Monday 6 June 2011

Movie Review: Kung Fu Panda 2

Panda is back with a vengeance or should I say a humorous sometimes side-splitting vengeance. While all the original characters are back, this is in no way a retread of the first movie. The film makers have presented a brand new story with a new evil to rally against and an expansion of the origins of our favourite Po. Were we all just to accept that Po's father was a goose? Ah, well you see... okay, I won't spoil it.

I continue to be absolutely floored at modern computer animation. Holy cow, is it good or what? The bar has been raised so high, everybody has to keep up. Just imagine that the budget of this film totalled $150 million. Good lord that's a lot of money. Nevertheless, the reports show that the film is going to quite easily turn a profit.

I saw the film in 3D. Yes, you get a choice as the film has been simultaneously released in 2D and 3D so you, the audience, get a choice. I mention this as the famed movie critic Roger Ebert hates 3D. He thinks it's merely an annoyance being fobbed off on us by Hollywood as a supposedly superior movie going experience. Beats me. I still see films in 2D and am not thinking I'm getting jipped but on the other hand, the movie Thor which was in 3D did not seem as 3D-ish as Kung Fu Panda. The 3D in Thor was pretty much a waste of an effect. And I noted that my 3D ticket cost me an extra $3.

Computer Animation
Way back in 1982, at the dawn of the era of PCs, I saw a short film made by some university where a stick figure walked across the screen. It was explained how a computer program drew the figure, a camera took a frame then the computer redrew the stick figure positioned slightly forward. This was very, very primitive consisting of nothing more than a figure with no backdrop whatsoever. I remember at the time mulling over how this was the same idea as cartoons. Each subsequent picture or drawing was slightly different so that when the series of drawings were shown one after another, the eye interpreted this as motion. I remember 24 frames per second as being the standard to avoid the "flickering" of images. (Wikipedia: Persistence of Vision)

Fast forward to today. Anybody who had dabbled with the technology back then would watch with their mouths wide open at what is being accomplished with today's computer animation. The complexity of the figures shown in Kung Fu Panda is absolutely incredible when I think back on that stick figure. The sophistication of the computer generated models to account for three dimensions, squash and stretch, even individual hair follicles is unprecedented.

What I have not been able to discover is the length of time necessary to generate an individual frame. If I take 24 frames per second, that's 1,440 frames per minute or 131,040 frames for the total running time of 91 minutes. I'm trying to remember but I've got a vague recollection that as well as the film of the stick figure, somebody showed me the program used to generate the frames. Of course, this was 1982 so how much horsepower did one of those machines have? I think it may have taken a minute to draw a single frame. Today? How long would it take to generate a single frame of something as complex as Kung Fu Panda? FYI: I see the budget of this film was $150 million. Good lord, those computers cost a lot!

Then there's the question of how the animators come up with the original character - a background film on Pixar showed me that people still do a lot of drawing - and then how to program that original character into a computer. It's all magic, no?

Sound and voice
I look over the past year. I've seen Toy Story 3, Despicable Me, Megamind, Rango, and now Panda 2 and all of them are terrific computer animations. What's curious in looking at this is that the visual part of these films is computer generated but as of yet, the voices are not. Will the real feel of a character continue to rely on a human being to breathe life into it? This was just a curious observation about the idea of using computers to generate a film.

Closing Credits
As far back as I can remember I always sat through the credits. I always wanted to review the cast to see which actor which part, who did the music and what musical pieces might have been used, etc. I became more familiar with the names of those who worked on the different parts of the production.

In the past some years, studios have been throwing things into the closing credits which people are missing by getting up and leaving immediately. Toy Story had "outtakes" with Woody and the other characters flubbing their lines. Others have had separate little skits. And, Iron Man 2 all the way at the end after all the closing credits had passed had a two minute preview of the up-coming movie Thor. Talk about connecting the (Marvel) dots.

I was amused last week when I saw X-Men: First Class when one of the guys who came in to clean up the theatre after the show, yelled out to the audience that there was nothing else to see in closing credits. Good call. Was everybody else in the theatre waiting with the expectation of seeing something?

Oh, by the way, Kung F Panda 2 doesn't have anything to see so if you get up and leave, you're not missing some hidden gem. I do have to comment on the number of names in the credits. Good gravy, but there are a lot of people who worked on this film. I mean a lot!

Final Word
Terrific family entertainment although I read comments from a mother with really young children who were slightly scared of some of the action scenes. Hmmm, maybe this isn't for a five year old? You adults out there are also going to walk away entertained. There is enough here for the whole family. I highly recommend the film. The movie studio Dreamworks is putting out a wonderful product and is certainly stiff competition to Pixar in the area of computer animation.


Rotten Tomatoes: Kung Fu Panda 2: 81%

Wikipedia: : Kung Fu Panda 2
Kung Fu Panda 2 is a 2011 3D American computer-animated action comedy film and the sequel to the 2008 film Kung Fu Panda. The cast of the original film reprised their voice roles. The film was released on May 26, 2011 in Real D 3D and Digital 3D.


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