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Movie reviews: "The Tiger's Apprentice", "Heroes of the Golden Mask", "Rumble"

Your rating: None Average: 3.3 (3 votes)

The Tiger's Apprentice posterLet's review some computer-animated films! Here are trailers for:

The Tiger's Apprentice,
Heroes of the Golden Mask,
and Rumble.

Short version: The Tiger's Apprentice, action, one character has a tiger form, lots of Chinese culture, story is nothing great. Heroes of the Golden Mask, terrible. Rumble, wrestling-sponsored sports comedy, very formula loser-wins story, maybe of interest to furry macro fans.

The Tiger's Apprentice (2024)

This is an 84-minute action-adventure film released on February 2, 2024 on the Paramount+ streaming service, directed by Raman Hui from a screenplay by David Magee and Christopher Yost. While produced by Paramount Animation, most of it was actually done by Mikros Animation.

The movie began as a 2003 children's book of the same name by Laurence Yep, whose work often has elements of Chinese culture, or examines culture clash from the perspective of Chinese Americans. In 2008 there was talk of a live action/CGI television adaptation, but this was abandoned. Paramount picked up the ball in 2019, unfortunately just in time for the COVID-19 pandemic. A director was flagged, but by January 2022 the main direction and production team had been replaced entirely.

Tom and a tiger.

Taking place in San Francisco, Tom is a Chinese-American teenager with no distinct personality or characteristics. His grandmother Mrs. Lee is the guardian of an artifact called the Phoenix stone, and although Tom is meant to be its next guardian, she hasn't bothered to teach him magic or self-defense. So when a demon-woman named Loo shows up, Tom is in huge trouble. Luckily he's under the watch of a group of long-lived warriors who turn into the animals of the Chinese zodiac. (Or maybe they're the animals, who can assume human form?) Cue the training montage, etc. The animals glow on special occasions.

Tom meets the other zodiac animals.

As furry fans we want to see the animal characters, but their use in this film is limited. Tiger gets the most screen time, as he feels personally responsible for Tom's safety. Rat, a kleptomaniac "comic relief" comes in second, and dragon, a blue eastern one that can fly, comes in third. Monkey, Rabbit, Goat and Rooster make brief appearances before being immediately side-lined to save on budget. The whole team gets re-assembled to fight at the end. Their forms are zoomorphic, not anthropomorphic, and when they transform to (or from) their human forms, it's of the quick-flash variety.

Supposedly the film is a message about compassion to one's enemies, but aside from it coming up once near the beginning, and once at the end, this concept is not explored. Most of it is an excuse for action sequences, while incorporating Chinese culture and mythology.

All the zodiac animals together.

The human forms of Monkey, Dragon, Rat and Tiger.

It's not a bad film, but it's very formulaic, and nothing really stands out. I haven't read the book, but based on its Wikipedia description, the film abandons or changes significant chunks of the plot, leaving only a few basic similarities. I get the impression that the zodiac wasn't even part of the book.

Recommended? Nah. 5.7 on IMDB and 54/74 on Rotten Tomatoes. I'll have a bit more to say about Paramount later. I felt underwhelmed after watching this, so I decided to get around to...

Heroes of the Golden Mask (2023)

Heroes of the Golden Mask posterThis 80-minute China-Canada production was released online in the summer of 2023, directed by Sean Patrick O'Reilly, written by Xiaoming Yao, Jim Kammerud and Brian Smith. Less than two minutes in, I knew that watching it was a mistake, based on the art design of these children:

Three children with tiny bodies and overly-large heads.

The story is, 4000 years ago in ancient China, a king made a magic portal that could reach any place and time and used it to invite smart and artistic people to help him make a nice city. But the portal also allows access to The Jade Sword which... I dunno, makes you invincible or something. So now the city is guarded by a team of five heroes, each equipped with a golden mask that grants powers and/or weapons, and also minimizes facial animation.

The team is comprised of Aesop (Patton Oswalt!), a portly Atlantean fish-guy who has a large hammer; Zhu, who can turn into any of the animals in the Chinese zodiac; Zuma, a tattooed Mayan who can... throw balls; Li, a serious young warrior, she shoots energy arrows; and finally their leader, Li's father, who has telekinesis.

Three of Zhu's zodiac forms, ox, tiger, and horse.

Most days of the week, the city is under attack from Ron Perlman, who wants the jade sword, brings figurines that turn into large monsters, and couldn't care less about his dialog. Li's father dies in the latest siege, and the replacement his mask chooses is Charlie, a modern-day street urchin and pickpocket. I'm not sure if he's the best "hero" available within a 4000-year range, or the most disposable one in case it doesn't work out. But he's North American, so that makes the film marginally more marketable.

An image of Charlie.Charlie is an absolutely terrible protagonist, constantly making snide and self-serving remarks, often with modern-day references that no one understands. He's selfish and not at all entertaining. Most of the time I wanted to smack him upside the head. Kiefer O'Reilly's line delivery didn't help, but then, he's the son of the director, who also runs the Canadian animation studio involved in this project. Despite some of the talent they managed to pull in for voice acting, many weren't putting in the effort due to the terrible script. Depressingly, this was Christopher Plummer's last film role.

Zhu is the most interesting character for furry fans! As in The Tiger's Apprentice, the change into the zodiac animal is of the sudden-flash variety. Sadly, Zhu is burdened with giving "wise" (stupid) aphorisms that the writers were struggling to create. ("Do not be afraid of moving slowly. Be afraid of standing still.") But I do like his animal forms, regardless of how briefly they're seen. Notably, he's too scared to try turning into a dragon, in case he might not be able to maintain it and fall from the sky. Thankfully, he does achieve this form by the end of the film, and gets to be a very happy red noodle for a short while!

A happy dragon!

Honestly, the best creature in the film is Ron Perlman's evil mount. It's a giant, winged, horned white tiger! Oh yeahh!! Otherwise, please don't watch this film. It scored 7.2 on IMDB and 14/97 on Rotten Tomatoes, however, except for the "14" part, the other voters are lying.

A giant, winged tiger.

So at this point, I'd watched two not-so-great films, and I really wanted to end the day on a higher note. The Tiger's Apprentice had gotten barely any promotion until a few weeks before its release... as had another recent Paramount movie, Under the Boardwalk, which I had no intention of seeing. But it got me curious about Paramount Animation. Most of the time they aren't doing the animation, though occasionally they participate via their Nickelodeon studio.

They'd scored over $300 million in 2015 with The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water. This windfall allowed them to take a risk on the more artistic Anomalisa and The Little Prince, both of which I'd seen. This was followed by the stinkers Monster Trucks, Sherlock Gnomes and Wonder Park. And soon afterwards, something that I had a copy of, but hadn't watched yet...

Rumble (2021)

Rumble posterThis 95-minute sports comedy was released in time for Christmas in 2021, directed by Hamish Grieve, who co-wrote it with Matt Lieberman. It was inspired by a 2013 graphic novel called Monster on the Hill by Rob Harrell, but not much of that remains. At some point the WWE got involved in the project, so it could be argued that this is an hour-and-a-half commercial for wrestling. And the trailer does it no favors, which is unfortunate.

In an alternative version of Earth, kaiju (giant monsters) are a fact of life and their fights have been a popular spectator sport for much of humanity's history. The arena in the modern town of Stoker-on-Avon was host to a monster champion named Rayburn, along with his human coach, Jimbo - until they were lost at sea. The town's economy collapsed.

Steve enters the practice arena.

With the arrival of a new monster, Tentacular (former football player Terry Crews), the town hopes to return from the brink of financial ruin, but it doesn't work out. Jimbo's daughter, Winnie (Geraldine Viswanathan), finds a down-on-his-luck monster named Steve (Will Arnett) and begins training him, trying to save the arena in Stoker and to continue the wrestling legacy of her father.

I'm not sure what audience this film is aiming for. Kaiju fans want two things: for the monsters to beat the crap out of each other, and to destroy a lot of cities along the way. The fights in Rumble are done in the safety of an arena without urban collateral damage, the monster designs are mildly silly, and the fights are more comedic than serious.

Steve caught in the tentacles of his wrestling adversary.That being said, I'm not a fan of sports or wrestling, and this film was fine. I think it's because it didn't have the WWE thing where the wrestlers scream at the camera in a pre-fight "interview" about how they're going to destroy their opponent. That was refreshingly absent!

Surprisingly, the film's cast is very small. Besides a few side-characters, most of the film is Winnie and Steve. Everyone's a bit shallow. Winnie is a motivated, spunky go-getter who tends to knock people or things over, and that's about it. Steve has some interesting backstory, and they have plenty of time to develop it, but they don't. A missed opportunity that could have made a solid difference! You may not like Steve at first; give him some time.

It rates a 5.9 on IMDB and 44/48 on Rotten Tomatoes. Speaking personally, of the three films I watched on the same day, this was the most enjoyable. Not great - just ok, but I think it'll appeal to furry macro fans. And heck, it's pretty easy for any film to be better than Heroes of the Golden Mask. One nice detail - the animation designers put some work into making things of different sizes for the kaiju characters. That was a nice touch. As for the story, it's pretty standard, you're not missing anything.

An image of Winnie.

Steve sitting triumphantly on top of a defeated opponent.

That's it for now - On to the next things in the backlog!


Your rating: None Average: 3 (1 vote)

Speaking of Paramount, now they're thinking of doing an R-rated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin film, which - at least, in the IDW comics version - is set in a totalitarian New York City, where Shredder's grandson kills off all the turtles except for one, who craves vengeance.

Your rating: None Average: 2 (3 votes)

Yeah, I'm not looking forward to that one.

Your rating: None

It's looks decent, But I might not wanna see it though.

Your rating: None

What is it about figurines that turn into monsters? Seems to be a theme in China. I guess they had all those clay soldiers, a few animals isn't too much to ask.

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