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Kung Fu Panda

Movie title: Kung Fu Panda (2008)
Grade: A+ (4 stars) Recommended!
Rated: PG
Directors: John Stevenson, Mark Osbourne
Producers: (Exec.) Bill Damaschke, Melissa Cobb, Glenn Berger
Starring (Voices): Jack Black “Po,” Dustin Hoffman “Shifu,” Jackie Chan “Monkey,” Seth Rogen “Mantis,” Lucy Liu “Viper,” Angelina Jolie “Tigress,” David Cross “Crane,” Randall Duk Kim “Oogway,” Ian McShane “Tai Lung,” James Hong “Mr. Ping,” Michael Clarke Duncan “Commander Vachir,” Dan Fogler “Zeng”
Genre: Animation/Adventure/Family/Comedy
Summation: Po the Panda, the son of a lowly noodle cook, pursues his dreams to become a martial arts legend and discovers that he is the chosen dragon warrior.
Spoilers ahead: No

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Let’s try some animated film arithmetic, shall we? What do you get when you add top-of-the-line animation, fancy-footed martial arts action moves, big-name celebrity voice casts, a diverse crew of Kung Fu-ish animals, and one fat panda? You get Kung Fu Panda, undoubtedly of the best films of 2008. Kung Fu Panda is funny for kids of all ages and adults, being sophisticated and emotionally engaging enough for the latter, while creatively entertaining enough for the former.

The animation is done by DreamWorks, and they go beyond expectation. Every scene is spectacular and has its own distinct flavor. As I watched, the lighting in some of the scenes took me back to my childhood years as I sat in front of an oversized, dial-activated mahogany wood television and watched the 1973 Robin Hood. Kung Fu Panda has the same ambitious charm, a more engaging storyline, and add to that, well-placed humor.

Dialogue and word usage is fittingly tuned to both younger and older audiences. Basically, there’s something here for everyone, like the following modern-age, stress-relief comment from Po to his five looked-up-to peers: “You guys are much bigger than your action figures. Except for you, Mantis. You’re about the same size.” Lots of cute and refreshing stuff.

The array of characters in the film is diverse and charming. They compliment the strengths of each other. For instance, you have the overachieving Tigress, the complacent and mild-mannered Monkey, and Mantis, the wickedly awesome fighter with a “little guy’s” complex. And then there’s Master Shifu, an accomplished master in every way, but he has a chip on his shoulder, a troubled past to overcome, and something more to learn. Character development is magnificent.

The moral lessons from Kung Fu Panda are not new, but are, in fact, timelessly wonderful—the first one being that belief in one’s self is essential. That’s what Po must learn if he is ever to successfully defend the land and conquer the evil Tai Lung, the conceited snow leopard, believed by all (even Tai Lung himself) to be the best fighter ever. But Po has a long way to go! He’s a fat panda without much training or the respect of his fellow pupils, the furious five (Tigress, Mantis, Viper, Monkey, and Crane), all trained by Master Shifu who is overseen by the ever-so-wise Grandmaster Oogway.

So how is this fat, out-of-shape bear going to be up to the challenge? Call it destiny, call it magic, call it faith, or whatever you want to call it, but it is the second moral lesson of the film—greatness often shows up in unexpected packages. It’s up to us to keep our minds ready and open to spot it when it arrives.

Kung Fu Panda goes beyond “cute.” The plot moves along nicely with excitement and a lighthearted level of suspense. The movie is at all times enjoyable, a few excessively goofy scenes aside. I don’t know why so many directors feel the need to get hokey when trying to appeal to kids by having the characters demonstrate excessive clumsiness, but that tendency is thankfully very rare in this excellent film.

Due to violence, the film got a PG instead of a preferable G rating, but while fast and hard-hitting, the fight scenes in Kung Fu Panda are non-bloody and non-graphic, and yet can still be appreciated for what they are (very well done). I caught one reference to being killed, but there’s nothing here that would be notably too intense for young viewers.

As keenly as it opened, the movie climaxes, leaving behind that very warm feeling that the characters you just got to know you’d love to see more of (P.S. watch through the credits!) By far and away, this is one of the best animated films out there!

(JH)

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