The Flick Chicks

Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Kung Fu Panda

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Jacqueline Monahan

Kung Fu Panda

Las Vegas Round The Clock - http://www.lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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American audiences have become so used to excellence in modern computer animation since Toy Story burst onto the scene in 1995, that studios are forced to employ ever more amazing techniques to capture their interest. Kung Fu Panda is the latest computer-animated feature from DreamWorks in a proliferation of such productions vying for the ever-shortening attention spans of both children and adults. Fortunately, it succeeds, with slow-motion action scenes, vibrant Chinese landscapes and finely wrought animal physiology (fur, body shape, close-up details).

The storyline is as predictable as a postal rate increase: an unlikely hero with an impossible dream is suddenly thrust into a position of responsibility (see Forbidden Kingdom if you want the live action equivalent). Untrained, ungainly, naïve and kind, Po Ping, (Jack Black, voice) the titular panda stumbles onto (and into) a ceremony to appoint the next Dragon Warrior, who will be charged with defending the village, called the Valley of Peace, from snow-leopard Tai Lung (Ian McShane), a powerful villain.

The wise and revered creator of kung fu, Master Oogway the tortoise (Randall Duk Kim), chooses Po for the honor, declaring, “There are no accidents.” What’s the son of a noodle-shop duck to do? Po is scared, nervous and excited. The Furious Five, representing different kung fu styles, are not so thrilled. They include the Tigress (Angelina Jolie, voice) the Mantis (Seth Rogen, voice) the Monkey (Jackie Chan) the Viper (Lucy Liu) and the Crane (David Cross, voice). One of them was due to be chosen as the next Dragon Warrior before the chubby black and white fur bomb fell into their midst.

Po needs to be quickly brought up to speed by tiny Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman, voice) if he is to carry out the legacy of the legendary, anticipated Dragon Warrior.

Shifu discovers that Po can orchestrate swift, majestic moves when food is involved, scaling great heights without fear, and easily manipulating weapons when it means something will fill his mouth. With the help of a full bowl of shu mai, the training commences with great success, despite Po’s considerable physical limitations.

Meanwhile the evil Tai Lung has escaped from the Chinese equivalent of a maximum security prison in an extremely long combat scene made to appease the action and adrenaline junkies for whom contemplative serenity is merely a bore. Tai Lung is a former student of Shifu, and his imminent arrival hastens Po’s training even further.

Once the favorite, most gifted student of Shifu, Tai Lung has since migrated over to the dark side and covets a scroll that will reveal a great secret, making him powerful and omnipotent. Of course there is a climactic showdown between the villain and Po, both students of Master Shifu. The village is evacuated and Po bids farewell to his father, Mr. Ping (James Hong) a duck whose only wish is for his son to be as passionate about noodles as he is. Po must now face his destiny as The Dragon Warrior and protect the village and the secret scroll.

Writers Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, (King of the Hill, MadTV) deliver a clever script, loaded with one-liners & sheepish observations. Precision-like comedic timing enhances the likeability of the characters as well.

Directors Mark Osborne (Sponge Bob Square Pants) and John Stevenson (storyboard artist for Madagascar, Shrek 2) make their feature length debut with this film, and they have created a satisfying fantasy, pseudo violent yet bloodless, even managing a nuclear explosion in the village. Talk about an ancient Chinese secret.

Jack Black’s loveable Po is the oversized, unwieldy panda with pretensions to kung-fu superstardom. Black’s enthusiasm and bewildered sweetness fits his chubby character like a second skin. Dustin Hoffman’s voice lends a weary wisdom to the unflappable Master Shifu. Angelina Jolie’s voice lends a serene integrity to the Tigress, bestowing dignity and honor without sexuality getting in the way for once. Jackie Chan and Seth Rogen are under-utilized but it’s pleasant to have them along for the ride. Lucy Liu has rarely sounded so subdued, but her voice fits the stealth and deadliness of her Viper.

Framed in widescreen Cinemascope, which gives an epic stature to the look of the film, the film lets you fill your eyes with color and movement and your ears with quips and wisecracks that are unexpected and therefore, most welcome.

Kung Fu Panda delivers the kicks, but, refreshingly, you can’t always predict where they’ll come from.