THE Big Fat Panda

Through a pudgy, food-obsessed panda, Kung Fu Panda makes a more earnest, honest plea for martial arts than most genre films. To be clear, this is a genre film, with references galore to Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest classics. Even the plotline follows the standard martial arts hero’s journey through failed (then successful) training exercises.

But Kung Fu Panda isn’t about kung fu. Mostly.

Jack Black gives the title character Po an effective enthusiasm, kicking and punching poorly in front of his action figures. Inadvertently (or not…) turned into the chosen one, Po trains to secure a sacred scroll that will give him the power to defeat Kung Fu Panda’s villain, Tai Lung (Ian McShane). Then he kicks and punches some more until the credits roll.

Kung Fu Panda has fun with the temples and noodle shops that dominate the films it’s riffing on

It’s passe. Derivative. It’s also supposed to be, charming with its clever anecdotes, fast one-liners, and a joyful personality. Were this not animated and one of the Shaw Brothers staples, it would easily be given a stamp of approval as one of their best.

The why is simple – martial arts are for everyone. There’s the minuscule Mantis (Seth Rogen) who can sling his foes around without a challenge. A snake seems useless but discovers how to drive force into their foes by curling up and stretching out to mimic a kick. Then Po, a noodle-slurping panda who can’t even climb temple steps, but can use his girth for right.

Kung Fu Panda makes plenty of weight-based jokes, but not without reason. By the end, Po hasn’t lost a single pound as he decimates his enemy. The hidden scroll reveals a reflective sheen to represent martial arts at their purest, that a fighter is in Po, and therefore, so it is for every kid watching this movie. It’s a splendidly delivered message, with a borderline take on Asian culture, but one playful enough as to not cause harm. Instead, Kung Fu Panda has fun with the temples and noodle shops that dominate the films it’s riffing on.

Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) has Kung Fu Panda’s finest moment though, realizing the old methods for training warriors won’t work on Po. He’s a unique individual, and trying to force conformity hurts rather than helps. Not everyone learns the same way as another; embracing Po’s unique stature creates a unique hero that’s enough to build a franchise on. And so, it’s a franchise.

Video

Sixteen years after its initial release, Kung Fu Panda looks its age in terms of animation. Texture isn’t as precise as more modern CG, and resolution isn’t as strong. A touch of aliasing in fur is noticeable if really looking for it (and the bigger the screen, the more notable), but for most, this will look fine.

Certainly, the color looks wonderful, with gorgeous, elaborate reds everywhere. Costumes show exceptional vibrancy even with specific color grading applied scene-to-scene. When needed, Kung Fu Panda’s vibrancy is exceptional.

The Dolby Vision pass doesn’t strike that hot, with average peak brightness okay but not much else (with an exception for Tai Lung’s fire hands). Black levels do make a mark though, doubly so in the prison depths. There, even the bright light of a torch makes a striking impact.

Audio

Bumped up to Dolby Atmos, Kung Fu Panda sports a lively audio mix, consistently active and widely staged. Simple thing like doors closing off-screen (or off to the side), voices traveling between channels, or general ambiance keep a consistent life to the track away from the action. And the action? Splendid. Whether it’s a major celebration to pick the Dragon Warrior (with heights catching fireworks) or flying kung fu attacks, Kung Fu Panda creates constant motion. The training sequences rank among the best.

Bass surprises with definite heft where needed, if uncommon in terms of the story. Still, range delivers jolts, with deep, throbbing LFE that gives the entire Atmos track a boost. The prison escape is among the best, with falling rocks crushing the scenery and Tai Lung punching or kicking his foes with force.

Extras

Extras are numerous, although sadly lacking in quality. The UHD contains all of the bonuses, including a new short, Secrets of the Scroll. 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” is included.

Kung fu Panda
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
4

Movie

Kung Fu Panda brings not only countless references to classic martial arts films, it tells a positive story that says anyone can be anything.

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User Review
4 (1 vote)

The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 31 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD:


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