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Overall Rating

Awesome: 26.09%
Worth A Look44.93%
Just Average: 10.14%
Pretty Crappy: 18.84%
Sucks: 0%

7 reviews, 27 user ratings

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Kung Fu Panda
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Bamboo Banger"
2 stars

The good news about “Kung Fu Panda,” the latest attempt by Dreamworks Animation to capture the hearts, minds and petty cash of the increasingly lucrative family market, is that it manages to avoid a good number of the clichés that are often found in this type of film--as someone who has been professionally obligated to view virtually every animated feature film to play in this country for the last decade or so (though I must admit that I still have yet to catch up with the likes of “Doogal” or “Happily N’Ever After,” a failure of will that I may attempt to address one of these decades), I must admit to feeling no small amount of relief to discover that it didn’t traffic in jokes involving bodily functions or instantly dated pop-culture references and that it manage to heroically restrain itself from the all-but-inevitable deployment of “Kung Fu Fighting” on the soundtrack until the end credits. The bad news about the film is that while it doesn’t include any of these shopworn elements, it doesn’t bother to replace them with anything of note. As a result, the film is nothing more than a colorful and vaguely amiable time-waster that never quite manages to make a convincing argument for its need to exist except to make as much money for Dreamworks as possible before the arrival of the upcoming Pixar production “Wall-E.”

Set in sort-of-ancient China, the film introduces us to the venerable sage Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), a wise old martial arts instructor who has devoted his life to training five fearsome and fearless warriors--Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Viper (Lucy Liu), Crane (David Cross. . .yes, David Cross) and Mantis (Seth Rogen. . .yes, Seth Rogen)--in the hopes that one of them will be revealed by the even more venerable and sageier Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) to be the Dragon Warrior, a fighter so pure of heart and keen of instinct that he or she can be trusted with a sacred scroll that grants unlimited powers to whomever possesses it. When Oogway has a premonition that the fearsome Tai Lung (Ian McShane), a snow leopard who was once Shifu’s adopted son and prized pupil until the desire to possess the scroll sent him to the dark side, will escape from the heavily fortified and remote prison where he has been banished in order to claim the scroll for himself and wreak havoc on the world, a competition among Shifu’s pupils, known as the Furious Five for their exploits and expertise, is arranged so that Oogway can figure out which one of them is destined to take possession of the scroll, defeat Tai Lung in battle and save the village and presumably the world. However, this selection process takes an unexpected turn when it is accidentally crashed by Po (Jack Black), a portly panda bear who daydreams of martial arts greatness while working in the noodle stand run by his father (James Hong) and Oogway determines that it is he who is destined to be the Dragon Warrior.

Not surprisingly, this pronouncement does not go over well with anyone--Shifu is filled with equal parts anger and disbelief, the reactions of the Furious Five cover the gamut from bemusement (Mantis) to loathing (Tigress, who was the presumed front-runner for the gig until Po literally dropped in the way) and even Po himself is convinced that it is all a mistake. However, no matter how hard Shifu and the others try to get Po to quit, he strangely refuses to give up and when word gets out that Tai Lung has escaped from prison and his heading towards the village with cataclysmic revenge on his mind, it begins to dawn on Shifu that perhaps the prophecy is true and that Po really is the Dragon Warrior. At this point, after the requisite soul searching and whatnot, he finally begins to train Po seriously through a program that transforms his weaknesses--namely his girth and his tendency to eat when upset--into strengths just in time to indulge in a big climactic battle with Tai Lung. (There are few things that I am certain of in this world but one that I am sure of is that there will never be a martial arts movie in my lifetime that ends by putting into practice the whole notion that one learns kung fu so that they never need to use it.)

Outside of the notion of having adorable animals as the main characters, the basic story of “Kung Fu Panda” is no different from any number of martial arts films that have emerged over the years--I can easily picture a live-action version with chubby chop-socky icon Sammo Hung in the role of Po. Actually, the more I think about it, it might have actually worked better that way as a film because despite having access to the absolute freedom that animation provides, the filmmakers never really take advantage of the medium in ways that would make the proceedings unique and exciting. Yes, the fight scenes are swiftly paced and intricately choreographed but since they don’t actually involve any flesh-and-blood people and their unique skill sets, a certain ennui begins to set in after a while--watching these characters do battle with each other is about as engrossing as watching a couple of hi-tech screensavers going at it. Of course, I am speaking as someone who has seen numerous martial arts films over the years while this is a film clearly aimed at little kids. That said, I am still convinced that if you showed them this movie and a real martial arts film--something like “Zu Warriors” or “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” or one of the Jackie Chan action-comedies--they might come away from “Kung Fu Panda” mildly amused but I suspect that the latter would fill them with the kind of genuine excitement that will send them out into the streets karateing picket fences at will.

However, I would have been willing to give the lack of visceral excitement a pass if there had been anything else to distract me but outside of the occasionally striking visual style, “Kung Fu Panda” is often as flat as can be. The storyline is as predictable as can be--even the youngest viewers will probably find themselves anticipating virtually every story beat from the moment that the Dreamworks logo appears. (The opening scene--a fantasy sequence in which Po describes a ridiculous tale of derring-do in which he blinds his enemies with his sheer awesomeness--is so striking and funny that as the film progress along its predictable way, you’ll find yourself wishing that it had continued with the joke story and ignored the real one.) Outside of Po and maybe Shifu, the characters are so barely defined as to hardly exist--why go through the trouble of creating five possible Dragon Warriors when you aren’t going to supply enough screenplay material for one of them? Most frustrating of all, the film occasionally hits upon an interesting idea--such as the possibility that Oogway isn’t as much a wise old sage as he is an increasingly senile old man who isn’t sure of what he is doing or the notion of basing Po’s training around his feeding habits--and then abandons them so abruptly that you wonder why they even bothered to introduce them.

Like most animated films in recent years, “Kung Fu Panda” features a star-studded cast of vocal talents and while that may make sense from a promotional standpoint--the bigger the star, the easier to get them on Leno or in a photo op at Cannes--it once again fails to pay much in the way of dividends for the audience. Leaving out the notion that it seems a bit unseemly that an Asian-themed film like this would be voiced by a largely non-Asian cast, the problem with the talent assembled here is that most of them do not have the kind of vocal talent and energy needed to succeed as a voice artist. As Po, Jack Black probably acquits himself best--the boundless enthusiasm that he brings to virtually every role that he takes on is a good match for the cheerfully excitable character he is playing here. As for the others, McShane is simply doing a variation of Jeremy Irons in “The Lion King” as the bad guy, Angelina Jolie is disappointingly bland as the fiercest warrior, Jackie Chan is virtually unintelligible in the few lines that he has (I am a huge fan of Chan but who could have possibly thought that it was a good idea to hire him for his facility with the English language--was Penelope Cruz otherwise unavailable?) and the other members of the Furious Five are so nondescript that you wonder why they were hired in the first place. Then there is the increasingly depressing spectacle of seeing (or hearing, as the case may be) the great Dustin Hoffman going through the motions to pick up a presumably big paycheck for a silly kid movie, something that he seems to be doing with alarming frequency these days. I was willing to forgive him for appearing in the likes of “Racing Stripes” at the time because I assumed that it was just a lark for him to do in between more serious-minded roles. However, now that he seems to have abandoned those roles for junk like this, it has just become a bit of a depressing spectacle. Come on, this guy was Ratso Rizzo. He was Michael Dorsey. He was a tomato, for crying out loud!

To be fair, “Kung Fu Panda” isn’t entirely without merit--it is bright and colorful, it has a few amusing moments (the tour of the Hall of Heroes is a real highlight) and little kids who are too young for “Indiana Jones” and too smart for “Speed Racer” will likely have fun watching it. More importantly, it never becomes as obnoxious or abrasive as such recent Dreamworks animated efforts as “Shark Tale” or “Shrek the Third.” However, it lacks that final spark of ingenuity or inspiration that would have transformed it from an amusing idea into a full-fledged movie worth watching. Then again, this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise--if pandas are too lazy and lethargic to do something as elemental as help to save their species by propagating, what makes you think that they would bother to help save their own movie?

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17245&reviewer=389
originally posted: 06/06/08 00:00:00
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User Comments

9/13/17 morris campbell cool animated flick 4 stars
5/19/16 Jason good animated movie for everyone! 5 stars
10/18/11 Magic The very first movie Dreamworks made that does not outright suck. 4 stars
8/22/11 Annie G Much better than expected; I would even watch this repeatedly. 4 stars
6/18/11 Jennifer B. my kids loved it. It was a cool movie. 5 stars
6/15/11 Faraz an ok movie. No where near the hype. 3 stars
12/21/10 Dr.Lao Typical non-Shreck dreamworks: lots of screaming and falling down, no wit 3 stars
8/22/09 Zach A lot of humor. And some very nice kung fu action! 5 stars
12/06/08 mike freakin hilarious. non stop laughs. 5 stars
11/09/08 Samantha Pruitt great for both kids and adults, there are some pretty funny stuff in it! 5 stars
10/21/08 Shaun Wallner Hilarious Movie! 4 stars
7/18/08 Susan Lee can be fun at times but was expecting much better 3 stars
7/13/08 Private Acceptable but overrated. 3 stars
7/10/08 L. Slusarczyk A cute film for kids of all ages, but dont count on busting a gut. 4 stars
7/07/08 mary m This was cute - not great, but cute. 3 stars
6/23/08 katsat Very disappointing. Overrated, simplistic, boring. Eye candy but empty. Pixar-lite. 3 stars
6/21/08 Quigley Great animated film; full of action and humor. Essential summer viewing for everyone 5 stars
6/17/08 Jane B Adored this movie even more than my 5 year old! 5 stars
6/17/08 George Best animated movie of all time! PERIOD. 5 stars
6/16/08 Vivian Awesome!! LOVE IT~~ 5 stars
6/16/08 Brian One of my favorite movies of all times. My kids LOVED it as well as the wife and I 5 stars
6/15/08 michaelb1478 Awesome film, hilarious for kids and adults 5 stars
6/13/08 alouysious boring and unfunny 2 stars
6/11/08 Jayson Loved it. Definitely enjoyable for adults and kids alike. 4 stars
6/10/08 Dawn MCPike the cast is awesome!! we loved this movie and will buy it on dvd!!! 5 stars
6/09/08 Noexit Skip this review. Take a couple of kids, 3 and 5, grab a bag of popcorn and enjoy! 4 stars
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  06-Jun-2008 (PG)
  DVD: 09-Nov-2008

  04-Jul-2008 (PG)

  26-Jun-2008 (PG)
  DVD: 09-Nov-2008

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