Lucy Liu really said, you can put me in a second-rate Kung Fu Panda, but I'm not giving a second-rate voice performance.
What it's about
A Chinese-American teenager learns that he is to inherit the responsibility of guardian to a phoenix, with the help of the 12 Chinese zodiac animals.
It's not that being similar to another, successful, animated franchise is a bad thing, but The Tiger's Apprentice hurries to practically every plot point without properly establishing its setting, its characters, or their relationships. It all means well, and once you get used to its lower production values, it becomes clear that the film has a distinct visual personality that it makes pretty good use of—especially during its kinetic fight scenes. But too much of the movie ultimately feels like a blueprint that hasn't had the details filled in yet. It becomes difficult to feel anything when the film doesn't give you a chance to sit with any one moment (like, you know, the death of an important character) for too long.
What stands out
Like most animated films distributed my major studios and streamers these days, the voice cast of The Tiger's Apprentice is filled with screen actors and celebrities who really don't add much to their characters like a seasoned voice actor would. Except for Lucy Liu. As the spirit empress Nu Kua, she's her usual elegant self. But as the frog guardian Cynthia, she's completely unrecognizable, shrieking and croaking without vanity. Between Liu's knowingly silly turn and Robert Pattinson's unhinged voice work for Hayao Miyazaki's The Boy and the Heron, we have more than enough proof that we need to challenge Hollywood actors not to settle for their usual voices when taking on even these small animated parts.
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