Jul 11, 2008

[Movies] Kung-Fu Panda

Kung-Fu PandaInitially I wasn't expecting much from the movie Kung-Fu Panda. I mean seriously, it's a panda trying to do kung-fu? You know that's a bit of a stretch of the imagination and the marketing was clearly towards a younger audience. As much as it seemed like just another kiddie movie full of fluff, word-of-mouth reviews started to spread after the opening week and more and more people started to recommend seeing the film.

I have to admit, all the talk got me curious and given how long the movie ran here, it had to mean something in terms of its viability. Thus finally during the opening weekend of The Incredible Hulk, my partner and I figured it was a higher priority to go and see Kung-Fu Panda before the run ended as opposed to yet another Marvel comic book movie.

We weren't disappointed in the choice that we made.

Kung-Fu Panda tells the tale of Po, an anthropomorphic Panda in medieval China who has always dreamed far beyond the austere walls of his father's noodle shop. His dreams come true when for some reason it's determined that he's the Dragon Warrior who is destined to master kung-fu and defeat Tai Lung in order to save everyone. A pretty tall order for a Panda who has a duck for a father.

Kung Fu PandaImage by suksim via FlickrIn order to prepare him, the other kung-fu masters of the various styles need to prepare him, a group of powerful warriors known as the Furious Five - Tigress, Crane Mantis, Viper, and Monkey, all under the tutelage of Master Shifu.

The movie is quite funny - what else is to be expected from a Dreamworks CGI production these days, rights? Sure, it's no Shrek, but it does garner a lot of good jokes and reasons to laugh pretty heartily. I suppose it helps that Po is voiced by Jack Black, whose off-key humor is pretty enjoyable, depending on your tastes and preferences.

Including Jack Black, the voice talents assembled for this film were pretty impressive - Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross and the biggest surprise of Dustin Hoffman as Master Seifu. Seriously, had I not watched any of the pre-release specials on TV, I would have had no clue it was him. It turns out he's a really good choice to play a tiny kung-fu master, hahaha.

The quality of the animation was also great considering Dreamworks seems to be aiming for a mix of the cartoon stylizing that seems to have become par for the course for Pixar but combined with some highly realistic elements in attempt to bring China to life. Thus the characters manage to stand out a bit as cartoon elements against the stunning realism of the backgrounds, something that makes you think of the old movies that tried to mix in cartoons with live actors.

The story itself was just okay, I suppose. At the end of the day, it's still a children's movie and so that doesn't leave room for Oscar-winning screenplays. It has its fair share of sight gags, guips, plot twists and fun moments which should appeal to children and general and pick up some adults on the way back. I just wish it ended better - the movie does leave you with that feeling of feeling there should have been more to it. While in theory that's a good thing from a movie perspective, it wasn't the sense of fulfillment that you get knowing this chapter was ended and a new one could still happen. It was more like a feeling of "what? it's over already" - general confusion into wondering where the rest of it went.

Overall, it was a pretty "awesome" movie, to borrow a favored term from the film. It way better than expected and definitely worth the time and effort to see. It's not just idle hype but good praise for a light and entertaining movie in these troubling times.
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