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Kung Fu Panda


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Kung Fu Panda 2008

 

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Starring: Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Ian McShane

 

Other Actors of Note: David Cross, Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan, Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu, James Hong, and Michael Clark Duncan

 

Plot:A CG-animated comedy about a lazy, irreverent slacker panda, Po, who must somehow become a Kung Fu Master in order to save the Valley of Peace from a villainous snow leopard, Tai Lung. Set in the legendary world of ancient China, this is the story of Po, our unlikely hero, who enters the rigid world of Kung Fu and turning it upside down. Po ultimately becomes a Kung Fu hero by learning that if he believes in himself, he can do anything

 

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I'm having flashbacks to the end of the Street Fighter movie suddenly...

 

Kung Fu Panda is the story of Po, an overweight Panda who is the ancient Chinese equivalent of a comic book geek. The movie treats us to a dream of Po as a wandering Kung Fu master (the greatest line in the entire movie "There is no awesomeness for awesomeness... or attractiveness." is delivered here) it is then that he is rudely awoken by his father Mr. Ping (played by James Hong) a duck who runs a noodle shop and hopes for his son to one day become a noodle master as their family are "noodle folk."

 

We cut to the top of a shrine in the small village where we are introduced to Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) a small red panda who is sitting tranquilly in his garden when he is attacked by The Furious Five each of which is a different animal and represents a different animal style Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Viper (Lucy Liu), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), and Crane (David Cross).

 

Shifu is then called into the shrine by his wise old master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) who, after a hilarious scene involving him slowly blowing out a horrendous number of candles, alerts Shifu in an ominous tone that "Tai Lung will escape." Tai Lung being the villain of this piece, a snow leopard kung fu master and former student of Shifu who hungered for the dragon scroll and almost killed Shifu for it. (Shifu is easily the darkest family animated film villain I've ever seen, moreso than Syndrome)

 

Because of Tai Lung's eventual escape Oogway instructs Shifu to hold a contest to decide who will be the Dragon Warrior and be able to read the scroll of unlimited Kung Fu power that Tail Lung hungered for so much, and is possibly the only way to defeat the vengeful snow leopard.

 

The entire village is invited to come watch the contest to decide which of the Furious Five will win but the road to the temple has a horrendous number of stairs and Po being the overweight panda that he is takes ages to get to the top. But Po reaches the top of the mountain just as the doors to the shrine close and lock. He begins devising ways to begin and several failed attempts are made before he devises the gold fashioned "Let's strap a bunch of bottle rockets to something and see if it will fly." It lands Po in the arena just as Oogway is picking the dragon warrior and the aged turtle ends up picking him to be the dragon warrior much to the dismay and even anger of Shifu and the Furious Five who plot to make the panda quit.

 

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The voice acting in this movie is very well done. Jack Black is perfect for the part of Po and his voice and nuances fit well with the actions and behaviors of the character even in the more serious moments of the film. The two who really shine here though are Dustin Hoffman as Master Shifu who plays the part well but then again when has Dustin Hoffman ever dropped the ball. Of course the greatest is Deadwood's Ian McShane as the evil Tai Lung who just conveys the roll of a scary, powerful, and even cool villain perfectly. Lesser films would've picked the likes of someone with a deep gravelly voice like Clancy Brown to play the role and I salute the casting director for not doing the obvious.

 

As far as the rest of the cast go Michael Clark Duncan is more or less the most obvious choice for the captain of the Rhino guard that keeps Tai Lung from escaping. James Hong is as always a very animated and entertaining character and his voice fits perfectly with his character.

 

The Furious Five fits very well also, four of them anyway. Jackie Chan and Lucy Liu do naturally good jobs in their roles as Monkey and Viper and though Seth Rogen and David Cross are wasted comedically as the mostly serious Mantis and Crane they do their job fine.

 

The one weak link, predictably for me, was Angelina Jolie. I have always said that Angelina's "acting" involved her saying one liners and striking sexy poses and this only goes to prove my point. Never before has Jolie had a role where she couldn't rely on that aspect of her, even in 2004's animated film Shark Tale she played just an animated fish version of herself and was still able to rely on this formula. In this film, Tigress is not a looker, she's not some furry icon, in fact there's nothing in her appearance that even denotes her being female. Left to fall back on talent she doesn't actually have, Jolie falls flat here and is really the only weak performance of the film.

 

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Visually this movie is beautiful. All the sets are done amazingly realistic and incredibly beautiful, though the most visually impressive set has to be Tai Lung's prison with its dark blue corridors and torches which reminded me a great deal of underbelly of Sauron's tower in the Lord of the Ring's trilogy, there's even a similar pan through the inside of the prison not unlike the scene from LOTR.

 

However, the opening sequence, which comes in an animation style somewhat reminiscent of Samurai Jack or Okami left me wishing that that would have been the visual look of the film. It was beautifully done and easily twice as good looking as the computer animation and I wish they could have done it in that style but I suppose since CG is the hot thing now the movie had to abandon some of its potential.

 

The fight scenes are choreographed perfectly, many of them reminiscent of Jackie Chan and Stephen Chow films, all of them fast paced but still able to be watched and comprehended as more than people moving around the screen really fast. The only downside is that the last big fight seems less impressive than those we have seen up until this point, Po's victory seems more accidental than it does skillful up until the very end.

 

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Storyline-wise Kung Fu Panda is very well mapped out. The big message in this one is that one can do anything they put their mind to and Po as the fat lazy weak and cowardly Panda is the most unlikely of heroes. Shifu and Tigress' attempts to discourage him and make him quit are many but he never gives up. The underlying message is that anything can be special if you believe it can. It's a good message and unlike many movies of this style doesn't become tedious and repetitive and distract from the entertainment.

 

The scenes with Tai Lung were surprisingly dark and his escape from the prison only sets the scene for how terrifying he can be. Even in his final fight it is quite clear his intent is to kill his adversary not simply "win." It's more common than it used to be but its nice to see family entertainment that is willing to make its villain actually evil. Though the more tragic side of Tai Lung is shown as well, you see his growth from a cub and his descent into the power hungry maniac he becomes later.

 

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Stylistically this movie makes the point that Kung Fu isn't just a side-point, it's an integral part of the plot. Make the animals into people and this film could easily be a real Kung Fu movie in the slightly comedic style that Jackie Chan and Stephen Chow have become so popular for. It's an American tribute to the Kung Fu movie, that both pays homage and honors its subject material perfectly.

 

Visually and tonally Kung Fu Panda is the PG-rated animated cinematic equivalent of Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill in more ways than one.

 

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Kung Fu Panda is a fun, entertaining, and satisfying experience for anyone of any age. I give it a 5 out of 5.

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