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Those cats were fast as lightning! (film only)
Kung Fu Panda (DVD)
Member Name: calypte
Kung Fu Panda (DVD)
Advantages: entertaining fun; good story without sickly-sweet moralising
Disadvantages: small inconsistancies in animation style
Po is obsessed with kung-fu. In fact, if he wasn't a panda you might be forgiven for confusing this with my previous review, on The Forbidden Kingdom - I had a bit of a kung-fu weekend, y'see. And oddly, despite this being a cartoon and kung fu looking nowhere near as impressive in animated format (yes, I'm sure it's very difficult to draw, but it lacks the sheer 'wow' of seeing all those years of training in practice), and despite the big names only here in voice, Kung Fu Panda was somehow the more enjoyable of the two.
Where was I? Ah yes. Po dreams of being a kung fu master, but in reality he's a very, VERY tubby panda who works in his father's noodle shop. A brief aside: dad happens to be a goose, which is a bit confusing, but it does lead to a very funny moment near the end of the film, when Po is about to be told a big secret...! :)
Anyway, back to the beginning before jumping to the end! News reaches Po (Jack Black) that the new Dragon Warrior is about to be chosen, from among his kung fu idols: the Furious Five. Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Viper (Lucy Liu), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen) and Crane (David Cross) are the greatest kung fu students in the land, led by Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) - which of them will be deemed the greatest, the fabled Dragon Warrior, and earn the secrets of all power?
Alas, Po is a little late getting to the kung fu demonstration, and finds himself locked out. Increasingly wild antics to try and see what's going on end up with the clumsy panda landing right in front of Master Oogway *just* at the moment of choosing! Yes, lumbering, inept Po - not even a level zero at kung fu! - has been named the new Dragon Warrior!
Of course, it might not matter quite so much, if Peace Valley's deadliest, most terrible enemy ever - Tai Lung - wasn't about to break out of prison. Only the Dragon Warrior has the skill, the power, the... oh 'eck! How exactly is one food-obsessed, kung fu no-start panda going to save the day?!
I'd have to suggest that the main thing making this movie work so well is the vocal talents. Jack Black - of whom I'm not really a fan, at that - is absolutely perfect as Po. Po is just so sweet, so inept, that it's lovely when he first realises his biggest dream ever, and then is crushed by the reality. Of course, there is the moral to be found as he picks himself up again and finds his genuine strengths, but none of this is rammed down your throat.
In a similar vein, the whole movie avoids that sickly-sweet, saccharine feel that far too many animated and/or family movies either have to try to dollop on at the end. One newspaper review I read suggested that Kung Fu Panda lacked the true pull on the heartstrings of other animations - and I'd come right back and suggest this is exactly the reason I liked it! There is nothing worse than sitting through a film so obviously sentimental, and fakely so at that. KFP evoked only one emotion from me: sheer laughter!
Because it is a very funny movie. Jack Black's Po is pure comedy, particularly physically, but also through the fish - urm, panda? - out of water bumblingness of a teenager finally meeting his heroes. Equally funny - if not more so - is the straight-guy act from Dustin Hoffman, perfectly cast as the uptight Master Shifu, tasked with taking this untrained wannabe and turning him into a hero.
The rest of the cast fades a bit into the background. Despite reading the credits beforehand, I actually forgot it was Angelina Jolie voicing the tiger, and spent the movie trying to figure out the dulcet tones! It struck me as odd to have Lucy Liu and - especially! - Jackie Chan 'in' the movie, and then make such tiny use of them. On the other hand, Ian McShane (forever to be remembered as Lovejoy, no doubt!) seemed like a very strange choice, but the cold, menacing English accent was spot on for the bad guy.
The animation wasn't quite so pitch-perfect for me. The opening scenes did worry me slightly, as it's a slightly odd style - don't panic, it's just a dream sequence! The bulk of the film employs a fairly traditional style, with a perfectly pitched colour palette for the feel of a ye-olde China. However, as traditional as it might look, it is obviously done with computers rather than hand-drawn (well, you would!) and this leads to a few slightly odd inconstancies. For instance, sometime the fur on the main characters is so perfectly rendered as to look almost real. Then, jarringly, the large group of background characters is done in a style that looks very strangely stylised.
That said, it was only a few moments in the movie, and definitely not enough to spoil the experience. In fact, I go so far as to suggest that it helps show a focus on the story rather than absolutely perfect, gorgeous animation. Which is one reason I really think this might be the (second!) best animated film I've seen in years. It has soul; it's utterly heart-warming - but never sickly. Just because something is animated doesn't mean I want to drown in saccharine, and come away feeling emotionally manipulated. Films are ALLOWED to entertain you - and just that. And entertain it does: Kung Fu Panda had me chuckling away, and was just the perfect mix of simple story telling without trying to be clever.
Some audience observations: obviously I'm a grown up (well, most of the time!), but the cinema audience was largely made up of kids. And I think it says a *great* deal about the movie that it was the least objectionable child-heavy audience I've sat with in a long time! Unlike, say, Prince Caspian, the movie did seem to utterly enthral all the small people - without causing any pain to the adults dragged along ;)
*~* Boring Bits *~*
*Running time: 91 minutes (UK)
*Rating: PG - obviously it's got kung fu in it, but it's not too violent, albeit with a few scenes the youngest peeps might find just a little bit scary
*Theatrical release: 4th July 2008
*DVD release: tbc
Full cast details can be found on imdb.co.uk
Summary: The best animation of the year - if only Wall-E wasn't so perfect!