Jack Black stars as a Panda named Po who works in his family’s noodle shop. His dreams, however, aren’t of noodles and broth, but of Kung Fu. He fantasizes of hanging out with the famous furious five, the living legends of Kung Fu. The five are made up of the actual animal poses in Kung Fu. You have Tigress (Jolie), Crane (Cross), Monkey (Chan), Mantis (Rogen), and Viper (Liu). Together they have been training with the Master Shifu (Hoffman). Under the guidance of Grand Master Oogway (Duk Kim) they are preparing for one of them to take on the mantle of Dragon Warrior. Then they will inherit the sacred Dragon Scroll and be the great protector of Peace Valley. When Po learns that the time has come to select the Dragon Warrior, he just can’t miss being witness to such an awesome event. The palace is high on a great mountain, and Po tries all silly means of getting to the event. Finally, strapped to a fireworks propelled chair, he makes a grand entrance and finds himself selected as the Dragon Warrior. Much to the dismay of all gathered, Master Oogway insists that Po will become the great warrior needed to protect the Valley. Shifu must overcome his own doubts and work fast, because the imprisoned Tai Lung (McShane) has escaped from the world’s most secure prison. “One way in. One way out. One thousand guards and just one prisoner”Tai Lung. Tai Lung wants the dragon scroll for himself, and not even the Furious Five are able to stop him. Po must learn the “secret ingredient” that will give him the strength and courage to face up to this most ferocious of enemies.
The CG animation craze has no shortage of lovable and cute animals these days. It seems that the animal kingdom has become the greatest fodder for these family animated blockbuster films. Dreamworks might be in the lead with these kinds of efforts. They’ve given us bears, penguins, and lions among others. Now they deliver perhaps one of their better ideas in a lovable Kung Fu Panda. As much as anything else, you really have to give most of the credit for the film’s success to Jack Black and the wonderful voice cast that support him here. Honestly, the script is pretty simple, and like most children’s films it tends to be oversimplified and rather silly throughout. But give a cast like this an even average script and you can pretty much sit back and watch them go. Okay, maybe sit back and hear them go.
All of the cast is very good here. The animators did a fantastic job of designing creatures that fit the voices, or the casting crew did an equally fantastic job in picking the right voices for the right characters. Whatever way, it worked, and I suspect it was a little of both; the combination is the film’s greatest strength. The standouts are unquestionably Jack Black and Dustin Hoffman. The two breathe life into their characters with such ease that they become real and totally believable to us.
The field of computer animation just keeps getting better and better. Kung Fu Panda certainly continues that upward trend. The environments are quite realistic, and the elements interact in a natural and fluid manner. There are moments were obvious animation shortcuts were taken, and some elements that simply didn’t render very well. The noodle soup pieces were the standout crude elements. Water was also not reproduced as well as I’ve seen recently. The huge leap forward is in the animal textures. Po’s hair and muscle definition is extraordinary to say the least.
Kung Fu Panda is in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The transfer is a pristine. Everything about this image is near perfect. Colors leap from the screen at almost every turn. Contrast is rock solid. Just look at the definition on Po, and you’ll find an argument that the contrast could not be any tighter. Black levels are about as solid as I’ve seen to date. There is absolutely no evidence of compression artifact or print failure, which should be expected in this kind of pure digital transfer. If you don’t find this one of the most dazzling image displays you’ve seen, you really need to find someone who knows what the heck they’re doing to calibrate your monitor.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is nearly as spectacular as the image. I was particularly impressed with the great sub level sound I heard, or should I say felt. It wasn’t nearly as impressive as the Blu-ray lossless version, but outstanding just the same. The surround mix is often quite aggressive but subtle in its grand usage of ambient sounds. There aren’t a lot of “over here” type of effects used, but what is there is totally immersive and nearly invisible, which is the sign of a truly solid audio track. Dialog is perfect, and you’ll hear every word clearly. The score is a combination of work between Hans Zimmer and John Powell and works at all the right moments. It never interferes with what’s on the screen, but works together with the whole to produce an atmosphere that might be lost on the kids but will be appreciated by the true aficionados in the room.
A lot of these features are obviously geared toward the very young, and the bulk of them are interactive games and activities.
Meet The Cast: This feature is a 13 minute look at the voice talent. There’s plenty of on set fun, and it’s short enough so the kids won’t get bored.
Pushing Boundaries: is where you’ll meet cast and crew and hear about the filmmaking philosophy.
Conservation Help Save The Pandas PSA.
Po’s Power Play: All games and activities here: Dragon Warrior Training Academy, Dumpling Shuffle, and Learn To Draw.
Sound Design, a 3 minute look at the sound effects artists.
Kung Fu Fighting Music Video, and Learn The Panda Dance.
Mr. Ping’s Noodle Shop: Here you get a Food Network look at making real noodles. You also get an interactive look at The Chinese Zodiac. And finally a tutorial on How To Use Chopsticks.
Dreamworks Animated Jukebox: This has become standard on these Dreamworks animated releases. You can see music pieces from all of Dreamworks’ animated films.
Secrets Of The Furious Five: This extra disc provides you with a 24 minute sequel to the film. Here Po is teaching a young class of wannabe Kung Fu Bunnies. He tries to explain the many mental aspects of the martial art by telling a story of each of the Five and how they overcame some aspect of their nature to master Kung Fu. The Po elements are CG while the story elements are much cruder drawn animation.
For my generation Kung Fu has been frequently identifiable with David Carradine and his 1970’s television show: Kung Fu. I think that Jack Black and company have now re-identified the martial art for the next generation of viewers. This is definitely the kind of film you can gather the family around to watch. There’s something in it for everyone. The parents won’t be bored, and the kids will find ample stimulation and fun. There is already a sequel in the making. In fact there is a short sequel entitled The Secrets Of The Furious Five, which is only available as a companion piece to the standard DVD. I really don’t understand why the short wasn’t included on the Blu-ray version. That would be the only reason to get this DVD over Blu-ray, unless, of course, you don’t have a Blu-ray player. Both versions are very good, but in Blu you get “Double the guards. Double the weapons. Double everything.”