The Other Side of Animation 87: Smurfs: The Lost Village 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!)

There is always a touch of disappointment when a film series starts to get its spirit and identity on track, but then still fumbles and falls off said tracks. For example, today’s review will be of the Smurf’s fourth foray into being translated onto the big screen. Let’s just say that this new movie had one of the biggest hurdles to get over, in terms of being an animated film. How do you succeed after two financially successful, but critically panned live-action ventures? Well, you kind of don’t. While not a huge financial bomb, it’s probably going to be one of the biggest underperforming animated films of 2017.  Well, let’s see what this new animated adventure directed by Kelly Asbury has to offer.

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The story revolves around the single female Smurf among Smurf Village, Smurfette, voiced by Demi Lovato. She doesn’t feel like she has a purpose, whereas everyone else pretty much does. One day, after hanging out with a few friends, she finds out that there might be a lost village hidden within their world. After getting denied the chance by Papa Smurf, voiced by Mandy Patinkin, to go beyond their village, she decides to go off on her own to find this lost village. She is joined by Hefty Smurf, voiced by Joe Manganiello, Clumsy Smurf, voiced by Jack McBrayer, and Brainy Smurf, voiced by Danny Pudi. On their adventure, they must avoid the grasp of the evil wizard Gargamel, voiced by Rainn Wilson. Can they find this lost village? Who inhabits the village? Was there no real surprise to this film since Sony outright said it was a village of female Smurfs?

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Yeah, that’s probably the biggest problem with this film, there is no real surprise or intrigue to it. It’s like watching an Illumination Entertainment film. It has very pretty visuals and good animation, but the story lacks substance, and seems to rely on its star-studded cast more than actual characters. It doesn’t help that Sony spoiled the surprise, but even then, I think everyone knew what the twist would be. Funny enough, the big twist of the all-female village seems wasted in terms of potential and content. They could explore and wonder what caused this split into bigger detail, or find something very creative to do with such a twist. I think the problem is that it happens in the third act, and then you are introduced to a slew of female Smurfs, which I’m sure were brought in for a possible sequel. It’s a shame, since the characters themselves aren’t terrible, and I sort of like Smurf Willow as this more laid back individual, but you don’t get enough time to flesh them outside of their one character trait. I get that they all have one character trait, but Inside Out had characters who were supposed to be one emotion, but they found ways to expand on said personality traits. Unless you know how to execute simple characters, they come off as bland and forgettable. Even the visuals that they showed off in the trailer, while still very vibrant, get pushed aside. I wanted this film to be more like DreamWorks’ Trolls film, since in that movie, they got to show off super creative creatures, lands, and characters.

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I was also distracted by a ton of the actors they got for the film. It’s another example where they could have either gotten a better voice director or super talented voice actors for the characters, but I get it. You want big names for your film, even though as of right now, no one really went to see your movie. It’s a shame too, since while I think voice actors could have been better choices, and I think Demi Lovato or Meghan Trainor were not needed and come off as pointless, I did enjoy the rest of the cast. Mandy Patinkin does a decent Papa Smurf, Joe Manganiello as Hefty was decent, Danny Pudi was a perfect choice for Brainy, Jack McBrayer, while not doing anything new, is fun as Clumsy, Rainn Wilson actually isn’t bad as Gargamel, though I think Hank Azaria did the voice better in the live-action films. Julia Roberts was good as Smurf Willow, Michelle Rodriguez was basically playing herself as Smurf Storm, Ellie Kemper is maybe a tad too annoying as Smurf Blossom, and Ariel Winter as Smurf Lily is pointless. They are doing their best to be these new characters, and I get that voice acting and acting in general is hard, but I don’t see them as the characters. They also do that thing where they bring in a ton of celebrities to do a line or two, like Gordon Ramsay is Baker Smurf, Tituss Burgess is Vanity Smurf, Gabriel Iglesias is Jokey Smurf, Jeff Dunham is Farmer Smurf, and Kelly Asbury is Nosy Smurf. The only two legit voice actors they hired were Frank Welker as Gargamel’s cat Azrael, and Dee Bradley Baker as Gargamel’s pet vulture, Monty.

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So, did I like anything about the movie? Well, I really enjoyed the animation. I consider this to be the best looking Sony Pictures Animated film to date. I love the colors, how the designs stay close to the original source material, and it’s not too Sony Animation-ish where it’s super hyper and it doesn’t take time to breathe. The colors are very vibrant, and when they are able to show off more of the magical stuff of the world, it’s fun to look at. I wish they could have done more than what we got. Even though the humor is very hit-and-miss with a lot of cop-out jokes, I did like the river scene with Gargamel and the Smurfs. Like I said above, while I was still distracted by all the actors in the film, they did their best. I mean, you are getting paid to be in what is essentially an apology letter for the previous two dumpster fires, so I think you would do your best to be invested within your roles.

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Smurfs the Lost Village is definitely leagues better than the live-action films that came out, and it definitely is creative in the visuals department. If you had to watch one Smurfs film, it’s definitely this one. If the story and pacing were better, along with the writing, I think they really could have had a hidden gem, or one of the better surprises in terms of animation. It needed to be more timeless than pandering to most casual moviegoers to leave a better impact. If this was made in Europe, maybe France, had 2D animation, or it was made in the 80s, I think we could have gotten more of an edge or more bite to the overall experience. Sadly, it’s just another dud that may or may not hurt Sony Pictures Animation if their upcoming Emoji Movie tanks as well. If you haven’t seen it yet, I would definitely wait for a rental. I can see some kids enjoying it, but I don’t know how long-lasting this film’s appeal will be, compared to something like The LEGO Batman Movie or My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea has. Maybe pick it up if you find it for cheap when it comes out, but there is no rush to see this film. In fact, how about we take a look at My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea next time? Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the article, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Lackluster

Worst to Best Animated Films of 2013 Part 1

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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, I was thinking while I’m working on a list of the Worst to Best Animated films of 2016, I’m going to, from time to time, make lists tackling films from different years. It’s probably going to be more on the side of the recent years due to how many animation studios there are, and how willing certain companies are in bringing more movies from different countries. So, what year did I decide to tackle first? 2013. Why did I choose this year, specifically? Because it was one of the best years for films that I have ever seen. Actually, that would be a lie, since 2013 was pretty bad. Not that we didn’t get anything great, since the Oscar-nominated films were fantastic, and from time to time, you would get a great movie, but man, no one, or at the very least, not everyone was willing to give their A game. This was the year we got stuff like Iron Man 3, Thor: Dark World, After Earth, Oz: The Great and Powerful, The Lone Ranger, The Host, and you get the idea. It wasn’t any better for animation, since Disney, DreamWorks, and Pixar decided to go on auto-pilot with a majority of their films in 2013. However, even though it wasn’t a great year for films in general, 2013 was a fantastic year for indie-animated films. So, what are the rules for these types of lists? 1. They had to be released in the states in 2013. I’m not going to add a film to the list unless it came out that year. 2. No straight-to-video schlock. Unless that direct-to-DVD release was worth a hoot, then I’m not counting it. That way, we don’t have to go through the terrifying number of DVD bargain bin nightmares. 3. They are also in order of which ones I would watch again. 4. it’s my list. It’s my opinion on what I thought were the worst to best animated films, and so on. Will you disagree? Maybe, but don’t be malicious towards me if you see that I didn’t like your favorite animated movie on the list.

Now then, let’s begin with one of the biggest corporate blunders of all time!

27. Walking with Dinosaurs

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You know who the biggest victims of this film were? The animators that worked painstakingly hard on getting the movements, textures, and nature of the animals down, only to have it backfire on them by studio execs ruining everything. Instead of letting the film be its own quiet, albeit generic, dinosaur story, they forced voice-overs at the last minute. It ruins any tension in the film, due to there being jokes and comments that ruin the tone. They will even insert a joke that doesn’t fit into a scene where someone horribly dies. I hope the person who thought this was a good idea loved losing over $44 million+ in the box office. It’s one of the biggest financial blunders of all time in terms of CGI-animated films, and there is no reason for anyone to see this movie.

26. The Snow Queen

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Here is the situation for this movie. It was originally released a year before Frozen, but then was brought over to the states a month before Frozen was released. It is based more on the source material than Frozen is, but overall is just a worse movie. The characters are bland and have dead-eye syndrome, the designs were awkward, the pace of the film makes impactful scenes not work, and the animation, while not terrible, is nowhere near the quality it could have been. My only real positive is that it at least tried to be more akin to the source material, but due to how rushed it all feels, it leaves very little for the viewers to take in, and its clunky animation doesn’t help, either. It’s mediocre, but knowing the stuff I have seen this past year, it’s still more watchable than most. I just wouldn’t recommend it.

25. Justin and the Knights of Valor

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The only reason this is on the list is that it got a limited theatrical release, and Antonio Banderas produced it. Funny enough, he is only a really annoying side character in the film. While this animated film might be worse in overall quality compared to the great CGI of Walking with Dinosaurs, Justin and the Knights of Valor was at least presented as intended. It’s yet another Shrek-style fantasy/comedy that doesn’t really understand why Shrek 2 worked, and is constantly not funny. It also has a universe that doesn’t make a lot of sense, due to how knights were replaced by lawyers, but for some reason still have armored men around, and so on. Justin and the Knights of Valour feels like a concept that didn’t get fleshed out enough. However, when the story focuses on Justin, he’s a pretty solid protagonist. The CGI might not be great, but considering what you can usually see with European CGI, it’s upper-tier. A decent protagonist and “good enough” CGI can’t cover up the horrible humor, pointless side characters, weak villains, a mediocre fantasy/comedy setting that isn’t fleshed out enough, and forgettable characters. Still, I’ve seen worse.

24. Free Birds

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I already reviewed this movie, but I’ll keep it short. Free Birds is a decent attempt at a first-time theatrical trailer for Reel FX, but it’s still super-generic in terms of its story and characters. The jokes aren’t consistently funny enough to make the film enjoyable to sit through, the human characters have no character, and there really isn’t anything worthwhile for older audiences, which is a shame, since there are animated films that can be enjoyed by both kids and adults. However, even though it’s not a great experience, I did find myself enjoying Woody Harrelson’s character, and how the time machine was voiced by George Takei, who is always entertaining. Still, if you were to watch one movie from this studio, you are better off overlooking Free Birds, and going directly to The Book of Life.

23. Escape from Planet Earth

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I don’t really remember a whole lot from this film, besides seeing one or two commercials for it on TV when it was coming out, and boy, I can understand why no one might remember this movie. It’s a low-grade CGI family film that had the unfortunate situation of a huge amount of studio exec interference, and well, it really shows. The animation is decent, but the designs are ugly, some of the characters are really grating, it’s yet another “jock vs. the nerd” story, and about half the jokes work. However, I do like the nerdy brother, and how competent he is. I mean, with these types of films, the nerdy individual would be inept at about everything, but in this movie, he isn’t. I also enjoyed some of the jokes, especially when the introductory video in Area 51 was shown. Like I said though, even with some of the positives, this film has no reason to be viewed by anyone unless you are very curious in terms of wanting to check out a financially underwhelming film that was screwed over by stupid executives.

22: Planes

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A lot of films you see on this list are definitely in that realm of “no one was asking for this, but execs wanted another financially lucrative merchandise-selling film, so this is why it exists”. Seriously, after the critical failure of Cars 2, you would think Disney would not touch the franchise ever again. Sadly, we got Planes, and while it isn’t by Pixar, it still feels like a waste of money. It’s cheap-looking for something from Disney, the side characters have one-note personalities, the story is generic, and there is no reason for this film to exist other than to sell toys. Luckily, there are still a few bright spots with the film. I actually like Dane Cook’s performance as the lead character, and some of the flying sequences are nice. They just needed a bit more polish to get to that peak of How to Train your Dragon quality of flying sequences. Some of the character interactions have enough chemistry to pay attention to, but you won’t miss anything by not viewing this cash grab spin-off.

21: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2

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Speaking of cash grabs, the rushed feeling and cheapness of this sequel is very apparent when you watch it. It had a budget that was $22 mil less than the original, and it shows. While the animation is still better than most films, everyone looks plastic and toy-like in terms of skin textures, the animation is really fast to a nauseating degree, the jokes don’t work all the time, there is a stupid misunderstanding/jerk plot point that no one cares about, a bunch of the side characters don’t have much to do, and it’s easily a really annoying experience. The story feels half-baked (ha), due to how the villain, a Steve Jobs parody, hijacks the film, and you can really tell that his animation didn’t get the most attention due to how clunky and, again, cheap it looks. When the film was about seeing the creative food animal designs, it was pretty decent entertainment. The crazy expressions were fun to look at, and the film was pretty vibrant in the color department. Even some of the food puns were pretty funny. The voice work also gets a thumbs-up, due to the material they had to work with. It’s not great material, but you can tell the actors were doing their best when the story wasn’t rehashing jokes or gags from the first film. It’s a sequel with sequelitis problems, and is definitely not a great movie. Although, I do disagree with people calling it the worst animated film of 2013, or one of the worst sequels of all time. It’s bad, but I can think of worst films from 2013, and worst sequels.

20: Turbo

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Freaking DreamWorks! It’s movies like this that make people not take you seriously. Instead of doing something creative and good, DreamWorks (this is pre-buyout by Universal), in all of their wisdom, made a snail that wants to race against actual formula 1 racers. Like, what focus group test did they run, and who were these people who were like, “yeah, this looks like a great idea!” It isn’t. It’s predictable child-pandering auto-piloted schlock. While Ryan Reynolds is a decent protagonist, the slug posse was the most entertaining element about the cast. They aren’t in the film enough, but they were the best element of the film. It’s overall pretty harmless tripe that’s well-animated, but it’s nothing to write home about. It’s easy to see why this film underperformed in the states.

 19: Despicable Me 2

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Talk about a huge improvement in terms of animation. In just a few short years, Illumination was able to improve their animation quality, and it really shows when you watch both Despicable Me films back-to-back. It’s definitely got a lot of the quality aspects of a good movie, like the two leads are funny, the minions were funny (this was before it was the giant annoying trend that it is now), and there was some heart. It’s unfortunately a film that trades in story for humor, and that’s not a terrible thing, but it once again points out that Illumination need better storywriters. The lead villain is tolerable, but they just don’t do anything with the three little girls, and they feel tacked on to the story. Like, I get they can’t retcon them out of the series, but they didn’t do anything. The female lead played by Kristen Wiig is entertaining, but at times is too hyper, and it distracts from the chemistry that she and the lead character have. It’s entertaining, and a film you can turn your brain off to and enjoy, but it still isn’t that great of an overall movie.

Let’s take a break and I’ll post Part 2 in the near future!

The Other Side of Animation 61: Hotel Transylvania 2 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!)

Last year, I reviewed one of Adam Sandler’s best movies, Hotel Transylvania. I mean, it’s shocking when a project with Adam Sandler pops up and it’s not terrible. Sure, it still had a lot of problems, like its cliché plot elements, story, and characters. However, for me, it was an enjoyable experience with more good than bad, but I can understand if someone wasn’t into this movie. So, last year, a sequel came out, and let’s say that the supposed “hate train” that certain directors, actors, and films receive came running on through the Hotel Transylvania 2 station. It was critically panned with a lot more negative reviews than the first film. People were calling it the worst animated film of 2015, and to me, they only said so because they hadn’t seen Strange Magic. Listen, usually I’m pretty agreeable on certain receptions of films from both critics and fans, but there are times where I disagree with both. What do I think of this sequel? Well, let’s take a look.

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Hotel Transylvania 2 continues our story with Dracula, played by Adam Sandler, now having a five-year-old grandson named Dennis, voiced by Asher Blinkoff. Dracula tells his daughter, Mavis, voiced by Selena Gomez, that he is a little disappointed that Dennis hasn’t grown his fangs. In fact, Dracula is so peeved at this notion that he goes behind his daughter’s back with her husband Johnathan, voiced by Andy Samberg, for Johnathon to take Mavis to his neck of the woods to see his parents, while Dracula and his friends help Dennis gain his vampire powers. On top of all this, Dracula will also have to deal with his father, Vlad, voiced by Mel Brooks, and his bat servant, Bela, voiced by Rob Riggle.

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Let’s get the bad out of way, because while I think this film is perfectly fine and normal, it does have a lot more problems than the first film. First off, it falls into a lot of the same traps that most sequels fall into, with jokes and gags from the first film taking the space of newer jokes, being overly familiar in terms of story and pacing to the original film. It makes it out like the creators were afraid to progress the story, like in the sequels to How to Train your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda. Now, in some respects, they do show that progress has been made, in terms of the setting, where humans are now accepted into the hotel, but it’s not enough to make a difference. It’s also a story where the dad is being a giant jerk to his daughter, and I perfectly see why with this one story element, people might get upset or mad at the story cliché.

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You also get the feeling that the executives were a bit more hands-on with the film. I say this because much of the dialogue and music choices felt like they were forced to be in the film. Not that the dialogue is all horrible, because there are a some great jokes, a good amount of soul, and humorous interactions between the characters, but it definitely feels a bit more fabricated. The ending also feels rushed. The film heavily advertised in magazine and online articles that Mel Brooks was going to be in this movie, and yet, he is really only in it for the last 20 minutes. It doesn’t help either that the moral of the story about being okay with yourself gets ruined in the final fight sequence, where everyone gets what they want. The final fight is also undone by the fast animation. I love the animation style, but it’s way too fast during this part. I also wish they could have had more time to invest into the interaction between Dracula and his grandson. Like, take out the repeated elements and jokes from the first film, and replace it with more heartfelt interactions between the characters.

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So, what is actually very good about this movie? Well, the animation is very good. The film is directed once again by Genndy Tartakovsky, and his art style definitely translates well to CGI. The same attention to detail in how every character moves is in this film, as well as with new characters like Johnathon’s parents, played by Nick Offerman and Meghan Mullally, the vampire camp counselor, voiced by Dana Carvey, Jon Lovitz as The Phantom of the Opera, and even Mel Brooks, in his short time, still does enough to leave an impression in terms of his character. The voice performances are also once again great with the same effort put into the same characters from the last film. I don’t know what it is, but Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, David Spade, and Keegan-Michael Keye (taking over CeeLo Green’s character) work off each other well. It doesn’t feel like they were phoning it in, like they have in the live-action Sandler films. Even when the jokes don’t land, at least the eye rollers were better handled by the delivery of said actors. The humor in Hotel Transylvania 2 is definitely a tad more hit-and-miss, with some lowbrow humor that feels lazy, but it’s one of those situations where when the humor is good, it’s hilarious. You won’t believe what happens when actors actually act, they actually make themselves worth watching!

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Listen, media critics, I don’t agree with you this time. I thought Hotel Transylvania 2 was fine! It’s not a great movie, but it’s not the worst film of 2015. Yes, it’s a bit more corporate-feeling, but it still has great animation, energetic characters, and some hysterical jokes. I wouldn’t recommend checking it out if you didn’t like the first one, but if you liked the first one and haven’t seen the second one, I would recommend doing so. I don’t think it’s as good as the first film, but it still has enough charm to not be an utter waste of time. Well, next time, we take a look at the gothic poet himself, Edgar Allen Poe, with an anthology film based on his work with Extraordinary Tales. If you want more animated spooks, then you had better be ready next time! Thanks for reading!

Rating: Rent it!

How Smurfs: The Lost Village Does a Good and Bad Job at a First Impression

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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!)

Heads up!: I had to use concept art for the new movie due to the limited images available for the teaser. Enjoy the editorial!

I am going to keep saying this again in the future, but I’m going to say it here, because it’s important. You only get one first impression, and if you mess it up, it’s never going to undo itself so you can start over. Why do I bring this up? Because Sony recently released a new trailer for the upcoming Smurfs: The Lost Village film. After two pretty lousy and rancid live-action films, they are going back, rebooting the whole film series, and making it animated. Because you know, they probably should have done that in the first place! All we knew was that it was going to be closer to the source material and be fully animated. We only got some pictures for what they were going for, but no actual footage. Then, they released a teaser for the film showing off some of the characters and the overall tone. Let’s say that they did a good and a bad job with their only first impression of showing off this new movie.

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Now, you could say this is harsh in terms of criticizing the movie for one teaser trailer, but these days, and especially during 2016, marketing has been horrible for many movies that were hidden gems, not that bad, or were legit bad, but made all of them look unpleasing due to bad marketing and edited trailers. I feel like this generation doesn’t get that you will never get a second chance in terms of a first impression. You need to hit it out of the park first and foremost. You could improve in the future in terms of marketing and trailers, but it will still be tainted by that first misstep. Let’s break down the teaser, shall we? By the way, I’m going to be talking about the international and the US version of the trailer.

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When the trailer starts up, the international trailer is 30 or so seconds longer than the 34-second US trailer. So, let’s start with that first part. I will give credit that how they start the trailer with a static shot of the rating and general audience warning section, and then catch the crowd by surprise with the Smurf on the other side of the screen pushing against it. The US one just skips to Clumsy Smurf pushing the rating label, and has the rest of them breaking the fourth wall by looking down at the audience. The international version throws in a few seconds of the characters talking, and including a butt joke for immature reasons. Listen, I’m not a super-uptight prude, and can enjoy a stupid crass joke or stoner comedy, but since this is an animated film aimed at families, crass butt jokes are scapegoats for lazy writing and sloppy jokes that the higher-ups came up with, instead of the actual writers. People aren’t as dumb as you make them out to be, Sony!

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Anyway, once the fourth wall has been broken, one of the positives come up, the animation. It looks beautiful, energetic, the colors are vibrant, and the Smurfs look like Smurfs. You know, unlike the two live-action films, and the humor is not super cringe-worthy, with Brainy trying not to get eaten by a flower. Granted, it leads to another lazy burp joke, but then the animation ends shortly after.

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Now then, we get to the point that annoyed most of the viewers that saw this teaser, and the biggest difference between the two teasers. The international trailer uses a more indie pop rock song that, while I don’t think it fully fits the setting of the Smurfs, at least they weren’t dumb enough to put a rap song in the US trailer. Oh wait, they did! It’s so jarring, cynical, and pandering to think “let’s throw a rap song from a rapper people haven’t heard of in years because kids like rap these days!” Yes, I like a few rap songs, but I’m not into rap, and a rap song doesn’t fit the tone of The Smurfs.

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Now, of course, this could just be the horrible marketing team putting in these jokes, bits, and rap music that won’t be part of the main movie, but knowing how this is Sony, I won’t hold my breath and be shocked if they do somehow shove rap songs into a film that takes place in a fantasy world.
Listen, I get it, this is probably chalked up to bad marketing and notes from the executives, but it’s so annoying that studios think the public is stupid. Yes, sometimes the public will, from time to time, support films and shows that have no quality to them, but they aren’t that dumb to think “oh hey, this Smurfs film has butt jokes and rap! I love it!” Instead, most of the comments and reactions I have seen were “the animation looks great, but that teaser was terrible and vapid.” In 2016, so many films have failed because of bad marketing. I’m still going to wait and see how this film looks, but in terms of first impressions, it did a good and a bad job all at the same time. We will have to wait and see if the marketing learns their lesson in terms of how to promote this movie.

The Other Side of Animation 44: The Angry Birds Movie 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. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

This has been an odd year for video game movies. How? Well, how about the fact that we are getting movies that actually looks like their gaming counterparts. To be honest, I find that so shocking, since either due to technology or no one caring, it was always so hard for Hollywood to make these kinds of movies look like the games on which they are based. Too bad they still can’t be good movies, with this year’s Ratchet & Clank being one of the contenders for one of the worst movies of 2015. It might look like the game, have the same voice actors, and is basically the game turned into a movie, but it can’t save itself from sloppy storytelling and boring characters. That’s why today’s review of The Angry Birds Movie is such a surprise. It’s actually not bad! Released on May 20th, 2016, this CGI animated film directed by Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly, who both have animation film experiences, including films like Tangled, Hotel Transylvania, and Wreck-It-Ralph, The Angry Birds Movie is honestly the biggest surprise of this year. I mean, not a surprise that it’s fantastic, but it isn’t a mess on arrival. I think everyone was thinking The Angry Birds Movie was going to bomb, hard! So, how is it? Well, let’s find out!

The film takes place on this island full of flightless birds. The main story focuses on Red, voiced by Jason Sudekis. Red is an angry individual among a village of happy- go-lucky birds. After getting into an incident with a customer, he is forced to to attend anger management, run by a bird named Matilda, voiced by Maya Rudolph. While there, Red meets up with a few individuals like Chuck, voiced by Josh Gad, Bomb, voiced by Danny McBride, and Terrance, voiced, or grumbled by Sean Penn. While attending the class, a ship of pigs arrives on the island led by Leonard, voiced by Bill Hader. And if you have played the games at all, the pigs steal the eggs, and it is up to Red and the gang to find the Mighty Eagle and save the eggs before the pigs eats them. Can they get them back? Will the birds get angry?

So, what is actually good about this film? Well, the best element that the film has going for it is the bright, colorful, and fast animation. It actually looks better than what I was expecting. It definitely makes Ratchet & Clank look so much worse, in terms of textures. While the overall look of the birds might be odd with the feet and arms, the designs don’t look that bad. I also found the script to be not that bad. Sure, it doesn’t totally devoid itself from modern animated film tropes in terms of hip dialogue and pop cultural references, but there was a lot less of it than I was expecting. The script also led itself to some pretty funny jokes. Not all the jokes land, in fact, a lot of them don’t, but I did find myself laughing a couple of times. I think that is because the actors they did get for the roles of the characters actually put effort into their acting. It could have been so easy for this film to get actors who would do nothing more than play themselves. The celebrities they hired are mostly comedians and comedic actors from sketch shows, and I was praising the casting choices when I wrote about this film a few months back. And yes, there is stunt casting and celebrity cameos that really weren’t worth the money due to how few lines they are given during the film. Still, my favorite performances came from Jason Sudekis, due to how relatable he makes Red, Danny Mcbride since I’m a sucker for big dumb characters like Bomb, Bill Hadder as the main antagonist Lenard, Keegan-Michael Key, since, well, he is Keegan Michael Key, and he made that bird judge lively, and to my surprise, Sean Penn as Terrence. Honestly, the Sean Penn casting is pretty hilarious in a very meta way due to his past history of anger, and his character, who is a giant caveman-like angry bird. The biggest surprise from this entire experience is how much effort was honestly put into this film. This could have easily been worse than both Ratchet & Clank and Warcraft combined, and yet, this is probably the best video game movie adaptation of the year. Granted, we have to see how Assassin’s Creed does, but so far, The Angry Birds Movie has more effort put into an overall experience than the two other video game movies out right now. I’ll be honest though, Rovio, the company behind Angry Birds probably put their best time and consideration into this film, since they have been going into a downward spiral of popularity with all the recent financial losses and layoffs throughout the last couple of years.

With all that praise being said, this film still has a huge amount of problems. First off, the film suffers from the usual children’s animated film tropes of pop cultural references, fast musical elements, and potty humor. Can studios get it through their thick skulls that you don’t need to make a film around those elements? Like I said above, they really didn’t need to stunt cast so many of the celebrities due to how they don’t have many lines at all. It just seems like a pointless expense to worry about. The pacing also could have been better. Once you hit the halfway point, and to no surprise, the pigs steal the eggs. The film does waste so much time with this Mighty Eagle character, and that is such a huge disappointment. They get Peter Dinklage as this character, and unfortunately, the Mighty Eagle bit goes on for way too long, and has the worst jokes of the film. Oh, and what is with this film and its fetish with its butt-shaking jokes? Like, wow! There are so many butt jokes! The ending is enjoyable, since you get to see the birds fly from a sling shot into the pig’s kingdom, but the pacing during this scene could have been slower, due to how you can’t really take a breather. This is why when you get those quiet moments of the good guys trying to find what they are looking for, or running into the bad guy between the action sequences, it gives the viewers time to take in what has been happening.

Okay, let’s talk about the elephant in the room, the political undertone. A lot of critics have pointed out that apparently, The Angry Birds Movie has some political themes under its belt, with Red representing the conservative individual stuck in a liberal PC world, and some other elements. So, what do I think about all this? Well, while I can see where some of them are coming from, I think people were looking too deeply into a movie that has a Sean Penn caveman bird with some intentional or unintentional comedy with said character, and an extended peeing joke at the halfway point of the film. I think it’s unintentional timing due to the current political landscape. And that is about as political as you are going to see me get with these reviews.

Overall, The Angry Birds Movie is a surprise. It’s not a great movie by any means since it falls into so many of the traps seen in bad kids films, but it was still so much more enjoyable than a lot of the animated films that have come out and will be coming out from the likes of LionsGate. I have already seen the worst movie of the year, Norm of the North, so anything that actually put effort into the overall package gets my thumbs up. I don’t know if I would recommend picking it up at release, but it’s not going to be the worst purchase or viewing in the world or of this year. Well, we are going from a surprise, to a new modern day classic with Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet. Thanks for reading, and see you all next time!

Rating: Rent It

The Other Side of Animation: Hotel Transylvania Review

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Raise your virtual hand if you have an encyclopedic-sized book of insults and reasons why you hate Adam Sandler. If you raised your hand, and you literally have that type of book, then I’m not surprised. Adam Sandler always seems to be one of those odd anomalies in Hollywood, since he has racked up more bad movies than most actors, but due to how much money his films make, they let him keep making his films, or as they are known as, “glorified vacations”. Sure, I agree that he has a few good movies under his belt. When he isn’t directing, writing, or producing, and is just an actor, the movies turn out to be good, but he puts no effort into everything else he does. That is why today’s review is of one of his better movies, Hotel Transylvania. This was produced by Sony Pictures Animation, and directed by one of my favorite cartoonists, Genndy Tartakovsky. Hotel Transylvania was a film everyone thought would flop, but when it was released on September 28th of 2012, it garnered positive reviews and has a sequel already out in theaters. So, what do I think of the first film? Well, read on, my lovely vampires and monsters of the night.

The story revolves around Dracula, voiced by Adam Sandler, who builds a huge castle/hotel to protect his daughter, Mavis, voiced by Selena Gomez, and the rest of his kind from the outside world. On Mavis’s 118th birthday, the hotel has its first human step inside, named Jonathan, voiced by Andy Samberg. At first, Dracula is trying his best to get rid of Jonathan without any of the monsters knowing. Of course Mavis finds interest in Jonathan and shenanigans ensue.

Let’s talk about the best part of the film, its personality. This has to do a lot with the fast-paced animation and the designs of the characters. Every character has its own animation, and they move fluently. The art direction is gorgeous and unique, compared to a lot of films that try to copy the Pixar or Dreamworks style. It reminds me of older cartoons by the likes of Genndy Tartakovsky and his past experience with shows like Dexter’s Laboratory, and Symbiotic Titan. Like I said, the animation is very fast. It’s a hyperactive film, like The LEGO Movie. A lot of the humor comes from the jokes being based around the characters and the environment. For example, some of the best jokes come from David Spade’s character, The Invisible Man. What also helps is that a lot of the jokes are actually funny and don’t revolve around too much of the boring stuff that higher-ups think children’s films should have. Granted, there is a fart joke here and there, but 95% of the jokes can be picked up on by both kids and adults. This is easily one of the most expressive films I have ever seen. They put so much effort into each character’s movements that it feels like a 3D version of an old Looney Toons short. It’s also what I liked about Genndy’s CGI animation demo for Popeye, it’s not afraid to look like a cartoon. I also enjoyed the voice work. Some of these casting choices should have failed, like Adam Sandler as Dracula and Selena Gomez as Mavis, but they actually pull off some pretty good voice work. The entire cast does well working off one another, and it seems like they are all having fun with the movie. The rest of the voice cast is also spectacular, like Murray, voiced by Cee-lo Green (before he was a scumbag), Frankenstein and his wife, voiced by Kevin James and Fran Drescher, Wayne the werewolf, voiced by Steve Buscemi, and so on. Many times, these casting choices don’t work, since this film has a lot of Adam Sandler’s regular crew from his films, but they all sound like they had fun with their respective roles. They were being goofy, but not panderingly goofy like they are in a lot of other Adam Sandler projects.

It’s all the more shame that the story is not that interesting. The characters and basic story set-up is not overly engaging if you break down the tropes. You have the over-protective dad, the daughter who is cooped up at the hotel and wants to travel, the male lead from the outside world that will change the dad’s views, the squabbles, the misunderstanding that takes place near the third act, and so on. It’s not an original story. Maybe if they took a few different directions with the dad and the daughter characters, and didn’t flip-flop the relationship between Dracula and Jonathan, Andy Samberg’s character, then the film might have been well received a bit more. While I enjoyed a lot of the jokes and the fast cartoony animation, I think some of the more juvenile jokes like the farting gag could have been replaced. I also found Andy Samberg’s character a tad annoying. He tries to be this overtly hip young guy who looks like he was pulled right out of the 90s, and while I don’t think he is the worst aspect of the film, it really got grating at times.

This is one movie that I enjoyed, but can totally understand if people don’t care for it. The sequel just came out, and from what I have seen, it’s getting the same reception. A lot of people love it, but there are some mixed reviews as well. Personally, some of the critics are judging this way too harshly. I think this movie has more good than bad, and I’m glad they got such a talented director to helm the project. If you haven’t seen it, and want to see it before the sequel, I would recommend finding it for a cheap price. There is even a short film by Tartakovsky himself included, and I would watch anything done by him. So, where do we go from one of Adam Sandler’s best movies? Well, how about a more innocent Halloween film with Room on the Broom? Thanks for reading and see you next time!

Rating: Go See It!