The Other Side of Animation 94: My Life as a Zucchini 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!)

I am very fortunate with my family life. My family is pretty healthy, we have a good life, I am close to everyone, and I wouldn’t want to trade it for the world. Sometimes, it’s good to remember how fortunate you are, if you have a good family situation. Not everyone can get that, and I can’t even begin to understand or imagine myself growing up in a broken home, or as an orphan. I’m never going to relate to it, and I’m not going to try and act like I can. I think that is what’s interesting about today’s review of My Life as a Zucchini. This is a stop-motion animated film from last year, that was directed by Claude Barras, and was distributed here in the states by the always-amazing GKids. It picked up a lot of critical acclaim and award nominations. While only 60 minutes long, you would be amazed at how mature this film can be.

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The story revolves around a young boy named Zucchini. He does have a real name, but he would rather be called Zucchini. After the death of his mother, he is brought to an orphanage by a police officer named Raymond, voiced by Nick Offerman. While there, he befriends the other kids who live there, and gets to learn a bit more about each of them as time goes on. One day though, a young girl moves into the orphanage named Camille, and changes Zucchini’s life.

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So, what’s so amazing for a movie that’s no longer than an episode of Game of Thrones? Well, there is a lot to love about this little movie. It has a laid-back atmosphere, and while the kids can get rowdy, and there are some dramatic moments, the movie is very quiet. It lets the kids be the main focus. It’s definitely a smaller story and is not epic or sweeping, but it doesn’t mean it sacrifices quality storytelling. You get little details, like how Zucchini keeps the memory of his parents in the form of a beer can and a kite, or how while not told specifically what happened to one of the girls, her gestures and outward mood says everything. It’s a film that tackles what these kids probably feel like being parentless. The world is scary, and they don’t really trust anyone, or feel like there is any real hope outside the orphanage. I don’t blame them. The film knows really well how to balance the darker themes of unconditional love, family, being alone, with more positive moments of finding a way to help each other stay optimistic. You get to learn a bit about these kids as the film goes on, and they act like real kids. You know how you watch a family movie or a movie in general where kids are a focus? You know how rare it is to find child characters or child actors who are actually good? In My Life as a Zucchini, they act and talk like little kids. Even how they interact with the adults feels genuine.

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The animation is just beautiful. The stop-motion movements are all gorgeously handled, and while having some interesting designs, they find ways to make the movements fluid, and expressive. The voice work is probably one of GKids’ best dubs. Not only because of the celebrities that they hired, like Nick Offerman, Ellen Page, Will Forte, and Amy Sedaris, but the child actors for the English dub do a perfect job. One of the charms of the film is that they had all child characters in the original dub sit in one room to make the interactions with one another realistic. I’m sure trying to work on a dub to do such a thing would be very daunting for child actors who may not have a lot of experience voice acting, but they found a way. The music reminds me of a lazy Sunday afternoon, with a more indie tone to the background music when it pops up.

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If I had to really complain about something, the film probably could have been longer to maybe 80 minutes instead of 60. I loved every moment, and the film does use that time wisely, but I would have liked to have spent some more time during certain areas. Sometimes, there is a comment that doesn’t land, but in general, the run-time is my only major complaint.

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I really loved watching this movie, and if you saw my Worst to Best of 2016, you saw that it was my 4th favorite movie of the year. It’s deceptive in how mature and quiet the film, considering it stars a bunch of kids, and it does a great job tackling what an orphan feels like, along with the sad reality that some children grow up in broken households. I’m happy this film got so much love with the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards. If you haven’t seen this movie, then you should. I want to keep this “theme” of family going, as next time, we will review Wolf Children. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

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Worst to Best Animated Films of 2016 Finale

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Welcome back to the final part of the Worst to Best Animated Films of 2016. If you have not seen the previous part of the list, here is a link. These are the final ten films that I love, and would watch many times over. I consider them new classics that everyone should check out and support. Honestly, I would just tell you to buy them all, but that’s just me. Let’s get started

10. April and the Extraordinary World

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I know everyone is in a bit of a bum mood, since the future of Studio Ghibli is up in the air as Hayao Miyazaki works on his supposedly “last” film, so instead, I want to turn your attention to what some have considered a French Ghibli alternative. April and the Extraordinary World is a fun Castle in the Sky-style action adventure film set in a world where science never got past the steam age. It’s filled with high-flying action, sci-fi technology, and it’s just a fun adventure with fun characters. I still think some of the chemistry between characters could have been better, but I really loved watching this film. If you need your Castle in the Sky fix and to see how to do Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow better, then definitely watch this movie.

9. Long Way North

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Let’s call this the polar opposite of a Disney princess film. This French film about a Russian princess wanting to redeem her grandfather’s legacy is simple, yet complex. It’s easy to get into and well executed. The film can be very quiet and atmospheric with a honestly dark edge to the adventure she goes on to find her Grandfather’s ship. Granted, some of the voice work isn’t the best, but the film is gorgeously animated, and it has a great cast of characters with a story that shows the darker side of events like this. I was a tad disappointed that this film wasn’t seen by more people, since I truly think it’s a fantastic film. It’s easily the best film Shout! Factory has distributed, and I highly recommend you support this film by buying a copy.

8. The Boy and the Beast

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Man, I don’t know why people aren’t more willing to say Mamoru Hosoda is the new “Miyazaki”, because films like The Boy and the Beast are why he’s one of my new favorite directors. This tale with themes of father and son relationships, different family situations, and parents being up-front with your children is masterfully fused with the beautiful animation, great action, and likable characters. I think the pacing could have been better in the third act, but that shouldn’t detract from how amazing this movie is. I can’t wait to see what Hosoda does in the future.

7. Only Yesterday

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Yes, it’s technically a 2016 release since we never got it when Disney was bringing over all of the Ghibli films. Luckily, GKids decided to be awesome and help us out with bringing over probably one of my favorite Ghibli films to date. I love the more mature tone, the characters, the setting, and the voice cast. I adored Daisy Ridley as the lead, and I found her character to be rather complex and interesting. I’m sure everyone in their life has wondered if they feel like they got what they wanted out of their life. Sure, it can be a tad slow, and I can totally understand if someone finds this film boring, but I found it unabashedly fascinating. Easily one of my top five favorite films from the studio, and I think Isao Takahata’s best movie from the ones that I have seen from him.

6. The Little Prince

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Talk about a victim of circumstance. This amazing and mature CGI/stop-motion film from France with the director of the original Kung Fu Panda got screwed out of being in theaters, and whether it’s true that Paramount wanted the studio to pony up more cash for distribution and advertising or not, The Little Prince deserves more attention than it got. Yeah I get the complaint about the third act and such, but in the end, I loved my overall journey with this film from beginning to end.

 5. Moana

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In some regards, Moana had a disadvantage coming out right after the huge hit that was Zootopia, and being another Disney princess film right after the monster that was Frozen. Luckily, Moana I think does better in terms of an overall experience, while being progressive for a Disney princess film. Moana is a fantastic lead, Maui is a blast, the villains are hugely memorable, and the overall story is well-told. Sadly, it does take that dip in quality in the third act, and brings up very outdated Disney story elements, but I would call it safe than lazy, like some reviewers would argue. In the end though, Moana is a super fun adventure film, and is easily one of Disney’s best offerings in a year where they were doing pretty well.

4. My Life as a Zucchini

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Probably the most real and “human” animated film from last year. This Golden Globe/Oscar-nominated stop-motion film about a kid living in an orphanage is well animated, emotionally touching, charming, and it does feel human. Even with the English dub, the actors still bring in that calm and quiet spirit. The child actors were, once again, a situation where they would make or break the film, and well, they pulled it off. Granted, I wish the film was longer than 70 minutes, since I really enjoyed being with these characters and I liked the lead’s relationship with the police officer. It’s just an amazing film, and I would highly recommend checking out this award winner.

3. Zootopia

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While Moana is a fantastic film that I could watch over and over, Zootopia is the better movie. While it might not be super subtle with its themes, its clever writing, world building, hugely likable characters, great designs, and a fun sense of humor lifts itself up from such a problem. It was also a bigger risk, since it was Disney’s first animated film in a long time to use bipedal animals. If there was one film to take home the most awards for Best Animated Feature, I’m glad it was Zootopia. Sure, I wish Kubo and the Two Strings took the award, but hey, at the very least, I agree with Disney winning Best Animated Feature this time.

2. Miss Hokusai

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If there was a film that I wish could have gotten more acclaim and nominations, it would be Miss Hokusai. This down-to-earth, character-based film just won me over in an instant. I loved the daughter interacting with everyone and dealing with different situations in life, I loved the different art styles used for different parts of the story, I love the voice cast, I love Richard Epcar as Hokusai, I just loved this movie. Yes, there were some characters who you obviously knew were there for a very specific reason, but I don’t care. I love films like this since it shows animated films can be more than just wacky comedies, and that more adult animated films can be more than stoner comedies. It’s easily one of my top five favorite films GKids brought over, and I would recommend following the director and seeing what he does next.

1. Kubo and the Two Strings

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It should be no surprise that the film that had probably the biggest fighting chance of dethroning Zootopia at the Oscars is my favorite animated film from 2016. Kubo and the Two Strings surprised me in how much I loved it. I was not surprised by Finding Dory being great, I was not surprised by Kung Fu Panda 3 for being great, I was not surprised Moana was great, and you get the idea. I was surprised at how well-animated it was. The voice acting was amazing, the music was fantastic, the visuals were awe-inspiring, and the themes and tone of the film made it a darker family film. I love how it’s about life, and how you can’t live in life without hardships. The action was fantastic and well-choreographed.  I’m so upset this didn’t do better, and even if there is nothing wrong with Zootopia winning the Best Animated Feature at the Oscars, Kubo and the Two Strings deserved it more, and rightfully deserves the spot as my favorite animated film of 2016.

Well, that was 2016, a fantastic year for animation, and I know 2017 hasn’t been that great so far, but keep your hopes up and go see the smaller releases. Thanks for checking out this long list and I’ll make sure to get these out sooner rather than later next time.

Why Your Name Probably Wasn’t Chosen at the Oscars

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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 editorial!)

So, recently the Oscar nominations came out, and for the most part, people did a collective “no surprise” shrug at the nominees for film of the year and out of morbid curiosity, decided to see what the other nominees were, since they also matter. With the exception of the backlash for La La Land getting more nominees than any other movie, everyone felt fine about who was nominated. That is, unless you were an animation fan. The five animated films nominated for Best Animated Feature were Zootopia, Moana, Kubo and the Two Strings, The Red Turtle, and My Life as a Zucchini. While this sounds like a pretty good line-up, the internet was having a collective heart attack that Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name was not selected. Of course, the usual comments that “they are full of Disney bias” or “the academy is flawed and doesn’t watch all the films that are nominated” came up, and of course, the less favorable comments that popped up will not be mentioned here. So, are people just being upset for no reason and are not thinking straight about why it wasn’t chosen? Personally, I feel like there are perfectly understandable reasons that Your Name was not chosen. Let’s just ignore the flawed thought process of the Oscars, and as best as possible, take out personal bias for the film itself, and dive into why Your Name probably didn’t make it on the list.

There was literally no hype or push for the film in the states.

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So, like it or not, films get chosen by the groups who push and lobby for their films to be chosen by the voters of the Academy. It also helps if you get your films out there to as many viewers as possible, whether it be showing them at film festivals, or being released and getting hype a couple of months before the actual award show. There is more to this than what I just said, and there are definitely videos talking about what goes on with the films released during the Oscar season, and how to know what will get chosen. So, what did Your Name not do here? Well, everything. Now, not to say there was literally no one talking about it, but most of it was “Look how amazing it’s doing in Asia and Japan” or “It’s the highest grossing Japanese animated film in Japan”. Doesn’t seem like there was much talk about the American viewers, or even the rest of the world for that matter, was there? The only hype it got over here was when Funimation announced that they got the rights to distribute it. I mean, that’s cool, but there wasn’t much else. Funimation either couldn’t or, quite frankly, didn’t lobby or hype the film. They released a subtitled trailer, but no English dub trailer, and unless you were able to see this film at some convention or in Australia or any of the countries outside of Asia and Japan that got to see it in a limited theatrical run, there was no way to legally watch the film. So, this must mean that that America will get to see the film soon? You wish. The only possible legal way to watch the film will be when Funimation releases it in April. So, to recap, if you live in the states, and want to feel morally well-rounded and see this film, you will have to go two months after the award show. Even if voters were to watch every film in the running, how can anyone check it out when there are barely any possible ways to watch the film? Why didn’t Funimation make the push for people to see it?

So, you must be wondering then why The Red Turtle and My Life as a Zucchini get chosen when no one was really able to see them until now? Well, they have been making their rounds in the film festivals, and have been winning awards left and right, which result in the spread of word of mouth. It also helps that the two films have companies that are attached to them that have weight, GKids, Sony Pictures Classics, and Studio Ghibli. Those are all recognizable names that have had their films in the awards for years, so it’s no surprise that they got into the award show. Just because the film was doing gangbusters in regions that could relate to it more, doesn’t mean that same success is going to happen everywhere else if you don’t do anything to make it viewable to as many people as possible.

 Cultural themes and personal opinion might get in the way.

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Heads up, I am going to be using my personal opinion on the film for a bit with this example. Okay then, even if you were able to watch the film, would you honestly consider it better than what came out in 2016? Personal opinion will be put into perspective, and I simply couldn’t get into the movie as much as so many people praising it from head to toe did. I just don’t feel like it’s a film that can appeal to everyone in the right way, where it’s both entertaining, but complex enough to not be mindless fluff. I also found the film’s heavy use of Japanese culture, themes, and lifestyles to be distracting, and made it hard to get into the film about a boy and a girl swapping bodies.

Now, how does that make sense? Shouldn’t a film, no matter the country of origin, culture, and themes, be able to be enjoyed and understood by anyone? So then, why do films like Ernest & Celestine, The Boy and the Beast, and the American-made Kubo and the Two Strings, which has a heavy lean on Japanese folklore and visuals be so beloved by everyone? Easy, because they have stories and themes with characters everyone can get behind. The Boy and the Beast is about a father/son-like relationship, and has a unique moral for parents to be upfront with their kids and not constantly lie to them, and the consequences of doing so. Ernest & Celestine deals with discrimination, and is about the friendship of two souls who feel ousted by their own communities. Kubo and the Two Strings deals with the fact that life is about the balance of happiness and sadness, and how shielding yourself away from the hate and sadness in the world is not a good idea. These films are able to grab you, since they don’t really focus on their country of origin. They were telling good stories, and having interesting characters first. Personally, Your Name doesn’t do that. While it might have a pretty good chemistry among its characters, the film’s surroundings seem to take over the forefront. It also doesn’t help that a third act time travel twist happens, and ruins the film for me. I would have loved if they just focused on the romance between the two, or keep focusing on the body-swapping thing that somehow vanishes as the film goes on. Like, I get Makoto Shinkai has this thing about long-distance relationships, but once the third act comes into play, it feels weird and confusing to me. I really couldn’t get into it. I’m sure there are themes and ideals as to the sudden twist and the body-swapping, but it drags the film down. Plus, the character design and school day setting might be a bit bland and tiring to some. Make no mistake, Your Name is beautifully animated and looks downright gorgeous, and the fact that it has a theme of “everyone has someone out there” is nice, but it looks like a lot of other anime out there. I just felt too distracted by the film at certain points. I keep harping on the fact that so many people keep trying to say Makoto Shinkai is the next Hayao Miyazaki, but Makoto Shinkai needs to work on his storytelling and writing before he can get to levels of filmmakers like Miyazaki, Satoshi Kon, or Mamoro Hosoda. Shinkai is a very talented individual, but he uses “flash over proper substance” way too much, and I just won’t sit here and agree with the world saying it’s the best movie of all time, when it’s not what I believe. Even if the voters in the academy were not going by bribes or sweet swag offerings, personal opinion is still going to be a thing, and not everyone is going to agree on it being a good movie. Even checking out the reviews for it, there are people who don’t like it for understandable reasons. They aren’t doing it because it’s the popular thing to do by bashing a film everyone loves. Heaven forbid, that is what makes us unique, when we all have our own opinions.

 2016 was a tough year for animation.

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Personal preference for the film aside, it’s not like Your Name was going to get a spot in the Oscars so easily. To me, 2016 was one of the best years of animation of all time. Zootopia, Moana, Kubo and the Two Strings, Finding Dory, The Little Prince, Phantom Boy, Miss Hokusai, My Life as a Zucchini, April and the Extraordinary World, 25 April, Mune: Guardian of the Moon, Sing, Storks, Sausage Party, Kung Fu Panda 3, The Boy and the Beast, and you get the idea. It was going to have major competition. You have films from both big and small studios with distributors who aren’t going to be holding back in terms of wanting to be selected for those award nominees. It was a tough year. If this was something like 2002 or 2011, I would understand, but it wasn’t. It was 2016, and animation was strong.

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With all that out of the way, am I saying that these are the 100% facts? Of course not! This was never meant to be actual factual information. It was a guess as to why the film wasn’t recognized at the award show, and some logical reasoning behind the “snub”. Was I annoyed that Frozen beat out Wolf Children, The Wind Rises, and Ernest & Celestine? Of course, but I knew they weren’t going to win. Was I annoyed that Big Hero 6 won Best Animated Feature, when there were Song of the Sea, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, The LEGO Movie, and DreamWorks’ How to Train your Dragon 2? Yes, but I’m not going to sit here and be grumpy that Disney got yet another Oscar. Yes, it’s very hard for non-Ghibli Japanese-animated films to get recognition from the Academy, but in the end, what makes these types of films special to you also makes it not  matter if they get an award or not. GKids might have not won any of the American Awards, but it doesn’t diminish that the films they bring over are fantastic. While I’m not fully on-board with Your Name’s popularity, it shouldn’t matter if it was nominated for an award or not. Some recognition would be nice, but if you consider it a good movie, then by all means, keep considering it a good movie. It’s in my top 20 of 2016 for a reason, since I feel like its strengths are indeed strong. Don’t let it being left out of the Oscars weaken your love for the film. Go see it when it comes to theaters in April, and buy it when it comes out on DVD. I’m just saying don’t be freaked out that it wasn’t picked.