Kung Fu Panda

Kung Fu Panda ★★★★½

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 (Jack Black) as the chosen one to defeat Tai Ling, Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) 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 characterizations 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 animation is faultless, the character designs are bursting with inventiveness and are easy to the eye and I have never been more impressed by how each of these characters looks (and this from someone who isn't a big Dreamworks/Pixar fan). And still, each of them successfully embodies and conveys the different personalities.

I kind of understand the message this film is trying to emit: 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 & the level of enthusiasm they bring to their characters. As the elder cast member, Hoffman brings that authoritative-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 by big-name stars has 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 with some of the high- calibre of actors involved, it does determine how their efforts entice audiences to go out and see those films.

Amusing, charming and a film that fully embraces what it not only tries to set out to achieve but at its principal, Kung Fu Panda embodies Chinese folklore and culture far better than many other Western- Hollywood based films which try to do the same thing, yet fail.

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 looks terrific, but just as importantly Kung Fu Panda has a great story and script to back it up.

It's part - comedy, part- martial 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.

Superseded 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, or be it the third Kung Fu Panda instalment.

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