Modern times create modern heroes and one of them is panda Po from the cartoon ‘Kung Fu Panda’. I recommend this movie to everyone, and if you want to rewatch you may do it at Dreamfilmen the paradise of different movie content.
For years Dreamworks Animation have been trailing Pixar in terms of quality and imagination. But with this offering they start to close the gap just a little. Directors Mark Osborne and John Stevenson showcase two distinct animation styles. The first is two-dimensional (but still computer-generated) and based on the traditional painting styles of feudal Asia. The backgrounds appear to be made of parchment while the foregrounds and characters seem to have been painted in red and black inks that have sunk a little into the paper. The animation itself is anime style - reused shots and lines denoting movement. The addition of an epic voice-over gives it a faux historical feel that suits the kung fu movies this film references. The second style of animation is a more predictable computer-generated version. But the issues that have thus far kept Dreamworks lagging behind Pixar remain. The character design presents problems - mouth movements tend to be spongy and the characters' eyes are glassy, which reduces their expressiveness and the fuzzy fur textures make them look like cuddly toys ripe for merchandising.
However, the overall quality of the animation has improved since Dreamworks' last outing. All the players have subtle facial tics that increase their range of expressions. The background textures such as wood, ceramics, fire and reflections are extremely good. The jade palace especially is beautifully rendered. The use of different "camera angles" is impressive, for instance the swooping vision employed in the first fight or the hand-held effect when the village is evacuated. The directors are canny enough to use the kinds of tricks that turn up in live action kung fu movies. So we get freeze frames of particularly hard blows, and slow-motion reaction shots (such as when Po is taking a pasting during training), training montages and the traditional shot of master and pupil doing katas at sunset. They use sepia tones for flashbacks and blues and greys for evil, giving a little more visual depth to the film. The way they shoot the final confrontation is also very effective, setting up an unnerving storm as a backdrop and employing eerie lighting techniques to add a frisson of excitement to events. The kung fu itself is very well realised, with the characters doing many real moves, adapted to their various body shapes. So it looks flashy and fun.
The backbone of almost any cartoon is comedy and that's where "Kung Fu Panda" falls down. The directors allow star Jack Black to run off at the mouth on occasion, so his jokes run out of steam. Sight gags are consistently mistimed so they lack snap. The slapstick is also subject to woolly timing and tends to be predictable and drawn out. The result is eighty-eight minutes of comedy that may make you smile but will rarely, if ever make you laugh out loud.
The screenplay by "King of the Hill" scribes pilfers aspects from virtually all generic kung fu movies. A poor boy with big dreams gets the chance to train with the best and prove himself against that bad guy to save his village. Of course it's written with a comic sensibility so the hero is a fat, uncoordinated panda that has to fight his own physical limitation as well as the prejudices of the Furious Five and his unwilling mentor before he even gets to the villain. There are no prizes for guessing the outcome. The film comes with a built-in "be true to yourself" message in addition to a sub-moral about the importance of letting go of pride.
The characterisation is predictable for a kung fu movie. Po may be a lazy dreamer but he has a good heart that will stand him in good stead. Master Shifu is constantly searching for enlightenment but is held back by his own pride and regrets. Oogway is a zen master who is so laidback he's horizontal. The Furious Five are generic hero types confident in their own abilities. Tai Lung is the usual seemingly unstoppable bad guy with a connection to Shifu. The dialogue is peppered with fortune cookie wisdom and surf dude exhortations courtesy of Jack Black. It fits the kung fu kitsch sensibilities of the movie, but I could have done with fewer mentions of "awesomeness" which sounds like a misplaced attempt at being down with the kids.
The filmmakers once more go for a big name voice cast without giving most of them enough to do. Jack Black gives a very animated performance (if you'll pardon the pun) as the voice of Po. You can feel the energy radiating from behind the microphone as the character bumbles his way through slapstick situations. Black brings his usual brand of slacker surf-dude to the part that suits the role's dreamy outlook. Dustin Hoffman seems to be having fun as the voice of red panda Shifu, giving his latest apprentice a hard time and throwing out fortune cookie wisdom as though he means it. Ian McShane growls his way through the part of Tai Lung as any good villain would. But Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen and David Cross struggle to come up with a personality between them as the Furious Five because they have so little screen-time. Jolie in particular sounds bored by the whole affair.