Sunday, December 15, 2013

Kung Fu Panda

Originally Written and Posted at on 11/13/09 w/ Additional Edits.

Directed by Mark Osborne and John Stevenson with a screenplay by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger based on a story by Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris. Kung Fu Panda tells the story of a kung fu-loving panda in ancient China who is mistakenly chosen to become a legendary warrior. Meanwhile, an angry tiger breaks free from prison to wreak havoc on a peaceful valley as the only person that can stop is the panda. A mixture of martial arts films with comedy, light-drama, and inspirational drama. It's a film that is truly entertaining while having something to say. With an all-star voice cast that includes Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, David Cross, Lucy Liu, Seth Rogen, Ian MacShane, Dan Fogler, Michael Clarke Duncan, Randall Duk Kim, James Hong, and Jackie Chan. Kung Fu Panda is a charming, fun, and entertaining film from Mark Osborne & John Stevenson.

The film is a lot of things but really, it's about a panda who becomes an unlikely hero despite the fact that he's clumsy, fat, and not knowing a lot of skills that a kung fu master would have yet. There's something else that makes the film far more than just an entertaining film with action sequences and comedy. It's about how a teacher like Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) can make a fat, clumsy panda like Po (Jack Black) into a warrior that he's destined to be. At first, Shifu is convinced that Po is not the Dragon Warrior only to realize that he might be the only person that can help rectify the mistake he made in raising Tai Lung (Ian MacShane) to believe that he would be the Dragon Warrior.

While Shifu has taught his students in ways that is traditional, with Po, he realized that he can't teach him the same way he taught the Furious Five. In this unconventional approach, both teacher and student bond while becoming unlikely heroes where the student gains confidence while the teacher finds a sense of redemption and peace that he's craving for. That's one of the big themes about the film while the secret revealed in the Dragon Scroll is actually much simpler than it is. For someone as inexperienced and with a limited knowledge of kung fu like Po to face someone as fierce and as skilled as Tai Lung seems like a total mismatch. Yet, it's not about how many moves or how fast or powerful your moves are. It's all about what you can do with what little you know and how to apply while still getting the job done.

The writers of the film do an amazing job in creating universal themes that aren't heavy-handed along with memorable characters and development for the story to be engaging. The direction of Mark Osborne and John Stevenson is truly superb in its recreation of ancient China along with sequences and set pieces that are phenomenal. Notably the action sequences that move with great rhythm and composed with great style that is similar to the film work of Zhang Yimou as well as Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. At the same time, they make a martial arts film that isn't a parody but rather as an action film with dabbles of humor and drama. The visual look of the film is definitely stunning as they do raise the bar for everything they did in comparison to the other work that Dreamworks animation do. While it may not have the vast visual flair of Pixar, Osborne and Stevenson do succeed in crafting a solid film that is entertaining and enlightening.

The animation is definitely phenomenal with some fantastic lighting designs by cinematographer Yong Duk Jhun along with art direction by production designer Raymond Zibach and art director Tang Kheng Heng in the look of the Jade Palace and prison where Tai Lung stayed. Clare De Chenu's editing is definitely phenomenal in its sense of rhythm while using jump-cuts and freeze-frames for the action sequences to keep things going. Sound designer Ethan Van der Ryn and sound editor Erik Aadahl do great work in the sound of swords and grunts that goes on for the action sequences. The music of Hans Zimmer and John Powell is wonderful for its mixture of intense orchestral pieces for action scenes along with traditional Chinese music for its scenery and atmosphere. The soundtrack also includes a fantastic cover of Kung Fu Fighting performed by Cee-Lo and Jack Black.

The casting is excellent with some cameo voices from Wayne Knight, Laura Kightlinger, JR Reed, and Jack Black's Tenacious D partner Kyle Gass. Michael Clarke Duncan's voice as the prison warden Vachir is wonderfully comical along with Dan Fogler as the scared goose Zeng. Randall Duk Kim provides the right notes for the wise tortoise Master Oogway while James Hong provides a nice warmth and humor to the role of Po's goose father Mr. Ping. In the roles of the Furious Five, Seth Rogen provides some nice humor as Mantis while David Cross plays straight man as the calm, restrained Crane. Lucy Liu is very good as the sensitive Viper while Jackie Chan adds some humor and restraint as Monkey. In the role of Tigress, Angelina Jolie is excellent as the humorless and skillful warrior who doesn't respect Po only to realize that she is not strong enough to face Tai Lung.

Ian MacShane is great as Tai Lung, the fierce warrior who is anxious to attain the Dragon Scroll while is filled with lots of hate and anger over the fact that he wasn't chosen the first time around. Dustin Hoffman is brilliant as Master Shifu, a skillful master who at first ridicules Po while possessing no humor until he realizes how he can reach him where Hoffman displays a sense of warmth and charm. Finally, there's Jack Black who is perfectly cast as Po, the title character who is this clumsy yet funny panda who becomes this great warrior while displaying some vulnerability and confidence that makes his character appealing.

Kung Fu Panda is a marvelous film from Dreamworks Animation. With an amazing voice cast and phenomenal technical work, it's a film that is visually stunning but also entertaining. While the story is formulaic but works, it is a film that is worth watching over and over again as Kung Fu Panda is just a fun, enlightening film to watch.

© thevoid99 2013


ruth said...

I quite enjoyed this first movie, but I haven't seen the sequels yet. Jack Black is quite a hoot, perfect voice casting here I think.

thevoid99 said...

I love this film while the 2nd film is also pretty good and entertaining. I'm eager to see what the third film would do as I just love those characters.

ruth said...

I should give the sequel a shot then. I remember having a good time w/ the first one. I had no idea the third film is coming up but I suppose most animated movies are quite bankable.