Review: Kung Fu Panda

June 26, 2008 at 4:03 pm Leave a comment

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Surprisingly, one of the best martial arts movies I’ve seen in some time comes in CG form, and it doesn’t come from the mighty Pixar.  A great mix of humor and action, this is an animated movie that both kids and parents will enjoy.

Jack Black plays the title character, Po, an overweight Panda who works at a noodle shop with his father Mr. Ping (James Hong), who is some kind of bird (a stork maybe?).  He dreams of being a Kung Fu master and to join the ranks of the Furious Five, a team of elite martial arts warriors who defend their village.  The Five are led by Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), who trains and mentors them.

Furious Five

One day, Shifu’s master, a turtle named Oogway (Randall Duk Kim), decides it is time to reveal the Dragon Warrior, the ultimate fighter who can lead the Five and bring justice to the land.  Much the the annoyance of the Five, especially Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Oogway chooses Po.  Shifu, not happy with the decision, decides to trian Po so hard, he will quit.  More bad news befalls the Kung Fu masters as they learn that Shifu’s former student, and now rival, Tai Lung (Ian McShane) has escaped from prison and is on his way to the village.  Tai Lung wants to learn the final secret of Kung Fu, written on a scroll and guarded by Oogway, Shifu, and the Five.

It’s a pretty basic concept, and not something that hasn’t been done in other animated movies or ‘fish out of water’ films.  What works is the attitude in which Po approaches everything.  No one, except for Oogway, wants Po there, but Po soldiers on anyway, holding on to hope and his personal integrity.  The other members of the Furious Five, Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Crane (David Cross) all eventually warm up to Po.  Unfortunately, the cast isn’t given much screen time (I honestly don’t remember if Jackie Chan had any lines), but what they do have is either funny or action-packed.  There’s a great battle between the Five and Tai Lung on a bridge that was very well choreographed and fun to watch.

Po and Shifu

Much of the humor is based on making fun of Po’s weight, but it really doesn’t get to the point where it’s offensive (at least not to me).  Po acknowledges his weight, and eventually Shifu learns to make the most out of Po’s weakness for food.  There are even some touching moments with Oogway and Shifu, and a nice little Rocky-esque training montage thrown in for good measure.  I also thought the music was rather good, with a score composed by Hans Zimmer, who is now one of my favorite film composers ever.  It was a nice blend of traditional Chinese elements mixed in with 1970’s chop-socky music and modern action cues.

Tai Lung

My only issue with the movie is the violence level.  Keep in mind this is a PG-rated movie, so really young children may be too affected by the action.  This is a martial arts movie, and there’s a lot of fighting, so don’t be surprised if you bring your eight-year-old to see this, and afterwards he’s going to want to punch everybody.  Then again, I think the PG rating is appropriate considering it’s animated and there’s more humor than fighting.

Jack Black as "Po"Angelina Jolie as "Tigress"Seth Rogen as "Mantis"Lucy Liu as \"Viper\"

Kung Fu Panda proves that Dreamworks Animation is up to the task of delivering quality films close to the gurus at Pixar.  While this movie isn’t as touching as something like Ratatouille or Finding Nemo (and I’m going to assume that the upcoming Wall-E is going to be another victory for them), Kung Fu Panda is great family entertainment amongst the action-heavy summer blockbusters, and definitely worthy of shelf space once it hits DVD.

Jackie Chan as \"Monkey\"David Cross as \"Crane\"Dustin Hoffman as \"Shifu\"

8.0/10

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