Over the last few years DreamWorks has been able to keep a certain degree of artistic legitimacy by the presence of two of their franchises- Kung fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon. It’s kind of like the Shrek and Madagascar films bring in the big money and the KFP and HTTYD franchises keep them respected by the animation community. Well, that all started in 2008 with the release of Kung fu Panda.On the rewatch it’s a decent movie, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a lot of problems with this first entry in the series.
Kung fu Panda stars Jack Black as a panda who has grown up idolizing a group of warriors called The Furious Five. One day the groups leader Master Shifu is looking for a new warrior that can help them defeat a snow leopard called Tai Lung. Through various contrivances he meets Po and believes him to be the Dragon Warrior.
The rest of the movie plays out as a typical origin story with training montages and small skirmishes until leading up to the climatic battle.
The biggest strength of this movie is the amazing animation. Particularly in a fight sequence at the end it totally holds up. The fluidity of the fighting and the colors are gorgeous. It really looks like the studied martial arts fighters and were able to recreate their movements as they fight.
It also has a nice message for kids about not judging by appearance only and the immense potential each of us have to do great things. It’s a classic dreamers story but it is done well with a lot of heart. However, I do have some problems that bothered me on this rewatch. At just 92 minutes the film feels much longer and it is very exposition heavy. By about the fourth monologue from Master Shifu about courage and dreaming I was pretty bored.
I could have also used way more of the Furious Five. They are supposed to be these great fighters that Po looks up to but we hardly see any of that. I wish they had gotten rid of some exposition and thrown in more fights and character moments from the entire team not just Shifu and Po.
Also, I’ve always had a little bit of a problem with the modern humor in this series. Jack Black’s vocals take me out of the movie because all I can think about is ‘that’s Jack Black’. It sounds so American and so modern that it doesn’t fit this Ancient Chinese setting. I have the same problem with the humor. It rarely lands and so it is distracting from the more traditional story.
Still, it’s not a bad movie. I just didn’t love it like I was hoping too. I think this first entry is definitely the weakest of the franchise as both 2 and 3 give us way more fighting and a lot less talking.
Overall Grade- C+
I’ll give it smile worthy but it’s a mild one.