Sunday, July 12, 2009
Kung Fu Panda (Mark Osborne, John Stevenson, 2008)
Po is a panda. He’s a panda that works for a restaurant making noodles. He’s also a panda that spends all his spare time dreaming of being a kung fu warrior. Unfortunately for him, he’s also clumsy and large. Actually, make that extremely clumsy and large. The action begins when Oogway, a very old and wise turtle, foresees the escape of Tai Lung, an evil and unstoppable snow leopard, once the prodigal tutee of renowned martial arts tutor Shifu, now so bad and ferocious that he needs to be locked up in a cage. Although (wishfully) certain that Tai Lung cannot escape, Shifu has a ceremony to pick the Dragon Warrior – the one, of his five current tutees – that will be able to defeat Tai Lung. However, in Po being so keen to see the ceremony, he ends up inside it, and, through a comedy of errors, Oogway selects him as the Dragon Warrior.
It’s not the stuff of rocket manuals, but it is the set up for Kung Fu Panda, one of last year’s funniest and most bighearted movies. The animation is of Dreamworks’ distinctive style, but going Chinese seems to have boded well, for the detail on all the animals, the scenic mountains, not to mention the Matrix-styled fight scene on the bridge, are all delicious crafted with rich colours and hues. There is a plethora of famous voice actors – Angelina Jolie voices Tigress, the most talented fighter of Shifu’s five, Jackie Chan voices Monkey and Lucy Liu Viper, etc. The five animals are all rather sadly unused (I for one would have loved to hear more of Seth Rogen. However, Ian McShane drips menace as the baddie and Dustin Hoffman has the tired red panda down to a T. However, this is easily the Jack Black show. A fine comedic actor and an even finer singer, he conflates these two skills to really bring Po to life. Po is every bit a children's hero, and in a day and age where we are constantly being reminded of how fat we are, Po is tribute to all that one can achieve with self-belief, not svelteness.
There are comic moments aplenty – many of the fight scenes themselves are comic, and the film is unpretentious and fun enough for it to be enjoyed by children and adults alike. The only Dreamworks cartoon close to reaching Pixar’s level these days, and it’s a far, far lot better than the overrated Ratatouille