DreamWorks, home of the "Shrek" franchise, came up with another winner with the release on June 6, 2008 of"Kung Fu Panda" (2008), directed by Mark Osborne and John Wayne Stevenson. Only the "Shrek" films have done better for that studio. "Kung Fu Panda" is set in ancient China, a land of talking animals and reddish earth tones. Hans Zimmer scored the film, and he visited China to get a feel for the culture. Perhaps most surprisingly of all, Chinese audiences wound up loving this film, so much so it became an embarrasment for the Chinese government.
Po the Panda (Jack Black) lives in the Valley of Peace. He loves Kung Fu, and is a big fan of of the "Furious Five: Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Crane (David Cross), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Monkey (Jackie Chan). They all have been trained by the same guru, Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman). They train hard in order to defend the valley. Po can only dream about becoming a martial arts master, or even of meeting his heroes, because he works in his father's noodle shop.
The evil snow leopard, Tai Lung (Ian McShane), has a grudge against the valley and is prophesied to come destroy it soon. To prepare the troops for battle, the old tortoise Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) holds a Kung Fu tournament. His intention is to identify the unknown Dragon Warrior, who is said to have extreme martial arts prowess and is the only one capable of defeating Tai Lung. Po attends the tournament as a spectator, but has to strap rockets to his body to hurl himself over the wall of the stadium. He lands in the middle of the tournament. When Oogway selects the Dragon Master, to everyone's surprise it is Po.
The martial arts masters try to discourage Po, and he has setbacks, but he perseveres. He goes through intense training and impresses everyone. When Tai Lung heads for the Valley of Peace, Po redoubles his training. Using food as encouragement, Shifu molds Po into a Kung Fu master who has his own unique fighting style.
The Furious Five, sent on ahead to battle Tai Lung, fail miserably. Shifu gives Po the legendary Dragon Scroll, which is said to provide the owner with extreme power. Shifu then tells Po and the others to leave the valley while he delays the invader himself. Po at first complies, but then returns to do battle with the evil Tai Lung.
This is a high concept film that has a lot of heart-warming moments. Its animation is superb, and is very funny. It has so much action, in fact, that the fight scenes can blend together and form a confusing whirlwind. The story itself is very simple, perhaps too simple for some adults, but it all makes sense in an animated film kind of way.
A whole lot of study went into the making of this film. It is a must for any fan of the martial arts, because the characters display distinctive styles that conform to their animal bodies. Po, being a panda, uses the "bear" style. The creators' first thought was to make this a parody of martial arts films, but wisely they did not. The film did impressive business in China, where many people were pleased with the attention the animators paid to traditions of Chinese culture. The Chinese government had to face questions as to why their own animators could not create a similar homage to their culture. That is probably the highest praise a film of this sort could get. It was nominated for Best Animated Feature, and led directly to the sequel Kung Fu Panda 2. A second sequel, "Kung Fu Panda 3," is scheduled for 2016. An animated television spin-off, "Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness," airs on Nickelodeon.
This really is a very fun film. Watching Po go through his martial arts moves may inspire you to go out and learn a few moves yourself. You may watch the trailer below (you have to love the song "Kung Fu Fighting" playing in the background).
|The film is full of reds and oranges|
|Po holding the scroll|
|Po getting the boot|
|A fearsome group!|
|Po in battle stance|
|I love the look on Po's face|