Kung Fu Panda

Posted on November 3, 2008 at 8:00 am

kung_fu_panda.jpgPo (voice of Jack Black) is a soft, sweet-natured cuddly panda. He works as a waiter in his father’s noodle shop but dreams of being a kung fu champion. He studies kung fu history and cherishes his action figures of the Furious Five, the country’s top martial arts masters: Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Crane (David Cross), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Mantis (Seth Rogen). They are trained by Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) under the guidance of the Master (Randall Duck Kim).

The great villain Tai Lung (Ian McShane, providing the obligatory deep voice and English accent), guarded by 1000 soldiers, breaks out of prison and the Master must select a new Dragon Warrior to defend the people. The whole town gathers to see which of the Furious Five it will be. In what appears to everyone — including Po — to be a mistake, the Master points to the panda as the chosen one. And it is up to Yoda, I mean Shifu, to train him.

The Furious Five are, well, furious. Like a group of middle school mean girls, they tell Po he does not belong. Shifu is frustrated and impatient, insisting that the panda cannot be trained. He does not have the grace or balance for martial arts.

The panda is part teddy bear, part Pillsbury Doughboy, part Cookie Monster, all soft, sweet, and cuddly. Like Santa, he has a belly that shakes like a bowl full of jelly, a long way from a lean, mean fighting machine. He is also unsure of himself, ashamed of his clumsiness. He is afraid to try for his dreams — afraid to upset the father he loves (Po never seems to notice they are of different species) and afraid he does not have the ability to do better. When he fails in training, he says dejectedly, “I probably sucked more than anyone in the history of kung fu…more than anyone in the history of sucking.” He admits to Shifu that he only stayed “because I thought if anyone could change me, make me not me, it was you.” But Po will learn that the source of his strength is what no one can teach him — his sincerity and humility. Po will find within himself the strength, focus, and resolve to face Tai Lung.

As wise and experienced as he is, Shifu has some lessons to learn as well. He has to find a whole new way of teaching — it turns out the way to a Dragon Warrior’s heart may be through his stomach. And he has to explore some regrets and mistakes from his past.

All of this is handled very lightly — the film spends more time on the pratfalls than on the brisk training montage and the fight sequences are well within the PG range. The sweet-natured lumbering bear with the big tummy trying to achieve the grace, discipline, and balance of kung fu gives the animators a lot of opportunities for offbeat variations, sight gags, and contrasts, a cartoon tradition going back as far as the ballet-dancing hippos in “Fantasia.” And the scroll-inspired landscapes and colors are spectacularly beautiful.

The fortune cookie-like “everyone is special” lessons of the film get a little murky, though, and parents will want to talk to children about alternatives to violence, safe participation in martial arts, and telling the truth. But the film’s unpretentious sweetness, the striking visuals and fresh settings, and strong voice characterizations by Black, Hoffman, Rogan, and Cross make this satisfying family entertainment.

Related Tags:


Action/Adventure Animation Comedy For all ages Talking animals

13 Replies to “Kung Fu Panda”

  1. Dear Movie Mom,
    Its taken a bit of research to determine where you traveled from..(Yahoo) to current location. I guess I missed the memo or I was sleeping in the proverbial cave. Bottom line, great to have found you and to be able to gauge my potential viewing and subsequent reviews by your initial thoughts of a movie, especially since I have a ten year old who is a celluloid junky like myself.
    Best Regards and best of luck in the new diggs,
    Steve from Nashville

  2. What does the Great Spirit require of you Grasshopper?
    Love justice
    Act kindly
    Walk Humbly
    These seem to be the lessons of Po, too. All the superpowers in the world, all the kung fu skills (and special kung fu grip), the ability to fly, be invisible, flame on, or chill out mean nothing unless you first have these qualities in your heart. Once you do, there is little that can stop you. That is a very valuable lesson – and it seems Jack Black ( a bit of Po himself) is the panda/man to teach it.
    As to inconsistencies (like mixed parentage – kids will be quick and happy to popint out how silly that is. Meanwhile my 22 year old son and wall climbing, surfing, diving, bmx-ing & motocrossing buddies are all at the film – eagerly and joyously – on opening day. I expect to see some of the Furious Five launching around our front yard some time tonight.

  3. I’m a sixty-five year old grandpa who will be in line to see this movie. I live for the unsung, left behind heros. When I was a kid being beat up by all the bullies, I fantasied about being a super hero. It didn’t hurt me a bit. I just never grew up. Long Live the Panda!

  4. Thanks for your comments, Steve, jestrfyl, and Paul! Steve, I really appreciate your tracking me down. I hope you like this new site. Jestrfyl, your comments really touched me. And Paul, I loved what you wrote! It is people like us who love these movies — and, here’s a secret — the people who make them all all former underdogs, too!

  5. Nell:
    I am glad to have found you again, as well. I find your reviews are the only ones with which I consistently agree.
    I saw this movie with my kids and LOVED it. I can’t imagine why you only gave it a B. We had a lot to talk about, the character of Po is real, charming, cute & cuddly and – best of all – despite his “limitations”, he’s persistent and positive in his pursuit of his hopes and dreams. He’s respectful of his father and others, kind-hearted, open-minded…I could go on.
    My kids loved the slapstick and we all left laughing and talking about Po…
    We will buy this movie on DVD and watch it over and over, just as we do other animated greats (Nemo, Toy Story…)
    I would hope that people read your WHOLE review so they can see that you, too, love this movie (or at least really like it, but maybe not like it in THAT way). I went because your review was very positive…and we’re all glad that we did.

  6. Welcome, zanimama! I am so glad you found me. And I am thrilled that you and your family enjoyed “Kung Fu Panda.” I hope you visit often and leave lots of comments!

  7. I just saw the movie. It was good – not great, but definitely good. The drawings are exceptional, the art and animation are top notch. Black and Hoffman were well used – the other voice talent was not as reflected in their characters. The story line was basic, but still fun. My favorite part was that Po did not change so dramatically that he was no longer Po. even at the end of the movie he stayed true to himself. THAT is an excellent lesson – that and the secret ingredient to the Secret Ingredient Soup.
    The other effect – well, we just ordered Chinese Food for dinner. I am a bit like Po – well, actually a lot like Po. And by the time we left the theater, I was hungry. So I guess in that regard the movie was effective.

  8. I am SO seeing this movie ASAP! I dont care what people say, there are NO age limitations when it comes to cute fuzzy animals and kung fu…especially when theyre combined.
    PS, jestrfyl, the movie isnt animated traditionally, its 3d animation. (had to say that, Im going to college for Game Art and Animation, and I already do 3d modeling and sculpting a lot on my own…so I feel this urge to enlighten people about it where ever I can.)
    Heh, Im sure the movie will be great though. Seems to be up my alley, moreso than Happening or Hulk. Previews for Kung Fu Panda reminded me of Invader Zim, but missing pieces of the signature Jhonen Vasquez kick, but filling in the gaps with a different style. And I like that style.

  9. Thanks for a great post, Isla! My family loves animation, from old-school cells individually hand-painted to the latest CGI using the world’s most powerful computers but still utterly artist-directed. This one has gorgeous visuals, not just the meticulously choreographed fight scenes and hilarious characterizations but the stunning landscapes. When you see the movie, let me know what you think!

  10. This was a fabulous movie that kept me smiling and laughing through the whole thing. My husband and I enjoyed it as much as our 3 kids (ages 8, 11, and 13). Any movie with “Kung Fu” in the title would obviously contain the martial arts, yet this story keeps the fighting in a fantasy format that I believe even the youngest of kids would understand. The fighting is stressed as an “art” and is meant only in defense and protection of the village from outside evils.
    Po teaches everyone a good lesson in this story….believe in yourself because everyone has somehting special to offer.
    Take your kids to see the show, then take them again, because once just isn’t enough!

  11. We just got back from seeing this movie with our 4 & 6 year olds (almost 5 & 7). They both liked it very much, as did my husband and I. I had forgotten to check your site before we went, so I was a little taken aback by the villain character – portrayed quite meanly. I would’ve still taken our children, but would advise others to use caution with younger children. If our children had been any younger, I probably wouldn’t have taken them. Also, there was a child sitting behind us (guessing that he was around 2.5 or 3 years old) and he was squirming in his seat the entire time. I think your age group projection is right on for both the content as well as the attention level needed to make it through this movie. Thanks for a great site. I visit often, though this is my first comment. : )
    Blessings, Michelle

  12. I took my 3 3/4 year old to see this in an IMAX theater on a weekend mom-and-boy trip to Chicago. We’d been talking about it for days (how could we not with the PR blitz?) so he had some plot background and some familiarity with the characters and the idea that Kung Fu fighting is modeled on the ways that different animals move, such that there actually is a Monkey Style, and so forth. I am not sure whether the film would have been confusing without this background, as it seems to assume some level of knowledge about the world (Kung Fu, fighting and training, the master-student relationship) and about narrative (the Magical Secret to Everything hidden in the Scroll Which Must Be Earned).
    That said, the minimal level of preparation I gave my boy had him completely engaged throughout. He was eyes-on-screen the entire time and really understood the entire story.
    He even wanted to stay through the entire stylish end credits, and did.

  13. My twelve year old twins and six year old loved this movie! They laughed out loud! It was wonderful to see them enjoy such a sweet movie.

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