Kung Fu Panda / Secrets of the Furious Five
The first studio to bring animation from primitive cartoons to full feature films was Disney in the late thirties. They amazed the world by bringing beloved fairy tales to life on the big screen to the delight of children and adults alike. In more recent years the methods used to make an animated movie have grown incredibly. Hand draw cells have been for the most part have been replaced by computer renderings. These new techniques have brought a new level of realism to this aspect of the art form of animated cinema. In the old Disney features, there were talking animals. Usually, the faces were able too only project a limited range of emotions. Now with the new techniques available the cute animals almost seem human in the way they move and their facial expressions. This new benchmark of animation has made it possible to use animals to become an extension of the human actors that voice them. One of the best of this new wave of animated films is ‘Kung Fu Panda.’ This film is sheer whimsy that will entrance both the kids in the audience and their parents. While the younger viewers may miss the use of classic themes for the story they are there none the less. This is a tale of someone who is looked at as a loser. He has to face numerous challenges to prove himself and receives a healthy dose of self-respect along the way. It is a great message for children especially in our society where looks and wealth are considered the most highly coveted attributes. The film had a much larger budget than you might think for an animated feature, $130 million. This is a great investment for the studio since this film had box office many times that amount. The only films to beat it out in the opening weeks were ‘The Dark Night’ and ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’; both much-anticipated sequels in extremely popular franchises; that is an amazing accomplishment for a family film like this. This movie has started its franchise. With the home theater release, there are several ways to buy the film. You can get it is widescreen or full-screen DVD, Blu-ray or combined with the follow-up movie ‘Secrets of the Furious Five’ also available in both widescreen and full screen. Please, get your kids to appreciate a film’s original aspect ratio and get one of the widescreen versions. It is not only respectful to the filmmakers in this case you have to see all the details that are in each frame of the movie. A family film of this quality is rare so take advantage of it and enjoy it together.
The film was written by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger based on a story by Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris. Both Cyrus and Reiff have created stories for more grown-up tastes including TV series such as ‘Brimstone’ and ‘Sleeper Cell.’ This may seem odd as a source for a family flick, but in this case, it worked out well. Aibel and Berger have worked a lot together writing for the animated television series ‘King of the Hill’ and the ‘George Carlin Show.’ This is the first animated feature for both of the directors; Mark Osborne and John Stevenson. Osborne has previously directed videos for 'Weird Al' Yankovic and some episodes of ‘SpongeBob Square Pants.’ Much of Stevenson's prior work was in the art department which included ‘Sriek 2’ and episodes of the ‘Muppet Show.’ This may appear to be a lot of experience in vastly different types of film and television, but all of the projects of these men shared the attribute of being imaginative and different. For writers and directors in something like this, you need people used t thinking out of the box. It also helps a lot in an animated movie to have someone experienced in the actual art department portion of the creative process. In any case looking at the final result, it is certain these were the right men for the jobs.
The story follows the adventures of an affable panda named Po (Jack Black). He works at a noodle restaurant owned by his goose father Mr. Ping (James Hong). Okay, this is a kid flick so don’t wonder how a goose managed to sire a panda; maybe inter-species adoption is legal in this part of China. Ping dreams of giving his secret recipes to his son and let him take over the family business one day. Po has other ideas; he is huge, and this applies literally, a fan of Kung Fu and wants to become a master of the martial arts. Unfortunately, his clumsiness, large bouncing belly and complete lack of skills make this impossible. One day Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim), who happens to be a tortoise, has a premonition that the evil snow leopard warrior Tai Lung (Ian McShane) will escape from prison and endanger the Valley of Peace. Tai Lung was once the student of Oogway’s best student the red panda Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman). With such calamity on the horizon, Oogway orders the security increased and to start a search for one who could become the Dragon Warrior; the only one capable of defeating Tai Lung. The best hope is believed to come from a group known as the Furious Five; Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Crane (David Cross). They are the best students currently under Master Shifu. While trying to watch the ceremony, Po accidentally becomes part of it. To the shock of everyone Master Shifu designates Po as the next Dragon Warrior. No one is happy about the choice. Po is humiliated at his constant failures in training, and the Furious Five consider him completely unworthy.
As you most likely have gathered already this film has an amazing cast. There are so many A-list stars here this would be a blockbuster in the live world. Jack Black’s voice may be the only thing featured here, but he is so expressive that when animators have caught his unique and wild form of physical comedy perfectly. As always any aspect of Ms. Jolie caught on film is alluring. She is the only choice for the tigress. Hoffman brings his quirky voice to bear with a great performance.
This is a family film that the parents may find themselves watching when the kids have gone to bed. It works as a story that is compelling and interesting. Dreamworks does a fantastic job of bringing this film to your home theater. Since we have already discounted the full-screen version the video in the widescreen is great. In the Blu-ray version, you get 1080p for the brightest and most vivid color palette imaginable. The audio is Dolby 5.1 for the DVD and DTS HD on Blu-ray. There are also a ton of extras that cover everything from how to use chopsticks to a new music video of ‘Kung Fu Fighting’ that will have you laughing out loud. The only decision you have is how to get it not whether or not you should. It is a new classic piece of family entertainment.
Posted 11/08/08 Posted 01/04/2019