YEAH I SAW KUNG FU PANDA WANNA FIGHT ABOUT IT?
Now the REASON I saw it (and in IMAX, no less) is that it’s been getting fairly positive reviews. Not effusive praise, per se, but warm regards, nonetheless. So I had to walk up to the box office and say in as ashamed a voice as you could imagine, “I would like one ticket for the 6:45 showing of Kung Fu Panda in IMAX, please.” I’m surprised there wasn’t a button for the person to press to sound a silent alarm so that people would walk up and escort me off the premises. I had to walk into the theater 15 minutes early (THERE WAS NOTHING TO DO!!!!) and listen to the people behind me complain about Chinese people. Surprisingly, not a lot of children were in the theater when the movie began.
Kung Fu Panda is about a giant panda named Po who lives above a noodle shop that his family runs. He dreams of one day being a legendary kung fu master, but he can barely WALK without klutzing all over everything, so it seems like his dream will never come true. One day, however, the local kung fu master feels it is time to choose and train the legendary dragon warrior. The master’s disciples, skilled kung fu artists themselves, showcase their skills for him in an open exhibition, but due to a wacky confluence of events, the master chooses the flabby, uncoordinated Po! Shifu, the teacher at the kung fu dojo, is mortified at his master’s choice of Po, and does everything in his power to try to make Po quit in his first day. At the same time, however, Shifu’s surrogate son, Tai Lung, who was put into prison for trying to take the dojo’s ultimate technique by force, manages to escape from prison and has his sights set on defeated the dragon warrior to prove his superiority. Now Shifu and the rest of the students must turn Po into a skilled kung fu master before Tai Lung beats the crud out of him.
It’s a story that’s fairly predictable to anyone that isn’t seeing this as their first martial arts movie. (Even then, it’s probably pretty transparent.) But that’s not really where the strength of the film lies. It’s surprisingly clever and charming. The film opens with a dream sequence that’s 3D, but uses flat drawings layered on 3D planes to tell its story. It’s very well-done and beautiful (and fairly amusing), so I sort of sighed when I looked at it and realized the movie that might’ve been. I’m still a 2D nut, so sue me. Where the film really shines is in the frequently clever and exciting fight scenes. Tai Lung’s escape from prison and Po’s chopstick-fu training are some of the highlights of the film where you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face if you tried. The film also does some cute things with its anthropomorphic setting, making all the kung fu students representations of their style of kung fu (mantis, monkey, etc.) and making Po’s father a goose (?!).
Unfortunately, the movie wallows too long in its stock plot and character development and moralizing. Yeah, yeah, we’re all different and special in our own ways, even the fat, lazy panda. Who caaaaaaares. I wanted it to get back to the visual gags and awesome fights.
I was worried about this being a “Jack Black movie,” but if anything, I think they didn’t tap into his personality enough. Po occasionally taps into that Jack Black style of overconfident buffoonery, but the movie has him try to be serious a little too often. I suppose I should thank them for not going overboard with him like Michel Gondry did. And Dustin Hoffman… where did your talent go? Between this, Perfume and Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, I think you should be put in time-out along with Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino. Hollywood: Hoffman can’t do accents, and he makes for a horrible older mentor-type. Occasionally bits of his personality shine through, but overall he doesn’t add much of worth. And everyone else has little to no speaking parts. It burns me up that Angelina Jolie gets to parade herself up and down red carpets when she did maybe a week’s worth of work in a booth for this movie and the poor Dreamworks staff broke their backs for years to bring this to fruition and no one knows their names. The only one that makes the most of his time in this movie is David Cross, who could manage to be funny telling you you have cancer.
Final verdict? Check it out in a discount theater or on Blu-Ray. It’s a pleasant movie, but nothing that’s going to thrill you from start to finish. It’s worth seeing the action sequences, but the story just won’t make you care. I’d put it above Cars, but not as good as the rest of the Pixar catalogue. Which is a step forward for non-Pixar CG films, I guess! There weren’t any pop culture references, there weren’t any musical numbers to songs like “Who Let the Dogs Out?” and it was surprisingly non-obnoxious. And could it be that Kung Fu Panda ends up being the best martial arts movie of the year?! Well. We’ll see!