Was It Really Our Fault For The Death of 2D Animation?

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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!)

Around the mid-2000s, 2D animated films were struggling, with a majority of the flops coming from Disney and DreamWorks. This was when their 2D animated films were not bringing in waves of delicious greenback bills, and were instead being critically panned, and flopping/underperforming. This list of films include Home on the Range, Brother Bear, Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, Treasure Planet, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, and you get the idea. The only 2D animated films that were doing really well during this time period were the films made by Studio Ghibli, like Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle. When Home on the Range and Sinbad came out, both Disney and DreamWorks told the world that 2D animation was not a profitable way of filmmaking anymore, no one was seeing 2D animated films, and the new profitable form of animation was CGI-animation. This was essentially throwing 2D animation under the bus. So, was it really the public’s fault that 2D animation was dead? Is there a reason Europe and the rest of the world is keeping it alive and not getting wide releases? Well, let’s talk about what was going on around this time period.

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On one side of the spectrum during the early to mid-2000s, the only financially/critically successful animated films that were being made were of CGI, and Pixar and DreamWorks were leading the charge. This was when we were getting films like Shrek 2, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles. All of these films were critical darlings, and are pretty fantastic films. On the other spectrum, you were unfortunately getting Disney and DreamWorks 2D animated films that were not doing well with audiences and the bank. Like I said above, the 2D animated films were not making enough of a profit, and were getting critically panned at the same time. Sure, you would get a film like Lilo & Stich, Emperor’s New Groove, and Spirits: Stallion of the Cimarron, but those films were few and far between in terms of being successful 2D animated films. The point is Disney and DreamWorks were losing money, and the only thing that was bringing in the cash besides their live-action films were their CGI animated films. Not to say that each CGI animated film during this period was a success, since this was when DreamWorks was trying to compete with Disney/Pixar, but the numbers and money talked.

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So, does this mean that 2D animation was 100% dead? Of course not! Even if Disney, Pixar, and DreamWorks were moving toward full-on CGI animation, due to the masses leaning more to CGI animation by overall audience appeal, there were a few studios and directors that were passionate or really stubborn about Hollywood’s sudden lack of 2D animation. This was when we were getting a lot of the Studio Ghibli films brought over by Disney, like Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Porco Rosso to name a few. Other directors like Sylvain Chomet gave the public The Triplets of Belleville, one of the best pieces of 2D animation around, and was a critical and Oscar winner. Japan has a multitude of amazing animated films during this time period, and even today we have incredible 2D animated films, like the late Satoshi Kon’s Paprika, Mamoru Hosoda’s Wolf Children, The Boy and the Beast, and Summer Wars, Makoto Shinkai’s The Garden of Words, and of course, Katsuhiro Otomo’s slew of films like Steamboy, and anthology project, Short Peace.  Europe has been rocking the 2D animation, with films from France, Spain, Scotland, and other areas including Song of the Sea, The Secret of Kells, A Cat in Paris, Phantom Boy, Ernest & Celestine, The Illusionist, Nocturna, Wrinkles, and Chico and Rita. Even Disney came back with two 2D animated films, with The Princess and the Frog and Winnie the Pooh. Sure, they didn’t break a gigantic amount of bank, but I love that Disney at first was going to do one 2D film, then a CGI film, and go on like that until they went full-on CGI animated. Even Brazil gave us Boy and the World, one of the most visually amazing films, not just animated films, I have ever seen.

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So, if 2D isn’t technically dead, since the rest of the world and the indie scene are treating it with the respect it deserves, then what really killed it? Well, it’s actually pretty obvious and simple. There is no reason to go into a college-based philosophical journey for the answer. Really, it’s the Hollywood machine, and the studios’ fault for killing off 2D animation.

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Yeah, I know it sounds like a hipster thing to do, and blame the bigwigs for killing off a style of animation, but it’s quite frankly the truth. So, during the mid-2000s of 2000-2005 or so, what were the companies releasing during this time that was 2D? This was when Disney was releasing films like Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Brother Bear, Treasure Planet, Lilo & Stich, Emperor’s new Groove, and Home on the Range. On top of that, this was also the tail end of their Straight-to-DVD fling, where they released a bunch of mediocre sequels to their popular Disney films. I’m sure you can find merit and something positive to say about certain elements of these films, but they were really scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of quality with these straight-to-DVD flicks. DreamWorks on the other hand only released about two 2D animated films, with one being a hit, and the other causing the infamous “2D animation is dead” quote with Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron and Sinbad. Now then, we’ve got our suspects from the 2D side of things from both companies, what went wrong with the studios making these films? After watching them recently, with the few exceptions that I have mentioned above, the rest feel like movies that were ruined by the higher-ups putting their focus-grouped hands into the mix. Films like Brother Bear, Sinbad, Treasure Planet, and Atlantis: The Los Empire could have been incredible movies, but what you get are films with bits and pieces of greatness and things to like, but then have to get past the elements that are distracting or not very interesting. Most of the time, the biggest blunder these films made was within its dialogue. When the characters talked like they were part of that time or setting, it was great and engaging. You felt like you were there with them. However, when the modern dialogue, Disney whimsy, and hip lingo pops into time periods where it isn’t remotely appropriate, and is only put there because some idiot higher-up thinks everyone would like it, it’s frustrating. It’s like they couldn’t fully stay invested in their own tones. If you want to be dark in Atlantis, then you need to keep the mature tone, and not throw in so many side characters, humor, and a weak bad guy. How much better could Brother Bear be if he didn’t turn into a bear and he was kept just as a human? I could say all of this with the other films like Treasure Planet and Sinbad. These studios, for the most part, would rather throw someone or something under the bus to avoid the honest truth that they made a bad movie that no one wanted to see, or have to admit that they were trying to cater to the lowest common denominator, and it wasn’t working. Oh, and was anyone really asking for Home on the Range? I mean, really?

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Yeah, I don’t buy that 2D animation died because people stopped caring about it. I think it died because studios here in the states kept giving us films that either couldn’t stay in the tone they set out for, higher-ups got their meddling hands into the pie, or were just terrible movies. Luckily, with the huge success of films like Zootopia, The Secret Life of Pets, Finding Dory, and the animated films distributed by GKIDS, animation has become a huge success during 2016, where with a few exceptions; a mass majority of the 2016 big Hollywood flicks are not panning out. Sure, you could argue it’s just the summer movies, but I feel like the animated films and indie films have been getting more of the spotlight and praise. Hopefully, this means that the bigger companies can try and come back to 2D someday, but due to how current Hollywood is run, it will probably take some time. Just remember, it’s not always your fault Hollywood made a stupid mistake. Thanks for reading, I hope you liked the article, and see you all next time.

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The Other Side of Animation 45: The Prophet 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!)

Well, my next couple of reviews will be of adaptations of books, and yes, I’m going to be on the side of the idea that a film needs to be for everyone, and not just for the vocal minority fans of the source material. I agree that the source material should be well respected in the movie form, but if it doesn’t make for a great movie, in terms of characters and story execution, then it doesn’t really matter. Like I have mentioned in a previous review, there is only so much that fan service can cover until the flaws show up. After talking to a friend and fellow film critic, I decided to make a chart of sorts as to what makes a good film adaptation and what makes a bad one. On the bad side, you have films like Green vs Red and Vampire Hunter D. Vampire Hunter D is a sloppy adaptation of the manga that doesn’t let the people, who have never heard of the franchise, into its world by explaining what the heck is going on, why things are as they are, or talk about many little details like D’s freaky hand thing. Green vs Red is a poorly put together special that focuses too much on making winks, nods, and references to the franchise, and fails in making a compelling movie. On the good side of the chart, you have films like Ernest & Celestine, The LEGO Movie, Lupin the 3rd: Castle of Cagliostro, How to Train your Dragon series, 1989 Batman, and a majority of the Marvel films like Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Ant Man. You can watch these movies and not even know jack squat about the source material. In that middle area of the chart, you get films like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. You can still watch the movie, enjoy or hate it for what it is, but it isn’t a perfect translation from source material to film. So, with that entire chart now laid out, where does The Prophet rest? This film is based on Kahlil Gibran’s book of the same name. It was released in August of 2015, produced by Salma Hayek among others, distributed by GKIDS, and was directed by Roger Allers. If you know anything about animation, then you know Roger Allers was the co-director of The Lion King, and has worked on many animated classics and cult classics like Animalympics, Rock & Rule, The Little Mermaid, The Rescuers Down Under, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Emperor’s New Groove, and The Little Matchgirl. Another noteworthy element of the film is that at different points in it, scenes will be animated by different directors, and we will get to who the directors are in good time. So, how good is this film? Can you watch it without knowing the source material, or do you have to get out your tablet and download the book? Let’s find out.

The story follows a young mute girl named Almitra, voiced by Quvenzhane Wallis (Beast of the Southern Wilds, Annie). She is a little girl known for being a bit of a pest who upsets her mother Kamila, voiced by Salma Hayek. One day, Almitra decides to go to where her mother works as a maid cleaning up a house that is occupied by a “dangerous” criminal named Mustafa, voiced by Liam Neeson. Almitra befriends Mustafa, and the story then moves to Mustafa being deported from the country he detained in, and his many encounters with the townfolk as he drops them philosophical words of wisdom.

I am really excited to talk about the good elements of this film. During the philosophical essay parts of the film, each sequence is directed by a different director, and some of the essays are turned into songs sung by Damien Rice and the duo of Lisa Hannigan & Glen Hansard. Many of the essays focus on topics of love, children, war, death, marriage, and life. I know hearing the word “philosophical” sounds like you are about to get an earful of some angsty college professor or student thinking they are trying to make what they are saying deeper than it really is, but these essays actually have weight to them. They never sounded like they were aiming for something they couldn’t hit or a bunch of tripe that sounds important and deep, but isn’t. It all works pretty well when you throw in Liam Neeson’s calm and majestic voice. Neeson actually brings weight to the essays, and is just so soothing to listen to. I know it is easy to make fun of Liam Neeson due to his recent film endeavors, but he really puts his A+ game into this role. He makes Mustafa a very likable individual, who really wants to show the world there is a way to solve your conflicts without the need for violence. And really, that whole mindset is why he was a prisoner in the first place. He was bringing hope to people who are under a military rule. The government got afraid by his words, since they brought hope and optimism to the people they ruled over. Granted, the overall story is pretty lightweight, due to how it is really set up to focus on the essays, but you still care about the characters involved.

The animation is definitely a beautiful combination of 2D animation and CGI character models. When the film isn’t on an essay, the animation is CGI models on a 2D background. It sometimes looks a bit off, and the movements can be clunky, but it’s a consistently good looking cartoon CGI with pleasant designs. When it gets to the essays, each one is a different art style, with the directors pulling off amazingly beautiful sequences. Seriously, this is some of the best animation you will see in this decade. It is filled with so much passion and love that you can tell the creators put their all into each sequence. The directors for these moments include Tomm Moore (Song of the Sea, The Secret of Kells), Paul and Gaetan Brizzi (Asterix Versus Casesar, DuckTales the Movie, TaleSpin, A Goofy movie, Tarzan, Enchanted, and 9), Joan C. Gratz (Candyjam, Mona Lisa Descending A Staircase, Lost and Found, and Kubla Khan), Mohammed Saeed Harib (Freej), Nina Paley (Sita Sings the Blues), Bill Plympton (Idiots & Angels, I Married a Strange Person, Cheatin’, and Mutant Aliens), Joann Sfar (The Rabbi’s Cat), and Michal Socha (Chick and Loop). You have some pretty amazing powerhouses here, who have all worked on films with wildly different visuals and styles, and they put their own touches into each of the sequences. The voice acting is also pretty good, with a solid cast including Liam Neeson, Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Joh Keasinski, and Frank Langella.

If I had to nitpick a few elements of this film, it would be that Quvenzhane Wallis’s acting is not the best. Her voice acting is a bit clunky, and I can forgive this since this was probably her first time doing voicework. I also found a few lines to stick out too much due to how timeless the rest of the film feels. It’s not DreamWorks pop culture lingo bad or anything close to that, but they stick out nonetheless. I also wish the entire film was 2D animated. Like I said, the CGI character models are nice and do have expressive and fluid animation, but when it gets a little clunky, it’s noticeable. Still, I have seen CGI animation at its clumsiest, so I can give it a pass. Really, these minor complaints don’t take away a lot from the overall film.

To me, The Prophet is a fantastic movie, with likable characters, deep messages, and astounding animation. If you can get the film, I highly recommend doing so. I would consider it a new modern classic that everyone should check out. It’s so much more ambitious and different than what we usually get to see today, and shows how amazing the field of animation can be. This is definitely one of GKIDS’ best films. Well, next time, we go from well done philosophy, to one of the worst adaptations in film history with Tarzan. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it, and see you all next time

Rating: Criterion/Essenstials

The Other Side of Animation: Song of the Sea Review

When Disney and Dreamworks announced that 2D animation was a dead art, I was sad, since 2D animation has created some of the best imagery that we have ever seen on the big or small screen. Hearing that the art form that brought us Fantasia, Beauty and the Beast, The Prince of Egypt, Spirited Away, The Rescuers Down Under, and etc. was dead and not profitable, wasn’t really true. If we are being honest, this statement from the two big animation studios came out around the same time Dreamwork’s Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, and Disney’s Home on the Range came out, which was the 2003/2004 era. By the way, this was also the same time Disney released Brother Bear, which critically and financially flopped. So, in a cynical retort, they brought it upon themselves for making traditional animation not profitable. The problem wasn’t that the stories were told in traditional 2D animation, the problem was that the stories and characters weren’t good. It’s like any film, the movie didn’t fail to appeal to audiences because an actor didn’t have star power (though that can be an issue), it’s because the movie was terrible. I wrote this opening paragraph for today’s review about Tom Moore’s Song of the Sea because it shows how to do 2D animation right, and shows where Dreamworks and Disney were failing at that period of time. You can also toss this film onto the list of films that should have won best animated feature instead of the big Disney film of that year. Anyway, let’s dive into this Irish classic, and see why Song of the Sea is one of the best animated films of 2015.

The story revolves around a young boy named Ben, voiced by David Rawle, who lives with his father Conor, voiced by Brendan Gleeson, and younger sister named Saoirse, voiced by Lucy O’Connell on an island where they run a lighthouse. For many years, Ben has had a distinct dislike of his sister, Saoirse, due to her being born the same day his mother vanished. On Saoirse’s 6th birthday, Conor’s mother, voiced by Fionnula Flanagan, comes for a visit. After an incident later that night where Saoirse was found on the beach with a white coat on her, Conor decides to let the kids be taken back to the mainland with his mother. Once on the mainland, Ben finds out that there is more to his sister Saoirse than meets the eye.

Alright, what makes this movie worthy of an Oscar nomination and one of my favorite movies of the year? Well, how about we start off with how the movie’s set up? How about I answer that question with another question? What is one of the top 10 elements I look for in an animated film? I want the film to have its own identity. For example, I like it when a film like Spirited Away or Paprika does its own thing and not follow a fad or had a higher-up at the studio demand they make a movie that’s like another film that is coming out. For a while, it was studio mandate to make a film similar to another film that was coming out during that year. Song of the Sea succeeds since it follows its own rules in what will make a good movie. They have a setting that is unique, with a lot of lore and characters of the film based off of Irish folklore. It has a believable relationship between Ben and his sister. You would think it would be simple to make a relationship between a brother and sister easy since I bet many animators and people in this industry have kids and know how they act, but nope! This is easily one of the best examples of child actors pulling off excellent performances. I guess it also helps that the sister doesn’t speak until the very end, so, yeah.

The parallel comparisons between the human characters and the characters of lore are cleverly woven into the story.  The emotions from the actors feel genuine, and for an animated film where you can’t see the actors, that is so important. I know many people like to say that voice acting isn’t “real” acting, but you can’t stand/sit in a recording booth, say a few lines, and that’s it. You have to put in a good performance, you still have to emote. If you don’t, then you are going to get criticized for bad acting, just like if you were actually performing on camera. For example, when Conor is somber over the anniversary of his wife’s disappearance, and when he has to send the kids away, you really feel the heartbreak in his voice. A theme that is tackled in this movie that I like is how literally bottling your emotions away is not a good thing. In the film, the owl witch Macha takes the emotions away from everyone and puts them into jars. The result of this magic turns everyone into stone. I find this so interesting, since much of the time, you are told to keep your emotions at bay and not let them out as much. However, if you don’t, you figuratively and literally turn into a soulless emotionless rock of a human being. The Celtic music playing throughout the film is gorgeous to listen to. It’s composed by a band called Kila, which collaborated with a French composer named Bruno Coulais, who has worked on films like Microcosmos, Three Hearts, Coraline, and his most recent work, Diary of a Chambermaid. It fits all of the emotional notes that you see throughout Song of The Sea.

How can I talk about this film and not bring up its beautiful, lush, and colorful animation? It’s the reason why I opened up about how people think 2D animated films can’t be great or big money makers. It’s smooth, fluent, expressive, stylized, atmospheric, and downright beautiful to look at in motion. It reminds me of something from the team that made Samurai Jack, but on a bigger budget. A lot of this gorgeous animation can be given credit to the studio Cartoon Saloon, which also worked on The Secret of Kells, another Tom Moore film that I will cover in the future.

Song of the Sea is original, beautiful, and overall, a fantastic movie. I really can’t find something bad to say about the film. I could complain about the previews that you see on the disc since Universal Studios helped distribute it, so you had films of both equal and lesser caliber than Song of the Sea, like Monster High, but that is just nitpicky. If you for some reason have never seen this movie and have only heard of it, go out and buy the combo pack that comes with both a Blu-ray and DVD in one package. It’s one of the best animated films from Europe, and you must own it. Go support these under-advertised and amazing movies. Sadly, this being the internet, I should probably cover something terrible. How about a bad example of a third-party animated film that shows why you should only support companies like Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks, and GKIDS? Well, there is no better example than The Nut Job. Thanks for reading, and see you next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials