Kung Fu Panda

Distributed By: DreamWorks Animation


Reviewed by Melissa Minners

            Theater prices have gone through the roof and I really haven’t been in the mood to shell out a ten-spot to see any of the movies that have been playing lately.  But, as luck would have it, I had some free time on my hands the other day and decided to head over to the local theater.  I viewed the movie choices and realized that the only one I had any interest in was Kung Fu Panda

            I had seen the trailer for the DreamWorks animated movie Kung Fu Panda and remember having thought, “That looks like a cute film.”  For some reason, I never imagined that I would see it in the movie theater.  But, here I was buying a ticket to a rated PG film.  Funny enough, as I sat in the theater waiting for the show to begin, I noticed that there were no kids in the theater – just adults.  But then, I suppose that us adults need a PG-rated laugh or two every now and then.

            Kung Fu Panda centers around Po (Jack Black), a young panda who works for his father’s noodle shop.  Po secretly dreams of becoming a kung-fu warrior like his heroes, the Furious Five – Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Crane (David Cross) and Viper (Lucy Liu).  However, laziness and a love for food have made Po fat and a willingness to keep Po’s father happy has kept him from even trying to attain his dream. 

            One day, in response to news that former pupil now ferocious enemy Tai Lang (Ian McShane) will be returning to the Valley of Peace, the Jade Temple announces that a tournament will be held and a warrior will be chosen.  The chosen one will become the Dragon Warrior and will be given access to the Dragon Scroll, giving him/her power to become the greatest warrior ever known.  Po decides that he must attend this tournament, believing that one of the Furious Five will be chosen.  However, as Po attempts to get into the closed tournament grounds, a chance mishap causes Po to become the chosen one, much to the chagrin of the Furious Five and their Sensei, Shifu (Dustin Hoffman).

            Can a clumsy, overweight country bumpkin like Po be trained to become the Dragon Warrior in time to save the Valley of Peace from the vengeance driven might of Tai Lang?

            There are some animated films out there – like Shrek and Hoodwinked – that seem like children’s films, but are really aimed at adults, containing humor that only adults would comprehend.  Kung Fu Panda is not like those animated films.  This IS a children’s movie and yet, one that any adult would find enjoyable to watch.  As a fan of the older karate films, I found this film that much more enjoyable as it seemed to be a tribute to those older films.

            Kung Fu Panda follows the format of some of the more traditional karate movies – a clumsy, untalented youth seeking to become a warrior approaches a sensei in search of training.  The sensei scoffs at the youth, assigning him various tasks that are mostly designed to make the youth change his mind about training.  Suddenly, the sensei finds a spark of potential in the youth that refuses to quit despite the torture his master is putting him through.  The sensei decides on a less direct approach to training his student, using innovative techniques designed around the student’s strengths.  The youth becomes a trained warrior and eventually saves his village from some evil operator bent on destruction.  Add in some humor and that’s Kung Fu Panda in a nutshell.

            The creators of this film didn’t stop there.  They added in elements of other traditional karate films as well.  Take the mystery of the Dragon Scroll.  I don’t want to give too much of the film away, but keep in mind that when there are secret scrolls or books in older films, they come with a mystery that must be solved by turning inward and searching out the answers in yourself. 

            There are elements in the movie that are unexplained that you are expected to take at face value, such as Po’s relation to his father.  Po’s a panda and his father is a goose…or a duck…something of the fowl family.  How does that happen?  A joke is made about it in the movie, but the lack of family resemblance is never explained.  This is also something found in the older karate flicks I watched as a kid – the unexplained aspects or events that the viewer is just supposed to accept as they watch the film.

            I loved that the creators of this film gave a nod to a pair of the most infamous karate film makers in history by naming two of their characters KG Shaw and JR Shaw.  The Shaw Brothers created many of the karate films of the 1970s, creating such classics as The Five Deadly Venoms, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin,Shaolin Avengers, Executioners from Shaolin, and more.

            I have to say, that on exiting the theaters, I realized that I no longer cared how much money it had just cost me to get in.  I had so much fun, the monetary value was inconsequential.  In closing, if you are looking to take your kids to see a cute animated film and hoping that you’ll get a few laughs out of the experience, Kung Fu Panda is the film for you. 


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