Dreamworks has done several animated movies that were mediocre attempts to capitalize on the success of Pixar’s masterpieces. Dreamworks tried to undermine Pixar’s A Bug’s Life (1998) with Antz (1998). They did it again when they released Shark Tale (2004) after the success of Finding Nemo (2003). When Dreamworks does their own movies, instead of copying Pixar, they really let themselves shine. I’m leery of anything with Jack Black in it, so I watched Kung Fu Panda (2008) with some hesitation.
Po (Jack Black) is an overweight, lazy, irreverent panda who is a dedicated fan of Kung Fu, but his skills are limited to making noodle soup at his father’s restaurant. Po adores the Furious Five - Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Crane (David Cross) – a team of Kung Fu masters trained by the red panda named Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) to protect their peaceful valley. One day, Shifu's mentor, the old tortoise Oogway (Randall Duk Kim), has a vision that Shifu's former student and adoptive son, the evil snow leopard Tai Lung (Ian McShane), will escape from prison and return to take revenge for being denied the Dragon Scroll, which is said to hold the secret to limitless power. Oogway holds a tournament to discover who is worthy of the Dragon Scroll and become the Dragon Warrior who can defeat Tai Lung. Through a blundering mishap, Po is selected. Shifu, lacking faith in Po, attempts to scare off Po with grueling training. But Po’s unwavering enthusiasm for Kung Fu keeps him going. True to Oogway’s vision, Tai Lung escapes and begins journeying to the temple. Po can’t seem to grasp even the most basic concepts of Kung Fu, but Shifu discovers that Po is capable of impressive physical feats when motivated by food. Using this discovery, Shifu begins training Po and incorporating these feats into a makeshift, yet effective Kung Fu style. But will it be enough to stop Tai Lung from getting the Dragon Scroll, and unlimited power?
I don’t like Jack Black on general principle; he gets cast in irritating roles in movies that do pretty badly. Year One (2009) and eyesores and look at his good movies, such as King Kong (2005) and Kung Fu Panda. Jack Black actually was funny in this movie. His screwball delivery really worked well with Po’s hilarious expressions. He is still playing his usual dim witted impertinent character, but Po is more interesting and complex than most of the other characters I’ve seen Jack Black play. You really do see Po develop and learn as the movie progresses. It was also good to see a hero that was a clumsy, fat character; generally the best that this archetype can hope for is a bumbling sidekick who is the brunt of most of the jokes. I’ve never seen so much belly bouncing combined with martial arts as was done with this character.
I kept becoming awestruck at the artistic scenery of the colorful ancient China. Little details here and there really helped make the art stand out; the trees, mountains, and buildings were beautifully designed. The China-inspired relics and art were comparable to actual art work of ancient China. There was a whole lot of detail in the art design, which helped make the movie endearing.
The animation was quite impressive, too. Most of the characters looked like cute, fluffy stuffed animals. This, coupled with the believable martial arts movements, created a humorous sense of irony throughout the film. Even the movements for Viper, who is a snake, were interesting; she has no arms or legs, yet her fighting movements still resembled martial arts.
I love it when I expect a movie to be substandard and I end up being wrong. Kung Fu Panda is an example of this. There’s a whole lot of slapstick in this film, but it doesn’t detract from the interesting characters and fun story that is reminiscent of old Kung Fu flicks. I’d recommend this movie to anyone, young or old. It is engaging, funny, and worth the watch.