Monday, November 17, 2008

Kung Fu Panda

I watched Kung Fu Panda over the weekend.

It is a pretty solid, fun little kids movie. The fight scenes are beautiful and frequent, which is probably the most important thing to get right in a Kung Fu movie: you get that right and everything else can slide. The trailer focuses more on the funny bits, and obviously it is a children's movie, but the fight scenes -- especially the non CGI one that opens the movie -- were clearly created by fans of Samurai Jack, and they hold the comparison well. It is probably a little unfair to claim that a lot of the rest of the movie goes through the standard Kung Fu movie cliches: the montage sequences (good!), the secret that there is no secret (fine), the hokey Yoda like master (whatever). Jack Black especially does a good job making fun of the cliches at times. One of the reasons the Panda character is so great is that, like Jack Black and like myself and most of the audience, he is a FAN of Kung Fu more than any kind of real trainee. The thing is 88 minutes long and mostly good fight scenes so overall I think this is a winner.

The only thing that I thought was kind of deeply off though not bothersome -- because you really do not notice -- is the kind of absurd celebrity casting. Voice over actors have been complaining since Aladdin (and probably before that) that Hollywood has replaced them and their talents with famous people with recognizable voices to no great benefit. Jack Black is irreplaceable, Dustin Hoffman is pretty good, and Ian McShane (from Deadwood) does pretty awesome bad guy, obviously. But outside of Black and Hoffman this is primarily a fighting movie, so, as in Samurai Jack, the movie smartly does not have characters talk all the way through fight scenes with lame lines. McShane gets a reasonable amount of dialogue, but the Fearsome Five get maybe a dozen lines among them all -- some only getting one or two, none particularly memorable -- so I really cannot see the point of casting Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogan, Lucy Liu, and David Cross, not to mention tossing in Michael Clark Duncan in as a prison guard. There seems to be some weird desire here to pay homage to great action stars while also getting in some more recent cynical / ironic comedians but it hardly matters, since you will barely notice them. It does not detract from the movie; it just seems really pointless.


James said...

I couldn't believe how good the fights in this were. More CG martial arts movies, please.

Anonymous said...

Geoff, I'd go a step further. This is the best animated Dreamworks movie ever. Since most of Dreamworks' stuff is forgettable mid-list kid's movies, that's not saying /so/ much... but this movie was almost as good as low-end Pixar.

Fight scenes, yes, and about the right amount of wink-at-the-audience genre self-awareness; but also that great jail break (way to establish the villain as a menace!), the turtle character and his departure (the sort of visual animation can do really well, but rarely does); and the pre-fight conversation between Master and villain. The whole subplot about the past was weak, but this redeemed it; the bit where the villain briefly considers repenting is really quite nice.

My boys (7 and 5) saw it twice and liked it a lot -- and I had no trouble sitting through it either.

I see your point about the Fearsome Five. One possibility: sequels were already optioned before the movie opened, and were immediately greenlighted once it turned up a hit. So we should be seeing more of those characters, and presumably hearing more from them as well.

Doug M.

Voice Of The Eagle said...

I enjoyed this movie even more than Wall-E.

I thought the Oedipal relationship between the villain and the mentor was surprisingly intense for a an anthropomorphic kid's film.

It's that "grounding the fantastic in emotional realism" that we all love so much.

Stefan Delatovic said...

Never underestimate the enormous efforts Hollywood will go to, regardless of how small the return might be.

"We need to recut this ending! The test audience did not like the facial expression of a minor character who appeared for 37 seconds!"

"B-but...that reshoot will cost eleventy billion dollars!"

"DO IT! The test audience is king! They represent the hope and dreams of us all. I found them at a bus station and lured them in with pizza!"


Kenney said...

I've heard this was pretty good from numerous sources, and I have it coming in the mail from Netflix, so I'm excited to check it out.

The celebrity voice cast thing is so tired. I get why it's done, to be able to have a famous person go talk about the movie on Good Morning America, and it works fine a lot of the time, but I wonder how much better a lot of these movies would be if they went with more voice actors?

Fnord Serious said...

I find the celebrity voice casting to be a detriment in many cases. The dubs for more recent Miyazaki fare is especially distracting. Having John Ratzenberger's voice pop in in the middle of Spirited Away was annoying, and Gillian Anderson didn't do much for Princess Mononoke. And when we watched Persepolis recently, we chose to go for the original french with subtitles rather than suffer through another celebrity packed voice over fest.

Stefan Delatovic said...

I finally saw this last night.

It was great. The fight scenes were amazing and I would cherish a film made entirely in the style of that first segment.