Night of the Animated Dead (2021)

OCTOBER 4, 2021


Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the DVD I reviewed in this Blog Post. The opinions I share are my own.

Several million years ago, I spent a week of HMAD reviews on Night of the Living Dead and its many incarnations (the 30th anniversary, the Savini remake, etc.), and while it wasn't the "best" the most interesting was NOTLD Re-Animated, which took the audio from the film but replaced all the imagery with a variety of animated scenes: traditional animation, stop motion, 8-bit video game style, etc. It wasn't the greatest thing in the world by any means, but it was interesting to see how the film could be reinterpreted; even with the same dialogue and music we've heard a million times, scenes would have a different tone just from the aesthetic. It's a strong contrast to Night of the Animated Dead, which is basically a shot for shot remake (the script is about 95% identical, more on that soon) but with one animation style throughout, so after five minutes (if that) you'll know whether or not you're going to like it.

...I did not like it.

The credits list a lot of animators, so I'll refrain from critiquing that aspect of it - I didn't particularly care for the style, but others may find it great, and that is the hallmark of animation. There are people who absolutely love pixel-art type animation; I find it to be an eyesore. There's no right or wrong, so beyond saying it wasn't for me, there's no real point in going on and on about that aspect of it. You can watch the trailer and decide for yourself if it's something you'd enjoy. That said, there are some inventive gore gags that are the invention of this film (obviously not something that could have been done in the 1968 original); I particularly liked what actually kills Tom when the truck explodes.

I WILL, however, take the creative team to task, because there are two unforgivable things about it that would leave me cold on the film whether it was stick figures or the greatest 3D animation ever produced by mankind. The first is that this is literally just the same script from the original live action film; they snip some dialogue here and there or speed up some of the action (much less boarding up of windows, for example), but apart from the film's final minute every line of dialogue, every action, every character motivation, etc are all taken word for word from John Russo and George Romero's script. On the making of (the disc's lone extra), the director says "Once we had the script locked down..." (prefacing how they approached the animation) and I had to wonder what exactly he had to "lock down" beyond taking a sharpie and crossing out a few things here and there, generously assuming they made those snips that early in the process and not when editing the animated picture together.

And yes, this means it's not even modernized, which seems to be the only reason to remake a movie like this in the first place (besides money, of course). As hard as it may be to swallow, we're actually further away from the "modern" version Savini made than he was when updating Romero (it's been 31 years since that one; Savini's was only 22 years after the original), so there's obviously lots of new things they bring to the table even if it was in live action, even more when given the freedom of animation (as they intermittently prove with the gore gags, which obviously don't have the same kind of impact in cel-based animation as they would on actual actors). When Barb and Johnny pull up to the cemetery and the radio broadcast once again crackles back to life, I was kind of aghast - what purpose does it have to stay in 1968, when new technology could open up possibilities of how they get their information (or misinformation; think of how an actual zombie outbreak would be handled on twitter!).

That leads me to the other red flag: Romero, Russo, etc are not credited anywhere on the film, not even with a token special thanks. The credits skip over a screenplay credit of any sort, just the director and a bunch of producers, so we can assume that not only is the Romero estate not being paid for the very ideas they are recreating (seriously, the characters even all wear the same clothes), but they don't even acknowledge the creators with the bare minimum. It's an incredibly gross realization, and honestly if the credits were at the top of the film I wouldn't have even bothered to watch the rest of it. It's only after an hour of their weird recreation that the viewer can discover (through very slow credits that bring the film up to a still laughable 70 minutes) no one involved bothered to credit the people who created the story in the first place. It's one thing when you're making a sequel and forget to credit the people who made the original when you might be bringing back one or two of their characters, it's another thing entirely to take their dialogue and actions verbatim and not even give them a "thank you" (the making of even has clips of the original, but still no one utters Romero's name).

So who, exactly, is this for? I mean, any horror fan knows that NOTLD's public domain status means anyone can make a buck off of it, but the other remakes - even the 3D one with Sid Haig - all put their own spin on the narrative, something that does not occur here. There are exactly two creative moves of note here: one is actually showing Ben's flashback to the diner and truck explosion instead of just hearing him tell the story, and the other is at the very end we listen to the posse make idle chit chat about the houses in the area ("That house has three chimneys!") instead of the still photographs that ended the original film. But those are hardly substantial enough to believe anyone would go to the trouble of remaking the entire film to "fix" two minor issues some people may have when watching it, and since the animation style isn't exactly revolutionary or unique, I have to assume that despite the lengthy animator credits, this was very cheap to make and was easy to profit from once they had distribution, and that was the extent of their creative ambition. Cool.

At least they put some effort into hiring a recognizable voice cast. The generally likable/leading man type Josh Duhamel is a left-field choice for the awful Mr Cooper, but he puts in a good performance, as does Dulé Hill as Ben. The women are all wasted though; Katie Isabelle would have been great for Barbara if they were going for the asskicker version seen in Savini's version (which impressively started off identical but then switched gears for a very different third act), but as anyone knows she doesn't exactly say much once she's at the house (here I will mock the animation to say they seemingly loved her turning boderline comatose, allowing them to "animate" entire shots where she doesn't move at all), and Nancy Travis as Mrs. Cooper sees some of the character's already limited amount of dialogue excised, making me wonder why they bothered hiring a name for her at all.

But, shocking as it may seem, a few good vocal performances and some amusing gore gags are not enough to recommend a movie that tells the exact same story we've seen before before slapping you in the face by not even crediting the people who actually wrote it. If you absolutely love the animation style (sadly nothing like the one on the cover, which seems like false advertising when it comes to animation; it'd be like if Disney showcased 3D models of their characters on the Blu-ray reissues of their cel-based classics) then I guess it can provide 60 minutes of background viewing amusement, but even then I'm sure any reasonable viewer would constantly wonder why it is they were half-watching the story like this when even a colorized version of the original on 1.5x speed would be a better and more respectful use of their time.

What say you?

P.S. Since WB does not release unrated movies, there's an MPAA R rating at the top, rare for a DTV release. Since the language says "Under 17 requires accompanying parent or guardian" I had a mental image of a 15 year old trying to watch this by themselves only to be stopped by a door to door carder. *KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK* "Open up! Movie police - where are your parents?!?" It was more amusing than the film, that's for sure.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, that is some really shoddy animation. Whole thing seems like a waste of time and money.


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