'The Clone Wars' not as bad as fans said

Posted: Thursday, November 13, 2008

'Star Wars: The Clone Wars: 2-Disc Special Edition'

The hate was strong with this one when it hit theaters this summer, but was it justified? "The Clone Wars" is a "Star Wars" movie, which typically implies event-level status, but it really exists as a 90-minute commercial for the now-airing Cartoon Network show of the same name. Given the tone of that show - action-centric but geared toward kids and families more than anyone who dressed up for the "Phantom Menace" premiere nine years ago - there's really nothing here that should offend those longtime fans, who must look at this as the final reminder that "Star Wars" isn't courting them anymore. With all that said, "TCW" isn't all that bad when taken on its own merits. The action is choreographically pedestrian but visually dazzling, the stylish art direction is a bold step outside the norm, and the writing certainly has more of a pulse than the recent trilogy of films ever did.

'Kung Fu Panda'

The easiest way to break down the "Kung Fu Panda" mythology is to use a "Star Wars" analogy. There's Po - a clumsy, rotund panda whose date with destiny is not unlike that of one Luke Skywalker. His reluctant master, Master Shifu (think Obi-Wan Kenobe), must train him to face off against a former protege whose lust for power turned him to, let's say, the dark side. And so on. None of this is to sell "Panda" short or dismiss it as derivative. To the contrary, "Panda's" skeletal similarities to something on the level of "Star Wars" underscores just how ambitious it is compared to your typical anthropomorphic animated film. It colors in that outline with a lore all its own, and once the details of that betrayal are laid out, you might be startled to find out just how drawn into the story you've become.

'Secrets of the Furious Five'

Remember that lore business discussed above? This semi-sequel companion DVD, bundled with select "Panda" DVDs, delves further into the ways and methods of Po's dojomates, who play a significant role in his film. At 24 minutes long, the feature is on the shorter side, but if you take it for what it really is - a DVD extra that comes in its own case and with its own extras - it's a cool treat and a nice bridge toward what inevitably will be a full-fledged "Panda" sequel.

'Hellboy II: The Golden Army: 3-Disc Special Edition'

Like most young children, little Hellboy (Montse Ribe as the kid version, Ron Perlman as the full-grown version) loved hearing a bedtime story before trotting off to sleep. The difference, in this case, is that the mythical army from those bedtime stories not only is real, but led by a prince (Luke Goss) determined to return control of the planet to his people. Sounds like the plot of just about every fantasy film released in the last 10 years, and in several basic respects, it plays out as such. But if you saw the original "Hellboy," you already know what sets "Hellboy II: The Golden Army" apart: It's genuinely funny, smartly written, rooted equally in its universe and ours, and fronted by one of filmdom's more charismatic superheroes (with a cast of brilliant sidekicks to match). On top of bringing all that good stuff over, "Army" also brings with it a new cast of wonderfully designed creatures and special effects that actually enhance rather than drag down the film's spirited mood.

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