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!

The Other Side of Animation 89: Sahara Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: Lackluster!