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Kung Fu Panda

“There once was a legendary warrior whose legendary kung fu skills were the stuff of legends…”

From his humble noodle kitchen, chubby panda Po dreams of being a kung fu warrior. When he has a chance to see kung fu master Oogway chose the “Dragon Warrior,” Po will do anything to get a good view – including blasting over the wall on a chair strapped to fireworks. When his homemade rocket crashes into the middle of the arena, Po wakes up to find Oogway pointing at him. Oogway claims Po is destined to be the Dragon Warrior, but his successor Shifu is sure it’s a mistake. Shifu takes it upon himself to pummel the panda until he quits, but the return of China’s most feared enemy forces both master and student to reconsider. Can an overweight panda truly be the Dragon Warrior?

I’ll be the first to admit that Dreamwork’s Kung Fu Panda is a shallow movie. The loose storyline is predominately composed of exaggerated drama and unrealistic action sequences that revel in corny kung fu “awesomeness.” The characters have little depth, the story has no lasting morals, and the most iconic part of the animation is Shifu’s twitching ears. The movie is ridiculous and pointless – and that’s exactly why I like it. Read on for my reasoning.

The Legendary

Kung Fu Panda’s biggest plus is its clean bill of health. There is no romance and no immodesty, and the closest thing to language is one slang use of the word “suck.” The only spots are a few brief instances of fairly mild crude humor. The result is a great “harmlessly fun” movie; it’s one of my favorite films to watch when I need something “brainless.” I can have fun without worrying about being bombarded with objectionable content.

Po learns a fairly typical lesson of “be yourself.” While the main theme of the movie isn’t very strong or memorable, there are a few positive subthemes. It’s shown how everyone can succeed if they embrace the challenge, and true greatness doesn’t ultimately come from skill or any “secret powers.” Additionally, the authority of the kung fu masters is well-respected; even the greatest warriors fail when they go against their master’s wishes, while homely Po is able to succeed by dedicating himself to Shifu’s training.

While the animation and character design are solid but not particularly memorable, the music of the film is lively and fun, a unique cross of Western action music and Asian themes. The Chinese scenery and costume is also lovely.

The Wimpy

While it is to be expected with a movie based on kung fu, the violence of the film is worth mentioning. There is almost constant kung fu action, some of which involves vicious moves like smashing opponents through the sides of buildings. Ultimately, no one gets hurt or even draws blood; [spoiler!] the one death comes from a mystical move in which the enemy apparently vanishes in a wave of pure energy. While I do not find this exaggerated violence disturbing, it may be of concern for families with younger children.

The film also has a mystic overtone, which is not surprising given the Chinese setting. The characters practice some rituals reminiscent of Asian religions, and talk is made of harmony, inner peace, and similar concepts. However, no reference is made of gods or real-world religions, except for a brief appearance of a yin-yang symbol. The most religious aspect of the film is the emphasis on destiny; the characters stubbornly insist that it is the Dragon Warrior’s destiny to defeat the feared enemy, and no one else is allowed to even try.

While it is not the main theme of the movie, Po does argue with his father about his future. Po’s father insists that maintaining the noodle business is Po’s destiny, but Po ignores his father’s wishes by leaving the noodle cart behind when he goes to see the ceremony. Ultimately, however, it’s an accident that Po gets roped into kung fu, and his father stays out of the picture until the end, when he also embraces Po’s destiny.

And the winner is…

Where Kung Fu Panda lacks in substance, it makes up for with innocent fun. It’s a film I enjoy watching semi-frequently to keep me entertained while working on projects at my desk, and I appreciate that I can watch a fun movie without cringing over the content. While the mysticism needs to be recognized as false, the overall tone of the film is exaggeratedly playful. If you have a good sense of humor or just need an evening off, you might have fun with this one.

Just remember – Po’s not a big fat panda. He’s the big fat panda.

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Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast Poster“Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme…”

The story is a familiar one – a spoiled prince is turned into a hideous beast as punishment for his selfishness. His only hope of breaking the spell is to convince someone to love him before the last petal falls from a magical rose. Add in a delightful cast of enchanted objects and a rich score from Alan Menken, paint it all in charming 2D animation, and you have the Disney classic Beauty and the Beast.

Beauty and the Beast was a childhood favorite of mine. But then I grew old, stopped watching movies, and put Disney’s animated tales behind me. Now, several years later, I’m a screenwriter and watching movies more regularly. Since I have a special interest in animation, I decided to revisit some classic Disney tales and see how they held up. Beauty and the Beast pleasantly surprised me and has regained a position on my shelf of DVDs. It is perhaps my most favorite classic Disney film, as well as my favorite Disney fairytale remake. Here’s why.

The Beautiful

Perhaps the most wonderful aspect of this film is Belle’s motivations. Despite longing for excitement, Belle doesn’t run away from home in search of love or adventure. Instead, she leaves in search of her father – and sells herself to the Beast in exchange for her father’s freedom. This attitude is wholesome and a delight to see.

Similarly, the romance that develops between Belle and the Beast is based on several admirable character traits. Belle begins to respect the Beast when he heroically saves her life from a pack of wolves; afterwards, both begin to put aside their selfishness and look out for the other’s interests. The result is an obvious but worthy theme of “beauty comes from within” – looking to the heart rather than appearances.

This theme is contrasted by the arrogant Gaston. Gaston is handsome; all the town girls fawn over him – except Belle. Belle recognizes Gaston’s cocky and selfish actions and refuses to fall for him. But Gaston won’t take no for an answer; unlike the Beast, Gaston will do anything to get Belle, which [SPOILER!] ultimately ends in his death. The portrayal of Gaston clearly shows that good looks are not a deciding factor in true love.

The Beastly

The movie is pleasantly clean; there is no crude humor or innuendo and only one or two instances of mild language. However, the film is not completely spotless; of most concern is the immodesty. While most of Belle’s dresses are delightfully feminine and modest, her ball gown has bare shoulders and a low neckline. Additionally, many of the women around the town have revealing necklines.

While the Beast is a loveable character, he has one instance of unmanliness that concerns me. [SPOILER!] After the Beast selflessly lets Belle return to her father, he appears to “give up” on life. He does not react when raiders come to the castle, leaving his servants to organize the battle. When Gaston attacks him, the Beast does not fight back – until he sees Belle arrive. While it is natural for the Beast to be somber after losing his true love, depression is no excuse for weakness and surrender. By giving up, the Beast suggests that Belle was the only thing worth living for, instead of fighting for his castle like a true ruler.

In regards to magic, the only spell cast is that of the enchantress during the prologue. The only magic that the characters “use” during the course of the film is a mirror which allows the Beast to see anything he wants. I consider this type of magic to be tame and acceptable for the purposes of a fairytale and did not find it disturbing.

Happily Ever After

Overall, Beauty and the Beast enchanted me with its well-written story and wholesome themes. The clean content and admirable characters make it a fairytale I can not only enjoy but also emulate in my own writing. While the minor content issues are worth nothing, Beauty and the Beast has earned a place in my adult life as a film that is truly a classic.

The Greatest Game Ever Played

The Greatest Game Ever Player Poster“Golf is a game played by gentlemen, not by the likes of you.”

Francis is a caddy, and caddies are not allowed to play golf. But when a benevolent club member gives Francis an opportunity to try his hand at the course, the poor immigrant breaks into the game as an amateur. Despite being scorned by the wealthier members of the club, Francis takes a shot at his first championship – and fails to qualify. Francis trades his dream of playing golf and for a mundane retail job, until a club member comes back and offers him a chance to try out for the U.S. Open. Against all odds, Francis plays in the qualifying round – and places.

The Greatest Game Ever Played is a rich drama that follows Francis’s fight against society and fear to play the game of his dreams. With a carefree 10-year-old caddy by his side, Francis rises to challenge his childhood hero, British golf master Harry Vardon. The resulting tale of drama twists emotion so beautifully that even the most sports-ignorant viewers can yearn for the characters and their struggle.

The Good

The Greatest Game Ever Played is a classic “underdog” story. Time and time again it is shown that wealth, social status, popularity, and even talent do not give a person worth. Francis overcomes poverty and ridicule to break into the game; even Vardon is shown as fighting against the ghosts of people in his past who told him he could not play.

The film also places significant focus on the error of pride. Players that get cocky or arrogant fall, while those that play with quiet determination pull through. On several occasions, Francis falters when he gets distracted by the ridicule of those around him. His cheerfully profound caddy tells him to focus on playing his game and let the other guys play theirs – advice that ultimately allows Francis to conquer his fears.

The Bad

The most troubling element about the film is Francis’s relationship with his father. The hardworking man challenges Francis to get a real paying job – a worthy argument. But Francis’s mother goes against her husband’s wishes to help Francis get a start in the game, and Francis later breaks a promise to his father to never play again. It is the sight of his dad watching from the sidelines that causes Francis to lose the qualifying round for his first championship. By the end of the film, [SPOILER!] Francis’s father comes to rejoice in his son’s victory, but the implied message is questionable.

From a content standpoint, the film is fairly clean, with just a few spots, most of which are related to the historical culture. There is a great deal of drinking and smoking, although Francis does neither. Some mild language is tossed around, and there is a brief scene of drunken violence.

In Conclusion

The drama in this film is thrilling and engrossing; it’s a great film to get lost in for an evening in front of the TV. But ultimately, that is the only purpose the movie served. I didn’t take away any compelling messages or favorite characters. If you like a good drama, this film is worth a try, even if you don’t play golf. But I don’t think I’ll be rewatching the film often.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs PosterQuirky backyard inventor Flint Lockwood has a plan to revive his dreary hometown – invent a machine that converts water into food. Unfortunately, his machine needs more electricity than his house can provide, so he hooks the machine up to the town’s power station. When the machine turns into a rocket and destroys the town’s new tourist attraction before disappearing into the sky, Flint thinks his inventing days are over for good – until a colorful storm rolls into town. And suddenly it’s raining cheeseburgers.

Based loosely off of the classic children’s book by the same name, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is a fast-paced, brightly-colored story that’s absolutely ridiculous – and that’s precisely what makes it wonderful. The film combines slapstick action, exaggerated characters, and a generous dose of humor in the perfect recipe to bring the far-fetched premise to life.

The Sweet

One of the best things about this film is its refreshing approach to a worn-out theme. Flint is your classic oddball geek with no social graces; no one understands him, including his father. However, instead of proving his father wrong, Flint comes to respect his father and calls on his wisdom for the final victory. Meanwhile, Flint’s father encourages his son to use his talents to do what’s right. The wonderful relationship is very wholesome and a delight to see.

The film has a strong theme of responsibility. Flint is challenged by his father to clean up after his mistakes, while the burly local policeman rallies the town to own up to their part of the disaster. The passionate cop has a warm devotion to his family and a strong desire to protect his son, making him a very admirable masculine character.

In addition to having an enjoyable premise, the film features some expert writing. The story is well-paced and logical despite the ridiculousness, with the dialog and characters being brilliantly done. To sweeten the deal, the movie is surprisingly clean, featuring very little objectionable content.

As the icing on the cake, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs has absolutely stunning art. The animation is spectacular; the lovably exaggerated characters fit the mood of the story perfectly, while the bright colors are true eye candy. The rich score completes the picture.

The Sour

The movie isn’t spotless, however. There is a smattering of mild language and some immodesty. Most notably, a young man revisits his time as a baby celebrity by wearing just a diaper for a significant part of the film.

Additionally, there is a romance between Flint and the anchorwoman who comes to televise the food weather. Like the rest of the film, the romance is exaggerated and humorous, making it largely innocent – but there are a few nerdy kissing scenes.

In Conclusion

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is a treat to watch not only for the delicious art, but also for the hearty writing. If you’re looking for a film that captures the charm of the original picture book, you aren’t going to find it. This movie is gleefully ridiculous, and it knows it. But if you’re up for some crazy but wholesome fun, grab your umbrella – the weather’s great.

The King and I

The King and I PosterThe year is 1862, and staunch Anna, a British widow, has just arrived on the banks of Siam to serve as schoolteacher for the king’s children. After being informed that the king has broken his promise of providing her a house separate from the palace, Anna storms into the court and demands audience with the king. Impressed with Anna’s “scientific” bravery, the king convinces her to stay by introducing her to his family. Anna cannot resist the innocent charm of the king’s children – even if there are a hundred and three of them.

The King and I, a sweeping Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical from the 50s, follows the adventure and romance as Anna finds her place in the king’s court. Masterful music, gorgeous costume, and skilled acting tell the story of the king’s struggle to choose the best for his kingdom and Anna’s search to understand the heart of her employer. As she becomes more involved in palace life, Anna finds herself falling in love with the Siamese people – and their king.

The Good

Even though the film exposes some of the errors in the historical Siamese culture, the narrative takes a very fair and balanced approach. Though Anna disapproves of some of the Siamese traditions, she does not attempt to convert her students into respectable Englishmen. When word of British takeover reaches the ears of the king, Anna thoroughly disapproves and helps the court make a good impression on the British ambassadors.

Similarly, the king himself is not portrayed as a heartless despot, but rather a well-meaning man with unanswered questions. His first love is to his country and his people and he deeply desires to be a good king. He is strong and does his best, even when his values conflict with each other.

The king’s head wife is a supportive and kind-hearted woman. She admits her husband’s faults yet loves him fully, encouraging Anna to do the same. She believes her husband will come through and strives to give him the help he needs.

The Bad

Discerning viewers might be concerned by several aspects of the Siamese culture, most notably Buddhism and polygamy. These elements are portrayed very vividly in the film and are not necessarily condemned as unbiblical. There is a fair amount of immodesty involved as well, which should be approached with caution.

Romance and women’s rights are a strong subtheme throughout the movie, with British and Siamese beliefs being contrasted. Anna and the king become affectionate for each other, which culminates in a swelling dance. One of the king’s many wives is in love with another man; their romance involves secret meetings and ultimately ends with suicide. It is left unclear whether or not the lovers were right to revolt against the king’s system in pursuit of happiness.

Christianity is mentioned a few times during the film as part of British culture, but it is neither supported nor disproved. When trying to explain the first chapter of Genesis to the king, Anna says that Moses’ record was “His interpretation of the miracle of Creation.” While praying to Buddha, the king admits that Anna is a Christian and therefore not worthy of Buddha’s favor, to which Anna objects. However, Anna herself is not portrayed has having any faith or dependence on God.

In Summary

The King and I is a rich drama with a lot of depth. The color of the Siamese culture fascinated me, and the charming characters made me both laugh and cry. However, because of the romance and immodesty, and certain aspects of the Siamese culture, I can recommend this movie for discerning teen and adult viewers only.

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