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!
Ivan Tsarevich and the Gray Wolf (Иван Царевич и Серый волк / Ivan Tsarevich i Seriy volk / trailer) is a Russian 2D animated children's film that came out in 2011. It's the 7th film produced by Melnitsa Animation Studio, and although it took 12th place that year in Russia's box office, 9 of the top 11 films were all foreign imports, so for a domestic film it did really well! It made back 8 times what it cost to produce, enough to get sequels in 2013 and 2016. I've not watched the studio's other films, but they've definitely got an in-house animation style down to something that works well for them.
A lot of foreign animation companies don't bother exporting their films into the North American market because it's expensive, although Netflix and other streaming services are rapidly changing that. Sometimes it's a case of whether foreign audiences will be able to relate to the content. Ivan Tsarevich and the Gray Wolf feels very Russian, culturally. I get the impression it's poking fun at a lot of fairy tales, and I have no idea what they are. Still, it was an ok watch.
"Well, we folks of the animal kingdom have our own version."
-Roger Miller, folk singer
Organized Christian theology has never really answered the question whether or not animals can be saved, but popular Christianity, as practiced by people rather than priests, has always seemed to think that salvation is available as much to animals as to humanity. A frequent way to tell the story of the Nativity is via the use of anthropomorphic animals. As a young child, I was at one time or another a lion and a firefly in various church Christmas pageants. Lions have traditionally been used in Christian art to symbolize Christ as King, though fireflies have never been very associated with Christmas in specific or Christianity in particular. I remember singing "This Little Light of Mine", anyway.
Which brings us to the original little light of Christianity and titular object of The Star. This is yet another retelling of the Nativity through the eyes of the animal kingdom, this time updated to slick CGI animated comedy. It's the same old story, but approximately 2.2 billion Christians around the world would attest it's a pretty decent story. So, it's got that going for it.
Sheep & Wolves (trailer) is an 85-minute Russian CG-animated movie that came out in 2016, also known as Волки и овцы (Volki i ovtsy). The writing and production took five years by Wizart Animation, whose earlier film had been The Snow Queen (2012).
Sheep & Wolves didn't quite break even at the box office, and received mixed reviews. After I watched it, I have to agree it's a middle-of-the-road film. It's not bad, it's not great - it's thoroughly so-so. On the positive side, the animation is good and very furry! But the writing... it's for kids aged six and above. There's not much in it to appeal to adults; it's what I call a "babysitting film". Plunk your tykes down in front of it and keep them distracted for a while. Still, I'd rank it a notch or two above Alpha & Omega.
"I guess I just sort of ... grew up."
— Ask Jappleack
It's been seven years to the day since My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic was first aired, and the geek world changed that day.
So let's talk about the 2017 movie. As far as the story goes, it's pretty bog-standard at this point for MLP:FiM. Bad guy appears (the Storm King, voiced by Liev Schreiber), three of the four magical alicorn princesses prove themselves worthless by getting instantly captured, so it's up to the fourth princess and series protagonist, Twilight Sparkle (voiced by Tara Strong), with her six friends - Applejack (voiced by Ashleigh Ball), Fluttershy (voiced by Andrea Libman), Pinkie Pie (also voiced by Libman), Rainbow Dash (also voiced by Ball), Rarity (voiced by Tabitha St. Germain) and Spike (voiced by Cathy Weseluck) - to save the land of Equestria with the magic of friendship. Which they used to be able to straight-up shoot people with, but they lost that ability back in season four.
A pair of trailers came out within hours of each other last week for future furry features; Wes Anderson's Isle of Dogs, a stop-motion animated movie featuring talking dogs, and Peter Rabbit, a live action movie featuring CGI animals who wear clothes in addition to talking.
I kept plugging it quietly in the background all throughout 2015 and early 2016 (and you guys thought I only covered Zootopia that year). I mean, what if 2016 had been a year where we had six wide release, fully anthropomorphic world movies ranging in genre from buddy cop, to martial arts, to backstage musical, to crime caper, to space opera, and also Rock Dog?
As it ended up, we got, by my count, one great movie, one good movie, one movie that was kind of meh, one movie that turned out to not exist, one terrible movie and also Rock Dog.
Happy Family (IMDB page) is a 2017 animated movie from Germany, about a family that gets turned into monsters by a witch. It looks like a mashup of The Addams Family, The Munsters, and Hotel Transylvania.
Warner Bros. funded the production, and are distributing it in Europe and Latin America, presumably to be followed by direct-to-DVD sales in the U.S. in 2018. It's based on a book by David Safier.
Is it furry? Well, the family includes a kid who's a wolf-boy, there are talking bats, and VAMPIRES! (Boo.)
“Kemono Friends” (けものフレンズ) began in Japan in 2015 as a mobile game. A manga was serialized in “Monthly Shōnen Ace” (one of Japan’s “telephone book”-sized comics magazines) from May 2015 to March 2017, and a 12-episode anime TV series was broadcast from January 10 to March 28, 2017 on Wednesdays. Sequels are currently in production.
The plot is that Japari Park is a huge island zoo of real, extinct, and mythological animals. A mysterious substance, Sandstar, turns all the young female animals into “Friends”, Japanese cute girls about 10 to 12 years old with furry ears and tails. Kaban is a girl who wakes up in Japari Park with no memory of who she is or how she got there. Her first friend is Serval, a girl with serval ears & tail, who names her Kaban (bag) because of her backpack. Other characters they meet include Raccoon, Fennec, Alpaca, Crested Ibis, Jaguar, Beaver, Prairie Dog, Moose, Gray Wolf, and others. Lucky Beast, a mysterious robot rabbit, seems to be in charge. Kaban is helped by Serval and Fennec through the Park to learn who she really is.
Everyone expects “Kemono Friends” (in English, “Animal Friends”) to come to American TV and DVD soon. But for now, if you like Japanese animal girls (ears and tails only) of more species than just cats, dogs, and bunnies, then you can watch “Kemono Friends” on Steam's gaming service, or Crunchy Roll.
"So much for peaceful protest."
- Surly, squirrel
Currently, this movie sits at a paltry 11% at Rotten Tomatoes, from 47 reviews (not a big number of reviews for a wide release movie). A grand total of five professional reviewers found enough decent in the movie to muster "fresh" ratings there. This 11% percent matches the original's score, though it had double the positive reviews with 10 of its 89 reviews finding something nice to say about it. So, obviously, not the most critically beloved movie franchise ever.
However, I didn't exactly follow the critics' consensus with the first movie, what with giving it a spot on my annual top ten list. Fred liked it too, in his review of the movie for Flayrah. And I won't be agreeing with the critics again for the sequel (you'll have to ask Fred if he's even seen this second one, though).
But, you know what, who cares? I mean, as I write this, the top story on Flayrah Lamar's article on the alt-right, while Equivamp's take is a little bit below it. Who cares if the cartoon squirrel movie is good or not; it's not like it has anything to say about the real world and the things that are happening in it right now.
GKIDS, an American distributor of foreign animated films, has gained release rights for The Big Bad Fox & Other Tales. The film is co-directed by Benjamin Renner and Patrick Imbert, based on a graphic novel created by Renner. The movie does not yet have an English language trailer, but a French trailer with English subtitles has been released.
The movie tells three different connected stories; the titular story features a fox who tries to raise chickens in order to eat them, while other stories include a rabbit trying to deliver a baby, stork-style, and various animals playing Santa Clause. GKIDS has traditionally created an English language version of the movies they distribute, though no announcements of possible English voice actors have been made (or even planned at this early stage).
Previously on Flayrah's My Little Pony movie trailer coverage, we noted a distinct lack of actual ponies in the pony movie advertised. But not this time. They're bringing pony back.
Meh, needs more Applejack.
The DVD and Blu-ray came out in late March of 2017. It's a straightforward comedy with light story arcs and anthropomorphic animals, in which a koala named Buster Moon organizes a singing competition to save his financially-failing theater. By mistake, the publicity leaflets say the prize money is $100,000 instead of $1,000. For the rest of the film, things gradually spiral out of control, as he selects and deals with the five acts who will eventually take the stage at the end.
I enjoyed it! Although it didn't perform as well as The Secret Life of Pets at the box office, I liked it more. Partially because of the wider range of species - plus it didn't plug the Minions franchise as much - but mostly because it felt fun, didn't get bogged down in itself, and I liked the music.
This movie had just the worst timing.
Is it fair to review a movie that came out half a year ago now, just because I was Making A Point about … something or other … when that half a year ago came and went? I don’t know, but if the review had come out then, it would have been a thumbs up. Now, this is a negative review, by the way.
Sing’s well out of the theaters and available to rent or own, and it’s nominated for an Ursa Major award. Maybe it’ll win it, for all we know. Everybody could have just gotten tired of the at this point assumed and basically all but destined winner; of course, 2016 was not a great year for presumed and basically all but destined winners. If you voted for Sing, however, I don’t blame you; it’s still okay. There is a difference between a pan and savaging, and, honestly, this barely rates pan. I used to like it, after all. Still kind of do. Just not as much anymore.
Part of the reason for this downturn in my affections is due to another movie; yes, there’s an elephant in the room we’re going to need to talk about, and I’m obviously not talking about the characters in the movie. Actually, there are a lot of elephants I’m planning on discussing, but set that aside right now because, when I rented Sing recently and rewatched it, I realized I liked Rock Dog better. So, there’s that.