Movie Review | Kung Fu Panda
Movie summary: The Dragon Warrior has to clash against the savage Tai Lung as China's fate hangs in the balance. However, the Dragon Warrior mantle is supposedly mistaken to be bestowed upon an obese panda who is a novice in martial arts. (IMDb)
Kung Fu Panda is one of those movies that sits in a strange spot of having a title and visual style that makes some people question your maturity for liking something like this at all, yet everyone who's seen it will completely understand why anyone could like it. Much like the main character, Po (Jack Black), you should never judge a book by its cover.
And yes, I'll admit that there is still some childish humour to go with the more exaggerated animations and facial expressions... but it works. Most of the jokes might well be aimed at kids, but that doesn't stop them being funny unless you're a humourless bore. In fact, I'd forgotten just how funny this movie is and genuinely laughed out loud on multiple occasions.
The humour doesn't just work to get you laughing and smiling either, but it makes you like the characters too. Even the more serious characters get their moments or let their stoic façade slip to show that they're amused by some of the antics going on around them and allows you to form a connection with all of them to some extent - even the villain.
That villain, Tai Lung, is one of my favourite characters in Kung Fu Panda too, with Ian McShane delivering an amazing performance with such incredible range for a single character that it's bordering on the ridiculous. From incandescent rage to smooth confidence, and incredulous bemusement to panicked fear, McShane delivers the goods.
And Tai Lung does feel like a genuine threat too, with his escape from confinement showing just how fearsome and intelligent he is - at a point in the movie where there isn't a single character who you'd believe could ever stand up to him, least of all Po. For the final showdown to finish as convincingly as it does is a credit to both the screenplay and McShane's performance.
Almost rivalling him is Dustin Hoffman as Master Shifu, who doesn't want to train Po, but feels he must if he is to honour his own master, Oogway (Randall Duk Kim). Shifu could've easily been a one-note character, the gruff master who is harsh on the main character for the sake of it, but Shifu has a connection with Tai Lung that makes his concerns appear valid and Hoffman has the gravitas to get the point across without becoming unlikable.
This isn't to skip over Jack Black as Po, of course. He's the main character and Black gives about as good a performance as you could hope for. Much like Shifu, Po could have easily come across as annoying, but Black's easy-going performance and complete lack of arrogance or self-importance means you can't help but like him.
The supporting cast is pretty good too, with the members of the Furious Five being voiced by some pretty big names like Angelina Jolie or Jackie Chan. My favourite of the group has to be Seth Rogen's Mantis who might well be the smallest of the group but does provide some of the bigger laughs and is the first to warm up to Po, which puts him just a little ahead of the others.
One last word of praise for the pacing of the story, which really does show off just how good the screenplay is. As mentioned above, when Tai Lung breaks free, you can't imagine how he'll be stopped in a satisfying manner, and that's a though that lingers a lot further into the movie. This was my fourth time of watching Kung Fu Panda and even I was struggling to remember how it managed to stick the landing, but it did.
So why not a perfect score? There are a few occasions when it does get a little too cartoonish. The movie quickly course-corrects each time, but those moments were still enough to break my sense of immersion in the world the movie had built up. There are lesser movies than Kung Fu Panda that don't manage to do that, just bumping it down a notch for me as a result.
Kung Fu Panda is a ridiculous movie in the best way possible, with a highly-stylised look and 'say what you see' title disguising a genuinely funny and hugely entertaining movie about a 'loser' achieving their potential because they believed in themselves. Throw in a great villain, excellent performances and one of the most perfectly-paced "hero's journey" screenplays, and you've got a pretty brilliant way of spending ninety-two minutes.