Kung Fu Panda (2008) dir. Mark Osborne, John Stevenson
Starring: Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Ian McShane, Seth Rogan, Jackie Chan
An unassuming kung-fu fan goes from lowly noodle chef in the family business to an ass-kicking saviour of the land. Sounds like the plot of “Forbidden Kingdom” – the recent Jackie Chan/Jet Li vehicle. The cute talking animals of “Kung Fu Panda” was a major turn-off during it’s ginormous summer hype machine. It turns out the filmmakers did their research and studied the classic elements of martial arts films. So it’s no surprise that "Forbidden Kingdom" sounds the same as “Kung Fu Panda” – both are surprisingly decent family action flicks rooted in fanboy appreciation.
Jack Black provides the voice of Po, a youngster who dreams of becoming a martial arts master. But Po is a fat Panda with no athletic skills whatsoever. His destiny seems to lie in the family business of noodle making. When local kung fu master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) foresees an attack by his former protégée Tai Lung (Ian McShane) in an attempt to conquer the Valley of Peace Lung decides to crown his next Dragon Warrior – 'the one' who will save the people and conquer Lung.
During the ceremony Po breaks into the arena and inadvertently gets crowned as the Dragon Warrior. Oogway’s talented disciples, the Furious Five, are outrated. Especially Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) who has to train Po. Po proceeds to fail every test Shifu presents him. At Po’s worst moment his disapproving father tells him the secret which made him succeed at his business. Po then discovers his own strength which will defeat the evil Tiger warrior.
It’s a fairly predictable path, which ends with a rather silly Eureka moment for Po. Essentially Po discovers that his greatest weakness will become his strength. You guessed it, Po’s fatness defeats the mighty Tai Lung. It’s probably not the best lesson for young kids, but the bigger picture message is about being comfortable in one own skin, and that anyone can achieve their goals no matter what.
The computer animation, as expected, is great. In fact, these phenomenal technical achievements are now taken for granted. The directors craft a number of stylized fight sequences – the most impressive is Tai Lung’s escape from prison. Because the camera can be placed anywhere and moved at any speed the action leans toward the chaotic than exciting. For a kids movie exaggerating action and movement we have to accept, but I wonder how the film would have played if even a little bit of physical realism stayed in the picture.
With a box office of over $200million "Kung Fu Panda" 2, 3 and more are inevitable. But there more than enough kung fu lore to mine for more material. Enjoy.
“Kung Fu Panda” is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment.