Jim Stevenson, Mark Osborne
I’ve been a fan of old school fu flicks for as long as I can remember and the one thing that KUNG FU PANDA gets absolutely right is the martial arts and culture surrounding its title. The training Po goes through is something straight out of a Shaw Brothers movie, as is most of the action. The filmmakers do a great job with the fighting in the movie, especially with the different animal styles, which seems a little obvious but is still pulled off surprisingly well. Little ones will get a kick out of the exciting action and funny gags, but kung fu purists should also be pleased with the reverence paid to the genre.
Jack Black is perfectly cast as Po the squishy panda. His palpable passion and excitement made famous for rock and roll with Tenacious D and SCHOOL OF ROCK transfers nicely to the world of kung fu. However, aside from Dustin Hoffman, who is fine as the mentor Shifu, the rest of the movie follows the Dreamworks mold of stunt casting for big name stars. Angelina Jolie’s voice brings nothing to her character, who is already underwritten as it is. (Same for the poorly used David Cross and Seth Rogen.) Then there’s Lucy Liu and Jackie Chan who are completely wasted with a couple lines and seem to be tossed in merely as approval from real Asians.
The story of the movie itself is kind of cliché (obvious comparisons to the plot of Star Wars abound), but overall the enthusiasm for the world and the deft, respectful way everything is portrayed overcomes that to make a great kids movie.
SECRETS OF THE FURIOUS FIVE: At less than half an hour, this separate “feature” is 2-D animated (with 3-D animation bookending the story) and showcases Po as he teaches a a class of young bunnies kun fu, and uses the back stories of his friend the Furious Five to teach them lessons in the basic virtues. I honestly wasn’t too blown away by this. It felt like a rushed and unnecessary cash in, and the story was lame compared to the original movie (as did the animation). Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman and David Cross reprise their voices briefly, but no one else is to be found. Awkward.
Commentary by directors Jim Stevenson and Mark Osborne: The pair seem well versed in kung fu movies and excited about the final product and willing to share their influences and stories. More for adults than kids.
Meet the Cast (13:12): A standard look at each of the cast members in the studio. Pretty much everyone gets face time in front of the camera, though of course Jack Black is the most entertaining.
Pushing the Boundaries (7:03): A comparison of the technical animation aspects of KUNG FU PANDA compared to Dreamworks previous movies. The specific differences are interesting, if you care about this kind of thing.
Sound Design (3:50): I’m always interested in this kind of behind the scenes work, showing how foley artists create the sound effects, so this all-too-short piece was a fun watch.
Mr. Ping’s Noodle House (4:34): Kids can learn how noodles are made. I’d rather just eat them.
How to Use Chopsticks (2:53): Eh, the instructions on the outside of the wrapper are more entertaining.
Conservation International (1:57): A quick PSA from Jack Black about how endangered pandas are. Ironic, considering what his TROPIC THUNDER costar does.
There’s also close to ten Games and Activities for the young ones, a couple Music Videos and Trailers to round out the two discs.
Extra Tidbit: Tenacious D fans will want to listen closely for a voice cameo by Kyle “Rage Kage” Gass.