"KUNG FU PANDA"
by Kevin Carr
|| MOVIE: **** (out of 5 stars)
DVD EXPERIENCE: **** (out of 5 stars)
Jack Black as PO
Dustin Hoffman as SHIFU
Angelina Jolie as TIGRESS
Ian McShane as TAI LUNG
Jackie Chan as MONKEY
Seth Rogan as MANTIS
Lucy Liu as VIPER
David Cross as CRANE
Directed by: Mark Osborne and John Stevenson
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Contrary to what many people believe (including my wife and most of my extended family), I have no problem admitting that I was wrong. And I was wrong about my initial sight-unseen assumptions of ‘Kung Fu Panda.” Leading up to the release of the film this summer, I thought it was going to be one of the worst of the year.
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My thoughts were not unfounded. After all, it was a DreamWorks Animation film with Jack Black in the starring role and Angelina Jolie bringing up the rear. This thing had “Shark Tale 2” written all over it.
However, upon seeing the film, I count it as one of the best animated flicks that have come down the pike this year (and possibly the second best, only beat out by “WALL-E”). The film has a slick visual style, incredible animation, awesome kung fu sequences, and it’s aesthetic quality is pushing up against Pixar for the first time in DreamWorks history.
The story follows a portly panda named Po (Jack Black), who lives in a small Chinese village. Po wishes to become a great kung fu warrior some day, but his social position as the son of a noodle restauranteur gets in the way. However, when he tries to sneak into an exhibition of the Furious Five (a kung fu team featuring Tigress, Monkey, Viper, Crane and Mantis), he is tapped by a kung fu master to be the Dragon Warrior. Po the must be trained by master Shifu to defend the village against the evil Tai Lung, who has escaped from prison.
“Kung Fu Panda” is a short film, just barely under 90 minutes, so it’s a great treat for the whole family. Few kids will get bored in the film, considering there’s plenty of kung fu action and slapstick gags to keep them interested. And even though Jack Black is in the film in his self-proclaimed awesome glory, the directors have toned him down enough. He doesn’t sing. He doesn’t scat. He just embodies the voice of the chubby panda hero.
A particular bright spot in the film is the well-assembled Furious Five. Each animal is voiced by a famous person who, left to their own devices could be as annoying as Jack Black. But as an ensemble (with Angelina Jolie as Tigress, Jackie Chan as Monkey, Lucy Lui as Viper, David Cross as Crane and Seth Rogan as Mantis), they work well. Even though all five have wanted to be chosen as the Dragon Warrior, they aren’t bitter to the point of exile. Ultimately, they like Po, as the rest of the audience should.
Rounding out the cast is Dustin Hoffman as Shifu and Ian McShane as the evil Tai Lung. This is easily one of the best cast animated films to hit the screens in a while.
The DVD comes with a family friendly slate of special features, including a filmmakers’ commentary and behind-the-scenes content about the sound design, animation production and meeting the cast. There’s kung fu training information (coming with a safety warning, of course) and a “Kung Fu Fighting” music video. There are also instructional videos on how to make noodles, how to help save the pandas and how to use chopsticks.
Although Pixar still wins the day for the best DVD extras in the animated genre, the release of “Kung Fu Panda” sweetens the pot with an extra disc that features the new short “Secrets of the Furious Five.” In this half-hour film, Po teaches some young learners how each of the Furious Five learned to use their weaknesses as their powers.
The “Secrets of the Furious Five” DVD is packaged together with “Kung Fu Panda” and has its own special features, including animation tutorials, an online activity kit, a virtual shell game, information about the Chinese zodiac, background information on the animals and their associated martial arts styles and some kung fu workshops.