CHECK : Kung Fu Panda (2008)
A man often meets his fate by the way he takes to avoid it.
It’s not often that a film manages to be humorous, heartbreaking and just plain hilarious all at the same time. When I first saw Kung Fu Panda, I was completely shocked. Nothing in the marketing (including the title of the film itself) wound me up or hinted at anything better than DreamWorks’ latest releases. I’ve mentioned before that How to Train Your Dragon and Prince of Egypt are among my favorite DreamWorks animated films – and my favorite films in general. I’ve been waiting for a chance to talk about my other favorite film from the ever inconsistent studio, Kung Fu Panda. Immersion.
Kung Fu Panda follows Po (Jack Black), a panda who works in his father’s noodle shop and dreams of practicing kung fu with the Furious Five. The Five are a group of elite fighters trained by Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman). One of them is destined to become the Dragon Warrior and bring peace to the valley. Master Wugwei (Randall Duk Kim) sees his former pupil Shifu Tai Lang released from prison, prompting him to immediately choose the Dragon Warrior. Po ends up in the right place at the right time, and his dreams come true. But can a fat, untrained panda stop Tai Lung and save the valley?
It’s a pretty standard hero story, and while I appreciate the simplicity of the plot, it’s not the film’s greatest strength. I am convinced that the quality of a film has nothing to do with the concept of the story and everything to do with how the directors execute their vision. Kung Fu Panda is one of the films that brought me to this conclusion; as I said, I didn’t like the idea of a martial artist panda. I’ve also seen movies that looked good, but disappointed me (as I’m sure we all have), like The Incredibles 2 and Thor: Ragnarok. Kung Fu Panda is actually the main reason I wanted to talk about Dreamworks movies, which is why this movie works so well.
I can’t stress enough how many performances make Kung Fu Panda a success. Jack Black is funny as Poe, but he is equally insecure and vulnerable. I love that we get to know the main character of the film through his dream of being a respectful warrior who stands up for his heroes. It’s a very funny scene, telling us exactly what Poe wants, which makes his actual introduction very sad. Now we see him as an awkward, bland (honestly, #relatable) restaurant employee who can’t even get out of bed on time. I also really like Po’s father (James Hong) and their relationship. Father wants Poe to be a pasta chef like him, and he gives in when Poe dishonestly claims he dreams of pasta. Yet he does not force Poe to make his life choices. Once Poe confesses what he really wants, his father is unusually understanding and helpful to the single parent in the family film. Usually in stories like this things don’t end well for the main character or the parents, and I love that they made Poe’s father a good guy who wants his son to be happy. Dad doesn’t play a major role in the first Kung Fu Panda, but he and his relationship with Po continue to evolve in the sequels.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the possible hosts Po, Shifu and Oogway. This may come as a surprise, but Master Oogway is my favorite character in Kung Fu Panda. His dialogue is too good to describe and I love his personality. He reminds me of Yoda, who says things that seem foolish or pointless at first, but eventually bring immeasurable wisdom. Randall Duk Kim’s intervention is also very relevant. Sometimes he reads his lines in a way that suggests Oogway is almost distracted, like when he just agrees with Po that he’s a loser and nobody likes him. But these word exchanges lead to some of my favorite moments in the film. Oogway is my favorite series, with dynamic visuals, brilliant dialogue and a catchy musical score. Shifu was Ugwei’s apprentice and now the master of Poe and the Furious Five, but at the beginning of the film he was not ready for the task. Dustin Hoffman is usually excellent, and he doesn’t disappoint here as Poe’s reluctant teacher. Shifu doubts Poe at least as much as he doubts himself, leading to conflict and Poe’s first failures. Before he dies, Master Oogway compares Po to a peach pit to make Shifu understand that he should have faith in Po and encourage him. Of course, Shifu doesn’t understand this advice at all and tries to take control of the situation by punching Poe. It’s not until he sees for himself how effective Poe can be in his own way that Shifu truly begins to understand. Yet Shifu doesn’t understand what Po is capable of, as he still thinks he needs to train Po to become a Dragon Warrior. What Shifu doesn’t realize until it’s almost too late is that Po isn’t supposed to be the Dragon Warrior; he’s already what the Dragon Warrior should be. Poe’s metamorphosis is not a physical metamorphosis, but a quest for self-awareness and consciousness.
Ian McShane does the voice of Ty Lang, and he really delivers. I never heard much about Ty Lang or this series, and I think that’s because he was overshadowed by Gary Oldman’s villainy in the second film and J.K. Simmons in the third. I can understand that, but it’s frustrating. Tai Lang is not the most interesting or likable villain, but his voice is excellent, and he sounds unusually menacing and cool. It is also important to note that Tai Lang’s importance lies in his relationship with Shifu in that he can do evil. Tai Lang was the only student whom Shifu really loved, he considered him a son. He told Tai Lung that he was destined for greatness and that he had won the Dragon Scroll, which belonged to the future Dragon Warrior. When Master Oogway saw a dark future for Tai Lung, he did not choose him as a warrior and sent him on the warpath. What I love about this story and relationship is that it is told visually through a bold and unforgettable memory. The editing and timing of this film take ordinary ideas and create a truly unique experience. The Furious Five aren’t particularly interesting in the first film, and they’re just another challenge for Poe. They are jealous and bitter about his status as the chosen warrior of Oogway, especially Tigress (Angelina Jolie). Other than that, their vocal performances are very good and serve their purpose. You can tell they focused on Poe, the announcers and Ty Lang, and in my opinion that was absolutely the right choice. This creative choice has more emotional impact than going too deep into Tigra’s feelings. The flashback of Shifu rebuking the young Tigress despite the wonderful display of her talents, in my opinion, serves the plot well. Sometimes less is more.
As for the visuals and music of Kung Fu Panda, where to start? John Powell and Hans Zimmer composed the original score for Kung Fu Panda, and if that’s not a winning team, I don’t know what is. The musical themes in this film are absolutely amazing. The story is epic when it needs to be, and introspective when it serves the narrative. I hear this song from the beginning, as well as the melody that plays when Oogway dies, in my head every time I think about this movie. That’s because the two scenes are diametrically opposed in tone and narrative purpose, but they both say something about why this is a great movie. This film has a winning combination of action, comedy and quiet, thoughtful moments that capture the imagination. The images of Kung Fu Panda are also stunning. Personally, I preferred the flat opening. It is a truly unique and amazing scene that immediately catches the eye. Still, the more traditional computer graphics are also excellent, and the characters in Kung Fu Panda are very expressive. I consider this DreamWorks film to be the best CGI film for its release (and it still looks great). I think they did themselves a favor by keeping people this time, because the design and movement of the jacket is special. And frankly, DreamWorks’ CGI human characters were pretty disturbing until 2010. The action and choreography of the fights are worth watching. Every time I see action in a cartoon, I think of The Incredibles or Kung Fu Panda. The characters’ movements are fluid and lightning fast – and you’ll be amazed. Like Blood of Zeus, this movie is a great adrenaline rush.
Like the story itself, the messages in Kung Fu Panda are simple and trite. The film integrates its messages so well into the story and dialogue that I wasn’t sure what they meant until the first few hours were over. Being self-sufficient gives it more meaning when we see what it can accomplish when properly motivated. And this film is not against training and preparation, quite the opposite. Poe is a conscientious and hard worker, despite what one sees on the outside. He is willing to do anything Master Shifu teaches him, as long as he can be patient and understanding. Poe needs to become the best version of himself and not try to be like the other warriors. The film often mentions the secret ingredient in Poe’s father’s soup, before Poe explains that there is no secret ingredient. It’s a funny moment when Poe and the audience think he’s going to tell Poe he’s adopted. But it also has to do with the themes of the film and Poe’s journey through the characters. The dialogue in Kung Fu Panda is relatively simple, but the way it comes together is just brilliant.
I am an absolute fan of Kung Fu Panda. This series received a lot of praise after the second movie came out, but I’ve never heard of it, which I think is a shame. I’ll get back to what I thought of the sequels later, but the original Kung Fu Panda is one of my favorite movies and the one that always cheers me up. We may not all be dragon warriors, but what Poe taught is true: There’s no secret ingredient. As hard as it may seem, you should strive to be the best version of yourself. I recommend this film to everyone, because if you want to look beyond the surface, there’s something here for everyone – although, honestly, even the surface is beautiful and wonderfully inventive.
Location – 8
Action – 10
Music/Sound – 10
Control/Assembly – 8
Animation/Action – 10
Kung Fu Panda is one of my favorite movies that always puts me in a good mood. We may not all be dragon warriors, but what Poe taught is true: There’s no secret ingredient. As hard as it may seem, you should strive to be the best version of yourself. I recommend this film to everyone, because if you want to look beyond the surface, there’s something here for everyone – although, honestly, even the surface is beautiful and wonderfully inventive.
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