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Movie review: Three animated films from 2017

Your rating: None Average: 5 (15 votes)

The film poster for The Jungle Bunch. (The frogs are sidekicks)This is a triple movie review! Three animated films for kids from 2017, all of them originally French, that have been dubbed into English (or soon will be): The Jungle Bunch, Sahara, and The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales. The last one is the best by far, but isn't available in English yet. Coming soon!

The Jungle Bunch

Original title: Les as de la jungle (literally "The Aces of the Jungle"; here's the trailer). When my nephew was little, I took him to see the Thomas and the Magic Railroad movie, because he loved the whole Thomas The Tank Engine thing. I knew it was a franchise with loads of characters, and the movie relied on familiarity. I know I watched it, but to this day, I have no memory of it.

Similarly, The Jungle Bunch is based on a lot of television episodes, plus an earlier movie or two. You don't need to have followed any of them to watch the 2017 movie, but it probably helps to connect with it more. Personally I didn't find the characters particularly deep, and they're not meant to be. I liked some of their designs more than others. It's a computer-animated film, and the animation and backgrounds came out well. Visually it looks very good!

Igor, the evil, scheming koala, with a face you can trust.The main character is Maurice, a heroic penguin who paints himself up as a tiger. Together with his animal friends (a gorilla, a fish, and some others), they protect the jungle from danger. The film's antagonist is an egomaniacal koala who wants revenge for not being allowed to join the previous generation of defenders (one of which is Maurice's adoptive mother, living in self-imposed exile). Even with their help, the heroes are up against the Koala's minions, his cunning and his exploding mushrooms; he's a challenging threat.

Still, like Thomas, personally I just wasn't engaged by The Jungle Bunch. I watched it months ago, and although I remembered the basic premise, I had forgotten most of the details and had to seriously refresh my memory before I started writing this review. In fact, when I first watched the film, my laptop battery ran out two-thirds of the way into it, and I felt no urge to watch the rest. (Though I did, three weeks later.) I think part of the problem was that the previous team of defenders was a lot cooler to watch than Maurice's rag-tag team, except they're not the main characters, which made me care less about Maurice's team.

And even with the good visuals, I don't think the writing is much of a draw. The gags are pretty standard, with butt and body odor jokes. The bit I enjoyed the most was the koala using his crab henchman as an alarm clock. For adults, there are a couple of references to other movies. And for a kids' movie, it's surprisingly high-action. Otherwise it's pretty forgettable.

The main characters of The Jungle Bunch.

Sahara

The movie poster for Sahara.This computer-animated film is so-so, but I've talked to several people who have a soft spot for it. You don't often get to see a snake as a protagonist! Oddly, I can't find an official English trailer, but there is a French one. Rest assured, this film is available in English.

Ajar is a blue cobra who lives in the desert next to an oasis, getting bullied by other snakes for not having shed his skin yet. He'd like to live in the oasis, but it's under the control of a family of green snakes.

Over in the oasis, a green snake named Eva wants to leave. She and Ajar accidentally get swept away in a river and, just as they're becoming friends, Eva gets captured by a snake charmer. Ajar spends the rest of the film trying to follow and rescue her. Eva, meanwhile, is being forced to dance with a group of other snakes, and is being pressured into a relationship. Ajar's desert journey is accompanied by two sidekicks: a neurotic scorpion (his best friend), and Eva's pollen-addicted brother.

A rival snake strikes a pose. Let the dance-off begin!Snakes with pollen addiction? One thing I'll grant this movie - the writing may not be anything special, but they put several unexpected things into their story universe. Like odd creatures in the desert. Or how the green snakes are in command of a group of secretary birds. Or how each mature snake has its own unique, artistic pattern of scales.

Otherwise the film kind of goes all over the place, like it has trouble finding its focus. Yet somehow, the story still propels itself forward... I don't quite know how to describe it. I'm not even sure what age range they were trying to target. Visually, it looks like it had a limited budget. Except for the oasis, most of the backgrounds are pretty simple, and the snakes' designs are a bit geometric. Still, Ajar has a kind face and a boopable snoot. All of the snakes have human-style eyes, except for two female snakes who have slitted reptilian eyes, probably to make them less sympathetic.

The bits of the film that appealed to me the most were two dances performed for the snake charmer. One of them shifts into a 2D-animated sequence, which I heard was outsourced. All the animators put a lot of effort into how the snakes move and express body language; they did a really good job.

Ajar the cobra, looking wistfully up at the stars.And a lot of the time, as a viewer, you don't even consider how they're moving. Like... in Monsters Inc., there's a scene where Mike Wazowski is putting on odorant and gives his underarm a sniff - except think about it - he doesn't have a nose. All he has is a huge, single eyeball and eyebrow, and somehow, the animators make it work. But you don't think about it. Sahara has a lot of small, subtle touches like that. Which is what makes the dance sequences stand out; they really went overboard with animating the body motions, in a good way.

I'd definitely recommend Sahara more than The Jungle Bunch, though neither are must-see. It's hard to predict if people will like it - opinions seem to vary a lot. If you want to see animated snakes for a change and don't mind a wobbly story, then I'd say yes, check it out. It should be available on Netflix. And there may be a sequel!

Ajar and his companions forcing a secretary bird to help them escape the oasis.

Ajar and Eva, perched on a fallen tree, share a conversation by the river.

The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales

The movie poster for The Big Bad Fox. Three baby chickens cling happily to an irritated fox.Of the three films I'm reviewing here, this one is my favorite! Alas, it's not available in English yet, but you can watch the English trailer at the end of this article. For now, it's a matter of waiting until GKids, the North American distributor, makes it available. The original French title is Le grand méchant renard et autres contes.

It's by the same people who did Ernest and Celestine, and shares its watercolor style and 2D animation. The film is actually three short films, about 27 minutes each, all of which take place (at least briefly) at a country farm. There are recurring characters, but otherwise the stories are separate from each other. You could play them as individual half-hour TV specials, and yet there's a pleasant feeling of unity when they're viewed together.

All three of the stories have straightforward, cartoony humor. Some jokes are a little predictable, and I was happy to discover that there's no lowbrow stuff. You can tell the animators had a lot of fun drawing it! The comedic timing is just right, and they're not afraid to take a silly premise and go all the way with it.

Three premises! In the first story, a lazy stork convinces three animals to deliver a baby for him. If you're thinking, "Ugh, I hate babies," don't worry, the baby's role is quite passive and well-behaved. The humor comes from the frustrations of the farm's pig, a responsible fellow who's being "helped" by two well-meaning but largely incompetent companions, a duck and a rabbit.

The duck and the rabbit have never driven a truck before, but that won't stop them from trying!The second story - from which most of the trailer's clips are taken - involves a fox who can't intimidate anyone when he goes hunting. A wolf advises him to steal chicken eggs, except when they hatch, instead of being scared, the chicks imprint on him.

The final part is a Christmas tale, and brings back the trio from the first story. This time, the duck and the rabbit mistakenly believe they've killed Santa Claus, and the pig decides to help them out in delivering presents. Naturally, things go wrong pretty quickly.

Basically, if life's got you down and you need a quick cheer-up - this is a perfect film for that. It's got light, silly fun, talking animals, and it's charming! I can't wait to get a legit copy so I can show it to my local furs.

The fox discovers the joys of parenting, as the baby chickens use his tail to play jump rope.

The farm's pig enjoying his garden on a beautiful day, shortly before trouble begins.

Comments

Your rating: None Average: 5 (13 votes)

Cool article - the second two films here look like they might be worth a watch, and I would never have heard of them otherwise.

Your rating: None Average: 5 (11 votes)

I actually have heard of The Bid Bad Fox before but I don't remember exactly where. I think it might have been on Dogpatch Press.

Your rating: None Average: 5 (12 votes)

Cool article - the second two films here look like they might be worth a watch, and I would never have heard of them otherwise.

Your rating: None Average: 5 (11 votes)

Is there an echo in here?

Your rating: None Average: 5 (13 votes)

I think I may check out the snake film. Thank you for letting us know it exists.

Your rating: None Average: 5 (13 votes)

Sahara is on Netflix, with a good English dub. Yes, the story is all over the place, but the animation of the snakes, particularly the dance sequences are amazing! There are a lot of animated shows and films available on Netflix that have not seen distribution in the US otherwise.

We were also waiting for the Big,Bad Fox to come out in English, but Changa, my video-guru partner (Furry.today is his web site)decided to sub-title it himself. We showed it at one of our house parties and it was a big hit!

American Pine Marten

Your rating: None Average: 5 (12 votes)

I don't have a Netflix subscription, so I'm glad to get confirmation! (Plus, Canada doesn't get the same selection, due to different legal arrangements.) Yeah, Netflix has really levelled the playing field for a lot of studios outside of North America. I have a presention on foreign animated films that I've done at a couple of cons, and I talk a bit how the streaming services make it much more affordable for distribution - less advertizing costs, no DVDs to ship to Target or Walmart. All you need to do is dub it, and you're good to go. Although it also levels the playing field for all the crappy kid's babysitting CGI films too, so you have to look up the titles beforehand to make sure it's half-decent to watch.

Oh, please thank Changa for running Furry.today! I'm sorry I don't stumble across new videos to add to it.

He fansubbed The Big Bad Fox?? Can I get a copy of the SRT file or whatever format he used? I was only able to find a French closed-captioning file, so at one of my meets, I showed my friends just the middle portion of the film while live-translating the dialogue out loud.

Your rating: None Average: 5 (7 votes)

The art style is so good on BBF. I wonder how easy it is to fansub? I figured out how to transcribe interviews really easily using temi.com - it needs a lot of attention after the machine work is done (depending on quality of the audio) but the algorithmic translation to text is extremely helpful even for rough audio. If you can do that with any MP3 source, I imagine there's some custom video production program or an Adobe plugin or whatever that makes it easy. Oh, ok this answers that.

Your rating: None Average: 5 (12 votes)

I've used Subtitle Workshop in the past, in combination with an audio app that allows me to zoom into the waveform and see when lines of dialogue start and stop, but I'm not very efficient at it, it takes me forever so I don't do it often. In the case of BBF, the French dialogue is spoken a bit quickly, so you'd probably have to simplify the lines a little, while keeping the spirit of the original. Even in the English-dubbed trailer, there are dialog differences because of the timing issues.

Your rating: None Average: 5 (8 votes)

When it comes to French films, I can't help but think that given the famed level of government support (even for foreign companies), commercial pressures might not be as great as elsewhere, leading to a visual tour de force, but perhaps less of a focus on a defined audience. After all, C8 or CANAL+ will probably end up showing it (they have Sahara on Video-on-Demand under "animations for young and old", as well as the family-centric categories). But perhaps I am misreading the situation?

All the reviewers seem to agree: if you like snake-dancing, Sahara is the movie for you.

Your rating: None Average: 5 (8 votes)

In Europe, co-production is very common. So if studios from, say, France, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, and Luxemburg get involved, they can each request a bit of government funding, and by collaborating they also get the right to distribute the finished product in their country - even more likely if a television network also supports the project in advance. Tomm Moore (The Secret of Kells) has been getting a new business together, Lighthouse Studios, to set up more co-production between Ireland and Canada.

Your rating: None Average: 5 (4 votes)

I didn't talk to you, but I too have a soft spot for Sahara. I'd rate it an 8/10 (or a strong 7.9).

Well, I'll be...

Your rating: None Average: 5 (1 vote)

The Big Bad Fox is now available in the UK on DVD, Blu-ray and Amazon Prime Video.

Your rating: None

I saw SAHARA on Netflix or something like that a couple years ago. Wasn't expecting much, but was curious to see how they could produce a movie with a snake as the main character. I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn't a classic by any means, but it was fun, and the main characters were likable. The snake dance was definitely the highlight, but something else which really got my attention was the snake character who was addicted to pollen; by his words and actions, he was clearly a representation of a teenage drug addict. Leave it to a French animation studio to present a character like THAT. I don't recall seeing any teenage drug addict characters in any American animated film. Whether that's good or bad, I'll let others decide, but it was certainly an interesting cultural note. French animators don't shy away from putting drug-addict characters in their movies. And this character was not a villain, by the way; he was a largely sympathetic character.

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