Kung Fu Panda (2008)

Kung Fu Panda

Kung Fu Panda Review

Kung Fu Panda is a 2008 animated action comedy film by DreamWorks Animation with the voice cast comprising of Jack Black and Dustin Hoffman among others. It is one of the company’s most authentic movies to date.

It is about a panda who is proclaimed the chosen one and must fight the evil kung fu warrior who escaped from prison. It is an endlessly clichéd story for sure, but it is still incredibly entertaining and even unique to some degree. I really liked the world created here, the beginning was interesting and used a great animation style to introduce you to its story whereas the ending was disappointing.

But let’s get to the point. This is one of the most unfortunate films that prove every strength and weakness of the studio in the process. It is such a wonderfully fast-paced and riveting movie filled with beautifully executed action sequences. It is so dark and so mature in its first half that the second half comes off as a huge disappointment. Instead of staying in the adult, serious territory, the movie went into the typical blockbuster, kiddy fare in its third act with an overreliance on stupid and immature humor that ruined it for me.

Yes, the humor has its high points mostly the finale which is nice and some jokes do work and produce occasional chuckles here and there, but overall it isn’t that good. But my problem with the humor is not that it is bad because it isn’t bad per say, but because it is present. There shouldn’t have been any in this flick, there just shouldn’t. The whole setting and dark atmosphere of the first half set it up for epic, adult storytelling which is why the childish, over-the-top and goofy humor did not belong here. It not only created a jarring shift in tone, but it also ruined the whole experience for me. It is a good movie, a really good movie for sure, but it could have been a great one and even a future classic which is why it is such a lost potential.

The characters are really good except for the protagonist who is my main issue. I just disliked him honestly and found him to be a big nuisance. His goofy personality and humor did not belong in this world and his antics aren’t fun. But the others are great with Shifu being superb and such a well written character. The Furious Five are all solid, but lacking because neither of them gets enough screen time here on the expense of the stupid panda naturally. But Tigress is the highlight with her interesting backstory whereas Crane is also good and Viper is really sweet. Oogway is also phenomenal and the dialogue between him and Shifu besides that peach tree is one of the highlights of the whole movie, emotional and well written. Mr. Ping is a likable creation and Zeng is also solid. But it is Tai Lung who is such a tremendous villain and one of the best villains ever for DreamWorks Animation. The prison escape sequence is just fantastic, so thrilling, so visually appealing and so intense that I enjoyed every second of it. He has a good backstory, a nice relationship with Shifu and he genuinely posed some real threat which are all the reasons why the fight between Po and him at the end was so disappointing and ruined both the character and the movie.

It is a familiar storyline which also has a rather typical and even annoying message for children. It also doesn’t know if it wants to be a parody or a real action movie which is why the shift from action to comedy is so jarring and rarely done properly. It is one of the most tonally inconsistent movies from the company.

But the story is still intriguing and the world-building is absolutely magnificent! It has such a great attention to detail and I absolutely adored the fact that not only were the animation and action Chinese influenced, but even the voice cast was half Chinese and the character design as well. Yes, the animation is the biggest reason to see Kung Fu Panda. It is just so incredible and mesmerizing to behold. Even artistic to some degree. I adored every inch of the screen here. The colors are excellent, the interiors are great, but the exteriors are simply awesome with some superb buildings here. The effects are great and the animation is at times even poetic with some sequences being just so moving and breathtaking in both music and style. The character design is simply fantastic and it just might be the best ever for DreamWorks! It is so original, so authentic and so wonderfully Chinese and just different that I enjoyed it immensely.

The directing is solid, quite solid indeed and the voice cast did a fine job. Jack Black is good if annoying, Dustin Hoffman is stupendous and all of the others did a really good job in their respectable roles. But it is the score that lifts the whole film. Unlike many other DreamWorks films, Kung Fu Panda does not rely on stupid pop songs and modern creations which are just reused, but instead gives us something unique. Its score is wonderfully Asian, it sounds different and unique and it is without a doubt one of the best scored DreamWorks films ever. The score lifts the more emotional and artistic sequences whereas the great sound effects wonderfully accompany the action on screen. It is an original movie and it does wuxia really well. Its action is incredibly riveting and so polished and just perfectly executed that it is one of the best done action that I’ve seen in a long time. The dialogue is also really good, if the message is clichéd. The scenery is beautiful and the editing and pacing are mostly deft. It is unrealistic from time to time and the humor is annoying. That comedy angle is frustrating. But this is still much better than ‘Shrek‘ because it is much more original and although the humor isn’t as good, the story is infinitely better and it is overall a much better executed movie. It is one of the company’s best films of the time, there is no denying that and it just might be in the top ten for the studio.

Kung Fu Panda has such a sophisticated and simply riveting story, some moving moments, authentic setting, for once excellent score, well developed characters, solid acting and most important of all brilliantly executed action sequences and simply fantastic, even artistic and just breathtaking animation. However, the humor is so annoying and the movie is tonally inconsistent. They went into typical goofy, silly and humorous territory for the kiddies instead of staying in the mature, dark and sophisticated territory previously established and that is why this movie is good, but never great as it could have been and it is such an unfortunate lost potential. 

My Rating – 4


              Interior & Exterior Stills from Kung Fu Panda

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