Like every other parent of a small child, I don’t get out to the movies as often as I’d like. When I do go, more often than not, it’s to a kids’ film with my child in tow. Fortunately, we live in an era when animated feature films can be as engaging for adults as they are for kids (and, of course, some aren't meant for kids). Sure, there are still kids’ movies I wouldn’t want any of my friends and family to endure (I’m looking at you, Beverly Hills Chihuahua), but I have no qualms recommending any of this year’s contenders for the Best Animated Feature Oscar to anyone, no matter what age.
Which one is my favorite? Pixar’s WALL-E amazed me with its incredible sci-fi visuals (set in outer space and on trashed terra firma), amusing social commentary on consumerism run amok (I now quote the line “I didn’t know we had a pool” whenever I realize I’ve been far too engaged in front of a computer screen), and daring narrative choices (for one thing, no significant dialogue is spoken in the film's first third).
Still, for sheer popcorn pleasure, Kung Fu Panda wins. I’ve never cared for Dreamworks' animated features as much as Pixar’s, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The story of a klutzy panda bear who dreams of being a kung fu master (and gets his wish) was funny and action-packed – anyone who loves martial arts films should find all kinds of sly references to classics of the genre, as well as combat sequences that are beautifully staged and bound to leave one breathless.
I also enjoyed Disney’s Bolt (due out on DVD in March) more than I expected - I'd read about animator Chris Sanders' original concept for the movie (working title: American Dog), and was worried about getting a watered-down version. The finished film, about a brainwashed canine actor who tries to use superpowers he doesn't have while on a cross-country adventure, may not have matched Sanders' original vision, but it never lacked for thrills or heart (and being my - and my child's - first 3D movie theater experience made it even more of a thrill).
Some animation fans will be disappointed that more adult fare didn't make this year's nominations, but no matter which film wins, each deserves the nod. Did I mention kids should like them, too?
Kung Fu Panda