Jack Black lends his voice as well as his personality to Po the Panda, star of the CGI animated feature Kung Fu Panda. I didn't get a chance to see this in the theater, but now it is on DVD so I finally get to see what all the buzz was about. Is it a good movie? Yeah! It's hilarious, and as typical Jack Black steals the show (even just being an animated character). A fun movie for kids and adults, though I think still not quite as good as the original Shrek, it's definitely a close second.
The story is about a large overweight lazy Panda bear named Po who is in love with all things kung-fu. He idolizes The Fearsum Five, which is a group of five masters of kung fu who train in a temple up upon a cliff near the village. He dreams of nothing except becoming a master martial artist like them, though unfortunately his destiny seems to be eventually taking over his father's noodle shop. But then something out of the ordinary happened....
The great and wise old turtle, Oogway, has a vision that the fearsome warrior Tai Lung escapes from prison, and one should always take the visions of wise old masters very seriously. Thus, Oogway decides that it's time to choose someone to become the Dragon Warrior, who is like the ultimate protector or some such razzle-dazzle. A contest is held, where each of the Fearsum Five, Tigress, Monkey, Mantis, Crane, and Viper, show what they're made of. Po wouldn't miss this for the world... except that by trying to please his father, he winds up getting locked out from the arena. Oh you wacky loveable Po!
As you might expect from any Jack Black character, most of his attempts at getting inside backfire hilariously. It is his final attempt, however, that ends up changing his destiny forever, as he not only finds himself inside the area, but he finds that he has been chosen as the new Dragon Warrior! Everyone is stunned, but no one more so than the Fearsum Five, who have worked all their lives to achieve that honor. Sucks for them! Needless to say, they're gonna harbor some ill-feelings towards Po.
Po is confused as well... I mean, wouldn't you be if someone just came up to you and declared that you are going to be some kung fu master? But he embraces his new status full on, since it allows him entrance into the temple where he can meet his idols in person. Ah, but Po does not yet know about Oogway's vision. Will he be able to step up and become a kung fu master in time for Tai Lung escape? Or maybe the question is, will he be able to learn any kung fu at all? The only one who seems to think so is Oogway, which isn't good considering Tai Lung will be free sooner than anyone expects.
Honestly, I think Jack Black is really what made this movie work. His personally just clicks and keeps you entertained and invested through the whole film. Anyone who has seen Jack Black movies will know what I'm talking about here. Not that the other characters aren't well done, because they are, they just don't seem to have a whole lot to do. I loved the character of Oogway, especially the way he was animated. It was just beautiful! The way his long neck moved, the way his mouth opened, it amazed me every time I saw it.
The various background settings were amazing as well, so detailed and spot-on for helping set the right mood. My favorite location was the prison, which was dark and foreboding. It really helped add to the character Tai Lung, making him out to be the most fearsum villain in history. I actually think they did too good of job, as it made his eventual defeat (oh come on, you knew it was coming!) seem a bit disappointing.
So the film itself is really good, but how about the actual DVD release? Well it's quite good as well, with a bunch of extra features:
- Filmmaker's Commentary
- Meet the Cast
- Pushing the Boundaries
- Sound Design
- "Kung Fu Fighting" music Video by Cee-Lo
- Mr. Ping's Noodle House
- How to User Chopsticks
- Conservation International: Help Save Wild Pandas
- Dragon Warrior Training Academy
- Dreamworks Animation Video Jukebox
The behind-the-scenes featurettes are probably the most interesting of the bunch, but some of the others are good too, such as showing you the dos and don'ts of using chopsticks or the various musical sequences in other Dreamworks features. The commentary is informative, if not a little dry, and is done by the two directors. I would have loved to of heard from some of the voice actors, but oh well.
But wait, there's more! One version of the DVD comes packaged with a second title, Secrets of the Furious Five. This is a short half-hour (more like 22 minutes without the commercials) episode which finds Po taking on the daunting and awesome challenge of teaching youngsters about kung fu. Most of the show uses 2-D animation like in Kung Fu Panda's opening sequence, with the rest being the typical and yet still beautiful CGI. The episode is sweet, and shows the backstories of the Furious Five, giving kids (and anyone, really) important life lessons.
The only real problem here is that it's so short. We barely got to see these guys in the feature film, and now all five of them have individual stories that are squished into a scant 22 minutes, not even counting the setup or interludes between the stories. What'd these guys do to get so shunned?! The disc does include a bunch of extra features to stretch out the entertainment value, but it's mostly kid stuff, like games or showing how to draw. I really don't see why they needed to tout this as a separate movie. Seems like it should have just been a bonus disc included within Kung Fu Panda's case. At least Amazon.com is currently selling both versions, the single disc and the two-discs, at the exact same price, so you might as well take advantage of that while is lasts!