The Other Side of Animation 152: Wonder Park 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/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!)

Like I said in my 150th review of the Godzilla Netflix Trilogy, I’m not really finding joy in reviewing movies I would consider bad. I do it, and will not falter in my opinions about them, but I take no joy in certain films that obviously had a rough development. Many things can go wrong with making animated films, and I can’t think of a rougher development for an animated film this year than Paramount and Nickelodeon’s Wonder Park. Honestly, as far as I can tell right now, Wonder Park had probably some of the most negative PR surrounding it before release. Starting development back in 2014, Wonder Park was animated by a studio in Spain called Ilion Animation Studios, the same studio that did 2009’s Planet 51 and the upcoming film Paramount/Skydance production, Luck. Then, in January of 2018, the original director, Dylan Brown, who was an animator for Pixar, was fired after sexual misconduct, and was replaced by David Feiss, Clare Kilner, and Robert Iscove. Well, you would not really know that, because the film is notorious for not having an actual literal director credit! Not even a fake director name. No one wanted full-fledged credit. Even after that trainwreck, it has been getting bombarded with negative reviews, and may be Paramount’s first flop of 2019. Yeah, let’s check it out, shall we?

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The story follows this little girl name June, voiced by Brianne Denski. June, along with her mother, voiced by Jennifer Garner, has made this beautiful, vibrant, and outlandishly-creative theme park called Wonderland, where her stuffed animals help run it. These animals include a blue bear who greets the park guests named Boomer, voiced in the US by Ken Hudson Campbell and the UK version by Tom Baker, two beavers named Gus and Cooper, voiced in the US version by Kenan Thompson and Ken Jeong and in the UK version by Ryan Fitzgerald and Wippa, a wild boar that runs everything named Greta, voiced by Mila Kunis, and a porcupine that is the safety inspector named Steve, voiced by John Oliver. However, the most important animal in the park is a chimp named Peanut, voiced by Norbert Leo Butz, who is the park icon and ride creator. Unfortunately, as June started to build a smaller scale version of Wonderland, June’s mom gets sick and has to leave for a while. They won’t say what she is sick with exactly, but that really won’t matter as the story and my review goes on. She is now stuck with her dad, voiced by Matthew Broderick, and stews away in her sadness about the possibility of not seeing her mother again. After getting sent to math camp, June escapes the bus taking her to the camp, and stumbles into a forest, and with no real explanation, ends up in Wonderland, but nature decided to take it back. She ends up seeing her stuffed animals come to life as more “realistic-looking”, and the park is overrun by this ominous cloud of darkness that has wrecked the park with the help of the Chimpanzombies. Can June find a way to get her creative spark back and save the park? What about the fate of her mother? What about the fact that this park came to life with no real reason given how? Why is there no real director credit?

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So, what happened? How did this film become such an unfocused $100 mil mess? It’s really tough to say what’s positive about it, because with every positive, comes a negative. For example, the animation is fine. It has solid enough animation, but it really doesn’t look like it cost $100 mil. Some of the movements look solid enough, but some movement styles are janky and too fast. With how fast the two beaver brothers move, you can’t really tell what they are doing when they are running or fighting with one another. The end credits literally cut out the characters from the film footage, and slaps them onto the big names. Not only that, but they either slow down or rewind the footage used to make it look like they made entirely original animation. It looks sloppy and rushed. The characters move well enough, but there aren’t that many little quirks outside of maybe Peanut and Boomer. No one has little movements that make each character feel like their own. Some of the shots and the rides are well-animated and shot well, but at other times, the camera is either too close or snapping back and forward like that one scene in Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s hard to know what’s fully going on. The film’s animation also lacks a bit of that creative spark that something like this film needs. Why don’t the animals look like their stuffed animal counterparts? They had CG models of the stuffed animals set up for each of them, but their “living” versions are just generic animals. The chimpanzombies and the Darkness could have been interesting, but due to how wonky, rushed, and undercooked the script is, they end up being very forgettable threats that you will not remember at all. I don’t really get how clunky the animation has been for Nickelodeon’s original films that get TV series. Even by the years they were released, with Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius back in 2001 and Barnyard back in 2006, they never look as good as other big studio films at those times. Oh, and Wonder Park also has this very heavy emphasis on shine and bloom effects. You know how video games during the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Wii generation really exploited the heck out of the bloom tool in games? That’s Wonder Park’s other notable animation issue. It looks like a short CGI film made by a student who was learning how to balance out CGI lighting tools. However, I will say that for foreign animation from Spain, it does look better than a lot of the films that I see that either look like they are almost at the Hollywood scale, or very straight-to-video.

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So, the animation is a mixed to mostly negative bag, but what about the story, writing, and characters? Well, unfortunately, the one positive/one negative trick used above is sadly usable here. The story had potential to be more complex with how June is connected to the park with the animal characters being different symbolic forms of June. For example, Peanut is her imagination and optimism, and Steve is her current mood that’s all about safety regulations. Sadly, they really don’t go into that, or expand upon it. Because of the 85-minute runtime, it’s one of the few times an animated film should have been 120 minutes. You aren’t given time to breath, or know about the characters, or how the plot works. You are never told how the park came to life, how the animals don’t know who she is, and plenty of other story elements that don’t really get fleshed out. It’s great that June is a creative and imaginative individual, and I would argue that she would make a much better protagonist if she was given a better story and overall film. If the film didn’t introduce these themes that you have seen done better in Inside Out and A Monster Calls, then we wouldn’t be criticizing how lacking in punch the overall film feels. The writing is never creative, the jokes don’t land, and I don’t remember the character’s names, their personalities, or any real scenes. Due to how much of a rush the film is in to get itself done with, you are never caring on an emotional level, and that’s a shame. Again, there is stuff that could work here, but those elements are as under-baked as most baked desserts on Chopped.

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In the end, I feel badly for the people that worked on Wonder Park. It’s the weakest animated film of 2019, and I don’t like saying that. There are elements of a much better movie hiding under all the flaws, and the fact that this entire film feels like a rush job to prepare viewers for the upcoming animated series, which may not happen now, or will go for a season before cancelation, says a lot. A lot of my issues with this film are because we know very little of what happened behind the scenes to make many of these issues center-stage, and I feel badly for the animators and production people who may or may not have had a great work schedule to get this completed. It won’t change my opinion on the film, but I would, at the very least, understand what went down. I feel like with a better direction and more time to actually flesh out certain elements of this film, it could have been a solid gem that would have found a cult following. Who knows, maybe a few years down the line we might re-review films like this, and find something we missed the first time around. I simply don’t recommend seeing Wonder Park. It will probably find its way onto Netflix in the future, and or maybe Amazon Prime. Until then, just go see How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World, The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part, or try to find screenings for some of the upcoming foreign animated features coming out, like This Magnificent Cake!, Penguin Highway, or Okko’s Inn. Until then, just wait until Missing Link comes out in April. For now, since we have some time before Laika’s newest feature, how about we talk about some smaller releases that I think people should check out? Next time, let’s talk about a really cool female-directed animated feature called Maquia: When the Promised Flowers Bloom. Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the review, and let’s hope we can learn about Wonder Park’s development history in more educated detail in the future! I will see you all next time!

Rating: The Worst/Blacklist

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The Other Side of Animation 125: Sherlock Gnomes 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!)

It’s hard to approach passion projects that don’t make the reviewer/critic look like a giant jerk, when the product doesn’t turn out all that great. Recently, we have had a flood of “passion” projects that have fallen either flat critically, financially, or both. Everyone should know that no one goes into a film to make it bad. Sometimes, films end up getting screwed over by the lack of talent, executive orders, time, budget, and other elements that could lead to them not landing. Still, at the end of the day, I do not care if this is a passion project or not. I’m not here to tell you that you get a free pass, because it’s a passion project. I’m here to judge and critique it, and hopefully explain why the film didn’t work. I say this, because while I love Elton John’s music, his animated features have been, to put it lightly, extremely lacking. So, how does Sherlock Gnomes work? Directed by John Stevenson, who was the co-director of Kung Fu PandaSherlock Gnomes is an utterly confusing mess of a film. It’s supposed to be a sequel to Gnomeo & Juliet, but the marketing makes it out to not be a sequel with no mention of the original, and instead, as its own movie. It was released March 23rd, and not surprisingly, the animated feature by Rocket Pictures, Elton John’s production company, and Paramount, got panned.  Even on a supposed $59 million budget, it’s not making that much money. I mean, when you can either go see Pacific Rim: UprisingIsle of DogsA Quiet Place, or Black Panther still, I can see people putting Sherlock Gnomes way on the back burner. So, does it work? Let’s check it out.

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The story is sort of hard to put together, because it feels like a multitude of plot points, smashed together. Anyway, the main story revolves around our gnome version of the famous detective, Sherlock Gnomes, voiced by Johnny Depp. Sherlock and his trusted side-kick Watson, voiced by Chiwetel Ejiofor, are on a mission to stop an evil pie mascot, Moriarty, voiced by Jamie Demetriou, from stealing London’s garden gnomes. Unfortunately for the two, Moriarty’s next group of victims is the garden of Gnomeo and Juliet, voiced by James McAvoy and Emily Blunt, who are going through their own relationship issues when they are named the new rulers of the garden. Suffice to say, the other gnomes in the garden that Gnomeo and Juliet live in are kidnapped, and they must team up with Sherlock Gnomes and Watson to find them.

So, let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. I want to talk about the marketing. I don’t normally do this, because marketing is temporary, and you shouldn’t really judge a film by its marketing, and instead judge the film as a film with its own merits, but the marketing has to be talked about. The original release trailer is one of the most misleading and worst marketing decisions ever made for animation this decade. Basically, all the bad fart jokes, twerk jokes, and puns that everyone was dreading when the movie came out, are not in the movie. It has a few puns, but 95% of the footage seen in the trailer is not in the movie. Yes, scenes get changed up, and some are taken out before the final product hits theaters, but this was one of the worst ways to show off your movie. Whoever decided that was going to be the film’s best foot forward needs to re-learn their classes in marketing. I know sometimes that when trailers are made, they have to use what they have, but if they didn’t need any of these scenes, then why add them? It’s going to backfire on them in the long run.

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Now, for the film itself. It’s a mess. You can tell that the marketing team did not advertise this as a Gnomeo & Juliet sequel, but tried to market it as its own spin-off/stand-alone/sequel movie where Sherlock Gnomes was the lead. And boy, you can really tell how clunky and not well put together this film is. It struggles to try to be a spin-off, a stand-alone, and a sequel, and fails miserably. Fans of Sherlock Holmes won’t be happy, because it forces these characters from the first movie to be in what is essentially Sherlock’s story, and Gnomeo & Julietfans won’t be happy, because they got turned into side characters in their own sequel.  Why would you do that? Why not just make a fresh batch of new gnome characters for Sherlock Gnomes? Why did you force them into this film that’s not even a full-fledged sequel? Because fans wanted to see them? I think the writers, director, and Elton John lacked a real understanding about how people remember Gnomeo & Juliet. You can also tell that forcing these two stories into one film didn’t fill up the 80+ minute runtime, just because they add in a few side stories that really go nowhere, or are not fleshed out enough. This should have simply been its own standalone story about Sherlock Gnomes. Heck, it would have saved them a huge chunk of change by cutting out 90% of the cast, so they didn’t have to spend money on Ozzy Ozbourne, Richard Wilson, Julie Walters, Stephen Merchant (though he did deliver the film’s best joke), Matt Lucas, Ashley Jensen, Maggie Smith, Michael Caine, Emily Blunt, and James McAvoy.

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A lot of defenses I see lobbed at critical animated feature reviews is that “hey, my kid liked it, so that means it’s okay!” Well, this time, I actually had kids at the theater watching it, and they were bored. They were either asleep, or asking their parents/grandparents to tell them what was going on.  You ever think that maybe a kid who doesn’t have proper critical thinking is not the best way to judge a film’s quality? Kids aren’t the ones paying for the tickets, the parents are.

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So, what does that mean for the music? One of the big marketing deals with both films was that Elton John’s music was going to be in both films with some new songs. Well, I hope you like terrible remixes and forgettable original songs, because that is what you are going to get. I’m Still Standing is in the marketing, but it’s not in the movie. Even the song Mary J. Blige sings is very short, and while she sings it well, it’s not memorable. When one of your biggest selling points is the music, and the music isn’t good or is extremely misguided, then you messed up.

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Oh, and before we move on, let’s talk about the Asian market scene. While only in the film for, at the very least, 10 minutes, it’s another example of a long line of taking someone else’s culture, and not implementing it well. This entire Asian market acts like Chinese and Japanese culture are the same thing. Say what you will about Isle of Dogs, and it has its own debatable issues, the implementation of the cultures in Sherlock Gnomes is worse. While I don’t fully blame James Hong for having to do the voice for this salt shaker, the accent he throws out there is bad. It is shocking that this was not brought up more, but that’s probably because no one cared, or did not see this movie. I don’t care if this was a film aimed at kids, you can’t be giving it a free pass because it’s aimed at a younger demographic. Everyone deserves great movies. Don’t be short changing an age group because you can.

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So, I know I have harped on this film a lot, but there are a few things that I can say were good about it. While many of the cast members are pointless, the performances are okay. They aren’t as entertaining as they could be, considering who they have, but they do decent jobs. I think the best performances go to Johnny Depp, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Jamie Demetriou. It sounded like they were taking it seriously, and having fun with it. The animation is also pretty solid. Compared to the last film, textures look better and the movements look better. They definitely either had better talent, tech, or a combination of both for this film. Sure, I think the more realistic humans and animals look weird when side-by-side with the gnomes, but it at least looks theatrical in its animation. However, I do understand the complaint people have that the film is now too polished, and you lose some of the charm and one of the few things that worked about the original. I think my favorite aspect, and probably the best aspect of the film, is Sherlock Gnomes himself. They capture his mannerisms, and they do this cool 2D animated sequence when they are going into his mind. The 2D sequences are really well-animated, and the 3D designs translate well to 2D. I honestly wish the film was more like these mental moments. Finally, when it gets to the Sherlock Gnomes parts of the story, it can be pretty amusing. It just makes it more aggravating that the entire film couldn’t be about him, instead of forcing characters from a previous film into it.

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Listen, like I said above, no one intentionally goes into it to make a bad movie. No one is scheming to make an utter waste of time and the studio’s money. The writers, the director, animators, editors, and so on do not come into work and say “let’s make a horrible movie.” That still doesn’t mean you get a free pass. There are aspects and ideas where this could have worked. The animation is better than before, the 2D sequences are great, and Depp and Ejiofor are solid lead characters. When it’s focusing on the Sherlock Holmes homages, it’s a decent flick. It just needed to not force and cram in the characters from the first film. It also needed better writing and a less predictable story, but in the end, it’s harmless. It has a decent moral message, but that doesn’t save anything. If you want to watch a good or very fun Sherlock Holmes homage or parody, watch the Sherlock Hound series. It’s a lot of fun, and is way more entertaining to watch than this movie. For now, Sherlock Gnomes is the weakest big-budget animated feature of 2018. Now then, let’s actually talk about a movie I enjoyed, and one I thought was snubbed at the Oscars. Next time, we shall talk about The Girl Without Hands. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: The Worst/Blacklisted

The Other Side of Animation #20: Cool World Review

(If you like what you see, go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work. If you want to, consider contributing to my Patreon at Patreon.com/camseyeview. Thanks for reading, and enjoy the review!)

WARNING/PARENTAL HEADS UP!: There are major adult and sexual themes. Definitely do not watch this with kids that are younger. Viewer’s discretion is advised. It’s also a really boring movie! Enjoy the review!

Oh boy, we are heading into some infamous territory once more today on The Other Side of Animation. For the 20th review, we are going to look at the well-known and hated animated/live action film by Ralph Bakshi, Cool World. Ralph Bakshi was one of the head honchos during the “experimental time” of animation where Disney took a backseat, and animated films with weird and surreal ideas came out. Bakshi’s films stood out with more old-fashioned-looking cartoon designs, but with more adult themes and settings. Unfortunately, his style of animation and film-making, along with many others, ran dry in the late 80s and early 90s, and nowhere is that more clear than Cool World. This film had a notorious history, as in the beginning, it wasn’t meant to be this darker adult version of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Originally, this film was supposed to be this weird live-action/animated slasher film where the psycho was this half-human half-cartoon character. Now, tell me, if you know anything about how weird and trippy Bakshi’s films can be, and now hearing about the original concept, how amazing does this sound? Well, apparently someone at Paramount thought this wasn’t a great idea, and basically screwed the entire project over with secret rewrites, celebrities wanting to stick their ignorant hands into the development pool, rating changes, and a lot of Hollywood shenanigans. The final product that we got was Cool World, a film released in 1992. It got panned by everyone, became a notorious flop at the box office with only making apparently less than half its budget, and is probably a film Brad Pitt wishes he could forget about. Honestly, I wouldn’t blame him.

Oh, joyous day, where do I start with this trainwreck of a movie? How about the story? Or, well, what little there is? Brad Pitt plays WWII veteran Frank Harris, returning from war and back to his mother. Brad then attempts to take his mother on a motorcycle ride down the desert roads with an unfortunately out-of-nowhere tragic crash that ends up with his mother dead. If that quick and somewhat forced tragedy wasn’t enough, right as when Brad’s dead mother is being taken away, he is, quite frankly, out of nowhere, pulled into this weird cartoony world known as Cool World by a scientist named Dr. Vincent Whiskers, voiced by Maurice LaMarche. Forty- seven years pass, and Brad Pitt is now a detective in Cool World, a rather hyper-violent cartoony world. During his time in this topsy-turvy world, he has his doodle girlfriend Lonette, voiced by Candi Milo, his spider police partner Nails, voiced by Charlie Adler, another real-life human known as Jack Deebs, played by Gabriel Byrne, and the infamous vixen, Holli Would, voiced by Kim Basinger. Can Brad Pitt keep the order within Cool World? Or will the zany world and Holli’s wild ways cause mass chaos?

So, I am going to be nice to this movie, and talk about its positive elements. It might not be much, but Cool World is a very, well, cool-looking world. I like the grimy aesthetic, the mixture of real-life sets and cartoons, and the cartoon art direction itself. The designs of the characters are very Fleischer Studios, and I really like that. This was during a time where Disney reigned supreme, and every other studio wanted to look like the Disney films. Cool World at least dodges that bullet by looking different. I also liked Nails. He was a good-hearted spider, who was rather wacky.

Now then, that is all the positive vibes this film is getting from me, because this animated/live action film is horrendous! First off, the mixture of both live-action and animation don’t mix! It doesn’t look good at all! This wouldn’t be a thing if Who Framed Roger Rabbit hadn’t come out and do it correctly four years earlier! It’s off-putting and distracting, since you feel like the live-action actors and the animated individuals don’t jive. What also doesn’t mix well is the story. The story is barely there, and it just loves to meander and distract you with little cartoon characters bouncing around and making huge amounts of noise. It also loves to throw in characters who have no character or identity, and love wasting the time of everyone involved in the story. Even the universe that this film sets up makes no sense, nor is it explained well at all. This is especially true when you keep seeing Gabriel Byrne pop in and out of Cool World. How does it work? Why, it’s never explained! They also treat him like he was the god and creator of the place, but we never find out how this world was made. I can’t believe how much this film has going on, but how little it matters to the viewer. In the end, I checked out, and couldn’t care less about what happened, since the film obviously didn’t care.

I feel like the people behind this movie never realized why Who Framed Roger Rabbit was so amazing. It wasn’t just because Jessica Rabbit was sexy, or that it was nonstop nostalgia. It was because there were likable/lovable characters that we wanted to root for and against. The world was more fleshed out in how everything worked, and wasn’t just loud and obnoxious 24-7. The idiots at Rough Draft Studios and Paramount Pictures thought that all you needed were cartoons being loud, annoying, and sexual. Yeah, I bet all that thought-power translated well into only making a little over $14 million of your $30+ million budget. They showed us that they knew what they were doing.

While I can safely say that this isn’t as horrible as The Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return, Cool World is still a rancid cynical trainwreck to sit through. Unless you want to own this for a bad movie night, just go out and buy Who Framed Roger Rabbit, if you haven’t already. Cool World stands as a prime example of when Hollywood doesn’t care, and wants to leech off of people who put actual effort into making a good movie. I think we need to take a look at something more calming. I want to be invested in an atmospheric experience. This is why next time, we will be taking a look at the short film, The Garden of Words. Thanks you for reading my article, and see you next time!

Rating: The Worst