After the appalling Shrek The Third was released last year, it seemed that Dreamworks Animation were just gunning for cash, and not particularly interested in releasing animated films with any substance at all. CGI animation is no longer the jaw-dropping visual goldmine it once was, as audiences have become accustomed to high-quality 3D animation. So visuals alone no longer cut it. In order to get the audiences in the seats, the writers of these films strive to write more layered stories, with jokes not just for kids, but for adults too. To this end, sometimes plot can suffer in order to squeeze in one more joke. So it’s refreshing to see a film like Kung Fu Panda. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and still manages to be very entertaining.
Po is the laziest and clumsiest animal in the Valley of Peace. He works in his father’s noodle shop. But his real dream is to be a mighty Kung Fu warrior. When it is announced that Oogway, the master of the Kung Fu temple is to choose the Dragon Warrior, the prophesised warrior destined to bring peace to the valley, Po makes his way to the temple for the festivities. Much to everyone’s surprise (and none to that of the audience), Po is chosen. He gets to train under Master Shifu, alongside his heroes, the Furious Five- Monkey, Tigress, Mantis, Viper and Crane, all of whom resent this blow-in. And in a prison far away from the valley, shamed warrior Tai Lung escapes from his captors and makes his way back to the Valley of Peace to claim the title of Dragon Warrior for himself.
Okay, so Kung Fu Panda’s plot isn’t exactly Citizen Kane. It’s the typical story of a no-hoper who turns his luck around and becomes something nobody ever thought he could be. He faces challenges he shouldn’t overcome, but he finds a way. He rises to the challenge. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before. But in the hands of directors, Mark Osborne and John Stevenson, Kung Fu Panda proves to be a damn entertaining watch. The success of the film rests largely on the shoulders of Jack Black, who voices Po. He’s an actor who’s familiar to both older and younger audiences, and his vocal talents seem to embody Po perfectly. He’s the character who gets all the laughs, which mostly come from Po falling over in various different ways.
That’s not to say that Kung Fu Panda is a film that relies on one element. When the action scenes kick in, they’re very entertaining. And at 92 minutes, the film moves at a very fast pace. At times, character development suffers. And it seems that some of the voice talents are a bit wasted. The Furious Five, voiced by Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross and Jackie Chan, yes, Jackie Chan, are given little to do in the film. Their resentment towards Po isn’t really explored. This element is sacrificed in order to keep things moving along. But then, this is a kids’ film, and it makes no attempt to be anything else. And it’s because of that, and despite the minor flaws that the film works very well.
The animation, as expected, is gorgeous. Po’s design works very well for the physical comedy in the film. At times, there are slow motion close-ups of Po’s gurning face, and these moments are pretty funny in themselves. The animation team seem to be having a lot of fun acting with this character. The production design in particular is gorgeous. The film has a visual style of it’s own, blending natural elements such as falling cherry blossoms, with cold, almost industrial style of Tai Lung’s prison. The production team are on top form and have created in Kung Fu Panda the most visually impressive of all the Dreamworks productions to date.
Kung Fu Panda is a kids’ film. It doesn’t layer in adult jokes that other animated films are so fond of doing these days. It’s unashamedly for the kids and if you can accept the prat-falls and juvenile nature of the comedy, then it’s a very entertaining film. Making up a helluva lot for last year’s terrible Shrek debacle, Kung Fu Panda is a film the Dreamworks guys can be proud of. Whether or not it’ll be able to trump Pixar’s Wall-E is questionable at this stage. But it remains a very entertaining film none the less.