The biggest misfire with Night of the Animated Dead can be easily traced to that one word added to the 1968 classic. It’s not that an animated version of the film is a bad idea so much as the execution.
That’s the major killer to this zombie film that proves far more damaging than a head shot. The animation is done in a stilted, clunky manner as if it was actually animated in 1968. It’s a stylish choice that maybe could have worked in the 90s as some niche take on the film.
After 11 seasons of The Walking Dead, six Resident Evil films and countless zombie filled movies (28 Days Later…, World War Z, Zombieland, Train to Busan, etc.), zombies aren’t exactly a cutting-edge idea.
Audiences are accustomed to certain tropes and character decisions and going retro with the design and animation immediately feels like a bad idea. It doesn’t help that with this style of animation the living move just as herky jerky and clumsily as the dead.
The film follows the setup of director George Romero and screenwriter John A. Russo’s film. This basically ensures that the animated endeavor at least has a very strong framework to operate under.
Ben (Dulé Hill) finds Barbara (Katharine Isabelle, Freddy vs. Jason) at an abandoned house. With Barbara in a prolonged state of shock after her brother’s horrifying death after encountering the undead, it falls on Ben to stave off any zombie invaders and fortify the house.
Night of the Living Dead was groundbreaking as it was one of the earlier films to feature a black actor, Duane Jones, in a main role. Ben ironically subverts what would become a frustrating trend in later horror films where the black or POC characters typically get killed first.
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Ben quickly learns they’re not alone in the house as other survivors hid in the basement. Harry (Josh Duhamel, Jupiter’s Legacy) is the loudest voice arguing that Ben and Barbara should stay in the basement with his wife, Helen (Nancy Travis) and younger couple, Tom (James Roday Rodríguez) and Judy (Kate Sackhoff, Batman: The Long Halloween Part 2).
Casting Hill and Rodríguez was pretty savvy as it allowed for a Psych reunion. The voice cast is excellent, which makes it all the more frustrating that the animation style lets them down.
Jason Axinn most recently directed To Your Last Death, a film that took advantage of the freedom of animation to craft some truly wicked death scenes. Axinn creates a few nasty deaths, but the animation makes events look like they’re occurring in slow motion.
In a live action film it’s easier to convey that dramatic slowdown effect, but in this effort where everything seems to be moving at half speed anyway it’s not nearly as convincing.
It’s interesting how relevant the film’s finale proves to be as Ben seemingly has more to worry about from the police than the zombies. Changing up the ending would be tampering with a classic, but it felt like tweaking just a few aspects could have made it even more impactful.
The foundation of the film is strong enough that the movie is watchable. Smoother animation would have definitely given Night of the Animated Dead a better shot at a successful interpretation of the classic film.
Rating: 5 out of 10
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