The Other Side of Animation 235: Firedrake the Silver Dragon 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/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!)

Listen, it is pretty much impossible to have every studio make films on the level of the top-tier giants like Chizu, Science Saru, Disney, Pixar, and you get the idea. Not every studio all around the world is going to throw down the money for the tools, the talent needed, or will have the smoothest production cycle to make films on par with what’s coming out these days. That’s okay for the most part. Not everything needs to look like the most polished animated film from the bigger studios. With that said, with so many smaller studios making animated features, you have to do something that stands out. If your film makes viewers remind them of much better films, then you are in trouble as a studio. It’s always going to be disappointing when you see a small film from a studio that wants to make an impression, and then come off as something that was made because someone wanted to make an animated film due to how profitable they can be. This is where most people will fall with Dragon Rider aka Firedrake the Silver Dragon


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Directed by Tomer Eshed, the director behind the incredible CGI short Our Incredible Nature: The Common Chameleon, Firedrake was written by Cornelia Funke, John R. Smith, and was just released on Netflix. The story follows a silver dragon named Firedrake. He can’t breathe fire, the other dragons treat him like some odd individual, and his only friend is a creature called a Brownie. He talks to the elder dragon of his kind to learn about the Rim of the World, a location where dragons live freely and away from humans. One day, they find out that the humans are creeping ever so close to where the dragons live. It’s up to Silverdrake and his friend to find the famed dragon rider to help find this location and avoid the evil grasp of Nettlebrand, a mechanical dragon that wants to eat the dragons of the world. 



It’s very difficult to come up with a compelling story that feels refreshing and constantly keeps your attention. Unfortunately, this film doesn’t do a stellar job at keeping the audience’s attention. If you have seen any kind of fantasy film with dragons as the focus, then you will have seen this film. It has a few good lines and morals, but when you are struggling to remember the characters that said it, or when they said it, that’s a problem! The fantastical elements mixed with modern-day human civilization feel undercooked. The humans don’t seem to care that giants, sea serpents, and other mystical beings exist in this world, when the opening of the film explains that humans and dragons used to live together. Okay, well, why should I care? Viewers will find it hard to feel engrossed in this bog-standard world with a mediocre story attached. There are themes of moving on past a tragic event in your life, and how everyone is flawed, but can do good things. To give the film credit, those are decent points. 



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Getting to those points is what makes the film such a struggle to watch. It feels too childish for adults, and not engaging enough for kids. It makes references to much better films you would rather be watching, and those references can come off as both cute and very desperate. The two references by the way are for Ice Age and the obvious comparison point for this film, How to Train Your Dragon. To be fair, the film is based on a book,and could have been simply a bad adaptation of the story. To be even fairer, most viewers won’t care if it’s based on something, because the film needs to be good on its own, and no one wants to see fantastical creatures reference stuff like the internet, Skype, and you get the idea. It feels insulting that this film thought it needed to take place in the modern-day when if you change the time period, it wouldn’t matter. Sure, you would have to change a few scene executions around, but you wouldn’t have to change the overarching story. 




The characters fall flat. Firedrake is your typical dorky outcast who wants to be a powerful dragon but doesn’t know how. Sorrel is the snarky one who doesn’t trust humans. Ben had the potential to be an interesting human character, but viewers will have seen much better orphaned characters with shows like Kid Cosmic that came out this year. The villains and side characters that help flesh out the world don’t offer too much, which is shocking since you would think a giant mechanical dragon voiced by Patrick Stewart would be more entertaining than it actually is. The film’s story is a real crushing case of going in one ear and out the other. 




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The animation for Firedrake and the Silver Dragon looks like those videos you see on YouTube, where they take a game that has colorful cartoony graphics and run it through the hyper-realistic textures and graphics of the Unreal Engine, but then don’t translate the cartoonish character designs. The animation looks clunky and stiff. They also do a lot of repeated character models and looping animations. The overall vibe that I personally took away from this film is an animation school graduate project. Patrick Stewart’s character Nettlebrand has the best character animation on him, but it makes you wonder whether making him metal had a reason for it. A different team would focus more on his robotic elements than it looking like an alternate costume/skin from a video game. The human designs are unappealing to look at, and another sign of either the talent not being there or the talent not having time to go over a few sequences to make them look less horrifying at points. The film also feels like the CGI characters are at times flying against a flat background.


Since it wants to be like How to Train Your Dragon, it does have a few moments of action and flying, but they feel unimaginative. How to Train Your Dragon felt like you were there while the flying was happening. The overall film lacks that cinematic edge, and whether it was due to time or resources not being handled well, the action and flying sequences don’t have that spark and magic to them. Yes, for the most part, you can judge this film on its own merits without having to compare it to films that were obviously made by large teams of talented animators and directors. With that said, when a film like this is making references and wants to be like that more popular film, well, it’s open season on the comparisons.

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The voice cast does have a few big names including Thomas Brodie Sangster, Felicity Jones, Patrick Stewart, Freddie Highmore, Meera Syal, Sanjeev Bhasker, Nonso Anozie, Alex Norton, and Jimmy Hibbert to name a few. The performances range from annoying to some of them trying their hardest to work with the mediocre material, and some of them are completely forgettable. Patrick Stewart seems to be putting in most of the legwork to leave an impression, and even the weakest Patrick Stewart performance is better than most actors in this film. 






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Netflix is an odd beast when it comes to animation. They have all of this money and they have put out a lot of incredible work, but then you see them buy films from overseas that would look at home on the film rack in a grocery store next to direct-to-video animated fare. If I wanted to see a company bring over direct-to-video films, I would have gone to Lionsgate. Firedrake the Silver Dragon is not the worst of the year, but it’s definitely a bottom-tier animated film for 2021. Maybe if this film came out in a weaker year I would have liked it more, but since the films are so strong this year, it’s going to end up near the bottom. There are so many better animated films with dragons in them right now that you would have to use a map to find a reason to watch this one. If you do want to watch it, then go ahead. Watch the film at your own leisure and see how you come out of the experience. Well, next time, we will be looking at yet another CGI animated film coming to Netflix, but you will have to wait and see what it is.

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: Lackluster!

The Other Side of Animation 90: Spark a Space Tail 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!)

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When I was looking at what films were coming out in 2017, I was one of the few people not trying to make it look like one of the worst years for animation as a whole. Sure, I can understand the dread and concern since so far, 2017 in animation has been pretty middling. Not that there haven’t been great animated films released this year, like The LEGO Batman Movie or My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea, but for every good film, three films of lesser quality pop up and overshadow the good ones. However, this year has also seen animated films that somehow slip into theaters and then quietly leave after being ridiculed for being in theaters, when they had no reason to be there. Spark: A Space Tail is one of those films. Written and directed by Aaron Woodley, this film was made by the same studios that made 2014’s critically panned, but financially successful (somehow) The Nut Job. You would think with a film that for one reason or another was a moneymaker like The Nut Job, the same care and attention would go into Spark. Apparently, the distributor for both films, Open Road Films, thought otherwise. There was no real marketing for this film besides one trailer a month before it came out, and I saw nothing else. No TV spots or online ads for the film. To no surprise, the film was given a limited release, and was rightfully panned by the critics and the two people that went to go see it. Apparently, the film is also a box office bomb that’s actually worse than Delgo. Granted, they won’t tell us the budget for Spark, but I think it’s a good estimated $20-$30 mil and it only made a little over $196K. How do you do that? Well, let’s find out.

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The story follows our lead, a monkey named Spark, voiced by Jace Norman. He’s stuck on a chunk of his old planet after his parents and planet were destroyed by an evil, yet small, dictator named Zhong, voiced by Alan C. Peterson. Spark dreams of taking down the evil empire with his friends Vix, voiced by Jessica Biel, and Chunk, voiced by Rob deLeeuw. After attempting to be useful, Spark actually makes things worse, by gives Zhong what he was looking for, a giant whale monster known as the Kraken. Spark must then make a second attempt to take down Zhong with his friends and an old military captain, voiced by Patrick Stewart.

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The many ways this film bothers me are too many to count. This is one of the most soulless and cynically-motivated films I have seen this year. There was no effort put into this film, and I honestly can’t think of one area where the film does something right. I mean, where do I start? How about the animation? It’s quite obvious this was never going to be a theatrical-quality-animated film. It’s woefully lackluster in its character designs, movements, and textures. It looks like a nicely polished PlayStation 2 game. Everything is too flat and the character designs are not that inspiring, and simply forgettable. It’s also yet another Asian-made CGI film that has elements of Journey to the West inspirations. Thankfully, it’s not just another Journey to the West-style story, but it’s getting really tiring that apparently, while it’s a popular story in that part of the world, they can’t think of any other stories to take inspiration/references from. The movements are definitely not as rubbery as Norm of the North, but they still don’t move as fluidly as they should. I know some would argue not every film needs to be a Pixar and Disney film, but they need to look just as polished if they want to be in theaters. Movements are clunky and limited, facial movements are very basic, and even the “action” sequences don’t have any weight to them. The characters feel like they are flying around a big green or blue screen, which makes the background look lifeless. It’s probably a good guess that they had enough of a budget for what would traditionally be enough for one episode of a regular CGI animated show.

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The story and characters are very flat, and not-at-all interesting. Spark is an annoying teenage character who is literally the reason behind Zhong getting the upper hand in the film, and is just a grating character to listen to. Yes he might be a teenager, but these types of characters are not endearing in the slightest to listen to or invest time with. Vix is a pill of a character, and Chunk probably is the most likable character, but is very basic. The villain shouldn’t be a threat. He can’t fight back against anyone bigger than himself, and while I get he was made more as a comedic villain, the film relies on everyone being too stupid to stand up to him. The overall story is very basic adventure 101 with a chosen one, and every cliché from this type of film that you have seen a hundred times. I don’t care if you are unoriginal, but you have to be executed well or do something new or refreshing. This film doesn’t do that well with a story that you can guess from the very beginning scene. I also wonder how the heck they got these actors. I know some of them aren’t current A-list, but how do you get Jessica Biel, Hillary Swank, Susan Sarandon, and Patrick Stewart? I get why you got that child actor Jace Norman, but those other four? You would think they would get to throw some weight around, especially Patrick Stewart and Susan Sarandon, since they were both in recent hits like The Feud and Logan. I understand that they did this way before those two projects came out, but come on.

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So, is there anything positive to say about this film? Not really. The only real reason this film has to exist now is to be a prime example of how to not make, distribute, in this case, animate, and market your film. I don’t know one thing this film did correctly to entice or interest anyone into seeing this film. It’s quite honestly one of the prime examples of a film that has no real reason to exist or to have been pushed into theaters. If Open Road Films cared at all about this film, they would have marketed more, put more time and effort into it, and actually gave a hoot about it. I can’t repeat this enough that this film has no reason to exist. I wish I could find something about this film as redeemable, but when more animated films are putting effort into their experiences, whether they turn out to be good or bad, you have to step it up in order for them to warrant theater time. For now, Spark has the honored spot as the worst animated film of the year. I don’t usually like talking about these films because I know the people that made them probably didn’t have the best work schedule to get this done, but if you are going to be selling me a product that I’m paying money for to see in a place that has multiple Hollywood-level films in other rooms, then you are opening yourself up for massive amounts of criticism. Sometimes, going straight-to-DVD is the better route for these animated films. How about next time, we look at the new anime film on Netflix with Blame! Thanks for reading; I hope to see you all next time as we count down to review 100 animation reviews.

Rating: The Worst/Blacklist