a previous review, there is only so much that fan service can cover until the flaws show up. After talking to a friend and fellow film critic, I decided to make a chart of sorts as to what makes a good film adaptation and what makes a bad one. On the bad side, you have films like Green vs Red and Vampire Hunter D. Vampire Hunter D is a sloppy adaptation of the manga that doesn’t let the people, who have never heard of the franchise, into its world by explaining what the heck is going on, why things are as they are, or talk about many little details like D’s freaky hand thing. Green vs Red is a poorly put together special that focuses too much on making winks, nods, and references to the franchise, and fails in making a compelling movie. On the good side of the chart, you have films like Ernest & Celestine, The LEGO Movie, Lupin the 3rd: Castle of Cagliostro, How to Train your Dragon series, 1989 Batman, and a majority of the Marvel films like Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Ant Man. You can watch these movies and not even know jack squat about the source material. In that middle area of the chart, you get films like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. You can still watch the movie, enjoy or hate it for what it is, but it isn’t a perfect translation from source material to film. So, with that entire chart now laid out, where does The Prophet rest? This film is based on Kahlil Gibran’s book of the same name. It was released in August of 2015, produced by Salma Hayek among others, distributed by GKIDS, and was directed by Roger Allers. If you know anything about animation, then you know Roger Allers was the co-director of The Lion King, and has worked on many animated classics and cult classics like Animalympics, Rock & Rule, The Little Mermaid, The Rescuers Down Under, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Emperor’s New Groove, and The Little Matchgirl. Another noteworthy element of the film is that at different points in it, scenes will be animated by different directors, and we will get to who the directors are in good time. So, how good is this film? Can you watch it without knowing the source material, or do you have to get out your tablet and download the book? Let’s find out.

The story follows a young mute girl named Almitra, voiced by Quvenzhane Wallis (Beast of the Southern Wilds, Annie). She is a little girl known for being a bit of a pest who upsets her mother Kamila, voiced by Salma Hayek. One day, Almitra decides to go to where her mother works as a maid cleaning up a house that is occupied by a “dangerous” criminal named Mustafa, voiced by Liam Neeson. Almitra befriends Mustafa, and the story then moves to Mustafa being deported from the country he detained in, and his many encounters with the townfolk as he drops them philosophical words of wisdom.

I am really excited to talk about the good elements of this film. During the philosophical essay parts of the film, each sequence is directed by a different director, and some of the essays are turned into songs sung by Damien Rice and the duo of Lisa Hannigan & Glen Hansard. Many of the essays focus on topics of love, children, war, death, marriage, and life. I know hearing the word “philosophical” sounds like you are about to get an earful of some angsty college professor or student thinking they are trying to make what they are saying deeper than it really is, but these essays actually have weight to them. They never sounded like they were aiming for something they couldn’t hit or a bunch of tripe that sounds important and deep, but isn’t. It all works pretty well when you throw in Liam Neeson’s calm and majestic voice. Neeson actually brings weight to the essays, and is just so soothing to listen to. I know it is easy to make fun of Liam Neeson due to his recent film endeavors, but he really puts his A+ game into this role. He makes Mustafa a very likable individual, who really wants to show the world there is a way to solve your conflicts without the need for violence. And really, that whole mindset is why he was a prisoner in the first place. He was bringing hope to people who are under a military rule. The government got afraid by his words, since they brought hope and optimism to the people they ruled over. Granted, the overall story is pretty lightweight, due to how it is really set up to focus on the essays, but you still care about the characters involved.

The animation is definitely a beautiful combination of 2D animation and CGI character models. When the film isn’t on an essay, the animation is CGI models on a 2D background. It sometimes looks a bit off, and the movements can be clunky, but it’s a consistently good looking cartoon CGI with pleasant designs. When it gets to the essays, each one is a different art style, with the directors pulling off amazingly beautiful sequences. Seriously, this is some of the best animation you will see in this decade. It is filled with so much passion and love that you can tell the creators put their all into each sequence. The directors for these moments include Tomm Moore (Song of the Sea, The Secret of Kells), Paul and Gaetan Brizzi (Asterix Versus Casesar, DuckTales the Movie, TaleSpin, A Goofy movie, Tarzan, Enchanted, and 9), Joan C. Gratz (Candyjam, Mona Lisa Descending A Staircase, Lost and Found, and Kubla Khan), Mohammed Saeed Harib (Freej), Nina Paley (Sita Sings the Blues), Bill Plympton (Idiots & Angels, I Married a Strange Person, Cheatin’, and Mutant Aliens), Joann Sfar (The Rabbi’s Cat), and Michal Socha (Chick and Loop). You have some pretty amazing powerhouses here, who have all worked on films with wildly different visuals and styles, and they put their own touches into each of the sequences. The voice acting is also pretty good, with a solid cast including Liam Neeson, Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Joh Keasinski, and Frank Langella.

If I had to nitpick a few elements of this film, it would be that Quvenzhane Wallis’s acting is not the best. Her voice acting is a bit clunky, and I can forgive this since this was probably her first time doing voicework. I also found a few lines to stick out too much due to how timeless the rest of the film feels. It’s not DreamWorks pop culture lingo bad or anything close to that, but they stick out nonetheless. I also wish the entire film was 2D animated. Like I said, the CGI character models are nice and do have expressive and fluid animation, but when it gets a little clunky, it’s noticeable. Still, I have seen CGI animation at its clumsiest, so I can give it a pass. Really, these minor complaints don’t take away a lot from the overall film.

To me, The Prophet is a fantastic movie, with likable characters, deep messages, and astounding animation. If you can get the film, I highly recommend doing so. I would consider it a new modern classic that everyone should check out. It’s so much more ambitious and different than what we usually get to see today, and shows how amazing the field of animation can be. This is definitely one of GKIDS’ best films. Well, next time, we go from well done philosophy, to one of the worst adaptations in film history with Tarzan. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it, and see you all next time

Rating: Criterion/Essenstials

The Other Side of Animation: The Nut Job Review

Well, I guess you can say it’s better to tackle a terrible movie sooner than later. I mean, I wish I didn’t have to, but that would mean that films like Peter Lepeniotis’s The Nut Job would have to be good, which it isn’t. You would think movies by now would be amazing, and animation studios and teams would know what they should do. Sadly, that isn’t the case. The Nut Job was the first animated film released in the states in 2014 on January 17th, and while it was rightfully panned by the critics, it was a financial success and is unfortunately getting a sequel next year. I think I shouldn’t waste any more time since I need to actually talk about the movie. Let’s get nutty with The Nut Job.

The film follows the exploits of Surly Squirrel, voiced by Will Arnett. He is a rebellious squirrel who has conflicting ideals with the animals that live in the park, that are led by a raccoon voiced by Liam Neeson. After accidentally blowing up the tree, Surly is banished from the park never to return. Coincidentally, that same day, he finds out about a nut store opening across from the park. The twist is that the nut store is actually an undercover scheme by a group of robbers who want to rob the bank that is across the street. Think of the set-up like Small Time Crooks, but with squirrels, and not as amazing as it sounds. Can Surly and his friends break into the nut store, grab their nuts, and make it back alive while avoiding the robbers? Well, you will have to see the movie, or go the lazy way out and read the Wikipedia entry.

So, what is wrong with the movie? Well, I could say it’s bad and leave it at that, but you would want to know specifically why it’s bad. Let’s start with the humor. If you guessed that there were many, and put a lot of heavy emphasis on the word “many”, nut-based puns, then you would be correct. How many would you think land on all four with a perfect 10 landing? If you said none, that would be correct. The comedy is not all that well-executed, with many of the puns and actual jokes failing to bring a chuckle out of me. Oh, and there are so many fart jokes in this film, that I thought I was watching a film directed by a guy who actually worked on Pixar films, not the Farley Brothers (Dumb and Dumber). There is also this grimy sense of corporate higher-ups sticking their fingers in the punch bowl with one little element. The Nut Job, which is set in the 50s, has a sequence where the out-of-nowhere hit, Gangnam Style by Korean artist Psy, plays twice during the movie.  It has no reason to be in the movie. It was basically put there because some old man running the company heard it was a popular song among the kids these days. I guess he also thought we liked to play stickball as well. Seriously, some songs fit in promotional materials, but not in the movie when your setting is supposed to be of a decade that didn’t have pop music from 2013. This shouldn’t be such a huge issue, but with how mediocre the overall film is, this one little scene just makes me cringe.

The animation, while being bright and colorful, has bland designs, and the animation doesn’t have the fluidity that the comedy and action requires. They really needed the team behind some of the films like Hotel Transylvania or The LEGO Movie to match the quick Looney Toons-style comedy that the old cartoons were known for. It’s really clunky, and you see why a lot of CG-animated films have budgets of $100 mil or more so they can have fluid movements/polish with the characters.

Speaking of characters, no one is really that memorable or likable. It doesn’t help that the community that lives in the tree in the park will ostracize you for not following the code, and not only was Surly not the cause of the park’s tree to explode, but it was the community that ostracized him who was responsible. How messed up is that? Liam Neeson as the raccoon, which is just named Raccoon, is boring and uninteresting, as was Neeson’s voicework in this move. It’s funny, because on top of the bank robbers, the film would have been more entertaining if it was just the little animals foiling the bank robbers. There was no need for two individual villains. The main female character, voiced by Katherine Heigl, has no real personality and is every boring generic female lead character that you can think of that you have seen in boring animated films and films in general. At least she wasn’t the love interest for Surly. Another miscast and a bit of the film’s whiplash comes with the pug character, which is voiced by Maya Rudolph. The dog doesn’t talk for about half of the movie and once she starts talking, it’s the wrong voice. I don’t blame Maya Rudolph since I think she can be funny, but this was the wrong casting decision. The only actors I think put any actual effort in this film were Will Arnett as Surly, and Brendan Fraser as Grayson. They are the only ones who I felt like tried to make the script and material work for them, but even then, still couldn’t pull off a good performance. It’s a shame too, since there are funny people in this film, but the material given to them either wasn’t enough, or the voice director, or whoever was in charge of their performances, limited their potential.

The biggest sin this movie provides us with is that it had elements that could have made for an entertaining Looney Toons-style short film. Unfortunately, it seems like corporate executives put their grubby hands into the development of the film and made it another film that represents why Disney, Dreamworks, and Pixar are good at their jobs. I kind of backhand those big three companies sometimes for their questionable decisions in movie making, but at least when they hit the nail on the head, the movies they make are amazing.

Even then, if this film didn’t reek of corporate shenanigans, it still would have been a bad movie. The Nut Job feels soulless, mean-spirited, drawn-out, clunky, outdated in the visual department, and very mediocre in the story and humor department. While I stand by that it’s a terrible movie, I can still think of other films that are much worse than The Nut Job. It has very little redeeming about it. Luckily a lot of the actors in this film like Will Arnett and Liam Neeson will go on to do better voice work for much better movies like The LEGO Movie and The Prophet. Only see The Nut Job if you have no other animated films to check out. Well, we got that out of the way, how about we move on to our buddies in Spain? Next time, we will take a look at one of the films that won a Goya award for best animated feature, Tad the Lost Explorer. Thanks for reading and see you next time!

Rating: Lackluster!