One of the biggest hits of the summer, Kung Fu Panda, has arrived on Blu-ray. Was it simply a case of box-office drought, or is it truly a great movie and how does it fair on Blu-ray. I am happy to say it is a satisfying movie and looks and sounds amazing on Blu-ray.
Kung Fu Panda is a movie about following your dreams and discovering the inner strength inside of you. This large premise is wrapped around an equally large star, the Panda Po, voiced by Jack Black.
Po is a large, overweight and clumsy Panda working in his adoptive fathers noodle shop. His father simply wants him to be a noodle cook but Po wants to learn Kung Fu like his heroes the Furious Five. The Furious Five is trained by Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) and are masters in the art of Kung Fu.
When the ancient Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) announces that the dreaded Tai Lung (Ian McShane) will escape from prison, Master Shifu starts a tournament to have the Dragon Warrior revealed; this warrior will be given the power to defeat Tai Lung. The Furious Five, led by master Tigress (Angelina Jolie) all compete, but Po is dropped in the middle of the arena by chance and is chosen as the Dragon Warrior.
Everyone is outraged, especially Master Shifu, and Po is left to try his best to learn Kung Fu despite all the odds. Animated family films being what they are Po and Master Shifu come to an understanding and they work together to discover his inner potential.
Kung Fu Panda is a movie with a lot of charm and is very fun to watch. Jack Black is pitch perfect as Po and surprisingly Dustin Hoffman is an effective voice for a Kung Fu master. The look of the film is truly wonderful with the humanoid animal creatures looking very much like their animal representation, but also believable as fighters and characters.
The CG animation in this movie is wonderful and the animation is the best I have seen from Dreamworks. There are many little things they get right like remembering damage or little background effects. The intro scene and menu animations use an equally beautiful if different 2D animation style that I would also have liked to see the entire film use.
There is really nothing unexpected that happens over the course of the story, it all progresses and ends as you would expect. I really enjoyed the movie, but had a couple of issues with the story progression. First the Furious Five is completely underused yet voiced by some great actors – Master Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Viper (Lucy Liu), Mantis (Seth Rogen), and Crane (David Cross). It would have been great to see some more from these characters, but aside from Po and Shifu they all have minimal lines.
The second gripe is the training of Po. They could have easily written in a time lapse to show him learning, instead it is a typical montage and is a very short time period. I know I am probably being petty about this, but his skill is the key to later scenes in the movie and it felt false.
When I first launched Kung Fu Panda I wasn’t sure what to expect visually. I had not seen it in the theater and had only commercials and trailers to go by. This transfer is 2.35:1 aspect ratio and presented in 1080p high definition. I would safely say this is a reference quality transfer. I would show this along with Pixar's Cars and Ratatouille in order to demonstrate what high-definition visuals are all about.
There is a real depth to the movie onscreen and texture work is almost three-dimensional. There were many scenes that you could almost touch they were so effective. Colors are bright and easy to distinguish, black levels are outstanding and overall the transfer is excellent.
The attention to detail the animators employed is on display in this transfer with individual feathers, fur, clothing seams, and fabrics appearing in stunning detail. Until now I would not have put any other CG Blu-ray transfers up to the level of Pixar’s films, but Kung Fu Panda is able to stand with their best visually.
Kung Fu Panda employs the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless format to great effect on Blu-ray with amazing sound from beginning to end. The soundtrack is mixed incredibly well to utilize the strengths of 5.1 surround without going overboard.
The surround effects are heavily used, but never simply to throw sound at you; small effects, voices hits, and pings come from all around you and serve to immerse you in the action. Bass is heavy without being overbearing and when needed it has all the oomph you would want with deep rumbles adding to the experience.
Dialogue is handled perfectly as well with the center channel being used effectively to deliver the speech in a crystal clear manner. It is a rare Blu-ray that I can say I never lost any dialogue at any point in the film. Generally in a movie there is one or two scenes where effects muffle the voices, this was never the case in Kung Fu Panda.
It is great to see these movies being released with a good amount of bonus features and the Blu-rays getting some bonus content over the DVD versions. Kung Fu Panda has some great extra content, some items are deeper then others, but the majority of the content is well worth a look (and listen).
- Audio Commentary — Directors John Stevenson and Mark Osborne discuss many aspects of making a film like Kung Fu Panda. Nothing groundbreaking here, but it was interesting hearing about casting, recording sessions, and animation techniques.
- Meet the Cast – Lengthy series of interviews with the cast.
- Pushing the Boundaries – Explores the character design and animation.
- Conversation International: Help Save Wild Pandas – A Public Service Announcement by Jack Black.
- Sounds and Moves Featurettes (HD, 35 minutes)
- Do You Kung Fu? – Fairly long intro to Kung Fu for kids.
- Sound Design – Looking at the films great audio,
- Kung Fu Fighting Music Video- Title song as performed by Cee-Lo
- Learn the Panda Dance – A how-to-short on the Panda dance.
- How to Use Chopsticks – A short film teaching kids how to use chopsticks.
- Inside the Chinese Zodiac – Looks at the Chinese calendar and its symbols.
- Animals of Kung Fu Panda – A look at the animals that inspired the characters
- Mr. Ping’s Noodle House – A noodle chef makes noodles from a ball of dough (it was neat to watch).
- What Fighting Style are You – An interactive quiz.
- Learn to Draw – The Kung Fu Panda Artists showcase some of the characters from the film.
- Dumpling Shuffle – An interactive shuffling game with bowls and a dumpling.
- Dragon Warrior Training Academy – A simple game that lets you become the Dragon Warrior.
- Dreamworks Animation Video Jukebox (HD) Contains music videos from other Dreamworks animation films.
- Theatrical Previews (HD, 5 minutes) – Trailers looking at the upcoming Monsters vs. Aliens and the recently released Madagascar 2: Escape from Africa.
Blu-ray Exclusive Fatures
- The Animator’s Corner (HD) – An amazing (much better then the audio commentary) PiP video commentary that enhances the commentary with behind the scenes footage and processes that really flesh out the movie.
- Trivia Track (HD) – Rehashes a lot of the previous extras, but is fun to go through.
- BD-Live Functionality (HD) – On top of the usual trailers this BD-Live enabled disc also has some additional featurettes to download.
Kung Fu Panda surprised me with its charm, interesting look, and enjoyable characters. The Blu-ray release blew me away with its amazing audio and visual presentation. This is a great movie and a reference quality Blu-ray.