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Non-Review Review: Kung-Fu Panda

There’s nothing like a nice relaxing movie that you can cuddle up on the couch and just enjoy. Another testament to what was a fantastic summer last year, Kung Fu Panda may not have been the best animated film of the year – that honour goes to Wall-E – but it was still a fun, enjoyable and lively romp which should leave you smiling for most of the runtime.

Everybody was Kung-Fu fighting...

Everybody was Kung-Fu fighting...

Dreamworks is a bit of an odd studio. Sometimes – like with Shrek or Antz – their output is almost as high in quality as Pixar’s, but most of the time it just looks like it’s trying too hard. Here we return to the world of talking animals, but for a very bizarre tale. Whoever thought of a family-themed kung-fu movie is a genius. The idea – a lovable but chubby Panda named Po must best the greatest fgihter the land has ever seen – sounds hackneyed and cliched, but the movie has such a spring in its step and a genuine appreciation of what it is doing that it somehow pulls it off.

The cinematography is magical. The environments the creatures inhabit are just about three dimensional, looking like they might also belong in a classic filmation cartoon. There is always a mystical mist hanging over everything. A beautiful score plays as fantastically realised petals woft on a light breeze. The character designs are also great – possibly better than most other Dreamworks productions and possibly as good as some Pixar films. Facial movements and ticks are well-covered and the movement of the characters – particularly during the kung-fu fight squences, where they move fluidly and in beats, like live-action actors do, but also pull off impossible feats.

Jack Black is – dare I say it – charming as Po. Almost toned down. He’s hard not to sympathise with and makes the character surprisingly human. The second-tier vocal cast, including James Hong as a mongoose, Dustin Hoffman as a rat and particularly Ian McShane as a tiger are fantastic. Beyond that the cast seems a little overqualified in underwritten roles. In particular “The Furious Five” – composed of Angelina Jolie, David Cross, Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu and Seth Rogan – seem like roles that could have been filled by anyone else, but the producers wanted names on the posters. It is always good to hear Michael Clarke Duncan laugh though, even if he’s only present for a scene or so.

The movie lacks the complexity and originality of Wall-E, but not every movie needs those attributes. Kung-Fu Panda is a much more straightforward tale about identity with a predictable moral executed in a charming and fun manner. There are far worse things than an honest-to-god fun film.
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Kung-Fu Panda stars Jack Black (Tropic Thunder, School of Rock), Dustin Hoffman (Rainman, Kramer v. Kramer), Ian McShane (Coraline, Deadwood), James Hong (Bladerunner, Wayne’s World II), Angelina Jolie (Wanted, Gia), Jackie Chan (Rush Hour, Shanghai Knights), Seth Rogan (Knocked Up, The 40 Year Old Virgin), David Cross (Year One, I’m Not There) and Lucy Liu (Ally McBeal, Payback). It was released in the United States on 6th June 2008 and in the UK and Ireland on 4th July 2008.

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One Response

  1. I thought David Cross and Ian McShane did great voiceover work here, but I think it was Dustin Hoffman who impressed me the most. The older he gets, the more subtle and funny he gets. He just gets better with age. Which is saying something, considering this is the same guy who wowed us in “The Graduate” and “Rain Man.”

    M. Carter at the Movies

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