Sunday, May 15, 2011

Kung Fu Panda - A Dreamworks Movie That Feels Like an Actual Movie

All too often, Dreamworks Animation has released movies with humor based mostly on celebrity jokes and references, as well as other things that would make a movie seem dated as time goes on. This time, however, Dreamworks managed to make a movie that not only manages to stay fresh after a couple of years, but also has a more immersive plot.

The story revolves around a Panda named Po (Jack Black), who dreams of becoming a master of Kung Fu. To this end, he idolizes five masters of this art known as the Furious Five: Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Viper (Lucy Liu), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Monkey (Jackie Chan), and Crane (David Cross), all of whom are trained by Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) to protect the Valley of Peace. However, he is a villager who works with his Goose father Ping's (James Hong) noodle restaurant and believes that he may never achieve his dream. But when he hears that the temple is going to pick someone to be the Dragon Warrior, he attends, only to be locked outside. By strapping fireworks to a chair, he manages to get into the outer part of the temple, but ends up getting picked as the Dragon Warrior by the elderly tortoise Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim). Everyone, including Po himself, believes this to be a mistake, especially Shifu. At the same time, a snow leopard named Tai Lung (Ian McShane) escapes from a prison built specifically to hold him and makes his way to the Valley of Peace. Now Po must try his hardest to become the Dragon Warrior in order to protect the valley from the wrath of Tai Lung.

I was able to really get into this story, which has just the right blend of drama and comedy to keep anyone watching to see what would happen next. The action, being a kung-fu movie, is very exaggerated but entertaining. I loved the diverse camera angles used to display the over-the-top martial arts, as well as the moves themselves. At the same time, the characters in the movie look very well animated, with colors that help them stand out from each other. Their clothes look as though they came from China centuries ago, which actually suits the genre very well. The scenery also contains a bright color palette, which evokes images of early China that are seen in one's head when they think of the country.

The voice cast was also very well chosen, with Jack Black giving one of his better performances in a movie. The personalities of these characters were also very believable and diverse. It was great to watch them interact with one another, especially when the Furious Five are getting used to Po's presence around the temple. Oogway's dialogue sounds like it comes from a particularly insightful fortune cookie, but can be good lessons to take to heart.

The sound effects matched the events well, if also sounding a bit cartoony in a couple of spots, such as the sound of bowling pins when Tai Lung knocks some guards over during his prison break. The music accompanying the events is scored excellently by Hans Zimmer and John Powell and matches the mood nicely.

As a Dreamworks film, Kung Fu Panda throws you a curveball and defies all expectations, being more serious than the trailers may indicate. As a martial arts flick, it rivals many other animated movies with battle scenes in both style and humor. I would proudly recommend this movie to anyone who wants to see one of the best films Dreamworks Animation has put out in a long time, or to anyone who wants some great quality action and story. Going outside of the studio's comfort zone worked with this movie, and I hope they do it again with the upcoming Kung Fu Panda 2.

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