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.
+ 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.
+ 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.
- 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...
- 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.
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...