Animation has a formula for their movies. Take an
all-star cast of actors, combine them with a hip
storyline and cheap jokes, mix in some pop songs, and
presto, you have a DreamWorks animated movie. "Kung Fu
Panda" could've easily taken that formula, but it
"Kung Fu Panda" is now on DVD and Blu-ray disc. This is a review of the Blu-ray.
I had read about the early buzz on this film before it came out. I was skeptical, because to me, most DreamWorks movie from their animation department come to me cold and predictable. The story of a panda who's the Chosen One could've easily stumbled and fallen into clichéd territory. Thankfully, it takes its own path and surprises you with its sincerity.
The animation is truly remarkable, especially in the opening sequence. This was traditionally drawn in 2-D. Honestly, I could've watched the entire film this way because it is so well done. The colors are striking and bright, and Po (Jack Black) moves with grace through the scenery. Once the animation turns to the more three-dimensional world, the animation is still excellent. I guess I yearn for that old-fashioned look.
"Panda" does rely on heavy star talent for the voicing. There is no mistaking Jack Black's voice, or Dustin Hoffman's voice, for anyone else. Their star power doesn't detract from a DreamWorks Animation film. Each actor imbues their character with believability and charm. We've seen the master and student story dozens of times, yet their relationship is done with class.
One of the more underrated performances comes from actor James Hong (Mr. Ping). The story of a father asking his son to take over the family business is an old one. But Hong's charming voice and his character's animation makes it fresh. This story element feels familiar if you've seen Disney's "Mulan" (1998), but I found myself caught up in Ping's love and devotion to his goofy son, Po.
As much as it's probably bad to say, the animation, style and execution of "Panda" reminds me of some old school Disney animation. Though the movie, at least in my mind, isn't of the caliber of the animation and storytelling technique of Disney's "Nine Old Men," it is quite good. Out of all the computerized animated titles to come from DreamWorks, this one is the most painterly and natural looking.
I was struck with the way that some of the characters use expression to emphasize emotion. One of the keys in good animation is using the eyes to express thought, feeling, and emotion. A character, just like a human being in a live-action film, can say so much or so little just with an expression of the eyes.
Po's funny walk and the way he moves his lips is funny and endearing at the same time. He's every bit Jack Black, and that's a plus in this movie. Hoffman does an admirable job in Shifu, showing patience and bewilderment with his student.
I saw the film theatrically with my daughter. Unlike some of the other DreamWorks movies that feature crass jokes and wall-to-wall pop music, it seems that the team on this film relied on story. It was refreshing to experience a movie with my child that I didn't have parental uneasiness going through my mind. "Was that appropriate for a ten year-old?" I'm no prude and enjoy crass humor if it's done well. But many of animated film from this studio seem to go for the low brow joke too many times. Not "Kung Fu Panda."
The Blu-ray picture is naturally stunning. Computer animation with it's sharpness and depth-of-field easily lends itself to this high definition format. The colors pop from the screen. The Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is commendable with good depth and clarity.
"Kung Fu Panda" isn't quite an animated classic. I won't go that far. I will say that it's a very well made and enjoyable film that's quickly paced with wonderful animation and storytelling. Kudos to the team on this film for challenging DreamWorks convention to make an entertaining movie.
Special thanks to Click Communications
Photos: © DreamWorks/Paramount. All rights reserved.
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