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Mark Osborne, John Stevenson
Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Ian McShane, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Michael Clarke Duncan
Writing Credits:
Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger, Ethan Reiff (story), Cyrus Voris (story)

Prepare for awesomeness.

Prepare for awesomeness with DreamWorks Animation's Kung Fu Panda, "a delightful movie that can stand among the very best animated features" (Leonard Maltin, Entertainment Tonight). Jack Black is perfect as the voice of Po, a noodle-slurping dreamer who must embrace his true self - fuzzy flaws and all - in order to become the Dragon Warrior. With groundbreaking animation, an all-star cast and high-kicking humor, Kung Fu Panda is "Ultra-satisfying entertainment. There's heart in this movie and that's the secret ingredient." (Richard Corliss, Time)

Box Office:
$130 million.
Opening Weekend
$60.239 million on 4114 screens.
Domestic Gross
$215.395 million.

Rated PG

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Surround 2.0
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 92 min.
Price: $34.98
Release Date: 11/9/2008

DVD One:
• Audio Commentary with Directors John Stevenson and Mark Osborne
• “Meet the Cast” Featurette
• “Pushing the Boundaries” Featurette
• “Sound Design” Featurette
• Music Video
• “Mr. Ping’s Noodle House”
• “How to Use Chopsticks” Featurette
• “Conservation International: Help Save Wild Pandas”
• “Dragon Warrior Training Academy”
• Printables and Weblinks
• DreamWorks Animation Video Jukebox
• Trailers
DVD Two:
Secrets of the Furious Five Animated Sequel
• “Learn to Draw” Tutorial
• “Dumpling Shuffle” Game
• “Pandamonium Activity Kit” DVD-ROM Features
• “Learn the Panda Dance” Tutorial
• “Do You Kung Fu?” Tutorial
• “Inside the Chinese Zodiac” Interactive Feature
• “Animals of Kung Fu Panda” Featurette
• “What Fighting Style Are You?” Quiz


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Kung Fu Panda (2008)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 10, 2008)

Back when Walt ran things, Disney Studios never produced an animated sequel. That’s changed over the four decades since his demise, particularly in the realm of “direct-to-video” offerings, where Disney churns out sequel after sequel. However, I believe that only Toy Story 2 and Return to Neverland have seen big-screen US releases, with 2010’s Toy Story 3 set to be the third flick on that short list.

On the other hand, the folks at DreamWorks animation have embraced sequels to such a degree that they have an actual franchise with the Shrek flicks. Depending on the performance of the upcoming Escape 2 Africa, the Madagascar series could join Shrek as another franchise, and I’ll bet the suits at DreamWorks also hope to see Kung Fu Panda join that list of profitable perennials.

Given the first movie’s performance at the box office, a sequel seems inevitable, and additional adventures beyond that could be on the horizon. Whether DreamWorks will ever produce an animated franchise not involving talking animals remains to be seen, though.

In Panda, we meet Po (voiced by Jack Black), a furry employee at his family’s noodle restaurant. The panda wants to become a kung fu master but it looks like he’ll be stuck in the noodle biz forever. This changes, however, when he learns that a tournament will find a Dragon Warrior to handle an imminent threat from Tai Lung (Ian McShane), an evil snow leopard bent on revenge against the citizens of the Valley of Peace.

When Po accidentally lands in the middle of the tournament, something decidedly unexpected occurs: Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) chooses the interloping panda as his Dragon Warrior. Despite his protests, second-in-charge Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) gets the assignment to train Po. Will our fuzzy hero learn the skills to fight Tai Lung and stand next to his heroes, the Furious Five? Yeah, probably – watch the movie yourself to learn.

Although I love the big summer flicks and animation, I passed on Panda during its theatrical run. I never much cared for kung fu flicks, and parodies of that genre seem to be done to death. Add to that my general disinterest in Jack Black and I saw little reason to drop my 10 bucks on this one.

This means I went into my DVD screening of Panda with pretty low expectations. I suppose the flick surpassed those expectations, but that’s mostly because I didn’t think I’d like it at all. Instead, I thought the film provided a reasonably entertaining experience; it just never became anything more memorable than that.

Actually, some parts of Panda work very well. The movie features lush visuals that become stunning at times. I can’t think of many animated flicks that look so good, and the lavish visuals really add to the experience. In particular, the death of one character came across as a beautiful scene; I didn’t anticipate such lovely and moving material here, so the film scores high points for its animation and design.

Panda also comes with a pretty solid cast. Admittedly, I’m not a big fan of Black’s work, and he offers his usual blustery performance here much of the time. Black does manage to tame his shtick to a decent degree, though, and he makes Po a reasonably likable protagonist.

The rest of the performers give the movie most of its appeal, though. McShane is great as the villain, and Hoffman tones down his increasingly hammy ways to make Shifu a surprisingly three-dimensional character. The kung fu master may be the best-realized role of the bunch, largely due to Hoffman’s fine performance. David Cross is also quite effective in his small role as Crane, and the others bolster the flick well.

Unfortunately, Panda loses some points in terms of its story. Granted, I don't expect especially deep plots from animated movies. Taken from the Disney model, their inventiveness tends to come from characters and humor, but they usually go with simple morality tales. That’s what we get here, as Panda follows the basic “believe in yourself” model that’s long been a staple of Disney flicks.

I don’t fault the simplicity of the story so much as I don’t care for the ordinary way in which Panda pursues its plot. We can see so many of the twists coming from a mile away, and the film doesn’t execute them with much creativity. As I mentioned, other animated flicks may come with similarly ordinary stories, but they spice things up with better humor and other complexities. Panda never bores, but it simply lacks a great spark.

That leaves Kung Fu Panda as an enjoyable flick. I really like it gorgeous visuals and think it comes with more than a few positives. However, it just doesn’t rise above the level of decent entertainment.

End credits footnote: stay until the movie’s conclusion to find a cute little coda.

The DVD Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B+/ Bonus B

Kung Fu Panda appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Expect very few problems during this strong transfer.

Sharpness looked terrific. Only a hint of softness emerged here, as the movie almost always seemed concise and well-defined. I noticed no issues connected to shimmering or jagged edges, and just a smidgen of edge enhancement materialized. Of course, the computer-animated affair came without source flaws, so don’t worry about any specks, marks or other defects.

With its exotic settings and characters, Panda featured a broad palette that looked great. The movie’s colors leapt off the screen, as they offered excellent vivacity and impact. Blacks were concise and dark, and shadows seemed clear and smooth. Overall, Panda provided terrific visuals.

Though not as memorable, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Kung Fu Panda seemed positive. In the forward domain, the music showed fine stereo imaging, while effects blended together neatly and smoothly. Those elements moved from speaker to speaker cleanly as the track created a solid sense of atmosphere. It even included a fair amount of dialogue from the side speakers, which offered a good impression of breadth.

Surround usage generally favored reinforcement of music and effects, but the rears came to life nicely during a number of scenes. Various battles showed effective use of the surrounds, as did the other action sequences. The mix really helped bring the material to life.

Audio quality consistently seemed positive. Dialogue was natural and distinct, and I heard no problems related to intelligibility or edginess. Music was rich and warm throughout the movie, with good clarity as well. Bass stomped to life nicely during the louder scenes and effects always seemed clear and accurate, with no signs of distortion or other concerns. This was a nicely engaging soundtrack that earned a solid “B+“.

With that we head to the set’s extras. On DVD One, we begin with an audio commentary from directors John Stevenson and Mark Osborne. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific chat. They look at animation and visual design, color schemes and cinematography, cast and performances, story and characters, action choreography, and some other production specifics.

A lot of commentaries for animated films tend to be dry and technical, but that problem doesn’t happen here. Oh, we get lots of nuts and bolts information, but Stevenson and Osborne keep the track moving well and they balance the technical bits with more creative elements. They provide a consistently lively and interesting discussion.

Three featurettes follow. Meet the Cast goes for 13 minutes, 14 seconds as it presents remarks from Osborne, Stevenson, and actors Jack Black, Dustin Hofffman, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu, Seth Rogen, David Cross, Ian McShane, Michael Clarke Duncan, Randall Duk Kim, and James Hong. We get some notes about cast, characters and performances. Don’t expect much depth here, as the comments remain fluffy and insubstantial. I always enjoy shots of the actors at work, though, so that side of things satisfies.

Pushing the Boundaries goes for seven minutes, four seconds and features Osborne, Stevenson, chief technology officer Ed Leonard, artistic supervision: character technical direction Nathan Loofbourrow, supervising animator/kung fu choreographer Rodolphe Guenoden, production designer Raymond Zibach, artistic supervision: surfacing Wes Burian, visual effects supervisor Markus Manninen, DreamWorks animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg and artistic supervision: character effects/crowds and effects Alex Parkinson. We learn a bit about the computer animation here.

But only a bit, as we don’t get much detail. Instead, the participants mostly tell us how amazing and complex the project is. I like the shows of the raw visuals, but we just don’t learn a whole lot from this featurette.

Next we find the three-minute and 52-second Sound Design with remarks from Osborne, Stevenson, and supervising sound editors/sound designers Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn. This show tells us about some of the film’s auditory choices. As usual, the behind the scenes elements work best, as we get some fun shots of the sound crew at work. Not too many details emerge, though.

A Music Video pops up for Cee-Lo’s cover of “Kung Fu Fighting”. As usual, we get some movie clips, but the video’s usually more creative than that – though not tremendously so. We see some kung fu-influenced choreography and a cameo from Jack Black. It’s a mediocre video, but at least it’s better than the usual slop.

After this we locate a few educational pieces. Mr. Ping’s Noodle House runs four minutes, 40 seconds and provides narration from Iron Chef America host Alton Brown. We watch the creation of Chinese noodles in this short featurette. It’s mildly interesting at best.

How to Use Chopsticks goes for two minutes, 55 seconds and acts as a tutorial. It teaches us the correct way to use chopsticks. Y’know, spoon/fork/knife have served me well over the years, so I think I’ll stick with them. Besides, there’s nothing more pretentious than white folks using chopsticks. I don’t know how valuable this lesson will be, but if you want to join the chopstickers, give it a look.

For some real-life info, we head to the one-minute and 57-second Conservation International: Help Save Wild Pandas. Hosted by Jack Black, it tells us what we can do to contribute to the preservation of pandas. It’s propaganda, but it’s painless propaganda.

Next we find Dragon Warrior Training Academy. This offers a series of games to see if you’re worthy of the “Dragon Warrior” title. As is usually the case with DVD games, these are more annoying than fun.

Printables and Weblinks offers various kid-oriented activities. These require computer access, so pop the disc into your DVD-ROM drive to give it a go.

Finally, we get a DreamWorks Animation Jukebox. This lets you see/hear songs from Shrek, Shrek 2, Shrek the Third, Bee Movie, Flushed Away, Over the Hedge, Madagascar and Shark Tale. All of this feels like glorified advertising to me.

A few ads open DVD One. We get clips for Monsters Vs. Aliens, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, and Secrets of the Furious Five. These also appear in the disc’s Trailers area. No ad for Panda appears here.

On DVD Two, the main attraction comes from a direct-to-video feature called Secrets of the Furious Five. In this 24-minute and 34-second program, Po teaches a kung fu class made up of young bunnies. They just want to learn how to kick butt, but he tells them they need to learn qualities such as patience and confidence. Po illuminates them via anecdotes about all the members of the Furious Five.

Secrets loses a few points because many of the original actors fail to reappear. Jack Black returns as Po, and we also find Dustin Hoffman, David Cross and Randall Duk Kim in their movie roles. Of the main cast, this means we lose Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan and Seth Rogen. I suppose the film gets away with the absence of Jolie, Chan and Liu since it includes “young” versions of their characters. I think the original actors still could’ve done those parts, but the absence of Rogen seems more problematic. I suppose he was too busy making one of the other 827 movies he has coming out this year.

Cast issues aside, does Secrets entertain? Yeah, it provides a decent diversion. For the shots of Po in the current time, Secrets goes with the same 3D animation in the film, while the flashback anecdotes offer work with the same cel appearance found in the feature film’s prologue. This is a good technique to give the tale a distinctive appearance.

As for the stories themselves, them work fairly well. They’re pretty basic lessons for kids, but they get creative twists much of the time, and they come with some funny bits. Secrets doesn’t dazzle, but it entertains.

The extras on DVD Two split into two subheadings. Under “Po’s Power Play”, we find three elements. Learn to Draw presents step-by-step tutorials to teach you how to sketch Tigress, Mantis, Po, Crane, Monkey and/or Viper. A combination of narration and visuals gives viewers the necessary methods. It’s a fun way for kids to learn some art techniques.

Next comes a game called Dumpling Shuffle. This follows the “Three-Card Monty” routine, as you have to visually track a dumpling hidden under a bowl. It may provide a minor diversion for kids.

To end “Power Play”, we get Pandamonium Activity Kit. This simply lists some DVD-ROM activities that can be accessed in a computer.

Over in “Land of the Panda”, we find five components. Learn the Panda Dance goes for four minutes, 26 seconds as “our girl Hihat” teaches us how to do the steps. Like everything else, it’s meant for kids, and they may like it. I’m more astounded that a woman willingly dubs herself “Hihat”.

Do You Kung Fu? opens with a 43-second intro that tells us what to expect from the program. From there we can learn the fighting poses used by the movie’s six main characters. Kids will probably enjoy this more than “Panda Dance”, especially since “Fu” comes with a disclaimer; it essentially warns kids not to assault others. Yeah, good luck with that, DreamWorks lawyers!

Next we find Inside the Chinese Zodiac. It allows you to look up the animal that ruled your birth year. Year of the Sheep right here, baby! The feature goes back to 1924, which seems like discrimination against all the 85-year-old-and-ups watching the DVD. And what’s with the inclusion of the years 2009 through 2019 here? Anyway, this is a fun little lesson in the Chinese zodiac.

For more info on the film’s influences, we go to Animals of Kung Fu Panda. The six-minute and 15-second featurette provides some basics about how real-life animals influenced the various kung fu fighting styles. Though pretty basic, it gives us a decent look at these background notes.

Finally, What Fighting Style Are You? gives us a quiz to determine which animal best matches you. It runs through a few multiple-choice questions and then tells you your connection. Like the other parts of the DVD, it’s insubstantial but enjoyable.

That statement generally applies to Kung Fu Panda itself. While not a classic piece of animation, it provides decent entertainment. I’ve certainly seen less amusing films; that may not be a great endorsement, but it beats a more negative assessment. The DVD presents excellent visuals, very good audio, and a roster of extras highlighted by a terrific commentary and a fun direct-to-video sequel. Panda offers fairly nice family programming.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.8333 Stars Number of Votes: 18
3 3:
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