Sunday, June 8, 2008

Kung Fu Panda, or How There IS no Secret Ingredient!

Kung Fu Panda
Mark Osborne & John Stevenson
Voicework: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Jackie Chang, Lucy Liu, Ian McShane, David Cross & Seth Rogen.

I am such a PIXAR fan (and used to be such a die-hard Disney fan in the 90's) that it has always been hard for me to find movies outside of those two studios that made for real feats in animation. Shrek of course comes to mind, as does Antz. Sure, Ice Age and Madagascar were fun, but they were no Monsters Inc. or The Incredibles. Which is why I was hesitant to go into a movie that (like Shrek and so many animated movies recently) relied heavily on its voicework actors - has any character since that green ogre looked as much as its voice actor as Po does to Jack Black?

And yet, minutes into the film I was very much at home. The initial 2D Animation sequence that opens the film was inspired and sets the tone for this action-adventure family film which follows Po, a noodle-cooking Panda who dreams of becoming a legendary Kung Fu fighter. Little does he know that luck (and maybe a deluded old tortoise and some fireworks) end up crowning him the Dragon Warrior, the legendary warrior said to have enough strength and valour to unveil the secrets of the Dragon Scroll which will help him defeat Tai Lung (that Anakin Skywalker-esque character who after being trained by Shifu - the hilarious Dustin Hoffman red-panda style, turned against his master after being denied the scroll for himself).

What follows is of course a story about trusting yourself, finding your place in a world that seems to be against you and realising that Life is what you make of it. Like we learn later in the film: there IS no secret ingredient. You are. But in between we get great humour (how refreshing to have taken everything I hated about Jack Black - his awkwardness, his boyish and buoyant looks, his immaturity, his 'I am rock star in a Buddha' outfit - and found the great vehicle for finding them funny), astonishing action sequences (the fight between the legendary Furious Five: a mantis, a crane, a tiger, a monkey and a viper, and Tai Lung on a bridge was breathtaking) and impressive visuals (the textures! the action! the martial arts!). This movie was truly a treat, including the greatest chopsticks-related martial arts training scene since Karate Kid. I enjoyed it so much that at times I forgot I was listening to the voices of Tootsie, Lara Croft, Tobias, O-Ren and Mr Jackie Chang himself! A

I loved...
-The training sequences (especially the aforementioned chopsticks scene)
-Any scene with Po's noodle-making dad. "You had the noodle dream!"/"We are noodle-making folk... it's in our blood!"
- The end credits (where did Monkey's cookies go?!)
- The acupuncture scene. "That was me! I hit a facial nerve! And I think I might've stopped his heart!"
- The fact that only in an animated movie Ms Jolie wouldn't kick more ass than Jack Black.
- The character designs. I particularly loved the approach in creating Oogway and Master Crane.

Kung Fu Panda, Animation

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