Movie Review: Kung Fu Panda

>When I saw the first trailer for Kung Fu Panda, I was more interested in the comedic prospects of Jack Black than I was in a martial arts movie set in the animal kingdom. What I wasn’t expacting was how wonderfully the comedic acting would be portrayed through animation and how much I would care about all the characters by the end.

Kung Fu Panda is about Po (Jack Black), a panda who is inexplicably chosen to become the Dragon Warrior—the lead fighter of the marial arts team he idolizes. The only problem is that the closest he has come to kung fu training is his fantasies with his action figures in his bedroom. What follows is an entertaining exposition of what can happen when you try to fit a very round, bloated peg into a very square, ultra disciplined and trained Kung Fu hole.

As a long time fan of animation, I was pleased to see how they used very understated animation when the characters were interacting. They never resorted to the over exaggerated, Tex Avery-style of movement that can easily become a crutch for animators—the clearest example of which is Who Framed Roger Rabbit. It was really just a joy to watch the simplest dialogue scenes.

With an excellent cast of supporting voice actors, I was dissapointed that we didn’t hear more from them. For example, Jackie Chan was the voice of Monkey, but, sadly, he only had about two short lines. However, I am starting to get a greater appreciation of Dustin Hoffman, who voiced Master Shifu, who’d unfortunately burdened with helping Po become the Dragon Warrior. Even though this is an animated film, Hoffman doesn’t shy away from altering his voice and delivery to become the character, when it would have been just as easy to give a straight delivery so that his presence could be instantly recognized—which shows me that improving the quality of the movie was his ultimate goal.

My favorite sequence is when Master Shifu realizes the technique to bring the fighting talent out of Po. I was disappointed when this “special talent” of Po’s didn’t resurface more than once during the climactic battle with Tai Lung (voiced by Ian McShane), the snow leopard bent on claiming the title of Dragon Warrior for himself. I thought it would have made that sequence more entertaining than it already was.

I would definitely recommend this movie for the whole family. I don’t think any kids would be disturbed by the action in this movie. It’s all very stylized and there are very few, if any, visible deaths—although there are a few implied. There is even enough great sophisticated humor in it to keep child deprived adults entertained.

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