2017 in Animation So Far

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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!)

So, it’s been over half a year now for 2017, and it’s time to look back at the year so far. I thought it would be interesting, since I don’t really talk about all the big movies until I do my Worst to Best list for every year. I’ll be setting this up differently as well, with the execution of this article. I’ll be doing separate little segments for what were my favorites so far, the biggest surprises so far, the most average films so far, the biggest disappointments so far, and the worst. At the end, I’ll put down some films that I am looking forward to, and hopefully some films that will come out in the states in the near future.

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Best Animated Films (so far)

My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea: Trippy, unusual, darkly comedic, and the definition of pure visual LSD, this indie film is the best animated film I have seen this year. With a great voice cast, a fun sense of humor, and a unique experience, I can’t wait to buy this movie for my collection.

LEGO Batman Movie: While I respect the comments that it relies too much on Batman references, and it doesn’t have the full heart of the original film, I went in wanting this to be a fantastic film, and that is what I got. Outside of My Entire High School, I haven’t laughed so much or enjoyed a theater-going experience this year as much as I have enjoyed LEGO Batman. It’s clever, the characters are likable, and I was smiling like a fool from beginning to end. Yeah, I have my issues with the film, but it’s actually good, unlike a lot of films from 2017.

Ethel & Ernest: This is such a simple movie, but it’s so good. It’s nothing super grand, or some characters going on a big adventure, it’s just the life and times of Raymond Brigg’s parents. It feels like such a personal film, and the team that made the movie obviously cared very much about the book the film is based on. With wonderful performances, multiple touching moments, and gorgeous animation, I am impatiently waiting for this film to get a US release.

Ocean Waves: Finally, after what seems like a century, the US finally gets a legit release of the last Studio Ghibli film to be brought over. While it is disappointing that there is no English dub for this film, it definitely has a lot of elements that would have made it hard to translate to English. It’s also a slower-paced and more realistic film about teens growing up during high school. It has its flaws in terms of story pacing and characters, but I still loved watching it, and when it hit it out of the park, it really hit it out of the park.

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Biggest Surprises (so far)

Captain Underpants: Who knew a film everyone was dreading ended up one of the most fun movies of the year? With characters that have charm, great animation, and an obvious amount of passion and soul put into the end product, I was pleasantly surprised by this film. Not to say it doesn’t have its problems, but I had more fun watching this than most of the animated films from this year. It knew what it wanted to do, and I respect that.

 Justice League Dark: It’s no surprise that DC has had an amazing year in 2017, and kicked it off with a fun and more mature story of magic, demons, and the return of Matt Ryan as John Constantine. It’s a film that takes advantage of its situation, and while it does have some pacing problems because of the 70-minute runtime, it’s still a blast to watch, and actually see some charm in the drab DC universe.

Teen Titans: The Judas Contract: This is pretty much an apology letter for Justice League vs Teen Titans as everything that was so good about this movie should have been in the previous film. Everyone has ample screen-time, the action is good, and I don’t want to strangle any of the characters. The main villain is definitely weak, and there are some predictable story beats, but it’s so much better than I was thinking it was going to be. I’m glad I was surprised.

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Biggest Disappointments (so far)

Cars 3: You would think by the third film, they would know what to do with this cash cow of a franchise. While I was definitely more emotionally invested in this one, and love that they just retconned Cars 2, I wouldn’t call this a great animated film by any stretch of the imagination. It’s definitely more of a sport movie than the previous films, but there is a bit too much going on, and it doesn’t know how to pace itself. The villains were weak, and the ending had some elements that I would call shenanigans on, since they just leave it open to make another Cars movie. While not the worst Pixar film by any means, it’s a shame the film didn’t live up to the extremely false advertising.

Despicable Me 3: Second verse, same as the first. Despicable Me 3 was better in a lot of ways to the previous installments, but was hugely flawed. It once again had way too many plots going on, and none of them get enough time to be fleshed out. It results in a movie that can be entertaining, but completely hollow at the same time. I don’t know how many more films they can make with the current style before people just turn on them. At the very least, Trey Parker’s portrayal as the villain was super entertaining. I’ll have more to say when I review it in the future.

Blame!: Since CGI animation in anime already has a tainted reputation for low quality products, you would hope a film like Blame! could show how to do it well. Sadly, all that you get is a rather boring and sometimes fun sci-fi world builder. The characters are bland, and even the higher quality movements can’t hide the fact that CGI animation in anime can and will be distracting.

 Seoul Station: While not a terrible zombie movie, I have no urge to rewatch this film. It has its moments and its social commentary, but since this film is supposedly connected to the fan favorite Train to Busan, then I think it needs to be more than just where the zombie outbreak started.

Smurfs: The Lost Village: While the trailer for this gave off both a good and bad impression, I was still hopeful that this would be a pretty solid film. Sadly, what we got was a rather predictable and yet again boring film. There is just nothing there for kids or adults. It’s way better than the live-action films, but that’s not saying much for a film that’s not willing to take risks.

The Boss Baby: While I don’t hate this movie, it’s obvious they went with one gimmick and didn’t really do much else. Alec Baldwin is the best part of the movie, but that’s not enough for this film to be good. It has good animation, and I liked a lot of the lines and jokes, but everything else felt so hollow, and lacked substance. We are sadly getting a sequel for some reason, but hopefully, it can be a Madagascar situation where they get better with each sequel.

Sahara: Probably one of the most disappointing films to hit Netflix. I was thinking they got a French animation gem on their hands, but instead, they got a French dud. While the CGI animation is pretty solid, the colors are vibrant, and there are points where the film does slow down, it doesn’t make up for an annoying cast, an English dub that forced me to watch it in French, and a film that’s not really interesting to watch. It definitely could have been a lot better in terms of story and characters.

Rock Dog: This film went through so much political baloney, that it’s hard to really trash this film. It has no focus, tone is an inconsistent wreck, the animation isn’t theatrical quality, and the side characters are pointless. It’s a shame, since it’s not a cynical cash grab, and it tried to be earnest in its intentions. It just didn’t pan out, and all we got was a mediocre film.

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The Worst (So far)

The Emoji Movie: While I know this is everyone’s favorite punching bag, it’s just a forgettable bad movie, people! It’s not super offensive outside of the concept, but it’s not super amazing either. It’s probably the most forgettable bad animated movie of 2017, that got pushed into the limelight because people call it the death to cinema. I’m working on a review of it right now, and I’ll say this, calm down, people!

Leap!: Yes, technically, I should wait to talk about this film when it’s officially released, but on the other hand, since it’s already available in an English format, and The Weinstein Company is simply redubbing and recasting for no reason, I have a right to say this movie is still 100% terrible. It’s an enjoyable type of terrible, since some choices in terms of animation and plot points are insane, but it’s otherwise bland and really forgettable with a terrible sense of humor, and animation that can be rather creepy-looking. I’m sure this had good intentions behind it, and I can’t say it’s the worst movie I have seen this year, but it’s still something I never want to watch again, but I sadly have to, since if I want to be fully fair to this film, I need to watch The Weinstein version.

A Stork’s Journey: I don’t get why this film had to get a limited release. Was anyone asking for this badly animated film? Its mean-spirited characters, bad pacing, and predictable plot also bog down the experience. It has one little scene that works, but that’s about it. Just avoid at all cost.

Spark: a Space Tail: Unlike the film mentioned above, I found nothing redeemable, or enjoyable about this movie. Open Roads didn’t give this film a wide release, and is now considered one of the biggest bombs in the animation scene. Even with that distinction, it has horrible animation, terrible characters, boring action sequences, a bland story, and it has no real reason to exist. Not even Patrick Stewart could save this. Until I say otherwise, this is still the worst animated movie of 2017.

Well, that was a bummer way to end the list, how about we close the editorial up with some movies that are coming out this year that I’m excited for? And yes, a lot of them are GKids films.

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The Remaining Films I’m Looking Forward to Through 2017

Coco: While Cars 3 did not fully deliver, Coco will hopefully be the one Pixar film to be fully satisfying with its themes of Day of the Dead, family, and music with a great art style, and gorgeous animation.

Mary and the Witch’s Flower: GKids recently picked up the rights to this film, and I’m not really surprised. It’s got veteran Studio Ghibli members, and GKids has a great connection with the famed studio. The first movie from Studio Ponoc looks really promising with beautiful animation, awesome character designs, and just a huge amount of creativity. I think this could easily be an Oscar contender for Best Animated Feature.

The Breadwinner: Probably the other Oscar contender for Best Animated Feature is yet another GKids-distributed film, based on the famous book. Cartoon Saloon is once again on a roll with a touching story, great animation, and they are mixing it up this time with two different styles of animation. It looks great, and I trust anything these two companies, GKids and Cartoon Saloon will put out.

The LEGO Ninajgo Movie: Well, so far, the two LEGO Movies we got have been pretty fantastic, can’t see a reason why not to be excited for this one. It’s also nice to see it be a mostly action-focused film, since it seems like we can’t get an action anything in animation these days. While the recent trailer probably showed off too much in terms of jokes, I’m still looking forward to the next LEGO Movie.

The Girl Without Hands: While I’m sort of disappointed this one-man film is not coming to my neck of the woods, I will wait for a DVD release, since I really want to see this visually ambitious and mature animated film. I have talked about it a bit on an Animation Tidbit, so I won’t go into much detail there.

Birdboy: The Forgotten Children: I have talked about this dark animated film as well, so if you want to see more of my thoughts about this Spanish-animated film, you can go to the link I put above for The Girl Without Hands, but none the less, I am looking forward to see how this dark tale unfolds.

In This Corner of the World: A big Annecy Film Festival winner about a young girl as she grows up during World War II. It has a luscious watercolor art style, a vibe that feels similar to a Studio Ghibli film, and a sad, but endearing story.

Loving Vincent: Hey look, another film I talked about in an Animation Tidbit editorial. It’s a beautifully abstract film, with a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and tons and tons of paint put into the overall project. I can’t wait for this film to get a wider release in October.

That is it for now, let’s hope more amazing films come out, and I will make a new list in the New Year covering the worst to best of 2017!

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The Other Side of Animation 77: The LEGO Batman Movie 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!)

Like I mentioned in my Storks review, The LEGO Movie was a huge worldwide success. It made a lot of money, it was clever, funny, heart-warming, and paved the way for Warner Animation Group to take a stab at the animation market. When it became official that there were going to be more movies based on the colored blocks, it was no surprise, but a tiny bit of hesitation. Could Warner Brothers strike gold twice with more LEGO movies? The true test is definitely in 2017 with the future release of The LEGO Ninjago Movie, and the recent release of The LEGO Batman Movie. Usually when spin-offs are announced to big money-making movies that follow side characters, you worry that the film is going to be a cynical cash grab. Luckily, with the directing of Chris McKay, a story done by Seth Grahame-Smith, and a script written by Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern, and John Wittington, this spin-off/next entry of the LEGO universe, The LEGO Batman Movie, was spot on. Why? Let’s build the review brick by brick, and find out.

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Will Arnett returns as the biggest, richest, and most egocentric billionaire man baby, Batman. After stopping yet another heist by the Joker, voiced by Zach Galifianakis, Batman learns that the new police commissioner Barbra Gordon, voiced by Rosario Dawson, wants to hold Batman accountable for his actions, and be able to have the police and Batman work together. After some shenanigans that include all of the villains going to Arkham, Batman unintentionally adopts a young boy named Dick Grayson voiced by Michael Cera. Batman had better learn the meaning of friendship and family, because the Joker might have a sneaky plan.

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So, what makes this movie fantastic, and have such a high grade on Rotten Tomatoes? Well first off, as a LEGO spin-off film, it holds up on its own. Let’s face it. The LEGO Movie was a lightning-in-a-bottle kind of situation, very much like the original Toy Story, Ghostbusters, and Beauty and the Beast. Future films will probably never be that good again, and that should be okay if the end product is still fantastic. Now that we got that out of the way, this is just a good LEGO movie, a good Batman movie, and a good Batman parody movie. Instead of taking from one part of Batman’s history, they take in the entire 80 years or so of history of the character, and shove it into a movie that almost reaches two hours. It shows off the best, the light, the dark, the worst, the funniest, and the weirdest parts of the character and the universe in which Batman lives. I know some people would argue that Batman: The Return of the Caped Crusaders is a better comedic Batman, but I really disagree. While I love Caped Crusaders, I felt like it limited itself by understandably only reaching for material from the Adam West Batman era. It also ran out of steam in the third act that hurt the overall experience. You don’t get that here. The LEGO Batman Movie is a giant love letter to everything amazing and goofy about Batman. It’s quite shocking to see a good spoof and parody film, since for the longest time, the trend of making good and creative spoof films died in the 90s when all the bad parody films were coming out. Why does this one do parody well? It’s because the people that worked on this film knew what they were doing, and love the property. If you are going to make a parody of something, like the Hot Shot and Airplane films, you have to know what you are making fun of, and love it for that reason. If this was made by the hacks behind current spoof movies today (who really should be blacklisted and fired from Hollywood), The LEGO Batman Movie would be nothing but stupid references, that only acknowledge their existence and nothing more. Luckily, the director knew what he was doing, and made sure to give the film a good story, because the team knew they couldn’t just fly by with just Batman-centric jokes. While Batman is definitely an over-the-top comedic version of himself, they do give him a story arc and personality and drive. The same goes for everyone else. Dick Grayson could have easily been the worst aspect of the film, but due to great writing and a fantastic performance by Michael Cera, Dick becomes one of the highlights of the movie. I also adore all the cameos and references, like how Two-Face is played by Billy Dee Williams, who played Two-Face’s alter ego Harvey Dent in the 1989 Batman movie. Even though I could get a lot of the jokes since I have seen Batman over the years, I feel like casual viewers can easily enjoy this movie. It’s not just made for the fans. Just like The LEGO Movie, I liked that the film does make fun of both incarnations of Batman, but doesn’t pick a side. Let’s be honest, Batman can work both in dark storylines and goofy storylines, and somewhere in the middle, too. Even the more serious Batman storylines have really stupid stuff about them, because when dark Batman is done wrong, it’s really bad and can be even more unintentionally goofy. This is a movie that knew what it wanted to do, and executed it almost perfectly, unlike a lot of DC’s live-action film offerings.

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The animation is once again fantastic. It’s well made CGI that gets all those little details of LEGO blocks down perfectly, and while it does suffer from being too hectic at times on screen, due to everything being made of LEGO blocks, the fact that they cleverly limited the movements of everything to make it look stop-motion is still very impressive. All the characters look great, and the little details and side gags are clever and hilarious. I was at a screening with only a few people, and we all laughed hard. It was almost like an Edgar Wright film where you watch it and get a lot of the jokes, but then watch it a second time and can find more little jokes and details that may have been missed by you during the first viewing. The fight sequences are also creative, since if you can’t take advantage of the limitless possibilities of LEGO and the fact it’s animated, then you have failed as a director. The voice cast is perfect. While I know I support the idea of getting non-Hollywood celebrity actors for more theatrical film roles, when the casting is done right, it’s a wonderful thing. I don’t think I could have picked a better cast with Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Billy Dee Williams, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Adam DeVine, Zach Galifianakis, Ralph Fiennes, Jenny Slate, Eddie Izzard, Seth Green, Jermaine Clement, Ellie Kemper, and you get the idea. It’s a fantastic cast full of actors with big and small roles that just make the overall film fun. I adore the chemistry between Batman and the Joker in a pseudo-romance plot that can only be done with a relationship between Batman and the Joker that isn’t creepy 18+ fanfiction. While Mark Hamill and Heath Ledger are always going to be the best Jokers, animated and live-action, Zach is easily my third favorite Joker. He just brings such a great energy to him.

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If I had to complain about something about this movie, the first 15 or so minutes can be very fast, and then it changes pace abruptly. It’s not distracting, but it’s noticeable, and I can understand if someone found it to be too much at one time. Other than that, the criticisms I have are mostly nitpicks, like some of the jokes don’t land, and sometimes the Batman villains don’t really have enough to them in terms of personality. Still, these weren’t enough to ruin the experience for me.

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While this might not reach the high tier level of The LEGO Movie, The LEGO Batman Movie is easily the best animated movie of 2017 so far. It’s a love letter, a hilarious spoof of Batman, a great Batman movie in and of itself, and a wonderful entry into the LEGO animated universe. It makes me think that Warner Animation Group is going to become the new DreamWorks, which I will tackle in an article in the future. Now then, go see The LEGO Batman Movie. It might already be beating 50 Shades Darker, because it’s a film that everyone should check out. I’m in the mood for more DC, so how about we talk about Justice League Dark? Thanks for reading, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Go see it!