PIE Reviews - Kung Fu Panda (2008)

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Kung Fu Panda

Starring Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman and Ian MacShane

When it comes to animation, you can usually rely on DreamWorks Animation to give you a good ride - critically acclaimed franchise Shrek, the funny Megamind, and the wonderful Flushed Away to name a few. So when directors John Wayne Stevenson and Mark Osborne brought the brainchild of writers Aibel and Berger to the silver screen in 2008's blockbuster Kung Fu Panda, the DreamWorks studio managed it all over again.

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Usually I don't like Jack Black films - bar The School of Rock, which is awesome. Yet his casting as lazy, mega kung fu fan panda Po is pretty perfect. Black plays it with the comic stupidity, you know, his generic acting style, which is actually kind of suited to the role for once. It feels light hearted and joyous, and it even works when the film asks for sympathy during moments when Po is cast out from his kung fu buddies. It doesn't beg, but instead makes sure it gives a lot in the way of entertainment - and I'll put this down to its combo with the story.

The story in Kung Fu Panda is a very simple one; it follows lazy Po's launch to success after being picked as the chosen one, despite being a frankly ludicrous option. He's then thrown into training with his idols, the legendary Furious Five - Tigress, Crane, Mantis, Viper and Monkey - under the leadership of their mentor and teacher, Master Shifu. The Five are voiced by an all-star cast, including Jackie Chan and Angelina Jolie, and Dustin Hoffman takes on Shifu wonderfully well, even giving the character an element of reality as a guru figure, giving the viewer someone to look up to. It's this association which allows the viewer to sympathis with Shifu - an attachment key to the plot as the film goes on.

Po's story after his sudden success goes through a stage of awful training to become the 'Dragon Warrior'. These scenes are hilarious to begin with but quickly grow tiresome, and much of the older audience may find themselves nodding off towards the middle ground of the film (if it weren't for the crew's saving grace, which I'll get on to later) - even when bad guy snow leopard Tai Lung, voiced incredibly by Ian MacShane, breaks out from his 'impregnable prison' there seems to be a struggle to work up drama or tension for older audiences. Luckily Master Shifu uncovers Po's hidden talent sooner rather than later. As it happens Po excels through the temptation of food, essentially portraying the message you can only achieve if you desire for something and really want it. No doubt a good message - as long as you don't go all Freudian on our butts. It's probably a message best suited for youngsters too.

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But don't get me wrong. Sure there are many moments which appear better for youngsters than us lot, but the film makes up for its adult audiences too - making it a lovely family film. We're given some great visuals from Tang Keng Heng's art direction, crafting the film as visually impressive to watch. I found myself thrilled at the colour and vibrancy of the scenes whenever it was lacking the adult style action. There's also that element of the film finding the little boy inside you; I was often succumbed into laughing along at the belly flop slapstick jokes, something I wouldn't have expected so funny to me now I'm getting older - but it honestly was hysterical.

The film's soundtrack also leaves us engrossed in the film at key moments, for example when the Furious Five are given centre stage in the action scenes we may not be entirely convinced by the dangers on the screen but the music quickly pipes up some drama. It helps also when we're viewing Jack Black's Po having his sombre outcast scenes, especially when his misunderstanding comical lines aren't shining through. Usually the cliché scene would put a down feeling on us, spinning the film into the dreaded angsty feel that ruined Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One. Luckily we're given some music which shoots it up to adulthood, breaching the gap between both child audiences (who would feel sympathetic and routing for Po) and adult audiences (who enjoy the atmosphere provided to them and offering them some escapism into this beautifully animated world) - the teenage angst audiences will just have to stumble off and view the vampire and wizard tosh all over the silver screen right now instead.

Kung Fu Panda then is a well-voiced, beautifully balanced and good fun combat kung fu film. The presentation is vibrant and engaging, offering the escapism us adults go see animation for. It oozes with delightful light heartedness and plays on us to release the child within. It's a great family film and one of the top animations to come out of the studios at the time and since.

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