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  Kung Fu Panda

Starring: Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan

Directed by: John Wayne Stevenson, Mark Randolph Osbourne

Produced by: Melissa Cobb, George Zaloom, Aron J. Warner

Written by: Jonathan Aibel & Glen Berger (screenplay), Ethan Reiff & Cryus Voris (story)

Distributor: DreamWorks Animation


     The first few scenes of Kung Fu Panda immediately put me in a cynical mood. While I was undeniably involved by lead voice-actor Jack Black’s spirited opening narration, which carries every bit of the warm and excited gusto that one would expect from Black, I nonetheless found myself dismayed by the thin story set-up. With such a talented cast in place—already evidenced by Black’s presence and soon-to-be reinforced by the voices of Dustin Hoffman, Jackie Chan, Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu, Seth Rogen, and others—it seemed a shame that the movie’s high-concept (a panda doing kung fu) was provided only a skeleton of a plot for support. Twenty minutes into Kung Fu Panda, I was ready to dismiss it as yet another cash-in opportunity for studio DreamWorks to appeal to underrepresented kid-audiences in a teen-saturated market.

     In my defense, I had every reason to think that Kung Fu Panda would be a failure from the get-go. After all, the aforementioned skeleton of a plot is as basic as they come: Po (Black) is a catoonishly obese panda (even by animated-panda-standards) who loves the mythology behind the art of kung fu. He finds himself chronically depressed when each day he must endure the monotonous task of selling noodle-soup with his different-species father (James Hong) as a part of their long-running family-business. But normalcy comes to an end when Po, by a fateful and magical chain of events, unexpectedly becomes appointed to the role of the all-powerful “Dragon Warrior” by his valley’s spiritual leader, Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim). Oogway senses that the malicious leopard Tai Lung (Ian McShane), who years-ago tried to take over the valley, has escaped from prison and is coming to seize the valley’s sacred power-endowing scroll. Chubby Po seems no match for the highly-capable Tai Lung at first and is rejected by his fellow fighters Monkey (Chan), Tigress (Jolie), Viper (Liu), Mantis (Rogen), and Crane (David Cross) because of this, but, with luck and some innovative training courtesy of Master Shifu (Hoffman), his prophecy as the Dragon Warrior will undoubtedly be fulfilled.

     Once I came to terms with the fact that Kung Fu Panda would not rival higher-tier Pixar animated productions in terms of narrative-detail, however, I quickly became involved in the movie, even transfixed by it on occasion. Without a complex story to worry about, I turned my attention to aesthetics: how the picture looked, moved, and felt. In this respect, Kung Fu Panda excels by leaps and bounds. If there has even been an animated film that has looked this good, I haven’t seen it. Not only is the movie’s CGI-animation colorful and striking, it also moves better than that of any other picture of the sort. For example: when the characters become involved in a trivial broken-bridge debacle, the scene doesn’t come off as conventional in the slightest. Because the authenticity of the animation is so striking, the viewer forgets about the cliché nature of the scene. The realness of the weight-values of the characters as they swing to-and-fro on the bridge is genuinely revolutionary, far more advanced than the visuals on display in DreamWorks’ previous animated effort this year, Horton Hears a Who!. Another sequence, which depicts Tai Lung escaping from captivity by propelling himself upward by bouncing off of falling rocks in midair, is equally-impressive. In other words: Kung Fu Panda ultimately makes up for its lack of creative storytelling by captivating viewers with other innovations. If you can catch the movie in IMAX, the added admission-fee is worth every penny to see the image enhanced by 70mm film.

     As hinted in the first paragraph, the voice-work by the seasoned cast is also terrific. Black truly brings Po alive, and Hoffman and Rogen in particular are able to craft memorable personas out of their otherwise one-dimensional supporting characters. That all of the voice-actors are provided their fair shares of strong one-liners—screenwriters Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger apparently saw a need to compensate for their thin narrative in another aspect of the script—makes their performances all the more enjoyable. There is a highly-entertaining level of enthusiasm taken on by all members of the ensemble here, which is refreshing given that so many of today’s animated pictures feature performers who do voice-work for the mere reason that it allows them to score a hefty paycheck while wearing jeans and no makeup. In this department, Kung Fu Panda certainly represents an above-average effort. The movie may not be a uniform success in every department, but certainly proves worthwhile on the whole.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 6.7.2008

Screened on: 6.6.2008 in IMAX at the Edwards Mira Mesa 18 in Mira Mesa, CA.


Kung Fu Panda is rated PG and runs 95 minutes.

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