Saturday, August 31, 2013

Not Quite...

I happened to catch this little animated film that came out at the end of the spring. It came and went, and it seemed like it would either be great or mediocre from the trailers. Yes... Epic...

First things first, the animation, the art direction and the visuals in the film are very pretty. At times it's even stunning, with some very lovely shots (that sadly don't really last too long, given the pacing of this film) and great character design. This is a William Joyce-based story after all, and the animators came up with neat designs for the Leaf Men and all the various creatures. The scale? Yes, it's pretty big, even if the story doesn't match it. It's just pretty to look at, and the way the little creatures see the humans is pulled off well, one of the film's more unique elements.

But the story is pretty rote, with the typical good-vs.-evil plot with a romance between the teen leads shoehorned in. I didn't really connect with the characters that much, even though the writers try hard enough to get some emotional content in there, mostly with M.K.'s relationship with her father or Nod not living up to Ronin's expectations. I felt that the characters were just forgettable and they just lacked depth. I felt that a lot of the elements in this film were basically pulled from other films - especially animated films - and thrown into a blender. I'm okay with ideas reheated from other films, but only when it's done with finesse. For instance, there were many elements in Wreck-It Ralph that were reminiscent of other animated films, even a lot of the classic Disney films... But the characters are well-defined, the writing immerses you into the various video game worlds and it tries other things alongside the tried-and-true things.

It was just bland and kind of hollow. Oddly enough, the comic relief characters didn't annoy me as much as I thought they would. In fact, they can be funny from time to time though Aziz Ansari's slug's voice does tend to get annoying, and it does clash with the fantasy setting. It didn't bother me though, since everything else around them isn't colorful or compelling. But in all, they are in the wrong film and the overall picture has tonal issues. They don't really explore M.K.'s relationship with her father, even though there is stuff in there that's ripe for some good drama, and it ultimately feels out of place in this film.

I'm also surprised that Christoph Waltz delivered the flamboyant evil villain performance in such a by-the-books way. Seriously, he was just another power hungry villain that's all bark and no bite. I liked his design enough, and all the Boggans looked pretty menacing... But again, despite the great design work, the characters themselves didn't seem to have real personalities beyond their looks. It's a shame, because it's a Chris Wedge film and the design is where the effort really went. This could've been a world that you could immerse yourself into, but it's too bad that the story didn't really support it nor did it flesh out much.

Now that's not to say it's bad, it's just on the mediocre side. It's good for a rental, but a film of this scale and the source material they used should've made for something more than a quick watch. It's interesting to note that Fox initially allowed Wedge to shop the adaptation to someone else, and Wedge went to none other than Pixar to make it. Now imagine if Pixar made it: You'd have the lovely look and the character designs, but a compelling story and some good humor, tearjerker moments and everything you'd come to expect from a Pixar film. It also would've been their first adaptation, something they could look into one day.

As a whole, epic this is not. Leaf Men should've been the title for obvious reasons, but the film just smacks of the typical style-over-substance problems. With a sharper script and more-defined characters, this could've been a magical yet compelling animated fantasy for the whole family. Alas, it's just a quick watch...

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