Thursday, July 7, 2011

Two Sequels, Two Animated Movies, Two Reviews In One

It's obvious I have kids because the movies in question are Kung Fu Panda 2 and Cars 2.

Kung Fu Panda 2 has been out in theaters for a while now but this last weekend was the first chance I had to take my kids to see it.

But before I get too much into it, a word about what I've noticed about Dreamworks Animated movies in the past. Too often (The Shrek franchise notwithstanding) their movies have been just a bunch of random, quirky characters put together and stirred. Nothing much by way of a storyline. The Madagascar flicks come to mind especially. That seemed especially guilty of "Hey, we got to have these guys do something to fill an hour and a half".

That being said, I completely expected the first Kung Fu Panda to be along those same veins. So I was surprised when it turned out to have a coherent plot, a multi-tiered story line with themes of revenge, acceptance and redemption. With a few fat jokes and slapstick as well.

There's violence thrown in there-- hence the PG rating-- but what would you expect from a movie that had 'Kung Fu' in the title? And a little bit of mysticism as well but not anymore than the original Star Wars trilogy. If that helps to you something to judge it by.

Also, My wife and I hold Pixar movies to be the gold standard in animated movies. There is the rating system for Pixar movies then that for everyone else. The first Kung Fu Panda movie shattered that glass ceiling in my opinion (How To Train Your Dragon is another one that was well made. Someone must be taking storytelling lessons over there).

Oh yeah. Stick with the credits to the end of the movie for a little gem. Fast forward if you want but it's worth it.

Back to Kung Fu Panda 2.

Po (the panda) is back for another adventure. It's the rule of sequels. Bigger and more. This time they go on a quest to Gongmen City to stop Lord Shen (voiced by Gary Oldman) from taking over China with a brand new weapon-- so powerful that even kung fu can't stand up to it. Along the way Po finds out about his past. Something that everyone else seems to know about but him.

The sensationalized violence is there but again, what would you expect from a movie with 'kung fu' in the title? And about the same amount of mysticism as well.

My issue with the violence is that there isn't any set standard for repercussions from the fighting. Early one, the character of Master Rhino is shot and killed by a cannon round. Later, Po is shot by a cannon as well but survives. Other than Po is soft and was able to absorb the impact of the round much better than a hardened warrior such as Master Rhino, there really wasn't much of a reason why one cannon round killed and the other didn't.

The movie is enjoyable and funny and stands up to the first one. There weren't as many fat jokes in this one. Due to the fact that Po has become the Dragon Warrior. There are more than enough about how Po isn't quite the hardened warrior as everyone else is but that plays into his strength instead of his weakness in the end.

I would give it 8 out of 10 stars.

And now, Cars 2.

It seems that every time I see someone rank the Pixar movies, Cars is always towards the bottom of the list. And 'Merchandising' seems to be the reason why more often than not. Which is okay by me. I'm not sure what their financial situation is right now but I think they are one of the few studio's that is doing well. If merchandising and licensing their intellectually property puts them in firm financial footing where they can make more movies like 'Up', that's fine by me.

That being said, Cars 2 was a disappointment. It entertained the kids but there wasn't any heart to the movie. And it have a very different tone and narrative than the first movie. It fell more along the lines of a Dreamworks movie where they throw a bunch of characters in a blender and hit spin.

Lightning McQueen is challenged to a world wide grand pix of sorts sponsored by an eccentric billionaire, Miles Axelrod. Meanwhile, Mater gets mixed up in a case of mistaken identity of international espionage involving the World Grand Prix.

One thing that did make me visibly cringe was that one character said something about, "Once big oil, always big oil." If only for the reason that whenever I hear moronic leftists protest anything, it's big this or big that. Anyway, I have no idea if this was done because it is accepted to be the politically correct thing to do or if it was because Pixar is nothing but a bunch of dedicated leftists to their core (Please, please let it be option one).

The other thing that surprised me was the amount of violence the movie contained. Several instances of characters yelling out, "Kill him!" and several scenes of car crashes and apparent deaths. Yet this was rated G instead of PG. The only thing I can think of was that this was Pixar movie and not made by anyone else.

Overall, an average movie from a studio that usually delivers much better. Rating it a 5 out of 10. Wait for the DVD is you need to see it.

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