Wish Dragon (trailer) is a computer-animated film from the Sony Pictures Animation International Initiative, a fancy way of saying "international co-production", in this case between Sony and several studios in China. Concept art made the rounds in 2018, and they hoped to finish it in 2019. For whatever reason, it didn't get released until January 15, 2021 - in China - so this review is of the Chinese dub with English subtitles.
A little backstory. When Kung Fu Panda came out in 2008, it had so much artistic attention to cultural detail that China kicked their animation industry into high gear. In the twelve years since then, they've become a powerhouse of animation. Recently, there's been a slow-growing effort to make their films more exportable. Some efforts have fallen flat, like the sadly-overlooked Rock Dog; but with Mosley and Wish Dragon I'm optimistic that there'll be more co-productions to come!
100% Wolf (clip) is a computer-animated comedy film from Australia, released in mid-2020. Based on a 2009 book by Jayne Lyons, the adaptation was directed by Alexs Stadermann, produced by Flying Bark Productions, and it earned $4.6 million. IMDB gives it a score of 5.7 out of 10, and Rotten Tomatoes is similar. It's definitely for kids. Watching it as an adult furry fan, I have mixed feelings about it.
It takes about a quarter of the film's 96-minute running time to set up the story, so minor spoiler warning. There's a pack of werewolves living in modern-day society. Despite keeping it secret to avoid human persecution, on nights of the full moon they parkour around the city like superheroes to help rescue people. The youngest member of the pack's core family, Freddy Lupin, can't wait until he's old enough to become a werewolf too, and has a good relationship with his father, Flasheart, the pack leader.
Until things go wrong. Freddy loses both his father and the pack's sacred moonstone ring. Everyone is devastated. Fast-forward six years. I guess Freddy is being home-schooled? No sign of any friends, and his mother passed away when he was younger. Anyway, the pack still lacks a leader, or "High Howler", although Flasheart's brother, Hotspur, clearly thinks he deserves the position. For now, it's time for Freddy's coming-of-age ceremony, except instead of becoming a wolf, he turns into a poodle. Believing they've offended the Moon spirits, the family tasks Freddy with recovering the ring.
The Donkey King (trailer) is a computer-animated comedy film, and the fifth animated feature from Pakistan. Originally released in 2018 in the Urdu language, an English dub was released in 2020. It was written and directed by Aziz Jindani, and produced by Talisman Studios.
It broke box office records in Pakistan, though I'm mystified as to how, because to me it's not a good film. Maybe its target audience had different expectations, or there were cultural reasons, which, if any, have been lost in the English dub. Don't watch this movie.
The premise starts with King Khan, a lion who rules over a city of anthropomorphic animals. He wants to retire, but his son, Prince Shazad, wouldn't be a good replacement. Miss Fitna, his treacherous fox advisor, proposes that a new king should be chosen democratically in an election …which is not how monarchies work. Her plan involves deposing the king so she can manipulate someone in his place, specifically the film's protagonist, a donkey named Mangu.
Mosley (trailer) is a 2019 computer-animated children's film that showed up on furry fandom's radar about six years ago as Beast of Burden. Written and directed by American animator Kirby Atkins, it was a labor of love that had been in various stages of development for over 15 years. The movie was finally brought to life thanks to a collaboration between animation studios in New Zealand and China. I enjoyed it!
The story takes place in an alternative, pre-industrialized Earth, that includes "thoriphants", an intelligent, quadrupedal, elephant-like species forced into servitude by mankind to do labor like horses and donkeys. Fully sentient and able to talk, Mosley, along with his pregnant mate Bera and his young son Rue, are the property of a disgruntled farmer. When Rue discovers a cave with drawings of bipedal, anthropomorphic thoriphants, Mosley must confront the possibility that the legendary tales of the "Uprights" might be true. Soon he'll be on a quest to find out.
Dragon Rider (trailer) is a 2020 computer-animated children's film, a German production (Drachenreiter) whose UK English dub was recently released online. Adapted from a best-selling children's book by Cornelia Funke, it's the story of a young dragon in the modern-day world, searching for a refuge where dragons can stay safe from mankind. Short version: You can skip this one.
The film was directed by Tomer Eshed (Flamingo Pride) who doesn't seem to have worked on anything this big before. The production company, Constantin Film, appears to have outsourced the animation to several studios, so it's not clear if there was a unified vision. The screenplay was adapted by... John R. Smith? Who, according to IMDB and its scoring system, is the genius behind Gnomeo & Juliet (5.9 out of 10), Sherlock Gnomes (5.2), and The Queen's Corgi (4.8).
Animal Crackers (trailer) is a 94-minute computer-animated children's movie. The brainchild of Scott Sava, it caught the early attention of furry fandom at least as far back as 2015. Concept animation showed a guy haphazardly munching on animal-shaped cookies that turned him into the animals. As time went on, Sava brought in financial backers, a co-director (Tony Bancroft, who'd worked on several Disney movies), and a co-writer (Dean Lorey). The finished product premiered at the Annecy Film Festival in 2017... and then vanished.
It turns out that Sava had made the mistake of not securing a distributor ahead of time. With very little bargaining power, it eventually got shown in China in 2018, and some other countries in 2019.
I had some friends over recently, both furry and dragon fans, to show them a retro and entertainingly stupid 1991 anime mini-movie called Capricorn. We poked holes and made fun of it. The following day, in a spirit of— amicable masochism I guess, my friend Dav treated me to the recent movie trailer for A Dragon Adventure:
Confused and somewhat alarmed by the quality levels, I started to look into where it came from.
I am well-aware that computer-animated films with talking animals are churned out all over the world, and most of them are of pretty terrible quality. The theory is that kids will watch anything. So if you believe that, then who cares about quality? Just work on a small budget and make money. What I hadn't done was to take a look down this particular rabbit hole. Now, having done so, I regret it.
And now a rather different take on Dreamworks’ How To Train Your Dragon universe, this time in a new Netflix TV series for young viewers. Animation World Network gave us the scoop: “DreamWorks Animation has just unveiled the high-flying trailer and cast of its new animated preschool series, Dragons Rescue Riders. This all-new chapter in the Oscar-nominated How to Train Your Dragon franchise follows the adventures of twins, Dak and Leyla, raised by dragons, who share a unique ability to communicate with them. The brother and sister lead a team of five young dragons, Aggro, Winger, Summer, Cutter, and Burple, with whom they spend their days rescuing other dragons and helping people in their adopted town of Huttsgalor. All 14 episodes of the new series debut September 27 exclusively on Netflix.” Check out the preview trailer as well.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019) is the latest film in the HTTYD series, the first of which came out in 2010 and was followed by a second film in 2014. Now, after a four-and-a-half-year gap, we have a third one, presumably (?) the last, but even if DreamWorks decides to keep the film franchise going, The Hidden World feels like the completion of a trilogy, all of which have involved Dean DeBlois as screenwriter and director.
I'm going to try and avoid major spoilers, so I'll summarize the plot points introduced in the early part of the film. I won't be linking to trailers, because they give away some of the locations and scene gags that are better kept a surprise. I watched a 2D screening, and I haven't kept up with any of the franchise spinoffs or shorts. I'm not a fan of most of the dragon designs or of several secondary characters, but regardless, I've happily enjoyed Hiccup and Toothless' adventures together.
We haven’t heard of Flying Bark Productions before, but according to Animation World Network it sounds like we should start paying attention to them! The studio is hard at work on a CGI feature film called 100% Wolf, which they plan to follow with a TV series of the same name immediately after. The plot? “Lovers of surreal, laugh-out-loud animation should enjoy this comedy series about Freddy Lupin, an 11-year-old boy set to turn into a werewolf, just like everyone else in his family. But things don’t go as planned when Freddy turns into an adorable poodle instead.” Got that? Interesting thing is the feature and series are based on a popular Australian children’s novel by Jayne Lyons. No word yet on distribution, but the film and series are scheduled to be complete in 2019.
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.
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.)
Since Dronon recently posted the trailer for “Bigfoot Junior” on Newsbytes, it seems like a good time to take a deeper look into nWave Pictures. Their main animation studio is located in Brussels, Belgium, while their regional office in Burbank, California has been working diligently to get its pictures distributed theatrically in English in North America for the past decade. They do get theatrical releases in much of the rest of the world-- but usually have to settle for them going direct-to-DVD as "kid’s cartoons" in the United States. Despite being “family” movies, they’re good ones, and they do feature talking animals. Let's take a look at their history in the animated featured film business to date.
nWave was founded by director Ben Stassen in 1994. Its first animation projects were for amusement park attractions and video games. Their first theatrical feature, “Fly Me to the Moon”, which was about housefly astronauts, was released in January 2008.
If you were around in 1961, you may have seen an obscure animated feature titled Alakazam the Great, about three friendly monsters – Son Goku (monkey), Sir Quigley Brokenbottom (Pigsy), and Sandy – escorting Prince Amat from China to India.
This was part of the first wave of Japanese animated films, known as anime, to enter the United States. The other two features in that wave were Panda and the Magic Serpent and Magic Boy. They were box-office failures at the time, and because of this the anime film genre is still fighting to enter the American theatrical market.
Alakazam the Great was also America’s first cinematic introduction to the ancient Chinese story Journey to the West or Monkey King, as it is better know in America. This legend is over a thousand years old in the oral form. It was written into a novel, probably by the scholar Wu Cheng’en in the 16th century. The first Oriental animated feature, the Chinese Princess Iron Fan (1940), is an adaptation of part of Journey to the West. Alakazam the Great, more specifically, is a movie adaptation of Osamu Tezuka’s 1952-59 My Son Goku manga version of Journey to the West.