Who doesn’t love a good mystery? Judged by the huge success of Rian Johnson’s film Knives Out from last year not many. There is also a long tradition of mystery stories for kids with everything from The Great Mouse Detectiveto The Adventures of Tintin. So when I heard about Agathe-Christine: Next Door Spy I was intrigued. Unfortunately it can’t escape a terrible English language dubbing and an uneven script.
In many ways I wish I could watch this film in its original Danish language because I felt the dubbing really hurt this film. So much of the word choices felt strange or inauthentic to the characters. I am sure many scenes feel more natural and even charming in the Danish that come off as strange and off-putting in English. For example there is a large lizard that can talk. He was so creepy but I think he was supposed to be somewhat appealing at least in early scenes. Also there is a some profanity that didn’t work for the story of a teen detective. I kept thinking who was this movie made for? I have no idea.
Two movies I kept thinking of which execute kid detective so much better is A Cat in Paris and the recent Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made.Like Agathe-Christine, A Cat in Paris is also animated and it also has some edgier moments. However, I was much more attached to its characters (both have dysfunctional Mother characters but I sympathized way more with A Cat in Paris than Agathe-Christine). I also prefer the cubist inspired animation more in A Cat in Paris, so it is far more memorable than Agathe-Christine.
Timmy Failure, on the other hand, dives into some deep themes of abandonment and childhood depression but it did so with great tact and sweetness. Agathe-Christine felt tonally all over the place and again like it didn’t know what kind of movie it wanted to be.
That’s not say I hated Agathe-Christine: Next Door Spy. It had good things about it with sweet moments and some nice animation but it is very inconsistent and there are things like the cursing and giant lizard that I really disliked (a better giant lizard story is inApril and the Extraordinary World). Older kids might enjoy Agathe-Christine but even then there are better detective stories to recommend to them.
I feel confident the Danish version is much better but as the English is all I have to judge off I can’t recommend Agathe-Christine: Next Door Spy. Better luck next time on the case!
I’m not going to lie to you guys. There are times when I get on here and think ‘ugh I’ve got to tell them about the latest mediocre….movie.” However, other times I approach the keyboard with great anticipation because I can tell you about something that surprised me. It’s like I heard a great secret and can’t wait to share it with all of my friends. Today is such an experience.
Let me tell you about the recent European import The Son of Bigfoot. This movie was not only way better than I expected it to be but it was legitimately a good animated film with tons of heart, humor and an entertaining story.
It’s perhaps especially surprising I enjoyed The Son of Bigfoot so much because it was made by the team who brought us such classics as Fly Me to the Moon and The Wild Life (which I didn’t hate as much as others but this is a huge step up!). It’s certainly much better than such mainstream animated films as The Emoji Movie, The Star and Despicable Me 3.
The story focuses on a very likable teenage protagonist named Adam. His main attribute is his bushy thick hair. His father died when he was little and his Mom struggles to help him deal with bullies and corral his need for adventure.
One day he gets a clue that perhaps there is more to his Dad’s story than he was told. Could he be the mysterious Bigfoot that has prowled the nearby forests? He, along with his buddy animals, set off to find out and in the process he learns a lot about his father, family and himself.
Here’s the trailer if you want to see more:
There is so much to like about The Son of Bigfoot. I really liked Adam as a character. He felt like a typical teenager without being annoying. The relationship between him and his Dad develops in a touching way as he comes to understand himself more in the process. He also has to learn to forgive both his Mom and his Dad and that journey felt authentic and real. There are no celebrity voice actors in the film (yay!) but the professionals they got worked and the dubbing seemed natural. The sidekicks didn’t feel like Minions clones (for once) which was nice and the humor in the film mostly worked for me. The action scenes were fun. The animation was pretty impressive for a small budget. I even liked the music by a band called Puggy!
If I was looking for downsides I guess the evil corporate villain is a bit of a snooze and not every joke lands. It can feel a little overstuffed at times with storylines like the bullying being unnecessary but these are all nitpicks.This is a thoroughly entertaining film that the entire family will enjoy. It also has a sweet message without being a MESSAGE movie.
I don’t want to oversell The Son of Bigfoot. It’s not Your Name or something earth shattering, but I was very excited after seeing it. I even got emotional at certain sequences. Like I cried! This was a really sweet, funny, pleasant movie that I hope you give a chance on demand or from your local library. It’s one I will be picking up for sure.
So I just saw the new animated import from Belgium called The Wild Life and honestly I am still processing it. While I can’t really tell you it is a “good” film it’s not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. And it makes a lot of unusual choices that at the very least make it a bit of a curiosity.
First of all, The Wild Life looks way better than I expected it to be. I did not see it in 3D because the 3D trailer looked awful and I’m glad I didn’t. The animated action sequences are pretty impressive. They are long quickly paced and intense. Going into the film I was expecting a comedy but there are actually not that many comedic moments. Most of it is shipwrecks and fights. The water was really good for this kind of budget.
The character design all looked textured and better rendered than I was expecting. I honestly think the animation is as good if not better than anything we’ve seen from the Ice Age films in a long time.
The one exception to that rule is the cats…I pretty much hated everything about the cats. I hated their animation, characters, vocal performance, story arc, everything.
It’s kind of cool they do not use any celebrity voices and everybody except the cats fits very well with their parts. It’s kind of strange that all of these animals on this tiny island all have different accents but if you don’t over-think it, it works.
Robinson Crusoe is actually a pretty likable character and his bonding with the animals is more authentic than I thought it would be. I was thinking Crusoe would be more of the villain invading the island but actually he and the animals bond quickly and there are a lot of charming scenes with them working together. It’s not reinventing the wheel or something but I enjoyed it.
And like I said the action is a lot of fun. It’s very fast paced and imaginative and at times very tense. There is even death to a character that would never die in an American animated film. There is also a pregnancy that felt so strange. I’ve never seen anything like it in an animated film.
Unfortunately some of the action goes on a bit too long and the story wasn’t compelling enough to carry my interest the entire film. I got bored in several sections. I’m not sure what they could do to make it better but I nodded off a couple of times.
Still, this is the kind of movie that people will love to use hyperbole on and declare it the worst thing ever but it’s not in my opinion. One review I read said “few have failed as confoundingly as The Wild Life” Now that I can get behind. It is a strange movie. There’s no doubt about that, and I guess its watchability depends on your tolerance for the odd choices it makes.
But if you can ignore the bad stuff like the cats and focus on the good things like the animation and the action, I think it is worth watching. I personally would rather watch this film than a lazy unambitious effort like Ice Age: Collision Course but that’s just me.
If any of you see The Wild Life let me know. I am anxious to talk about some of the strange story elements with someone else who has seen it.
It is a great time to be an animation fan! Not only are major studios producing tremendous work like Zootopia, Kubo and the Two Strings and Finding Dory but smaller indy films are there to dazzle us! We already had April and the Extraordinary World earlier in the year and today I want to talk about Phantom Boy. From the creators of A Cat in Paris (which I love), Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol give us a lovely little 2D animated film with tons of humor and heart.
Like I said, I love A Cat in Paris, and while I don’t think Phantom Boy is quite as good as that film it is still a very enjoyable effort. It may even be the best superhero movie of 2016!
Instead of Paris this time Gagnol and Felicioli have taken us to New York for a story that is also a mystery full of film noir, cubism inspired art design. It is such a beautiful film to look at.
In New York there is a boy named Leo who is very sick.
But Leo like all superheroes has a special ability. He can float out of his body passing through walls and flying through the city of New York. This is freeing for him as it is his only respite from his sickbed. You feel a sense of calmness and lightness of being when Leo leaves his body. It’s hard on his body to leave but worth it because of the freedom he experiencces.
At the hospital Leo meets a cop named Alex who is recovering from an incident he had with a mob boss known as The Man with the Broken Face. Leo gets to know Alex and eventually offers his superpower to help track down Broken Face. This is important because Alex’s boss won’t listen to any of his ideas or intuition about the case. Leo can be the invisible spy in the investigation!
Broken Face isn’t the most original villain as far as concept. He’s pretty much your typical Dick Tracy type mob boss but his unusual design makes up for that.
Broken Face is also not as scary as the mob boss in A Cat in Paris. He’s more silly here but the comedy worked. I laughed quite a bit. I particularly liked anything to do with Broken Face’s dog and his needing to feed and take care of him. You never think about Marlon Brando walking his dog in The Godfather after all! Ha!
His goons are also very funny as they drive Broken Face crazy with their ineptitude.
The final character is a woman named Mary who is a journalist who works with Leo and Alex in the investigation. She is probably the character that gets in the most peril for the investigation as she can leave the hospital in her normal body. She’s strong but not too brave.
I think the main difference between A Cat in Paris and Phantom Boy is the character development. I really felt for the Mother in Cat and the twist with the burglar worked for me. The characters didn’t behave the way I thought they would. Also, like I said, the mob boss there was a lot more menacing than Broken Face is here, but he still has his scary moments. However, the characters in Phantom Boy are still good. I really liked the bond that grows between Alex and Leo. It felt like a genuine friendship. With Leo being sick it definitely pulls at the heartstrings a bit and Broken Face with his goons made me laugh.
As you can tell from the images Phantom Boy is gorgeous to look at and at under 90 minutes I don’t think anyone will be bored. The reason Leo’s story works when many superhero stories haven’t this year is there is heart behind his powers. He wants freedom from his hospital bed and the power is a result of that yearning. It’s not for ego or some burden. Quite the reverse actually. It’s a gift that frees him from his unhappy life at the hospital and it just so happens it can be useful in taking down a bad man. Shouldn’t more superhero movies be like that? I certainly think so!
The US dubbing is also great featuring Fred Armisen, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jared Padalecki, Marcus D’angelo, Melissa Disney and Dana Snyder. It feels seamless and I don’t think someone would know it has been dubbed if they weren’t aware of it.
If you can find Phantom Boy at a theater near you check it out. If not, put it on your must watch list when it comes out on DVD. It’s funny, sweet and beautiful to look at. Something the entire family can enjoy watching together that doesn’t try to teach a message or sermonize but just tell a good superhero story about an 11 year old who is the Phantom Boy!
It’s rare in the world of animated art book that you have one written by the director himself! But that is just what you get with the Song of the Sea Art Book. Anyone who reads this blog knows I consider Song of the Sea to be a modern animated masterpiece so when I saw this for sale I shelled out the big bucks for it. It’s expensive but I had to have it!!
This art book is so rich I could read it for weeks and get new things out of it. It starts out with a brief introduction from art director Adrien Mericeau, head of story Nora Twomey and then director Tomm Moore. What I love is how close the team felt to these characters. Twomey says “Bit by bit, it came together, layer upon layer bound together by story, song and beauty. Once we remained true to Ben and Saoirse and thought of them as real people, everything else came into place”. You feel that closeness to the characters when you watch the film.
Tomm Moore shares how he came up with the idea for Song of the Sea when visiting a beach in Dingle with his 10 year old son Ben. “While there we came across a sea cull and I started thinking about the connection between our attitude to wildlife and our environment and the stories that once reminded us our place in the natural world”. This idea kept “percolating away in my sketchbooks and in the back of my mind”. Isn’t it great that this kind of animation is still possible? That someone can get an idea and make a movie in this day of franchises, marketing gimmicks and big budgets it’s really refreshing.
We then next get a forward by Charles Solomon. This is more like an interview with Tomm Moore sharing his approach to filmmaknig and creating Song of the Sea. It’s really cool that they have a quote from Pixar’s Pete Docter who says “Many films are noisy and manic, full of pop culture jokes; frenetically paced with wacky, manic characters that never hold still. In contrast, Song of the Sea has a quiet beauty. It is graphically gorgeous, yet simple. Best of all, the characters are well-observed and truthful. It’s a joy to watch for so many reasons.” Amen to that!
Next Moore gives tons of information about the mythological and folkloric references. It even explains the meaning behind things I just accepted as his own invention like the spirtuality of the family dog Cu. “As it is the children’s dog Cu’s moment of glory the wind takes the form of 2 Cu Sidhe, fairy dog hounds, from Scottish and Irish folklore.” I don’t know about you but I find that fascinating.
Then Moore has a QandA he did that has incredible details. This is followed by our first chapter of the book which is all about the locations they used and how they sketched what they saw. This includes both sea and cityscapes and we get beautiful color photos along with descriptions.
Next up we have a large section on the characters. This includes the concept art and inspiration for their stories. We get our main characters of course but also smaller characters like the trick-or-treaters and the owls.
What’s really neat about these sketches is the finished product is so similar to them so you really feel like you are seeing into the mind of the artists!
Then we move on to development and production. This details the storyboarding and layouts and what had to be cut that Tomm Moore loved.
The artwork in this segment is just amazing. I wish I could frame every page and put it on my wall!
The final segment is quotes and acknowledgements and has memories and thoughts from producers, cast and crew and then ‘quotes from friends’. They have Don Hall director of Big Hero 6 who says “steeped in his country’s mythology, as well as classic animation from all over the world Tomm Moore is telling that incredibly difficult and all too rare, type of story: the personal film that is accessible to all. And he does it with style, but never at the expense of substance. In fact, the style…actually enhances the substance”. I couldn’t agree more.
The Art Book of Song of the Sea is pricey. I think it cost me $60 because I had to buy it from England but to me it is worth it. I love my book and it has made the movie even better, if that was even possible. If you can afford it I highly recommend picking it up!
I’ve always been kind of intrigued by steampunk. The way the movement combines alternative history, fashion and art is so much fun. Unfortunately in the world of movies steampunk has fallen short with duds like Wild Wild West or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Most of the problem with these films is they are too much style over substance and they assume steampunk=bad campy writing. Well, April and the Extraordinary World is the first film I’ve seen that gets steampunk right giving us a true picture of what life would be like if things had never progressed beyond steam power.
I was able to see April and the Extraordinary World early because I am working with Salt Lake Film Society to sponsor a steampunk costume event for the premiere on April 29 (may change to May 6. More info to come as soon as I hear more). The films distributor GKIDS was kind enough to let me view the film and let me tell you guys- what a treat! If you can make it down to the Broadway (or theater near you) and see April and the Extraordinary World please support this fantastic animated film.
I won’t give too much away about the story but it starts out in an alternate history where Napoleon V is ruling France and since 1870 scientists have been disappearing (and hence their inventions are not invented). This keeps the world from moving past the age of steam and the trees are almost completely gone. Since 1870 a family called the Franklins have been studying a serum that has the power to regenerate life. The government is interested in the serum to make the ultimate invincible soldier but the family is resistant. While April is a little girl her parents are followed and eventually end up missing.
She is then forced to raise herself with her talking cat Darwin (another side effect of the serum is animals can talk). In 1941 she is a young woman who is doing her own research but the government has its eye on her.
One day trying to get supplies she meets a young man named Julius who is intrigued by her strange ways. They are a marriage of convenience at first but turn into good friends.
There is also a cop named Pizoni who is determined to capture the Franklin family if it’s the last thing he does, and April’s grandfather Pops who is sweet and nurturing as all grandpas should be.
On the April and the Extraordinary World wikipedia page it describes it as a “animated fantasy thriller film” and that is very true. The greatest aspect of this movie is it kept me guessing and that’s what you want in a thriller. It was intense, different and absorbing. Aside from one liar reveal trope, I had no idea where it was going or how it was going to turn out. I love when that happens at the movies!
The main conflict revolves around April trying to continue on the work of her parents while being hunted down and followed. Then when she discovers where they are it becomes more of a mystery (a huge part of steampunk). Along the way you get moving mansions, robots, coal and lots of steam.
Fortunately there are also breaks in the action for comic relief particularly from Darwin, the talking cat, who is hilarious. There is some slapstick with the cops and other characters that didn’t quite work as well but those are only a few moments I could tolerate. There’s also a nice heart to the film particularly with April’s sincerity and real responses when interacting with Pops, Julius or Darwin. This is a girl you feel for and are rooting for. There are also smaller plot points that have heart like what happens with April’s father. You really feel for April and can sense her loneliness and even despair.
The only aspect of the story I can see getting complaints is who the villain turns out to be. You’ll either go with it or think it is really strange. I went with it.
It almost goes without saying the animation based on Jacques Tardi’s graphic novel is outstanding. First of all, it is glorious to see such a well made 2D traditionally animated film, but it doesn’t coast on that. It is dark and cold but in a way that feels livable and real. The mixture of the sketchy characters with the black soot, white steam and red buildings stood out and was very unique. Something about it is gorgeous and haunting at the same time.
Honestly the entire film is completely different and tough to describe but that’s what makes it so good. It’s surprising and strange and I had no idea what was coming up next. I have a feeling it is one I will like more with each rewatch.
One reviewer described it as a mixture of Triplets of Belleville and Spirited Away and I can see what he means. It has European surrealist sensibilities with the oddities and strong female lead of a Miyazaki movie.
One of the coolest things about the film is the complexity of the characters. April is by no means a saint stealing repeatedly, Julius is a snitch, Mrs Franklin motivations are hard to pin down and even Darwin is a bit of a smart alleck. This makes them engaging to watch and unpredictable.
I saw the French version with subtitles but the American cast does includes Susan Sarandon, JK Simmons, Paul Giammatti and Tony Hale. I’ve heard they do a good job.
Whenever a film is this ambitious it isn’t going to be for everyone. Like I said, some people will think its strange, but I delighted in its oddness. And I like the way it will make kids think about their world in a new way. Fantasy worlds are great but here is an alternative version of their world. And it is not nearly as bleak or down-trodden as the barrage of dystopian films we’ve gotten of late.
The closest thing I can compare it to is Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. In fact, if your kids can handle the intensity and strangeness of that book they will be fine with April and the Extraordinary World.
This is definitely a film to seek out and support if you can. Let your theaters know you are interested in seeing it. The more support we give these 2D films the more likely they are to be made!
All in all, I loved it and can’t wait to see it again soon.
Overall Grade- A+ (it may be my new favorite of the year. Still debating).
If you get a chance to see it please put in the comments section. If not, does it sound interesting to you? What do you think of steampunk? I have a steampunk outfit ready to go for the premiere which was a lot of fun to put together!
I just posted this week’s episode of Animated News! I would love if you guys took a look at it. I’m still learning but I think it is getting better.
Here’s a run-down of the news
Zootopia grosses 50 million- only dropping 33% from week 1 and that is really good. The film has made 83 million overseas, 288 foreign total, 431 total.
Storks Trailer- For some reason all of these comedies I’m liking the teasers better than the full trailer but this looks ok. A little generic but ok.
Wild Life Trailer- This was a new film I learned about and I must say not that impressed. It’s being distributed by Lionsgate who gave us Norm of the North. Hopefully it will at least be better than that. Robinson Crusoe on an island run by animals- the idea has potential.
Long Way North Trailer- Another project that was new to me, but this one I’m really excited about. From animator Remi Chaye who worked on Secret of the Kells. It looks beautiful and sounds like a good story. I predict this will be in the running come Oscar season.
Sausage Party Trailer- I’m not impressed with the humor or animation in this adult comedy. To me it looks very lazy. Won’t even share the video with you guys but if you want to watch it here is the link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9VoNgLnjzVg
April and the Extraordinary World- I’m very excited for this film that comes to my cinema 4/22. It has a cool steampunk look to it. The 2D animation looks great and I think the story sounds interesting.
Little Prince Gets Dumped- In a bizarre action Paramount Animation has dumped the US release of The Little Prince a week before it was to premiere. Even though I had issues with the film, it certainly deserves to be seen by American audiences. I can’t fathom why they did this?
Power Puff Girls- The new reboot of Power Puff girls debuted at SXSW film festival to great reviews. The intro and other clips I’ve seen look promising.
What in this news interests you? What in all those independent trailers looks the best to you? Why do you think Paramount dumped Little Prince? Are you a Power Puff Girls fan? If so, what do you think of this reboot?
Put in the comments section here or on the video and let’s talk! 🙂 And if you like my video please give it a thumbs up!
For a while watching The Little Prince I was ready to come on here and be pretty harsh on it. Until the first hour mark, the movie was honestly driving me crazy but then it somehow turned itself around and became a decent flick. Usually the ending of films is where they really tank but not in this case. I kind of wish it had been a short 45 minute special because really the first hour is just two characters talking a lot and telling you why what they are saying is so important.
SOME SPOILERS AHEAD! (I couldn’t talk about some of my issues without spoiling because it lay within the story).
So let’s talk about that first hour. My big problem was way too much exposition. At times it felt like a Shyamalan film there was so much talking and not showing!
The plot of the movie is a Little Girl is trained by her mother to keep a tightly planned study schedule. Truly it seemed a little over-the-top it was so micromanaged. I mean what kid would want to plan a play date for the next summer? It strained credulity and made the Mother look really mean.
The goal of the Mother is for Little Girl (that’s her name) to make it into a prestigious school called Werth Academy. They even move just to be in the school boundaries.
However, Little Girl wants to explore and is drawn to an elderly neighbor known as The Aviator. He tells her about the Little Prince who had a rose that he loves and tries to protect. As he tells the story we see it played out in beautiful animation that looks like stop motion.
The problem is not enough happens in the story to be compelling on its own so it becomes a lot of talking about dreams and bold living. As pretty as it was I grew weary of it.
Then The Prince in the story dies for The Rose at the hour mark. This causes Little Girl to become angry at The Aviator for the story and it ending so sadly. She stays away but then he gets sick and she must fly The Aviator’s plane and find the Little Prince on his asteroid. This is when the story starts going. We actually see things happen to our lead character!
When the Little Girl gets to the asteroid, she finds a world where everyone has grown up- kind of an opposite Neverland. The Little Prince has forgotten his past and has been turned into a workaholic adult. He is ruled by a man called The Businessman who is hoarding all the stars to steal all the light and happiness from the world. Now this is a story!
Little Girl then must bring the Little Prince back to his planet and he gets some closure on his lost rose. Little Girl gets a reminder that she cannot grow up too soon.
When she reunites with her Mother they have a new understanding and she is allowed to be a child a little bit longer while still going to the prestigious school.
Once the action in the story started going I was entertained by the Little Prince, but almost like a fable, the metaphors are very heavy-handed. The Businessman clearly is meant to symbolize the Mother and her routine for Little Girl (they even have a similar chalkboard with tasks listed out), but I didn’t mind it. I kind of wish the entire movie had started at that point because I really didn’t need the background on the Prince, The Rose, The Girl and The Mother.
Even in the boring sections there is a nice heart to the film, and I did feel attached to Little Girl and her struggles to be understood by her Mother. I just needed something more concrete to happen sooner to get the plot going. The first hour felt a little like reading a greeting card. Sure it looks nice and has a nice message but I needed more story!
The vocal performances are all wonderful, providing a real warmth to the sometimes one-note characters. Mackenzie Foy (Little Girl), Jeff Bridges (The Aviator), Rachel McAdams (The Mother), Paul Rudd (Mr Prince) are great. Marion Cotillard is heavily billed and I thought would have a big part but she is The Rose and only has a few lines.
The animation is stunning throughout The Little Prince and it is worth seeing for that reason alone. And it does end with real heart that made me tear up a few times. I just wish I could condense the first hour into 15 minutes! In some ways after that reminded me of Neverending Story in its messaging and tone. Still, I can’t ignore an hour of tedious exposition.
Overall Grade- C+
Also why this movie took forever and a day to get to a US release is beyond me. It was written in English originally so it didn’t need dubbing or subtitles. Why the delay? That was very annoying.
This week on my family movie night video I put another plug for you all to see Song of the Sea.
I can’t say enough good things about this film. It’s still the best movie I’ve seen all year including Inside Out. In my opinion Song of the Sea is a true new masterpiece and I love it more each time I see it. It’s emotional, peaceful, tense, sweet, scary and everything else. The journey that Ben takes in dealing with the loss of his Mother is engrossing and devastating at times. There is magic and unexpected characters and the animation is stunning.
Please watch it!!! It is available as a free stream if you are an amazon prime member.
Have you seen it? What did you think?
The music by Bruno Calais and Kila is so moving as well. I have the soundtrack and enjoy listening to it throughout the day. It has a calming effect over me.
What would you say is a new masterpiece released in the last 3 or 4 years. I would put last year’s Boyhood in that discussion and Inside Out would be on the short list.