Sunday, August 17, 2014

Kung Fu Panda - Movie Review

Kung Fu Panda is usually a story that almost tells itself in its title. It really is so hard to imagine a big, fuzzy panda carrying out martial-arts encounters that you intuit (and you will be correct) that the panda superstars in an against-all-odds formulation, which dooms him to succeed. For the panda's target audience, children and younger teenagers, that'll be just good, and the film presents his adventures in wonderfully drawn Cinemascope animation.

Movie Review

The film stars a panda called Po (voice of Jack Black), who is so fat he can barely get out of bed. He works for his father, Mr. Ping (James Hong) in a noodle shop, which features Ping's legendary Top secret Ingredient. How Ping, apparently a stork or additional billed member of the avian family members, fathered a panda is certainly a mystery, not least to Po, but the film is filled with a wide variety of creatures who don't much seem to notice their differences.

They live in the stunning Valley of Peace with an ancient temple towering overhead, up zillions of steps, which the pudgy Po can barely climb. But climb them he does, dragging a noodle wagon, because all of the people of the valley have collected up there to witness the selecting of the Dragon Warrior, who'll engage the dreaded Tai Lung (Ian McShane) in kung-fu fight. Five contenders have already been selected, the "Furious Five": Monkey (Jackie Chan), Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Crane (David Cross). Tigress looks like she might be in a position to do some critical damage, however the others are significantly less than impressive. Mantis in particular appears to weigh about an ounce, tops. All five have already been trained (for nearly forever, I gather) by the sensible Shifu, who with Dustin Hoffman's voice is among the more dimensional heroes in a story that doesn't provide the others a whole lot of depth. Anyway, it's up to the temple grasp Oogway (Randall Duk Kim), a historical turtle, to help make the final selection, and he chooses -- yes, he chooses the hapless and pudgy Po.

The story then becomes essentially a series of action sequences, somewhat undermined by the fact that the combatants appear unable to be hurt, even if indeed they fall from dizzying heights and crack stones open with their heads. There's a protracted combat with Tai Lung on a disintegrating suspension bridge (haven't we seen that before?), hand-to-hand-to-tail combat with Po and Tai Lung, and upstaging everything, an energetic competition over a single dumpling.

"Kung Fu Panda" isn't among the great recent animated films. The tale is way too predictable, and truth to tell, Po himself didn't overwhelm me with his charisma. But it's elegantly drawn, the action sequences are packed with energy, and it's really short enough that older viewers will become forgiving. For the kids, of course, all this stuff is much of a muchness, and right here they go again.

Movie Trailer

Movie Details

In theaters: June 6, 2008 (On DVD or streaming: November 9, 2008)
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Black
Director: Mark Osborne
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Genre: Family and Kids
Topics: Sports and Martial Arts, Misfits and Underdogs, Wild Animals
Personality Strengths: Integrity, Perseverance, Self-control, Teamwork
Run time: 88 minutes
MPAA rating: PG
MPAA explanation: sequences of martial arts action.