Written by: Matt Patti | June 13th, 2023
The Weird Kidz (Zach Passero, 2023) 2½ out of 4 stars.
France’s annual Annecy International Animation Film Festival is in full swing currently, taking place in the titular town of Annecy every June since 1998. The festival was created all the way back in 1960 but originally ran only every other year. It is a celebration of animation, fully dedicated to the art and is known as the world’s largest animation showcase. I had the privilege this past week to view an official selection of this world-renowned event in advance. The festival features many different types of animated films, and I watched a hand-drawn film: director/writer Zach Passero’s The Weird Kidz.
The Weird Kidz is a horror-comedy that involves a group camping trip gone wrong. Dug (Tess Passero) and his friends are nerdy, video-game loving middle-schoolers going through puberty. The film begins with them at an arcade awaiting Dug’s brother, Wyatt (Ellar Coltrane, Summer Night), an older high-schooler who loves making music and drinking booze. Wyatt arrives with Mary (Sydney Wharton), a high-school girl he has a crush on, and the group sets off on a camping trip to the middle of the desert. When they stop at a gas station along the way, Dug is told by the cashier about a mysterious creature called the “Night Child” that eats tourists in the desert. Dug originally brushes it off as a campfire story, and they continue to their campsite. However, as the night goes on, the group begins to wonder if the story is actually fact, not fiction.
The animation style of this film, being hand-drawn, is a bit off-putting (if applaudable) at first. In the age of uber-realistic animation, a simpler, cartoonish looking film may catch some folks off guard. However, once the movie goes on the viewer settles in, though it does take some getting used to. Something else that takes some time to fully get on board with is the voice acting. In the beginning, some of it is a bit subpar, however it seems to increase in quality later on. I’m unsure if I simply got used to it or it did actually get better, but nonetheless it does not seem to be an issue after the first act.
The hand-drawn animation style is likely the biggest selling point of this film for animation enthusiasts, but The Weird Kidz also offers an intriguing plot, even if it is a bit of a mix of things we’ve seen before. The best way I can describe the film is a mix of Scooby-Doo and Big Mouth. The middle-schoolers often talk about sex and make anatomy jokes, which might be a bit bothersome to some more mature viewers. But, hey, they’re middle schoolers! What do you expect? Dug’s friends are infatuated with Mary throughout the film, and it makes for some funny, awkward scenarios. Overall, all of the characters are likeable or relatable in some way, making for good banter between them. Director/writer Passero achieves sustained audience interest for the entirety of the film, even when “weird” stuff is not at the forefront.
Let’s talk about some of that stuff. I am a bit mixed about the creature design. Without getting into spoilers, the design of said creature resembles something else that we do have in the real world but on a larger scale. I feel like more creativity is possible here, although, again, for being hand-drawn, I find the final visual product to be passable. Moving past the look of the creature, I find many strengths in the characters’ responses to danger. Most characters actually make not only intelligent, but also creative, decisions in response to obstacles they face. There is also a great theme of the middle-school “losers” completing physical activities that they couldn’t do in school but find themselves being able to achieve when fighting for survival.
Overall, I find The Weird Kidz to be a fun animated feature that is a great feat in both visuals and character-building. The film isn’t overly unique or groundbreaking, as I’ve seen many similar such products before. However, the aspects it does borrow are quality ones, leading to a quality movie. A coming-of-age tale that sees immature, puberty-aged kids out in the middle of the desert, facing off against the greatest challenge of their lives, is a good mixture for success.