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Kung Fu Panda

By Willie Krischke — June 27, 2008

The title of “Kung Fu Panda” makes the movie sound like an animated, animal kingdom remake of “Beverly Hills Ninja” starring Jack Black as Chris Farley because Jack Black is a poor man’s Chris Farley, all flop sweaty and manic and good-heartedly stupid. Yikes. Generally, fat guys are funnier when the joke isn’t about their size; their size can make a funny joke funnier, but it can’t make a bad joke a good one.

So I wasn’t all that excited to see “Kung Fu Panda;” I thought it would be endless unfunny variations on an unfunny premise. Imagine how surprised I was to discover a smart, funny, engaging, visually exciting movie which, really, could just use a cleverer title. “Kung Fu Panda” is really fun. It might be one of the best movies of the summer.

Turns out that Jack Black isn’t just a poor man’s Chris Farley. He’s made a lot of money in that role (“Margot at the Wedding,” “Be Kind Rewind,” “Nacho Libre,” etc.) but maybe he just needs a new agent. As Po, he’s pitch perfect as a regular guy, kinda large, kinda lazy, who’s a big fan of Kung Fu, but stuck working in a noodle shop. Not an insane fan, not a manic idiot, just, you know, a big fan. Making the character relatable makes the movie much funnier and gratifying; you like this guy. You want him to win.

[metacafe]http://www.metacafe.com/watch/2024960/big_fan/[/metacafe]

The plot is pretty formulaic, but I think it’s supposed to be. Not only is this a kid’s movie, it’s a Kung Fu movie, and its familiar echoes feel like homage, if a little spoofish. A powerful bad guy breaks out of prison and is on the way, so five masters of Kung Fu(Tigress, Monkey, Mantis, Viper and Crane) gather and compete to see who will be crowned the unstoppable Dragon Warrior and given the Scroll of Power. Through an accident (or destined moment) involving fireworks, a wicker chair, and an old guy who can barely see, Po the Panda gets crowned instead. Now, the hard work begins: Po the Panda must not only learn Kung Fu, he must overcome the doubts and disappointment of everyone around him, as well as his own self-doubt, so that he can save the village from certain destruction. And the bad guy gets closer every day.

The action sequences are visually imaginative, fast-paced, and fun. After watching Hulk smash things up real good last week, its’ refreshing to see action sequences that rely on agility and inventiveness to accomplish their goals. Tai Lung breaks out of prison with the help of a feather dropped from a timid goose, and the whole scene is beautifully animated almost entirely in muted greys, blues, and fiery reds. Po’s coming-of-age battle is over a dumpling, and is as quick as a pair of flashing chopsticks.

The primary weakness of “Kung Fu Panda” is its secondary characters. Perhaps it’s just that there were too many of them to deal with, but Dreamworks doled out some serious money to voice the Furious Five (Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu and David Cross) and then gave them nothing to do. Add to the mix Dustin Hoffman as their master, Shifu, and Randall Duk Kim as his master Oogway, plus Po’s father (who is somehow a goose) and you can see why it might feel a little crowded. I’ll give the writers some credit though; they deliver a back story about Tai Lung (the bad guy) and Shifu (the teacher) that made me wish they’d been given a crack and the Star Wars prequel scripts.

I’ve only seen “Kung Fu Panda” once, but I’m pretty sure this is the kind of kid’s film that will hold up to multiple viewings. For once, there are no annoying neurotic sidekick characters. You’ll enjoy it, and your kids will love it; this is the one to buy and let them play fifty times. Well, better this than “Ice Age 3,” at least.

Recommended

  • to anyone 10 and under.
  • To fans of old Kung Fu movies.
  • For whole family fun and entertainment (unless there are members of your family aged 13-17)

Not Recommended

  • if you’re looking for a movie with a real plot and deep, nuanced characterization.
  • If you hate kids.
  • If you’re passionate about noodles.
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