4.6 out of 5 stars
Cinematically charming and ingenious, this animated cross between the elements of movies like Forbidden Kingdom and the premise of the likes of Karate Kid is definitely sweeter than expected. It actually shows more heart than you might think. This animated movie is loaded with comedy and action while keeping itself as a solid family film material through that black-and-white face of cuteness of its panda protagonist.
Without much expectation given its typical commercial disposition, plus the fact that most movies similar to it (regardless of how many big-named stars are billed for voice services) become big disappointments, Kung Fu Panda is such a pleasant surprise. If the initial assumption is that this animated comedy is slapstick, mediocre, or potty, it actually turns out to be a snappy, good-looking, and delightful cinematic offer that draws smiles for the whole family, the film buffs, and even the animators who would greatly appreciate the kind of animation and the heart that binds all the cinematic elements together. More than starring a bunch of cute, highly-merchandisable animals, Kung Fu Panda has a genuine kung fu love that permeates the film to shine for anyone who is a fan of top-notch animated filmmaking, as well as those followers of the comedy and martial arts genres.
Kung Fu Panda is about an unlikely hero’s journey to fulfill his dreams of becoming a kung fu master. Po is a plump, drowsy, huggable black-and-white bear who has one, and only one, aspiration in life: to become an expert in a martial art that relies on agility, mental prowess, and lightning-fast reflexes. With his paunchy punching bag looks, he figuratively throws his weight around and becomes an accidental fighter and subsequent Dragon Warrior, elevating his self-esteem and panda potential into kung fu heights.
With its inventive visuals, wonderful animation, tasteful music, appealing characters, and genuine story execution, this animated film stands apart from what has become a trend: making something different from the other recent animated films. It may be an unoriginal variant on the misfit-with-a-dream movie, but this action-packed animation treat is respectful of the genre. It presents its refreshingly simple tale with dynamic animation and slapstick humor to compensate with the story’s lack of originality. It benefits from a buffet of Asian cinema influences while finding the right mixture of comic playfulness, satire, and affection to bring out the best of the material. What it lacks in surprises, it makes up for in its whimsical fun.
This family friendly fare is simple and lighthearted. It is slick, energetic, and entertaining enough to separate it from most of the heavily formulaic DreamWorks animation entries that entirely depend on pop-culture references. While its storyline may seem familiar, there’s enough invention to make it feel fresh while still being within the bounds of the studio’s pen. From the cuddly slapstick to the Chinese wisdom, Kung Fu Panda clearly utilizes an age-old fable and comes up with a timeless family entertainment movie. Sticking to a tried-and-true formula about the hapless underdog discovering he is the “Chosen One,” this film still proves effective by keeping up with its snappy pace, fun spoofs, unpretentious sweetness, and striking visuals.
More than just the classic beauty of the animation, for those watching the film in the big screen, another draw comes close with its IMAX-big visuals compensating its colorful locale and battles, cool fight choreography, superb facial expressions, and well-rendered movements. The animators clearly invests much time in studying and gleaning ideas from kung fu classics. Gorgeously animated and done with expert timing, the kung fu scenes show crisp, thrilling, and funny moments that whiz by in its one and a half hour run time.
Its hero’s journey story embraces humor that plays well across age groups and cultures. As an amusingly witty family comedy, it promotes kids with a fairly respectable mix of action, amazement, and amusement. It’s noodle-long fun stints are seen all over that the children of all ages, including the grown up ones, will undoubtedly love its surprisingly smart and tender moments, its morality tale, and its audio-visual charm.
The image of a face-stuffing panda who loves to eat (transforming into a kung fu master) is touching enough through the characterization of lead talent Jack Black and the geniuses of its filmmakers. The animators are able to capture the mood and tone requirements of the story.
The film primarily bases its humor in its voice performances. While being another celebrity-voiced animal adventure, it stands out from the crowd of similar films with its witty and charming celebrity voice performances. Jack Black as the chubby misfit-hero seems to really put himself completely into his role. He inhabits the animated panda Po and he gives the audiences a double dose of his comic persona through it. With the rest of the stars doing the voice essentials (including Dustin Hoffman as Shifu, Randall Duk Kim as Oogway, Ian McShane as Tai Lung, Angelina Jolie as Tigress, Jackie Chan as Monkey, Seth Rogen as Mantis, Lucy Liu as Viper, David Cross as Crane, James Hong as Mr. Ping, among others), the signature whimsy of the film is realized.
The adorability quotient of Kung Fu Panda definitely buoys this DreamWorks animated romp as a great source of movie entertainment. With its well-written script and its messages “To make something special, you just have to believe it’s special” and “Be your own hero” may best be proven by the existence of this unpretentious and more than bear-able crowd-pleaser. As a solid family flick now part of the roster of good-natured animated classics, this welcome animated treat is no less than a real charmer.
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