From the creators of Shrek and Madagascar comes the funniest movie of the year! Prepare for awesomeness with Dreamworks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda. Jack Black is perfect as the voice of PO, a noodle slurping dreamers who must embrace his true self – fuzzy flaws and all – in order to become the legendary Dragon Warrior. With high-kicking humor, tons of kung fu action, and groundbreaking animation, Kung Fu Panda is a heartwarming story of courage for the whole family.
I wouldn’t go so far as to proclaim this as the best animation of 2008 but it’s definitely a breath of fresh air from DreamWorks Animation. The company that brought us "Shrek", "Madagascar" and "Bee Movie" unexpectedly surprised most critics and audiences with their brand new animation feature (not sequel or spinoff) "Kung Fu Panda".
"Kung Fu Panda" tells the story of a martial-arts fanatic panda named Po (Jack Black) who unexpectedly becomes the chosen one to fulfill an ancient prophecy. Aided by the reluctant Master Sifu (Dustin Hoffman) and his legendary furious five disciples, Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Crane (David Cross), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Monkey (Jackie Chan), Po must turn himself into a Kung Fu master, defeat the evil Tai Lung (Ian McShane) and restore the tranquility back in the Valley of Peace.
What really makes this animation comes alive besides the gorgeous looking graphics is the spot-on performance of the various voice actors and actresses. Black of course didn’t disappoint with his wacky performance as Po and Hoffman really holds the fort in his first animation outing as Sifu although people like Jackie Chan (his broken English and 'heehawhee' sound effects) and Seth Rogen (in his recognizable trademark guffaw) has less than five lines in the entire movie. The other supporting characters for example Randall Duk Kim as the wise Master Oogway and James Hong as the hyperactive Mr Ping (father of Po but he is a duck..don’t ask me why) deserved a mention as well.
First-time feature animation directors Mark Osborne and John Stevenson did a fantastic job balancing the humor and action bits. The kids will be enthralled by all the funny quirks and jokes courtesy of Po’s while adults especially the martial arts fangroup no doubt will give the 'choreograph' action sequences the thumbs up. Watch out for two outstanding sequences, the first being Tai Lung escape from the highly-guarded prison and the subsequent battle between Lung and the furious five on a hanging bridge. Both make good use of clever camera angles and excellent choreography work normally seen in live-action martial-arts movies.
Seriously, it’s hard to pinpoint any faults with DreamWorks’ "Kung Fu Panda". Even the lush oriental-sounding score by Hans Zimmer and John Powell accompany the 92 minutes movie is a joy to listen to. The 3D animation and a 2D sequence look marvelous even on the small screen and I’m sure kids and adults will embrace this cuddly panda whole-heartedly.
Again, don’t ask why only pigs, ducks, rabbits and a panda reside in the Valley of Peace. Just sit back and enjoy.
The Blu-ray disc starts off with trailers from DreamWorks upcoming release Monster Vs Alien and Madagascar Escape 2 Africa. This is followed by Inside Kung Fu Panda, an informative commentary track with directors Mark Osbuorne and John Stevenson. There’s a BD exclusive feature with trivia track of pop-up information and a picture-in-picture function called The Animators Corner. Here you find lots of snippets and anecdotes contributed by the cast and filmmakers. Footages of storyboards and animatics are also included for those who are interested in the technical aspects of the movie.
Meet the Cast is a 13 minutes feature which shows the audience how the various cast members act out their scenes in the studio and also actors like Black, Jolie and Rogen talks about their alter-egos.
Pushing the Boundaries is a short 7 minutes feature which discusses the technology behind in creating the eye-popping graphics.
Conservation International has Jack Black doing a public announcement. Save the pandas!
DreamWorks Animation Video Jukebox is a clever marketing segment which showcases the theme songs from past DreamWorks productions such as "Shrek", "Over the Hedge", "Bee Movie" and many more.
Po’s Power Play is a section consisting of games and activities namely Dragon Warrior Training Academy, Dumpling Shuffle and Learn to Draw.
Inside Sounds and Moves of Kung Fu is a short 3 minutes sound feature Sound Design, a music video by Cee-Lo called Kung Fu Fighting (yes that overused song!), a teach-you-how-to-dance feature, Learn the Panda Dance and lastly, Do You Kung Fu touches on the various Kung Fu styles in the movie.
Next it’s a section on food and Chinese cultures nicely titled as Land of the Panda. Alton Brown at Mr Ping’s Noodle House teaches you the art of making noodles and some rather amusing features called Inside the Chinese Zodiac, How to Use 2 Chopsticks, Animals of Kung Fu Panda and What Fighting Style Are You?
For the Blu-ray version that comes with BD-Live downloadeable content, you can connect your player to the internet and access Po Around the World which you can hear 'squidoosh' being pronounced in a dozen different languages. A 11 minutes educational feature called A Day in the Life : A Shaolin Monk which traces fighting styles, monks training and also Buddhism.
Like I mentioned earlier, the extras are aplenty but nothing really catches hold of your attention for too long perhaps this will fare better for the little kids. The new short Secrets of the Furious Five that comes with the normal 2 Disc edition DVD is surprisingly left out in the Blu-ray edition.
The visual aspect of this Blu-ray disc is simply breath-taking. Po’s fur, Oogway’s wrinkles and the fast movement of the furious five is captured beautifully here. Perhaps this will help you convert to a fan of high definition video. One word to sum up everything: Captivating!
Since my player can’t decode Dolby TrueHD 5.1 sound, I have to revert to the usual Dolby Digital 5.1 which is filed with rich ambience sound effects such as falling leaves, crickets etc. The climatic battle on the hanging bridge is one example that truly showcases the richness in the audio and speaker activity.
Review by Linus Tee