The Other Side of Animation 231: Monster Hunter – Legends of the Guild 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/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

When you hear the terms, direct-to-video, made-for-TV, and “based on a video game”, it doesn’t always bring out the best reactions. Not that any of these tags can’t offer something of quality, but it’s usually not the case. You can find some gems among these terms, but when you get something that combines them into one mess of an experience, well, that’s a bad sign. It hurts because the film I’m reviewing today is the TV film Monster Hunter: Legends of the Guild

Directed by Steve Yamamoto, written by Joshua Fine, and produced by Pure Imagination Studio, this CGI film isn’t based on any of the released games, though if you wanted to connect it to one, it sort of takes place a little bit before Monster Hunter World. It’s a made-for-TV film that was sent directly to Netflix, and while it got one trailer, it was not a film that was available to review in advance. That should tell you everything right then and there about the film’s overall quality. How does this hour-long film adapt and work with the world of the famous video game franchise? Well, you should read on, my fellow hunters. 

Our main focus in this story revolves around Aiden, voiced by Dante Basco. He’s a young man who dreams of becoming a hunter to one day take down large beasts and or the infamous elder dragons. One day, after going out to try and stop a monster from causing trouble in the village, he runs into a professional hunter named Julius, voiced by Brando Eaton. After saving Aiden’s life, Julius warns Aiden that his village is in the migration path of an Elder Dragon that will cause destruction and death in its wake. Aiden decides this is his big chance to become an official hunter and pleads with Julius to take him on this hunt. The two are then joined by a thieving cat named Box, voiced by Stephen Kramer Glickman, Nadia, a Heavy Bow hunter voiced by GK Bowes, an Insect Glaive hunter named Mae, voiced by Caroline Caliston, and a blacksmith named Ravi, voiced by Dan McCoy. Can these ragtag hunters save the day and stop the Elder Dragon known as Lunastra? 

So, this film is only 58 minutes long. How in tarnation do you tell a compelling story within this time frame with multiple characters to flesh out, stakes implemented, and to overall engage you as the viewer to maybe go out and buy some Monster Hunter stuff? The obvious answer is you don’t. The fact that this is the directorial debut of Steve Yamamoto is extremely telling in how poorly told the story is. Yes, Monster Hunter has never been about the plot and was more about the gameplay experience of hunting giant monsters with friends. With all of that said, there was still an interesting enough plot to push you through the single-player experience. The story here is so squished and forced together that it doesn’t give any character time to grow. Yes, Aiden does get an arc, but he’s the only one to get an arc. Every other character either has little or no growth. The story feels so small-scale, when fighting an Elder Dragon in the game is meant to be this big event, and they choose one that you only encounter on the side and not in the main mission lineup. The film tries to make you care about the characters, but good luck remembering who these characters are, and how distinct they are as individuals without pointing out what weapon they use. Oh, and guess who dies first? You won’t believe it unless you know your monster movie or horror movie tropes. They even kill another character for the sake of drama, and it’s offscreen. I felt emotionally numb throughout this hour-long experience, and that’s a shame, but that’s what happens when you make a film based on a game that’s more about the thrill of the hunt and not the emotional hoops you jump through to get into the story. Even with it being based in the world of Monster Hunter, there is nothing that makes it stand out. I think the overall story could have been executed better if it had more time to tell its story, but since it only had an hour, there was no time to make a lasting impression. It tries to have a touching message at the end of the film, but it all fell flat for me. 

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How about the animation? Well, the CGI is decent for TV film standards, and I will give them credit for the monsters looking good. I mean, these are iconic monsters. They had better look how they do from the games, but here the movements are either stiff, too floaty, or not lively enough. I’m sure the animators didn’t have as much time to make this as polished as it can look, but the visuals are only slightly better than the CGI cutscenes from the video games from the PlayStation 2 games. When the action does kick in, it looks good, but the impact of certain hits and weapons feels unsatisfying to watch. The facial movements are also stiff and more emotion could have been put into their reactions. The voice cast is fine. The actors are doing their best with what they are given, and from what I can tell, this film was a first for a few of the actors, and, well, we all have to start somewhere, right? Dante Basco is a super talented actor, but he, along with the other actors, is not given the best material to work with. I give them kudos for making it work as well as they could, but the dialogue was mediocre. 

So, is there something that I like about this film? I mean, not really. Even though the fanservice bits and easter eggs are noticeable if you are a fan of the franchise, that shouldn’t be the end all be all of quality for fans of the franchise. Yes, this was made for fans of the franchise, but you shouldn’t just get the bare minimum and be okay with that. Wouldn’t it have been cool to get Studio Trigger or that studio that made Rise of the TMNT behind this property? How cool would that be? 

Maybe it’s because I’m a fan of the franchise, but I found myself despising 99% of this experience. Outside of Dante Basco doing what he can with the writing, the CGI animation is janky, it doesn’t look better than the CGI animation seen from the PlayStation 2 games, the editing is maddening, the story is tripe, and it adds up to nothing. It offers nothing outside of a few decent action beats, but since you can go and watch something like the upcoming The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf or Demon Slayer: Mugen Train, New Gods: Nezha Reborn, and get a much better looking and feeling experience. Legends of the Guilds feels like it was meant to be this pilot to have multiple stories about some of the characters seen throughout the franchise, but it falls apart pretty fast. Not the worst film I have seen this year, but it’s still at the bottom of my animated film list. If you have to watch it, I hope you enjoy burning an hour of your time that you won’t get back. Luckily, the next film I’ll be reviewing will have more to say as we look at Dash Shaw’s Cryptozoo. 

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time!

Rating: Blacklist/The Worst. 

The Other Side of Animation 74: Storks Review

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

When The LEGO Movie came out back in 2014, it took the world by storm. It was one of the biggest films of the year, and one of the biggest surprises in movie history. Everyone thought this was going to be a cynical cash-in like Home or Minions, but it ended up being better than what anyone could imagine. The directors and writers put in their all for this one movie, and it paid off with being one of the best animated films of the decade. It also showed that just because you are based on a toy, doesn’t mean you have to be terrible. It was a huge victory for Warner Brothers, and a great start to their new redone animation branch. So, to me, Storks had a lot to live up to. Released back in 2016, Storks was released by Warner Brothers, and while not bombing, it didn’t do as well as The LEGO Movie, and got mixed reviews. You either enjoyed the movie, or you got really irritated with it. Where do I stand on this film from director duo Doug Sweetland and Nicholas Stoller? Well, let’s find out.

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Storks is set in a world where, well, storks don’t deliver babies to households anymore, and are more like a cartoon version of what Amazon wants to do with delivery drones and delivery-packaged goods. The lead or one of the leads is a stork named Junior, voiced by Andy Samberg, who is close to being the new boss of the company that is, as of right, now run by a stork named Hunter, voiced by Kelsey Grammar. While Junior may be close to getting the new position of boss, he is told to fire and get rid of the one human that is working there, an orphan named Tulip, voiced by Katie Crown. After some shenanigans, Junior and Tulip end up accidentally turning on the old baby-making machine (literally a machine) and, well, make a baby. It’s then up to them to get it to the family that requested it, while avoiding Hunter, a small pigeon voiced by Stephen Kramer Glickman, a pack of wolves played by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, and a stork that went rogue long ago named Jasper, voiced by Danny Trejo.

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So, this is a lot to take in with its comedic set-up, execution, and world. How does it all work? Well, for me at the very least, this is one of those movies that could and should have had a couple of more lookovers to polish it all out. I knew going in, that this movie would be more on the comedic side of things, and that would be okay. I’m fine when a comedy wants to be a comedy, but if you are going to add heart and soul to your comedy, it needs to be balanced out with the funny moments. I mean, think about some of the great comedies of the last two decades or so. Comedies like Hot Fuzz, Kung Fu Panda, and Shrek 2 work because while they are very funny, you still cared about the characters and what they were going through. It was icing on the cake that the movie was gut busting hilarious. At least for me, Storks doesn’t really reach that height of comedy.  I don’t think its two leads, while well-voiced and can work off each other well, have the greatest of character development. You get Tulip’s drive to find her family and to make sure the baby gets to its family, but Junior doesn’t really have the best drive as a character. It doesn’t help either that it goes through a “liar’s reveal” trope, but I can give it credit that it doesn’t daudle too long on that part of the story. It also would have been nice if characters like Jasper and Hunter could have had more time to be fleshed out or be even funnier or more entertaining as characters. Even the family that the baby is supposed to be taken to, with parents played by Ty Burrell and Jennifer Aniston, should be funnier than what you get in the movie. Maybe it’s because they are fairly white bread overworked parents, but when you have those two actors, you can do more with them, and we know they can do more since both have been in fantastic animated films like The Iron Giant and Finding Dory.

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Now then, how is the comedy? Well, like most comedies that can be considered good or entertaining, there are some great jokes that are hilarious when done well, a few amusing jokes that make you chuckle, and some that fall flat. It’s a shame more films don’t take the route that the best comedies have taken, and pick and choose their jokes and not fall onto some of the more popular tropes in comedies. A lot of the visual gags and lines work, due to the animation of the film, but you do hear a groaner here and there, and characters like Pigeon Toady will either be annoying or hilarious depending on whom you are as an individual.

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Now, the film does try to cover up some plot holes by being very meta about it, with characters literally asking why these things exist, and that became fairly distracting. To me, meta humor is starting to slowly hit that point where it’s less about being very funny and clever, and more about using meta humor to hide and ignore that the story has issues. Why is the baby machine still around? Why were there storks delivering babies when there are more…natural ways of having babies? Why did the incident with Tulip shut down everything in terms of baby delivery? Why is the ‘off button’ behind a bunch of razor blades? I know when it comes to cartoon comedies, you have to just go with the flow, but the meta humor rides the line of covering up lazy world-building and writing.

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Now, that is not to say that I hate this movie. I know I just criticized it a whole bunch, but I found Storks to be an incredibly entertaining ride. The animation is great, it’s the right kind of fast, it helps the physical comedy hit it out of the park multiple times, and it’s got great designs. This is the same studio that did Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, and it looks so much better than what the studio had to do with in Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2. Seriously, watch that movie and tell me that you see how cheap it looks compared to the original Cloudy film.

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Anyway, the voice cast also does a fantastic job. Sure, you get some pretty solid performances from some of the actors like Ty Burrell and Jennifer Aniston, and a majority of the cast sounds very engaged with their performances. I also give Warner Brothers so much credit for casting an actual honest-to-goodness voice actress for Tulip. Tulips’ actress, Katie Crown, is an actress most known for her role as Izzy from the Total Drama franchise. It’s just so rare that actual voice actors get major roles in animated films. It could have been so easy to just get a bubbly big-name actress to do this role, but they pretty much said “screw that”, and got an honest-to-gravy voice actress. As for a comedic cast, it’s really solid stuff. Andy Samberg, Keegan Michael Keye, Jordan Peele, Kelsey Grammar, Stephen Kramer Glickman, Danny Trejo, and Katie Crown all work off each other well and have some pretty great chemistry. For the comedy itself, I was laughing at multiple points in the movie, from the introduction of Key and Peele’s wolf characters, to the encounter with the penguins. Storks brings in very much “out there” brands of comedy that you would see in a Looney Toons short. I mean, it is Warner Brothers, they should know how this all works by now. Even the somewhat boring white bread family gets some great lines, but that should be no surprise, due to Ty Burrell and Jennifer Aniston being used to flexing their comedic muscles before.

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Storks might be a bit clunky in the world-building and story department, but it brings in so many laughs that it pretty much makes for an enjoyable ride. However, do I understand why it didn’t do well in the box office, and why critics were split on the film? Of course I do. I might like the film and recommend it for a good fun animated comedy, but you should be able to understand when someone else couldn’t get into it. Still, if you feel like you are in the mood for a comedy that’s less reliant on raunchy comedy and stock humor, Storks is that comedy. Well then, it’s time we look at films from 2017, and we shall start with Nerdland. Thank you for reading. I hope you all enjoyed the article, and I will see you next time.

Rating: Go see it!