09 June 2008
Everybody Likes Kugfu Fighting...Pandas
The zoological residents of the Valley of Peace have waited a thousand years for the prophesy of the Dragon Warrior to come to fruition. According to legend, when the time is right, the kung fu master selected as the Dragon Warrior is entitled to the mysterious scroll that holds the secret to being an invincible warrior.
Po, the unlikely hero of the story, is a tubby Panda who secretly dreams of becoming a kung fu master, despite his lack of any martial arts skills whatsoever. With his "father's" exuberant assurance that noodles are his destiny, Po resigns himself to serving noodles as his "father" and "ancestors" have done for generations.
To the surprise of everyone, especially Kung Fu Master Shifu and his team of highly trained fighters, Po is singled out by Master Oogway, the ancient turtle sage (no relation to the Ninja Turtles) as the Dragon Warrior.
Reluctantly, Shifu is forced to take Po under his tutelage and prepare him to defeat the menacing Tai Lung, an extremely powerful tiger fighter who holds a deep grudge against the noble Shifu and poses as a great threat to the peaceful valley.
I'm usually skeptical when it comes to CG animated films that are not produced by Pixar, but after reading a positive review of the film on the Frederator blog, I decided to check it out. Now, if you've read any of my other movie reviews, you know that this is the point when I would usually get all "snarky" ala TWP and mock the movie. I have to tell you, I have nothing to mock. I thoroughly enjoyed the film.
First of all, I found the animation in the film artful and innovative. Though I enjoyed the Shrek series, I've found the animation customary to Dreamwork's films to be too sharp (especially their disturbing depiction of human characters). In contrast, the character animation in Kung Fu Panda was either adorable or vibrant and pleasing to the eye. The facial expressions on the characters were particularly impressive, and really helped make the characters interesting.
Speaking of the characters, the voice actors were perfectly casted -- well, everyone but Lucy Liu and Jackie Chan. Their talent and personality were wasted in the film. They barely had any lines! They were obviously casted because of their ethnicity. I'm sure the producers would have casted more Chinese actors except a) there are only a few well-known Chinese actors b) the other semi-famous Chinese actors were used in Mulan and Dreamworks ain't interested in Disney's leftovers. The film also features the voice talents of Seth Rogen, David Cross, and James Hong, the actor who's been in practically every American film involving Chinese culture since Hollywood first figured out that Chinese people can speak English.
Jack Black as Po was simply lovable. Jack Black can be a little obnoxious when he goes full throttle, but he was equally endearing in both the comedic and emotionally tender scenes. I'm not certain what sort of animal Master Shifu was, but Dustin Hoffman was perfect as the old Kung Fu master. I was especially grateful that he didn't put on the Chinese accent that often afflicts most actors who are cast as the wise Asian elder. I was also grateful to hear a non-sexualized Angelina Jolie. She's usually forced to vamp it up and jut out her lips in every role that she plays (e.g. sexy fish, sexy battered woman, sexy forensic scientist), but as Tigress she was focused and pensive. Aside from Jack Black, I think the standout star of the film was the ferocious Tai Lung, voiced by Ian McShane. I literally gasped (out of fright) when he appeared on screen. He was seriously one intimidating villain.
Actually, I take that back. I think the star of the movie was Po's belly. I laughed at every joke involving the rotund Panda's belly.
Given its star-packed cast and Dreamwork's propensity to stuff their animated films with hip pop culture allusions, I was afraid that the film would be sidetracked by gimmicks. This time around, however, I think they've managed to pull off what Pixar is so adept at doing, producing an animated film driven by an engaging storyline and compelling characters.
The movie also takes advantage of the CG animation technology and produces some highly entertaining action sequences. Some of the humor of the verbal banter and Jack's uttering of the words "awesome" and "bodacious" may have been lost on the Korean audience, but they definitely enjoyed all of the physical gags. I know that obesity is a serious problem, but there's just something so hilarious about a fat panda. I totally heart fat animals.
I read on Popseoul that Cee Lo's version of "Kung Fu Fighter" was selected over Rain's version for the end credits of the film, so I was surprised (though I shouldn't have been) to hear Rain singing during the end credits. That's when I decided to stick around for the conclusion of the end credits, because I vaguely remember reading online about a bonus clip.
I actually enjoyed watching the end credits, because it was accompanied by illustrations of the various characters in the film; a sort of "Where are they now?" The end credits were followed by a very brief clip of Shifu and Po that follows through with a metaphor introduced by Master Oogway. I'll just go ahead and use my superior skills of literary analysis and interpret the symbolism in the concluding image. The concluding image implies..."sequel."
I highly recommend Kung Fu Panda. In fact, I'll even go so far as to say that you should watch it on the big screen because in my opinion, it's deserving of an "A." As my students will attest to, it's hard to earn an "A" from Teacher Annalog.
Though the promotional display outside of the Kung Fu Panda theater has me looking forward to seeing this summer's next big animated film, Wall-E, Pixar better watch their backs, because as the Dreamworks people have learned, "Everybody likes Kung Fu fighting" (also, people tend to hate bumbling robots).