The Other Side of Animation 89: Sahara 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!)

When I choose a film to watch, I try not to go directly into the film with a sense of “oh man, I’m going to hate this film”. Who wants to go into a film knowing it’s going to be bad? I said in my previous review that I like to be surprised. If it turns out to be a good or bad movie, that’s up to the film, and what I take away from it. That’s how I go into every film, and it was no different with the newly released Netflix-distributed film, Sahara. I knew about this CGI-animated film from France since the end of last year, but was intrigued when I saw Netflix was going to distribute it. I was a bit concerned when they didn’t really advertise the film, and after watching it, I understand why. Let’s dive into the desert with Sahara.

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The story revolves around a cobra and a scorpion, who feel out of place with the colony of other snakes they live with. The cobra named Ajar, voiced by Robert Naylor, decides to try and fit in with the snakes that live within the oasis on the other side of the valley. Unfortunately for him, the snakes in the oasis are pretty high class, and have a rather strong defense system. He and one of the oasis snakes escape the boundaries of the environment, and end up bonding with one another. That is, for a few seconds, as a snake charmer kidnaps the oasis snake. Ajar, along with the Oasis’s snake’s lazy obnoxious brother, must go save the “love” of his life before she ends up in a worse situation.

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Yeah, as much as I love foreign animation with their focus on story and characters, with different art styles and styles of animation, Sahara definitely doesn’t feel like one of those amazing films I talk about on my site. It becomes very obvious, outside of the rating for this film, that it’s meant for very little kids. Even if this was meant for younger kids, I can’t imagine someone like my niece sitting through this boring film. I don’t think I have ever felt so bored with an animated film from France since forever. None of the characters are very fleshed out, and they end up getting stuck with very basic character traits. Ajar is your generic lead character, Pitt the scorpion is your nervous safety-reliant friend, the female lead has no real character to her, and even the villain isn’t a super terrible guy. He’s not a good guy or anything, but the villain of this film feels forced. That’s also a problem when one of the characters you follow has a very hipster/surfer bro-style of talking that sounds way off from the original French dub of the film. Yeah, that’s another problem, the English dub is terrible. It’s not poorly done, but I feel like they either got the wrong voice director, or the actors weren’t putting their all into it, but a lot of the characters in this film were annoying to listen to. Especially that brother to the lead female, he is by far the most annoying character I have seen so far in 2017. First off, how does he have a blonde wig? Why does he talk like a surfer? Why is he a pot addict? Yes, it’s technically not pot but pollen, but it’s the same thing in terms of context. How do these characters reference things like Batman and Robin when they are snakes in a desert? I made it halfway through the film before I paused, switched to the French dub, and watched it with subtitles. You can tell that the French actors were putting more into their performances than the US cast.

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The film also loves to include a slew of characters that have no real purpose for the film. None of them push the narrative along, they don’t have much in terms of personalities, and sometimes, they are entirely 100% objectively pointless. For example, Pitt gets a scorpion girlfriend. Why? Because they needed a love interest in the last 20 minutes for him. Why? Because heaven forbid, we get any animated films these days that don’t rely on a romance between characters. You have bullies that never show up again, a cult of bugs that don’t show up again, and a family of scorpions that were way too willing to let their daughter go along with Pitt on the adventure that you never see again. And you have these security birds that only appear in the beginning of the film, and I swear one of them probably dies in the desert. I wouldn’t mind all of these pointless and boring main and secondary characters if they had any real chemistry. There is no convincing chemistry and charm between any of the characters. The two leads don’t even have romantic opportunity together; they fall for each other in a matter of seconds. Give Disney some credit, they at the very least, give the leads three or more days to do such a thing. It’s so weak and poorly executed that it’s eye-rolling.

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Did I like anything about this tale of snakes? Well, that’s one thing I can give credit to for this film. It is about an animal that you don’t see as leads in an animated film very often, and are not villains. I also like the animation and designs of the characters. It looks generic by US animation standards, but it looks way better than most foreign CGI fares. Even the humans have good looks to them that remind me of the Illumination Despicable Me look. I also found the movements to be fluid, and maybe that’s because most of the characters are snakes, but I think that’s pretty commendable that they put more detail into the animation. The colors are also very nice, because even though it is the desert, there can still be a lot of different colors, from the vibrant plants to the different skin or scale tones of the animals that live there. It was also nice to see the film was willing to take breaks every now and again to let the characters breathe. It’s nice to see that since a majority of animated films from the states tend to be very hyper and comedy-focused; this one could take its time for viewers to breathe and to slow the plot down. It doesn’t fix any of the issues with the plot, but having some atmosphere is nice.

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I still stand by my opinion that a lot of foreign animation is leagues better than a majority of the films made in the states, but this is one of the few times where I consider this one of their blunders. It’s not the worst animated film from France by any means, but it makes you wonder why the heck Netflix picked it up, and why it was even made. It has nice animation, but nice animation can’t save a film from its lackluster characters and story. If you really want to see this, for the love of animation, please watch it in French with English subtitles. It’s one of the few French-animated films that I have seen that felt like they weren’t even trying. Well, that happens from time to time. Thankfully, Sahara is way more watchable than what is quite possibly my worst animated film of 2017. You will just have to wait to see what that is next time. Thanks for reading!

Rating: Lackluster!

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The Other Side of Animation 61: Hotel Transylvania 2 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!)

Last year, I reviewed one of Adam Sandler’s best movies, Hotel Transylvania. I mean, it’s shocking when a project with Adam Sandler pops up and it’s not terrible. Sure, it still had a lot of problems, like its cliché plot elements, story, and characters. However, for me, it was an enjoyable experience with more good than bad, but I can understand if someone wasn’t into this movie. So, last year, a sequel came out, and let’s say that the supposed “hate train” that certain directors, actors, and films receive came running on through the Hotel Transylvania 2 station. It was critically panned with a lot more negative reviews than the first film. People were calling it the worst animated film of 2015, and to me, they only said so because they hadn’t seen Strange Magic. Listen, usually I’m pretty agreeable on certain receptions of films from both critics and fans, but there are times where I disagree with both. What do I think of this sequel? Well, let’s take a look.

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Hotel Transylvania 2 continues our story with Dracula, played by Adam Sandler, now having a five-year-old grandson named Dennis, voiced by Asher Blinkoff. Dracula tells his daughter, Mavis, voiced by Selena Gomez, that he is a little disappointed that Dennis hasn’t grown his fangs. In fact, Dracula is so peeved at this notion that he goes behind his daughter’s back with her husband Johnathan, voiced by Andy Samberg, for Johnathon to take Mavis to his neck of the woods to see his parents, while Dracula and his friends help Dennis gain his vampire powers. On top of all this, Dracula will also have to deal with his father, Vlad, voiced by Mel Brooks, and his bat servant, Bela, voiced by Rob Riggle.

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Let’s get the bad out of way, because while I think this film is perfectly fine and normal, it does have a lot more problems than the first film. First off, it falls into a lot of the same traps that most sequels fall into, with jokes and gags from the first film taking the space of newer jokes, being overly familiar in terms of story and pacing to the original film. It makes it out like the creators were afraid to progress the story, like in the sequels to How to Train your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda. Now, in some respects, they do show that progress has been made, in terms of the setting, where humans are now accepted into the hotel, but it’s not enough to make a difference. It’s also a story where the dad is being a giant jerk to his daughter, and I perfectly see why with this one story element, people might get upset or mad at the story cliché.

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You also get the feeling that the executives were a bit more hands-on with the film. I say this because much of the dialogue and music choices felt like they were forced to be in the film. Not that the dialogue is all horrible, because there are a some great jokes, a good amount of soul, and humorous interactions between the characters, but it definitely feels a bit more fabricated. The ending also feels rushed. The film heavily advertised in magazine and online articles that Mel Brooks was going to be in this movie, and yet, he is really only in it for the last 20 minutes. It doesn’t help either that the moral of the story about being okay with yourself gets ruined in the final fight sequence, where everyone gets what they want. The final fight is also undone by the fast animation. I love the animation style, but it’s way too fast during this part. I also wish they could have had more time to invest into the interaction between Dracula and his grandson. Like, take out the repeated elements and jokes from the first film, and replace it with more heartfelt interactions between the characters.

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So, what is actually very good about this movie? Well, the animation is very good. The film is directed once again by Genndy Tartakovsky, and his art style definitely translates well to CGI. The same attention to detail in how every character moves is in this film, as well as with new characters like Johnathon’s parents, played by Nick Offerman and Meghan Mullally, the vampire camp counselor, voiced by Dana Carvey, Jon Lovitz as The Phantom of the Opera, and even Mel Brooks, in his short time, still does enough to leave an impression in terms of his character. The voice performances are also once again great with the same effort put into the same characters from the last film. I don’t know what it is, but Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, David Spade, and Keegan-Michael Keye (taking over CeeLo Green’s character) work off each other well. It doesn’t feel like they were phoning it in, like they have in the live-action Sandler films. Even when the jokes don’t land, at least the eye rollers were better handled by the delivery of said actors. The humor in Hotel Transylvania 2 is definitely a tad more hit-and-miss, with some lowbrow humor that feels lazy, but it’s one of those situations where when the humor is good, it’s hilarious. You won’t believe what happens when actors actually act, they actually make themselves worth watching!

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Listen, media critics, I don’t agree with you this time. I thought Hotel Transylvania 2 was fine! It’s not a great movie, but it’s not the worst film of 2015. Yes, it’s a bit more corporate-feeling, but it still has great animation, energetic characters, and some hysterical jokes. I wouldn’t recommend checking it out if you didn’t like the first one, but if you liked the first one and haven’t seen the second one, I would recommend doing so. I don’t think it’s as good as the first film, but it still has enough charm to not be an utter waste of time. Well, next time, we take a look at the gothic poet himself, Edgar Allen Poe, with an anthology film based on his work with Extraordinary Tales. If you want more animated spooks, then you had better be ready next time! Thanks for reading!

Rating: Rent it!

The Other Side of Animation 37: Mind Game Review

(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!)

WARNING/PARENTAL HEADS UP!: There is male and female nudity (though oddly drawn), cursing, and some adult content and sexual abstract/non abstract scenes. It’s a weird movie, so if you are a parent thinking about watching this, really do watch it by yourself BEFORE even thinking about watching it with a younger individual. Did I mention that this film is really freaking weird? Because it is! Enjoy the review!

With a lot of films, including animated ones, there is always this attempt to be philosophical, to try and have a bigger message to say about whatever the film wants to say, and so on. This usually leads the film to be more abstract in either story execution or visually. We have seen films do this with something like 2014’s Birdman, with the illusion of the film looking like one long uncut shot, and having unique visuals attached to the lead character. In terms of results and the reception from critics and casual moviegoers, I think it’s always going to be divisive. Sometimes, it depends on the individual viewer to say if the film’s message is deep, or sometimes, it’s how the overall movie is handled, in terms of the message being strong or if it’s trying to grasp for a purpose that it can’t reach. This is why I was a bit baffled about Mind Game. This interesting film is from our animation buddies from Japan, and came out in 2004. Mind Game is a very unusual film that has gained a rather large cult following with its weird artstyle, and odd way of telling a story. One thing to note about this film is the director behind it, Masaaki Yuasa, who has directed a multitude of projects including Vamplyan Kids, Genius Party, Kaiba, Kick-Heart, Ping Pong, and even worked on shows/ like Adventure Time on the episode “Food Chain”, Welcome to the Space Show, Wakfu, and Space Dandy. It’s not readily available in a physical format here in the states, but you can check it out on Netflix if you live in the states. It was supposedly come over in a physical form, but plans fell through. So, how is it? Well, let’s find out!

The story is about a young man named Nishi, who wants to be a comic book artist. One evening he meets up with his school girl crush, Miyon, to have a bite to eat at her father’s restaurant with her sister Yan and Miyon’s fiancé. Unfortunately, a Yakuza and a mentally “touched” Soccer player walk in, and decided to cause a disturbance by the Soccer player punching Miyon’s potential future husband, perversely harassing Miyon, and then killing Nishi. Luckily for Nishi, his spirit runs into who is essentially God, and God decides to give him the motivation to turn back time, and redo his life once more at the exact time Nishi was killed. Nishi gets out of the situation by getting the gun out of the player’s hand, and ends up killing the Soccer player, which quickly reaches the ears of the leader of the Yakuza, and boy, what happens next is insane. Nishi makes a run for it with Miyon and Yan, as they go through an intense car chase. They end up inside a whale, and meet an old man who apparently has been living in the whale for 30 years. Yeah, this film deserves the title “Mind Game”.

So, what is good about this film? Well, if I haven’t used this word enough, this film is the purest definition of “weird.” It’s a truly abstract film, with unusual visuals and a very different animation style. If you look at any pictures or watch any footage of this film, it has a very rough and thin-lined style. While it’s not the prettiest, in terms of designs, the characters are still animated smoothly, and they are still expressive. It’s a visually vibrant film with bright colors, chicken-scratch doodle designs, a mixture of the doodles and realistic figures, and drug-infused visuals that is something to behold. I also like the theme of the film, or, at the very least, what I thought was the moral of “Don’t stay cooped up forever, go out and explore the world! You won’t get a second chance!” I think it hits home to some people, because I myself have had a fear of pushing forward with certain moments in life because I was afraid of the consequences. It’s definitely a film that gets its message across, while not feeling over-its-head in terms of ambitious animation. I also like the subtle story about the Yakuza that, while not the main focus, is subtly woven into the beginning, bits of the actual film, and ending montages.

With all that said, I think this film does fall a little flat, in terms of pacing. The first part of the film is so fast-paced and frenetic, that once it gets to the whale part, it slows down and sort of drags its heels in its pace until the final third when the four escape the whale, and the film returns to that quick rush of energy. I also think the visuals, from time to time, hinder its message and story. It truly gets into some bizarre designs and moments that take away from the characters that are sort of memorable. I also feel like that it’s trying to grab more meaning than it knows what to do with itself, with the quick montages at the beginning and end of the film, and how it just ends with “This Story Never Ends.” Maybe I’m not seeing what the message is, but if it didn’t have this super abstract visual presentation, I could get it more, but maybe that is just me. I can understand if someone can find deeper meaning in the overall movie. At least it doesn’t ruin its message by bad logic like in A Wind Named Amnesia.

In the end, I can totally understand if people cannot get past the surreal weird pacing and story, but if you are into something really, and I mean, really different from Japanese animation, then you won’t find a better contender than Mind Game. It might be a bit too weird and abstract to get its message across, but I like it. It’s definitely a lot more interesting than what gets pushed into theaters. I would definitely recommend checking something out that is ambitious and kind of gets its message across, instead of an ambitious film that fails to get its message across. Anyway, let’s travel to France once more to see a recent animated film based off of a popular franchise with Go West! A Lucky Luke Adventure. Thanks for reading! I hope you like what you saw and see you next time!

Rating: Go see it!