DreamWorks 14: Kung fu Panda

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.

4 thoughts on “DreamWorks 14: Kung fu Panda

  1. After a recent rewatch, I have more issues with this film just like you do, and mostly for the same reasons. Some of the plot points are just way too convenient and rushed, and they could have tomed down the exposition to develop the other characters. Still a very pleasant movie, but not as strong as I remembered.

  2. I recently tried to watch it. I was bored by the first ten minutes so much that I gave up on it. Perhaps I’ll try again but I honestly couldn’t stand Po. What is it with DreamWorks creating main characters I dislike but apparently nobody else does?

  3. I know this is way old, but I’m shocked to hear people feel this way. I personally think it’s a close to perfect movie and is in my top 5 all-time favorite films. It does so many things right-

    the setup of themes is clear from the start and follows through in a satisfying way. the “secret ingredient soup” mirroring the secret of the dragon scroll, turning into the true message that for something to be special, you just need to believe, being the main one. other great smaller ones- “One often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it.” fulfilled when shifu releases tai lung by trying to prevent his escape. “there are no coincidences/accidents”- when oogway first says these things, shifu, like us, is frustrated because it feels so far from the truth. but in allowing himself to learn and grow shifu comes to these conclusions and realizes oogway is right.

    character design is also beyond excellent. the perfect voice actors for every character (i also appreciate that the characters with Chinese accents were actually Chinese, but the fact that most didn’t have accents didn’t take away from the film either). jack black was absolutely made for the role of Po, it’s so perfect. On a visual level, the way the creators were able to design visually stunning, diverse, and unique characters and then use each one’s unique aspects to both form their fighting styles and personalities was just incredible. even though we don’t get as much furious five action/voice lines as most would have liked, with such short screentime we still have an incredibly clear picture of who each character is, what they’re like, etc. for example, the scene in mantis’ room where theyre doing acupuncture is all at once important to the plot, funny, and telling of the characters.

    visuals- many have rightly praised this aspect of the film. the style of animating is great, each shot is beautiful, and despite the fact that the color palletes vary wildly between shots, it’s never jarring because it is set up in a way that makes everything flow cohesively together. also, the FIGHT SCENES. wow, really some of the best out there. again, using each character’s animal to the fullest potential in conveying a specific fighting style to make different ones more interesting, the moves are excellent, the visual cohesion is all there, the timing is spot on. i’ve seen a lot of shows with fight scenes in them, and many do not succeed the way this film does. it really culminates in the final fight where po uses both his instinctive skills and the ones shifu taught him to defeat tai lung, and yet its also completely hilarious and entertaining! so beyond satisfying.

    writing- i personally thought it was excellent. even though the core concept of “loser to hero, believe in yourself” is not a rare one, it is handled in a clever way that makes the story really unique. im surprised more people here didnt think the jokes landed- it hits a lot of different types of humor that work with the different characters. oogway is especially great, the way he is this mysterious sage who at the same time is able to come back to reality in a way that is witty and hilarious. the characters have elegantly woven backstories that come to fruition with the events of the movie. many people say it was predictable- but if that is true then so is every movie in this genre. of course he’s going to win- but exactly how? its really hard to imagine at first. he cant even get over a simple gate to see the dragon warrior selection. we don’t even get how when he gets the dragon scroll. it’s not until later when he talks with his dad that it clicks into place for him, and realizes the lesson he has been learning all along- he must become the best version of himself to fulfill his destiny. the second and third films expand on this in a great way as well- “im not trying to turn you into me, im trying to turn you into you.” its so thematically cohesive, and as SLAVOJ ZIZEK once commented of the film- the movie is self cyncial and is able to make fun of its own ideology without destroying it. ugh. excellent.

    my real only criticism is, like you, i wanted more furious five, both action and dialogue. however i did love that fight with tai lung, which was also hilarious in the way they had mantis being the only one holding the bridge with the other 5 battling it out.

    overall, i just find the film cohesive, hilarious and witty, exciting and beautiful, brilliantly conceived and very well executed. god i love it so much

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