The Other Side of Animation 299: Unicorn Wars Review

(If you like what you see, you can go to 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 It would help support my work, and keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

When people hear the term “animation is cinema”, do you either think about the amazing lines from Guillermo Del Toro, or people trying to justify their love for animated films? There seems to be this very fierce debate about how genuine it is when people use “animation is cinema” to defend and stand up for animated films. Detractors of it are annoyed with how people keep choosing widely loved animated films that are aimed at families. So, does the argument hold up if people keep using films like The Incredibles, The Iron Giant, The Mitchells vs the Machines, and so on and so forth? I mean, I get the desire from the more grumpy individuals to choose different films to prove their point. Many of us already love and respect the films listed above, and quite a few films aimed at families hit it out of the park more than many live-action films that we all watch. But with that said, being a lover of animation does mean that you should at the very least try to explore something outside of that. Sadly, when people try to go the route of “yes, that much-loved family film is great, but have you tried to see non-family films” they are never as graceful about recommending them as they could be. The beauty of animation is that you can tell a multitude of stories through its unlimited visual power, and that means that you can talk about something as dark as war and religious extremism, and how love and hate can mold an individual. And the best part? You can tell that story through a war between unicorns and teddy bears! This is my review of Unicorn Wars

This darkly comedic drama is written and directed by Alberto Vázquez who did 2015’s Birdboy: The Forgotten Children. We follow a troop of teddy bears who are training to take down what is considered the biggest enemies of teddy bears, unicorns. We follow the story of two brothers Azulin and Gordi aka Bluey and Tubby, voiced by Jon Goiri and Jaoine Insausti. Their life has been less than stellar with their parents dealing with a divorce, and the two brothers dealing with said divorce very differently. We follow the journey of this troop of teddy bear soldiers to find out what exactly is going on. We will also find out the origin of the war between unicorns and bears. 

So, from how I have described this film in the first two paragraphs, this is absolutely not for kids right? Yeah, obviously, and it’s accurate if you watch the trailers for it. This is one of those films that use the usual imagery and designs that would normally be used for family-friendly storytelling and experiences, and are using them to tell a very intense, graphic, and tragic story of the two different sides of one complicated coin. You can see how one brother is raised with love, while the other is raised with hate as anger and bitterness toward the world build up inside of him. The way they react to the different characters they meet, and the news and events that unfold in front of them, allows the cast to truly show the different sides of the human experience of the right and wrong way to deal with grief. Alberto is famously or infamously known as a director who doesn’t want to sugarcoat his themes and stories for an audience, and considering how polarized the audience was when I saw this at Animation is Film, it’s an intensely uncomfortable sit. It’s also a lawyered experience that will definitely mean a lot to certain types of moviegoers, but while it is easy to write this film off as indulgent and nihilistic, there is a story of how we need to stop following individuals with extremist philosophies in terms of military and religious ideals. The villains are pretty much the entities that gained knowledge and used said knowledge to kill a group of living beings that were different from them and didn’t agree with their ways of thinking. Sound familiar? Just like the director’s previous film, the story overall tackles a ton of different stories like the already mentioned commentary towards war and religion extremists, vanity, love, hate, drugs, deforestation, manipulation, and you get the idea. Sometimes it feels like the message and point the director wants to say takes over the plot, but at the core of the film, it’s about two brothers and the tragedy of war. Also, it’s extremely violent and gory. Yeah, this might be one of the most intentionally violent animated films I have ever seen, because it does not apologize about how violent war is and doesn’t shy away from how some people will enact violence against people they should be protecting and or caring for. Unlike the previous film by the director, this one definitely has more of a depressing end between the war of teddy bears vs unicorns. In a time in the industry where it seems like people are pushing back against depressing films more and talking about the subjective take on going to the movies for escapism and not to be reminded of the real world around them while at the theater, it’s understandable why people will probably not like the ending. It makes a lot of sense how it unfolds, but after 93 minutes of intensely dark and sometimes funny moments mixed with violence and rage against war and religious zealots, it can be too heavy-handed with its message and a bit much on a visual level. Then again, if you come out of this film and start talking about it and the underlying themes, then that’s a positive instead of just leaving the theater not taking in anything about the film at all. Sometimes, we need to be told bluntly about how bad humans can be through a creative visual metaphor. 

On the animation side of things, it still has the same amazing animation quality that we have seen from the director’s previous film, but instead of a more drab/dire color palette, we get bright almost neon pinks, blues, whites, reds, purples yellows, oranges, creating a much more saturated and colorful visual presentation. The way they portray the bears as vain, and keep the unicorns as these ominous figures in the perspective of the bears makes a lot of sense with how the film frames the story of the two. It also has some ridiculous visuals that will definitely lean into one moment where the bears eat hallucinogenic bugs. It’s a visually striking film with how it shows off its visuals, does environmental storytelling, and frames its themes with every shot. The voice work is fantastic as it’s cartoony but is still filled with the emotional drive you would for something that goes into some very dark places. Jon Goiri and Jaoine Insausti do a lot of the heavy lifting and Ramón Barea is a great narrator. The rest of the cast includes Txema Regalado, Maribel Legarreta, Itxaso Quintana, Manu Heras, Gaizka Soria, Kepa Cueto, Juan Carlos Loriz, Estívaliz Lizárraga, Iker Diaz, and Pedro Arrieta. They all take what sounds like a very twisted and odd premise, and bring conviction and commitment to the roles when the darker story-turns come up. 

Whether you can gel with the premise or not, Unicorn Wars is an example of a film that deserves to be talked about when bringing up the conversation of how animation is film/cinema or what have you. Being supportive of animation is both supporting the big releases as respectfully as whatever gets released during the award circuit, and it also means animation fans need to venture out into animated fare that’s not just from the US, not just for families, and ones that might be unnerving and experimental. If you don’t, then when you use the “animation is cinema” argument, then you aren’t really for it if you don’t try and watch everything. Unicorn Wars might be a bit blunt and a lot with its messaging, and will definitely leave you speechless, but every animation fan should give this one a watch. It’s coming out on Blu-ray in May but is right now available to purchase or rent digitally. While his films might not be my favorite from each year they are released, I am always going to be excited and down to check out whatever Alberto makes next. Now then, next time, we shall take a look at the newest film from Makoto Shinkai with the 300th, review being Suzume

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 152: Wonder Park Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to 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 It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Like I said in my 150th review of the Godzilla Netflix Trilogy, I’m not really finding joy in reviewing movies I would consider bad. I do it, and will not falter in my opinions about them, but I take no joy in certain films that obviously had a rough development. Many things can go wrong with making animated films, and I can’t think of a rougher development for an animated film this year than Paramount and Nickelodeon’s Wonder Park. Honestly, as far as I can tell right now, Wonder Park had probably some of the most negative PR surrounding it before release. Starting development back in 2014, Wonder Park was animated by a studio in Spain called Ilion Animation Studios, the same studio that did 2009’s Planet 51 and the upcoming film Paramount/Skydance production, Luck. Then, in January of 2018, the original director, Dylan Brown, who was an animator for Pixar, was fired after sexual misconduct, and was replaced by David Feiss, Clare Kilner, and Robert Iscove. Well, you would not really know that, because the film is notorious for not having an actual literal director credit! Not even a fake director name. No one wanted full-fledged credit. Even after that trainwreck, it has been getting bombarded with negative reviews, and may be Paramount’s first flop of 2019. Yeah, let’s check it out, shall we?

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The story follows this little girl name June, voiced by Brianne Denski. June, along with her mother, voiced by Jennifer Garner, has made this beautiful, vibrant, and outlandishly-creative theme park called Wonderland, where her stuffed animals help run it. These animals include a blue bear who greets the park guests named Boomer, voiced in the US by Ken Hudson Campbell and the UK version by Tom Baker, two beavers named Gus and Cooper, voiced in the US version by Kenan Thompson and Ken Jeong and in the UK version by Ryan Fitzgerald and Wippa, a wild boar that runs everything named Greta, voiced by Mila Kunis, and a porcupine that is the safety inspector named Steve, voiced by John Oliver. However, the most important animal in the park is a chimp named Peanut, voiced by Norbert Leo Butz, who is the park icon and ride creator. Unfortunately, as June started to build a smaller scale version of Wonderland, June’s mom gets sick and has to leave for a while. They won’t say what she is sick with exactly, but that really won’t matter as the story and my review goes on. She is now stuck with her dad, voiced by Matthew Broderick, and stews away in her sadness about the possibility of not seeing her mother again. After getting sent to math camp, June escapes the bus taking her to the camp, and stumbles into a forest, and with no real explanation, ends up in Wonderland, but nature decided to take it back. She ends up seeing her stuffed animals come to life as more “realistic-looking”, and the park is overrun by this ominous cloud of darkness that has wrecked the park with the help of the Chimpanzombies. Can June find a way to get her creative spark back and save the park? What about the fate of her mother? What about the fact that this park came to life with no real reason given how? Why is there no real director credit?

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So, what happened? How did this film become such an unfocused $100 mil mess? It’s really tough to say what’s positive about it, because with every positive, comes a negative. For example, the animation is fine. It has solid enough animation, but it really doesn’t look like it cost $100 mil. Some of the movements look solid enough, but some movement styles are janky and too fast. With how fast the two beaver brothers move, you can’t really tell what they are doing when they are running or fighting with one another. The end credits literally cut out the characters from the film footage, and slaps them onto the big names. Not only that, but they either slow down or rewind the footage used to make it look like they made entirely original animation. It looks sloppy and rushed. The characters move well enough, but there aren’t that many little quirks outside of maybe Peanut and Boomer. No one has little movements that make each character feel like their own. Some of the shots and the rides are well-animated and shot well, but at other times, the camera is either too close or snapping back and forward like that one scene in Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s hard to know what’s fully going on. The film’s animation also lacks a bit of that creative spark that something like this film needs. Why don’t the animals look like their stuffed animal counterparts? They had CG models of the stuffed animals set up for each of them, but their “living” versions are just generic animals. The chimpanzombies and the Darkness could have been interesting, but due to how wonky, rushed, and undercooked the script is, they end up being very forgettable threats that you will not remember at all. I don’t really get how clunky the animation has been for Nickelodeon’s original films that get TV series. Even by the years they were released, with Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius back in 2001 and Barnyard back in 2006, they never look as good as other big studio films at those times. Oh, and Wonder Park also has this very heavy emphasis on shine and bloom effects. You know how video games during the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Wii generation really exploited the heck out of the bloom tool in games? That’s Wonder Park’s other notable animation issue. It looks like a short CGI film made by a student who was learning how to balance out CGI lighting tools. However, I will say that for foreign animation from Spain, it does look better than a lot of the films that I see that either look like they are almost at the Hollywood scale, or very straight-to-video.

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So, the animation is a mixed to mostly negative bag, but what about the story, writing, and characters? Well, unfortunately, the one positive/one negative trick used above is sadly usable here. The story had potential to be more complex with how June is connected to the park with the animal characters being different symbolic forms of June. For example, Peanut is her imagination and optimism, and Steve is her current mood that’s all about safety regulations. Sadly, they really don’t go into that, or expand upon it. Because of the 85-minute runtime, it’s one of the few times an animated film should have been 120 minutes. You aren’t given time to breath, or know about the characters, or how the plot works. You are never told how the park came to life, how the animals don’t know who she is, and plenty of other story elements that don’t really get fleshed out. It’s great that June is a creative and imaginative individual, and I would argue that she would make a much better protagonist if she was given a better story and overall film. If the film didn’t introduce these themes that you have seen done better in Inside Out and A Monster Calls, then we wouldn’t be criticizing how lacking in punch the overall film feels. The writing is never creative, the jokes don’t land, and I don’t remember the character’s names, their personalities, or any real scenes. Due to how much of a rush the film is in to get itself done with, you are never caring on an emotional level, and that’s a shame. Again, there is stuff that could work here, but those elements are as under-baked as most baked desserts on Chopped.

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In the end, I feel badly for the people that worked on Wonder Park. It’s the weakest animated film of 2019, and I don’t like saying that. There are elements of a much better movie hiding under all the flaws, and the fact that this entire film feels like a rush job to prepare viewers for the upcoming animated series, which may not happen now, or will go for a season before cancelation, says a lot. A lot of my issues with this film are because we know very little of what happened behind the scenes to make many of these issues center-stage, and I feel badly for the animators and production people who may or may not have had a great work schedule to get this completed. It won’t change my opinion on the film, but I would, at the very least, understand what went down. I feel like with a better direction and more time to actually flesh out certain elements of this film, it could have been a solid gem that would have found a cult following. Who knows, maybe a few years down the line we might re-review films like this, and find something we missed the first time around. I simply don’t recommend seeing Wonder Park. It will probably find its way onto Netflix in the future, and or maybe Amazon Prime. Until then, just go see How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World, The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part, or try to find screenings for some of the upcoming foreign animated features coming out, like This Magnificent Cake!, Penguin Highway, or Okko’s Inn. Until then, just wait until Missing Link comes out in April. For now, since we have some time before Laika’s newest feature, how about we talk about some smaller releases that I think people should check out? Next time, let’s talk about a really cool female-directed animated feature called Maquia: When the Promised Flowers Bloom. Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the review, and let’s hope we can learn about Wonder Park’s development history in more educated detail in the future! I will see you all next time!

Rating: The Worst/Blacklist

The Other Side of Animation 76: Chico & Rita Review


(If you like what you see, you can go to 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 It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Parental heads up: This film does include a few scenes with female nudity. This is not a film aimed at kids. Please be advised about these facts if you choose to watch this with children around. Enjoy the review!

Last year, I really wanted to review this movie, Chico & Rita, because it’s one of the few animated films that I can think of that is a romance. Sure, romance can be seen throughout most animated films, but for the genre of film to be solely romance is rare. Maybe it’s because romance-focused films are hard to do without coming off as schmaltzy and corny, but rarely do you see one in animated form. Chico & Rita, a film made in Spain, directed by Fernando Trueba, Javier Mariscal, and Tono Errando, was brought over in 2012 by GKids, and was one of the animated films nominated for Best Animated Feature. Now then, since it’s February, how good is this romance of jazz and discrimination? Well, let’s find out.


The main part of the story takes place in the 1940s, and follows the tale of two individuals from Cuba. One of the characters is named Chico, a very talented pianist, and the other is Rita, a beautiful woman with a great singing voice. After encountering each other one night, they are dropped into a story of love, trust, jazz, history, and race that combine into an emotional whirlwind of an experience.


So, what makes this romance film so much more interesting than many that come out today? To me, the biggest problem with romance films these days comes from a few things. First off, the books on which the films are based are pulpy garbage, where the writer may or may not be aware of how dumb the plot is, or how terrible the characters are. Secondly, the characters may be written or developed as boring placeholders for the readers, or complete idiots or unlikable psychos. Most modern romance films are terrible, because they don’t focus on good characters or stories. Just adapt a book and see what C list actors you can get for them. And yeah, I’m not saying there was a prime time for good romance movies, but still. Now that I’ve gotten this rambling out of the way, what does Chico & Rita do right? It has two characters with a fairly realistic chemistry and romance. They aren’t just the typical romance story couple. They do argue, and can both be very selfish for what they feel like the relationship should be like. As much as everyone would love the perfect, no-problem marriage, for the most part that doesn’t exist. People are flawed, and there are going to be problems. Chico wants the romance to be forever, and more about the music and being together. Rita wants the romance to work, but also wants to make music her career, and that might come at the cost of leaving Chico behind. Chico will get realistically upset, when it does seem like he’s being used for Rita’s gain as the agent character in the film is more interested in getting her a career and not helping out Chico. Romance can definitely be hard, as this was during the 1940s, not an easy time to be someone from Cuba. Racism, discrimination, immigration, love, music, and passion are definitely trials that the two will have to deal with. It helps that Chico and Rita have such good chemistry with each other and the other characters. It’s not a sappy romance story. It might have some of those elements, and I will talk about them later, but the overall romantic experience feels refreshing.


The animation is fantastic. The entire look of the film reminds me of those murals you would see on the side of buildings. The colors are bright, and I think the movements were done with rotoscope, where they trace over actual people to be more fluid. I know some people have pointed out that rotoscoping can lead to some weird movements and expressions, but it’s done well here. Everyone moves smoothly, and it doesn’t distract from the more serious or comedic moments. Of course, this film would be mediocre if the music wasn’t good, and luckily, the music is impressive. It’s easily one of the highlights of the film, and is the reason you pick up the version of this film with the Latin Grammy-winning soundtrack included. The soundtrack was done by the five-time Grammy-winning Cuban pianist, Bebo Valdes. It captures that period in time perfectly, and I love listening to the soundtrack. The songs range from slow and subdued melodies to jazzy and energized tunes. If you love the soundtrack to films like Chef, then you definitely need to get the soundtrack for this film. Chico & Rita even has cameos and songs from other musicians like Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Cole Porter, Dizzy Gilespie, Woody Herman, Tito Puente, and Chano Pozo to name just a few of them. If you are a music lover, or love music from this time period, you owe it to yourself to watch this movie.


I will say the biggest problem I have with the film is Rita’s agent. He’s rather forgettable and one-note, which is sad, since the overall film is really complex and multi-layered. I also have a few nitpicks, like I feel like the film does avoid a majority of the romance movie traps, with the exception of the ending. It will either be romantic or a big cop-out, depending on your mood.


In terms of animation, Chico & Rita is one of the most unique and original films that I have ever seen. It’s easily one of the most mature films GKids has distributed. Sure, it is English subtitles only, but you will look past that element, because of the great writing and animation. If you love music, and want a romance film that’s different than what you usually see, then by all means go purchase the 3 Disc Special Edition that comes with the soundtrack. Well, now that we have touched upon a musical about romance, how about we talk about a new movie that I love, The LEGO Batman Movie? Thanks for reading, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

The Other Side of Animation 50: Underdogs Review

(If you like what you see, you can go to 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 It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)


Well, we are here yet again with another GOYA Award winner. I never made it my intention of criticizing/talking about this award system from Spain so much, but yet, it gives me a lot to talk about. When we live in a world where the movie-going individual has found admiration, respect, and love for animated films from overseas, it’s amazing how many clunkers there are that try to essentially be a DreamWorks, Disney, Pixar, or any of the riffraff that isn’t those big three. You can definitely find some interesting stories with some of these films, like with today’s target, the Argentina/Spain collaboration, Underdogs. This film, which is also known as The Unbeatables in the UK, and Metegol in Argentina, Underdogs has a very, peculiar history of being brought over to the states. It was fully translated, dubbed by celebrities, and was (and still is) being distributed by The Weinstein Company here in the states. Unfortunately, it kept being pushed back multiple times in 2015, but a week before its actual release, it was pulled from the release schedule and is now on Netflix and is now available on DVD. Boy, doesn’t that sound frightening? It sounded like The Weinstein Company made a very big mistake in investing in this movie, which is why they released it when no one even remembers or cares about it. It kind of screws over the big stars they brought on board for this, like Ariana Grande, Katie Holmes, John Leguizamo, Nicholas Hoult, and Mel Brooks, to name a few. Then again, I haven’t heard one interview where they talked about it. So, did they want to make sure no one saw this for a reason? Is it a huge disaster? Well, let’s see what the damage is.

The story revolves around a young man named Jake, voiced by Matthew Morrison. He lives in a small town where he works at a bar as a busboy. One day he gets into an encounter with the town bully, Ace, voiced by Nicholas Hoult, and challenges him to a foosball game. Jake beats Ace at a game, and humiliates him in front of everyone in the town, and impresses his love interest, Lara, voiced by Ariana Grande. Seven years pass, and Ace returns to the town as one of the biggest soccer players in the world. Ace, being one who doesn’t take losing lightly (even when that loss happened seven years ago!), he decides to buy the town and ruin everyone’s’ lives. Jake falls into despair, and due to the miracle of lazy scriptwriting, a tear falls from his face onto a foosball figure and brings it to life. This horrifying little individual is Captain Skip, voiced by Taran Killam. He decides to help Jake beat Ace at soccer, and save Lara. Can Jake and his team of tiny foosball players (who don’t really do much but provide slapstick comedy and force the humans to do all the work during the actual soccer match) save the day?

To be honest, I can see why this film was, how you say, quietly shown the door. The animation is not very good. Part of that reason is that a lot of the character designs are unappealing and quite frankly ugly-looking. Sometimes, a design doesn’t translate well from paper to CGI. There is a reason why Pixar and Disney have a set style for their characters, because they are appealing to look at. The only times the animation gets decent is during the soccer sequences, and even then, it’s still not impressive in the slightest. It’s like watching an action anime where you know the entire budget went into the action sequences, and what little was left went into making the other elements of the film passable. The resolution of the textures is just painful to look at. The voice acting was also very spotty, where the dub didn’t match the lip movements, and the actors didn’t care that they are getting paid to, you know, act! It’s like they went with a practice take, and didn’t need anything else! It doesn’t help the film either that the plot is not focused. It has boring characters, a romance that isn’t earned, and probably one of the most pathetic villains I have ever seen. Oh yeah, let’s talk about one of the top 5 most pathetic villains in all of cinema. Ace loses a foosball match, leaves for seven years, comes back, and basically ruins the small town because he was humiliated by that one match. How much of a pathetic waste of air do you have to be to have that ruin your entire life? Heck, the logic in this film makes no sense. Why would an entire town be afraid of one punk kid? It’s not like there isn’t a police force there, you see policemen, why didn’t they just billy-club the punk for being a terror of the town, and send him to jail? Why is there a magical tear in this movie? How do the other foosball players come alive when they weren’t hit by a magical plot item? Why was there genetic mutation going on, and yet is never brought up again? This entire film tries to pretzel itself with all these ideas to make sense, but it ends up with a pretzel with too many twist and turns. It’s also overbaked, and sits like a rock inside your belly when you eat it. There is zero satisfaction with watching this film from beginning to end. You just don’t freaking care about anyone, since the film doesn’t take time to develop anyone outside of one-dimensional tropes. It ends with a Rocky-style “the bad guy wins, but everyone loves the underdog!”, but it’s so boring, tired, and again, it doesn’t feel earned, and yes, you don’t even care!

So, was there anything I liked about this movie? Well, I sort of liked the little foosball players. Granted, most of the time, they were annoying, and John Leguizamo, god bless him, was trying, but he came off as grating most of the time. That being said, those little guys were definitely much more interesting than the actual humans. I also liked one joke, but that is not a sign of positivity in a film that isn’t funny or at all watchable.

Funny enough, the biggest piece of praise you can give this film is that it was smart enough to stay straight-to-DVD. They didn’t pull a Norm of the North and shove it into theaters, which I think was the original idea. Luckily for The Weinstein Company, they should know that I knew about the movie, and will make sure they, and everyone else, knows that they released a terrible movie. It’s easily the second worst animated film I have seen in 2016. Again, the only reason it’s not number one with Norm of the North, is because The Weinstein Company knew they would get crucified for releasing this waste of time on the big screens. I don’t get how this became popular, besides it being popular in countries that treat soccer as a religion. This is just pure garbage, and no, this might not have been an American-made film, but saying “I shouldn’t be criticizing this film because it was super popular in other countries” is pure ignorant bullocks. There are so many films from foreign countries that have come out over here, and were and still are amazing. The only reason this film was at all popular was because it is focused around a sport that everyone else treats like it’s the only thing worth living for. Plus, Spain and South America have made amazing animated films, like Boy and the World and Wrinkles, so there is no excuse for “it’s a country not known for animation”, since there have been amazing films that can quite frankly be better than what we make here in the states. Avoid this movie at all cost, and not even for a bad movie night. Just don’t waste your time on this horrendous excuse for animation. You know what? After watching so much schlock, I’m going to do as many positive film reviews as possible, so next time, we look at The Painting. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed this review, and I hope you don’t buy this movie. See you all next time

Rating: The Worst/Blacklist

The Other Side of Animation 35: Nocturna Review

(If you like what you see, you can go to 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 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 time we looked at a GOYA Award-winning animated film, it was the less than stellar Tad: The Lost Explorer. I know I was admittedly harsh on the award system for not having enough high quality films, but I was being harsh for a reason. When you have such great movies like Nocturna, Wrinkles, and Chico & Rita, they set a standard of how good these films should be, but they seem to either not make a lot of animated films over in Spain, or the barrier of entry is low. When your list of winners includes Planet 51, The Missing Lynx, Pinocchio 3000, and the previously reviewed Tad: The Lost Explorer, then you need to start making the barrier of entry higher and more controlled in terms of quality. That is why I wanted to talk about today’s film, Nocturna, because it is simply one of the best animated films to come out of Spain. Nocturna was originally released back in 2007, and was brought over by GKIDS in 2014. It was created by Filmax Animation, and was directed by Adria Garcia and Victor Maldonado. So, was this film worthy of winning its GOYA Award? Well, let’s find out!

The story revolves around a young boy named Tim, who lives in an orphanage. Every night, he sleeps by the window in the moonlight since it protects him from his fear of the dark. One night, after some kids decide to become jerks, Tim runs out to the top of the building, where he usually likes to be during the day. That night, though, changes when he realizes that a star that he has called his own, vanishes. After almost falling to his death, he is saved by an unknown being called the Cat Shepard, a humanoid balloon-like being that herds cats around the night. Tim then finds out that there is a whole other world at night known as Nocturna, where these unusual characters and creatures do different things during the night. Accidentally, Cat Shepard tells Tim that Moka, the ruler/boss of Nocturna, can help him with his problem. Will Tim be able to solve what is going on before the entire world of Nocturna is destroyed by a big shadowy monster? Well, you have to watch to find out!

Let’s get started with the animation and creativity, the film’s strongest elements. The 2D animation is amazingly smooth. It’s gorgeous to look at, and the character designs are whimsical. The entire world of Nocturna is creative. Think of it like M.I.B, but for nighttime situations. How do you get messy hair? They’ve got individuals for that! What about fresh dew? They’ve got people for that. Those cricket sounds? Well, they are beings that ride bikes that sound like crickets. Heck, dreams are basically TV/movie scripts that are read to you by specialists. It’s such a creative world, and they take advantage of any trope that goes on at night. The film does take its time to invest you into the world in which the story takes place. The entire art direction is just gorgeous. It looks stylized, and it reminds me of if Tim Burton did something more lighthearted. I also like the idea of the overall twist in the film being that Tim’s fear of the dark is what is causing all the problems. It’s not just a villain who wants to take over the world or anything of that caliber. Something that I have liked about foreign animated films is that they want to be more about the characters, the world, and the stories. Even the little clichéd elements like the “the lie that breaks the two apart” is done better with no huge amounts of moping around. Both Tim and Cat Shepard go do their own thing, but still end up together. It’s not drawn out or boring.

One of my few problems with Nocturna is the sound design. I don’t know if it was a transfer thing for the Blu-ray version I have, but at some points in the movie, the English dub is hard to hear. It’s like watching a UK-based crime drama. Sometimes they can speak clearly, but other times, the accents get in the way. It’s actually like that joke in Hot Fuzz! Anyway, another nitpicky problem I have with this movie is the way the big twist is handled. So, the main villain is Tim’s physical manifestation of his fear of the dark. It’s interesting in terms of design, and is beautifully animated. But Moka, the big boss of all Nocturna, is really unwilling to help or tell the boy about the situation. I guess the story wanted to be like “you need to face your fears by yourself” and all, but it doesn’t feel fully fleshed out due to Moka being so curmudgeonly about the whole situation. At first, I thought it was Moka who was making the stars disappear, but in the end, it wasn’t. I think this is one element of the story that could have been developed more.

I really love Nocturna. It’s pretty to look at, has a fleshed-out world, and any time we can get traditional 2D animation is a good thing to me. You can either get a Blu-ray version or a DVD version. I think pick your personal choice, since most video game consoles and DVD players can play both. I wish GKIDS did a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, but you deal with the cards given to you. Well, that was a lot of fun looking at another GKIDS film. Let’s take a look at a DC animated film next time with Justice League vs. Teen Titans. Thanks for reading, I hope you like what you read, and see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

Hit or Miss Trailer Predictions: Capture the Flag

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Welcome back to Hit or Miss Trailer Predictions. This is a series of first impression articles covering the newest trailers on animated films, and breaking down the good or bad that the trailer offers.

When you watch a trailer for a movie, you want to make sure what you see is easily translatable to the normal moviegoer. You want them to know the set-up, the characters, and maybe throw in a few jokes/action sequences to fill up the trailer. Basically, you don’t want to confuse the moviegoer with what kind of story your movie is telling. Apparently, no one told that to the individual who edited the English trailer for Capture the Flag, a Spanish-animated film being directed by Enruique Gato, who you might know as the director of Tad the Lost Explorer. Definitely off to a good start, aren’t we? (Once again, notice my sarcasm). Let’s get to it. Here is a trailer for the film, and you can make your own conclusions.


The Animation

Honestly, the animation doesn’t look terrible. This film seems to have a bigger budget for the animation department than many other foreign CGI animated films, and it doesn’t look as clunky as say, Tad the Lost Explorer or The Snow Queen. It still doesn’t look as good as anything Disney or Pixar releases, but you can tell they put a little more effort into the overall presentation.


The Story

Unfortunately, this is where I have the biggest problem with the trailer; the story looks to be all over the place. Capture the Flag seems to have four different movies in one. You have a surfing movie, a ‘kid trying to bring his family back together’ movie, a space flight movie, and then a family-oriented sci-fi movie at the end. It should never be this complicated. For example, you watch the trailer for Ernest & Celestine, one of my all-time favorite films, and the trailer shows off an offbeat/quirky friendship that the two characters make, and one that their respective societies don’t think should happen. It’s easy to get into, and you aren’t confused by the end of it. Capture the Flag just looks confused in what it wants to be.


Art Direction

I honestly don’t have much to say about this part of the film. It has a generic Pixar-style look. It at least looks better than Snow Queens or Legend of Oz: Dorothy’s Return.



This is sadly another part about which I don’t have a lot to say. The humor sounds generic, and I’m not saying this film needs to be laugh-out-loud hilarious, but it would help if the writing was better, and I couldn’t see the jokes coming a mile away. Or, just make the writing more charming.


Any last minute good/bad comments?

Capture the Flag sounds like it’s trying to be hip and ‘with it’. With all the surfing and terms like “dude” being used, this would have been more fitting, even if still dated, if it relwased in the 90s. It reminds me again why films like How to Train your Dragon, Toy Story, Beauty and the Beast, and Song of the Sea work. Just be your own thing, and not stress out about being modern with the young kids. Remember, the kids who are seeing this are probably being taken by their parents. Entertain both!


Prediction: Critical Miss Maybe?

I feel like this film will probably be a critical bomb on release here in the states, but who knows. It could be like Dreamwork’s Sinbad film where it tries too hard to be for the younger crowd, but still has all of those elements that make any Sinbad film fun to watch. I’m glad to see the animation is better than most, but if they would just dial back on the pandering, take out a few of the plot elements, and be a more relatable or stable film, it would be much better. I don’t think Paramount, Capture The Flag’s distributor, has a huge hit on their hands, but we will have to see.

The Other Side of Animation: Tad the Lost Explorer Review


While doing research for a film I want to review, Nocturna by Adrià Garcìa and Victor Maldonado, I came across Spain’s film award system known as Goya. It’s basically Spain’s answer to the Oscars. I bring this up because Nocturna was a film that won the Goya award for best animated feature back in 2007. I decided to do some digging to see what other films won, and you won’t believe how many other animated films that I want to cover, ended up winning this award. Chico & Rita, Nocturna, and Wrinkles, are obviously going to appear later on down the review line. For now, I just want to say that the standard of entry for a Goya must be rather low. I have seen a lot of these movies that won a Goya award, and they are usually those movies that are brought over and slapped onto the early morning run of Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon when no one is watching the channel. For example, today’s review will cover one of the winners of the Goya award for animation. Directed by Enrique Gato, Tad the Lost Explorer was released in 2012 to a positive reception in its home country of Spain, but to a more lukewarm reception everywhere else.  It’s essentially baby’s first Indiana Jones. It’s harmless and entertaining to an extent, but it’s also not as good as the really good Indiana Jones movies. It’s at least better than Temple of Doom, though.

The story revolves around Tad, voiced by Kerry Shale, who you might know better as Rufus from the popular Deponia adventure games. He is an aspiring archeologist who wants to hit it big and find treasure from all over the world. Unfortunately, his aspiring goals seem to get him in a lot of trouble at his construction job. After bringing a bottle that was buried underground to a professor at a museum, Tad ends up taking the professor’s place on a plane to Peru to solve some long lost puzzle that could lead the archeologist group to a mysterious city and the power of immortality. Along the way, Tad meets up with a female archeologist voiced by Ariel Winter of Modern Family fame, a “quirky” con man voiced by Cheech Marin, and a voiceless parrot, as they try to stop an evil group of modern day pirates from reaching the lost city first.

So, with all the Indiana Jones name dropping, it should be a fun action movie for kids. Well, if you really wanted something like Indiana Jones, but for a younger audience, you are better off finding a copy of the Ducktales movie, since the characters in Tad the Lost Explorer are very boilerplate for this kind of movie. Tad is your eccentric hopeful, the main female, Sara is your plain Jane character, and Cheech Marin’s character is your con artist with a heart of gold. Even the villains, who are usually the most interesting and entertaining characters of an animated film, are as stale as a loaf of ciabatta that has been outside in the sun for four days. I mean, how many times must I say how boring the characters in a film like this are? Let’s see if I can come up with something new to say about the boring characters. Well, I did find some uncomfortably offensive moments with Cheech Marin’s character, Freddy. There is never a time where Freddy isn’t either trying to sell you something, running away like a coward, only doing something for money, or attempting to be the comic relief of the film. It doesn’t really help that in a film that takes place in Peru, Freddy doesn’t really portray a likable character. It’s like saying “hey, all of my people are cowardly con artists!” Not that he is trying to be a positive role model, but still.  It doesn’t help either that a running gag at the beginning of the film is where Freddy tries to convince people he has a family to feed, and each time he says this, he pulls out a photo of him taped onto another picture with a random family. The first picture that shows up is this family from Africa. Yeah, let’s just say that apparently, Spain does not share the same ideals of racial sensibility that Americans do. It feels like a cheap laugh. The picture at hand might appear for a few seconds, but it’s enough to be noticeable. Since we are talking about jokes, the jokes never made me laugh. I didn’t get one single chuckle. I think the blame can be sourced at how this film is aimed at kids. The best part about any movie is that it hits both kids and adults at the same time. It’s why I love films distributed by GKIDS, and even though I have my issues with them, Disney, Dreamworks, and especially Pixar. These companies hit it out of the park by making films that anyone, young or old, can enjoy. There always seems to be this thing where the rule of thumb is that if the film is aimed at kids, there doesn’t need a whole lot of effort put into it. Well, sorry to those lazy executives who think that, but it’s not true. We will keep rewatching films like Inside Out, Ernest & Celestine, Spirited Away, and How to Train your Dragon because while they might have a goofy kid moment here and there, the message, the characters, the story, and the breath-taking moments pulled us into the film’s world. We were right there with each of the characters. When you limit your audience, you don’t give them the respect they deserve, and the effort put into the movie will most likely not be there. You end up with a movie that seems slow and drawn out for a 92 minute-long movie.

The animation is your cookie cutter Pixar rip-off art style that so many films try to pull off, but don’t. The animation itself is clunky, and is about as good as any CGI you see in any modern children cartoons that are done in CGI. I don’t know what fetish Europe has with making clunky looking CGI films, but they need to start upping the budget or technology so they can to make better animated films using CGI.

With all this said, did I find something about the movie that I actually liked or at least tolerated? Well, I think if a kid has not seen Indiana Jones, though I don’t know who hasn’t seen it, I could see them thinking this film is exciting. It tries to capture that timeless feel of adventure/action in some ways, like the moment they find the city and where it is located. If you lower your expectations, you can find some slightly above average entertaining sequences for what is the diet version of Indiana Jones. I also like the passion that Tad and Sara have for their jobs. I like how Sara, even though she falls into so many tropes of women in animated films like being the love interest and being a tad sexualized, does actually have a profession, and she does something instead of being a damsel in distress 99% of the time in the movie. I also enjoy the sad irony of the fate of the villain in this movie. While the villain is boring as tar, and predictable, the end result of finding immortality, while seen before, is rather scary in a sense. Like I said, the outcome isn’t mind-blowing, but at least it’s something different.

As I sat here and typed the review, I found myself curious as to how to label this film. Was it terrible? Yeah, it was, but was it as bad as something like The Snow Queen or Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return? No. I think it’s just middle of the road bad. Nothing outstandingly horrible besides one offensive joke, but nothing that amazing either. It’s on the American Netflix, if you are curious, but there are so much better movies to watch and check out like A Cat in Paris, Chico & Rita, and The Rabbi’s Cat. Well, now that we got this film out of the way, how about we shift our focus back onto a French animated film that tries to be too much all at once? Next time, we shall be looking at A Monster in Paris. Thanks for reading and see you all next time!

Rating: Lackluster!