If there's a list of great computer animation movies of all time, Pixar would dominate most of the top positions. Great story, great voice talent, great timing, great for all ages. It'd be hard to pick just one above another and perhaps another viewing of Up may be in order to figure out where I'd place it among so much stellar work.

Up is by far the most emotional human drama of any Pixar movies thus far, very heavy, so much so if you're looking for pure fun with some jaw-dropping chase and/or thematic scenes and no downer moments, Up may not be for you. I saw it in a packed theatre of about a 65% adult, 35% adult split audience and it's the only time I can remember being in ANY animated movie where there was sniffles and watery eyes, and that was within the first 10 minutes of the movie. There's an undercurrent of life after losing a loved one in this movie, which I don't feel gives anything away. It's pretty heavy subject matter, Pixar handles it, like they do everything they touch, incredibly well, but it doesn't make it any less sad to have the material threaded throughout much of the movie you're reminded of it, but I suppose it's up to one's own interpretation of loss and how to place it in your life that perhaps will have an emotional effect on you.

Story is what makes a great movie great. Without story, you don't really have anything, maybe some effects, some action, maybe some cute or clever sight gags, maybe some laughs, hopefully some emotion, where Pixar shines above all others in animation and over a good 99% of the movies out there is they can intertwine it all and do it seemingly effortless, which is an incredible feat. To do this in a few movies is one thing, but Pixar has pretty much nailed this now for their entire career of making movies, that's just simply unprecedented.

I should note I saw the 3D version which, to be honest, didn't really take the movie to the next level. One of the more well known syndicated reviewers had said you're better off seeing the non-3D version on screen, and I actually agree. The 3D glasses added little to nothing to the movie except for an eye-strain headache later in the night. It didn't take away from Up mind you, it just didn't add to it either.

Up is a great movie either way you slice it and it should be noted, the theatre I saw it in gave it a fairly loud round of applause at the end. It's pretty rare these days that an audience applauds after a movie, perhaps we as a society has become too jaded, or too just expecting of the goods or feeling we're entitled to the entertainment. It's nice when a movie hits on all cylinders and elicits such a range and emotional reaction people who don't know each other in a packed room all gasp, laugh, cry, and applaud together. Great movies however can do that and Up is truly a great movie.

Kung Fu Panda 2

Let me preface by saying I was rather unimpressed with the first Kung Fu Panda. As entertaining and well-choreographed as it was, it didn't pass my bar for mediocre DreamWorks animated movies. It was amusing and had some heart, but all-in-all was pretty expected. Now when I got a chance to see a preview of Kung Fu Panda 2, I was rather indifferent to seeing DreamWorks trying to pump out a mediocre sequel and a new franchise. But WOW... was I wrong! I take back everything I said earlier because, man oh man, I have to admit that Kung Fu Panda 2 was one of the best animated films I have ever seen.

In in this installment, we find Po and the Furious Five defending the Valley of Peace from evil when a new threat rises. Lord Shen, an albino peacock banished by his parents many years ago, has returned with a technology capable of ending kung fu and conquering China. As the Furious Five embark to destroy the weapon, Po begins to realize that Shen may be linked to his lost childhood past as a panda bear. I won't say any more in fear of spoiling the story, but be prepared for a powerful emotional experience.

I found a big improvement was that they toned down all the things that made the first movie irritating: over-the-top Jack Black antics, overused slow-mo effects, and dialogue silliness. That's not to say Kung Fu Panda 2 doesn't have humor; actually, it has exactly the right amount at the right time. I found myself rolling my eyes a lot at the jokes in the first movie, but the sequel had me (and the whole theater, for that matter) genuinely laughing! The characters have fully matured and been fleshed out to the point where even Jack Black fits comfortably as Po, though regrettably the Furious Five barely get any screen time. Of course, shining in the spotlight was Gary Oldman as the sinister Lord Shen, whose fantastically evil voice acting tops even Ian McShane's as Tai Lung and is the ONLY way that a peacock could possibly be made scary! The 3D was also showcased quite well, enhancing most of the visuals throughout the movie without being a headache.
Maybe you call it blasphemy, but the comparison must be made. Kung Fu Panda 2 was put together with such a degree of excellence that it rivals many Pixar movies (and in my opinion has a good chance of outshining Cars 2 this year). With some fantastic animation, a surprising and touching story, and convincing voice talent, Kung Fu Panda 2 will easily go down as one of my all-time animated favorites.

Kung Fu Panda

After various 3D animated movies ranging from lacklustre "star" movies ("Madagascar"), boring tripe ("Shark Tale", "Bee Movie"), and over-rated, over-hyped overkill ("Shrek"), Dreamworks can finally be proud of a truly great film. (Sidebar: I actually enjoyed "Flushed Away" and "Over The Hedge".) First, the bad. If I could complain about ANYTHING it may be a few of the voices. Besides Po, Shifu and Oogway, the rest of the cast seemed pretty 'phoned-in'. Thankfully, those characters are pretty inconsequential so they're not really missed.

Now the good... or rather great. While classic kung fu movies are poked fun at, Kung Fu Panda does an excellent job of treating the genre with great respect in a movie geared towards kids. And while it IS kid friendly, it is not dumbed down to the point where it's childish. All the classic elements of those great kung fu flicks are there, while still keeping it pleasantly G-rated.

Let me get this out of the way: this movie has some of the greatest 3D animated fight scenes. Ever. What elevates them from good to great is that while I expected the unbelievable, gravity-defying stunts that are REQUIRED of a good kung fu movie, there is an amazing amount of 'realism' to the physics in this movie. Just watch the jailbreak and you'll understand.

Speaking of animation, the cinematography, character design and backgrounds are all done very, very well. Whether it's flying through the air alongside a leaping character, the painting-like backgrounds, or the wonderful opening sequence (reminiscent of Samurai Jack), they're all beautiful. Snap zooms, slow-motion, and flying cameras are also used with great skill to further the experience.

Even the music and sound is outstanding. Asian drums rumble in the background of intense fights... stones shatter and crumble away... fight sequences rise and fall with each of the music cues, or is that the other way around? Beautiful.

What helps make this a new classic in my eyes is what it doesn't have. There are no Matrix, Spiderman, or other dated references. There are no inside jokes related to the voice actors. There isn't even any double entendre or unnecessary crude humour. Much like "Finding Nemo" or "Monsters Inc", there's just plenty of pop-culture-free goodness that is terribly entertaining.

The last great part of this movie is often the most overlooked part of a good family film... heart. This movie has oodles of it. Other movies have tried to have a lesson in the end like 'be yourself' ("Shrek"), or 'the value of friends' ("Madagascar"), or... 'be yourself' ("Shark Tale"), but "Kung Fu Panda" has genuine cinematic moments with dialogue that carries real weight. Best line: Oogway regarding yesterday, tomorrow and today.

So, finally, as a complete sucker for Pixar animation, I'm glad that another animation company can actually put proper thought and execution into a FAMILY movie. What else can I say? Congratulations Dreamworks. 10 out of 10.

Iron Man

There was a big question mark looming over the theatrical adaptation of Marvel's Iron Man property. It was in the guise of director Jon Favreau. Now, don't get me wrong, I love the Favs, but when I heard he was helming a big budget comic book flick…let's just say I was a little worried. Once his cast was set and the fanboys started humming across the internet I started to ease into the decision with high anticipation. Thankfully, after finally seeing the finished product, I was not disappointed in the least. With a great mix of the professionalism and stakes seen in both Spider-Man and X-Men and the comic wit and sheer fun of Fantastic Four, Iron Man shows how a comic can be brought to the screen successfully without all the added drama and weight. We finally have a film with the essence of what makes these picture books so popular, the action and mythology along with a sense of adventure and humor. Favreau never bogs us down with overwrought emotions nor speaks down to us with gags and poorly written jokes. Instead he delivers on his promises and gives us a solid initiation into what could be a great trilogy or more.

Favreau seems to have had an idea to get an origin story out while not boring us with long drawn out backstory. His ability to give us dual information at once is nicely orchestrated, showing Tony Stark in his basement creating while the TV in the background explains what is happening in the outside world of the Middle East and inside his own company. We as an audience are allowed to put the pieces together amidst the witty banter of Stark and the wonderful special effects. By the end of the film it is quite amazing how much information you will realize you now know, all culminating in a decent final battle, but more importantly a segue into the inevitable sequel. We are allowed entrance into the character evolution of Stark as he goes from war profiteer to man of action and cause, all while seeing the technology improve and advance before our eyes. Much like Batman, we have a hero here that needs help in fighting crime. He has no superhuman abilities besides his brain and being able to see his thoughts go from paper to reality is a feat of magic. Every stage is shown, every failure and success. It's quite the ride in and of itself, but when you add onto it the threat of global war and destruction, it can only get better.

The real success here is in the bold move of casting an actor over-40 to be a superhero. This takes guts, because no matter how appropriate it is, most studios would have said, "no, change the story and make him younger so we can churn out as many of these babies as we can." I don't know how he did it, but Favreau got Marvel to get Robert Downey Jr. to play Stark, a sarcastic lothario with the brain capacity of Einstein. I truly can't think of anyone better suited to the role and he proves it by nailing every single scene. I'm sure there was some ad-libbing, but even if not, his comic delivery and ability to switch on a dime to a sincere seriousness at will shows his masterful craft.

As for the rest of the cast, they all do well. Jeff Bridges plays the bombastic creature of villainy over-the-top, but appropriately so; Terrence Howard is nice as the friend and military liason, not given much to do, but definitely sowing seeds for the future; and Gwyneth Paltrow is good as the sweet assistant Pepper Potts who at times seems a little underwritten and more female prop than anything else, but comes through with some nice moments in a very comic sort of way. I also really liked Shaun Toub as Yinsen, Stark's savior, and Clark Gregg as the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. Good to see Favreau giving another actor turned director props, (Gregg's directorial debut comes out later this year in the form of Chuck Palahniuk's Choke). I just wish he would have shied away from putting himself in the film. It's one thing to be seen split-second, (like Stan Lee), but its another to give yourself a thankless role with multiple scenes, just adding fuel to the fire on people's opinions of egotism stemming from the drinking game created off of the TV show "Dinner for Five" and how many references to Swingers was made each episode. I'll forgive, though, because, once again, I'm a big fan.

One can't forget that this is an action film above all else, so we can't just praise the actors; every effect is also quite brilliant. Those scenes of Iron Man flying amongst fighter jets in the trailer seemed really lame, but when in context they deliver. The suit itself is amazing as well, through every mach stage right to the end. My main highlight, however, was with the computer systems that Stark utilizes. The multiple screens, instant holographic reproductions, and ability to actually interact with those 3D representations is stunning. We can create them in fantasy, but it's just too bad we can't yet in real life.

Now Iron Man is not a perfect film, nor even a perfect comic book adaptation. What it is, though, is a fun, comic actioner that should light up the box office. The final showdown is a bit of a whimper in comparison to the backstory and machine creation; a crucial element is saved from destruction in the one contrived bit of screen writing, (not quite utilized in the way I thought, although still for the same means); and some moments seem a tad campy rather than witty, but otherwise this is some topnotch cinema that should definitely be seen on the big screen. I can't wait to see how the story progresses in a couple years.

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