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As I come close to reaching 200 reviews, something that I have wanted to avoid is now becoming more and more unavoidable, direct-to-video features. I have nothing against filmmakers or animated features from overseas that can only find some ray of light under the sun with being sent directly to video, but unfortunately, that phrase “Direct-to-Video” comes with some big and not very helpful signs of quality. When you hear those three words, it usually means films that were made for cheap, they scrounged up enough for at least one C-list actor, cast the rest with YouTubers looking for a big break, fill out the rest with voice actors, and animation that would be good enough for a TV release back in the late 90s early 2000s. Sure, sometimes you get the films like GKids put out direct-to-video that are way better than the stuff you find on random shelves in grocery stores or bargain bins, but Direct-to-Video doesn’t carry a positive distinction. So, if I was going to tackle something that went directly to store shelves, I might as well pick something that had some cultural weight and has made an impression on the animation culture. This led me to China’s The Boonie Bears. This is a Chinese CGI-animated series starring two bears, Bramble and Briar, who constantly try to stop Logger Vick’s plans to chop down the trees. To say this is a massive show would be an understatement, as it has over 600 episodes, is translated into multiple languages including Mandarin, English, Russian, Spanish, French, and Hindi, and it has been distributed in over 82 countries. Since this was a popular series by Fantawild Animation, you knew spin-offs and films were going to be a thing. We will be looking at one of the films today. Currently, the franchise has six films released, but today, we will be covering the fourth film, Fantastica: A Boonie Bears Adventure. Directed by Ding Liang, Fantastica, or as the original title is listed, Boonie Bears: Entangled Worlds, was released in China back in 2017, but got a recent US release by Viva Pictures, a distributor that I wish I had more positive things to say about. Anyway, how does this film actually hold up for a US release, and for people who may not know anything about this brand or the distributor? Let’s see what happens!
The story starts off pretty typically. Logger Vick, dubbed by Paul Rinehart is up to his devilish deeds of trying to chop down the trees. Luckily, Briar and Bramble Bear, dubbed by Mario Lopez and Josh Peck, chase after him. However, Vick ends up running into a robot, dubbed by Siobhan Lumsden, who was part of an archeological team that was ambushed by a group of thieves. The robot ends up being named Coco, and tells Vick and the two bears about an ancient artifact called the Golden Antlers that are in a land called Fantastica. The four end up going on an adventure to find Fantastica and the Antlers while avoiding the group of thieves that works for a tech expert that is also looking for the Antlers. Can they find the Antlers before the baddies do?
So, let’s mix things up a bit, and talk about the elephant in the room. There are two different dubs for this film. One has the cast from the English dub of the show, and the one we have from Viva Pictures is the one that just adds two celebrities to the title with Mario Lopez and Josh Peck. I watched both side to side, and while the Viva Pictures version might not be a Weinstein-level hatchet job to the film, there’s not a lot that changes, outside of Josh Peck trying to throw out some on-the-spot pop culture references or joke lines when his character’s mouth is not on screen. While I do not approve of just redubbing with two celebrities to have two names on the digital storefront or DVD, I’m at the very least glad they didn’t try to edit the film in any major ways. That’s already making this film way better than 99% of The Weinstein Company’s animation library. Besides, even if this film didn’t get a Weinstein-level hatchet job, you wouldn’t believe me by how the story is told.
Yeah, while it isn’t butchered to the point of being confusing, a lot of story elements are confusing or not fleshed out enough to make sense. For one, let’s talk about the villains. Apparently, the villains are from a different universe and place in time. I say this, because they look more live-action, but when they enter the Boonie Bears’ universe, they look more cartoonish. Okay, I don’t think they needed this to happen. It’s not like there aren’t human characters. Why did they need to over-complicate their origins? They also don’t flesh out the villains enough, in terms of why they want the Golden Antlers. They try to throw in some kind of backstory for the main bad guy, but then it’s resolved by the end of the movie. Yeah, none of it is satisfying, nor do they make the villains entertaining. They are pretty dime-a-dozen with little to no personality. No matter whom you focus on in this film, and that includes the main characters, it feels undercooked. Vick ends up being this secondary neutral character, but then has an abrupt villain turn, but then becomes the good guy again in the end. Even the two Boonie Bears don’t do much, but react to the situation. They interact and do help out a little, but not enough to matter. They felt like side characters within their own movie, which is always obnoxious. It’s meant to be this big fantastical fantasy adventure, and yet, once we finally get to Fantastica, they rush through it. Even the highly marketed female archer person you see both leads talk about in their videos is bland. Sure, she is a good shot, but that’s about it. It’s a film that, while China is having a serious resurgence in animation, they still have a lot to learn with storytelling. Oh, and the ending is all kinds of abrupt and disappointing.
So, the story and overall experience is a slightly negative disappointment. Is there anything I do like about the film? Well, while the comedy in the film doesn’t really work and they try too many kinds of jokes, there were a few laughs to be had. The voice cast is mostly annoying, but even if there was no real reason to hire Josh Peck, I think he does the best out of the two celebrities they hired. Seriously though, a few of the actors they obtained for certain characters have some of the most obnoxious voices I have ever heard from fictional characters. I will also give them credit that a part of the fantastical world of, well, Fantastica does look creative. A lot of what you see in this magical land can be rather typical for fantasy land elements, but I was digging the creatures that inhabit the land of Fantastica. It at the very least, leads to some pretty visuals. Animation-wise, it was okay. It’s still not up there with some of China’s recent efforts, and some of the animation is janky, but its way better than something like The Adventures of Panda Warrior.
Sadly, Fantastica: A Boonie Bears Adventure is another disappointment from China’s animation offerings. I found it odd that Viva Pictures, the notorious distributors of films like Foodfight, Son of Bigfoot, Monster Family, Monkey King: Hero is Back, Gaturro, and Ozzy, decided to pick just one of the films. Though I’m sure it’s not going to do well for them, because it’s not the first film, and barely anyone that I have talked to has ever heard of this franchise. Viva Pictures probably picked it up, because it was cheap, and they don’t have a quality control person to tell them to stop picking up the bargain bin titles. Oh well, maybe one day Viva Pictures will have a film that’s both worth talking about and worth seeing. Now then, let’s get back to the positive vibes and look at what might be 2019’s best animated feature with Dennis Do’s Funan. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!