Kung Fu Panda
Released: June 6, 2008
Average Rating: 5 stars (1 user)
KUNG FU FIGHTING
WRITTEN BY CARL DOUGLAS
PERFORMED BY CEE-LO GREEN AND JACK BLACK
PRODUCED BY THE UNDERDOGS
VOCALS PRODUCED BY CEE-LO GREEN
CEE-LO GREEN APPEARS COURTESY OF RADICULTURE RECORDS/DOWNTOWN RECORDINGS/ATLANTIC RECORDING CORP.
JACK BLACK APPEARS COURTESY OF EPIC RECORDS
|by Dan Goldwasser
on November 14th, 2008
Earlier this summer, Dreamworks Animation released their ninth computer-animated feature film, Kung Fu Panda. An apprentice noodle-maker, Po the Panda (voiced by Jack Black) dreams of being a super Kung Fu warrior, and fighting alongside the five masters: Master Monkey (Jackie Chan), Master Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Master Viper (Lucy Liu), Master Mantis (Seth Rogan) and Master Crane (David Cross). But Po's father (a goose voiced by James Hong) believes that Po's destiny lies in noodle-making. When the evil Tai Lung (Ian McShane) escapes from prison, supreme master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) believes that the time has come for the prophecy of the "Dragon Warrior" to come to fruition. Through a series of small misadventures, Po ends up being chosen as the Dragon Warrior, which Kung Fu Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) believes to be an accident. But as Oogway says, "there are no accidents". And so, Po begins his unlikely training to be a Kung Fu warrior - with the other masters set against him, and trying to get him to quit. Is Po the Dragon Warrior? Will he be able to defeat Tai Lung? Find out, in Kung Fu Panda!
The movie is quite enjoyable, and Jack Black as Po provides most of the energy and comedy in the film, which blessedly doesn't rely on pop-culture references like many of the other Dreamworks Animation features. The action sequences are energetic and intense, and while Kung Fu Panda won't break the mold for the most original story (the film intentionally follows the "hero's journey" narrative archetype), it's very entertaining and well worth checking out.
Recently released on home video, Kung Fu Panda hits Blu-ray with an exceptional transfer. The digital data has been converted right over, and the resulting image is nothing short of perfect. Detail is finely rendered, the colors are deep and pop, and the overall palette is gorgeous. With all the various shades of red, I was afraid of seeing some "banding" - but none were to be found. On the audio side, we're given a Dolby TrueHD mix that takes advantage of the format - it immerses and surrounds us, throwing us into the middle of this world. Action sequences are thunderous, dialogue is clean and clear, and the music by Hans Zimmer and John Powell sounds gorgeous. In all, this disc has a lot of demo-worthy material.
It's also presented with a boatload of special features, all of them presented in HD. Starting with a very informative commentary track, directors Mark Osborne and John Stevenson talk about every aspect of the project, from story development, casting, actor ad-libbing moments, technical issues, crafting the look/feel of the film, music, sound design, and much more. It's a great track that delves deep into the creation of Kung Fu Panda. A companion piece to this commentary is called "The Animator's Corner". Here we get a picture-in-picture version of the commentary, with tons of behind-the-scenes footage, including vocal sessions, layout/pre-rendered animation, storyboards, and much more. It deviates from the commentary at times, so you have to watch both to get all the info provided (and yes, there is overlap). Adding to the overlap is a "Trivia Track", which provides some insightful information, but seems to primarily mirror the commentary track.
These three extras show up in the section called "Inside Kung Fu Panda". Three other featurettes are in this section: "Meet the Cast" (13-minutes) is a fun EPK-styled look at the various actors that were brought on to provide the voices. "Pushing Boundaries" (7-minutes) is a look at the technical challenges the film faced, with fur rendering, and other animation developments. "Conservation International: Help Save Wild Pandas" (2-minutes) is a quick public service video with Jack Black imploring everyone to help join "Team Earth".
The next section is "Po's Power Play", and contains three interactive games geared towards the younger members of your household. "Master Shifu's Dragon Warrior Training Academy" has five training rooms to play through using your remote to make choices - reaction time is critical! "Dumpling Shuffle" is a take on the classic three-cups and ball guessing game, and "Learn to Draw" lets you pick one of the six kung fu masters to learn how to draw them, in a well described step-by-step process.
"Sounds and Moves of Kung Fu" has four bits, mainly geared towards kids. "Sound Design" (4-minutes) is a quick look at the Foley artist work that was done to come up with all the different sounds in the film. There's a "Kung Fu Fighting" music video (2.5-minutes) performed by Cee-Lo Green and Jack Black, and "Learn the Panda Dance" (4.5-minutes) where you can learn to do the new hit dance sweeping the nation (or, not). Finally, "Do You Kung Fu?" (10-minutes) has six short tutorials for kids to learn how to do the various styles of Kung Fu.
Five more kid-oriented featurettes follow in "Land of the Panda", with "Mr. Ping's Noodle House" (4.5-minutes) which features Food Network's Alton Brown and Mr. Chow's Danny Yip showing us how to make noodles. This leads (logically) into "How to Use Chopsticks (3-minutes). "Inside the Chinese Zodiac" (11.5-minutes) is a look at all the different animals in the Chinese Zodiac, and what they represent personality-wise. "Animals of Kung Fu Panda" (6-minutes) takes a look at the actual animals that inspired the kung fu fighting styles. The last featurette in this section is a quiz game, "What Fighting Style Are You". Depending on your choices, you'll find out what style you are!
The "Dreamworks Animation Video Jukebox" lets you watch music videos of songs from other Dreamworks Animation films (Shrek, Bee Movie, Shark Tale, etc.), and "Trailers" doesn't actually have any advertising material for Kung Fu Panda - instead, we get a choice of the new Monsters vs. Aliens or Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa trailers. Finally, if you have an internet connection to your Blu-ray player, you can check out some of the new BD-Live features. Currently, those include two choices: "A Day in the Life: A Shaolin Monk in Training" (11-minutes, SD) and "Po Around the World" which lets you watch a small segment from the film's climax, in the language of your choosing (there are 12 to pick from).
Kung Fu Panda is a solid and enjoyable film, and has been given a great presentation on Blu-ray disc. It's got reference quality visuals and sound, and plenty of extras (even if a majority of them seem to cater more towards kids than adults). If you haven't seen the film, it's worth checking out - and if you're already a fan, then you should definitely make room for this one on your shelf.
|by Dan Goldwasser
on June 2nd, 2008
An apprentice noodle-maker, Po the Panda (voiced by Jack Black) dreams of being a super Kung Fu warrior, fighting alongside the five masters: Master Monkey (Jackie Chan), Master Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Master Viper (Lucy Liu), Master Mantis (Seth Rogan) and Master Crane (David Cross). But Po's father (a goose voiced by James Hong - don't ask, it's still amusing) believes that Po's destiny lies in noodle-making. When the evil Tai Lung (Ian McShane) escapes from prison, supreme master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) believes that the time has come for the prophecy of the "Dragon Warrior" to come to fruition. When Po tries (through a series of small misadventures) to attend the ceremony, he ends up being chosen as the Dragon Warrior. Kung Fu Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), who has trained the other five Masters, believes this to be an accident - but as Oogway says, "there are no accidents". And so, Po begins his unlikely training to be a Kung Fu warrior - with the other masters set against him, and trying to get him to quit. Is Po the Dragon Warrior? Will he be able to defeat Tai Lung? Find out, in Kung Fu Panda!
The computer-animated film, released by Dreamworks Animation, is a lot of fun. Colorful and vibrant, the imagery is solid although it's not going to beat Pixar in any competitions. Jack Black as Po is entertaining, with his lack of self-confidence adding charm to his character. Unlike some of the other Dreamworks Animated films, the jokes aren't filled with pop-culture references that will date the film, and though the story is a tad on the predictable side, the flow of the film is strengthened by the (rather intense at times) action sequences. They're not violent, per se, but they certainly get the adrenaline pumping.
The music by Hans Zimmer and John Powell has a strong ethnic melody, and the underscore accentuates the action quite well. It's just enough to push the emotion in the right direction, and overall is a solid musical effort. While Kung Fu Panda won't break the mold for story, it has a pretty straightforward plot that is entertaining enough to keep you satisfied for an hour and a half. To put it another way, I enjoyed this much more than the new Indiana Jones film.
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