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Toon Thursday: "Kung Fu Panda" is one fun summer flick

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Toon Thursday: "Kung Fu Panda" is one fun summer flick

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With its lush visuals and eye-popping fight scenes, "Kung Fu Panda" may be one of the best looking action film ever produced.

Which -- I know -- sounds like a really weird thing to say about a new animated feature. But as Brad Bird once said:

"Animation isn't a genre. It's a type of film-making that can be used to tell any type of story."

And what the folks at PDI / DreamWorks Animation evidently decided to do is use CG to create a truly visually stunning chopsocky picture.

And given that "Kung Fu Panda" 's characters continually talk about the importance of history, honor and tradition ... Well, it's entirely appropriate that this John Stevenson / Mark Osborne movie honors the history of all those animated features that came before it by opening with a traditionally animated sequence.

You heard right. I said "traditionally animated." The artists at James Baxter Animation delivered a beautifully stylized opening for this film. Where Po -- a pudgy panda -- dreams that he is a Kung Fu master. A legendary warrior like the Furious Five, that quintet of martial arts virtuosos charged with protecting the Valley of Peace.

Copyright 2008 DreamWorks Animation. All Rights Reserved

In reality, Po works in his father's noodle shop. And when he's not accidentally serving the customers deadly throwing stars along with their breakfast soup, this panda dreams of someday visiting the Jade Palace and learning the ways of Kung Fu.

Well, as it turns out, Po is about to get his wish. For Oogway -- the thousand-year-old turtle who actually invented that mystical martial art -- has had a vision. He believes that Tai Lung, a former student who had to be locked away because of his lust for power, is about to break out of Chorh-Gom Prison. Which is why Oogway decided that it's now time to select the Dragon Warrior.

So Oogway summons Shifu, the master of the Jade Palace, and then tells him to assemble his finest Kung Fu students. And as the local townspeople look on, the wise old turtle bypasses acknowledged champions like Viper, Mantis, Tigress, Monkey and Crane in favor of ... Po.

Shifu protests, insisting that it was just an accident that this pudgy panda was chosen to become Dragon Warrior. But as Oogway points out, "there are no accidents."

Okay, I know. The above plot description makes "Kung Fu Panda" sounds overly serious and mystical. It's really not. Stevenson & Osborne -- working off of Jonathan Aibel & Glenn Berger's clever screenplay -- get the balance just right. So though the needs of the film's story are always being serviced, the plot always being pushed forward, there are still lots of character-driven laughs for the audience to discover along the way.

Copyright 2008 DreamWorks Animation. All Rights Reserved

But -- to be honest -- what I think what you'll come away from "Kung Fu Panda" remembering most aren't the laughs. But -- rather -- the action set pieces. Tai Lung's escape from Chorh-Gom Prison. That snow leopard's battle with the Furious Five at the rope bridge. Shifu using food to motivate Po at the Pool of Sacred Tears. Tai Lung's battle with Shifu at the Jade Palace. Or -- for that matter -- the film's finale. Where the snow leopard and the panda fight to see who will ultimately possess the secret of the Dragon Scroll. These sequences are so well staged, so wittily choreographed ... Well, they're just dazzling.

Mind you, to offset "Kung Fu Panda" 's breathless action sequences, there are some quiet & achingly beautiful moments in this movie too. Like when Oogway says goodbye to Shifu at the Peach Tree of Heavenly Wisdom and then transcends to the next plane of existence by becoming a flurry of cherry blossoms.

Is "Kung Fu Panda" perfect ? Sadly, no. This movie's fortune cookie of a message (i.e. Always believe in yourself, for you are your own secret ingredient) kind of gets lost in the filmmakers' third act run-for-the-curtain. But that relatively minor mis-step is more than offset by KFP's great vocal cast. Which includes Jack Black as Po, Dustin Hoffman as Shifu and Ian McShane as Tai Lung.

Now factor in "Kung Fu Panda" 's short running time (Just 91 minutes long, versus "Speed Racer" 's 135 minutes and "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" 's 140 minutes) ... And you're in for a fast paced, fast moving family night out at the movies.

So if you just can't wait 'til "WALL-E" for your feature animation fix, then you should definitely consider checking out PDI / DreamWorks Animation's latest. For "Kung Fu Panda" is one fun summer flick.

Your thoughts?

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  • As an HK movie fan, I was really looking forward to seeing this movie, right up to the end of the trailer where the Panda takes out the bad guy by sitting on his face, which was done in an extreme close up. If that's the level of humor, it might be better to leave it to the 10 year old boys it seems targeted for.

    The next trailer was for WALL-E. The difference in maturity and craftsmanship of the writing was like night and day.

  • Unlike Finding Nemo with it's fart jokes.

  • The fart joke was simple, quick, and understated.  The "sitting on his face" joke was overblown and exaggerated.  That tells you a lot about the respective tone of the movies.

    Or maybe not.  Trailers are notoriously unrepresentative these days.

  • Jim, do you get paid by Dreamworks to tell us how good their movies are?  Seriously you always present Dreamworks movies very positively, and Disney movies very negatively.  I am not complaining because I like all of your articles, I'm just asking. Do you have a preference?  I would love to hear a Jim Hill version of the Best 10 or 20 animated movies ever (with explanations why). Of course this should be followed by a 10 to 20 worst.

    your thoughts,


  • This is one DW film that actually interests me based on all the commercials for it that are on the Nick stations, that my kids watch. However, something seems to be missing because my two elementary-aged kids are not asking to see it. usually these DW films grab there attention enough that they ask to go see them, but to date, they are shrugging off these commercials.

    By the way, the kids are 10 y.o. boy, and 8 y.o. girl. I would think that my son, especially, would be the target audience for these commercials.

    Is Paramount hosing up the marketing for this?

  • bgrego13 - Have you considered that this might just be a good movie?  At the moment, Kung Fu Panda is pulling in an 83% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is a sign it's doing at least something right.


    Now, if Wall-E ends up getting the same kind of reaction on this site that Cars and Ratatouille did, I'm going to worry...but in this one case, it could just be that Dreamworks has made a decent movie.

  • I can wait for WALL-E.

  • I'm sure I'm in the minority, but I really have no interest in seeing this film. I mean, the panda is cute and funny, true. The snow leopard's design kicks butt. However...what IS it with furries and kung fu? Do you guys know that there are 2 cartoons on TV that have kung fu animals, and those shows even have pandas in them? (True, in those shows, the panda is the teacher, not the student, plus the shows are pretty crappy). Still...what is the connection there? I don't see how the two genres go together (maybe it's the memory of Hong Kong Phooey?) And because of the idea of animals plus martial arts being overdone on the tube, the idea behind Kung Fu Panda seems stale. So I'm passing on this - maybe I'll rent the DVD - and wait for WALL-E. That looks incredible.

  • I've been looking forward to this movie for a couple of months. Dreamworks movies have really been hit and miss for me. I loved Shrek, thought Shrek 2 was pretty good, was very disappointed in Shrek 3, hated Shark Tale, was bored by Madagascar, and refuse to see Bee Movie. I think the visuals look amazing, the animation very fluid, especially the actions moves, and the humor while mostly slapstick seems to work. I hope I get to see it when it comes out.

  • I agree 100% with bgrego13. You took the words right out of my mouth. Jim Hill has NEVER written a negative article about Dreamworks and not only that, but the articles about Dreamworks pictures should make their marketing department proud. "is this movie perfect? No, but since I am on Dreamworks payroll, I have to say it's the greatest movie ever made," said Jim Hill. Do a search for Dreamworks on this site and you will see that this is true.

    In the Jim Hill world:

    Dreamworks = AWESOME  

    Pixar = garbage

    Seriously Jim, did John L do something to you? Do you owe Jeff Katenzberg money? Are you still mad that Disneyland asked you to leave a few years ago? You really need to work out your issues with the Walt Disney Company, especially Pixar.

  • Wow, I came back to this section expecting a friendly discussion of the film...instead we have people who haven't even seen it going after each other about some sort of 'hidden agenda' as far as Dreamworks vs Disney is concerned and raking the site owner over the coals.

    Seriously, some of you people really need to take a look at yourselves when such mundane things as which company put out an animated movie or percieved bias can bring forth such bile.

    Since obviously some of us don't measure up the standards of the self-appointed Guardians of Animation around here, we'll just leave you to your whineing and complaining and go actually WATCH the movie to decide for ourselves...

    Whatever happened to civility and even old-fashioned manners....

  • spiderweb1986- I did not want to seem anti-panda movie or anti-dreamworks.  I like many of dreamworks movies (i.e shrek).  I am a huge jack black fan and am excited to see this when it comes out on DVD.  However, There is no way this movie is "One Fun Summer Flick".  It just seems that Jim is really positive about Dreamworks, and really negative about disney. And I love his articles and his podcast stories (especially the negative ones).  I would just like him to put into perspective where this "one fun summer flick" rates on the Jim Hill animated movie scale. And there is no way this movie should get better publicity from Jim than Ratatouille, It wont even be in the same league. Now cars, it may be as good, or bad depending on your perspective. Either way keep the articles coming Jim!

  • What's unfortunate is that Jim's is pretty much the best Disney blog out there, so we have to take the Dreamworks-loving along with the good stuff.

  • Want to hear something from someone who's actually seen it?

    That would be me.  I saw it at ShoWest at the beginning of March.  Some Dreamworks movies are good, some aren't.  I think it's more the director/s than the studio itself with Dreamworks.   You might want to look at the names on the film's credits and check out what else they've done rather than make up your mind simply by the name of the studio.  

    The butt scene was the only one I can remember from seeing the film - twice - that resembled "potty humor".  The film's humor is broad, but not gross or dirty.  The characters are, for the most part, shaded and interesting.  The story has a lot of heart. I NEVER thought I'd call a Dreamworks film "charming".  

    Jim only saw it in IMAX, I saw it in a regular theater setting - one caveat, the soundtrack wasn't on yet and several bits were storyboard/rough.   Anyone who knows me knows that I am a rabid Pixar fan...and this film won me over.   When it was over, there was a big party for the press and guests - I left it because they were doing another showing, and I really, really wanted to see it again...and it held up.  Perfect?  No.  Good?  Yes!

    I'm going to see it again tomorrow night, and would do so just to see Oogway.   He's beautiful.  Curse you, Jim, for spoiling his most beautiful moment!  :(

    I still hate the living f*** out of The Bee Movie.

  • I heard Jack Black is supposed to be great in this....

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