It’s time to usher in February with a new review. “No Country for Old Men”?, “There Will Be Blood”? No? How about a CGI kids’ film all about kung fu? Okay then…
The story follows Po (voiced by Jack Black), a panda who dreams of kung fu greatness outside of his tedious noodle making job. When he is “accidentally” chosen as the fabled Dragon Warrior, Po’s world is turned upside down when he is trained by Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) and the Furious Five (deep breath…Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu, Seth Rogen, David Cross and Jackie Chan) in preparation for the arrival of Tai Lung (Ian McShane), a psychotic snow leopard bent on revenge. As far as stories go, it’s pretty good. I can’t be too harsh on it as it is a kiddie film. I enjoyed it though. Jack Black is fantastic as Po- who is pretty much Black in panda form. The best voices in this are Dustin Hoffman’s Shifu, Michael Clarke Duncan as a rhinoceros guard and Ian McShane’s deliciously evil Tai Lung. However, Tai Lung is British- so fuck you, Dreamworks. Please, can we stop with this? The ’80s are over now. Let it die.
The film starts with a jaw-dropping traditional 2D animation piece, depicting Po as a “legendary” kung fu warrior. I half-wished the entire film was like this, as it was great fun to watch. 2008 seemed to be the year of this phenomenon as the vastly underrated “Horton Hears a Who!” also had an inspired Japanimation sequence. After that, it was a pretty standard affair, lightly funny and colourful. I could really relate to Po’s fanboyism, but the film was shaping up to be pretty average. It was the scene where Tai Lung escapes from a maximum security prison that reached out and shook my shoulders, imploring me to pay attention. The kung fu sequences are brilliant! Ignore the fact that there are CGI fluffy animals on screen and it becomes a good action movie in its own right- a great feat, I think you’ll agree. The film is pretty funny at times too, with the relationship between Shifu and Po throwing up some great humour.
The bits that I didn’t really find funny were the slapstick bits where Po pratfalls around. Yes, this will make the kiddies laugh and breathlessly talk about that bit “where the panda gets hit in his privates and says “Ooh my tenders!” heehee!” on the way home, but I just couldn’t wait for those bits to be over. Successful animated slapstick isn’t impossible though, as documentaries like the Tom & Jerry chronicles taught us. As a CGI film, you expect new levels of computer generated beauty and “Kung Fu Panda” does not disappoint. Some of the scenes are genuinely gorgeous to behold- especially Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) becoming one with a cloud of blossom- wow.
Of course, this being a kids’ film there is always going to be some underlying message. In “Kung Fu Panda” it’s about body image but also believing in yourself. As messages go they’re sound ones and more realistic than say, telling kids that if they wish hard enough, they’ll get what they want. I’ve wished and waited for well over a decade and still no fucking hoverboard, dammit! It doesn’t work kids. You may as well believe in yourself, because you’ll find very few other people can be bothered to.
I think it’s impossible to not like “Kung Fu Panda”. There is humour, action, a good story and bright colours in abundance here- enough to keep even the most ADD children happy for its runtime. That’s not to discredit the film though as I’m sure people of all ages will be entertained by the antics of Po and the Furious Five. Take that, Pixar!