Not all movies are what they appear, as evidenced by this summer's DreamWorks Animation picture, Kung Fu Panda. Here's a movie where Jack Black plays an overweight panda who is destined to become a kung fu God; it sounds just a little too much like Beverly Hills Ninja, albeit with a slightly less rotund star. When I first saw the previews for Kung Fu Panda, I balked. The movie looked unoriginal, uninteresting and not at all funny, yet apparently everyone else thought otherwise: the movie made a boatload of money and, to my shock, good reviews.
Skip ahead a few months and Kung Fu Panda has come to DVD, packaged with a second entire movie titled Secrets of the Furious Five. Despite my reservations from the lackluster trailers, I eagerly snatched up a copy and even left work half an hour early to check it out (if my boss is reading, I have worked 10+ hours today). Thankfully, Kung Fu Panda is as funny as everyone said it was.
The movie features the voices of Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen and Ian McShane, the guy who plays Swearengen in "Deadwood," among others. Usually, I've never been a big believer that big names make much of a difference, as evidenced by the Pixar films, which rarely promote their voice talent (hell, Wall-E, which is all but guaranteed to crush Kung Fu Panda at the Oscars, barely had any dialogue at all), but the choice of voice talent pays off well here. Black brings his charisma to his character and the animators do a great job of taking advantage of his style; McShane is also distinctly memorable as the villain. The rest don't add much, and I'm sure DreamWorks could have saved themselves a few million.
Regardless, with a great script, excellent animation and tons of funny antics, a few million in cost can't be of too much concern to the studio (other than a few million in lost profit), which over the last couple of years has proven that it is indeed a strong competitor to Disney's Pixar beyond their Shrek franchise. Kung Fu Panda has a lot of clever jokes, and the animators complement the script with a very visually stimulating and entertaining experience. The effects look great, and I especially loved the use of slow motion in parts.
I really have no complaints about Kung Fu Panda. While not as unique and memorable as Wall-E, the movie is an excellent, family-friendly comedy full of action, humor and excitement. Highly recommended for all ages.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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