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Overall Rating
3.78

Awesome: 26.09%
Worth A Look44.93%
Average: 10.14%
Pretty Bad: 18.84%
Total Crap: 0%

7 reviews, 27 user ratings


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Kung Fu Panda
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by Erik Childress

"The Dumpling-Splattered Panda With White Fur"
4 stars

Animated action films haven’t taken off the way I have hoped over the years. Many of the Pixar films have crafted some bravura individual set pieces and films like Mulan and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within have attempted some grander epics to varying degrees of acceptance. Robert Zemeckis’ Beowulf has probably been the most successful in terms of blending a decidedly adult story (and themes) with the future of animation, capturing the motion of real-life actors into a canvas where the extreme is not just a possibility but a natural necessity. In 1996, just as American action films were getting stale, along came the imports of Jackie Chan to produce stunts unfathomable in the live action world. Ang Lee took wire erasure to new heights in 2000 with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon producing a further resurgence in the martial arts. Eight years later, with television selling The Ultimate Fighter as “mixed martial arts”, Dreamworks is bringing old school to the new school with Kung Fu Panda, which quietly lumbers around in its first half before proving itself a worthy master of the art in its action-packed second.

Blubbery panda, Po (voiced by Jack Black), has always had grandeur fancies of being part of an elite fighting team. In reality he’s a noodle cook’s son harboring the dreamer’s dream of being destined for something greater. The day eventually comes for wise turtle master, Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) to choose the one and only “dragon master”; the prophecized savior of the land even though it’s greatest threat, snubbed snow leopard Tai Lung (Ian MacShane, doing his best Malcolm McDowell) has been locked away in prison for years. The Yoda-esque, Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) believes one of his star pupils will have this honor bestowed upon them. Instead, Po launches himself into the middle of the ceremony and is pronounced the dragon master to equal parts shock and reluctance.

Instead of the Furious Five, consisting of the Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Crane (David Cross), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Monkey (Jackie Chan), (animals in name more tuned into the warrior codes of battle and swiftness), it’s Po the Panda. Shifu is outraged, and under orders to train him feels that it won’t take long before he quits and the search begins again for the one worthy enough to receive the ancient scroll that reveals the secret for ultimate power to anyone who looks upon it. Training hits a time crunch though as Shifu’s adopted protégé escapes from jail and makes his way for the scroll he’s felt an entitlement to.

As suggested, the first half of Kung Fu Panda is filled with a lot of the cute blundering that’s second nature to these mistaken identity/panda-out-of-hibernation stories. It’s cuteness isn’t cloying, but it is of the fall-down, boy-hesitant-to-become-a-man variety that will register better with smaller children than adults who may find their curiousness of an animated kung fu epic waning while bumbling, fat jokes are repeated. Those over the age of 12 though will get a taste of what’s in store for them though during Tai Lung’s spectacular prison escape, a knockdown, gravity-defying chase through the bowels of the earth that may have skeptics reminiscing the moment Yeoh and Ziyi were done climbing the walls in Crouching Tiger.

It’s just one of four beautifully done set pieces that might be dismissable as the kind of wire-induced, FX intensive sequences that action films do in their sleep (and that the recent Forbidden Kingdom did so poorly) but Kung Fu Panda makes the most of them and doesn’t skimp on the number of thrusts and parrys the pixels have to keep up with. It’s slightly disappointing that the Furious Five are mostly passive observers throughout and don’t get to have any say in the final battle whatsoever, but their faceoff against Tai Lung across a suspension bridge may be the best of the bunch. Po, as prophecized, does get his action on in the final panda-y-leopard, a solid finale that matches the fun Po gets to have in his dumpling training with Shifu.

Black’s voicework is hardly the most inspired. No matter what octave his voice settles on, it always sounds like we’re listening to Jack Black. Hoffman, on the other hand, is a natural. Despite one out of a thousand Simpsons episodes and lending his voice to the forgettable Racing Stripes, Hoffman (while unmistakable if you’re really trying to match voice to actor), gives Shifu real presence despite his obvious vertical limitations and knows just when to break his deadpan elderness to deliver sudden punchlines. Matching him is Ian MacShane (who gets points just for fooling me) who brings to Tai Lung the kind of winking gravitas that makes for a good villain that won’t scare the kids too much. The Furious Five are underwritten in comparison and none really get a chance to make much of an impression, although its amusing to see them give as little English to Jackie Chan as possible.

While family films have been in no short supply this year, the animated variety has only been represented by Dr. Seuss and a bunch of talking vegetables. (Remember that one, kids?) If they missed The Spiderwick Chronicles, parents have had to resort to schizophrenic Disney singers, road trips with Martin Lawrence and hitting the wall along with Speed Racer. Sitting through any of those are enough to question their decision to have children in the first place. But seeing their giddiness once Kung Fu Panda shifts into its own high gear is the reward that makes it all worth it. And they may even look back up at you and see the same expression splashed across your own face.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=17245&reviewer=198
originally posted: 06/06/08 14:00:00
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User Comments

9/14/17 morris campbell cool animated flick 4 stars
5/20/16 Jason good animated movie for everyone! 5 stars
10/19/11 Magic The very first movie Dreamworks made that does not outright suck. 4 stars
8/23/11 Annie G Much better than expected; I would even watch this repeatedly. 4 stars
6/19/11 Jennifer B. my kids loved it. It was a cool movie. 5 stars
6/15/11 Faraz an ok movie. No where near the hype. 3 stars
12/22/10 Dr.Lao Typical non-Shreck dreamworks: lots of screaming and falling down, no wit 3 stars
8/22/09 Zach A lot of humor. And some very nice kung fu action! 5 stars
12/07/08 mike freakin hilarious. non stop laughs. 5 stars
11/10/08 Samantha Pruitt great for both kids and adults, there are some pretty funny stuff in it! 5 stars
10/22/08 Shaun Wallner Hilarious Movie! 4 stars
7/19/08 Susan Lee can be fun at times but was expecting much better 3 stars
7/14/08 Private Acceptable but overrated. 3 stars
7/10/08 L. Slusarczyk A cute film for kids of all ages, but dont count on busting a gut. 4 stars
7/08/08 mary m This was cute - not great, but cute. 3 stars
6/24/08 katsat Very disappointing. Overrated, simplistic, boring. Eye candy but empty. Pixar-lite. 3 stars
6/22/08 Quigley Great animated film; full of action and humor. Essential summer viewing for everyone 5 stars
6/18/08 Jane B Adored this movie even more than my 5 year old! 5 stars
6/17/08 George Best animated movie of all time! PERIOD. 5 stars
6/17/08 Vivian Awesome!! LOVE IT~~ 5 stars
6/17/08 Brian One of my favorite movies of all times. My kids LOVED it as well as the wife and I 5 stars
6/16/08 michaelb1478 Awesome film, hilarious for kids and adults 5 stars
6/13/08 alouysious boring and unfunny 2 stars
6/12/08 Jayson Loved it. Definitely enjoyable for adults and kids alike. 4 stars
6/11/08 Dawn MCPike the cast is awesome!! we loved this movie and will buy it on dvd!!! 5 stars
6/10/08 Noexit Skip this review. Take a couple of kids, 3 and 5, grab a bag of popcorn and enjoy! 4 stars
6/07/08 PAUL SHORTT SUFFICIENTLY ENTERTAINING FOR KIDS AND MILDLY AMUSING FOR ADULTS 3 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  06-Jun-2008 (PG)
  DVD: 09-Nov-2008

UK
  04-Jul-2008 (PG)

Australia
  26-Jun-2008 (PG)
  DVD: 09-Nov-2008



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