Saturday, June 7, 2008

Kung Fu Panda Review

Thanks for checking out our Kung Fu Panda review. I still remember way back in 2005 when I first heard about Kung Fu Panda I thought it was a pathetic idea. My thoughts had to do with 2 things… the concept and using Jack Black. Both I thought were terrible ideas that seemed to me to lend themselves to yet another cookie cutter, annoying, cheap and witless animated film (non-pixar) that would just rely on fart jokes, burp jokes, fart jokes and basically any simple little thing it takes to amuse 10 year old kids (which is just about anything) without bother to put any quality story telling or themes or idea into it. Just have Jack Black talk in outrageous tones, flash some pretty colors and have Po (that’s the name of the Panda) fart.

Yes, I thought I could already see the entire movie playing itself out in my head just from hearing the concept alone. So off I went to see Kung Fu Panda the other day. Was I correct in my first impressions? Actually… no I wasn’t. It’s actually not a bad film at all.

THE GENERAL IDEA

The synopsis for Kung Fu Panda looks something like this: “A clumsy panda bear becomes an unlikely kung fu hero when a treacherous enemy spreads chaos throughout the countryside in this animated martial arts adventure featuring the voices of Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, and Jackie Chan. On the surface, Po (voice of Black) may look like just another portly panda bear, but beneath his fur he bears the mark of the chosen one. By day, Po works faithfully in his family’s noodle shop, but by night he dreams of becoming a true master of the martial arts. Now an ancient prophecy has come to pass, and Po realizes that he is the only one who can save his people from certain destruction. With time running short and malevolent snow leopard Tai Lung (Ian McShane ) closing in, Furious Five legends Tigress (Jolie), Crane (David Cross ), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu), Monkey (Chan), and their wise sensei, Master Shifu (Hoffman), all draw on their vast knowledge of fighting skills in order to transform a lumbering panda bear into a lethal fighting machine. Now, if the noble Po can master the martial arts and somehow transform his greatest weaknesses into his greatest strengths, he will fulfill his destiny as the hero who saved his people during their darkest hour.”

THE GOOD

“The most important element” in any film will vary according to its genre. For a film like Kung Fu Panda clearly the most important element it needed to pull off was comedy. If a film like this one doesn’t make you laugh… then there isn’t much left to fall back on. Thankfully the movie succeeds quite well on this level. I can’t recall any more than 1 hard belly laugh (usually a decent comedy needs much more than that), but it felt like it at least always had me smiling or giggling through the run time. Almost none of the joke were home runs… but then did all work. The end result was I found myself entertained almost all the way through.

Coming up with a good villain in a kids film is no easy task. The character has to be menacing, but at the same time you can’t give kids nightmarish visions and make them crap themselves. I mean come on… it’s Kung Fu Panda… you can’t exactly have Violator (from the Spawn comics) showing up can causing kids across the nation to spontaneously crap themselves in their theater seats… then requiring therapy for the next 3 years to make the nightmares go away! It is a fine and delicate balance… and the villain in Kung Fu Panda, Tai Lung, was PERFECT. He was certainly menacing… but at the same time easy enough for the kids to handle without needing pampers. I think the presence of such a villain really helped the film work.

Doing good action in an animated film is also no easy task. I mean, it’s easy enough to DO… just not so easy to do WELL. However, Kung Fu Panda and the folks at Dreamworks really did pull of some BEAUTIFUL animation with complex yet extremely smooth kung fu fighting that was a treat to watch. It was also a lot of fun seeing how each character had a totally different fighting style in keeping with which animal they were. I mean come on… how on earth do you animate a snake doing Kung Fu and have it look cool? Well… they found a way!

THE BAD

There isn’t a lot to complain about in this movie, but I will raise a couple of issues. First of all, some of the voice casting felt completely wrong. I worship the ground Dustin Hoffman walks on… but him as the voice of the sage Chinese Kung Fu master that trains the furious 5 and Po??? It just didn’t fit. Seth Rogen as one of the furious 5? I hope I’m not just being picky… but whenever these guys spoke (especially Rogen) it just kinda pulled me out of the movie. It was just really conspicuous.

I would have liked to have seen more about the furious 5 characters (the tiger, crane, monkey, viper and the mantis. I think Jackie Chan had like 2 lines… but I mean more in the sense of seeing even just a 2 minute segment of where they each came from and how they ended up at the temple in the first place. Not a major complaint… but it did keep popping into my head as I was watching it.

OVERALL

Contrary to my initial impressions, Kung Fu Panda ends up being a funny (not outright hilarious), exciting, well animated and beautiful to look at movie that both kids and yes, even adults will enjoy. Some poor voice casting and a few character left without being fleshed out much didn’t become major distractions to enjoying the movie. Could have taken or left Jack Black as the lead voice… but he didn’t detract from the film in anyway. It’s no Pixar film… but very good nonetheless. Overall I give Kung Fu Panda a 7.5 out of 10.

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