The zombie genre has been raging in our homes and theaters for more than 50 years, and even nowadays, 2021, at the time this review is being written, the genre doesn’t seem to be willing to go anywhere. The power of the zombie as a symbolic figure and also a tool for torture is as strong as ever, and that opens the door for endless iterations of the same basic concept. The Night of the Animated Dead comes to bring the genre back to its roots by remaking the classic George A. Romero film into a gory animated splatter fest.
The Night of the Animated Dead is directed by Jason Axinn and stars Josh Duhamel, Dulé Hill and Katee Sackhoff. The film is a direct remake of Night of the Living Dead from 1968. The film tells the story of a group of survivors trapped in a house as they are being surrounded by a host of zombies.
Animation has been booming in the last couple of years with shows like Castlevania, Blood of Zeus and many others. Production companies have noticed that being animated doesn’t mean that it has to be aimed at children. Which is something the Japanese discovered a long time ago, and it also doesn’t mean that the writing needs to be lazy or flawed. Avatar: The Last Airbender and the previously mentioned Castlevania, have proven that the writing can be as tight and ingenious as in any live action production. For these reasons, it becomes very sad to report that the classic zombie film has been remade into a poor and unnecessary piece of animation.
One of the first things that will strike you at the moment of watching the film is just how poor the animation is. It’s really something to behold that this movie, which even has the Warner Bros. stamp on it, looks more like an early animation project from a college rookie animator than something that could be considered of professional quality.
The characters, environments, and the animation, the movement itself, everything in this movie looks utterly lackluster. The character design is inconsistent from frame to frame, and the animation might be even skipping some frames here and there as it looks chopped during the entire runtime. Warner Bros. Animation has, over the years, come up with some impressive animated features. It would be in their best interest to be more careful regarding where they put their name on. This film has clearly been outsourced to a lesser animation team.
When some of the previously mentioned animated shows go out of their way to show audiences that the medium can create things that just would not be possible in live action; it calls attention to the production of Night of the Animated Dead, as a shameless cash grab.
Visuals are not the only thing that is lacking here. Director Jason Axinn chooses to tweak some events from the original film here and there, but the only thing that is affected by the original is the pacing. This animated film is way shorter than the original movie, and that could be a plus for newer audiences who are impatient, but it’s very hard to see that there’s a man with a vision behind this movie. From the framing, quality control, to the selection of the shots used in the film. It feels like Axinn had to work on a terrible time frame, with almost zero budget, or maybe he just didn’t care for the film. All of them are possibilities, but the point is that the film fails on almost every level.
The only places where the movie shines are those that make the original film a classic. When watching closely, some readings of Night of the Living Dead; at least in terms of social commentary, are still as relevant today as they were in 1968. By being a copy of that film, it means that Night of the Animated Dead also offers those elements to the viewer. It is truly incredible to see how revolutionary and influential the original Romero film is. If someone watches this without having seen the original, it will still manage to recognize the endless number of conventions that still apply to the genre more than 50 years later. The biting as a way of transmitting the disease, the mysterious origin of the infection, and the in-fighting between humans, it’s all there. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.
Another aspect that stands out, but which is exclusive to this remake, is the voice acting. The whole cast is quite good and none of them show any laziness when it comes to pulling off their roles. Hill and Duhamel are the highlights of the cast, and it shows when the characters go on their journeys. Hill as Ben, is especially good, and it has to be as the character is one of the most memorable protagonists in the genre. The ending will still remain in the minds of modern audiences, and it feels like this could have been the best moment to release a quality animated remake of this classic. It wasn’t meant to be, though. The cast certainly deserved to be on a better film.
On the whole, Night of the Animated Dead feels more like a cash grab than anything else. It’s a prime example of wasted opportunity not to invest in the right talent to bring this classic zombie story to the realm of animation. A realm that is gaining more and more adepts with each passing day. Poor directing and laughable animation make this a very hard thing to recommend, and the worst possible way to enjoy what is one of the most revolutionary and influential movies in film history.