Breaking the trend for animated films featuring furry creatures in impossible scenarios, Kung Fu Panda drops the usual array of pop culture references for superb comedic timing and original writing. The jokes are fast, funny, and non-stop, even down to the closing credits.
Jack Black brings his charms and wit with him as he voices Po, a panda who loves kung fu but lacks the confidence to actually perform it (that and he’s obese). The story is the quintessential kung fu movie, where as the young unknown is found by a master who comes to believe in him.
Striking in its visual splendor, this is easily the best looking of the Dreamworks Animation efforts to date. The lighting, beautiful use of color, and texture work are nothing short of awe inspiring for any fan of CG work. This bests many of Pixar’s work. Even the opening sequence, done in a minimalistic anime style, could have worked.
Po is trained by Shifu, the wise old kung fu master. His other students called the Furious Five are sadly, in the end, wasted. Though voiced by stars such as Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogan, and Jackie Chan, there’s little time spent developing them or letting them take over the screen. Chan has maybe three lines in the entire film. They’re purely there for action figure sales. Their one fight sequence, a wonderfully done bridge brawl, leaves the audience waiting for more.
Other action sequences are equally strong. The physical comedy as Po attempts to view the kung fu event of the past 500 years is brilliantly handled. The final struggle as Po fights off the evil Tai Lung is a choreographed spectacle of fireworks, visual gags, and generally hilarious moments that let you leave the theater with a smile.
Kung Fu Panda makes itself available to a wide audience, and does so with charm. This appeals to everyone, drawing the viewer in with a likeable lead character and a drop dead gorgeous visual style. It’s imagination and lively fun are unmistakable.
“Par” for CG animated films in hi-def is perfection, and this AVC encode provides. This is a stunning presentation, filled with jaw-dropping sharpness, amazingly rich detail, and bold color. Contrast and black levels are flawless, and the beautiful long vista shots maintain themselves without any artificial enhancement. The clarity of the fur on the characters is never dull, and individual hairs stand out. This is everything you should expect it to be.
A booming TrueHD mix delivers on all fronts. The low end gets a workout in the opening minutes during the dream sequence, as Po dreams of wiping out an enemy force solo. Tracking is spectacular, capturing every movement, following the camera, and finding itself on the high end of home audio. The surround presence is remarkable, creating an immersive environment for each sequence in the film.
Extras are numerous, although sadly lacking in quality. Co-directors John Stevenson and Mark Osborne deliver a commentary track in what turns out to be the most informative feature here. A trivia track and “animator’s corner” pop-up feature also run along with the film, the latter offering interviews and storyboards.
Three sections of featurettes total around an hour of content, although it’s all blatantly promotional without much in the way of information. Meet the Cast is the usual round-up of the voice work stars discussing the characters in-between footage of them in the studio. Pushing the Boundaries is supposed to be about the technology, but is more concerned with putting the HP logo on-screen.
There’s a bunch of stuff for the kids, including how to use some of the moves in the movie, teaching them how to use chopsticks, and features on the animals themselves. A music video for the remade song “Kung Fu Fighting,” the latter of which remains the awesomest song ever written, is included. A round-up of trailers and a downloadable featurette via BD-Live on the various languages the film was released in are also available.