Cast: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Ian McShane, Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu, Seth Rogen, James Hong
Genre: Computer Animation
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $631 million
Plot: The dragon warrior has to clash against the savage Tai Ling as China's fate hangs in the balance. However, the dragon mantle is supposedly mistaken to be bestowed upon an obese panda who is a tyro in martial arts
'Pixar's Martial Arts Animated Offering That Is Sublime'
Kung Fu Panda is a film set in and around China's valley of peace, where there are no humans, just talking animals. A panda by the name of Po dreams of being a martial arts star when he is not working for his father, who is oddly enough a bird and voiced by James Hong.
When Master Oogway selects Po as the chosen one to defeat Tai Ling, Master Shifu and his trainees, the furious five, made up of Monkey (Jackie Chan), Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Viper (Lucy Liu), Crane (David Cross) and Mantis (Seth Rogen) are indeed furious and see to it that Po is something of a laughing stock that they don't take him seriously as a warrior. Yet Po as we know it, for all of his training by master Shifu, he has a few tricks up his sleeve that the others are completely unaware of.
As ever with Pixar, the animation quality is top notch: and because this is animation, anything goes and without any constraints or limitations, especially as creators in Pixar can envisage things that happen out of nowhere, thanks to CGI. But Kung Fu Panda and its follow ups succeed in ways that say, Shrek, haven't quite managed, through the quality of the storytelling and the characterisations themselves. That though the main story is about Po's transformation as the worthy candidate to take on and defeat Tai Ling, it is also where for one Master Shifu who is so used to offering advice, is having to learn a few lessons himself & is learning more about who he is, as well.
Besides the action and fight sequences, there is a story, a narrative that is well written and conceived that also manages to sustain itself throughout the whole 90 mins. Characters we feel for and relate to, and that the message that this film evokes is one of heart and good measure. The visuals are breathtaking, the character designs are easy on the eye and they each embody the different personalities. Whereas it may not garner a bellyful of laughs, it still puts a smile on my face.
I kind of understand the message this film is trying to purport: that no matter how big (like with Po) or small (like with Shifu), you can achieve anything, if you set your mind to it. But I also do think that same message might not have come across successfully, nor would audiences choose to buy into it - had it not been for the voice casting of Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Jackie Chan and Angelina Jolie in their respective roles. As the elder cast member, Hoffman brings that authorative-ness and the voice of reason that we can take to, Jolie and Jackie Chan act as star powers and help galvanise publicity for the film; Jackie Chan in particular, as he is one of biggest stars in Asian cinema that what better way to promote a film set in the Far East than to get him to voice one of the characters. Voice over roles in major animated movies have been a staple since well, the success of Robin Williams as the Genie in Aladdin. And thus far, in a franchise such as Kung Fu Panda and some of the high calibre of actors involved, it does determine how their efforts entice audiences to go and see those films.
Kung Fu Panda is a film that touches on life's fundamental lessons, without shoving it down people's throats. The voice casting is aptly done, with Jack Black as the easy mannered, Po to Dustin Hoffman's older Wise man in Master Shifu. Jack's portrayal as the overweight panda may not have garnered appraisal by many, yet I think he captured Po's mannerisms well.
It's part comedy, part marital arts film all wrapped up into one animated package. Light hearted and joyous, it breathes life into not only animated films, but where unlike Mulan even with the age old references to Chinese culture, Kung Fu Panda remains thoroughly entertaining, accessible and watchable for general audiences.
Superceded by the third film, for me anyway, Kung Fu Panda is a Pixar movie that they wished their other offerings in Shark Tale, Madagascar, Shrek 3 had so wished they were as good as this effort.