Director(s): Mark Osborne, John Stevenson
Starring: Jack Black, Jackie Chan, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Lucy Liu (all voice)
Going into this movie back in 2008, I had many questions for Dreamworks Animation. The studio had caught my attention years earlier with ‘The Prince Of Egypt’, ‘Shrek’ and ‘Shrek 2’, but had also disappointed me with ‘Madagascar’ and a few other lacklustre movies. The company wanted to compete with Disney and Pixar, but had yet to find a new franchise to bring in serious box-office results. Sure enough, ‘Kung Fu Panda’ would prove to be that franchise. This movie was filled with great action for an animated movie, and combined that with good humour. In the end, this movie brought out the best in Dreamworks, at least until ‘How To Train Your Dragon’ came out in 2010.
An overweight, immature panda named Po (voiced by Jack Black) works with his father, a soup and noodle chef who is also a goose (of course), in an area known as the Valley of Peace. Po dreams of meeting the Furious Five, a group of legendary warriors who have defended the region for many years. One day, the elder kung fu master, Master Oogway, believes it is time to name the next legendary Dragon Warrior to defend the valley. Po is selected as the Dragon Warrior, a choice which everyone (except Oogway) believes to be a huge mistake. Now, Po must team up with the Furious Five and prove to himself and everyone around him that he is indeed the Dragon Warrior, before the evil and seemingly unstoppable Tai Lung takes his vengeance on his former kung fu masters.
There are two basic ideas people have about movies. One is that every movie must strive to break new ground, to transcend others, and go where none have gone before; if they don’t challenge the audience, it’s seen as a wasted opportunity. The other is that a movie can be predictable, but very much entertaining, and well done in most areas. ‘Kung Fu Panda’ certainly falls into the latter category. You witness some brilliant, animated action sequences, the humour is a mix of silly and something more subversive and satirical. Master Oogway (voiced by Randall Duk Kim) delivers some choice lines and shares his learned philosophy on life, and the whole story wraps up nicely in a way that we all go home a bit happier and more hopeful than when we went in. The fact that you know exactly how ‘Kung Fu Panda’ will play out didn’t destroy the enjoyment of the movie, but rather made it all the more satisfying.
The fight scenes in this movie are incredibly well done for an animated movie and ‘Kung Fu Panda’ is among the best of its kind in that respect. The movie also benefits from a strong line up of characters – with a voice cast boasting big names like Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Lucy Lui, Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan and of course, Jack Black – with each of these characters having their own personal development arc, thus giving the whole story added depth. The villainous Tai Lung too, is formidable; we see what drives him, how his brand of evil had developed over time, how passionate he is and also justified in some sense, and most importantly he is incredibly powerful.
‘Kung Fu Panda’ is also one of the funniest animated movies I’ve ever seen. Some of the humour is a bit silly, but it is intended for a younger audience, and there is definitely another layer of more adult-appropriate humour. The biggest issue I could pick out with this movie was that the backgrounds were sometimes too bland. In such a colorful world, the lack of attention to the background was a visual misfire. Apart from that, this film does exactly what it set out to do – entertain – and there’s nothing wrong with achieving just that. But looking deeper, the film teaches a valuable lesson to young and old about the past, future and present, as well as morality and self-respect.
If you are looking for one of the finest and most popular Dreamworks Animation movies ever created, then look no further than ‘Kung Fu Panda’. With lots of colourful animation, great action sequences, plenty of humorous moments, a top-notch voice cast and some valuable lessons for us all, this is a near-perfect animated family flick.