Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Review - Kung Fu Panda

In Dreamworks latest cg-animated film Jack Black voices Po the lazy and clumsy Panda who dreams of one day becoming a kung fu master, but meanwhile he works for his father in his family's noodle shop. Po's dream is fulfilled when he is accidentally chosen by Oogway, to fulfill an ancient prophecy and protect his home, the Valley of Peace, against Tai Lung an evil kung fu leopard. The film is directed by Mark Osborne and John Stevenson and also has the voicing talents of Dustin Hoffman, Seth Rogen, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Ian McShane, David Cross, Lucy Liu, James Hong, Michael Clarke Duncan, and Randall Duk Kim.

For animated family films, Kung Fu Panda is great! I am usually pretty weary of the normal cg-animation films of late, but Kung Fu Panda looked as though it would deliver on all cylinders. Did it ever deliver! It is a hysterical and action packed film, that is a lot of laughs for the whole family. When I say a lot of laughs, I mean it, the slide spiltting laughter comes by the barrel full. Not just Jack Black delivers great lines either, most of supporting cast shines also. The humor comes in a few forms both physical humor and general dialogue and rolls all the way through.

Jack Black is his normal self as Po, utilizing physical comedy as much as delievered dialogue. Dreamworks did a fantastic job of taking Black's expressions and body movements and incorporating it into the movement and look of Po. His trek up the palace stairs was very funny eventhough we had already seen it in the previews. Luckily, like too many films, all the best dialogue and humor isn't given away in the trailers. There are plenty of scene's that we were not shown in trailers that had my family and I laughing. Especially when master Shifu, played by Hoffman, realizes that Po actually has kung fu potential through eating.

Dustin Hoffman as master Shifu, Randall Duk Kim as Oogway, and Seth Rogen as Mantis were the highlights of the supporting cast. They had great deliveries throughout. Hoffman did a good job of playing master who once had so much faith in his students, but has now become callous and unattached. Oogway was my personal favorite in the film and when he shows us his "yoda" like kung fu, my jaw dropped. (Although, I have a personal connection with turtles, so that may have played a huge part in my favoritism.) Rogen had one line that actually made choke because, I laughed so hard, "I just wished my mouth was bigger!" (That statement is dripping of irony!) The line comes from Mantis as he is trying Po's family recipe of noodle soup. Ian McShane as Tai Lung and Michael Clarke Duncan as Commander Vachir also gave worthy voice performances. McShane voicing talents was somewhat reminiscent of Jeromy Irons pivotal role in the Lion King as Scar.

Unfortunately, for the rest of the cast, the same cannot be said. Angelina Jolie, felt very phoned in. Her voice can be very moving as heard in Beowulf last year. Here, however her dialogue fell flat as well as her performance. The most under utilized voice, was that of Jackie Chan. You would think this film, would take his talents and charisma and run with it. Instead, I watched the whole film and said to myself, "where the fuck was Jackie Chan?" David Cross was also something of a disapointment, not his delivery persay, just that he had only 5 or 6 lines. Most of this was overlooked by the fact, that this was Jack Black's vehicle.

The opening of the film was done in stunning 2-D animation, something we haven't seen before with Dreamworks, and was very refreshing and actually very impressive! (It had me hoping for some TV or straight-to-dvd, spin-off in 2-D animation that usually follows with these type of films.) The rest of the cg-animation is what we have come to expect from Dreamworks, absolutely stunning pixel work with vibrant colors that bring all the characters to life. The Dreamworks team did a great job of bringing to life all of the asian culture and colors. Red and yellow tones were very prevalent throughout the film and really gave the viewer a warm vibe that help add to the overall the tone of the film.

I felt Kung Fu Panda was one of the better animated films of late. I am not sure it is comparable to most of Pixar's work, which is mainly outstanding, but top notch within the Dreamworks catalog. Kung Fu Panda is one that can build up the reputation of Dreamworks and is sure to make them tons of money. Dreamworks as of late, seem to be just re-dipping into the well and over sequalizing their titles like Shrek and Madagascar, which both have another sequel on the way. That said, this film felt fresh and by all means was very good. Furthermore, it is far better than most of there other work which includes; Bee Movie, Over the Hedge, and Flushed Away. I would like to see Dreamworks give us a PG13 or R rated cg-animated film. Something that is gritty and would appeal to an older generation, but still being fun and full of action. If video games are any factor, there is a ton of money to be made in adult males, and Dreamworks would be insane not to capitalize.