Ken's Review: Kung Fu Panda - Pixar Better Watch Their Back!
by Ken Evans
June 6, 2008
So maybe it's a little too soon to tell Pixar to watch their back, especially with Wall-E looking amazing, but it looks like DreamWorks Animation is stepping up their game. Honestly I haven't been that impressed with the films DreamWorks has produced over the years. Sure they had that one film a long time ago called Shrek that was great. Then they had that other one named Shrek 2 which was really good too, but besides those two, there just haven't been any others from DreamWorks that I walked away from being very excited. That is until I watched Kung Fu Panda just the other night and was totally blown away.
Po (Jack Black) is a fat, lazy panda that works in his dad's noodle shop while secretly dreaming of being a Kung Fu master like the Furious Five - Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Mantis (Seth Rogan), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Crane (David Cross) and Viper (Lucy Liu). Due to a vision by the head of the Jade Palace, Po is chosen to fulfill an ancient prophecy and become the Dragon Warrior in order to save the Valley of Peace from the evil snow leopard, Tai Lung (Ian McShane). Only the training from Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) can prepare Po to face Tai Lung and finally bring peace to the village.
From the opening DreamWorks logo to the end credits, everything in this film worked. Jack Black is mostly like he was in School of Rock, but more toned down. I assumed that the whole film would become the Jack Black show and that the story would get lost. This couldn't be further from the truth. Black was able to play his part while still letting his personality shine through. As far as the other characters go, David Cross and Seth Rogan were great but had small speaking parts. Actually aside from Dustin Hoffman, the others didn't talk much at all. Still, all the actors were able to make each of their characters their own.
I'm no expert on animation styles and techniques, but I absolutely loved the animation in Kung Fu Panda. The colors were bright and alive and seemed to jump off the screen. The art design for each of the different areas like the Jade Palace, The Valley of Peace, and the Chorh-Gom Prison are breathtaking; not to mention the shading, water, and fire effects. Especially impressive was how smooth all of the scenes flowed together. With all that was going on and the speed at which it was happening, I thought it might not look that great, but I was proven wrong.
Even with the excellent voice acting and beautiful animation, what impressed me most were the fight sequences. This isn't your normal cheesy animated fights. These are in your face, edge-of-your seat martial arts fight scenes. When The Matrix first came out on DVD, were you one of those who watched just the fight scenes over and over? I was one of those people, and I can tell you I'm going to do the same for parts of Kung Fu Panda. It might just be animation but there were scenes that were just as exciting as some of the fights in Afro Samurai or Ninja Scroll. This is one of the reasons that Kung Fu Panda is so great. It does a perfect job of mixing awesome fighting with comedy and some dramatic overtones.
The only reason I'm not giving this movie a perfect rating is because of Ratatouille. I compare it to that because as amazing as Kung Fu Panda was, it failed to hit me on a deeper level like Ratatouille did. The story just didn't have that deep impact which is so rare to find in an animated feature anyway. If only they could have taken it to that maturity level while still being a kid's movie, this would have been my first perfectly rated movie of the year.
This is definitely one of the most enjoyable films I have seen in 2008. I would even go as far as to say one of my favorite animated features of all time. It really blew me away and made me toss out my assumption that you can't see action like that outside of Japanese Anime. I can't recommend going to see this enough. If you have kids or not, this is a film for everyone that will make you laugh and do kung fu chops in your seat. This should be at the top of your list to see this weekend.