KUNG FU PANDA / SECRETS OF THE FURIOUS FIVE (2-Pack)|
Written by Mahamari Tsukitaka
November 10, 2008
Originally released in theaters in June earlier this year, DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda is a CG animated film that tells the story of Po, a fat and clumsy panda who serves up noodles at his family’s restaurant while dreaming every day of becoming a legendary kung fu master. Through a series of unexpectedly fated events, however, Po learns to embrace his flaws and fulfill his dream.
Having grown up with Asian traditions and strict martial arts training, I have to admit that, though I had read in press interviews that the filmmakers intended to respect martial arts and Chinese culture, I at first had some misgivings about this film based on my frequent disappointments with the portrayal of Asian culture in the popular media. I passed up Kung Fu Panda when it was in theaters, but I’m glad that I didn’t pass it up completely. After watching the main feature and Secrets of the Furious Five for the first time on this 2-disc DVD set, I can honestly say that I’m impressed—not only did the filmmakers keep their word, Kung Fu Panda is by far one of the most entertaining movies, animated or live action, that I’ve watched in a long time.
In movie reviews, there’s often a lot of cheap talk about originality, and it could be easily said that Kung Fu Panda, at its heart, is just another youth movie about learning to accept oneself and develop self-esteem. Even in the world of martial arts movies, the story of the master’s favorite student gone bad is old hat. As Scottish historian Thomas Carlyle once said, however, “The merit of originality is not novelty; it is sincerity.” In this case, the basic plot and character archetypes may not be particularly novel, but Kung Fu Panda stands out in its sincere execution. The humor is funny without being in your face, the action is fast-paced without gratuitous violence, and the dramatic moments are earnest without being sappy. Moreover, the film is surprisingly well planned and internally consistent; without revealing any spoilers, I did note that details introduced near the beginning of the movie came back later—a nice touch that many movies lack.
Jack Black very fittingly voices the endearingly exuberant and rotund panda, joined by Dustin Hoffman as his gruff master Shifu who also trains the revered kung fu team, the Furious Five: Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Viper (Lucy Liu), Mantis (Seth Rogan), and Crane (David Cross). Ian McShane’s drawling snarl makes for a credibly evil feline villain (Tai Lung), and Randall Duk Kim (the Keymaker from the Matrix movies) plays a lovably venerable tortoise sage (Master Oogway).
Even posing as native Chinese animals, the all-star cast doesn’t disappoint—and thankfully, doesn’t indulge in faking silly accents either. Even the few words spoken in Mandarin are delivered authentically. I can say without reserve that Kung Fu Panda is one of the only mainstream American films I’ve seen that has pulled off references to Asian culture without resorting to exoticizing the East or racial stereotyping, and it does this all while maintaining a healthy sense of humor throughout. It’s a surprising feat to be accomplished by an animated film targeting a young audience, and I wholeheartedly approve.
And, while the supporting characters aren’t entirely fleshed out during the feature film, the Secrets of the Furious Five 24-minute short included in the Pandamonium Double Pack provides some welcome additional backstory for each, adding a bit more depth to each warrior.
Shot angles are pleasantly varied, and the cinematography style distinctly brings traditional animation to mind while also taking advantage of the dynamic fluidity now possible with computer processing. Though slowdown effects are maybe just a tad overused, the special effects are generally a welcome enhancement to the overall movie.
The Secrets of the Furious Five bonus short is comparable to the main feature in the visuals department and starts off with a 3D CG introduction that quickly leads into five separate character backstory sequences that are each animated in a vibrant reprise of the 2D style of the intro sequence from Kung Fu Panda.
The soundtrack, written by John Powell (Shrek, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, The Bourne Ultimatum, and other well-known movies) and Hans Zimmer (The Lion King, Gladiator, Pirates of the Caribbean, and too many others to name), is a collection of lively, Chinese-inspired instrumentals that also throws in a Cee-Lo Green and Jack Black version of Carl Douglas’ “Kung Fu Fighting.” The instrumental themes may not be as memorable as some of the others these two composers have put out, but they agreeably set the theme and feel of Po’s fictional ancient China.
Anyway, the Kung Fu Panda disc includes: