First, there's a nice little scene that wraps the whole movie after the end credits roll. So sit still will ya? And it's not just text on black, but really nicely done animated/still panels to feast your eyes on. And come early too to watch an adaptation of the Dreamworks fishing-boy logo.
It seems like this is a movie made for all the fanboys out there, regardless of what their obsessions are about. You know, being one who idolizes certain somebodies or some things, and given a day that Fate decides to throw you a curveball and give you that one opportunity to come up close and personal to meet and greet your idol in the flesh, or be thrown into the exact situation that you've always been dreaming about. What would you do, and would you go weak in the knees or be overcome with disbelief that you're actually, finally, realizing your dream?
Panda Po (voiced by comedian Jack Black) epitomizes exactly that in Kung Fu Panda, and that struck a chord in me and with many in the audience as well. And for that, no matter how cliche the story would become, it had already done its deal and made the connection. It is no wonder it is rated G here, and I expect that the holiday season would allow cash registers to ring, for animation fans with the different styles utilized to tell the story (you must be on time and not miss the opening sequence), for kung fu fans to get a kick out of classic kung fu moves personified in their animal forms - Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Crane (David Cross), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Monkey (Jackie Chan) - collectively known as the Fearsome/Fab Five, and for the kids, given the obvious reason that hey, the protagonist is a cuddly bear. The marketing department, if not already done, should stock up on the plush toys, not only of the hero, but the supporting casts as well. And make their younger forms available too, for they will sell.
Story-wise, I can't help but to note its tip of its hat towards the Jackie Chan martial arts movie of the past like Snake in Eagle's Shadow, Eagle Shadow Fist, etc. The formula which follows a misfit with weak or zero martial arts background having to undergo harsh training under a kung fu master, finally realizing his true calling in time to defeat the villain everybody fears. With the Jackie Chan movies, the demise of loved one always trigger off a chain reaction, but since this is G-rated, you won't have the pleasure of having blood spilled, but with so many splatter-type movies in recent times, I have to admit this was refreshing, and even having animated animals that talked, didn't irk me as they are just so lovable here, in their own right.
It's an excellent and very even mix of comedy and drama, even though they are quite cliche at times if you grew up with the formula, but I thought that was the point. While the trailers might have given away some stuff, there are still lots more available which are hidden up the sleeves, and some minor word replacement such as "suck" to "stink", though you would likely be able to stay a step ahead throughout and even guess whatever secrets the movie have, actually are. For its stylistic training sequences, they became a throwback and a link to the forementioned Jackie Chan movies. The fight choreography isn't done shoddily too with its designing of fights true to the characters' forms, and integrating them all in a manner rarely seen before. Since it's an animated flick, it was able to, and probably ramped up whatever's possible in the kung fu fantasy realm, to give us everything from rooftop flights to an incredible prison break. It didn't waste any effort in tapping from the wealth of kung fu material, what with the various ching-chong names of deadly moves, secret manuals, teacher-student feuds, and the best part of it all? Humour being quite unexpectedly well placed, with more hits than misses to break out into a hearty laugh by the panda antics.
For all its A-list voice actors in the movie, with the likes of Michael Clarke Duncan, Dan Fogler, Ian McShane and those who provide voices to the 5 key animals, Kung Fu Panda is clearly a Jack Black and Dustin Hoffman vehicle. The bantering between the two is priceless as the latter plays Sifu (duh) the master teacher, a highly-strung and serious character who has a past they are shameful about (don't they all). And as his own teacher Oogway (read: Wu Gui, aka tortoise, voiced by Randall Duk Kim) advises, herein lies an opportunity for Sifu to rediscover himself when training possibly the next-big-thing (pardon the pun) Po, whom he foretold as the mythical Dragon Warrior. So begins the forging of friendship, long lasting bonds and trust between the two, even though they got off the wrong footing. And you can probably feel for Po, because for a fanboy type, having your idols scoff at you at first opportunity, is actually quite painful.
As a kids movie, there's almost always a message to take away. Here, it's a reminder to believe in oneself, which I guess is a universal theme to instill some confidence in the young ones. You might not look the best, nor are the best amongst your peers, but so long as you have that attitude to want to learn, that should put you in good steed. As a summer blockbuster movie, it's fun, thoroughly entertaining, and doesn't try to be too smart. It's likely to be a crowd pleaser across all age demographics, and an ultimate popcorn fare, so long as you manage to keep the popcorn away from the thieving hands of the panda. And with this release beating local film Kung Fu Gecko to the screens, I wonder what's the status currently on the Nickson Fong project. But for now, Kung Fu Panda has earned its keeps, and comes highly recommended!