Jun 2008 09

The latest addition to the DreamWorks Animation catalog is one of their best, coming not far behind Shrek as one of their best efforts yet.
The film is about the training and ascension of a wannabe Kung Fu Master, Po, an overweight Panda that worships the Furious Five and the Masters of the Jade Temple that looms up an endless staircase above his town in the Valley of Peace. He dreams of fighting along side them defeating countless foes even though he is stuck making noodles with his “father,” a duck, called Mr. Ping. Ping dreams of Po taking over the business while Po dreams of Kung Fu.
Presiding over the Furious Five, Tigress, Viper, Crane, Monkey, and Mantis, is Shifu who trains and observes their everyday activities as they prepare to possibly be named chosen to be the Dragon Warrior who will get to look upon the Dragon Scroll and learn the secret to limitless power and ability. Shifu’s master, and the originator of the martial arts, is a turtle named Oogway, who has a vision of the return of Tai Lung, a rouge pupil of Shifu who was as masterful as any, but craved the power of being the Dragon Warrior. Tai Lung was imprisoned after ravaging the Valley of Peace and is under strict lock and key in a prison made for one.
Upon his vision, Oogway decides it is time to name the Dragon Warrior. Po accidentally is chosen and Shifu reluctantly begins to “train” him as he tries to get him to wash out of the process. The Furious Five have a mixed reception to the new student, with Tigress taking the greatest exception as she thought she was destined for the role of Dragon Warrior.
To say more would be a disservice as I have shared a lot, but nothing you couldn’t have found in the trailer. The film however has plenty you couldn’t find there as well. The film is consistently funny and Jack Black’s Po is just full of energy, spirit, will, and humor. Po is constantly entertaining, jokes rarely fall flat around him, and Jack Black captures the character wonderfully. The film focuses mainly on Shifu’s struggle with Oogway’s decisions and Po‘s struggles with dealing and training with Shifu. We are given intriguing glimpses into the history of this world through excellent flashbacks and compelling back story of Shifu and Tai Lung as well as some real emotional pull. Shifu, voiced by the excellent Dustin Hoffman, is one of the more complex and deep characters in animated films in a while and is a joy to watch on screen.
The Furious Five cast does well for what they are given, and one of the let downs is that we didn’t get to see more of them. Many of them are constrained to just a few lines here and there, with Angelina Jolie getting the brunt of the work as the bitter Tigress. Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, and David Cross all get decent bits of humor throughout the film as Monkey, Mantis, and Crane, with Lucy Liu as Viper having little to nothing to say most of the time. Though the actors don’t have a lot to say, their characters have plenty to do, and kick some serious butt doing it. Their big action set piece on a bridge is fantastic and imaginative extended fight scene. The real stand out scene of the film, and is going to be tough to beat over the course of the summer, is the absolutely awe inspiring and breathtaking escape scene of Tai Lung, unbelievably awesome; worth of the price of admission alone. Thankfully so is the rest of the film, with some wicked action bits and training scenes and a story that isn’t really that original, but sends a good message to the target audience, kids, while also being extremely entertaining to all ages.
Lastly, all of the animation is superb with a cool blend of varying 2-d and 3-d styles and cool uses of slow mo in all of the right places. The Kung Fu action is also well choreographed and looks really great as the combatants fight and fly around some beautiful Chinese inspired scenery.
In the end, Kung Fu Panda is a great animated family film for all ages. Awesome action, great characters, and probably the coolest scene I have seen in a theater all year. Wall-E has some competition this month, but regardless how that one turns out, Kung Fu Panda will stand as an excellent work and one of the better animated films of the last few years, and probably the best non-Pixar animated products you will see in a while.


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