Night of the Animated Dead sounds like an interesting idea at first, but once you start to watch it, the severe limitations of the premise quickly become obvious. The film is a remake of George Romero's 1968 horror classic Night of the Living Dead, done with animation. There's a long, rich tradition of animated horror but – despite being the zombie movie that defined the genre – this was not the right story to adapt through the format. Or at least not the way it's done here.
Jimmi Simpson and Katharine Isabelle play siblings Johnny and Barbara, who go to a cemetery outside Pittsburgh to visit the grave of their father. While there, zombies attack, killing Johnny. Barbara makes her way to an old farmhouse, where she meets another survivor, Ben (Dule Hill). They board themselves up inside, as the undead repeatedly try to smash their way through. Down in the basement, meanwhile, are Harry Cooper (Josh Duhamel) and his family, and he has very strong opinions on what everyone should do in order to survive.
What does animation bring to Night of the Living Dead? As it turns out, absolutely nothing. We don't even get particularly good animation. It's kind of choppy and not very detailed, as though it was produced cheaply. The only area where it stands out is in the newly-added graphic gore that Romero didn't include in his original film. One double-slaying, occurring inside a car, is especially gruesome, and certainly not something that could have been accomplished with live-action in 1968.
The bigger problem, though, is that huge chunks of Night of the Living Dead are people sitting inside the farmhouse arguing. Zombie action is sparse, arriving at carefully selected moments. Because it's simply a remake with no major new story additions, Night of the Animated Dead is similarly filled with long stretches of people arguing, just in animation. The result is dull. Doing a flat animated remake also robs Romero's work of its racial/political themes. With cartoon-like characters instead of real actors, the potency of the social commentary vanishes.
If you're wondering why anyone would choose to produce something like Night of the Animated Dead, the answer is simple. Night of the Living Dead is a well-known film with name value, but also one that has fallen into the public domain, meaning anyone can alter it as they please. That is exactly what's happened here. The movie is mildly diverting in spots, yet completely unnecessary given that Romero's picture is widely available.
The sole bonus feature is a 9-minute "making of" documentary that features director Jason Axinn and others discussing their approach to adapting a horror classic in a new medium. Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided a complimentary copy of the Blu-ray for the purposes of this review.
out of four
Night of the Animated Dead is rated R for bloody/gruesome zombie violence. The running time is 1 hour and 11 minutes.