Year 8, Day 354 - 12/19/16 - Movie #2,496
BEFORE: I don't have a copy of this film in the collection yet, but I'm going to spend a couple dollars and watch it on iTunes or Amazon tonight, because it helps me link to the end of the year. Once I found my endpoint, I determined that the road there has to go through Jack Black, and the link between "The Night Before" and Jack Black is this film, with Seth Rogen carrying over.
I know, I know, what about "Sausage Party"? With the voices of Seth Rogen AND James Franco, wouldn't that have been a more natural progression? Well, sure, but as I said the other day, I don't have enough slots. If I had ONE more slot this year, I could have used it for "Sausage Party" and then followed up with tonight's film, but that would mean pushing one film with Jack Black into 2017, and I've had "Nacho Libre" on the books for at least two years, with no way to link to it. Better to clear that film now, and "Sausage Party" has such a large cast, I should have no problem finding another way to get to it. After Christmas I can review the entire watchlist and get started on figuring out next year's chain.
But it's too bad that both "Rogue One" and this film were not on the watchlist, so while they help me progress, they don't help me reduce my numbers. The watchlist is currently at 143, well above the low point of 103, but still below the year's starting point, which was 160. I've only got a few chances left to keep it from getting to 150 before the end of regulation play.
FOLLOW-UP TO: "Kung Fu Panda 2" (Movie #1,284)
THE PLOT: Continuing his "legendary adventures of awesomeness", Po must face two hugely epic, but different threats: one supernatural and the other a little closer to his home.
AFTER: Normally I'd prefer to run a bunch of animated films together, because that usually helps both my actor linking and my thematic linking, but I'm satisfied with running this one here. It ended up relatively close to a Star Wars film, and there's a little bit of thematic overlap there, since the Jedi were loosely based on Asian warriors like Samurai (yes, I realize this film is set in China, not Japan, but work with me here...) plus there's a lot of mention of "chi" energy here, and is that really so much different from the Force?
I also look for little commonalities, things that might be going on in my life that tell me that I'm on the right track - and Sunday my wife and I did go out to a little place in Queens for soup dumplings. We're obsessed with those things, and we also had some shanghai pan-fried noodles to go with them - and just like us, Po can eat a lot of dumplings and noodles! Then, when I'd finished watching the film, in the early hours of Monday morning, I got up from my desk and the first thing I saw was the calendar on the wall behind my wife's computer - and what was on the calendar? A baby panda!
I really liked this film, it looked great, and it will probably look better when I see it on cable in HD, instead of on SD on my computer through Amazon. (Damn, I should have ordered it on iTunes, but it was like 2 dollars more there!) The CGI is beautiful (not something I say often) and they even managed to make each panda distinct, I think it would have been very easy to just copy the same panda face again and again. They did a good job assigning different characteristics to each animal, especially the villain, who's a snorting, charging bull. The other studios are now riffing off of this with films like "Zootopia" and "Sing" (I saw the preview before "Rogue One") and the common belief is that more is better - like, why have 10 different animals in your film when you can have 100? But I think at some point more is just too much, I'd rather see 10 or 12 different animals, like in a "Kung Fu Panda" film.
The hero journey of Po finally comes around full circle, when his Master retires from teaching, and recommends that Po become a teacher in his place, to further train the Furious Five. This leads to a bunch of fortune-cookie sounding bits of wisdom, like "I can't teach you to be me, I can only teach you to be YOU." Meanwhile the evil Kai has broken free from the spirit realm, and according to the prophesy, he can only be beaten by someone who has the power over chi, which conveniently is an arcane knowledge protected by the pandas. So when his long-lost father shows up, Po must discover his origin and get in touch with his inner panda, to unlock the secrets of chi.
NITPICK POINT: I'm glad that Po found out where he came from, and that he learned to be a panda, but it's too bad that being a panda seems to involve mostly eating, being overweight and being lazy, for the first half of the film, anyway. This is counter-productive to the message from the first two films in the series, during which he overcame these tendencies and trained hard in Kung Fu to become the Dragon Warrior. So it's a step backwards for his character, and this also doesn't make him a good role model for the kids, at least during the times where he's just chillaxing in Hidden Panda Valley. Sure, he eventually gets all of the pandas to exercise and train, but for a good portion of the film, the message was very muddled.
Anyway, the pandas teach Po how to be a panda, and then Po teaches the pandas how to fight, but that's comprised of stuff straight out of "The Karate Kid". Remember when Daniel-San didn't realize that waxing Mr. Miyagi's car was really teaching him karate moves. Yeah, same damn thing here. The pandas know how to roll down hills, play hacky-sack with dumplings and twirl ribbons, and all of these skills end up being weaponized. Po and his allies then have the ability to confront Kai, enter the spirit realm and defeat the evil power. I didn't really remember the Wuxi finger-hold "Ska-doosh" defense from the first two films, maybe I missed it.
Also starring the voices of Jack Black (last seen in "The Holiday"), Bryan Cranston (last heard in "Batman: Year One"), Dustin Hoffman (also last seen in "The Holiday"), Angelina Jolie (last seen in "Original Sin"), J.K. Simmons (last seen in "The Music Never Stopped"), Jackie Chan (last seen in "Around the World in 80 Days"), Lucy Liu (last seen in "Play It to the Bone"), David Cross (last seen in "Pitch Perfect 2"), Kate Hudson (last seen in "Nine"), James Hong (last seen in "R.I.P.D."), Randall Duk Kim (last seen in "John Wick"), Wayne Knight (last seen in "Everybody's All-American"), Fred Tatasciore (last heard in "Hotel Transylvania 2"), with vocal cameos from Al Roker (last seen in "Ghostbusters"), Willie Geist, Jean-Claude Van Damme (last seen in "The Expendables 2")
RATING: 7 out of 10 tiny rat helmets