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.

Studios ‘Stealing’ Ideas and Why Animators Need to Know Their Rights


This morning, I read over on AWN that some guy, by the name of Terence Dunn, is suing DreamWorks for stealing his idea for Kung Fu Panda. Although everything is still at an early stage, this could shape up to be an interesting fight.

This is, of course, the worst fear of many animators, they pitch an idea to a network or studio, get turned around, and then just like that, see a project that’s eerily similar to their own being announced.

My recent post neglected to mention this whole area of copyright law as I regretfully forgot about it. Basically, you cannot copyright an idea, only actual creations. If you come up with the idea to make a show about, oh, I don’t know, an Octopus Pirate, then you can’t simply go around suing everyone if they come up with a show about a pirate who’s also an octopus.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t defend your legal rights, if someone misappropriates your idea, you are certainly entitled to seek compensation. The point is that it is possible to be over-zealous. Think back to the lawsuit from a few years ago regarding SpongeBob Squarepants. Some guy (who has a Wikipedia page?) sued Viacom for stealing his idea for a talking sponge.

The guy’s argument was that in 1991, he created and flogged some sponges with a markered on face. If only he had read Jerry Beck’s excellent Nicktoons book, he would have noticed a comic, drawn by Stephen Hillenberg and featuring a character called Bob the Sponge that was dated 1989. It’s too bad that tons of court time were wasted on a frivolous lawsuit like this although I’m sure some lawyers somewhere are quite happy about the whole ordeal.

In a lawsuit such as the one mentioned at the beginning, the discovery phase will help uncover any and all information that both sides will need in order to build a case. For Dunn, it will hinge on whether or not his idea passes a series of tests that will determine whether or not his concept could be considered the same as Kung Fu Panda. Things such as the plot, character descriptions, design, tone of the story and so forth will be scrutinized in microscopic detail. In addition, the full details of any and all meetings with DreamWorks staff will be similarly torn apart in the quest for the proof needed.

Does the guys suit have merit? Perhaps, it’s still way to early to tell. The reason it’s in the news today is that the court has ruled that Dunn can look at DreamWorks books in order to determine how much he could be owed in damages. This is a bit of a silly move because, at least in my mind, what he is owed should not be motivating him at this stage of the lawsuit if he is truly in the belief that his idea was stolen. It should be blatantly obvious to everyone that Kung Fu Panda was a successful film (with 6 more announced?!) and there should be no doubt in his or anyone else’s mind that should he win, he would be in line for a substantial payout.

There is a good chance that DreamWorks will settle, especially if it looks like they will lose. As in most cases like this, it is much cheaper for them to offer the guy a certain (not unsubstantial) amount that puts everything to rest and allows things to carry on much as they did before.

It’s important to remember that situations such as this are extremely rare. Studios and networks are well aware of the potential for crippling damages if they are shown to have blatantly ripped off some-one’s idea, as a result, they are much more inclined (and motivated) to either acquire the original idea and develop it themselves, or take the basic concept (a kung fu panda) and turn it into their own creation.

Like I said at the beginning, you cannot copyright an idea (yet), only actual creative work. Lawsuits such as those mentioned above are all the more reason for animators to familiarize themselves with copyright law and what rights and limitations are set out within.