Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 28, 2021)
1968’s Night of the Living Dead remains arguably the most influential zombie movie at all time. The tale gets a modern remake via 2021’s cartoon Night of the Animated Dead.
At their mother’s request, adult siblings Johnny (voiced by Jimmi Simpson) and Barbara (Katharine Isabelle) go out of their way to put a memorial on their father’s grave. A strange man attacks them in the cemetery, and it turns out he’s a zombie.
Johnny gets knocked unconscious in the melee and Barbara runs for it. She locks herself into the car but the zombie still comes after her.
Before long, Barbara escapes and runs to a house she sees. She makes it inside but the zombie still chases after her along with another one.
Ben (Dulé Hill) soon comes in for refuge as well and tries to get her to defend the place. Along with others who arrive, this sets up a battle for survival.
If you look back at my review of the 1968 Night, you’ll see that I recycled that movie’s plot summary here. I did so not just due to laziness – though that’s a factor – but more because the 2021 Night offers a literal remake.
How literal? The 2021 Night works from John A. Russo’s original 1968 screenplay and doesn’t attempt to adapt the material in that way.
This leads to the big question: why bother to make such a literal retelling of the 1968 flick? That one earned a well-deserved status as a classic, so if one wants to do it again, why not take some liberties?
Of course, the use of animation rather than live-action footage acts as a “liberty”, and the 2021 version does offer a visual depiction of some elements only discussed in the 1968 flick. For instance, we see Ben’s flashback rather than just hear it.
Nonetheless, the new Night really does feel more like a recreation than an adaptation. We get more overt gore – and it’s in color – but otherwise the two seem awfully similar.
This makes the 2021 Night seem utterly pointless. It usually feels like a mistake to remake a classic, but if one chooses to do so, one should find a new spin.
The 2021 Night fails to do that – again, unless color/gore equal “new spin”. I don’t view them that way, as they feel like windowdressing.
The update offers a stiff rendition that lacks even the slightest hint of suspense or terror. While the original movie offered a deep sense of dread and fear, the remake just comes across as dull and bland.
It doesn’t help that we find ugly design choices. The characters look like clip art, and they fail to blend at all with the painted backgrounds.
The animation seems clunky as clunky can be. I get the impression the movie enjoyed a budget of roughly $27 for animation, as these elements seem awfully clumsy and awkward.
Not that superior animation would’ve saved this misbegotten project, as even Pinocchio level work wouldn’t have redeemed such a perplexing remake. Maybe someone will find a redeeming factor here, but I think the animated Night offers a poorly made product.