Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Kung Fu Panda

This A.V. Club review was the only reason Kung Fu Panda entered my radar. My basic reaction to any CGI movie about talking animals (unless Pixar is involved) is simply to sigh and wait for the next trailer to start, or for the conversation to change. So while I was vaguely aware of a movie called Kung Fu Panda, the fact that it was a DreamWorks Animation picture as well as yet another American kung faux parody, basically meant I wasn't biting. Such is the sorry state of American animation.

But the A.V. Club surprised me with that glowing review, so tonight Brian and I checked it out on the Imax. The review is pretty spot on (though I may have graded it one step lower). Kung Fu Panda is a delightful animated film, shockingly devoid of snappy (painfully outdated) pop culture references and fart jokes. Could this really be from the studio that gave us multiple Shreks, A Shark's Tale, Madagascar (the eagerly anticipated Madagascar II!), and Bee Movie?

There are no cheesy hip hop sequences thrown in for no reason, no schmaltzy montages set to original John Mayer songs...did I mention not a single joke involving bodily gas of any sort? In a movie with an overweight main character that is an incredible amount of restraint for DreamWorks.

The action is genuinely exciting, the animation is much prettier than recent non-Pixar movies. Everything points to a promising future from DreamWorks animation. It's just a shame they had that Madagascar II trailer at the beginning.

The only real problem I have with the film is that a lot of the voice talent is wasted. Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, and David Cross are each given very little to do. Each of their characters, despite being featured heavily in the marketing of the film, maybe have one good moment each. Ultimately this is Jack Black's film and he is great. He does his usual kid-friendly version of Jack Black throughout, and it's genuinely funny. The other really standout performance is from Randall Duk Kim, as the elderly kung fu master turtle, Oogway.

The only other problem is a directorial issue. The movie relies heavily on the standard DreamWorks Animation joke of going into slow motion in the middle of the action to show the funny faces all the characters are making. I think this joke has been used in every single one of their CGI movies, and Kung Fu Panda uses it more than all of those combined. It works stylistically for a martial arts movie, but it starts to stand out after the third or fourth time.

Overall I really enjoyed this movie. It's the best animated film they've done since their first, The Prince of Egypt, and that was a long time ago. More like this, please!

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