Thursday, June 5, 2008

Fu you [Kung Fu Panda]

Kung Fu Panda [PG]
Grade: B

Let me begin this review of Kung Fu Panda with an admission – I really don’t get enthused by animation whatsoever.

Even on the occasions when I recommend an animated feature, it’s usually because of calculated respect, not multivariegated passion. Take Ratatouille, last year’s beloved Pixar release about a gourmet-minded French mouse. I can see the technical brilliance of it. But I couldn’t stand the rat. Or his family. Or his goofy human friend. Or his sappy story. That’s a problem.

You’re free to theorize what childhood horrors led me to such a soulless situation. You’re free to speculate whether I enjoy breaking children’s toys on Christmas. But we’re really not here to discuss that (and you can't pin it on me anyway). We’re here to review Kung Fu Panda, which I was pleasantly surprised to find enjoyable.

Dreamworks’ latest animated feature, the story of a floppy-stomached panda bear who dreams of becoming a light-footed kung fu hero, contains all the sappy childhood nostrums that can make cartoons so drearily predictable. But thankfully it doesn’t lay it on thick. It’s more Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote. It’s interested in dynamic action, the motion and color of which pop off the screen. It's also quite funny. The fairly short film gets in, gets up, and gets out, without unduly turning a children’s movie into an unwanted epic, and that’s the best praise I can give it.

So you know that panda that’s been telling you to shut off your cell phone before the movies for the past, oh, year and a half? He in fact has a name. It’s Po, and he lives in a Chinese village, providing clumsy help at his father’s noodle restaurant. This panda’s father happens to be a crane. Don’t ask. I can’t figure it out, either. Of course, this overstuffed panda doesn’t dream of serving soup all day. He dreams of being a master kung fu fighter.

It just so happens that the local kung fu temple (because we’re in China, every Chinese village has a kung fu temple.) is in need of a hero. A rebellious master (a wildcat of some sort) is about to escape from his prison. In response, the kung fu master must identify the “Dragon Warrior” who will lead the fight against the threat. To the dismay of a legion of meticulously trained warriors and a wizened mouse teacher, the tubby soup server mysteriously gets the nod. So much for the wisdom of the ages.

Propelling the film along are some lovely, richly-visualized images accompanied by wonderfully quick action. The highlight – an explosive escape from an Inferno-like prison. That’s almost matched by a riveting five-on-one struggle over a falling footbridge. For balance, there’s a humorous and balletic fight over a flying dumpling. The film even has a bad guy (or bad leopard(?), I guess) whose cool enough to approach anti-hero status. You’re kind of happy when he beats up the sissies.

Do I seem excited about this? Well, I suppose that I am a bit. I have no real complaints beyond the usual shortcomings of a film geared for children. Which makes this a puzzling place .But an enjoyable visit. Maybe I should try this more often.

1 comment:

rEVOLution 08 said...

Ratatouille was genius