The Other Side of Animation 184: The Willoughbys Review

imageedit_1_9388240095.jpg

(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!)

Something I’m noticing that I would argue started back in 2015 with the release of Blue Sky’s The Peanuts Movie film, is the fact that bigger studios are starting to slowly move into being more experimental and creative with the visuals and usage of CGI animation. While I think CGI animation gets a bad rep due to how overwhelming it is, and I, of course, would love to see more 2D animated features from the bigger studios, getting more ambitious with CGI visuals is a good direction to go into. Think about it, we had the already mentioned The Peanuts MovieCaptain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, 2018 gave us Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and Disney/Pixar are doing more creative visuals in their shorts. We also have this year’s Connected from Sony Pictures Animation, and I think that’s pretty healthy. I have said in the past that studios and films need to have their distinct flavor and look, and the major studios are only now catching on what the indie/foreign scene has been doing for the better half of a decade or more. Unless the execution is off, I don’t see why more studios can’t experiment a little more. Heck, that’s why I adored Netflix’s newest animated feature, The Willoughbys.

Directed by Kris Pearn, co-directed by Rob Lodermeier, and written by both Kris Pearn and Mark Stanleigh, The Willoughbys is yet another film on Netflix’s streak of original animated projects! It’s produced and animated by Bron Animation, the same studio that did the unfortunately disappointing Henchmen film. So, how did Netflix’s next step into animation go? I say grow your beefiest mustache and let’s get to it!

imageedit_3_9651305037.jpg

The story follows the four Willoughby children, Tim, voiced by Will Forte, Jane, voiced by Alessia Cara, and Barnaby A and Barnaby B, voiced by Sean Cullens. They are part of a famous family with a prolific legacy of adventurers, inventors, and so on. Unfortunately, the Willoughby children are the kids to the current Willoughby adults, Father, voiced by Martin Short, and Mother, voiced by Jane Krakowski. The two adults are neglectful of their kids to the point that when the children find an abandoned baby, they get kicked out of the house. The children then come up with a plan to “orphan” themselves by getting rid of their parents. They send the terrible duo on an epic adventure that has multiple areas that may result in them six feet underground. Along the way, the children will encounter other adult individuals, like Linda the nanny, voiced by Maya Rudolph, and the candymaker Commander Melanoff, voiced by Terry Crews. Can the children get rid of their parents? Or will they find their true family elsewhere?

imageedit_5_3338829035.jpg

Let’s cut to the chase, and talk about the first thing that stands out about this film, the animation. For those that are curious, it’s using CGI, but everything is crafted and animated like it’s stop-motion. I know some have an issue with this for some unknown reason, but to me, it’s smart for CGI animation to start experimenting with how they tackle visuals. A lot of animation fans complain about how most CGI films look the same, so why not go out of your way to look distinct? It has a style that makes it stand out, and it looks gorgeous. There are so so many bright colors and fantastic designs that make the world the film takes place in pop. You can even see it in the trailer that the colors are vibrant, and it might be very candy-coated colors, but man, do I love it. They even match the snappy stop-motion movements of the style it’s imitating. It looks good and while it is fast-paced, the humor and movements are not fast enough to be missed or are too overbearing.

imageedit_7_8730334271.jpg

Now, as for the story, while this film is not meant to be taken seriously, it does balance out the quirk with the more serious themes that it’s tackling. Sure, the major moral of the film is that family is what you make of it, and it’s a nice theme, but the film doesn’t excuse the fact that the parents in the film, while dialed to 11, are awful. Unlike most films, this one doesn’t try to redeem or sideline the parents. They are terrible, and the film constantly paints them in a negative light. Martin Short and Jane Krakowski do put in some very funny performances, but they are incredibly neglectful of the kids in the film. Luckily, the rest of the characters constantly mention it. The kids themselves also have great chemistry and distinct personalities that feel fairly grounded. Yes, this world is wacky and colorful, but you get why the kids act as they do. I know they are mostly played by adults, but for a comedy like this to work, I don’t know if I would run the risk of using child actors. Plus, the cast works well off of one another. Will Forte, Sean Cullen, Martin Short, Jane Krakowski, Terry Crews, Maya Rudolph, and Alessia Cara all put in charming performances. However, I will say that the film’s marketing is a touch misleading, as the main character is not Jane. In fact, the main character of the film, and who gets the most fulfilling character arc is Tim.

imageedit_9_6326542203.jpg

For as much as I adore this dark comedy family feature, I have three issues with the film. The first criticism I have is that the absurd elements sometimes clash with the pacing of the more traditional story bits. Not in a distracting way, but it’s noticeable when the film has to halt the breaks on the absurdity for the story to hit certain beats. It’s not that the more story-focused beats are bad, but they are just story bits that you have seen before. The second issue I have is with the original song and the placement of it. I get that Netflix wants to get a chance to be nominated for an original song at something like the Oscars and such, but it felt like it was somewhat forced into the last third of the film. I bring this up because the film, as I have mentioned, does market Jane as the lead when she is not, and while the song is pretty solid, it was distracting. It’s a double-edged sword for the film, since you know why it’s there but still may not care for it. Finally, I did not like Ricky Gervais as the cat narrator. Yes, the cat does have a few great lines, but I think Gervais was miscast, and I do mean that without also admitting that I do not like him as a comedian or actor. The cat needed to be played by someone else, as I was thinking of maybe someone like Matt Lucas or Eddie Izzard. The character needed someone with a bit more energy and goodwill associated with them.

imageedit_11_7380718591.jpg

While rough around the edges in some areas, The Willoughbys is a new Netflix hit that I think everyone should check out. I understand, if respectfully disagree, with some of the more negative reviews of the film, but I get why this film might not be for everyone. It’s a film that’s abstract and out there, and you are either for it or not. I simply hope one day, Netflix puts this film on Blu-ray alongside their other original animated features, so I can own them physically. So, we shall now move on from quirky family film to a film based on a video game that’s unintentionally a backdoor pilot for sequels. That’s right, next time, we are going to look at Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge.

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 patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 149: The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part Review

canva-photo-editor - 2019-02-23T110701.641.png

(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!)

People forget how certain films were lightning-in-a-bottle situations. It was just the right time period with the right directors, writers, and ideas that make films like Ghostbusters, Spirited Away, Tim Burton’s Batman, Moonstruck, Mad Max: Fury Road, Pan’s LabyrinthSpider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and you get the idea. It’s not fair to them if some of them get sequels and rarely live up to the expectations set on them. This is why I go into everything with middle-ground expectations. It’s to not over-hype myself or under-hype myself for any movie and can go into it with proper expectations. Now then, sometimes, lightning does strike twice, and it has for The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part. Directed this time by Mike Mitchell, who also directed DreamWorks’ Trolls, Sky High, and Shrek Forever After, the original writers and directors of the first film, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, returned as producers and writers of the film alongside Dan Lin, Roy Lee, and Jinko Gotch. Luckily, for many, the newest movie in the LEGO franchise ends up being another dose of awesome. Why? Read the review to find out.

canva-photo-editor - 2019-02-23T110815.247.png

The sequel starts us off five years after the first film where the world of Brickburg is now a dystopian wasteland called Apocalypseburg after the invasion of the beings from the planet Duplo. Chris Pratt returns as Emmet, who really isn’t affected by the cynical dystopian wasteland, with his girlfriend Lucy, voiced again by Elizabeth Banks. One day, as Lucy tries to force Emmet to change, a new “alien” encounter arrives in the city and comes off as an aggressive alien force taking down anything that tries to stop it. This alien force turns out to be a new character named General Mayhem, voiced by Stephanie Beatriz. After beating everyone, Mayhem ends up taking Lucy, Benny, voiced by Charlie Day, Unikitty, voiced by Alison brie, MetalBeard, voiced by Nick Offerman, and Batman, voiced by Will Arnett back with her to the Systar System to her queen, Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi, voiced by Tiffany Haddish. Emmet decides to go save the day, and runs into another character named Rex Dangervest, also voiced by Chris Pratt. Can Emmet save the day and get his friends back from the Systar System before the Our-Mom-Ageddon happens?

canva-photo-editor - 2019-02-23T111002.429.png

So, what does this sequel do to progress the story and build upon the original? Well, a lot. I think many will tell you that there is a very heavy theme of tackling toxic masculinity. Sure, it’s not new with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Ralph Breaks the Internet also tackling it, but since it still keeps being a thing in the culture of right now in fandoms, I’m always grateful to directors and writers telling people to stop being jerks! It shows how metaphorically and literally, toxic masculinity is damaging and destructive. I also loved the commentary about the current times we live in. Back in 2014, everything was pretty awesome. Sadly, with how things are being run in the world, the world is not always awesome. It’s really easy to simply slide into edgy cynicism and just hate everything. However, while things do suck, find the positive in the world. It’s not fun just sitting in a puddle of misery and think everything is terrible. There are still good things going on that are happening. You don’t need to harden yourself with a shell of cynicism and hate to take on the world. Just be you.

canva-photo-editor - 2019-02-23T110848.068.png

I love the returning characters and the new characters added to the LEGO Movie universe. Tiffany Haddish’s Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi, is easily my favorite new character to the franchise. She’s a fun, complex, and entertaining character to watch. With this being an animated feature, they take full advantage of her being, well, Watevra Wa-Nabi. Of course, talking about the new characters can’t be complete if we don’t talk about Rex Dangervest. While on the surface, it’s a very obvious walking Chris Pratt joke, but as the film goes on, you do get a little deeper with him about his bro attitude and his connection to the themes and stories of the film. It just shows how talented Lord and Miller are in writing. While there might not be as much of that magic that was in the first film, the sequel is still full of topical subject matter that was executed properly and was easy for kids and adults in my two theater screenings of it to get. There are layers to this film that will keep people thinking and talking about it way past 2019.

Animation-wise, this is the best-looking LEGO movie yet. They seem to have found the proper balance and speed of the LEGO visual aesthetic and combining it with a few real life textures of the sand in Apocalypseburg. They also slowed down the speed of the comedy as the jokes are now more dialogue-based and less cram a joke into every scene in the foreground, background, and in the script.  Still, I think that’s for the best. One of the few issues the original had was that it was just too fast and flashy. It’s still a visual spectacle that you can’t believe is all CGI, but at least you aren’t needing to turn your head away for a moment or pause to give your eyes a rest. The voice cast is also stellar with returning actors and the new actors. Chris Pratt just has his loveable goofy persona down, Elizabeth Banks as Lucy is still a great female lead, Will Arnett is just funny as Batman, Charlie Day and Nick Offerman are still a hoot, this is probably my favorite Tiffany Haddish performance, and even minor characters from actors like Richard Ayoade, Maya Rudolph, and Ben Schwartz pulled in multiple laughs. We can’t go talking about this film without mentioning the insanely catchy musical numbers! I was floored by the fact that this was a musical, which was kept out of the marketing of the movie. Heck, a lot of the twists and turns were kept out of the movie, but we won’t go into those. Anyway, the musical numbers were like the ones from Moana, no filler and all were killer.

canva-photo-editor - 2019-02-23T111027.032.png

If there was something that could be said that detracts from the film, it would be that there isn’t much that can be considered surprising. It doesn’t try to push the boundary like the first film did. It’s really not the film’s fault that we had two spin-off LEGO films that came out in one year, which may have sort of taken the spark out of the franchise. To me, I look at it as a Godfather and Godfather Part II situation.  Both are incredible movies, and while you can say not much was expanded or revolutionary, you wouldn’t call the second movie a lesser movie, would you? Both are incredible movies. Now, one thing I will agree with is that some of the pacing is not as fluid as the first film, as it does seem to stop and halt a bit more with one plot until near the end of the second act when everything starts to come together.

canva-photo-editor - 2019-02-23T111051.901.png

While it is a bummer that this film isn’t doing as well in terms of financial success, due to either LEGO movie burnout or the weather that’s keeping everyone inside their respected homes, I still love LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part. I think it’s just as good as the first film with its story, writing, jokes, and music. However, I would be happy to not have to see another one anytime soon. I think if Warner Bros. was smart, they would slow down for a bit, and make some more animated features that are not based on the LEGO franchise. Maybe see what else Lord and Miller can do, or maybe use them to talent scout new directors and writers that they recommend. Either way, I still highly recommend going out and seeing The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part. Well then, next time, it will be the 150th animated review. I think we shall go big with a look at an unfortunate trilogy of films that Netflix decided to bring over. Thank you for reading! I hope you all enjoyed this review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials.

The Other Side of Animation 98: The Emoji Movie Review

emo01

(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!)

 

Every year, we always hear the loud wails and haunted screams that cinema is dead. It just so happens that in 2017, with Sony Pictures Animation’s The Emoji Movie, it just got too loud to ignore. The film is directed by Tony Leondis, a story artist and director. He worked on films like The Prince of Egypt, The Road to El Dorado, Kronk’s New Groove, Home on the Range, and directed Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a GlitchIgor, and Kung Fu Panda: Secret of the Masters. For some reason, out of all the years of movies made, The Emoji Movie just drove people up a wall. It came out a few weeks ago, and instantaneously, it was labeled as the worst movie of all time, the death of cinema, people were saying and demanding that Sony Pictures of Animation should be shut down, and you get the idea. Even though we made it through years that had Movie 43, Jack & Jill, Pixels, Gods of Egypt, 50 Shades of Grey, 50 Shades of Black, Meet the Blacks, Legend of Hercules, Saving Christmas, Troll 2, North, and so on, The Emoji Movie is the one that broke the camel’s back. Listen, it’s not a good movie, but people are overreacting and going into hyperbole territory to get clicks and views. Why would I say that if I just admitted that it was not a good movie? Well, let’s pick your favorite emoji and send that text.

emo02

The entire story takes place inside one teen’s phone, as we enter the world of Textopolis, a city where all the emojis live. We focus on one in particular emoji named Gene, voiced by T.J. Miller. He is a “meh” emoji, who has a bit of a problem. He can’t simply be a “meh”, and has too many emotions to count! After a failed first day on the job, Gene wants to find a way to fix himself by hacking the code to solve his problem. He gets the help of a high-five emoji, voiced by James Corden, and a hacker emoji named Jailbreak, voiced by Anna Faris. Hopefully, they can get past the dastardly grasp of Smiler, a creepy smile emoji voiced by Maya Rudolph. Can Gene fix himself and somehow help the teen out in a real world problem of getting to know a girl?

emo04

The biggest problem about talking about this film is while it will not affect the actual rating of this film, I have to talk about the overwhelming clickbait/hyperbolic backlash this film has gotten. People call it the worst movie of the year, the worst movie of all time, and the film that is what’s wrong with cinema. It’s not because I’m going to be defending this film as something good. It’s not a good movie by any stretches of the imagination, and is definitely on the lower end of my best to worst animated films of 2017, but people need to really stop acting like this is the film that’s going to kill cinema. Like I said above, people are using clickbait and hyperbolic opinions of this movie to get views, clicks, and whatever, and making it out to be a worse movie than it actually is. If there was a film that made the cinema industry actually halt in their tracks, then we have pretty much survived hundreds of extinctions after every time some knucklehead said, “this is the film that will kill the film industry”. It’s officially gotten to the point that if you are using hyperbole in your review or comment, I’m not going to take your opinion seriously. I know that sounds close-minded and very one-sided, but we live in a world where there are worse things going on every single day, and yet The Emoji Movie is apparently worth more of your anger than anything else. And to the people who want the studio that made this to shut down because they didn’t like it, or are stuck in a bad situation because of executive shenanigans, you have no right to say they should force 100s of people to lose their jobs because you don’t like their movie. It’s the most immature mentality that I have ever seen, and if you are that toxic about it, then you need to get a life.

emo03

Let’s face honest 100% objective fact here, The Emoji Movie is not a good movie, but it’s the wrong kind of bad movie. It’s not the most super offensive thing with super hate-worthy characters and cheap straight-to-DVD quality animation. It’s not Norm of the North or Strange Magic levels of bad. Heck, I have seen movies that I enjoy that have way more repulsive elements to it like Belladonna of Sadness. It’s just boring bad. It’s a bad movie that doesn’t have a whole lot going for it, because the film itself feels like they had a base idea around what they wanted to do, but couldn’t or were not allowed to get past the “cynical cash grab” look and feel of the film. The universe this film takes place in is kind of confusing, since if you think about it, why are there emojis that have to be one emotion, while there are shrimp, elephant, and Christmas tree emojis that don’t coincide with a single personality? I mean, should they be deleted as well? Its world is not as clever that I think the writers are making it out to be. I don’t see other whimsical realms that our heroes go through, I just see the product placements that companies paid the most to have advertised in the film. It’s a universe with no real soul or identity to it. A bland world is one thing, but what about the three leads? Well, despite having good actors behind them, there is nothing really all that interesting about them. Gene is your generic lead who thinks being unique isn’t a good thing. James Corden, while super entertaining in other forms of media, has no real character with the high-five emoji, since all he does is try to spew a joke every 30 seconds. Jailbreak is obviously trying to be like the female lead from The LEGO Movie, but has none of the charm of said character. I also kind of love the horrible implication in this universe that if you stand out in this world, you deserve to die. What about the human characters? Yeah, couldn’t really get hooked on them either. They don’t act like real kids, but that, “I’m trying to make this kid like the one you saw in Inside Out, but not understanding that the girl in Inside Out was a complex character.” I also found a lot of the celebrity casting distracting, like Patrick Stewart as the poop emoji. Like, I get there is a bit of that niche-style appeal of, “oh tee hee, this wildly acclaimed actor is voicing poop”, but outside of that, again, I only saw the celebrities, and not the characters.

emo06

I feel like this movie would have been so much better with maybe more freedom to the writers to do something more complex, or go full-tilt cynical. Like, I could imagine this film being way more interesting if it was a cynical lashing out at the audience who the execs think would watch this movie. Go black comedy on the characters and such, and sneak in some legit good morals inside the cynical jokes and clever writing. What happened is that they probably got a set of writers who wanted to go full-tilt and go crazy, but either weren’t allowed to, or were not talented enough to do such a thing. You can see how this movie could have worked if it was aimed at a more general audience and not just one part of the movie-going audience. That’s why films like Inside Out and The LEGO Movie were so amazing, because they could talk to every part of the audience. They weren’t talking to one side, and ignoring the other. The Emoji Movie is just a generic film with generic writing and morals. It’s something we haven’t seen a hundred times over in other movies, and have done a better job at saying these messages.

emo07

So, what’s actually good about this movie? Well, the animation is pretty solid. I know the designers on Twitter spoke highly about having fun working with the designs, and the characters move pretty well. Even the human characters look better than most DreamWorks movies. The designs might be basic, but emojis are generally very basic in terms of designs. At the very least, this movie has more theatrical-quality animation than a lot of animated films that get limited releases by Lionsgate. I also enjoyed Maya Rudolph as the villain. She was hugely entertaining as this psychotic smile emoji, and she definitely had fun with the role. I also liked Gene’s parents, who were played by Steven Wright and Jennifer Coolidge. Any time they were on screen, I at least got a chuckle out of their delivery of their lines. It’s not the perfect mix of casting and writing, like Lewis Black as Anger in Inside Out, but it’s ideal casting in terms of who should play the meh emoji. The one scene I thought was pretty cool was when Gene’s parents were inside the Instagram app. I liked the idea of going inside a photo and it brings you into that photo’s location and everything around them is still. It was a nice artistic moment that I can respect.

emo08

In the end, everyone is overreacting to this, and ironically going to see it because of said hyperbole. We have had cash-grab films made every year, like Dragonball Z Evolution, Jem and the Holograms, Baywatch, and so on. If Hollywood didn’t crumble and fall after those films, then it won’t with this one. The Emoji Movie is just a forgettable and bland film. I was honestly bored watching the movie, and spent a lot of time thinking what I would have done to make it a better movie than simply just a cash-grab/advertisement movie. It wants to be so many other films, but fails to do anything those films did well. If you really want to see it, just wait to rent it. It’s making enough to make back its budget, and it will just underperform before it leaves theaters. It’s bad, but it’s not the worst, and no one at Sony Pictures Animation deserves to lose their jobs over it. Now, if you want to see a really cynically made movie, join me next time as we talk about Digimon The Movie. Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the article, and I will see you next time.

Rating: Lackluster!