Honestly when I saw the first previews for this film, I thought I’d skip it all together. It didn’t look good, didn’t seem fresh in any way. But my son hadn’t seen a movie in theaters in a few months, so we we’re dying to take him to anything. Maybe it was my low expectations, but I found myself truly enjoying Kung Fu Panda from beginning to end and actually came away thinking the film was a minor animation classic. It’s as good as, or better than some of the lesser Pixar films, and way better made than the Shrek or Ice Age films.
The film quickly brings you into this completely unique world, where all animal species live together in relative harmony. Where a duck raises a panda and that panda, named Po, dreams of becoming a kung-fu master. The animal kingdom lends itself well to the kung-fu styles, making the tiger, crane, snake, praying-mantis and monkey characters masters of each style named after them. Together they are the Furious Five. It is them that Po looks up and has dreams of one day joining. His father’s profession as a noodle maker, has no appeal. During a ceremony naming who will become the Dragon Master, Po stumbles his way into the path of the master Tortoise Oogway and is named the one who will unite the group, even though his kung-fu skills are extremely limited. It’s up to their leader Shifu to train Po to become a kung-fu master. Making things even more precarious, is a ferocious Panther, Tai Lung, who has just escaped the ultimate prison and is on his way to claim the title Dragon Master.
The scene where Tai Lung escapes the prison makes the film worth seeing on its own, he is such an incredible bad-ass that he has a prison all to himself, buried miles under the ground, surrounded by thousands of armed rhinos. His fight to get out, is some of the most impressive kung-fu ever brought to screen. The film is chalk full of wonderful fight scenes, that will impress the most die-hard of kung-fu fans, yet are gentle enough for little ones to enjoy. Although they may come away punching and kicking the air. The world the filmmakers have built is extremely gorgeous, modeled after ancient
The one thing that may be a deal breaker for some people is Jack Black, he voices Po, who is in 95% of the film, with his character and humor being very much Jack Black. I for one enjoy his comedy stylings, so I really liked the character, but others might not. The voice work of the other characters is very well done, I especially like Dustin Hoffman as Master Shifu and Ian McShane as Tai Lung. The rest of the Furious Five are recognizable voices, including Angelina Jolie as Tigress, but none are distracting, falling easily into character. Kung Fu Panda is an extremely well put together film, for an animated family film or not, it’s got elements for everyone and at the same time doesn’t stoop to making tasteless jokes that only adults will get. The film has a nice message about finding and believing in yourself, while also kicking some serious butt. – Grade: A- (Seen on 6/21/08)