Monday, June 23, 2008

Kung Fu Panda (2008)


Even though he is as much a motor-mouth as so many other actors who become annoying with time, there is something incessantly likeable about Jack Black. Put his voice in a warm big fluffy Panda, and you just have to love him. Put this Panda in a Kung Fu setting complete with training-school dojo, grand masters and a nemesis to fear, and you have the first Dreamworks Animation movie that can stand up among Pixar’s annual excellence as one of the best 3D animation movies made.

A Giant Panda is a 250-pound black-and-white bear that lives in the mountains of China, and although carnivorous, the panda has a diet which is 99% bamboo. That’s how pacifist it is. But when Po (Jack Black) gets accidentally selected as the mighty Dragon Warrior by the Grand Master, there is no option left but for Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) to train the clumsy Panda into a Warrior of the highest order – much to the resentment of the Furious Five (Tigress, Monkey, Viper, Crane, Mantis). But Po, as much as he loves Kung Fu lore, would rather eat. Yes, that’s how pacifist he is. But Master Shifu has not much choice as his ex-student, the evil Tai Lung, has escaped from his maximum security prison to claim the position of Dragon Warrior for himself.

Some sequences in this movie are breathtaking, I exulted at the thought of animation finally telling us such diverse stories. Two sequences (and this is not a spoiler): Tai Lung’s escape from prison and the foot-bridge fight are extraordinary in exigency. Dreamworks has been churning out animated movies for a few years now, but apart from Shrek, none of their movies have really hit any mark. But this is easily the best animated movie out of their bucket yet. The voice cast, although stellar, does not overshadow the characters with their star-power. The likes of Jackie Chan and Angelina Jolie get limited voice-time, but just as much as the movie requires. Jack Black & Dustin Hoffman are wonderful as loud obnoxious student & controlled cool master. And unlike Madagascar, the movie has very soft colors, curves and a glowing focus. It works very well with the cuddly look of the Panda.

A special mention for Tai Lung. Not since Lion King’s Scar has a villain taken himself so seriously. Tai Lung is a warrior extraordinaire, and he is beyond humor or humility. Just like Jeremy Irons’ Scar, Ian McShane’s Tai Lung speaks with a sense of superiority. It makes him that much more of a nemesis – a villain worthy of a much more formidable opponent than a pacifist panda. See, that’s how impressive his sense of superiority is!

My rating --> 4 of 5

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