Jacob Martin (formally known as The Movie King)’s review published on Letterboxd:
Nostalgia. You gotta love it! No matter how good or bad the stuff you're reminiscing on, you got to admit there's enjoyable memories with anything in your childhood. And for me, besides Disney, I was a child in the era of the growth of DreamWorks. Though still, as a kid, I found them to be the "third wheel" compared to Disney and Pixar, I still found much enjoyment out of their typical, out-of-the-box comedy. Though much of these films made have very much aged from my enjoyment in a matter of years (especially Shark Tale, Madagascar, and Over the Hedge, with Bee Movie being the most cringe-inducing), it's hard to deny that when they actually try in making a funny film filled with heart (like Shrek and their collaborations with Aardman), it's very memorable. But I strongly believe that DreamWorks is at their all-time best when they combine their brand of humor with a more mature storyline, which, if you've seen How to Train Your Dragon and Rise of the Guardians, you'll know what I mean. But even though those two films might have had a better edge to them with the help of one Guillermo del Toro in creative control, after enjoying an awesome Super Bowl and a fun Animation Sunday, I still find the most impressive of DreamWorks to be the awesomeness of Kung Fu Panda. Hands down.
Set in the fictional Chinese Valley of Peace (a land dominated with talking animals), we are introduced to Po, a fat panda who spends his days working with his goose father (weird hereditary traits I know, but it'll be explained in the sequel) making noodles to the public, one day dreaming of being an awesome kung-fu warrior alongside The Furious Five (which consists of Monkey, Crane, Viper, Mantis, and Tigress). Through a series of accidents (even though a wise master turtle will repeatedly say in comic relief that there are no accidents), Po is selected to be the Dragon Warrior, one that legend tells, will learn the secrets of unlimited power and with his kung-fu skills, bring ultimate peace to the land. Despite prejudice among the Five and his lemur master Shifu due to his enormous size, Po is determined to keep his spirits up and earn his place in the history books. It's also revealed that a massive threat has escaped from prison, also aiming to become the Dragon Warrior as well, making the training all the more difficult, and hilariously entertaining.
And that's the secret to the success of Kung Fu Panda. Tell a story involving prejudice that needs to be spread to many of today's children while making it extremely entertaining. Has the message been done before? Yes, to some extent (most recently in The LEGO Movie), but a movie with similar messages can work only of the result still maintains the same, and Kung Fu Panda easily maintains that strength. Especially in the fact that our main character is a fat panda voiced by Jack Black.
I remember when I first saw the trailers for this film back in 2008. Coming out after the horrendous Bee Movie, I kept waiting for that one DreamWorks film to redeem its declining reputation. And though the trailers made the film look average (only focusing on the fact that Jack Black's voicing a panda), it's definitely better when what the film was advertised to look like. And though it has your typical DreamWorks-comedic elements, this was when DreamWorks was slowly realizing that the pop-culture overload was getting too old and redundant, and had to thing of something different in order to survive. This is that film. The film uses mainly slapstick in the comedic moments when Po is "training" to become our master warrior, to often painful extent, but, I can't help it, seeing a panda untrained by martial arts attempting to be as awesome as the monkey voiced by Jackie Chan and getting beat up by a training dummy is just hysterical to me. Even after watching it multiple times (though its been a while since my last viewing). However, the film does not 100% focus on the comedy. Much of the film is taken seriously; we still have an intimidating villain that has a strong backstory compared to similar live-action martial arts films, and when the threat looms worse, the trainers overcome prejudice and actually try to train the panda. Heck, the second half alone is just awesome, especially the action! The animators clearly took influence from those Japanese martial-arts movies and The Matrix, cause it freakin rocks! Slo-mo, animals using kung fu, ahh, it rocks! Especially when the comedy is combined with said action, particularly in its energetic climax.
The characters are given room to grow, even if it seems like the panda is getting more screentime. It's voice cast is one of the stronger casts in a DreamWorks film. Jack Black, nuff said, he was born to voice this role of the kung fu panda. The film is also highlighted by Dustin Hoffman as the annoyed trainer, Jackie Chan as the monkey, Angelina Jolie as Tigress, Lucy Liu as the snake Viper, Seth Rogen (who surprisingly doesn't make a poop joke) as the mantis, and Ian McShane as the intimidating villain Tai Lung, who's voice along gives the film some edge!
So yeah, if I hadn't bored you already with this generic 5-star review of a movie I love, Kung Fu Panda is da bomb! Animation is strikingly rich in detail (which I'm told took 4 years to make; whew, such passion), with the film's opening scene paying homage to Chinese animation being the most jaw-dropping, but still impressive with American CGI, the voice cast is a blast, the mix of comedy and drama is how it should be done over at DreamWorks (the parting of the master turtle scene still remains one of their more heartfelt moments in the studio's history), the music from two of the best who specialize in animation (Hans Zimmer and John Powell) is extremely fun, and it's action's a real treat. Heck, I think I enjoyed this more over How to Train Your Dragon, and still would have wanted this to win Best Animated Feature over WALL-E (which is still great and still deserved its win for its clever ambitions)! Nuff said here! POW! POW! POW!
"Hey, what you got? You got nothing because I got it right here. You picking on my friends? Get ready to feel the thunder. Come out with the crazy feet. What you goin' to do about the crazy feet. I'm a blur! I'm a blur! You never seen *Bear* style!"
And on the next Animation Sunday, I'll review the sequel... a totally mature and darker sequel, which after the release of How to Train Your Dragon 2, is somewhat losing its status as one of Hollywood's strongest animation sequels.