2017 in Animation So Far

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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, it’s been over half a year now for 2017, and it’s time to look back at the year so far. I thought it would be interesting, since I don’t really talk about all the big movies until I do my Worst to Best list for every year. I’ll be setting this up differently as well, with the execution of this article. I’ll be doing separate little segments for what were my favorites so far, the biggest surprises so far, the most average films so far, the biggest disappointments so far, and the worst. At the end, I’ll put down some films that I am looking forward to, and hopefully some films that will come out in the states in the near future.

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Best Animated Films (so far)

My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea: Trippy, unusual, darkly comedic, and the definition of pure visual LSD, this indie film is the best animated film I have seen this year. With a great voice cast, a fun sense of humor, and a unique experience, I can’t wait to buy this movie for my collection.

LEGO Batman Movie: While I respect the comments that it relies too much on Batman references, and it doesn’t have the full heart of the original film, I went in wanting this to be a fantastic film, and that is what I got. Outside of My Entire High School, I haven’t laughed so much or enjoyed a theater-going experience this year as much as I have enjoyed LEGO Batman. It’s clever, the characters are likable, and I was smiling like a fool from beginning to end. Yeah, I have my issues with the film, but it’s actually good, unlike a lot of films from 2017.

Ethel & Ernest: This is such a simple movie, but it’s so good. It’s nothing super grand, or some characters going on a big adventure, it’s just the life and times of Raymond Brigg’s parents. It feels like such a personal film, and the team that made the movie obviously cared very much about the book the film is based on. With wonderful performances, multiple touching moments, and gorgeous animation, I am impatiently waiting for this film to get a US release.

Ocean Waves: Finally, after what seems like a century, the US finally gets a legit release of the last Studio Ghibli film to be brought over. While it is disappointing that there is no English dub for this film, it definitely has a lot of elements that would have made it hard to translate to English. It’s also a slower-paced and more realistic film about teens growing up during high school. It has its flaws in terms of story pacing and characters, but I still loved watching it, and when it hit it out of the park, it really hit it out of the park.

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Biggest Surprises (so far)

Captain Underpants: Who knew a film everyone was dreading ended up one of the most fun movies of the year? With characters that have charm, great animation, and an obvious amount of passion and soul put into the end product, I was pleasantly surprised by this film. Not to say it doesn’t have its problems, but I had more fun watching this than most of the animated films from this year. It knew what it wanted to do, and I respect that.

 Justice League Dark: It’s no surprise that DC has had an amazing year in 2017, and kicked it off with a fun and more mature story of magic, demons, and the return of Matt Ryan as John Constantine. It’s a film that takes advantage of its situation, and while it does have some pacing problems because of the 70-minute runtime, it’s still a blast to watch, and actually see some charm in the drab DC universe.

Teen Titans: The Judas Contract: This is pretty much an apology letter for Justice League vs Teen Titans as everything that was so good about this movie should have been in the previous film. Everyone has ample screen-time, the action is good, and I don’t want to strangle any of the characters. The main villain is definitely weak, and there are some predictable story beats, but it’s so much better than I was thinking it was going to be. I’m glad I was surprised.

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Biggest Disappointments (so far)

Cars 3: You would think by the third film, they would know what to do with this cash cow of a franchise. While I was definitely more emotionally invested in this one, and love that they just retconned Cars 2, I wouldn’t call this a great animated film by any stretch of the imagination. It’s definitely more of a sport movie than the previous films, but there is a bit too much going on, and it doesn’t know how to pace itself. The villains were weak, and the ending had some elements that I would call shenanigans on, since they just leave it open to make another Cars movie. While not the worst Pixar film by any means, it’s a shame the film didn’t live up to the extremely false advertising.

Despicable Me 3: Second verse, same as the first. Despicable Me 3 was better in a lot of ways to the previous installments, but was hugely flawed. It once again had way too many plots going on, and none of them get enough time to be fleshed out. It results in a movie that can be entertaining, but completely hollow at the same time. I don’t know how many more films they can make with the current style before people just turn on them. At the very least, Trey Parker’s portrayal as the villain was super entertaining. I’ll have more to say when I review it in the future.

Blame!: Since CGI animation in anime already has a tainted reputation for low quality products, you would hope a film like Blame! could show how to do it well. Sadly, all that you get is a rather boring and sometimes fun sci-fi world builder. The characters are bland, and even the higher quality movements can’t hide the fact that CGI animation in anime can and will be distracting.

 Seoul Station: While not a terrible zombie movie, I have no urge to rewatch this film. It has its moments and its social commentary, but since this film is supposedly connected to the fan favorite Train to Busan, then I think it needs to be more than just where the zombie outbreak started.

Smurfs: The Lost Village: While the trailer for this gave off both a good and bad impression, I was still hopeful that this would be a pretty solid film. Sadly, what we got was a rather predictable and yet again boring film. There is just nothing there for kids or adults. It’s way better than the live-action films, but that’s not saying much for a film that’s not willing to take risks.

The Boss Baby: While I don’t hate this movie, it’s obvious they went with one gimmick and didn’t really do much else. Alec Baldwin is the best part of the movie, but that’s not enough for this film to be good. It has good animation, and I liked a lot of the lines and jokes, but everything else felt so hollow, and lacked substance. We are sadly getting a sequel for some reason, but hopefully, it can be a Madagascar situation where they get better with each sequel.

Sahara: Probably one of the most disappointing films to hit Netflix. I was thinking they got a French animation gem on their hands, but instead, they got a French dud. While the CGI animation is pretty solid, the colors are vibrant, and there are points where the film does slow down, it doesn’t make up for an annoying cast, an English dub that forced me to watch it in French, and a film that’s not really interesting to watch. It definitely could have been a lot better in terms of story and characters.

Rock Dog: This film went through so much political baloney, that it’s hard to really trash this film. It has no focus, tone is an inconsistent wreck, the animation isn’t theatrical quality, and the side characters are pointless. It’s a shame, since it’s not a cynical cash grab, and it tried to be earnest in its intentions. It just didn’t pan out, and all we got was a mediocre film.

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The Worst (So far)

The Emoji Movie: While I know this is everyone’s favorite punching bag, it’s just a forgettable bad movie, people! It’s not super offensive outside of the concept, but it’s not super amazing either. It’s probably the most forgettable bad animated movie of 2017, that got pushed into the limelight because people call it the death to cinema. I’m working on a review of it right now, and I’ll say this, calm down, people!

Leap!: Yes, technically, I should wait to talk about this film when it’s officially released, but on the other hand, since it’s already available in an English format, and The Weinstein Company is simply redubbing and recasting for no reason, I have a right to say this movie is still 100% terrible. It’s an enjoyable type of terrible, since some choices in terms of animation and plot points are insane, but it’s otherwise bland and really forgettable with a terrible sense of humor, and animation that can be rather creepy-looking. I’m sure this had good intentions behind it, and I can’t say it’s the worst movie I have seen this year, but it’s still something I never want to watch again, but I sadly have to, since if I want to be fully fair to this film, I need to watch The Weinstein version.

A Stork’s Journey: I don’t get why this film had to get a limited release. Was anyone asking for this badly animated film? Its mean-spirited characters, bad pacing, and predictable plot also bog down the experience. It has one little scene that works, but that’s about it. Just avoid at all cost.

Spark: a Space Tail: Unlike the film mentioned above, I found nothing redeemable, or enjoyable about this movie. Open Roads didn’t give this film a wide release, and is now considered one of the biggest bombs in the animation scene. Even with that distinction, it has horrible animation, terrible characters, boring action sequences, a bland story, and it has no real reason to exist. Not even Patrick Stewart could save this. Until I say otherwise, this is still the worst animated movie of 2017.

Well, that was a bummer way to end the list, how about we close the editorial up with some movies that are coming out this year that I’m excited for? And yes, a lot of them are GKids films.

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The Remaining Films I’m Looking Forward to Through 2017

Coco: While Cars 3 did not fully deliver, Coco will hopefully be the one Pixar film to be fully satisfying with its themes of Day of the Dead, family, and music with a great art style, and gorgeous animation.

Mary and the Witch’s Flower: GKids recently picked up the rights to this film, and I’m not really surprised. It’s got veteran Studio Ghibli members, and GKids has a great connection with the famed studio. The first movie from Studio Ponoc looks really promising with beautiful animation, awesome character designs, and just a huge amount of creativity. I think this could easily be an Oscar contender for Best Animated Feature.

The Breadwinner: Probably the other Oscar contender for Best Animated Feature is yet another GKids-distributed film, based on the famous book. Cartoon Saloon is once again on a roll with a touching story, great animation, and they are mixing it up this time with two different styles of animation. It looks great, and I trust anything these two companies, GKids and Cartoon Saloon will put out.

The LEGO Ninajgo Movie: Well, so far, the two LEGO Movies we got have been pretty fantastic, can’t see a reason why not to be excited for this one. It’s also nice to see it be a mostly action-focused film, since it seems like we can’t get an action anything in animation these days. While the recent trailer probably showed off too much in terms of jokes, I’m still looking forward to the next LEGO Movie.

The Girl Without Hands: While I’m sort of disappointed this one-man film is not coming to my neck of the woods, I will wait for a DVD release, since I really want to see this visually ambitious and mature animated film. I have talked about it a bit on an Animation Tidbit, so I won’t go into much detail there.

Birdboy: The Forgotten Children: I have talked about this dark animated film as well, so if you want to see more of my thoughts about this Spanish-animated film, you can go to the link I put above for The Girl Without Hands, but none the less, I am looking forward to see how this dark tale unfolds.

In This Corner of the World: A big Annecy Film Festival winner about a young girl as she grows up during World War II. It has a luscious watercolor art style, a vibe that feels similar to a Studio Ghibli film, and a sad, but endearing story.

Loving Vincent: Hey look, another film I talked about in an Animation Tidbit editorial. It’s a beautifully abstract film, with a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and tons and tons of paint put into the overall project. I can’t wait for this film to get a wider release in October.

That is it for now, let’s hope more amazing films come out, and I will make a new list in the New Year covering the worst to best of 2017!

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The Other Side of Animation 82: Rock Dog 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!)

As the internet becomes bigger and louder, there is a concern that when it comes to game and film reviews, people are going to blow up a bad or good game even more than they should. I mean, people on the internet are already known to over-react to everything, without taking a moment to think about it and see if there is more to something than what is there at face value. I mean, yeah, sometimes, the issue at hand with a game or movie deserves the flack it gets, but sometimes, you get something like Rock Dog. Released recently near the tail end of February, Rock Dog was an American/Chinese animation collaboration, and cost $60 mil. It was interesting since the Chinese part of this co-production went to the states to find an animation studio to do the bulk of the work at Reel FX Entertainment, the team behind The Book of Life. It was released in China first, and was meant to be part of this big push for the American and Chinese film industry to start collaborating more. Unfortunately, petty business politics forced Rock Dog to flop in theaters, due to a lack of theatrical distribution in Chinese theaters. It was a little concerning when there was no real talk to bring it over, even though there was English voice work done. For better or for worse, Summit Entertainment and Lionsgate picked up the American distribution rights, and, well, the film isn’t doing well here either. Kind of a shame, since if you know anything about the Chinese animation industry, it’s like the late 80s early 90s anime scene, utter chaos and nightmarishly terrible schlock. So, how is it? Well, let’s find out.

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The story revolves around Bodi, voiced by Luke Wilson. He lives in a village where he’s training to be a guard, but after obtaining a radio that fell from a plane, would rather be a musician. After convincing his dad, voiced by J.K. Simmons that he should go to the big city to become a rock star, Bodi ventures forth to find a famous rock star named Angus Scattergood, voiced by Eddy Izzard. Unfortunately, and unbeknownst to him, a group of wolves led by a leader voiced by Lewis Black plan to take over the village and eat its sheep civilians. Can Bodi save the day and become a glorious rock star?

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Let’s get the bad out of the way, since while this is in no way near the raging cesspool that is Norm of the North, it still has a hefty amount of problems. The biggest issue comes in the form of the story. It’s a huge mess. It has way too many elements that are too similar to recent offerings. It has elements of Kubo and the Two Strings, Kung Fu Panda, a pinch of Zootopia with the animals, and any music-based film you can think of. Rock Dog is like the fattiest piece of meat you can think of, and it needed about 80% of that fat trimmed right off to make it a better movie. There was no reason to have mystical kung fu elements, or the wolves to want to eat the bi-pedal sheep people of this one town. Heck, the wolf mafia seems to be making money and doing fine without having to deal with this one town. I also find the fact they want to eat the living and breathing sheep people kind of creepy. It’s why you don’t want to have these types of thoughts come up in worlds with bi-pedal animals, since it would be like me wanting to take over a town in the middle of nowhere Texas and wanting to chop up the animals and eat them. I would care more about the characters involved, but you could also cut a lot of them from the film and not lose anything. Luke Wilson does a decent job as Bodi, but the father is your stereotypical father character who doesn’t fully understand his son’s passion for something. The creepy Sam Elliot yak doesn’t do much, Eddie Izzard is okay as a cynical rock star, for some reason Matt Dillon is here as a jerk character, and the two friends that Bodi meets in the city, a fox and goat, are just nothing. They have no personality or any real character. They are just there to fill out some kind of story quota, when they don’t give us any reason to care about them. I also find it distracting that you have all these big names like Luke Wilson, J.K. Simmons, Sam Elliot, Kenan Thompson, Jorge Garcia, and Matt Dillon, when they could have cut some of them, and hired proper voice actors. I’m sure they were brought on because China found these actors appealing, but I don’t see the characters they play as; I see them simply as actors getting paychecks, but without the effort for said paychecks. Okay, that may be a bit harsh, since the script isn’t all that inspiring either. Granted, the script isn’t horrible, and it does stay away from a lot of kid film tropes, but I don’t remember a lot of lines, and the jokes weren’t funny. The only time I did chuckle was when Lewis Black or Kenan Thompson was onscreen, and even then, it’s more in how they deliver their lines than the lines themselves. I know this happens more often than not, but I’m always very disappointed when you get such good or funny actors, and then pair them with a weak script.

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The animation is also underdeveloped. While not super horrible and cheap-looking as, say, a lot of the straight-to-video animated films from China, it’s not high enough quality to be theater-worthy. It’s definitely better-looking than Norm of the North and The Wild Life by miles, but you still see awkward animation and lack of any memorable designs. It feels cheap in the sense that there are only 5 or so animal types in the films. It makes you respect and admire how much effort was put into Zootopia’s living, breathing world, how many animals they had, and how many variations of them were in the film. No two animals felt similar in Zootopia. In Rock Dog, a lot of the animals look very copy-and-paste. It really needed $10 mil or $20 mil more to make the animation look better. Sure, not everyone has Illumination, Pixar, or Disney money to throw around, but if you are going to be shoved into theaters with the other big films, you are going to get criticized for not being as high quality as the big releases. And no, cheap or clunky animation isn’t always an artistic choice.

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So, it sounds like I don’t really like this movie. I mean, I don’t think it’s the worst, but I do have some positives to say about it. While it is a mess in terms of story and character, to me, the film never felt cynical or manipulative like in Norm of the North or Ice Age: Collision Course. It felt like the writers and directors were being as earnest as they possibly could with the story and characters. It’s a very basic script and story, but I never felt like I was being insulted for watching it, like a lot of bad animated films do to the audience. I also found the main song from the film, Glorious by Adam Friedman enjoyable. I know it sounds like a lot of indie rock bands right now, but hey, I like this type of music. Granted, it’s distracting hearing Adam’s voice coming out of a character voiced by Luke Wilson, and it is yet another musical concert-style ending, but still, I could think of much worse songs on which to end a film.

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So, yeah, Rock Dog is not a good movie. In terms of animation from 2017 so far, Rock Dog is not going to be the worst of the worst either. In the end, it’s a very harmless movie. It doesn’t feel super-cynical or soulless, like Norm of the North, but it doesn’t have that charm that something like The Book of Life had. Still, I can’t say that it would be the worst thing to show off to a kid. I can see families renting it for a night and then returning it. It’s too early in the year for reviewers and critics to say Rock Dog is going to be the worst of the year. I have already seen one film that was worse, Nerdland, and there are plenty of upcoming films that look like pure trainwrecks and pessimistic cash grabs more so than Rock Dog. Rent it if you are curious, but don’t feel badly if you decide to skip out on it. Well, that was fun, so how about we celebrate April with another Japanese Animation Month, and take a look at one of the most recent GKids offerings with Welcome to the Space Show. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Lackluster!

Hit-or-Miss Movie Predictions: Rock Dog

(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!)

Welcome back to Hit-or-Miss Movie Predictions! This is where I give my first impressions of upcoming animated films, and point out the good, the bad, and the interesting. In the end, I shall predict if it will be a hit, a miss, or something different altogether.

When I started these editorials talking about upcoming movies, these were never meant to be a set-in-stone prediction. How many times have we seen a movie or played a game that we all thought would be a failure, but then turned out to be amazing, or films that should have been amazing, but then became failures? Anyway, these are just my thoughts and opinions on the upcoming animated films and I am not making instant predictions. Even if the film is just asking for snap judgements like DreamWorks’ Trolls or Lionsgate’s upcoming The Wild Life, which we will talk about at a later date since they are both trainwrecks just asking for snap judgments. With that said, let’s get going with today’s impression of Rock Dog, a CGI animated film collaboration between China and Reel FX studios, the same studio behind The Book of Life. What do I think of this upcoming flick? Well, let’s find out! If you want to form your own opinion, here is a link to the trailer!

Animation/Art Direction

To be frank, this looks a lot better than what you would think of a Chinese-funded animated film, since so many that come out of the country look really bad in terms of theater-quality animation. Rock Dog actually looks pretty solid. The textures and some of the animation seen in the trailer could be better, but the overall presentation looks theater-quality enough to not get the “the animation looks like a made-for-TV/direct to DVD” criticism when it comes out. I think that’s because the two Chinese companies that are making this film, Huayi Brothers and Mandoo Pictures, outsourced the animation to be done by Reel FX, the same studio that made The Book of Life and Free Birds. It’s an interesting situation since most companies would rather outsource their projects to foreign companies to do all the heavy lifting. Anyway, in terms of the art style shown off in the trailer, it appears good. At least it looks different than the DreamWorks and Pixar rip-offs that are coming out.

Humor

Just going off of the first trailer since future trailers love to show off that there are in fact potty humor-style jokes (which are stupid), the humor seems more down to earth. Nothing too lowbrow, but I won’t be surprised if there was one crude joke slipped into the whole film that doesn’t work. It seems like this film is more about telling a story, and not trying to cram in jokes every five minutes. I’m down for a film that wants to be good harmless entertainment in the humor department.

Story

The plot revolves around a Tibetan mastiff named Bodi, voiced by Luke Wilson. After obtaining a radio that fell from the sky, he becomes obsessed with music. This doesn’t go over well with his father, Khampa, voiced by J.K. Simmons who wants Bodi to be the next village guard. Bodi decides to travel to the city to find a super popular artist named Angus Scattergood, voiced by Eddie Izzard. While this is all going on, a wolf named Linnux, voiced by Lewis Black, decides to take advantage of this situation by trying to kidnap Bodi so he can take over Bodi’s home village. Can Bodi realize his musical destiny, or will Linnux win out?

Casting

While not the biggest named cast, the overall list of actors they got for this film is still solid nonetheless. The cast include Luke Wilson, Eddie Izzard, J.K. Simmons, Lewis Black, Kenan Thompson, Jorge Garcia, Mae Whitman, Matt Dillon, and Sam Elliot.

Concerns

Well, for one, it seems like it’s going to come out when Illuminations’ SING comes out, which is another animal-oriented movie with a major theme of music. Granted, Rock Dog at least looks less cynical that SING. And yes, I will be talking about SING when another trailer is released, but so far, I’m not impressed. I just worry that Rock Dog is going to be overshadowed by another film that probably won’t be that good in the first place, which has happened to a lot of movies, like Kung Fu Panda 2 and any film from GKIDS. Also, I wonder how people feel about a Chinese-funded film starring a character from Tibet. I don’t know, maybe I’m looking too much into that element.

Prediction: Unknown

I really don’t know where this one will go. I can see it being an honest-to-goodness good movie, or a harmless underwhelming flick. That is more than I can say for what Lionsgate has coming out this year *coughs* The Wild Life *coughs*. Another high point for this film to succeed is that the director, Ash Brannon, has worked on hit movies in the past in different areas of development in films like Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Over the Hedge, and was a co-director for Toy Story 2 and Surf’s Up. Who knows, all we can do is wait and see once Rock Dog is released later this year.