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Kung Fu Panda(2008)
Kung Fu Panda features Po the Panda, a lowly waiter in a noodle restaurant, who is a kung fu fanatic but whose shape doesn't exactly lend itself to kung fu fighting. That's a problem because powerful enemies are at the gates, and all hopes have been pinned on a prophesy naming Po as the "Chosen One" to save the day. A group of martial arts masters are going to need a black belt in patience if they are going to turn this slacker panda into a kung fu fighter before it's too late.
For more about Kung Fu Panda and the Kung Fu Panda Blu-ray release, see the Kung Fu Panda Blu-ray Review
Starring: Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Ian McShane, Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan
Directors: Mark Osborne, John Stevenson
» See full cast & crew
Kung Fu Panda Blu-ray Review
'Kung Fu Panda' dazzles on Blu-ray.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, November 8, 2008
Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.
Cuddly animals sell. Be they giant stuffed prizes at carnivals, the fluffy kitten in the corner pet shop window, or characters in the latest live-action or animated films, furry four-legged creatures are a marketer's dream come true. Hollywood has enjoyed a long and storied lineage of animals in lead roles. Old Yeller, Milo & Otis, Lassie, Babe, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and even Remmy the Rat from last year's Ratatouille effortlessly capture the hearts of audiences everywhere with their often human-like personas, showing a range of emotion and stirring the soul through the good times and the bad, their adventures, well-being, and fates practically a part of culture and certainly of cinematic legend. Of course, like any good idea, loads of wannabe imitators crop up more often than one might care to admit, giving the world a couple of live-action Garfield films and enough Air Bud flicks to keep a five-year-old busy until he or she starts high school. Fortunately, one of the latest animal-centric films, DreamWorks' Kung Fu Panda, stands firmly with the best of the best of the cute-and-cuddly animal world movies. Rivaling the animation, storytelling, and characterization of the best Pixar films, Panda will tickle the funny bone, pull on the heart strings, dazzle with its death-defying action, and prove once and for all that it's what's in the heart that really counts.
In ancient China there was once a Kung Fu warrior so powerful that he blinded his enemies at the mere presence of his awesome power, and even the Furious Five, a group of China's most accomplished Kung Fu warriors, bowed down to him, at least in his dreams. In reality, he is merely a lowly, overweight panda named Po (voiced by Jack Black) who works in his father's noodle shop and cannot climb a flight of stairs without becoming short of breath. In reality, it is Po who worships the Furious Five, playing with their action figures and dreaming of one day being the hero they are. When it is announced that one of the Five will be awarded the title "Dragon Warrior," a recognition given to the most powerful Kung Fu Master of them all, Po heads to the Jade Temple, ascends the massive staircase but finds he is seconds late, the doors closing, shutting him out of seeing his heroes and one of the most important moments in Chinese history. When Po manages to literally drop into the arena from the sky, smack-dab into the middle of the ceremony, the ancient Master Oogway (voiced by Randall Duk Kim) chooses Po to be the Dragon Warrior! The Fabulous Five, particularly star pupil Tigress (voiced by Angelina Jolie), are outraged, but Oogway insists that Po is indeed the chosen one, and Master Shifu (voiced by Dustin Hoffman) is charged with the task of training the seemingly untrainable Panda, and all before the unstoppable enemy Tai Lung (voiced by Ian McShane) breaks free from captivity to wreak havoc on the Chinese countryside.
Besides the explosion of smartly and seamlessly computer-created characters and worlds that have dominated animation for the past several years, the best of a more recent vintage seem to share a similar running theme, espousing the importance of individuality, self-worth, and perseverance in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. In Cars, Lightning McQueen must discover that it isn't about being the flashiest or the fastest car on the track, or even winning the Piston Cup, but rather the importance of what's underneath the fancy tires, paint jobs, and engine: a heart. Ratatouille cooks up a theme that shows that no matter how small or insignificant one may be, no matter how reviled by others, no matter who says "no you can't," a sprinkle of determination, a pinch of heart, and a bowl full of positive attitude can take you anywhere. Likewise, in Kung Fu Panda, audiences come to know Po, a lovable, overweight Panda with big dreams -- and an equally large gut. Laughed at for playing with his Kung Fu toys, working a career pushed on him by a father (a duck, oddly enough) who thinks his son can do no better than the lot he's supposedly drawn, and believed to be too clumsy, too large, too unfocused to be a great Kung Fu warrior by all but, it seems, Fate, Po nevertheless tries his hardest, and with the help and blessing of a wise old friend and his master's acceptance of the fact that "there are no accidents," Po becomes not necessarily the best Kung Fu Master -- but the Master of the heart, of determination, of a never-say-die attitude that takes him to unbelievable heights, fulfills his destiny, and equally important, his dream. What makes Kung Fu Panda so special is that the film never insists that a character need drastically change in order to fulfill a dream or a prophesy or discover who they really are. Po's physique never alters -- he becomes capable of great things in spite of his waistline, the film smartly stating that it's what's inside that really matters.
Aside from the plainly obvious yet nevertheless heartwarming and uplifting message it espouses, Kung Fu Panda is, just as importantly, a wild, exciting, and particularly funny movie. Each character is well-scripted and interesting. While the "Furious Five" don't receive all that much in the way of exposition, they nevertheless manage to satiate audience appetites as lovable, endearing characters, certainly an odd mixture of creatures and each of them with unique abilities and personalities. Still, they are mostly superficial, clearly supporting cast members whose lack of development seems like a missed opportunity, but considering the movie features, as is, nearly perfect pacing, sacrificing a kid-friendly runtime and adding a good 10 or 15 minutes to flesh out the background characters would probably serve as more of a hinderance than a help to the film. Apparently, there is bundled with the DVD edition of the film Secrets of the Furious Five that does indeed delve into the backstory of each of these characters, but it is currently not offered as part of the Blu-ray package. Still, Kung Fu Panda smartly focuses on its three primary players -- the film's title character, Po the Panda, Master Shifu, and the villainous Tai Lung. Clearly, Po is the centerpiece of the film, and his character never disappoints. One of the more endearing characters in recent memory, Po bumbles his way though the film, and the running theme of his love for food never becomes cumbersome. The film smartly integrates food into practically every sequence; Po works in his father's noodle shop; his love for a good meal is a major hindrance to his physical wherewithal -- and a detriment to his waistline; Master Shifu integrates food into Po's training regimen, exploiting his "weakness" for good. In fact, the gags never become old, and laughs abound throughout the film. A running joke, one that only becomes funnier every time it is incorporated into the film -- that of Po becoming short of breath and doubled over every time he must ascend to the top of the Jade Palace -- is smartly integrated into the story, and each time the joke is seen, it ends with varied comical consequences.
Kung Fu Panda Blu-ray, Video Quality
Framed at 2.35:1 and presented in 1080p high definition, it should come as no surprise that Kung Fu Panda offers viewers a reference-quality transfer. Every frame features a fantastic sense of depth and an abundance of pristinely-rendered color. Take even one of the first scenes in the film where audiences are introduced to Po and his father in the noodle restaurant. The disc reveals the marvelous texture and detail of the walls and the stone floor, not to mention the cutting board and the cleaver that play a prominent role in the scene. The ornately-decorated buildings seen throughout the film look amazing. The adornments, the roofing, the varied colors that are prominently featured give them a look and feel that springs to life and look just as good as anything seen in the other high profile animated releases currently on Blu-ray. Even something as simple as the tan colored dirt turf as seen outside the Jade Palace as Po attempts to find some way inside to view the Dragon Warrior ceremony in chapter five looks absolutely real. The various animals seen throughout the film show an amazing attention to detail, every bit of it brought to life on Blu-ray. Viewers will be privy to every strand of fur and every stitch and seam in their clothing (particularly Po's patchwork shorts). Whether the movie's various scenes take place in bright outdoor locales, which is the setting for much of of the film, or the dark, dank, lifeless interior of Tai Lung's personal prison, or a dusk sequence on Panda's first day of training, the image holds up to sheer perfection. Make no mistake, Kung Fu Panda offers a remarkable transfer, and an excellent movie to boot.
Kung Fu Panda Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Kung Fu Panda slices and dices sound systems with an amazing Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless soundtrack. This is a rich and fulfilling experience that always finds just the right balance. It is never too loud, too forced, or too underwhelming. Everything works together in perfect harmony to create a fine mix. The sound flows naturally and evenly across the front, with the perfectly-rendered dialogue remaining entrenched in the center, although the track features some excellent panning and directionality of dialogue in several instances that never sounds forced or out of place. Bass is well represented. Deep and powerful, but never overextending its welcome, it is simply natural and precise. Surround speakers are used to excellent effect; there is a deluge of information thrown back there, but all of it is integrated wonderfully into the film, never becoming a distraction but nevertheless creating an immersive, fulfilling experience. From the most subtle atmospherics to awesome directional effects, from the score to sound that sweeps across the back, the surround channels are put to excellent use through virtually the entire picture. Tai Lung's escape sequence in chapter 10 is a sonic delight, extremely active yet clear and clean as a whistle, the entire soundstage coming alive as the Snow Leopard escapes, the prison crumbling and exploding all around, the action incredibly robust and the sound field full and powerful yet elegant and delightful. Kung Fu Panda offers a reference-grade sonic experience from the Dolby TrueHD codec.
Kung Fu Panda Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Kung Fu Panda bursts onto Blu-ray with a wealth of bonus materials. Inside Kung Fu Panda is a grouping of extras that begins with a commentary track featuring directors Mark Osborne and John Stevenson. A nice, breezy track, the directors share their thoughts on a myriad of topics, including the long process of getting the film to the big screen, the influences and stylistic choices, the personalities the voice actors brought to the characters, and even more mundane information like lighting schemes that serve stylistic purposes to contrast one character from a location, for example, the difficulties of rendering some of the film's more dynamic sequences, and plenty more. Fans of animation will enjoy this track a great deal. The disc also includes a trivia track with its information presented on a scroll similar to the one seen in the film. Offering some material covered in the commentary and some not, it's best watched in conjunction with the audio commentary. The Animator's Corner is a picture-in-picture video commentary that includes some bits from the audio commentary track but also includes plenty of new information as well, including behind-the-scenes looks at the animation process, the voice recording sessions, and plenty more. Meet the Cast (1080i, 13:18) is a brief sequence of interview clips with the cast members discussing their roles and their experiences working on the film. Pushing the Boundaries (1080i, 7:07) takes an all-too-brief look at the challenges of creating the film's impressive visuals. Conservation International: Help Save Wild Pandas (1080p, 2:00) is a public service announcement, hosted by Jack Black.
Po's Power Play is a series of extras beginning with Dragon Warrior Training Academy (1080p). This is a game where players must face five challenges to attain the level of Dragon Warrior. In Dumpling Shuffle, players must follow three scrambling bowls and remember under which is located a delicious dumpling. Learn to Draw (1080p) shows viewers how to hand-draw their favorite Kung Fu Panda characters, hosted by the real-life artists who worked on them for the movie. Sounds and Moves of Kung Fu is another series of supplements. Sound Design (1080p, 3:54) looks at the how the filmmakers created the numerous audio effects that accompany the film. Next up is a music video by Cee-Lo entitled Kung Fu Fighting (1080p, 2:29). Learn the Panda Dance (1080p, 4:32) features a demonstration of how to do the Kung Fu Panda dance. Do you Kung Fu? (1080p, 24:13) allows viewers to learn the basics of several Kung Fu styles.
Land of the Panda is a grouping of five additional supplements. Mr. Ping's Noodle House (1080p, 4:43) is a fascinating feature that shows a chef creating noodles form a ball of dough. How To Use Chopsticks (1080p, 2:56) is a kid-centric feature that shows how to properly hold and utilize chopsticks, as well as some chopstick etiquette. Inside the Chinese Zodiac (1080p, 11:33) looks at the Chinese calender and the animals that represent each year. Animals of 'Kung Fu Panda' (1080p, 6:18) looks at the real-life animals that have influenced the history of Kung Fu. What Fighting Style Are You? (1080p) is a quiz to discover which style you represent (I was Tiger Style). Moving along, DreamWorks Animation Video Jukebox (1080p) is a series of animated music videos from Flushed Away, Over the Hedge, Madagascar, Shark Tale, Shrek, Shrek 2, Shrek the Third, and Bee Movie. Also included are 1080p trailers for Monsters vs. Aliens and Madagascar 2: Escape 2 Africa. Finally, this disc is BD-Live (Blu-ray profile 2.0) enabled. At the time of writing, a feature entitled Po Around the World (1080p, 27:38) was available. Here, viewers may watch scenes from the film dubbed in various languages.
Kung Fu Panda Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Kung Fu Panda is a film that does most everything right. Witty, action-packed, featuring a fabulous cast of characters, and with a strong, uplifting message, the film never sees a dull moment. Likely to hold up extremely well to repeat viewings, and not only by those in the film's targeted demographic, no doubt Kung Fu Panda is destined to become a favorite among fans of animation, the martial arts, or as a movie that lifts the spirits and dampens the negativity that surrounds any situation life may offer. Whether one struggles with self-image issues, lacks courage or discipline, or is ridiculed and put down by others, the film offers a nice reprieve from life's problems and offers meaning, depth, and reassurance while it entertains. DreamWork's Blu-ray release of Kung Fu Panda is, no surprise, a winner. Featuring flawless video, a stellar lossless soundtrack, and plenty of extras, everything about this package is a positive. Suitable for audiences of all ages and available on a top-notch Blu-ray to boot, Kung Fu Panda comes highly recommended!
Kung Fu Panda: Other Editions
Kung Fu Panda Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Blu-ray Specs for Kung Fu Panda - October 21, 2008
Dreamworks Home Entertainment in conjunction with Paramount Home Entertainment have announced the technical specs and special features for the upcoming Blu-ray release on 'Kung Fu Panda', which is due to hit store shelves on November 9th, day-and-date with the ...
• Kung Fu Panda Comes Two Days Early - September 15, 2008
Dreamworks in conjunction with Paramount Home Entertainment have revealed that they have pushed the release date for the upcoming Blu-ray release of 'Kung Fu Panda' to November 9th. Originally scheduled to come out on November 11th, Paramount is hoping that a rare ...
• Blu-ray Release for Kung Fu Panda Revealed - August 20, 2008
DreamWorks has revealed that they will bring their CGI animated film 'Kung Fu Panda' starring Jack Black, to Blu-ray on November 11, day-and-date with the DVD release. Technical specs have yet to be announced at this time, but a top- quality video and audio ...
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