Saturday, July 12, 2008

Kung Fu Panda (2008, Mark Osborne and John Stevenson)

(Originally written for a work newsletter)

Martial arts has a new legend in Kung Fu Panda, the latest family-friendly blockbuster from Dreamworks Animation, who previously gave the world Shrek. Kung Fu Panda tells the story of Po, a roly-poly panda who finally gets the chance to realize his dreams of kung fu glory, and much of the reason why the movie works is because of Jack Black’s vocal performance in the lead role. Black’s natural exuberance can be hard to harness in live-action roles, but it’s perfectly suited to the childlike, overly enthusiastic Po. Also good is Dustin Hoffman, who voices the role of the wise but skeptical Master Shifu, but the other recognizable names in the cast don’t get a whole lot to do. Why cast a star like Jackie Chan if you’re only going to give his character a handful of lines?

Of course, anyone who is even remotely familiar with kung fu movies (or movies in general, really) will be able to successfully predict where the story is headed. But the movie is entertaining enough that you probably won’t mind. And kids will eat it up- the 7-year-old boy sitting next to me certainly did. Compared to other Dreamworks Animation releases, Kung Fu Panda is surprisingly free of wholesale pop culture references, to say nothing of the bodily-function humor that has become a far too common hallmark of family entertainment. The slapstick humor about Po’s weight gets a little out of hand at times, but in the end it serves a purpose, as our hero learns to accept his size and even use it to his advantage in the kung fu tradition. But the best parts of Kung Fu Panda are the action sequences, which are unimaginable in live action. The tradition of animators bending the laws of physics to their own ends goes back to the Road Runner, and here the filmmakers take advantage of the medium to create exciting (if impossible) fight scenes. All in all, Kung Fu Panda is not a great family movie, but it’s a lot of fun for kids, and surprisingly entertaining for adults as well.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

1 comment:

Patrick Roberts said...

still gotta see Kung Fu Panda, Jack Black is classic for sure... he'll be forever famous for his work in School of Rock