Kung Fu Panda appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. As expected, this became a terrific transfer.
Sharpness looked strong. No softness emerged here, as the movie always seemed concise and well-defined. I noticed no issues connected to shimmering or jagged edges, and edge enhancement never 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 well-defined. Overall, Panda provided lively visuals.
Though not as memorable, the Dolby TrueHD 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+“.
How does the Blu-ray compare to the DVD version? Audio seemed smoother and more vibrant, while visuals were tighter and more dynamic. Although the DVD was a good product, the Blu-ray easily bettered it.
The Blu-ray repeats most of the DVD’s extras and adds some new ones. 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, 18 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, seven 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 glimpses of the raw visuals, but we just don’t learn a whole lot from this featurette.
Next we find the three-minute and 54-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, 43 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 two-minute 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/Blu-ray games, these are more annoying than fun.
After this 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 – probably because it is glorified advertising.
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.
Learn the Panda Dance goes for four minutes, 32 seconds as “your 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 45-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. 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 92-year-old-and-ups watching the Blu-ray. 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 18-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 disc, it’s insubstantial but enjoyable.
Two Blu-ray exclusives appear, and these start with an Animator’s Corner. It mixes commentary from Osborne and Stevenson with behind the scenes footage, storyreels/rough animation and remarks from Jack Black, Jackie Chan and a few animators/other movie personnel.
“Corner” touches on topics similar to those found on the commentary – and sometimes offers virtually identical statements. Despite that repetition, the addition of the behind the scenes material adds value. It may be a bit redundant after the commentary, but it still has good moments.
Also new to the Blu-ray, we locate a trivia track. it covers cast and performances, characters and story, animation and art, and facts behind the concepts seen in the flick. The “track” offers a decent array of notes.
A few ads open the disc. We get clips for Monsters Vs. Aliens and Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa. These reappear under Trailers, but no promo for Panda shows up here.
While not a classic piece of animation, Kung Fu Panda 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 Blu-ray delivers excellent picture and audio along with some useful supplements. Panda becomes an enjoyable tale and a high-quality Blu-ray.
To rate this film, visit the DVD review of KUNG FU PANDA