“Voltron: Legendary Defender” Season 2 – Fantastic Rising Action and Climax With a Few Missed Opportunities

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     “Voltron” is an amazing show and the level of quality continues in Season 2. Dreamworks and Netflix have really created something rather amazing with this show and with Season 2  they get deeper into the world and characters, though there are some missed opportunities that keep it from being the perfect show.

  SPOILERS if you haven’t watched the first season.

The story picks up with the Paladins seperated leading to them finding each other again while Emperor Zarkin hunts them across the Galaxy as they build a team and seek out allies to fight back.

The Pros: The World – The world is amazing! We meet new planets, species and get the history behind the Black Lion. Each episode enriches this world further and it is the world that has me the most excited for future seasons.

The Animation – The animation is beautiful. Dreamworks really has a fantastic animation team and I love the anime aspects to how they’ve designed the heroes and villains. The forming of Voltron is great too, I really like how it has it’s own animation sequence of the Lions coming together.

The Action – The action is fantastic, especially with the last battle as the Lions and Castle assault Zarkon and his fleet directly. There are great challenges too with some challenging Beasts that Haggar creates.

The Blade of Marmora – The Blade of Marmora is a secret Galra organization that is fighting against Emperor Zarkon. They are so cool and really force the Paladins, specifically Keith to earn their help.

The Characters – The characters drive the story and most of them continue to grow over the course of this season. It is only a few who really don’t have an arc of any kind.

Coran – Coran is annoying sometimes as they overplay his loud personality a few times, but he gets better…especially when we see him in action as a soldier and his intelligence comes into play for helping them.

Emperor Zarkon – Zarkon is obsessed this season and it is because of this fact that he becomes vulnerable. If he had listened to Witch Haggar he wouldn’t have ended up on life support. His obsession was his downfall and after how unstoppable he was last season it was great to see his flaws. He also has an awesome Mech that is a giant version of himself.

Witch Haggar- Haggar is Altean (same race as Allura) and is the anti-Allura as we see her obsession with dark and control and willingness to do anything for the Empire makes her the greatest threat. It is after Zarkon’s fall that she calls for his son, she is down but not out and is the real power behind the throne. I wonder why she betrayed her people…

Hunk – Hunk is comedic relief for a lot of it but still manages to grow, such as his mini-arc with Keith where he gets over his prejudice towards the Galra. In this we find out he is a great cook and is the glue of the team.

Pidge – Pidge has a predictable arc and discovers her power…she can control vines and roots and finds that nature and tech are connected. She is also the one who helps the Paladins find one another. The arc with the vines I thought was fine but it was her finding the Team and her skills as a tech that really make her invaluable.

Shiro – Shiro is the leader and advocate for finding allies among the Galra as it was a Galra who rescued him and tells him about the Blade of Marmora. He is the calm and collected to Allura’s anger and together they are pretty much the parents of the team. His arc is breaking Zarkon’s connection to the Black Lion and learning about the past when the Altean’s and Galra were at peace and Zarkon was friend’s with Allura’s father. It is powerful and I’m really curious how he went missing.

Keith – Keith has a fantastic arc as he learns that he is half-Galra and must get over his self-hatred and earn his place among his people in the trials of the Blade with the Blade he inherited. He steps up to be the leader this season as even Shiro knows his time is coming.

Princess Allura – Allura continues to be a fantastic character as we get to see her fight in the final fight and risk all of herself to save them from the Galra fleet that is pursuing them. Her arc is getting over her prejudice towards the Galra as the Blade of Marmora show that good Galra exist as well as her feelings for Keith, who she learns is half-Galra.

Okay: Lance – Lance is horny and a jokester and contributes nothing beyond being a body part on the Lion. I’m not putting him as a con…yet, as he wasn’t totally awful.

The Point of the Final Fight – Shiro goes missing and Zarkon is on life support and the Capital Ship of the Galra seems to be fine. It feels unfinished.

Tonal Shifts – Coran is the most guilty of this but some of the creatures the Paladins find are also overly cute and it takes away the threat of the Galra whenever there are too many of them.

This was another great season for a great show that you should really go and check out if you like animes or animated shows. This season really showed that the different species are more complicated, which I am always a fan of. Most places go black and white and make simple good and bad like Elves and Orcs of Middle Earth. This show is so much more than that and gives us wonderfully complicated characters who have to grow as they overcome their prejudices. Once more, this show is well worth checking out.

Final Score: 9 / 10

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Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016): A Solid Part of the Series and Becoming a Teacher

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     Dreamworks has two great Franchises that still manage to put out great animated films. Those Franchises are “How to Train Your Dragon” and “Kung Fu Panda.” These are series that take inspiration from their worlds (fantasy, Kung Fu films) and keep the characters and plots real and at times deep, while still managing to have a sense of humor. “Kung Fu Panda 3” is no different, though I think “Kung Fu Panda 2” is the better film, which I’ll go into at another time when I go through the first and second film.

      “Kung Fu Panda 3” was directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson and Alessandro Carloni, written by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger and produced by Melissa Cobb.

    The story involves Po (Jack Black) being found by his father Li Shan (Bryan Cranston) and returning back his father’s village to learn the art of chi when Kai (J.K. Simmons) breaks free from the Spirit Realm and is seeking to consume everyone’s Chi. Po must learn the art before all fall before Kai and the Masters whose chi he possess and now controls.

SPOILERS ahead

 The Pros: The World – The world is a fantastic fantasy world populated by humanoid animals that live in China. We have far off villages like the Panda one that are almost Tibetan in theme and also the main city with the Jade Temple which is reminiscent of Beijing. The world feels lived in too and the heroes who walk among the people are celebrated as such, like celebrities.

The Animation – The animation goes between classically inspired painting in telling back stories or montages, to the flowing 3D that makes up most of the film. It truly is beautiful.

The Soundtrack – Hans Zimmer creates an amazing score and pulls on classical Chinese music for a lot of his score. It is wonderful and pulls on the heart strings and elevates the action when it needs to, but I wouldn’t expect any less from Zimmer who is a master of his craft.

The Characters – The main characters are fantastic and have great moments that give them complexity and reason for their actions. This is a character driven story and it is the relationships that inform the action, like any good action movie.

Li Shan – Bryan Cranston plays Li Shan (Po’s Father) and does a great job as a man who lies to be with his son again as he says the Pandas know the art of Chi (even though it has been lost to time) and spends time connecting with Po’s adoptive father Mr. Ping and in the process helping Po realize that he isn’t alone, which saves his son multiple times.

Mr. Ping – James Hong is an amazing voice actor and I’ve loved him in his role as Po’s adoptive father Mr. Ping. We see him go through jealousy when Li Shan finds Po but also him get over it as he becomes a part of the Panda Village and gets the chance to be a father again to all the baby Pandas as well as council Po in the coming battle when Po feels only alone.

Master Shifu – Dustin Hoffman is a great actor and he has the chance to shine here as the one challenging Po to be better and that he still has much to learn. Sadly we don’t get to see him at his height as Kai consumes his chi, leaving it up to Po to rescue him. In the end he has humility though and asks to learn the art of chi from Po after the final battle.

Grand Master Oogway – Oogway’s chi is consumed in order for Kai to enter the mortal realm and through it all he is the one guiding all of them as it was the Panda’s of old who made him realize that it would be there that that the Dragon Warrior (Po) would be born. In the end Po gets to say good-bye to him too and we see how much of Yoda type figure Oogway has always been.

Kai – I liked Kai and not just because J. K. Simmons voiced him. This is a character who felt left behind as he watched his friend who he saved found peace…and he couldn’t stand that. He was a general so to him power was things and this what leads him to take chi from others. In the end his greed consumes him though as he misses the point of what power really was.

Po – This is the film of Po not only getting comfortable in his skin but becoming a teacher of others as he realizes it is playing to peoples’ strengths that can help them master themselves. He also is saved by the village when Kai nearly consumes his chi as it is in him realizing all his different identities that he realizes how he is the Dragon Warrior and uses his infinite chi to explode Kai as Kai’s body is unable to contain it all.

Finding Self – Finding self is a major theme of the the film as Po doesn’t really know who he is beyond being a warrior who cares about his friends. It is only after he becomes a teacher that he begins to realize how much he doesn’t know again and that who he is, is a part of everyone else. It is this individualist yet collectivist belief that he becomes the Dragon Warrior.

Power in Community – Kai is alone and uses others as slaves in order to take more. Po is someone who is dependent fully on others and it is in that difference of the many versus the one that his full power is unlocked. One stick can break easily, but it is harder to break a bundle.

Taking v. Serving and Enlightenment – The other theme of the film involves taking versus serving…all the characters who grow are those who learn to see outside of themselves and their own selfishness. Li Shan tells the truth, Po serves others, Oogway defeats Kai the first time by protecting others. This is where true power is unlocked in the film.

Family is Greater Than Blood – Mr. Ping is not Po’s blood and the movie makes a point of that, and it also makes a point of showing that Mr. Ping is Po’s second father and that he needs both of his fathers and it is because of both of them he lives and has grown to be who he is. This is an awesome message that really illustrates that family is greater than blood.

Okay; The Other Masters – Master Mantis, Monkey, Snake and Crane are all comedic relief and Master Tigress is relegated to action hero who doesn’t get to make any choices. This is sad as they got some great exploration over the last two films. They aren’t ever annoying but this was a missed opportunity.

The Pandas of the Village – There is a line between comedic village and real people and I don’t know where the Pandas fall on this line. So I’m putting them at okay.

Kai’s End Game – Was he going to conquer the world after consuming everyone’s chi or did he plan to just consume forever? I wish this had been set down a little better.

      This was a really good film, for me it was “Finding Dory” levels of enjoyable, though it didn’t reach original Pixar quality like “Inside Out” or even touch the perfect film of “Kubo and the Two Strings,” but it worked for all that it was. This is Dreamworks paying tribute to Kung Fu films and taking the philosophy into the film while giving us fun and comedic characters…as well as drama and family. If you haven’t seen it or any of the films in this Franchise, go and check them out. If you have kids they will love it and the world is so much deeper that it appears at first glance, just like the Kung Fu films it draws inspiration from. The action is used to make a larger point and tell the drama of people who show us the ways we can grow as well.

Final Score: 9 / 10 I’d rate it higher if Kai had been explored better and if the other Masters had been treated better and not just played for comedic relief.

“Voltron: Legendary Defender” Season 1 – An Amazing Space Fantasy Full of Humor and Drama

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   “Voltron: Legendary Defender,” is one of the best animated shows I have seen. It is one of those like “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” that manages to have both innocent humor and a deeper message beyond the simple fantasy that the story entails. There is philosophy worth exploring in this story and it makes me want to see the original (Beast King GoLion and Voltron: Defender of the Universe) that inspired this new take on it.

    The series is a Korean-American animated show that was produced by Dreamworks with Netflix.

    The premise involves our main characters discovering the Lions that are made to form Voltron and the Castle where Princess Allura and Coran have in hibernation. Their leader is Shiro who escaped from the Galra Empire as together the five soldiers create Voltron to liberate the Galaxy from the evil Galra Empire.

This review contains SPOILERS, so be warned.

The Pros: The World – The world it takes place in is wonderful! The Galra Empire has created civilizations of refugees (Coran and Princess Allura) and even those who aren’t refugees are civilizations that are caught in the crossfire or enslaved to their power. This gives a powerful reason for Voltron that the story uses to full degree.

The Soundtrack – Brad Breeck created an amazing electronic 80′ style soundtrack that is able to capture tension and the wonder of Voltron magically. I seriously can’t wait to play games to this soundtrack.

The Animation – Studio Mir did an amazing job on their animation! It reminds me of old 80’s anime mixed with the much clearer colors and lines of modern anime making it very much something that has no comparison.

The Comedy – The comedy is innocent and wonderful…Hunk is used for comedic relief but there is also great stuff done with Coran’s larger than life personality and the rivalry between Keith and Lance.

The Civilizations – The civilizations are great! They have unique ways of speaking and looks and history that you really have to see for yourself. They aren’t just aliens of the week, they are people in their own right.

The Characters –  The characters are the strongest part, they are simple archetypes given depth and made memorable in the process.

Commander Sendak – Sendak is one of the greatest commanders of Emperor Zarkon and we see why when he nearly captures the Castle and manages to drive Shiro into a trauma filled rage. What happened to him is still up in the air but I’d like to see him again. His robotic arm is pretty amazing too and I like his bat-like design.

Coran – Coran is the comedic relief for a lot of it but we see that he is a good mentor too as he helps the soldiers grow up and we see that what keeps him going is his love for Allura and following her and guiding the main crew. He is a character who in lesser hands would have only remained comedic relief but rose beyond it.

Princess Allura – Allura is amazing! She is a healer (she heals an entire planet) a warrior (She rescues Shiro) and a well rounded character who mourns her family and her father but has to let them go in order to save them all. She is probably my favorite character in this series. She is an amazing space elf (look at her design and her place within this universe, her and her people are space elves).

Witch Haggar – Haggar is a better vilain than Zarkon…her creatures cause the most damage on planets and she is the one who destroys Allura’s wormhole that leads to the crew getting separated at the end of the season.

Emperor Zarkon – Zarkon was once the Black Paladin (Shiro’s role) which makes sense why he wants to claim Voltron. This fact alone gives him so much depth, he is Sargeras, Morgoth and every other fallen Paladin in fiction and he’s been winning for a while. At this point our heroes have only liberated 2 world and injured his capital. He’s fine and a great threat for future seasons.

Pidge – Pidge lost her father in the war against the Galra (he was captured) and her story is a girl going undercover to become a soldier to find and rescue her dad. She is amazing and it the tech and hacker whose arc is realizing that others have lost their dad’s too and dedicating herself fully to the Paladin Cause.

Hunk – Hunk is the comedic relief who is a coward until he discovers why they fight when helps liberate a world, from here we seee him become a leader and find his confidence. He is still the Bolan/Sokka of the group but he grows up.

Lance – Lance is the guy who thinks he is everything and his arc is being knocked down pegs and finding humility. He was explored the least this season, so I’m curious where his arc goes. What arc he does have is getting over his hatred of Keith.

Keith – Keith is amazing! He takes on Emperor Zarkon on his own which gives Shiro time to free Allura and get back into his lion. His arc is getting over his rivalry with Keith and learning when to fight as he is the angriest of the group and always ready to fight.

Shiro – Shiro is the leader whose arc is facing his trauma and helping the rest come to believe in the cause. He is the oldest and has a mech arm from experiments that were done by the Druids. He is pretty amazing and his arc is still going to be taking control of the Galra tech as it has been used against him a few times now.

Voltron – Five multi-colored Lions that care about the Paladins in them and become a giant mecha-Knight. This creature is amazing and I can see why they give time to have the sequence where it is created, cause it is really cool.

Facing Trauma – Another theme is the facing of trauma, whether it is Allura facing the death of her father and people and letting go, Shiro healing from his torture and the crew facing the fact that they are soldiers unprepared for the war. This theme of trauma is faced on a individual and civilizational level.

Justice – The theme of justice is one that pervades the film. Pidge decides to stay rather than look for her dad, Hunk discovers courage and Allura faces the loss of her family…in all cases the need for justice against the Galra Empire helps our characters to grow.

Okay: The Ending – The ending leaves things open for future seasons, which at this point I don’t like as much due to “Firefly.” Unless you know that you are going to get another season don’t have a cliffhanger ending. Assuming that nothing bad will happen and we get a Season 2, I liked the fact that the Lions and crew are now all separated throughout the galaxy.

  This is a show I’d highly recommend. Netflix has been putting out gold and chances are you will see me reviewing many of Netflix shows. This was a show that had solid base and managed to give depth to a simple premise and characters and in the process create a memorable story that I can’t wait to see unfold. Whether you like animated shows or animes or don’t…this is a show that is worth checking out.

Final Score: 9.3 / 10

Voltron Legendary Defender

Penguins of Madagascar (2014): A Dumb Fun Satire of Spy Films

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     I have never been a fan of the “Madagascar” series. It struck me as suffering from the Dreamworks winking at the audience and being far too aware of whatever it was it was trying to satire, as well as being way to clued into popular culture, which in the end takes away from the jokes. Again, this isn’t a series I hate but I’ve never sought out this series and will be surprised if I ever do. What lead to me watching “Penguins of Madagascar” than? I have younger kids in the family over Thanksgiving and I’m not someone to miss out on a chance to spend more time with family or to miss the chance to see a film…even if it’s one I probably won’t like.

This film, like the first “Madagascar” movie wasn’t bad. It was really stupid but it had some funny moments so it wasn’t bad. There was a lot it could have done better, but I think it set out to accomplish what it wanted to…afterall the Penguins are spin-off characters in the same line as Puss in Boots and the Minions who also got or are getting films. They exist as attempts to make money off the legacy of the larger films they come from…usually because they are the characters who became popular because of original said film series. But, enough on that. Let’s get to the film!

“The film was directed by Simon J. Smith and Eric Darnell, produced by Mark Swift, Lara Breay and Tripp Hudson, and written by John Aboud, Michael Colton, Brandon Sawyer, Tom McGrath and Eric Darnell once more.

The premise is that three penguins break away from being followers unlike all other penguins when they see an egg blown from the snow. It is here the three penguins (Skipper, Kowalski and Rico) save the egg from Leopard seals and begin the adventure with the newest member of their group, Private. From here the story unfolds as all Private wants is to truly be a part of the team as everyone else is specialized in some way but can’t as he is not taken seriously because he is cute.  All that soon changes as an evil Octopus names Dave plots to destroy the Penguins forcing them to work an elite force who is called the North Wind. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Penguins – The Penguins have a great dynamic and are fun to watch. Private is a bit idiotic at times but thinks well in a jam, Skipper is adaptable and good at getting out of tight spots, Rico is unhinged and deadly and able to take on most threats and Kowalski is able to assess threats. They do a fantastic job in this and minus the changing of Private back to normal were very fun to watch in their interaction with others. They take themselves so seriously, which is the best joke through it all. They are also contractions which makes their debates with others good. Tom McGrath is the most distinct as he voices Skipper the leader, Kowalski is voiced by Chris Miller, Rico mostly growls but is voiced by Conrad Vernon and Private is voiced by Christopher Knights. The Penguins basic arc is learning to accept help from other and admit when they’re wrong and to value Private beyond his cuteness and accept as a member of the team.

Okay: Dave – John Malkovich does a good job as the baddie and gets some good laughs and actually has a good reason for his motivation as he was forced into smaller and smaller tanks everytime the penguins were at his zoos. This leads to him making them ugly monsters, which he actually succeeds in before Private’s cuteness powers his ray puts everything back to normal for the most part. This also leads to Dave’s defeat as he is shrunk and made cute. He was a creepy character but also sympathetic at times which shows that, that at least was done well.

North Wind – The North Wind was okay but not super memorable. I get they were meant to satire the technological badasses in spy films and it does satire this when their plan falls apart and they make not of why you should look back after you’ve exploded something…but they were mostly Skipper’s team’s foil and I didn’t get much character from them. I put them as okay because Cumberbatch’s Classified at least had personality and a character where he grew to respect the penguins, which is more than can be said for the rest of the team.

The Cons: Too Many Puns – I like puns, I make puns all the time…this movie had too many. Most were related to the names of Octopus who were given celebrity names like Hugh Jack man, etc. The puns were pretty weak and I tired of them quickly.

Madagascar References – It starts with the “I like to Move It” song and even the Penguins point out how tired they are of that song…and also the King Julien is able to use his cute assistant to change Private back to normal which completely removes Private’s sacrifice. I’d have preferred they kept him purple, spotted and horned. It would have been a thing for the team and him to adapt to and show the consequences of his sacrifice.

No Consequences – Private being retconned was lazy because they probably knew him remaining a monster wouldn’t sell toys. So not very impressed that they changed him back, even if it was predictable.

This was a fun stupid film that succeeded sometimes at the satire, and other times had jokes lag on for way too long. Also most of the minor characters didn’t feel like characters and functioned mostly as plot devices which just didn’t lend itself well to giving the story consequences. This is a shame but I also don’t expect great out of “Madagascar” as a series. It is stupid fun first and foremost…just doesn’t take any risks within that. The Penguins are great as characters but not anyone else. Little kids will probably like this film but this is no “Wreck-It-Ralph,” or “How to Train Your Dragon.”

Final Score: 7 / 10. Wouldn’t see it again but it was stupid fun.