The Other Side of Animation 193: Fe@rless 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/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!)

2020 has been an underwhelming year for theatrical animation. The obvious reason being COVID-19, and COVID-19 is awful. Everything has either been pushed back or is now having to either do small limited screenings at safe places like drive-thru theaters, or virtual screenings that are only viable through a computer, and requires some tedium and such if you don’t have a smart TV. As an animation critic, it’s not hard to find stuff to review. I have an immense back-catalog of films I need to write reviews for, and I’m a co-host of Tooned Up! podcast where we mostly talk about the TV shows that are on streaming services. Unfortunately, in between the major show releases and the bare-bones film releases, you will have to scavenge for any new features that may go under the radar, for both good and for bad. Guess which side Fe@rless stands on? 

Animated by Vanguard Animation, and directed by Cory Edwards, this is the newest film from the notorious low-budget feature studio that had no real marketing outside of a trailer on “not Netflix”’s main YouTube channel. For some reason, I have searched the internet, and there are no real news stories or press release articles about this film. I learned about it last month before its August 14th release, and to no real shock, the film has very few reviews, and what reviews are there are universally negative. If you want to hear me talk about this film, you can go to this link here to listen to me and my co-hosts talk about it. For now, though, these are my written thoughts and my review of the film. 

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So, how do I explain this story to everyone? We follow our lead, a young male gamer named Reid, voiced by Miles Robbins. He is the only gamer in the known world to get far in a game, Captain Lightspeed, that is notoriously difficult. He beats the second to the final level of the game as the titular hero, voiced by Jadakiss, who also happens to have three babies with superpowers. Well, within the game itself, the villain known as Arcannis, voiced by Miguel J. Pimentel, attempts to steal the babies with his henchman named Fleech, voiced by Tom Kenny. They succeed in kidnapping the babies, but then the babies end up escaping and going through a wormhole. By the way, all of this is happening while Reid is playing the game. Anyway, the wormhole opens up into the real world, and Reid has to take care of the babies, alongside his classmate who he ends up roping into the situation. It’s up to him to protect the babies and avoid the grasp of both the military and Arcannis. 

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So, while the story summary that I have given is as good as I can offer, the film goes out of its way to make this setup way more complicated. The entire story comes off like it’s the first draft of a premise that didn’t have time to go through a second or third run. Why does Captain Lightspeed need to be a videogame character? There is nothing in this film that required him to be a videogame character or having to do with games. He could have easily been a human-like alien from another galaxy. Also, the video game elements don’t come into play a whole lot for the entire story. They are brought up, the film tries to have a “don’t waste your days away playing video games, do more!”, and then the day is saved because Reid played a video game. The film doesn’t do a good job showing off how Captain Lightspeed gets from his video game realm to the real world, and somehow gets connected to one of Reid’s not-shown gamer friends. Another part of the story that doesn’t work is the villain. Arcannis is easily one of the animation world’s most non-threatening villains. He only becomes a threat, because the story, by no will of his own, gives him easy outs in terms of getting far into the plot. The story tries to have something akin to Jack Jack from The Incredibles, but it misses the entire point of Jack Jack’s storyline from the first and second Incredibles film. I know it seems unfair that I’m ripping apart the story of this film, when most bad movies, or films I considered bad, don’t get this kind of under-the-microscope treatment. It’s because in a year where the theatrical film experience has been limited to non-existent, if animated films want to come out this year, then they are going to get critically judged like the rest. It’s also the fact that the characters are bland, and the story is not engaging enough to not make me notice all of the flaws or plot holes. Like how Arcannis does eventually absorb the babies of their powers, but the babies still have their powers during the final fight. So, did Arcannis not absorb all of it? Also, why are Captain Lightspeed’s upgradable weapons, babies with superpowers? Maybe the game he’s in is notoriously difficult, but only because all of your weapons in-game are babies, and babies are, well, not useful in a fight. The film does nothing to keep you invested with the characters, the story, and the writing. This might be yet another Vanguard Animation project, but even then, the studio does have moments where there is a fun idea at hand, like with their still unreleased in the US film Charming. Once again, without really knowing, unless someone from the team wanted to speak up about it to me personally, everything feels like a first draft that got sent into production, and it shows. Everything is so bare-bones from the dialogue, the jokes, to the character dynamics, and how the overall world works. You don’t even see some characters mentioned.

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Speaking of what feels bare-bones and what didn’t get a second or third pass-through, let’s talk about the animation. I know this studio is known for having very small budgets, and you don’t need $75 mil to make a good looking film, but I will not take anyone seriously if they tell me that an Illumination Entertainment film looks worse than Fe@rless. You can make a visually stunning film on a smaller budget, and we saw that with films like On Gaku: Our Sound, but doing straight-up generic-looking CGI fare on a small budget is only going to make the film look worse, and Fe@rless looks awful. It, again, looks like a first run, in terms of animation. They are all very basic textures, movements, designs, and visuals. Normally, other studios would keep rendering, polishing, and doing what they need to in order to make it look visually better, but it’s obvious Vanguard Animation does not have that time or that’s, for some reason, not high priority. It was more important that the budget be used for Lionel Richie royalties than anything else. I know I haven’t talked about the voice cast, and that’s because it’s a mixed-to-mostly-negative bag of thoughts and comments. On one hand, the film has a predominantly black cast, which is rare for animated films, and I think that’s highly commendable. On the other hand, I think only one person gives a decent performance, while everyone else doesn’t know how to act or were given bad direction. Everyone sounds so wooden, bored, or like they aren’t even trying. The only one who is doing anything worth giving credit to is Gabrielle Union, who plays General Blazerhatch. She has one of the few funny or chuckle-worthy lines in the entire film. The problem is that you could have easily gotten voice actors for all of the roles, and they probably would have done a better job with the material. Why the heck did this film even need Susan Sarandon for a voice cameo? It’s a waste of talent that wasn’t used well at all. It’s the most bare-bones example of celebrity stunt casting being used, and the film coming out worst for it. I hate that I have to say that, but the acting is not great in this film. 

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Sometimes, there is a decent line and the character of Captain Lightspeed himself could have been a decent Saturday morning cartoon character, but outside of that, this film is bad. It’s easily the worst animated film I have seen this year, and I wish I didn’t have to say that. Not all animated films are going to be made equally, but after multiple years of seeing nothing but mediocre from Vanguard Animation, it’s disheartening. No real change seems to be at hand with the studio, and the fact that Netflix thought this should have been one of the high points of August is disappointing since Netflix is already under fire for a lot of their business decisions. I would say avoid this film, but I know people already have. If you are 100% curious to check this film out, then do so, but there are so many better films on Netflix and in general that you can watch. Well, we can only go up from here, and you know what? I want to review something I enjoy and it’s time we go back to GKIDS and Keichi Haara with Summer Days with Coo.

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 90: Spark a Space Tail 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!)

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When I was looking at what films were coming out in 2017, I was one of the few people not trying to make it look like one of the worst years for animation as a whole. Sure, I can understand the dread and concern since so far, 2017 in animation has been pretty middling. Not that there haven’t been great animated films released this year, like The LEGO Batman Movie or My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea, but for every good film, three films of lesser quality pop up and overshadow the good ones. However, this year has also seen animated films that somehow slip into theaters and then quietly leave after being ridiculed for being in theaters, when they had no reason to be there. Spark: A Space Tail is one of those films. Written and directed by Aaron Woodley, this film was made by the same studios that made 2014’s critically panned, but financially successful (somehow) The Nut Job. You would think with a film that for one reason or another was a moneymaker like The Nut Job, the same care and attention would go into Spark. Apparently, the distributor for both films, Open Road Films, thought otherwise. There was no real marketing for this film besides one trailer a month before it came out, and I saw nothing else. No TV spots or online ads for the film. To no surprise, the film was given a limited release, and was rightfully panned by the critics and the two people that went to go see it. Apparently, the film is also a box office bomb that’s actually worse than Delgo. Granted, they won’t tell us the budget for Spark, but I think it’s a good estimated $20-$30 mil and it only made a little over $196K. How do you do that? Well, let’s find out.

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The story follows our lead, a monkey named Spark, voiced by Jace Norman. He’s stuck on a chunk of his old planet after his parents and planet were destroyed by an evil, yet small, dictator named Zhong, voiced by Alan C. Peterson. Spark dreams of taking down the evil empire with his friends Vix, voiced by Jessica Biel, and Chunk, voiced by Rob deLeeuw. After attempting to be useful, Spark actually makes things worse, by gives Zhong what he was looking for, a giant whale monster known as the Kraken. Spark must then make a second attempt to take down Zhong with his friends and an old military captain, voiced by Patrick Stewart.

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The many ways this film bothers me are too many to count. This is one of the most soulless and cynically-motivated films I have seen this year. There was no effort put into this film, and I honestly can’t think of one area where the film does something right. I mean, where do I start? How about the animation? It’s quite obvious this was never going to be a theatrical-quality-animated film. It’s woefully lackluster in its character designs, movements, and textures. It looks like a nicely polished PlayStation 2 game. Everything is too flat and the character designs are not that inspiring, and simply forgettable. It’s also yet another Asian-made CGI film that has elements of Journey to the West inspirations. Thankfully, it’s not just another Journey to the West-style story, but it’s getting really tiring that apparently, while it’s a popular story in that part of the world, they can’t think of any other stories to take inspiration/references from. The movements are definitely not as rubbery as Norm of the North, but they still don’t move as fluidly as they should. I know some would argue not every film needs to be a Pixar and Disney film, but they need to look just as polished if they want to be in theaters. Movements are clunky and limited, facial movements are very basic, and even the “action” sequences don’t have any weight to them. The characters feel like they are flying around a big green or blue screen, which makes the background look lifeless. It’s probably a good guess that they had enough of a budget for what would traditionally be enough for one episode of a regular CGI animated show.

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The story and characters are very flat, and not-at-all interesting. Spark is an annoying teenage character who is literally the reason behind Zhong getting the upper hand in the film, and is just a grating character to listen to. Yes he might be a teenager, but these types of characters are not endearing in the slightest to listen to or invest time with. Vix is a pill of a character, and Chunk probably is the most likable character, but is very basic. The villain shouldn’t be a threat. He can’t fight back against anyone bigger than himself, and while I get he was made more as a comedic villain, the film relies on everyone being too stupid to stand up to him. The overall story is very basic adventure 101 with a chosen one, and every cliché from this type of film that you have seen a hundred times. I don’t care if you are unoriginal, but you have to be executed well or do something new or refreshing. This film doesn’t do that well with a story that you can guess from the very beginning scene. I also wonder how the heck they got these actors. I know some of them aren’t current A-list, but how do you get Jessica Biel, Hillary Swank, Susan Sarandon, and Patrick Stewart? I get why you got that child actor Jace Norman, but those other four? You would think they would get to throw some weight around, especially Patrick Stewart and Susan Sarandon, since they were both in recent hits like The Feud and Logan. I understand that they did this way before those two projects came out, but come on.

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So, is there anything positive to say about this film? Not really. The only real reason this film has to exist now is to be a prime example of how to not make, distribute, in this case, animate, and market your film. I don’t know one thing this film did correctly to entice or interest anyone into seeing this film. It’s quite honestly one of the prime examples of a film that has no real reason to exist or to have been pushed into theaters. If Open Road Films cared at all about this film, they would have marketed more, put more time and effort into it, and actually gave a hoot about it. I can’t repeat this enough that this film has no reason to exist. I wish I could find something about this film as redeemable, but when more animated films are putting effort into their experiences, whether they turn out to be good or bad, you have to step it up in order for them to warrant theater time. For now, Spark has the honored spot as the worst animated film of the year. I don’t usually like talking about these films because I know the people that made them probably didn’t have the best work schedule to get this done, but if you are going to be selling me a product that I’m paying money for to see in a place that has multiple Hollywood-level films in other rooms, then you are opening yourself up for massive amounts of criticism. Sometimes, going straight-to-DVD is the better route for these animated films. How about next time, we look at the new anime film on Netflix with Blame! Thanks for reading; I hope to see you all next time as we count down to review 100 animation reviews.

Rating: The Worst/Blacklist

The Other Side of Animation 88: My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea 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!)

To me, there is no real surprise to going to the movies these days. Since so many films are coming out, and Hollywood isn’t becoming too risky with its big budget films, there is just no real reason to go to the theaters. Yes, indie films do balance that out with telling more diverse stories and taking more risks, and not every film needs to be original, but at the same time, I want to be surprised. I don’t want to sit there knowing what exactly is going on, or walk into a movie knowing what the big twist or story points are going to be. That’s why I loved going into and coming out of My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea. This newly distributed GKids animated film was directed by comic book writer and artist, Dash Shaw, and boasted a solid cast, including Reggie Watts, Jason Schwartzman, Maya Rudolph, Lena Dunham, and Susan Sarandon. So far, it has had a pretty positive reception, with only a few people being split on the overall film. Where do I fit into that group? Well, let’s find out.

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The story revolves around two best friends, Dash, voiced by Jason Schwartzman, and Assaf, voiced by Reggie Watts. They run a school paper with their editor Verti, voiced by Maya Rudolph. After some shenanigans with Dash being jealous of Assaf and Verti going out, calling out Assaf in a new editorial, and getting in trouble with the popular girl, Mary, Dash finds something rather shocking. The school is building a new roof-top gymnasium, but the principle is ignoring building code, and the high school, well, sinks into the sea. Dash must get his friends, Assaf and Verti, out of there alive, alongside popular girl Mary, voiced by Lena Dunham, and a rather awesome lunch lady named Lunch Lady Lorraine, voiced by Susan Sarandon. Can they make it out alive? Can this film give you vast amounts of LSD-rich visuals?

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First off, let’s talk about the animation. When the trailer for this film came out, everyone was criticizing it for its less-than-stellar animation. To be fair, if you are not used to other styles of animation, I can understand the confusion, since it doesn’t look like a Pixar or Disney quality film. Personally, I have started to follow the philosophy of “I don’t care how much your budget is, it’s what you do with it that matters more”. You can be as pretty as you want to be, but if your overall experience has lackluster storytelling, execution, and characters, pretty animation won’t cut it. If it was all about looking nice, Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur wouldn’t have bombed. My Entire High School is more style over lazy animation. It might not have fluid movements all the time, but it has charm and personality. This isn’t like where GoodTimes Entertainment attempted to make a theatrical quality film with a $10 Mil budget with Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer: The Movie, and obviously spent it on hiring big time celebrity actors instead of putting out high quality animation and having celebrity voice work at the same time.

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Personally, I never felt distracted by My Entire Highschool’s visual style, and got very comfortable with the film because of the film’s other strength, it’s writing. While indie dialogue can become hit-or-miss, I felt like the writing and characters for the film were very strong. I liked the dark comedy sprinkled throughout the film, I liked the chemistry between the characters, and I liked how punchy the dialogue felt. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but Dash Shaw found a way to make the quips and lingo coming from the characters feel natural. I can see why some people are calling this a modern day John Hughes film, since it has that tone and vibe down from something like The Breakfast Club. I also liked the characters. Sure, Dash doesn’t become a likable character at first, and I wouldn’t personally go as far as he does on some things, but I honestly felt like he acted more like a realistic teenager than most teens you see in movies. How many times have you been jealous and spiteful because of sudden change? Or how about how you felt like you were the greatest thing imaginable? To me, the characters came off more realistic than anything else. It also shows off how hollow and rather toxic school communities can be, due to how the different groups of students can damage one another. It’s also a satirical approach to a disaster movie, since while natural disasters can be scary and very damaging events, it’s darkly humorous that a principle would be so inept in budget spending that he would rather risk making more money and ignore safety code to justify a roof-top gymnasium than making sure the school didn’t collapse. It’s dumb and unrealistic, but how immensely over-the-top have most disaster movies been?

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If I had to complain about something, it would be that the LSD-style images near the third act can become a bit too much at times. I don’t have any trouble dealing with flashing images, but there was one scene where it almost became too much. It’s one of the few times I could think of where the visuals and indie style almost becomes distracting. I mean, yes, the animation is very different, and I think that helps it stand out, but when the indie vibe becomes too in-your-face, then that’s a problem.

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I know this movie will probably be on a base-by-base situation in terms of overall enjoyment, but I really loved My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea. It had great laughs, vibrant visuals, a good sense of humor, and the actors did a wonderful job bringing the characters to life. I thought it would be a while for something to top The LEGO Batman Movie as my favorite film of the year, but for now, it has topped it. I’m sure things might change in the future with upcoming GKids releases and other releases, on top of rewatching these films for the end of the year list, but for now, I have a current favorite animated film of 2017. Sadly, it’s getting close to the 90th review so how about we look at a movie Netflix didn’t bother to advertise for obvious reasons with Sahara? Thank you for reading my review. I hope you all enjoyed the article, and I will see you all next time

Rating: Go see it!