Saturday, June 21, 2008

Kung Fu Panda

I definitely think DreamWorks animation is getting better with each successive movie. The Shrek franchise seemed to fizzle after the first one, but now that those movies are behind us (except for 2010's Shrek Goes Fourth) the company can focus on more original movies. Over The Hedge, Bee Movie, and now Kung Fu Panda are hopefully the direction DreamWorks is heading. Though Kung Fu Panda isn't as good as the other two, it still had its unique charm.

Jack Black stars as the portly hero named Po. He's stuck in a job working for his father a noodle stand, but wants nothing more than to learn Kung Fu. High above the valley in which he lives resides the Kung Fu masters Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Crane (David Cross), Mantis (Seth Rogen), and Snake (Lucy Liu). They are led by Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) and Oogway (Randall Duk Kim). This group is in place to protect the valley, and receive the complete adoration of Po. One fateful day, Oogway decides it is time to name the "Dragon Warrior" (a ultimate warrior of sorts). After an amusing series of mishaps, and to the other Kung Fu masters' chagrin, he bestows this honor on Po. The others try to break him, but of course, Po ends up having to be the savior of the entire valley. He is the only one who is able to fight Tai Lung (Ian McShane) one of Sifu's former students turned evil.

Most importantly, the movie was entertaining. Jack Black is funny in almost everything that he does. And I've heard the term "skadoosh" many places since the movie. His best moments I felt came at the beginning of the movie- where he's at his most dreamy, and most inept. The movie is more violent than I would have expected for a children's movie- but I guess these are different times. The action and fight sequences are pretty stunning, though. There are a lot of them, yet each one is unique, exciting, and downright creative. It's clear they had an actual martial artist choreograph these scenes.

It was an all-star, but confusing cast. The movie so well captured the look of Asian cinema. The lush backgrounds looked like Kabuki paintings, but the cast didn't match it at all. I'm not sure what the reasoning was for including a distinctly American cast (except for Lucy Liu and Jackie Chan). Now Jack Black was forgivable, because his style of clowning was the cornerstone of the whole movie, but Dustin Hoffman, Seth Rogan, and David Cross? I couldn't get past the fact that it was those actors.

The other aspect that bothered me was the inconsistent character development. Over the course of a day Po manges to transform himself from an obese, bumbling, dummy into an obese, bumbling, dummy that is a master at Kung Fu. I realize this was intentional, but I still think it should have been more of an actual transformation instead of a spontaneous change as it was. Likewise, Tai Lung starts out as the ultimate Kung Fu master, yet when he faces Po, he makes what appears to be a continuous series of mistakes. And he seems to be, well, not so tough.

The deep Kung Fu philosophical moments left me scratching my head. "Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present," as spoken by Oogway seemed contrived even more a movie like this. Clearly they still don't have the more mature market cornered yet, but they're getting closer.

These inconsistencies don't pose much of a problem though. The dialog is mostly funny, and the animation is on par with the likes of Pixar. They still don't quite have the same level of story telling, or as wide an audience appeal. DreamWorks seems stuck in the straight forward comedic childlike appeal, with fairly obvious and cheesy messages. Despite all this, the movie looked really good, and was a lot of fun.


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