Sunday, July 5, 2009

Day 148: Kung Fu Panda (2008) - Rank 4/5


I won't lie - when this film was originally released into theaters, I had no desire to see it. The very premise, as indicated by the title, of a panda learning kung fu, sounded like the plot would be aimed more at being cutesy and sparking torrents of merchandise on the shelves rather than telling a decent story. The fact that I'm not a huge fan of Jack Black didn't help. With that preconception already in my mind, you can imagine my surprise when I found it to be pleasantly entertaining.

Yes, the plot is as simple as you might imagine, for the story focuses on a lowly, panda named Po (Black) who grinds out day after day in his father's noodle kitchen, while aspiring to be a martial arts expert at night. When serendipity lands him before the local temple master, he is deemed the "Dragon Master" (much to the displeasure of the temple's resident master) and then must learn how to fight in order to defeat an old foe of Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman). Hoffman, Black and James Hong provide excellent voicework for their characters (an art taken for granted and underdone by many celebrities unaccustomed to the performance medium nowadays).

The film's strong suit is it's direction. The "camerawork" takes advantage of the computer-generated realm, zipping about as the characters engage in battles and obtaining angles no camera could in the physical world. This kinetic sense of direction, as well as the gorgeous landscapes and sets, felt like a world created under the influence of Yimou Zhang. Conversely, my greatest disappointment could also be attributed to the film's visual style, for I regretted that the entire film wasn't presented in the medium that Po's dream sequence took on. It was a form of animation that could best be described as "Samurai Jack on steroids." Letdown aside, the film still provided enough action and laughs to raise it above the level of being "just a kid's movie."

Watch the Trailer

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