The Other Side of Animation 155: Justice League vs. The Fatal Five 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!)

Recently, in terms of quality, the DC brand has made a sudden course move to much better pastures. Sure, Aquaman is a bloated mess that felt like two movies in one, but it was such a blast to watch, and then Shazam! came out of nowhere, and was just an incredible movie. It’s easily my favorite superhero movie of 2019 so far, and I’m typing this as Avengers: Endgame comes out, so we will see how that ends up. Anyway, I’m happy that the company is doing a better job with its features, and I’m seeing some slight improvement in the animation department as well. While some of the films from last year were still okay at best, Batman Ninja was such an entertaining ride. It seems like whenever DC goes off the beaten path of something that’s not working correctly for them, they tend to get better results. For example, let’s see how Justice League vs. The Fatal Five does. Directed by Sam Liu, we see the return of not only Sam Liu as the director, but Bruce Timm as executive producer, and his designs take over the art direction of the film. This was also touted as the first DC-animated feature to deal with not only the Green Lantern Jessica Cruz, but also will be tackling characters with mental health challenges. So, how does it work juggling all of that? Well, let’s get started!

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The story sets us up in the future with the Legion of Superheroes, a “Justice League” of the future, to put it shortly. They are being attacked by three of a villain group known as The Fatal Five. The three members include Mano, voiced by Philip Anthony-Rodriguez, The Persuader, voiced by Matthew Yang King, and Tharok, voiced by Peter Jessop. So, what are they after? They are after a time machine to go into the past to get something. They get past Legion member Saturn Girl, voiced by Tara Strong, and Star Boy, voiced by Elyes Gabel. Fortunately, Star Boy ends up screwing up the three baddies’ plans, and ends up going into the past with them. Along the way, he encounters the current day’s Justice League members Batman, voiced by Kevin Conroy, Superman, voiced by George Newbern, Wonder Woman, voiced by Susan Eisenberg, Mr. Terrific, voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson, and young hopeful Miss Martian,  voiced by Daniela Bobadilla. Another side of the story has a unknown player in the overall plot with Jessica Cruz, the current Earth’s Green Lantern, voiced by Diane Guerrero. Will the Justice League be able to stop three of the Fatal Five members while dealing with the mystery of Star Boy and Jessica Cruz’s connection?

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So, how about we talk about the elephant in the room? This film deals with two characters who have mental health issues. Star Boy has a drug in the future that he takes to prevent some kind of mental breakdown, which the film describes as  paranoid schizophrenic, but even then, it’s a doctor from the past that describes it, so who knows if that’s really what it is. They don’t say what Jessica Cruz suffers from, and I want to take a guess, but I don’t want to mislabel it. That’s a big risk to have a film that tackles those types of issues. You have to be respectful about it, and tread lightly with making sure these disorders or issues are treated with delicate hands. For the most part, I think they do handle their struggles with the proper weight of said challenges. They aren’t just added in for no reason to give the story some kind of artificial struggle. Jessica Cruz, after surviving a pretty traumatic experience, struggles with getting up and socializing with the rest of the world. I could see how going through what happened would close one’s self away from the world. While they don’t really go into full detail as to what exactly happened with Star Boy, he’s more interesting as a character with his struggle to be helpful. He also realizes how crippling his issues are that could hinder the League’s attempts to stop the Fatal Five. You get a lot of quiet moments between Star Boy, Jessica Cruz, and the other characters. It might be fairly action-packed, but it does pull back to let the characters talk. Speaking of the action, while it might seem kind of busted for two of the villains seen for most of the film being a cyborg and a guy with a sharp axe, the action is pretty good! It’s nice to see the Fatal Five, for the most part, treated as major threats, which usually doesn’t happen a lot with most superhero films. Granted, I have some issues with the villains, but we will save that for a later part of the review. Even someone who I was very afraid would get the short stick, in terms of being important to the plot, Mr. Terrific, gets some great lines and action beats.

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Animation-wise, this is becoming the most boring part to talk about with these DC-animated films. Not that it’s badly animated, but it’s like talking about the LEGO games from Travelers Tales; it’s pretty much on-par with the other films recently released by DC and Warner Bros. When the action kicks in, the animation is great! You can still tell where they lessen the frames of animation, and some very minute parts feel like they slowed-down the footage, but it’s all on par for these animated features. It doesn’t hurt that the Bruce Timm designs are still very iconic. The voice cast is also stellar. While it could be seen as fanservicey to bring back Kevin Conroy, Susan Eisenberg, and George Newbern as Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman, I am always happy to hear those voices. The rest of the cast also pulls their weight, with newcomers Elyes Gabel and Diane Guerrero doing splendid jobs as Star Boy and Green Lantern Jessica Cruz. The villains are also threatening with Peter Jessop, Matthew Yang King, and Philip Anthony-Rodruiguez’s performances. It’s always nice to see Kevin Michael Richardson, and I would totally watch a Mr. Terrific TV series or DC-animated film with Kevin Michael Richardson as the lead voice actor.

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So, where does this film fall flat? It’s funny how many people complain about the third act in Marvel films, and while some of them are definitely not handled the best, I would take the least liked third act of any of the Marvel films over the wonky and surprisingly sloppy third act of this movie. The plans the villains follow at first is pretty great as you find out why the Fatal Five went back in time, but then you find out about the actual plan, and it’s really stupid. I want to really talk about it, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet. My opinion on the overall third act had me asking too many questions, and maybe some of it is my lack of knowledge of certain characters, but I just couldn’t fully get into it outside of the ending.  I also wish Miss Martian was not in the film. It’s not that she isn’t entertaining, voiced well, and so on, but she felt out of place with the other characters. I don’t know, maybe I’m too caught up with how Young Justice handles her character on that show.

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Still, despite my gripe with the third act, I did find myself enjoying Justice League vs. The Fatal Five. It’s a film I can see myself rewatching more than other DC-animated features and other animated features overall. It also makes me wish they would reboot and make a new League of Superheroes show or series of films. It’s a cool premise, and the original series was pretty decent. Maybe we will see more of these futuristic heroes in the future, but for now, I recommend Justice League vs. The Fatal Five. Now then, we shall move from superheroes dealing with complex issues, to a film about a brand of toys that haven’t been popular in years. Next time, we dive into the world of the UglyDolls movie. Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go see it!

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The Other Side of Animation 137: Teen Titans Go! To the Movies 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!)

While following the animation scene is a lot of fun, with finding new directors and discovering new animation projects, any scene in the entertainment industry or any industry at all has its dark side. One of the loudest toxic reactions you will ever get is if you dare like a show like Teen Titans Go! Listen, I get the annoyance and anger of them canceling the original show for, from what I remember, no real reason, and then years later replacing it with something more comedic and less violent. However, people really need to let go of the anger for this show. Yes, it can be fairly vapid and stupid, but the show has a lot of great episodes, moments of clever writing, and really funny jokes. It just seems unfair to throw this show under the bus, when the original Teen Titans show from the 2000s had mostly that same kind of humor. You can easily connect the two shows without much effort. Not every episode was dark and mature. The new show isn’t perfect, and the original isn’t either. If people like both shows, then that’s fine. I’ll say this though, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is a way better movie than Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo. Directed by the series creators Michael Jelenic and Aaron Horvath, in terms of animation this year from the big studios, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies might be one of the biggest surprise of th eyear. What do I mean by this? Well, let’s check it out.

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The story follows our rambunctious group of “heroes”, Robin, voiced by Scott Menville, Beast Boy, voiced by Greg Cipes, Cyborg, voiced by Khary Payton, Raven, voiced by Tara Strong, and Starfire, voiced by Hynden Walch. After attempting to take down Balloon Man, voiced by Greg Davies, the villain is actually stopped by the combined forces of Wonder Woman, voiced by Halsey, Green Lantern, voiced by Lil Yachty, and Superman, voiced by Nicolas Cage. The three heroes call out the Titans for not really being heroes and all that comes with the responsibility. However, before the Titans can get chewed out too much by the adult heroes, they leave to go to Batman’s new movie premiere of Batman Again! Once there, and getting hugely ridiculed for not getting a movie, Robin decides that the only way to be taken seriously as heroes, is to get their own movie! Unfortunately, there are two things standing in his way, a movie director named Jade Wilson, voiced by Kristen Bell, and the fact that they don’t have a supervillain to call their own. Luckily for them, a supervillain named Slade, voiced by Will Arnett is trying to steal this stone to make his diabolical plan come to fruition! Can the Titans stop Slade? Will Robin get his own movie?

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I think it’s only fair if I started out with the positives. I have way too much to praise to save it for the last part of the review. First off, for a film on a $10 mil budget, and a simplistic art style, it looks really good. With these types of films, you have to grade on a slight curve. What saves it from simply looking like another film based on a TV show that didn’t really need to be in theaters, is the fact it constantly uses varying art styles during certain sequences. It’s mostly in the song sequences and certain gags, but I love that they were given the freedom to go all out on visuals. I would argue that it looks more visually interesting than most CGI films from this year. The backgrounds look crisper, and while the designs are still simple, I felt like the movements were smoother. This isn’t something like that awful She-ra film from decades ago that was pretty much done on the same budget as one of the episodes of He-Man.

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The biggest highlight of the film however is its comedy. From left to right, the film takes full advantage of being a superhero comedy that uses a lot of its best style of jokes and gags from the well-received episodes of the show. Teen Titans Go! To the Movies has some of the wittiest meta, self-deprecating, and best visual jokes of any comedy this year. It even has some of the darkest humor of 2018, where they take joy in what they do. I was surprised by this, because the writers and directors could have easily made this film a feature length version of an episode of the show that no one liked. Luckily for us, they lathered up all that elbow grease, and made sure this film had consistent laughs that were great for the kids, parents, and comic book fans. Even though it has a decent amount of low-brow humor, it does have a defense, in terms of reinforcing why the Titans got called out in the first place. I found myself consistently laughing alongside the audience when I went to go see this movie, and I was happy to see everyone young and old enjoying the film. You might even have to watch this film multiple times to spot all the jokes in the backgrounds. I could tell I missed a few. A lot of the reoccurring gags still have bite to them.

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However, one of the greatest aspects of this film is not on the visual or writing side of things, though, those are incredible, it’s the fact that the voice actors of the show and film get top billing. Yes, there are a huge amount of celebrities in small roles or rather questionable cameos, but they don’t get top billing. The ones you see on the posters and in the credits are the voice actors. I’m so happy about this, because they could have taken the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic the Movie, and put all the big celebrities who had varying amounts of screen time first in the credits and posters. Yes, Kristen Bell and Will Arnett get billing, but Greg Cipes, Tara Strong, Khary Payton, Hynden Walch, and Scott Menville deserve it more than everyone else. I’ll say this though, my favorite celebrity cameo was Patton Oswalt as the Atom, who has some of the best laughs out of the movie.

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I love Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, and I found it hysterical from beginning to end, but I do have some complaints about this silly movie. While I get that the film needed a plot to keep the jokes rolling, the overall plot is not the most interesting. It’s a case where everything that happens between the predictable story beats are more entertaining than Robin’s arc of getting over his crippling self-esteem issues of living under the shadow of the Batman. While I did care enough for our heroes to save the day and be fully okay with being silly characters, I think I would have rather them not try to make this film have emotional stakes. Like, I care, but it felt like the film wanted you to feel invested with the Titans, but also laugh at a lot of the comedic scenes that go into surprisingly dark comedic areas. It clashes with the comedy, when you are also told to care about the characters. Not to say you can’t be emotionally invested with characters in a comedy, but you have to be careful with how you execute it. My final complaint is that I wish the film didn’t lean on the lowbrow humor. It might have a reason to be there, but when the rest of the humor is so good, the fart, toilet, and twerk jokes feel out of place.

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In general, this film reminded me that everyone shouldn’t be taking everything so seriously about the franchise and this type of media in general. Listen, there is nothing wrong with having legit issues with the franchise. However, there is also nothing wrong with enjoying the series and loving this movie. I’m not going to apologize for having a great time with Teen Titans Go! To the Movies. It’s easily one of my favorite comedy films of 2018. I can see myself rewatching this film when it comes out on DVD. I highly recommend everyone go see it. The only reason I would say not to see this film, is because this series isn’t your cup of tea, or simply aren’t interested in seeing it. I will say this though, they are not blackmailing fans of the original with this movie. You simply need to learn about how the current animation climate on TV works. Also, don’t go see this if you are going to hate on it. That doesn’t solve anything. While I have had fun talking about comedies for the past two reviews, it’s time to move on to another Netflix-exclusive animated feature with Flavors of Youth. Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 129: Batman Ninja 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!)

You know, there is only so much you can do with a character, before you have to start getting creative. You either find new ways to tackle a character that has been around forever, or you simply stop their story right then and there. There are also tactics and plans to be had in-between those two decisions, but when you are someone like Batman, you have pretty much done it all. Batman Ninja, directed by Junpei Mizusaki, is one of the rare DC animated features to not be tied down to the more strict DC-animated film tropes. It’s a Batman film that decided to take a big shot of anime in its veins, and that is what we got. It also had some big names attached to it, like Takashi Okazaki, who was the creator of Afro Samurai, and Yugo Kanno, who did the music for Blame!Psycho-Pass, and the PlayStation 4 game, Nioh. It’s also one of the more interesting animated features, due to its mix of CGI and 2D animation. So, is it as good as the best action anime out there? Is it one of the best DC animated films out there? Let’s find out.

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The story starts us off with Batman, dubbed this time by Roger Craig Smith, during a mission at night, as he tries to stop Gorilla Grodd, dubbed by Fred Tatasciore, from selling another mighty invention of his to the black market for supervillains. These villains include Poison Ivy, dubbed by Tara Strong, Deathstroke, dubbed by Fred Tatasciore, Two-Face, dubbed by Eric Bauza, The Penguin, dubbed by Tom Kenny, Harley Quinn, dubbed by Tara Strong, and of course, The Joker, dubbed by Tony Hale. After Batman gets into a fight with Grodd, the machine goes haywire, and sends all of them, including some of Bruce’s closest allies and partners, back into feudal-era Japan. Now, along with Catwoman, dubbed by Grey Griffin, his butler Alfred, dubbed by Adam Croasdell, Nightwing, also dubbed by Adam Croasdell, Robin, dubbed by Yuri Lowenthal, Red Robin, dubbed by Will Friedle, and Red Hood, also dubbed by Yuri Lowenthal, must stop the villains, turn back time, and save the day.

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So, what’s so amazing about this film? Well, for one of the rare occasions, DC decided to let someone else take the wheel, and they take the wheel hardBatman Ninja is unapologetically dumb, fun, over-the-top, Japanese, and it will not stand down. Out of many of the DC-animated features I have seen the past few years, this one felt like it had the most consistent tones outside of the Adam West Batman films. It’s Batman in Japan, fighting a version of the Joker, whose grand master plan is to make a giant mech, and rewrite history. It will not let up on how anime this entire film is. From the designs to the action-packed fight sequences, it was clear that they knew what they were doing. Heck, they even have giant robot fights. Again, giant robot fights between the villains and Batman in feudal Japan. While there is definitely a story arc for Batman having to remember to rely less on his gadgets and more on his closest allies and his own skill, it’s balanced out enough within the main plot to keep you invested among the insanity.

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While I was fairly disappointed in how this film was going to be mostly CGI, and CGI on a small budget can be a gamble if you do not have the right creative team, I felt like it worked. Sure, they act like puppets sometimes, but the models used are way more expressive, detailed, and they feel like they have some kind of life to them. I was concerned about how action sequences would be handled, but I never found it distracting that they were CGI. The action is fast, brutal, satisfying, full of energy, and very entertaining to watch. The last fight between Batman and Joker is probably one of the best fights among these animated DC features. I never found myself wondering what the heck was going on during the fights. I think that’s because, unlike the Berserk anime series that uses CGI, Batman Ninja has proper direction in how the fights flow. On top of the crazy action, the color pallet is used well, the CGI models look good on the 2D planes, and they even have an entire surreal sequence done in 2D animation, and it looks fantastic. The music by Yugo Kanno was also matched up well with the film’s pacing and style. The big action theme that plays near the end is quite heart-pounding, and it makes the final fight so intense to watch.

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In terms of the voice cast, I was surprised. While we have some returning faces like Roger Craig Smith, Tom Kenny and Tara Strong reprising their roles as Batman, Penguin, and Harley Quinn, the rest of the voice cast is pretty spot-on. I was curious to see how Tony Hale would do as The Joker, and while a bit off-putting at first, he does a good job capturing that zany crazy nature of the character. As you can tell, many of the actors in this film pull double shifts with voicing multiple characters, but they are each unique sounding enough to not be an issue or a distracting element to the overall film. It was also simply fun to see other villains outside of the main Batman library, like Gorilla Grodd, who is definitely one of the more entertaining aspects of the film.

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While I do love this film in terms of how willing it is to be not only visually creative, but fun with its plot and setting, I do have a few complaints. I get why they used CGI animation, and it’s not the worst I have seen, but it definitely shows itself at times with how limiting it is. Sometimes characters seem more like puppets, and less like actual characters that are on the screen. It’s even more distracting when you can tell that not everyone is a CGI model. It is better than what I have seen Polygon Pictures or the Berserk series use, but I wish they went full-stop 2D animation for this film. For as fun as the action is, the final battle that is not Batman and The Joker is really underwhelming. You have all of these amazing villains and characters with the unlimited creativity of anime fight sequences, and the villains end up losing in under a minute. It’s really underwhelming, because all the other action sequences in the film are great. The one full 2D sequence was fun to see in the film, but it sticks out like a sore thumb. I don’t think I fully got why it was only that one scene, and why it was animated in such a way. The rest of the complaints are minor, like even though I respect how much the film wrapped itself up in the anime culture, some parts were just a bit much, like the little monkey sidekick. Some of Batman’s sidekicks also don’t have a lot to do, or get that many line reads.

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Overall, Batman Ninja is just a fun movie. By the end of the year, it probably won’t be in my top ten or five, depending on what else comes out, but it will be one that people should definitely pick up. If you were burned by their other animated features, definitely pick this one up. I had a lot of fun, and it’s easily one of the most entertaining DC animated films you can get right now. For now, we must move on to the 130th review as we take a look at another film that may be good or bad for infamous reasons. I won’t say what it is, but you will have to see next time! Thanks for reading the review! I hope you enjoyed it, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 128: Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay Review

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

Warning/Parental Heads Up: This film is crazy violent. There is also some brief female nudity and quite a lot of death. I will also be spoiling some minor moments. Younger viewers should probably stay away from this film. Enjoy the review!

Looking back at films like Suicide Squad, I feel badly for what happened to it. It was almost complete, but then got delayed for reshoots, due to the negative reaction to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. It had a marketing campaign to match the film’s tone of Guardians of the Galaxy, came out, was widely panned upon release, was yet another DC film criticized for sloppy editing, and then was released on DVD with a different cut to it. Sure, it made money and gave DC/WB some profit, but you do get the feeling that it could have/should have been more than what we got in the final product. It’s always a bummer when studio shenanigans get in the way and hurt a film more than help it. Would have the original version been any better? Maybe, but we won’t know. Luckily, it won’t be the last time we see our rambunctious group of villains, as we are getting a sequel. For now, let’s look at the animated film, Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay. Directed by mainstay DC animated film director Sam Liu, Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay set itself up as this grindhouse-style action flick with plenty of violence, and plenty of action and fun. Does it succeed? Well, let’s find out.

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The story revolves around our ragtag group of villains working under the government. The team this time consists of Deadshot, voiced by Christian Slater, Harley Quinn, voiced by Tara Strong, Bronze Tiger, voiced by Billy Brown, Captain Boomerang, voiced by Liam McIntyre, Killer Frost, voiced by Kristin Bauer Van Straten, and Copperhead, voiced by Gideon Emery. They are under orders by Amanda Waller, voiced by Vanessa Williams, to find and take down Vandal Savage, voiced by Jim Pirri. He is apparently looking for something, and has gotten the help of Scandal Savage, voiced by Dania Ramirez, and Knockout, voiced by Cissy Jones. Can our team of misfits take them down? Can this film find a tone that fits?

I know I made that last part sound like a joke, but that is the film’s biggest failing. When the film starts, it’s this hyper-violent train heist, where Deadshot is with Count Vertigo, Punch, and Jewelee. And boy, do things get late 80s/early 90s anime-violent. Bodies are sliced in half, blood and guts fly everywhere, heads explode, and it then does that grindhouse film burn effect. The rest of the film is not entirely like this. It struggles to balance out the fun schlocky aspects, like finding out the most recent host of Dr. Fate was a male stripper, and even a plot twist of some other villains trying to find the same thing Vandal Savage is looking for. I won’t say who the villains are for those that haven’t seen it yet, but it’s a lot of fun, and the twist adds to the cheesy schlock of those old 70s/80s exploitation films. Some parts are fun to watch, and the dialogue is definitely punched up to match the tone, but then it tries to have slower moments and an emotional arc for Deadshot and his daughter. It’s not a bad idea for a character, but when it can’t find an ideal way to balance out the ultra-violence and the more dramatic moments, it flip-flops, and constantly kept taking me out of the experience. Much of the story does focus on only a few characters, and the rest are either given very little to do or little development as characters. I loved seeing Copperhead, but he doesn’t do a whole lot. He gets maybe one good death in, but that’s it. While it is schlocky fun, there comes a point where it becomes a bit much. There is some brief nudity that’s jarring, and that goes for the violence, too. Sometimes, things can get so violent, that it’s excessive. The plot also loses steam near the end, with twist after twist after backstabbing. Some of the lines for the snarkier characters also feel more like trailer lines than anything that felt genuine. This is especially true with Killer Frost.

So, what’s fun about the movie? Well, when everything does work, it’s an entertaining movie. While it has some of the same animation the other DC-animated features have, where a lot of the animation was obviously put into the action, and some areas lower the frames of animation, the action is fun to watch. I think what works with this film, more than in the Suicide Squad live-action film, was that the action was visible, and due to the more diverse cast of villains, we get to see more powers, more special moves, and it all sticks. It’s easily one of the more action-packed films from DC. When the characters do have time to be together, they are an amusing group. Everyone usually has a good quirk, or a clever line of dialogue. Even though I wish they didn’t kill off as many characters as they did, I do respect that they put some stakes into the plot. Even the additional villains bring flair and an entirely different DC story into the mix. Granted, that might make some aspects confusing. A lot of schlocky stuff would add in complex elements that are probably not needed, but they threw it in, because it was cool. The voice cast is once again very good. Tara Strong as Harley Quinn is always fun to hear, I like Christian Slater’s take on Deadshot, Vanessa Williams does a great job as Amanda Waller, Billy Brown brings this stoic calm headed tone to Bronze Tiger, Gideon Emery was delightfully slimy as Copperhead (who also had my favorite design out of all the villains), and Liam McIntyre brings in the same vibe Donald Gibson did as Captain Boomerang, to name a few. I also like their usage of other lesser known villains of the DC universe. Sometimes, you can only do so much with one character before you run into a wall, and run out of ideas. It’s why I always enjoyed the Batman: The Brave and the Bold TV series, because that was the entire point of the show.

While not my favorite of the DC films, Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay goes straight down the middle. When it’s fun, it’s a lot of fun. When the characters are allowed to work off one another, they are entertaining. I even like the story twist near the end, despite the drag the third act has. It even has a fun easter egg for the added antagonist’s voice actor, if you have seen one of the DC animated films from 2013 I simply wish it kept its tone consistent. It made the ultra-violence distracting, and the emotional moments feel unwarranted. Some of the animation can be stiff, and it’s not the most competently paced film out of the franchise. Still, it’s fun, and if you want to bring in the schlock for 80 minutes, I can think of worse films to watch. Before we get to review 130, let’s take a look at what is quickly becoming one of the best reviewed animated DC films with Batman Ninja. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Rent it!

The Other Side of Animation 127: Only Yesterday 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!)

It was incredibly depressing to hear that Isao Takahata, one of the cofounders of Studio Ghibli, passed away this year. While unfortunately being under the shadow of Hayao Miyazaki, in terms of being the face of the studio and Miyazaki’s films getting more of the spotlight, Takahata deserves to be just as well-known as his friend. If it wasn’t for Takahata, we wouldn’t have Ghibli, because he convinced Miyazaki to join up with him and Toshio Suzuki to make the studio. He is just as important as Miyazaki, and his films definitely deserve more recognition. This is especially true when he has films like Only Yesterdayunder his belt. Directed by Isao Takahata and produced by Toshio Suzuki, Only Yesterday is unique for its time, because while animated, it was a film aimed at an adult female audience. While we have recently seen more adult-focused stories in animation, you simply never saw that back in 1991. It was a commercial and critical success, but unfortunately, the US never got this film. You had to either import a copy, or watch a subtitled version online through questionable individuals. Thankfully, for its 25th anniversary, GKids decided to bring it over stateside with an English dub. If you saw my Worst to Best Animated Films of 2016, you know I love this movie. Let’s dive into this classic film from Isao Takahata.

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The film follows a woman named Taeko Okajima, dubbed by Daisy Ridley in the US release. She is turning 27 and pretty happy with her life, even though her mother is annoyed that she hasn’t been able to find a guy. Taeko decides to take a trip to the countryside to help out a family with their safflower farm. As she takes this trip, memories of her younger self start to pop up in her mind. She then starts to think back about her life and her relationship with her family, and with the family she is helping on the farm.

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I think what might turn off some people about this film is that it’s not as whimsical as Ghibli’s other offerings. It’s not really all that fantastical in its setting. Not to say there isn’t some whimsy, but it’s mostly kept with the flashbacks. This is a very grounded film, and you can see that through its themes and its visual style. Something I noticed about this film, and it’s probably because of Takahata himself, who made this decision, he adds a bit more detail in how the humans are designed. When it comes to designing human characters in animation, you can afford to sacrifice some details. It’s why many times when you see animated properties turned live-action, the added detail to the designs were not meant to look good in live-action. You can see this in a lot of the live-action Dr. Seuss films. The humans in Only Yesterday have more wrinkles and more detail to their facial movements that you don’t see with other Ghibli films. The more creative visuals come into play with the flashbacks when Taeko is younger. Instead of the gorgeous and highly detailed buildings, leaves, plants, and so on, everything has a soft watercolor style. The backgrounds have an interesting detail that they look incomplete. To me, this was a purposeful artistic decision, because memories can feel incomplete and fuzzy at times. However, do not take any of these comments as the animation isn’t good. It’s Studio Ghibli, and the animation they do is always amazing. It’s all very detailed, expressive, and it does not fall into any of the traps that anime falls into.

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I also love the music selection. While much of the wonderful music is done by Katz Hoshi, there are some foreign song choices that pop up from time to time that fit the tone of the film. If you can find the soundtrack to this film on YouTube or somewhere online, definitely check it out. It’s one of my favorite soundtracks. I also liked the voice cast for this film. While having plenty of great animation voice actors like Tara Strong, Nika Futterman, Ashley Eckstein, Laura Bailey, Grey Griffin, and Stephanie Sheh, I think Daisy Ridley, and Dev Patel, who plays Toshio, a man she meets on her trip, do a good job. While it might be distracting to hear their voices with Daisy holding back the British accent, and Dev Patel not really hiding that accent at all, they do gel into their characters. Even Alison Fernandez who plays Taeko as a young girl is also good.

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So, the animation is interesting and unique among the studio’s work, the music is fantastic, and the voice work/dub is done well, but what about the story and characters? A word I used for this film is grounded. It feels relatable to actual people. I think as we get older, we do look back at our childhood or maybe even a couple years back, and wonder if we are happy with what’s going on right now. Are there any regrets? Do we wish things had gone differently? Are you doing what you dreamed of when you were a kid? Are you doing what you are doing right now, because you want to? I think that’s fairly complex, and to my knowledge, not many films, especially animated films, tackle these types of plots. It’s refreshing to see an adult-themed film that doesn’t rely on cursing, violence, and sex. This film also got me to learn a few things about the Japanese culture. Some scenes might only make sense if you learn about certain parts of Japanese culture, like the scene with the pineapple.

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If I had to criticize anything about the film, I think Toshio, the character played by Dev Patel in the English dub, is not the most interesting male character. He’s likable, but much of his dialogue is about working with your hands, and how it’s different than using machines. I just wish there was more to him than simply that part. I mean, there is, but it’s mostly 80% of him talking about how working with your hands is better than corporate companies doing the work for you. I also wish the ending wasn’t covered up by the credits. It’s really sweet and endearing, but they add credits over it, and they do this with ArriettyNapping Princess, and I just don’t get why Japanese animated features do that.  You can wait and play the credits after the story literally ends.

Still, I really love this film, and I wish I could have told Isao Takahata how much this film connected with me before his passing. It has a lot of his trademark elements that he likes to use with his films, and I definitely need to catch up on his other films. If you haven’t seen Only Yesterday yet, do so! Buy the movie! I hope more people can watch it. I can sort of see why Disney didn’t originally distribute this one, due to some scenes, including visiting a bath house, and a small story part about periods, but I’m glad GKids brought the film over. I’m sorry for Takahata’s passing, and I hope more people can admire and love this man’s contributions to animation. Well, next time, I think we should go from Japan to the US. We will be looking at Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay. Thanks for reading! I hope you liked the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

The Other Side of Animation 103: My Little Pony the Movie (2017) 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!)

You know what? It seems like a lot of times, movies are not surprising anymore. You usually know or can predict how a movie is going to turn out if you look at the overall picture. Of course, seeing it in person and predicting how it is going to turn out are two different things, and if you want to have a solid base for your opinion on a film, you should watch it. Sometimes, you get a nice little surprise, but most of the time; you kind of know what to expect. It makes it all the more important when something you were expecting to not be all that great, turns out to be a solid fun time. This is where My Little Pony the Movie comes into play. For the record, I have not watched this show in years. I lost interest, and from what I remember, while I think the show itself was actually pretty good, I was not looking forward to this. On the other hand, this is the first 2D American-animated film we have had in almost a decade. It’s a good idea to support it if you are tired of CGI animated films. It’s a gamble, since I can understand how some filmgoers who are probably older teen-young adults would be hesitant to purchase a ticket by yourself, unless you have a young niece or nephew who wants to see it. Then again, I don’t think you need to be 100% a kid to enjoy this, but I should probably just start talking about the movie.

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The story follows our lead character Twilight Sparkle, voiced by Tara Strong. She is having trouble setting up a Festival of Friendship, due to personal self-esteem issues of being a good princess and wanting everything to go as planned. Unfortunately, as we see the arrival of the big guest at the festival, Songbird Serenade, voiced by Sia, the kingdom is under attack. The individual in charge is a unicorn with a broken horn named Tempest Shadow, voiced by Emily Blunt. Tempest Shadow works for a powerful individual known as the Storm King, voiced by Liev Schreiber. Twilight and her friends, Rarity, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, and Applejack flee the kingdom and must go on a magical adventure to find a solution to save the kingdom, and take down the evil Storm King.

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A lot of animated films this year have been underwhelming for many reasons, but a major point of interest for me, was the fact that most animated films this year didn’t really know what they wanted to be. Despicable Me 3 wanted to be a big laugh-out-loud comedy, but clumsily tried to have a story arc between the lead and his brother that went nowhere. Cars 3 was meant to be this hugely emotional experience, but it couldn’t focus or stay committed to its more mature ideas, and played its trump card too early. Batman and Harley Quinn couldn’t balance out dark comedy with the heavy amounts of violence. It’s like some of these films had an idea of what they wanted to do, but either quit halfway through, or the writers didn’t know what to do, or maybe execs stepped in. I don’t know what happened, but do you know what is the most refreshing aspect about My Little Pony the Movie? It’s the fact that it knows what it wants to be. It wants to be a fantasy adventure film, and that’s perfectly okay. It wants to have the leads go through exotic and dangerous lands, and meet new characters. It wants to have a few solid action sequences, and it does so. It’s not a complicated movie, and I like that. I admire that, while simple, it’s a film that knows what it is.

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What I like a lot about this film is the fact that it is the first mainstream 2D animated film released in theaters. We haven’t had this happen since 2011. Sure, 2D is slowly making a comeback, but it wasn’t just a side gimmick, or a neat fact. Now, in terms of the 2D animation, it’s really nice. The movements are fluid, and everything is way more expressive than the TV show. It wasn’t something like previous movies based on TV shows in theaters, where it was just a slightly higher budgeted episode of the show. Now, technically, it’s not fully 2D, since they use CGI models for buildings and certain things, and I do have some comments about that, but overall, the animation in My Little Pony the Movie is high quality. I was concerned with how much of the advertising was showing off the big named celebrities, and that the main characters of the show were going to get sidelined, but thankfully, the main six characters do take up a majority of the film. You follow them throughout most of the film, while sometimes cutting back to the villains. A lot of the writing and jokes are pretty good, and I found myself laughing and chuckling throughout the entire film. I remember the show being charming with its writing and characters, and that carries over into the movie. I like the chemistry all the characters have, and I found it engaging. I think it helps that the voice cast from the show came back to voice their characters. Tara Strong, Ashleigh Ball, Andrea LIbman, Tabitha St. Germain, and Cathy Weseluck hold their own against the celebrities like Emily Blunt, Michael Peña, Taye Diggs, Zoe Saldana, Kristin Chenoweth, Uzo Aduba, and Sia. Even the original songs by song writer Daniel Ingram are actually pretty good. They are catchy and well-composed. I found myself humming the villain’s song after watching the film.

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Sadly, one of my concerns about the film, the huge celebrity names attached to it, partly came true. A lot of the celebrities don’t have a lot of screen-time, and some of them don’t have a lot to do. Sia pretty much appears at the beginning and the end of the film for the big dance party. Uzo has a fantastic voice, but her character doesn’t do much, and that goes for Kristin Chenoweth as well. The only celebrities that have something to do are Michael Peña, Emily Blunt, Taye Diggs, and Zoe Saldana. That’s a huge shame, because in the movie, you will rarely see Liev Schreiber, who is the lead villain. He has some of the best lines in the movie, but he doesn’t feel as big of a threat as he should. Emily Blunt’s character is more imposing than Storm King.  It leads the final fight to be well-animated, but it rings hollow when they defeat him, since he was played up for more comedic moments than anything else. The story also hits some familiar story elements that will probably annoy older viewers. The kids probably won’t mind it, but it does lead to some of the film’s few pacing problems. The only other major complaint I could come up with is that the CGI and the 2D animation do not mix well. There are many times where you see the fluid 2D animation interact with the CGI buildings or backgrounds, but do not gel, and it’s very obvious. It makes me wonder what kind of budget they had, to not be able to do full 2D animation.

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It’s by no means a grand or super amazing film. It’s not one of the best fantasy adventure films like Castle in the Sky or April and the Extraordinary World, but it’s a solid and harmless movie. I see no harm in going to see it. You would think they would simply bank on the popularity of the show, but they didn’t. Yes, they could have expanded on some elements better, I wish the characters with big celebrities behind them had more to do, and yeah, I could see some arguments about how it probably shouldn’t have been in theaters, but it’s a solid film. Go see it if you have a niece, or go enjoy it yourself. I can think of much worse animated films that are in theaters or on Netflix than My Little Pony the Movie. Well, we are almost ready to review some spooky films, but I need to get through some animated films first before doing so. Next time, we are going to check out Napping Princess. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the article, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Go See It!

Hit-or-Miss Movie Predictions: My Little Pony: The Movie

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

While 2017 may be an underwhelming year for animated films, I would hardly call it forgettable or lacking in curious oddities. One of those cases that I have been the most curious about is the upcoming My Little Pony the Movie. It’s hard not to know about the megaton hit that is My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. And if you are curious, yes, I have seen some seasons of the show and found it admirable. It’s not my cup of tea, but I totally respect and understand why this show is such a hit, and why so many people like it. I was a tad concerned when they announced a movie was in production. I mean, I am not surprised, but at the same time, there was a span of films from the early to mid-2000s that were based on animated TV shows, and while some made bank, they weren’t always of the highest quality. Of course, some of the films had some development troubles, and we ended up with inferior products, but still. When they recently released the poster and the first main trailer for the film, I had a lot to think and talk about with the overall trailer, and my first impressions from it. This won’t be long since I don’t have much to say, and who knows if I’ll honestly go see it day one, unless I’m with my niece or something.

The Animation

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I’ll start us off with some technical stuff and talk about the animation. At first, I thought the film looked great. It might be flash animation, but it’s not like the show looked terrible. It still had pretty good expressions and movements. This looks like it had a lot of money put into it, with very smooth movements and more robust colors. It’s honestly nice to see some 2D animation for a majority of the running time. Due to how every film these days has CGI animation with maybe some 2D thrown into the mix, it’s refreshing to see 2D animation come back into theaters that’s not an indie or foreign film. However, I started seeing people talk about how the animation was off-putting. I decided to rewatch the trailer a couple of times, and that is when I started to spot some problems. First off, it looks like it’s going to be 2D on either certain CGI backgrounds/sets, or only certain elements are CGI. It definitely looks a tad distracting when you watch it and spot the CGI. It might be done in the same art style as the show, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be noticeable. There were some scenes where it was completely obvious that it was CGI, like the windmill sequence. Even then, at the very least, I admire that it stays true to how the show looks, and does look theatrical quality, something I’m surprised Lionsgate knows the definition of in terms of animation.

The Cast/Story

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This is where my biggest gripe with the film comes into play. It’s more or less the marketing of the film, but this film has a real fetish with not giving the actual leads of the film top billing. If you look at the poster and the trailer, they get none of the billing. All the big names you see on there are either side characters or the villains. Granted, I don’t hate the casting choices. I mean, you can’t go wrong with some of these choices. Emily Blunt, Michael Peña, Uzo Aduba, Zoe Saldana, Sia, Taye Diggs, and Kristin Chenoweth have proven that they can be entertaining actors, and some even downright amazing actors. However, the problem comes with them being the only ones who get top billing in the trailer and the poster. You don’t see any of the voice actresses in the trailer or on the overly glowly and bright poster. Actually, you do see them, but they are stuck in the small print at the bottom of the poster where no one, unless you want to know who did what major role in the film, is going to care or read that part.
I just find that so backhandish, since Tara Strong, Ashleigh Ball, Andrea Libman, Tabitha St. Germain, and Cathy Weseluck are the characters you will be following the most in the entire film. I get that you need to get as many people to see this, whether they are fans of the show or not, but we are at a period in time where voice actors need to get better respect and treatment, due to how hard they work to bring hugely memorable characters to life. It makes the whole situation worse when Ratchet & Clank, the biggest bomb of animation in 2016, was willing and happy to show off James Arnold Taylor, David Kaye, and Jim Ward along with the other actors on the poster. Granted, they did the same thing with the trailer for that film, with showing off the celebrities first and foremost, but still. Plus, it’s not like celebrities these days are big reasons to watch a movie, especially an animated movie. If the movie is terrible, then the actors aren’t going to fully save the experience.

It’s problematic, since it comes off that Lionsgate is desperate for people to come see this movie, and to be frank, the movie looks fine. It looks like a fun magical action adventure film set in a universe that has been popular since 2010 with characters people love.  I think the story seems adequate, with an evil force wanting to take over the kingdom. It seems like the actors and voice actors are having fun with their roles, and while I do think they don’t need that many celebrities for the film, they are at least trying since, I didn’t pick up on Michael Peña at first.

Any Lingering Concerns/Last Minute Comments?

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I rolled my eyes a little when I saw that Sia was going to be in the movie. Not that I think she is terrible or anything like that, but with how most animated films are made these days, I won’t be surprised if you don’t see her for about 90% of the film, and only appears at the beginning and the ending where it’s going to have that popular film trope, dance party ending. I’m also wondering if it’s too late to be making this movie. Like, they needed to make this movie a few years back to cash in on the fan base when it was at its biggest.

Prediction: Adequate

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I can see the success of this film going either way. It could be an unexpected hit, it could be a flaming dumpster fire waiting to happen, or it can be just a fun romp that’s not great, but not terrible. I never want a film to bomb, even if I’m not looking forward to it. I want to be surprised and when I do see this film, I want to be entertained. Nothing is worse than a film that wastes your time. I hope the film by MLP:FiM director and screenwriter Jayson Thiessen and Meghan McCarthy turns out to be a blast for anyone who does go see it. I just wish they gave the voice actresses some of the top billing. We will have to see in October and when more trailers come up to see if this will be good or bad.