Posted: 06/10/2008


Kung Fu Panda


by Lauren Sepanski

Film Monthly Home
Wayne Case
Steve Anderson
The Rant
Short Takes (Archived)
Small Screen Monthly
Behind the Scenes
New on DVD
The Indies
Film Noir
Coming Soon
Now Playing
Books on Film
What's Hot at the Movies This Week
Interviews TV

There really is something to say about a team of writers, animators, and producers who do their homework. The great part about “doing homework” in the animation business is that it usually requires watching movies, going to the zoo, or taking an office field trip (often to the other side of the world). Kung Fu Panda was refreshing in the sense that you can tell they sat around and watched old Kurosawa films and kung fu movies while taking notes, in hopes it would help them with the story. The whole plot is laid out before one’s feet after a few good hours of solid research. The student, the master, the evil they must defeat—everything! There is a theme of “destiny” throughout that one might compare to Oedipus Rex. The wise old turtle character, Oogway, says, “Sometimes we meet our destinies on the path to avoid them.”

Po (Jack Black) is a panda working at his “father’s” noodle stand and dreaming of nothing but kung fu. He idolizes the Furious Five, a band of kung fu masters who apparently have obtained celebrity status. When the time comes to choose a Dragon Warrior, Po finds himself living his dream, but he can’t avoid being his clumsy self. His master, Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), is forced to calm his nerves enough to train the huge panda in time to save the village from the evil Tai Lung (Ian McShane), who has escaped from prison. Oh yeah, and Angelina Jolie is there, too. (Jack Black, in a recent interview, said something along the lines of, “If you ever want to know what it feels like to be totally ignored, sit next to Angelina Jolie at a press conference.”) There are a few characters, voiced by Lucy Liu and Seth Rogen, that just seemed lame, though I do understand how it got past other writers, producers, etc. The Furious Five are a tiger, a monkey, a crane, a viper, and a mantis. All styles of kung fu—clever, I love it! Although watching a snake voiced by Lucy Liu fight a snow leopard seems a little ridiculous, even for a children’s movie. On top of the Furious Five, all the animals in the town seem to be animals from the Chinese calendar (adore it! I am just a simple country girl I guess).

The very talented and funny Jack Black goes above and beyond the call of voice actor duty not only in his role as Po, but also in helping promote the film. He was insanely enthusiastic in Cannes and has worn a different panda shirt to every interview and appearance. Black does seem very dedicated to animation; he voiced characters in Ice Age and Shark Tale in the past, but really seems behind this one, as he should be. The story is very clever and the animation is brilliant! Just the 2D at the beginning of the film and during the end credits are worth the $10 to see it now!

About the animation itself, the backgrounds were beautiful! Taken from ancient Chinese art and architecture, they flowed with the theme and story perfectly. The fight scenes were done so well, it even keeps adults on the edge of their seats with a sort of 300-style slow-motion cut-frames and intense battle scenarios, (I’m tempted to rent Kung Fu Panda the video game), and the character design was very stylized and colorful. I loved it so much, I honestly can’t put it into words any better than to say it’s a wonderful film and deserved a standing ovation at Cannes… not Indy! (Sheesh!)

Lauren Sepanski is a film critic living in that magical place called Hollywood.

Got a problem? E-mail us at