My 10-year-old is currently working on his senior red belt in karate, so when we started seeing trailers for Kung Fu Panda I knew it wouldn’t be long before we’d have to see it. Sure enough, opening weekend arrived and we took our seats.
I’m a big fan of kids’ cartoon movies (I’m really looking forward to Wall E), but I wasn’t too sure of this one. Jack Black can be hit or miss with me, and I really wasn’t aware that Dustin Hoffman, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan, and Angelina Jolie were involved with the movie until the end credits rolled. The voices sounded familiar, but that’s not unusual given the quality of voice work these days.
The opening montage of the movie made me sit up and take notice at once. The artwork alone was worth the price of admission to me, and if they’d produced the movie in that format, it would have been interesting to see what kind of reaction reviewers would give the finished product.
The movie quickly settles into predictability, but it’s a pleasant trip and I was satisfied. My son was ecstatic as he watched the events unfold. He wasn’t surprised at the plot’s twists and turns either, but the bright color, rapid pacing, and quick action is mesmerizing for the adult mind, as well.
Po, the Kung Fu panda of the title, works in his father’s noodle kitchen. His father is a goose. The explanation for that is never given, though it is a distraction during a more serious moment when Po’s father reveals an important secret to him. Black provides a great vocal characterization of Po and I found myself rooting for him even though I knew he didn’t really have anything to worry about.
The villain sequences were actually chilling. Seeing Tai Lung (Ian McShane) held in prison was impressive when you realized what he had to escape from in order to become the all-encompassing threat our hero would have to deal with. The darkness and threat of those scenes might cause some concern for younger children, but I loved the cinematography and the amazing choreography of Tai Lung’s escape.
The unwillingness of the Furious Five to embrace Po as a student is as predictable as his eventual winning them over, but the pacing makes that easy to absorb and enjoy. The relationship between Shifu (Hoffman) and Oogway is warm and moving, and the scene where the great turtle ascends to the Celestial Heavens is powerful.
After everyone learns that Tai Lung has escaped and is once more menacing the countryside, the Furious Five launch into interception mode and go after him. Again, the fight sequences are huge and enjoyable, truly knockout efforts, but it’s no surprise that they’re defeated.
Shifu takes Po off for lesson and the sequence where Po becomes the Dragon Warrior is a lot of fun. Still, after Po is trained and ends up getting the Dragon Scroll (which is gotten with Oogway’s staff in a marvelous little puzzle piece), everything still looks like they’re going to lose anyway.
While helping the villagers abandon town, Po speaks to his father and gains an incredible insight that causes him to stand his ground against Tai Lung. I have to admit the thinking behind this reveal wasn’t all that deep, but it was effective, and it proved to be the catalyst that brings about the battle between Po and Tai Lung. That fight is a great one, and even though I knew Po would win, I still found myself sitting on the edge of my seat. My son was doing the same thing.
Kung Fu Panda doesn’t break any new ground when it comes to children’s animated entertainment, but it sure serves up a feast that hits the spot. This is one you’ll enjoy on a lazy Sunday afternoon with the kids, then again when it comes out on DVD.