June 13, 2008

REVIEW: Kung Fu Panda (A)

Background: As many well-made and truly meaningful animated films continue to come down the pike, it always seems like the next one won't be as special. Or is that just me? I'm trying to say that I wasn't going to see Kung Fu Panda because I didn't think it would be very good. I mean, come on, it's not even Pixar, it's Dreamworks Animation, which aside from Bee Movie hasn't produced any gems since Shrek 2. Well, a funny thing happened: people I trust (Craig Kennedy, Nick Plowman, Matthew Lucas) reported Kung Fu Panda was actually, well, really good. So I gave it shot, figuring good old Jack Black (Be Kind Rewind) wouldn't let me down this time. I was also intrigued by the other voices: Dustin Hoffman (Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium), Angelina Jolie (Beowulf), Seth Rogen (Horton Hears a Who!), Lucy Liu ("Cashmere Mafia"), Jackie Chan (The Forbidden Kingdom), Ian McShane (The Golden Compass) and David Cross (I'm Not There). And, last but not least, NEWMAN = Wayne Knight.

Synopsis : Po (Black) is a plump, clumsy, innocent adolescent panda who lives in a Chinese valley and dreams of his Kung Fu heroes, The Furious Five: Tigress (Jolie), Crane (Cross), Mantis (Rogen), Monkey (Chan), and Viper (Liu). Although Po's future is committed to inheriting his loving father's noodle shop, Po aspires to be a Kung Fu warrior trained by Master Shifu (Hoffman), a little red panda, or Master Oogway, a Yoda-like turtle. Although the area is called the Valley of Peace, it has a history of violence. Tai Lung (McShane), a snow leopard, has a bone to pick with Shifu and Oogway, and he is about to break out of prison (he destroyed the valley) to seek his vengeance. Sensing this trouble, Oogway decides to select the legendary Dragon Warrior who will receive a special scroll holding the secret to limitless powers. Here's a spoiler if you didn't catch the title of the movie yet: Po is chosen as the Dragon Warrior. Under Shifu's tutelage and The Furious Five's resentful eyes, Po struggles through his training and finds his inner strength just in time for knock-down, drag-out fight with Tai Lung. Kids go home happy.

I Loved:
+ How much of the real Jack Black leaked into his character. What a perfect role, and I especially liked the Tenacious D-inspired intro.
+ The beautiful animation during the fight sequences and Tai Lung's escape.
+ The sacred peach tree mountaintop - what a dreamy place.

I Liked:
+ The actually funny jokes - not too kiddy and not too grown-up, either. Just funny. Nice work by writers Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger.
+ Seth Rogen's throwaway lines. They still work, movie after movie.

I Disliked:
- That the only African-American in the cast, Michael Clarke Duncan, was relegated to voicing the big, scary, swaggering black rhino. An overused stereotype that could have easily been avoided in this situation. Just sayin', kids pick up on these things.
- That the characters seemed completely invincible. Even for cartoon violence, there has to be some realistic aspects to fighting...right?
- How much of the "real" Angelina Jolie leaked into her character. Tigress was oh-so-cool and oh-so-above-it-all, and she always knew the right thing to do at the right time to save humanity. Gimme a break...

I Hated:
- The lady in the theater who kept staring at me. Yes, I'm an adult here to watch a kid's movie, and no, I'm not going to eat your children because my appetite was ruined by the slobbering mess your family made with those concessions.

Grade:
Writing - 9
Acting - N/A
Production - 10
Emotional Impact - 9
Music - 4
Significance - 5

Total: 37/40= 93% = A

Last Word: Jack Black's perfect presence in Kung Fu Panda cannot be overstated. It's not that the supporting characters aren't likable, but every scene without Po is noticeably lacking in both humor and emotional depth. Nonetheless, it's hard not to be entranced by every frame of the movie. The animation is extraordinary (again, for a non-Pixar production) and the cutting and editing keeps everything moving at a brisk pace, while fortunately preserving the important message. Never mind that it's a familiar one - this is a new story told with new energy and a creative spirit. The gauntlet has been thrown down, WALL-E...

15 comments:

  1. "Yes, I'm an adult here to watch a kid's movie, and no, I'm not going to eat your children because my appetite was ruined by the slobbering mess your family made with those concessions."

    Tell 'em, Daniel. Incidentally, this is the movie that inspired my anti-talking-kid post of a few days ago.

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  2. That was the one, huh? Yeah I personally moved the average age in there from 5 up to about 7. As soon as I walked in and heard the buzz of kids on sugar, I knew I was out of my element. Fortunately a couple screamers were removed, incredibly, by their parents.

    What were your thoughts on the movie (what you saw of it) otherwise?

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  3. Great review, Daniel. This movie was a lot of fun. Very charming. I actually thought Dustin Hoffman provided the film's heart, and made it all work.

    Do you think Michael Clarke Duncan's rhino was supposed to be "black"? To me, it was just a huge animal with his great (just about instantly recognizable), overpowering voice.

    Anyway, like I said, a lot of fun.

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  4. I watched some behind-the-scenes thing on this film on HBO, and I guess they wrote the character of Tigress with Angelina Jolie in mind. I think that's why the character is a lot like the actress.

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  5. Good to see the "Kung Fu Panda" love spreading! It's a great little film.

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  6. I'm not a real big fan of animated movies, but based on your positive review Daniel I'll give this one a try (when it comes out on DVD, of course).

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  7. I missed this - I was on a business trip and it was late and I couldn't get anyone to go, so now I'll probably just catch on DVD.

    So, this is competition for WALL-E? Those are strong words, my friend. Now, I haven't seen either film, but I'm going to go ahead and surmise that WALL-E will bury Kung Fu Panda in every way, shape, and form. Pixar has the midas touch, and this one doesn't look like Bug's Life Pixar...it looks like Incredibles Pixar.

    Although you did give this on an 'A'. Do you get up to 'A+'s on here, or is 'A' as high as it goes?

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  8. I am so stoked you liked it, it totally rocked, and I was expecting a DISASTER. When it premiered in Cannes, I even told a reporter for France 24.com that "Panda" opening in Cannes was a joke and it is going to be so lame, because it had an awful trailer {I really know better than to judge a film by its trailer}, and here I am now - really in love with the film. I do think that I have learnt my lesson; never judge a film before you see it, you could end up one of its many supporters.

    :)

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  9. Thanks, Alexander, and thanks for popping in. KFP isn't the type of movie that really needs to be reviewed, but as you mentioned, the fun I had spilled out into one - especially since it was so unexpected.

    You could be totally right about the rhino character, but for some reason it just jumped out at me so much that I had to mention it. I'm not saying it was racist or irresponsible casting, but my PC triggers just perked up a little bit at the time. Incidentally, it might be worth mentioning that Jackie Chan and Lucy Liu are both of Chinese heritage. Anyway, my impression of the film was not damaged at all; it really was great, and I also failed to mention Hoffman's excellence. Thanks again.

    Thanks, K, this is why I need more knowledgeable people like you around here! I did not know that and it completely explains Jolie's presence within Tigress. If that's what they were going for from the start, well how can I fault them for it?

    If it wasn't for your recommendation, Matthew...

    But of course, Rick. Despite the beautiful animation this is, as I've mentioned, not an in-theater experience that everyone might enjoy. It's not an instant classic or anything, but I hope you find it better than the average cartoon.

    Trust me, Evan, I expect Pixar movies to end wars and save the world with their excellence, so my expectations are still sky high for WALL-E. I just think Disney/Pixar needs to realize their monopoly on meaningful and stunningly drawn animation might be in jeopardy. I don't blame you for skipping it in the theater - your kids probably provide enough screaming at home. Of course, this might also be a great one to get them into the film experience...oh, and for the record, I've given a good number of grades in the "A" range, but only one "A+" - for Young@Heart.

    Nick, the trailer is in the running for most misleading of the year. I definitely would not have seen this had it not been for taste-makers like you, Matthew, and Craig. Cheers to the unexpected...

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  10. My expectations were about zero, but I had a lot of fun. I went to as late of a show as possible to eliminate as many little kids as I could and it worked.

    The animation didn't feel all that special and some of the supporting characters were wasted, but Jack Back and Dustin Hoffman were great and damnit the movie was just plain funny. How few comments can I actually say that about anymore?

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  11. You're right, Craig, for the most part the jokes were well done and perfectly timed. Eating the peaches is an example of that.

    I was actually pretty impressed with the animation, partly because my expectations were so low but partly because I thought the quick zooms and action sequences were really sharp. That peach tree mountaintop was an amazing sight for me as well.

    At this point I'm not expecting KFP to oust either WALL-E or Walzing with Bashir as 08's Best Animated, but it was a lot better than it should have been. I might even see a sequel...

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  12. I really liked this movie, and I thought the animation was truly striking. An enjoyable experience all around indeed.
    I don't see every animated movie in the theater these days, but I have seen quite a few. I know KFP is several years removed, and the style is different, but would say it's far superior to say,The Incredibles ... ooooooo

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  13. Do you mean it's several years removed like from Pixar? Yeah, I suppose. They'll always be ahead in the animation department, though. At least Dreamworks came through with a legitimate story this time around.

    Unfortunately, Madagascar 2 does not look very good to me...but there's always hope for KFP 2!

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  14. Great Review Daniel...i think its full of fun & its very charming.It's slick, energetic, and entertaining enough to separate it from most of the in-it-for-the-cash animated products that the studios have been cranking out the last few years.i saw it many times.its a great animated movie....wanna get it now,then go ahead and start Downloading of movie...
    Free Download Kung Fu Panda Movie

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  15. Thanks, adwin356, for sharing thoughts that I completely agree with. Like WALL-E after it, Kung Fu Panda is one of the few movies that has a personality. Between the attention to detail in the visuals and story, it really didn't feel like a cheap flick. I hope KFP2 will get the same treatment.

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