Review: Penguins Of Madagascar (2014)

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Spun-off from DreamWorks Animation’s money-making Madagascar franchise, Penguins Of Madagascar is a fast-paced, pun-a-minute riot, even if it lacks any semblance of depth. Anarchic super spies Skipper (Tom McGrath), Kowalski (Chris Miller), Private (Christopher Knights) and Rico (Conrad Vernon) are forced to team up with The North Wind, an undercover task force, to defeat the dastardly Dr. Octavious Brine (John Malkovich). Continue reading “Review: Penguins Of Madagascar (2014)”

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Review: Mr Peabody & Sherman (2014)

Mr Peabody & Sherman

Years in the making, Mr Peabody & Sherman – a feature-length animated comedy based on characters that featured on The Rocky And Bullwinkle Show in the late 1950s – marks the latest uninspired release from DreamWorks Animation. It’s not that the film is bad per se, more that director Rob Minkoff’s labour of love unfortunately never feels more than an intermittently diverting series of adventures than a cohesive and worthwhile whole. Continue reading “Review: Mr Peabody & Sherman (2014)”

Review: Turbo (2013)

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DreamWorks Animation have struggled in recent years. After reaping the rewards with successes such as Kung Fu Panda, How To Train Your Dragon and Shrek, the studio, who are often unfairly compared to Pixar, have lost their way somewhat. Their latest feature Turbo, a sort of Fast & Furious for kids, does nothing to buck that continuing trend, and marks what’s possibly the biggest disappointment for the studio. It’s not that it’s bad per se, more that there’s absolutely nothing here to set it apart from similar animated tales. Continue reading “Review: Turbo (2013)”

Review: The Croods (2013)

The Croods

It’s been a bumpy ride for DreamWorks Animation since its conception in the mid-90s. For every good film they released (Antz and Chicken Run), innumerable mediocre films followed (Shark Tale and Bee Movie). In recent years though, with the success of both the Shrek and Madagascar franchises and How To Train Your Dragon, they’ve displayed what they’re truly capable of. With their recent release The Croods, however, it seems as though they’ve misplaced some of that spark. Continue reading “Review: The Croods (2013)”

Review: Rise Of The Guardians (2012)

Rise Of The Guardians, DreamWorks Animation’s latest big-budget offering, is every bit as bold as it is visually dazzling, rich in depth and expansive in scope. When the evil Pitch Black (Jude Law) threatens to instil fear in every child, the immortal Guardians – North (Alec Baldwin), Bunny (Hugh Jackman), Tooth (Isla Fisher), Sandman and new recruit Jack Frost (Chris Pine) – must band together to protect childhood innocence and optimism. Continue reading “Review: Rise Of The Guardians (2012)”

Review: Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)

Synopsis: Po (Jack Black) the chop-sockey panda, returns for a new adventure, this time taking on evil Lord Shen (Oldman): a formidable enemy with a nasty secret weapon. Po is joined by his old buddies – Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Crane (David Cross), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Monkey (Jackie Chan) – to protect the Valley of Peace.

Kung Fu Panda 2, the sequel to Dreamworks Animations’ heavily buzzed about Kung Fu Panda, is a wondrous equal to its perfectly enjoyable predecessor – if not slightly more sophisticated and well-rounded. The comedy, story and voice-work have all been upped in an attempt to combat sequel fatigue and, to the films merit, everyone pulls it off in a charmingly buoyant manner.

The script, penned by returning screenwriters Glenn Berger and Jonathan Aibel, is wonderfully paced, and a marked improvement on the original. Not only are Berger and Aibel able to strike the perfect balance between Po and the Furious Five’s quest to stop Lord Shen’s and Po’s heartbreaking discovery of his adoption, but they heighten the enjoyment factor with lampoonery, exhilarating action and the inclusion of an inspired kung fu-esque score by John Powell and Hans Zimmer. It’s not an easy task to alternate between the heaviness of characters lost childhood and spritely adventure, but Kung Fu Panda hits the nail on the head, exquisitely weaving the two strands together in a near seamless manner.

Director Jennifer Yuh Nelson oversees with a keen eye and indisputable zing that ensures Kung Fu Panda 2 preserves the marvellous spark and sheer gaiety that made the original so popular. A snappy pace and scenes that are choreographed with a distinct level of creativity – most notably the anime-infused flashback scenes revealing Po’s psychologically disturbed childhood and the hilarious Pac Man-esque chase sequence through Gongmen city – wholly infuse the film with an overarching fun disposition, and ensure the animation is as visually interesting and detailed as physically possible. The fact that Guillermo Del Toro acted as creative consultant shines through and indicates how dedicated Dreamworks Animation were to making a worthy sequel.

The film might boast first-rate animation and a refined script, but it’s the star-spangled voice-work that makes each and every madcap character stand out from the crowd and feel as integral as the last that is the films true prize. Black, in particular, gives a top-notch as the burgeoning Po, and is the ultimate heart and soul of the film. His personality has become so suffused with that of Po’s that it’s hard to think of them as two separate entities. Hoffman, Jolie and Rogen stand out amongst the supporting cast, each injecting the necessary laughs, thrills and enterprise into their roles.

It is, however, the new additions that steal the film. Oldman delivers a necessarily, and utterly convincingly level of menace as Lord Shen, while Yeoh and – try not to laugh – even Jean Claude Van Damme fit perfectly in their roles as Soothsayer and Master Croc, proving their worth as befitting additions to the already bountifully capable cast.

Kung Fu Panda 2 works not only as marvellous family entertainment, but also as an innovative and fervid animation spectacle, intercut with heartwarming revelations, thrilling action, skilful comedy, superlative voice-work, and a soaring soundtrack to boot. It’s a film for all ages, and one that unquestionably deserves to be cherished and enjoyed as much, if not more, than the first.

Review: Toy Story 3 (2010)

After 10 critically and commercially successful animated films, Pixar have established themselves as one of the foremost animation studios in the world, only to be rivalled by the likes of Studio Ghibli and Dreamworks Animation. Not only do Pixar distribute world-renowned films, but they’re also able to find the perfect mix of adult and child humour to entertain all demographics, something which some live-action films fail to achieve.

Toy Story 3’s release comes 11 years after Toy Story 2 hit cinema screens back in 1999, and finds Andy, now 17-years-old, departing for college, with his toys finding themsevles shipped off to a daycare centre known as Sunnyside. Old favourites Woody, Buzz, et al return for the final film, with new character in the form of the play-things found at the Sunnyside daycare centre, headed up by Lots-o’-Huggin’-Bear. The new toys are a perfect addition to an already wondrous line-up of toys. How Pixar keep coming up with new and inventive ideas is beyond me, but they never fail to capture, as well as dazzle, audiences around the world with their imaginative creations.

Sunnyside, despite the utopian facade, isn’t the safe haven the toys had hoped for, and it’s up to Woody to devise a cunning plan to help them escape and return to Andy before he departs for college. What ensues it a perfect quick-beat escape montage, mad-cap action sequences and hilarious setups, one in particular featuring Mr Potato Head.

Despite the heavy marketing surrounding the new Ken toy, with Michael Keaton providing excellent comic-timing, stealing the film, all characters are given ample screen-time, with a send-off that will have you wishing you’d brought tissues. It’s another example of how cutting-edge Pixar is as an animation studio, pushing the boundaries of the genre, whilst making their films funny and appealing to people of all demographics. It’s especially important with Toy Story 3, which comes 15 years after these incredible characters were first introduced to audiences. That audience, as well as the film, have moved on, so it’s wonderful to be able to see that change and growth reflected in the films tone, plot, attention-to-detail and character relations.

I was a little worried when I first read they were going to make Toy Story 3, mainly because I wasn’t entirely sure if they’d be able to match the success of the first two but, it’s with wondrous delight to say it’s honestly everything I hoped for, and more. From the ingenious opening sequences, to the final send-off, Toy Story 3 is a fitting, touching, funny and honest way to end one of the most beloved, and inspiring, franchises of all time. To this day, with 11 feature films in the bag, I marvel at everything Pixar has ever produced. Even the short, Night & Day, shown before before the feature film, displays how far animation has come in the past 15 years, and takes a nod at both 2D, the technology of the past, as well as 3D, the technology that will push directors to achieve greater things in the days and years to come. Pixar, I salute you.

Toy Story 3 was everything I wanted, and more. Funny, touching and assuring; the perfect ending to a marvellous trilogy.