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.
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!
Hi guys! Time for the next in my animated oscars series. Today we are looking at 2011 which was an eclectic year for animation with no Pixar or Disney nominations. I personally would have nominated Arthur Christmas and Winnie the Pooh but the 5 they went with are interesting in their own right.
This is a bit of a long one but I think you will enjoy it.
Basically I thought Puss in Boots may be my favorite film from the Shrek universe. I like how they kept the parody elements down. I also liked the 3D back when I first saw it and think the animation holds up very well. The voice work by Antonio Banderas is good and I like the action which was a loving homage to Zorro and those kind of classic films. On downside I didn’t love how they handled the Salma Hayek character. She starts strong but isn’t treated with much respect and ends up having to be rescued and as an ordinary love interest. I also think it can feel a little episodic and gets a little convoluted at moments. But overall I enjoy Puss in Boots.
Kung fu Panda 2 I really enjoyed. I know many readers don’t care for it, which is cool. Always good to have a variety of opinions. I think they toned down the humor and made a real kungfu movie with good fight scenes and battles. I think they also majorly upgraded the villain with Shen voiced by Gary Oldman. I like the adoption subplot and the development of the Furious Five is much better than in the first. Overall, I think it is a good martial arts movie!
Then we have Cat in Paris which was a huge surprise for me. I had never heard of it and I really liked. I thought the animation was unique and beautiful. I really liked the Mother character and felt she was well developed and interesting. The story surprised me and didn’t go exactly as I thought it would. The music is really strong and it’s both scary and funny. Its a real hidden gem.
The fourth nominee is a foreign film called Chico and Rita. This is a very adult animated film with a lot of nudity and I had to skip over sections. That said, I liked the character of Rita and the music. The animation I thought looked rotoscoped and generic; although, there are pretty moments. I didn’t like the character of Chico and felt the movie was a little to easy on him. He’s a real jerk and doesn’t deserve Rita. The jazz music is really catchy and I can see why it was nominated even if it isn’t my cup of tea.
The final nominee is Rango. If you have been a fan of the blog you might remember my review of Rango last year. I was pretty tough on it and I must admit I liked it a little bit more this time around. The beginning has some interesting surrealist touches and towards the end the story picks up. I appreciate they were trying to do something different but overall the pallet feels very beige to me so everything ends up looking bland and the same. I also feel it takes way too long for the story to get going and don’t find Rango ambling around very funny. Granted I haven’t seen many Westerns it is spoofing so that may be part of it. I think the characters are underdeveloped and you go long stretches without characters which makes them even weaker. Overall, I’m just not a fan of Rango but I see why others like it.
Of course, Rango won for the year and I think in this case the wrong film won. There just isn’t enough story and the artistry is too bland for me to get behind Rango. If I had to pick out of the 5 I would go with Cat in Paris. I think it is visually inventive, the story surprised me and I really liked the characters. Overall, it is a real delight.
I have been hunting down the hidden animated gems from 2014. Today is probably the most prominent hidden gem as it has an Oscar nomination: The Song of the Sea. It is from Cartoon Saloon and distributed by Gkids Films directed and written by Tomm Moore. It is the same team who made the lovely Oscar nominated Secret of the Kells in 2009. As wonderful as Kells is I think Song of the Sea is even better.
I can’t remember the last time I cried so much in a movie and in a good way. In a ‘I love these characters and I’m involved in the story’ kind of way. It is the 3rd animated film in 2014 to deal with subjects of death, grief and loss in a mature and beautiful way. I was really moved by it and wish more people would see it.
There will be some spoilers but I will try to keep it to a minimum.
The main story is about a family that lives on a small island running a lighthouse. At the opening little boy Ben loses his mother to childbirth with his sister Saoirse. We then quickly move up and find out she is an odd child who at 6 has never learned to talk. Ben resents his sister and he constantly carries around his mother’s book of Celtic legends.
The stories focus on a myth called the selkie which if you’ve ever seen The Secret of the Roan Inish it is the basis for that movie as well. The selkies live as both seals and humans and they have a power which animates everything including other magic like fairies.
The characters then go on a journey where they face peril, meet an Owl witch, some more friendly fairies and learn much more about Saoirse, Ben and their Mother. (I really don’t want to give much else away).
As you can tell from the photos on this post the animation is gorgeous. It flows and never makes the easy choice. Everything has the feel of a wave because that is the power of the selkie myth.
There is a scene where Ben must say goodbye to his Mother and just writing about it now makes me tear up. It really moved me. The only thing I can think to relate it too is in Harry Potter when Harry has to stop looking in the Mirror of Erised and has to say goodbye to his parents. It’s that kind of emotion.
In front of me at the theater there were two little girls maybe 4 and 6. They were very chatty but it was kind of interesting to hear their reactions. It definitely scared both of them at certain points and they were pretty upset. Song of the Sea also has some jump scares and very tense moments that build. They were asking their Mother if so and so character was going to be ok, very worried. That’s really the only downside to Song of the Sea is it is pretty sad and scary in spots. Characters go a lot of the movie heads hanging down in mourning.
This would not be the movie to put on for the kids birthday party or for a lively sleepover. However, it would be good for a Sunday night movie viewing where there is time to discuss more challenging concepts with kids and get their thoughts. Save comedies like Lego Movie, Penguins of Madegascar or Spongebob for the parties and use Song of the Sea for a quieter softer parenting moment.
If you can get out to the theaters and see it I would implore you to go. Support hand drawn and smaller animation at the box office. Movies like Song of the Sea deserve a wider audience. I would love if we could get out of having a 2 system animation world and embrace lots of different studios and ideas. That would be amazing!
I loved it. I was really moved by it. It made me cry and laugh on occasion. It’s sad but it is not a downer. It is so hopeful and peaceful even in the sad moments that you don’t feel manipulated with your tears.
It was stunningly beautiful and even though I got lost from time to time in the Celtic lore it didn’t really matter because I knew enough of what was going on to root for our heroes. The voicecast is also good with David Rawle, Brendan Gleeson, Fionnula Flanagan, Lisa Hannigan and Lucy O’Connell.
I just wish more people would see it. I went into Song of the Sea wondering if it was worthy of the nomination over Lego Movie (which I loved). They are so different but yes Song of the Sea deserved it over Lego (Boxtrolls which I also loved should have been left off). Song of the Sea is one of the best animated films I’ve ever seen. Yep. I will use that hyperbole. I loved it!
The music by Bruno Coulais and Kiia is pitch perfect. Like I said the only thing to really consider is if it might be too sad for very young children and when is the best time for a more thoughtful picture for our kids. I bet they will love it too! I think it is better than Princess Kaguya in both artistry and story and that’s saying a lot.
Overall Grade- A+
My youtube review. Got emotional talking about it.