Kung Fu Panda (2008)

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Director: Mark Osborne, John Stevenson

Cast: Jack Black, Ian McShane, Angelina Jolie Pitt, Dustin Hoffman, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Randall Duk Kim, James Hong, Jackie Chan

Screenplay: Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger

92 mins. Rated PG for sequences of martial arts action.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

 

Pixar has pretty high standards. Viewers go into a Pixar film expecting something brilliant, a film with blinding visuals and a heartwarming tale that captures the human spirit.

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Dreamworks Animation…not so much. As big of an advocate as I am for films like Monsters vs. Aliens and the Shrek series, Dreamworks has difficulty hitting it out of the park. People continue to flock to the Kung Fu Panda franchise, though. Even though I didn’t care much for the original film when it came out eight years ago (I was on a date with my now fiancé and we mildly enjoyed ourselves, but the resounding feeling the film gave me was “meh”), I felt the need to return to this franchise after hearing such love from fans about the second and third installments. So here we are. How did I feel the second time around?

Po (Jack Black, King Kong, Goosebumps) is a panda who dreams of a life protecting others, a life of martial arts, a life he cannot have. Po’s father finds him to be most-well-suited in the family business: noodles. But, a dangerous evil, Tai Lung (Ian McShane, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Bilal: A New Breed of Hero), has escaped from his incarceration intent on revenge, and the legendary Oogway (Randall Duk Kim, The Matrix Reloaded, John Wick) must select a new Dragon Warrior. His selection? Po. Hijinks, get ready to ensue.

On my second viewing of Kung Fu Panda, I found some elements that I really loved. My favorite sequence was Tai Lung’s prison break scene. There’s also some really unique melding of 2D and 3D animation in homage to Japanese Anime. I even found myself loving the training sequences that Po goes through learning from Shifu (Dustin Hoffman, Kramer vs. Kramer, Chef) and the rest of the legendary warriors.

Some good should also be said of the voicework from those I’ve already mentioned and also Angelina Jolie Pitt (Maleficent, By the Sea), Seth Rogen (This is the End, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising) and Jackie Chan (Rush Hour, Dragon Blade).

Now, the cons? It isn’t really funny throughout, and it isn’t really action-packed throughout. When this film hits it, it hits it very well, but it just doesn’t hit the mark enough.

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Kung Fu Panda is uneven, though it has a lot of potential as a franchise starter. After my revisiting of the original film, I see now that this movie had the ability to do well, and it deserved to get another installment.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Mark Osborne and Stephen Hillenburg’s The Spongebob Squarepants Movie, click here.

[Oscar Madness] Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015)

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Director: Mark Burton, Richard Starzak

Cast: Justin Fletcher, John Sparkles, Omid Djalili

Screenplay: Mark Burton, Richard Starzak

85 mins. Rated PG for rude humor.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

 

It seems like every year, I’m stuck watching an animated film with stop motion techniques. To be honest, I’ve rarely enjoyed this form of the media. There are a few winners out there, but overall, it just hasn’t hit with me.

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Well, here’s my review of Shaun the Sheep Movie

Shaun (Justin Fletcher, TV’s Gigglebiz) is up to his old shenanigans again. He and his flock are up to no good as they try to escape from the farm. In the process of this latest attempt, Shaun accidentally injures the Farmer (John Sparkles, TV’s Peppa Pig, Calendar Girls) and gives him amnesia. Now, it’s up to Shaun and the flock to return the Farmer back home and elude the animal control worker Trumper (Omid Djalili, Gladiator, Sex and the City 2) in the process.

I’m going to try and keep this one short as I really don’t like these types of films. That being said…

I actually enjoyed Shaun the Sheep Movie more than I had planned to. The film is cute, and makes great use of its absence of dialogue by offering a visual feast for the entirety of its runtime. I found Shaun to be a capable lead, Trumper to be a capable villain, and the Farmer to be a capable damsel.

The runtime does run on a bit too long, and one has to ask the question of why make this story a feature. The subplot involving the amnesiac Farmer is a little sillier than it needed to be and could’ve explored other storytelling avenues.

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Shaun the Sheep Movie is an imperfect family film, but definitely one of the better and smarter ones. Adults may not enjoy the loss of language in the film, but the test of a dialogue-less story makes for a more interesting one. It isn’t deserving of walking away with the statue this year, but it is very deserving of recognition nonetheless.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013)

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Director: Isao Takahata

Cast: Chloe Grace Moretz, Darren Criss, James Caan, Mary Steenburgen

Screenplay: Isao Takahata, Riko Sakaguchi

137 mins. Rated PG for thematic elements, some violent action and partial nudity.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

 

In the latest release from Studio Ghibli, an elderly Bamboo Cutter (James Caan, The Godfather, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2) finds a small girl inside a bamboo shoot. He and his wife (Mary Steenburgen, Back to the Future Part III, Last Vegas) name the girl Princess (Chloe Grace Moretz, Kick-Ass, The Equalizer) and care for her as their own. As Princess Kaguya entices everyone around her, she comes closer and closer to paying for an indiscretion she doesn’t remember making.

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Based on The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, this Studio Ghibli film continues the tradition of excellent looking animation that pushes the boundaries of hand-drawn, even today. But for all the visual delight of the film, it still lacks a punch in its bulky slow new addition. This film drags on much longer than it needs to. Pushing the two-and-a-half-hour mark, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya showcases some great voice work, but just can’t get over its pace. Other than that, the film is stunningly beautiful.

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The Tale of the Princess Kaguya isn’t the worst of the Studio Ghibli films, but it is far away from being the best. It’s English voice cast it great and it boasts some of the most interesting and challenging animation being used today, but it just doesn’t end, and sadly, that is its downfall.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

The Boxtrolls (2014)

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Director: Graham Annable, Anthony Stacchi

Cast: Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Elle Fanning, Ben Kingsley, Toni Collette, Jared Harris, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, Tracy Morgan

Screenplay: Irena Brignull, Adam Pava

96 mins. Rated PG for action, some peril and mild rude humor.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

 

Today, I have the pleasure of talking about the seventh-best film featuring Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, The World’s End) and Nick Frost (Paul, Cuban Fury). This is the kindest I’m going to be on this.

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In The Boxtrolls, we get to meet…well, the Boxtrolls, a group of creatures similar to the Borrowers or the Underpants Gnomes in that they sneak up to the surface and steal objects from the humans. Also, they wear boxes. It is also the story of Eggs (Isaac Hempstead-Wright, TV’s Game of Thrones, The Awakening), a boy left in their care as a baby and raised by the creatures. Eggs heads up to where the humans reside in an attempt to keep his family safe from the diabolical Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley, Schindler’s List, Dragonheart 3: The Sorcerer’s Curse). In doing so, he meets Winnie (Elle Fanning, Maleficent, We Bought a Zoo) and the two team up to save the Boxtrolls.

I struggled through this film. It was tough. I kept telling myself it must get better; it was nominated for an Oscar. It didn’t get better though. The only scene that blew me away was the end credits in which Mr. Pickles (Richard Ayoade, TV’s The IT Crowd, The Watch) and Mr. Gristle (Tracy Morgan, TV’s 30 Rock, Accidental Love) discuss the meaning of life as the filmmakers construct the scene around them. It is a testament to the hard work and dedication by the animation team, and that part I will agree comes through. The animation is amazing. The technology has improved even upon the impressive ParaNorman.

Beyond the animation and visual look of the film, there really is nothing left in this casket of a movie. The voice work is fine enough to get by, but this story just goes nowhere. It feels like someone threw several plot pieces onto the screenplay just to see if it would come off as quirky. Quirky it is. Good it is not.

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The Boxtrolls is a technical marvel indeed, yet it isn’t an animated film worthy of the statue or even really the nomination. It looks good, but like an aged cheese, it leaves an odd taste in the mouth.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Big Hero 6 (2014)

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Director: Don Hall, Chris Williams

Cast: Scott Adsit, Ryan Potter, Daniel Henney, T.J. Miller, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr., Genesis Rodriguez, James Cromwell, Alan Tudyk, Maya Rudolph

Screenplay: Jordan Roberts, Daniel Gerson, Robert L. Baird

102 mins. Rated PG for action and peril, some rude humor, and thematic elements.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

 

After tragedy strikes and takes everything Hiro (Ryan Potter) thought he’d never lose, he befriends Baymax (Scott Adsit, TV’s 30 Rock, St. Vincent), a robotic caregiver built by his brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Last Stand), and the two set out to find an invention of Hiro’s that has been stolen to be used for evil. Along the way, Hiro gets help from a ragtag group of nerdy geniuses that would soon come to be known as Big Hero 6 in the newest Disney animated feature from directors Don Hall and Chris Williams.

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Baymax is 2014’s answer to Frozen’s Olaf. He is a lovable and sweet companion who is challenged in his quest to heal others by Hiro’s wanting of vengeance against those who wronged him. Young Ryan Potter does great work as Hiro, and he gets great help from veteran voice workers like T.J. Miller (How to Train Your Dragon, Transformers: Age of Extinction) and Alan Tudyk (TV’s Suburgatory, I,Robot). I do wish the supporting characters weren’t just relegated to minimal development based around the tech they are currently working on, and I hope that if this becomes the first Marvel-Disney franchise that these superheroes are further developed. The world of San Fransokyo is pretty cool though, taking cues from anime masterpieces like Akira.

Big Hero 6 isn’t Frozen even at its best, though I am happy to see a Disney film willing to deal with death. Although I don’t think they should’ve danced around the subject so much, always referring to the deceased as “gone” when they should take the high route and understand that kids can handle it.

The visual style is neat and it presents a pretty great number of action set pieces for our heroes to defend their beloved city, and it just looks good.

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Big Hero 6 is one of the more enjoyable films of 2014, but it has a lull to it around the second act. Even though it is a Marvel property, it tends to borrow a bit too much from previous Marvel fare like Iron Man instead of drudging a new route. There is a fun post-credits scene, so wait around for that. Big Hero 6 should satisfy parental units as well as kids thought, which is a tough feat to make.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2015oscardeathrace] How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

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Director: Dean DeBlois

Cast: Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig, Djimon Hounsou, Kit Harington

Screenplay: Dean DeBlois

102 mins. Rated PG for adventure action and mild rude humor.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

 

How to Train Your Dragon was a film that needed to have a sequel. Two, in fact. The first film had a very SAGA-like feeling to it. It had some more story that needed to be told. And it was, in last year’s How to Train Your Dragon 2.

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Hiccup (Jay Baruchel, TV’s Man Seeking Woman, Million Dollar Baby) and his dragon Toothless have come a long way in their relationship, and their home Berk has changed along with them. Hiccup’s father, Stoick (Gerard Butler, 300, Olympus Has Fallen), has learned to respect him as a son and a man. Hiccup’s girlfriend Astrid (America Ferrera, TV’s Ugly Betty, Cesar Chavez) has furthered her affection for him. Everything is going just great for Hiccup, until he discovers a dragon army led by the terrifying Drago (Djimon Hounsou, Gladiator, Seventh Son) and comes face-to-face with Valka (Cate Blanchett, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Knight of Cups), his missing mother in this sequel from director Dean DeBlois (Lilo & Stitch).

How to Train Your Dragon 2 excells in almost every way further than its predecessor. Visually, it is stunning. Emotionally, it resonates. The above developed relationships are tested further and further as the film progresses. Cate Blanchett, Djimon Hounsou, and Kit Harington (TV’s Game of Thrones, Pompeii) are great additions to the voice cast.

DeBlois’ sequel is a tightly-knit thrill-ride, with beautiful music, and gorgeous set-pieces. It also has the distinction of being the first animated film to contain an openly homosexual character (I won’t say who, but it shouldn’t really matter). For that alone, the film deserved praise.

The flaw, and there is a big one, comes at the end, when the film takes a fairly mediocre and cliché turn developing in an underwhelming finale. Hiccup and Toothless have a respect that is stretched to its lengths, yet the plotholes near the end make one question what it was all for.

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The ending aside, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is still a massively successful sequel and well worth the viewing. I only hope the open threads are continued throughout the future installments.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders’ How to Train Your Dragon, click here.

[Oscar Madness] How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

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Director: Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders

Cast: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig

Screenplay: William Davies, Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders

98 mins. Rated PG for sequences of intense action and some scary images, and brief mild language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score

 

How to Train Your Dragon was doomed in the Oscar race by the basic fact that it was nominated next to Toy Story 3. Damn comparative Oscars!

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How to Train Your Dragon is the story of Hiccup (Jay Baruchel, TV’s Man Seeking Woman, Million Dollar Baby), a Viking who cannot live up to the image his father Stoick (Gerard Butler, 300, Olympus Has Fallen) has built up. He can’t win over the love of Astrid (America Ferrera, TV’s Ugly Betty, Cesar Chavez). He has no friends, until a rare shot during a dragon raid on his home island of Berk causes him to meet a Night Fury dragon he calls Toothless. The bond they create begins to change the way Hiccup sees dragons and their motives for attacking.

The voice work here is nice, but not great. The big flaw of the voices is that we have Vikings that don’t sound like Vikings. The performers are comedic nonetheless.

The story, although vastly different from the one in Cressida Cowell’s book of the same name, but the changes all seek to create a more compelling story, and they do.

The animation is gorgeous and the characters well-designed. Sometimes, in movies with monsters or aliens, the characters and species don’t feel different, but in How to Train Your Dragon, they are dynamically different. Toothless’ design, based on cats, dogs, and horses, is quirky and cute.

Lastly, the music is everything I wanted it to be. It engaged me and kept me involved throughout and it’s the kind you keep humming after you leave the theater.

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How to Train Your Dragon isn’t the strongest Dreamworks Animation film and it definitely wasn’t stealing the Best Animated Feature Oscar from Toy Story 3, but it is still a pretty strong piece of animation that compels audiences of all ages and is well worth a viewing.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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