Directed By John Stevenson Mark Osborne
Starring Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Ian McShane, Seth Rogan, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jackie Chan
I wasn’t too thrilled to be seeing this film when I attended the screening when it premiered in the IMAX Theater. After seeing the film I was pleasantly surprised at just how much I enjoyed it. I was curious to see just how good this film would look on Blu-Ray in comparison to the IMAX and if I’d still have fun with the movie at home.
Somewhere in China a Panda lives with his ahem, father, making noodles for a local village. He’s fanatical about kung fu and the local group of super hero like martial arts experts known as the Furious Five, that defend the village. The character, played by Jack Black, is a very familiar one in animated film, the underdog kid that believes he’s destined for greatness even if he appears to be the last animal that could possibly ever become a great warrior.
Through a series of accidents Po (Black) is named the new Dragon Warrior and he must learn the ways of Kung Fu before a villainous cat name Tai Lung comes home seeking revenge on his father for not allowing him to become the Dragon Warrior years ago. This is where problems with the plot crop up. Tai Lung is a bad guy, being kept in a mountain prison and guarded by 1,000 warriors. You never get the feeling that the punishment fits the crime with him.
As far as Po goes his evolution is so formulaic that you could feel the various beats coming from miles away. In fact his eventual discovery of his abilities reminded me of a similar scene in Tommy Boy (odd reference I know but it came to me while watching the film). Tommy is a horrible sales person working for his father’s company until one day he finds his inner salesmen and the way it’s revealed to him isn’t that unlike the way Po learns of his own potential. The reality here is there just isn’t much story outside of the basic formula. That’s incredibly sad for the other warriors, the Furious Five, as they are all played by big stars that probably got big paychecks but had very little to do in the film. Jackie Chan speaks so little that I never realized it was him in the role until the closing credits. Most of the opportunities for a dramatic twist are covered by excessively long action sequences. The action is fun for sure, but the scenes go extremely long considering the film’s really short running time.
You’d think by my comments so far that I hate this movie. The truth is I had a good time with it. The problem is that any CGI film that comes out these days gets compared to a Pixar production. This film doesn’t hold up in the comparison. It lacks the dramatic nuances and balance of depth for the grownups and fun for the kids that nearly all of the Pixar films have. What it does have is fun action scenes and some really great humor. You have to enjoy Jack Black’s style of spastic humor though. This character was either custom written for Black or he was allowed to adlib a good bit because some of the funniest stuff in the film seems to come right from the Jack Black school of comedy. Even if you aren’t a huge fan of Black I can confidently say you’ll still find yourself appropriately amused by Kung Fu Panda. A dream sequence comes to mind as one of my favorite bits of humor in the film.
As far as the look of the film it’s a mixed bag. Backgrounds are uniformly gorgeous featuring great detail and style. The main characters all also look great but the rest of the villagers appear fairly flat and generic. It feels like the budget ran out and the animators just had to stop their work on the village citizens. They aren’t ugly, not by a long shot, but they are flat compared to the main cast. Overall though, this is a great looking film with gorgeous Asian influenced (appropriately) style. The music in the film is also fantastic.
Surprisingly there are a few deaths in the film. Kids may not get that the characters die in the film because it’s glossed over but some kids are sure to realize it possibly causing some family discussion after the watching this blu-ray.
It’s not a classic but upon a second viewing the film is still a lot of fun.
This anamorphic widescreen 108op presentation is nothing short of stunning. This is a digital to digital transfer removing any possibility of film grain, dust and scratches, or any other blemishes inherent in even the best of film source material. This is as perfect as it could be, truly demo quality. The only limitations to the visuals on this disc are the ones that are native to the film and its design.
To match the stunning visuals we are treated to a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio presentation and it does not disappoint. Dialogue, score, and effects are clean crisp and well mixed. The surround speakers are utilized nonstop to make the film truly immersive. Often the speakers are aggressive but just as often they are utilized for ambient sounds and more subtle effects. The sub woofer is punchy and strong throughout the film too adding to the solid dynamic range. As with the audio we have a stunning sound presentation of you have the gear to take advantage of it.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The blu-ray is packaged in a standard amaray case with the same artwork as the standard DVD and theatrical poster art. It’s whimsical and does a good job of representing the film.
For bonus features all of the bonus content from the standard DVD is here plus some blu-ray exclusives. First up is an audio commentary from the directors of the film in which they cover all of the high points including preproduction, casting, and the recording sessions. The commentary is laid back but informative.
Inside Kung fu Panda is a half hour group of short featurettes that are made of some marketing sound bites and some behind the scenes animation stuff. There’s cast interviews, character design, and even a PSA with Jack Black in this group of featurettes. None of the information is particularly deep but it’s definitely worth a look.
The Sounds and Moves featurettes are mostly for kids with a kid friendly introduction to kung fu, a music video and a dance lesson. Oddly within this group is a short featurette about the sound of the film.
The Land of the Panda featurettes is another group of shorts that are of mild interest. There’s a lesson on how to use chopsticks for kids, an interactive quiz, a look at the Chinese calendar, and a special look at the animals that inspired the characters from the film.
Po’s Power Play Activities is a group of games for kids, ‘nuff said here.
The animator’s Corner is a blu-ray exclusive picture in picture commentary featuring a compilation of behind the scenes footage, scenes from some of the other featurettes, and bits of the commentary all combined to create a new viewing experience. This is a solid and worth while extra even after looking at everything else on the disc.
Overall the extras aren’t as deep into the behind the scenes of this film as it deserves. What’s here is interesting and there are some distractions for kids but there really should be some Pixar level bonus features on this disc covering the creation of the film more in depth. The two commentary tracks are really good though and offer the kind of information adult animated film fans want to hear.
Kung fu Panda is a fun film for all ages and the audio and video here is just splendid. If only the bonus features had been a little deeper and more detailed….
Overall (Not an Average) 8.5/10
The Movie 8/10
The Video 10/10
The Audio 10/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 7/10
Overall (Not an average) 8.5/10