Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Kung Fu Panda

A strange, yet cute and fun approach to martial arts...

Po (Jack Black), a clumsy Panda, works at a noodle restaurant, but as an avid kung fu fan he dreams of being able to meet The Furious Five, a group of kung fu experts noted for their great ability and heroic deeds. One day, it is decided that one of The Furious Five will be granted the status of the Dragon Warrior, and a determined Po attempts to watch the tournament taking place. After various attempts to enter the Dojo, he finally gets in, only to be told that he is the future Dragon Warrior.

Kung Fu Panda is quite a unique story: it is a clear parody of kung fu films but it does enough to prove that it pays homage to them as well. For instance, Po is told he will become the greatest warrior in the whole of China, but he is both overweight and clumsy, and has no martial arts training whatsoever: parody. However, the old and wise kung fu master, Oogway (Randall Duk Kim), has some very wise words, infused in traditional Chinese philosophy: homage. This becomes the most striking aspect of the film, and one which will no doubt be more attune t adults then children. Though it must be said that the film is more for kids then adults, unlike previous DreamWorks Animation productions such as Shrek, Madagascar and Flushed Away. This is mainly due to the simplicity of the film as a whole. The film is ridden with clich├ęs, sometimes to aid the comedy, and the comedy itself can be far too silly at times. The film is also too short, and characterization pays for this. Beyond Po and Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), no other characters really gets any depth added to them. There is a little for Tigress (Angelina Jolie), but that is about it, and it's disappointing because it is possible that each character has a rich background. The length also lessens the overall impact of the film, with Po seemingly able to learn Kung Fu is a very short space of time. In fact, there were times where I felt totally disengaged with the film, wondering when it was going to show something that truly excited me.

But the action looks great, mostly due to the superb animation. Characters look like great representations of cartoons, and their body movements are fluid. There is also a great deal of detail, with much work being put into the fur of characters, and facial workings. Special effects do not appear to have gotten as much work on, but they are not bad at all, and work well with the other animation. DreamWorks Animation mus be commended for making a truly believable world and its clear to see references to other great martial arts films like House of Flying Daggers. If anything, its a shame that some good action sequences become used more to emphasis comedy then action, and makes the fighting less engaging then you would hope.

Music is very consistent, bringing traditional Chinese melodies expected of kung fu movies to the helm. At all times, it works, unlike the voice acting. Now all the voice actors do an impeccable job illustrating their respective characters, be it Angelina Jolie as the fiery Tigress, Ian MacShane as the evil Tai Lang, and even Randall Duk Kim as the serene and wise Oogway. And while Jack Black does a good enough job as Po, he comes across as too Jack Black, and Po as a character feels lifeless. In fact, the problem with Black is that unlike the other actors, he brings no charisma to his role. By no means is he a bad actor, his last role in Be Kind Rewind was great, but this time around, he doesn't quite gel with his character.

With unnoticeable tame language, and no sex or nudity, the film does have its fair share of violence. However it is far from being actually violent and is also used quite often for comical purposes.

As far as computer animations go, Kung Fu Panda is good, but not good enough to truly compete with the forerunners of the medium. For every aspect which makes Kung Fu Panda worth watching, humour and animation quality, there are aspects which make not worth the watch, simplistic story and lack of character development. It does what it sets out to do and that is entertain, but it falls short of what it should have tried to accomplish.


Screen date: 16 June 2008
Release date: 27 June 2008

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