Sunday, June 08, 2008


Written by Jonathan Aibel & Glenn Berger
Directed by Mark Osborne & John Stevenson
Voices by Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Ian McShane, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu and David Cross

Shifu: We don’t wash our pits in the sacred pool of tears.

Fortune cookie wisdom is imparted throughout the colorful KUNG FU PANDA. Some of it makes no sense out of context but it all amounts to some very simple, very basic advice about believing in the warrior within. “There are no accidents,” claims the coolest of Zen master turtles after a panda drops from the sky at just the right moment to be deemed the next Dragon Warrior. There are especially no accidents when no risk is taken. That panda is of course the panda from the title and from the moment this lazy emotional eater is “discovered” as the warrior that will go on to save the kingdom, you know exactly how the entire thing will play out. Po (voiced by an increasingly subtle Jack Black) will drown in doubt while he trains for something he doesn’t believe himself capable of; the other animals will badger him into giving up; but eventually, he will find his inner kung fu master and save the day. Subsequently and expectedly, reviewers will call it out for its lack of originality. That’s how it goes.

So it isn’t so original. No big deal. What it lacks in originality, it makes up for in style and humour. Relatively new directors, Mark Osborne and John Stevenson have created a multihued ancient China that moves with stealth precision between enchantment and explosive energy. Its inhabitants are geese and rabbits that live their lives in the shadow of lore. As long as all is peaceful, then they can blissfully enjoy their noodle soups in the town square and if anything should happen to collapse that peace, then they have the kung fu specialized Furious Five – a tiger, a monkey, a crane, a snake and oddly enough, a mantis – to protect them from whatever evil lurks. No one member of the community has more faith in these five than Po. His idolatry of these heroes extends to numerous posters on his walls and action figures by his bed. Black plays Po as the hardcore geek that hides his enthusiasm and secret desire to be a part of it all in fear of being ridiculed for wanting the impossible. Po is that unfortunate fat kid from school that wants to hang with all the cool kids, hates that he’s stuck working at the local fast food joint after school and knows that there’s nothing he can do about it. Wait; was I that kid? Is that why I love him?

KUNG FU PANDA is overloaded with voice talent. Any scene with Po is usually hilarious as I guess Black knows what it’s like to be the unlikely guy hanging with the in crowd. However, when he isn’t in the picture, the delivery from the majority of the A-list cast is often bland and purely functional. Po, and his kung fu trainer, Shifu (a frustrated and disgruntled, yet still minutely optimistic Dustin Hoffman) trade quips with fervor and weight and make for much giddiness. The Furious Five, not so much. Considering they’re voiced by actors as varied as Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan and Seth Rogen, you would think they would provide for plenty of conflicting antics but they end up reduced to nothing more than another obstacle for Po to overcome. I’m no kung fu expert but I’m pretty sure gossiping and bad mouthing members of the team when they aren’t there (and sometimes even when they’re right in front of them) is not part of the package. Our heroes aren’t always what we hope they will be when we finally find ourselves face to face with them but these five could have certainly been truer to their furious form if some element of development had been given to them.

Still, despite its unevenness and seemingly simple approach, KUNG FU PANDA is great wisdom wrapped in even greater fun and often breathtaking animation. Sometimes the simplest of lessons are the ones that are hardest to learn. (Now I’m a fortune cookie.) Perhaps the subtlest lesson the film passes on is to relinquish your control over the destiny of your own life. Po never thought he would find himself surrounded by his heroes, getting the chance to realize his life long dream of becoming a kung fu master but here he is suddenly. Master Shifu never thought he would be training such a useless lump but here his is as well. It is only when each character let go of their egos and expectations that they saw how to make their situation work. Shedding your own expectation for KUNG FU PANDA to be something more than what it really is will allow for the good times intended to be had and an unexpected tranquility to seep into your mind.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree with something I read in the thousands of posts on IMDB about this movie: it's a could-have-been-great movie because of its ending.

I don't want to spoil the ending for anyone who hasn't seen it, but the final moments of the climactic end battle-scenes left a bad taste in my mouth. When you've completely defeated your opponent and left him wounded, helpless, and bewildered, a broken man or woman, there is no reason for a "kick the dog" moment with him.

The movie should have ended with a moment of redemption or at least attempted redemption. Instead, it ended with a distasteful bullying joke: "Shadoosh!"