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Good-natured, imaginative and graceful, DreamWorksanimation Kung Fu Panda (2008) made a martial arts master out of a stumbling panda and set up a winning, heartfelt franchise. In this third instalment, the filmmakers have embraced consistency in the best way – there is plenty in Kung Fu Panda 3 that echoes the first film and the sequel, but it’s not tired recycling. Instead, the movie deftly reinforces and extends what has gone before.
Kung Fu Panda 3. Photo: Supplied
In the first movie, the panda Po (voiced with great aplomb by Jack Black), dreamt of becoming a martial arts hero; by the end he had found his calling as a Dragon Master, mentored by the diminutive Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman). In the second instalment, he took on a more dangerous, explosive enemy. The third film is more light-hearted than the second, but it’s still a story of salvation under pressure.
In every movie, a former ally has gone over to the dark side. This time, it’s the supernatural yak Kai (J.K. Simmons), who spent 500 years in the spirit realm before returning to the mortal world to defeat kung fu masters and assume their powers. He’s a little peeved that no one seems to have heard of him or his many sobriquets – “the Jade Slayer, the Master Of Pain, you might know me as the Beast Of Vengeance” he says huffily – but everything else about his plan for domination seems to be going smoothly. Only Po stands in his way.
Intercut with the drama and action is an origins story in a different emotional register. Po has been brought up by a goose, Ping (the excellent James Hong), whom he regards as his father. This instalment introduces Po’s biological dad, Li Shang (Bryan Cranston), who is keen to introduce his son to his home, a panda Shangri-la full of happy, sleepy dumpling-eaters. Here, Po finally feels at home. “I always felt I wasn’t eating to my full potential,” he says gleefully. But there’s a challenge facing him that will involve his heritage and newfound family. To defeat Kai, he has to make the move from student to teacher.
Directors Jennifer Yuh Nelson and Alessandro Carloni (from a script by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger) deftly mix comedy, drama, face-offs and teachable moments. Once again, this is an exquisite, visually imaginative production with a distinctive look – fine detail, extravagant landscapes, skilful use of traditional Chinese motifs, painterly interludes, flights into lyrical, dreamlike abstraction. It’s worth seeking out in 3D, because it uses the possibilities so inventively.
Inside Out review: ‘you’ll laugh, you’ll cry’
Star Rating 5 Telegraph Star Rating
One of Pixar’s very best: Amy Poehler (aka Joy) in Inside OutCredit: Pixar
Title Inside Out Title Foreign Title Foreign Title Star Rating 5 Telegraph Star Rating Actors Diane Lane, Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling Actors Director Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen Director Genre Animation, Comedy, Family Genre Synopsis After a girl moves to a new home, her emotions are plunged into chaos as they compete for control of her mind. Synopsis Release Date 24-07-2015 Release Date Duration 102 mins Duration Rating PG Rating Country USA Country
23 July 2015 • 9:02am
Pixar is at the peak of its heartstring-tugging powers with this poignant, joyful coming-of-age story
One of the best things a film can do is make you cry. In life, we go out of our way to avoid upset, but when it comes to the movies, two hours of revulsion, heartbreak and mortal dread can count as a fun night out.
Most thinking on the matter nods towards the same conclusion: the emotions we think of as negative aren’t negative at all, but vital responses to unpleasant circumstances which, in and of themselves, are every bit as healthy and human as laughter.
It’s only because film allows us to experience them without good reason that we can really thrill to their force, and feel them scouring away at the hulls of our souls. Watch Stella Dallas, Bambi or The Notebook, and it all becomes clear. Joy and sadness aren’t opposites, they’re allies.
That idea may have never been expressed with quite as much elegance and human warmth as it is in Inside Out, the 15th film from Pixar and, I think, the animation studio’s finest to date. It takes place in two places at once: San Francisco, where 11-year-old Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) has recently moved with her parents from the rural Midwest, and inside Riley’s mind, where her five emotions – Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust – are trying to make sense of the upheaval.
Pure joy: Pixar’s Inside OutCredit: Pixar
Joy (a note-perfect Amy Poehler) is the gang’s leader. She looks like a star from a picture book, and shoots around the gleaming modernist dream-space of Riley’s HeadQuarters, doling out orders and pep-talks to her fellow emotions, whom she clearly considers her assistants. That’s because Joy has a particularly intimate bond with her human: since day one, Riley has always been her parents’ happy girl.
Inside Out begins no less ambitiously than at the birth of human consciousness, with Joy stepping into a warm spotlight and tentatively clicking a button on a console. Out in the real world, newborn baby Riley laughs, and she watches her mother and father’s faces melt with delight.
Back in her mind, a golden bowling ball-like object trundles down a chute from out of the darkness and comes to a stop near Joy’s feet. This is Riley’s first memory, and the first component Joy will use to build her psyche.
The director is Pete Docter, the long-serving Pixar genius behind Monsters, Inc and Up, and it feels very much like a companion piece to the first of those two films – though with the emotional directness of Up’s famously heartbreaking love and marriage montage and closing meditations on the meaning of a well-spent life. (My first full-throated sob during Inside Out came during that initial memory-forming scene around 30 seconds into the film, which must be some sort of record.)
Inside Out trailer Play! 02:30
Like Monsters, Inc’s Monstropolis, Riley’s mind is a totally delightful, buzzingly ingenious fantasy world, but one that seems to explain your own memories of childhood – and, let’s not forget, the everyday lived experience of the film’s younger viewers – with a kind of exhilarated clarity.
It’s as a result of the move that Sadness (Phyllis Smith) tries to become more involved in the running of HeadQuarters, for example, and a proprietorial strop from Joy results in them both being accidentally exiled to the furthest reaches of Riley’s long-term memory. This leaves behind Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Clark) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling) to run the show: in other words, Riley is now doomed to act like a completely normal 11-year-old girl.
‘So fresh it shimmers’: Inside OutCredit: ?2015 Disney?Pixar. All Rights Reserved./Pixar
Joy and Sadness’s ensuing trek home takes them through strange corners of Riley’s mind such as Dream Production Studios, the theme-park-like Imagination Land and the grottoes of the subconscious. What these various stops on their journey means for Riley makes immediate and intuitive sense.
Both worlds are dazzlingly, differently realised. San Francisco is all muted colours, grey sunlight and (mostly) low-key drama, whereas inside Riley’s mind, things look, sound and work like a 1950s Hollywood musical. In a thrillingly beautiful early sequence, Joy calls up an old memory of Riley skating on the frozen lake outside her old house, and as she watches her spin and glide across the ice, she dances too. It’s like seeing Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner whirling across the throne room in The King and I: two souls in perfect sync.
Unexpectedly, the animation Inside Out calls to mind the most isn’t Monsters, Inc, or any previous Pixar or Disney project, but Hayao Miyazaki’s Oscar-winning 2001 masterpiece Spirited Away: another film which mapped out an 11-year-old girl’s inner turmoil on a unique, fantastical canvas.
Docter’s film is less ambiguous and strange than Miyazaki’s, although its conclusion is far from the proscriptive happy ending Joy has in mind. The bliss of childhood can’t last forever, but Inside Out reminds you that’s no bad thing.
Alert all social media: The breakthrough star of the season is here. His name is Baymax and he’s impossible not to love. Every home should have one. This irresistible blob of roly-poly, robot charisma is a digital doughboy who steals every scene he’s in. The 3-D animated Big Hero 6, from the caffeinated marketing minds at Disney and Marvel, would be a ton less fun without him.
Set in a futuristic, Asian-fusion melting pot called San Fransokyo (get it?), this cinematic take on a Marvel comic I never heard of focuses on two orphaned, tech-nerd brothers. Hiro (voiced by Ryan Potter) is a teen into making technology a game of bot fights. His college student bro, Tadashi (Daniel Henney), is more into design and brainiac concepts. Then, in the Disney manner, disaster strikes. Poor Hiro is alone in the world. Except for Baymax (endearingly voiced by Scott Adsit), a chubby hunk of inflatable, white vinyl with two black eyes and the gentlest disposition a computer ever generated. Baymax is a walking version of Obamacare, a bot who’s been built to heal. But if Hiro is going to find the evildoers behind the disaster, and enlist Tadashi’s pals in the process, he must first teach Baymax a few, handy kung-fu street-fighting tricks.
You can see where this is going. Luckily, directors Don Hall and Chris Williams cover familiar ground with bracing energy and style. The physical comedy involving the bonding of Hiro and Baymax is pure pleasure. And credit screenwriters Robert L. Baird, Daniel Gerson and Jordan Roberts for showing respect for the grief Hiro is feeling and Baymax can only try to heal. Big Hero 6 falls short of the Pixar genius at work in, say, The Incredibles and WALL-E, but it flies high on unabashed hilarity and heart. This one’s a winner. And Baymax, baby, call your agent. You’re about to be a household name.
For his debut on the big screen, the ever-polite Paddington Bear is voiced by the infinitely adaptable Ben Whishaw, well remembered as the poet John Keats in Jane Campion’s Bright Star.
And he’s a great success – whereas Colin Firth, the original choice, would have sunk the picture. The Firth voice resonates with authority and maturity, the last qualities you need in a small, orphaned and supposedly lovable talking animal. Whishaw, on the other hand, gets it about right. His Paddington is bouncy without displaying any Disneyesque glibness. You get the feeling he’s gallantly trying to make the best of things even though he has no idea what’s going on – which is exactly how it should be.
We meet Paddington first in the forests of “darkest Peru”, happily living with his Uncle Pastuzo and Aunt Lucy (Michael Gambon and Imelda Staunton), who are Anglophiles thanks to a happy encounter with an unusually empathetic English explorer in their youth. As a result, they’ve infused their little nephew with a desire to see London. So when Uncle Pastuzo dies and Aunt Lucy goes to off to the bears’ retirement home, Paddington sets out. But homesickness soon sets in and by the time the Brown family chance on him at Paddington station, he’s at his lowest point – sitting forlornly on the platform, wearing a red hat and a label with the words: “Please Look After This Bear. Thank you.”
It’s a poignant image. You don’t have to look at it twice to see a comparison with the refugees of today. Even so, you’re unlikely to get too serious about this. It just makes Paddington seem even more relevant than he was in 1958 when his creator, Michael Bond, produced the first of his many bestsellers about him.
The film’s director, Paul King, has put together a cast who make a happy marriage of predictability and professionalism. In other words, it’s typecasting done with flair.
Julie Walters shows up as the Browns’ housekeeper – the kind of elderly eccentric that Walters has been playing since her early days doing sitcoms with Victoria Wood. As Mr Brown, Hugh Bonneville employs some of the stuffiness of his Downton Abbey gig and adds a well-judged dose of self-mockery, while Sally Hawkins shades her eternal sunniness with a well-meaning daffiness that keeps her teenage daughter, Judy (Madeleine Harris), in a perpetual state of embarrassment. Her son, Jonathan (Samuel Joslin), is more tolerant. After all, she’s his main supporter in his wish to give Paddington a permanent home.
There are some ingeniously designed and executed sight gags, the best of which revolve around Paddington’s conscientious efforts to master the finer points of city living. Taking charge of the suspense element is Nicole Kidman as a Cruella De Vil-type character with a passion for taxidermy. And most important, the fact that Paddington is a wholly CGI creation doesn’t detract at all from his anthropomorphic cuddliness.