Kung Fu Panda 1 & 2 (Review)

Kung Fu Panda is formulaic and harmless fun. It doesn’t lean too heavily on the morals, thankfully eschews the usual pop culture references and disposable pop songs that hopelessly date the movie only years afterward, and definitely doesn’t take itself too seriously.

But despite the fact that it is hardly vital cinema it is an OK film that manages to survive some deplorable Hollywood laziness and provide a non-Saw alternative to the 10-14s in the household. I would pigeonhole it as ‘reasonably family friendly light entertainment’ and nothing more.

Well this reasonably family friendly light entertainment made over 600 million dollars! To paraphrase one Will HuntingHow do you like them Pandas?

The tale of this well meaning yet clumsy and decidedly non kung-fu expert’s rise to the top is the stuff of every second kung fu film in the 70s to be honest. Take someone with no apparent traits of a champion, give them a trainer who seems to not believe in him/her, throw in some training montages that find our hero believing in themselves and cut to them holding the trophy/prize/severed head of their nemesis.

In this case the unwitting hero is pudgy Panda – voiced by pudgy Jack Black – in fact if you aren’t a Jack Black fan or simply can’t stomach his shtick move on, because his dialogue is infused with so many JB mannerisms and speech patterns that your feelings toward the man may dictate your enjoyment level.

I like him. In small doses.

Panda is ordained as the Dragon Warrior in front of the resentful Furious 5 who have trained their entire lives for the very honour Panda accidentally falls into. The Furious 5 are a group of highly trained martial arts experts of various breeds; a tiger, a monkey, a crane, a praying mantis and a snake (the names of various fighting styles).

They are voiced by an all star cast of unnecessary celebrity cameo cash-ins that smacks of free publicity, and I say that knowing full well Jackie Chan is among them. That said I will not bother acknowledging their lack of input to the film any further.

The 5 are trained by Master Shi Fu (Dustin Hoffman), who I think is a possum or something?? Nonetheless he is a master teacher, and upon finding he must train Panda to become the Dragon Warrior and defend the entire village of random rabbits, ducks and pigs he is immediately aghast and feels dishonoured, though he is gradually talked around by his own master, an elderly turtle named Master Ugwei. The 5 are also resentful of this unskilled interloper and generally make no secret of this fact, especially the tigress who felt that it was she who would be named Dragon Warrior.

The training sequences are a little flat to be honest, but contain enough moments of humour and pratfalls to keep the kids interested. I liked Panda’s Dad – who is a duck – and his constant references to the ‘noodle dream’ amused me for no known reason. Most of all I liked a sequence in the middle of the film where the main nemesis for Panda is introduced, a fearsome creature named Tai-Lung. His escape from a mountain fortress is both incredibly animated and well choreographed. This is also perhaps the main impediment to the littlies liking the film, as Tai-Lung is so well rendered and so effective a foe, that I think it might put the fear of god into any kids under say 8 or 9, which is a bit of a shame, as three quarters of the film is perfect for all ages.

Ultimately Kung Fu Panda wasn’t nearly as ‘awesome’ as it was promoted, but it definitely wasn’t bad either. Good enough that a sequel is due any day now which promises only more of the same.

Dreamworks are obviously hoping for another 600 million more of the same…

Final Rating – 7 / 10. A solid animated film for kids aged (maybe) 9 and up, with enough jokes for the adults and kids alike, and some unthreatening action to inspire the kids to go home and kick piss out of their younger siblings.

First The Hangover, now Kung Fu Panda, two films that were sequellised after the originals were unexpectedly successful, with the sequels only greenlit once the former films made truckloads.

I thought The Hangover 2 was uninspired, samey and merely OK, how about Kung Fu 2?
Let me start out by saying that most of the charm in the original KFP was found in getting to know Po (Jack Black), Master Shifu and the Furious 5. The plot was fairly unspectacular and served only to pad the gaps between the action sequences. Well Dreamworks can’t use the ‘getting to know them’ shtick anymore.

We know that Po was a starry eyed son of a goose with no Kung Fu skills. We know that he coincidentally was nominated by an elderly short sighted turtle to be trained by a surly possum named Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) alongside a praying mantis, snake, crane, tiger and monkey to become the Dragon Warrior, saving China from danger.

Re-read that…

Anyway this time we know all that, so all they have to ‘wow’ us is the action sequences and the plot. The action sequences are effective and occasionally as awe-inspiring as the posters demand we must find them. The plot is actually pretty thin and derivative, and is actually where Kung Fu Panda comes perilously close to Kung Phooey.

This time around Po is instructed by Master Shifu to find inner peace in order to save China from Shen (Gary Oldman), a naughty peacock banished from China as a… chick I guess – who dreams of taking over the country with his army of wolves and other nasty looking creatures through the introduction of weapons, with which he plans to kill kung-fu! Shen is particularly concerned that the Soothsayer (Michelle Yeoh) has foretold Shen’s death at the hand of a black and white entity – gee wonder who that might be?

Meanwhile Po and the Furious 5 are now local legends and spend their days as peacekeepers in the area, defeating ne-er-do-wells with kung-fu skills and exceptional teamwork. In a convenient revelation just before Po heads off to save the day he finds that his Father the goose is actually perhaps not his real Father after all… who woulda thunk it?

So off Po and the 5 go to kill two birds with one stone, only in this case there is in actuality but one bird, and they eschew weapons in favour of kung-fu, leaving the bird to use the ‘stones’ in his newly invented cannons.

In Kung Fu 2 Master Shifu takes a noticeable step into the background, appearing only a few times through the film, Tigress (Angelina Jolie) steps up to almost co-star duties, with her serious and determined ying counterpointing Po’s casual and carefree yang. The rest of the Furious 5 retain their famous voices but are consigned to being mere comic relief and being momentarily spotlighted in the frequent battles that dominate the second half of the film.

Gary Oldman shows his acting range as Lord Shen.

Of course in between battles Po learns of his true origins alternately through interactions with Shen and the Soothsayer, and continues to search for his own inner peace deemed necessary to defeat his many feathered foe. This leads to an all star animal showdown with fur and feathers flying all over the shop in intricately choreographed and animated ways, and I don’t think I am letting the cat out of the bag by saying that at the end of the day ‘skadoosh goes the weasel’.

As with the original Kung Fu Panda the action sequences and growling menacing animals might prove a little much for the tots under say 7, but even though this was reasonably similar to the original film the action carries the bulk of Kung Fu 2, and the moving sequence that ends the film will leave you heading home with a warmer feeling than perhaps the slightly hackneyed story deserves.

Final Rating – 6.5 / 10. Not the best animated movie you’ll see this year (Rango will take some beating), but also not the most blatant shoulda been direct to DVD cash grab that I’ve seen.

About OGR

While I try to throw a joke or two into proceedings when I can all of the opinions presented in my reviews are genuine. I don't expect that all will agree with my thoughts at all times nor would it be any fun if you did, so don't be shy in telling me where you think I went wrong... and hopefully if you think I got it right for once. Don't be shy, half the fun is in the conversation after the movie.
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