The Other Side of Animation 190: Animal Crackers 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!)

For the 190th review, I had a multitude of directions to go, in terms of what I wanted to review. I want to talk about a film that has an interesting development history, or something that is honestly fascinating about it. Today, we get a movie that’s both fascinating and had a rough development history, Animal Crackers. Based loosely on the graphic novel by Scott Cristian Sava, written by Sava and Dean Lorey, and directed by Sava and Tony Bancroft, Animal Crackers is a CGI animated film that showed up at the Annecy International Film Festival in 2017. It was one of the few US-produced animated films to be at the festival that was already stacked with films like Lu Over the WallIn This Corner of the World, and Loving Vincent

It was set to be released in the states soon after, but this is where the troubles began. It was originally going to be released by Relativity Media, but they went under. It was then going to be distributed by Serafini Releasing, but they also shut down in the same year. In 2018, the film was going to be released by Entertainment Studios, but the deal fell through a little bit before it was released, and Entertainment Studios went on to distribute Arctic Dogs, one of the worst animated films of the 2010s and one of the worst-performing animated films of all time. The film was released in China, but there was no real word about it ever getting an official US release, until Netflix saved the film and released it on July 24th, 2020 to mostly positive reviews. What do I think about this film that finally got an official release? Well, let’s take a look under the big top. 

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Our story revolves around a young couple named Owen and Zoe, voiced by John Krasinski and Emily Blunt. They both work at Zoe’s dad’s dog biscuit factory up until one day, Owen gets a call from the top clown at his uncle’s circus named Chesterfield, voiced by Danny DeVito. Owen’s uncle and aunt supposedly died in a fire, and Owen and Zoe are offered the chance to run the circus again, and Chesterfield offers Owen a box of supposedly magical animal crackers. Owen takes the box with him and Zoe to head back home for the day, and Owen finds out first-hand that the crackers are magical. It is up to Owen and Zoe to help bring back the circus with the help of their friends and those magical cookies, and avoid the evil rule of Horatio P. Huntington, voiced by Ian McKellen. 

First off, I know circuses don’t have the best reputation with animal safety and health, but this film isn’t about any of that. It’s a fairytale-like film, so if you are going into this with the exact rage you had for something like The Greatest Showman, you are reviewing this film incorrectly. Judge it for what it is.

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Let’s get the most obvious element about this film out of the way next, the animation. This film had a supposed budget of $17 mil, and if you are going to go down the route of comparing its visual quality to some of the bigger films of 2020, it’s not up to par. That’s a pointless observation to make to me because it seems like it’s too obvious of a comment. To me, the film’s visuals, textures, and animation might be lacking, but the designs to me help make the smaller budget stand out. The designs are cartoony, and that helps the visual style. I like the look of the overall film, and the animations are still pretty good. Some characters have a bit more intricate details to them than others, but I think it looks nice for a film that cost $17 million. It looks better and appropriate for films of that budget compared to ones that supposedly cost $50 to $100 mil like Wonder Park and/or Arctic Dogs, but do not show it. 

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Now that we have that out of the way, while the animation might lack in terms of visual fidelity, it makes up for it with a pretty snappy script. While the pop culture references abound and were hit-and-miss, there were many times where I chuckled or downright laughed at the dialogue. Everyone has good chemistry, and I think the directors and writers got the best out of them, and they had the proper amount of improved dialogued within the script. Anytime Owen and Zoe were on screen or Horatio and Zucchini (voiced by Gilbert Gottfried) were on screen, or when Dany DeVito was there, they usually had the best lines. Even Sylvester Stallone’s Bulletman character was used effectively. Of course, the scene-stealer himself Patrick Warburton as Brock is always a delight. I also like how the film tackles the arc of people following their passion. At first, Owen doesn’t think he could make the circus great again, because it wouldn’t bring in the money, and he wanted to do what would pay the bills. I think, for the most part, it tackles that topic well. I also love that they give simple rules to the crackers in general. They don’t try to explain everything about them, and the film’s dialogue even shoots down the people who love to nitpick films to death for no real reason. Sometimes, you need to sit back and just enjoy a more fantastical story. Not every little detail needs to be explained! 

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With all of that said, I do have some issues with the film. I love the ambition of some parts of the film, but it is stretched thin. For example, while the songs in the film were okay, I felt like they should have either committed to being a Disney-like musical or just use normal songs. I thought some of the lines in the songs also didn’t flow well within the film. Animal Crackers also overstays its welcome a little, as while it might be a little over 100 minutes, it takes a while for everything to happen and fall into place. The dog biscuit subplot also feels more like filler. It matches some parts of the overall story, but I cared much more about the circus stuff than the dog biscuit subplot. My final criticism is that Horatio’s villain motivation is, unfortunately, razor-thin. It’s a weak drive when maybe they could have done a darker backstory for what happened with Horatio. I don’t know how dark they wanted to go with this film, but it would have made him more of a threatening and or interesting villain, than, well, what we got. He’s more like the villain from The Curse of the Wererabbit in terms of being a delightful and amusing villain, but not a compelling one. 

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It might be rough around the edges, and I know not everyone is as on board with this film as I am, but I enjoyed it. I thought it was a pretty good and charming family film. I would put it over most of Netflix’s other film releases this year in terms of animation. I would say I highly recommend watching this film, but since it was a huge viewer hit for Netflix, I don’t need to, but do watch it if you are curious about this film’s history. So, next time, we will be talking about one of GKids’ newest features that they picked up from Annecy, On Gaku: Our Sound

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: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 80: Ratchet & Clank 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!)

We should probably all admit and accept that video game movies are never going to be good. I don’t care how many times we have to try to make them work, they are never going to get better, and it’s a waste of money. Sure, some films get closer than others, like 2016’s Warcraft, which should have been its own solo film instead of a universe/franchise plotting film that came out seven years too late. What’s another good example? Why, no other than 2016’s Ratchet & Clank. On paper, Ratchet & Clank looks like it has everything to make it a successful video game-based movie. It’s fully animated, so no live-action trainwrecks, it has a majority of the original cast from the games in it, one of the writers of the games was penning the script, and it seemed to have a bit of everything that fans of the franchise would love, and is a film that newcomers could check out and not be confused. So, what happened? Quite a lot happened. Reports came in that the film was already done and shelved for two years before last year’s release, the writer of the games stepped down and disowned the film, due to hints and comments saying two other writers rewrote the script, a lack of marketing and trailers, said trailers not showing off Ratchet & Clank, but the celebrities that were signed on to be in the film, and that was before release. Once it hit the theaters, no one saw it. Out of a $20 mil budget, it only made back $12 mil, it cost the animation studio Rainmaker Entertainment $10 mil in damage, and the head of Rainmaker got angry and ranted that theaters and the Hollywood system set the film up to fail since it was coming out between Zootopia and The Jungle Book. Yeah, there are not a lot of good graces with this movie. So, is it good? Or is it as bad as some people make it out to be? Well, let’s dive in.

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The story is a retelling of the first game, as it follows a Lombax named Ratchet, voiced by James Arnold Taylor, who wants to become one of the Galactic Rangers. This group of popular galactic heroes is led by an individual named Captain Qwark, voiced by Jim Ward. Unfortunately, Ratchet doesn’t pass the test to become one, and ends up moping back to his place to look into the stars and be depressed. That is, until an escape pod crashes nearby his location, and he goes to check it out to see if anyone is hurt. He finds a small robot by the name of Clank, voiced by David Kaye. Ratchet learns from his new robotic friend that there is an evil individual named Chairman Drek, voiced by Paul Giamatti, and his evil scientist named Doctor Nefarious, voiced by Armin Shimerman. They are planning to blow up worlds, take parts of said blown up world, and make a new world. Can Ratchet & Clank team up with the Galactic Rangers to save the day? Was there a reason to have Sylvester Stallone, John Goodman, Paul Giamatti, Bella Thorne, and Rosario Dawson to be in this movie? No.

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So, what is wrong about this movie? It should work, since it has all the elements that would make for a fun animated film. Sadly, it’s a really boring sit. I know that sounds weird when you have a film with space battles, creative guns, comedy, and quirky characters, and say it’s boring, but, by lord, they found a way to make it all a chore to sit through. Not only are the elements that made the franchise fun not really focused on, but the overall story is painfully generic. I get it’s a retelling of the original story, but they couldn’t find a way to make it less predictable? I mean, probably more so than any Illumination Entertainment’s films can you see what is going to happen with Ratchet & Clank. I think the major issue, besides the film being a bore, is the fact that our two iconic heroes, Ratchet and Clank are barely in the movie. Sure, you do get to see them separated from one another, but you don’t get to see them together a lot. I know the duo weren’t the most interesting in the first game, but they are a likable set of characters that this film does no justice to. Instead, a lot of the time, the film is actually focusing on Captain Qwark, and that’s already a huge red flag, if you know his story arc in the games at all. This film tries to squish in his story arc that actually spanned about five or so games. Here though, you want to know the most offensive element about the overall film? It’s the fact that the film’s scenes are literal cut scenes that the developers used in the PlayStation 4 game that was released at the same time. Why would I go out and watch this movie, when I could play the game and see a huge chunk of the film and the good writing that wasn’t screwed over by the other two writers. It’s easily one of the most baffling business decisions I have ever heard of, in terms of animation and gaming. I also don’t see the reason to hire such big actors for these roles. I mean, yeah, some of them do a decent job, but why bring back the video game actors for the big roles, and then replace the always awesome Kevin Michael Richardson with Paul Giamatti? I like both actors, but there was no reason for Giamatti to be one of the lead villains. I mean, that’s really the biggest annoyance with this movie’s A-list cast. A lot of them are decent and fine, but there was no reason for them to be there besides to have big names to sell to the public.

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The animation is also a mixed bag. While the designs look like the characters from the games, the movements are clunky, and some of the designs don’t feel as part of the games’ universe as they should. I get Sony didn’t think they needed to spend a lot of money on this project, but you can’t be making good animated films at the $20 mil price range. Or, at the very least, make a $20 mil animated film good with that price range, since I know most European-animated films can and do make good work with lesser budgets. It’s becoming more obvious when a film doesn’t have at the very least a $75+ mil budget, in terms of animation, due to how people are so trained to catch when the animation isn’t up-to-par. It’s hard to explain unless you see it in person, and then watch something like Moana or Zootopia back-to-back with Ratchet & Clank. Some of the designs are not a surprise to see, since they fit the franchise’s universe, but then there were a few times where I felt like the characters were from a totally separate cartoon or series. I guess at the very least, it’s not as bad as The Wild Life and Norm of the North. It’s on par with Rock Dog’s animation, which also needed a bit more cash to polish it all off.

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Oh, and once again, I have to disagree with people defending this movie and saying how it was “made for fans”. Well, you know what? Your fan service doesn’t make it a good movie. Sure, you can feel nostalgic for a film that is based on something from your childhood, but a PlayStation One boot-up sound, or a quick reference to Sly the Raccoon isn’t going to save this movie. They should have made the movie good first, and then put in the fan service. Saying the movie is good because it has nostalgic value and fan service just doesn’t sit well with me, because it means that you are willing to ignore everything, because it has elements you recognize from the games/anime/TV series/whatever. Plus, if this film was made for fans, then why did none of the fans go see it? Oh wait, that’s because a huge majority of the cut scenes from the game were actually from the movie! So yeah, why go see the movie when you can play the game, and get a much better experience doing so.

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So, what do I like about this movie? Well, I do admire that they decided to keep this film in an animated form, since making it a live action film would have been horrible and horrifying. While the humor was mostly miss, at the very least, the humor wasn’t super painful or annoying. Plus, there were a few lines that were pretty funny. I also enjoyed the voice work of the actors who were brought in from the video games. Jim Ward, James Arnold Taylor, David Kaye, and Armin Shimerman all do a fantastic job working off one another. Some of the big league celebrities they got were alright, and were cynically pushed into the movie, but I’ll at the least give credit to Paul Giamatti, Rosario Dawson, and John Goodman who put in some entertaining voice work.

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While not worse than Norm of the North, Ratchet & Clank is a bomb and a failure as another video game movie that couldn’t be amazing. It should have been free with the game, or free for PlayStation Plus users. It’s available on Netflix as of writing this review, and if you are for some reason wanting to buy it, by all means you should do so. I don’t think you should, since you should purchase Moana or Sing instead, but you do you. I simply know that I will never want to watch this movie ever again, and will just enjoy the video games. Well, that was underwhelming, but at the very least, it wasn’t Delgo. We will sooner or later get to that disaster. For now, let’s try and get excited for next week’s review, as we take a look at the very first Vampire Hunter D film. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Lackluster