The Other Side of Animation 171: Klaus 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!)

When it comes to films centered around the holidays, I’m very picky about which ones I want to watch. I’m especially picky when it comes to Christmas movies. I don’t hate them, because my family has a slew of Christmas classics we love to watch, but much of the time, most films based around a holiday like Christmas aren’t great. So many are either try-hard, cornier than a monster made of corn, or unintentionally mean-spirited. It doesn’t help either that most Christmas-related fare gets shoved into romance films that Hallmark makes all of the time. Like making any movie, all you need to do is focus on writing and story, and you should be good! That’s why when I find a Christmas movie I adore, I support it with all of my strength, which is why I’m tackling Netflix’s Klaus!

Directed by Sergio Pablo, and animated by SPA Studios, it was picked up and distributed by Netflix, and released November 8th in the US to pretty positive reviews, and will be getting an Oscar push for this year’s award season. It’s also the first original animated-feature for the streaming service. I was personally excited about the film, and I only got more excited when I saw the behind-the-scenes event at Animation is Film. So, what do I think about this festive new film? Well, let’s get to that part of the review!

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Our story focuses on a young man named Jesper, voiced by Jason Schwartzman, an individual who has no real drive in life who would rather lay around and be lazy since his father is wealthy. After trying to get kicked out of the postal academy his father enrolled him in, his father has a different idea. Instead of falling for Jesper’s shenanigans, he sends Jesper off to the furthest place on the map to a small town called Smeerensburg to be that town’s postman. Unfortunately for him, Jesper quickly finds out that Smeerensburg is the unhappiest place on earth, with two rival clans of families that have been fighting since the literal dawn of time. Jesper only has one year to make a functioning postal service in this town, or else he’s cut off from his family’s money. Can he change his ways and make a living postal service work in such a wretched town? What about this mysterious woodcutter, voiced by J.K. Simmons, at the end of the island, and the woodcutter’s mysterious barn of toys?

As the marketing, the behind-the-scenes event, and the story have revealed, this is an origin story for Santa Claus. It’s essentially, a modern-day and better-animated version of the Rankin-Bass classic, Santa Claus is Coming to Town. I don’t mind that, because it’s a pretty straight forward origin story for the jolly red man. It’s about the origins of a fictional character told through the view of a young man learning to be a better person, and how a nice gesture creates another nice gesture. That theme, by the way, is why this movie is so good! I always enjoyed themes like this, because, while it might be a simple one, it sticks with you. I mean, when has an act of meanness ever inspired someone to work with you or do something mean to someone else? It doesn’t take that much effort to do something kind and caring. The theme sticks with me more, because of the premise of the town Jesper is in. It’s a town that has had a long-standing rivalry bred by toxic and hateful behaviors and traditions. One an act of kindness starts in the town, it spreads and everyone becomes better people, and they get rid of the traditions that were brought upon them by the previous generations.

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In terms of the characters, I enjoyed my time with them. Sure, Jesper can be a little annoying at first, but since he’s another in a long line of “whiny individuals that redeems themselves in the end”, I find him to be one of the better versions of this character. He does start as a jerk, but then realizes what his good deeds lead up to, and he’s written better than most of these types. The other characters also ooze and flow with charm and personality. A lot of it is who they got for the roles and the animation, but I loved the characters. From Rashida Jones’ Alva to Will Sasso and Joan Cusacks as Mr. Ellingboe and Mrs. Krum, the film is full of amusing characters. I also adored J.K. Simmons as Klaus. They give him a lot of pathos in who he is, and Simmons puts in another fantastic performance. Even Norm Macdonald as Mogens, the boatman, has a lot of character to him. The villains are especially deviant as, while they are joke villains, there is a bit more imposing and threatening to their centuries of hatred and ignorance that makes them threats. As for the comedy, I remember busting out into laughter many times due to the delivery of the jokes, and I’m sure everyone had fun playing these characters. The jokes range from mostly physical and visual gags, but the dialogue is kept timeless as to not add any pop culture references to date the script. Some lines may feel a touch more modern, but it’s in the way that the Emperor’s New Groove has more modern-sounding dialogue, but still fits the setting.

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The animation though, we have to talk about it! This is one of the most visually splendid films of 2019. It’s pure 2D animation goodness. Sure, some parts may have used a tiny bit of CGI, and yeah, it’s a lot of digital coloring and lighting, but due to how talented the team of animators is, and how much passion and little details are put into the final product, the result is a film that feels like Christmas. You look at the lush landscapes and the bitter cold town that Jesper is stuck in, and you feel like you are there. The film feels grand in scale as the cinematography brings you into this world. It’s a film with a visual presentation that I would have loved to have fully seen on a big screen.

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I love this movie, and it’s not just because it’s 2D animation. However, I do have some very minor complaints about it. First off, the pop songs. Now, the main soundtrack to Klaus by composer Alfonso Aguilar Gonzalez is incredible. What’s forgettable and just okay are the pop songs in the film, and while one of them is played as a joke that works, the other ones heard are okay, but nothing special. I wonder if this was a thing that Netflix requested, because if you took out the pop songs, you would miss nothing. They don’t ruin the scenes they are in, but they stick out.

I wish there was more time for Jesper and Alva’s relationship to bloom. They have decent chemistry, but I wanted there to be more time for the two to spend with each other instead of the film relegating her to be the love interest in the second half of the film. It almost makes me wish they didn’t end up together, but their chemistry was cute. They also pull the third act “liar revealed” gag, and while it’s not the worst trope I know, and it is a bummer it was used, it still makes sense in a way? Like, I wish animated films and films in general would stop using this trope, but as long as they are executed well, I don’t mind seeing them in the film.

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Normally, I temper my hype, because I always go into a movie ready to be disappointed by it, but Klaus was worth all of the hype, and it is worth getting all of the support it needs to help bring back interest in 2D animation to the theatrical scene. I highly recommend everyone who has Netflix to watch this movie right now, and constantly during the holidays. It’s a new Christmas classic, and one I would put on par with The Nightmare Before Christmas. In terms of animated Christmas movies from this decade, I would argue that it’s better than Arthur Christmas, but that’s just me. Now then, we got our Christmas movie out of the way early, how about we jump into some DC comic book movies for a while? I need to catch up on them, but before we tackle Batman vs. TMNT, I got a screener to review first, and that will be a surprise to you and me with how this next film turns out!

 

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: Criterion/Essentials

The Other Side of Animation 144: Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch (2018) 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!)

It’s another year, and that means another Illumination Entertainment movie. It also means another time to say how Illumination is not a horrible studio in the sea of vitriolic hate and anger that is the internet that hates this studio with a passion. Listen, in the grand scheme of things, there are worse things to worry about than a studio that makes middle-of-the-road movies that rakes in boatloads of money, because they hit a massive audience. Now, in the context of the animation scene, I get the annoyance. You want films that put all the elbow grease into their animation, story, and writing to make all the money, or people to go see the incredible indie animation scene. Sadly, that’s an all too head-in-the-clouds way of knowing what’s going to actually happen. People are going to go see films that might not be perfect, but they personally find enjoyable. So, it is annoying that Illumination seems to do the bare minimum with their work, but rake in cash because of smart budgeting and business. It’s not their fault they are doing something that, at the end of the day, is going to make the studio money. Art might be why we make movies, but you can’t simply rely on that on its own to make the industry run. It’s a balancing act, and that’s why for every Missing Link, we get a Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch. Directed by Scott Mosier and Yarrow Cheney, this newest take on the beloved short story was released November 9th, and while getting mostly middling reviews, is raking in the money. To be fair, this is way better than the Ron Howard live-action version by millions of miles. Why? Well, let’s find out!

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Benedict Cumberbatch voices our main character, the Grinch, a green furry individual who hates everyone in Whoville, and especially the Christmas holiday. He doesn’t like the cheerfulness, he doesn’t like the joy, nor does he like his overly happy neighbor “friend” Bricklebaum, voiced by Kenan Thompson. The only proper thing to be mad about is the aggressive groups of Christmas carolers that harass him while he goes to the store. When he finds out that the Whoville citizens are going to throw a Christmas celebration that’s three times bigger than normal, Grinch decides to steal the Who’s Christmas with the help of his dog Max. He has only a few hours to get it all done, and will encounter a few challenges, like cookies and little Cindy Lou Who, voiced by Cameron Seely. Can he do it? I mean, you know about the original story by now, or at the very least, you should.

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Let’s talk about the positives that the film brings to the table. While sounding more snarky, sassy, and almost making you wonder what would have happened if Bill Hader got the role, Benedict Cumberbatch does a solid job as our grumpy green icon. I like that if you aren’t paying attention, or know that it’s him beforehand, you might actually think it’s Bill Hader doing the voice of the Grinch. The rest of the voice cast is also pretty solid. While not all of the characters get worthwhile dialogue sequences, like Rashida Jones’ role as Cindy Lou’s mother, other actors like Kenan Thompson get some of the better laughs in the movie. Oh, and the Whos are actually nice in this film. It’s fine if you grew up and love the Jim Carrey/Ron Howard version, but the one thing the film royally screwed up in that movie was making the Whos the most unlikable blithering individuals. They even have a few story elements that, while they do not go into them at all because it’s Illumination, I liked the ideas of. For example, Grinch has a “neighbor” who is always happy, optimistic, and friendly toward him, while being fairly unaware that Grinch hates him. But you can kind of see two different individuals who deal with the same kind of loneliness, but deal with it in different ways.  It would have been nice if they went more into that, but again, it’s Illumination, depth isn’t their strong point.

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On an animation side of things, The Grinch is probably Illumination’s most visually impressive movie. You can tell that whatever the studio is using to animate this film, the artists and animators they have are incredibly talented. It’s colorful, has some of that Seuss whimsy in its designs, but also has its own Illumination touch. A lot of the textures and details were simply impressive to look at on the big screen. I even heard the 3D version is decent, but my viewing was in 2D. The animation on the character work also made for some solid physical comedy moments. All the visuals accumulate into the heist sequence, and while it is short, is a lot of fun to watch with the fantastical Christmas designs.

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Many of the film’s problems come into the fray with making this story feature-length. Due to the original special being about 25 minutes in length, you don’t get to the actual heist part of the film until maybe halfway or a little over halfway through the 80-minute runtime. It adds in sequences of the Grinch interacting with the Who, and while this could have led to something interesting, it’s more lightweight snark and physical comedy. Along with more sequences of the Grinch with the Who, they give Cindy Lou a subplot and a group of friends who do not add anything at all to the overall story. It even takes out the major threat of the Grinch by giving him a reason why he slightly hates Christmas. The strength of the original special was that he didn’t really have a set reason to hate the holiday. As I sat through the film, I found myself bored at times, because some of the jokes weren’t landing. The audience I was with was the same, but they definitely got a few more chuckles out of the film than me. I also found myself thinking about scenes and ways the film could have improved upon itself through visual storytelling. However, I can’t judge the film because of scenes or ways of filmmaking I would found to be better, but with the film I have here, and it’s simply put, it’s another Illumination film.

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In general, it’s another safe, visually pretty, decently funny, and forgettable animated feature. It might have a nice ending, Benedict Cumberbatch was good as the Grinch, and again, visually splendid animation, but why would you waste the money to go to this film? Just go see Ralph Breaks the Internet, or go and try to find a screening of Mirai or Liz and the Blue Bird to watch. I still stand by my opinion that Illumination isn’t the worst studio around, but it’s becoming harder to defend them when they are not willing to try and push themselves into more creative directions. They make money hand over fist, and they should be able to now experiment a little with different writers, directors, and animation styles. Hopefully, they start doing that more in the future. Now then, let’s talk about one of the great action-animated films of 2018 with MFKZ. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Rent it!

The Other Side of Animation 135: White Fang 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 not hard to see the many complaints about Netflix and their ways of picking up anything for their service, despite its quality or lack of. They want content for their service, but they don’t always get great stuff. Maybe out of every six or so films they pick up, only one and, if you are lucky, two of them will be really good. It doesn’t help either that companies use this to their advantage to slide their films that tested poorly or no one cared about, onto the service and take the loss. You know, how the cowardly spineless Weinsteins hid Guardian Brothers and Underdogs on the service. Luckily, that isn’t always the case, and while the upcoming Duck Duck Goose will be talked about, since it matches that notion I mentioned, let’s talk about a good Netflix animated film with White Fang. Based on the book of the same name written by Jack London, and directed by Alexandre Espigares, the director of the Oscar-winning short Mr. HublotWhite Fang is a CGI-animated feature that was picked up by Netflix, and was released on July 6th 2018 on the service. It was a film I was interested in when I saw the unique art direction and the English cast, including Rashida Jones, Nick Offerman, Paul Giamatti, and Eddie Spears. It seems to have gone under the radar for many people, and I want everyone to know that this is a good Netflix-animated feature. Let’s dive in.

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The story is about a wolf cub that lived with his mother. It follows his life through meeting a Native American tribe, and becoming one of the sled dogs of the chief named Grey Beaver, dubbed by Eddie Spears. His eventual change of ownership is to a snarly evil individual named Beauty Smith, dubbed by Paul Giamatti, and a home with a husband and wife named Marshal Weedon Scott and Maggie Scott, dubbed by Nick Offerman and Rashida Jones.

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I think a major concern for any animated film coming out is that since so many people find animation just a kid’s game, the studios won’t put effort into the film. They will try to do the minimal job to make it interesting, make the animation look nice, and push it out for the sake of making money, because animation is huge right now. Surprisingly, White Fang goes against a multitude of traditional kids’ film tropes. For one, White Fang is more episodic in its storytelling. It’s more about the life the wolf went through, and less of an overarching plot. The only real conflict of plot comes into play in the second half, when Paul Giamatti’s character comes into the story. It’s a slower-paced film. It takes its time with the story, and besides the humans, none of the animals talk. For the most part, it lets the visuals tell the story. It’s also a quiet film. It’s not loud, obnoxious, and there aren’t really any animal shenanigans. It’s like this film wanted to be everything anti-modern big Hollywood animation that isn’t Disney or Pixar. It’s a change of pace that might be jarring to many who are familiar with more fast-paced antics and storytelling. The humans aren’t even the main characters. They are there more to interact with White Fang, and don’t really have any major story arcs or challenges they need to face. I mean, you do see them more than once, but the story keeps White Fang as the main focus. It’s honestly nice to see an animated film that makes sure to treat the viewers as, well, humans. Not everything needs to be super loud, bouncy, and all that jazz. It doesn’t sugarcoat what life was like back in that time period and for certain individuals. Sure, Paul Giamatti’s character is a touch cheesy and obviously a villain, but he’s not a bumbling idiot like most bad villains from animated films. It’s a more grounded-experience, and while I’m not going to compare it to the darker animated films of the 80s, it gets close to that realm with certain scenes.

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The animation is another high point. While you can definitely tell that this did not have a massive Hollywood budget, a good studio and director can take a small budget and run with it. The painted look on the characters gives the film its own visual flair. The humans and animals all move very realistically, but they never felt robotic in their movements. It gives the film this painting-in-motion look that I love. Another fine addition to the good animation is the music. Like a lot of the film, the music is quiet and in the background, and only gets loud and orchestrated during integral scenes and intense moments. Bruno Coulais, the same composer behind CoralineMune: Guardian of the MoonThe Secret of Kells, and Song of the Sea, brought a lot of those same elements to this film with its European folk-sounding music.

If I had to complain about something with the film, it’s definitely the fact that while it  is definitely aimed at a slightly older audience, you can tell what’s going to happen, and what kind of character each human is. I mean, are you really going to look at someone like Paul Giamatti’s character and say he’s a good guy? I’m sure some of these characters and their personalities come from the book, but you won’t be seeing anything new here. Now, there isn’t anything wrong with that, because what matters to me is how you execute the story, but don’t be expecting some brand new variation on the original story. I’ll say that it feels more complete as a story than Incredibles 2 does.

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While it might not reinvent the wheel into some kind of fancy future wheel, White Fang is a really good animated feature. I’m actually kind of shocked Netflix got a good one, but then again, when they find films through festival circuits, they tend to do better than with this week’s Duck Duck Goose release. I definitely recommend checking it out. I honestly found myself surprised by how good it is. If you are looking for an animated film that’s going to be slower in its pace, and offers something different than other animated films in theaters, definitely check it out! While the summer might be ending soon, the animation is going to keep coming. Next time, we are going to look at Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation. Thanks for reading the review! I hope you enjoyed it, and see you next time!

Rating: Go See It!