The Drawing of the Three: Animated Threequels

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The Drawing of the Three: animated threequels

Before Cars 3 zooms into theatres, we look at the good, the bad and the okay third instalments in animated film series

By Jedd Jong

Big-budget animated films take a lot of work, and often have longer production periods than live-action films. Even with the latest technological advances, it takes weeks to produce footage that is onscreen for mere seconds. Some concepts gestate and evolve over several years. In the early-2000s, we saw a trend of animated movies receiving low-budget direct-to-DVD sequels. There have also been theatrically-released animated films that did well enough to warrant not only a sequel that also opened in theatres, but a third instalment too.

While Pixar’s Cars films are not nearly as beloved as some of the studio’s other output, they have become a merchandising goldmine, even inspiring the Cars Land section at Disney’s California Adventure theme park. The first film got a lukewarm reception, with Cars 2 receiving a critical drubbing – its 39% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes is the lowest of any Pixar film. The consensus is that Cars 3 is a marked improvement on its immediate predecessor. The film opened in the United States in June, and has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 68%.

In some cases, animated film series show signs of running out of steam at movie #3, but in others, the third instalment breathes new life into the franchise. On the count of three, here is an overview of five threequels in animated film series.

#1: SHREK THE THIRD

2001’s Shrek established DreamWorks Animation as a worthy competitor to Disney and Pixar, even though DreamWorks had butted heads with its powerful rival before. Loosely based on the children’s book by William Stieg, Shrek was energetic, irreverent and contained a resonant message about looking past appearances, and how judging someone on their appearance alone can end up negatively defining them. 2004’s Shrek 2, which introduced the villainous Fairy Godmother and Prince Charming characters as well as sidekick Puss in Boots, was a critical and commercial hit. However, the wheels came off the Shrek train with the third instalment, which was released in 2007.

In Shrek The Third, Shrek (Mike Myers), Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) embark on a road trip in search of Shrek’s nephew-in-law. The would-be heir to the throne is none other than Arthur Pendragon, or “Artie” (Justin Timberlake), who is attending a magical boarding school. The film also starred Monty Python alum Eric Idle as the voice of Merlin, and featured Fiona (Cameron Diaz) leading a posse of princesses voiced by comediennes including Amy Poehler, Amy Sedaris, Maya Rudolph and Cheri Oteri. The film drew a tepid critical reaction, with critics pointed out that it seemed to be working overtime to prove its wit with a smorgasbord of pop culture references, at the expense of the heart displayed in its two predecessors. Shrek the Third was followed by Shrek Forever After in 2010, and a Puss in Boots spinoff in 2011. The property is being ‘resurrected’, but it is not known if the fifth film will be a complete reboot.

#2: ICE AGE: DAWN OF THE DINOSAURS

Blue Sky Studios, which has produced animated films such as Rio, Epic and The Peanuts Movie, made its debut in 2002 with Ice Age. The animated film about an unlikely collection of critters who come across a human baby, who is the target of a Smilodon. Ice Age earned a positive critical reaction and was even nominated for a Best Animated Feature Film Oscar, which it lost to Spirited Away. The film’s break-out star, a sabre-toothed squirrel named Scrat, scuttled his way into the pop culture consciousness. Alas, it seemed that this first entry was destined to be the would-be franchise’s high point, as the four films that followed have received considerably icier receptions.

The first film was followed by 2006’s Ice Age: The Meltdown, with 2009’s Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs as the third entry in the series. In this film, Sid (John Leguizamo) the sloth is pursued by a Tyrannosaurus rex after he unwittingly “adopts” three eggs that hatch into new-born T. rexes. The dinosaurs have survived the extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous period by hiding in a subterranean jungle. The film drew criticism for its tired story, but was praised for the quality of its animation. Disagreeing with the consensus was the late Roger Ebert, who awarded the film 3.5 out of 4 stars and called it the best in the series yet. Two more sequels, 2012’s Ice Age: Continental Drift and 2016’s Ice Age: Collision Course, have been produced.

#3: KUNG FU PANDA 3

DreamWorks Animation introduced the world to the loveable panda Po (Jack Black) in 2008’s Kung Fu Panda. Pretty much the ultimate promoted fanboy, Po goes from playing with action figures of the Furious Five to joining the team of warriors. The Kung Fu Panda films boast one of the glitziest casts DreamWorks, known for hiring A-list names as voice actors, has assembled. Black is joined by Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, David Cross, Jackie Chan, Dustin Hoffman and James Hong.  The three films have been consistently well-regarded by critics, with the first film receiving an 87% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the second scoring 81% and the third getting 87% as well. The series’ use of Chinese culture and traditions as inspiration for its anthropomorphic world and the energy and creativity with which its action scenes are animated have contributed to its praise. The first Kung Fu Panda film also performed well in China, leading to introspection from the Chinese film industry, whose domestically-produced animated films have often been criticised as being poor in quality. China responded with 2011’s Legend of a Rabbit, a.k.a. Legend of Kung Fu Rabbit, a knockoff of Kung Fu Panda.

In 2016’s Kung Fu Panda 3, Po is reunited with his long-lost father Li Shan (Bryan Cranston), who takes Po to a hidden village of pandas. In the meantime, the Furious Five are menaced by Kai (J.K. Simmons), a powerful spirit warrior who has defeated numerous Kung Fu masters and stolen their chi. Kai has Po, the Dragon Warrior himself, in his crosshairs. Po must train his ungainly kin into fighting-fit warriors to defeat Kai, as Shifu (Hoffman) announces his retirement, passing the mantle of teacher on to Po. Mads Mikkelsen was originally cast as Kai, but the character was rewritten and recast with Simmons. Rebel Wilson was also originally cast as Mei Mei, a panda with a crush on Po, but was replaced by Kate Hudson. Scheduling conflicts were cited as the reason, but Wilson has argued that tabloid articles accusing her of lying about her age and upbringing were what led to her being fired from the animated film. DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg has planned the series to have six chapters. A fourth movie is supposedly in development, but a release date and casting hasn’t been announced.

#4: DESPICABLE ME 3

The most recent entry on this list is Despicable Me 3, which was released in June of this year. The first Despicable Me film was released in 2010, and was the debut animated feature film from French studio Mac Guff. Mac Guff has since been acquired by Illumination Entertainment. Thanks largely to the success of the Despicable Me franchise, Illumination has become a major player in the animation scene. It was established as the family entertainment arm of NBCUniversal, and in 2016, NBCUniversal acquired DreamWorks Animation. The Shrek ‘resurrection’ we mentioned earlier? That, and the rest of DreamWorks’ upcoming animated movie slate, is being overseen by Illumination founder Chris Meledandri. The first Despicable Me film was about how the supervillain Gru (Steve Carell) eventually becomes the foster father to three young girls, but the show was stolen by Gru’s army of capsule-shaped assistants, the Minions. The Minions became a merchandising phenomenon, got a spin-off to themselves in 2015, and even have their own ride at Universal Studios theme parks.

Despicable Me 3 sees Gru meet his long-lost twin brother Dru (also Carell), while battling 80s-themed supervillain and washed-up child star Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker). A subplot sees Gru’s wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig) trying to adapt to her new role as foster mother to Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Nev Scharrel). While the lively animation and larger-than-life action sequences were praised, the contrived plot device of a long-lost twin sibling was seen by some critics as a sign that the franchise was running out of ideas. By now, the Minions have become a lightning rod for scorn, with many viewers rolling their eyes at an extended subplot about the Minions mutinying against Gru and getting thrown in prison. Illumination also displayed signs of smugness, taking a hard swipe at Finding Nemo in the film’s opening minutes (Gru’s submersible slams into a clownfish, leaving its father distraught as only its son’s severed fin remains). The franchise shows no signs of slowing down, with Minions 2 set for a 2020 release date.

#5: TOY STORY 3

In 1995, Pixar Animation Studios created the first feature-length computer-generated animated film ever made: Toy Story. An industry game changer, Toy Story was an auspicious feature-length debut for a company that had been tinkering with high-tech animation techniques and showcasing them in short films for some time. Toy Story is about the secret life that the denizens of Andy’s toybox have when he is not around. Andy’s favourite toy has long been the cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks). Woody feels threatened when Andy brings home a new toy, the spacefaring Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), who believes he is an actual space ranger and refuses to accept that he is a toy. Woody attempts to win back Andy’s affections and must begrudgingly cooperate when Woody and Buzz find themselves endangered by Sid, Andy’s neighbour who takes delight in dismantling and reassembling toys.

The Toy Story films are critical darlings – the first film is one of the few in existence to have a perfect 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes. 1999’s Toy Story 2, in which Woody gets stolen by a toy collector and has to be rescued by Buzz and the other toys, also earned a 100% Tomatometer rating. In 2010’s Toy Story 3, the toys confront an uncertain future as Andy, now grown up, prepares to leave for college. In addition to boasting the usual high-quality animation and fine vocal performances that Pixar had become known for, Toy Story 3’s deep meditation on loss, nostalgia and the process of growing up moved many viewers to tears. The film has a 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes – the first negative review counted by the site coming, predictably enough, from infamously contrarian critic Armond White. Other critics gave the film glowing reviews, with the BBC’s Mark Kermode declaring the Toy Story series “the best movie trilogy of all time”. The film also topped filmmaker Quentin Tarantino’s list of favourite films of 2010. While many feel Toy Story 3 works as a beautifully bittersweet note on which to end the series, Toy Story 4 is set for a 2019 release and will be about Woody and Buzz’s search for the lost toy, Bo Peep.

Cars 3 opens in Singapore on 31 August 2017.

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Kung Fu Panda 3

F*** Magazine

KUNG FU PANDA 3

Director : Jennifer Yuh Nelson, Alessandro Carloni
Cast : Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Kate Hudson, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, James Hong, Randall Duk Kim, Bryan Cranston, J.K. Simmons
Genre : Animation
Run Time : 95 mins
Opens : 10 March 2016
Rating : G

The rotund, ever-enthusiastic harbinger of awesomeness himself, Po (Black) the Dragon Warrior, has returned to deliver swift justice and wolf down dumplings in the third instalment of the Kung Fu Panda series. The fiendish spirit warrior Kai (Simmons), who formerly fought alongside Master Oogway (Kim), is intent on capturing the chiof all the kung fu masters throughout the land, imprisoning them within jade amulets. In the meantime, Master Shifu (Hoffman) announces his retirement and tasks Po with training the Furious Five, comprising Tigress (Jolie), Viper (Liu), Monkey (Chan), Mantis (Rogen) and Crane (Cross). While Po struggles with his new responsibilities, his biological father Li Shan (Cranston) arrives to take his long-lost son to a secret panda village. This incites the jealousy of Po’s adoptive father Mr. Ping (Hong). When Kai has his sights set on the panda village, Po must transform his ungainly kin into a fearsome army to defeat their powerful foe.

            It can be said that 2008’s Kung Fu Panda was something of a turning point for Dreamworks Animation, eschewing excessive popular culture references (but still keeping an all-star voice cast) in favour of something more character-driven, drawing upon Chinese culture for design and story elements. Kung Fu Panda 3 retains much of what made the first two films appealing: it’s breath-taking to look at, the characters are loveable and it’s heartfelt. However, true poignancy seems just out of the movie’s grasp, and the philosophy being dispensed doesn’t go much deeper than “believe in yourself”. Also, even though the stakes seem pretty high, with an immortal villain going after all the kung fu masters in the land, the sense of devastation is insufficient. These films have to strike a balance between depicting battles against evil and kid-friendly goofing off. The scales are ever so slightly uneven here.

            What’s great about Po is there are still lessons for him to learn and challenges for him to conquer; he might have come a long way but there’s still a distance to go yet. This film delves into Po’s crisis of identity: he’s been raised by a goose his whole life, but then his actual dad enters stage left and introduces him to a whole village of pandas he’s never known. What does this make Po? It’s roly-poly slapstick first and depth second, but it counts for something that the filmmakers have figured out a way to keep Po’s character from reaching a comfortable plateau. Black wears the role like a second skin and Po’s earnestness, fanboy attitude and moments of self-doubt are traits many viewers identify with.

            Kai has all the makings of a formidable villain, but something’s missing and this reviewer can’t quite pinpoint what. As the series’ first supernatural baddie, he’s easily the most powerful of the foes Po and company have faced off against. Simmons does a decent gruff bellow and the character design is physically imposing. In terms of impact, he is perhaps on par with Tai Lung from the first film but lacks the almost unsettling menace of Kung Fu Panda 2’s Lord Shen. His motivations are also significantly less developed than those of the afore-mentioned previous antagonists.

            Cranston contributes an affable warmth to the part of Li Shan, with a “dopey dad” vibe that brings to mind his role as Hal in Malcolm in the Middle. The conflict between Po’s two dads seems like a stronger driving force for the story than the oncoming threat of Kai’s attacks. Ping’s initial suspicion of Li Shan and how he comes to terms with the fact that Po’s biological father is back in his life is both funny and touching, giving Hong a little more to do than just be the fussbudget. Of the Furious Five, Jolie’s Tigress gets the most screen time and the team’s resident stoic gets to show a little bit of a soft side as she bonds with a little panda girl. It seems like Mei Mei, a panda who has amorous designs on Po, was originally given more to do in the story. As it stands, the character is largely inconsequential. Perhaps it stems from the re-casting of the role, with Rebel Wilson replaced by Kate Hudson due to scheduling conflicts.

            The martial arts sequences choreographed by animator Randolph Guenoden continue to be outstanding and a portion of the film takes place in the Chinese spirit realm, which changes the look up a little. There are a number of specific lines and jokes that are direct call-backs to the first two movies, which should make watching all three back-to-back somewhat rewarding. As far as we’re concerned, the franchise has yet to outstay its welcome, but Kung Fu Panda 3 shows signs of why one might be worried.



Summary: Kung Fu Panda 3 is spectacularly animated and gives Po more character development, but its underwhelming villain and emotional arcs that show promise but fall short of sublime are a bit of a disappointment.

RATING: 3.5out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong