DreamWorks 14: Kung fu Panda

Over the last few years DreamWorks has been able to keep a certain degree of artistic legitimacy by the presence of two of their franchises- Kung fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon. It’s kind of like the Shrek and Madagascar films bring in the big money and the KFP and HTTYD franchises keep them respected by the animation community. Well, that all started in 2008 with the release of Kung fu Panda.On the rewatch it’s a decent movie, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a lot of problems with this first entry in the series.

Kung fu Panda stars Jack Black as a panda who has grown up idolizing a group of warriors called The Furious Five. One day the groups leader Master Shifu is looking for a new warrior that can help them defeat a snow leopard called Tai Lung. Through various contrivances he meets Po and believes him to be the Dragon Warrior.

The rest of the movie plays out as a typical origin story with training montages and small skirmishes until leading up to the climatic battle.

The biggest strength of this movie is the amazing animation. Particularly in a fight sequence at the end it totally holds up. The fluidity of the fighting and the colors are gorgeous. It really looks like the studied martial arts fighters and were able to recreate their movements as they fight.

It also has a nice message for kids about not judging by appearance only and the immense potential each of us have to do great things. It’s a classic dreamers story but it is done well with a lot of heart. However, I do have some problems that bothered me on this rewatch. At just 92 minutes the film feels much longer and it is very exposition heavy. By about the fourth monologue from Master Shifu about courage and dreaming I was pretty bored.

I could have also used way more of the Furious Five. They are supposed to be these great fighters that Po looks up to but we hardly see any of that. I wish they had gotten rid of some exposition and thrown in more fights and character moments from the entire team not just Shifu and Po.

Also, I’ve always had a little bit of a problem with the modern humor in this series. Jack Black’s vocals take me out of the movie because all I can think about is ‘that’s Jack Black’. It sounds so American and so modern that it doesn’t fit this Ancient Chinese setting. I have the same problem with the humor. It rarely lands and so it is distracting from the more traditional story.

Still, it’s not a bad movie. I just didn’t love it like I was hoping too. I think this first entry is definitely the weakest of the franchise as both 2 and 3 give us way more fighting and a lot less talking.

Overall Grade- C+

I’ll give it smile worthy but it’s a mild one.

Kung fu Panda 3 Review

kung fu 3Get ready for a surprise!  You guys know I will always be honest with how I feel about a film.  I went into Kung fu Panda 3 with extremely low expectations.  I hated all the trailers and the character designs didn’t look great.  I liked the first one, really enjoyed the second and 3 seemed like a step back.  Well, I’m thrilled to tell you I was wrong!  Kung fu Panda 3 is not a step back. In fact, it is solidly the best of the 3 and is in the running for the best CG film Dreamworks has ever made.  Yep, you read right!  That’s how I really feel.

There are so many reasons I loved this movie.  First of all, it combined the strengths of 1 and 2 perfectly.  It had the first film’s humor and sweet message with the sequels action and authentic martial arts movie feel.  But that’s not all.  It had a good story, sweet messaging and beautiful animation.

I was so impressed with the way the film combined 2D, hybrid and CG elements seamlessly.  That has always been a part of the series but here it wasn’t just a dream sequence that was 2D, it was intermixed into the entire story which was beautiful. The colors were also bright and full of life.  Kung fu Panda 3 gets serious points just for being so great to look at.  The trailers did not do it justice at all!

The story revolves around a spirit named Kai who has a score to settle with Master Oogway from the first film.  In revenge he has conquered all of the spirits of the great masters and absorbed their chi into himself.  He finally absorbs Master Oogway and that allows him back into the human world.  Still out for revenge he seeks to take all the mortal masters including the great Dragon Warrior.

As he absorbs the characters it creates kind of a jade zombie and with each one he becomes stronger and bigger. Meanwhile, Po is learning from Master Shifu to become a teacher instead of the student.  He also meets his biological father and learns about a secret community of Pandas which is strong in chi and defeated Kai before.

There are a lot of interesting things about this story.  I particularly liked the struggles Po’s adoptive father has when he meets his biological father.  As an adoption advocate, I thought that was handled very well.  Also learning how to teach as the final step in becoming the Dragon Warrior is a very insightful plot thread for the film.

Like I said, the humor is used just enough to break up the villainy but not so much as to feel annoying or crass.  I laughed quite a bit.  The action is a lot of fun but never too drab or scary for little kids.  I think people who felt Kung fu Panda 2 was boring will like this entry much better.

The voice cast works very well with some new talent in JK Simmons, Kate Hudson, and Bryan Cranston.  I still wish to begin with they hadn’t had such modern voice talent but I prefer this cast too the dragon cast any day of the week.

The film just works.  It’s beautiful to look at.  It’s exciting, funny, sweet and I was consistently entertained.  I want to give a special congrats to director Jennifer Yuh Nelson.  There aren’t that many female directors in animation and I really admire what she has done here.

I honestly don’t have anything negative to say about the film.  Maybe I will when I watch on repeated viewings.  Like the Lego Movie, it will probably be skipped for nominations because of its early release but it is certainly worthy.  I loved it.

You’all might think I’m crazy but I don’t care:

Overall Grade- A+

Here is my youtube review:

Did the Right Film Win? 2008 Animated Oscars

Hey guys! My next video in my analysis of the Animated Oscars is up.  This is 2008 and for a lot of you my thoughts won’t be a surprise as I have reviewed both Wall-e and Bolt on this blog.  I went on a little bit in this video but if you like it I’d love a thumbs up.  Thanks!

Overall, I think all 3 of the nominees in 2008 are strong; although, Kung fu Panda was not as strong as I remembered it on the rewatch.  I even gave it 2 chances and it didn’t wow me.  Particularly the humor isn’t my favorite, but it’s fine.  I can see why others love it and it’s not bad.  Just didn’t love it as much as I did when it first came out.

Bolt is an enjoyable film, if a bit forgettable.  The set-up takes too long but the characters are likable and overall it is entertaining.  I think it was a huge step in the right direction for Disney’s CG films and helped give them the confidence to make better films like Wreck-it Ralph, Frozen and Tangled.

Wall-e is Pixar’s most bold and daring film.  It’s beautiful and I actually love both the silent film and science fiction sections.  Unlike Kung fu Panda it’s a movie that I appreciate new things about it each time I watch it.  I love how the Captain’s eyes are opened and he see’s the fuller life he could live.  It’s really quite moving and tense as they fight the computer to live a better life.  And then scenes like the space ballet with Wall-e and Eve is just breathtaking.  I think it is the most beautiful artistry of Pixar’s history and the best CG has given us from any studio.

So in this case I clearly think the right film won.  What about you?

Kung Fu Panda 3 Details

kung fu panda 3We got new details last week on the upcoming Kung fu Panda 3 and I have to say I am not impressed.  You guys know I am not a big Dreamworks fan.  I love Prince of Egypt and think the How to Train Your Dragon movies are very good but aside from that most of their movies are too silly for my taste with the dopey humor and pop culture references.

The Kung fu Panda series is an interesting study because just this week I rewatched the first one and to be honest I didn’t think it held up very well.  I liked it ok when it first came out but now the jokes felt incredibly dated and unfunny.  The villain is bland and while it looks nice it didn’t do much for me.  The second movie I saw on a plane years ago and remember thinking it was better than the first.  At the time I thought it had a better villain, more action, less reliant on the jokes and had more fleshed out depictions of the Fierce 5.  I know that will bring much discussion on the blog but I haven’t seen it since then and I don’t LOVE it so calm down.

Last year Dreamworks had a pretty good year for me but not at the box office . I liked Mr Peabody and Sherman, Penguins of Madagascar and How to Train Your Dragon 2. None of them were my favorite of the year but they were all solid.  Then I saw Home and hated that but it did very well at box office.  That and Illumination’s Minions success shows how much my taste can predict box office!.  Then they announced Kung fu Panda 3 and we got a teaser trailer I didn’t like. It looked to be going back to the typical Dreamworks silliness and lame jokes.

Anyway, then we get this news about the plot and I am even more skeptical.According to Entertainment Weekly:

“The next villain will be Kai (J.K. Simmons), a bull who is especially notable because he is the first supernatural big bad of the series. “He’s somebody that’s beyond Tai Lung, beyond Shen,” says co-director Jennifer Yuh Nelson of the new antagonist, who has large horns, leather armor, and uses two jade swords with chains attached as his go-to weapon.

Nelson says of the early stages of the film, when she and her fellow filmmakers were deciding where to take it, “and it was like ‘You can’t go brawler because Tai Lung was brawler. You can’t go smarter because Shen was smarter. Where can you go? You have to go supernatural, bigger, and even more intimidating.”

Aside from the casting of JK Simmons this sounds like a horrifically terrible idea and their logic is bizarre.  You can’t go brawler or smarter so you by necessity have to go supernatural?  In what world are those the only 3 options?  How about doing a combination of brawl and smarts making him a lethal mixture?  Or how about making him politically powerful with an army at his disposal (why has Po only faced 1 villain at a time?)?  How about make it a female bear and her sexy and a vixen to tempt Po?  I can think of about a million other types of villains they could use rather than having him be some kind of alien.

Even the design of the bull alien looks awful and like something out of a bad video game.  And like I said I was not impressed with the animation or where it was going in the teaser trailer with Po’s father being introduced to begin with. Groan…

Don’t get me wrong- it could be good.  I always go into a film with an open mind and when I like it I will say so even if everyone else hates it . However, everything I have heard or seen so far makes me incredibly skeptical of the entire project.

I even wonder how much faith Dreamworks has in Kung fu Panda 3.  January is notoriously the dumping ground for bad movies and its release date of January 29, 2016 is highly suspect.  I don’t get it. If they believed in the movie they would release it over the Christmas holiday where they could make bank right?

Anyway that’s my thought of that. What did you guys think of these new plot updates for Kung Fu Panda 3? Are you as skeptical as I am?

Kung Fu Panda 3 Trailer Review

This is just the week of the animated trailer release! Today we got the Kung Fu Panda 3.

I may be in the minority on this one but I am not a fan of this trailer.  To me it is more of the same from Dreamworks.  A bloated celebrity voice cast, lots of lame jokes and cheap sentimentality.

Kung Fu Panda was charming with a solid script if not particularly original story (Basically the Ugly Duckling meets Karate Kid).  It had just enough humor and sweetness to carry the day and I enjoyed it.

I know some on this blog disagree with me but I thought Kung Fu Panda 2 was a significant upgrade.  Not only was the animation much better (some of Dreamworks best) but it ditched a lot of the humor for a pretty cool quest story.  The villain was very creepy and I loved the way we actually got to see the Furious 5 fleshed out.  Instead of being background for Po we saw why they were legends and got to get their personalities, weaknesses and strengths.  It was pretty fun.

So after that big step up to get a retread of the first one is a major letdown.  I mean how many times have we gotten the estranged son trying to bond with his Dad scenario…so much so they made fun of it in Toy Story 2.  I always try to have an open mind and it is just a teaser but my initial response was definitely not excitement for Kung Fu Panda 3.

Dreamworks why do you hate me!

Favorite Non-Disney Animated Movies

Hi guys!

I just thought you might be wondering what my opinion is on non-Disney animated films.  I’m not talking Pixar,Studio Ghibli or other Disney wings because they should get their own list.  I’m talking about other studios like Dreamworks, which while not as consistently my favorites like Disney, they have made some great animated films.

So here we go in no particular order.

1. The Adventures of Tintin- underrated action adventure movie.  Yes, it is motion capture not traditional animation but I figure if it looks, feels, acts like an animated film it is an animated film.  More people should have seen this movie.  It was so entertaining!

2. The Lego Movie- one of the most visually inventive movies I’ve ever seen.  The effects with the legos blew me away.  Great voice work by whole cast, and the script is so well written. Every joke got a laugh from me and then there’s moments that were surprisingly tender.  It is the best movie I’ve seen at capturing how a child plays with their toys and how incapable adults are at understanding that play.

3. Kung Fu Panda 1 and 2- both films are very entertaining with a likable lead character, fun action, beautiful visuals, and great villains.

4. Secret of Nimh- wonderful movie featuring one of the toughest Moms in movies.  She doesn’t want to be a hero but will do anything for her son.  There’s humor, adventure and most importantly real heart.

5. Anastasia- one of the best animated romantic comedies put onto film.  Great chemistry, a fun villain, and decent music.  The story is silly but I still find it very entertaining.

6. How to Train Your Dragon- haven’t seen sequel but want to.  Original was very entertaining.  It’s a predictable story but told very well.  Great voice cast and a great heart to the story of Hiccup and his desire to please his demanding father.  The relationship between him and the dragon is very absorbing. Beautiful flying visuals.

7. Prince of Egypt- some people have problems with the changes from the Biblical story but not me. I am mad for the music, just love it and the scene where Moses communes with the burning bush is breathtaking.  I’m a huge fan of biblical epics and this stands with the best.

8. Arthur Christmas- A movie I thought looked really stupid and then totally surprised me.  Santa’s youngest son Arthur believes in bringing Christmas to every child and when he finds a girl has been missed will do anything to make it right.  I love the idea that even the North Pole has become over-commercialized for Christmas.  I love Christmas movies so this is a big win.  Great voice cast. Real heart.

9. Chicken Run- An homage to Dirty Dozen and other prison escape movies from the 50s.  Great writing and voice work.  Terrific villain and the stop motion animation is fabulous.

10. Transformers 1986- Michael Bay should be strapped down and forced to watch this movie for a week straight to understand how it should be done.  Those bloated, obnoxious mess of movies don’t have 1/10th the heart of this animated film.  Orson Wells is Optimus Prime and he is great.  It’s got action and fun characters and with every Michael Bay monstrosity it looks better and better (Transformers 2 and 3 are 2 of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.  I just can’t see 4.  It’s too much.) Boys deserve better transformers movies and this animated film gives it to them. .

11.  Charlotte’s Web- One of the best non-Disney animated musicals.  Sweet songs with great vocal performances by Debbie Reynolds and Paul Lynde.  It’s actually pretty sad but in a way that will teach kids about friendship and sacrifice.

12. Iron Giant- If you haven’t seen this film, stop what you are doing, go out and watch it.  The animation is stunning.  The story has real heart and lovely characters.  It is a total winner!

13. Paranorman- everyone who thinks I’m a total softy when it comes to darker movies will probably be surprised to find this on my list.  I like a good ghost story and this definitely fits the bill.  It’s more for teens than children.  Some of the images are pretty scary and the humor, like the jock actually being gay, is probably more for teens than little kids.  It looks amazing.  Has some genuine scares and the story surprised me.  Very well done.

14. Simpsons Movie- Everyone is always shocked to find out I love the Simpsons.  My favorite show of all time.  My brother and sister and I would watch it every week and 26 seasons later still do.  The movie is overwritten and could have been better but I still really enjoy it.  I love the characters and the HD colors add a nice touch to the movie over the TV show.  Simpsons has given me so many laughs I love it.  Lisa is my particular favorite.

15. Pirates: Band of Misfits- A movie nobody saw but I really enjoyed.  It’s funny with Charles Darwin as our unlikely hero.  The stop motion looks great and voice work is engaging.  A hidden gem!

16. Curious George- So few movies are made well for children under 5.  Curious George is one of those movies.  It is sweet and engaging with lovely songs from Jack Johnson.  One that is unabashadly for the smallest of children and yet adults won’t be miserable.

17. Lord of the Rings (Bakshi)- It’s not as good as the Peter Jackson movies but it is also a different take on an epic story.  To me there is room for multiple retellings of the Lord of the Rings and Bakshi crams a lot of story into this film.  Maybe not a masterpiece but I enjoy it.  The music is wonderful and characters engrossing.  If you like the story of Lord of the Rings give this animated version a chance.  I think this is what the Black Cauldron was trying to be and it isn’t near as successful.

18. Batman Mask of the Phantasm- Still my favorite Batman movie (yes, you read right).  Intense without being too violent.  Batman is interesting without being over-the-top.  I hate in the live action movies how the villains are always more interesting than Batman.  Not the case here.  Great animation.  Great voice work.  If you haven’t seen it and love the Nolan films give it a shot.

19. Happy Feet- A flawed film but I love the music and it is so unabashedly cheerful I enjoy it.  It’s the kind of movie I put in when I’m sick and it brightens my day.  Huge talented cast and serviceable story.

20. Charlie Brown Christmas Special- I realize this was for TV but I couldn’t not include it.  One of the best Christmas movies ever made.  Perfect soundtrack.  Lovely message and delightful characters. It focuses on the Christ message of Christmas in a way that is powerful without being overbearing.