Kung Fu Panda (2008) Movie Review

10 Comments

“Kung Fu Panda” is the story of a fat (is there any other kind?) panda that dreams about being an awesome kung fu warrior, and when given the chance, rises to the occasion. In-between those moments, we get plenty of fat jokes at the panda’s expense, and enough cartoon kung fu violence to, possibly, convince parents this may not be the right movie to be taking your very impressionable kids. Especially if said kids have a bad habit of using little sis as a punching dummy to try out his new “moves”.

The above said, Dreamworks’ “Kung Fu Panda” is a fun little movie, although “little” may be a bit of an exaggeration. Take a look at the voice cast: Jack Black as Po the panda, Angelina Jolie as Tigress, Jackie Chan as Monkey, Dustin Hoffman as Shifu, and of course, the always incredible Ian McShane (of Deadwood fame) as the villainous Tai Lung. Which reminds me: I was never really sure why Tai Lung was supposed to be such a villain; as far as I can tell, his only qualification for the mantle is that he’s really good at kung fu, and he really, really wants that kung fu scroll that, when read, will endow the reader with incredible kung fu mastery. But to hear the movie talk about him, you would think the guy went around eating babies or some such.

But I digress.

In “Kung Fu Panda”, Jack Black voices Po, a happy-go-lucky panda who toils away in his father’s (voiced by the venerable James Hong, no less) noodle shop. His father dreams of passing on the family business, which includes the family’s secret ingredient noodle soup recipe to his son, but Po has other dreams – namely joining up with his idols, the five martial arts masters known as the Furious Five, and fighting the good fight against villainy and such. Alas, being a panda, he’s a bit, well, fat, and not all that coordinated. Or fast. Or able to climb a lot of stairs really fast. Because, you know, being fat and all. But as it turns out, Po’s secret weapon is none other than his appetite and prodigious belly, which comes in mighty handy when Tai Lung escapes his prison (guarded by 1,000 soldiers to Tai Lung’s singular prisoner) and seeks vengeance after 20 years of captivity.

Along the way there’s something about Po being the chosen Dragon Warrior, destined to save the town from Tai Lung, or some such. Perhaps fortunately, such lofty screenwriting ambitions get lost in the film’s never ending flurry of fat jokes, which ranges from chuckle-worthy to gut-busters. There really isn’t a whole lot to “Kung Fu Panda” when you get right down to it – it’s the story of an overweight underdog who finally gets the chance to reach for the brass ring, and in the process realizes that his weaknesses were really his true strengths to begin with, and that he should embrace them. Or something to that effect. To be honest with you, I was too busy laughing to really notice.

As a caveat, I should say that I am not a big animation fan, and aside from Pixar, I couldn’t tell you the name of another studio that still makes animated movies today. “Kung Fu Panda” is not a Pixar movie, which doesn’t keep its animation from looking spectacular. The film’s one shortcoming is the story, which is not exactly deep stuff, and more often than not the film is one big flurry of animal kicks, punches, and secret moves. It’s basically a Shaw Brothers kung fu movie, except with actual animals instead of humans just doing the animal moves ala the praying mantis, the snake, the tiger, etc.

“Kung Fu Panda” was an excursion to the theaters by myself and a small army of nieces and nephews. They all enjoyed it, with the exception of the smallest nephew, who kept asking me when we were going to leave to go play in the arcade next door. Later, during the climactic battle between Po and Tai Lung, my nephew fell asleep. The rest were old enough to enjoy most, if not all of the comedy, and had a ball from opening to closing credits. Unlike a lot of Pixar’s animated movies, I don’t think there were any of the “just for you adults” jokes in “Kung Fu Panda”. Maybe I missed them. The huge helping of cartoony violence aside, “Panda” seems tailored for kids, and adults who can laugh without expecting too much from the slim story. In that respect, it’s a rousing success.

Mark Osborne, John Stevenson (director) / Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger (screenplay), Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris (story)
CAST: Jack Black … Po (voice)
Dustin Hoffman … Shifu (voice)
Angelina Jolie … Tigress (voice)
Ian McShane … Tai Lung (voice)
Jackie Chan … Monkey (voice)
Seth Rogen … Mantis (voice)
Lucy Liu … Viper (voice)
David Cross … Crane (voice)


Buy Kung Fu Panda on DVD

Author: Nix

Editor/Writer at BeyondHollywood.com. Likes: long walks on the beach and Kevin Costner post-apocalyptic movies. Dislikes: 3D, shaky cam, and shaky cam in 3D. Got a site issue? Wanna submit Movie/TV news? Or to email me in regards to anything on the site, you can do so at nix (at) beyondhollywood.com.
  • dustin

    James Hong man..James Hong! I couldn’t believe the guy was still kickin’ it and sounding so vibrant and hilarious. That was a big highlight for me.

  • dustin

    James Hong man..James Hong! I couldn’t believe the guy was still kickin’ it and sounding so vibrant and hilarious. That was a big highlight for me.

  • dustin

    James Hong man..James Hong! I couldn’t believe the guy was still kickin’ it and sounding so vibrant and hilarious. That was a big highlight for me.

  • Katherine

    I could only watch half of this movie, then I had to call it quits for me and my daughter. Imagine teaching children to prejudge and ridicule people based on looks. The panda looks like the panda is SUPPOSED to look, and he stands there and accepts the poking and prodding and riducule that is heaped upon him and it made me sad to watch. If the Panda were female or if he were a caracature of a visible minority, jokes of the same ilk would be inexcusable, so how is this funny?

    • Look a little deeper

      A pity, Katherine–if you’d bothered to watch to the end of the film, or had been able to recognise the “be yourself!” theme that was so apparent to probably everybody else ever from the onset, your daughter might have been allowed to enjoy a film that teaches NOT to judge based upon appearance as the main aesop of the film. Po learns self-exceptance, the other characters learn to accept him, and in the end judging Po based upon his weight ends up being Tai Lung’s great undoing. In effect, this film is exactly the opposite to everything that you just described–soething that was clear from the onset.

      I would disagree with the reviewer on one thing, however–the film is a lot more intelligent that he gives it credit for, lthough it might be hard to recognise on only a single viewing or without any historic background knowledge. The research put into Kung Fo philosophy and movements, and into China’s history, was impressive enough that a conference was heald in China over how they could learn to make movies that were as representative of Chinese history and culture as they felt “Kung Fu Panda” is. Effectively every name is a chinese pun, traditional philosophy is implimented throughout, and the characters of Po, Shi Fu, Tigress, and the villainous Tai Lung (driven by pride and a sense of over-entilement into violent attacks on innocents when rejected–really, I’m not sure why this reviewer didn’t understand why he was a villain, unless he needs to be told rather than shown) were especially well developed.

      “Kung Fu Panda” manages to do what few Hollywood films seen to do: it manages to be an intelligent comedy appropriate for all ages without being pretentious or treating its viewers like morons who need to have their hands held. The backstories and world have now been fleshed out further in both the sequal and in the series.

  • Katherine

    I could only watch half of this movie, then I had to call it quits for me and my daughter. Imagine teaching children to prejudge and ridicule people based on looks. The panda looks like the panda is SUPPOSED to look, and he stands there and accepts the poking and prodding and riducule that is heaped upon him and it made me sad to watch. If the Panda were female or if he were a caracature of a visible minority, jokes of the same ilk would be inexcusable, so how is this funny?

  • Katherine

    I could only watch half of this movie, then I had to call it quits for me and my daughter. Imagine teaching children to prejudge and ridicule people based on looks. The panda looks like the panda is SUPPOSED to look, and he stands there and accepts the poking and prodding and riducule that is heaped upon him and it made me sad to watch. If the Panda were female or if he were a caracature of a visible minority, jokes of the same ilk would be inexcusable, so how is this funny?

  • http://www.kogmedia.com/ media boy

    still gotta see Kung Fu Panda… Jack Black is classic for sure; he’ll be forever famous for his work in School of Rock

  • http://www.kogmedia.com/ media boy

    still gotta see Kung Fu Panda… Jack Black is classic for sure; he’ll be forever famous for his work in School of Rock

  • http://www.kogmedia.com media boy

    still gotta see Kung Fu Panda… Jack Black is classic for sure; he’ll be forever famous for his work in School of Rock