Guest Post – Rebutting The Guardian’s Attack on Stop-Motion

There has been some negativity lately about stop motion animation, specifically this year when so many features have turned out in the medium. Among the criticism an article appeared in the Guardian and I can’t help but voice my opinion on the matter.  I’ll try to keep the opinionated ranting to a minimum and stick to facts, but so much of film (be it stop motion, CG, live action or any combination thereof) ties in to your emotion, your gut reaction, that I cannot possibly leave it out altogether.

First, a bit of background.  Hi, I’m Jessie. I graduated in 2008 with a degree in Computer Animation from Ringling College of Art and Design and have been floating around LA ever since.  I’m currently employed as a technical director (aka 3D / compositing / post production generalist) for television animation.  Though my education was dedicated to CGI, which is currently paying my rent, I’ve always had a soft spot for stop motion.  I suppose it started when James and the Giant Peach blew my mind in 1996.  True, I had seen Nightmare Before Chistmas three years prior, but that I appreciated for its music.  It was James that won me over not only for its stylistic choices but for how it blurred the line between live action and animation, making the models as real as the actors they stood opposite despite their cartoonish representations.  In 2000 “The Periwig-Maker” brought me back to the medium, and for years to come I’d seek out stop motion.  An original Clash of the Titans poster graces my living room while the film itself sits in a row with Coraline and Corpse Bride.  Harryhausen’s Jason and the Argonauts nestles comfortably between The Iron Giant and Jurassic Park.  A Henry Selick signed copy of Nightmare is wedged in tightly somewhere in the back so my dog can’t get to it.  Basically what I’m trying to say is I’m a huge nerd, so bear with me.

Anyway, on to the rebuttals.  Let’s start with finances, since that’s the most tangible:

Computer-reliant Shrek 2 has taken $900m globally, and Toy Story 3$1bn. However, the most successful stop-mo film of all time, Chicken Run, has pulled in only $220m. Coraline, the genre’s darling of recent years, has garnered a mere $120m. The public seem less impressed by stop-mo’s products than the cineastic upper crust. Not that this bothers some of the latter: they’re convinced their preference is aesthetically superior.”

Frankenweenie may take a lot less at the box office than Hotel Transylvania. But it was made for a mere $39m. Hotel Transylvania’s budget was well over twice that. This is pretty much par for the course: stop-mo films tend to cost around half as much as their major CGI counterparts. Their upside may be smaller, but they pose less of a risk.

So take that, stop-mo snobs. Yours is the low-rent option.

Why are we judging films based on how much money they make?  This is something that has always bugged me.  The highest grossing film of all time (ignoring inflation) is Avatar, and I have lots of negative things to say about THAT but that’s an article for another time.  I’m not saying that all stop motion is phenomenal or that all CG is horrible, but if money was what determined quality or worth of a film we’d all be studying Madagascar 3 in our history of animation class instead of Gertie and Achmed (which, for the record, was a form of stop motion!).  Dollars can’t be disregarded though, so let’s stop for a moment and consider that, to my knowledge, stop motion is the only animation format that has not yet been outsourced.  By all means prove me wrong and I’ll happily say I’ve learned something new, but from what I can tell all stop mo produced here in the USA is actually done in the good ol’ US of A.  I try my damndest to stay out of politics but if we’re talking about money let’s talk about jobs.  At my studio my job is to make work done in Korea look pretty; hardly good for the unemployed animators of California and hardly good for my soul but hey, even Disney classics like The Little Mermaid outsourced their bubbles.

The last lines of each of those paragraphs are what I feel discredits the article entirely – if someone can explain how the opinions of the ‘cineastic upper crust’ should be effected by how much money a movie brings in then I’ll go ahead and believe that they’re the cineastic upper crust.  I assure you, us stop motion lovers aren’t the only potential snobs in the business.  If you believe the ‘low-rent option,’ said with such disdain, is really something to be frowned upon, then I question who the real snob is here.

The ParaNorman team actually cheated, weaving elaborate CGI confections around their clumpy models.

This is straight up misrepresentation.  The closest I can come to finding a reference to elaborate CGI confections in the cinemablend article are the following lines:

SF: […] We have CG set extensions and there used to just be a camera and a matte painting, but now you can actually have the camera moving up, so you can have a big world.

and

CB: We’re not militant purists about it. You could approach it like, “If we can’t do this practically, we shouldn’t do it” and we never think that. We always think, “We know what imagery we want to capture and then we use the best method to get it.” Our starting point is always going to be practical, it’s always going to be handmade, because that’s the studio we are. But we would never say no to something because you can’t realize it practically. If we need CG to fix this…

SF: You need crowds, so you get CGI characters in there. But the CGI characters were generated from the puppet department, so they were informed by puppet makers.

CB: And when we did visual effects for clouds in the sky, that was informed by the art department. They actually built models of this storm. So it’s totally integrated. It’s all generated from the same visual code.

This all hails CGI as a tool, a valuable tool, rather than a medium for animation.  Utilizing CG as a means to an end is hardly cheating, especially when all CG elements were designed by the puppet crew.  Live action features have been doing it for decades, as well as traditionally animated features, so why not stop motion?  But alright, let’s say it is cheating.  Let’s say you’re a stop motion purist who looks down their nose at any use of post production fixes (or pre production development for that matter, I suppose).  That, in its own way, gives the method of stop motion a completely different and completely unique new appeal.

Not everyone can make a computer generated film on their own.  Software and computers cost thousands of dollars, rendering takes exorbitant amounts of time, and there’s all that pesky technical crap you have to learn.  Anyone – anyone – can do stop motion.  Even if you don’t have a camera you can perform it in the simplest forms of puppetry.  To see a paper doll’s silhouette walk across a backlit screen or to see a perfect clay armature perform flips without the aid of wires, from one end of the spectrum to the other the average person has the materials he or she needs to assemble the most basic of stop motion productions in their own home and connect it in some way to what they’re seeing on the big screen.  And that, my dear readers, is why we need stop motion.  As soon as we relegate animation to only CG we eliminate the potential for the vast majority of the audience to engage and try on their own.  We’re killing the next generation of creatives by saying their lowly medium is useless, that what they have isn’t good enough.  Animation becomes elitist in its own way, regulated to those privileged enough to get the hardware, to learn the software, to troubleshoot thousands of technical glitches one at a time.  Playing with your Barbies and GI Joes is stop motion in its purest form, and yes, CGI can give us broad vistas and perfect bouncy hair and broad splashing oceans, but stop motion can give us a closeness and a relatability that CG could never hope to achieve.

Asking why use stop motion when you can use CG is like asking a painter why he chooses realism when we have cameras.  It’s not just a matter of money, it’s a matter of personality and creative style. I’ll end with a quick commentary on a short film I saw just yesterday called “The Maker,” (http://www.themakerfilm.com/) an uneartly beautiful stop motion piece on the nature of life and creation.  To some degree it is the story of an animator whose work might survive on even after their own time is up.  He assembles the supplies that are close at hand to create what he can, struggling to somehow bring it to life.  But the heartbreakingest part of this short isn’t the content, no I’m afraid what tugged at my heartstrings the most was the awful use of CG particle effects at the end.  Yes, true, throwing a bunch of sand in front of a greenscreen with a fan blowing would not have garnered the same magical rainbow of pixie dust, but damn was it ever incongruous!  Far be it from me to criticize an award winning short but on the subject of CG and stop motion, this is one scenario which would’ve been better off without the “cheat.”  Maybe it’s because I’ve been trained to recognize such things but the use of CG took me out of the story immediately.  Suddenly I was back at my desk, watching a short on my computer, no longer eavesdropping on a cunning, alluringly macabre fabric creature.  He was no longer a character.  He was a prop.

CGI may do a “better” job… but better isn’t always best.

ps.
I will agree with one point wholeheartedly.  STOP ADMIRING FRANKENWEENIE!  Not because it’s stop motion but because it encourages remakes of perfectly good originals, and discredits the value of student or short form work. Have you seen the original short?  It’s great on its own!

Guest Post: Great Animated Teasers

Today’ I’m pleased to feature a guest post by Jardley Jean-Louis. Jardley is an artist and illustrator from New York. You can see her portfolio here and her blog here!

Having found an interest in pursuing and strengthening skills in animation after being very single-minded in art & illustration for years, I found sites that catered to those needs and featured a great wealth of creatives making animation in the world today. Some of these animations were teasers that told just enough to build anticipation as to what would unfold. So without too much fanfare, here are some memorable animated teasers I’ve seen recently.

LE MEURTRE teaser from Tom Haugomat & Bruno Mangyoku.

The most obvious: The colors. In my opinion it’s not only memorable because there are only ever four colors or by how rich and deep they are, but how through them, they build each scene. They create an object, fill in negative spaces, and separate one thing from another. While watching, I was reminded of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Body recap by Noel Murray. I’ll quote him here:

…as when Dawn’s art teacher asks her students to explore the negative space around their subject—a body, as it happens.”…”To make out its shape, you’ll have to look at the people gathered around where it used to be.

But, I especially love the scene that starts at :51, I thought I was watching something remarkable. The animators don’t go to great lengths to create it and really, that’s the way it is throughout but here, it’s not too much at all. You get a couple of shapes that’s amplified by a faraway shot and that’s it. Even the dead wolf is a measly shape. But, in the little details the duo does uses, like the clumps of trees and the straggly plants in the ground, for me they’re well received.

Adam and Dog Trailer from Minkyu.

When I saw this, right away I thought it must be associated with Disney in some way. Then I found out Minkyu Lee is a Visual Development Artist for Disney. Jackpot! I’ve never seen nudity in Disney films and am curious if Disney plays a hand in the fruition of the film or if it’s all controlled largely by Minkyu Lee and co. I don’t know much about the workings of animation films, nor have I been following this particular film much to know what’s what. I do know that I’ve interpreted the lack of dialogue, the standalone shots, and this “Adam” and what I assume is his dog, surrounded by this lush but probably lacking in more people environment in the trailer, as a type of film I want to get to know. I’m interested to find out more and the nudity is refreshing because in such an environment it feels like it would make sense. But, that depends on the story.

Playing Ghost TRAILER from Bianca Ansems.

I have no idea how many times I’ve watched this trailer yet only yesterday did I realized that the little girl is playing with the stove buttons to control the fire! I thought she was just far too near the stove and her mother didn’t want that. It’s the little things, these small actions that I feel makes a media so much more especially in Playing Ghost. I think if this film was told with no dialogue whatsoever, and I have no clue if it is or isn’t (The little grunts the little kid makes doesn’t give much away), it would still be one to recommend. I especially love that little sigh she makes at what appears to be her makeshift cemetery. Here you have a film about the aftermath of an event and that to me is already something I’d watch, but shot for shot there’s just so much detail and I’m sitting here staring. So many parts where the animators were paying attention to life and how a room that has been lived in and is marked by what its use is, like the kitchen or the basement, looks. It’s visually a very warm, vibrant, detailed animation. I really can’t gush enough about how much I love these types of animations. Sewing up fabrics, building sets and objects, using found objects, and now with Playing Ghost: paying attention to gestures and personalities of each individual. I don’t think I was more grateful for that than when I saw that little 5 year old stomp her way across the kitchen.

Onward Trailer from John Robson.

Have you ever seen something like this before? I think what sets this animation apart from many I’ve seen is how epic it feels. Yes, it’s about an adventure, a journey but, it seems like much more than an animation. Like it could easily transfer itself to live action but chooses to be an animation because the animators enjoy the craft. Though the strikingly realistic scene of the thunderous darkened clouds and rippling waters stunned me, it’s in the warm glow that covers the face of a bowing Sean to light a cigarette off-screen, that I was sold. It’s a great scene, a great effect. In John Robson’s own words, he’s using a combination of computer and stop-motion animation photography. That might’ve been why I was so surprised with the ease at which the main character speaks and moves his lips? It’s a contrast to Fantastic Mr.Fox, where I noticed the mouths moved awfully fast and not especially relaxed. I’m curious to know if that’s a common with puppet animation that aren’t altered with computer effects. Beyond that, the trailer has the markings of one to be anticipated from the choice in typography to mark it’s title and release date, to the mood and narration of a solitary man on a quest. But here’s the kicker: This animation might be in a different stage than the ones mentioned above in that it still needs funding to continue on it’s way. From speaking a bit to John Robson, there will be a kickstarter campaign (a site that helps to fund creative projects) in the months to come so if you’d like to donate, know more about said campaign’s launch or just promote the animation any which way you can, be sure to follow him and keep updated on his site.

Slow Derek – Trailer from Agile Films.

Last but definitely not least comes Slow Derek. Seriously, I sat there with my mouth open on both viewings of this. It looks like a life that’s finally about to start. I think that’s how I can best sum it up. My assumption is it’s using the very common trope of an unhappy, dull man who lives a life of dreary routine and said life changes through a surge of courage after a particular event but most likely it changes for him. But really what can you know in :20 seconds? Though I’d say it uses those seconds well. I’m pressed to know WHAT HAPPENS and HOW. Through a series of quick shots, a train or car that expects a collision sound effects, and some action shots of Derek himself, there’s a lot to absorb and await. It doesn’t let you breathe and grasp what you’re seeing, it basically pulls us along until the end when the Earth spins and even then it’s going too fast.

I’m sure in the months to come there will no doubt be a wave of teasers making their way to the public and many in the current that haven’t been touched upon in this list so if you’ve got some you want to share, please do.

Guest Post: A Review of A Monster in Paris

I’m very excited to present this special review by talented Irish animator Nichola Kehoe of A Monster in Paris, which she recently saw in Ireland.

It’s 1910 and unlikely duo Emile and Raoul accidentally cause the creation of a giant flea monster in a lab outside Paris. The monster escapes the lab and it is up to our two heroes to find the monster and stop it from terrorising the city. Meanwhile, the beautiful singer Lucille befriends this misunderstood creature, who she names Franceour.

Franceour is passionate about music and a gifted guitarist who soon, performing in a disguise, impresses the patrons of Lucille’s club with his talent. Lucille tries to convince Emile and Raoul of Franceour’s gentle nature so they can all work together to protect him from the cruel politician, Victor, who wants to use Franceour’s capture as a publicity stunt to make himself look like a hero for saving the city.

For a children’s film the story, A Monster in Paris is quite complex. It starts off with Emile as the main hero but that quickly changes to Raoul, then Franceour, then back again. The story starts off charming and funny, with great little one-liners, but loses some of its charm in the confusion of characters. The end of the film is a little bit of a mess from a story point of view.

That said, it is a visually stunning film. The character design, the backgrounds, the lighting and the animation are all a pleasure to behold. The design of the city of Paris is unique and interesting, with lots of colour on ground level and very little colour in the higher parts. There is so much variety in the colour palettes and lighting that the film is never ever boring to look at. The music is fun and entertaining.

While there may have been too many main characters, each character did have their own clear personality which was really enjoyable. Emile is shy but brave, whereas Raoul is seemingly over-confident and vain. Even little things like Lucille constantly changing her outfit, add to the visual charm of the film. The character animation is stunning, and really on a level with any major studio. There is a great mix of fun animation and sombre moments. When the script started to falter, it was the animation that kept the movie captivating.

Overall A Monster In Paris is charming, fun and entertaining. It is definitely worth a trip to the big screen.

 

 

Four Live-Action Actors Who Successfully Jumped Into To Voice-Acting

Today, I’m pleased to feature a guest post by Sarah Stockton. Sarah is an Outreach Coordinator for Voices.com, a site connects businesses with professional voice talents where she enjoys helping potential voice talent find their start in the voice industry.

It’s pretty common these days for movie and television stars to voice characters in animated films. Movie studios even make this part of their promotions, and for good reason. Many people are more likely to want to see a film if one of their favorite stars like Tom Hanks or Angelina Jolie is performing a voice in it. You may also hear celebrities performing voice-overs in television and radio commercials, which is usually side work they take on because, to be frank, it requires little work and they get paid well to do it.

But some actors have moved from regular acting into voice acting on a regular basis. Sometimes an actor whose career in front of the camera may be waning can still find good work as a voice actor. In some cases, though, actors just find they have a knack for voice acting, and they enjoy it. Here are four actors whose characters and voices you may recognize, who got their start in front of the camera.

Julie Kavner

You may know Julie Kavner as the voice of Marge Simpson on The Simpsons. But because that show is completing its 23rd season in 2012, you may not know that Kavner had a thriving acting career before The Simpsons ever aired. After a few bit parts on television shows in the mid ’70s, Kavner landed the role of Brenda Morgenstern, sister to title character Rhoda, one of three spinoffs of The Mary Tyler Moore Show (Phyllis and Lou Grant being the other two). Kavner played Brenda through the entire run of the series, after which she went on to appear as a guest star in a handful of other shows.

She also landed roles in two Woody Allen films, Hannah and Her Sisters, and Radio Days. In 1987, she joined the cast of the sketch comedy vehicle, The Tracey Ullman Show. That show included quirky short cartoons about a yellow-skinned, bug-eyed family, for which Kavner voiced the mother. When Ullman’s show was canceled, the cartoons were developed into The Simpsons. The rest is history.

Cree Summer

After starting her career as a voice actor, Cree Summer gained recognition as a traditional actor with a role in the highly successful and popular A Different World in the late ’80s. The show had success built in, being a spin-off of The Cosby Show, and starring Lisa Bonet. Even after Bonet left the show, after just the first season, A Different World continued for five more seasons, making many of the actors household names, including Summer.

After that show ended, she took on a few other acting roles in shows such as Living Single and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. But then in 1994, she returned to voice acting, and hasn’t looked back since. Summer’s pliable voice has allowed her to win parts in dozens of cartoon series such as Tiny Toon Adventures, The Wild Thornberrys, Rugrats, and Batman Beyond. She remains an active and sought after voice actor.

Bill Fagerbakke

This isn’t a name that’s easy to forget, if you ever knew it in the first place. Before embarking on his voice acting career, Bill Fagerbakke took on roles in a couple of made-for-TV movies, a few TV shows, and had a small part in the Michael J. Fox hit movie The Secret of My Success. He hit the big time when he landed a regular role on the popular sitcom Coach, playing dumb but lovable Dauber Dybinski.

When the show finally went off the air after nine successful seasons, Fagerbakke began alternating between traditional acting roles on TV and in movies, and some cartoon voice-overs, including the role he’s become best known for, dumb but lovable Patrick Star on the hit show Spongebob Squarepants. Fagerbakke has now played Patrick for ten seasons, and the show is still going strong. He’s continued to take traditional acting roles here and there, but made a memorable return to television in 2005 as Marshall’s dad on the popular sitcom, How I Met Your Mother. Sadly, his character was killed off on that show, but you can still enjoy his acting talents as Spongebob’s sidekick.

Mark Hamill

Yes, that Mark Hamill. Before he was, is, and forever will be Luke Skywalker, Mark Hamill dipped his toe into voice acting with a couple of stints on Scooby Doo and Flintstones cartoons, all while taking on traditional acting roles. Then came the Star Wars explosion, but as popular as those movies were, Hamill’s acting career never quite took off the way Harrison Ford’s did. He continued to act steadily, both in traditional and animated voice roles. He even did a voice for a video game. Then another. Then a few more, until now when he is a much sought after video game voice actor.

But he didn’t stop there. Hamill has also created a niche for himself in superhero cartoons. He’s done voices in Spider-Man and Superman cartoons, but the one voice for which he’s best known in comic book circles is that of the Joker in the animated series Batman, Batman Beyond, Superman, Justice League, and a few other spinoffs and specials. In fact, he’s such a fantastic Joker he’s gone on to play the role in several Batman and other superhero video games, bringing both his voice acting pursuits together in one endeavor. If you’ve never heard Mark Hamill’s Joker, you’re not only missing out, but will be astounded that the guy who played hero Jedi Luke Skywalker can sound so convincingly maniacal.

These are just four of the many celebrities and traditional actors who have either abandoned their lives in front of the camera for lives in front of a microphone, or have successfully combined both to create lucrative and high profile careers. Next time you watch a cartoon with your kids—or without—listen closely to the voices. You may be surprised by whom you recognize.

Follow-up: 80s British Cartoons That Americans Missed (Or Not)

Chris Sobiniek was kind enough to write in to fill in some background information on my recent post about 80s British cartoons that I thought never made it across the Pond. Lo and behold, some of them actually did! Below is what was sent over detailing where and when they made it on the air.

Thanks Chris!

In the US, many of these shows aired first on cable TV. There wasn’t much of a chance for any of ‘em on regular TV much during that time, and the new cable TV market proved to be a great ‘dumping ground’ for foreign toons on channels like Nickelodeon (further picking up the interest of those of us who were tired on the domestic Saturday morning junk). Cable/satellite TV in those days wasn’t quite as proliferated as it was in the 90?s, so there was plenty of room for experimenting and trying different things than what was seen before from “The Big Three”.

Danger Mouse premiered as early as 1983 over here and lasted up to probably 1988 or ’89, but also made a faint appearance in the early 90’s I think too.

Count Duckula would premiere also on Nick in 1988 and lasted for a good number of years as I recall.

Bananaman on the other hand, aired on Nick in the 80’s as well, though I can recall it mostly coming on right after Dangermouse as I think they had 5 or so minutes to kill and just stuck it there anyway, in later years it showed up on a program called “Total Panic” as one of the cartoons shown Sunday mornings.

While Nickelodeon back then was part of the “basic tier” of cable channels one could get, The Disney Channel use to be a premium channel on the same platform as HBO or Showtime, and thus you had to beg your parents to get that so you could watch SuperTed they played too (I think it use to be on around 1984-86). Home Video releases of the SuperTed series also were made available from Walt Disney Home Video (which came in handy for those that didn’t get the channel).

Not sure if we ever got Postman Pat back then, though I do recall videos of it being released here anyway (home video often was the scapegoat for things that may see little or no airings on TV in those days). I’m certainly the later Postman Pat stuff when they got the puppets mouths moving probably did air here anyway.

I don’t remember The Raggy Dolls or The Family Ness showing up here (let alone “The Trap Door” for that matter, and that one surely could’ve hit it over big here too), I do recall this show popping up on Nick featuring Spike Milligan’s wit and narration…

Thomas The Tank Engine had a rather interesting history over here, as we didn’t get quite the same type of program you guys had. Instead, and probably as a means of testing the waters for this guy here, Britt Allcroft co-created a program as a springboard for Thomas that aired on PBS stations beginning in 1989 called “The Shining Time Station”. Thomas’ adventures were told from a little character the kids could see named “Mr. Conductor” (who was either played by Ringo Starr in the first season and George Carlin for the remainder of the show’s run).
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shining_Time_Station

Pretty much the way I view that show today is really just that, we had to get up to speed on this Thomas thing like the Brits and then go from there (such as with that movie)!

So yeah, we Americans weren’t too far behind, but we certainly did miss out on a few stuff now and then.

Guest Post: Kung Fu Panda 2

Today’s post is a guest review of Kung Fu Panda 2 by Emmett Goodman. Emmett is a graduate from the Pratt Institute in New York and is a notable member of ASIFA-East. His personal review blog is here and his sketch tumblelog is here.

Via: All Movie Photo

A terrific movie, and a job well done. Kung Fu Panda 2 is both entertaining and artistically sophisticated. It has some of the same flaws as the first film, but what it excels in mostly make up for those flaws.

Dreamworks Animation is (at least in my eyes) improving more and more as their movies progress. KFP 1 had some of the usual Dreamworks traits I dislike (such as over-abundance of celebrity voices, emphasis on the actors, sub-par dialog), but it abandoned pop-culture references in favor of a solid story, and took the time to give the movie a unique and distinct look. I could never truly appreciate movies like Shrek, Shrek 2, Shark Tale, or Madagascar, because their stories were too transparent and there was too much emphasis on who was voicing the characters than the characters existing on their own. Also, you could tell the stories were no good as they were overflowing with pop-culture references (which only contributes more to the transparency). Starting with Over the Hedge, the studio started stripping some of these flaws, but they were stripped even more with KFP 1. It seems to have improved with further movies, and KFP 2 cements that fact even more for me.

I can’t praise the artistry of this movie enough. The opening of the movie (along with a personalized version of the Dreamworks Animation logo) is animated in a style suggesting metal puppets. I can’t speak for how clear the influence of authentic Chinese art is, but there is definitely something different in the look of the film than the previous. Something very tactile in the design. Poe’s memories are animated in 2D, and are so beautifully realized, that I wish there was a whole movie in that style.

The story this time is just as solid as the first film, but with more operatic tones. After the end of the first movie, Poe (Jack Black, panda) is now a respected member of Master Ishu’s (Dustin Hoffman, red panda) Kung Fu clan, and is tasked with protecting their village. However, a powerful dynasty has come under attack by its exiled prince Shen (Gary Oldman, peacock), who seeks to not only take over China, but his primary weapons threaten to destroy Kung-Fu tradition. Now the way I say it here, it probably sounds cliché, but in the movie the story is taken very seriously. Poe recognizes a symbol on Shen’s minions (wolves), which unleashes a forgotten nightmare. The story takes an emotional turn for the main characters (which for an animated film/show, is music to my ears). Poe and the Furious Five are dispatched to confront Shen and stop his bloody revolution. In the course of the story, we really get to see the inner workings of Poe’s relationship with his friends/comrades, his adoptive father, and how what made him an outcast in the first film now makes him a unique warrior.

My few criticisms? Poe’s flashback of self-realization, with all the clips from the previous films seemed a little out of place, but it was at least long enough to get the point across. I think they should have used fewer previous scenes, and maybe drawn some out a little longer instead. Also, I was a little uncertain about the acting in the scene where Poe confronts Shen about his own demons. Too preachy.

I must also speak about the directing of the movie. Jennifer Yuh Nelson is not the first woman to be involved in directing an animated feature from a major studio, but she is the first Asian-born female director to receive sole-credit in directing one. And I have to say she does a fantastic job. It is true that there are few female directors or creators in the animation industry, which is very sad to me, because I know several super-talented female artists, and many who are successful in independent animation. Hopefully, many more will be able to follow Jennifer Yuh Nelson. And some day, the lines will be blurred even more.

I am also thankful that no references to Grandmaster Flash have been made in these movies, due to the name “Furious Five.” As much as I like references to contemporary music, they wouldn’t fit into these movies.

Movies like this give me something to appreciate about commercial animated features. With all the criticisms I’m surrounded by these days, its nice to see something that impresses me.