Spare a thought, if you will, for the guys in charge of signing off the titles of Hollywood movies. The problem they face is the old ‘book-by-cover’ routine – the prejudgments an audiences will make based on a film’s title can make or break a picture. Best then, when your film features a Chinese bear that knows martial arts, to keep it simple. ‘Kung Fu Panda’. No confusion.
That simplicity and straightforwardness crosses over into the film itself. Po is a loveable panda, who, despite appearing to have no neck at all, is chosen to be an immortal warrior by a doddery old turtle. The only problem is – wait for it – he no good at kung fu! Hahaha. Cue the coming-of-age story and the realisation that you can do whatever you want if you put your mind to it. So far, so standard. But things get interesting when you look back to the title – “Kung Fu Panda”. And you think “Does what it says on the tin”. “Straightforward”. “Does what it says on the tin”. “Kung Fu”.
That’s right, boys and girls. It’s time for some balls-to-the-wall martial arts mayhem! But with cuddly animals!
The Dreamworks team fashion a film that combines equal parts CG loveliness and Bruce Lee/Tony Jaa-inspired dust-ups. Set-pieces featuring the evil snow leopard Tai Lung busting out of prison and Po hard at work in his training complex are furious, fast-paced, and full of cartoon characters properly battering each other. There’s tonnes of neat visual touches too, from manga-style sunbursts around fighting figures to gratuitous and comedic use of slow-motion in martial combat.
This is what cartoons are all about – think what you want (fighting panda) regardless of its real-world possibility, and just draw it. Hey presto – you’ve got yourself a fighting panda.
The animation is out of the top drawer, with a broad pallete that provides real colour, and endearing character design that gives the film an Eastern tinge. The voice cast is impressive too, with Jack Black fitting Po’s large frame well. Dustin Hoffman is solid as the diminutive Master Shifu, and the likes of David Cross, Seth Rogen and Angelina Jolie also add to the star factor.
It is a brief film, and those big names aren’t used nearly enough – Seth Rogen has about 3 lines of dialogue. Yet for what it is, a computer-animated kids’ film about a panda that goes on a quest to learn some dope fightin’ skillz, it’s excellent. ‘Kung Fu Panda’. Does what it says on the tin.